Previous Page/Table Of ContentsNext Page

By the title of this section, I mean to convey the thought that perhaps mankind has now matured to the point that "civilization qua civilization" is no longer necessary to the existence of mankind. To understand what I really mean by this, it is necessary to put what we know of the history of mankind into perspective, and then postulate that the recurrence of civilization as documented by Spengler is just a "phase" which mankind has now gone through.
Over the last decade, genetic scientists have traced the origins of Homo Sapiens back to two individuals who probably lived some 150,000 to 250,000 years ago. That is 150 to 250 millennia. All of what we call "recorded history"83 covers no more than about 8 millennia. Agriculture and domestication of animals is believed to have begun about 10 to 15 millennia ago. So, for at least ninety percent of the lifetime of Homo Sapiens as a species, mankind existed in the hunter-gatherer stage of development, with no fixed place of residence from which we can recover any remains extensive enough to make any guesses about cultural events. Very little is known of the culture which existed for the hunter-gatherers, except from inferences which we might be able to draw from primitive peoples which Western Civilization has encountered as it conquered the world.
The great change occurred with the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals. When men became farmers, they put down "roots" and stayed in one place long enough to accumulate significant amounts of "property." It is doubtful that the older hunter-gatherers had any need at all for the concept of "property" because virtually all a man needed was his weapon; as Will Durant points out, game was killed and eaten on the spot, much as animals still do it today.84 Then came the first of two great transitions which have marked the "progress" of mankind, the so-called "Agricultural Revolution."
The first great transition, from hunter-gatherers to farmers, profoundly altered the definition of what it meant to be human. The hunter-gatherers were merely intelligent animals, with little to distinguish them from various forms of monkeys and apes. The dominant social rule was the Law of the Jungle. There was virtually nothing in their existence which we would today call "civilization," and this state of affairs persisted for over ninety percent of the existence of our own species! But when mankind became farmers, the seeds of the first civilizations were planted at the same time. Farming requires the discipline of working a whole growing season to raise the food for an entire year. The technologies of storage and preservation are required. Even if the technique for storing food is to raise domestic animals for killing on a regular basis, you still must arrange to have stockpiles of fodder for those same animals available for as long as any live. Again as Will Durant points out, this change in the way mankind made its living effected a profound change in our view of the universe. Morals were defined and redefined to suit a culture rooted on a common ground. Also, a tendency to stay in one place for significant lengths of time created an archeological record which we have yet to fully explore. The solutions to many mysteries await our discovery of the contents of ancient graves.
Of all the civilizations identified by Spengler, Toynbee, and the Durants in their histories of mankind, each has its roots in an agricultural people. Cities begin as what amounts to a "farmers' market," with merchants gradually developing other goods for the farmers to buy with their crops. As wealth increases, the incentive for theft increases, and this leads not only to concepts of property, but to the need for protection of that property from lazy ones who perceive of theft as a short cut to riches. Eventually, the concept of a "state" is born, usually as a result of a military conquest by someone who would like to become the ruler. Civilization begins to take root, and the rest (as they say) is history. As Spengler noted, and as his followers have basically proved, the overall pattern remains the same, no matter the peoples or the specifics of the culture involved.
The second great transition is still in progress in our own here-and-now. It has been called the Industrial Revolution, but it clearly involves much more than merely industry. We are now in what many believe to be the third stage of that revolution, which actually involves relegating actual industry to a lesser role, as mankind moves into a service economy based upon information science and other knowledge based occupations as the majority of jobs occupied by our people. As Will Durant pointed out yet again,85 this again profoundly impacted our value system, and we are still trying to digest and absorb the cultural shock which results from this radical kind of change. This thesis was expounded upon in the famous book by Alvin Toffler called Future Shock.
In the absence of a "great fall," due to nuclear war or some equivalent near-total disaster, it is highly unlikely that mankind will ever again form a rural-agricultural type of civilization. Accordingly, we have probably witnessed the final "traditional" civilization, in the person of Western Civilization itself. Thus, Toynbee's catalog of civilizations is unlikely to grow in the event any future historian pick up the gauntlet in a few centuries.
If another civilization does form, it will not have a birth which bears any relation at all to how civilizations were born in the past; and this should lead us to the conclusion that it will probably not develop along the same lines, either. Perhaps the hunter-gatherer phase of mankind is its true "childhood," while the ten millennia of developing one great civilization after another is more truly seen as mankind's adolescence. If this proves true, then I can hold out the hope that the next "civilization" will be mankind's true adulthood, and that such a civilization should at least approach the values which we have come to associate with Utopia. If so, then we truly stand upon the threshold of greatness. Children of the next few generations will make that choice, and mankind will either rise to the next level of greatness, or else fail to achieve greatness, based upon their choices. It is for us to give our children the nudge in the right direction which they truly need.
If mankind is not destined to create a new form of civilization, then we have to really wonder where mankind is headed. Clearly, Western Civilization is dying, just as Spengler predicted. What will take its place? Surely not the unending ennui of no great change at all. That would leave mankind in a sort of a cultural vacuum, and "nature abhors a vacuum."86
The reason that it will not work should be obvious if you have been paying any attention at all. The value system of Western Civilization is organized and established for a rural-agricultural population, NOT for an industrial, or post-industrial, population. For example, children were a great asset to farmers, so our cultural mores exhort women to bear as many children as possible, abhorring abortion and birth control because they would inhibit this necessary child-bearing function. In a rural-agricultural population, a woman had no need to go more than a few feet from the home. With all those mouths to feed, and no labor saving devices to speak of, she was kept pretty busy right there.87
In our modern society, about the only thing which has not yet changed is the fact that women are still required to bear children in their womb.88 When this is no longer true, mankind will no longer have any anchor at all to its past. There will then be not a single social value from Western Civilization which will still be "necessary" to survival. If any "family values" from Western Civilization are going to be useful at all to those of our descendants who are alive a few centuries from now, the useful values are much more likely to have been invented since 1700 than at any time in the ten previous millennia.
This is what makes trying to write on Philosophy such a daunting task. Clearly, our old values are breaking down, and losing their usefulness in our daily lives, just as you would predict from a cyclical theory of civilization. But the values from the next stage of the cycle which should naturally replace them are clearly inappropriate to an industrial (or post-industrial) society. This means that we have no model to follow.
Accordingly, any intelligent modern philosopher must strike out in truly new directions, no longer relying upon that great guiding hand of Aristotle. Mind you, we should never forget him; but his rural-agricultural roots are oh so obvious, and are now oh so inapplicable. The conditions under which modern man survives would have been totally unthinkable to Aristotle. Is there a great philosopher to guide us in our quest?
We had better ask: is there any philosopher, great or otherwise, who is not a product of a rural-agricultural value system? Even Karl Marx, who was reacting against the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, preached a return to rural-agricultural values in the form of his "collectives." Thus, Karl Marx dusted off primitive communal values as his antidote for what mankind did to itself with the Industrial Revolution.
Perhaps that is why there is so little written philosophy in the second half of the twentieth century. The great fires have gone out; those that write, re-hash; those who feel the need for new ideas are speechless, unable to speak because the cultural "rugs" which cover their cultural "floors" have all been pulled out from under them.89
I would definitely assert that it is clearly time for mankind to "grow up" and become what he has been designing himself to be for all these many millennia. It has been, and continues to be, mankind who provides guidance to man. When the Gods spoke, there was always a priest hiding behind the curtain, or in some equivalent disguise.
We should be honest with ourselves. We need a new value system, which value system must be the first one designed for an industrial (or post-industrial) society. We ought not to feel shame that we must invent it for ourselves rather than relying on our old and outmoded religions. Instead, we should take pride in our own capacity to do so.90 Let us now move on to consider some proposals for a replacement value system.

83 In other words, that portion of history for which artifacts exist with intelligible writing.

84 See The Mansions of Philosophy, 1929, pages 114-115.

85 See The Mansions of Philosophy, 1929, pages 114-117.

86 This statement is attributed to Benedict [Baruch] de Spinoza (1632-1677), Ethics, 1677, Part I, proposition, 15:note.

87 I speak here of the masses, and not the ruling classes. When Rome was at its height, the majority of its citizens still lived in a rural-agricultural environment. We absolutely cannot say this today, at least not in what we call the "industrial countries."

88 And it is highly likely that a few more decades of research will remedy this "deficiency."

89 Of course, there is another reason. The last thing which our emerging despots wish is an educated population who can see them for what they truly are: imperialists in search of Imperium. So, they find ways to discourage Philosophy. One way is to encourage a return to the "Great Enemy" of Philosophy, Religion. Do you wonder at the re-birth of the "dead" Christian religion?

90 Compare with my favorite Durant quotation: "The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning to human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death." The Lessons of History (1968), by Will and Ariel Durant, page 102.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

Please send us your feedback!

Previous Page/Table Of ContentsNext Page