The human situation is complicated, we can all agree on that. But in the last 500 years or so it has become much more complicated. But we cannot agree on that. Why? That is the subject of this posting.
Every organism is part of something much larger. All life is closely related – we are all built of cells, which are much the same the world over. Except for one kind of cells – nerves, which in the human brain have become incredibly complicated.
Actually, the right world to use here is not complicated, but complex. And complexity theory tells us something amazing – as systems become more complex new behaviors appear – out of nowhere. These are called emergent properties.
The human brain is full of these properties – as is human behavior, which is derived, somehow, from our over-developed brains. I want to talk about two of them – the inner self and the way we have become extended – the external self.
We have always been part of our technologies – this is what civilization amounted to: a complex of new technologies – including writing. And they have never been under control – we become whatever our technologies want us to become.
You may object that technologies do not have minds, and cannot will anything. You are right, technically. But practically, the combination of technology and people always results in people modifying their behavior to make maximum use of the newest, most successful, technology. This is what makes a technology successful.
This is most easily seen in warfare – a very human activity. A man with a spear is much more powerful than a man without one. And a phalanx of men armed with spears is more powerful yet. In such a situation the individual man disappears – and only the group remains. A transformation many find hard to resist.
This is the basis of the individual – group conflict. Which is usually resolved to benefit the group.
Modern history began with the Middle Ages – from which it emerged. Modernism was an incredibly complicated (or actually, complex) development – that people are now ignorant of – as they are of most everything. This posting is about how modern history evolved into post-modern history. Another very complicated development – which I can only scratch the surface of.
The big change involved the creation of mass production and mass man. This was a very clever idea – although not a new one. The Greeks had pottery factories operated by slaves, and hundreds of thousand of their pots still exist.
But the Industrial Revolution had something new - energy from fossil fuels – first coal, and then oil. And an explosion of new machines. This, as always, made a new kind of people – the human mass. Here again, this was nothing new. Ancient Rome was full of useless people who demanded bread and circuses - and got them.
But their modern counterpart was different – they could be put to work in the factories, manufacturing mass-produced commodities – at very low prices – to the immense profit of a few. This became know as Capitalism – whose most obvious feature was its ruthlessness.
But this is not what I started to write about. Completely unnoticed, something else was happening – people were extending themselves outward and becoming part of their technologies – which were themselves becoming more and more extended. As I said, this very important development has not been noticed – except for a few, and these have been ignored.
People could not resist this shameful new development – and they didn’t want anyone calling their attention to it. What was shameful about it? It meant they were abandoning their inner selves – which, after all, were their real selves.
Now I must start of the development of today’s subject – the difference between the inner and outer self. The outer self is all our possessions – which possess us. In the Computer world, this means we are networked all over the place. The Economy is also networked, which in practice means it can be manipulated by a few to their benefit. But this is nothing compared to the damage to our inner selves.
Every person, in the course of his (or her) normal development, develops his own personality. In Jungian terms, this is called individuation. And every individual is different. And is accepted as being different. In my little town in Costa Rica I can see this just by walking down the street, and taking note of the people there.
By contrast, if I go a two hour bus ride away to the Central Metropolitan Area (where most of the people live and most of the jobs are) the people have become homogenized – where everyone is much the same. And where everyone studiously ignores this.
I summarize – when people develop in externalized self, they lose their inner self. And cease to function as normal human beings.
You might ask “If you are right, why hasn’t this been noticed?” The answer seems to be “This is normal human behavior (which made it invisible to us) – but carried to extremes – which produced effects that we could not have anticipated.”
Of course, you will ask “What’s the solution?” My answer is “I don’t know, but the first step would be recognizing where we are – which seems impossible.”