The conventional stage

Roughly speaking, this stage started around 6 000 B.C.E. with agricultural farming that allowed the establishment of relatively large settlements. All the old civilisations were founded in this period (Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Ancient Indian, Chinese, Greek and Roman). Most importantly, writing appeared. Although it had mainly a practical purpose at the beginning, the value of writing for establishing and perpetuating social constructs can hardly be overestimated. Social determination, based on customs, conventions, duty (e.g. dharma in Hinduism), shame, reputation and glory, was dominant. Personality was externally defined (by the name, social position or heredity). The overriding psychological faculty was affect (e.g. fear of punishment), rather than instincts or thinking. A hierarchical differentiation within society was fully established (slave, caste and feudal systems)[4], as well as separation between groups (‘us and them').

This stage was characterised by polytheistic religions that reflected the socio-political organisation (as practiced by early Hindus, the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Vikings). Religion was based on cults and rituals, rather than ideas. These cults were elaborate conscious procedures, unlike the rites in the previous stage. Observance mattered more than belief. Mythology replaced magic. The separation between the two realities occurred, but the after-death world was inferior, a shadow of this reality. Fate and superstition regulated daily life (as evident from the Greek narratives, for example). Art had a predominantly social function - glorification of heroes, leaders, or victories. Time, in terms of the process, was perceived as cyclical (based on the seasons, vital for agriculture). The reference point was the past, rather than the future. Consequently, the ethos was essentially conservative: it valued the authority of ancestral custom. Innovation was regarded as dangerous and subversive: the Romans, for instance, were highly suspicious of movements that would challenge a tradition even if it was not their own (which is why they persecuted the early Christians). A lot of these attitudes still exist today: for example, many people who attend religious services are not interested in theology and dislike the idea of change. They find that the rituals provide them with a link with the past and give them a sense of security.

  • [4]. This can easily be seen as a step backwards, but the previous stage should not be idealised (e.g. slaves that were exported to the Americas from Africa were captured mostly by other tribesmen). Also, however repugnant such a move may seem nowadays, it did bring some advantages at the time: it enabled social organisation on a larger scale, the undertaking of long term projects, and it created free time (at least for some) that could be devoted to activities that did not have an immediate practical purpose.