I just finished reading this book (The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality by Oded Galor). Lots of interesting ideas in it to ponder.
One interesting idea that it raises has to do with the tendency to look at the journey of humanity as a progression from less prosperity to more prosperity. This is the modern myth, the modern creation story so to speak. And yet there are so many things that push back on such a reading of human history. In truth what we find is a history of cyclical formations that, while bringing with it things associated with greater prosperity (longer life spans for example, or technical advancement) speak to a pattern of continued polarities rather than a progressive evolution. These polarities are the competing realities of growth and inequality. The book suggests that there exists a narrow window of a confluence of factors that we can locate where examples of unencumbered prosperity genuinely exist, and it is these particular moments that can shed light on ways to perhaps tackle the cyclical problem that the journey of humanity represents.
Paired with this is the idea noted by the author that, while we might be tempted to think that global events/disasters play the greatest factor in human prosperity and development, this isn’t actually the case. Diversity plays the biggest role. But here in lies the perpetual problem for the modern myth. Too much diversity or too little diversity inhibits true prosperity (which the author takes the time to define as uninhibited progress that happens without detriment to people). Here in lies a dilemma- both colonialism and globalism reflect the same problem from different sides of the scale.
The book doesn’t spend much time on this, but if I would press this idea further I would narrow in on the relationship between religous expression and diversity. When we speak of diversity what we are generally speaking of is religious expression. This is the singular driving force of cultural expression. The problem? The modern myth depends on both upholding this reality (celebrating religious diversity) while subduing it (making it subservient to a secularity that runs contrary to religious expression). This is why wealth and inequality remains far more the rule than the anomaly. Hitting that perfect window of diversity means pushing to one side or the other, which ironically means that the most important factor (religious diversity) is the very thing that progress is desperate to oppose.
A couple observations on that front:
- Secularity, or the modern myth, can never be truly diverse because it must resist the primary means of diversity- religion. This is what we find in globalism
- At the same time certain religious expressions fight against diversity and can never truly speak to prosperity (in its truest sense). An example of this would be colonialism attaching itself to christianity.
- This is where I find something like Tolkiens notion of the true myth enticing and compelling. True prosperity does demand a value system, meaning a sense of Truth that is able to bind diversity together. For me this is Christ, not as a figure or system opposed to religious diversity but as one that gives us a means of making sense of it. True prosperity also demands that we recognize that this Truth expresses itself through different forms and languages. Thus Christ can play through and in different religious systems and Tradtions by way of a diversity of language
Of course these two ideas express a nice thought but are difficult to uphold. But here is the thing- secularity can’t uphold it because the modern myth believes it can foster diversity by doing away with its primary source. For me this means that God remains the most compelling answer to the possibility of prosperity and diversity. But God must have a true expression at the same time, even as this gets expressed within the language of diversity. That is the point where I would appeal to christ as a potential unifying point within the God-Human-Creation story