Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Evolutionary Crisis We Are Experiencing

Karl Eklund, Ph.D.

The evolution of human civilization in recent years (i.e., since 1500) has taken place in a number of phases having transitions between them that are often painful. The pain is generally caused by the people who have elite status and who want to keep that status. They sense that they are facing a transition in which they will become obsolete, and they want to delay that transition as long as possible no matter how much pain it causes to the rest of us.

The first period we understand is the Paleolithic, in which Homo Sapiens Sapiens emerged about 100,000 years ago. Homo Sapiens Sapiens has a number of unique characteristics: the most unusual being the ability to communicate abstract ideas by using mouth-noises. That has consequences: one of which is that it organizes itself into relatively small packs or bands that are equal-on-the-average

What I mean by equal-on-the-average is that a Paleolithic Homo Sapiens Sapiens only obeys commands during a crisis. The difference between a tribe of Homo Sapiens Sapiens and a nest of ants is that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has the ability and the necessity to act as individuals.  Ants are born in large batches and are clones of one another. Homo Sapiens Sapiens are mostly born singly and more than nine months apart from their siblings. Homo Sapiens Sapiens learns technology slowly and doesn't survive easily as an individual until it is in its teens. If individual Homo Sapiens Sapiens did not have the drive to keep themselves alive as individuals, they could not have survived as a species.  

The Paleolithic Homo Sapiens Sapiens in a hunting band takes direction from a Hunting Chief only during acute crises like the final approach to the prey. Similarly, the Paleolithic Homo Sapiens Sapiens takes orders from the Shaman during chronic crises such as when disease appears in one of the tribe. 

 Other than crises, tribal behavior is decided by consensus after considerable discussion. The power that the Hunting Chief and Shaman have is empirical: their advice works more often than not. But because it takes 15 years or more to replace an adult human, humans must learn to survive individually. Ants can replace an adult immediately on hatching. 

Ant colonies can have many thousands of members. Human bands in the Paleolithic were are limited to a dozen or so members: this represents the degree of individuality that is consistent with enough mutual conformity for stability.

The Neolithic Period, starting about 10,000 years ago, is marked by the invention of agriculture. The advantage of using agriculture is that a small proportion of the community can provide food for the rest, so an agricultural community can have specialists like potters and metalworkers. That means that the Neolithic is characterized by social groups larger than Paleolithic ones. Because of the larger population the social pattern changes from equal-on-the-average to follow-the-leader. The functional roles of “War Chief” and “Shaman” become the structural roles of “King” and “High Priest”. 

The disadvantage of the Neolithic Revolution was that structures based on follow-the-leader tend to accumulate more than a dozen members, and so are inherently unstable. To get stability that lasts more than a generation we had to invent religion as a kind of social glue. Without religion the Post-Neolithic period would be even more unstable than it was. 

It did not occur to anyone that the follow-the-leader type of civilization might just be a temporary expedient. But if we look carefully at the part of the Post-Neolithic we are in, it is easy to see that we are evolving toward an equal-on-the-average social system. 

The notion of everybody being equal started in the North American Colonies that Europeans created. It was initially hypocritical: the colonies threw off their european masters and justified it by asserting equality, but their economy was based on the conquest of the indigenous population and slavery of imported africans. But if the colonial society was stratified it had some opportunities for upward mobility among gradations of the elite. 

The elite right after the American Revolution were largely people who grew export goods like cotton and tobacco using african-born slave labor. This was a step toward equality compared to the european elite who mainly had inherited money or land or both. But the idea of equality spread: by the 1850s the people who weren't planters wanted to be upwardly mobile. The planters wanted to maintain their elite status, so the result was the American Civil War.

The Civil War changed the social structure in the United States by making slavery illegal and thus impoverishing the planter elite. Their place as the elite was taken by Northern Industrialists whose factories produced the arms that defeated the planters. 

The former slaves, who were permanently identifiable by their dark skin color, were sent to the bottom of the labor force. The factory owners kept their elite status until the turn of the century. By that time the clerks and mechanics evolved into a bureaucratic management who invented the Stock Market as a mechanism for turning factories into gambling chips. They rigged the market so they could keep the power of wealth for themselves. By the end of the Great Depression and two World Wars these economic bureaucrats and their government equivalents had become the elite.

In the period from 1945 to 1960 there was a general upward mobility. However  the top level bureaucrats were soon convinced by their academic advisors that if upward mobility continued there would be shortages of raw material to act as status symbols, particularly oil. They made a concerted effort to decrease the upward mobility of the working and lower bureaucratic classes in order to retain their own elite status. They were very successful at this.

This produced an interesting phenomenon. The elite were able to maintain relatively low wages for the middle and lower classes  but they were not able to diminish the demand for non-monetary equality among women and people of color. The white, male managers relieved the pressure for equality by giving in to the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. This allowed them to maintain their elite status by creating a qualitative difference between the working level and managerial level bureaucrats. This has been documented by Scott Adams in the comic strip "Dilbert".

However, when Barack Hussein Obama, a person of color, was elected President of the United States the monied elite realized that they had made a tactical mistake. They had assumed that gender or skin color would continue to be bars to upward social mobility no matter what the Federal Law said, because they really did believe that women and people of color were inferior to white males. With Obama as a viable President their elite status was in grave danger again. 

It was in an even greater danger than they realized. 

There were three qualities that could denote status before 1960: money, skin color and gender. Of those, money is the only one that remains and it is vulnerable to government action. Color and gender are essentially permanent, but money can be taxed away. All it takes is for the presently non-elite to recognize that they could use the vote to tax away the use of money as a status symbol.

When the monied elite recognized the danger they were in they let the economy collapse and set the politicians to blaming it on Obama. Fortunately, the candidate they chose to represent their interests, while stupid enough to be easily controlled by his financial backers, was too stupid to keep from making a bad impression on everyone but his backers. They repeated this mistake in 2012, thinking that it was enough to have passed legislation on the state level that reduced the ability of women, people of color, seniors and young people to vote.

This will not matter in the long run because most of the citizens who are disenfranchised in 2012 will regain their ability to vote by 2016 and will remain sympathetic to the party that enfranchises them for some time. Even if  Romney gets elected, Obama could run in 2016 or 2020: whenever women and people of color get back the ability to vote. 

Disenfranchisement cannot make a permanent change in the societal hierarchy because legal ways to disenfranchise can be reversed. It will take time, but the longer it takes for sections of society to get back the right to vote, the longer they will vote for the political party that gets them back that right.   

It still isn’t obvious that we are on the threshold of evolving from a follow-the-leader system to an everybody-equal-on-the-average kind of system but we at least have hints as to how it might work. One hint is found in the Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare.  

A universal health system will quickly shift its focus to preventive medicine simply because preventive medicine is cheaper. It is easier to improve public health by a more effective use of resources than by curing disease. Public health can be improved by providing, free or at low cost, food, clothing, shelter and transport that will support a healthy lifestyle. 

That will provide survival for everyone  without using the ability to waste food, clothing, shelter and transport as status symbols. Necessities that are used as status symbols, as they are now, can be assessed a luxury tax. That will eventually evolve into a distribution system that doesn't use money. ("Take what you want but use what you take" systems have a minimum of waste.)

By eliminating money except for the payment of luxury taxes for tchotchkes and enforcing the anti-discrimination laws, it will be entirely possible to have an egalitarian society without a revolution.

For more details download files from:

These are stored versions of book-length files. "Evo" expands on the theory described here, and "Utopia" is a novel set in a civilization that might evolve from ours. Note that "Eunice", the personality of the universal computer system, became a character some years before "Siri" appeared on Apple's mobile. I have, however, been using Apple computers from shortly after the Macintosh appeared.