There are many systems of thought that describe various times, epochs or ages that humanity appears to pass through on its collective historical journey through the Great Fractal. Plato’s Republic described it alchemically, the Hindu cosmology describes it in a similar fashion and many other traditions have a time of increasing disorder leading to a climactic revolution.
In Republic, Plato laid out how culture disintegrates over time. Society begins in a Golden Age, according to Socrates in Book VIII, and gradually deteriorates.
It begins with rulers who put virtue above all, and who accordingly cannot own property. Because of the errors that these good people inevitably make as a consequence of being fallible, they are replaced by an inferior and greedier set of rulers.
Eventually the greed of the society leads to money being lent out at high rates of interest, which inevitably concentrates wealth in the hands of a very few. Society degenerates further into the rule of the mob, when doing whatever one wishes to do is the only value.
Here there is little of the higher order that an alchemist would associate with gold, silver or iron. Indeed, the men of gold have vanished by the time it comes to democracy. The man of clay takes charge by convincing the man of iron that the man of silver wishes to enslave him, and by convincing the man of silver that the man of iron wishes to kill him, and so ensures that those two mutually destroy each other.
The Hindu timeline tells a fantastic – and weirdly similar – story. Each Great Year, or Age of Man, or Maha Yuga, itself consists of four smaller Yugas.
The first of these, the Satya Yuga, is also known as the Age of Truth, and it corresponds very closely to what an alchemist would call a Golden Age and what Plato would have called rule by aristocracy. Here it is the gods that are, rightly, in charge of their creation, and everyone knows their correct place.
In the next age, the Treta Yuga, righteousness gradually diminishes. An alchemist would call this an Age of Silver – spirituality begins to give way to materialism, and kings and rulers must use cunning to get their will through, no longer able to rely on the confidence that the ruled have in them.
The final stage is the Kali Yuga, which is known in Hinduism as a Dark Age.
Both of these systems of thought, like the Norse Ragnarok and the Abrahamist Armageddon, suggest that the human experience starts good and gradually gets worse until it has to be restarted in violent revolution. Before we get to this point, however, things have to become genuinely terrible.
An alchemist might point to the immense population surge of the last 150 years and declare that this must be the time of the man of clay, because it appears that no longer does anything other than sex matter. People breed mindlessly, with no thought to the long-term benefit of their actions or whether more offspring are desirable, and so the human population has exploded.
A consequence of this is a resurgence of lowest common denominator culture. American popular culture seems to have sunk to an almost childish level, with the people happy to accept any display of gross incompetence or unfitness for leadership from their ruling class.
In New Zealand it can be seen with the increasing media attention given to soccer, which is the McDonalds of world sports, at the expense of excellent sports such as rugby and cricket, and with the degeneration of the nation’s most popular media portals into click-baiting drivel.
Perhaps all of these systems of thought are all correct and we are currently living in the Age of the Pleb, ruled by the worst among us, and by the worst instincts within ourselves.
The good news is that, in all systems of thought that warn us of such a thing, the Age of the Pleb is always replaced by a new Golden Age.
To some extent, how this develops is inevitable. The man of gold, born into the age of the man of clay, finds himself impelled to take action. The degree of degeneration strikes him as obscene, and out of righteous anger he takes action.
This action usually has the effect of bringing fire into the world to burn away the rot and filth of the Age of the Pleb. Sometimes this means war – and with a massive and still-growing human population creating ever more pressure on ever depleting natural resources, this seems very possible.
The other way we might exit the Age of the Pleb is by a fiery revolution of thought, in which the mental cobwebs of long-decayed religions are burned away by righteous fire and the brutal monkey instincts at the bottom of our brains are tamed and sublimated into something valuable.