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Are We Better Off?


PaulS
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I wonder what peoples' thoughts are concerning whether our society has developed for the better.

 

I know there are the practical aspects that we generally consider for the better, such as better health care, longer life spans, running water, electric blankets, microwave popcorn, and so on. But at the crux of it, are we better off than ancient tribespeople?

 

Sure they might have died before they were 30, but what's so bad about that? Life may have been 'tougher', but I don't imagine they saw it as so - life was just what is was, probably in the same way that future generations will look back on us and wonder how we ever lived without flying cars and tele-transporters.

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not promoting a 'go-back-to-the-land' philosophy. There is of course the enviromental considerations that go with a vastly more populated planet. Millions of people simply couldn't wask their clothes in mountain streams, deficate in the bush, kill local wildlife to survive, or else the planet would be totally ruined (if not now, in the future at some point with continued population growth).

 

But why is living longer and physically healthier considered 'improvement'. Surely even to the religous fundamentalist, this is only delaying the onset of heaven. And although we may live longer, are we happier or more satisfied that our earlier-dying ancestors? Even if we are, so what?

 

Just a thought that has come acorss my mind recently as I have been reading a bit about Australia's first indigenous people and also the Amazon's Piraha people who frankly, to me, all seemed quite happy with their lives without the type of government and society we now find ourselves living in.

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Humanity has a great knack for taking great (or even neutral) advancements and finding ways to make them negative. For every great new discovery, there is someone waiting to use it for evil. It's very sad.

 

I think there is a natural balance to changes and humanity. We live longer now thanks healthcare and modern medicine, but now we live long enough to suffer from illnesses we might not have dealt with before. We have convenient ways to have food now (pre-packaged, microwavable) but they are unhealthy and don't benefit us beyond saving time.

 

Are we better off? Yes and no. In a lot of things, I think the key is moderation. Completely turning your back on modern society may not be the answer, but we also may not need all the modern conveniences we have, either. Growing your own vegetables, for example, is a great way to save money and avoid pesticides, while not paying grocery prices for organic food. On the other hand, I'm not about to get a cow for the backyard!

 

Look at all the information, all the possibilities, ask all the questions - then make up your mind. We can do without more than we think we can, usually.

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I think definitely better. We live lives infinitely safer from violence. Intolerance remains, but much less so. We are warmer in the winter and cooler in summer. We have fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Fewer of us suffer from, or die in, agonizing pain. Fewer of our children die in child birth or in the early years. But, most of all we have iPads and smart phones :-)

 

George

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You're right there George, I am often in awe as to how I managed to drag myself through life in the earlier days, without an iPhone :D . For instance, I would have never have been able to play Scrabble or check my TCPC New Content page whilst on the move!

 

I'm not so sure though that we live our lives safer from violence than when we once did. Sure, the last few thousand years or more may have been particularly violent, but I'm not convinced it has always been that way. Australia's aboriginals for instance lived a life for +40,000yrs that was relatively violence free. There were tribal conflicts but by the nature of their 'rules' usually there were very few casualities before the dispute was settled.

 

Increased availability of food and medicine only seems to be creating fatter people. Many of us still do suffer from agonising pain and less than dignified endings that our ancients might not have experienced - cancer, dementia, loss of control of bowels etc with age, heart attack, motor vehicles (the single largest killer in the world).

 

Yes, fewer of our children die, but so? Possibly more of them grow up to be affected by drugs, broken homes, alcoholism, etc than before too.

 

If we hadn't developed our world as much and accepted a hunter/gatherer life and all the risks that go with it, I wonder if we'd be more at peace as a world? I'm sorry if I am going on about Aboriginals, but they lived for 40,000yrs exactly the same. There doesn't seem to have been a desire for more. I wonder why?

Edited by PaulS
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I think definitely better. We live lives infinitely safer from violence. Intolerance remains, but much less so. We are warmer in the winter and cooler in summer. We have fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Fewer of us suffer from, or die in, agonizing pain. Fewer of our children die in child birth or in the early years. But, most of all we have iPads and smart phones :-)

 

George

 

Respectfully, George, I think your comment's validity depends on what part of the world you're in. In North America, your comments are true for many, many people. However, there are many parts of the world where people continue to starve, suffer, die in child birth, and live in constant fear of war and other dangers.

 

Speaking of obesity, I find it difficult to reconcile the obesity rates in so-called "developed" countries, while people all over the world are starving to death. Two different worlds - if not more.

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When I started to be serious about my spirituality I lived in the jungle and beach in Hawaii. I think I had to work out the Robinson Curso fantasy. It was a great time to clear my mind and tune myself to the moment of bliss, but soon I realized it was hard work to gather wood and food before the sun went down. It took longer than one expects probably because I am a slow learner and the taste of Bliss is entertaining. I met a meditation teacher and he told me it is easy in the jungle or on a mountain top, but hard to maintain it in the city. So I left to find it in the city too, the good news is it is here also but there are more distractions. I need both experiences to evolve spiritually.

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Paul,

 

I think a man/woman can be about as happy as he/she will allow them-self to be whether it is present times, 500 years ago or longer. Are we better off now then in ancient times. From the perspective of the present, i certainly think so and have no desire to go back to primitive life and its lack of amenities. Once one tastes of present conveniences it is most difficult to desire to do without except possibly for a short time to gain a better appreciation for the present.. Don't you think so? Or would you personally like to give up what you have to try?

 

Just curious,

Joseph

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If we hadn't developed our world as much and accepted a hunter/gatherer life and all the risks that go with it, I wonder if we'd be more at peace as a world? I'm sorry if I am going on about Aboriginals, but they lived for 40,000yrs exactly the same. There doesn't seem to have been a desire for more. I wonder why?

the evolutionary account of human development in Africa suggests we didn't have a choice. We had to evolve or die. It happened more that one time.

 

I think the Adam and Eve story was the hunters' and gathers' nightmare that meant the end of idyllic times. But failure to conserve the environment and climate change forced them to become civilized wage slaves.

 

Dutch

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I am no expert but of course I have an opnion! My opinion is that we are better off in far many respects with regard to the development of technology and increased levels of education, but possibly worse off spiritually and socially for a number of reasons. The loss of spirituality in that which is the post enlightenment mechanistic Newtonian world view has left a void that science cannot fill. This together with the breakdown of community as we seem to have less and less to do with our immediate neighbours in our street where we live, whilst at the same time embracing technologies which enable a more superficial social interaction with relative strangers, where little or no emotional investment is required. There are many many reasons for the shift from community to the family in isolation in a community, but all the same, it seems to be happening more and more, and to a greater extent. I used to play in the street with neighbours, know all the adults in the street and they all knew me. This shared "parenting" was a natural consequence of knowing your neighbours and a real community. Today, you'd be lucky if a parent would allow their kid outside to play on their own, without a cell phone or a minder. We've all gone mad!

 

Paul

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I am no expert but of course I have an opnion! My opinion is that we are better off in far many respects with regard to the development of technology and increased levels of education, but possibly worse off spiritually and socially for a number of reasons. The loss of spirituality in that which is the post enlightenment mechanistic Newtonian world view has left a void that science cannot fill. This together with the breakdown of community as we seem to have less and less to do with our immediate neighbours in our street where we live, whilst at the same time embracing technologies which enable a more superficial social interaction with relative strangers, where little or no emotional investment is required. There are many many reasons for the shift from community to the family in isolation in a community, but all the same, it seems to be happening more and more, and to a greater extent. I used to play in the street with neighbours, know all the adults in the street and they all knew me. This shared "parenting" was a natural consequence of knowing your neighbours and a real community. Today, you'd be lucky if a parent would allow their kid outside to play on their own, without a cell phone or a minder. We've all gone mad!

 

Paul

 

Paul, you have actually captured much of what I really meant to say in my OP.

 

What I had in my mind when posting was I was thinking about a romantic 'village' life where the small community all new each other well, going to work wasn't about leaving your family behind for the day or even longer but about having you kids near you, evenings meant associating with village neighbours and community halls, etc, sharing music and laughter around a fire drinking home brew beer made from the grain your village grew, and so on.

 

Everyone new everyone else and was there to support and assist. From what I understand, bludgers and lazy buggers still existed in those communites, but they were not well regarded. Perhaps they were tolerated, I don't know.

 

Sure in those environs and in those days there were less conveniences such as power, running water, sewerage, etc, and often that meant decreased health, but were they happier as a community? Perhaps not. Like I said, it is possibly just my romantic notion and not reality.

 

Does that make any sense?

Edited by PaulS
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Paul,

 

I think a man/woman can be about as happy as he/she will allow them-self to be whether it is present times, 500 years ago or longer. Are we better off now then in ancient times. From the perspective of the present, i certainly think so and have no desire to go back to primitive life and its lack of amenities. Once one tastes of present conveniences it is most difficult to desire to do without except possibly for a short time to gain a better appreciation for the present.. Don't you think so? Or would you personally like to give up what you have to try?

 

Just curious,

Joseph

 

I wonder if it might have been easier to be happy if they felt more connected to their community, to the land, and more fulfilled? (I accept this could be more about me than the state of the world :D ).

 

What I am talking about isn't really about me giving up what I have to try, because what I am talking about is a complete concept, with everyone involved, not just moving to a house in the woods and living like a hermit from 1728. It's not about living in a dirt floort hut but rather about that type of life as a whole - community, family, connectedness.

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My time as a monk I had nothing and had to beg. I was happy because I learned to be unattached. Some days I ate and some day I didn't. Now, I am married and have many conviences and I am still happy when I am unattached. When I become attached and worry about something I lose the awareness of the bliss that is always there.

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Paul,

Thanks for the clarification. i have found that those thing you mention (feeling more connected..etc) are indeed present (pre-conditions) with many people that appear happy to me. At the same time i think that community life back then was no utopia for happiness. War and disagreements with neighboring tribes and hardships caused by droughts and other disasters have always been present to my knowledge and lesss than ideal. These alone are able to create problems for many that are pre-conditions for unhappiness. In short, happiness as i see it has more to do with acceptance of what is rather than conditions surrounding us. That statement is just my own experience of course.

 

Your romantic ideas of such a time is not alone. Perhaps we all imagine greener pastures or different circumstances will make us happier. However i have personally found living in the past, future or would be's or could be's is not the determining factor of my happiness.

 

Joseph

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What I had in my mind when posting was I was thinking about a romantic 'village' life where the small community all new each other well, going to work wasn't about leaving your family behind for the day or even longer but about having you kids near you, evenings meant associating with village neighbours and community halls, etc, sharing music and laughter around a fire drinking home brew beer made from the grain your village grew, and so on.

 

Paul,

 

I am going to propose 'romanticized' as opposed to "romantic."

 

I grew up in a small town. While all the things you mention did occur, there was also the gossip, the prying, the always being observed aspects. In a modern, more urban lifestyle, one has to be more active in seeking out community (communities). But, they are there for those who wish. And, these can be selected based on one's interests, etc.

 

Today, we have the option of opting in or opting out and living a more simple, bucolic lifestyle. People in ancient times didn't have that option.

 

George

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I grew up in a small town. While all the things you mention did occur, there was also the gossip, the prying, the always being observed aspects.

 

George

 

Yeah, but I only want the good bits, George :D

 

True, there are communities within our communities. To be honest, the church of my youth filled that for me until I could no longer believe what I had to, to keep being a part of that community.

 

 

Edited by PaulS
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Whether or not we are better off sort of depends on what is meant by "we". Humanity is better off. In the eighteenth century democracy took off and in the nineteenth century human chattel slavery began to be widely viewed as evil and deserving of extinction. Women in many parts of the world have gained the right to own property, to vote and to be protected against some forms of ill treatment. Vestiges of old hatreds and prejudices are under attack as we fine tune our concepts of equality. I simply do not get the nostalgia for what we now think of as the idyllic village life of old. All of us live in a village made up of our acquaintances and fellow workers or students even if the "village" is imbedded in a large city. We are entirely free to create a community of people who all know our business to the degree and depth we decide to permit. Our wider experience has helped us become less suspicious and fearful of people who appear or act different from us and our lack of isolation opens opportunities for us to learn as much as we desire - which further nudges to the top of our minds the idea, once widely hooted at as ridiculous, of the brotherhood of humankind. We humans are on a roll. Keep your money on us and we will not disappoint you in the long run. Sure there are setbacks and instances of vicious inhumanity, but by and large our social evolution is heading in a healthy direction.

 

Notice there is nothing in here about life expectancy or diet or medical care. All that is vital, of course, but my focus is to see how humans are evolving in their treatment of other humans. It's pretty good.

 

Hollis

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I agree Hollis we have come a long way and we do look back with rose tinted glasses. Having said that, progress isn't all smooth sailing by any stretch either. We still have a patriarchal society even in this modern age where men are paid more than women for the same work, there is an elite class of wealthy and then the rest of us, the same can be said of an elite class of countries as well, holding power and influence over countries who are unable to break the chains holding them in poverty. The vast worldwide boom in population has meant a greater pressure on resources and as the new god called "Capitalism" is worshipped with consumerism, more and more pressure is placed upon the Earth Mother we walk on. I think we have lost some of our ancient spirituality, our connection with nature and the planet. We are currently obsessed with the "he who dies with the most stuff wins" mentality, all about self.

 

I think some of the points raised in this thread so far are valid when they point to a loss of community. As I said above, only 35 years ago I played outside on the street, with other kids doing the same. I would roam in the woods, rock climb, explore caves, fish, ride my bike for miles on end until I was lost, all without adult supervision or them even knowing where I was half the time. As long as I turned up for tea, nobody worried. This was a fantastic childhood which unfortunately kids today, including mine, do not have. There are no more paedophiles in the community today than there were back then but that is what modern parents perceive as being on every street corner. The children are no more or less likely to be abducted, kidnapped, robbed, beaten up or lead astray any more so than they were 35 years ago and yet our perception is that they can't leave the house without an adult. What has happened? Why the massive shift in perception which has so seriously affected how we bring up our children and what are the consequences going to be? Technology, progress and access to a rampant media are part of the reason.

 

So yes we live longer and have better education. Still there is worldwide poverty and still there is slavery, we don't calll it slavery any more but that is what it is. The masses doing without more so the elite few can live in luxury. This is not what Jesus had in mind when he tried to introduce to people a new way of thinking - not patriarchal, not about heirarchy, not about the self but about the Kingdom of God here on earth.

 

Now, where did I put my i-phone, I need to check my stocks...

 

;-)

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Hollis & Paul,

 

I like the points laid out by you both.

 

Paul, I have no doubt that the media, with the culture of 'fear & sensationalism sells', as well as our politicians who only seem to seek election based on how bad they portray the other side to be, has much to answer for in scaring us all into believing the world is so much more dangerous than it once was.

 

Cheers

Paul

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I agree Hollis we have come a long way and we do look back with rose tinted glasses. Having said that, progress isn't all smooth sailing by any stretch either. We still have a patriarchal society even in this modern age where men are paid more than women for the same work, there is an elite class of wealthy and then the rest of us, the same can be said of an elite class of countries as well, holding power and influence over countries who are unable to break the chains holding them in poverty. The vast worldwide boom in population has meant a greater pressure on resources and as the new god called "Capitalism" is worshipped with consumerism, more and more pressure is placed upon the Earth Mother we walk on. I think we have lost some of our ancient spirituality, our connection with nature and the planet. We are currently obsessed with the "he who dies with the most stuff wins" mentality, all about self.

 

 

While I agree there's a problem in society with too much consumerism, it's not really a new problem that's only came into existence because of technology and science. The god of capitalism has always been worshiped but in ancient times, native tribes slaughtered each other over land or the right to control the food population in their local area, so I don't think it's fair to blame it all on technology and I think we who are dissappointed in modern society have a tendency to over-romaniticisize the "Noble Savage." Edited by Neon Genesis
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While I agree there's a problem in society with too much consumerism, it's not really a new problem that's only came into existence because of technology and science. The god of capitalism has always been worshiped but in ancient times, native tribes slaughtered each other over land or the right to control the food population in their local area, so I don't think it's fair to blame it all on technology and I think we who are dissappointed in modern society have a tendency to over-romaniticisize the "Noble Savage."

 

I've recenlty read O'Murchu's Reclaiming Spirituality in which he describes the 70,000 years or so prior to the agricultural revolution shows little evidence of warfare, as this was prior to states and nations. He argues that this mindset arrived with the introduction of the patriarchal thinking which was born out of our need to break up and control the land, nature, people, resources etc. It was a necessary method of thinking once people grouped together in larger settlements and tried to control the land and nature and their environment.

 

This "noble savage" may well have existed up until about 10,000 years ago. Maybe not, it's just another theory, but there is little evidence to show that warfare between people happened in that timeframe, such as wounds on remains etc.

 

Regards

 

Paul

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I've recenlty read O'Murchu's Reclaiming Spirituality in which he describes the 70,000 years or so prior to the agricultural revolution shows little evidence of warfare, as this was prior to states and nations.

 

Paul, unfortunately this is not supported by the archaeological record. Warfare, unfortunately, is as old has we have been Sapiens. It is believed, as an example, (by those who study such things) that we Sapiens wiped out our cousins the Neanderthals and maybe the Denisovans (in Siberia).

 

Wilson, a sociobiologist, has a chapter in his new book titled "War as Humanity's Hereditary Curse."

 

If anything, the trend is toward less violence. Pinker in The Better Angels of Nature provides data ad nauseam to support this.

 

George

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Paul, unfortunately this is not supported by the archaeological record. Warfare, unfortunately, is as old has we have been Sapiens. It is believed, as an example, (by those who study such things) that we Sapiens wiped out our cousins the Neanderthals and maybe the Denisovans (in Siberia).

 

Wilson, a sociobiologist, has a chapter in his new book titled "War as Humanity's Hereditary Curse."

 

If anything, the trend is toward less violence. Pinker in The Better Angels of Nature provides data ad nauseam to support this.

 

George

 

Thanks for your comments Neon Raven and George. I might chase some of that reading up one of these days.

 

Regards

 

Paul

Edited by Inthedark
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  • 2 weeks later...

But at the crux of it, are we better off than ancient tribespeople?

 

I suppose the answer to that lies in what people define as their "quality of life".

 

As you stated on the one hand medicine (especially antibiotics) keeps us going longer. The ancients had a pretty high infant mortality rate. But those who survived could count on adequate food (usually), clean drinking water and air, and a group of people who would help one defend themselves if the occasion arose. You didnt' need money or credit or insurance. You shared all you had and they shared with you, in some tribes.

 

Conversely, if you were severely injured, too old to contribute, or deformed at birth you were left to die in some tribes. Granted they had some medicinal herbs but there are just a number of conditions where herbs are useless. Evolution, both physical and societal, has left us pretty much indefensible in survival situations.

 

The world is overpopulated, polluted, not much more safe than it was at the time of the tribes. It's not a good idea to idealize the past in favor of the present, but I'd still like to have a time machine so I could go back.

Edited by Deb N
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