Is cyclical view of history correlated with slow development

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Is cyclical view of history correlated with slow development

Postby athelas » Fri Jul 06, 2007 5:11 pm UTC

After playing Civ4 for a while, I got to wondering what factors influence the advancement of a civilization. One possibility I considered is that there is a correlation between viewing history as an endless cycle and cultural stagnation. On the surface, this certainly seems plausible; if one believes that history will merely repeat itself anyway, and even the greatest achievements will be brought low, that would be a powerful disincentive to exertion and creativity. And a people that has seen no visible progress through hundreds of years would certainly be predisposed to view history as cyclical rather than progressive.

In practice, there are a few data points that support this view. A Hundred Years of Solitude, set in Latin America, is told in cycle form. China, too, which progressed very slowly in the last few centuries of imperial rule, had a doctrine of dynastic cycles, with the inevitable decay of the old dynasty leading to the ushering in of a new one. The Good Earth offers an echo of this view in the rise and (predicted) fall of the protagonist's fortunes.

Conversely, Western society has held a largely progressive view of history from the Renaissance forward. Indeed, much of the reputation of the Dark Ages comes from Renaissance commentators, who wanted to exaggerate the progress that the movement represented. Humanism and other philosophical movements stressed the betterment of mankind, and the cynics who viewed man's animal nature as immutable were in the minority. In religion, as well, Christianity (along with other religions) emphasized progress; not only was it allied to science for a long time (viewing science as a way to reveal God's craftsmanship), it also encouraged people to advance their communities as a way to spread Christianity. In contrast, many other religions were primarily introspective, and some even incorporated cyclical models into their theology.

I do not meant to imply causation in one direction or another; I suspect that the effect, if it exists, is so intertwined as to make such questions meaningless. So, what is your opinion?

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Postby Brian » Fri Jul 06, 2007 6:56 pm UTC

I've heard quite a few, "Where's that old-time Christian work-ethic?!" sermons in my time. I feel that this change has occured because we have transitioned into a new source of motivation. Or rather, a change in the owner of said "source."

It is no longer acceptable to be motivated by openly arrogant religious ideals. Back when Christianity and science were allied, Christians were allowed a sense of pride because they were socially accepted as "better." Invention and exploration (in my uninformed opinion) seems to have been motivated by this allowed, open pride.

Now, as commonly displayed on these forums, there is a similar pride to be had in atheism.

Perhaps the low-end of the cyclical rates of advancement can be connected to transitional stages in world-religion?

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Postby 3.14159265... » Sat Jul 07, 2007 12:31 am UTC

..../\/.. \../........

Thats what human progress looks like, random but going up over all, different societies have different graphs, and societies arn't well defined.

Hear of chaos theory, so kinda like that except general trend of going up.
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Postby Vaniver » Sat Jul 07, 2007 2:18 am UTC

Hear of chaos theory
I have, and don't see the relation.

I can see viewing culture as cyclical as inhibiting progress, but I don't think the effect is as important as you want to claim. A revival may not be attempted in a cyclical system, because the trend downward cannot be stopped.

But civilization is many trends, both upwards and downwards, and so I don't think a view of a single cycle is appropriate.
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Postby MalaysianShrew » Sat Jul 07, 2007 3:33 am UTC

I am currently reading "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It's about how and why different societies developed better and faster than others. Native flora and fauna seem to have the biggest impact on a group of people's advancement according to him. A intriguing fact is that, despite modern genetics and horticulture, almost all the world's staple crops come from the fertile crescent as do most of the domesticated animals. As a fellow Civ player, I'd suggest looking at it, it's quite interesting.

I would suggest that the cyclical nature you see is not because of a certain people's views on progress or science but rather because they reached their apex. If you look at modern economies, a depression/recession occurs when economic growth slows down, not stops. This means that a society is either expanding in power and influence or deteriorating. Technology of the time dictates how far a society can expand. The Persian Empire grew immense in Classical times, encompassing Turkey and Egypt all the way into India, but because of the speed of transportation and communication, it was only held together by dividing it up into mostly autonomous Satraps. At the other side of the world, the Inca Empire, lacking horses or any pack animal, was kept small by the need for human messengers on foot to tie the empire together. Famously, the Roman Empire expanded in all directions until it collapsed inward trying to hold onto everything it took in. They could not have stopped at the certain point because not expanding is the same as deteriorating.

So, while today it appears that the West rewards progress and conquered the world, after the fall of the roman empire it was the various Islamic Caliphates that began to shine. For centuries, the middle east was the center of the world's knowledge, making advances in math and science while preserving old knowledge that was lost during Europe's dark ages. In fact, many of the Classical Greek texts are only known to us today from the arabic translations made by Muslim scholars during the "dark ages". And keep in mind, that while Rome was at it's most glorious state, China had a well oiled empire more populous than Rome's with technology unknown to Western scholars.

My point is that while today it seems like the West had a better frame of mind to develope the technology it did, it built off the technology of collapsed empires that were greater than the West at the time that today seem to be playing catch up to the west.

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Postby 3.14159265... » Sat Jul 07, 2007 3:46 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Hear of chaos theory
I have, and don't see the relation.
There are very many factors, and any factor can have immense influence.
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