Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Strain of Civilization I

"The breakdown of tribalism, of the closed societies of Greece, may be traced back to the time when population growth began to make itself felt among the ruling class of landed proprietors. This meant the end of ‘organic’ tribalism. For it created social tension within the closed society of the ruling class. At first, there appeared to be something like an ‘organic’ solution of this problem, the creation of daughter cities. (The ‘organic’ character of this solution was underlined by the magical procedures followed in the sending out of colonists.) But this ritual of colonization only postponed the breakdown. It even created new danger spots wherever it led to cultural contacts; and these, in turn, created what was perhaps the worst danger to the closed society—commerce, and a new class engaged in trade and seafaring. By the sixth century B.C., this development had led to the partial dissolution of the old ways of life, and even to a series of political revolutions and reactions. And it had led not only to attempts to retain and to arrest tribalism by force, as in Sparta, but also to that great spiritual revolution, the invention of critical discussion, and, in consequence, of thought that was free from magical obsessions. At the same time we find the first symptoms of a new uneasiness. The strain of civilization was beginning to be felt.
This strain, this uneasiness, is a consequence of the breakdown of the closed society. It is still felt even in our day, especially in times of social change. It is the strain created by the effort which life in an open and partially abstract society continually demands from us—by the endeavour to be rational, to forgo at least some of our emotional social needs, to look after ourselves, and to accept responsibilities. We must, I believe, bear this strain as the price to be paid for every increase in knowledge, in reasonableness, in co-operation and in mutual help, and consequently in our chances of survival, and in the size of the population. It is the price we have to pay for being human. The strain is most closely related to the problem of the tension between the classes which is raised for the first time by the breakdown of the closed society. The closed society itself does not know this problem. At least to its ruling members, slavery, caste, and class rule are ‘natural’ in the sense of being unquestionable. But with the breakdown of the closed society, this certainty disappears, and with it all feeling of security. The tribal community (and later the ‘city’) is the place of security for the member of the tribe. Surrounded by enemies and by dangerous or even hostile magical forces, he experiences the tribal community as a child experiences his family and his home, in which he plays his definite part; a part he knows well, and plays well. The breakdown of the closed society, raising as it does the problems of class and other problems of social status, must have had the same effect upon the citizens as a serious family quarrel and the breaking up of the family home is liable to have on children. Of course, this kind of strain was felt by the privileged classes, now that they were threatened, more strongly than by those who had formerly been suppressed; but even the latter felt uneasy. They also were frightened by the breakdown of their ‘natural’ world. And though they continued to fight their struggle, they were often reluctant to exploit their victories over their class enemies who were supported by tradition, the status quo, a higher level of education, and a feeling of natural authority. In this light we must try to understand the history of Sparta, which successfully tried to arrest these developments, and of Athens, the leading democracy." Karl Popper [1945], Chapter 10, Section II


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