The Collapse of Complex Societies

In essence, the telos of man – namely, man’s “inner religiousness” as defined and shaped by man’s relationship with God – amounts and culminates into a kind of theosophical discourse which is embedded with aesthetic and creative dimensions and features as a result of the roles which art and philosophy play in such a discourse. Man is both “initiate” and “disciple” before God as a result of the telos of man, and in turn, the theosophical discourse which arises from such a relationship contains an “expanded consciousness” that transcends both “form and thought.” As one “Hadith Qudsi” in the Islamic tradition states:

“My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.”

It is thus the combination of art and metaphysics rather than organized religion and conventional morality which underpin theosophical or “Dionysian” discourse, as Nietzsche argued. In a sense, a collapsed order amounts to a collapse of its aesthetic and creative pillars, and what is left amidst the collapse is a shallow and surface-level morality and religiosity which is futile given the nihilistic condition and outlook which pervades an order that is collapsing because of the evisceration and decimation of its aesthetic and creative foundations and pillars. 

In essence, there is a link between aesthetics, creativity and thus complexity on one hand, and a theosophical discourse on the other hand, and it is this particular link which keeps culture and civilization afloat. Once this link is broken and if the aesthetic, creative, and complex theosophical foundations and pillars of a culture and civilization are gone, the culture and civilization will go with it. As one scholar argued: 

“The features that popularly define a civilized society – such as great traditions of art and writing – are epiphenomena or covariables of social, political, and economic complexity. Complexity calls these traditions into being, for such art and literature serve social and economic purposes and classes that exist only in complex settings. Civilization emerges with complexity, exists because of it, and disappears when complexity does. Complexity is the base of civilization, and civilization…can disappear only when complexity vanishes.” 

As Arnold Toynbee noted, the most “conspicuous” mark of a civilization’s disintegration is when “a disintegrating civilization purchases a reprieve by submitting to a forcible political unification within the framework of a ‘universal state.’” In Western antiquity, such a “universal state” arose when Ancient Rome consolidated the collapse of Greece. And in the modern West, the United States is the “universal state” which has consolidated the collapse of the Western empires of the bygone colonial period. 

Toynbee argued that the “criterion” for “the process of the disintegration of a civilization” is not to be found in environmental or physical conditions. Rather, Toynbee argued that such a criterion is to be found “within the bosom of society” and in turn “the ultimate criterion and the fundamental cause of the breakdowns of civilizations is an outbreak of internal discord through which they forfeit their faculty for self-determination.” Schisms of a social nature occur “within the bosom of society” based first and foremost on geographical differences and class differences, as Toynbee highlighted, and in turn these social schisms are the ultimate source of a society’s disintegration. How these social schisms are then overcome in the way of reestablishing order, social cohesion, and unity is a subject matter that is best left for mystics and religious folk. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s