Mankind clearly approaches a
"cusp," where correct choices are required. As any good scientist would
agree, the essential first step would be to "grok"41
(i. e., study all aspects of) where we are as a species, what our
resources are, and which choices must be made. Once full understanding
is achieved, then correct action, in accordance with our own moral
principles, should allow us to choose correctly. In Heinlein's novel,
the main protagonist could have a considerable impact on all of mankind
by simply applying a small amount of supernatural force to shove things
in the right direction at a "cusp."42
The core of that assertion is not wrong: single individuals have exerted great influence upon the details of history. But, as Spengler clearly demonstrated, the overall course of history has been charted by the life cycles of civilizations, including which civilization was the strongest, in accordance with "The Law of the Jungle," at the point in time when the two civilizations squared off with one another to do battle in some way.43
As I noted in Book V, Section F, up until now, mankind has pretty much refused to learn from history. I tend to personally believe that a significant reason for this is the fact that, at least until Spengler, there has been nothing which set forth the grand patterns of history in a way which provided enough significant meanings to the individual occurrences for the rather dull minds we tend to choose as our leaders to pay heed. The wise men note, again and again, the failure to learn from the past; but our leaders just keep on blundering down those same old paths.
But clearly, masses can be led to break out of old patterns. As I noted in the introduction to this book, "Stock market cycles tend to disappear whenever a popular book analyzes them in detail." But timing is everything in life.44 Spengler captured the popular imagination for a decade or two, but then he wrote some things which angered his main audience,45 and people were thereby "turned off" to the essential truth in his early work. By the time I was growing up in the 1960s, neither Spengler nor his theories were ever mentioned in any history class. Our educational system clearly "threw the baby out with the bath water."
But Spengler has never totally disappeared from view, either. His American publisher kept his great work in print so that, even in the middle 1980s, I was able to buy a copy. The odd reference to Spengler does crop up from time to time, such as in the first few pages of Toffler's book, "Future Shock." But even though he has never disappeared, he also never gained the kind of popular icon status which would be necessary if mankind wishes to break out of the historical cycles which Spengler describes. And, so far as I can now see, those cycles do appear to be continuing.
Of course, Spengler may be unnecessary to the breaking of those cycles. As was explained by Toffler a quarter century ago, we are now living through "the second great divide in human history," where the first great divide was the Agricultural Revolution, which occurred about 10,000 years ago.46 A sober consideration of the voluminous detail accumulated by Spengler and others leads to the conclusion that mankind has been gradually accumulating technology for all those ten millennia, and even longer. Thus, the relatively short cycles of Culture and Civilization are clearly superimposed upon a great up-turning curve of growth in technological knowledge, which ends we know not where.
If we ignore the teachings of Toffler, we may erroneously choose to drown our cycles of civilization in a sea of technology. That is clearly one way in which the cycles of Spengler could be put to rest, but I believe that mankind will not survive as a species if that choice is allowed to develop unfettered.47
Another choice which is clearly available to mankind would be to continue down the path plotted by Spengler, where the gradual decline of Western Civilization into a state of disorder results in the eventual evaporation of our technology because no high form of technology can exist outside of a high form of civilization. So much of our technology would be impossible without the infrastructure of other, more primitive forms of technology. And all technology depends upon an educational system which is capable of producing a sufficient quantity of educated technologists, something now in doubt here. If, at some future point, social disorder becomes so widespread that there is either insufficient economic strength to maintain the bastions of technology or there is an insufficiently educated populace to fill the billets of technological positions, then we could begin the slow disintegration into a Spenglerian end-game for Western Civilization.
As I have implied before, my own hope is for mankind to acknowledge the facts that we have now reached the end of our adolescence as an intelligent species, and that we should now get on about the creation our own adulthood. Spengler noted that the life cycles of the civilizations which he studied bore a strong resemblance to the life cycles of individual humans. The much longer life cycle of humanity as an intelligent species could easily be implied to follow a similar cyclical flow. So far as we can now discern, there was no measurable cyclical flow of human events before the Agricultural Revolution. Thus, we have no reason to believe that there should necessarily be a flow of cycles of civilization after the Technological Revolution. But to answer that point with certainty, we need to wait for several millennia.
The essential thought from Book V, Section F is that mankind chooses its own destiny. That we have reached the point in time where we must do so seems quite obvious to me. That point, if considered as part of the life cycle of an individual human, is the end of our adolescence and the beginning of our adulthood as a species. In our society, an individual human at this point has completed their general education and is ready to choose a career to follow. In the America of here and now, mankind is now at age 18. Having finished high school, we must choose some career goal for ourselves, which could be either direct entry into the work force, vocational training, or further education in college, leading to some career based upon that training. We might also choose the occupation of "homemaker" or we can choose to be "a bum." In any case, some choice must be made.
The difficulty for mankind as a species is that we have no model to follow and no advisors to present what our choices are. We not only have to make the choice of what to do with ourselves, but we even have to discover what the available choices are. We have no other species to advise us in this, our truly great hour of need.
In my mind, of course, this makes the proper choice for mankind extremely obvious: we must choose to further educate ourselves. In a way, the forces of the Technological Revolution have already given us a kick in that direction. Education and technology are closely related, and as discussed above, if either disappeared, the other would be severely crippled.
A study of Spengler also informs us as to what is missing for us to be able to break out of the decline of Western Civilization and strike out into the uncharted territory of further education as a species. We have lost our Cultural "soul." It seems clear to me that we will be unable to break out of our current decline unless we can recapture our ability to commune with the universal forces which lie within the soul of every Culture. Again, it is Spengler who points out that every Culture has this ability to draw its own soul forth from whatever vast well of soul-power exists somewhere for us to tap. Like so many things which we study today, we might not understand the process, but we can clearly see the results. So much of science is the recognition of a useful pattern out of results which appear somewhat by accident. The next step of scientific inquiry is to seek ways to control that which first appears (or comes to notice) unexpectedly.
And here is what I believe would be the single choice for mankind to achieve all of the greatness of which humans are capable: we should now choose to seek conscious control of the very potent soul-power which mankind has harnessed more or less by accident at the beginning of each great Culture.
I would certainly not represent that as a particularly easy choice for us to make. It would imply that a great deal of hard work and self-sacrifice may well be required of us if that is the path which we choose to follow. But follow it we must, for I see no other path out there for mankind. What else is there to learn from the past 10, 20, or 30 millennia of human history other than that we have MUCH more yet to learn?
A long time ago, in a fit of what must now be seen as extreme hubris, we named our species: Homo Sapiens. Are we now ready to choose to become truly sapient?48
41 The word "grok" was coined by Robert Heinlein in his novel "Stranger In A Strange Land," and it means "to fully understand all aspects of" a situation or a thing. (see Book V, Section F.)
42 The use of a "supernatural" force under the control of the elect was a necessary plot device for Heinlein's novel. But the requirement was there solely to be able to move the story forward without too much unnecessary detail. Clearly, the same effects can occur due to "natural" force.
43 In other words, the Cortés invasion of Mexico would have had a considerably different impact on mankind if the Aztecs had possessed the guns and the Spaniards had not. Most historians agree that the outcome would have been very different if Cortés had simply not arrived at a point in time where there was a deep political division in the Aztec empire which allowed Cortés to gain assistance from so many disaffected Aztecs. What the different outcomes might have been is a subject for speculative fiction; mankind can never really know the Truth of what alternative futures we discard by making some particular choice. But if you root for Western Civilization to prevail over the Aztecs, then Cortés was clearly "the right man, at the right place, at the right time."
44 See footnote 43, where I discuss the amazing luck of Cortés in arriving in Mexico at exactly the right time for his small band to be able to defeat the Aztec Empire.
45 Spengler wrote some things which attempted to justify Hitler and the Nazis in terms of his theses on the patterns of history. I personally believe that the whole idea of a "thousand year Reich" came, in some way, from Spengler. Spengler was overly fond of trying to fit events into exact time spans, and the span of "a thousand years" was one of his favorites.
46 See Book IV, Section C.
47 It would be basically impossible to predict the consequences of unfettered technology. Consider for a moment what just uncontrolled genetic experimentation might produce. Whatever biological beings are left in charge of the affairs of Earth at the end of that process, we would surely not consider those beings to be "mankind."
48 Sapient means "having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment." (Random House Unabridged Dictionary.)
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