Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -2

"Don't think we are that much better or different than our ancestors 2000 years ago."

There are two very common scenarios of which we all have experience.  In the first, older people all like to think fondly of the golden ages they were part of when talking (down) to the newer generations: son, when I was of your age, I didn't have to worry about this and that, or we played baseball like this and that, which was much better than what you are doing now.  In reality, most of it is vanity, and, even if true, irrelevant.  In the other, the younger people always view the old times and old timers as dinosaurs, at most revered in an abstract sense, but never want to live in their eras, because ours is that much better.

The societies we are living in, i.e., modern societies, are certainly very different from the ones hundreds or thousands of years ago.  In many parts of this planet people have much better access to food and shelter, are living longer and traveling faster and farther.  An average college student knows much more about the universe than Issac Newton.  Morality also evolves, so if Winston Churchill had used chemical weapons in 2012 instead of ninety years ago, he would likely have not become the PM of GB.

But are modern societies really better than the "primitive" ones?  How do we define "better"?

The null hypothesis is that there are no significant differences, as everybody is the product of his times, and we have simply substituted old and severe problems with new and severe problems.

It is easy to find aspects of our life more favorable than before, but one needs to think harder to find things that have not changed for the better, and they tend to be the most important to the human race.  Degrading environment.  Still endless fighting and the threat of wars, with much more destructive weapons.  Ruling class more skillful at manipulation to keep the powerless populace at bay.  We owe our better lives much more to scientific and technological advances than to apt governance.  

In a sense, this is entirely expected.  A few thousand years won't make much dent in our genes.  At the societal level, a horde has always been ruled or controlled by a small number of elites.  Unless one or both of these situations change, the society will see only cosmetic evolution.

No person, society, or country should view the current way of life as the best or ultimate human experience.  Because ten thousand years later humans might think the 20-21st centuries as barbaric and primitive.  And they are likely right.

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