Wisdom Living

What happened to our wisdom?

Concepts as roots of the decline of wisdom

When we look at the state of our modern world, we cannot ignore the fact that human wisdom, to a large extent, stops manifesting. It seems very puzzling. On the one hand, our creativity, particularly in the areas of technology and science, flourishes dramatically. On the other, our altruistic cooperation, awareness of interconnectivity with other humans and the world around us becomes rare and selective.

A long time ago, when humans developed the language, they created concepts. A concept is a fusion of several beliefs which somehow related to our observations. 

Our life without concepts would become practically impossible; they are instrumental for people to communicate more abstract or general ideas. We can say that they are becoming dangerous when we take them too seriously. Such an attitude became instrumental to suppression of our initially present human wisdom. 

 During this process, we began to identify ourselves with some concepts and become virtually obsessed with them. Furthermore, we want to impose them upon others with an absurd intensity. We are ready to destroy the holders of opposing ones and even to kill or die in the process.

One of the most prominent concepts is the insane and never satisfied desire to own more and more. It became a destructive social disease, the root of a multitude of personal and social problems. To own tangible property or even concepts produces some form of insane pleasure. When it comes to ownership of money, houses, cars, etc., the gap between rich and poor continually widens. The original altruism, cooperation and awareness of interconnectivity are gone. 

Another destructive concept is a desire to dominate others. As a result of both ownership and domination, the social structure became stratified, which means that some segments of society are considered superior to others. Stratification is equivalent to a popular but less precise expression class structure. Its manifestations are apparent when it comes to politics, money, social position etc. but often, it takes less obvious forms. For example, for several years among the middle class, there is the growing popularity of SUV, which means “sport utility vehicle.” Why, obviously not because their owners are going to traverse mountains or desserts and or carry a heavy load. Simply because the owner of huge black Porsche Cayenne Turbo (cost at least €124,000) feels much better than others driving small, inexpensive Renault Twingo (less than €10,000).

As one of the results of this situation, the less privileged often rebel against being dominated. Most often, it results in violence, creating confusion and destruction, and though sometimes it produces real changes.

I could continue listing numerous ills of our personal and social reality, showing that each one directly or not, comes from the above two key ones: desire to own and to dominate, but I hope that reader can fill the gaps on its own. 

I would like to point out that the view that possessiveness (desire to own) and aggression (desire to dominate) as the root of all evil, is not my invention. Already over 2,500 years ago, the great sage Buddha Shakyamuni stated that. He also added that the source of both, the third one, is ignorance. He called them together three poisons. 

Though it was not explicitly spelled (since all information is based only on oral tradition), Buddha seems to suggest that the three poisons are an inherent quality of the human mind. However, with that assertion, I respectfully disagree. In the following section, I will try to show that these “poisons” are not the innate qualities but that they arose as the result of a specific, well known, historical situation. The process of formation and increase of both desire to possess and to dominate began relatively recently about 8,000 – 5,000 years ago. In comparison, humanity and its wisdom continued uninterrupted until this time for at least 100,000 years. 

Historical background of the decline of wisdom

The many aspects of wisdom that served humanity for hundreds of thousands of years are hardly present now. Otherwise, we would not get into our current dangerous world situation. 

It is quite puzzling because humanity has not undergone any genetic mutation nor climatic changes, which could explain this fact. It indicates that the reasons for this decline of human wisdom came from specific social phenomena.

Below, we will present a theory that explains this situation. To do it, we have to look far back into human prehistory. During the earliest period of human existence, called Paleolith, the people, called hunters/gatherers, formed small groups around 20 – 30 members who jointly worked on their survival and progress. The majority of archaeological researchers view these groups as matrilineal, extended families because of the specific genetic characteristics of their remains. 

In such a group, no traces of domination of one individual over others were detected. It would not make sense, because the members were aware that solving problems and making decisions together is superior to leaving them to an individual. Such structure was the first “social revolution” because, in the social system of their direct predecessors, the big apes (with the single exception of bonobos) was fiercely patriarchal. Such formation called egalitarianism, where there is no superiority based on position or gender was the greatest accomplishment of Homo Sapiens.

Another critically important aspect of early humans life was altruistic cooperation. Without it, their surviving would become questionable because their accomplishments in technology and art required organized collaboration, which extended from one generation to another to which their achievements were passed. 

In contrast to Neanderthals, they developed specialization of social functions within each group. In essence, women were to gather edible plants and taking care of their infants, while men were hunting and protecting the group from external dangers of animals or, in relatively rare occasions, members of other tribes. The care of older children was left to grandmothers.

This format continued in the early Neolithic period when one of the most significant accomplishments of humanity the agriculture became a reality. For a while, the egalitarian social structure was maintained. Collected crops were stored communally in special buildings, and every member of the tribe could use it as much as needed.  

But soon, a completely new social phenomenon aroused: private property of land and collected crops. It has happened, depending on location, around 9,000 to 5,000 years ago. However, some cultures like Trypillia – Cucuteni, continued combining their agricultural character with an egalitarian structure.   

Nevertheless, together with increasing efficiency cultivation of the land, the majority of the agricultural societies abandoned egalitarianism, and a new phenomenon emerged: the cities. Some of them reached a massive size; for example, in the Indus valley city called Harappa had over 23,000 inhabitants. Of course, in such large agglomerations, collective decision making became impossible, so there emerged a hierarchy of leaders/administrators. At this point, egalitarianism was on its way out and became replaced by the regime of domination of leaders. But still, the equal social status of men and women has been maintained, and the cult femininity continued.

Agriculture was not only a new source of change. Around 6,000 -5,000 years ago emerged another form of a social structure called pastoralism. where a tribe owned large herds of domesticated animals such as cows, sheep or goats. Such societies, usually continued earlier nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place where their animals could find food. 

For some reason, they abandoned their original social order, the egalitarian matrilineality, where both men and women were equal. In the pastoralism, this tradition abruptly and, most likely violently, has been changed: men became superior over women. At that point, patriarchate became a new reality.

As a result of all of that, both newly emerged societies of agriculturalists and pastoralists embraced the idea of private property and gender as the base of social hierarchy. 

It is difficult for us to imagine the resulting changes to human consciousness, both social and individual. After at least 100,000 years of egalitarianism, those who owned more became superior and “better” than those who owned less or nothing. The same applied to the relation between sexes. Consequently, the hierarchy based on ownership and gender became a reality that continues with minor alteration until now.

Soon after, humanity discovered the technology of smelting of bronze, which was much harder than copper. It could be used for producing tools to kill not only animals but also other humans. This accomplishment was instrumental to arising of a new, the most horrific phenomenon in human history: wars. Until about 5,000 years ago, wars were entirely unknown. The conflicts between hunter/gatherers tribes were rare and fast ending, though there evidence of massacres of one tribe by another. The explanation of the lack of wars is simple: there were no systemic nor economic reasons for them. 

The existence of private property of land and animals and growing prosperity due to the increasing efficiency of agriculture and animal husbandry changed the situation profoundly and irreversibly. The pastoralist tribes, which were already warring with each other for the pasture land for their animals, were prone to aggress the agriculturalists to acquire their riches. As a result, they were slaughtering and enslaved the conquered population. The slaves were a valuable commodity and used to work for the new masters. This way, the new world order complemented the patriarchy: the slavery which persisted until fairly recently. Finally, the majority of the oldest cultures, like Summer or Indus Valley city-states, were destroyed. 

A new important and often the most dominant class has been formed: the warriors. To attack or defend, the armies of warriors needed proper warrior-leaders who soon became equally or sometimes more important than the rich. Often those two superior classes merged, creating the unique hierarchy. As a result of this development, vast kingdoms and empires have been created all over the world: in Egypt, China, India, South America and Mesopotamia.

At the same time, another phenomenon took place, namely the emergence of new religions, which had an enormous influence on human society. They replaced the older ones: animalism and cult of feminity, which have not to interfere with the egalitarian social structure.  These new religions were usually polytheistic, with one single exception of a monotheistic one: Judaism, whose origin was relatively humble: it was merely a religion of one on many Semitic tribes. 

The beliefs propagated by religions were as a rule patriarchal supporting the social domination of man. All of them were hierarchical, placing gods or God above humankind, which was usually portrayed as faulty and disobedient. The extremes of this view were present in Judaism, where humans have to be consistently punished because they transgress rules imposed on them by the priests. Another strongly hierarchical religion is Hinduism, where this principle is enshrined not only in mythology but also in the social caste system. In China, where religion and philosophy are fused into Confucianism, the concept of hierarchy lies at its core.

These well-organized religions required appropriate management, which was (and is) provided by a new class: priests. They were usually better educated than the rest of society and knew how to read and write. That gave them a significant advantage as an authority, and even leaders generally do not dare to disagree with them because, as the enforcers, they were quite ruthless.

We could continue the description of the emergence of political and economic stratification introducing more detailed arguments. However, it seems that what is presented is sufficient to conclude that human wisdom has been replaced. by the web beliefs rooted in greed and aggression, and that it was caused by concrete historical situations. Hopefully, it is enough to debunk the harmful but widespread “propaganda,” saying that humanity is inherently faulty and deserves to be ruled by a chosen few. 

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