We are amidst an era of drastic changes: Revolutions and extremism in the Middle East, turmoil at home, pending ecological catastrophe. Revolution is inevitable. We can participate as trailblazers, or we can be left in the dust of others. Trailblazing is no easy task.
Today, we are witnessing a massive increase in information technologies; it only makes sense we are finding ourselves in the political climate that we are in. Technology and ideology almost always develop together. To demonstrate this, we will be taking a deep historical and anthropological look at the development of human society.
With any drastic change in one’s technological environment, one can expect changes also in the social environment. Technologies greatly affect our agency and abilities, both as individuals and as communities. In fact, some, such as Gerhard Lenski and Patrick Nolan, authors of Human Societies, go as far as to suggest that subsistence technologies—those technologies that are used to produce food— are likely the most crucial component to societal change. They suggest that even ideologies are largely expressions of a society’s technological culture. Gerhard Lenski and Patrick Nolan, in Human Societies, and other works, propose a model of human evolution called ecological-evolutionary theory. The idea behind the ecological-evolutionary theory is that people are connected geographically and ecologically to the lands they inhabit, which both limit and provide opportunities of the inhabitants. The opportunities provided by the land lead to differences in human cultures and the technologies they produce. Of the most important factors in human societal evolution, Lenski and Nolan place subsistence technologies. Subsistence technologies are those technologies that are used in the production of food.
Previous changes in modes of subsistence technology marked transitions in previous societies to different manners of relation. The change from hunting and gathering to horticulture, from horticulture to agriculture, and from agriculture to industrial society all came with drastic changes in the cultural climate. For instance, slaves are not to be found amongst hunter-gatherers, but are plentiful in horticultural societies. Agricultural societies make use primarily of serfs. In industrial societies, we have workers.
The relationship of workers to their employers and tenants to their landlords is not so different from the relationship of the serf or peasant to their count or duke. The main difference between workers and peasants is that peasants were tied to the land, and could not choose a new employer and landlord, a right that we exercise as workers today.
I’m not convinced that we have reached the pinnacle of social evolution, however. The transition from agricultural feudalism to republican capitalism was a liberatory moment in history. Today, as workers, we have many privileges that we would not have had as peasants. Still, we are not free. We may be able to choose our landlords, our employers, and others to make decisions for us, but deciding for ourselves is greatly limited in this society. Still we have bosses and landlords, who reap from workers profits and from tenants rent, and a strong creditor class, who takes from the lot of us interest upon loans in which they share in little to no risk. We have a right to choose our masters, but we have no right to master ourselves. For this reason, if no other, the forward motion of societal evolution must continue. As Gerhard Lenski and Patrick Nolan point out, however, societal change is dependent on technological development. This being the case, I’d like to take us through the evolution of society, and technologies corollary relationship to ethics.
Early humans, such as the Cro-Mags, and others before the development of civilization, lived the lives primarily of hunter-gatherers. That is, early people, who had a similar mental capacity to us today, and share our genomic structure, lived like many wild animals do now, foraging in the woods for food, and hunting primarily for small game and insects. They had no permanent places to live, being nomadic
Hunter-gathering people utilized the efforts of the small family band or clan in foraging for food, and were fairly self-dependent. They didn’t invest in their future, but simply took what was offered by nature. This meant that family members were the sole source of value in the community. Family relied on one another, and nothing else, for subsistence. Individuals in the family had a direct connection to one another, and families had direct connections to nature. This meant that families made decisions together, and that they worshipped nature, as animists. Small band societies such as found amongst late hunter-gathering people and early horticulturalists would often loosely cooperate amongst one another, mostly (but probably not consciously) for the sake of preserving genetic diversity in the group and exchanging technologies. They would often meet up to have orgies or exchange wedding partners. This was often accompanied by loose gifting and barter exchanges of tools or jewelry. It was sometimes accompanied by tension and violence.
Wolves, who are scavengers, would follow these hunting and foraging people around, eating their trash. The wolves co-evolved with people, and probably pre-human hominids, for a great deal of time. The origins of the domesticated dog are hazy: Some suggest co-evolution continued to such a point that dogs evolved alongside society, and were later domesticated; and others suggest that they evolved after wolves were kept in captivity.
Sometime before or alongside the early horticultural era, herding societies and pastoralism developed. In other words, some of the late hunting and gathering peoples and some of the early, still nomadic, horticultural peoples, learned to raise animals, such as goats and sheep, which they could take with them on their nomadic convoys. The dogs they had previously co-evolved with aided them greatly in herding and protecting their flocks.
Late foraging peoples eventually learned to settle down. Most likely, nomadic peoples learned the role that seeds played, and would take their favorites along with them on their journeys, planting them along their favorite paths. Many of these became semi-adapted, an early effort of what today is called artificial selection, the human determination of their own genetic environment. These late foragers learned to settle down for short periods of time, building temporary shelters. They started to tend to wild orchards. They would dig gardens with sticks, and plant their favorite foods in them, such as leafy green vegetables, beans, and tubers. The use of the stick for planting gardens allowed communities to establish themselves for longer periods of time, and to gain some degree of leisure that they otherwise did not have. This marked the shift from hunting and gathering to horticultural people. Horticultural people grow forest orchards or small gardens of vegetables, and dig those gardens with sticks. The leisure produced by horticulture ensured that the horticultural era would not last as long as the hunting and gathering one. Leisure, as Lenski and Nolan point out, leads to innovation, and innovation eventually leads to new subsistence technologies.
Horticultural people, who depended on gardens for their standard of living, saw the first mass departure from total concern from the group. With the rise in population that horticulture allowed, and with some joining of bands, multi-family clans developed. Horticulture and extended relations meant that family efforts played a larger role in the outcomes of food production. Before horticulture, humans were biologically adapted to family cooperation; horticulture marked the first time that technology could really begin to evolve faster than human biology. That is, technology is an expression of our culture, and our culture evolves faster than our bodies do. Because of this, horticultural families were not biologically adapted to cooperate with one another in large tribes. Hunting and gathering families regulate conflict by way of gossip, which is a biological function of our species, but horticultural families began to grow to a point past Dunbar’s number (the number of people a person can keep track of), which meant that gossip was not enough to regulate conflicts. Horticultural families, however, unregulated by gossip, and with mixed loyalties, would take advantage of one another. This shifted some of the importance of the community at large to the importance of family, and their commonly held gardens. Instead of simple gossip, norms of possession started to become enforced, and absolute sharing between families started to decline. Families were still united into clans, tribes, and later nations, however, even if they were not as solidified as the previous band societies of extended family, as hunter-gatherers had had. At times these clans, tribes, or nations would war with one another, sometimes taking slaves or wives.
With the shift to horticulture also came massive shifts in the ideological climate. The horticulturalists were largely polytheists, who believed in a great number of different gods and goddesses, representing their differing and conflicting values. These gods and goddesses were largely metaphors used to present their arguments or to explain highly-generalized natural phenomena, such as the changing of seasons, which horticulturalists had to pay much attention to. Many of these gods represented stars, natural cycles, or fertility. The political unit of horticulturalists seems to tend toward some form of oligarchy, with the male warriors, shamans, and sometimes councils of elderly women, and rarely the whole clan, making the bulk of political decisions over the younger, non-warring, and slave classes of their societies. It’s important to note that hunting and gathering people rarely had any stratification in their society, but that this originated in later horticultural societies, in the form of slavery.
Other societies, using differing means of subsistence, existed alongside the horticulturalists, often at odds with them.
Pastoralists from the Steppe regions— including groups such as the Kurgans, the Khazars, the Huns, the Mongols, and more—, who had taken to herding and hunting lifestyles, and who often made use of early horseback warfare, often attacked and established dominance over the horticultural peoples of the Fertile Crescent and Eurasia.
Maritime societies were horticultural societies that existed around waterways. They were often much more culturally developed than their dryland counterparts, and benefited greatly from trade and geographical advantages. Many maritime societies were highly egalitarian and libertarian in comparison to their late horticultural and early agricultural counterparts. Ancient Athens, for instance, is cited as the home of democracy, and the Papal States of the Italian Peninsula were often run as republican merchant communes; both were maritime societies. Maritime societies, due to their access to waterways, tended toward commerce and political equality.
The invention of the hoe marked the later end of horticulture. Those societies that practiced both horticulture and animal husbandry eventually learned to put some of their larger animals, such as the ox, to work in the fields. The invention of the plough, a tool pulled by animals to till the soil, marked the end of horticulture, and the beginning of agriculture. Agriculture was accompanied by wider use of grain and bean crops, and specialization of food production, allowing for professionals to develop, later becoming family castes. It is often attributed to the rise of patriarchy, because pregnant women can play a role in food production in horticultural societies—that is, pregnant women can sit in gardens and dig—, but they cannot as easily control the behavior of an ox pulling a plow. Many attribute late horticulture and early agriculture to the origins of civilization, when people could finally settle down into permanent settlements. Early horticultural people were still partially nomadic, but later horticulture and early agriculture was marked by permanent cities. The plow even greater increased the leisure time of people, and innovation became more rapid. Populations grew larger and larger, and more and more technology was created.
Agricultural societies saw the rise of the multinational state, composed of many previously warring nations of herders, hunters, and horticulturalists. There were many forces that allowed for the rise of the multinational empires. The invention of the plow, by integrated herding and horticultural societies, was of special importance. The invention of the plow further increased the division of labor in society, allowing many to become professionals with much time for leisure and innovation. Like all new subsistence technologies, the plow also allowed for population growth, which feeds into the positive loop of innovation and growth. Nations in late horticultural and early agricultural times that had particular geographic advantages over one another, and especially those that developed alongside seaways and became maritime societies, started to dominate the others. National leaders established themselves as imperial monarchs. The early, often priest-, kings of this time united pagan deities into one, as did Pharaoh Akhenaten of Egypt with Amun-Ra and Aten, and Zoroaster of Persia did under Ahura Mazda and Angra Manyu. The transition from polytheistic paganism to monotheism can be loosely traced from monolatry to henotheism to monotheism. The early Jews practiced monolatry, believing other gods to exist, but not to be worthy of worship. The Ancient Greeks and Hindus had many deities, but understood Zeus or Brahma to be the most supreme. Zoroastrianism is likewise henotheistic. Later, with the development of Catholicism and Islam, it was only permissible to recognize one God. Religions such as these, which united previously divided belief systems, allowed the newly established monarch to control masses of people. Where horticultural people were generally ruled by some form of oligarchy, such as a priest or warrior class, or councils of elders, agricultural people tended to be ruled by a single monarch. This was all fueled by the power that certain tribes had over others, due to maritime channels of trade or technological innovation, such as the plow. Agricultural societies were highly stratified, with most of their participants being peasants or serfs, a step up from slaves.
Late agriculture is marked by innovations such as gunpowder, and, from a Western perspective, especially by European interest in, and development of, it. This new technology shifted interest, in many ways, toward substances that could perform work.
Late agricultural societies developed from constantly warring multinational empires into industrial nation-states, which are much more concerned with maintaining their borders and calming ethnic divisions than they are with conquest (though they are certainly still concerned with conquest). Whereas agrarian multicultural empires were controlled by monarchs and their family heirs, and whose borders would constantly shift according to conquest, nation-states seem to be exactly the opposite, being republican and having much more consistent and long-term borders. There are some large reasons for this shift, among them political changes such as the Magna Carta, the plague, exploration into the East and into the Americas, the plague, the invention of guns, and eventually the use of steam, which dealt the death blow. Mercantile ideologies of republicanism had started to bleed into the Anglo-Saxon noble classes, who forced King John under the rule of law, as put forth under the Magna Carta, an important step toward Western democratization. The Crusades and the black plague had left many of the ruling classes dead, and their manors were claimed by the peasantry, who joined the mercantile and artisan classes. There was a great bit of mercantilization occurring at this time. Pirating became more common, and gunpowder was utilized by criminals in the distribution of wealth. The Americas and Australia had been discovered by sea, and had become frontiers societies, unable to be controlled as colonies of larger empires. Revolutions occurred, and mercantile political systems of republicanism were put into widespread use in nation-states. This marked a shift from technology-driven ideology to ideology-driven technology. In other words, it is here that ideology and innovation begin to play a dominant role in societal evolution, and begins to direct, rather than remain dependent on, technological development (this point is crucial). The Americans were freed shortly after the invention of the steam engine, and just before its core developments. Steam was especially put to work after the American Civil War. This allowed the federalist-industrialist North to free the chattel slaves of the Southern agrarian feudalists. Agriculture met its end with early industrialism, when coal and steam started to become of use in factory production. Animals became of lesser importance for work, and machines, such as trains and tractors, began to play the dominant role in food production and distribution. Industrial societies tend toward state capitalist economic systems and republicanism. They are also mostly associated with religious freedom or eclecticism, secular humanism, and agnosticism.
The lifestyle that we are used to living— a degree of freedom in religion, the republican political structures wherein we can vote for our decision-makers, and the capitalist economy wherein we have the right to choose our employer— is the result of technological innovations. Today, we are moving even more quickly into the new way of life that awaits us. We must remember that, as Lenski and Nolan point out, each development of subsistence technology—from the digging stick, to the plow, to fossil fuels— creates more leisure and population growth, which in turn creates more innovation. This speeds the development of society up considerably. Hunting and gathering was a long experience; horticulture lasted quite a while, but not that long; agriculture was not brief, but it was shorter still; and industrialism has been the shortest of them yet. As futurist, Ray Kurzweil, suggests, technological innovation increases in an exponential fashion. We should not be surprised that we are already approaching the later end of industrial society. In each transition of society— from hunter-gatherer, to horticultural, to agricultural, to industrial— there have been correlating massive shifts in ideological attitudes and cultural behaviors. The same will be true of our own time.
What is perhaps most important to recognize so far is twofold: Firstly, there is a strong correlation between subsistence technologies and societal evolution, and secondly, that this correlation has two arrows. The first arrow describes the tendency of societal evolution from hunter-gatherers to agricultural peoples, and the second from agriculturalism into our present day. The difference between these two arrows is that the first was a development away from the importance of community, and toward the importance of possessions. If you remember, hunter-gatherers have strong family units, but horticulturalism marked a shift away from that, and toward the protection of gardens between families. This tendency culminated in the late agricultural era, during the times of large empires and social domination on behalf of kings. It started to shift when mercantile idealism started to influence the newly propertied in Europe and the colonists and frontiers-folk of the Americas. For the first time, social power had begun to be distributed again, as it had been with hunter-gatherers, and ideas started to direct subsistence technologies, rather than the other way around. Still, the change has just begun, and there is much more to be done if social justice is to be accomplished, and we are to reach the convivial, post-industrial society. We can see the convivial society all around us, blossoming from the future. We are in the Spring era, and have yet to reach the summer.
Many suggest that we are already living in a post-industrial society, but I think that is jumping the gun. However, I do think there are many elements of post-industrialism that are creeping from the future into our present, including many of the information technologies currently in development. The new mode of subsistence technology seems to be moving toward a basis in information processing and proper energy management. A post-industrial convivial society will most likely be composed of smart technologies that utilize natural systems of energy, moving us away from dependence on fossil fuels and specialized management. Information technology may put an end to capitalism, without needing the help of government.
Current trends in social dynamics include the decentralization of capital, decisions, and information. Peer-run organizations, digital and physical, have become much more common. Wikipedia, IndieGoGo, Bitcoin, Uber, and many more technologies distribute decision-making and managing powers, as well as means of semi-self-employment. Information technology is taking over, it is unbundling services, getting people connected, and dispersing social power through user participation. Many of these services, and those with special potential to impact society, are informed by ideologies of the late industrial age, including socialism, anarchism, liberalism, and libertarianism. The Swiss service, Ethereum, clearly mixes an understanding of third way economics with cryptography. Using the blockchain technology invented with Bitcoin, this open-source program has the potential to change social governance, and governments may not be able to stop it.
In the age of information technology, ideology is beginning to play a role in the utility of technology. We are moving past scarcity, and toward abundance; our values have naturally flipped from quantitive materialistic ones toward qualitiative spiritual ones. In other words, information technology is much more oriented in the subjective preferences of the individual than merely producing large numbers of surplus goods. Information technologies allow user-interface and choice of provider; these are largely qualitative returns that may lead to secondary quantitive ones. Alongside more recent understandings of ecology and political economy in real life, such as permaculture, the cooperative movement, alternative currencies, and more, ideology-directed information technology has the potential to transition us into new paradigms. It will become especially important when it can play a role in underclass subsistence. We are not quite there, but we can get a glimpse of what the future conviviality will hold. Such a society will be the result of the trends toward user participation and the unbundling of services. Ideologies such as geo-mutualist panarchism and dualist pantheism will influence such a direction. Industrial society was carried in by influence of the works of Enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith. The project will be continued forward, if not by my own work, by works of a similar tendency. It is written in the waves of time.