I really enjoyed taking Sociology last semester. It stirred up a lot of think-juice. On the first day of class the teacher handed out index cards and had us answer a handful of questions describing ourselves and our views. The last question asked us to articulate how we viewed society: "Society is..."
Society is what?
The answer was supposed to give the teacher an idea on whether we viewed society along the lines of an Interactionist, a Functionalist, or a Conflict...ist (Head over to the Cliff Notes for explanations on all that). Neither here nor there though, we didn't know any of that stuff yet. There was just the question to answer.
I noodled on it for a bit and finally wrote, "Society is like the Chakra system".
Over the next few days that notion blossomed into a rather fun, "What if" theory. What if the growth and development of society is like the seven (or more?) Chakras described in Eastern philosophy? Curious about what the heck a Chakra is? I rather liked the descriptions given on Deepak Chopra's website, so I'll just drop that link here. Fear not, here's the TL:DR, or if you're already familiar with Chakras, here's my (abbreviated) personal take on these critical energy centers in the human body:
1) The Root Chakra - Your connection to your "People"; your base and foundation
2) The Sacral Chakra - The creative center; associated with sexuality and reproduction
3) The Solar Plexus Chakra - Digestion and processing of new ideas and information; this Chakra is considered the dividing line between the mundane and spiritual
4) The Heart Chakra - Love specifically; feelings and emotions in general
5) The Throat Chakra - Communication and articulation
6) Third Eye - Perceiving more than what "meets the eye"; intuition
7) The Crown Chakra - Your connection to divinity; your spiritual awareness
So how does that relate to cultural development?
I feel that society naturally moves through various stages that can be related to the Chakra "ladder". I can't imagine I'm the first to come up with this idea, but I haven't encountered it before. This is just a fun thought exercise and isn't a perfect analogy, so here goes:
1) A species develops its way up to sentience (yay!). Family groups band together for protection, companionship and to help increase survival. Budding culture starts to form as "rules" need to be developed to handle individuals living in larger groups: knowing one's place within the group; knowing that one must act differently/deferentially in the presence of certain individuals. Social roles start to form: who gathers food? Should certain individuals eat first? Who makes the shelter, or finds the best place to sleep? Who tends to the young? Who keeps order? Who has the right to reproduce? Who isn't allowed to reproduce, etc?
I feel that dolphins, elephants, great apes, and certain parrot species are already at this level.
For humans, this is the early caveman era.
2) Moving along to the creative center. More refined language develops. Though rudimentary language forms back in the first phase with instinctual communication (body language, scent and universal utterances); communication leaps forward in this stage. Grammar develops; vocabulary explodes; body language becomes more conscious and/or elaborate. Dialects and "accents" form: Members of one group may no longer be able to communicate effectively with other groups.
Tool-making takes off. Stone Age(s)!
3) In my opinion Humans are the only ones to make it this far (on our planet). This is where the environment gets "conquered". The building of elaborate dwellings. The domestication of plants and other animals. Mining. Body adornments become more showy and not just for protection and warmth anymore. Groups can get larger and more organized as language continues to develop and become increasingly refined.
Going back to Chakras: in the body, the diaphragm separates the solar plexus from the Heart Charka (hence the notion of the diaphragm separating the energies of the mundane from the divine). This diaphragm "ceiling" meant that humanity hung out here for a very long time. Speaking of the divine though, let's move on:
4) The religion of love!
Though religions certainly developed before this stage, they were authoritative to reflect and reinforce the (now ancient) cultural rules that have glued society together. Before this point, even though humanity had been living together in increasingly larger groups for centuries, there was still a selfish "every-man-for-himself" attitude underlying it all.
Along comes The Buddha, Jesus and Mohamed talking about love and compassion. For the first time people were asked to think of others as themselves instead of apart from themselves.
It's taken centuries since then for humanity to climb up out of the quagmire of a desire for world domination to an understanding that: living things go extinct if you kill them all; that the earth can be scarred if not cared for; that children are not just miniature adults capable of adult thought and reasoning; that oppressed people might actually desire freedom and autonomy.
I think this is primarily the stage humanity is at presently. There's still plenty of thoughts and notions aligned with the three earlier stages, but there's also a fair amount of movement upward too. The human race won't move forward as a whole until the older mindsets dissolve (we'll get there!).
5) My optimistic views are driven by the fact that there is clear movement into the communication center. The printing press, telegraph, radio, telephones, television, the internet (OMG the internet!) The world is shrinking as we continue to find new and faster ways to communicate with each other! Societal empathy continues to grow as we communicate more and more with different people.
Previously oppressed people (women, racial/cultural minorities, etc) are "winning" their voices and the right to speak as growing equals to those who have held power in the previous stages.
6) As society equalizes and the thought of killing and oppression becomes increasingly distasteful to the masses, I feel we'll shift into this sixth stage. Of course there are individuals already filtering upward - think the Indigo and Crystal Children touted about in the New Age movement. (Sorry, no links for this - go hunting yourself. I couldn't find any good sites that weren't too "flowery"). And that's a big reason why I really don't think we're "there" yet.
At present this stage of humanity is viewed very romantically and (in my humble opinion) over simplistically because it's being viewed/projected through the lens of those old-fashioned mindsets I spoke of earlier. Yes, antiquated social structures that no longer serve our race or the planet will indeed need to break down to get to this point, but I feel the stereotype assigned to this stage is a group of uninhabited hippies wearing flowers and flowing robes; diluting their childish narcissism by chanting OM into their crystals.
I feel that instead of the people of this stage being self-absorbed and mis-/un-informed, there will instead come a sense of personal responsibility to oneself and others. A thirst for knowledge and understanding of all things, not just what affects the self. There'll be a universal level of self-awareness and (therefore) social-awareness at this stage. A knowing and acknowledging that every thought, word and action affects others. Yes, society will be very different; but that's because the rules of the first stage will be done away with. The need for second-stage sexual power will no longer hold sway; previously held hierarchies and social roles will collapse. The need to conquer the world and all upon it will be considered petty and unjust.
Instead people and society will flow consciously, intuitively, and empathically. Love and communication with become the new foundation for the world ahead.
Another thing I predict for this stage is a great lessening of communal fear. What I mean by that is events of the world (either societal- or nature-driven) are presently viewed as random and therefore scary. Entering into the Third-Eye stage of development, the causes of things will be more clearly seen. The seeming randomness of the world will evaporate. A pervasive fearlessness will fill humanity.
7) Oh boy!
This stage is so far above my head (Get it? Get it?) that I can't even begin to speculate.
A constant/conscious connection with Divinity. A knowing of "Who You Are" (humanity's greatest question) without even needing to ask. What will that be like? Who knows.
Lets go find out!