The Evolution of the Human System: Large-Scale Social Change

The human species consists of individuals divided into nations and languages, but also functions as one large community. My work seeks to explain large-scale social change by exploring how networks of people connect human groups at local and global levels. This approach also provides useful context for understanding current crises such as social inequality and environmental degradation.

I have developed a collection of essays that focus on several different areas:

Networks of Human Contact

Networks can be theorized as fields of informal human contact, linked to institutions and families at scales from local to global. I am seeking to clarify how the Human System—the overall collection of human networks—consists of smaller networks and institutions that exchange information and material goods. 

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Environmental Degradation

Growth of industry and population in the Anthropocene Epoch—especially since 1800—has amplified human interference with Earth’s physical and biological processes. Waters are diverted, the atmosphere is heated, plant and animal species become extinct, and new viruses spread disease to many species. The hope for economic growth only compounds environmental destruction: the Human System and the Earth are both in trouble.

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Karl Marx identified capitalism as a new process within a long-established world market. He argued that capitalist systems emerged in the 1700s as expanded wage labor in manufacturing gave rise to surplus value owned by proprietors. Now, after nearly two centuries of debate, we can gather latest thoughts on capitalism, its place in the global economy, its institutional organization, and how it has changed economic, political, and social affairs.

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The Idea of Civilization

“Civilization” is an ideological term invented in the eighteenth century. It links prestigious ancient societies to the classification of modern groups by culture, “race,” and religion. Since the nineteenth century, “civilization” has been used to rank and classify societies, identifying and celebrating the leaders of progress. In my critique of civilization, I argue that the term usually creates confusion rather than clarity.

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Empires and Nations

Empires, having conquered near and distant lands for four millennia, seem to have disappeared. Nations, formed both by consensus and warfare during the past few centuries, now govern almost the entire world. This essay traces the interplay and transformation of empires and nations for the past 250 years, as well as steps in the expansion of representative government and the emergence of new types of dictatorial government.

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