This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa to 1700.
For ordering information, please click here.
Welcome to the search for wisdom! I cordially invite you to join me in a great adventure through the consciousness of human experience. We are all members of humanity. Not only do we share the genes of our ancestors, but we also have received a legacy of cultural development in social institutions, literature, arts, science, and technology. As individuals learn by reflecting on past experiences in order to act more intelligently in the present and thus create a better future, so too humanity by studying our history can learn to evaluate the consequences of actions so that we can live better and improve our society now and in the years to come.
In making clear the purposes of this work I want to share with you my motives for writing it. As a person who has dedicated his life to the good of humanity, I am extremely concerned about the future of our civilization. Although through my spiritual experience I believe that we are divine beings and that nothing can harm our eternal souls, I also feel a oneness with everyone, especially with all people living on Earth. In our lifetimes, two thousand years after the one called Christ, humanity is facing its greatest crisis. At this time about seven billion souls are incarnated on Earth in human form. In the subtlety of spiritualized consciousness we can feel the suffering of these people as well as the past experiences and future probabilities.
The current megacrisis is an evolutionary crisis for the human species, because we now have the capability to destroy all organic life on Earth. This could occur gradually through environmental pollution, but much more dangerous and immediate is the ominous threat of intentional destruction through nuclear weapons. That we have produced so many of these genocidal devices is evidence of the complicated nature of the human psyche and a symptom of social illness as well as an urgent warning.
In my effort to serve humanity I have been searching to discover what is the best contribution I can make. For many years I have been studying these problems which face humanity. From what I have learned so far, I have written brochures and books, which suggest likely solutions. Also I have been arrested many times for protesting nuclear weapons and military intervention through nonviolent civil disobedience. Thus I do not study just out of idle curiosity or for pleasure or even to earn a living but so that I can become wiser at nurturing life itself. I do not write just to make money or to become famous and respected but in order to influence people's awareness in ways that will promote love, justice, and peace. Nevertheless I do acknowledge that these other motives operate within me as part of the practicality and personality of human experience.
Recent reactionary political trends have convinced me that deep and comprehensive changes in awareness need to occur through long-term education. Obviously the problem is not just nuclear weaponry but many long-standing tendencies, such as nationalism, racism, sexism, greed, selfishness, intolerance, exploitation, hypocritical rhetoric, ignorance, complacency, militarism, paranoia, and other prejudicial and abusive behaviors. Nuclear weapons, which are only the worst symptom, are not going to disappear overnight.
To bring about justice and peace in the world we need comprehensive and holistic strategies that can shape our cultural evolution toward these ideals. Everyone can help, and there are many ways of working for the good of humanity. Yet we all can act best through self-knowledge of our own abilities, awareness of our situation, and knowledge of our society and the world. I believe that if we listen to our inner spiritual wisdom and learn from our outer experiences and the history and great ideas of the wisest who have contributed to human civilization that we will transform our society into a unified world culture that cares and nurtures the freedom, health, education, and human rights of all people on Earth. This work on the ethics of civilization is intended to be a contribution to this knowledge of the various cultures of the world so that in the future more people will be able to act with more knowledge and understanding of human experience.
The goal here is not just factual knowledge but wisdom, which is knowledge integrated with spiritual values. Wisdom enables us to act for the best with respect for everyone. For some, wisdom may be intuitive; but for many, we learn to be wise through careful examination of our experience. Thus my purpose is to stimulate people to think about the experiences of the human race and the intuitive insights of the great writers, saints, reformers, artists, and scientists. By learning from history we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and we can apply those methods and policies that are successful.
This work is intended for anyone who is interested in humanity. It is not written particularly for scholars, although scholars may find it stimulates their own thinking. It is not merely a history of ethical theories, although that is included. Nor is it limited to political and economic issues, but it attempts to holistically examine human experience from the perspective of universal ethical principles and values.
It is intended to be interesting and entertaining as well as enlightening and educational because interest is a motivating factor in our learning process. Stories and anecdotes can often teach us more about responding to particular situations than statistics or generalizations. A prior knowledge of history or literature is not required but of course is helpful. I will try to explain things so that the beginner will be able to understand and the knowledgeable will be stimulated to think and gain further insights.
ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION is not merely a history of civilization but rather an ethical and psychological interpretation of the history of humanity's politics, economics, social relations, religion, philosophy, literature, arts, science, and technology. The purpose is not to memorize the facts but to understand the events of history and the cultural arts so that readers can evaluate them using spiritual truths such as love, justice, wisdom, health, freedom, responsibility, etc. The ultimate goal is to combine scientific objectivity in attempting to determine the facts so that subjective spiritual awareness from within can understand and apply the evaluations of those events wisely. In giving my interpretation of the meaning and significance of the facts, I do not expect that you, the readers, will always agree with me. Rather by setting an example of careful thought, I am hoping to stimulate you to think for yourself.
Another purpose is to universalize our consciousness into a global awareness of all human society. This work is not written from the perspective of any one religion or culture but is an attempt to explore the truth and beauty found in all the major cultures and religions of the world. Since we are becoming a global society, it is valuable for us to have a better understanding of the history and cultures of other people, who now are our global neighbors. This broadening of awareness can help us to understand how people in other nations have arrived at where they are now and why they may think and feel the way they do. Also we can learn many things from other cultures that we can apply in our own lives.
A further purpose is to develop greater awareness of the workings of the human psyche. I believe that self-knowledge is as valuable and useful as knowledge of the world. Thus we will be examining psychological traits of various people in history and works of literature and art in order to better understand how the human consciousness operates. For example, the importance of the emotions is often underestimated; yet we all know from personal experience how important feelings are in our daily lives. Certainly one of the main purposes of literature and drama is to teach us about people, their psychological dynamics, and social relationships. I hope that these studies will help us to better understand ourselves and other human beings.
These purposes, which I hope will benefit the readers, are also my own motivations for undertaking this work. I too want to learn from history and the great works of culture. Doing this writing gives me the opportunity to study the history and literature of the world, and reading this may also stimulate others to study further in history and literature. I hope that the readers will be interested in the insights I am able to share and that we all will be wiser for our efforts.
My philosophy is spiritual and idealistic but also holistic enough to include empirical and pragmatic methods and practices. Ethics and its metaphysical foundations will be discussed in the first chapter. For now let me just say briefly that this work is written from the perspective of spiritual consciousness, which aims for the good through love and understanding.
In critically evaluating the actions of individuals and groups the intention is not to condemn anyone to some concept of everlasting punishment but rather to learn from their mistakes. Thus no one is to be condemned as an evil person, but every action can be looked at to see if its consequences were beneficial or harmful. Although some individuals may have caused much harm, some of their actions may have been good; and others, who did much good, may have made some mistakes. This leads us to the particularity of history and the need to discern the difference between facts, theories, and values.
Modern science now describes the physical universe in terms of energy, matter, space, and time. These are all relative to the speed of light which is constant in this universe. Actually it is more accurate to refer to energy-matter and space-time, because they are relative to each other. The combination of these four produces what physicists call events of energy-matter in space-time. Events, then, in my view, are facts. They are particular and can be located in space and time and measured by energy and matter. Once they have occurred, they cannot be changed.
However, the only way we know about events is to perceive them, and modern physics has discovered that the perception of the observer cannot be separated from the event. In other words, what we see depends on how we look at it. Also in the present moment our act of observation may affect the event we are watching. In physics the famous example is that of light, which may appear to be particles in one experiment and waves in another. A social example is that media coverage alters the character of a political action.
The basic premise here is wholeness—that everything in the universe is related to everything else in the universe; nothing can really be separated from its context. Facts and events by themselves are real but meaningless unless we see their relationship to other events and human consciousness. Yet the meaning of anything is freely determined by the consciousness that is interpreting it. Thus theories are not facts but opinions or beliefs. These beliefs rest upon values that are subjective.
The empirical approach attempts to examine the facts and then develops hypotheses and theories to describe in more general terms the applicable meaning of those events. The deductive approach begins with a theory and then looks for facts to back it up, or takes a theory and puts it into practice. Aristotelian logic, for example, defines humans as featherless bipeds or as rational animals; these are abstract definitions. Alfred Korzybski's general semantics defines humans as all the particular humans who have ever lived, live, and will live. Aristotle's approach is limited by abstract concepts, while general semantics opens the consciousness to the particular realities of the situation.
In my previous book LIFE AS A WHOLE: Principles of Education Based on a Spiritual Philosophy of Love I described human experience in abstract terms, focusing on universal principles. ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION complements that work by applying those principles and values to the inductive experience of the actual people who have lived. Thus the premise of this ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION is to attempt to understand humanity by looking at the history of the people who make up humanity. Although we cannot help but have values and theories, the attempt is not to prejudge events but to begin by examining the facts of history and culture, and only after understanding what those are, to interpret their meaning and significance according to universal values. Thus the process is to move from the specific to the abstract, rather than the reverse. Then the lessons and insights that we learn may be generalized and applied back down to the specific choices of action in our personal lives. Mostly my attempt is to describe the events as accurately and concisely as possible, letting readers draw their own conclusions.
Since over-generalizing can be a problem, I will try to be careful in interpreting specific events and works of culture to limit the meaning to those particular cases, allowing the readers the freedom to apply the lessons themselves to other situations. Thus with the exception of the final chapter of evaluation, I will be presenting the essential facts relevant to ethics as clearly as I can according to my understanding. Occasionally I may make comments along the way, but most of my criticism and evaluation will be saved for the last chapter, which will summarize the main ethical trends in civilization, compare them, and look for relationships within the whole. Then I shall be judging in order to evaluate, but the reader is free to disagree with me. After finishing this introduction, readers may want to begin by reading the Summary and Evaluation chapter in order to see the whole picture of the era before going back to the first chapter.
Another premise of holism is that causality is not simple or linear but multi-dimensional. In other words, events have many causes or many factors which together determine what happens. Since I believe in freedom, I perceive a combination of spiritual and material causality. We make choices to do certain things; but given what we and others choose to do, the laws of nature will determine that specific effects are produced. Thus in analyzing events I will attempt to delineate the important and meaningful human choices that brought them about while often neglecting those factors such as physical laws which are fairly obvious and cannot be changed.
Changes in the factors are usually significant. For example, in relation to war it is assumed that men will use the weapons that are available in their culture. Thus it is important when new technologies change the character of those weapons. In literature for centuries people wrote with pen and paper, but the invention of printing with moveable type revolutionized the availability and quantity of books. Many people were writing and giving speeches during the American Revolution, but the speeches of Patrick Henry and the pamphlets of Thomas Paine were particularly influential. Because history is a seamless garment of many threads woven together, it is difficult to separate the various causes; I will do my best to describe their meaning and importance and leave it to the readers' discernment to see how some of those factors might affect other situations.
Another philosophical premise is the unity of the human species. Although racial characteristics can be distinguished, just as cultural characteristics can be differentiated, it is also true that the gene pools of the supposedly different races are greatly mixed, just as the mixing of cultures has occurred throughout history. However, a species is defined as a group of organisms which are able to reproduce together; members of different species are not able to reproduce offspring. On this basis I consider that the human race is one, which contains within its unity much variety, both genetic and cultural. All humans learn how to use language to communicate with each other. From a spiritual viewpoint humans are the primary species for the complete incarnation of individual souls into organisms that operate creatively in the world by making and using tools.
Related to the premise of human unity is that of human equality, because no soul is better than any other soul, all being equally human. Thus I hope to avoid as best I can any racial or even cultural biases in exploring all the significant cultures that have appeared in recorded history. There are of course obvious differences between the male and female sexes, but those who understand that souls reincarnate in both sexes realize that spiritually the sexes are equal.
Rather than focusing on a specialized subject such as politics, economics, philosophy, religion, social customs, art, literature, science, or technology, ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION attempts to combine them together holistically. The organization of the material is according to space-time. A given period of history is explored in each volume. Being organized according to the geographical patterns of cultures and by time periods, the interrelationships of the various fields and cultural interactions can be studied. How has philosophy and literature influenced social and political culture? How have the policies of governments affected the arts and sciences? Many other similar questions will be explored.
The first limitation is that the author is only one person with the limited time of a life-span. Although one mind can better integrate things together, the quantity of the research is restricted. Obviously I do not claim that this is a complete history of everything. Since it is an attempt to gain as much wisdom as possible, the subjects of study are selected based primarily on that criterion with the focus being human ethics.
Part of wisdom is to perceive an overall and well-balanced picture of the whole. Yet within that general comprehensiveness, I will focus on the highlights of history, biography, religion, philosophy, drama, literature, art, science, and technology to draw lessons from the significant events which have the most to teach us. As mentioned before, that which is most interesting to people usually is something we want to learn. Thus anecdotal examples will be used but will not replace a deeper and larger view of overall patterns.
The readers will surely notice how much discussion is spent on wars and the activities of kings and other political leaders. There are several reasons for this. First, wars are the most severe violations of justice and cause the greatest harm. To learn how to solve and prevent such problems, we must first understand what causes them. In discussing these the emphasis will be on the causes, ethical decisions, and consequences rather than on the details of military tactics. Second, although heads of state and governmental leaders are often no better or wiser than the average people in their society, the consequences of their decisions are much greater. Third, much more knowledge is usually available about national leaders and events involving great conflicts. So by studying their lives and actions we can learn much about human behavior.
The most prevalent limit to the study of history is the evidence available to us today. In our contemporary period we have so much more information than a person could ever absorb that a careful selection is required. The further back in history we go the less we know, such that we know very little about the cultures that were in existence more than five thousand years ago and almost nothing about the ones five thousand years before that. Since most of the past five thousand years have been patriarchal and male-dominated, we know much less about women because of their subservient roles. We know more about cultures that were able to pass on their literature than about those that were oral or passed away without leaving a legacy.
Through clairvoyant reading of the akashic records in the spiritual realms of consciousness we could obtain knowledge of what has not been passed on physically. Although I believe that is possible and hope that in the future such histories will be written and studied, I have not developed that ability and must in this work depend on the literature and cultural artifacts that are available. We need to recognize though that because of the limited evidence available, history that depends on these materials gives a distorted picture. Nevertheless we must accept this limitation because we can only interpret and learn from what we know.
Ironically, I must confess that I am a rather slow reader. However, many readers may take heart from this and realize that what we gain from what we read depends very much on how well we assimilate that information. I recommend reading carefully in order to visualize with the imagination, feel the meaning, and think about how it may be true and how it fits with other knowledge. After making every effort to understand what the author is saying, we can decide for ourselves whether we think it is accurate or helpful.
Although I have some familiarity with several languages (Greek, Latin, Spanish, and French), I will be depending mostly on works that are in English. Some key words from various languages will be explained to readers for clarification of concepts that are unique to a culture. Although limited by translations, whenever possible I will be reading and interpreting writings from the various periods.
ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION is organized chronologically and regionally by cultures. The geographical areas used are the Mideast & Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Europe, and America. As of 2010 eleven volumes have been published. The other titles are an estimated plan. I hope to complete the whole series of 31 volumes before I die. Completed volumes are indicated by *.
*Volume 1. MIDEAST & AFRICA to 1700
*Volume 2. INDIA & SOUTHEAST ASIA to 1800
*Volume 3. CHINA, KOREA & JAPAN to 1800
*Volume 4. GREECE & ROME to 30 BC
*Volume 5. ROMAN EMPIRE 30 BC to 610
*Volume 6. MEDIEVAL EUROPE 610-1250
*Volume 7. MEDIEVAL EUROPE 1250-1400
*Volume 8. EUROPE & HUMANISM 1400-1517
*Volume 9. EUROPE & REFORM 1517-1588
*Volume 10. EUROPE Wars & Plays 1588-1648
*Volume 11. AMERICA to 1744
Volume 12. EUROPE & KINGS 1648-1715
*Volume 13. AMERICAN REVOLUTION 1744-1817
Volume 14. EUROPE & REASON 1715-1775
Volume 15. EUROPE & REVOLUTION 1775-1825
*Volume 16. MIDEAST & AFRICA 1700-1950
Volume 17. AMERICAN CONFLICT 1817-1869
Volume 18. EUROPE & PROGRESS 1825-1871
Volume 19. AMERICAN PROGRESS 1869-1913
*Volume 20. SOUTH ASIA 1800-1950
*Volume 21. EAST ASIA 1800-1949
Volume 22. EUROPE & IMPERIALISM 1871-1914
Volume 23. AMERICA & WARS 1913-1950
Volume 24. EUROPE’S BIG WARS 1914-1950
Volume 25. AMERICA & COLD WAR 1950-1989
Volume 26. EUROPE & COLD WAR 1950-1989
Volume 27. ASIA & AFRICA 1950-2025
Volume 28. EUROPE UNITING 1990-2025
Volume 29. AMERICA & POWER 1990-2025
Volume 30. GLOBAL CRISIS 2025-2030
Briefly describing my background may help to define some of the limits of my approach. Although I consider myself a generalist in the humanities, liberal arts, and social sciences, I have specialized in a few areas of study. At the University of California at Berkeley I majored in Dramatic Art as an undergraduate and nearly completed a Masters degree. My study there gave me a comprehensive background in the history of dramatic literature. From there I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara and acquired an M. A. in Religious Studies. There I became familiar with the philosophies and religions of China, India, Greece, and the Near East. At U.C.L.A. in my native city of Los Angeles I studied the philosophy, psychology, and history of education, becoming a Ph. D. candidate. However, when my dissertation on Confucius and Socrates was not accepted because of my spiritual and holistic approach, I chose not to rewrite it in the way the professors demanded. I completed my Ph. D. in philosophy at the World University in Ojai.
I have taught more than forty different college courses in psychology, philosophy, religious studies, literature, and world civilization. My concern for world peace led me into the study of history, politics, economics, and sociology. I also am knowledgeable in the esoteric studies of astrology, tarot, spiritual psychology and metaphysics, and I usually meditate every day. In this work I am attempting to go a step beyond traditional histories of civilization by bringing a spiritual perspective to the study of the ethics of civilization in order to integrate the heritage of our world culture with the eternal spiritual wisdom so that we can create a new age of justice and peace.
I always ask for divine guidance, but I take full responsibility for the errors which may appear. The weakness of a generalist is that specialists can easily pick apart the treatment of their expert area. I am open to corrections, suggestions, and improvements. I will not be offended but honored if, long after the death of my body, scholars and philosophers are still revising, criticizing, and updating my work.
Copyright © 1998-2010 by Sanderson Beck
This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa to 1700.
For ordering information, please click here.