Every so often I’ll be sharing what I’ve been reading and thinking about. Today, it’s Greg Braden’s fascinating 2011 book DEEP TRUTH
Braden’s book presents six “deep truths,” that is, truths that will “radically change the way we’ve been led to think about our world and ourselves ” (DEEP TRUTHS, page xvii).
Braden claims that these six truths are the most important considerations we have to face as we deal with the crises that surround us today.
Those six ideas demand a new structure in how we look at the world, and science, and especially our past as a species.
Two points that Braden stressed struck me in particular as being critical to understanding who we are and where we’re going.
Our history is cyclical, not linear, in cycles of about 5125 years.
Within each cycle, progress is more or less linear (though obviously we’ve had severe setbacks with the fall of Rome and the Middle Ages), but overall, we start a do-over phase about every 5125 years. We’re in that transition-to-a-new-do-over part right now.
As a species, we are not fundamentally warlike or competitive.
Our species has existed for about 200,000 years, virtually unchanged, and there is exactly zero scientific evidence for any large-scale conflict among humans prior to the rise of this cycle with the Sumerians around 3100 to 3200 BCE.
What little evidence we have of civilizations from around 10,000 years ago (for example Gobekli Tepi and others), shows not a single sign of large-scale use of weapons, bodies with battle damage, defensive constructions or any other signs that conflict existed in any significant scale.
I have to admit that the second point surprised me enormously. Really? We’re not the competitive, in your face, grabby, me-me-me beings we seem to be?
Yet, if Braden’s data is correct–and he carefully documents it with abundant scientific data and papers–while this cycle has been dominated by competition and scarcity, prior cycles were not. Prior cycles appear to have been identified by cooperation, not competition.
More than that, the prior cycles constitute 195,000 years (give or take) of our species’ 200,000-year existence, while competitive, warlike behavior represents only the most recent 5,000 years.
That means that 97.5% of our species’ existence appears to have been cooperative and peaceful, and only the most recent 2.5% is warlike.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
I don’t know if I can imagine H. sapiens as a peaceful, non-competitive species, particularly in very large groups. On the other hand, in small groups, and individually, people can be, and generally are, kind, generous, giving, and caring.
Furthermore, if common scientific belief is correct (and it may well not be correct), it’s entirely possible that one reason earlier cycles were peaceful and non-competitive is because there were so darned few people. In other words, resources were plentiful, so there was no need to be grabby about them.
On the other hand…if there were so few people in the entire world, how do we explain Gobekli Tepi? Or that vast, now-underwater city offshore in India that had to have been a true metropolis, ranging over more than 10 square miles? Or the Incan metropolis found in southern Peru of the same era? All those sites, from three continents, date from a minimum of 10,000 or 11,000 years ago.
Furthermore, that underwater city is about 20% of the size of Washington DC’s physical area, a city that has nearly 700,000 people living in it. Does that imply that the Indian underwater city might have had up to 150,000 people living there? That is a substantial population by anyone’s measure.
Furthermore, building these sites required large populations, not just in workers, but in all the support services for those workers to feed, clothe, and house them, deal with their medical issues, organize them, educate and look after the children, and do all those other daily living tasks.
That meant there had to be plenty of people to start causing power-grabs and competition. Yet those cities have no perceptible defensive constructs (moats, walls, ramparts, etc.), nor do bones of people of that era show any significant weapon-caused wounds.
And there’s another issue to consider. If you’ve ever seen the documentary series “Life Without People” or read the book THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Alan Weisman, you’ll know that in much less than 10,000 years without people actively maintaining human constructs, the fact of our existence will quite literally be wiped off the map. There are likely to be no surviving artifacts at all to show we were ever here–not even the Hoover Dam or the Great Wall of China.
And that’s without an intervening ice age or four grinding things into dust.
In other words, who knows how many humans lived during and between prior ice ages? There could have been millions–even billions–of humans around, and we might well never know it because all traces of their existence have been lost–except in legends of earlier, more golden ages.
Look at what we’ve accomplished in the 5000 years since Sumeria. The interglacial periods of the past typically lasted for at least twice that long. There could have been another high-technology civilization–and we might never see any sign of it because time and the intervening ice ages could have erased it all.
Except, perhaps, in the lore of the time when men were different, living in a golden age long, long ago.
Perhaps we are the barbarians. Smart, clever with tools, but reduced to a barbarism that is both horrifying and unheard of in earlier civilizations.
Still…I don’t know if I can imagine people being fundamentally cooperative instead of competitive. Can you?
What do you all think? Is H. sapiens fundamentally good? Did we just make the wrong choices at the end of the last cycle?