After looking at everything we have considered in this book, is there any final conclusion to be drawn about the destiny of mankind? Of course there is:
Mankind chooses its own destiny, plus the destiny of everything on Earth!
The Christian belief is that
God created Man in the image of God. (see Genesis I, verse 26; which is
believed to be based on much earlier traditions, such as "The Teaching for Merikare,"
Parable 22, from about 2100 b. c.) The truth of the matter is that
all people come to need some sort of religious beliefs to help them
cope with so many incomprehensible consequences of Fate. At some point
in its development, each tribe of people develops a set of religious
beliefs for that purpose. Many of those beliefs include a God which is,
either wholly or partly, in the image of a man or woman. Many beliefs
also include legends of people dying and becoming a God or Goddess.
Without intending to denigrate any honestly held beliefs of anyone out there, it is all too obvious, if you study the vast range of human religious belief throughout history, that mankind actually creates God in the image of man, NOT the other way around.
At a fairly young age, I was intrigued by the Robert Heinlein novel "Stranger In A Strange Land." While the God-creatures appearing as characters in that novel were based upon explicitly Christian themes, there were a number of "innovations" (for me at least) which were not at all based upon Christianity. The paramount example would be the phrase: "Thou art God," used as the equivalent of "Aloha" among the faithful. On occasion, this phrase was accompanied by the further explanation of "all who grok are God." "Grok," of course, was a coined word, allegedly from a Martian language, the full meaning of which could not be translated into English. The closest translation of that Martian word, "grok," would mean "to fully understand all aspects of" a situation or a thing. My young mind churned with the question: "Why can't I `grok' and be God myself?"
The real answer, which is Heinlein's secret message, is that I could be God! Part of what was required was a "cusp," which I took to mean "a point that marks the beginning of a change." At a "cusp," you would "grok," and in the fullness of your total understanding of the situation, you would initiate a change, playing out your role as God.
In the novel, Martian morality charged all who would "grok" with making the correct decision and initiating the proper change. This added the idea that the actions of God must be controlled according to some overarching moral code.
With those concepts fresh in my young mind, I confronted one of the oldest of the known paradoxes: are the acts of each human predestined, does mankind have a totally free choice, or is the truth somewhere in the middle? Christianity has struggled with all of the various implications of that question throughout its existence. Still to this day, there are sects of Christianity which believe in predestination and sects which do not. I will not bother you with repeating all of the arguments on each side, because I intend to offer only a "bright line" answer.
Predestination is unworkable as an answer for oh so many reasons. And yet, you cannot ignore the fact that many people have some ability to foretell the future. Clearly, Spengler had that ability. But a detailed study of his written word clearly showed that his predictions for the future were based upon a clear assumption: things would be a certain way in the future because people have (almost) always reacted in certain ways to certain particular situations, and it is thus logical to expect that people will continue to act in that same way when confronted with those same situations. This is not foretelling the future, but is instead just the result of keen powers of observation, analysis, and conclusion.
Another key observation which I made from a study of Spengler is that it does not really matter in the long run which particular personality wins or loses at a critical point (a "cusp") in the development of a Culture or a Civilization. It only really matters that someone is there to perform the necessary task to move on to the next stage of development. You can easily see this because Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world before his death in 323 b. c. On the other hand, Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo, and was imprisoned the rest of his life. Yet, as Spengler asserts, each served the identical need in their respective civilizations. The career of each marked the death of Culture and the birth of a Civilization, and then Civilization promptly began to decline towards death from there.
Exactly what is required of the individual fulfilling that particular role for each of the known Cultures and Civilizations is a matter for study by someone far more knowledgeable than I am. But it is clear that a military victory is not the thing which matters. It is more along the lines of a charismatic leader who gets the attention of all of the people of the Culture and inspires them in some fashion towards greatness. In that process, the cultural soul dies, hardening into Civilization, as Spengler has noted.
The best way of saying it would be that the time was ripe for some individual to fulfill that particular destiny. In each case, someone has: for Classical Culture, Alexander filled the bill; and for our Western Culture, it was Napoleon who did it.
So, the questions arise: "What if Alexander had never existed? Suppose that there was no Napoleon to lead the French Republic back to empire?" Well, the dates which Spengler postulates all have some considerable amount of "flex" in them. These men need not arise in any particular day, week, month, or year. In a cultural lifetime of a thousand years, any "date" could well be defined as "plus or minus a century, or so."
The concept of "destiny," then, appears to be an opportunity created by the times which may be seized by any man of daring who happens to have the proper set of skills needed to take control of that particular "cusp." From the point of view of Spengler, it matters not what the particulars might be; it only matters that a "cusp" was reached, a decision was made, and some necessary change was thereby effected.
But do we learn the patterns of our own destiny from a study of the history of others? The sages surely do not teach us that! "History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other."35 "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. . . . Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."36 "What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."37 Besides, for Spengler to be correct in his predictions, our leaders must continue to fail to learn from the history of mankind! The minute that our leaders actually learn to take a different path in some given situation, then humanity will be put "off course" into some uncharted waters.
It is interesting to note, somewhat as an aside, that Toffler asserts our "progress" began its rapid acceleration (i.e., the Industrial Revolution was launched) when the invention of the printing press allowed massive reproduction of books, thereby allowing the rapid diffusion and retention of knowledge throughout our population. This seems correct (I never said he was all wrong).
But if, as Toffler asserts, technology is the "great, growling engine of change," then a valid question arises: "Where is the steering wheel?" At present, it appears there may be none. So far, technology has mostly been directed towards two very narrow objectives: short term profits for businesses and military successes in war.
With a few notable exceptions, such as the space program or disease research, our technological engine is mostly directed towards private profits for individual businesses. The second most pervasive use of technology is in devices of war, whether they will be for offensive or defensive purposes. All of the goals for these technological advances are controlled by public and private research and development budgets.
So, it appears that technology does have a steering wheel of sorts; it is the sum total of all of the considerations which go into the allocation of funds for the purposes of researching and developing technology for some specified purpose(s). To some lesser degree, where the government does not allocate those funds directly, it still has some impact in the allocation when it gives different tax treatment to different kinds of expense for research and development. But the primary considerations remain: short term profits for the businesses making the investment or direct funding by the government.
But the end point of this state of affairs is that mankind decides its own destiny! It is mankind who sets forth the criteria which lead to the investment of research funds for some particular purpose. If no funds are allocated to a given area of research, we are destined to make little or no progress in that area. On the other hand, if large amounts of funds are made available, we are destined to make whatever progress which technology allows to be achieved for that level of investment.
So, if mankind chooses its own destiny for technological advancements, then what about social and cultural advancements? How can mankind possibly choose its own destiny and still always end up with the same result? The only possible answer would be that mankind's choices are limited by human nature. What Spengler observed as the end result of ten millennia of various cycles of Culture and Civilization was the end result of mankind achieving its own human nature.
So, we reach the penultimate question: "Can mankind choose to change human nature and thereby also choose to change the destiny of mankind?" Phrased that way, the answer seems obvious: "Yes, of course!"
The primary factor which creates the attributes which we call "human nature" is the sum total of all educational experiences which we receive during our lives. In other words, "human nature" is a product of the conditioning we receive from our environment. If we change the circumstances and/or the content of that conditioning, we will change human nature. Any broad review of people throughout history can lead to no other conclusion! Each historical person of whom we have any significant knowledge is clearly a product of his or her own personal conditioning by the surrounding environment.
Would Aristotle have been a very different person if he had grown up as a child of a poor Greek family in a twentieth-century New York neighborhood? Of course he would. The difference in his environment would have made all of the difference in the world to what Aristotle meant to mankind.
35 Philip Guedalla, Supers and Supermen , "Some Historians"
36 George Santayana, from The Life of Reason [1905-1906], Volume I, Reason in Common Sense, Chapter 12. The basic idea traces to Euripides [c. 485-406 b. c.], "Whoso neglects learning in his youth, ¶ Loses the past and is dead for the future." From Phrixus, fragment 927.
37 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of History , introduction, as quoted by George Bernard Shaw in The Revolutionist's Handbook. The underlying thought goes back at least to Thucydides [c. 460 - 400 b. c.], cited by Dionysius of Halicarnassus [c. 54 - c. 7 b. c.], "The contact with manners then is education; and this Thucydides appears to assert when he says history is philosophy learned from examples." (Ars Rhetorica, XI, 2.)
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