The Axial Age Follow Through?

Jurgen Renn is critical of Jasper’s account of the Axial Age. Transcendence as an intellectual awakening brought about by exceptional individuals is derided. Renn encourages us to think about the Axial Age and what might come next differently.

" The complex urban societies of the first millennium saw the emergence of intellectual elites with special roles in their respective economies, that led to second order thinking-thinking that took radically different forms. The topos of the Axial Age concept introduces an exclusivity that obliterates the fundamental diversity that this thinking can take; it denies that such thinking could have arisen earlier or later in other cultures; and it essentially freezes history at a crucial turning point. As for its usefulness as a reference frame for intercultural dialogue, the vision of the wise men of the Axial Age turns out to be little more than an origin myth of world society. It suggests that a future global convergence would be a matter of intellectual elites agreeing on some highly elusive second order framework, rather than of global efforts that make productive use of the inexhaustible variety of human thinking all all levels."

There is a difference between Globalization ( Neo-liberalism, Data Capitalism) and Planeterization( Earth as a living, complex, evolving System) and we have gone over much of this before. The USA political system is in the grip of this double bind, a struggle we may not have the meta-skills to resolve.

I am pausing and scratching my head. I got The Patterning Instinct from the library and will try to skim it before our next meetup. Thanks for your comments, TJ, and I will take it to heart.

I imagine that a group of social actors in a small scale network that can self-reflect upon the individual and the group at different levels could create conditions for a transformation of that group and beyond that group. I am operating out of a belief that sensitivity to shifting boundary conditions will considerably advance our development as anomalies ( what doesn’t fit within the inside or outside) is embraced. An epistemic community of those that have flipped could move mountains with a mustard seed of faith.


Thought-provoking post. There’s a great deal here.

I haven’t read Renn, so I’ll just respond to the quotation.
His criticisms are shared by many scholars. In Debt…, David Graeber takes an almost entirely economic/political take on the events of the period. Anthony Black (cited in the bibliography of our discussion pages) doesn’t see any significance in the supposed time frame (“800-200 BC”). Jan Assmann (Chapter 15 of our anthology I believe) does not like Jaspers’ implication that “such thinking could [not] have arisen earlier or later in other cultures.” And so on… the main point being, as Ian Morris says in Why the West Rules - For Now, broadly speaking in all cultures the thinkers needed for the problems faced tend to arrive sooner or later. A great sage does not emerge in a vacuum.
(Leaving aside the problem that “transcendence” is… a trickster who looks like proto-science in one place, prophecy in another, social philosophy in a third…)

This is the core of the matter. On one hand I can’t argue much with the “anti-Davos” Renn clearly channels in his last two sentences. On the other, the legitimate backlash against neo-liberal ‘globalization’ is lately being accompanied in many places by what is to me an unfortunate turning away from the benefits of cross-cultural explorations of the unity-in-diversity of our species, a turning away that ultimately works against the planetarization of consciousness we need at this time. Roetz (Chapter 10 of the anthology) reminds us that Jaspers’ heart was in the right place though his points could be challenged.

Yes, but not always within their own lifetimes or among their original people-groups. Planting seeds of trees one will never see is important work. :wink:

Ed can skim. You should read. :smile: Not because you will learn much that you don’t already know but because I think you will enjoy Lent’s style and range of interests. It’s a nice easy read, too - goes well with coffee or wine and cheese. :wine_glass:


Oh, does Monday, March 16, 1 PM EST pose a problem for anyone?


This is a good time for me. If no one objects shall we put it on the calendar?


And can we work with multiple metaphors without getting into a muddle? I do like the music that will tame the beast within. And what kind of music? The music of the spheres? No, that’s too cosmic.

Perhaps something simple that can be played on this ancient pipe, made of mammoth bone? Davor would call this an example of one of the first aesthetic objects. Our orchestras and grand pianos come out of these ancient technological experiments blowing the breath through a bone and hearing a pattern that repeats and that others respond to, tapping the beat, the torso starts to sway. We couple with bio-cultural rhythms. Our computers are en-training us to pseudo rhythms that may de-couple us.

AI is perhaps a way of shaping our minds that is forcing us to de-couple from our origin myths in ways that we are not handling very well. Can we " go meta" to this de-coupling and ask better questions than are asked at the board meetings devoted to making more profits this quarter?

Our path dependency is leading quickly to a dead end. This is what our meetups with Davor were a bold attempt to focus upon. I hope, those of us who like to find the cracks in the cosmic egg will be willing review these attempts to " go meta" in more creative ways. Others, of course, are free to direct attention to where they want to go. I still think it is a good idea to ask participants " where would you like to start? "

I fully accept the cognitive dissonance that may arise as a response is a good sign of communal health.


This is a good starting point “sense” it is where my attention tends to go because of noticing the level of tension - intensity in my own nervous system at the moment of beginning of play ,of the group or one on one.Feeling the heat kinda?


For me it can work as well, so I’ve penciled it in.

What will we be doing exactly? I will need at least a day or two to prepare, I suppose.


Monday the 16th works for me too. Looking forward to it!


Maybe TJ could create a page for the event make some guidelines for the follow through? Thanks to everyone for making this happen.


I certainly agree with the points he raises. There is a tendency for scholars to believe the theoretical structures they construct. However, what I have found interesting about the notion of an axial age from the first time I encountered the idea (via you guys!), is the idea that monotheism enabled a socioeconomic unification of widely disparate regions, and was in turn enabled by that unification. This idea, for me, constituted a new insight, and one with important ramifications. Not that monotheism is right for today - it has played out its role, I think. And the problem I have with the idea of a new ‘Axial Age’, @johnnydavis54, is that I think we are moving out of ‘centrist’ thinking, and axial for me implies a form of centrism. If anything, I think we are entering a Disaxial Age… But that doesn’t stop me from finding interesting the arguments raised about the axial age…


Centralized, decentralized, and distributed networks comes out of trying to create nonlinear military communications.

Small world networks ( like Cosmos) when there is adequate feedback loops, creates order out of underlying patterns. As we are often embedded in different kinds of networks we can expect all kinds of surprises. That is why I keep asking for feedback of the right kind. What do you like? Don’t like? Want more of? This is very different from a critique. We are, in my view, drowning in way too much critique. Bad critique creates bad moods and inertia. I hope we can abandon the tendency to label and dismiss as critics often do. Sponsorship works on an entirely different level.

Maybe we can develop this further, Geoffrey? As we have studied Nora and Gregory so intensely, they are capturing this transition between first order and second order dynamics, as the Ivory Tower collapses. We are moving, perhaps, towards the Trans-contextual?

Here is a thoughtful talk on the Second Axial Age. We are picking up all that we lost in the First Axial Age. We are transcendent and immanent and everything in between and this is unfolding collectively. No more individual enlightenment!


@Douggins - Is the line free next Monday? If so I will work up the page.

@ all:
When we left off, we had plans for two more sessions, roughly Chapters 8-13 and 14-18.

John had volunteered to review Chapters 8 and 9, unless Michael wanted to do 9. I had picked Chapter 10 and Ed Chapter 11. Geoffrey has dibs on Chapter 12. Michael (I think) had expressed interest in 13 “Righteous Rebels…”.

I wish to add the “Reevaluations” section (14 and 15) to my ‘stack’. As these largely concern the historiographical debate, I think it better to present them as extensions, and in some ways counter-points of Chapter 10. Of course these are fascinating and rich essays for someone who loves history-talk, but academic debate isn’t quite our aim (the ‘silo’ effect is strongly demonstrated here or I notice it more LOL).

That is to say the theme of III would be the heart of the book and center on the question: What does the Axial Age mean? The theme of IV would be the “Perspectives on the Future” section (Chapters 16-18) which certainly deserves a full session as the wrap-up.

If this still works, I’ll put it forth as the plan.

a garment
a campfire
a prayer
a well-lit path
and an old radio


YES,Michael has CH#13 “Righteous Rebels”.

Campfire 1

Come One,Come All to hear a Story of the Source & use of Political Power from a Far Away “Time” of Ancient Humans;Question has Things Changed that Much? & Can A Story bring a Change?


I am interested in history-talk but I am not really competent at that. I can do literary-talk, art-talk, theater-talk, film-talk, political-talk in an average sort of way. I can do a good parody perhaps but it is not my style to do too much of that. And style, as an old drag queen said, is what your friends like about you and doing it on purpose. A little bit of jargon can go along way.

I am greatly attracted to the tradition of the public intellectual, of the educated outsider, which is almost a lost tradition. There are no longer any experts or outsiders that I trust. I ,especially, dislike scientific experts, whom I hold in great suspicion, as they say such stupid stuff, outside of their own discipline. Most scientists whether they know it or not are working for the War Machine. And the outsiders can be really confused by too many mixed messages to absorb these days. Who can you trust? A critical stance, when the messages are so mixed, looks helplessly naive.

I have hopes that small world networks, like our own, can fill in the huge gaps in our deficient factory model educations. The space between the silos are really wide and it appears there is a breakdown in communications and a tidal wave is coming.

So, I am open to learn more about history-talk, if you can outline some of the cutting edge debates, and over-simplify a little bit. I will try to ask something useful. Maybe we can “go meta” in a live conversation?

What do you do, when you don’t know what to do? Gregory Bateson said that children are the best experts when this kind of thing happens.

In a biblical dream, last night, I am in a deep, wide, ravine, running, with other humans and animals, towards higher ground, as the ravine fills up with water. I look over my shoulder and see the rising flood waters, a flash flood, a torrent coming at us. Can we make it? Probably not. But I am not thinking, or doing a cost/risk benefit analysis, I run, with everyone else as fast as we can. On my right, on the ground, I see something running on all fours, something that looks like an alligator-

And what kind of dream is this? How do we put history or our dreams into categories that we can make use of them? Is there a relationship between history and dream and systems of knowledge? The future it appears is already here and the past will not go away.

Could these self generated metaphors hold a clue? Are there any relationships between them? How can we make make meaning if we can’t make sense? What would happen if we could make sense?