This post is part of Human History series. Start with introduction.
Finally, the post I wanted to do! The whole series is, kind of, a by-product. I tried to understand what is happening around me and discuss that. But history is an extremely significant part of it. Before I could discuss today’s problems, I had the urge to compose what I learned about history.
The idea was to do only one post. The initial post got long rapidly and missed important details. I decided to split it up and include more information to be more understandable. From my point of view, my series should cover everything necessary you should know. There should be nothing more to pass a history exam! Anyway, I still want to do one brief post to sum it up. The series should tell the whole story, whereas this post should be a high-level picture.
The universe provided a place where life could emerge. Over many millions of years, life evolved from nothing to countless species of animals. One of them is humans. Every animal just wants to live. That explains evolution. Conditions change, and to secure future generations, animals have to adapt. But the modification of the genus is slow. Humans bypassed this by including cultural life to the genus. Cultural life can adjust much faster by learning.
Humans learned how to trace and hunt animals more efficiently or make tools from stones and wood. Learning itself is not that crucial. Cumulative learning is essential. Humans lived in communities, and everyone was like a small piece of memory. A bigger community equals bigger memory and a wider variety of used tools. Every information had to be passed from generation to generation with no writing system.
Hunter-gatherers made still somewhat smaller groups and were always on the move. After the last ice age, conditions were ideal for settling permanently. Hunters transformed into farmers. Farming made worse conditions for humans like worse diet, more work, or dependence on climate, but could feed more people. Before anyone could observe what is happening, it was too late. No one recalled how humans lived before.
There were many emerging civilizations independently around the world, but Mesopotamia remained the place where everything started. Mesopotamia was the cradle of modern culture because it was the center of three continents with the most plants and animals available for domestication. The first partial script, math or calendar to know when is the best time to plant and harvest crops were invented here. Over some time, it evolved into a full script to record art and mostly bureaucratic documents. Also, the first empires begun in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Humans are curious. We want to understand the universe’s laws since day one, but the world was too complicated for us at the beginning. Humans found satisfaction in supernatural forces, gods. Hunter-gatherers, farmers, and also emperors used gods. Some people didn’t like listening to an emperor and left empires to live in the diaspora and unite around only one God. Such people were called israel (“people without place”). Jews, Christians, and Muslims build on it.
Climate change caused long dry seasons and volcanic eruptions resulting in food shortage. People were starving, and kingdoms were fighting between each other for survival. Maybe empires would survive if they would support each other instead of leading wars. Ancient empires collapsed. Some people left to try to organize civilization differently. Republic in Greece was established. Greeks taught people to think about politics and invented many systems and words we use today, including democracy (“rule by the people”).
Greeks also thought in general. Egyptians observed the world and found mathematical formulas. Greek philosophers abstracted formulas from the real word, generalized them, and deductively found fundamental axioms and from those elementary axioms more complex ones. Philosophy represents a “love of wisdom,” and almost every nowadays’ science has roots in ancient Greece.
Kingdoms around were aware of it, and the Macedonian king requested Aristotle to tutor his son Alexander. Alexander the Great used the knowledge to conquer and unite all the familiar world, but his empire collapsed just as fast. Romans picked up Greece after Alexander and shared Greek culture in the Roman Empire. Religion believing in one God was banned, that was changed by Constantine the Great during the Third Century Crisis. Constantine decided to use God to unite back the disintegrating empire. After him, Christianity was the only allowed religion.
Meanwhile, Germanic tribes started migration from the north to many parts of Europe, including the Mediterranean Sea area. They were barbarians in Romans’ eyes, but knew how to fight and won the battle for land in the Roman Empire, which slowly collapsed after that. Germanic tribes absorbed the Roman culture, including religion. Belief in God seemed to be a crucial part of the Roman culture for them. Vikings filled place after Germanic tribes on the north and Slavs in the east. All cultures were forced to believe in God later as well.
In Mecca, Mohammad introduced another believe in God, Islam. Islam spread quickly in the Middle East and Africa. Muslims continued to Europe but were stopped by Franks. King of Franks, Charles the Great, united Christians in Europe into the Holy Roman Empire. Christians wanted to “save” Jerusalem, causing two hundred years of crusades. Crusades phased out once European kingdoms focused on battles for European thrones. Later, too young kings inherited thrones to bear the burden of governance, which triggered another lengthy holy war, the Hundred Years’ War.
People started questioning religion during the war and looked back to ancient Greece to continue with science. New discoveries were also fundamental to discover the other way to India. India was vital for European markets because of spices, and the Ottoman Empire blocked the direct path, the Silk Road, between Europe and India. Christopher Columbus found “east India.” Once kingdoms discovered that it’s in fact completely new land, everyone wanted to seize a part. Europe colonized the entire world.
America had many trees, but it would not solve scarcity in Europe. To fix it, people also used coal as energy. But deeper the coal mine, the more water inside. To fix this problem, Newcomen constructed the first functional atmospheric pump. Later improved steam engine could be applied in many places and started Industrial Revolution. Besides the steam engine, also electricity, telegram, and later, cars changed everything.
The new situation needed an innovative approach for social structure and economy. Traditional monarchies with monopolies didn’t work. Adam Smith is the father of capitalism and also the father of all following revolutions. Thomas Jefferson was an admirer of Smith and was behind the independence of the United States. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was also influenced by Smith and, together with Jefferson, started revolution in France for human rights. That was interrupted by Napoleonic wars, but the idea was planted. Fifty years later, the idea spread around Europe.
Liberalism with democracy and capitalism was not the only idea available. Karl Marx noticed problems with absolute freedom (and that women were not included in the first liberalization) and came up with a communism concept. There were too many ideas on how to organize modern industrial state, but no one knew what the right way was. Ideas couldn’t coexist, which resulted in many conflicts. The last century is a century of wars for ideologies.
Conflict on Balkan started World War I. After that war, nations tried to draw borders differently to prevent another conflict like that. Maybe it would work out, but governments chose to cope with the economic crisis after the war alone instead of together. Some nations blamed capitalism for the situation and switched to Marx’s ideology instead. Unfortunately, they misused the ideology: Bolshevism in Russia, Nazism in Germany, or fascism in Italy, all based on dictatorship. World War II was the result.
The second war showed that only liberalism and communism were working ideologies. Europe was separated into those two camps, and the battle for ideologies was not over yet even though there was no big war in Europe since then. Cold War held the status quo in Europe because of nuclear bombs on both sides. Battles were done indirectly in the countries of the Third World (developing countries). Chernobyl’s disaster was the sign that communism is not that great, and the Soviet block collapsed.
After the collapse, the only available ideology was liberalism with democracy and capitalism. Nations switched to it, but liberalism still has its problems. We can say we have no ideology left as we don’t believe in anything now. The internet and smartphones allowed us to have all the wisdom of humanity in our pockets. We are digesting all the information and thinking what to do next.
We have some challenges in front of us with no vivid picture of what to do. Note that our ancestors encountered a similar problem: challenges with no clear picture of what to do. Past events seem clear to us. We see clearly mistakes, and we think we wouldn’t do them. But it’s not true. We need to do something and hope it’s not going to be a disaster.
That’s why I learned our history, and that’s why I’m interested in topics covering current human challenges. I want to know how I can help to overcome our challenges. In the following posts, I will cover some such challenges and what I think about them.