by Umair Haque
July 07, 2019

from Eudaimonia Website

Spanish version

Three Stages of Human History

And Why We're Stuck in the Second

One of the questions I find myself asking more and more frequently is as stark as it is simple.

Is this century going to be a(nother) dark age?

You don't have to look very hard to see why I ask.


The question's probably occurred to you, too, more and more often, as you scan the headlines.…and shake your head.

The glaciers are melting faster than even the direst expectations of the most pessimistic scientists - as climate change bites with a vengeance. We're in the midst of history's first human-caused mass extinction - we've killed off something like maybe half the life we know of anywhere in the universe.


Inequality's spiraling, and the super rich who became the ultra rich now "own" more than half the globe, while middle classes are struggling, dwindling, and beginning to shrink.


The fascists are back - and so are their appeasers...

Capitalism, the system which America put in place to run the global economy, offers no solutions to these problems, precisely because it's what created it.


It's busy imploding into fascism, in nation after nation, with America, it's champion, leading the pack, descending into the abyss of concentration camps, cages, torturing kids, and genocide.

(Meanwhile, technology, which is the one great hope that American thinkers tend to have, has turned out to be if not a force for oppression, then something like a way for people to amuse themselves to death.


Facebook makes us lonelier, dumber, sadder, YouTube recommends hate groups, and so forth. The much-vaunted "algorithm" can't do anything positive when it's just another one of capitalism's instruments.)


is this century going to be another dark age?

It looks that way. It feels that way.

But does it have to be? Is the future written in stone? Is our destiny immovable?

I want to answer these questions with reference to deep history, something that our way of thinking teaches doesn't exist.

When I look at history, the deep history of human civilization, I see three ages, or stages, if you like.

- The first was the Age of Unpeople


You could also call it things like the age of tribalism, feudalism, servitude, hierarchy, or dominance, if you like.

What I mean by it is this. In this age, some human beings were considered people, and others were not.


Those who were not were different things in different places.

Slaves. Servants. Untouchables. Peasants. Serfs...

These groups had varying degrees of freedom - between absolutely none, to very little.


The common thread in this age, though, was that some human beings were "real" ones - anointed by the gods, blessed by nature, and so forth - and others were not.

Let's do a few examples.

In what today are India and Pakistan, caste societies developed, with untouchables at the bottom - unpeople.


In Europe, feudalism ruled - with those of "noble" blood above serfs and peasants with no rights - again, unpeople.


In ancient Rome and Greece, slavery was commonplace and acceptable - in a way, it was more "civilized" than later slaveries, because there, the unperson could buy his way out of subjugation.

Do you see the common thread?


For the vast span of human civilization, a common thread united societies:

the idea of unpeople.

They were to be ruled and subjugated, turned into machines of labour and servants of pleasure or gladiators.

You might think of all this as ancient history. But in fact - and this is the point - the Age of Unpeople didn't end until very, very recently. Within the span of existing lifetimes, in fact.


Until 1971 or so, the world's most powerful and richest society was also the world's biggest apartheid state:


Americans hate it when I say that - because they've been taught, erroneously, that they're an especially 'noble' and 'special' people.


In fact, America is the society that brought the Age of Unpeople to its culmination - creating the most sophisticated, largest apartheid state the world has ever known.


- What followed the Age of Unpeople? The Age of Unpeople was followed by the Age of Freedom

Now, you shouldn't think of these ages of linear, discontinuous things.


More like gentle, gradual strata, which coexist. That means that while America was trapped in the Age of Unpeople, segregating blacks after enslaving them, unable to act like a decent society, Europe and Canada had forged ahead.

They built something like the world's first genuinely free societies.


Everybody in them was to have the basics of life:

healthcare, education, retirement, income, a roof over their heads.

This isn't the American definition of freedom:

a thousand flavors of toothpaste at Walmart, while you can't afford healthcare - it's a more sophisticated one.

People weren't yoked to jobs, to menial labour, to wasting their lives, so much anymore - like unpeople were.


People were genuinely free. If you had healthcare, retirement, education - you could realize much, much more of yourself than if you didn't.


Europeans and Canadians soon - within the span of a single human lifetime - began to enjoy history's highest living standards, ever. And that was because people gave each other the basics of life - which freed them all.

And that brings me to now...


Even the massive breakthroughs pioneered in the Age of Freedom - a new, radical set of human rights for all - aren't enough to solve the problems of now. They don't help when the planet's melting down.


They aren't going to bring the insects and bees and trees and fish, all fast going extinct, back to life. If the ultra rich have embezzled, extorted, and siphoned of all a society's gains… what's left to pay for everyone's healthcare, education, and retirement? And so on.

And so the Age of Freedom appears to be coming to an end, crashing down around us.


Even in Europe and Canada, regressive movements are gaining power and strength by the day, week, month. And many societies in the world have never even made it this far - no matter how rich or powerful they got.


Take America. It's struggled for half a century now to get past the Age of Unpeople, and move into the Age of Freedom. But there it is, still unable to provide its people with healthcare, retirement, education.


It will probably never make it to even the second stage of civilization.


See the point, though. American regress is just one example of global progress beginning to shatter and fall apart.

What are we to do, then, about the great challenges of this century,

climate change, stagnation, mass extinction, fascism?

I think that they will require us to move into a new age.


Let me simply call it the Age of Dignity. I mean it in a curious way, a strange way, a novel way, though. In this age, the central challenge is dignity.


Dignity means something like:

every life realizing its possibility, its potential.


The potential of a seed is to become a tree.


The potential of a river is to reach the sea.


The potential of a glacier is to flow and grow.


The potential of a forest is to breathe, and the potential of the soil is to nourish. That of a little cub is to become a wolf.


Of a child, to become an adult - and that of the adult, to become their fullest, truest, authentic self, the one most capable of emotion, knowledge, truth, and grace.

Do you see how different all this is from the way that we think, trained by capitalism to be selfish, aggressive, competitive, insatiable little balls of ego and appetite?

So by dignity I don't just mean:

"giving people healthcare."

I mean something much, much deeper, much more radical, much more daring. I mean something like giving every life the right to realize itself as fully as it can.


And that means investing in every life...

That means investing in forests, rivers, oceans, animals. It means investing in ourselves and our children.

The key word is investing - a cold, capitalist term, that's better simply called nourishment, care, tending, cultivation.

It means building institutions for all that investment.

Am I talking about a global fund to plant trees everywhere humanly possible? Sure.


A "bank", run by many counties, that invests in fish, forests, and seeds, around the globe? Sure.


Social institutions that provide cutting healthcare, education, and retirement for every single child on planet earth, whether American, European, or African? Sure.


Am I talking about making all these things basic rights - not just for human children, but for forests, rivers, animals, and trees, too? Sure.

You get the scale of the challenge.


We don't think this big, do we? But we need to.


I don't mean playing at the same scales, in the same way. I mean building new global institutions to invest in the rights and obligations that underpin the realization of every single life on planet earth. Whether that life is flora, fauna, or us.

We are learning that what the hippies said, quoting the Buddhists, was eminently true. All these are "interconnected." It's better to say, in way of different, that there is no difference between them.

The sunlight can kill me. It hits my skin, breaks my blood apart, which overloads my liver. Bang! I'm dead. So I live a vampire life. Leather jackets at midnight.


But if the sunlight can kill me,

who can say where the "sun" begins, and "I" end?


Is it when the photon crosses the collagen of my skin?


Is it when the photon crashed into a blood cell?


Is it when the photon leaves the sun, and I begin walking into it's very path?

We are one and the same, my friends. All of us. All things...

Every tree, river, animal, plant on earth is our equal.


Every mountain and every grain of dust is, too.

That's not just idle philosophy - that's pragmatic reality, at this juncture of history.

It has taken us millennia - long, painful, difficult, bloody, tormented centuries - to get this far.


To realize just this much:

all human beings are equals.

Some societies understood - and they prospered, like Canada and Europe.


Some never did - and imploded right back into fascism, like America. They stayed stuck at stage one - never making it to stage two.




- But what about Stage Three


The next phase, stage, of this process of awareness growing should be obvious. It isn't just human beings who are equals. All life is equal. (And stage four is that all Being is equal.)

This century asks of us things that we have never been very good at as human beings.

Humility. Wisdom. Truth. Mercy. Justice. Grace.

These things come to us in the form of prophets and sages - whom we then invariably kill.


And after we kill them, perhaps we remember their message, too late, and too little. We must understand ourselves genuinely now.

The greedy, cruel, and foolish among us have ruled us too long. We feared the most violent among us - and called them kings. But they were never kings. They were just violent, stupid men.


Do they rule us still...?

We can do that all over again, this century. America already is. And that, my friends, is exactly how a new dark age will fall.


But it doesn't have to...