October 23, 2011

Five macro-trends overarching all of human history

Many things in the world fluctuate continuously but some things seem to keep on changing in one direction over long stretches of time. There even seem to be a few developments which stretch out over all of human history. Here are a few examples:

1. Anthropocentrism declines: long ago people used to interpret nature in human-centric terms. We thought we were the center of all things. Natural phenomena like thunder, outburst of volcanos and floods, were thought to be signs from god(s) meant especially for us. We thought the world was directed by gods who resembled people in many ways. Step by step we started to find out more about nature and about ourselves. We discovered much about natural phenomena and found out they often had little, if anything, to do with us.We also discovered the vastness of the universe. We found out that the earth is a tiny planet which is not at the center of our solar system, that our solar system is not at the center of our galaxy, the Milky way, and that people are not separate from animals but, instead, that we are animals ourselves. (Viewing tips: 1) The Center of all Things, 2) The Known Universe).

2. The human web tightens: the weaving of the web of human interactions has been going on since the time of hunter-gatherers forming bands. After that, cities and civilizations emerged and eventually -when Columbus extended the human web to the America's in 1492- the whole world was united into one world-wide network. In modern times, the tightness of this human web grows faster than ever through modern means of transportation and information and telecommunication technology. (Reading tip: The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History).

3. Human cooperation increases: As humanity evolves human cooperation increases. Put differently, throughout history human interactions more and more follow a pattern of positive-sumness. Positive-sumness describes an interaction in which the interacting parties aggregate net gains more than zero. Natural selection has shaped into us virtues like altruism and empathy which support cooperation. But apart from that, even self-interested behaviors can, and often do, benefit human communities. In addition to this, human designed systems countering dysfuntional egotism further facilitate cooperation. (Reading tips: 1) The Evolution of Cooperation, 2) Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny).

4. Collective intelligence grows: as human civilization has evolved people have engaged in exchange and specialization which has resulted in the gradual emergence of collective intelligence. Through this collective intelligence people have found ways to improve the living conditions for most of us despite seemingly overwhelming problems and threats. (Reading tip: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Viewing tip: Exchange is the root of virtue and prosperity).

5. Violence declines: In spite of the dominant view that the world is becoming more and more violent, the opposite is actually true. Throughout history many different kinds of violence have been slowly but surely declining due to a process of civilization and due to the institutions we have designed. (Reading tip: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined).

There can be little doubt about the interrelatedness of these five macro-trends. The five trends combined suggest that humanity is slowly but surely uniting and benefiting from it. Of course, much misery, inequality, poverty, hatred, primitivism, and violence still exists. We must not sit back and see what happens next. As it is now our turn to live we must do our best to take these trends one step further so that they may continue. 


  1. Interesting perspective.
    Thought-provoking, thank you!

  2. Thank you, Coert, always for interesting post. I don't know how to call all these trends put together, but I really think it's important to focus on the gain we have accumulated and appreciate as human race. The more we are aware of the gain, the more relaxed we can be in choosing the right kind of direction to go for.

  3. uiteindelijk gaat het er altijd om om het beste te maken van wat er is, maa dit geeft extra motivatie en HOOP dat het ook daadwerkelijk zin heeft. Zingeving dus. Mooi!

  4. Great! This sort of thinking is gradually reaching a broader audience, witness Matt Ridley's piece in Toronto's Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/optimism-is-not-dead-meet-matt-ridley/article2242139/
    So, let's keep telling people until they hear something in the message that works for them.

  5. Thanks, Alan. I agree. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to better recognize the progress we are making and to enjoy it.


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