LifeCycle – As seen in History
— March 25, 2014
Humans as a species evolved into existence a million years ago. From the initial existence as hunter-gatherers, we as a species developed civilizations. Man’s discovery of agriculture 25,000 years ago proved to be a turning point in our history as historian and author Jared Diamond describes in his classic work “The Third Chimpanzee”
We as a species have spent most of our time on this planet as hunter-gatherers and relatively less time as social beings. The nature and habits we formed during the pre-historic age has lasting influence on us. As Will Durant suggests in his book “Lessons of History” “Civilization is a delicate balance between animal instincts and social instincts”.
Life during pre-historic age was a struggle for survival. There was intense competition for food among individuals within a species and between species. There was constant threat of predators and rivalry for breeding. homo sapiens started adapting to their environment and changed over time from their ancestors. The discovery of agriculture freed man from starvation ( for some time ) but forced him to live in peaceful coexistence with other individuals of his species.Agriculture is considered the foundation on which societies were built, which in turn helped us build civilizations.
Though human beings adopted to their new environment of peaceful coexistence, they could never over- come the animal instinct developed or may be coded in their DNA over hundreds and thousands of years as hunters-gatherers and millions of years as other forms of animal existence, which is by nature individualistic. Hence history is a story of a constant struggle between man’s animal instincts and social instincts.
Men developed institutions, religions and armies to enforce moral code, rules and regulations, which helped in protecting societies from animal instincts of men.However history is proof to the fact that we could never get over our animal instincts. Wars, theft, adultery , oppression, slavery are all symptoms of this eternal struggle between man’s two instincts. In his book “Lessons of History” author Will Durant provides a list of contradicting qualities or nature of men. This he categorizes into individual and social instincts. i.e. one that is conducive for society and the other good for the individual.
- Action and Sleep
- Fight and Flight
- Mating and Refusal
- Acquisition and Avoidance
- Association and Privacy
- Parental care and Freedom from responsibility
As we might observe there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these qualities, but one is good for the society and the other is good for the individual. As the popular indian mythological character “Krishna” proclaims in the indian epic “Mahabharata” written by Veda Vyasa. “There is nothing Good or Bad in this world.. rather world is a continuous cycle of cause and effect”
Veda Vyasa through Krishna has distilled human existence into a simple but profound statement. Human history for past several thousand years is a continuous cycle between multiple forces due to many causes producing various effects. Civilization is man’s endeavor to balance these forces to his advantage. Author Will Durant describes few of these competing forces in his books “Lessons of History”
- Order and Liberty
- Paganism and Puritanism
- Equality and Concentration of wealth and power
- Growth and Decay
- Peace and War
History is filled with periods where one of these forces was dominant only to be replaced by the counteracting force, in that sense we have not changed much. We have only changed the means in which these forces manifest themselves.
This brings us to the painful question. Is our existence meaningless, is it a continuous yet mindless cycle of creation and distraction of one order by other. From Monarchy to Democracy and back to Monarchy, from strict order of morals and religion to a laxity of morals and scientific progress only to be replaced by yet another religion and strict moral code. Has human kind made progress ?
The answer is “It Depends”. It Depends on how we define progress. If we define progress as “Attainment of Happiness” then the answer will be “May Be” or “May Be Not” as it’s hard to measure happiness of living and impossible to confidently measure that of dead.
If we define progress in terms of standard of living, child mortality, availability of food , breeding opportunity and better governance for the society – we have made tremendous progress. But these are elemental aspects of life and mankind has moved beyond animals in the basic aspects of life a long time back.
As Will Durant has eloquently started the progress of humanity is in the fact that we are able to provide a better pedestal built on the foundation of rich heritage and technology to each generation so that they can carry forward “The Quest” of humanity.
In the end whether man wins over universe or the universe wins over him, it’s the man who emerges as the victor because he is the one who knows “who he is”
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