Consciousness and Civilization: the Inside Story


Robert W. Cox


History has an inside and an outside. The outside is all that happened. The inside is why it happened. The ‘why’ is consciousness leading to action or inaction. Different forms of collective consciousness arose as distinctive civilizations among separate groups of homo sapiens enabling each group to understand and deal with their particular environment and to evolve their own hierarchy of values. These civilizations, the inside of history, have coexisted in space and formed linkages over time. A cyclical view of time, reflecting the cycle of nature, was common to all at the beginning. In the West, a linear perspective moving towards some conclusive end arose with monotheistic eschatology later reinforced by economic and imperial expansion. Encounters among civilizations may gradually lead to awareness that each is relative to its particular historical experience. Today one tendency sees the future as a globalizing merger of all civilizations into one. Another looks for compatibility among different values through dialogue among coexisting civilizations in a plural world. American and Chinese political thinking can be examined in this regard. Each is constrained by the imperative necessity of making human behaviour everywhere compatible with the material survival of the biosphere.

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