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« A New Human Society - Part 2. | Main | A New Human Society - Part 4 »

October 06, 2016


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Your historical exposition is based on a narrative that was developed in an older European context and as such:
• your description of the prehistoric relies on the state of anthropology in a deeply Eurocentric 19th century. These last decades have seen a radical repudiation of these ideas and the picture of tribes and animism has been transformed: economy of abundance, societies without power (Dunbar number and theory of small groups), a worldview offering a narrative of reality based on the idea of sets and systems going from the whole or the one (U) to the living species on earth that were perceived to be interdependent and thus needed to be respected.
• your stages of development (prehistoric, traditional, classical, ...) ignore the determinant factors underlying the process of societal evolution (climate, geographic context)

The systemic nature of animism derives from:
• a formation of knowledge based on observation of the whole (U), the interdependent living species, and the natural environment
• a knowledge steeped in pragmatism (offering a betterment of the condition of tribesmen = reducing pain and increasing pleasure while respecting the interdependence)

Tribes were non-power societies that contrast starkly with the Empires that emerged some 5000 years ago at the earliest. Agriculture destabilized the tribal societal organization and different responses emerged out of different contexts.

Among these different contexts the TriContinentalArea (Middle-East as Eurocentric designation) is an area where:
• size of alluvial plains: the Tigris and Euphrates alluvial plains where the Mesopotamia agriculture was developed are small in size (15,000 sq. km in total) and the Nile alluvial plains are no more than 40,000 sq. km
• worldview rupture: the TriContinentalArea is a narrow corridor linking Africa, Europe and Asia and so it always witnessed movements of people. In such a context all societal developments were prone to rupture. Each time a kingdom collapsed its worldview was destroyed and replaced by a new one... (rupture from animism since the start of the transition from tribes to empire)
• in such a particular context the transition between tribes and empire was from the earliest stage the feat of men of power who consolidated tribes in Early kingdoms while making the traditional animist men of knowledge their collaborators.

This particular situation of the TriContinentalArea contrasts with the situation along the Yellow and the Yangzte rivers:
• size of alluvial plains: the alluvial plains of each of these 2 rivers reaches nearly 1,000,000 sq. km. and combined they total somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million sq. km
• worldview continuity: these alluvial plains were bordered by mountains and deserts in the S-W, W, and N and by the ocean on the East. Outsiders were thus unknown of during most of the transition from tribes to empires and societal development was thus continuous (no rupture of animism means animism was continuously developed further)
• in such a particular context the "master" animist men of knowledge became symbols of the cultural unity of tribes and agricultural villages. In other words the cultural characters of the tribe of the master shaman were gradually expanding to a larger territory...

These differentiations in the transition from tribes to empires explain how to this very day Western views remain so distant from East Asian views on so many fronts. But this is not the gist of my comment. As you writes so often in the present transition from Modernity to what comes after Modernity our only hope resides in higher sapience. But while you personally view higher sapience as a physical mind enhancement of the individuals the "tribal + animism" experience as well as the "East Asian experience of power + animism" shows us that there is no need for an individual physical mind enhancement to reach high societal sapience. What I wan to contrast here is the individual path versus the societal path to sapience. The individual path implies further biological evolution while the societal path implies that we need solely to organize our societies in a different way which implies higher levels of consciousness at least in the minds of our societal men of knowledge.

Tribal animism as well as East Asian animism under power societies are societal models that try to reconcile the species' urge for conservation with the individual urge for more complexity. In such a model the highest priority is to satisfy the societal principle of prudence which means that all individual and societal undertakings have to satisfy the inescapable principle of realism or the absolute need to conform to systemic reality that always was the domain reserved to sages who acted as the consciousness of their societies.

Craig Moodie

Wow! At long last somebody else besides myself,understands the idea of anthropocentrism vs non anthropocentrism. I have been trying for years to draw people to accept this concept as one of the main causes of our current predicament,to no avail.George, you are a breath of fresh air in an insane world.
An amusing anecdote from H.L.Mencken on democracy'Democracy is the pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance'.

Don Stewart

Relative to:
'We rely on ideologies because we lack the critical capacity of wisdom.'

I think of it, perhaps, a little differently. Given that humans have two independent ways of thinking...what Daniel Kahneman labels Fast Thinking and Slow Thinking, and that we are overwhelmingly dependent on the Fast Thinking and can only occasionally crank up the effort to use Slow Thinking, there is no substitute for something like an ideology. By ideology, I mean that we have internalized certain rules, so that in our Fast Thinking we default to the rules rather than to immediate sensory experience.

For example, Seventh Day Adventists are some of the healthiest people on the planet. Their town in California is a recognized Blue Zone. And their ideology tells them not to smoke and not to drink alcohol. I do not believe the apparent connection between their ideology and their expected long life free of chronic disease is just a coincidence.

Now, an Adventist may, for all I know, be a thoroughly nasty person in some other respect (he may speed in school zones, for example), but it is clear that the specific ideology is very useful. The Adventist would not likely achieve the results using only Slow Thinking.

If we do indeed need Sapience, it must take the form of formulating rules to live by which are life enhancing. Those rules embody an ideology, in my mind.

Don Stewart

George Mobus


Let me direct readers to your blog site so they can get some background:

My current blog has to be understood in the context of much of what I have written over the years. If you look at some of that work you will find that I have been paying attention to anthro-sociology over the last several decades. Not sure what you read (into) what I wrote, but I assure you I have researched the cultural evolution of humanity.

@Craig M.,

Thanks. That quote from Mencken nails it perfectly.

@Don S.,

I like Kahneman quite a lot. However, he partitions thinking into just the two time domain processes. In my view there is yet another time domain process - sapience - which is the basis for wisdom, not just rational thought. Kahneman's fame, along with Tversky's came from demonstrating to economists that their concept and models of rational agents in economic decisions were bunk. Many other psychologists, however, maintain that wisdom constitutes another dimension of thinking that is not included in the two system model.

" By ideology, I mean that we have internalized certain rules, so that in our Fast Thinking we default to the rules rather than to immediate sensory experience."

I think this is a reasonable characterization as far as it goes, but it doesn't address the so-called think-tank intellectuals who might be using slow thinking but a faulty set of premises if not faulty logic. The premises come from the ideology. The logic is usually a process of rationalizing to desired conclusions based on the emotional commitments to the ideological propositions.

Something is missing from a simple two time domain model of thinking processes and I think it might be characterized as a very slow, background and largely unconscious thinking that is the basis of wisdom.


Don Stewart

Relative to wisdom functioning in the background. There is a woman in Rochester, NY who promotes Bright Line Eating for those who are prone to gaining weight. Her premise is that the convert agree to certain 'Bright Line' rules, and then the daily and hourly process of deciding what and when to eat is eliminated. She feels pretty strongly that a lot of people are unable to cope with the minute to minute temptations presented by modern society.

I have reached very similar conclusions relative to a broad set of behaviors. For example, I remember getting into a car in a garage in Kansas City about 35 years ago with a co-worker. I put the key in the ignition. The woman practically exploded: why haven't you fastened your seat belt? I was shocked. But I started fastening my seat belt. Today, I can hardly get into a car and put it out in the driveway without fastening my seat belt. I see what happened to me as replacing a certain type of lackadaisical fast thinking with a different kind of fast thinking which is a result of a short period of slow thinking.

Now, I wouldn't claim that fastening one's seat belt is exactly an ideology. But each of these mundane things presents us with the same challenge. We don't have the reserve energy to address the issues with our full complement of Slow Thinking every time we start to do them. We have to form habits, or an ideology, or have rules for Bright Line Eating, or the like.

Yes, we can use all the powers at our disposal to arrive at the rules and try to make them second nature, but we need to understand what is happening. Not just try to develop some abstract power called 'sapience'.

This is mostly based on my experience. It's not scientific research.

Don Stewart

Don Stewart

I know you are moving on, so I don't expect an answer to this. I only pose the question for those who may still be interested in carrying the conversation further.

Last evening I listened in on a conversetion between two MDs. One said, exasperatedly, that he had been to a medical lunch where the buffet featured potato chips and diet cola. 'How can medical doctors be so stupid? Don't they know what that junk does to their microbiome?' And so forth and so on. The female doctor began to tell similar horror stories.

So how do we explain that some of the most expensively educated people in the world are eating junk food in the context of a medical meeting? Even if the junk food was provided free of charge by the drug industry, why would the doctors eat it? I don't think very many of them could claim ignorance...although the silo effect is something to be reckoned with. Herd mentality may also offer some explanation.

But I suspect that the simplest explanation is that they are following the path of least resistance. They are engaged in fast thinking, with little to no slow thinking when confronted with the choices available to them.

The more professional doctors having the conversation have deeply internalized the message that the junk food epidemic is directly contributing to the epidemic of chronic disease. They feel revulsion for the organization which brought those chips and fake colas to that table: the drug companies who pay, the organizers who tolerate, and the MDs who behave like sheep.

The revulsion is a key emotion, I think. Without the revulsion, which is a fast thinking response, these two doctors would likely have gone right along with the flow.

Don Stewart


George, I enjoy your writing and my response is your musing hopefully you will find it amusing in a sense of mentally exercising our atrophy of old age. Our contemplations are a higher expression of life reflecting on itself.

The idea of “special” is dualistic and dualism involves self-reflection. Self-reflection at the level we are at in our populated modern world is destructive. This destructiveness comes from adapting the world to our needs through increasing complexity and energy intensity. Without self-reflection the drive for differentiation and invasiveness is muted. Other animals seek out their natural range because it fits not because they are curious in the human sense. Human curiosity is surplus mental energy that migrates towards self-advancement and self-advancement at the extreme is destructive. Other animals will only become destructive because the can, not because they want to fulfill an urge to advance individually. Once an animal’s belly is satisfied they rest. Human’s mind just gets started when the human belly is satisfied.

Somewhere humility is supposed to come into play for human enlightenment to prevent our destructiveness. Humility is needed because of our inability to used wisdom wisely. That much we have learned from our human advancement. In pre-modern times humility came much more naturally because of the stasis of population from a stable birth death relationship enforced by our “Ecos”. Human civilization was limited and centered within a natural ecosystem acquiescence. While we should be capable of limiting ourselves because of wisdom we almost are never capable of limits because of cooperative competition.

Once knowledge exploded which is inevitable with the human attributes of a large brain and self-reflection our cooperative competition allowed us to model the “Ecos” in our image cooperatively and with vigor because of our race to outcompete each other. Now what was once a stable place in a greater life system that fit to nature is now a human system that is nature adapted to human values. We have turn an epoch by self-reflection and self-advancement.

We live only be geologic acquiescence and life cycles. Is our wisdom more than this process because somehow this wisdom is innate in the universe? Is that our transcendence? I think we should be trying to understand universal wisdom and not the human version. It is through perception this is found and lost. We can connect and we can separate. This is likely a function of universal wisdom because if anything is true we are a product of the universal. To think we are special and separate and then there is the universe is delusion but it is this delusion that may be necessary for universal wisdom. Maybe it is the interplay of delusion and comprehension that drives universal wisdom. All knowing wisdom is paralysis it would seem.

If this is the case our current period of death and decay is necessary and must happen because this is the frequency of life. Spirituality is a search for grace. Grace is the simple elegance of connectivity to the very source of life. Acceptance of our current decay process should allow us to withhold judgment because judgment itself is part of the decay process that comes from destructive self-reflection. Death is part of life and life is possible because of death. We are now entering a period of a die off at all levels of the “Ecos” including our human world. If we can find wisdom in this then that may be the universal wisdom that will initiate a new human.

I admire pre-modern cultures who attained high levels of spirituality more than our current modern civilization that possess spirituality in books but without the spark of life spirituality really is. Books store wisdom in the dark and when light is applied animation occurs but too often today the darkness of distraction limits the spark of activity. True spirituality comes from connection and acquiescence of the “Ecos” in living words of life’s activity. This wisdom is dispensed per its nature within its timeframe and that timeframe is timeless.

We are blessed when we can witness that fair wind and when we can’t we can still reconnect. It is reconnection then that is a basis of real wisdom. All efforts should be towards connection and acceptance. If this sounds religious this misses the point. Religion is positive action, what I am recommending is passive. If this sounds Tao then so be it. To describe this process is to lose it and to lose it is to find it. Positive action goes with passive in flux and harmony. We are leaving positive action and entering the passive. Our new humanity will not be found from activity only acceptance connection to this period of death and decay.

Jordan Olson

Great post George.

A few comments:

- Are you familiar with Lewis Mumford? In Technics and Civilization he argues that the middle ages set the stage for the industrial revolution and were not necessarily a stagnant period. Almost like adding heat to water, before it boils the temperature does not change and it could be seen as stagnant. Like a latent period in history, generating internal energy to get ready for a phase change. I believe there is a good deal of scholarship now happening on exploring whether the middle ages were really "dark" or if they've just been under studied by historians because of preconceived and self perpetuating notions about the time period. (probably moot now that I've read laodan's comment and your response)

- David Graeber in Debt challenges the Econ 101 theory of barter from an anthropological perspective. He also advances the idea that the Roman coin was first issued as a way to fund the military. You issue coin based currency, pay your military with the currency, and then force the common people to pay taxes using that currency. Set up a market and people will compete and produce goods and services to get money from the soldiers that they need to use to pay their taxes. Now the government has created a way to feed and clothe the military without relying explicitly on government expenditures. It's more complicated than that of course, and he goes into the entire "military-coinage-slave complex", the entire book is worth reading for anyone interested in money.

- You note that our failure to recognize the true purpose of money gives rise to negative feedbacks, and then go on to provide an example that seems like a "success to the successful" type positive feedback, am I missing something here?

- Can you clarify your statements on early agricultural societies and population growth? My understanding is that agriculture was developed and the additional carrying capacity it made available led to the growth in population. Not that increasing population led people to develop agriculture which it seems like you're saying. Am I interpreting you correctly? A bit of a chicken or the egg problem I suppose.

- Re. your discussion on fiat currency, couldn't all currency be seen as fiat currency? I know you're not providing a lengthy history here, but when was currency ever based on energetic reality? Hasn't it always been a social agreement? Commodity money seems at best a proportional representation of the energy that went into that commodity, not an actual value.

- Not a question, but it seems like you could make an equivalent list for democracies such as the one you made for markets; "Democracies work when: voters have adequate (and truthful) information..." and so on.

Thanks for all the great brain food!

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