Primitive human beings had no society and the whole set-up was individualistic. Even the concept of family was absent. Life was brute and non-intellectual. Nature was the direct abode and physical strength ruled the day. The strong enjoyed at the cost of the weak, who had to surrender before the voracity of the physical giants. However, the sense of acquisition had not developed in them, and they worked manually, and there was no intellectual exploitation in that age. Though life was brute, it was not brutal.
If laborers (shúdras in Sanskrit) be defined as those who live by manual work or service, this primary stage of nature’s brute laws could be named the Laborer Age, because all were manual workers. The reliance on physical power gradually led a chosen few to lead the rest by the strength of their muscles. They were the leaders of the laborers.
Simultaneously, the family developed. And the above-mentioned leadership, once based upon the superiority of muscles, passed on from the father to the son or from the mother to the daughter, partly due to the momentum of fear and power commanded, and partly because of superiority of animalic breed.
Superior strength requires the assistance of other superior strengths in the neighbourhood for all to maintain their status. Generally such superior neighbours belonged to the same parenthood or were related through matrimonial ties. Gradually the leaders by physical might started a well-knit group, and ultimately formed a class known as the warriors (kśatriyas). The age when the power to rule, or supremacy in arms, was the only material factor that mattered, was the Warrior Age. The leaders of the Warrior Age were Herculean, huge giants who depended on the supremacy of personal valour and might, making little or no use of intellect.
With the development of intellect and skill as a result of physical and psychic clash, physical strength had to lose its dignified position according to the growing intensity of intellectual demand in the warrior-dominated society. One had also to develop skill in the use of arms, and even for this the physical giant had to sit at the feet of some physically-common men to learn the use of arms and strategy. A reference to the mythology of any ancient culture reveals numberless instances where the hero of the day had to acquire specific knowledge from teachers. Subsequently this learning was not confined to the use of arms only but extended to other spheres, such as battle-craft, medicine and forms of organization and administration, so essential for ruling any society. Thus the dependence on superior intellect increased day by day, and in the course of time real power passed into the hands of such intellectuals. These intellectuals, as the word implies, justified their existence on intellect only, performed no labour themselves, and were parasites in the sense that they exploited the energy put in by others in society. This age of domination by intellectual parasites can be called the Intellectual (Vipra) Age.
Even though the intellectuals came into the forefront by the use of their marked intellect, it is more difficult than in the case of the warriors to maintain a hereditary superiority of intellect. In an effort to maintain power amongst the limited few, they actively tried and prevented others from acquiring the use of the intellect by imposing superstitions and rituals, faiths and beliefs, and even introducing irrational ideas (the caste system of Hindu society is an example) through an appeal to the sentiments of the mass (who collectively cannot be called intellectual). This was the phase of human society in the Middle Ages in the greater part of the world.
The continued exploitation by one section of society resulted in the necessity for the collection and transfer of consumable goods. Even otherwise, need was felt very badly for the transport of food and other necessities of life from surplus parts to deficit parts. Also, in the case of clan conflicts, the result of the resources of one community or class versus another gained importance. This aspect was confined not only to the producers but also to those handling the goods at various stages up to the point of consumption. These people became known as capitalists (vaeshyas), and ingenuity and summed-up production began to enjoy supremacy and importance, till an age was reached when this aspect of life became the most important factor. These capitalists, therefore, began to enjoy a position of supremacy, and the age dominated by this class is said to be the Age of Capitalists.
Individualistic or laissez-faire sense develops capitalism when the means of production pass into the hands of a few who are more interested in personal exploitation. At this stage it can be said that the instinct of acquisition has developed tremendously. The thirst for acquisition instigated them to develop the psychology of complete exploitation of the human race also, and this resulted in a class by itself. In the race for greed and acquisition not all could survive, and only a few remained to dominate the society in general and the economic set-up in particular by their capital. The great majority were either duped into believing that they would be allowed to share such resources, or were neglected and left uncared-for for want of strength and did not survive the race. Such people in society ultimately occupy the place of exploited slaves of the capitalists. They are slaves because they have no option other than to serve the capitalists as labourers to earn the means of subsistence.
We may recall the definition of laborers as persons who live by manual work or labour hard for their livelihood. This age of capitalism is the age when the large majority of society turn into such laborers. This develops into dejection and dissatisfaction on a large scale because of an internal clash in the mind, because the psychology of society is essentially dynamic in nature and the mind itself exists as a result of constant clash. These conditions are necessary and sufficient for laborers, whether manual or mental, to organize and stand up against the unnatural impositions in life. This may be termed “laborer revolution”. The leaders of this revolution, also, are people physically and mentally better-equipped and more capable essentially of overthrowing the capitalistic structure by force. In other words, they are also warriors. So, after a period of chaos and catastrophe, once more the same cycle – Laborer Age to Warrior to Intellectual, and so on – recommences.
In this cycle of civilization one age changes into another. This gradual change should be called “evolution” or kránti. The period of transition from one age to another can be said to be yuga saḿkránti – “transitional age”. One complete cycle from the Laboer Age evolving through the other three ages is called parikránti.
Sometimes the social cycle (samája cakra) is reversed by the application of physical or psychic force by a group of people inspired by a negative theory. Such a change is, therefore, counter-evolution – that is, against the cycle of civilization. This may be termed vikránti. But if this reversal of the social cycle takes place, due to political pressure or any other brute force, within a short span of time, the change thus brought about is prativiplava, or “counter-revolution”. It is just like the devolution of the Cycle of Creation (Brahmacakra). Thus the progress and march of civilization can be represented as points of position and as the speed of approaching the Supreme, respectively, by a collective body in the Cycle of Creation.
The world is a transitory phase or changing phenomenon within the scope of the Cosmic Mind. It is going in eternal motion, and such a motion is the law of nature and the law of life. Stagnancy means death. Hence no power can check the social cycle of evolution. Any force, external or internal, can only retard or accelerate the speed of transition, but cannot prevent it from moving. Therefore progressive humanity should cast off all skeletons of the past. Human beings should go on accelerating the speed of progress for the good of humanity in general.
Copyright Ananda MargaPublications 2011