On human cultural evolution


Dear Madam,
According to Professor Edward Tylor, human cultural evolution is like an old lady who is on a long walk. Sometimes she walks forward, sometimes she takes rest and sometimes she even walks backward to sit under a tree or to fetch water. Her speed is so slow that sometimes it cannot be determined whether she is at all going forward or not. But if we take into account her position long time before where she is now at present then we will get that she has indeed walked forward some distance.
Some sociologists describe social change as rhythmical as that of a pendulum clock that goes from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and gets rhythmically back to ‘A’ again. Some describe it as cyclical, some as spiral and some like Vico and Bossuet as unilinear.
On the other hand, Marx has taken the model of rhythmical progression. But it is not like from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and again to ‘A’ of a clock pendulum. His is a three way rhythmical progression from ‘A’ to ‘B’ to ‘C’ and again to a better ‘A’ to ‘B’ to ‘C’ – thesis to antithesis to synthesis.
Whereas Marx had taken the improved model of rhythmical progression from Hegel to analysis the historical progress, Sri Aurobindo had adopted the spiral model and gave it, as it were, a shape of an ascending spiral coil spring.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the cycles of evolution tend always upward, but they are cycles and do not ascend in a straight line. The process therefore gives the impression of a series of ascents and descents, but what is essential in the gains of the evolution is kept or, even if eclipsed for a time, re-emerges in new forms suitable to the new age.
No one can deny that there is a general upward movement in historical evolution from slave societies to feudalism, from capitalism to modern welfare states. But the Holocaust and similar incidents also shows that this upward movement is not at all unilinear. Indeed, several times history has witnessed descents when fascist or religious intolerance or greed generated inequality totally clouded humanity. However, after that a silver lining of a more sustainable synthesis or re-emergence of a new form took human society to a new ascent while saving the gains of evolution within its fold.
Sujit De, Kolkata