History and Transmigration

Modernity treats a society reductionistically as a collection of entities rather than as an organism. Thereby it disregards the effects of ideology on social evolution and restricts the study of history to material factors. Then it treats time as a linear progression rather than the journey of a person through birth, youth, old age, and death. Without the understanding that a society is an organism transmigrating through various stages based on its ideology and actions, history cannot be understood.

The modern study of history suffers from many issues.

First, it views time as linear progress when time is actually discontinuous, cyclical, and hierarchical. Hierarchical means that there are shorter-term trends within longer-term trends. Cyclical means that the same longer- and shorter-term trends repeat over time (however, due to the embedding of the shorter-term trend inside a longer-term trend, the recurrences of past trends are not exact replicas of the past; hence, history does not repeat; it rhymes). Discontinuous means that a trend has a slow and long gestation period before it bursts on the scene. Likewise, it has a slow and long period of decline before the proverbial straw breaks the camel’s back. To view history as something discontinuous, cyclical, and hierarchical, we need revisions to the understanding of society: Society has to be described as an organism.

Second, the social organism is not merely the things that we see, namely, people, cities, streets, and buildings. It is also defined in more subtle ways by (a) culture, or what gives ordinary sensations and actions meaning, (b) what we call its intellectual ideologies and beliefs, (c) its ego, self-image, or sense of purposeful identity about its place in the world, and (d) its moral values, ideals, what it considers right and wrong. Modern historians view history outside-in, namely, that changes to the material environment changes the culture, beliefs, purpose, and morals. But that view is extremely limiting because we could also argue that the moral values, purposes, beliefs, and culture of the society shape the material environment. This creates a contention between two philosophies of history, one in which the inner reality shapes the outer world and the other in which the outer world shapes the inner reality. The cyclical, discontinuous, and hierarchical view of history rests upon giving the inner reality far greater causal importance than the outer world in deciding history.

Third, this naturally means that the deepest values and ideals, the sense of our purpose in life, the beliefs about the nature of reality, and the culture that gives meaning to ordinary sensations and activities, are more important determinants of history than material factors like floods, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, plagues, resource shortages, etc. Vedic philosophy, in fact, connects moral, intentional, intellectual, and cultural decline to natural catastrophes: When moral values and ideals decline and society becomes immoral, when the society loses a clear sense of purpose for its existence and is lost in narcissism and hedonism, when a society adopts many false ideas as truth, and when the society starts giving meaning to non-essential sensations and activities as the measures of advancement, then nature arranges for its destruction in one of numerous possible ways. These can include floods, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, plagues, and resource shortages. Such a society could also be conquered by other societies during a war because its immorality, hedonism, falsities, and cultural decline make it weak. Therefore, whether a society collapses due to natural catastrophes, war, or inner strifes, the true causes of decline are always the decline in the inner life of the people in the society.

There is hence a spiritual understanding of historical evolution in which rise and fall of civilizations is tied to the morality, purposefulness, beliefs, and culture, and while these are invisible, they produce a hierarchical, cyclical, and discontinuous idea of time and history. If society is modeled as an organism, then we an say that this organism is born, grows, matures, creates “child” organismic societies, which slowly separate from their “parent”, declines, and then dies. The lifetime of the organism is decided by its moral compass, purposefulness, intellectual knowledge, and culture. Thereby, some societies can live long while others may live for a short while. The longevity of a society is decided by the invisible reality rather than its visible manifestations.