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Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Short History of Human Civilization

200,000 years pass the first modern humans evolved in Africa, this is the Adam and Eve version, a competing theory has anatomically modern humans evolving across multiple regions and then biologically converging. In either case we started in Africa and then walked out of the African paradise, eventually covering 99% of the earth’s land mass, and replacing all other human variants. Cross breeding with some, such as the Neanderthals, while utterly destroying others.
We were roving bands of closely related peoples, living by hunting and gathering, never staying in any one place for long. Technology advanced slowly over eons, we discovered fire, learned to shape stone into arrow points and refined our taste for meat. Two opposite visions of this period in Human history are best expressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s view of free, proud and environmentally balanced people, decrying “the first man who, having fenced a piece of land and said this mine…” versus Thomas Hobbes’s declaration that the natural state of man is war. Whichever proposition you adopt, life was hard, short and unforgiving, death always close. Death by beast, death by our fellow man, death from an infected scratch, death by starvation, painful death was common while living was an unending struggle. Our Hunter/Gatherer fore fathers asked, “Why is life so hard?”
About 10 or 12 thousand years pass we developed agriculture, a mixed blessing, agriculture allowed for settlement and cities, specialization and trade. For the common man life was hard, short and unforgiving. Living in large population centers introduced diseases and epidemics to the long list of painful ways to die, technological and social change too slow to be noted within a single generation. Even for the nobility life could be traumatic, many Kings wrote of the sorry of life, lamenting that it would have been better had they never been born. Both the farmers and the nobility asked, “Why is life so hard?”
About 4 or 5 centuries pass we discovered the scientific principle, allowing for exponentially increasing technology and rapid social change. The understanding of physics and chemistry married advanced financial theories (Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”), to create the industrial revolution. Death still stalked mankind. In the early 1800s a peasant could join one of Europe’s great armies, march into a killing field, and consider the whole situation and improvement over life back at the manor. At least he had a fair chance of steady meals and a warm sleeping space. These soldiers and scientist asked, “Why is life so hard?”
Today we live in an age with great affluence, but still, even in America 1 in 5 children suffer malnutrition, people die from treatable diseases, and homeless live in small enclaves behind shopping malls. For all our talk of exceptionalism and great wealth, a single visit to your local slum will disabuse these ideas. Only a very small number of countries have balanced their desired quality of life, with their available resources. Still we must ask, “Why is life so hard?”
This is the central question that religion seeks to answer. Both Buda and Jesus struggled with this question. No religious institution has ever answered this question, instead they have settled for framing a larger reality that allows for everlasting happiness or attainment of a personal balance. Western religion has the higher reality being linear with a beginning and with an end, while the Eastern religions have the higher reality being circular with no endings or beginnings. These solutions are much more emotionally satisfying than the preceding belief systems of the Persians, Egyptians or Greeks. For many in modern advanced nations these millennial old solutions have been found wanting, and we still ask, “Why is life so hard?”
 As teenagers we first ask, “Why does life suck?” We typically start a search for some answer, this is when I started reading Greek mythology and Viking stories, studied Buddhism and wandered into some of the hapless hippie fantasies, studied Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes and Kant, read Dostoyevsky, Vonnegut, Sartre and Robert Howard (Created Conan the barbarian). I talked with religious ministers dedicated to their personal well being, while using time tested allegories to collect tithes, visited communities that allowed no questions, walked ideologies requiring suspension of observable reality.  I was well beyond my teen years before I completed even the first pass through this landscape. I adopted some Greek Stoicism (Be judged by what you do) mixed in a little Buddhism (suffering exist and is inevitable) and then topped with a touch of Deism (an inactive God).
This mishmash of concepts has helped me through near death incidents, appalling personal failures and bitter emotional disputes. Life sucks, deal with it.

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