Mark Stahlman on the Contending Three Spheres of Civilization after Peak Globalization
= Eight part course on the history of civilization and the current post-digital transition.
"We no longer live in the modern world. Digital technology has already fundamentally re-structured human societies ... The causes and consequences of this paradigm shift must be understood".
See under 'Discussion', the editorial article by Mark Stahlman.
Three Spheres: East, West & Digital -- Man & the Machine
Sundays 3pm ET, Oct 3 to Nov 21, 2022
1) Overview: A History of History of Civilizations - October 3
2) Overview: The Lost Cause - October 10
3) East: China Retrieves Chi & Leapfrogs the West - October 17
4) East: India & Japan: Reconfiguration of the East - October 24
5) West: Disenchantment of the West - October 31
6) West: Natural Law - November 7
7) Digital: Digital Sphere Retrieves Alchemy - November 14
8) Digital: Post Humanity? - November 21
1) Overview: A History of History of Civilizations - Oct 3
The "Decline of the West" (1918/22) by Oswald Spangler has been hanging over our heads for a century. The future of civilization is now in question. Understanding how historians have dealt with these issues (or not) is the context for understanding the effect of new technologies on society and our personal lives.
2) Overview: The Lost Cause - Oct 10
Nothing can be understood without grasping its causes. But causality has largely been removed from modern thinking (often replaced by statistics) -- fatally wounding our ability to comprehend change. How can we retrieve causality--particularly Formal cause -- so we can understand the world around us?
3) East: China Retrieves Qi & Leapfrogs the West - Oct 17
Chinese civilization is often described as being 5,000 years old. Today's Chinese leadership is aggressively emphasizing that heritage. Particularly important is the interest in Qi and its medical and spiritual expressions in Qigong. This presents an opportunity for China to leapfrog the West in its understanding of primal energy--especially as it pertains to human beings as Qi concentrators.
4) East: India & Japan: Reconfiguration of the East - Oct 24
Both India and Japan are also retrieving their ancient heritage. This is required in the face of Digital technology which threatens to replace humanity with machines. Only a through remembrance of what it means to be human can deal with this challenge.
5) West: Disenchantment of the West - Oct 31
Can the West recover in the face of a resurgent East and an accelerating Digital sphere? The tables have turned and the colonial West is now at a disadvantage. "Disenchanted" secularism cannot lead to success in this spiritual contest. Can the West recover its own moral ground?
6) West: Natural Law - Nov 7
The abandonment of Natural Law is at the heart of West's decline. Originally a pagan formulation and then incorporated by Christianity, Natural Law is the required basis for a revival of scientific inquiry in a recovering West Sphere. Our new paradigm requires new sciences.
7) Digital: Digital Sphere Retrieves Alchemy - November 14
Alchemy is a pursuit of golden souls not golden metal. It seeks to purify a professed "divine spark" in humanity and to transform society in the process. This ancient impulse now threatens to replace the human with immortal machines under Digital conditions.
8) Digital: Post Humanity? - Nov 21
Artificial Intelligence disguises the real effects of these technologies on human beings. Regardless of what the machines can do or our attempts to regulate these technologies, the most important development is how these efforts change the humans in the process. Can humanity survive in a "post-human" world?"
Chapters in Session 1 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L9-vdDzSn
0:00 What is the Three Spheres series about?
3:37 What does this session cover?
6:27 Have we ever been here before?
11:41 Do historians understand the 20th century?
13:47 What did Oswald Spangler think?
17:00 What did Arnold Toynbee think?
21:16 What did Carroll Quigley think?
23:28 What did Sam Huntington think?
26:24 What does Marshall McLuhan have to offer?
28:31 Is this Technological determinism?
34:42 Who was Romano Guardini?
37:20 How would you summarize this session?
40:55 What is the range of questions posed by audience?
48:17 What have technological transitions looked like in the past?
57:15 Is the East better suited to handle the current technological change than the West?
1:10:27 What are the four causes?
1:19:37 What does optimal society look like under digital conditions?
1:25:11 What is coming up in the remaining seven sessions of the course?
Article Title: Three Spheres: East, West and Digital: A.I. and the New Geopolitics. By Mark Stahlman.
Globalism has failed. It has already been replaced by a multi-polar world, which is best understood in terms of its primary Three Spheres. As with the rest of society, the practice of geopolitics and the structure/grammar of international relations is formed by the dominant communications technology of its times. Print and Electric technology drove the Western impulse for Globalism and Mass-Markets. But no more. Technology is not neutral but, rather, deeply responsible for our behaviors and attitudes. Change the underlying technology and, inevitably, this will change the resulting social/economic/political Paradigm. The arrival of Digital technology -- particularly in the form of "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) -- has shifted us from one sensibility to another and the new one is radically different. We are no longer driven by Fantasy and have, instead, become re-oriented towards Memory. This shift has massive diplomatic implications and must be understood to address future conflicts.
Dreams of a Globalist world, even a One-World Government, escalated rapidly after WW II, often pinned to war-weary hopes for World Peace in a world overrun with "weapons of mass destruction." Time to start a United Nations! Leo Szilard, a protege of futurist author H.G. Wells and his "Open Conspiracy," developed the notion of an atomic chain-reaction in the hopes that nuclear weapons would make war "unthinkable." The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (later the "Angel's Project") gathered atomic scientists in the hopes that they could control the whirlwind they had unleashed. Psychology became "Cognitive" in the hopes that our plastic human-nature could be re-molded into something more passive and self-absorbed. None of that has happened. Is hope for World Peace no longer possible?
That Globalist dream has become very difficult to sustain, given recent events. We are, often unwillingly, waking-up to a quite different reality. China has made it clear that it will not simply join-up with the West, despite decades of attempts to carrot-and-stick them to do that. Instead, it has aggressively asserted its own civilizational values and, indeed, now teaches its Daoist "classics" throughout the country's educational system. All the way to the Standing Committee of the CPC Politburo. Furthermore, it has also built the institutions to use Chinese currency for trade settlement, replacing the Petro-Dollar. Robots are replacing humans in many occupations at an accelerating clip. In parallel, philosophers and social scientists are projecting a "post-human" world, replacing humanity. For some, this means transferring the human soul into machines. "Artificial Humanity" looms over us all. Are we being swept away by Digital technology?
At the same time, Globalists are fighting back against the inevitable. The broken reality of Globalist dreams is squarely behind the Ukraine conflict. NATO (and its expansion), as many have noted, has no place in today's world. Reviving its original purpose -- stopping Russia, at any cost -- has metastasized into the very real danger of nuclear war and has driven Russia into Chinese arms. All this is the "fault" of a virulent Globalism that will not quietly leave the stage of world history. Careers and institutions are at stake. The Paradigm-shift to Digital is seen as a threat and, as is often the case, threats must be met with counter-threats. Yet, neither the West or the East is superficially to "blame." Both of them are caught in the maelstrom that is a "ground-level" change, far beyond their control and, alas, understanding.
This "out-of-control" feeling permeates much of life, particularly in the West. Speech is no longer "free" but now must be "trained" -- including for the "generative AI" ChatBOTs, who, after-all, are just repeating what humans have already said anyway. Despite lacking the science to support their claims, today the notion is that "persuasive technology" (originally meaning Television) must be censored and elections must be "protected." Voices must be silenced, lest they accelerate the avalanches caused by loud noises. "Democracy" has lost its (various) meanings and, instead, has become another meaningless "meme," wielded in a firestorm of political commercials, stripped of its historic contexts for an audience who were never taught history.
The subconscious recognition that we no longer live in that previous Fantasy-saturated Globalist Paradigm is now widespread. Many describe our situation as "Liminal" (i.e. "in-between"), however typically without any clear sense of where we are heading (or where we've come from). Facebook became Meta to catch a wave that will never happen. The "Metaverse" has been still-born (even though Meta will still spend $5B/year on its development). Apple will, instead, take the "heads-up-display" route (known as "Augmented Reality" or A/R) and charge a hefty fee for the privilege of being a pioneer. The feeling that we are standing on a cliff and will be forced to jump into the abbess only makes the anxiety -- as reflected in all-time high incidence of "depression" among students -- even worse. Does anyone know how this horror-movie will end?
Three Spheres: East, West and Digital
At the height of the Cold War -- the psychological war that happened when "hot" kinetic weapons became too powerful -- the Pentagon launched an office to address this question. The Office of Net Assessment (ONA) reported directly into the Secy of Defense and its facility was located just down the corridor from him. ONA did not do "policy" and it had no task-able forces. Instead, its role was to "diagnose" the current situation by comprehending the past (how we got here) and anticipating (not predicting) the near-future (where we are heading). This is not "strategy"; in fact, it precedes it. Or, at least it should.
That earlier "horror movie" had an amazing cast of characters. Henry Kissinger (now 99 y/o) -- considered by many as a "war criminal" -- loomed large (as did his mentor, Nelson Rockefeller, with his sights set on the Presidency). Mao "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" Tse Tung was (and for some still is) the man who would cause the East to Rise Again. Nuclear brinkmanship could break out any day and British gunships still patrolled many waterways. In 1992, Francis Fukujama declared the "End of History," proclaiming that "Western liberal democracy" had won the "ideological conflict" and could only evolve further from there. No, Fukujama wasn't correct.
He was filled with "hope." He was telling a fantastic story. But, he had failed to understand Oswald Spengler's 1918 "Decline of the West: Form and Actuality." He seems to not even have comprehended Carroll Quigley's 1966 "Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time." And he had a lot of company. He even seems to have forgotten the work of his own teacher, Samuel Huntington.
Huntington's effort to alert Westerners about the fragility of their civilization stretched from his 1960s research on "development and decay" into the 1990s series of lectures and articles culminating in his 1996 "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" and beyond. Alas, he also failed in that effort. Rejected by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) &al, Huntington's insights became channelled into concerns about "jihad" and shoveled into the massive effort known as the "War on Terror." Still, however prescient, what Huntington (and Spengler and Quigley &al) missed was the effects of technology. They seem to have had no comprehension of how technology shapes society. In that process, the fact that the East never underwent the Paradigm conditions of Print or Electricity (or the difference between these two), went unnoticed. This was a serious mistake.
The East Sphere, as it has developed today, was never anticipated by them -- because they lacked an understanding of the Formal causality at work. The Alphabet and Logograms are fundamentally different Forms and, while they can co-exist, they cannot subsume one another. Print came down hard on Aristotle's Four-Causes and Electric nearly eliminated them altogether -- largely replacing "cause" with "correlation." But, the Form that is China never went away. Meanwhile, the Form that was the West has collapsed into a "crisis of meaning." And, under Digital conditions, new Forms are being generated, most importantly the Digital Sphere. Yes, this where it gets particularly interesting.
The Digital Sphere is unlike any seen before. It seeks to replace humans with robots. It is driven by the widespread recognition that "war" cannot be fought by human beings -- so the robots will have to do it. As a result, there is an AI "arms race" between the world's militaries. Compounding this problem, multi-national corporations (and even some who are not) have realized that most humans are a liability, not an asset (and were further convinced by COVID, if not before). Robotic replacement knows no bounds -- while controlling robot "speech" has spawned a new industry. Day-to-day "Jobs" have already been forsaken and have been replaced by "Skills" -- chipping away at the vital importance of work in human life. Some of the world's wealthiest are also on-board, while providing for their “escape route.” Some are even planning for the day that "humanity" (heavily infused with robotic technology) will escape gravity and travel the universe, as foretold in the science-fiction they grew up with."
- Mark Stahlman is the President of the Center for the Study of Digital Life (CSDL). See: http://www.digitallife.center/