Premodern To Post Modern Society Essay, Research Paper
Western liberal scholars have divided human history into three phases: the premodern, the modern and the post modern. Each phase has no definite end, rather they layer on top of each. For example, a thoroughly post modern society has elements of premodern and modern in it. There is no one exact time when the premodern ended and the modern began: each society reached them differently. Western Europe entered the modern era in the sixteen hundreds while the rest of the world was still premodern. Even now, most industrialized countries are post modern, yet most of the Third World is modern or even premodern.
The premodern phase spans a huge amount of time, from prehistory until the rise of modern institutions. The premodern can further be divided into two periods, before and after settled agriculture. Before a society adopts settled agriculture, they live of the land, hunting and gathering. The political organization of such groups is roughly like a wolf pack: there is a dominate leader figure (not necessarily male) that leads a more or less egalitarian community. An excellent example of hunter-gatherers is the Kung bushmen of the Kalahari dessert. The Kung live in small family groups in an extremely hostile environment yet they have adapted. Since they do not cultivate plants for food there is no point in owning a parcel of land. Each small tribe can support itself on it’s surrounding land with resources to spare. Private ownership of land is unherad of. Since the technology of the Kung is rudimentary, everyone in the tribe has the same skills at manufacturing as everyone else. If one member of the tribe wishes to make a loincloth, he simply makes it himself, every member of the tribe can exactly this. There is no way to differentiate status, everyone has exactly the same skills. The division of labor between man and women is slight. Both take an active role in feeding the family; the man hunts while the woman gathers. Women and men are treated equally.
Serious crime like murder or robbery are unheard of among the Kung. There is no reason to steal when every product can be made easily with the resources at hand. The only thing stealing would accomplish is isolation from the rest of the tribe. Also, there was very little in the way to steal. The Kung live in tune with nature, they use only a few simple tools such as digging sticks and spears. As the Kung all live in a close knit tribe stealing from one another is like stealing from a close friend. There is no faceless anonymity of the victim for the perpetrator. The thief knows and lives with the person who he is stealing from. Even if one individual committed a minor offense among the Kung, they themselves are not directly punished. Instead, there is a ritual to banish the demon who enter the perpetrators body and willed him to misbehave. There is no forced confinement or resentment.
Societies such as the Kung were very small. Each person must forage or hunt for their food. To sustain a population of even a small amount of people the surrounding wilderness must be big enough to continually regenerate itself in the following years. This did not lead to a large population density as it takes large tracts of land to support people without going barren. This is why hunter gatherer groups are so small; the land cannot support many people in its present state. The Kung continue to survive by adapting to the land, instead of adapting the land to better suit their needs. If it suited them and they had the technology, the Kung could plow fields and build irrigation system to bring water into the dessert. The cost of this is huge labor output, yet the benefit is increased food production. With increased food production comes larger and larger populations. A small population is not the only disadvantage of hunter gatherers. Science and technology suffer in a tribal system such as the Kung. Gathering food and caring for children occupied the entire time. There were no dedicated scholars or scientists. Only with food surpluses reaped by settled agriculture could people devote their time solely to research. The Kung could either have a small, intimate and egalitarian tribe or a large, growing, technologically advanced settlement.
Settled agriculture first was implemented in the Fertile Crescent, a stretch of land between the Tigris and Europhrates rivers. Agriculture changed many things. Communities were forced to settle down and claim land. This is were the social classes formed. Since each family must harvest enough crop to survive the winter, competition for land was fierce. Land was snatched up as it was directly linked with survival. Land was also wealth; a person who can raise enough food to support themselves could then barter the excess at the market. The people who originally snatched up the land were rich, while other had only enough land to get by.
Agriculture changed the role women played in society. Before, both women and men had taken part in the gathering of food. Agriculture was extremely labor intensive and was considered a man’s job. Women were pushed into the role of raising children and staying at home while the men worked. This created a stigma against women that last until this day.
Agriculture produced a huge excess. In hunter gathering societies, many square miles of land was required to support one person while that same land could support a village if the land was cultivated. Populations became urbanized. Some of the excess was used to support specialists whose sole function was not to produce food. Specialists included scribes, clerks, and metalworkers. People could not satisfy their needs with what they reaped directly from the land so they bartered, with food, with specialists for goods and services. Money was implemented to make the barter system more efficient.
Another change from hunting and gathering to settle agriculture was the formalization of leadership. Agriculture required a massive amount of infrastructure to support it. Roads were needed to convey goods to market and irrigation canals were needed to bring water. Such undertakings could not be done by single individuals or even entire families. The entire community must band together and construct these public works. Thus arose a need for individuals who would organize and plan the entire endeavor. These people allocated resources and dictated how many hours each person contributed to the project. Eventually these organizers’ authority spread beyond public works and they became the first rulers.
Belief system became implemented into organized religion. One dominate cult gained the favor of the rulers and was adopted as the state cult. The state cult would try to explain everything with its own creation myth. It sought to make it deities all powerful. If something was encountered that could not be explained by the state cult, it made the cult that much less powerful. Scientific theories that challenge and run contrary to the cult’s creation myth are suppressed. The Catholic church of the middle ages condemned to hell all people who went against the theory that God created the world, which was the center of the universe. Copernicus and Galieo are two famous examples of people excommunicated for their theories that threatened the church. Science suffered at the hands of organized religion. Often, the ruler used organized religion to strengthen their rule. An example of this is the Pharaoh of Egypt. The Pharaoh was recognized as a living god on earth. Any act against the Pharaoh was considered both treason and heresy. This doubly reinforced the rule of the Pharaoh.
The most common individual on the planet was the lowly peasant. They represented the majority in the premodern era. The average peasant grew their own food and made a miserable existence selling what little excess that remained. Most peasants lived in a hut they themselves built. The average peasant family was huge as children were considered assets. The more children a family had, the more hands they had to work the fields. Also, children were expected to take care of their parents when the parents were old and feeble. Thus, the more children a father and mother had, the more care they would receive in their dotage. Class mobility was almost nonexistent for peasants. The only hope for a better future was to buy an apprenticeship for the offspring. The apprentices would then have a chance to become skilled craftsmen. Most peasants had almost exactly the same skills. There was no formal education and thus no difference in skills. The only way one peasant could out produce another peasant was to invest in machinery that increased productivity. If a peasant should break the laws, he was put in the stockade or beaten. The punishment for a crime was usually corporal.
Premodren societies were often extremely prejudice and ethnocentric towards other societies. The Greeks, for example, believed that their society was the pinnacle of civilization. Their successors, the Romans, shared these same beliefs. The Romans refereed to anyone who was not Roman as barbarians. The Romans conquered vast stretches of barbarian lands and brought Roman civilization to them. The Romans forced their way of living onto the newly conquered people. The most notable example is when the Romans conquered the Celtic tribes of northern Britain. The Romans slaughtered all the clerics of the native religion, the druids, and converted the people forcibly to the Roman pantheon of gods. Other competing religions were crushed. The Romans oppressed people pagan, Christian and Jewish faith. All was done in the name of progress. The native people were to stupid to become civilized by their own so the Roman took it upon themselves to do it for them. Romans paved roads through the conquered lands, set up Roman- style cities, and imposed beaurocracy on the native population. The result was the native culture being reluctantly propelled into civilization.
The beginnings of modern societies have roots in the Greek and Roman period. The first beginnings of modern democracy were the ancient Greek republic. The beaurocracy that is so prevalent in modern institutions began in Rome. It was only until the Renaissance, a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire classical Greek and Roman ideas were rediscovered. Democracy was not instituted until the late eighteenth century in America and France. Even this was not a true democracy as women and slaves could not vote. An important part of these new democracies was the separation of church and state. Americans and French, bitter at the Protestant and Catholic churches involvement in politics, made the church powerless in matters of state. Gone was the state sponsored cult. No longer could the religious persuasion of the ruling party be brought to bear against nonbelievers. The church’s diminishing power let new ideas flourish that would have been thought heresy before. Science was no longer held back by the doctrines of organized religion.
One hallmark of the modern age is rapid technological change. Science, free of religious scrutiny, made leaps and bounds. Science was applied to everyday life to save time and energy. All sectors of industry mechanized to increase output. Medicine made huge advances, drastically cutting the infant death rate. Medical advances were responsible for extending the average lifetime. Now there were more people surviving to adulthood and living longer lives. Scientific theories made modern societies understand the universe more.
In the modern age, the focus is on consumption. The average person rents their talents out to an employer in exchange for income. The consumer exchanges this income for goods and services. The consumer is completely dependent on the market for his/her basic needs. Compare this to the premodern peasant, who was basically self-sufficient in food production and shelter. Thus, people living in modern societies are more specialized; they get paid for their skills and buy all other goods and services. The price of this specialization is greater efficiency yet at the price of being dependent on the producer.
With mechanization brought on by rapid technical advance, relatively few workers could produce huge excesses. Now longer would huge sectors of the population be required to work in food production. With fertilizers, machinery, hybrid plants and pesticides less than five percent of the population could feed the society. This freed workers for the growing manufacturing and service sectors. The manufacturing sector increased its output to meet the need of the growing population. The market economy absorbed this new output, setting the lowest possible price for the best possible product. However, the economy was more and more driven by the pursuit of profit. Whoever owned the means of production, land and machinery, got rich while others were forced to rent themselves out as workers. The first capitalists worked their employees as much as they wanted to. The capitalists had all the cards; the workers were desperate for money to spend in the new market driven economy. The result was the capitalists growing incredibly rich while the workers lived below poverty line. This rich-poor gap became one of the main argument in the modern age.
Changes in the social institutions marked the modern age. Democracy made all people equal, in theory. The United States of America instituted a revolutionary program of mandatory education in the mid-ninetenth century. Education, once reserved for the upper class, now was universal. Almost everyone could read and write. Ideas of the great thinkers of the ages were open to the most humble. In theory, the poorest immigrant child could educate themselves and become rich, filling a niche in the new capitalist market.
While the birth rate climbed by the beginning of the modern age, it eventually began to decline. Children were now though of as an economic burden rather than free labor. Each child required more money spent for clothes, food and education. The size of the family declined rapidly. The older generation were moved out into retirement homes after they could not work. The family consisted of just the parents and children.
Despite the modern age’s advances, it had many critics. Karl Marx is on of the most famous. He directly confronted the capitalist market economy as exploitive. Marx believed that while it was human nature to work, it must be for a higher goal that simply to fuel consumption. One of Marx’s contemporaries was Emile Durkheim. It was Durkheim who first coined the word “anomie.” Anomie is used to describe the feeling of disenchantment with the modern world. Traditional belief systems, such as the Catholic church, of the past provided a meaning to life. However, modern society has largely discredited most tenets of organized religion. People no longer can easily answer what the meaning of life is. Life in a modern society has become increasingly shallow. Religion has been replaced by consumerism and greed as the sole purpose of living. Disgust with the capitalist market economy gave rise to an alternative: socialism.
Socialism was a social experiment that started in Imperial Tsarist Russia. The Bolsheviks, guided by Marx’s works, seized the power from the Russian provisional government after the collapse of the Imperial monarchy. They instituted the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a huge socialist empire in the early twentieth century. The doctrine of the Soviet Union was to supply each citizen with a job, free health care, and a social safety net. Machinery and land was all owned by the state, so workers were all employees of the government. Each worker in a field was paid exactly the same as the other workers. The state provided for everything. However, the Soviet Union was fanatically protective of its borders, having been invaded three times in one hundred fifty years. The Soviet Unions spent roughly fifteen percent of their output on the military while other sector of the economy were neglected. The Red Army of the Soviets was numerically superior to any force that the Western Europe and the United States could raise. The only thing that kept the balance was that modern, mechanized, nuclear war would mutually destroy both sides. Each side had enough firepower to destroy the Earth twelve times over. The benefits of winning a war was off set by the disadvantage of waging the war. The world was chose which side to affiliate to, while being poised for thermonuclear war.
The post modern period began on an exact year: 1992. In 1992, the Soviet Union crumbled from internal and external pressure. Western capitalism had proved more effective than Soviet style socialism. Huge sectors of the globe were opened to trade that had previously been denied by ideological differences. Eastern Europe, parts of Africa and Asia, and Russia were all opened to western corporations. Companies rushed in to exploit the mineral wealth of the fallen Soviet empire. Quicker to exploit were the vast three hundred fifty million people living in Eastern Europe and Russia. Decades of shortages from an inefficient state run economy made the people hungry for material things.
In Western societies, manufacturing jobs move overseas, while the service sector grows. It is far cheaper to make something in a developing country that to produce it at home. America , for example, is the most technologically advanced society in the world. It has put a man on the moon and to the depth of the ocean, yet it does not produce a calculator or a television domestically. America dominates in high tech industries such as software design and biotechnology. As American workers become more and more involved in their jobs, they have little time for other things. They must pay people to change their oil, upgrade their computer or paint their house. Thus the service sector has increased. The post modern is also referred to as the post industrial age due to the decline of manufacturing.
Ideology in the post modern is irrelevant. China, the last bastion of socialism, is one of the United States’ greatest trading partner. In theory, they should mutually hate each other, yet there is to much money to be had. Western companies see the one billion people in China as a huge market ready to be exploited. Chinese workers can turn out products at a lower cost than their American counterparts. The ideology is less important than the money.
The Internet is a huge part of the post modern world. Using the Internet, everyone can access the aggregate sum of knowledge that is stockpiled on the Internet. It is fairly cheap, yet it crosses borders. The Internet is a medium for the free exchange of ideas. It can reach every corner of the globe. Villages in Siberia that are inaccessible by cars can set up a satellite link and be connected just as well as a user in New York.
Worldwide trade and the Internet are killing the unique cultures that exits on Earth. Just as China trades with its ideological enemy, other cultures are shedding their uniqueness in the name of easier communication. Cultural idiosyncrasies hinder trade. Traditional folk dress look peculiar among business suits. For example, the traditional drink of Russia was kvass, a dark bread beer. After the Soviet Union and the normalization of trade, Coke and Pepsi was introduced by Western business. Now, it is impossible to buy kvass in Moscow, as it was displaced by the distribution muscle of Coke and Pepsi. Children also are the weak link to keeping cultural tradition alive. The traditional folk customs are associated with the parents and the children strive to break away from this tradition. Given forty years time, the entire world will look exactly the same; one can travel from the US to the most remote location possible and it will be impossible to tell the difference once one got there.
An excellent example of post modern society is Los Angeles. LA is a superficial hyper-comsuer culture. Each individual has the notion that they are the center of the universe. Everyone is a manipulative user who only cares about themselves. Each person strives for material wealth at the expense of each other. People are defined by the cloths that they wear. If one wears Ralph Laren, the people that he/she meets will check the label to make sure it is real. Appearance is everything. Los Angeles is the cosmetic surgery capital of the world. Many of the women have had breast implants, and even some of the men have surgically improved their features. Breast implants actually deaden the sensation of the breast, so they actually decrease sexual pleasure in the user. However people continue to get implants, sacrificing sensation for improved appearance.
The post modern is by no means the final stage of human development. Hopefully, humans will move past the greed of material possessions. Eventually, a balance will be found between ethnic identity and global monoculture. Rampant consumerism comes at a high price. The material wealth that America enjoys is at the cost of a huge amount of resources. If other countries try to join in on the prosperity, severe damage to the ecology could result. Imagine one billion Chinese, all driving cars. The world can only support a certain amount of people at the prosperity of Americans. The continual expansion of the world economy at the end of the twentieth century is pushing all nations to wealth yet there is no way for all to enjoy such prosperity, something must give.