The theory of social evolution presented here (in “What Rules This World?” and in “How the Ways of Power Spread Like a Contaminant to Pervade the Human World” — focused on the inevitable “selection for the ways of power” as a major determinant of how civilization would develop. It was explicitly not focused on human psychological nature as a driver of the process. (“The ugliness we see in human history is not human nature writ large.”)
When presented at book-length in The Parable of the Tribes, that theory of the social-evolutionary force warping the evolution of civilization did look at the psychological dimension of our story. But it so pretty much only terms of how the diverse human psychological possibilities constituted one more form of “grist” for the social-evolutionary mill.
In other words, that work examined how the survival and spread of those cultural options able to prevail in the inevitable intersocietal struggle for power included ways of shaping the consciousness – the minds, emotions, motivations, etc. — of the members of civilized societies.
So in the same way as the historical record shows how
- Agricultural peoples could displace hunter-gatherers;
- Mounted warriors could vanquish peoples who had not domesticated horses;
- Wielders of weapons of iron could prevail over those still in the “Bronze Age”;
- Societies with effective central control could defeat societies less capable of coordinating their actions;
- Industrialized societies could dominate and colonize societies with archaic economies and technologies; etc.
so also did the “selection for power” choose which — among the vast possibilities for human consciousness — would most characterize the human creatures living in civilized societies shaped by a social evolutionary process that favors what can survive a “war of all against all.”
In the fifth chapter of The Parable of the Tribes’— titled “Power and the Psychological Evolution of Civilized Man” – I described some of the forms of consciousness that magnified the competitive power of the societies in which people lived, without necessary regard for how conducive such psychological structures are for achieving human fulfillment.
The titles of some of that chapter’s sections suggest a few of the dimensions of the psychological qualities favored and spread – at different stages of civilization’s development — by the selection for power:
- Fighting Mad (which explored how the seeds of rage were planted, how destructive energies were channeled, and how the face of human aggression evolved along with the evolving “reign of power);
- Under the Yoke (which discussed the displacement of pleasure by work, the displacement of the present by the future, and the human costs of maximizing economic production);
- Unreasonable Reason (which went into how a certain kind of instrumental rationality could magnify power while diverting attention from questions of meaning and value, a form of consciousness that facilitates a society’s acting sociopathically).
The Parable of the Tribes’ depiction of “the selection for power” had clear implications concerning the psychological damage suffered by human beings forced to live in a world in which power reigned. Along the way, it showed how the system shaped by power could feed itself, in a kind of vicious circle, from the consequences of the psychological injuries it inflicted on its members.
(Here’s one example of this, a propos of “Under the Yoke”:
“When the early Protestant theologian Nikolaus Zinzendorf said, ‘One does not only work in order to live, but one lives for the sake of one’s work, and if there is no more work to do one suffers or goes to sleep,’ we see not only how a psychological structure could contribute to the productive dynamism of the Western world – soon to colonize the planet – but also how a civilized society could reap a power-generating fuel from the psychological injuries it itself inflicts.” [Otherwise, why would a person need to keep occupied by work in order to ward off “suffering”?] (P of T, p. 176))
But the dimension of injury and trauma was not the focus of that work.
In my next book, however, I shifted the spotlight from “the problem of power” to what might be called “the ramifications of Brokenness.” It expanded the picture that shows how “the parable of the tribes” leads to the conclusion that “The Ugliness we see in human history is not human nature writ large.”