A brief history of humanity


Richard Moore


Below is the latest draft chapter of my book in progress.

It is a complete rewrite of the earlier chapter 1, which was
called the Evolution of Civilization. This new version will
remain at the beginning of the book, but I've moved its
companion Overview chapters to the end. The new TOC is
immediately below.


  Errata>  In the previous posting I referred to Mohammed Atta
    as being the head of Pakistani Intelligence. That is wrong.
    Mohammed Atta is the alleged 9/11 hijack leader whose alleged
    announcement to his hostages was somehow magically recorded
    and made available recently to the media. The head of Pakistani
    Intelligence is  Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmad. Ahmad is the one who
    transferred $100,000 into Atta's bank account a week prior to
    9/11. Ahmad is also the one who was having breakfast in the
    Senate lunch room when the WTC was attacked. Why has Ahmad not
    incurred the wrath of the War on Terrorism?  You tell me.

      A brief history of humanity
      1650-1918: The rise of an imperial power
      1918-1970: Pax Americana and collective imperialism
      1971-2001: The Neoliberal Project
      9/11/2001: The New American Century begins
      The transformational imperative and We The People
      Overcoming factionalism: the power of dialog
      Democracy, localism, and sustainability
      Envisioning a transformational movement
      Harmonization and global transformation
      The evolution of human consciousness



* Primordial societies and cultural evolution

Millions of years ago, somewhere in Africa, our earliest
ancestors lived probably much like modern chimpanzees or
baboons. Our ancestors were undoubtedly very social beings.
All other primates are highly social, and everything we know
about early humanity indicates a social existence--small bands
foraging and hunting. We were social even before we were
human, and it was as members of societies we evolved into homo
sapiens sapiens. The notion that individualistic "cave men"
entered at some point into a conscious "social contract" is
utter nonsense, a figment of the Enlightenment's imagination. 
We were members of societies first, and then gradually we and
our societies became human.

For the past hundred thousand years and more, there has been
negligible change in our basic biological nature--we have been
full homo sapiens sapiens that long. For that whole time,
people have had just as much capacity for imagination, for
language, for telling stories, for lying or being truthful,
for competing or cooperating, for wondering about the
universe, for dancing and making music--as we do today. There
were undoubtedly individuals ninety thousand years ago with
the same potential for genius as an Einstein, Mozart, or Da
Vinci. To the extent there is an innate human nature, it has
not changed in the past hundred thousand years. What has
changed during that time is our cultures.

For millions of years, until about ten thousand years ago,
humans and their ancestors lived in hunter-gatherer bands,
which I will refer to as "primordial societies". After about
ten thousand years ago--in the last ten percent of our
existence as homo sapiens sapiens--a new cultural paradigm
emerged, one that departed in fundamental ways from all
primordial societies. This paradigm shift involved the
development of agriculture and led to the emergence of
civilization, and we will return shortly to an examination of
that shift. For now, let's take a closer look at the nature of
primordial societies.

Many hundreds of still-primordial--and very diverse--societies
have been encountered by modern humans, and many of those
societies have been studied and documented in great detail.
This provides us with a rich database of knowledge regarding
the beliefs, cultures, economies, and the scope of diversity
of those societies. To what extent can we extrapolate from
this knowledge, and reach conclusions about early primordial
societies? Such extrapolations are very tempting, but we must
inquire into their validity before attempting them.

If only a few primordial societies had been studied, or only
ones in similar environments, then extrapolation would not be
possible. We would be seeing in that case only anecdotal
evidence regarding the possible scope of primordial societies.
We would be like an astronomer who could view only a tiny
portion of the sky. But since the number of studied societies
is so large and exhibits such great diversity, and because the
full range of possible environments is represented, our
"scientific sample" is sufficiently rich to enable us to gain
some insights about primordial societies generally. If,
throughout the very diverse range of societies studied,
certain characteristics can be identified that ALL those
societies share, then it is not unreasonable to assume that
those same characteristics were also shared by early
primordial societies--particularly those of the past hundred
thousand years, during which time the biological and genetic
component has remained largely unchanged. By similar
reasoning, astronomers can assume that stars in distant
galaxies exhibit much the same diversity as stars in our own

And we do find quite a number of universally shared
characteristics in observed primordial societies. Every such
society has a complex language, capable of abstract and
imaginative expression. Every such society has its own
culture, supported by myths, beliefs, taboos, and stories
which are passed down verbally from generation to generation.
In this way mores, history, discovered knowledge, and adaptive
behaviors are preserved and reinforced in the culture.
Frequently poetic, rhythmic, and musical forms are
employed--which aids greatly in preserving intact the verbal
cultural heritage through the years. Typically there is a
creation story in which some kind of spirits or gods lay down
the foundation of the cultural beliefs and explain the
society's place in the world.

Every such society, except those going through some kind of
adaptive transitional phase, lives sustainably in its
environment. Although the observed mythologies are very
diverse, they all place humanity within the context of nature,
as part of nature, with a kind of karmic responsibility to
live in harmony with nature. The members of every such society
cooperate systematically in their economic endeavors--mostly
hunting, foraging, and territorial defense--with culturally
specified roles for different ages and sexes. Every such
society is egalitarian, apart from gender and age
differentiation, and decisions tend to be made by
consensus--with no individual or clique being given the power
to decide for the group. There may be chiefs, selected for
their wisdom and knowledge, but only in Hollywood films do
they have the power to command obedience.

While the cooperative band is the fundamental economic unit in
these societies, the cultural unit is typically larger--a
kin-related tribe. The different bands of a tribe share the
same culture, but each band is autonomous and is responsible
for its own economic welfare. There may be token exchanges
between bands and between tribes, but each band is
economically self-sufficient. Raids and fights occur between
bands, even within the same tribe, and sometimes bands are
forced by such pressures to migrate to new territories. But
bands and tribes do not conquer one another. Conquest for
primordial societies makes no economic or social sense. Each
band is busy foraging and hunting--it has no
otherwise-unemployed warrior class that can be devoted to
ruling over some other band. And socially, there is no
administrative or governmental structure that could be
extended to incorporate a larger social unit. It was just as
in the animal kingdom, where a pride of lions might seize the
territory of another pride, but it would never attempt to
"conquer" another pride.

I think it is safe to assume that these same characteristics
were present in most or all human societies during the period
from a hundred thousand years ago to ten thousand years ago.
For a start, we can assume the societies had complex
languages. Individuals had the same brain capacity as today,
and there have been many modern cases reported where young
siblings have developed their own complex languages in only a
few years. Indeed, the development of the capacity for complex
language--which has a central role in planning and
coordinating group activities--is probably the key factor in
the development of our uniquely-large frontal lobes. I think
it is also safe to assume that these languages were used to
transmit cultures from one generation to the next, by means of
stories and myths.

As regards the characteristics of band size, cooperation,
sustainability, and egalitarianism, we find corroboration by
considering the economic conditions of primordial societies.
In order to survive by hunting and gathering, it is necessary
for everyone to work together cooperatively, and the band size
must be limited to the carrying capacity of the foraging
territory. And if such a society depleted its environment in
an unsustainable way, then it could not long survive. We also
do have a significant amount of direct archeological evidence,
from burial sites, food remnants, and simple artifacts that
have been uncovered, which sheds additional light on early
primordial societies.

Animal species, over millions of years, evolve behavior
patterns that enable them to survive in some range of
ecological niches. The behavior patterns are passed down
genetically. Primordial societies, over much shorter time
spans, evolved cultural behavior patterns in response to
various ecological niches. These behavior patterns were not
passed down genetically, but rather by means of stories,
myths, and belief systems. It was not the case that each
generation worked out logically an economically viable life
style. Rather each generation was raised into a belief system,
and that belief system supported a certain culture-- a culture
that had evolved over time to survive within certain
ecological circumstances. Each society believed its way of
life was "natural", or "required by the spirits", or "decreed
by ancient gods", or something along those lines.  Beliefs,
culture, and economic practices mutually co-evolved,
reinforcing and harmonizing with one another.

Humanity, both individually and as societies, is characterized
by an amazing ability to adapt to different circumstances. In
terms of diet, humans can survive on almost anything with
inherent nutritional value, from insects to whales, from
grains to fruits and nuts. Primordial societies have managed
to eke out a living in every kind of conditions, from the
tropics to the Arctic, from deserts to mountain tops. When
groups migrated to new conditions, they were able to rapidly
assess (within about three generations) the local plants and
animals--learning which were edible, which were dangerous,
which required special preparation to be edible, and which
could be used for medicinal purposes. During such a
transitional time new stories and taboos would be created,
reflecting the new discoveries, and updating the cultural
belief system and knowledge base. Many mythologies include
descriptions of migrations and adaptation episodes.

If we think of a society as a system, then its culture can be
seen as a kind of stabilizing gyroscope. The cultural
gyroscope maintains the stability of the culture through time,
and preserves the knowledge and adaptive behaviors that have
been learned by the society over the generations. This
gyroscope is sufficiently flexible, however, that it can be
re-oriented when the society needs to adapt to new conditions.

This combination of stability, flexibility, and adaptability
enabled humanity to become very successful at migration. If
environmental conditions became unfavorable or if competing
groups became troublesome, a group could consider migrating to
some new territory. The people and the culture would soon
adapt, diet and clothing might change, and the group could
settle quickly and effectively into a new lifestyle and
economic regime--supported by an updated set of cultural
beliefs and insights. Extensive migration, for whatever
reasons, did in fact occur--leading to an incredibly rich
diversity of primordial cultures and economic regimes spread
over most of the globe.

Ten thousand years ago most inhabitable regions of the globe
were populated by primordial bands and tribes. these bands
were autonomous, egalitarian, and economically
self-sufficient. Each band employed sustainable economic
methods, and each band kept its size within carrying-capacity
limits, by one means or another. Decisions within bands and
tribes, when circumstances required that a decision be made,
were reached by consensus. Each tribe had its own unique
culture which was passed down from generation to generation as
stories, myths, and beliefs. This was in no way a static
world--migrations and new cultural adaptations continued--but
we can say with reasonable certainty that the various
societies conformed to the characteristics that we have
identified here. Gaia was a dynamically stable system, and
humanity in all its diversity operated harmoniously within the
constraints of that system.

* Agriculture and the emergence of elite-ruled civilizations

Earlier I spoke of a cultural paradigm shift that began to
emerge for the first time about ten thousand years ago, and
eventually led to the development of civilizations. This shift
occurred early in some places and much later in others, and it
proceeded at various rates and with varying intensities. It
led to fundamental changes in beliefs, in economics, in the
relationships between the members of a society-- and in the
relationship between societies. Today all societies have
succumbed fully to this paradigm shift, apart from a few
remaining remote primordial societies.

In economic terms, the initial shift was from primordial
hunter-gathering to the systematic raising of plants and
animals. Instead of harvesting what nature provided, some
societies began to systematically modify nature's patterns in
order to provide a more stable and predictable food supply.
This shift is usually referred to as the "Agricultural
Revolution" and it is usually explained as being the result of
technological discoveries. To be sure, the shift to
agriculture was accompanied by the use of new tools and new
practices--but that is no reason to assume that technology was
the primary cause of the shift. Indeed, there are many reasons
to think otherwise.

First, the technological changes that accompanied early
agriculture were rather simple, such as the use of sticks to
poke holes in the soil for seeds. Even a chimpanzee of average
intelligence could invent that if it had any instinctual
motivation to put seeds in the ground. Second, the early
agricultural life style was much more difficult than the
hunter-gatherer life style. We know from burial excavations
that hunter-gatherers were healthier, better fed, and lived
longer than members of early agricultural societies. Finally,
agriculture did not automatically spread from one society to
another, just because the "technology" became known. All
indications are that primordial societies were typically very
conservative and resistant to cultural change--an expression
of the gyroscope effect of evolved cultural beliefs.

Jared Diamond, in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" traces the role of
environmental conditions,  such as the availability of 
protein-rich indigenous grains and domesticable animals, in
the development of agriculture and civilization. He makes the
case very convincingly that such conditions have been critical
enablers of these transitions, but he sheds no light on why
societies chose to make the transition in the first place.
Indeed, he claims that historically no primordial society has
ever given up its ways willingly when confronted by
civilization and its purported "benefits".

Daniel Quinn, in "Ishmael" and subsequent novels, argues that
the agricultural revolution was primarily the result of a
paradigm shift in world view--from being in harmony with
nature to having dominion over nature. There's no way to tell
if he is right about primary causation, but it is obvious that
such a new myth would be supportive of a nature-altering
lifestyle, and we know that the adoption of a dominion myth
came very early on the various paths to civilizations
worldwide.  In the case of Western Civilization, the shift in
mythology is memorialized in the Old Testament's Garden of
Eden story. Adam and Eve in the Garden represent primordial
humanity, living in harmony with nature--part of nature. When
God is presented with agricultural products, he rejects them
as being unsuitable. Adam's tribe has known "good and
evil"--the power to change nature--and is banished from the
Garden. God sends them forth, ironically, with instructions to take
dominion over the beasts, the birds, and the fishes. As part
of Christian doctrine, this ancient (but less than ten
thousand years old) Hebrew myth of divinely mandated dominion
has become deeply rooted in the belief systems of Western

Once societies began to master agriculture and animal
raising--for whatever reason--their economy enabled radical
and unprecedented cultural transformations to take place. The
critical enabling factors were the ability to produce food in
excess of immediate requirements, and the ability to store
quantities of food for later use. It was these developments
that enabled a radical paradigm shift in cultural evolution,
and eventually led to civilization as we know it. Let's
consider some of the obvious consequences that follow from
these enabling factors.

We might first note that an increased food supply permits a
society's population to grow. And wherever early agriculture
was developed, we find evidence that populations did rapidly
increase. Next, the number of roles for society members
increases with agriculture and animal raising. Instead of just
hunting and foraging, we now have roles like planting and
gathering seeds, tending plants and animals, harvesting, food
preparation and storage, and the fashioning of storage
artifacts, animal pens, and agricultural implements. And there
is the need to allocate food to society members and to
livestock by some formula--it is no longer a case of simply
splitting up the day's take amongst a small band.

Such developments put a strain on the primordial social
arrangements. The social dynamics of a large group are
inherently more complex than those of a small group,
particularly if any kind of role-specialization emerges in the
culture. While the dynamics of a small band--with only a few
shared roles--leads with seeming inevitability to an
egalitarian and cooperative culture, the dynamics of a larger
group--with a greater variety of roles--enable other kinds of
social arrangements to emerge.

It becomes possible for competitive cliques to arise, for
example, most likely along kinship lines. The existence of a
stored food supply provides an incentive for power struggles
among cliques. If one clique can seize control of the food
stores, then it has a lever by which it can exercise power
over the rest of the group. It becomes possible for cultures
to develop which are organized hierarchically, with rulers and
subjects. The capture of slaves from other tribes becomes an
attractive option--to carry out the back-breaking work of
early agriculture. With excess food, it becomes possible to
support a professional warrior class, which can be used to
maintain local rule, to capture slaves, or to conquer other
groups and annex their territories. Hierarchy and conquest
make economic sense in an agricultural context, while they did
not make any kind of sense in a primordial context.

This does not imply that all agricultural societies were
hierarchical, slave owning, or engaged in conquest. Some
societies adopted agriculture and kept in on a small scale,
retaining their local autonomy and egalitarianism. Many other
societies kept to their primordial ways, and there were most
likely many gradations expressed between the extremes. But in
every part of the world where agriculture emerged, there were
always some societies that evolved according to a particular
pattern--a pattern that involved hierarchy, autocratic rule,
conquest, and slavery. That is the pattern that we see played
out in our school textbooks, when we are taught about "human
progress" and the "rise of civilization"--an important part of
our own cultural mythology and conditioning.

That pattern, which played out independently in many parts of
the world, is a pattern of growing hierarchical power,
consolidated on an ever-increasing scale. First local Chiefs
emerge, usually claiming some kind of divinity, and who
exercise absolute power and have control over the food stores.
Wars of conquest and defense are fought, leading to
larger-scale societies, and the emergence of regional Kings,
again with autocratic power. Administrative hierarchies are
developed along with military hierarchies. Kings do battle,
leading to larger-scale realms, more complex administrative
arrangements, and the emergence of empires and Emperors, again
all powerful and descended from gods.

Somewhere along this hierarchical path, particularly when
cities and writing develop, historians tells us that
"civilization" begins. That's the part of our history we're
supposed to be interested in, that's our "heritage", the part
that describes our "rise" from undifferentiated
primitiveness--the part that leads us to believe that
hierarchy is an inevitable part of human culture. Our schools
feed us the myth--the same one as in the biblical texts--that
our history began less than ten thousand years ago when, after
millions of years, primordial man began to be expelled from
the Garden. Our much longer history in the Garden is something
we can learn--if we ever do--only after the cultural myths
have been deeply implanted in our formative psyches.

Even if most societies preferred to keep their hunter-gatherer
ways over the past ten thousand years, and even if most of
those who chose agriculture preferred a small-scale version,
it was the few more aggressive and aggrandizing societies that
ultimately determined the direction of human history since the
first agriculture. The societies that were successful at
conquest imposed their cultures on the peoples they conquered,
or else they exterminated or enslaved them. The more
aggressive cultures thus became, eventually, everyone's
culture--except for the ever-receding primordial hold outs.
Those of us today who live in the most "advanced" societies
are the cultural descendents of the most successful aggressive
societies of the past, and to this day we have the largest
military budgets and the most potent arsenals.

There is much justice in saying that the evolution of
civilization has been the by-product of a game played among
elites, who deploy their pawns and soldiers, and defend their
castles,  competing to see who can conquer the others, and who
can gain the biggest kingdom and capture the grandest treasure
of gold and minerals. The game goes on to this day as the last
remaining super power--acting in service to its corporate
elite--seeks to increase its control over petroleum resources
in the Middle East.

I am not trying to argue here that civilization was a mistake,
or that we would be better off attempting to return to
hunter-gatherer ways. The point I'm trying to make is that the
way in which civilization and technology have been pursued has
been only one of many possible paths that could have been
followed. This path has been the one chosen by the most
aggressive elites in charge of aggrandizing societies. There
is no cosmic law that says hierarchy and elite rule needs to
be the dominant paradigm in a civilized society. When
hierarchy is allowed to emerge, then it inevitably dominates
the alternatives. If there had been some way for more
egalitarian-minded societies to prevent that emergence,
civilization might have had a happier and more equitable
history, and one that preserved its harmony with the Gaian

* The evolution of hierarchical organizations

Civilization has co-evolved along with the elaboration of
hierarchy--from the first chiefdoms, to the Pharaohs & the
Priesthood, the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, European
empires, Republics, bureaucracies of all kinds, Corporations,
the Pentagon, the World Trade Organization, etc. If we survey
these various kinds of hierarchies, past and present, certain
patterns stand out clearly. Regardless of how benevolent may
have been their establishment, hierarchical organizations
always exhibit certain characteristics eventually--from small
organizations all the way up to nations and empires.

There is a certain internal culture that develops, where
social dynamics play a major role independent from the
functional objectives of the organization or its formal
structure. Internal politics always emerge, with intrigues and
with factions competing for power in the hierarchy. The
ability to play the political games usually pushes one up the
hierarchy faster than any other competence. Control becomes
increasingly centralized and is supported by internal
political networks as well as by formal chains of command. The
top leadership of the organization typically seeks to extend
the power of the organization and to ensure its long-term
survival--with at least as much passion as is devoted to
accomplishing the official objectives of the organization. The
leadership clique communicates with the internal organization
and with outside world using PR tactics, clouding over their
operations and intentions sufficiently to provide cover for
whatever machinations they might be up to.

We see these kinds of patterns in large corporations, in
military organizations, in the the Executive Branch and it's
Intelligence Community, in the UN, in political parties, in
labor unions, in parliamentary procedures, in local
governments, and often we see it in reform organizations and
activist groups as well. Hierarchies are evolving machines
which have a predictable behavior that emerges once they
mature. They are aggrandizing and secretive, and they are
controlled internally by cliques whose agenda is not
necessarily in alignment with the presumed mission of the
organization--nor with the sentiments of the organization's
avowed constituency (eg., the stock holders or the public).

Our civilized societies are plagued by all manner of
hierarchical organizations, controlling every aspect of our
lives--our jobs, our leisure, our food and energy supplies,
our economies, and the actions of our governments. Just as
international affairs are played out as a competition among
ruling elites, so are the internal affairs of a nation largely
the result of competition and deals that are made among the
cliques who run our hierarchical institutions, corporations,
and agencies. The top cliques dominate the lower cliques, and
so on down to us ordinary people who have no say in how our
society operates.


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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
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