THE LESSON OF HISTORY
It is because mankind never learns from history that cultures and civilizations are toppled and overrun by other greater or new cultures, decadence, and civilizations as it is the case with to-day’s world where, due to opening up of the world into a global village, stronger forces of modernism strangle on the ‘weaker’ ones — music, art, religion, governance, mannerisms, knowledge and so forth. In most cases the change is a good one that works for the benefit of the inconceivable many living beings. The danger lies in the fact that important wisdoms from the aforementioned become downplayed due to the emergence of newer and more interesting ways and methods of doing things. A good example is that who, overwhelmed by the doctrines of materialism, loses his divine eye and ear.
Here we may consider a general misconception in the public mind — that material progress and luxury are responsible for society’s decadence or progress. This is a great fallacy common here in Africa where most leaders still look to the West for assistance. Again, as in the case of conquest by a foreign people, we perceive a confusion between cause and effect. In any society lacking cultured taste there is an inclination towards hedonistic principles, where the main mode of living is to eat, drink and be merry, and little else. The society in question does not have to be wealthy for this philosophical bankruptcy, as it is evident in many of the poorest countries today, in fact predominantly evident in those countries, evermore so with pre-literate peoples who share for the first time in the trinkets and liquor of civilization. During an era of materialism (such as we are in currently) this nature has an opportunity to express itself in devastating proportions, giving the illusion of a cause, where people have a gift for which they are unfit.
For the past 6,000 years the world has been witness to a phenomenal ebb and flow in the affairs of men. From a precarious living as food gatherers when people were as much a part of nature as the trees and animals, which even today is admitted by culturally primitive tribes in their legends, from a time when one century was much the same as any other, mankind, or rather certain segments of mankind, at various periods and places embarked upon programs of vigorous activity and thought, producing structures and evolving a history that will forever excite the imagination, only to eventually fall back again into the primordial night, leaving their ruins as testimony of their greatness, indeed, even existence.
When we reflect upon the benefits of cultural and material progress that has elevated man out of the animal realm, in the sense of giving him a measure of dominance over physical forces, and his own life one of promising ease and security, the wonder is not so much that civilization and learning should arise, but rather that it should decline, and any thinking on this subject undertaken to explain its appearance, giving sole credit to external influences of climate or geography, must by necessity break down on this account, since these supposed stimuli remain.
To the superficially educated, the destruction of a great civilized Culture comes with its being overrun by barbaric hordes, with, presumably, the example of Rome in mind, or through war that brought an end to the Aztec and Carthagenian Empires, and which is especially easy to believe in the modern age of atomic weapons. This popular view, of course, contains a grain of fact, but is not the kernel of truth, as any informed historian would readily agree with Toynbee’s comment, that of 21 occasions where civilization has been established, 19 Cultures perished, not because of external conquest but because of evaporation of substance from within. In other words, where a great Culture has been erased from the world we should first look for evidence of decline inside its structure, for this is the enigma: the civilizations of the past, like living organisms, have shown cultural deterioration on their own part, whose institutions became spiritless, formalized, hierarchical, sometimes ruthless, shells, which less sophisticated but more vigorous peoples did us the service of putting an end to.
With all this in mind, it is easy to understand why the modern cultures, though perfect in the material realm, appear to lack a certain finish. This finish is only possible when people from all rungs of whatever society or tradition or culture realize the importance of integrating the essence of awareness in their lives. This is a kind of philosopher’s stone, if well imbibed and mastered, whereupon everything one touches will turn into gold. Having more awakened and conscious individuals obviously means any civilization would steer in the proper direction of peace, love, happiness, splendor, health, and enlightenment—a better Golden Age than that has not been known before yet it is mythologized by all faiths, doctrines and religions.