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Better Human Story # 5-- The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Andrew Schmookler       (Page 1 of 16 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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A NEW LIFE-FORM: CIVILIZED SOCIETY

With the domestication of plants and animals, the human species became the first creature in the more than 3.5 billion years of the evolution of life on earth to extricate itself from the niche in which it had evolved biologically.

This breakthrough seems to herald an unprecedented freedom for humankind to invent its own way of life. But this notion that the breakthrough brought "freedom" starts looking implausible when we look at what transpires in the early millennia of the development of this new kind of life-form, the civilized society.

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In the five thousand years following the first steps out of the hunter-gatherer way of life, the full-scale civilization that arose showed a frightening face. The social equality of primitives gave way to rigid stratification, with the many compelled to live as slaves, serving the few. Warfare became more important, more chronic, and more bloody and destructive.

It is telling that, in all the seven regions where civilization emerged in its pristine form, that same basic pattern of strife, tyranny, and oppression unfolded.

If humankind were "inventing" a new way of life, would this be what people would choose?

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The answer is the rise of civilization only appears to represent some new birth of human freedom. Yes, our species became the first to escape the constrictions of the biologically evolved order. But humankind's unprecedented breakthrough subjected humankind to a new set of necessities, a dynamic that emerged out of the unprecedented situation humankind's breakthrough brought into being.

And it was this dynamic, not free human choice, that has governed the direction of civilization's unfolding--a direction that humankind did not choose, but could neither avoid nor stop.

That is what "the parable of the tribes" shows. Let me demonstrate this in two steps.

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THE INEVITABILITY OF THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER

The first step is about the consequences of anarchy.

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The previous installment concluded with the point that clusters of human societies -- emerging from the natural order, and each with its own capacity to expand without inherent limit -- were compelled to interact with each other with no order to regulate those interactions.

For the first time, we saw, out of the living system there arose a new kind of disorder, with human societies no longer held in place by any biological order and with no man-made order yet being possible.

It is time to look at the consequences -- the inevitable consequences -- of this new kind of anarchy that humankind unwittingly had unleashed into the human world. The breakout from the biologically evolved order looked like "freedom" when we considered each such emerging society separately. But when we look at the ungoverned system of a multiplicity of such societies within reach of each other, that apparent freedom is seen to be -- more fundamentally -- an anarchy previously unknown in the history of life.

In his classic, Leviathan, the 17th century English philosopher accurately described the consequence of anarchy: a ceaseless struggle for power. And we can see how that is true wherever some civilized order breaks down into anarchy (as we've seen in the past couple of generations first in Lebanon and later in Somalia).

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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