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The period of 470-1000AD encompassed what is now popularly referred to as the medieval ‘dark age’. During this time, human civilisation in the West saw a stagnation of not only culture but society itself. It was a time of great persecution, societal uncertainty and religious fanaticism. It cannot be helped that similarities seem to arise between this tumultuous period and that which we experience today. Some have even proposed that we stand on the brink of a new era, one that is set to repeat the stagnation of the medieval dark ages albeit with a more modern flavour. Current worldly happenings seem to support such a conclusion. If we are at such a point in the history of modern civilisation, what form would a ‘new dark age’ take? What factors are conspiring against humanity to usher in a period of uncertainty and danger? Do dark ages occur in predictable cycles, and if so, should we embrace rather than fear this possible development? These are the questions I would like to discuss in this article.

Historically, the dark ages were only labelled so in retrospect by scholars reflecting upon the past and embracing humanistic principles. It is with such observations that we cast our aspersions upon the society of today. Even so, humanity struggles for an objective opinion, for it can be argued that every great civilisation wishes to live within a defining period of history. Keeping such a proposition in mind, it is nevertheless convincing to proffer the opinion that we are heading towards a defining societal moment. A great tension seems to be brewing; on the one hand there is the increasing dichotomy between religion and science, with sharply drawn battle lines and an unflinching ideology. On the other we have mounting evidence suggesting that the planet is on the verge of environmental collapse. It may only be a matter of time before these factors destabilise the dynamic system that is modern society past its engineered limits.

Modern society seems to have an unhealthy obsession with routine and predictability. The uncertainty that these potential disasters foster act to challenge this obsession, to the point that we seek reassurance. Problems arise when this reassurance takes the form of fanatical (and untenable) religious, philosophical or empirical belief structures. Such beliefs stand out like a signalling light house, the search beam symbolising stability and certainty in stark contrast to the murky, dangerous waters of modern society. But just as the light house guards from the danger of rocks, so too does the pillar of belief warn against corruption. For it is, sadly, intrinsic human nature to take advantage of every situation (to guarantee the survival of oneself through power and influence), and in combination with personality, (propensity towards exploitation of others) beliefs can be twisted to ensure personal gain or the elimination of opposition. It seems that such a phenomenon could be acting today. Religion provides a suitable system upon which to relieve mental anguish and distress at the state of the world (reassurance that . So too does science, as it proscribes the fallacies of following spiritual belief and a similarly blind ‘faith’ in securing a technological solution to humanity’s problems. In that respect, empiricism and religion are quite similar (much to their mutual chagrin).

In such a system we see that de-stablisation is inevitable; a handful of belief structure emerge from the chaos as dominant and compete for control. Progressively extreme positions are adopted (spurred on by manipulators exploiting for personal gain), which in turn sets up the participants for escalating levels of conflict. Our loyalty to the group that aims to secure its survival, ultimately (and ironically) leads to the demise of all involved. It is our lack of tolerance and subservience to evolutionary mechanisms, coupled with a lack of insight into both our internal nature as a person and social interactions that precipitates such a conclusion.

This brings the article to its midpoint, and the suggestion that three main factors are responsible for the development of a new dark ages.

Human belief systems

As argued above, humans have an intrinsic desire to subscribe to certain world views and spiritual beliefs. Whether due to a more fundamental need for explanation in the face of the unknown (being prepared for the unexpected) or simply the attraction of social groupings and initiation into a new hierarchy, the fact remains that humans like to organise their beliefs according to a certain structure. When other groups are encountered whose beliefs differ in some respect, the inevitable outcome is either submission (of the weaker group) or conflict. Perhaps an appropriate maxim that sums up this phenomenon is ‘if you can’t convert them, kill them’. Thus we see at one level, our beliefs acting as a catalyst for conflict with other groups of people. At a higher level, such beliefs are then modified or interpreted in varying ways so as to justify the acts committed, reassuring the group of its moral standing (the enemy is sub human, ‘infidels’, wartime propaganda etc). Belief is also a tool that is used to create a sense of identity, which is another feature that conscious beings seem to require. Those that are lacking in individuality and guidance take to belief systems in order to perhaps gain stability within their lives. Without identity we are operating at a reduced capacity, nothing more than automatons responding to stimuli, so in this respect, belief can form a useful method for providing motivation and structure to an individual. Problems arise when beliefs become so corrupted or conflict so great that any act can be justified without cause for long-term planning; only the complete destruction of the enemy is a viable outcome. The conflict spirals out of control and precipitates major change; another risk factor for ensuring the New Dark Age is a plausible reality.

Economic/Political Collapse

Numerous socio-economic experiments have been conducted over the few millenia that organised civilisation has existed on this planet, with varying degrees of success. Democracy seems to be the greatest windfall to modern politics, ushering in a new era of liberation and equity. But has its time come to an end? Some would argue that the masses need control if certain standards are to be maintained. While a small proportion of society would be capable of living under such an arrangement, the reality that some large swath of the population cannot co-exist without the need for social management and punitive methods calls into question the ultimate success of our political system. Communism failed spectacularly, most notably for its potential for abuse through corruption and dictatorship. Here we have the unfortunate state of affairs that those who come into power are also those whom lack the qualities that one would expect from a ruler. Islamic states don’t even enter the picture; the main aim of such societal systems is the establishment of a theocratic state that is perhaps even more susceptible to abuse (the combination of corrupted beliefs that justify atrocities and unification of church with state causing conflict with other populations whose beliefs differ).

Is democracy and capitalism running our planet into the ground? Some would point to recent stockmarket collapse and record inflation as a sign that yes, perhaps human greed is allowed too much leeway. Others merely shake their heads and point to the cyclical nature of the economy; “it’s just a small downturn that will soon be corrected” they proclaim. Mounting evidence seems to counter such a proposition, as rising interest rates, property prices and living costs force the population to work more, and own less. Is our present system of political control and economic growth sustainable? Judging by recent world events, perhaps not, thus precipitating another factor that could lead to the establishment of a new dark age.

Ecological Destruction

Tied closely to the policies implemented by modern politics and economic propensities is the phenomenon of ‘global warming’, or more broadly, the lack of respect for our biosphere. It seems almost unbelievable that humanity has turned a blind eye to the mounting problems occurring within our planet. While global warming has arguments both for and against, I doubt that any respectable empiricist, or indeed, responsible citizen, could refute that humanity has implemented some questionable environmental practices in the name of progress. Some may argue that the things we take for granted (even the laptop upon which I type this article) would not have been possible without such practices. But when the fate of the human race hangs in the balance, surely this is a high price to pay in such a high stakes game. Human nature surely plays a part in this oversight; our brains are wired to consider the now, as opposed to the might or could. By focusing on the present in such a way, the immediate survival of the individual (and the group) is ensured. Long term thought is not useful in the context of a tribal society where life is a daily struggle. Again we are hampered by more primitive mechanisms that have exceeded their usefulness. In short, humanity has advanced a sufficiently rapid pace that has since overtaken the ability of our faculties to adapt. Stuck with a game of catchup (that most neglect to see the value or importance of) society is falling short of the skills it needs to deal with the challenges that lay ahead. The destruction of this planet, coupled with our inability to reliably plan and deal with future events could (in combination with previous factors such as deliberate political/economic oversight of the problem) precipitate a new dark age in society.

But is a new dark age all doom and gloom? Certainly it will be a time of mass change and potential for great catastrophe, but an emergence out the other side could herald a new civilisation that is well equipped to deal with and manage the challenges of an uncertain future. Looking towards the future, one can’t help but feel a sense of trepidation. Over population, dwindling resources and an increasing schism between religion and science are all contributing towards a great change in the structure of society. While it would be immoral to condone and encourage such a period in light of the monumental loss of order, perhaps it is ‘part of the grand plan’ so to speak in keeping humanity in check and ensuring that the Earth maintains its capacity of life. In effect, humanity is a parasite that has suitably infected its host, resulting in the eventual collapse of its life-giving organs. Perhaps a new dark age will provide the cleansing of mind and spirit that humanity needs to refocus its efforts on the things that really matter; that being every individual attaining individual perfection and living as the best they can possibly be.

Morality is a phenomenon that permeates through both society as a whole and also individually via the consciousness of independent entities. It is a force that regularly influences our behaviour and is experienced (in some form or another) universally, species-wide. Intuitively, morality seems to be at the very least, a sufficient condition for the creation of human groups. Without it, co-operation between individuals would be non-existent. But does morality run deeper? Is it, in fact, a necessary condition of group formation and a naturally emergent phenomenon that stems from the interaction of replicating systems? Or can morality only be experienced by organisms operating on a higher plane of existence – those that have the required faculties with which to weigh up pros and cons, engage in moral decision making and other empathic endeavors (related to theory of mind)?

The resolution to this question depends entirely on how one defines the term. If we take morality to encompass the act of mentally engaging in self-reflective thought as a means with which to guide observable behaviours (acting in either selfish or selfless interests), then the answer to our question is yes, morality seems to be inescapably and exclusively linked only to humanity. However, if we twinge this definition and look at the etiology of morality – where this term draws its roots and how it developed over time, one finds that even the co-operative behaviours of primitive organisms could be said to construe some sort of basic morality. If we delve even deeper and ask how such behaviours came to be, we find that the answer is not quite so obvious. Can a basic version of morality (observable through cooperative behaviours) result as a natural consequence of interactions beyond the singular?

When viewed from this perspective, cooperation and altruism seem highly unlikely; a system of individually competing organisms, logically, would evolve to favour the individual rather than the group. This question is especially prudent when studying cooperative behaviours in bacteria or more complex, multicellular forms of life, as they lack a consciousness capable of considering delayed rewards or benefits from selfless acts

In relation to humanity, why are some individuals born altruistic while others take advantage without cause for guilt? How can ‘goodness’ evolve in biological systems when it runs counter to the benefit of the individual? These are the questions I would like to explore in this article.

Morality, in the traditional, philosophical sense is often constructed in a way that describes the meta-cognitions humans experience in creating rules for appropriate (or inappropriate) behaviour (inclusive of mental activity). Morality can take on a vast array of flavours; evil at one extreme, goodness at the other. We use our sense of morality in order to plan and justify our thoughts and actions, incorporating it into our mental representations of how the world functions and conveys meaning. Morality is a dynamic; it changes with the flow of time, the composition of society and the maturity of the individual. We use it not only to evaluate the intentions and behaviours of ourselves, but also of others. In this sense, morality is an overarching egoistic ‘book of rules’ which the consciousness consults in order to determine whether harm or good is being done. Thus, it seeps into many of our mental sub-compartments; decision making, behavioural modification, information processing, emotional response/interpretation and mental planning (‘future thought’) to name a few.

As morality entertains such a privileged omni-presence, humanity has, understandably, long sought to not only provide standardised ‘rules of engagement’ regarding moral conduct but has also attempted to explain the underlying psychological processes and development of our moral capabilities. Religion, thus, could perhaps be the first of such attempts at explanation. It certainly contains many of the idiosyncrasies of morality and proposes a theistic basis for human moral capability. Religion removes ultimate moral responsibility from the individual, instead placing it upon the shoulders of a higher authority – god. The individual is tasked with simple obedience to the moral creeds passed down from those privileged few who are ‘touched’ with divine inspiration.

But this view does morality no justice. Certainly, if one does not subscribe to theistic beliefs then morality is in trouble; by this extreme positioning, morality is synonymous with religion and one definitely cannot live without the other.

Conversely (and reassuringly), in modern society we have seen that morality does exist in individuals whom lack spirituality. It has been reaffirmed as an intrinsically human trait with deeper roots than the scripture of religious texts. Moral understanding has matured beyond the point of appealing to a higher being and has reattached itself firmly to the human mind. The problem with this newfound interpretation is that in order for morality to be considered as a naturally emergent product of biological systems, moral evolution is a necessary requirement. Put simply, natural examples of moral systems (consisting of cooperative behaviour and within group preference) must be observable in the natural environment. Moral evolution must be a naturally occurring phenomenon.

A thought experiment known as the “Prisoner’s dilemma” summarises succinctly the inherent problems with the natural evolution of mutually cooperative behaviour. This scenario consists of two parties, prisoners, whom are seeking an early release from jail. They are given the choice of either a) betraying their cellmate and walking free while the other has their sentence increased – ‘defecting’ or b) staying silent and mutually receiving a shorter sentence – ‘cooperating’. It becomes immediately apparent that in order for both parties to benefit, both should remain silent and enjoy a reduced incarceration period. Unfortunately, and also the catalyst for the terming of this scenario as a dilemma, the real equilibrium point is for both parties to betray. Here, the pay-off is the largest – walking free while your partner in crime remains behind with an increased sentence. In the case of humans, it seems that some sort of meta-analysis has to be done, a nth-order degree of separation (thinking about thinking about thinking), with the most dominant stratagem resulting in betrayal by both parties.

Here we have an example of the end product; an advanced kind of morality resulting from social pressures and their influence on overall outcome (should I betray or cooperate – do I trust this person?). In order to look at the development of morality from its more primal roots, it is prudent to examine research in the field of evolutionary biology. One such empirical investigation (conducted by Aviles, 2002that is representative of the field involves the mathematical simulation of interacting organisms. Modern computers lend themselves naturally to the task of genetic simulation. Due to the iterative nature of evolution, thousands of successive generations live, breed and die in the time it takes the computer’s CPU to crunch through the required functions. Aviles (2002) took this approach and created a mathematical model that begins at t = 0 and follows pre-defined rules of reproduction, genetic mutation and group formation. The numerical details are irrelevant; suffice to say that cooperative behaviours emerged in combination with ‘cheaters’ and ‘freeloaders’. Thus we see the dichotomous appearance of a basic kind of morality that has evolved spontaneously and naturally, even though the individual may suffer a ‘fitness’ penalty. More on this later.

“[the results] suggest that the negative effect that freeloaders have on group productivity (by failing to contribute to communal activities and by making groups too large) should be sufficient to maintain cooperation under a broad range of realistic conditions even among nonrelatives and even in the presence of relatively steep fitness costs of cooperation” Aviles, (2002).

Are these results translatable to reality? It is all well and good to speak of digital simulations with vastly simplified models guiding synthetic behaviour; the real test comes in observation of naturally occurring forms of life. Discussion by Kreft and Bonhoeffer (2005) lends support to the reality of single-celled cooperation, going so far as suggesting that “micro-organisms are ever more widely recognized as social”. Surely an exaggerated caricature of the more common definition of ‘socialness’, however the analogy is appropriate. Kreft et al effectively summarise the leading research in this field, and put forward the resounding view that single-celled organisms can evolve to show altruistic (cooperative) behaviours. We should hope so; otherwise the multicellularity which led to the evolution of humanity would have nullified our species’ development before it even started!

But what happened to those pesky mutations that evolved to look out for themselves? Defectors (choosing not to cooperate) and cheaters (choosing to take advantage of altruists) are also naturally emergent. Counter-intuitively, such groups are shown to be kept in their place by the cooperators. Too many cheaters, and the group fails through exploitation. The key lies in the dynamic nature of this process. Aviles (2002) found that in every simulation, the number of cheaters was kept in control by the dynamics of the group. A natural equilibrium developed, with the total group size fluctuating according to the number of cheaters versus cooperators. In situations where cheaters ruled; the group size dropped dramatically, resulting in a lack of productive work and reduced reproductive rates. Thus, the number of cheaters is kept in check by the welfare of the group. It’s almost a love/hate relationship; the system hates exploiters, but in saying that, it also tolerates their existence (in sufficient numbers).

Extrapolating from these conclusions, a logical outcome would be the universal adoption of cooperative behaviours. There are prime examples of this in nature; bee and ant colonies, migratory birds, various aquatic species, even humans (to an extent) all work together towards the common good. The reason why we don’t see this more often, I believe, is due to convergent evolution – different species solved the same problem from different approaches. Take flight for example – this has been solved separate times in history by both birds and insects. The likelihood of cooperation is also affected by external factors; evolutionary ‘pressures’ that can guide the flow of genetic development. The physical structure of the individual, environmental changes and resource scarcity are all examples of such factors that can influence whether members of the same species work together.

Humanity is a prime example; intrinsically we seem to have a sense of inner morality and tendency to cooperate when the conditions suit. The addition of consciousness complicates morality somewhat, in that we think about what others might do in the same situation, defer to group norms/expectations, conform to our own premeditated moral guidelines and are paralyzed by indecisiveness. We also factor in environmental conditions, manipulating situations through false displays of ‘pseudo-morality’ to ensure our survival in the event of resource scarcity. But when the conditions are just so, humanity does seem to pull up its trousers and bind together as a singular, collective organism. When push comes to shove humanity can work in unison. However just as bacteria evolve cheaters and freeloaders, so to does humanity give birth to individuals that seem to lack a sense of moral guidance.

Morality must be a universal trait, a naturally emergent phenomenon that predisposes organisms to cooperate towards the common good. But just as moral ‘goodness’ evolves naturally, so too does immorality. Naturally emergent cheaters and freeloaders are an intrinsic part of the evolution of biological systems. Translating these results to the plight of humanity, it becomes apparent that such individual traits are also naturally occurring in society. Genetically, and to a lesser extent, environmentally, traits from both ends of the moral scale will always be a part of human society. This surely has implications for the plans of a futurist society, relying solely on humanistic principles. Moral equilibrium is ensured, at least biologically, for the better or worse. Whether we can physically change the course of natural evolution and produce a purely cooperative species is a question that can only be answered outside the realms of philosophy.

A common criticism I have come across during my philosophical wanderings the accusation that such thinkers and dreamers cannot possibly expect their ideas to ever take hold among society. “What is the point of philosophy”, they cry, “if the very musings they are proposing cannot be realistically and pragmatically implemented?” The subtle power of this argument is often overlooked; its point is more than valid. If all philosophy can do is outline an individual’s thoughts in a clear and concise manner without even a hint of how to implement said ideas then what is the point in even airing them! Apart from the intellectual stimulation such discussion brings of course, it seems as though the observations of philosophers are wasted.

In the modern world, the philosopher takes a backseat when it comes to government policy and the daily operation of state. Plato painted a far rosier picture in his ideal Republic which placed philosophers directly in the ruling class. Plato placed great emphasis on the abilities of philosophers to lead effectively.

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,… nor, I think, will the human race.” (Republic 473c-d)

But is this really attainable? Was Plato correct in stating ‘until (my italics, TC) philosophers rule as kings’? The implication here is that philosophers currently lack certain qualities which make them suitable for the role of leadership. Was Plato referring to a lack of practicality, a lack of confidence in their abilities to lead or something more menial such as the public’s intrinsic distrust of intellectualism? Certainly, looking at the qualities of today’s leaders it seems that one requires expert skills in the art of social deception and persuasion if they are to succeed. When Plato speaks of “those who love the sight of truth” in his description of the ideal “philosopher kings” that would rule the republic, it seems at loggerheads with the reality of modern politics.

So in order to become a successful leader in the modern world, one must be socially skilled and able-minded to sway the opinions of others, even if you don’t end up delivering. The balancing act becomes one that aims to please the majority (either through actual deliverance of election promises or ‘pulling the wool over eyes’ until we forget about them) and upset the minority. Politicians need to know how to ‘play the system’ to their advantage. They must also exude power, real or imaginary, relying on unconscious processes such as social dominance through both verbal and non-verbal communication. Smear campaigns act to taint the reputation of adversaries and deals are brokered with the powerful few that can fund the election campaign with a ‘win at all costs’ attitude (in return for favours once the individual is elected).

So why do such individuals gain a place above the world’s thinkers? Plato would surely be turning in his grave if he knew that his republic ideal would thus far be unrealised. I intend to argue that it is their pragmatism, their ability to turn policies into realities that makes politicians suitable over philosophers. Politicians seem to know the best ways of pleasing everyone at once, even if the outcome is not the best course of action. They can simply snap their fingers and make a problem disappear; ‘swept under the carpet’ temporarily at least until their term ends and the aftermath must be dealt with by another political hopeful.

Philosophers are inherently unpopular. Not because they are wrinkly old men with white beards that mumble and smoke pipes indoors, but rather they tell the truth. The scary thing is, the public does not want to hear about how things should be done; they just want them gone with the least possible inconvenience to their own lives as possible. This is where philosophy runs into trouble.

The whole ethos of philosophy is to objectively consider the evidence and plan for every contingency. It relies on criticism and deliberation in order to arrive at the most efficient outcome possible; and even after all that philosophers are still humble enough to admit they may be wrong. Is this what the public detests so much? Can they not bring themselves to respect a humbled attitude that is open to the possibility of error and willing to make changes for the sake of growth and improvement? It seems this way; society would rather be lied to and feel safe in their false sense of security than be led by individuals that genuinely had the best interests of humanity at heart.

Of course, there is the dark side to philosophy that could possibly destroy its chances of ever becoming a ruling class. The adoption of certain moral standpoints, for instance, are a cause for argument insofar as the majority would never be able to arrive at a consensus in order for them to be enacted. Philosophers seem to have alot of work remaining if they are ever to unite under a banner of cooperation and agreement on their individual positions. Perhaps the search for universals amongst the menagerie of current philosophical paradigms is needed before a ruling body can emerge. As it currently stands, there is simply too much disagreement between individuals over the best course of action to make for a governing body. At least the present system is organised under political parties with members that share a common ideology, thus making deliberations far more efficient than a group of fundamentally opposed (on not only beliefs but also plans of action) philosophers.

Does a philosophical dictatorship offer a way out of this mess? While the concept at heart seems totally counter to what the discipline stands for, perhaps it is the only way forward. At least, in the sense that a solitary individual has greater authoritative power over a lower council of advisors and informants. This arrangement eliminates the problems that arise from disagreement, but seems fundamentally flawed (in the sense that the distibution of power is unequal).

The stuggle between the mental and the practical is not only limited to the realm of politics/philosophy. An individual’s sense of self seems to be split into two distinct entities; one that is intangible, rational, conscious and impractical (the thinker) whilst the other is the inverse, a practical incarnation of ‘you’ that can deal with the unpredicabilities of the world with ease, but exists mostly at some unconsious level. People are adept at planning future events using their mental capacities, although the vast majority of the time, the unconsious ‘pragmatist’ takes over and manages to destroy such carefully laid plans (think of how you plan to tell your loved one you are going out for the night. it doesn’t quite go as smoothly as you planed). Does this problem stem from the inherent inaccuracy of our ‘mental simulators’ which prevents every possible outcome from arising in conscious consideration prior to action? Or does our automatic, unconsious self have a much further reach than we might have hoped? If the latter is correct, the very existence of free-will could be in jeopardy (the possibility of actions arising before conscious thought – to be explored at a later date).

So what of a solution to this quandry. Thus far, it could be argued that this article simply follows in the footsteps of previous philosophy which advocates a strictly ‘thought only’ debate without any real call to action or suggestions for practical implementation. First and foremost, I believe philosophers have a lot to learn from politicians (and quite rightly, vice versa). The notion of Plato’s republic ruled by mental  giants who are experienced in the philosophy of knowledge, ethics and meaning seems, at face value, attractive. Perhaps this is the next step for governmental systems on this planet; if it can be realised in an attainable and realistic fashion.

Perhaps we are already on our way towards Plato’s goal. Rising education levels could be reaching sufficient levels so as to act in a catalytic explosion of political and ideological revolution. But just as philosopher’s tend to forget about the realities of the world, so too are we getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Education levels are not uniform across the globe, even intelligence (we can’t even measure it properly) varies greatly between individuals. Therfore, the problem remains; how to introduce the philosophical principles of meta-knowledge, respect for truth and deliberated moral codes of conduct? Is such a feat even possible what with the variety of intellects on this planet?

One thing is certain. If philosophers (and individuals alike) are ever to overcome the problems that arise from transferring ideas into reality they must take a regular ‘reality check’ and ensure that their discourse can be applicable to society. This is not in any way, shape or form advocating the outlaw of discussion on impractical thought exercises and radical new ideas, but rather pursuading more philosophers to reason about worldly concerns, rather than the abstract. The public needs a new generation of leaders to guide, rather than push or sweep aside, through the troublesome times that surely lay ahead. Likewise, policitians need to start leading passionately and genuinely, with the interests of their citizens at the forefront of every decision and policy amendment. They need to wear their hearts on their sleeves, advocating not only a pragmatic, law-abiding mentality within society, but also a redesign and revitalisation of morality itself. Politicians should be wholly open to criticism, in fact encouraging it in order to truly lead their people with confidence.

Finally, we as individuals should also take time out to think of ways in which we can give that little deliberating voice inside our heads a bit more power to enact itself on the outside world, rather than being silenced by the unconsious, animalistic and unfairly dominating automaton that seems to often cause more harm than good. The phrase ‘look before you leap’ connotes a whole new meaning if this point is to be taken with even a grain of truth.

One of the most prevalent themes in science fiction and depictions of future societies is the unshackling of humanity from monetary materialism. Star Trek fans will be all too familiar with this idea, in that this fictional universe sees work as something that is done “for the betterment of mankind”, and that “in the future, money along with war and poverty, do not exist”. Unfortunately we as a society are nowhere near ready to achieve this ideal, neither technologically nor idealistically. Money makes the world go round, as the saying goes. But is this lofty aim achievable or even warranted? Would it eliminate the vices and accentuate the virtues? What sort of political, societal, economical and technological mindsets would be needed? These are the questions I wish to explore in this article.

The first proposition I want to put forward is not only crucial to the argument at hand, but also directly observable in the facets of human behaviour. Materialism seems to be an innate characteristic of our society and of ourselves as individuals. The nub of this character most likely lies in the evolutionary advantage that resource gathering brings. Not only does an excess of material goods improve one’s chances of personal survival, but it also increases the attractiveness of oneself to potential mates (a resourceful mate is more likely to provide for the child and mother, whilst also protecting them from malevolent others). It makes sense, then, that such behaviours would evolve to become second nature. Less fortunate individuals, lacking in such resourceful extravagance for whatever reason (low intelligence, physical handicap, large amounts of competition), would naturally evolve to make the most of the situation and attempt to siphon such resources from the said ‘resourcer’. Now, as a side note, humans are notoriously devious creatures, and social deception has long been our forte (perhaps even providing the evolutionary pressure to evolve larger brains as a way of out-witting our fellow tribes-people). Rather than challenge the dominant individual (at significant risk of physical injury or social ostracism), although this can occur if the individuals are similarly matched in resources – subjectively perceived or otherwise, the challenger will often resort to social subterfuge and gravitate towards servitude. And thus is born the concept of social power. Note that the incarnation of power used here is that which does not include the agent with the stronger muscles, the bigger guns or the tougher resolve (these may be a subsequent condition of wealth) but rather the elevation of an individual to higher social status.

Following this elevation, it is no wonder why we seem to be intrinsically predisposed towards the continual collection of material possessions. The introduction of hard currency and free, global markets as opposed to direct trade of goods and local, village-based economies only encourages the development of this social trend. We wear our possessions on our sleeves, as it were, in that material goods become our avatars, promoting a falsehood to impress others. As such, humanity is at times an unwitting but very willing exhibitionist. This ‘faking rich’ allows those who live off a credit line to lead a life that was otherwise unreachable. Building upon the foundations laid down by our nomadic ancestors, the perpetual scramble for wealth with which to buy only the newest and the latest sets up a fatal cycle. No longer do we buy things for their practicality but rather their (subjective) credibility. Greed for power and influence over social communities fuels the thirst for this retail addiction. But in just the same way that the junkie’s life starts to unravel, so to does the society in which greed motivates social interactions.

Now allow me to take a few steps backwards, the literary imagery is becoming a little to emotionally charged. Let me clarify my position; this is not an attack on free market economies, democracy or anything else to do with our current models of socio-economics. What I am attempting to put across is that I believe the current era of human civilisation is simply a transitional period. Unfortunately we often have to learn the hard way, and survey says that this may be the hardest lesson of all. For the first time in history we are facing a real and imminent danger of destroying ourselves through an unabated and merciless greed for wealth. The planet is teetering on the edge of an environmental catastrophe (yes, I am aware of the counter arguments put forward against global warming) for which we only have ourselves to blame. Controversially, I almost hope that the big crunch does occur, as this may prove to be the catalyst to propel humanity towards the next era of civilisation. But what an expensive lesson to learn! Humanity needs to take a step back and take a long look at itself; extensive changes to mindsets, traditions and other general inefficiencies and nonsensical practices that are stubbornly clung to need to be overhauled. In essence, we need a ‘future shock’ of sorts, a Scroogian-Christmas Carolesque experience that jolts society to its very foundations and makes us sit upright in our seats. Because without it, society can only continue to corrupt and corrode, destroying all we hold morally and ethically dear.

But what about the solution? Its all well and good to proclaim from my ivory tower that the world is full of thoughtless barbarians hell bent on spending their next paycheck. You would say I was a sensationalist, a perpetrator of stereotypes and over-generalist. Well you would be right! However this brings us no closer to the issue at hand. The problem thus defined is ‘humanity’s intrinsic need for resources (brought about through millennia of evolution) appears to be causing the run-away destruction of societal values and serves as a distraction from loftier pursuits worthy of our attention (elimination of poverty, world peace etc)’. The evidence; environmental collapse of this planet, societal trends towards materialism and generation of wealth (observable through record inflation, unaffordable housing prices, collapse of the sharemarket) and a youth culture that seems obsessed with outward-facing, individual interactions rather than introspection and collective collaboration.

Thus the solution has to be multifaceted; it must be in order to deal with the complicated causes that bubble away in the alchemist’s pot. Tipping the balance too much either way leads to a society that is stagnant and frankly, boring. Mindsets, values and ideals need to be modified just rightly so. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a capitalist society, but allowing a runaway effect of degrading values at its expense seems a hefty price to pay. On the other hand we have the history books to guide us. The collapse of communism illuminates the dangers of going too far with socio-economic models. As always, a fusion of ‘the best of both worlds’ is needed. Perhaps the ideals of communism mixed with the liberty of democracy and sprinkled with the spiritual enlightenment of Buddhism baked in the idealogical oven might just do the trick. Although, is such a tasty combination possible?

Fundamental flaws in human nature make such a lofty political ideal seem far-fetched. It will be interesting to see the outcome of communist China’s embracing of the Western economic model (however, this could also be a catastrophe waiting to happen as the full industrial might of China’s population is put to work churning out the goods we take for granted). It seems that even communist nations, priding themselves on foreign policies of Western isolationism and incorruptible ideals (though the latter point couldn’t be further from the truth in actual practice), are unable to resist the power of the ‘dark side’ when it comes to the almighty dollar.

Therefore, the solution needs to remove the motivation of money. Is it possible to simply remove currency? I think not. Not only would the forcible removal of wealth be suicide for any governing body, but the social cataclysm would be phenomenal. The social class system with its rising gap between rich and poor seems to be the only valid target for attack at this point. Rather than removing wealth altogether, the focus should be pinpointed on creating a global middle class; eliminating the need for envy and greed. To this end, a fair distribution of the world’s wealth seems to be the least disruptive path to follow. Perhaps centrally controlled via a world banking conglomerate, wealth would be dished out similarly to all based on time periods or relative need rather than job status or amount of investments. Civilisation would continue as normal, but instead of receiving monetary compensation, the mindset of working simply for the pleasure of doing so would be the sole motivating factor.

All this seems very high and mighty, and seems to grow exponentially in difficulty (in implementation) as we progress. So far my points are thus; to eliminate the problems brought about by materialistic drives, both physical and intangible changes must occur to society. Mindsets need to change; specifically our motivations for compensation and our dependence on wealth to bring happiness (secondary) and power (primary). Vast political, societal and economic changes are needed if this is to occur. Society must simultaneously be careful not to regress back to medieval forms of exchange such as direct goods trade although some features of this model may have their uses.

A ‘global garden’ approach where modern free-markets are supplemented by direct trade of goods at the village level seems to be the only way out of this quandary. Global climate changes will affect society in drastic ways. Soon we will have to reduce our carbon emissions prudently by limiting travel and reducing the industry that brings luxury items. Such goods will still be available under this model, although at much higher costs (to reduce the appeal they attract and to reflect the decreased ability to transport such items). Urban planning will focus on small village models, with self-sustainability becoming the main goal of design. Most trade will be conducted within the village, perhaps each specialising in a particular commodity which they can export to other nearby villages. A global government with reduced bureaucracy will form the symbolic face of future society, with practical day-to-day administration being done autonomously at the village level. In effect, the government of the future acts as more of a protective net rather than an enforcer of laws and taxation. A sense of community will be fostered (bringing in communist principles) where money is not the deciding factor in decisions, rather the wellbeing of society and its members.

Sure its a romantic view of the future, but one that I believe is attainable. If humankind is to advance past the outdated materialism that has been a harsh master (but entirely inappropriate for future society development) big changes need to occur before we all run out of time. Our insatiable greed is driving us deeper and deeper into the hole that has been dug in the name of ‘progress’. People need to start identifying and separating what they want from what they really need. So next time you see that brand new Ipod in the window with its flashy graphics and funky cover, take a moment to think if you really need it. I’m not preaching an Amish lifestyle; people still need luxuries and can appreciate nice things, but not at the expense of their own values and society’s progress as a whole. Don’t just buy something because its cool or in fashion. Buy it because you appreciate the hours that went into designing it, the ideas that sparked its creation, its symbolism of human ingenuity. Use it to inspire your own creations and and fuel your future aspirations.