Photo by Magda Ehlers

Chet Shupe reveals a complex relationship between the ills of humanity and its unnecessary dependence on civilization despite the damage of the latter’s glaring contradictions.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

Although civilization has brought many benefits to the human race, it also brought plenty of disadvantages that are more or less overlooked overwhelmingly in favor of the advantages. This slip-up has been accumulating since the dawn of civilization—inequality, prejudice, hierarchy, alienation—now, they are all bursting at the seams and threatening to undo everything that makes civilization good and appealing. 

In Rediscovering the Wisdom of Human Nature: How Civilization Destroys HappinessChet Shupe illustrates with deductive acuity and analytical sharpness how the general misfortunes of humanity are self-afflicted. What is happening now can largely be attributed to the mistaken assumption that society should be structured according to strict hierarchies. This belief runs counter to the natural progression of the human species; it generates a destructive contradiction that creates the pervasive illusion that humans can only experience life because of the established social order, dismissing intuitive and naturalistic responses as mere instinctive reactions. 

As such, there is a growing need to be introspective, not just reflect on oneself but contemplate what led society to this point–to examine the aged notches of history. By scrutinizing the storied events of history and the often neglected, humanity can develop a plan for resurgence and renewal.

Why Is Studying History Necessary to Imagine Change?

As the formal study of past human events, history contains the sum of human experience. It explains how events came to be and how they resonate in the modern era. Through investigations of the past, historians can establish a probable cause and inflection point for the many problems contemporary society is experiencing. This strict appraisal and keenness for detail help formulate and develop unique perspectives and schemes for establishing better systems of society and evolutions of culture.

Past events do not happen in a vacuum. When you throw a pebble into a lake, there are ripples. In the case of the past, these ripples go on for a long time. What happened then still affects what is happening now. Ideas of the past still influence people today. There are even institutions from ages hence that still exist today, e.g., the Roman Catholic Church, the Japanese Royal Family, etc., and they still have tremendous authority over a lot of people living now.

Examples of Past Events Still Influencing the Modern Era

Some prime examples of past events and ideas affecting society until now are:

  • the American Civil War, whose racial and social divisions are visible even today, predominantly in the South;
  • the Roman conception of private property, which has seen many alterations, yet is still a cornerstone of modern law;
  • and the Peace of Westphalia, which set up the framework for how nations interact.

There are plenty of examples for the avid historian-to-be. Still, one thing is for sure: society today is the product of the innumerable choices and paths made in the past, and the more anyone learns of this truth, the better their comprehension of society and its workings.

What are the General Lessons We Can Learn from Studying History?

Through the dissection of history and scrutinizing its many different moving parts, you can learn why:

  • Conflict occurs and how societies resolve them;
  • People yearn for progress and contribute to it.
  • Some modes of organization fare better than others;

History is not merely a study of events but also the investigation of the web of interlocking connections all groups of humans have. It is looking beyond the surface of important dates and examining the human factors involved.