The Dialectics of World-History: A Guiding Thread

Article excerpt

In what follows, I will make an effort to sketch a dialectical conception of world-history in its broad outlines, critically integrating useful elements from the guiding threads found in Marx, Gurdjieff, and Mannheim. (1) The purpose is to sketch an alternative guiding thread which incorporates human conscious and intentional action as a determining force in shaping major events, phases, and directions of world-historical change. Also central to the guiding thread is a conscious awareness of the divides in human inner and broader social life, of the dialectics of personal and global narratives shaping world-history in terms of the dialectics of part and whole. While the "objective" aspects of the world-historical development and the accidental nature of events are also accounted for, the role played by human agency in determining the direction of world-historical events is also acknowledged and incorporated into the structure of the narrative.


It is true that "[m]uch of the world history is the story of the way different civilizations have come closer together" (Roberts). But we often forget that it is also the story of how humanity split into "different civilizations" in the first place. Our subconscious fixation on "recorded" history, of say the past 5500 years, often diverts our attention from the long-term and large-scale processes that preceded recorded history. For the same reason, we also ignore the "unrecorded" histories of the "barbarian" nomadic populations who profoundly shaped the history of "civilized" world until very recent times. Human world-history is a singular spatiotemporal story of human alienation and reintegration--recorded or not.

Human evolutionary chronology is still a debated subject. Some scientists believe that our earliest primate ancestors lived as far back as 40 million years ago. The first hominoids evolved between 30 to 20 million years ago and were still roaming the earth 4 million years ago. The most recent ancestors of human species, the Homo Erectus, walked on earth about 2 million years ago. An evolutionary branch of Homo Erectus, the Homo Neanderthals, lived around 500,000 B.C. but became extinct about 100,000 B.C.. Traces of our species, Homo Sapien Sapiens--another branch of the Homo Erectus--have been traced back at least to 40,000 B.C..

Our nomadic ancestors were still more inclined to use their environments as they found them, rather than transforming them for their needs. It is not surprising, therefore, that with the apparent exhaustion in each locality of the available resources for their hunting, gathering, and later pasturing "technologies," they simply moved to new locations across the planet. Global mobility was then itself a productive force. The major splitting of the homo sapien sapiens into separate groups spreading around the globe began around 40,000-35,000 B.C. with the Nomadic Revolution. This global spreading went hand in hand with the gradual emergence of the earth's crust from the last Ice Age. Nomads' concentration in the northern regions was due to the widespread grasslands providing plentiful existing food for hunting, gathering, and pasturing. 33,000 years ago nomads were already in Australia, and 20,000 years ago in North America. All the ice free zones of the globe were already occupied by 12,000 years ago. It is the discovery of agriculture that effectively ended the nomadic way of life in the southern regions, while in the north the nomadic life still continued until recent times.

The Agricultural (or the so-called "Neolithic") Revolution began around 10,000 B.C., when raising of crops and domestication of animals were learned. Permanent settlements in villages then became possible. But, given the relatively isolated and separate nature of human settlements around the globe, the agricultural revolution did not begin at the same time in each region. The original birthplace was in Mesopotamia, circa 10,000-9,000 B. …