What goes around comes around.
Long ago, before the advent of agriculture, the tribe was generally a collection of related and near related men, women, and children. Several of the men and women were old! They were the grand fathers and grand mothers. They did not reproduce, but assisted younger parents in raising their children, probably by instruction and demonstration to the young while the parents were gathering supplies.
Some of the old folk had accumulated tacit knowledge of how the world worked and what were the best behaviors to perform in various situations. They were the wise ones. The others listened and learned. They respected the wise ones precisely because they had lived so long and therefore, by evolutionary definition, were successful.
Larger tribes were organized and coordinated by the group of wisest of the old; I'd like to believe both men and women were afforded this position. The tribe followed the lead of the wise council not out of fear of retribution by the old ones, but by recognizing wisdom when they saw it. There is a form of wisdom of youth that allows one to appreciate the wisdom of age.
Then, about 10,000 years ago people turned to animal and plant husbandry as a substitute for making a living — producing food at a single site and forgoing migrations or wandering. It was a radical innovation. It took considerable cleverness for humans to recognize the advantage of farming over hunting and gathering. Except, it wasn't the advantage they thought. Farming does allow one to minimize one's energy expenditure to obtain an energy source in the short run. But at the expense of the flexibility and long-run nutritional advantages of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
It also required something else from them in terms of their mental models of the world. They needed to organize much more quickly. They needed to control nature immediately around them much more thoroughly. And these needs meant they had to control one another more strictly to make the energy advantage of agriculture work for them. A new emphasis on a hierarchy of human decision-makers emerged. Its form was quite different from the previous council of elders because it needed to accomplish coordination of the social grouping differently. Specialization set in more deeply as the skills of any given job type in agriculture and later, support of agricultural workers in the form of manufacture of plows, harnesses, etc, created the need for social centers — villages.
Another need for coordination soon emerged in the forms of trade with other villages and protection of the land. Now, the emphasis on controlling by power had become ingrained in human psyche. And the co-evolution of culture and human consciousness took off.
No longer was there selection for wisdom. No longer were the elderly as important to society for their accumulated wisdom of how to live in general. Now their value was strictly in how they could take care of the homestead and train children to do the trades they had done when they were younger. Education turned from learning to live and appreciate and understand to learning to work.
For the last 8 to 9 thousand years we have emphasized this kind of social framework as the world grew progressively, if slowly or in fits at times, toward greater and greater complexity as humans exercised their cleverness in so many ways.
Now mind you, I don't claim that all of this was bad. Cleverness is a good thing. We have improved the comfort in living. We have improved the enjoyment of aspects of life. We've learned incredible knowledge about how the world really works such that we are freed, if we choose to be so, from the mystical and magical explanations that our wiser, but ignorant ancestors lived believing.
No. The evolution of culture and knowledge and energy extraction has evolved exactly as might have been predicted from general evolution theory.
I can't help but wonder, though, if there had been a bit more balance between sapience and cleverness, would we have been in such a hurry to try new things? Might there have been a world in which atom bombs did not exist but atomic energy did? It is fun to speculate, but not worth much more than that. The world is the way it is. For the past several thousand years mankind has been engaged in actively selecting against wisdom and for power and cleverness. And that is just the way it is.
Except today it looks like all that power and cleverness have doomed humanity to extinction! Many very serious and very smart people are coming to that conclusion. Between global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, sudden decline of energy availability after pumping oil out of the ground as if there were an infinite supply, and all of the old pestilences, wars, diseases, and selfish behavior, it looks like mankind has fouled the nest beyond repair. There are now so many of us that we, as a species, confiscate nearly a fourth of the world's primary production even though many more of us go hungry than eat enough to bulk our bodies. We are in a great deal of trouble and our current forms of government are failing to do the right things. They never could because we are no longer a sapient species.
Hope is not lost entirely. As with any characteristic — take intelligence for example — the human genetic pool will always contain variants with extreme consequences for development of the phenotype. Think the bell curve. Suppose that the genetic basis for sapience, what causes the prefrontal cortex to develop the way it does, follows a similar curve. Suppose there are people in the population who actually have not only the ancient propensity for sapience but have actually inherited a more advanced capacity. They would be the equivalent of sapience geniuses, far out in the right tail of the Gaussian distribution!
Now suppose we could find such people and nurture their sapience from an early age. And suppose we finally heed Plato's call for philosopher kings. Imagine a council of wise elders in place of a single executive. Imagine wise elders in the congresses or parliaments. Imagine wise judges. It's hard to do it because we've so rarely seen it. Wisdom is exceedingly rare because it depends on both the sapience processing competency of the brain and tacit knowledge of how to live life. The latter was largely killed of in the population by our rush to advance culture. The latter isn't really possible since living life now involves a thoroughly materialistic set of values (with occasional lapses of spiritual longing for something more).
I would have mankind recognize this picture. I would have us use our cleverness to understand this as best we can and to promote the wellbeing of highly sapient individuals.
Knowing as I do the legends of utopia and how we often turn the stories around to become frankesteinian (can't have too much of a good thing, right?), I realize that this isn't likely to happen. But perhaps those few wise folk who have grasped their situation will take steps to ensure their survival through what may very well be a not-too-far-off evolutionary bottleneck event.
All humans have hope.