The following is work-in-progress and based on a few loose notes from Hanzi Freinacht’s work on his upcoming book ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’. This is the third book in Hanzi’s metamodern guides series. It takes on a developmental approach to world history and does so through the lens of six overarching developmentally derived patterns that Hanzi refers to as “metamemes”.
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1) The Animistic Metameme:
- Self: Body-self, that you are your body, no differentiated conception of soul, no differentiated role identity, family and profession are one, rituals that define life stages, sex is ritualized and some cultures are permissive, no conception of individual. Note. This is not an “African” theme, but has to do with metamemes, ancestral worship, spirits.
- Ideology: Name for insiders synonymous with humans, totem (animals and nature given social and symbolic significance—we are the bear, etc.) and taboo (incest, but also touching the shaman’s tools, charged with mana etc.), ethics towards natural world, no formalized ethics about “society”.
- Ontology: Spirit world, animism, anthropomorphization/non-differentiation, enchantization, magic, short narratives about the world, no coordination of different paragraphs (paragraph-length creation myths etc. corresponding to MHC stage 8 Primary), no differentiation of semiotics and nature (Levi-Strauss accounts of ethnomedicine: find example in Levi-Strauss: signifier and signified undifferentiated). This also explains belief in spirits: speaking something and being something is the same.
- The universal: Not only this world, but also the spirit realm.
2) The Faustian Metameme:
- Self: The self is part of a larger idea-world, related to gods and a generalized society. The self must find its destiny, i.e. which place the self has in the hierarchy. Actions reveal destiny, striving towards power in society and heroism, or finding gods to serve. Human self not same as nature. Part of larger clan, imagined community, but can ascend above normality. Sexuality procreation defined in relation to a wider clan structure. No longer spirits and ancestors, but death realm, Valhalla etc.
- Ideology: The power and interests of the clan is the ethical basis: honor identity, to keep an abstracted identity of power visible to a larger group. To survive, you need to appease (or intimidate and control) other people rather than nature (humanized environment), hence gods over spirits. Spirits kept as residual, demoted to ghosts and trolls (superstition). Progressive: eye for an eye.
- Ontology: MHC stage 9 Concrete; this means that you have stories or narratives of gods, monsters and heroes—and that these stories connect many paragraphs and coordinate themes: the earliest paragraphs of the Bible don’t do this, later on they do. When it comes to Homer, you have an epic, but there are no abstract principles spelled out. Humans can defy the gods. Life is a social struggle: slavery, rulership, clans, family feuds. Afterlife: in Norse Paganism, i.e. no consequential death realm.
- The universal: Not just spirits, but more powerful gods tied to rulers, conquerors and differentiated social roles (god of war, of fertility, wine etc.).
3) The Postfaustian Metameme:
- Self: The immortal soul is a prototypical form of the individual. Gilgamesh is a good example of transition from Faustian to Postfaustian: He becomes a hero but must submit to the gods and ultimately gains immortality through his relation to an abstracted society. The soul is a formalized theory. The soul has an ethical essence.
- Ideology: Serve the ultimate truth, defeat the inner demons, purify the soul, purify the souls of others, convert heathens and destroy heretics, create a fair and ordered society ruled by eternal truth. Power is not okay without truth/God on your side. Turn the other cheek. Intentions, not power or results, matter. The social order is sanctified by an eternal truth, but may be overthrown if not in line with universality.
- Ontology: This world is second to the eternal world of God or spirit. It should be ordered in relation to the eternal world. Humanity is imperfect but can approach the perfect or Absolute. Our connection to the universal goes not via the body, but by the abstracted soul and its ethical essence. The ultimate existence of God is the abstraction upon which all mythology rests—hence you can study theology, reason about it: What is the abstraction (MHC stage 10 Abstract) behind the (MHC stage 9 Concrete) narratives? How can general insights be gleaned about the nature of God, nirvana, etc.
- The universal: Not just powerful gods, but the ultimate truth about life and existence, an ultimate god above all gods (transcend and include explicitly in Buddhism, and implicitly in Christianity). Foreign powergods demoted to demons, consider Satan, critique of the faustian deal, no longer Kosher to pray for power (black magic, burrrrrrn). From heroism to sainthood. Not in Valhalla anymore, Toto! Jews, old Testament deal with God, is proto-post: The god still chooses one people. Zoroastrism: Satan and God equals.
4) The Modern Metameme:
- Self: The individual has the right to move within the social order in this life. Free will, civil liberties, endowed with “reason”. Slippery slope that includes non-privileged group, but still anthropocentric. Rationality found in humans, hence humanity is the center. Descartes behind the curtain. God in the closet. Covenant with “god” through surrender but reason, i.e. with universal truth.
- Ideology: Death to all myths. No kings, but democracy. Humans are citizens—an extremely powerful idea, used by all dictatorships, even Hitler. Satisfaction of all human needs by use of scientific perspective on the material world, creation of economic growth, fair distribution of spoils among equal and deserving citizens. To greatest possible extent, use science to organize society. Meritocracy, sports, life is a game—you need to know the rules and win. The best individual is whoever knows the truth the best.
- Ontology: The universe consists of its material constituents and the space between them. They present an absolute truth and people can know this truth by reason and science, but that depends on intersubjective verification.
- The universal: Intersubjective verification, a.k.a. objective truth. But it is an illusion, just like God. Only a question of degree.
5) The Postmodern Metameme:
- Self: The individual can question the categories of modern society and is defined in opposition to these, how she becomes a unique individual, how she is different, an irregularity, an exception. No longer humanity in creative opposition to nature, but rather, in creative opposition to culture. You cannot be an individual unless you somehow oppose society—Fromm and others have written about how people are “robots” or “automatons”. Authenticity, Walter Benjamin argues that there is an authenticity in art, one that is not thought to be found in mainstream modern society. You have the same notion in Heidegger’s “das Man”.
- Ideology: Modern society has gone terribly wrong. Grandes histoires are totalitarian. Emphasize multiplicity, detail, nuance, exception, resistance, critique. Cultural relativism, to avoid the oppression of minority cultures. Try to include the excluded. Fight power structures. There is something real and authentic beyond the structures of modern society. All sentient beings in all times must ultimately be included and their interests taken into account. Light pomos don’t necessarily share all of this, but they share in postmaterialism, relativism, solidarity with all sentients, environmentalism, praise of authenticity (primarily of emotions) and the striving to being inclusive.
- Ontology: Symbols, structure and culture are, for all practical purposes, the ultimate reality—beyond that, we really don’t know. Even phenomenology is steeped in symbolic meaning-making. The universe is social and interactive. All knowledge is contextual. Even natural science is just another perspective and is based upon scientific communities, cultures, practices. We cannot access an ultimate reality.
- The universal: Perspectivalism, only a perspective can verify (or falsify, Popper’s proto-pomo), intersubjectivity is always context dependent and always uses shared perspective.
So, what are the self, ideology, ontology and the universal of the Metamodern Metameme? Hanzi’s take on the subject will be revealed in his upcoming book The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. In the meantime, if you’re a member, you can make you proposal, or read others’ contributions, on Metamoderna’s forum here: https://forum.metamoderna.org/. The forum thread is called “Cocreative competition: Who can come up with the best continuation of Hanzi’s theory on metamemes”.
If you’re not a member, you can apply for a membership by sending an email with a presentation of yourself and why you’d like to become a member to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.