While the following will do nothing to establish whether the idea is the Big Deal I claim -- that question is a wholly separate matter -- it will dispose, I believe, of that particular source of skepticism that, if it were a Big Deal, surely the world would have treated it differently.
So, in an effort to enable the reader to approach this idea with a mind as open as possible to the "Big Deal" claim, I will tell the following story.
Neither Refuted Nor Adopted, Just Ignored
In the book The Parable of the Tribes, as in this series now, I was not reticent about making claims. I believed that such boldness would be a way of making sure people would check the idea out and see if those claims withstood the test.
In the book's first two pages, I asserted that it would cast the human story in an importantly different light. In imitation of a famous passage of Freud's -- in which he placed himself as third in a series of humbling revelations about the standing of "man" (first Copernicus, then Darwin, and then Freud's demonstration that man was not master even in his own mind) -- I proposed a fourth challenge:
"Now comes the parable of the tribes, a theory to illuminate the nature and determinants of civilization. It shows that even in those structures where man's power and ability are most tangibly embodied -- even in the evolution of civilization -- man is as much the victim as the master."
You'll soon be able to judge for yourself whether you want to call such talk boldness, or chutzpah, or delusion. But here is the interesting part: the world, as a whole, never even checked out the claim.
Neither when the book was published, nor any time since, has the intellectual world dealt with the idea. This thesis -- which shook me to the bones in 1970, and which I sought over many years to argue compellingly -- has basically been ignored.
By that I mean that:
- No one ever refuted the argument, no one ever did the least damage to the basic thesis;
- No one ever made any case for the idea that -- even if the idea were valid -- it wouldn't be any Big Deal.
A(n apparently) naïve young man such as myself would have assumed that those parts of the world that deal in such big ideas (about social evolution, about the dynamics and meaning of history) would either have to accomplish either of those bases for dismissing my claims, or to acknowledge their validity. I.e., to recognize "the parable of the tribes" to be the major piece for understanding the Human Story that it claimed to be.
But over the years, it has been neither refuted, nor belittled, nor adopted. Just neglected.
The question arises, how could that be?
Believe me, I've looked at that question for some thirty years. It is certainly not the way I imagined was how the world works.
But whatever the explanation, here are some explanations that don't seem plausible.
First, there's the idea that it is impossible for any idea to be a Big Deal in the way I claim. But Big Deal ideas do happen, sometimes. So on what basis could anyone assume a priori that any such a claim cannot possibly be true, and therefore neglect to even test it?