Early Right Brain Civilizations
Civilizations sprang from the early agricultural cities, in fact the word “civilization” is derived from the Latin word meaning “city”. Ancient civilizations refer to the very first civilizations
Certainly the Egyptian empire was one of the largest, most enduring, and most famous of the early civilizations. It began in about 3100 BCE and remained a separate culture and civilization until 332 BCE when conquered by Alexander the Great and with final Roman conquest in 30 BCE. The Egyptian Civilization endured for 3,000 years. Today Egypt is Islamic and the original Egyptian civilization no longer exists.
The Egyptian Civilization owed its strength, its rise to centralized power within the region, and its longevity to the Nile River. The Nile River provided lifeblood to the agriculture of the region and also made it well-circumscribed. The Egyptian empire benefited from being surrounded by un-crossable deserts on three sides; and therefore only had to fend off intruders from the Isthmus of Suez.
One of Egypt’s enduring characteristics was lack of change. Egypt was originally a collection of small farming cities whose cultures were unified by about 3,000 BCE. There was a collective benefit to joining together into the larger civilization. The larger collective group certainly had pooled resources that could not be attained by the individual cities. The larger collective group also discouraged, and probably ended, inter-city feuds and wars, and the large collective group also discouraged outsiders from tangling with it because of its size and resources. Evidence indicates that even during times of drought, when resources became scarce, the fabric of the society largely remained and people cooperated with one another. There is also evidence that robbing of earlier tombs when times became rough was orderly and sponsored by the state.
The hierarchical structure headed by the god-like Pharaoh kept this civilization rigidly organized and unchanging. The centralized state was extremely strong and individuals were tied to the state economically and religiously. The state provided security, a comfortable life (i.e. “success”), and religious beliefs. All evidence indicates that the people and workers received good care – even medical care. In return, people were subservient (but not enslaved) to the state.
The Egyptian empire is famous for building its long-enduring pyramids, statues, and temples. These remain the largest symbols on our planet, and served to religiously unify the people of the Nile. The Egyptian empire was organized similarly to the dominance hierarchies of earlier cities. It was larger, so required larger symbols of the gods that served to cement the group.
Figure. The earliest cities, along with the earliest (ancient) civilizations, were advanced societies that organized human groups according to a dominance hierarchy with a strong centralized God. They emphasized group over self, and the right brain sense of “group” dominated the left brain sense of “group”. There was a central God figure, in the form of a physical structure (e.g. totem or pyramid), who was closely affiliated with or the same as a human leader. This provided a set of rules (structure) for the group and also provided individuals with answers about life and death. This organization provided success for the group. This basic organization is essentially the same as for the earliest of human groups.
The Egyptian religion included a creation story and also showed obsession with a life after death. Even common Egyptians believed in an eternal soul, a last judgment, and resurrection after death. The pyramids were testaments to the after-life of the kings.
The size of the pyramids is testimony to the subservience that people gave to the state. Probably without intention, they also represent the hierarchical structure of the society. There was a very strong leader (King), who was mixed between human and God, that served as the center of the group. The hierarchy or pecking order in these civilizations was well-defined, with the largest mass of people living in complete subservience and without any hope or even thought of changing their lot. People seemed to just accept their lot in life. They probably did not question their role for several reasons. (We see this yet today in the Hindu caste system. It is also the expected behavior in military units, or any group that is led by dictator. Adherence to group rules is the only behavior that is accepted or reinforced. This behavior is the same as the dominance hierarchy behavior that comes from, and which we still carry with us, from the animal world.) One was that it was totally outside of their experience in life to do so. It was not their position to think or question the organization into which they were born, and their upbringing had not prepared them to do so. Our minds had not yet developed to that point. Concepts such as freedom and democracy had not yet been invented. Even if they had capacity to question the way that life was set up, they would have had no ability to change it. Their life depended upon the civilization into which they were born and the rules of that life were guided from the top. The top provided everything to guide their life – including god and religion.
The Egyptian system provided success for the group insofar as the human mind had developed to that point. The system survived for 3,000 years – a record for civilization longevity. It was a rigid system and did not encourage or allow for advanced development of the human mind – certainly not for those at the bottom of the structure and possibly also not for those at the top. The rigidity of the system did not allow individual advanced thinking to emerge.
The Egyptian governance system may be viewed as the pinnacle development of the dominance hierarchy in human governance. The right brain sense of “group” dominated the left brain group-think in governance (as indicated in the figure). The left-brain group think was evident in terms of the many accomplishments of Egyptians (especially the building programs), but it was subservient to the vision-based sense of group coming from the animal world in terms of group governance.
Theocracy in other Civilizations
The ancient Egyptian form of government is now referred to as a “theocracy”, the word was first coined by Joseph Flavius in the first century AD and is derived from the Greek word meaning "rule of God".
A theocracy is a form of government in which it is understood by the ruled that they are governed by a God or by individuals who are part God or at least divinely inspired. God is recognized as the head of the government. The strong God-based group structure with subservient classes of people observed in Egypt appears in other Ancient Civilizations.
This form of government, such as shown in the Egyptian model above, is possibly the oldest form of government and may go back to the original small human groups. It is a dominance hierarchy model that places God at the head of the hierarchy.
Scarpari (2006) reviews the characteristics of the earliest known Chinese Ancient Civilizations. He writes: “Social organization was generally based on a system of kinship that guaranteed the most powerful families the loyalty of immense clans.” He also wrote: “The complexity of the wealthiest burials and finds of animal bones used for divination demonstrate the existence of social hierarchies and a dominant class that held religious authority.”
The early Mesopotamian Civilizations had Ziggarat temples at the centers of their city-states. Priests would represent the gods and control the economy.
The Incan empire was a theocracy, the Inca king was considered the descendant of Inti, the sun god. Likewise the Mayan Civilization was a theocracy, with each city-state ruled by royalty. Some Islamic states today have accepted Islam as their political foundation, effectively making them theocracies.
The Sudden Meeting of Old and New Civilizations
The ancient civilizations in the Old World (i.e. Europe, Asia and Africa) could not survive the developing Western Civilization lead first by the Greeks and then by the Romans. However, ancient civilizations in the New World (i.e. the American continents) such as the Aztec, Incan, and Mayan, because of their remoteness and complete lack of communication with the Old World were able to persist without outside influence until the discovery of the New World in 1492.
These New World ancient civilizations bore similarities to the Old World ancient civilizations. These civilizations were totalitarian and built around totalitarian rulers who were associated with God. They were hierarchical societies headed by noble classes of warriors. The first Europeans to view these civilizations noted the cruelty of the rulers towards the masses of workers and towards other peoples. These societies also relied upon large working classes that appeared to have unquestioning support for the god-rulers. These unquestioning workers were able to build large temples that rival the Egyptian pyramids in terms of size and magnificence. Of course, these temples and pyramids were part of the religion that played a major role in the society. The rulers were intimately involved with the control of that religion and used human sacrifice in those temples, often on a large scale, as part of their control tactics. In the dedication of the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1489 as many as 20,000 people were sacrificed.
These ancient New World civilizations, like those of the Old World, were not based upon the free will of individuals. They also seem to bear resemblance to bee and ant colonies; individuals did not have self-determination and the hierarchical society maintained strict control by the ruler.
The clash of these ancient civilizations with the more advanced Western Civilization is very instructive. Atahuallpa was the absolute monarch of the Incan nation and was worshipped as a sun god. The Incans were the largest and most advanced civilization in the New World. Yet, in 1532 AD, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, with 168 Spanish soldiers was able to easily take over the Incan empire of 12 million people and its army of 80,000 soldiers. How was this possible?
In this most remarkable clash of Western Civilization with an ancient civilization, Pizarro was able to quickly subdue the Incan nation. Jared Diamond provides first-hand accounts from some of the Spanish soldiers. First of all, the soldiers were so scared by the massive display of the Incan military manpower and the extravagant and opulent display of power wielded by Atahuallpa that many “urinated without noticing it, out of sheer terror.” However, Pizarro outsmarted the Incans by tricking them into thinking they came in peace. Pizarro and his men were probably much more skilled at deception than the Icans had ever previously experienced. Pizarro and his men also set a fairly transparent trap into which Atahuallpa, in all his glory and with his several layers of high chiefs and councilors, unsuspectingly and ceremoniously was carried. They out-thought the Incans – unfortunately deceit is one of the attributes of advanced human thinking. The Spaniards also had a large advantage in terms of having 62 horses (horses were not available in the New World) and steel weapons. Pizarro’s dozen muskets were probably more psychological than tactical. The superiority of weapons by itself cannot explain overcoming the almost 500:1 manpower superiority of the Incan military.
A key to the Incan conquest was the capture of Atahuallpa and the effects it had upon the entire Incan Civilization. When the god-ruler was plucked from the civilization, the entire society folded. Just like plucking the Queen Bee. It is likely that neither the group-think nor the thinking of individuals nor the breadth of experience of the Incans was any match for the thinking abilities that Western Civilization had given to Pizarro and his men. The Incans were no match for the superiority of the Western Civilization mind.
Also, the Pizzaro “conquest” of the Peruvian Incans can give us further insight into an old Theocracy.
“In Cuzco in 1589, Don Mancio Serra de Leguisamo — one of the last survivors of the original conquerors of Peru—wrote in the preamble of his will, the following, in parts:
We found these kingdoms in such good order, and the said Incas governed them in such wise [manner] that throughout them there was not a thief, nor a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor was a bad woman admitted among them, nor were there immoral people. The men had honest and useful occupations. The lands, forests, mines, pastures, houses and all kinds of products were regulated and distributed in such sort that each one knew his property without any other person seizing it or occupying it, nor were there law suits respecting it… the motive which obliges me to make this statement is the discharge of my conscience, as I find myself guilty. For we have destroyed by our evil example, the people who had such a government as was enjoyed by these natives. They were so free from the committal of crimes or excesses, as well men as women, that the Indian who had 100,000 pesos worth of gold or silver in his house, left it open merely placing a small stick against the door, as a sign that its master was out. With that, according to their custom, no one could enter or take anything that was there. When they saw that we put locks and keys on our doors, they supposed that it was from fear of them, that they might not kill us, but not because they believed that anyone would steal the property of another. So that when they found that we had thieves among us, and men who sought to make their daughters commit sin, they despised us." Attributed to Cobo
The above description of the Incan behavior provides insight to a very moral and well-behaved society. This tranquility seems similar to that found in the Egyptian Civilization. God is in charge! When God is in charge, everybody behaves. It is the only way that it can be done. The behavior patterns are rigidly laid out and so strongly held by the group that enforcement is perhaps not even necessary.
Theocracy – an animal model?
It is tempting to compare the organization of the Egyptian and other ancient civilizations to something we see in the animal kingdom today – ant and bee colonies. Such animal colonies are highly organized with a queen at the top and various levels of subservient individuals below the queen. There are several classes of workers, each with distinct roles in the colony or community. This organization resembles ancient human civilizations.
JM Roberts, author of A Short History of the World, writes: “Most animals which live in groups – ants, bees, herds of deer – look very well-regulated. It seems that they are better at keeping rules in their societies than human beings. Yet that is only because they are in fact very different from humans. They are not actually obeying rules (as we understand them) at all, but are behaving almost automatically; they do things because they are programmed by their genes or by patterns of behaviour imprinted so deep that we call them “instincts”. They could not behave otherwise if they wanted to, indeed, they cannot want to.”
These animal models of group behavior, which served as the models for the earliest human civilizations, are those developed with vision-based minds coming from the animal world. There were no thoughts.
JM Roberts further states that: “Human history began when the inheritance of genetics and behaviour which had until then provided the only means of survival was first broken through by conscious choice” (italics added). This statement is consistent with the story of Adam and Eve in which Adam’s choice was the first step in our separation from Nature.
Animals seem to make choices such as when to eat, sleep, or hunt – but since they do not have words their consciousness and means of making a choice must be different than ours. They certainly don’t debate with themselves about what to do. Only humans have a thinking consciousness and can make thinking decisions. Animals and our pre-human ancestors did not have a thinking consciousness and reacted more by instinct and automatic reflex.
The group-think of Homo sapiens in the earliest civilizations was not as sophisticated as today. The earliest civilizations had evolved from the vision-based animal world.
Just as worker bees and ants seem to work incessantly to build their colonies, the Egyptian workers were able to build monumental structures like the pyramids that remain for us to see yet today. Their group-thinking was likely more like ants and bees than our current group-thinking.
Today we take freedom of thought and expression to be fundamental to what it is to be human. This is especially characteristic of Western Civilization. Such individualism was unheard of and un-thought of in these early civilizations. The state of human thought was elementary compared to today. Even the earliest writings, as discussed earlier, show attribution of actions and speaking to individual gods. The early civilizations were probably the developmental endpoint of the groups that first formed around campfires, evolved into agricultural groups, and then into clusters of cities. The ruler at the top had absolute authority and was also inseparable from the god and religion of the civilization.
Living in a theocracy seems very limiting to us, because we are so used to having personal freedom. However, at that time, subservience probably met our mind capabilities and, in balance, the benefits we received from it outweighed any other options.
However, was life really bad for the people? The Incans seemed to live very comfortable lives. There is no record of any rebellions or bad behavior among Egyptians for their 3,000 years of rule. We haven’t come close to that record; in fact the 2,000 years since then have largely been filled with hatred and war.