Below is class member Roger Domeny’s summary review of

The Dawn of Everything

Evangelical Christians tend to feel a bit uneasy with the radical politics of the Hebrew prophets who called for the dismantling of unjust social systems. One reason for this uneasiness is the common assumption that the more advanced human civilizations become, the more complex the governing structures that oversee those civilizations must be, and consequently the more difficult it becomes to resolve issues of systemic injustice.

Since the mid 18th century, the story of human civilization has been dominated by an evolutionary model that begins with small egalitarian bands of foragers who lived in a so-called state of nature. This was followed by slightly larger tribal groups that added small-scale gardening to their foraging activities and were governed by chiefs and tribal assemblies. But then the Agricultural Revolution changed everything. Suddenly, humans had the ability to produce a superabundance of food that would support large settlements, even cities consisting of thousands of people. This led to the creation of the concept of private property and the accumulation of wealth. Large groups of people required more complex systems of government. So, for the first time, monarchies and highly stratified systems of social organization came into existence. Finally, the Industrial Revolution paved the way for the modern-day bureaucratic state, with its complex division of labor, capitalism, and unprecedented opportunity. On the positive side, advanced civilization brought with it a flourishing of the arts and sciences and a chance to enjoy a much higher standard of living. On the negative side, it also brought extreme inequality, grinding poverty, and a loss of freedom.

The worst part of this evolutionary model of civilization is that the stages are linear, uniform, progressive, deterministic, and teleological. There is no going back. The best we can hope for at our current stage of development is a little bit of tinkering at the edges. The prophets can complain all they like about systemic problems of social injustice. But there is nothing that can be done about them. Or so the story goes.

But what if this story is completely wrong? What if we are not hapless victims of fate? What if humans have always been free to choose their social structures? What if we are where we are today, not because this is where we have to be, but because we got stuck and forgot that we have the capacity to imagine and create a better future? These are the questions raised by David Graeber and David Wengrow inĀ The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. In their paradigm-shifting book, David Graeber, an anthropologist, and David Wengrow, an archaeologist, take a fresh look at the historical and archaeological evidence, including many new discoveries that have been made in the last 30 years. What they reveal is that the available data simply does not support the evolutionary model of human social development. They give examples of some early humans who were egalitarian and others who were hierarchical. Many even alternated seasonally between being egalitarian and hierarchical. They give examples of early cities that show no evidence of a central governing body. They demonstrate that in every age, humans were experimenting with a wide variety of social systems, moving intentionally between them. They even give examples of civilizations that moved "backward" -- from hierarchical social systems to more egalitarian ones. And where agriculture was adopted, this did not necessarily lead to hierarchical systems of government, monarchies, and empires. In fact, the authors show that monarchy first developed in areas that rejected farming.

The authors trace the origin of the evolutionary story of the development of human civilization to the mid 19th century rejection of the indigenous North American critique of European civilization -- a largely successful attempt by Europeans to rescue the Enlightenment from its indigenous American, "savage" origins. They also trace the origin of the idea that indigenous Americans were inferior humans, "dumb savages," incapable of critical, self-conscious thought, to this same period. They emphasize that in every age, humans have been creative, intelligent, imaginative creatures, fully capable of choosing how they organize themselves socially, even imagining and experimenting with social systems that they had not yet experienced.

So perhaps the Hebrew prophets understood something we have lost sight of: That humans, made in God's image, are infinitely imaginative and creative, with both the intellectual capacity and moral responsibility to correct systemic injustices, no matter what age we may be living in.

We invite you to join us as we spend three weeks (February 19, 26, and March 5) exploring the themes of this book, with a special focus on the ethical ramifications of its conclusions.

Class Member Roger Domeny, M.Div., RPT

Sabbath Seminars


Room 3208

Centennial Complex of Loma Linda University         Sabbath Morning 10:30-12:30