< < <
Date Index
> > >
Re: The Eonic Effect and the problem of evidence
by Mike Alexander
24 September 2002 22:22 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >

I will try to be more specific in my evidence remarks.  The eonic effect (if I understand it correctly) involved the idea of "pulsed" development of human society with an associated frequency of about 2400 years. That is, if we were to plot the "height" of civilization over time we would get a "step-shaped" profile with periodic bursts of development surround by less active periods. The two critical dates to be examined are 600 BC and 1800 AD.  The idea is the centuries around these dates see a rate of development that dwarfs other periods.  It is noted that a large number of developments began just before 600 BC and in the centuries immediately following. Similarly, the rise of the modern world has occurred in the centuries around 1800.

The idea of pulsed development in an intriguing concept.  But to discuss issues like this (and indeed any of the ideas in "big history") one has to have a really good idea of what happened during such transitional periods in order to get the dating right.  One also needs to have an equally-good understanding of what happened during the non-transitional periods to verify that change did occur at a substantially slower rate.  Here is where statements reflecting the old concept of the Renaissance as a time when the "old knowledge" of the ancient Greeks and Romans was rediscovered by a Europe rising from the "dark ages" of Medievalism are problematic.  Built into this concept is the idea that somehow 1500 is a divider between the "modern world" and a benighted time before.

Modern scholarship, especially that including Braudel's concept of "total history" has shown that the emergence of the Modern World is not well-described as a transition around 1500, but rather the whole process is more of a piece.  If any date is to marked as a transition, it would be 1348, when the European world was abruptly and dramatically changed forever.  Anyways, we can "map" the 600 BC dates together with the 1800 AD dates as follows:

1300 --> 1100 BC
1500 --> 900 BC
1800 --> 600 BC
2000 --> 400 BC

This mapping is interesting, because it matches up the "collapse" of Medieval civilization in the 14th century with the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization in around 1100 BC.  It is possible that the forces at work in both collapses were similar.  In the early 14th century, European population reached  a level beyond which further increases were no longer possible without a significantly improved technology.  Caloric intake for the bulk of the population had been reduced to barely that needed to survive and resistance to disease was reduced.  Even without disease, gradual exhaustion of soil would force population declines.  Indeed, the first shot in the collapse of Medieval civilization was the Great Famine of 1316, which is estimated to have killed 10% of the population.  This was followed by the coup de grace of the bubonic plague a generation later. 
The result was a massive drop in population which did not recover its pre-famine levels until the early 16th century. Real wages doubled in the half century following the plague.  They stayed high for the entire 15th century.  With no increase in labor productivity, these economic changes produced a massive downward shift in the well-being of the upper classes especially the landed nobility.  What "collapsed" following 1348 was the world order enjoyed by the Medieval elite resulting from a collapse in population.  What came to an end (gradually) was the whole noble way of life, what we call Feudal society.  In Britain this transition was accompanied by the physical elimination of most of the nobility as well in the War of the Roses.

In Medieval Europe the centers of civilization were too de-centralized to go down the tubes with the falling fortunes of the upper classes.  Instead, wealth (and the culture it buys) changed hands.  Although most noble families lost out, a few managed to prosper (e.g. Sir John Falstaff in England).  Some bourgeoisie commoners did well.  The shake-up proved by the plague produced opportunities as well destroying fortunes  (what Schumpeter called creative destruction).  The big winner was the monarchy.  In highly decentralized Northern Italy, spectacular losers like the banking houses of Sienna were replaced by Florentine bankers, and the Venetians also did extraordinarily well.  These winners funded the
explosion of art and culture we call the Italian Renaissance.  It is this cultural brilliance that makes it hard to see the Rennaisance as a dark age, but from the perspective of those who had been on top in the previous civilization, it was.

Now let's imagine a similar thing happened to Mycenaean civilization.  We know that the Greek Dark ages was accompanied by a decline in population. The Mycenaean elite, who extracted the surplus wealth of the subordinate
population in much the same way as the Medieval lords did, would likewise be hard-hit by a population decline, which reduced the value of the fixed capital relative to labor.  The palace economy would likely not survive in the new economic reality of the post-decline world, just as many of the nobility went under during the 15th century.  Unlike the situation in Europe, in which the centers of civilization were many (free towns, the church, as well as the nobility)  all these elements were concentrated in the Mycenaean palace.  Thus their collapse (which is documented in the record) meant the virtual elimination of the Mycenaean elite and their literate culture.  The rest of the culture (social norms, customs, music,
poetry, history, etc.) might have still lived on in the common people as oral traditions (and so could be written down by Homer centuries later). 
The influx of a vigorous, less-advanced population, who brought with them a more egalitarian social organization) would produce an amalgam from which new social forms could emerge (such as democracy).  Dark ages resulting from such amalgams often are times of cultural innovation (e.g. the introduction of the moldboard plow, the horse collar and three
field system during the European dark age, which transformed European productivity, leading to higher population densities and greater wealth than what had been achieved by the Romans.  Similarly the amalgam produced in the
Greek Dark ages les to the greater height of Classical Greek civilization as compared to Mycenae.

Still left is the possibility that transitions of this sort occur on a regular time table (the eonic effect).  We can check this by noting whether other similar collapses have been followed by a dramatic expansion of civilization and when this occurred.  For example, Indo Europeans invaded India sometime before these things happened in Greece.  Were these events followed by a greater flowering of Indian culture and did this precede developments in Greece or were they contemporary?  Did things like this happen in early China?  How do they fit on the timetable?

I know that major advances in Indian and Chinese thought (e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, Confucians etc) appeared in the sixth century BC.  These are compared to contemporary or earlier religious/literary developments in the  West such as Zoroasterism, the Hebrew prophets, and Homer.  (There is something here, I agree) But are these Eastern thought systems really religions?  If not, shouldn't they be compared to Greek philosophy, which happened later?  As for Homer, aren't the Iliad and Odyssey epic poems, meant to be sung?  Could not these stories have existed as an oral tradition in more or less the form Homer found them long before he wrote them down (think West African griots)?  Besides, epics are not a new form of expression, doesn't the epic of Gilgamesh predate the Iliad by at least a millennium?  Why does Homer "count" as something revolutionary?
Mike Alexander,  author of
Stock Cycles: Why stocks won't beat money markets over the next 20 years and
The Kondratiev Cycle: A generational interpretation
< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >