Negatively Communicating Vessels of Culture

The principle of negatively communicating vessels demands of us that we pay attention to the respective “flip sides” to all the brilliant cultural achievements of human history. It can be illustrated in terms of a distant analogy to a bio-physical phenomenon: Highly organized systems – organisms – spread, metabolically, disorder within their environments for the purpose of maintaining the orders peculiar to their own respective systems. They exist, so to speak, at the expense of their environments. Historically, great power complexes, such as empires, function in a comparable way.

When we admire the administration, the school system, the marble halls and other architectural constructions of the highly organized Hellenic and Roman imperial orders we should never lose sight of the fact that there corresponded to this praiseworthy organization a great measure of destructiveness and inhumanity not only in the Roman colonies, for example, but also in the very centre of the Roman empire. The global empire of the Romans perfected the Greek system of coinage and financial commerce, slavery and war economy/militarism. At certain times some three quarters of Rome’s entire state budget was devoted to military expenditures.

As an illustration of the negatively communicating vessels of the market logic of the modern global system we can cast a glance at Amsterdam as the flourishing centre of this system in the period of Dutch hegemony. While cultivated minds among the shareholders of the Dutch East India Company discussed the merits of this or that painter, there corresponded to the “Dutch Golden Age” a period of profound darkness inaugurated by the massacres presided over by this same company in Indonesia. Reduced to a simple formula, there corresponded to the rise and endurance of Western civilization, and indeed of other civilizations besides, a massive degree of barbarism in other regions of the world.

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