Monday, July 11, 2016

Mimesis is the sincerest form of flattery

Excerpts from D.C. Somervell's two-volume abridgement of Arnold J. Toynbee's A Study of History

In a growing civilization a challenge meets with a successful response which proceeds to generate another and a different challenge which meets with another successful response. There is no term to this process of growth unless and until a challenge arises which the civilization in question fails to meet--a tragic event which means a cessation of growth and what we have called a breakdown

In our civilization, the challenge we fail to meet is -- well, one of them was the Great Depression. Before the Great Depression, the Long Depression. More recently, the so-called Great Recession. A repeating (almost rhythmical) economic challenge.

Toynbee continues:
Here the correlative rhythm begins. The challenge has not been met, but it nonetheless continues to present itself. A second convulsive effort is made to meet it, and, if this succeeds, growth will of course be resumed.

The great depressions of the capitalist era are the rhythmical challenge which we have failed to meet.

Rather than dealing with the monetary imbalances arising from extreme inequality, the dominant minority attempts to solve the problem by imposing globalization on the world. This solution fails.

The nature of the breakdown can be summed up in three points: a failure of creative power in the creative minority, which henceforth becomes a merely 'dominant' minority; an answering withdrawal of allegiance and mimesis on the part of the majority; a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole.

Mimesis: the deliberate imitation of the behavior of one group of people by another as a factor in social change.

When the U.S. was doing well, our policies were imitated everywhere:

By growing 5% in real terms, the U.S. experienced a sharper expansion than any other major nation. Even the most optimistic forecasts for 1965 turned out to be too low... Figuring that the U.S. had somehow discovered the secret of steady, stable, noninflationary growth, the leaders of many countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain openly tried to emulate its success.
- Time Magazine, 31 December 1965

These days, not so much. These days, it seems terrorist groups inspire the most mimesis. Meanwhile, Britain wants out of the EU, Scotland wants out of Britain, Quebec wants out of Canada, and Texas wants out of the USA.

Withdrawal of allegiance and mimesis.