From The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant:

History does not tell us just when men passed from hunting to agriculture-perhaps in the Neolithic Age, and through the discovery that grain could be sown to add to the spontaneous growth of wild wheat. We may reasonably assume that the new regime demanded new virtues, and changed some old virtues into vices.

Industriousness became more vital than bravery, regularity and thrift more profitable than violence, peace more victorious than war. Children were economic assets; birth control was made immoral. On the farm the family was the unit of production under the discipline of the father and the seasons, and paternal authority had a firm economic base. Each normal son matured soon in mind and self-support; at fifteen he understood the physical tasks of life as well as he would understand them at forty; all that he needed was land, a plow, and a willing arm.

So he married early, almost as soon as nature wished; he did not fret long under the restraints placed upon premarital relations by the new order of permanent settlements and homes. As for young women, chastity was indispensable, for its loss might bring unprotected motherhood. Monogamy was demanded by the approximate numerical equality of the sexes. For fifteen hundred years this agricultural moral code of continence, early marriage, divorceless monogamy, and multiple maternity maintained itself in Christian Europe and its white colonies.It was a stern code, which produced some of the strongest characters in history.

Gradually, then rapidly and ever more widely, the Industrial Revolution changed the economic form and moral superstructure of European and American life. Men, women, and children left home and family, authority and unity, to work as individuals, individually paid, in factories built to house not men but machines. Every decade the machines multiplied and became more complex; economic maturity (the capacity to support a family) came later; children no longer were economic assets; marriage was delayed; premarital continence became more difficult to maintain. The city offered every discouragement to marriage, but it provided every stimulus and facility for sex.

Women were "emancipated"-i.e., industrialized; and contraceptives enabled them to separate intercourse from pregnancy. The authority of father and mother lost its economic base through the growing individualism of industry. The rebellious youth was no longer constrained by the surveillance of the village; he could hide his sins in the protective anonymity of the city crowd. The progress of science raised the authority of the test tube over that of the crosier; the mechanization of economic production suggested mechanistic materialistic philosophies; education spread religious doubts; morality lost more and more of its supernatural supports. The old agricultural moral code began to die.*

Interestingly, the British historian James Burke speculates humanity has now entered a period of transition, where we're trying to solve life's challenges using "archaic and out-of-date instruments".

"We live with institutions set up in the past to solve the problems of the past, with the technologies and values of the past and we wonder why they don't work too well anymore?" he says.

Peter Saint-Andre writes: 

Nice thought, except it's false. English society was individualistic in the sense described going back as far as records exist (at least to the 1200s). The classic anthropological study here is Alan Macfarlane's 1978 book The Origins of English Individualism. Here is more about Professor Macfarlane.

Also highly recommended is a new book that builds on work by Macfarlane and others, entitled America 3.0.


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