Corporate society and the Toynbee Cycle

[this is an elaboration of some of my comments on the previous article on the Age of the Anthropocene blog]

When I was arguing that Trump may well seek to ‘over-rule’ apparent economic realities and help produce climate disaster, I was guided by a theory which I call the ‘Toynbee Cycle’ after the historian Arnold Toynbee. The basic proposition is that Civilisations or societies, if they are to succeed and survive, adapt to their environment which includes ecology and other societies. Societies always face challenges which the society either overcomes, adapts to, or fails.

A failure can be a learning experience and produce better adaptation later on. This learning often involves a change in the people in power and/or the ideologies they embrace.

However, sometimes these challenges arise out of the very factors that have helped to generate the societies success.

A common example could be an extreme military proficiency that has expanded until the point where the costs, financial and social, of maintaining that success and dominance depletes the society of resources and the capacity to respond to challenges; in particular the capacity to respond to new non-military kinds of challenges. Similarly, problems arise when a group of people has been able to commandeer the cosmologies, economics, technologies etc. of a society and they restrict membership and do not allow newcomers. Such a group is likely to resist innovation and change, even if it kills them, because they have no competence or experience in such. Letting in new classes/groups of people, provided they appear talented or qualified is always a good strategy to get new ideas. Restricting entry to kin and existing group members is usually harmful. [for those who like this kind of thing, this latter point comes from Pareto’s cycle of elites]

Toynbee’s oft repeated point is that previously successful societies, do not fail so much as commit suicide. This suicide is usually promoted by the dominant groups not wanting to risk loss of dominance, or not being able to see the world in terms other than those of the tools (conceptual and technological) they use.

In my terms, the order the rulers seek creates the very disorder they fear. Reality does not work the way they want it to, or they demand that it does.

The standard ways of dealing with challenges, which seem likely to ensure social collapse, are:

To try and impose the required order more rigorously.
To pretend that the signs of disorder are illusionary.
To pretend to be solving the problem, usually with a knowing wink.
To attack those who might be trying to solve the problems.
To stir up a distraction and get people’s attention focused elsewhere, or
To locate a scapegoat to blame for the problems and argue everything will be well when that scapegoat is purged.

We largely seem to have a corporately dominated society; its cosmologies, forms of organisation and economic power seem to be embraced everywhere. It has relatively tight control, and factions of our current society, which support that order, appear to be dedicated to all of the techniques named above:

The economy is not working – so let us have more ‘free markets’, more power to the corporate sector, more wealth for the wealthy. Trump has promised to encourage more fossil fuels as they have worked in the past, and are (incidentally)generated by wealthy people and organisations.

People pretend that the climate change generated by society’s economy and success is not a problem, is not happening, is some kind of conspiracy, or is beyond human remediation.

Many government seem to want to embrace a ‘solution’ to climate change which supports coal burning. Not just new mines, but ‘clean coal’ and fracking for cheap ‘clean’ gas despite the leaks.

Groups attack and smear scientists, greens and anti-coal protestors who recognise some of the problems.

Official media, tends to distract us by focusing on the lives of celebrities, on murders, imaginary worlds and so on.

Groups can actively blame refugees, illegal immigrants, and ‘liberals/greenies’ for everything.

All of these are attempts to keep the disordering order functional, and remove challenges to it, and challenges to the behaviour of its supporters from consideration

This kind of situation encourages what I call the ‘mess of information’, because the dominant cultural trend is an attempt to avoid reality. The mess of information supports bad politics which reinforces the problems. I may write about that mess later., but this is long enough for today…


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