Excerpts From Deep Ecology Hub – “The Great Forgetting refers to the wealth of knowledge that our culture lost when we adopted our new civilized lifestyle. The knowledge that allowed indigenous cultures to survive, the knowledge that we had once also been tribal and the understanding that we were but one mere culture of thousands. All of this disappeared in a few short generations.
The Great Forgetting accounts for an enourmous cultural collapse as once tribal people found themselves in a new and strange mass centralized society. New beliefs, new ways of life rushed into this cultural vaccuum to fill the void. But without being tested by natural selection over thousands of years this new culture was evolutionarily unstable.
It is only recently that the Great Forgetting has been exposed. Understanding it holds the key to making sense of our destructive culture. And remembering what it is that was forgotten holds the key to our future.
How The Great Forgetting Took Place
It began around 10,000 years ago when one culture in the Near East adopted a new way of life that humans had not tried before.
They began to practice an intensive form of agriculture which enabled them to live in a settled location.
They developed large food surpluses which led to a population and geographic explosion. What began as farming communes eventually turned into villages, then into towns, and then kingdoms. Civilization began.
But it was a long time before anybody began to write down history, several thousand years later in fact. What happened in between was that the people of this culture forgot what had happened. They forgot that they once were hunter gatherers and foragers who lived a nomadic lifestyle. They assumed that mankind arrived on the planet at the same time as civilization. They assumed that civilization and settled agriculture was the natural state of mankind, as natural as living in a herd and grazing is to buffalo.
Naturally this gave rise to the belief that we were only a few thousand years old, that mankind had began when civilization began.
The primitive cultures that lived on the fringe areas of early civilization would appear to suggest that humans had lived another way. But they were easily explained away. They had fallen from the natural state of civilization; they had degraded into savagery. They had once lived as fully fledged humans but they had forgotten the way and now they were inferior, they were sub-human.
The Philosophical Roots of Our Culture
This collective cultural memory lapse; this belief that humans had arrived in the world as civilization builders was held by the foundation thinkers of our culture.
The philosophers, historians and theologians of the ancient civilizations: Sumer, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, India and China wove the Great Forgetting into their work.
Those that followed – the Hebrew authors of the Bible, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, the great Western thinkers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and the great Eastern thinkers Lao Tzu, Gautama Buddha and Confucius - all wove the Great Forgetting into their work.
The thinkers of more modern times also followed suit, they didn’t take any Great Forgetting into account. Why would they? They had no reason to believe that humans had not come into this world as civilization builders. They had no reason to believe that this wasn’t our natural state. So Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes carried on our culture with the Great Forgetting at its root.
The Truth Is Revealed
Palaeontology exposed the Great Forgetting. Palaeontology made it clear that mankind had not arrived on Planet Earth when civilization emerged. We had lived for a very long time, millions of years in fact, in a completely different way. Mankind hadn’t fallen from the natural state into primitive living. That was how we began.
Looking back on it one could assume that the exposure of the Great Forgetting would have been a momentous discovery. It should have shook the very foundations of our way of thinking, the very foundations of our culture. One could have assumed that this would have led to some fundamental changes about who we are and how we should live.
But it didn’t. The Great Forgetting just got explained away. Instead of admitting that two very different and legitimate ways of living had been adopted by mankind in his history the thinkers of the 19th Century came up with this: man may have been born into this world as a primitive savage but he was destined to become a civilization builder.
In essence they said: “Who cares that we didn’t arrive as a civilization builder. It was our destiny to become a civilization builder. Now that we are here who cares what went before us. Those people that lived before us were just a precursor to us. They weren’t important.”
The historians came up with a convenient way to disregard those humans that walked the earth those millions of years before our culture emerged.
Instead of accepting that they were part of history the historians relegated them to pre-history. They were before history, because history began when civilization began. We are the good stuff; we are the ones who are fulfilling the destiny of mankind. We are the ones who should be studied…”
A New Way of Thinking
The realization of the Great Forgetting gives us a fresh perspective on human history and our place in the world. It gives us the opportunity to see that another way of living legitimately existed on this planet.
The answer to this ecological crisis doesn’t lie with bumbling along the same way we have been trying to perfect for ten thousand years. It doesn’t lie with manically trying to fix a way of life that can only succeed by growing. Eventually it was going to grow so big that it would run out of room to keep going. That time has arrived now.
Instead of trying to tweak and change our lifestyle to somehow make it work we need to have a complete overhaul of the way we live.
Now we can study indigenous cultures and say they haven’t degraded into savagery.
They haven’t been left behind in the march to progress; they aren’t the most undeveloped peoples of civilization.
They live in a way that is completely different to us.
A way that is not inherently inferior and a way that is in no means a precursor to civilization. Now we can look on them with fresh eyes, with newfound respect and listen to what they have to say.
They have lived sustainably on this planet for millions of years. We have much to learn from them…”
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