Wild to Civilized
From small nomadic packs
in the African wilderness . . .
A work in progress
This website presents a work in progress, combining the authors' two doctoral dissertations into one work in a form accessible to general readers as well as scholars. We aim to publish it in print form, but this website makes our ideas available sooner. Seven chapters are in near-final form, four chapters need further editing, and several chapters are not drafted but summarized briefly. Please excuse the uneven presentation at this time.
. . . to megacities linked in
a global industrial civilization
In this project, we look at the long span of our history as humans on this planet. But we look at it in a unique way. We will not tell of heroes or villains, of great events or battles. Instead, we aim to capture our social and economic history over millions of years by looking at our movement patterns and how they have changed over time, throughout our history as prehumans and humans on this earth.
We look especially at our historical change from bands of hunters and gatherers in the African wilderness into our present-day industrial civilization wrapping the globe. We like to think of this change as progress. Surely, our clever, inventive brains have made this transformation possible. But the outcome in our social relationships, in particular, may not be so positive. We hope to explain what has happened.
In a capsule
Our history began in the African wilderness millions of years ago when we first walked on two feet. Gradually, we evolved from being first-among-apes into modern Homo sapiens. For most of those millions of years, we lived every day in small groups of foragers, wandering from one feeding site to the next, gathering wild fruits and vegetables to eat raw and keep ourselves alive. In a slow but momentous change, we learned how to hunt wild animals for meat and eventually to cook over fire. Living every day in these nomadic packs, we had almost lifetime relationships with just a few other human beings.
Our human prehistory lasted well over two million years. In just the last 10,000 years, however, we have grown exponentially into a global industrial civilization. Today, over half the world’s population lives in urban areas with massive numbers of people in close proximity. We circulate extensively amongst each other and often spend very little time with any one person. Our longest relationships in the family or at work have become far shorter today than they once were, a relatively recent change in the last one thousand years.
We have changed, then, from small groups spread apart from each other long ago – to large masses linked together today. We call this a change from decentralization to centralization.
What are movement patterns?
Tracking this dramatic change through our long history is our quite expansive goal. But we look only at one aspect of our history: our movement patterns, how we move into contact with some people and not into contact with others in ways that form identifiable patterns. The basic patterns we find are few and simple to understand.
This change in our movement patterns goes, in broad stroke, from decentralization over millions of years to increasing centralization over just the past 10,000 years. This change is so dramatic and so recent in historical perspective that it raises the question: Have our social relationships changed so much from prehistoric days, and so fast, that we humans are no longer well adapted to our social environment, to today’s brief relationships?
Quite possibly. While we modern humans have attained amazing progress in technology, created great music, art, and architecture, produced incredible new understandings of the natural world, and achieved a very high standard of living, our social relationships have changed for the worse. Evidence indicates that if all we have is many brief relationships, then we suffer from loneliness, lack of meaning in life, and a high rate of suicide, especially among younger people today. Yet, we have lost memory of our long-ago history in the wilderness or even just our history in the pre-industrial Late Middle Ages in Europe from 1000 to 1500 A.D., or our stronger family life just a century ago. We tend to ignore this impact on our social relationships.
We will explore the types of social relationships that we humans can have – relationships that also occur in other species of vertebrates. Changes in our relationships have occurred over our long history as an integral part of new technologies we have developed. These technologies include such major innovations as stone tools, language, agriculture, domestic animals, cloth and clothes making, pottery, metalworking, weapons, machines, and electronics, to name a few. As we invented these technologies, our movement patterns changed, which, in turn, involved us in different kinds of relationships.
Movement patterns in human history
We examine the three basic patterns in which we are able to move: everybody together, everybody apart, or together with some and apart from others. On reflection, these are the fundamental patterns in which we can move – but they can be combined in myriad ways. The quality of social relationships differs among these patterns, from anonymous, impersonal relationships to lifelong personal bonds of friendship, a variation seen in other vertebrate species as well as humans.
We then show the basic movement patterns associated with three basic kinds of division of labor. In the sexual division of labor, men and women exchange food and other "products" with each other. In the craft division of labor, specialized workers craft one kind of product from beginning to end and trade their products with others. Finally, in the industrial division of labor, highly specialized workers perform just one short specialized task in a long string of tasks needed to make just one kind of product in large quantities -- and then an extensive trade network develops to ship and distribute a huge variety of specialized products to many stores and then to many consumers. As with the basic movement patterns, these basic divisions of labor can be combined in myriad ways.
We track these changes in our divisions of labor and our movement patterns through history, to help us understand how our social relationships have changed. We hope to show how studying movement patterns is a very scientific way to study social, historical, and even psychological phenomena.
Human History Mapping Project
We envision a digital software project, called the Human History Mapping Project, to map all of human history and prehistory, in which any day, week, month, year, decade, century, or millenium can be accessed at any location on the earth. The "spine" of this project would be our human movements, the observable raw data that we start with -- or in the case of past history, the observable raw data of movements that we infer have happened at any given time in the past.
Individuals and scholars in the various academic disciplines with their own specialized topics of study could enter their knowledge into the project and make a record, to the extent known, of the events, state of the economy, technological inventions, family structure, population migrations and mixtures, art, religion and ideology, and other aspects of social organization that occur at particuar times and locations. This data can then be analyzed to construct a model of the particular movement patterns associated with the data. The project would develop measures of the movement patterns: the degree of centralization or decentralization, the degree of "hierachy" versus "leveling," the degree of "contagion" versus "stasis," and potentially a host of similar measures. This project might be the first systematic, scientific way to view human history and society. Gradually, this mapping project would build up a fuller picture of human history and society and allow broader conclusions to be made.
[MOVE BELOW TO MOVEMENT CHAPTER]
Let’s imagine that this mapping project gives us a map of the earth for every moment of human history, starting with when we first began to walk on two feet and became bipedal – all the way up to today (which keeps advancing in time, moment by moment). On these maps, let’s assume we have the capacity to place a dot for each human individual alive at that moment, in the exact location that individual occupied at that moment in time. In prehistoric days long ago, our population was quite small, so we would have a limited number of dots, less than a million, located entirely in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, earth’s population is well over 7 billion, so we would have that many dots placed at each location of each person over all of today’s inhabited areas of the earth. Because people are born, live and move around, and die, all these dots will appear, move for a while, then disappear.
If we look at just one map at a moment in time, however, it would show no movement. All the dots would be immobile, “frozen” in a moment of time. Movement of any kind, of atoms, stars, or people, always happens with the passage of time. A useful analogy is the children’s toy device consisting of a neat little stack of papers bound along one edge. On each page is a slightly different cartoon figure, immobile. When a child grasps the stack and flips through it rapidly, page by page, the stationary cartoon figure appears to move with each successive page. In the same way, human movement happens with the succession of moments of time.
Movement patterns through history
In theory, a huge computer program could hold all these maps of each moment in human history, and could view them in succession and see all our movements. But such data, even if it were possible to have it, would be a confusing overload, too much for our minds to grasp. We need to look at the movement patterns that we can glean from historical accounts as well as from observations today. The most basic movement patterns are, in fact, easy to visualize.
Mapping human history -- a project
We envision a software digital project encompassing all of human history and prehistory, in which any day, week, month, year, decade, century, and millenium can be accessed at any location on the earth and a record made, to the extent known, of the state of human populations at that time or period of time, indicating how these populations form, grow, migrate, and mix with other populations they encounter and indicating the movement patterns within these populations with their associated technologies and divisions of labor.
Given the broad historical scope of this project, we cannot claim to be scholars of any particular time in human history. We only aim to give the general sequence of changes in our “modes of production,” as Marx called it, or in our “divisions of labor,” as we call it, and their associated movement patterns. We illustrate these changes with as much historical detail in Western European history as we have gathered for a long time, but details may differ in various locations in Europe and around the globe where different pathways of change are taken. Despite many different pathways, however, the general outline of change though history appears to be the same.