Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Three Ages of Man – Repression, Freedom, and the End of Responsibility

One of my core beliefs is that human beings in society differentiate themselves by aptitude and intelligence. People have a strong desire to become self-actualized -- to control their lives and have the freedom to pursue whatever interests them. Man knows (or senses) that when he lives alone he cannot become self-actualized because he must spend all his time trying to survive, so he decides to live with others. But society can be repressive so man has fought for freedom throughout history – to get out from under repressive elements limiting his opportunities. Modern man, for the most part, has achieved that goal, although he must except the fact that freedom has its price and that price is responsibility. When a man has control over his life he must be responsible to himself and his family.

Since mankind appeared on the earth, he has separated himself from the other animals through the use of his highly developed brain. At first he had to compete with other hominids for supremacy, but by the end of the Paleolithic Era the competition was eliminated and Homo Sapiens stood as the sole surviving Human species.

During the Neolithic Period, man became a farmer and gave up the life of a nomad. He developed tools and lived in tribes of 150-2000. There was no real social or economic stratification in those primitive clans, although the accumulation of herds led to differences in wealth. At the dawn of the Bronze Age, man began to live in larger groups. Villages were formed and social stratification began. With stratification came repression. The wealthy used their power to control the poor. The poor had no rights, so those at the bottom of the economic scale became dependent on the wealthy. The average man was repressed socio-economically but remained responsible for his own life and the lives of his family.

We move on through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and the advent of complex societies and governments where both Athens and Rome provide us with examples of attempts to overcome inequality and repression through the creation of legal systems which would extend basic rights to all people. Still the people were repressed and governments continued to be controlled by wealthy aristocracies. When these classical governments failed, mankind endured a long winter of the Dark Ages lasting a thousand years. I characterize human society from the late Stone Age through the Renaissance as a repression society where the weak are controlled by the strong while individuals retained responsible for their own lives.

The renaissance caused a reawakening of the human spirit and a sense of the value of the individual in society. This new found power of the people led to the American and French Revolutions ushering in a new political age with legitimate rights held by the people and a real opportunity to control their government. I characterize this period in human society as the end of repression and the dawn of freedom. During this time people continued to maintain responsibility for their own lives.

Now we come to the third age of man in society: the end of personal responsibility. This is a time when freedom prevails but personal responsibility is dead. Beginning circa 1970 with the political indoctrination of projected responsibility, there followed a movement of human behavior toward this projection. I not sure of the origin of the former – possibly it was the creation of liberal academics, who were idealistic in believing that all those who needed help could be saved and that government was the savior. I label this projection because the indoctrinators were unconsciously denying the legitimacy of human responsibility.

What evidence do we have of this new age in action?

1. Murderers who were abused as children are now sympathetic figures.

2. The responsibility for human stupidity and negligence has been transferred to corporations. If I drive an ATV down a hill and break my neck, it’s the vehicle’s fault. If I stick my hand in the spinning blade of a lawnmower and get hurt it’s the manufacturer’s fault. If I eat packing materials and get sick it’s the fault of the shipper.

In the United States, the legal profession has become a major contributor to the death of responsibility. There is a daily drumbeat of commercials featuring attorneys looking for new clients to add to their victims list. There are so many lawyers they have to invent new ways to make money – sue McDonalds because its customers get fat, perhaps? Since we keep electing lawyers to Congress, we keep extending the umbrella they provide over the trial lawyers association, protecting its sources of income. So more lawyers means more law suits and more transfer of responsibility.

3. Politicians who break the law should be given a second chance, as long as their publicist is able to build a nice contrition story. They’re human and made a mistake, so we have to forgive.

4. Corporations are evil. They try to enslave their workers, and rob their customers.

5. If a person does not have money or a job, its not their fault -- they have been disadvantaged by the evil in society. Government must make up for this inequality.

Politicians no longer feel responsible to the American people. Their re-election rate is so high because groups that benefit from the legislator’s efforts provide the money and propaganda that produces more votes than the opposition.

The lack of responsibility has also reached the educational system where teachers have given up responsibility to accurately grade students. Now everyone gets good grades, because no one wants to limit a student’s opportunities by giving him/her a low grade. Why are colleges so focused on standardized test scores? Because grades are no longer a measure of a student’s capability.

The list goes on and on.

Now that I’ve painted an ugly picture, you may wonder when third age ends and the fourth age begins.

The end of responsibility is directly related to the distance man has removed himself from REAL living. Remember the guy at the beginning who lives alone in the woods? That’s REAL living. What we have now is something else.

Although we can observe the imbalance of human responsibility, does anyone care? Is this even a bad thing, or just some higher form of human existence? During the Paleolithic Period, people who had bad eyes died. That was natural selection. Now people get glasses and live a normal life. Is the end of responsibility a similar progression?

To me the logical endpoint of the denial of responsibility is “1984” in reality – a time where the government, and their investors (corporations) take care of all of us. Where all jobs are government jobs or we work for a government contractor.

What could prevent this unhappy reality? We'd need a catastrophic event – war, famine, climate change. Something that would force man to be responsible again. Responsible for his survival and the survival of those that matter to him.


Hesiodos said...

"Beware the metanarrative, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The temptation to apocalypse!"

Lewis Carroll, edited for clarity

Anonymous said...

this seems western civ centric. would you consider adding a bit of the eastern/mid-eastern perspective? Many historical and literature traditions remained alive in those areas during the European dark ages.

Mike Anderson said...


You are correct, the post is western-centric. The reason for that approach is my frustration with the American society which has its historical links through the history described. Its an intentional rant against the behavior of modern man.

I have tremendous respect for the eastern/mid-eastern history and should write more about that vis a vis Rome. When the western empire fell, the east continued on as Byzantium and was highly successful.