Class Warfare Blog

February 11, 2018

The Reason for All of It (Hint: Why Is Civilization As It Is?)

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 10:04 am
Tags: , ,

I asked the question in my previous post: is the “driver” of this process (civilization) a desire to live forever? Is this what has caused civilization to be what it is?

Behind this question is another: I wonder whether civilization has to be the way it is. It pretty damned well has been the same for the past 5500+ years. Some scholars claim that all of the inherent misery associated with civilization is necessary, that there was no other path forward than through the oppression of a majority of the human race to create the leisure for the elites who then could go on to create politics, religion, science, philosophy, etc.

I find that position hard to take and also hard to refute.

I took a step back to look at the basic elements of civilization: which are oppression and conflict, with a firm understanding that we, meaning all of us, had absolutely no idea as to how to proceed. I assume that we were all doing the best we could, under the circumstances … aka we were making it all up as we went.

My first inflection point to unpack is the moment some of us decided that agriculture was a good thing to do at a much larger scale. As hunter-gatherers we had fairly good lives, but how would we know? The appeal of “better” is always there if one possesses the tool that makes us Homo sapiens … imagination. Presumably, we slid into this rather than some proto-genius led us there (“Hey, gang, I’ve got an idea…!) So, we started by doing a little seeding of plants and harvesting what we sowed. This could have taken place before we settled down, but civilization only started up when sedentism was possible. Civilization only began on river plains, which had reliable flows of fresh water including aquatic food streams (fish, eels, lampreys, shellfish, etc.) The soft soils deposited by the rivers were rich in nutrients and the combination of rich soils and reliable fresh water sources made agriculture doable. If you lived up in the mountains or in the desert, well fugedaboutit.

Certainly agriculture began as just a supplement to what could be hunted and gathered. Living near a river meant that game came to you as all animals are drawn to fresh water sources. So, these sites had “seasons” in which various sources of food came to them or became harvestable. People settled down meaning that they built shelters out of available materials and were invested in their locations.

But we ain’t civilized yet. To be civilized we have to live in cities. (Yes, it is just a matter of scale.) The little villages we lived in before we became civilized didn’t count.

But to create a city as we have come to know it, larger scale agriculture was needed. There is no “chicken and egg” paradox here as to which came first. Cities could not exist without plentiful food to feed the large number of people involved. Food first, then population. (Agriculture preceded cities by thousands of years.)

Once cities began to form, do realize that most were less than stable. Archeologists excavating early cities always talk about the city in stages (e.g. Ur I, Ur II, Ur III, or Troy VII, Troy VI, etc.). Cities failed all of the time and people died and retreated back into hunting and gathering. New cities were built atop the old (often the building materials were recycled as well as the site; well, if a site is good, it probably continues to be good unless the water dries up or an earthquake buries it).

Large scale agriculture, however, requires large scale mobilization of workers. Canals to move water had to be dug, fields planted, weeded, harvested, stored, etc. Who was to do this work … far more work than people had to do as hunters or gatherers (remember their food came to them; villages were often located next to migratory routes of game, etc.). People had to be coerced into becoming full-time farmers and physical force as well as psychological force, typically using religious coercion, were put into play. When the locals got worn out or, more typically, snuck off to regain the easier life they had as hunters and gatherers, replacement workers were needed and thus larger scale slave raids were put into play.

Conflicts, skirmishes with other tribes, slavery, all of these things, like agriculture, existed before civilization, there was just a change in scale. Whole villages became subject to slave raids by forces from larger cities, whereas before it was just an individual or two, now dozens were involved.

If we make a quick jump forward to historical times we see the evolved forms of such conflicts: widespread slavery and war, large scale conflicts of all kinds (physical, economic, etc.).

Is all of this because a few at the top were seeking immortality?

I do not think so.

I think all of these manifestations of civilization were about who is going to be in charge.

To me this is all about what drives elites to become elites and it is not a process driven by a search for immortality. I suspect the first elites were more than willing to press whatever issues they had to press to establish themselves as elites for the direct benefits: better food, better mates (more mates!), better clothing, better housing, etc., what we refer to as the trappings of wealth. (Think Donald Trump and his gold-plated apartments.)

But wherever such city-states grew, similar city-states grew nearby (there were only so many river plains that were suitable). Then you have two sets of elites staring at each other across the back fence and … well, what do you think they felt? Realize these elites were almost exclusively male. Because they were “rich” they had sycophants pumping their opinion of themselves, e.g. They were favored by the gods. They were better looking (a manifestation of better clothing, personal hygiene, better diet) and smarter and … well, you know the drill. They were obviously better suited to “rule” than the idiot next door, so…? Add to this normal human insecurity, e.g. what if they were to attack us?, and animosity can be assumed.

Large scale conflicts are not started by peons, serfs, slaves, or guys from Jersey. They always begin because of the elites and I say they are driven by a desire to be in fucking charge of things.

Consider the Koch Brothers … how’s that for a segue? They have so much wealth that were they to retire today, they would be hard pressed to spend all of their wealth before they died. Hell, if their wealth were in the form of paper bills they would be hard pressed to burn it all before they died. There is nothing they want they could not have. So what are they doing in their golden years? They are waging a massive campaign to dictate to others how they will live. Are they driven by a desire for immortality? Do you believe they think that we will recognize what they are doing for us later and love and “immortalize” them for their actions?

I don’t. I do not for the simple reason that everything they are doing reinforces their role as masters and our role as slaves/serfs/drones/salary men/etc.

It is all about who gets to be in charge. It is ego driven, not immortality driven. Immortality is just an intellectual toy to the elites, something that tests the boundaries of their power, their power to control the behaviors of others.

This is the driving force of civilization … and it will be what brings the whole house of cards down, unless the masses (us) figure out a way to break the grip of the elites.

The American Experiment in democracy was a step on that path, but it is clear now that the elites have figured out how the rein in those impulses and are back in complete control of the USA.




  1. You are spot on. In two words it is POWER and CONTROL.

    Not immortality….it’s the game a gigantic monopoly board game and wars begin over this. And the little guy has some control now, for a brief moment, due to more powerful weapons..think ISIS or N Korea.
    But in the end it is big money and control of the masses, which we see proof of right here with the number of Trump supporters.

    It has nothing to do with immorality.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Mary — February 11, 2018 @ 10:21 am | Reply

    • The frightening thing is that a tiny elite s easier to organize than a large segment of the masses and they are becoming more and more adept at manipulating us. Look at how many believed that (a) a businessman would make a good politician (has one ever?) and (b) Trump was a goo businessman. Trump is such a braggart, if his tax returns showed how wealthy he was, he would have gladly shoved them in our faces. By not doing so, he confirmed that his net wealth is much less than he claims and that he feels his “reputation” needs embellishing/polishing/etc.

      The last actor empowered to do something in this game was the media and all they did was amplify Trump’s obfuscations, a sad day for an institution with a long history of value.

      On Sun, Feb 11, 2018 at 10:21 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 11, 2018 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  2. Yes, this has nothing to do with immortality. Ego is largely responsible. It’s obvious that tribal chiefs who had to lead by example, often risking their lives, would rather sit on their ass and direct an agricultural society in relative safety. Still, the issue of civilization is a little more complicated than that.

    Hunter-gatherers had a much healthier diet than farm workers (as their larger brain sizes indicate), but couldn’t stay in one location for long and their much smaller societies were far more vulnerable to external threats and environmental changes. So, some of the motive for civilization can be attributed to the “safety in numbers” concept or so-called “herd instinct.” With larger agricultural societies naturally came the need for hierarchical organization, which was a perfect breeding ground for ego-driven concentrations of power (e.g. kings, queens, dictators, etc.).

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Robert A. Vella — February 11, 2018 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  3. Hypothetical question.

    If you had a choice, knowing what you know now about the world and the “ruling class,” industrialization, agriculture, mechanization, etc., etc. … and disregarding the “conveniences” that come with same … would you prefer living in the hunter-gatherer era? Yes, people would be, as you put it, “far more vulnerable to external threats and environmental changes,” but psychologically, it would have been a much simpler time. At least in comparison to what we deal with in today’s world.

    It’s difficult to “relocate” yourself via imagination, but I can’t help but think it would have, overall, been a much happier, and far less stressful, time.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Nan — February 11, 2018 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

    • I am not complaining about the modern world, just the cost at arriving here–untold human misery for millennia. The open question is was this really the only way to get here. And, the other question, even with refrigerators, smart phones, and modern medicine and mankind’s greatest achievement (hot water on demand) we are still oppressed, some in greater comfort than others, but, for example if wages had lkept up with productivity as they were linked in the 1950’s and 1960’s we would have an average annual income closer to $150,000 a year than the current $50,000 per year. This was not due to some accident but wage suppression efforts by the elites in this country. We also have prescription drug prices several times that of our neighbors … for the same drugs, from the same companies. We …

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 11, 2018 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

    • Hi, Nan. Would I prefer to live in a hunter-gatherer society? Yes, it would be dramatically simpler; but, I’d have to say no. I’ve spent enough time in wilderness areas to know how difficult a life it is. In 1985, four of us trekked 8 days across the Great Western Divide in Sequoia National Park above Mineral King, CA. We were at high elevation up to 11,500 ft. Other than the fish we could catch, the only thing we had to eat was freeze dried food and trail mix. At the time, I was in peak athletic condition but still managed to lose 20 lbs during the trip. Because of the calorie-burning nature of the terrain, I just couldn’t get enough to eat. Had we stayed another week, I could’ve gotten seriously malnourished. When we finally arrived back in Mineral King, we all wolfed-down giant cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. Junk food never tasted so good in my life! I’m so glad I took this trip, but I definitely wouldn’t do it a second time.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Robert A. Vella — February 11, 2018 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

  4. Excellent post sir. I find no argument against your thoughts posted here. I agree with the idea of ego driving the elites to rule over us peons. Religion plays a big part as well. I swear that organized religion was invented so the elite priest class could enjoy the best of the hunt/harvest while having zero real job skills. This applies still even today. Want to live a relatively easy life while doing next to nothing that is even close to real work? Join the clergy.
    Nan, from what little I have read about the life of the hunter/gatherers, they seem to have had much more free time than we do today. When we see, in various museums now days, some of the art works they made, well, they must have had plenty of free time just to make them. I think of some of the small figurines I’ve seen in books, on the web, and in a museum or three. Works of beauty and quite artistic, that requires free time. Hey, hunting at night with just the crude weapons they had back then was not something even the bravest wanted to try. They sat around the fire at night and made things of true artistic beauty. We, we sit at stare at the idiot box (TV) or surf the web. Well web surfing brought me here so it can’t be all bad.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — February 11, 2018 @ 2:43 pm | Reply

  5. ‘unless the masses (us) figure out a way to break the grip of the elites’ … yes, well, there is the dilemma. Just look at the so called people/workers party (the Democratic Party) as prime example … clearly now the party of elites, protecting the wealth for themselves as much as the ‘other’ party they so like to denigrate from their lofty perches … (see neoliberal Clinton, Obama, etc) Just imagine the justice and equity that will flow from President Oprah’s pen as she governs from her 90mil White House West cottage hidden in the Montecito Hills of California … and that is what American politics will continue to be about … ‘Break the grip of the elites’ and replace them with another (same class) of elites, and what? Think I will re-read ‘Animal Farm’ this afternoon. And drink red wine.


    Comment by Zach — February 12, 2018 @ 10:26 am | Reply

    • I think it is time to heat the house by throwing a few elites on the fire.

      Old firebrands die slowly.

      Stay warm, my friend.

      On Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 10:26 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 12, 2018 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

      • All in favor of heating the house, and tossing the elites on the fire … but lets stop pretending, in politically nauseating fashion, that the elites reside any more in the Republican Party than they do in the Democratic Party. Neoliberal Trump bashing may be great narcissistic, self aggrandizing fun, but the conversation we need to be having is about class, not poltical parties. Bottom line … 60% of humans live on less than $600 a year, and the rest of us, fearful cretins that we are, want to hang on to our advantage while condemning others above us, especially those in different political parties. And that, me thinks, is where the revolution starts. With each of us.

        Stay warm! Surely you jest. Lol. Be 5° here tonight!

        Be well, Steve. Let me know when you start the Chicago bonfire and I will make my way there!


        Comment by Zach — February 12, 2018 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

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