Understanding the emergence of society

Braudel once had a very famous analogy: In the long river of history, short-term incidents are like fireflies in the night or the light of a match. It can illuminate the surrounding darkness in an instant, but it cannot change the overall direction of social change. Only the long-term structure is the important driving force for the macro-historical progress. In the eyes of many people, the new crown epidemic is just such an incident. It is not so important in itself. The “deep” laws reflected behind it are what made the past 2020 so critical.

The impulse to explore the “deep” laws of history has long been rooted in various traditional thoughts, ranging from “a small change at 30 years old, a hundred years of change, five hundred years of great change” in “Historical Records of Heaven” to Marx’s five types The evolution of social forms has never stopped trying to find structural and essential reasons for the process of human history. To this day, such grand narratives with different value orientations continue to influence people’s hearts and events in real politics and society. Magnitude is the source of meaning. It not only provides the necessary myths for people to create new value, but also eliminates individual value and meaning in the magnificent background, and even induces people to die for it. In this regard, Pinduoduo’s “struggle” philosophy and overall outlook are not a case in point.

However, the distinction between short time period, medium time period and long time period does not only lead to the “grand view of history” that uses the structure of long time periods to explain history. In fact, at the beginning of the birth of the “Almanac School” to which Braudel belonged. What they had to deal with was originally the reductionist thinking from Ranke’s historiography: paying attention to the perfect textualization of every scene and detail, in order to restore the historical truth. This kind of thinking actually follows a similar way of thinking with the kind of thinking that gives the answer to historical evolution from a macro perspective: there is only one logic for understanding and predicting social evolution. but it is not the truth. Changes in quantity and scale will cause the system to change accordingly, and then produce laws at different levels.

There is a word that is often misunderstood to describe this concept: “emerge”, “emerge” or “emerge”. Some people think that “emergency” means creation and mutation, and even has something to do with the creation of gods. In fact, “emergence” refers to the evolution of the laws of different levels with the accumulation of quantitative changes. This accumulation can be accumulation of various time, space or quantity. In Braudel’s division, it is the accumulation of time that causes the long, medium and short periods, but this does not mean that the law of the long period can completely guide the incidents that occur in the short period, nor does it mean that the short period The law of the time period and the middle period can deduce the direction of change in the long period. The correct situation should be that these three have their own laws and are related to each other, but they have not been deeply revealed.

Interestingly, in the field of natural sciences, the concept of “emergence” is also extremely important. Philip Anderson, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1977, wrote a famous article titled “More is different.” One of the important research directions of complexity science and nonlinear science since the 20th century is to explore the laws of emergent phenomena, but so far there are no satisfactory results. Intentionally or unconsciously, social theory and natural science are exploring different aspects of the same elephant. However, the public has obviously not yet accepted this kind of thinking, and the linear view of history created by reductionist essentialism and grand narrative is still popular. Social public opinion oscillates repeatedly in the tension between individuals and groups, temporary and eternal, present and future, and every extreme thinks that they have the only truth. The more hurried logic is to blindly replace value judgments with these unverified factual judgments, thereby causing even greater errors.

Understanding the emergence of society requires us to be aware of the different meanings given to events and history by the scale of time and space, and not to use the laws of a specific level to deal with problems at another level. This is not to say that let us give up careful screening of specific facts and unremitting exploration of deep laws, but to let us have a clearer understanding of the limits of these screenings and explorations. Through countless incidents, we can see the status of individuals and parts in history, but at the same time, we should not ignore how every vivid detail should happen better.