The Evolution of Society

Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Humanity, Our Future | 0 comments

The Evolution of Society

The question I am addressing in this week’s blog is; “What aspects of human development exist that can give us hope for positive change at this critical time in our history?” Humanity has of course made incredible scientific and technological progress over the past millennium, especially once the ‘Dark Ages’ in Europe ended and was  replaced by the Renaissance Enlightenment. The 1,000 year Dark Age began with the fall of Roman Empire beginning in the 4th Century while the Renaissance began in the 14th Century. Then came the Industrial Revolution beginning and the present era of Globalization.

However, if we view our world today it is really not that different from the days of the end of the Roman Empire except primarily for our extremely powerful weapons and amazing advances in medicine. It remains a world of Empire, of violent conflicts and wars for conquest, of civil wars, of modern day slavery and rule essentially by elites. This is in spite of all our technological and material progress over these many centuries.

Why is this still so in the 21st Century? What hasn’t changed as yet but may be changing that can provide some hope? The answer is societal organization. Although democracy was first  conceived by the Ancient Greeks it only became widely in use as a form of governance over the last few hundred years as ‘representative democracy’.  Over this period to our current time, the end of certain forms of slavery, colonialism, racism, gender bias, the dominance of religion and others have also been very major shifts in society of course, yet these evolutionary societal developments are still in their rudimentary stages.

These positive social developments are also not uniform worldwide, of course, as many cultures still exist today, to some degree as they have in the past, as primarily ‘tribal cultures’ in regions of Africa, the Middle-East and Asia. These cultures have been forced to interact with much more technologically advanced societies beginning a few hundred of years ago and have essentially been dislocated and dominated by that interaction. While many of the modern world’s nation-states have been created by colonial powers acting in ignorance of tribal boundaries which have historically been in conflict such as the Shia and Sunni in the Muslim world. Therefore clashes between societies at different levels of development also underpin our current world and many such clashes today are further an outcome of past and present ‘colonial’ nation-state building .

The current ‘First World’ wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan along, with the interventions in Civil Wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, etc., are all the evidence required of this reality. The ongoing ignorance displayed by past and present ‘colonial’ mindsets only ultimately make the tribal conflicts worse and ultimately uncontrollable, fueled by weapons provided by the very same world powers.

This is what we are now witnessing in Iraq where the country is apparently now descending into a violent civil war between Sunni, Shia and Kurds, which could eventually engulf the entire Middle East and then the World. A similar tribal conflict dynamic will likely play out in Syria once the ‘modern-day colonialists’ bow out from their intervention which must always eventually take place due to the massive costs of such actions. See this Washington Post Opinion article from May 5th, “A crisis for Iraq — and the Middle East”, which provides an overview of the growing crisis in Iraq over 10 years and $6 Trillion later!

Beyond these devastatingly destructive realities in many parts of the world today, it is further clear that our collective technological development has far outpaced our societal development to date in the First World. Wisdom does not exist. History teaches no lessons and thus ignorance rules. Therefore in a significant way we still live in an overall ‘tribal culture’ world except now we are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, along with guns and assault weapons on our streets.

The world of today is a world awash in arms and weapons of every kind and description in every land. And all these weapons have have course been manufactured and distributed by the First World nations for their own use against each other in the past and today predominantly against the impoverished Third World.

To play with fire thinking that fire can be ultimately controlled is the thinking of either a fool or a madman. The fire can not be controlled. The world today is thus in the grip of  “leadership” by either fools or madmen as that’s exactly what they have done and continue to do. And no less so today then during the times of the Roman Empire with its many mad Roman Emperors. Today’s Nero’s fiddle while the World burns!

Societal progress is therefore mostly illusory in my view when the bottom line for humanity remains ‘Might over Right’  over these many thousands of years. The needed fundamental societal change to “Right over Might” has not yet occurred. True progress to date has thus only been at the periphery of human society.

A historical certainty about Empires is that they are all driven by maximum conquest and profit regardless of the related human and environmental costs, and that they all eventually fall. And today’s Empire is a global one of course with the last ‘superpower’  n the current Empire’s ‘crosshairs’ now that the Soviet Empire has dissolved and the Orwellian ‘War against Terrorism’ rages on in many corners of the globe.

A ‘War against Terrorism can never be won which is of course exactly why we have one today. It is our version of Orwell’s 1984 which means endless war and violent destruction.  There will likely be no long-term future for humanity in the ‘Age of Global Empire’. History is irrefutable. It can not be denied only learned.

How and when will the ‘Age of Empires’ finally end as it must if our species is to survive and thrive into the longer-term future? That’s one of the most critical questions for all humanity today considering the civilizational wall we are now reaching ‘full speed ahead’.

The path to such an urgent shift in terms of humanity’s future does indeed exist. It is based upon the Universal Law that “Everything Evolves”. This means the evolution of biological form as well as socio-cultural evolution including technology and societal organization. In this we still have some measure of hope for humanity’s future, as I have referenced in my previous series Leaders and Leadership 2013.

For the record, my definition of Evolution is simply this; “higher development over time”. Higher means ‘more complex’ in biological evolution but in my definition it also imports an ethical element in terms of human socio-cultural evolution. Thus the question of ‘higher values’ becomes very relevant. Higher values to me are those primarily based upon Love, Compassion and Service which are also “divine values” at the heart of most of our religious traditions of course.

The basic nature of human social interaction, both individually and collectively, is either to act Competitively often to the point of destroying the “other” (winner take all), or to act Cooperatively towards a shared outcome of mutual benefit (win-win). It’s quite clear by now which is the preferable way unless we wish to forever be seen as solely ‘beasts of the jungle’ as the concepts presented by ideological interpreters of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution over the past 150 years have made us out to be. That is that “the world is an all-out competition for scarce resources and only the strong survive.” That is not the case in nature as it’s only half the story! Current science has now shown us the other half which is Cooperation. And Darwin himself said; “It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

It has been our incomplete understanding to date of the principles of natural order around competition and cooperation that has to date fundamentally confused collective humanity. Fortunately recent science has confirmed the primary role of Cooperation in advanced natural systems such as eco-systems, and in our own social evolution.

Colleague Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris, evolutionary biologist and futurist, is a scientific pioneer on the role of Cooperation in natural and human evolution. Cooperation in the a evolutionary development of species is the hallmark of nature in all complex eco-systems. Eco-systems could not be sustainable and have survived without it. It is only the immature rudimentary natural systems where unrestrained Competition betwen species reigns. For details, view this 19-minute recent video presentation by Dr. Sahtouris at TEDx Hamburg 2011. It’s an absolute must watch! “Celebrating Crisis; Nature’s Key to Our Future”.

In 1984, political scientist Robert Axelrod’s seminal book, The Evolution of Co-operation, was published which asked a simple yet age-old, question: If living things evolve through competition, how can co-operation ever emerge? A computer tournament was organized to study the relationship of Game Theory to Evolution — a variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Entries came from the world’s top theorists. The University of Toronto’s Dr. Anatol Rapoport entered a program he wrote called Tit-For-Tat consisting of four lines of code. It was by far the simplest entry and it won.

The Tit-for-Tat program opened by cooperating with its opponent. Thereafter, it played exactly as the other side had played in the preceding game. If the other side had defected, Tit-For-Tat also defected for that one game. If the other side had co-operated, it co-operated on the next round. This proved to be an exceptionally effective sanction, quickly showing the other side the advantages of cooperating. It also led to philosophers proposing this as a workable principle to use in real life interactions. In other words Cooperation is the best first strategy and the always winning strategy thereafter. as Cooperation is usually met with cooperation and competition by competition in as a response in human social and societal interactions.

“Dr. Rapoport was also one of the earliest scholars to recognize the Institution of War for what it was, an addiction to weapons, and a mutually reinforcing system sustaining parasitically the professions and industries involved. He maintained that the militaries on both sides of the Cold War benefited by being able to skim from civil society huge sums that should have been expended for civil purposes, but were justified for defence. The situation has not changed. When an enemy collapses, another is sought or must be created, so as to maintain justification for the monstrous military burden that is to be borne by civil society. War and militarism correlate with the growth of male dominance in human society, not just advancing technology. Truth in the complex fields that Anatol so bravely pioneered is based upon that part of reality one has the opportunity to observe. If the male aspect cannot perceive the whole and the female aspect can also not perceive the whole, then at least the combined aspects will see more than either separately and a wider truth will emerge.  It is essential to enlarge the perspective as far as we can, and embrace more of the truth.” (From the Science for Peace Tribute to Dr. Rapoport after his death in 2007.)

We’ve now looked at the evolution of natural systems and human cooperation from recent scientific perspectives  Now lets look at the evolution of shared societal Values and Belief Systems. I refer to the “Spiral Dynamics” framework that Dr. Don Beck’s developed based on the pioneering work of Clare Graves. This framework is an evolutionary spiral of Societal Memes beginning with primitive to advanced ones. Each level has a related color associated with it. Humanity overall is now moving from from the primarily Orange Meme (“Act in your own self-interest to play the game to win.”) to the higher Green Meme (Communitarian/Egalitarian Meme). Interactions between groups at different Meme Levels are an ongoing source of tension and conflict. While the Memes themselves also reflect a polarity dynamic in society between Competition and Cooperation, and  Individual Self-Interest versus Community Interest. Click here for an overview chart of the Spiral Dynamics model. It is a very valuable tool for understanding why our current world is as it is today and provides hope for our future if the higher evolutionary developments in societal Memes (shared values and belief-systems) now underway will come to fruition in sufficient time.

Barbara Marx Hubbard, visionary futurist and ‘conscious evolution’ pioneer is another brilliant colleague who sees the bigger evolutionary picture of humanity’s societal development., Barbara’s oft-spoken mantra “Our Crisis is a Birth” reflects this. It is the potential for our new connected humanity to  birth an essentially new human and new world. This powerful message of Barbara’s is presented in this video message for the launch of of Worldshift 2012 at the British Museum in London on September 9, 20o9. I was a Co-initiator of Worldshift 2012 and highly recommend viewing Barbara’s message if you haven’t already. It will inspire!

Next from colleague Ervin Laszlo, systems philosopher, integral theorist, ‘conscious evolution’ pioneer and visionary world futurist, is the concept of Planetary Consciousness  and the related Manifesto co-drafted in 1996 by Dr. Laszlo and H.H. the Dalai Lama. As well as this article which sets out the principles; Planetary Consciousness: Our Next Evolutionary Step.

Finally, David Ronfeldt, Senior Social Scientist of Rand Corporation, in a 2005 article entitled, A Framework for Societal Evolution, sets out that the societal evolution to to “Collaborative Networks”, as found today in the web-like ties among some NGOs devoted to social advocacy, is the most recent such development. I quote: “The network form offers its best advantages where the members, as often occurs in civil society, aim to preserve their autonomy and to avoid hierarchical controls, yet have agendas that are interdependent and benefit from consultation and coordination. Power and influence appear to be migrating to actors who are skilled at developing multi-organizational networks, and at operating in environments where networks are an appropriate, spreading form of organization. In many realms of society, they are gaining strength relative to other, especially hierarchical forms. Indeed, another key proposition about the information revolution is that it erodes and makes life difficult for traditional hierarchies. This trend of the rise of network forms of organization is so strong that, projected into the future, it augurs major transformations in how societies are organized. A multi-organizational network may become most durable, it may even have a central coordinating office and be institutionalized when its members develop strategic interests in being part of it that at times override their individual interests, and when they prefer to stay in this form and not coalesce into a hierarchical institution if the network gains power and influence. Should this continue to occur, civil-society actors will gain power relative to state and market actors.”  Therefore further hope for humanity today.

I believe that the above overview of the ongoing evolution of society highlights our only real hope for a better world and positive future for humanity. The mission now is to evolve our individual and collective consciousness to higher values and belief systems that more accurately reflect natural principles and universal laws based upon new knowledge and true wisdom, guided by ‘servant leaders’ who will bring out the best of humanity not the worst as is the case today.

This requires deeply understanding that our current path remains a self-destructive one and that time is very short to shift our path to one of peace and sustainability. Either way our current world will ultimately fall as we are now in the midst of our civilizational Chaos Point as set out in the previous blog series.

Repeating the final paragraph of the “Leaders and Leadership 2013” blog series: “Everybody who wishes to join in this new Human Futures Alliance initiative with open heart, mind and hands will be able to do so. Time is very short and grows shorter daily as we know. It is time to act boldly in love, compassion and service for and to humanity and to practice what we preach. Onward and upward Humanity to our New World!”

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