The Echoes of the Mind (156) Types of Societies


The earliest societies were social groups in a geographical area which shared subsistence strategies and technologies. Social cohesion afforded technological development, which in turn advanced the means for securing survival resources.

Societies are usually lumped into 3 types, by technology level: preindustrial, industrial, and post-industrial.

Preindustrial societies were of communities, sometimes striving for the resources to survive. From 15,000 years ago onward there was a technological transition from the hunting and gathering groups of early humans to domestication of animals and plants. The next societal revolution came with the invention of the plow over 4,000 years ago, affording agriculture on a scale sufficient to generate surpluses.

The onset of agriculture around the world was termed the Neolithic Revolution by Australian archeologist Gordon Childe in 1923. Whatever social inequality existed prior to the plow was elevated to an altogether higher level with the establishment of settlements and land as property.

The first armies appeared in the wake of the Neolithic Revolution, as did the first taxes, and the forerunners of political states. No one knows how it transpired, but females were subjugated by men during this period.

Societies throughout history have repeatedly been rent by conflict or deteriorated through internal corruption and incompetent governance. Less dramatically, into modern times, societal bonds loosened, and sense of community waned, as migration increased. Urbanization accelerated this process.

Advances in technology and increasing intensity in energy consumption led to the development and employment of labor-saving machines and mass production. Industrialization irrevocably altered human societies. Commercial enterprise graduated from trading to more exuberantly exploitative capitalism.

Mass manufacture not only meant more goods. It spun a different dynamic of strong societal division by economic class, even as hereditary social stratification slightly weakened.

Industrialization forged men who amassed wealth from the labors of others by virtue of their seed capital and eagerness to gamble with it. Whereas preindustrial social stratification topped out with the landed gentry (an English term of socioeconomic status nonetheless applicable worldwide), the cream of industrial and post-industrial societies were those who had managed to amass mountains of money off the backs of others’ labors.

Meanwhile, polity became more brazenly plutocratic – so much so that working men were denied the right to organize for better working conditions and a fairer share of their labors. In the early 1900s, American workers who tried to organize were killed by private police, and even the National Guard, a federal militia.

Among the laboring class, relative prosperity propelled unchecked breeding, as presciently predicted by English scholar Thomas Malthus at the end of the 18th century. Population explosions were the norm early in the industrial age.

Population density intensified with urbanization. More extensive land use followed with suburbanization in post-industrial societies.

The grasping materiality of preindustrial times was small potatoes compared to what industrialization would infect human societies with: an unrelenting cancer of institutionalized inequity.

In Europe, World War 1 was catalytic in jarring social moorings. Though it had its own landowning elite, the US was always a plebeian society. It took a 2nd World War to disrupt and alter the societal dynamics throughout the industrialized world.

Once goods and garbage could be generated by machines on a massive scale, humans started becoming important again. While industrial societies were forged in the machine age, post-industrial societies arose as services became as economically valuable as the manufacturing sector.

The United States was the 1st nation to have over half its workers employed in service industries. Countries in western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand soon followed.

The labor specialization that began with industrialization accelerated in post-industrial economies, as specialized knowledge became the avenue for raising income.

The advent of the personal computer ushered in the information age, culminating in the Internet, which became a worldwide data dumping ground: a sea swelling with info-flotsam, dotted with pearls of knowledge.

The Internet created the opportunity for amassing superficial social bonds of shared interests, while lessening the extent and quality of the more intimate interpersonal social networks of earlier times. The Internet has been a profound agent of societal change; as significant as the printing press.

Burgeoning online shopping through the Internet is now wrenching another societal change. The decline of retail shops is dismantling the service industry which employed the most people. The sinking of shopping malls also spells an avenue of community intercourse closing.