February 9, 2010 | 3 Comments
To understand trends in current societal transformations requires an evaluation protocol that takes into consideration where we’ve come from, where we’re going and where we are. This is particularly challenging when society origin myths, belief structures or paradigms are examples of some of the very content that is transforming. Seeking understanding from a position with similarities to where we are headed should offer unique insights because the new understanding, at least temporarily, integrates all three frames. Time will tell.
As regards understanding, convention is useful. The following is a proposal for a new shared evaluation protocol.
What we understand “teleology” to mean is central to how we interpret current events, societal change, politics, geopolitical dynamics, the control of resources and the ability of the disenfranchised to feel free of want. “Teleology” can be defined as the belief that there are overriding, perhaps spiritual, forces at work, compelling society to evolve or transform in particular directions featuring progress, improvement and an enhancement of individual positive experience. There are atheist humanists that nonetheless display teleological tendencies insofar as they experience a confidence that our species has been acting and will continue to act, more or less, in our own best interest, compelling an ongoing positive direction. Teleology is not widely discussed because it is associated with religious tendencies, and our academics, for the most part, operate from a materialist milieu.
What if there is structure to the particular way that societies change, a dynamic that offers insight on how transformation that reveals an overriding process is engaged? What if teleology–social transformation–operated according to a biological imperative?
A theory of biological evolution that also explains human social transformation would be a powerful addition to the tools available that explain how our world works. The nineteenth-century heterochronists (Mivart, Cope, Hyatt, Haeckel) and the twentieth-century theorists working with the concept of a fourfold parallelism (Freud, Piaget, Gebser, Habermas, Gould and Wilber) are operating with the same principles, only the nineteenth-century evolutionary biologists are not having their species transformation work interpreted by these twentieth-century psychologists, biologists and philosophers as connected to a social world.
Heterochrony includes a study of how the rate and timing changes that occur during early ontogeny or growth influence not only the structure, look and behaviors of an individual but how those changes impact that individual’s descendants. For example, an environmental effect such as a change in a mother’s diet can transform the features of not only her children but her children’s children, changes that could compel the emergence of childlike features in the adults of distant progeny. This is a kind of maturational delay called “neoteny,” or the prolongation of infant features into the adult of descendants. Heterochrony is a study of evolution that focuses on changes in features based upon influences exerted by the environment or social structure.
Fourfold parallelisms are four different scales of experience–biological evolution, social evolution, individual ontological or maturational transformation, and individual experience–that are believed to exhibit the same process, evolution, at four different levels. Discipline founders or innovators, until recently, grew new ways of looking at the world by borrowing from contiguous disciplines, hypothesizing that different discipline dynamics operated according to identical processes at their core.
What’s missing is the concept of social structure and environmental influence. Biological evolution is compelled by social structure and environmental effects that convey very specific maturational delay and acceleration dynamics. Those same dynamics display overriding patterns, making transparent how society evolves or transforms in particular directions in specific ways over time. These social transformations directly reflect biological social structure maturational delay and acceleration dynamics.
What has never occurred, and what this piece is proposing, is that the particular way that heterochronists viewed biological evolution–social structure and environmental effects compelling change by adjusting the rates and timing of maturation–was never picked up by the fourfold parallelists so that they could consider that society reveals teleological tendencies that in actuality are biological imperatives. The reason for this is that by the time the parallelists were theorizing (early twentieth century), the heterochronists (mostly Lamarckians) were receiving less attention. One hundred years later the Lamarckians are back. Their discipline is called evolutionary developmental biology. These evo devo practitioners have not yet turned their attention to the heterochronists. Even so, multiscale parallelisms are still only in vogue among philosophers and artists.
Society evolves according to changes in its rates and timing of maturation, influenced by adjustments in social structure and environmental effects. Societies reveal maturation tendencies identical to how individuals are impacted. Those tendencies are influenced by observable variables. Overriding patterns can be observed.
Teleology has biological roots.