|24 Jul 2002 @ 09:05, by scottj|
What follows here is a short summary of a theory of social evolution.
Man has not evolved biologically in the last 10,000 years and yet in this relatively short period has risen to a position of dominance where his influence on other species and planetry systems is evident everywhere.
The reason for this rapid expansion is to be found in our ability to invent; to formulate a hypothesis about how some combination of things may interact, and then test the hypothesis by experiment. Unlocking the door to the secret chambers of scientific knowledge in this way has given us the power to modify our environment instead of, like other species, adapting to it.
Whereas there can be no doubt about man’s technological advancement, the pattern of our social evolution is not so clear cut. At best our progress has been faltering and more often than not a case of 1 step forward and three back. There are examples throughout history of apparantly highly advanced cultures, in many respects more advanced than the dominant society of today, that have simply died out without their wisdom being absorbed and passed on. To understand how this can happen it can be instructive to think of knowledge as a parallel universe to the physical, one which exists within the mind but with the special characteristic that conventional rules of time and space do not apply.
From any point within the Universe of Knowledge it is possible to build out a map which can be shared with others - this is the work of scientists and other researchers. But, unlike the physical world it is also possible to move instantaneously and without effort from any one point to any other using the vehicle of The Imagination. The greatest hinderence to using imagination to its full potential however, lies in the very maps other people have drawn. There is a natural tendency to follow these and never attempt the huge flights of speculation that give rise to major breakthroughs in science and the arts.
Now let us bring this into the dynamic context of social evolution by turning back the historical clock a few thousand years.
Back then many tribes, early societies and civilisations existed more or less in complete isolation from one other. They were pursuing their own separate development.
Because of the ability of the mind to imagine itself anywhere within the Universe of Knowledge we find examples that many of our predecessors were already in possession of a clear understanding of knowledge which is, either beyond anything we currently understand (these examples we reject as primitive mystical nonsense), or at least on a par with it. This phenomenon confounds one of the cornerstones of our thinking: that our knowledge has progressed more or less linearly from blissfull ignorance to near omniscience today.
It is only in the last 3 - 4 centuries that rapid communications between people over the whole planet has been possible. Previously, isolation allowed societies to develop institutions -- formal and informal -- independently of one another giving rise to considerable cultural diversity. However as communications improved it was invevitable that this diversity would be more or less absorbed into an emerging global civilisation and we have now reached a point where nation states and earlier social groupings are losing their identity by becoming subordinate to global economic, social and political parameters. The form those parameters have taken is no accident but is instead the result of a dynamic driven by the interraction between the competitive energy within the individual and the need for an arena of social interraction based on co-operation. It is perfectly possible for a society to evolve a set of institutions based primarily on a co-operative social environment. However, a society which has developed institutions which support the aggressively competitive individual will in time absorb a co-operative attempt either by force or by requiring the more peacful society to adopt the same level of aggression in order to survive. In practice the more civilised society, the one which has developed institutions and rituals for containing individual competitive aggression, will sucumb to the more barbaric which has evolved to optimise the opportunity for the competitive, aggressive individual.
To better understand this process a great deal can be learnt from looking at the psychologies of the psychopath and the sociopath.
To summarise; both of these personalities are defined by their lack of conscience and any boundaries to their self advancement. To them the ends always justify the means and there can never be enough of the ends to satisfy them. What distinguishes the sociopath, however, is that he pursues his goals within the written and unwritten rules of social behaviour, whereas the latter frequently steps outside of them. The sociopath will use psychological intimidation and coercion to achieve the same ends as the physically violent psychopath. If the sociopath must resort to violence he will take steps either to ensure that it appears justified or that blame can be shifted elsewhere. As a last resort he will simply put a great deal more effort into avoiding detection. Within the dynamic of an evolving society where there are no means of resolving, through appropriate rituals and institutions, the problem of the sociopath, this personality type will gradually gain control of the key institutions and steer them (often in very subtle ways) to create an environment for their personal gratification. The outcome is a ruthlessly aggressive society which can readily defeat and absorb more peacful ones.
According to this logic it would appear that a world society dominated by sociopaths is inevitable. Thankfully this is not the case for several reasons:
- The boundless expansion of the ruthlessly aggressive society must sooner or later come into conflict with the life systems of the planet. This is partly a result of the “never enough” principle which drives the economic engine but also, and perhaps more importantly, as a result of the increasing global inequality -- an inevitable consequence of aggressive competition -- which forces an increasing mass of impoverished people into environmentally damaging farming and industrial practices.
- The dynamics of endless growth and increased inequality alienate more and more people from having a real interest in that form of social organisation. The system has a progressively more difficult task to compensate for its inability to address non material life needs by substituting materialistic alternatives and can not realistically offer the materialist dream to the mass of impoverished people.
- The ruthlessly competitive society depends on values effectively appropriated from visions of an alternative co-operative model - freedom, justice, honesty and so on - and this generates a never ending stream of problems for the competitive model. Up till now this has been resolved by politically dishonest manipulation and marginalisation of opposition plus minor concessions which invariable afford some advantage to specific aggressively competitive individuals. In the medium term it has to be noted that the underlying problems of individual freedom and environmental damage, are never addressed in ways which can effect real solutions. This would involve “giving away” and set limits which are inappropriate in a “never enough” society. In the long term the inflexibility of the competitive model simply increases the severity of the contradictions to the point where fundamental change becomes invevitable.
- Increasingly cynical manipulation of society’s institutions leads to a mistrustful and sceptical public (cf. falling polls at elections and the stock market crash) which erodes the basis of trust and support necessary to maintain respect for the laws and institutions on which the society depends. Thus the aggressively competitive society is continually threatened by a breakdown of law and order not only because it has marginalises a large section of the population but because it has been seen to break its own rules far too often.
These processes lead to a crisis of credibility which often leaves the individual clinging to the notion that at least they can be a winner in the lottery of life. Once this last refuge of hope has disappeared the competitive society exists only as a threat to realisation and never a means to it.
The present form of social organisation is a product of unconscious motivations and it will only be possible to resolve the imbalances caused by mankind consciously evolving it. To do this the mass of humanity must find ways to say “no” to the current dominant personality type at all levels of society - the means to faciltate this on a global scale can occur through resourceful people who currently support the dominant culture, using their powers of reasoning to anticipate that further support is at odds with their survival.
If this hurdle can be overcome the great forgotten cultural heritage and wisdom of mankind can be explored anew and brought into to the mainstream of social life where it can combine with modern technology allowing a genuine global civilisation to emerge. If human evolution completes its process, the differences between cultures will gradually erode and it is possible to conceive of mankind evolving into a single individual consciousness that becomes the self realisation of Gaia herself.