9. FIVE HISTORICAL EPOCHS
Summary: The Five Epochs of Human Development
o In the first stage of its evolution, human nature is embedded in the natural environment. The interface between person and world is immediately responsive to signals from nature; aggression is rhythm conserving; belonging is focused on kin and troop; life is nomadic, and the body is most strongly attuned to the daily dispersal and aggregation rhythm.
o In the second stage, beginning in the middle Paleolithic era (50-25,000 BCE), human nature becomes emergent; primordial approach-and-separation and withdrawal-and-return start to be experienced as love and wisdom; we become conscious of our inwardness and can distinguish it from outwardness. Endowed with a sense of self and a capacity to love, the standards for belonging change. When it does, the old distance regulation system breaks down. Aggression, no longer so tightly linked to the management of actual changes in moment-to-moment physical position, begins to explore other kinds of personal space and domination. In the course of time notions of property, ownership, status and rule develop. As they do, the ties between aggression and the conservation of biological rhythms weaken.
o In the third stage, (20-10,000 BCE) human nature is expressive. Enlivened by the developing passions of the heart and mind, stimulated by the discoveries made in turning points, it produces vastly different ways of being in the world. A torrent of new inventions, both material and non-material, comes pouring into the shared cultural spaces. These institutions, technologies and physical artifacts transform the environment. Their sensory worlds altered, people begin to see and sense differently. Time runs differently for them. Body attitudes change, set-points shift, sexual activity and fertility rises or falls. The duration of life stages alters. Youth is extended or contracted. This expressive phase begins at the end of the last Ice Age. Rapidly changing environmental conditions spur it on. The expressive period continues into the Neolithic era. New political forms, social contracts, creative endeavors and ecological understandings develop. Earth-altering changes are made: settled life, continuously inhabited villages, division of labor, crop culture, trade and commerce among them. During a 10,000-year span, the transformation brought in by the agricultural revolution spread through Africa and across the Middle East, north into Anatolia, west across North Africa and east into Central Asia.
o Then under pressures introduced by these changes, our orientation shifts again. In this fourth stage (5000 BCE – 1800 AC) human nature becomes conflicted, constrained by culture. Human nature has to struggle for breathing room. Life is troubled, split and turned against itself. Freud caught the tenor of this tension in his late work. In New Introductory Lectures, he wrote, “In spite of all our pride in our cultural attainments, it is not easy for us to fulfill the requirements of this civilization or to feel comfortable in it, because the instinctual restrictions imposed on us constitute a heavy psychical burden. Well, what we have come to see about the sexual instincts, applies equally and perhaps still more to the other ones, the aggressive instincts. It is they above all that make human communal life difficult and threaten its survival.”33 In Civilization and its Discontents, he wrote, “Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man’s aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of them in check by psychical reaction-formations… In spite of every effort, these endeavors of civilization have not so far achieved very much “ 34
In the fourth epoch the aggressive components of human nature take on a new role: they shoe-horn us into civilization itself, not only by using the external powers of the state but by teaching us to manage ourselves from within with repression, guilt and self punishment.
o The fifth epoch is just beginning. We inhabit it. The fifth epoch is our field of endeavor. It started with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th century. In it we follow changed conditions of labor and economic regulation. We live with greatly modified signal sources for sensation, coming more frequently from technological rhythms than from nature. These reset the rhythms of life, not always homeostatically.
The fifth epoch gathered steam during the period of European colonialism and imperialism. It pushed us into two World Wars and into the atomic age, under the influence of what President Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex. Fifth epoch enterprise now drives our information revolution, computerized economy, biotechnology, global trade and communications networks. It creates needs, threats and promises uniquely its own. What shall we call the fifth epoch? We shall decide this in the next chapter.
Here we’ll concluded by drawing from our brief survey three features common to all revolutions in human nature:
1) Real revolutions result in altered distance regulation behaviors.
2) These change social arrangements (and the physiological responses to them) in one or more of the four social distances.
3) The changes enter economic life in altered territorial and dominance relationships.