Extrapolating from the Historical Progress of Identity
After reading the inspirational predictions for the next 25 years on the Guardian website, I felt inspired to expand on my theories of the correlation between identity and communication technology and attempt to extrapolate my own predictions from the historical progress of identity and humanities study of the complex system that is society.
Here is the chart I drew up giving a rough outline of the cycles and progression of memetic production (identity), as accelerating advances in communication technology take our complex system to greater scales of connectivity: http://tinyurl.com/2ub9khm
Nb. For the sake of identifying key features, simplification and generalisation are to some extent necessary. Exceptions will always be found since the spread of communication technology (the framework of the complex system) is not universally even. Indeed, accross the world all stages of identity may be present at any one time until we converge together.
The following identities are based upon the catagorisation of what Anderson termed 'imagined communities', those identities that transcend the local and which bind humans together into large enough groups to constitute emergent properties we know as History. Emergent properties of complex systems are self-similar, and so we see at each definition of scale self-similar processes and cycles regardless of the actual content of these imagined identities...
Fundamental Imagined Identities
Three fundamental identities have arisen on Earth: Religion, State and Commerce. These identities have found homes within each of us to varying degrees of dominance in what we believe, where we live and what we do, respectively. Each arose in times of expanded communication technology (language, mathematics, transport, media, digital etc) and became seemingly permanent by attaining a monopoly of memetic production which then suffused cultures with language, symbolism and memes which persisted beyond the control of the monopoly itself, continuing to influence future individuals identities.
As each new identity emerges it goes through a cycle. Firstly, it identifies itself in relation to the older identity, by definition a necessity since this is the memetic monopoly one has to play with. Thus States began as theocracies, corporations evolved from National enterprises and individualism is the progeny of the corporately defined 'individual as consumer'. There have been three fundamental identities thus far, but a fourth is now emerging, that of the autonomous individual.
Each progression is the result of an increase in knowledge facilitated by a more detailed, diverse and extensive complex system (society). Each progression of identity represents a new level of emancipation, with greater sharing of power, more feedback, more freedom and importantly greater democratisation of memetic production. This last point is crucial. Since identity is produced from culture, the less monopolised memetic-production is the more emancipated individual identity can be. It represents the opposite of dogma, of ideology. Democratised memetic production means the elimination of whole-scale identity creation of the many by the few and the exposure of that manipulation through contact with the demonised, mythologised 'other' of which they speak.
Driving this emancipation is rationality and cognitive dissonance. Each new identity succeeds the last because it's embracing amalgamation of more diverse memes results in a closer approximation of reality. As the anachronisms of prior identities become visible through the advance of knowledge, cognitive dissonance increases also, leading to new generations to come to predominantly new conclusions contrary to the dogma of the established order. It is precisely because we grow old and die, together with the rebellious, adaptive, open-mindedness of youth, that society is able to progress politically as our technologically driven shifts in identity occur.
The cycle of each fundamental identity
As dogma becomes exposed through increased communication, ideas begin to form from the emerging cognitive dissonance. These ideas are presented as rationalisations within the context and under the regulation of the existing memetic monopoly (as cause-and-effect demands). As knowledge advances and more of the unknown becomes known (diluting the power of the mythological other), these sporadic rationalisations become untenable and cognitive dissonance spreads with more veracity for it, eventually leading to a paradigm shift in political governance and identity creation.
Emerging from the language and culture of the previous fundamental identity comes a new monopoly on memetic production. Religion is divorced from the state, corporations go from state enterprises to multi-national to supranational. And yet, despite gaining absolute power, they still feel the need to dress themselves in rationalisations of memetic identities past, co-opting the power of reminiscence . Hitler draped his genocide in divine garb, corporations practice with 'national interest' and individualism defines itself according, for now, to the corporate plan. Each subverts the last to saturate our culture with their identity-creating memes common interests: power, wealth and the wilful ignorance of dissonance that may shake their self-serving, manufactured, yet no less sincere rationalisations for maintaining their brief turn at benefiting from inequality.
Our innate nature insists we continue to communicate, the obvious benefits that result maintaining a drive at increasing our communication networks. Whilst political structures may come about through a domino-like paradigm shift, communication technology keeps accelerating exponentially, telescoping the rate of change dramatically as we get to ever finer definitions of this networked complex system we call society. As such, there comes a point where dissonance becomes too great for the rationalisations of the ruling elites to make sense any longer. Take the Democratic system. Founded on the inherently nationalistic doctrine of the social contract, it's usefulness is drastically outdated and unsuited to a globalised world. It represent a broken network, with nodes that shut themselves off from one another, polluting the system. When communication structures available to the public exceed what is directly manageable by the ruling class, reality will begin to contrast with the official line, creating dissonance and the desire for change.
As our newly emerging identity (more complex network) forms, it's greater scope and scale of identity emancipation produces far more rational memes than those that came before. This exposing of anachronisms is most keenly felt in the young, those who have yet to be infected with the dogmatic ideology they have had forced into their brain. Dogma dies, to be replaced with better dogma, more inclusive dogma, until finally we break the cycle altogether.....
So what happens next?
I think Hegel will be happy to hear that his notion of History being mankind coming to know itself is truer than most gave him credit for. As communication technology spreads to the masses one step at a time, political structures follow suit by slowly adjusting, sometimes piecemeal, sometimes radical and violent, much as an earthquake does depending on how much tension has arisen. The Internet is a radical technological invention and its effect on that tension cannot be over-estimated. The corporate meme-machine as been busy telling us we are individuals, the by-product of which (lets not forget it's central aim is to flatter us into buying stuff) has resulted in a radical notion of the self as an autonomous unit, a self-contained bundle of rights and privileges.
This information age, where the democratisation of memetic production has exploded in a noisy, ill-defined sea of identity bits and bytes, isn't the utopia people make it out to be however. It's message is better for sure, we are sovereign citizens of our own mass-manufactured castles, walled off mentally and physically in order to capture that essence of individuality, that false veneer of material possession hiding us from ourselves. This hyper relative individualism, combined with the concept of competition that previous rulers deemed a virtue, plays havoc with peoples minds! The dissonance between the religious, state and corporate models of perfected form and the reality we as individual live with is vast, resulting in depression, mental health problems and growing neurosis.
These problems, together with the Wests emerging relationship with those that have until now silently shouldered the burden of manufacturing our continued opulence, will expose the anachronisms of the corporate subversion of the state. The supranational manifestation of wealth production will lose it's facade of greater good once the publics idea of what 'greater' constitutes exceeds that of their former creators. Religious identities will continue to decline in-line with access to communication technology, with only those shunning the technolgoy itself left to ever-more radical ratioanlisations of their own actions. The state will follow a similar course, with direct-democracy coming to those who recognise and escape the crip of corporate co-opting.
The advantages of this progression are vast. The information age will at last recognise humanity as one complex system, eliminating much of the discrimination and prejudice the exploitation of the 'other' has caused. The corporate co-opting of the state will be exposed mainstream, with a separation similar to that of church and state (already a publicly stated ideal, it is never-the-less another lie rationalised from above) and the autonomous individual will demand greater power and control over their political lives through the co-opting of corporate ideals of individual freedom from outside forces. The availability of information will need to adjust to the finer definition of network connections, recognising that democratised memetic production invalidates the rationalisation for such extensive centralised power and access to knowledge.
And beyond that...
Religion will become an ever decreasing force though still visible as memetic echoes of a former age. States will be udner ever greater pressure to stampt out corruption, open itself to accountablility and allowing the public to govern itslef to ever greater degrees. Corporations will be under similar pressure, perhaps basing themselves within those states that are most stubborn in embracing progress (since those conditions best for profit also appear to be worst for the public as a whole). Free from national obligation, they could become even more explicitly dangerous, even to powerful states slow to change, before subsiding themselves into a rather different legacy than they currently envisage in their assumed noble ideals.
I am reminded at this point of an interview in the film Waking Life. Aklilu Gebrewold talks about humans coming to understand themselves, how our minds work, what and who we waking up to in this new age of hypersubjectivity. Only when our individual minds fully understand themselves in relation to reality can we then look outside of ourselves anew with a radical objectivity. The ideas in this essay are in a similar vein, having come from an attempt to work my knowledge of philosophy and cognitive science to the world of the emergent properties of complex human systems (what we call History). And so it goes with identity. Once we understand ourselves as part of a complex system, it is a small step to recognise that that system is not closed, the sole dmoain of monosapien. No, we are but one part of a greater system, that of Nature, which in turn is but one insiginficant part of even greater, galactic, universal systems.
This will become the next source of conflict, the recognition of Nature and the environments place within our network. Although communication structures will encompass all of humanity, we will still need to hear from Nature itself in order to understand our effect on it. Dwindling resources and growing destruction of habitats and wildlife cannot continue if we are to exist peeacefully. As such, practices and beliefs that run contrary to this will in turn produce enough dissonance to ensure that after the age of the individual comes the age of Earth itself: An identification with and recognition of this global biosystem and our place in it. Once we are there, there is no other to be exploited and we will finally be able to live in harmony before amking the jump of understanding our place not simply on this planet, but within our galaxy, our universe. We are still only at the beginning of that journey.