ARE YOU A MERCHANT OR A WORKER?
American Futurist Develops A New Macrohistory Model
by Jan Krikke
Lawrence (‘Larry’) Taub is an American futurist, and author of The Spiritual Imperative: Sex, Age and the Last Caste. As a macrohistorian, he studies the deeper currents running below the surface of history. Although the term ‘macrohistory’ is a neologism, this field of study has attracted prominent thinkers in the past – among them Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, St. Augustine, Hegel, Comte, Marx, Steiner, Toynbee, and Toffler. Taub’s cosmopolitan vantage point makes him unique among contemporary macrohistorians. He draws on Western, Chinese and Indian concepts to shed new light on history and the future. Notably, Taub suggests that the road to peace in the Middle East will involve a feminist reinterpretation of the Abraham-Sarah-Hagar story.
1. Aren’t macrohistorical models out of fashion?
Yes. That’s because they resemble ‘grand theories,’ that explain history too neatly and rigidly. Grand theories tend to oversimplify and overgeneralize. And they make predictions as if the theory were a flawless, scientific formula. So people today distrust macrohistories. Until a couple of centuries ago, the most popular macrohistories were the religious ones. The Christian macrohistory, like the Jewish and Muslim ones, explains history as a divine plan. Every individual must choose at every moment whether to act according to God’s will or to succumb to evil. The Christian macrohistory predicts that one day Jesus will return and there will be a Day of Judgment. The good and the believers will be rewarded; the bad and the unbelievers will be punished.
2. We don’t believe this anymore, right?
In modern times, as science replaced religion as the new religion, secular macrohistories replaced religious ones. Auguste Comte’s positivist Law of the Three Stages saw society as passing from a prehistoric theological stage to a metaphysical stage to a final positive or scientific stage. Marx and Engels presented their macrohistory as a series of socio-economic stages.
3. Why did macrohistories go out of fashion in the 20th century?
Either because they no longer rang true, or had too many holes in them, or seemed too rigid and masculine in tone. Postmodernists see them as part of the outdated modern Western tradition and reject them along with everything else modern and Western. Macrohistories were also rejected for political reasons. Even before the holes in Marx’s theory of history became obvious, the influential political, business, media, and academic elites in the industrialized capitalist countries felt threatened by its political directions. They used their influence to make the Marxist theory even more unfashionable and unpopular than it deserved to be.
4. Do we really need macrohistorical models?
It is unfortunate that they are out of fashion. They are needed to give a sense of order, coherence, and predictability to history. Without such models, we’re left with the attitude that history is random, directionless, and meaningless, and the future totally unpredictable. Most historians spend their time analyzing their specialized areas in greater and more insignificant detail, rather than looking for ‘the big picture.’ Without any big picture to go by, futurists simply analyze current trends to predict future ones. They thus fail to anticipate major changes. Events like the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the breakup of the Communist Empire caught everybody by surprise. Unfashionable though macrohistories may be, I feel they’re the best way to see the big picture. They can give us the most inclusive perspective for understanding history and anticipating the future. The belief that history is totally random and the future totally unpredictable is too extreme.
5. Can you elaborate?
Take chaos theory. It shows that processes that seem random on the surface show predictable patterns on deeper levels. Historical events may seem to happen at random, but the broad basic trends or ‘deep structures’ of history have meaning, direction, and pattern. By knowing them we can predict a great deal. Macrohistorical models deal with these deep structures. An example is Alvin Toffler’s ‘three wave’ model. His book The Third Wave shows how history progressed through three waves: an agricultural, an industrial, and now a post-industrial ‘third wave.’ You can’t really argue against that model and its deep structures. And it helps us see order in what looks like total chaos as we put the industrial age and its world view behind us.
6. How does your methodology differ from other macrohistorians?
I explain history and forecast the future from what I feel are even deeper structural levels. Every person has what seem to be three ‘coordinates’ that are completely or greatly determined the day he or she is born: their age, their sex, and their caste. History and the future have the same three coordinates: the age, sex, and caste development of the human race as a whole, determined the day humanity was born. The three macrohistorical models I use are based on these three coordinates. They seem to answer most of the important questions troubling or threatening us today.
7. Before getting into these models, what are futurists mostly concerned with today?
Well, questions most of us are concerned with. Why are so many formerly secure middle-class employees getting laid off, never to refind their security? What will happen to the American-Russian relationship? Will China become a great power? What will be the role of women in the future? Will Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East find peace and prosperity? What will religion be like? How will men and women love and relate to each other sexually? Will there ever be an end to war and poverty? And most important, what are the chances of human survival? Futurists try to anticipate unexpected changes in order to soften the impact when they occur.
8. Of the three models you use, the Caste Model seems the most prominent. How can an ancient Indian social system be useful to a futurist?
The Caste Model is derived from the Hindu caste philosophy first referred to in the Rig Veda. It recognizes four main castes: the religious or spiritual caste; the warrior caste; the merchant caste; and the worker caste. The Indians believe that each caste rules the world in turn. In other words, the world goes through a Religious-Spiritual Caste Age, followed by a Warrior Age, then a Merchant Age, then a Worker Age, then back to a second Spiritual-Religious Age to start a new cycle. The notion of caste is generally misunderstood. We have to see the different castes as generic types.
9. Generic types?
Yes, in the sense that every person has features of all four castes, but those of one caste dominate. The people within each caste share that caste’s world view, value system, and social ideal. According to my model, derived from this Hindu idea, the world view of the religious-spiritual caste is based on God, spiritual freedom, and Enlightenment. That of the warrior caste revolves around war and physical competition. The merchant caste values money and material possessions, and the worker caste is all about identification with work, skill, and job. My model says that we are now in a transition from the Merchant Age, which has just about ended, to the peak point of the Worker Age. We live in an age of identification with work. One of the first questions people ask each other is “What do you do?,” which means “What kind of work do you do?” In Japan people ask, “What company do you belong to?” Up to the 19th century, it was not your job but your family name that counted, and after that how much money you had.
10. How does your Caste Model differ from the Indian prototype?
The Hindus understood the Religious/Spiritual-Warrior-Merchant-Worker sequence to be cyclical. When completed, it starts anew and repeats itself indefinitely. My Caste Model adds a linear, historical time-line, so that the ages run in a spiral rather than a cycle. In other words, I matched up the different caste ages with the different periods of prehistory and history that we’re familiar with, plus the future. Secondly, I added a geographical dimension. To give an example, the world power of 16th century Spain and Portugal marked the peak stage of the Warrior Age. The first world power of the Merchant Age was the 17th century Dutch Republic, after it cast off the Spanish yoke. America’s world power represents the peak of the Merchant Age. In other words, different countries or cultures show the characteristics of one or another caste. Countries rise when the caste they belong to rises during its age, and fall as the next caste rises to replace it. So the Model actually clarifies why different world powers and empires rose and fell in the past and which countries or regions can be expected to become powerful in the future. The Indian prototype, of course, lacks these historical and geographical elements.
11. America’s world power represents the peak of the Merchant Caste Age. You mean we are now moving to the Worker Caste Age?
That’s right. But the Worker Age has its roots in the 19th century. That’s when the blue-collar segment of the worker caste organized to resist its oppressor, the merchant caste power elite. It was the time of the utopian socialists, the anarchist and communist movements and the first trade unions. Then came the worker-caste, socialist-communist revolutions that started in 1917. The Worker Age is now starting to peak in the Far East. The people of that region best match the psychological profile of the worker caste. The Japanese, Chinese and Koreans best identify with the value system, social organization and world view of the worker caste.
12. The transitions of power from one caste to the next overlap?
Yes. The peak of the Worker Age is now starting. But the beginning, pioneering stage of the new religious-spiritual caste’s rise to power is already over. It lasted from the 1950s to the 1970s, and was characterized by two opposite religious and spiritual tendencies. One was the counterculture, the beatniks, the hippies, the human potential movement, transpersonal theory, the environmental, and especially the feminist movements. The other was the mass return to religious orthodoxy. Examples are born-again Christians, fundamentalist Moslems, and baal-teshuvah Jews. The next, revolutionary stage of the new caste’s rise to power is already underway. It began with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and continues with the fundamentalist takeover of Afghanistan.
13. The rise of each caste to world rule happens in stages? How does it work?
I distinguish three stages: the pioneering stage, the revolutionary-evolutionary stage and the peak stage. In the pioneering stage, the rising caste organizes and sets up pockets of power and opposition to the ruling caste. This usually happens in the main centers of world power, where the ruling caste is most powerful and from where it rules the rest of the world. In the second stage, the rising caste takes power mainly through revolution in some undeveloped countries. Take the worker caste revolutions. They happened in Russia, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and Nicaragua, away from the main centers of merchant caste power in North America, Western Europe and Japan. But the revolutions help the rising caste gain power even in those main centers. That happens in a more evolutionary rather than revolutionary way, which is why I call this second stage the revolutionary-evolutionary stage. I mark 1917 as the beginning of the revolutionary-evolutionary stage of the Worker Age, and 1979 as the end. Those were the years of the Russian and Nicaraguan revolutions respectively. The third and last stage of a caste’s rise to world rule is the peak stage. That’s when the caste reaches the height of its power and rules the world, but also ripens itself for falling. This stage unfolds in those countries that have evolved to be most in tune with the spirit and world view of the rising caste. The peak stage of the Warrior Age unfolded in the Spanish, Portuguese and Ottoman Empires and Ming China. The Merchant Age’s peak stage is today’s United States. The Worker Age’s peak stage will unfold in what I call the Confucio bloc, over the next 30-40 years. That bloc will consist of China, Japan, and Korea. It may seem far-fetched, but I foresee the peak stage of Religious-Spiritual Age No. 2 in sub-Saharan Africa, but that’s at least a century ahead.
14. Some of what you just said sounds like a theory of revolution. Is that also what the Caste Model provides?
Pretty much so. It shows that revolutions are inevitable in human history. Marx and the Marxists had it a little wrong. History does not progress through class struggle, as they thought, but on the much deeper level of caste struggle. The ancient Hindus understood this principle. And caste struggle includes revolution, by its very nature destructive and fundamentalistic.
15. You argue that the four castes each have their own class structure. Can you explain?
Think of each caste as a pyramid. In the Merchant Age now drawing to a close, the top of the merchant caste pyramid was occupied by the grand bourgeoisie of the wealthiest entrepreneurs, capitalists, industrialists, landlords and financiers. In the middle were the smaller entrepreneurs, traders, factory owners, landlords and financial people, and at the bottom were the hordes of small shopkeepers and traders, the ‘petty bourgeoisie’. In the present Worker Age, the top of the worker-caste pyramid is occupied by the bureau-technostructure: the top executives of the big corporations, the top sci-technicians, professionals, government, party and labor leaders. In the middle level you have the less-powerful people of the same type. At the bottom are the ‘wage slaves’ – the armies of white- and blue-collar and agricultural workers, housewives, the unemployed and the homeless.
16. The Indian caste philosophy sees the caste ages as a regression. The Religious-Spiritual Age is like heaven, the Warrior Age not so good, the Merchant Age quite bad, and the Worker Age is sheer hell, reflecting the progressively lower quality of the castes themselves. Do you agree?
Yes and no. I synthesize the regressive Indian view and the progressive Western view. In some ways the ages regress, but there’s no denying that each successive caste age advanced human consciousness. The Warrior Age was brutal and imperialistic, and kept the human race continually at war. But conquests by warrior kings like Constantine and Ashoka spread advanced spiritual consciousness through Christianity and Buddhism. The Warrior Age also introduced such concepts as individual freedom and personal salvation, and a sense of moral and ethical responsibility. The Merchant Age raised the level of material well-being for masses of people, launched the Industrial Revolution, ended slavery, and introduced the modern concept of democracy for all. The present Worker Age was the first age to reject war and imperialism. It embraced sexual, racial and ethnic equality, and developed class consciousness and worker-caste solidarity. The worker caste was also the first to demand the right for all to basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, and medical care. Looked at in this way, it can’t be denied that each caste contributed to human spiritual and material development.
17. We are now in the Worker Age but we have already witnessed the advent of the next, Religious-Spiritual Age No. 2. Can you explain?
The revolutionary-evolutionary stage of the Religious-Spiritual Age has already started with the religious revolutions in Iran and Afghanistan. These two countries are part of what I call the religious belt, which stretches from Bangladesh and Tibet across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia, Turkey, Kurdistan, the Arab-Israeli Middle East to North Africa. More revolutions are likely to occur in this region. And they will all be religious revolutions, as in Iran and Afghanistan, not socialist ones. This is because the revolutionaries, like the Taliban, are religious caste, not worker caste.
18. When you say religious revolutions, do you mean fundamentalist revolutions?
Yes, but the revolutions won’t stay fundamentalist. This has to do with the dynamics of caste revolution in general. Take the French and Russian revolutions, of the Merchant and Worker Ages respectively. They too started out with fundamentalists in control, who organized reigns of terror. But fundamentalism is impractical in the long run. Sooner or later the terror dies down. Pragmatists come into power who either replace or purge the fundamentalist generation. The religious revolutions of the religious belt will probably follow this pattern, as we already see in Iran. As the terror dies down, these countries will move away from fundamentalism and other doctrinaire forms of religiosity. They will move toward a more enlightened spirituality.
19. How will that come about?
The Sex Model, one of the three macrohistories in my book, suggests that women in the religious belt will play the leading role in taking these countries from fundamentalism to spirituality. Looking at Afghanistan today, this idea may seem far-fetched, especially when viewed from our present vantage point in the middle of the Worker Age. But we have clear indications that women will exert the main influence in the religious belt. This region has already seen more women prime ministers than any other region in the world. I should also point out the role of feminism, which has resulted in a growing influence of women in religions everywhere. This trend will spread to the religious belt, where religious power will translate into political power. The growing influence of women in religion will decrease the power of the male fundamentalist ruling elites. The two cannot co-exist.
20. Is this what the Sex Model tells us?
The Sex Model holds that humanity evolves according to a sexual dialectic, from the female principle to the male principle to the androgynous. As a metaphor I use the ancient Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang. The Sex Model holds that humanity first experienced a Yin Age, the prehistoric period, followed by a Yang Age, which began with the Patriarchal Revolution between 2000 and 4000 BC. We are now in the transition from the Yang to the Androgynous Age. The beginning of this latter age was marked by the feminist movement that began in the sixties. Our new holistic outlook, the environmental and gay movements, and many other new trends are indicative of the androgynous direction we are heading in. As androgynization proceeds, everything that was either too yin or too yang in the Yang Age will become sexually balanced. The Sex Model makes forecasts related to the environment, medicine, animal rights, the bisexual nature of future religion, homosexuality, hunting and cruel sports, the role of women in politics, business and society, and what male-female love-sex relationships will be like as we become more androgynous.
21. Your Sex Model argues that the West is essentially yang and the East essentially yin. Can you explain?
At the dawn of history, the start of the Yang Age, the world split culturally into East and West. The yang world view developed more strongly in the West than in the East, reaching its peak with the Western development of science and technology. This split is reflected in the main world religions. The Eastern world religions – Hinduism and Buddhism – are primarily yin, while the three monotheistic religions of the West – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are essentially yang. Jerusalem, the focal city of Western religion, became humanity’s yang-male pole, while Varanasi [Benares], the focal city of the Eastern world religions, became its yin-female pole. Both Eastern and Western culture became more yang during the Yang Age. But the East stayed closer to humanity’s prehistoric yin-origins, and didn’t become yang enough, while Western culture suppressed most of its prehistoric female roots and became too yang. Androgynization also means we will integrate Eastern and Western culture, philosophy, religion, and sensibility. You might say that Jerusalem and Varanasi will be in a state of prolonged sexual intercourse.
22. How does the Age Model fit into your study?
The idea of using age as a means of understanding the human condition has been around in a variety of ways for a few hundred years. The 19th century evolutionist Ernst Haeckel applied it to biology, and Freud to psychology. Ken Wilber uses it to describe how human consciousness developed. I apply the Age Model directly to history and the future, especially as expressed in religion and ideology. The model holds that the life of humanity evolves through stages that parallel the life cycle of the individual. I distinguish six stages, from newborn to adult. A key turning point occurred at around 2000 BC, when human worship switched from Mother Earth to God the Father in heaven and other male divinities. This parallels the way the older child switches focus from mother to father as the authority figure. The Age Model says that humanity, meaning the world’s most culturally prominent countries, is about 19 years old. The next, sixth, age, the future, will be the Adult Age. A few very socially advanced countries, like The Netherlands and Scandinavia, are ‘older’ than the world average, say around 23 to 25 years old. They are well on their way to that future. But most of the world’s countries and regions are still even ‘younger’ than 19.
23. Can you explain more clearly how the linear and cyclical principles are at work in your models?
The cyclical view of time is a holdover from the Yin Age. That’s explained by the Sex Model. The Yin Age did not view time in a linear way – from past through present to future – the way we yang-agers do. The Yin Age saw time as endlessly repeated cycles, the way the seasons go in cycles from winter to spring to summer to fall. The original Indian caste philosophy kept the cyclical view of time long after the Yin Age had passed. Linear time – that is to say history – was developed in the Yang Age. In my book I explain why it is only natural to synthesize the old yin cyclical view of the original Indian caste philosophy with our present yang linear view of time to create the spiral time of the Caste Model. This synthesis is especially significant right now. By looking at time spirally, we are combining the Eastern with the Western world view, and so getting truly into the spirit of the new androgynous age.
24. To touch upon a different topic, you lived in Japan for more than 20 years. What is Japan’s place in the scheme of things?
Japan plays the key role in taking the world out of the Merchant Age into the peak stage of the Worker Age. Until the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s the Japanese lived isolated from the world, stuck in the Warrior Age. Japan then used Western-developed merchant-age methods of business and commercial imperialism to become an important Merchant Age world power. The business philosophy of the Merchant Age was simple: offer the consumer the worst quality goods you could get away with, and sell them at the highest possible price. Japan reversed the philosophy after World War II. They offered the consumer high-quality goods and after-sales service at the lowest possible price. It worked. Japanese companies gained the lion’s share of key world markets. This philosophy is more in tune with the worker caste world view. Since the beginning of the 1980s, many of Japan’s business practices like quality control and an orientation toward the consumer have influenced corporate strategy everywhere. Business philosophy is only one aspect of the Japanese worker-age spirit. Worker-caste Japanese business leaders and government bureaucrats cultivated many other traditional Japanese social features which suited the Worker Age. As a result, Japan forged ahead and set the standard for the Worker Age.
25. Then how do you explain the current economic difficulty in Japan?
Don’t forget that an economic crisis is often a temporary setback. America went into a deep economic depression in the 1930s, but emerged as the world’s main superpower only ten years later. Equally important, in the Worker Age you can’t look at individual countries. You have to look at blocs. I see Japan in the future as part of an economic bloc – Confucio – which will include a reunified Korea and a China reunified with Taiwan. The Confucio bloc is most in tune with the worker caste world view. It will be the No. 1 power in the peak stage of the Worker Age which is now beginning. So even if Japan has reached its peak, and Korea and China move ahead of it economically, it will still be in the leading bloc. But the power of Confucio will only be temporary. The whole age itself has only about 30 to 40 years left. All the same, Japan is restructuring its economy in ways that resemble old-time Western Merchant Age methods. But don’t expect to see Japanese managers taking a pay increase after raising corporate profits by sacking thousands of workers.
26. In your book you argue that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved. In the current climate this seems hardly plausible. Can you elaborate?
Let’s remember that Germany and France fought three wars in less than a hundred years. Now they are “friends” and co-members of the European Union. The French-British centuries-long conflict followed the same pattern. Britain was the US’s arch-enemy from 1776 to at least 1865. Today they are the bosomest of pals and closest allies. Modern history is one story after another of bitter enemies embracing each other as allies. The models show that the Arab-Jewish, Israeli-Palestinian conflict will follow the same pattern. I expect this to happen within ten years. But the models go further. They show that ending the conflict is the first step toward forming an EU-type economic-political bloc in the Islamic-Christian-Jewish Middle East. Israel and a new Palestine Republic will play lead roles in forming and developing this “Pan-Semitic Federation.” I foresee that the impetus for this will come from a new grass-roots pan-Semitic movement among Arabs and Jews aimed at uniting the Semites of all religious denominations — Jewish, Moslem, Christian, Druze, etc. The Pan-Semitic Federation will become one of four such powerful blocs to be formed in the Religious Belt I referred to earlier. It will become one of the two top political, economic, and spiritual world powers by the middle of this century, the other being the South Asian Federation centered around India and Pakistan.
27. Can you elaborate on how you reach such conclusions from the models?
First, the Caste Model explains that we are now transiting from the Worker Age further into the revolutionary-evolutionary stage of the Spiritual-Religious Age. This transition leads to key economic, political, social, and religious changes that favor the formation of a Pan-Semitic Federation and its emergence as a top world power. These changes include the spiritualization of the world economy and the shifting of the main growth markets further away from the manufacturing to the service sector. Within that service sector, the “religion market” will emerge as the main growth market of the world economy. Other changes that favor the development of the Pan-Semitic Federation as a top world power will be the return of most Palestinian refugees to the Israel-Palestine region and the aliyah (migration) of at least 2 million North American Jews to Israel. The motivation for this aliyah will come partly from rising anti-Semitism there, but mainly from economic, political, and religious reasons
Second, I pointed out that the Sex Model shows how the shift from the male-oriented Yang Age to the sexually-balanced Androgynous Age will raise feminist consciousness within Jewish and Palestinian society and bring women into leading roles in politics, the economy, and in all religions, including within the Jewish and Islamic fundamentalist sects of the Religious Belt. It also shows how the shift will change the nature of fundamentalism toward an enlightened spirituality. These two trends will play key roles in solving the conflict and promoting a pan-Semitic movement. I admit that these forecasts sound Messianic. But if you read the book, I think you will find them less far-fetched than they seem.
I believe the Sex Model connection is the clincher. It leads directly to a feminist reinterpretation of the Abraham-Sarah-Hagar story. When talking about peace and coexistence, Arabs and Jews often emphasize that both peoples descend from the common father Abraham. But on a deeper level, the story describes the classic sexist situation feminism is designed to remedy. Abraham, the patriarch, owns the whole property, including the Promised Land, which his son will inherit, not the wives or daughters. Sarah becomes jealous of Hagar once she has a son, Isaac, and pressures Abraham to exile her and her son, Ishmael. Isaac gets it all, Ishmael gets nothing. How typically pre-feminist — women squabbling over what men own, for the benefit of their sons. The feminist and pan-semitist in us will look at it differently, and argue: “The land is as much Hagar’s as Sarah’s, and vice versa. Both peoples have inherited it. Let us weaken the patriarchy and affirm the sisterhood of our foremothers by reconciling the ancient squabble. Let us bring the two halves of the family together by sharing the land, bonding spiritually, and working together to achieve a prosperity which will make both our peoples strong, and our Federation a great power of the 21st century.”