The Ascent of Humanity / Charles Eisenstein

Sample from:

The ancestors were actual people not magical beings.

The Ascent of Humanity is about the history and future of civilization from a unique perspective: the evolution of the human sense of self. The book can be read online.

by Charles Eisenstein

No, I haven’t read the full book, just Chapter II, “The Origins of Separation,” but will get to it soon…soon….

Along with the gradual shift to agriculture came a transformation in human attitudes toward nature. Hunting accords with a view of other animals as equals. After all, nature works that way—some eat and some are eaten—and the human hunter is doing nothing different from animal hunters. Domestication imposes a hierarchy onto the interspecies relationship, as man becomes lord and master of the animals. Understandably, this relationship is then projected onto the whole of nature, which becomes in its entirety the object of domestication and control. Yet we must also consider that the innovation of animal domestication could perhaps not have happened in the first place unless nature were first objectified conceptually. The solution to this chicken-and-egg problem lies in the embryonic self-other separation embodied in all life forms, going back to prehuman times. Domestication merely represents its crystallization into a new phase: a slow-motion gestalt which also included all the other elements of separation detailed in the foregoing sections.

The farmer’s new relationship with nature engendered a new conception of the divine. As agriculture and other technology removed humans from nature, so also did the gods become supernatural rather than natural beings. The process was a gradual one, starting with ancient pantheons closely identified with natural forces. Gradually, identity evolved into rulership as the gods were abstracted out of nature, eventually resulting in the Newtonian watchmaker God completely separate from the earthly (the natural) realm. At the same time, as we lost touch with nature’s harmonies and cycles, the gods took on the capricious character exemplified by the Greek pantheon and the Old Testament. Accordingly, the gods must be propitiated, kept happy through the offering of sacrifices, a practice found in most ancient farming and herding cultures but not among hunters.

The angry God that arose in early civilizations is also linked to the concept of good and evil and the concept of sin. The corn is good, the weeds are bad. The bees are good, the locusts bad. The sheep are good, the wolves bad. Technology overcomes nature by promoting the good and controlling the bad. As for nature, so also for human nature. The self is divided into two parts, a good part and a bad part, the latter of which we overcome with the controlling technologies of culture.

Whereas hunter-gatherers could easily adapt to all the vicissitudes of the local climate, farmers were at the mercy of drought, hail, locusts, and other threats to a successful harvest. While the resources of hunter-gatherers were virtually unlimited and their population fairly stable, agricultural civilizations experienced famines, epidemics, and wars that decimated whole populations and defied any attempt at prevention. Here was a source of constant, inescapable anxiety woven into the fabric of life itself—no matter how successful this year’s harvest, what of next year?—as well as a motivation for the increased understanding and control represented, respectively, in science and technology. Scarcity and the threat of scarcity is implicit in the attempted mastery of nature. Jockeying for position in the face of scarcity, we endure an endlessly intensifying competitiveness that is built into our system of money, our understanding of biology, and our assumptions about human nature.


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