How old is our culture? Could it be only about 200 years?

October 31, 2022 by Joshua
in Models

An interesting anthropological question is how old our culture is. It’s tempting to trace its roots to ancient Greece or even the Code of Hammurabi almost four thousand years ago.

I’m not an anthropologist, but I contend that our polluting culture adopted many of its top values since the Industrial Revolution. Since then, we’ve abandoned and replaced, at least regarding how we interact with each other through the environment, once bedrock values such as Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You (the Golden Rule), Leave It Better Than You Found It (Stewardship), and Live and Let Live (Common Decency) in favor of profit and market growth. Recently we’ve replaced them with abdication, resignation, and capitulation.

If we haven’t as a culture abandoned the Golden Rule, Stewardship, and Common Decency regarding the environment, I’d love to see counterexamples. Of course many individuals and some organizations still adhere to them, but I’m talking about culture at large. If we have, I contend that that change means we have change qualitatively from one culture to another.

The Golden Rule exists in some form in nearly all cultures. If abandoning it and comparable values constitutes enough to qualify as a cultural change, then our modern polluting culture dates back a few hundred years. Sure, parts of it evolved from older cultures, but we are no longer those cultures. We’re a different one, and only about two hundred years old. Some cultures alive today have endured tens to hundreds of thousands of years.

Some questions we usually avoid may lead us to reconsider our culture:

  • If our culture is so abundant, we do we take their land and resources?
  • If our culture is so much better, why do others resist and persist for centuries, even millennia?
  • Why did our culture kill, enslave, and destroy so many other cultures or use weapons with them at all?
  • Why don’t they see us as their saviors?
  • How do they see us?
  • If they don’t want to be like us, how do they want to live?
  • What can we learn from them?
  • What holds us back from learning from them?
  • If we don’t obliterate the last of them, which culture stands the better chance of existing the next 200,000 years, or 20,000, or even 200?

Here’s a book by a podcast guest about a culture with roots dating back over 200,000 years, about a thousand times longer than ours.

Affluence Without Abundance, by James Suzman
Affluence Without Abundance, by James Suzman

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