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Friday, December 24, 2021

Civilization advances

Viewed from a historical perspective, humanity seems to have passed through periods in which a dominant mode of thinking and force(s) behind it have determined people’s way of life – beliefs, customs, laws, and living conditions.

It probably started with fear of nature’s mysteries such as cycles of sun and the moon, season, rain, and drought, and natural disasters and death itself. Magical thinking dominated. Shamans were the leaders.

Then came the early philosophers who went beyond magical thinking, started using observation and reason to study nature and its laws. Warriors and local rulers were the leaders. Thinkers provided ideas.

Some went beyond such observation of external phenomena and looked deeply into man himself, his thinking, and his relationship to nature. They were the seers and wise ones and the spiritualists. But they did not have many followers.

Religions started appearing in many parts of the world with rigid dogmas, belief systems and rules of conduct, and organizational structure. Religious heads were the leaders, often in conjunction with powerful warrior-kings. Individual thinking was not favored and was even punished.

After many centuries, a few bold thinkers, and reformers, questioned the authority of religious institutions and local monarchs and defied them. Thus came a period of observation, empiricism, and reasoning as drivers of knowledge in understanding nature. Scientific mode of thinking combined with the release of individual initiative, academic freedom and reward for success dominated civilization for a few centuries. Democracies started and flourished. Innovations of science and technology enriched the lives of many people and reduced poverty and eliminated many diseases.

It is too bad I had to put science in the past tense. The reality is that we seem to be living in an era when both science and religion are questioned, if not denied. Everything seems to be driven by politics and politicians – even science and religion. Individual variations are not tolerated. Academic freedom is disappearing even in US. Authoritarianism in some form or other is emerging all over the world. Civil discourse is disappearing. False and mis-information demand equal attention and same respect as truth. Legal documents seem to be more important than moral and ethical values.

This does not bode well for humanity.

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