A Sapient Society - Reflections

SUBHEAD: The utopian ideal of the tribal organization.

By George Mobus on 3 June 2009 in Question Everything -

Image above: Gathering of regulars at the Great Blue Heron Festival. A kind of tribe. Photo by Juan Wilson 7/1/2004. Visit (http://www.greatblueheron.com)

On Monday I posted a wild idea for a sapient society, actually a sort of architectural framework for how a society of any scale might be functionally organized to reflect a human-centered yet Ecos-balanced approach to living. At the time I thought this was sort of radical, but then on reflection I realized that this organization is exactly what we evolved in the first place! Ancient tribes of humans had something of this architecture in their structure.

The core has always been the collective knowledge of generations and the wisdom of the elders. Certain individuals performed duties of governance, education, communications, etc. And most everybody participated in the operational functions of living, collecting food, wood, constructing shelters, etc. In other words, we humans have always been constructed to work in social structures like this.

Large (120-150 people) or small (20-30 people), tribes have been the social and cultural context for human evolution for a really long time. We just kind of screwed up when agriculture allowed us to start modifying this basic plan and growing our social units beyond a comfortable size. No one was to blame really. It wasn't anyone's fault that we didn't have the foresight to see the kind of problems that would emerge from restructuring our normal social organization in order to more efficiently accommodate the needs of a farming life. We are, after all, adaptive.

Agriculture put emphasis on a different set of skills from tribal living. The knowledge core (my university of noesis) had to become much more focused on specialization. Schools and trade guilds were invented to fulfill the disciplinarian role of education, to make specialists for efficiency purposes.

The stored knowledge and wisdom became oriented toward seasonal time scales. Governance started to rely more heavily on a top-down autocratic kind of command and control rather than guidance. What was missing was knowledge about ourselves, about our humanness. Early civilization was built on the best guesses anyone could make about how to best organize.

All of these civilizations were 'self-organizing' with whatever knowledge of human nature seemed available. And, too, don't forget that a lot of causal explanation for human nature and the way the world worked was based on the belief in unseen spirits and gods. Let's face it, we were pretty ignorant about an awful lot having to do with our own natures. What developed was a kluge of organization, a Rube Goldberg design working with the best tools we had at the time. That included slavery and war. That included giving in to materialism (remember we evolved in an environment of scarcity, so when technology started producing plenty we got greedy) and creating unnecessary opulence.

We created kings and priests and generals and overlords. Deep in the human psyche we have always had the desire to organize for mutual support and cooperation. All of our failed and semi-successful attempts to set up commerce and a polity have, at root, been attempts to embody the utopian ideal of the tribal organization. Things just got too big and too complicated before we really understood. All of our 'isms' and 'ists' are nothing more than groping, sometimes desperate, searches for the way back to humanity. Socialism isn't bad. Capitalism isn't bad.

Even fascism isn't inherently bad in the sense that it seeks organization around a 'knowledge' core. The problem with all of them is that those cores (state control, free markets, and their various combinations with a 'ruling class') were not based on wisdom and knowledge/understanding of the larger meaning of human existence. The state was created in a vain attempt to support the individuals but ended up turning humans into machines and instruments. I'm not calling for anything really new in the 'new social order'.

I'm calling for something very old, very primordial in human consciousness. The only thing new is a better (though hardly complete) understanding of what it means to be human. We now understand that we are not angels or separate from nature, but an integral part of the grand evolutionary story. We're just part of the latest chapter. And we have our faults and foibles as cognitive creatures just as any species has its weaknesses when it comes to natural selection. We now know that we screwed up when we put wisdom on the back burner in favor of material wealth. But we also know we did it out of ignorance and can forgive ourselves. That is, we can forgive ourselves if we have learned anything from our mistakes and resolve to correct those mistakes. That is almost certainly the only way we will win forgiveness from nature.
Can we devise new tribes? Can we organize new social arrangements along the lines I've outlined? Are there among us those who can live human lives recognizing a core of wisdom and knowledge and understanding as the organizing principle? Can we begin, in some small ways to recapture our humanity without giving up appropriate technology (like communications)? Or am I still just a dreamer of utopia? see also: Island Breath: A Sapient Society 6/3/09

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

What amazes me the most is that we think that our society of madmen is OK but human organization of society, a sapient society, is utopia, impossible dream ect.

We must look for the grounds not only look at the consequences (which are Obama, multinational companies, governments). The root of problems is in human relationships of ordinary people i.e. in what way life is organized in masses. Ordinary people live for their families and for well-being of their families they steal, kill, and deceive for the sake of their families. Everyone is ready for anything such as deceiving, stealing, and trickery for well-being of their families. There is war in society between people for survival (for the place under the sun for more capable) not human relationships of building and cooperation. War is animal relationships of competition and mutual destruction.

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