Monday, August 3, 2009


I dunno if any of you have seen the movie 300. Yes, it’s about those seven thousand Greek soldiers and the three hundred Spartans who held the pass at Thermopylae for three days against the Persians. I also had the opportunity to learn a bit about Greek and Roman cultures before, and a few others as well. Spartan society was unique in a way that was not to be seen, ever in a human society again. I may be wrong in asserting that they may be the only true warrior society to have ever truly existed. I'll try to keep it brief as this post is not about Spartan military excellence. I'll have a look at two disparate topics, or seemingly at least -the evolution of human society and the evolution of the biological world around us. I'll also have a look at whether we can ever have a society as close to Sparta again- is it possible?

Let's take a look first at what evolution of the biological world started off as. It began as a group of tiny individual cells competing against each other so as to gain superiority with respect to the other species. This trend continued for an immensely vast amount of time- say from 3.8 billion years to around 800 million years ago (MYA). Then around 600 MYA, there came an explosion in the number of branches of life, with each branch having its own bizarre sets of features. It was not common for animals to have five eyes and twelve digits on a single limb. It was the equivalent of nature high on weed and painting with its fingers. Then after a while, all these animals, fantastic though they were, gradually declined and died out leaving us with a few templates of how life actually looks like- insects and arthropods have three segmented bodies, most animals have two eyes and two pairs of limbs. This template has remained for quite some time- even the dinosaurs look somewhat familiar as they followed the same body plan. Evolution seems to have smoothed out the basic external features for most groups of animals, even if they live in diverse environments.

Now taking the evolution of human society or the evolution of civilizations, we all started out as hunter gatherer societies. Men dressed in animal skins went out and hunted and led a primitive existence. These men lived like this for a long period of time. It was only recently, say three thousand five hundred years ago (an average, mind! I want no controversy on this!), that many, many new styles of living were found. Some stayed as hunter gatherers. Others began creating monarchies. Some places became theocracies. Many became regimented in their own systems of class, ranging from a master-helot/slave relationship to the Asian caste and class system. Some became warrior societies and some became societies where all genders were given equal respect in war and ranking (The Celts and the Ancient British had such societies). A rudimentary form of democracy was practised by the Athenian Greeks. Each area had formed a new form of government and had a set of laws specific to that region. Warfare formed the backbone of these societies as that was the influence of attrition, the major means to target an area religiously, economically and culturally. And it was also a wonderful defence system. Thus we had an extreme case of Sparta- an ORGANIZED, civilization, where the men did not hunt as in the nomadic warrior tribes, but solely practised warfare. It was their way of life- all other affairs were taken care of by the helots. But the evolution of the Spartan way went the way of the dinosaurs. Many such systems were eventually weeded out. Then we had a period of each system interacting (usually beating each others' brains out and kicking the opponents' family jewels) with the other and soon many such systems and forms of life eroded away. We are now beginning to see a homogenization of many cultures and systems of government. There are only a few basic types of government- Theocracies, monarchies, democracies and totalitarians. Even then, we have an abnormally large proportion of countries who have adopted democracy as their choice of government. It's as if, the evolution of civilizations is also reaching a basic body plan, and that seems to me as particularly remarkable!

Now let us assume that such a hypothesis is wrong. Let us assume that what I put forth is wrong and that human civilization can revert to the ways of the ancient world. Knowledge is now and will remain a premium for every individual on this planet. Will we have a society, where "knowledge", like identity, bank account numbers etc etc will all be managed by a group of individuals? Will we ever have a Sparta based on knowledge?


  1. "300" was a superb movie. Spartan society seemed to really go by Nature's rules in many aspects. Mainly the one about discarding unhealthy/deformed babies.

    About the post, I must really commend your line of thinking and the ability to put that in words. Simply mind blowing. So is democracy the final product of evolution in terms of human government? Looks to be the case. At times (read coalition times) I ve felt that India needs a strong dictator who has the country s real needs at heart :)

  2. @ Jagdish- Thanks a lot for the kind words! Regarding the last sentence, we could use a kick up the backside (:P) !

  3. Well written once again!
    Social class will exist in the form of countries such as majority of Indians providing service, Americans be financiers, Chinese being goods producers. Society always adjust to the changing landscape of economic conditions. Indian hierarchy that is caste system is one of the worst form of hierarchical system but I don't think that kind of system will prevail instead better class system where power is equally distributed will emerge.

    Look at the economic evolution itself, we started off from monarchy system of economy, then experimented aggressive communism in Soviet era, then Anglo Saxon model of capitalism in US and UK. That model also collapsed so economist are now arguing for a different model which may eventually represent nordic model that is the mixture of capitalism and socialism. If that also collapse we will invent something else to survive until our race extinct but how fast we change to better equip ourselves to counter natural disaster is the difficult question. Climate change is challenging human race for a while but we are stubborn to change. Sometimes, we ignore our survival to kill other species that is what is happening in case of climate change, just for economic benefits we are ignoring our survival at risk to reap the economic benefits.

  4. @Sat: Some scientists (and me too along with them) believe that we have already lost the war on climate change. We crossed the point of no return sometime back and the only thing we can do now is prolong the battle. Lets hope someone comes up with a brilliant invention to suck up all the CO2. If not, serves us right for looting and plundering every natural resource in sight.

    By the way, even if climate change doesnt wipe us out, I guess massive air and groundwater pollution with heavy metals will do us in. Cadmium, lead and arsenic sponges anyone?

  5. @Jagdish
    We have lost this battle mainly because we are/were obsessed with making money to screw literally other people or forcing authority on other weaker ones. We already have all the sophisticated technology to win over climate change and other forms of pollutions. But we don't do it because if one country try, it will lose its economic hegemony.

    In the name of capitalism so as to maintain superiority over other human species, we are literally digging holes for humans (ourselves) who are gonna be sucked up by atmosphere very soon. There is something called 2012 doomsday theory, I am not quiet fond of it but they were theorizing a lot.

  6. @sat- the 2012 doomsday prophecy is a Mayan Prediction based on something called a long count calender- they based it on the precession cycle of the earth. The Mayans said that the Earth will end in a large flood which is in a codex called the "Dresden Codex". It just so happens that around 2012 the equatorial plane of the Earth, Sun and the Milky Way Galaxy will be inline. All the conspiracy theories are unfounded really. There are technologies to siphon arsenic and mercury from groundwater- so we can fight that if we really need to. What I am worried about is the Amazon in South America experiencing a prolonged drought. The reason is that the Amazon is the biggest carbon sink in the world today, and if on a hot summer's day a fire is triggered and, if the Amazon has a prolonged drought, then all that carbon fixed in the trees will end up as CO2 and ash and dust- causing a cataclysmic rise in temperature- then the poles melting is just the beginning.

    Climate change is already underway- we can't change a system which is inherently unpredictable- a chaotic system. This small change will trigger changes rapidly and will spiral out of control.

  7. @Narayan There is another huge carbon sink - the oceans. Every year oceans absorb billion of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. At the rate in which CO2 levels are rising in the seas, marine life is going to be affected big time. Tomorrow might never come, but "the day after tomorrow" is gonna come for sure :D