Posts Tagged ‘nature’

1. What is "Humanosophy"?


This is the first post of this brand-new blog. What does “Humanosophy” mean? Humanosophy stands for a basic insight in what it means to be human: an insight based on knowledge from realms of science such as archaeology and paleo-anthropology, biology, anthropology and psychology. What is new about humanosophy? Not these research-based insights by themselves, but  rather the fact that humanosophy integrates the knowledge from these various disciplines into one multi-disciplinary, common, shared story of mankind.

So this blog will introduce you to this common identity and background that is shared by us all, as human beings on this little planet. Once our earliest ancestors were apes, now we are humans. The story of how we became what and how we are today is the core business of a humanosopher: reconstructing the shared story of our human development and identity.

[You:] Isn’t that the core business of philosophy? Or (and) of humanism?

That should it be indeed. But have you read already the philosophical or humanistic shared story of our human development and identity? The answer is no. And that’s a pity. Because as long as this story is not available, the backward patriarchal Adam-and-Eve story is still in charge. To the detriment of millions of women who lead an unhappy and undignified life; or of millions of secular people who feel no ground under their thinking.
Because I spend all my life in reconstructing how we became human and determining human nature, doing the work of a philosopher and humanist, I name myself ‘humanosopher’, hoping you’ll become humanosopher too.

[You:] But there are already tens of science-based books of human origins!

O yes. But they put on record the successive fossils of australopithic and human kinds, the successive technologies of stone and other tools, the growing contents of skulls and so on. But you can nowhere read what made our ancestors so special that they displayed behaviour that no other kind of apes ever did, like taming the fire and believe in gods. No of those books can replace the pessimistic and suppressing monotheistic creation story.

[You:] Aah! you want to write a modern bible!

No, I want to plea for a science-based project of the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of the Human Rights (1948) is based on the humanness of men. I plea for a science-based project to filling in this humanness, with participation of all governmental universities of all countries. A never ending project: as long as science progresses. But in later posts I will work out this idea. In the next post I want to give you an oversight of the authors who are important for my thinking.

As for your mentioning of the idea for a modern bible: in the following posts I’ll sketch a science-based human mental story: how we became linguistic apes (the picture above omens it already) and how our early ancestors experienced their world in a creation story of it. It is an innate need in us: we need a ‘creation story’ of our world to feel grounded in it and to feel human togetherness. Humanosophy is a humanistic/philosophical endeavor to work on this, with help of as much scientific material as possible.   

3. Human nature

Human nature is a three stage rocket.

1. On the most basic level we are a life form, like bacteria. All existing life forms strive to take as much energy as possible out of their environment, to maintain and propagate their own organism. The me-myself-and-I- inclination. This is still an influential incentive in us and it is or becomes dominant when we are in danger or think we are. And when it is tolerated by our environment and situation (a situation of power, e.g.).2. But we are (as apes et al) a kind of group animals. A group animal will be able to gather more energy sources when it belongs to a group then when it is alone. A group animal has an interest in the power of his group (collective) , in competition with other groups. This means that a group animal has to give up a part of his ego-inclination on behalf of the power of his group. Two incentives fight in the soul of the group animal: self-interest and common interest! How can it live with that internal conflict? By culture, by norms and values. The chimpanzees, who live under permanent threat of war with other groups, are the best examples of this. We know it as the fight between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in our conscience. An aside: collectivistic systems like fascism and other forms of despotism always need to create a situation of war against a (foreign) enemy, to suppress opposition.

3. As group animals we bear in us both egoism and altruism. But as humans we bear in us a third incentive on top of both. In the cultural evolution of our ancestors, who lived for about two millions of years in small bands, as nomads on the verge of extinction, we couldn’t permit disharmony, not within our own band nor with neighbour bands from which we were dependent for sex partners, common hunting, exchange of knowledge and asylum in bad times. This human incentive is our nature of the ‘noble wild’ that each of us wants to be in his deepest desire. This deep incentive became frustrated in us some ten thousand years ago, when we came to live in an overpopulation situation, like the chimpanzees. Frustrated; but far too short ago to destroy this third stage in us.

How we acquired this third hyper-social quality, we will see in the next post: “How we became humans from apes”.

In modern philosophy, the thinking about human nature became frustrated by political correctness. The ongoing nature/nurture debate, a distinction made by Galton (1822-1911), is about what is most influential in our behaviour: the environment in which we are born and live, or hereditary and genetic factors. In post-modern philosophy the environmental factors were considered dominant. Scientific attention for hereditary and genetic factors was been associated with eugenics and even fascism. In reality both nature and nurture are playing their role in us, so in post-modernism, dominant in the years after World War II, the debate was severely biased. When I started in 1993 with the humanosophy-project, a friendly biologist still cautioned me for this pitfall. I’m happy postmodernism is ‘out’: it was a philosophical desert and standstill.

8. What is so special about linguisticness?

Our earliest ancestors were apes: normal animals. Now we are humans. A very, very special kind of animals: all that horrible predators such as lions and hyenas are now attractions in our zoos and nowhere it is vice versa. We are communicating via Windows Live Writer: no other animal does. We are abnormal animals What made us abnormal animals? Linguisticness.

It started with nothing. OK, it started with a stupid girls play: imitating/communicating with your hands something what is an image (idea)  in your mind.

An incidental new habit … a huge step towards becoming human! This was a totally new phenomenon in the history of life on earth. All group animals have their own means of communication. But in no other species can individuals communicate about something beyond their awareness, about something in another place, in another season, in the past or in the future. These gesture-imitations of things by our ancestor-bonobos were (the beginnings of) names for the things, enabling them to communicate on a new level.

Once an animal can name things, something special happens at the mental level. This is not only a better means for communication and cooperation. It is not only a way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the following, thus building up a reservoir of knowledge in the entire population. It also is the creation of a (feeling of) distance between the namer and the named thing, the creation (or experience) of distance between a creature and his environment. This was something entirely new in the history of life: a creature that was no longer totally dependent on his environment, a creature that could objectify things in his environment.

One might also see this as a parallel to the professionalizing of the ape’s ability of throwing, which furnished a distance between the thrower and the object: only this time in the mental sphere. Throwing  enables to keeping the predator at bay; naming enables to grasping the predator,  mentally. This supplies a feeling of power over the object, even – or just – when you are not powerful. This new faculty set our species apart from the animal world. It defines humanity. So we have to find a name for this characteristic. We choose linguisticness.

The term linguisticness is coined by the philosopher Heidegger, as English for his Sprachlichleit. But Heidegger was an idealistic philosopher, and deserved a scientific view on humanness. This missed the hermeneutic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) either, but from his ‘magnum opus’ Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode) we derive its useful definition of linguisticness. We read in the chapter Seinsverfassung: “Linguisticness characterizes our human world-experience” … and the exercize of “the wirkungsgeschichtliche Bewusstsein”. We adopt this hermeneutic term and give it a humanosophic (and more comprehensible) content!

The road to linguisticness started ex nihilo (such as the Big Bang?), but I think it started from the very beginning. Because the need for more communication existed from the beginning, and the free hands with those ten fingers were available from the beginning. It started from nothing and it started slowly, like all developments in nature, like the beginning of life itself on earth.[1]

It started incidentally, with a single gestured imitation. But it proved to be a useful habit in a world which demanded better communication. So it grew quickly into ever more names for ever more things. Our ancestral tribe became an entirely new kind of animal in nature, a species with more flexibility and inventiveness than all others, even than other hominid populations whose groups remained without such a cultural habit of communication. Around the time of ‘the great jump’ of our species, ca 2.5 million years ago, all other hominids got extinct. Hominids is the name palaeontologists give to bipedal apes of the Mio-Pliocene period (Pliocene is 5 – 1.4 million years ago and Miocene is the preceding era). The common name for these Pliocene hominids is Australopithecus.

Our ancestor-australopiths developed more flexibility and inventiveness than other animals and even than other australopiths. Why? This was the result of the power of consultation and conference with one another. Two know more than one, and as a group you can solve big problems. One hooligan may be a timid boy, but as a group, hooligans are terrifying. It is the stack-up of inventiveness. Australopith groups without this facility of conferring with each another – boisei, robustus, aethiopicus, even afarensis– died out, presumably with some help of the ancestor-australopiths, the ‘hooligans’ of the Pliocene savannah. Abnormal animals! Linguistic apes!


[1] For three billion years, there was nothing to see – there weren’t eyes anyway; only the sky turned from brown into blue. And then: whoops! – from 500 million years ago on, little worms and crabs and fishes, plants and amphibians on the land, reptiles, dinosaurs and mammals, apes, us.

15. Linguality and its consequences

 

The philosophical term ‘linguality’ is the translation of Heidegger’s concept Sprachlichkeit. In the work of another hermeneutic philosopher it appears even as ‘linguisticality’, but for humanosophic purposes the word ‘linguality’ suffices. However, our definition is not exactly the same as Heidegger’s.

What is then the humanosophic definition? We already defined ‘humanosophy’: the humanist/philosophical view on human nature as the mental condition of an ape who has begun to use names for the things, gradually finding himself in a named world, in a virtual ‘words-world’. The definition of linguality in this context (in another sense than just ‘the ability to use language’) is obvious: with ‘linguality’ we mean the mental predisposition to experience the world in concepts. This is the characteristic that makes us humans unique among all animals.

Seen from a wider perspective, linguality is the latest, most complex culmination of a natural, even universal development. According to the American astrophysicist Eric Chaisson, the universe started with the simplest kind of complexity: the mere fusion of hydrogen and helium into primordial stars. This fusion produced complex molecules that endured in the clouds of dust around the implosions of those first stars. In favorable environments, on some planets of the second generation of stars, such complex molecules (matter) could generate even more complex combinations, like RNA on Earth. In the rare ideal circumstances on our own planet Earth, the complexity of matter progressed step by step to the evolution of DNA, and eventually of more complex life forms. This evolution was about finding ever more refined tricks to absorb energy from the environment. The cell was a step, and so was the super cell, was multicellularity, were organisms, were sensory organs, were brains, was intelligence. Living in groups was a step. The lingual consciousness of humans is the ultimate trick, the (preliminary?) culmination of complexity of matter in the Universe. But: still serving to absorb energy from the environment to stay alive and multiply.

Our lingual consciousness, the grasping, comprehending understanding of the world, started with the first gestured name. In the beginning, it was still rather inadequate. Nevertheless, eventually the humans had to rely on it: they had made instinct secondary. When you no longer use an organ it will shrink, and something similar happened to our instinct. Because the humans began to understand their world with a lingual understanding that was still weak and unreliable, they fell prey to incertitude. Therefore, this is the first major consequence of linguality: it made us into worrying apes’.

By itself, incertitude is not a new phenomenon in the Universe. When an animal comes upon a situation where his instinct cannot give an adequate impulse, it may feel uncertain. But for humans, incertitude became a more permanent part of daily life experience.

One cannot live with constant incertitude, so the early humans developed two anguish allaying mechanisms. The first one was repetition: rhythm, dancing, singing, rituals: I already mentioned some scholars who suggest that human ritual behavior reduces anxiety. Tradition has the same effect: doing things the same way they had be done since many generations. Consequently, the early humans were astonishingly conservative. Over more than a million of years, the form and material of their hand-axes showed virtually no change. In their named world, the most important tradition and ritual was the danced singing of the creation story every night around the camp fire.

The second anguish-allaying factor became belief: a firm inner conviction that things are the way we want them to be, or at least are the way somebody with status and/or authority says they should be. In primitive times humans were not yet acquainted with the concept of authority: in the group, they were more or less equal. Therefore the most important parts of their belief were not based on some kind of authority, but rather on magic (fear allaying ritual actions) and myth (tradition-based elucidations of the world).

Until our scientific times, it was never important whether a story was true. It mattered only if it was a good (useful) story, a story which people wanted to be true, which was felt to be relevant to their existence. Just like in a later era, in the time of patriarchal society, the story of the birth of Eve out of a rib of Adam became a good story because it was just what the men wanted to hear, as a reinforcement of their supremacy. Such stories had to be true.

The thus acquired certitude enabled our ancestors to intervene in their environment. As I said before: names for the things also gave them (a feeling of) power over the things. linguality created a distance between the understanding brain and the object, the understood thing or phenomenon. Humankind became a factor in nature that mastered a mental but also an instrumental power over the world, the first critical intervention in the natural environment being the control of fire. The inner conviction that some ritual words – such as incantations, charms or spells – evoke magical forces that can create or destroy, is just as ancient. Knowing somebody’s name gives a feeling of power over him. Naming somebody can be felt as disrespectful, or even be understood as violating the named one’s integrity (which is why in several traditional religions, including Judaism, the actual name of the feared powers (be it natural elements such as a tiger or a volcano, or the gods, or a single God) may not be spoken aloud.

As another consequence of having names for the things, the ability to exchange complex thought scenarios with each other became a powerful new strategy: two know more than one, and people now could share their thoughts and overcome the biggest problems. Essentially, this is the power of democracy.

Some other consequences need to be mentioned here. Between the lingual creatures and their environment, an apparatus of thousands of concepts (the sign language codes associated with representations in the brains) arose, which created a ‘virtual’ world. All things in our world are named things, but how can we be sure that this is the only world? Many philosophers (Plato with his cave metaphor; Kant with the thing as representation and the thing in itself) wrestle with the feeling that, besides the world we know, there is a another or even more real world, but one which slips out of our hands as soon as we try to name and know it: talking about it is by definition not possible. Perhaps this philosophical ‘second’ or ‘real’ world exists in the larger part of our thinking: lingual consciousness takes only 20% of our actual thinking.

A last important consequence was the emergence of the bastion of holiness. Our ancestors kept their incertitude at bay with belief and magic rituals. They believed when and where they couldn’t know for sure: these beliefs were imagined certitudes, pseudo-elucidations, not based on hard evidence. Deep in their minds, incertitude lived on. So the necessary elucidations were canonized into holy elucidations. Holy is unassailable, untouchable: something holy may not be doubted or called in question. But this runs counter to the progress of our lingual consciousness, our knowing, our rationality. To the only ability which can really free us from incertitude. This contradiction between holiness and rationality is the most dramatic consequence of our growing into lingual creatures.

By briefly discussing these important consequences of the emergence of our named world, a world consisting of named things, I hope to have given some meaningful context to my new up-filling of the concept linguality.

20. Good natured

 

This is the title of the philosophically most relevant book of primatologist Frans de Waal (1996). Now we get to the point I mentioned before: that during 95,5% of all the time that our species can be considered human, our ancestors lived as gatherers-hunters. In these millions of years, our human nature has been formed. In the most recent eight thousand years (0,5% of our history) that we have been living as settled farmers, our original gatherer-hunter nature has been frustrated, but not wiped out.

First, something about a question that has been much debated in the last few thousand years of philosophy: is human nature intrinsically good or bad? Many philosophers from the past, for example Plato or Hobbes, tended to the second option. In many forms of religious belief, for example ultra-orthodox Protestantism, an inherent badness – sinfulness – of human nature is postulated as well. On the other hand we have had philosophers, such as in the 18th century Enlightenment, who opted for a positive – sometimes even naively positive – view on human nature: just let Reason reign, install true democracy, and everything will be alright. Both views on human nature are simplistic and one-sided because implicitly, they are based on moral presumptions about what constitutes “good” versus “bad” behavior.

In more modern philosophy, the trend is rather to avoid such moral presumptions about human nature. Modern philosophy has often (and not always in a fruitful manner) been reduced to playing with words and abstractions, while claiming to not being able to contribute much when it comes to moral matters. Whether we like it or not, by avoiding such moral positions, modern philosophy does no longer function as the moral beacon it once, alongside religion, was in human society and has made itself in a social sense largely irrelevant.

As for the anthropologists, they too seem to follow a pessimistic philosophical view on human nature. In the 1950s, shortly after World War II, among them the “killer ape hypothesis” of anthropologist Raymond Dart was influential. According this hypothesis, war and interpersonal aggression was the driving force behind human evolution. Science writer Robert Ardrey expanded on this idea in African Genesis (1961), suggesting that the urge to act violently was a fundamental trait of the human mindset. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz also emphasized this pessimistic view of human nature with his book On aggression (1966). According Lorenz, animals, particularly males, are biologically programmed to fight over resources. Movies such as Planet of the Apes (1968) show that this issue affected popular opinion[1]. In 1996, Wrangham and Peterson followed the Dart/Lorenz trail in their influential book Demonic Males, suggesting an evolutionary connection between violent chimpanzees and violent man. However, in the same year the Dutch/American ethologist Frans de Waal countered with his influential book Good Natured.

The reader will already understand that the humanosophic view follows the latter view. Wrangham and Peterson even presume that our H. erectus ancestors deceived others and waged wars. We think that war emerged simply as the result of overpopulation: as the consequence of a social, not an inherent problem. H. erectus groups were sparse and needed each other for their survival. When two groups met each other, this was more reason for feast than for war: the groups needed each other for interchanging experiences and partners, and presumably for handing out sparks of fire[2]. As for the deceiving, we already presumed that H. erectuses were sign language communicators, for whom deceiving is more difficult: with body language, it would mean having to hold many muscles under more conscious control, which is difficult even for present-day sign language communicators.

Other convincing concrete evidence of our assumption of peacefulness is furnished by the most primitive people of present-day mankind: the scarce little populations of pure gatherer-hunters, like the Inuit and the San people. If it had been our ancestors’ nature to deceive each other and to wage wars, then these last of the gatherer-hunters would demonstrate a similar war-faring culture. But on the contrary, these are very peaceful people.

Many of the other primitive groups we know today, like the Yanomamö in the Amazon area and the Mountain Papuans in New Guinea, are not just gatherer-hunters anymore but rather horticulturalists. These groups live in a totally other situation than the gatherer-hunters: a situation of overpopulation, since too many groups have to share limited resources. This situation leaves them no other choice than to fight for survival. It is such overpopulation that forced them to give up the pure gatherer-hunter lifestyle. But in the long run of human history, this overpopulation is a relative recent phenomenon.

Human nature as we view it, is a three-stage rocket. The first stage we share with all living creatures, even with bacteria and plants. It is the individual drive to take as much energy as possible from the environment to stay alive and procreate. It is this self-centered survival drive that still gets the upper hand in real or imagined panic situations.

The second stage: our ancestors were group animals. By living in a group they were able to extract energy, to stay alive and procreate, in a more efficient way than an individual. Theoretically there are three kinds of groups: firstly the insect-groups like ants or bees where the individual is no more than a component of one collective organism, secondly the herd-groups like swarms of fishes or sparrows, and herds of zebras or buffaloes[3], and in the third place the social groups of highly self-conscious animals such as elephants, dolphins and apes.

We are apes, so for our second stage we have to look to the group animals and especially to the bonobos and chimpanzees: our next of kin. In the permanent survival fight between their groups, chimpanzees have an individual interest in being a member of the strongest group. To keep their group strong, they must minimize the internal fights. When two chimpanzee males do have a fight, then afterwards they try desperately to reconcile. Bonobos use sex for minimizing internal group tensions.

These group animals to which we humans belong, are driven by two contradictory impulses: egoism (the me-myself-and-I drive) and altruism (you have more chances to survive and to pass on your DNA in an harmonious group, so you must curb your egoism). These two impulses are at right angles to each other and would condemn individuals to a paralyzing indecision if they did not have a calming mechanism at their disposal: manners, rules for social intercourse, culture, ‘norms and values’. Basically this mechanism is present with all group animals,[4] and in a more complex manner, similar mechanisms still keep us humans together. In moralistic philosophy, the two opposite impulses (altruistic vs. egoistic) often correspond with concepts of good and evil.

This ‘norms and values culture’ only works within a coherent group. It does not extend across different groups: in fact, it is a form of egoism-as-a-group. It does allow aggression and violence against any other groups. But we saw that the groups of Early Humans were small (about 25 individuals) and rare, and so they needed each other. During the countless centuries that our ancestors were Homo, there was rarely any reason or opportunity for aggression and violence between groups at all. The groups needed each other for their survival: for exchange of sex partners, knowledge and experience. When two of these groups met, it was occasion for a feast.

However, as for the moralistic good and evil, how should we label violence against other groups of the same kind? Good or evil? So we have to define what is ‘good’. Good is what is conducive for the survival. For the individual survival? Then purely egoistic, self-centered behavior would be ‘good’! But usually such behavior is not good for the group as a whole: from the group perspective, such egoistic behavior is ‘evil’! So ape groups developed ‘norms and values’, developed a primitive form of morality: for a group animal, good is behavior that is conducive for the survival of the group.

As for the third stage of the human nature rocket, our ancestors developed a social norms and values culture that extended beyond the limits of one’s own group: as long as our ancestral Early Humans were pure gatherer-hunters, they were are able to behave as noble wilds, living in harmony with their natural environment, with each other, and even with other human groups. And because that long-long time has determined our human nature, we are still noble wilds in our deepest desires. For humans, harmony is good.[5] ***It is the result of natural selection: in the harsh environments groups with harmony flourished more than quarreling groups. After thousands of generations, inclination to harmony became an innate tendency.

We still long for harmony, we still feel that being kind to each other is the most livable basis for society. Since we became AMHs (the last 100.000 years after 2 million years of being gatherer-hunters) this basic social feeling got perhaps somewhat frustrated when larger groups of 150-200 individuals evolved. But it only got frustrated totally after we became horticulturalists, with all the warfare and machismo that this recent lifestyle implied. The lowest point was reached in the class-based societies since 5000 years ago, with slavery, mass cruelties and monotheism.

Today we have a chance for recuperation. The unique quality of humanity is that we are capable of reflection. This capability may be seen as a further refining step on the path of extracting energy from the environment and of passing-on DNA. On the basis of reflection we may become aware that all groups of humans have the same interest: surviving on the planet Earth. Beyond our own planet, there is no alternative place available for extracting our energy and for passing-on our DNA. Once we see the need for it, we humans have the capability to make the next step beyond group harmony: global harmony between all our groups.

Our universal basic story, the science-based new ‘creation story’, may serve as an essential building stone for this reflection.

So are Wrangham & Peterson wrong with their Demonic Males? No, not wrong, but biased and overlooking the long-long evolutionary human history of low population density that repeatedly brought us to the verge of extinction. Wrangham & Peterson and their adepts see only ‘stage’ 1 and 2 as human nature. They are obviously ignorant of the peaceful nature of our longtime pure gathering-hunting existence, unaware of the more recent effects of overpopulation, and therefore unacquainted with the overall historical development of human nature.


[1] perhaps influenced by the German/American humanist psychologist Erich Fromm, in 1986 under US auspices the Seville Statement on Violence stated that while patterns of human aggression may be inherited, warfare need not be a necessary consequence

[2] even today Andaman groups have to ‘lend’ fire when their own fire has been extinguished by accident

[3] the herd is still the best environment for the individual to realize its me-myself-and-I interests, but its survival is best served by being as un-individualistic as possible in appearance and in behavior

[4] Frans de Waal Our Inner Ape. Why We Are Who We Are (2005)

[5] *** Not for humans only. Recently biologist Radersma of University Groningen published his thesis (2011) about research on great tits. Nest with an equal number of male and female chickens flourished better than imbalanced nest: less quarrel and competition and loss of energy

21. Gatherer-Hunters (GHs)

 

As we said: 99,5 % of the time of our kind our ancestors were gatherer-hunters, and essentially we have retained the gatherer-hunter nature of harmony and peacefulness. For fierce people like the Yanomamö mentioned before, anthropologists and missionaries reported low spirits and desperation among those groups. Unfortunately, the same anthropologists and missionaries fail to offer any explanation for this unhappiness among these tribes. My personal hypothesis is that such desperation may be caused by people like the Yanomamö not being able – due to overpopulation stress factors – of a lifestyle according to their innate nature of peaceful humanity.

Today most primitive societies are horticulturalist. We see a sharp distinction between the ancestral GH-behavior (equality between the sexes and the generations, complete absence of exercise of power, in short ‘noble wild’-behavior) and the interpersonal relationships of humans since the overpopulation situation changed human behavior. The best short-term we may use here for cultures showing this more recent behavior is AGR, as this suggests both aggression and agriculture. However, horticulturalists are not yet farmers. They slash and burn a field in the jungle where they grow sweet potatoes or plantains, and usually live in longhouses or shabonos. For some months each year, they happily take up their old gathering/hunting life, but most of the time they need to guard their village against hostile neighbors. War makes men important. AGRs are what becomes of GHs in an overpopulation situation.

Today there are scarcely people who still live as pure GHs. Even in the most remote territories the economic life has changed; even people who see themselves as GHs, do part-time farm work, keep some cattle or have some additional form of income. But in their child-rearing and communal lifestyle they still keep their old GH-tradition as a valuable heritage, and are proud of it.

The only anthropologist who studied the life of GH-people in comparison with the life of horticulturalists and primitive farmers is Hugh Brody.[1] To give an impression of the GH-mentality I summarize a passage out of his book The other side of Eden (London, 2001):

In a tent made from hides – but it can also be an igloo or a government’s prefab – the baby awakes. She is taken up, cuddled, breast-fed, and people are talking to her: she hears the voices of people in the room. Above all the familiar voice of her mother who says she’s drinking fine. It is her own decision if and when she drinks or stops drinking. The sounds of voices are reassuring to her. When she dozes off after drinking, she goes in mothers amautik, the baby carrier that is part of the parka, against mothers back. The mother senses by the baby’s movements when her child must relieve herself; then she takes the baby and holds her above a proper place, talking in a cheerful tone. While wiping her clean, mother says: “Now you’re done again my fatty, my darling.”

Grandfather comes near for a while and says, with his face close to hers: “Dear little wife of mine! You are my little wife? Yes, you are!” The mother smiles and holds her daughter up: “Mother? Yes, you are my mother!” Because the baby was born shortly after the passing away of her grandmother, she is seen as the atiq, the ghost of her grandma, and she has inherited her grandmother’s name too. Though all babies are cherished, an atiq is extra loved and adored as an obvious link in the chain of generations.

Babies are treated with respect – like everybody is treated with respect. Babies get all they want. They may sleep when they want, they never are brushed off because babies can never do something wrong[2].

From the beginning of their life children listen to stories. Nothing is concealed for the child: it picks up only what it can handle. Grandfather tells of the creation of the sea mammals, the principal prey of the Inuit. Stories with all sexual and bloody details, and mysteries. The children listen as long as they want, often hearing the same stories repeated, growing up with them. They see how adults respect each other and that everybody has her/his special abilities and tasks. They learn the names of the animals and plants effortlessly and grow up as Inuit.

All anthropologists who have studied the scarce GH-communities, report the same: notwithstanding the desert- or icy cold character of their environment, people are strikingly healthy and happy. They all interact with their children, with each other, with animals and plants in a respectful way. Nature is hard and merciless, meaning that for GHs, existence itself is precarious. On awakening, you will not always know for sure whether you will find something to eat that day. But for them and their ancestors, it had always been like this. Today, the few remaining GHs still are living like the social animals from which we all descend. Yes: noble wilds.

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Above you saw a noble wild (an NT-man: a human before the effects of overpopulation) with a modern human (one of the authors, visiting the Neandertal Museum in Mettmann (Germany), photographed by the other author, on 5 January 2012. It is not that the NTs were better humans than we, AMHs. The difference is that the NTs still lived in small groups, with female dominance – so still embarrassingly conservative – and the AMHs are frustrated by the effects of overpopulation.


[1] Hugh Brody is a British anthropologist, writer, director and lecturer. He was born in 1943 and educated at Trinity College, Oxford. He taught social anthropology at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is an Honorary Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, and an Associate of the School for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto

[2] GH’s do not yet have that automatic distrust of human nature that we, AGR’s, civilized and thus frustrated humans, may have developed; GH’s see humans still as essentially good natured; GH’s impute special qualities and capacities to babies and children, on account of their being good natured: capacities which they as adults think to have lost

22. Overpopulation

 

Our species started in very harmonious groups with the women as the dominant gender. Survival on the savannahs was extremely precarious. Groups living in harmony flourished better than groups with tensions: natural selection advanced harmony within the groups or tribes. Millions and millions of years of harmony is what made us the most social beings in nature, while the other side of our nature – violently defending ourselves and our kin – was pushed far away to the background. On the sparsely populated savannahs, such violent behavior was just not needed for survival.

Why then are men the dominant gender now? Why did Plato live in a time of civil war and slavery? Why then a Holocaust, Nanking massacre or, more recently, the Rwanda tribal mass murder? Why was our natural tendency to live in harmony overshadowed by other, more violent tendencies? We find the answer in the chimpanzees, and the keyword is overpopulation.

We may assume the ancestors of the chimpanzees lived more harmoniously than their descendants now, and again climate changes were a main cause here. Two million years ago, the start of the Ice Ages caused a dryer climate, shrinking the rainforests area. This shrinking of their territories caused overpopulation among the ancestors of the modern chimpanzees, which incited a more fierce struggle for survival. Struggle and war made the males more important. In the fiercer competition between different groups, the groups with the most violent men had a better survival chance. This process repeated itself with each new Ice Age, over and over again, about twenty times. In the long run, this made chimpanzees more violent (unlike for example bonobos, who thanks to a different environment were able to retail their original nonviolent lifestyle).

For our ancestors, this situation of overpopulation started not 2 million years ago, but just some 100 thousand years ago in Northern Africa, where the Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) had appeared as descendants of a local African Middle Stone Age (MSA) population, who in their turn were descendants of the African Homo erectus.

The tropical H. erectus (par exemple Nariokotome Boy) and the MSAs had been long and slender. Just like the stocky figures of the Neandertals (NT-s) had adapted to a colder climate, their African contemporaries (the MSA-culture, you could see them as Afro-NT’s) had adapted to a hot climate. Their being long and slender also meant longer necks with more place for a lower throat and a bigger pharynx. Our pharynx plays an important role in singing and making vowels. This makes spoken language possible.

We already told about the communication moment. In most discussions, you get little time to make your point and each woman wants to contribute her part. From the very beginning, their voices played a role in the sign communication. When communicating in the dark, or with full hands, they always felt pressed to put more lingual content in their vocal sounds, with clicks! and pfffs! and mmms![1]. I also mentioned the influence of the daily dancing-and-singing of the Creation Story in gradually developing more cortical voice control. For the long and slender Afro-NT’s, longer necks may have facilitated this process. 100.000 years ago, the communication of this African population was in the midst of a transition from pure sign language supported by a few sounds, to ever more spoken language supported by gestures.

I think this had to do with the females in the first place. Women were dominant in religious performances, like they were dominant in medical care and magic. Males should never put the success of their hunting at risk by using female speech to pray to the Big Ancestor: they clung on the sacral sign language for their hunting prayers. Nowadays before each hunting trip, the Semai hunters still use sign language to pray to their Big Ancestor. When we look at the important role of gestures in sacred rituals today, we see that sign language must have survived a long time in the sacral singing-and-dancing of the Creation Stories which had such a dominant place in the lives of our ancestors.

To get back to the point: why war and why male dominance? We saw that with chimpanzees, overpopulation brought fighting and fostered violence in males. The same mechanism applies to humans in more recent times. During most of our evolution, populations grew slowly and the world was wide. So equality between the genders or even female dominance was common in the groups and clans. But because women will defend their children, and may quarrel to find their place in the status order, they will often look for a powerful hulk as an arbitrator. It is quite possible that from the earliest times, even female dominated communities had a headman. Of course, he had to be accepted by the women[2] and under female control. In larger and later groups, males and females may have lived apart for most hours of a day, and each have had their own rituals, but even then a headman ‘headed’ a group.

We still see the same in all tribes with incessant and hopeless tribal wars: it occurs always and only in a situation of overpopulation. But why do all these tribes know machism (male dominance) and sometimes severe violence against women? Why this unproductive suppression of their indispensable and attractive partners in life? This may be the consequence of the female dominance in the long, long times before the overpopulation situation. In times of survival fights however, the ‘fittest’ groups are the groups with the most violent males, as we saw. Therefore, women began to see violence as a good quality in males and to promote this warrior-attitude in their men and sons.

The males learned their warrior qualities were very, very important. And by inference, they began to see their own rituals as far more important than the rituals of the women. In many cultural myths all over the world this is illustrated by the element of males taking over the holy flutes for their own ritual use.

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The first indication of overpopulation (accompanied by the start of wars and male dominance) in European AMHs may date from the onset of a cold period of OIS-2[3] about 35.000 years ago. Hunting territories shrunk, groups were driven together in the southern refugia. The cave paintings of Chauvet and elsewhere may be seen as male initiation sanctuaries: as places for secluded male rituals, separated from the women. At the same time, female rituals became more concentrated on the growing importance of food plants like peas and lentils, the boons of Mother Earth which they venerated with the renowned Venus figurines such as the Willendorf statuette.

Venus of Willendorf, Austria. Limestone, ca 25.000 BC

Many paleos wonder why the AMHs in Europe developed brilliant cave paintings and Venus statuettes (the ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’), while those living in Africa for much longer did not produce that many art works. For example, archaeologist Richard G. Klein theorizes about some brain-related gen mutation leading through symbolic language to symbolic art. We think there is a more simple explanation: artistic activity may have been fostered by a colder climate, where in a long icy winter (when people lived mainly from food gathered in autumn) there was less to do. This may be corroborated when we compare the activities of Inuit gatherer-hunters with African gatherer-hunters such as the San.

Later on, other events contributed to overpopulation and male dominance. About 16.000 years ago, in the northern hemisphere, the big mammals (mammoths, cave bears, giant deer, sabre toothed tiger, etcetera) became extinct. This was the time of the invention of bow and arrow, and the domestication of the wolf. This also was the time of the dispersion of AMHs all over the world, including the Americas. This was the time of beginning horticulture. In regions of Eurasia with a high density of shabono’s (the temporary villages or long-houses of semi nomadic horticulturers) the first acute struggles for survival arose.

But on a more fundamental level, it was only the situation that had changed (war), not the males or the women themselves. So the males had to suppress their incertitude, to allay their own doubts: they declared their newly-won importance holy. A deep incertitude of the males may have contributed to a new phenomenon: a constant denigration of female abilities. Present-day religious fundamentalists still display this primitive incertitude, by isolating and over-protecting their wives, by limiting female freedom of action, or by demonizing love affairs or abortions.

A good question is: was machismo not a legacy of the early AMHs? Was their immigration Out of Africa not a result of overpopulation? Even the most egalitarian tribes like the Mbuti (Congo) know a certain degree of machismo. In the past, Mbuti males annexed the molima, the rites of the holy flutes and excluded the women from it. As a part of the present ritual, women still disturb the males’ ritual crying that the men have stolen the molima and the holy flutes from them.

So when you say machismo may be very old, I agree. For example, as we can see with chimpanzees, machismo may always have been a strategy to cope with situations of overpopulation and/or competition. Both peacefulness and a warrior-attitude have always been strategies to cope with specific environmental challenges. For most of human history, a predominantly peaceful way of living was the most successful way to interact with the environment. When about 20,000 years ago overpopulation started to become an environmental factor, gradually a warrior-like style of living became the more successful attitude.

I paraphrased a few pages from the book The other side of Eden (London, 2001) about the lifestyle of ‘noble wilds’. But human nature is a three-stage rocket. So here is an anecdote about noble wilds in an overpopulation situation, already forty years in my mind, so I have forgotten the source. It is from a visitor or missionary :

Oh what a noble people, so respectful for each other and for their children! So much better humans than we in our western civilization!

One day men learned that strangers were roaming in the north of the territory. So they had to go down there. Perhaps whiteman would like to come along? Oh yes, sure, whiteman was always ready to learn some new.

They stalked the camp of the strangers. It appeared that the men were hunting and the women gathering, so they found only old people and children in the camp. All of them were slaughtered ruthlessly. A desperate girl crawled to the petrified onlooking visitor for help. “Oh, you want to fuck her, whiteman?” asked a helpful Indian, “wait a moment”– and he pushed his spear through the girl’s body into the ground.[4]

From this story we may conclude that we are very social, but only to those we see as fellow humans. For the Indians, the strangers were not fellow humans. Not even humans. To them, these others were rather a form of harmful wildlife that you need to destroy. It can also be concluded that this awful behavior didn’t make them less social: it had survival value. Only one group can make a living from a given territory. Those Indians didn’t have a government to regulate their behavior. In any threatening situation, selfishness is dominating, and this also applies to a GH-collective. Today we still see the same behavior in AGR-societies such as Rwanda. It can be seen in any civilization, such as the Japanese (the Nanking massacre) or the German civilization (Holocaust). Such behavior can be revived by ideological indoctrination and can happen even when the supposed threat is in fact an imaginary one. In the just-mentioned cases, the Tutsi, the Chinese, the Jews were not a real threats, but ideological indoctrination had caused them to be felt as a threat. In a sense, such indoctrination created an imaginary overpopulation situation.


[1] in the 1950s, the American Hayes couple raised a chimpanzee, Vicky, as if she was a human child: this was intended as an experiment of training in speaking. But the only result was ‚mama’, ‚papa’. ‚up’ and ‚cup’, soundlessly spoken

[2] As described by Frans de Waal, even the dominant bonobo females prefer an alpha male, because females to one another have difficulties in amending quarrels; but the alpha female makes the foraging decisions, not the alpha male

[3] Marine isotope stages (MIS), marine oxygen-isotope stages, or oxygen isotope stages (OIS), are alternating warm and cool periods in the Earth’s paleoclimate, deduced from oxygen isotope data reflecting temperature curves derived from data from deep sea core samples.

[4] surely not from Jesuit Relations, field letters from the missionary priests, published for two hundred years beginning in the early 17th century as a fundraising tool. Because the Jesuits found their own civilization superior, and urged the native men to beat their children and to suppress their women

30. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism

 

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Hinduism is in size the third world religion today, after Christianity and Islam. Because there are also polytheistic and monistic varieties (the latter believing that God and the human soul are one), it is only partially a monotheistic belief.

On account of its multiple appearances, one cannot say that Hinduism is one single religion: rather, the term ‘hinduism’ is the collective name for the beliefs of more than a billion of people in and outside the subcontinent of India. Unlike the Muslim and Christian belief systems, Hinduism is not very well suited to be used as a formal state religion (like Islam in some Middle East states or Christianity in European Middle Ages). The reason is not just the greater variety within Hinduism itself, but also the fact that in its main region (the Indian subcontinent) it has to compete with sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians and Parsi (Zoroastrists). For that reason after the independence of India in 1947, Gandhi’s winning Congress Party proclaimed not just Democracy, but also Secularism as the basis of the Constitution: for India to become a united state, its founders needed a secular foundation.

Under the government of the Congress Party, the standard of living on the subcontinent rose. But the welfare had been unevenly distributed and the corruption and the abuse of power gave rise to competitive other parties and fundamentalist movements. The Hindu fundamentalists are emulating the Muslim fundamentalists in all aspects.

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China has a comparable state situation: an enormous territory, with an alarming poverty and regions of overpopulation, and a multiplicity of beliefs such as Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religions. In the 2nd century BC, Confucianism was recognized as the Han state cult, and the Five Classics became the core of education: (1) humaneness or benevolence, in accordance with (2) ritual norms, (3) loyalty to one’s true nature, (4) reciprocity and (5) filial piety. Together these constitute virtue.

Confucianism is characterized by a highly optimistic view of human nature. Although Confucius himself lived a rather ordinary life, the faith in the possibility of ordinary humans to become awe-inspiring sages is deeply rooted in the Confucian heritage. The insistence that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal effort is typically Confucian. For centuries, some people could seek social advancement by participating in the prestigious Imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the government select skillful bureaucrats. Examinations and a culture of merit are still greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have advocated the idea that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.

Despite the position of Confucianism as a state religion, Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion and many other beliefs remained, and the imperial government was never able to address mass poverty, overpopulation and starvation. From the 1949 Maoist revolution

until about 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy without private businesses or capitalism. To propel the country towards a modern, industrialized communist society, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, although this had dubious economic results. But his drastic one-child policy saved the country from dramatic overpopulation.

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and moved towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Collectivization of the agriculture was dismantled and farmlands were privatized to increase productivity. Modern-day China is mainly a market economy based on private property ownership, and is the world’s leading example of state capitalism. Orthodox Maoism is no longer an adequate alternative for a state religion here, while Confucianism is too archaic for a booming state-capitalistic country. Therefore, the Chinese government is desperately searching for an adequate state religion – or at least, morality – that is also in line with the free market economy. China’s economy is booming, but dependent of the international market for its raw materials and energy, and for the export of its products. ***Maybe we have an idea for China

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Iillustration to an old Chinese story, meaning that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one. Painting in the litang style portraying three men laughing by a river stream, 12th century, Song Dynasty.

*** We may not forget to add a paragraph about BUDDHISM (500 BC) and TAOISM (200 BC)

Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, all were based on the assumption of a Big Ancestor-like Highest God who rules the world. Confucianism (500 BC) and Taoism did not, and Buddhism either. These religions are ethic: based on the universal human assumption that peace and happiness can be gained when all people are wise and do well. So it is a question of devising rules for good behavior and propagating them. Zarathustra’s religion was, being monotheistic, an ethic religion equally, and the ethics were part of the Machiavellian monotheistic religions as well. In Confucianism and Taoism, ethics were the whole content. What about Buddhism?

The doctrines of Buddha are ethic, but with a deeply pessimistic origin. Life is inherent suffering and pain. One can only escape from is by renouncing all desire and craving. All branches of Buddhism (the major are Mahayana, Theravada and Zen) have the same escapist nature. Perhaps we may attribute this escapism to the hopelessness of the Indian caste society. Where Buddhism tries to convert adherents to become a solitary monk, Confucianism and Taoism on the other hand keep their adherents participating in society and try to convert then to good civilians.

But China is on the road to a free market economy. The leading ex-Maoist party let slip the collectivistic Maoist ideology to generate free market prosperity but is hampered by the old corrupt power clique (no dictatorship without corruption). Confucianism is a too old wine for the new bottle of the free market prosperity. Free market economy cannot stand –isms. Even not libertinism in the end. Free market economy can only breathe democracy. That is what humanosophy sets itself the goal.

30. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism

 

clip_image002
image-242
Hinduism is in size the third world religion today, after Christianity and Islam. Because there are also polytheistic and monistic varieties (the latter believing that God and the human soul are one), it is only partially a monotheistic belief.

On account of its multiple appearances, one cannot say that Hinduism is one single religion: rather, the term ‘hinduism’ is the collective name for the beliefs of more than a billion of people in and outside the subcontinent of India. Unlike the Muslim and Christian belief systems, Hinduism is not very well suited to be used as a formal state religion (like Islam in some Middle East states or Christianity in European Middle Ages). The reason is not just the greater variety within Hinduism itself, but also the fact that in its main region (the Indian subcontinent) it has to compete with sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians and Parsi (Zoroastrists). For that reason after the independence of India in 1947, Gandhi’s winning Congress Party proclaimed not just Democracy, but also Secularism as the basis of the Constitution: for India to become a united state, its founders needed a secular foundation.

Under the government of the Congress Party, the standard of living on the subcontinent rose. But the welfare had been unevenly distributed and the corruption and the abuse of power gave rise to competitive other parties and fundamentalist movements. The Hindu fundamentalists are emulating the Muslim fundamentalists in all aspects.

clip_image004
image-243
China has a comparable state situation: an enormous territory, with an alarming poverty and regions of overpopulation, and a multiplicity of beliefs such as Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religions. In the 2nd century BC, Confucianism was recognized as the Han state cult, and the Five Classics became the core of education: (1) humaneness or benevolence, in accordance with (2) ritual norms, (3) loyalty to one’s true nature, (4) reciprocity and (5) filial piety. Together these constitute virtue.

Confucianism is characterized by a highly optimistic view of human nature. Although Confucius himself lived a rather ordinary life, the faith in the possibility of ordinary humans to become awe-inspiring sages is deeply rooted in the Confucian heritage. The insistence that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal effort is typically Confucian. For centuries, some people could seek social advancement by participating in the prestigious Imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the government select skillful bureaucrats. Examinations and a culture of merit are still greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have advocated the idea that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.

Despite the position of Confucianism as a state religion, Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion and many other beliefs remained, and the imperial government was never able to address mass poverty, overpopulation and starvation. From the 1949 Maoist revolution

until about 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy without private businesses or capitalism. To propel the country towards a modern, industrialized communist society, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, although this had dubious economic results. But his drastic one-child policy saved the country from dramatic overpopulation.

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and moved towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Collectivization of the agriculture was dismantled and farmlands were privatized to increase productivity. Modern-day China is mainly a market economy based on private property ownership, and is the world’s leading example of state capitalism. Orthodox Maoism is no longer an adequate alternative for a state religion here, while Confucianism is too archaic for a booming state-capitalistic country. Therefore, the Chinese government is desperately searching for an adequate state religion – or at least, morality – that is also in line with the free market economy. China’s economy is booming, but dependent of the international market for its raw materials and energy, and for the export of its products. ***Maybe we have an idea for China

clip_image005
image-244

Iillustration to an old Chinese story, meaning that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one. Painting in the litang style portraying three men laughing by a river stream, 12th century, Song Dynasty.

*** We may not forget to add a paragraph about BUDDHISM (500 BC) and TAOISM (200 BC)

Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, all were based on the assumption of a Big Ancestor-like Highest God who rules the world. Confucianism (500 BC) and Taoism did not, and Buddhism either. These religions are ethic: based on the universal human assumption that peace and happiness can be gained when all people are wise and do well. So it is a question of devising rules for good behavior and propagating them. Zarathustra’s religion was, being monotheistic, an ethic religion equally, and the ethics were part of the Machiavellian monotheistic religions as well. In Confucianism and Taoism, ethics were the whole content. What about Buddhism?

The doctrines of Buddha are ethic, but with a deeply pessimistic origin. Life is inherent suffering and pain. One can only escape from is by renouncing all desire and craving. All branches of Buddhism (the major are Mahayana, Theravada and Zen) have the same escapist nature. Perhaps we may attribute this escapism to the hopelessness of the Indian caste society. Where Buddhism tries to convert adherents to become a solitary monk, Confucianism and Taoism on the other hand keep their adherents participating in society and try to convert then to good civilians.

But China is on the road to a free market economy. The leading ex-Maoist party let slip the collectivistic Maoist ideology to generate free market prosperity but is hampered by the old corrupt power clique (no dictatorship without corruption). Confucianism is a too old wine for the new bottle of the free market prosperity. Free market economy cannot stand –isms. Even not libertinism in the end. Free market economy can only breathe democracy. That is what humanosophy sets itself the goal.

32. The rise of democratic thoughts

 

In order to take a look at the rise of democratic thoughts and practice, we need for a moment to go back to pre-medieval times. Three interdependent characteristics are essential in the long historical development towards human society today. In the first place the rise of modern free economic markets, trade and consumption (beginning with the Phoenician trader city-states about 500 BC). In the second place the rise of formal procedures in collective decision-making, which would ultimately lead towards modern democracy (a process which not coincidentally began in the same Phoenician trader-cities). In the third place the rise of new information channels which made it possible to inform an ever larger part of the population, ultimately creating information channels for the masses in their entirety. These three developments were mutually dependent in the sense that they influenced, supported and strengthened each other.

The word ‘democracy’ is Greek. Today, it represents a form of government in which all people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the decision making. In reality, we have several forms of democracy today, each one more or less approaching the general ideal.

Democratic decision-making is as old as mankind. For most of the time that our ‘homo’ ancestors roamed upon this earth – let us say 2 millions of years long – they lived in relative equality and freedom from any domination. So ‘democracy’ is part of human nature. Since more recent times when overpopulation and warfare between AMH-groups left no other choice but ‘struggle for life’, having a substantial number of violence-capable men became crucial for the surviving of an endangered group. Men got the idea that they were the most important gender. They developed exclusively male initiation- and other rituals, and from then on they didn’t live in equality and freedom anymore. The harsher the warfare in some populations, the harsher the male domination in those populations, and the exclusion of the women from common decision-making.

In the earliest phase of agriculture – a female invention – peace and equality, conform human nature, may have returned for some millennia. But eventually rising overpopulation, causing conflicts between AGR-settlements and villages, reintroduced a ‘struggle for life’, worsened by the rise of new fast vehicles (canoes; horses) that incited nomadic young men (warriors) to start raiding unarmed villages. But even in the Copper Age, women remained important in common decision making: as in the Harappan and even Egyptian civilizations.

Since the Iron Age, a background of warfare and male dominance, slavery and inequality became the normal human condition. However, ‘democracy’, being part of human nature, remained the submerged cork, bobbing up whenever there was a temporary hole in the ice of tyranny. It was free trade that created such holes. Where merchants could rule their own business without a tyrant, they developed some kind of democracy. The Athenian Greeks of 594-322 BC were an historical example.

Usually, we trace the roots of today’s democracy to the Greek poleis. Indeed, the poleis were not like other primordial ancient city-states like Phoenician Tyre or Sidon, which were ruled by a small oligarchy of merchants, and a king, being the primus inter pares of these merchants. The Greek poleis was a political entity ruled by the body of its citizens.

When we look at philosophy and creative thought, the Greek city states in Ionia and later Athens itself yielded thinkers who would remain influential until today. It started in Miletus, with a ‘pre-socratic’ school around 550 BC, with Thales, Anaximandros and his student Anaximenes. Thales is presumed to have gathered knowledge from India, Egypt and Babylon: astrology, geometry, engineering, philosophy, etc. He may have been the first western thinker with hypotheses that did not consider godly intervention: the first freethinker.

Greek philosophy may have influenced western philosophy, but this does not apply to Athenian democracy. Democracy is not just a matter of ideas and convictions, but also a process of social evolution within an economy with a relatively free market. In antique Athens, decisions were made by a ‘one-man-one-vote’ system limited to a select group of free-born male Athenians. Today’s western democracy is based on equal voting by all adult members of a society: because this involves far too much people for direct democracy, we have a representational and parliamentary party-democracy.

So the roots of the modern western democracy that is now globalizing and hopefully will continue to expand on a world-wide scale, do not lay in ancient Greece[1]. Those roots lie rather in the western European Late-Middle-Age market towns. The conditions in this area and period contributed to a fortuitously balanced situation between the powers: the Church, the kings or ‘Roman’ Emperor, the local landlords and the rich merchants in the cities. The kings, needing money to finance their army, were financially dependent from support by the merchants. The merchants furnished the money in exchange for privileges and self-governing of their towns. This was the beginning of a long process leading to ever more democratic forms of governing and republicanism. In these late Middle Ages, along with the cultural Renaissance, democratic ideals could be revived by a small urban elite of more or less free thinking individuals. Such people could be found in city states with a prevailing mercantile influence on communal decisions.

From 1400 AD the merchants gained political influence as European trade revived, after a long period of sleep caused by the invading Vikings from the North and the dominance of the Ottoman empire in the South-East. It first awoke in Italian city-states such as Florence, spreading to Portugal and Spain and to France and the Netherlands. A big help was that the Western lands were feudal, so the power was divided. Slowly the power began to shift from the agricultural landlords, champions of the Christian God belief, to the more free-thinking (and free-trading) bourgeoisie in the cities. In a parallel development, among educated people the individual self-image shifted from religious dependency to a more confident individuality; and in yet another parallel development, culture (painting, sculpture, music) started to flourish again: the Renaissance. This also affected science and philosophy.

Of course the social evolution towards democracy did not just depend from free market conditions: the independent thought and speculations of freethinkers have played an influential role as well. I already mentioned Thales of Miletus as one of the first. Aristoteles of Athens remained very influential throughout the Middle Ages, but in the 12th and 13th century Petrus Abaelardus and Roger Bacon were groundbreaking thinkers. Abaelardus (1079-1142) emphasized the scientific principle of never accepting something without asking questions (nihil credendum nisi prius intellectum). The Oxford scholar and Aristotle-expert Roger Bacon (1214-1294) studied mathematics, optics, Hebraic and Arabic, and the Arabic sciences. He emphasized empiricism and methodology, while rejecting blindly following authority. Desiderius Erasmus in 1506 published The Praise of Folly; although not a reformer himself, he laid the intellectual foundation for the freedom of thought that would result in the Reformation.

In the 17th century Locke, Bayle and Spinoza were independent thinkers. John Locke (1632-1704) contested the absolute rulers’ rights and proposed constitutional democracy. Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) was another Enlightenment pioneer, with his plea for religious tolerance and separation between belief and science. Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677) questioned the reality of miracles and the supernatural, and equated God and nature. The 17th century also produced the influential cultural view of the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who with his Leviathan (1651) was the first to present the idea of a “social contract”, where individuals give up some of their individual rights for the common benefit.

Philosophers such as Spinoza, Locke, Bayle and Newton sparked an elite cultural movement: the Enlightenment. The center of the Enlightenment was France, where it found its base in the salons, such as the salon of Baron D’Holbach. It heralded the power of the human thought, independent from traditional and dogmatic thinking. Among other things, it presents a taxonomy of human knowledge inspired by Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning. The three main branches of knowledge are: "Memory" (history), "Reason" (philosophy) and "Imagination" (poetry). Notable is the fact that theology is considered a branch of philosophy: this categorisation of religion as being subject to human reason and not as an independent source of knowledge caused much of the controversy surrounding the work.

Many contributors saw the Encyclopédie not just as a means to provide access to human knowledge, but also as a vehicle for covertly destroying irrational superstition. In ancien régime France, it caused a storm of controversy, due mostly to its attacks on Catholicism and its defense of religious tolerance. The Encyclopédie praised Protestant thinkers and challenged Catholic dogma.

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Title page of vol.1 of The Encyclopédie

The Encyclopédie (1751-1772) was edited by Denis Diderot and d’Alembert, with contributions by hundreds of leading intellectuals such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu. Some 25,000 copies of the 35-volume set were sold, half of them outside France: it stimulated the emergence of new centers of free thought in England, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Spain – and also in America, where it influenced Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others, playing a major role in the American Revolution. The political ideals expressed in the Encyclopédie influenced the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the Polish-Lithuanian Constitution of 1791.

Count d’Holbach (1723-1789), the first outspoken atheist, and his ally Denis Diderot (1713-1784) can be considered the first real freethinkers. Freethinking is: forming (and formulating) one’s world view on the basis of logical reasoning, without being restricted by irrational beliefs, enforced dogmatism or religious authority. In a culture where the world was generally considered a godly creation, it took courage (and a minimum of safety) to think god-less. A nice reflection of such an inner struggle can be seen in the conflict between the friends Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot in the Paris of 1742. After long consideration, Rousseau wrote: “All the subtleties of metaphysics will not make me doubt the immortality of the soul for a moment. I feel it, I believe it, I want it, I hope for it, I shall defend it to my last breath”. For Diderot, the question of religious belief was a more complex one. Nostalgic for the certainties of his childhood, he would have liked to believe. But his scientific and materialistic world view left no place for some metaphysical ‘high power’. “My heart wants one thing, my head another,” he wrote to his friend.

For Diderot, our desire to believe had to be counterbalanced by our capacity for rational analysis as the only method of gaining factual knowledge of the world. This rationality ought to create a common ground that is not subject to instinct, tribalism or hysteria, but can support the ethics of a society. Rousseau on the other hand ended up giving priority not to his rationality, but to his feelings and beliefs. This crucial difference between the spirituality of Diderot and Rousseau can still be seen in today’s society.

The problems between these two had to do not only with a different position on the emotions-vs-rationality scale, but also with a different position on the collectivism-vs-individualism scale. Thinking on the basis of his strong emotion, Rousseau created a world view characterized by aversion of the physical world, repulsion of sex, a longing for a perfect higher world beyond our senses, for ultimate justice and forgiveness in the afterlife. A world view rather coinciding with the dogmatic vision of the Church. Politically this world view may be characterized as collectivism.

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Leviathan

Collectivism is the social-political doctrine that sees people as a subservient part of a community, obedient to the Leader of the community. Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social (1762) represented – in an idealistic way – such a collectivistic view of society. Rousseau’s theory may have been based on Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), and certainly influenced the radical ideology of Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), leader of French Revolution during its ‘reign of terror’. 19th century philosophers such as Hegel (1770-1831) and Marx (1818-1883) also regarded collectives as more important than their individual members.

To some extent such a view may be understandable, especially when we consider that it is closely related to the ancient tribal feelings which have shaped much of human history since the early Iron Age. However, collectivist feelings can become fatal when they are used as the actual base for a social order, for a political system: the two best known examples of collectivism going awry are fascism and communism. The reigns of Hitler and Stalin illustrate two essential shortcomings of collectivism. In the first place it tends to concentrate the “collective” power in the hands of Leader and his guard – and such near-unlimited power always corrupts. Secondly, it deprives society from one of its most essential sources of progress: consulting each other. A free market society with representative democracy may be laborious and at times painful, but in the end it will better serve the common wealth.

Luckily, the same 19th century that produced the philosophies of Hegel and Marx, also brought forth thinkers who contributed to the development of today’s free market society and democracy. One of the most important was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) who in his book On Liberty (1859)[2] stated that “over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. Nor the state nor any other social body has a right to coerce or restrict the individual, unless the individual causes harm to others. In this context Mill developed the harm principle (stating that each individual has the right to act as he wants, provided these actions do not harm others). His principle of liberty is threefold: freedom to think and speech as one wishes, the freedom to pursue tastes and preferences, and the freedom to meet with others. He sees this freedoms not as ‘natural rights’ but rather as positive contributions to society. Stuart Mill can also be seen as the first male feminist ; as a member of Parliament he advocated women’s rights.


[1] The knowledge about the Athenian democracy dates from the 19th century: since the British lord Elgin transported a whole collection of the marble sculptures from the Athenian acropolis to London and sold them to the British Museum. The fame of these marbles (and the shame of the ‘art robbery’ – but he paid for it to the Turkish government) was the beginning of the knowledge about Greek democracy***

[2] NB In this same year 1859 appeared Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London, John Murray

34. Free market economy and an ideal society

 

The ideal society would be the modern version of the paradisiacal equality, freedom, harmony, togetherness and happiness of the ancestral gathering and hunting way of life. We lost this ‘paradise’ some eight thousand years ago: in the transition to agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle that brought warfare and slavery. Since then, a feeling of bereavement has always induced thinkers and philosophers (these are not necessarily always the same) to dream of a better, ideal world. The breakthrough of the free market economy meant ‘the end of history’: the end of five thousand years of forced civilization. It enabled mankind to take some first steps towards regaining the ancestral equality and freedom.

If we were to imagine a utopian free market society, its population would voluntarily work together for the common good on a basis of equality. People would produce goods and services, and earn money in return. Their earnings would allow them to buy goods and services for themselves, and to pay taxes for common facilities and government costs. Such a society would suppose an intricate network of tasks and responsibilities, where everyone would find a job fitting her or his individual talents, aptitude and preferences. This intricate machine would be lubricated not just by the natural flow of money, but also by mutual trust and a belief in shared goals.

In this ideal society, each member would do his best in the conviction that his work serves both the common good and his individual interests. Happiness always implies the feeling that one is meaningful (for other people in the environment, or society as a whole). So in that ideal free market society, everybody would have a fair chance and opportunity to be happy. An important condition for such “social happiness” is that one can participate in common decisions. In short: this ideal society would in many ways resemble a larger-scale version of the ancient hunter-gatherer group-based societies, but without the fearful struggle-for-life that tainted those ancient ways of life.

Our actual free market society has not yet reached the level of such an ideal society. In its original phase, the rising free market implied a situation of inequality and exploitation, based on the old antagonism between a class of property owners and a suppressed working class. A series of revolts and reforms has already somewhat mitigated this inequality, but it still survives in some ways. Our actual society has made all of us into consumers, but it did not fully remove the inequality of chances to participate in it. Only when all citizens will be able to participate in a way that fits their talents and ambitions, will the free market society – and its economy – function optimally. But in the west, the presently prevailing neo-liberal ideology has broadened the gap between poor and rich. In India, the fragmented character of Hinduism and the caste system keeps hampering equality. In China the state-managed model of capitalism is a key obstacle: most large companies still are state-owned, which hampers the natural growth of privately-owned enterprises.

May we expect the wind of change and freedom to undermine the permafrost of old forms and thoughts worldwide? May we see the Arab spring as a beginning? The Muslim world is not the West. The revolting Egyptian Facebook youngsters may want western freedom and democracy and welfare. But they may also want to keep their sisters veiled and subordinate to men. They may want to remain Muslims and to keep the tribal fundaments of Muslim culture unchanged. In the West these old thoughts and forms have already been weakened by over 200 years of enlightenment, a more science-directed school-education, free distribution of all kinds of books, uncensored media and newspapers: all factors that furthered individualism instead of religious and tribal sentiments.

Today, it would take a worldwide disaster of a scope similar to the ancient Toba explosion to disrupt the progress of the free market economy. This progress is almost unstoppable because a free market economy matches human nature, a nature formed in millions of gatherer-hunter-equality and freedom. The happiness of ‘the lost paradise’ has survived only among the last few surviving gatherer-hunter-populations, but the craving for such a happiness survives in us all. The not-yet-perfect free market economy in the west has already made people more happy than their grandparents before, and it is the smell of this happiness that lures young people in the Arabic world.

As we said at the end of the previous chapter, the new self-image – first spread by the television and today even more by the interactive possibilities of internet – is lacking something. Our happy gathering and hunting ancestors experienced their language-world in the creation story they sung and danced around the campfire, as the San people still do today. The essence of this experience is the religious feeling that in some form is part of everybody’s mentality. In the five thousand years of forced civilization, this feeling was used by elites imposing a monotheistic collectivism. The free market freed consumers from this ideological suppression, but it did not give them a new creation story to replace the lost one.

Since the 1960s our western free market economy prevailed without a basic story that could give people a new motivation and direction. Older generations still clung to the old Christian Story, but in the 1980s that common Story was no longer strong and widely shared enough to support the social responsibility of business men. Bankers began to use money that originally was intended for productive investments, for competitive schemes. Due to their political clout, some of them were able to mislead both governments and voters with a neoliberal ideology, until after a few decades their Ponzi schemes exploded – as illustrated by the disastrous Madoff affair[1]. We already mentioned the maxim “greed is good”, the effects of this ideology on neo-liberalism, and the collapse of the financial system in 2008. A fundamental cause of that crash was the lack of a basic story guiding common human behavior.

The ill effects of a weak or missing Story are visible not just in the banking world, but on all levels of Western society. A similar example is the rise of petty street crimes[2] in our cities, which in spite of increasing police efforts has also been on the rise since the 1980s. Other examples of nihilism may be found in the rise of public hooliganism (for example by bands of football supporters), or the rising tendency among public officials in some countries to accept bribes or even manipulate democratic elections. All this is behavior that is connected with something like a moral black hole: the void that has been left by weakening monotheism, and that is begging for some proper replacement.

Chanting hippies

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In the industrializing Western societies, since the early 1900s a growing number of citizens have already been trying to fill that gap on an individual, spiritual, semi-religious level: for example by seeking inspiration and meaningfulness in Eastern mysticism. Around 1900 Buddhism was the latest fashion, in the New Age movement of around 1970 it was Hare Krishna. However, such fashionable and often rather elitist endeavors did little to reach the masses, let alone to really establish a common and morally inspiring vision on humanity. Perhaps such spiritual trends were functional as an answer to some need of escapism, in the same way as participating in a football fan club – for many football fans, this can also serve as a kind of pseudo-religion.

By opening new information channels and breaking old information monopolies, the market economy freed the Western people from … the monotheistic belief. There has always been a relation between the dominant economy and what people believe. In the long time of hunter-gatherers we had a totemistic belief, where people perceive themselves as part of- and originated from the animal world. In Neolithic times we had an animistic belief, where people perceive the world around them as animated: a spirited whole from which their own lives depend. In hierarchically organized societies we had a monotheistic belief, where people perceive the world (and themselves) as created by a single God who governs everything.

In a free market society all such old forms and thoughts fade away. In itself, this can only be seen as a positive development. However, this development had one important negative side effect: which is that we, today’s consumers, now miss the values, shared identification opportunities, and social cohesion that used to be provided by the old common beliefs. Therefore each of us tends to act exclusively in his own interest, with (as we already illustrated) socially negative effects. These negative effects will only worsen if we fail to establish some kind of new, common belief.


[1] Madoff had been put in jail for the rest of his life in 2009

[2] A judge asked a young criminal on the court: why do you these things? The answer was: why not?

35. The power of human cooperation

 

We, authors, assume that such a common new belief can easily be found because we all have in common that we are human beings, with the same origin story and the same desire for happiness. We ought to share a belief in the power of humanity, based on the power of names for the things, the power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The free market economy is slowly globalizing and will hopefully free more and more people. This process will progress more smoothly with the presenting of a story that, in the end, will have the power to replace old, restrictive religious views.

The idea that we will try to offer here, may be seen as an advanced form of the utilitarism of Jeremy Beckham and John Stuart Mill – based on their maxim the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people – advanced by means of the progress of the sciences and humanities in our free market society.

As for the greed characterizing today’s free market society, is that also good as a propelling mechanism, furthering the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? For our actual neo-liberal market economy, the goodness of greed (introduced by the 1987 movie Wall Street) was propagated as a leading principle by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966). After the worldwide collapse of the financial system, Rand’s disciple Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve System (FED), declared "It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously" and he suggested that financial markets need to be better regulated.[1]

We already defined human nature as a ‘three-stage rocket’ propelled by (1) selfishness, (2) group sentiment and (3) our inclination to harmony. We emphasized that all three inclinations are still active in each of us, dependent from the circumstances. We stressed that the third inclination (to harmony) has always been strong as a result of natural selection, serving survival in harsh environments. Tendency to harmony is good.

Our authors’ vision about the role of greed is that when humans miss a common basic story, this negatively affects our tendency to feel common responsibility (stages 2 and 3 of the rocket). Thus, everybody regresses to the first-stage drive of human nature: selfishness – which implies greed. But for human happiness we need the third-stage drive: striving for harmony.

The fading away of the old Christian basic story that used to define our humanity made consumers feel free. But the omission of our philosophers in seeing the resulting gap and in providing us with a new and better basic story made many people selfish, unconcerned and socially unresponsive. The lack of a beacon in the form of a common Story tended to make parents more hedonistic and less responsible, without setting adequate limits for their children and without setting an example in keeping harmony. Whole generations of youngsters are now growing up without a basic story that might give meaning and sense to their life, and without involvement in the common good. Today, we reap the bitter fruits of living decennia without an effective basic story.

We can overcome this oppressing situation by calling attention for a new basic story, that is in fact waiting to be picked up. How to spread the word: that is our challenge for now. With this book we want to promote not just a motivating universal belief in our common future: we also want to promote the promoting of it.


[1] presenting the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report in July, 2002

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