The functioning of today's complex societies



Affirmation and structure of complex societies

We have seen how, from a certain age onrwards (but just a moment ago in the chronology of our planet), the grouping of primitive human creatures has produced phenomena and events of a different kind from all those who had so far characterized the animal world. They were both behavioral events (tool making, body care and decoration), and of psychic origin. In a few millennia, this type of phenomena has undergone a rapid evolution, up to the tremendous changes of the last two centuries. Civilization has originated not only by the expansion of the psychic faculties, through the elaboration of primordial myths and their rooting in the collective consciousness, but also by the increase in the number of the members of the group and by the emergence among them of particular relations for the communication and transmission of information. The existence of civilization is not absolutely necessary for the life of man as an animal species, but since in the historical past of mankind it happened that humans have passed from natural life to cultural life, and then to civil life, we must recognize that the need for this transformation has been perceived as a command coming from the human psyche. Human beings, or at least some of them, must have felt the charm and the advantage, even emotionally, of the cultural life and of the first performances of civilization.

Typical of the development of civilizations has always been the coercive element of the domain. Even before than in the relationship between individuals and social groups (up to the complex societies of our times), the drive to be a leader must have been forcibly present in the consciousness of some individuals. The benefits that civilization offers to the individual, in exchange for his renunciation of a state of nature characterized by risks and dangers, but also by liberty, are just one face of the medal. The other face is the strong impulse that forces some individuals or groups to rule the peoples, either by persuasion or by coercion: almost all of the great civilizations of the past prevailed by force. However, the state of nature, for our civilized consciousness, is now unbearable as well as impracticable. In fact, the number of human beings on our planet has become so high that if all of us had to rely solely on the resources directly offered by the natural world, we would reduce to less than a twentieth in the only phase of struggle for the control of such resources. And even if in certain areas there were primitive cultures whose members live satisfied in the state of nature, these would be progressively destroyed by the impact with the most advanced civilizations, as has already happened to American Indians and Australian Aborigines.

All major civilizations have a ruling, minority group that differs, in a more or less conflicting way, from a governed human mass. The ability and strength to rule is defined as power. The rulers exert their power over the governed (today kindly defined citizens or people, in other times more explicitly called subjects). This phenomenon is inevitable even in today's democracies, where the power is delegated to people's representatives for a limited period of time. In the complex societies are also at work other forms of power, economic or financial, which try to develop appropriate tools for directing the consensus and manipulating, as has always happened, the psychic tunings of the ruled citizens. In essence, the ruled people live, in a more or less conscious way, at a rather naive cultural level (though they can enjoy the state-of-the-art technology devices). Their tendency is to behave within the limits of the will to survive, in an effort to avoid suffering and to obtain the pleasures and emotions that the human psyche can produce. For men and women like these, the constraints, social pressures, and forms of coercion contrived by the system are sufficient to determine their behavior. The life of a ruled is conditioned by socio-cultural forces in the same way that the life of an animal (who can suffer from illness, famine, and attacks by other animals) is completely at the mercy of the natural laws, even when it suffers: should these natural forces return to be favorable, the animal would feel satisfied again. 

The rulers base their lives on the search for some form of power. Even though they are almost always little aware about the reasons that drive them in this direction, they can not help but commit their energies and resources to a goal that goes beyond the behavior of the governed. They can be unpleasant and inhumane persons, if viewed from the point of view of those who think that life should be enjoyable and quiet. The ruler, pushed to the extreme, claims the work and the sacrifice of those who are under his power. Whether it be a great conqueror like Alexander the Great or Napoleon, to whose goals hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed, or a bureaucratic organizer like those who planned the Nazi concentration camps, the ruler is always active, almost always restless, often sleepless: a kind of beast of prey full of resources and energy.

Natural destructive forces, wars and anti-social phenomena

When natural forces show humans their devastating features, the ruled ones feel lost and fall into the hands of the rulers, because only the organization of human energies and resources can protect the masses when natural disasters strike, including that particular form of apparently unnatural tragedy, which is war. Indeed, war is governed by rulers who try to subtract the power and control of human and material resources to others, but even a people who did not want war would need, if attacked, a leader or a team able to organize the defense. There is thus a tacit deal between the rulers and the ruled, which expresses an unstable balance between the natural tendency to inertia and enjoyment (the so-called freedom), the fear of the destructive forces of nature, and the power of certain individuals to amalgamate, to organize and to manage the human energies. The rebels, the asocials, the criminal organizations, are deviant phenomena that confirm the norm, and can also thrive within an advanced society as long as there are sufficient resources to make them prosper. The rebels are driven by a destructive or self-destructive psychic impulse, which can also reflect the imbalances present in the social environment in which the rebel lives or lived. Sometimes the rebel associates with some form of organization that reproduces, in a more primitive form, the scheme of the relationship between leaders and governed, or exasperates his rebellion to confront himself directly with society, or with nature, as a lonely animal. Criminal organizations are secondary social nuclei more or less conflicting with the primary nucleus (usually the state organization): they are still structures organized by their rules and ranks, not dissimilar to those of a company, even though their goals are different and tend to subdue by force other individuals or social organizations.

Deterioration of the principle of authority

For a few decades, in the complex societies of the Western world may be noticed a partial and progressive deterioration of the principle of authority, so the power of the ruling class decreases over time. In the democratic systems those who are governed are increasingly aware that the power of the rulers also depends on their consent. There are for sure some individuals who run a considerable and autonomous power founded on money control, especially in the economic and financial field, while in the political field power no longer has the coercive and dominant character that has had until a recent past. Politicians need to gain consensus, which is done by increasingly subtle and careful means, because every political opponent is ready to take advantage of any misstep of those who govern. Moreover, those who hold the economic power try to influence the political power, controlling it even without replacing it. In the end, the only truly important social contracts are those between the workers and their employers and those between the producers of goods and services and their clients, both based on market laws but also dominated by the economic interests at stake. Thus, the political power and the government are increasingly subdued to the demands of economic power, through which the dominators (companies, banks or financial organizations) govern the subordinates, on whose purchasing power also depends their success, at least in a dynamic collective view.

It is difficult to say whether this experiment will be successful or will end up, overwhelmed by general chaos, as a consequence of the collapse of the political power of the state. The workers must support the sacrifice needed to sustain the social system, not only in exchange for the goods necessary for their own lives, but also for the power deriving from their membership to the mass of consumers and voters. The citizens, paying taxes, finance and support the whole system that governs them. And if it is true that the system forces them to pay taxes with its own power, it is also true that today's rulers run the risk of being replaced by others at any time, a very likely event if a deterioration of the economic system occurs. Ultimately, it is always history that determines the course of things, that is, a bunch of more or less conflicting forces which, expressing themselves within the context of the human psyche as a reaction to the changes in the environmental conditions, constantly exert their influence on the behavior of humans, largely outside their control.

Elitist character of scientific knowledge

The current cultural model of complex societies, based on the method of scientific knowledge and on technology, has made tremendous progress in the control and transformation of energy and matter, thus achieving a top-class operational capacity, far superior to any result achieved by previous cultures or by other contemporary cultures. Current technology is truly capable of transforming the face of the world, and this means that the mental system on which this knowledge is based can understand and reflect Nature with sufficient precision, so to give us a good control over the resources of the planet. However, the scientific mentality, which exerts some cultural conditioning also on those who aspire to a leading social role, is a form of elite culture because it requires intellectual abilities much higher than the average. It can only propose itself as a method of knowledge and present its results as beneficial, but the method of scientific knowledge, to be adopted as a forma mentis, requires an uncommon intelligence which currently only a minority of individuals have. In terms of the benefits produced, they are evaluated according to the mentality of the masses and the manipulators of mass culture: people who are usually not endowed with scientific mentality. It may so happen, and it happens, that a chief of government or an enterprise manager find it profitable to use scientists and researchers on whom they can exercise some form of control to produce weapons or other tools that can increase their power.

Limits of scientific understanding of the functioning of the human mind

Our current civilization is therefore a hybrid between the culture determined by the scientific mentality and various sediments inherited from previous and still active cultures, linked to psychic elaborations and visions of the world not particularly evolved. The reason for this situation is that scientific culture, even though it is a product of human intelligence, has so far failed to produce any form of knowledge capable of understanding, interpreting and controlling the psyche itself and its activities. Although neuroscience has made significant advances in brain knowledge over the last few decades, it is still far from being able to translate that knowledge into a form of understanding of the functioning of the mind and of the psychic phenomena. 

The risks of multicultural societies

The functioning of the single individuals within the social context they are part of, and from which they are conditioned, leads to the strangest and contradictory results. Anyone who has been able to observe and study different cultures, even contemporaries, can testify the profound differences of mental tuning that characterize individuals bred in other cultural contexts, but also within our western system we are experiencing a cleavage of the cultural identification model, which allows also radically different mental forms to coexist, confront and, not rarely, collide. Add to this the remixing caused by the migrations of people coming from different cultures, and one can understand why the near future will be characterized by the lack of ingrained cultural models, shared by a large majority of individuals: if, on the one hand, this event could favor tolerance towards diversity, with the objective of creating the conditions for peaceful coexistence in mutual respect, on the other hand it will increase the conflicts, the intransigence and the intolerance, determined both by those cultural forms that favor coercion and violence, and by the fear and reaction of the current and potential victims of those aggressions. This phenomenon is not a novelty in the history of humanity, as the encounters between different cultures has often turned into struggles and wars, with all that these events entail in terms of destruction, oppression and violence. However, in the future that war will no longer be that form of aggression more or less organized among different nations, as we have known it from the testimonies of the past, but will become internal discord, perhaps less bloody and destructive, but sufficient to create a widespread social desease over long periods of time, until a different cultural model will emerge, capable of harmonizing at a planetary level a very large human mass.

A balance with lights and (many) shadows

This is the heritage that we receive by our civilization in relation to the problem of human happiness during this life. It brings with it the ambiguity that has hitherto characterized the development of all advanced societies: after declaring that the socio-cultural model of a civilization must have the primary purpose of allowing as many human beings as possible to be happy, the goal achieved is to have created an increasingly complex society, equipped with advanced technologies and capable of transforming the face of the world, but not improving. At present, we are behaving and interacting as if the two goals were the same, but in fact our social model has always been inclined to sacrifice the individual happiness on behalf of the efficient functioning of a complex society. It may then be suspected that even the hostility of the natural forces to human happiness may be used as an alibi to deny any chance of living more easily in this world, so that the mind can conform more docile to the social model in force.

It must be borne in mind that the resistances we can feel against the criticisms of the cultural system we belong to, depends on the fact that the psychic tunings we are operating with are more or less compatible with that system: questioning it poses a threat to our mental patterns, and this can give us insecurity and distress. Once again, we face the tremendous obstacle represented by the functioning of the psyche, whose control escapes us. As has been said, our cultural system is unable to provide us with effective tools that will allow our conscious Ego to control our mind. No matter how much affection we can feel for the culture that has bred us, and how great our admiration and pride can be for the knowledge and technological achievements of this culture, about the conscious and harmonious management of our psychic tunings we are still at a rudimentary level. So we are far from being able to live a fully happy life.

(still to be translated)

The control of the mind

There are people raised in our culture who, driven by a deep impulse, for adventure or thirst for knowledge, have left the security (or even the uncertainty) of their environment to get in touch with different cultures. Although the purpose of these cultural explorations was not a conscious search for happiness, some of them, through the contact with other cultures, have achieved a good control of the mind and a state of bliss. One of the disciplines that has the purpose of gaining control of mind is yoga: some adepts have reached a state of enduring mental happiness, although not all the practitioners reach it. Moreover, the cultures that in the past influenced the minds of yoga practitioners and developed the techniques practiced, had psychic characteristics that fostered the search for such control as an instrument for individual development, where our civilization privileged instead the knowledge and the transformation of the world through action. In fact, our culture, when submits us to a form of discipline aimedat gaining control of some mental faculties, does so for social purposes, that is, to enable us to better fulfill our collective tasks. We essentially manage to be enough disciplined to work eight or ten hours a day, but we are not able to practice yoga meditation for a couple of hours without feeling a kind of intolerance, a strong impulse to act and the urge to let us be carried away here and there by our psyche.

We Westerners are also accustomed to investing resources and energies in order to gain guaranteed results: we want to be sure, for example, that the car we pay with our money works, and also well. In addition, our mind manifests a negative mood in the face of the prospect of undergoing years of somewhat boring practices whose results are uncertain and often not so clear. We can not ignore these facts, because acritic enthusiasm can play bad tricks, and experimenting with disciplines developed by different cultures without taking into account our cultural constraints may be not so healthy, or in any case can make us waste time, energy and even money without achieving the expected results. On the other hand, the imbalance which manifests in our civilization creates disorder and violence in the emotional world, a disorder that inevitably involves the activities of the mind, which ends with losing that control of the situation achieved with so much commitment. Thus adaptation effort becomes maladaptation, the social order deteriorates, and consumer welfare becomes existential malaise. Apparently, there is a collective commitment to defending the achievements of social progress, but the leap forward towards an increasingly complex world produces an unsustainable consumption of energy, even on the human plane. There are no more choices but forced paths, under penalty of being eliminated from the competition, and is more and more invoked the state of emergency created by new necessities, that is, by the detrimental effects of the same system that promised us the progress.

Reconciliation of Nature and Psyche

This constant state of tension leads to a reaction, and other psychic tunings are beginning to prevail, pouring into the social environment the most detrimental elements of the level of decadence we are in: superstition, violence, vulgarity, distorted eroticism, abuse, contempt for the truth, ignorance. But the very tangible presence of these anti-values induces then in the conscious Ego an intense need for evolution: not in every mind, it is meant, and not at the same time and with the same intensity, but the need for a spiritual evolution will be felt more and more. In fact, what we feel more intensively today is the need for a meaning, that is, integration, harmony, a fusion that may allow us both to live in harmony with this world and with the other human beings, and to get out of life according to our destiny. We therefore long for a reconciliation of Nature and Psyche, on which in this life we depend in equal measure, as only this reconciliation could be the catalyst element of our mental evolution. I fear, however, that this process can not occur in a short time.


Origin of life
Evolution of life
Societies & cultures
Complex societies