THE EPIC OF CIVILIZATION: What Now?
THE OLDEST EPIC POEM, The Epic of Gilgamesh, elaborates upon a long-standing human notion: the selfish quest for immortality. Gilgamesh, himself, was supposed to have prepared the Cuneiform tablet upon which his poem, his story, was carved. Gilgamesh was sort of the first historian (as well as an early hunter-gatherer). He did great and unimaginable things! He encountered gods, ventured into the underworld, and even suffered moral conflict (the stuff of humanity). Interestingly, Gilgamesh is also the legendary “father of civilization”, having founded the first city: Uruk (near what is now, Iraq, Mesopotamia).
His is a great story, foreshadowing the story of Moses and Jesus. But perhaps a very important message is not advanced, or is absent: Once cities are constructed, how then, are we supposed to deal with each other in such unfamiliar/unnatural situations? Why, after millenia of practice, are we so seemingly lost? Perhaps the very premise of civilization contravenes our innate selfishness, that self-interest that drove Gilgamesh to desire eternal life, is the very thing that separates us today? Perhaps, his story is not to be taken literally, or maybe his nature is ours, and the story applicable to all of us? This nevertheless does not address the reasons that living amongst each other produces such flux…
There were many things that drove us to cities, namely, safety in numbers, agriculture, trade, and a greater or diverse gene pool. Additionally, with all of the barter and craftspersonship comes influence. Thus, inequality becomes more of a salient or necessary force.
In order to combat our inner anti-sociality we have devised codes, laws, policies, to wit: Code of Hammurabi, The 10-Commandments, Magna Carta, etc., each draft an attempt to curtail what we really are: selfish and autonomous creatures. These codes are each an aim to encourage predictability and stability: norms. Each principle rule addresses sociological concepts, how to live amongst other closely situated humans, conformity, and what we ought not to do. Our values and boundaries began taking shape as we moved closer together.
Do we have to have such formal complexity? Can successfully living next to someone really come down to being NICE to her? Does thou shalt not steal have to be delineated on a stone tablet to remind us? Absolutely. Gilgamesh after all told us that. Codification lies at the root of law, ordering complex society so we can maneuver with the least amount of friction and interests are protected.
What are your values? What are your policies? Do you ponder about them much?
You may have heard the old adage, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”.
FIVE-PERCENT (5%) OF THE HUMAN POPULATION have a dominant personality type, meaning, they are driven to lead, to order, or to take. Like the speed of light or pi, this percentile is a natural constant, having extremely little variation.
During the time of Gilgamesh, cities were small, thus 1-of-20 dominant types could flourish in a town of say,1,500. These 75-people would have been priests, teachers, government leaders, or military leaders. Acute problems arise, however, once populations reach into the hundred-thousands, or millions, 50,000 dominant types are problematic as competition is high, there exists lean opportunity for legitimate expression: the result is crime. Crime is a simpler means by which expression of dominance is achieved (Wilson , 2005:72).
(view the following slide)
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was devised, true from simian observations, yet remains applicable to the types of developed crime having occurred throughout human history. Earliest crimes were for food, then the best of caves, or trees, then the gene pool, and to be chieftain or King, then to be a God-king and realize ones life meant more than a bag of bones and a few children, that one has realized full-potential and accepted that which Gilgamesh had to as well, that we will die, there is no eternal life in a literal sense. (Think Alexander the Great.)
Gilgamesh, cities, and Maslow share for us a view of the Epic of Civilization.
Maslow’s study, at least the pyramid, will be worthwhile study, as it calls forth the essence of motivation, that there are certain things that we must do to stay alive. The hierarchy does not rule over us as a law, it does not cleanly escalate everyone’s needs nor address a clean regression, if at all. However, these five (5) needs exist.
This morning, as you wake, believe in goodness, be motivated by the higher order that Gilgamesh missed, that Maslow defined…accept that helping others will accomplish the greatest good: invoking the ripple effect. We pray their eyes are open, and that they too become motivated by helping others: I understand you, I care for you, and I value you. Pass it on, and remake civilization as you have known it.
-Colin Wilson, A Criminal History of Mankind, Mercury. London (2005)
– Gilgamesh photo statuary, public domain, 2014