Steve Taylor, Author of the Month for October 2008
The Fall (cont.)
The Evidence for a Golden Age, 6000 years of Insanity and the Dawning of a New Era
By Steve Taylor
The Ego Explosion
All of this strongly argues against the idea that prehistoric human being were brutes whose only concern was survival, and whose lives were full of cruelty and conflict, as men competed against each other for status and food and sex. Warfare, social oppression and male domination - and an existence that was "nasty, brutish and short" - belong to a later phase of human history. Evidence from artwork, cemeteries and battle sites suggests that there was an "eruption" of these social pathologies during the 4th millennium BCE, starting in the Middle East and central Asia. The root cause of this change may have been environmental. Around this time massive areas of land which had been fertile for thousands of years started to turn into desert. This happened all over the Middle East and central Asia, creating the massive belt of arid or desert land which runs across from the Steppes of southern Russia to the Arabian and Iranian deserts. The groups who lived in the area - including the original Indo-Europeans and Semites - were forced to flee and look for new fertile lands, causing massive waves of migrations.
This environmental disaster seems to have changed the psyche of these peoples. Whereas before they had been peaceful and egalitarian, now they became aggressive, hierarchical and patriarchal. Over the following centuries. they spread over the Europe, Middle East and Asia, killing and conquering the peaceful "Old World" peoples they came across, including the civilisation of Old Europe (which was reconstructed by the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas). By 500 BCE, these peoples had more or less completely conquered the whole of Eurasia, leaving only a few indigenous peoples such as the Laplanders of Scandinavia, the tribal peoples of Siberia, and the indigenous peoples of the forests and hills of India. In mainland Europe the only surviving non-Indo-European indigenous peoples were the Basque people of northern Spain (who amazingly still survive today) and the Etruscans of Italy, who were soon to be wiped out by the Romans.
In my bookThe Fall, I try to explain how these people were (and are) different from the peaceful peoples who came before them. My theory is that the environmental catastrophe (the drying up their fertile lands) caused an "Ego Explosion". These peoples developed a stronger and sharper sense of identity, or of individuality, which made them feel more separate to nature and to other people, and more liable to be aggressive and to lust after power and status. We - modern day Eurasians - are the descendents of these peoples, and we have inherited their strong sense of ego. This is still the main difference between us and indigenous "unfallen" peoples such as the Native Americans, Australian Aborigines and the peoples of Oceania, and the reason why they have much more respectful attitude to nature than us, and a more spiritual vision of the universe. Our strong sense of ego "walls us off" from other people and nature, makes us unable to sense the alive-ness of the world around us, and may ultimately be responsible for our extinction as a species.
There is a great deal of archaeological evidence for this psychological change. The archaeological record reveals the first signs of strong sense of individuality during the 4th millennium BCE, among certain Middle Eastern and central Asian groups. In prehistoric times almost all communities had communal burial grounds, but during the 4th millennium BCE, individual burials took over. Up till this point, people were buried anonymously too, with no markers and no possessions. But now people were buried with identity and property, as if their individuality mattered, and as if they thought it would continue after death. As the Swedish archaeologist Mats Malmer has written, these new burial practices (and the new emphasis on private property linked to them) are part of a "surprising change [that] occurred in Europe, a new social system…giving greater freedom and rights of personal ownership to the individual." Referring specifically to the beginning of the third millennium BCE, he calls these new European peoples "the first individualists." (7) Texts and inscriptions from the fourth millennium BCE are more concerned with individuality and personality, and around this time new myths appeared throughout Europe and the Near East that show, in Joseph Campbell's words, "an unprecedented shift from the impersonal to the personal." (8)
However, there are some signs that, as a culture, we are slowly transcending the "fallen" psyche, and going beyond our ego-separateness. Over the last three hundred years or so, there has been a new spirit of empathy growing, which has led to less cruel treatment of children and animals, less severe punishments for criminals, the women's movement, the abolition of slavery, the socialist movement, a new respect for nature, a more open and healthy attitude to sex and the human body and so on. And there has been a new sense of the sacred and of the possibility of self-transcendence, which has led to a massive upsurge of interest in esoteric/spiritual philosophies and practices like paganism, shamanism, Buddhism, meditation and so on. There are signs that we are reconnecting with nature, regaining our sense of the aliveness of the world and of the hidden mysteries of the cosmos. The characteristics of the prehistoric golden age may be slowly re-emerging.
In my opinion these developments are too significant to be merely the result of social or cultural factors. I believe that they are the result of a psychic change which the human race is undergoing collectively, an evolutionary movement which may be occurring in response to our present dire predicament. The only question is whether there is enough time left for these characteristics to emerge fully, before the old "fallen" psyche leads us to self-destruction.
The idea that human history is a gradual but continual progression - starting from a state of savagery, with generations slowly making technological and social advances and passing these down, and leading to the pinnacle of western European civilisation - is a leftover from the Victorian era, part of the same colonial mentality which saw "primitive" indigenous peoples as subhumans who could be justifiably conquered and killed. Rather than a progression, the last 6000 years of war, oppression, misery and hardship are the result of a painful degeneration from an earlier, healthier state. We may finally be moving forward now - but only in the sense of turning a full circle, and rekindling glimmers of ancient harmony.
Steve Taylor is the author of The Fall: the Evidence for a Golden Age and the Dawning of a New Era (O Books), described as 'an astonishing work' by Colin Wilson and 'fascinating, important and highly enlightening' by Eckhart Tolle. His writings on spirituality, anthropology and psychology have been published in magazines such as Resurgence, New Dawn and Paradigm Shift as well as academic journals such as the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. He lives in Manchester, England. His website is www.stevenmtaylor.com