Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Robert L. Kelly's "The Fifth Beginning"

Robert L. Kelly is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming. He is a past president of the Society for American Archaeology, current editor of American Antiquity, author of The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers, and coauthor of two popular textbooks, Archaeology and Archaeology: Down to Earth. He has conducted archaeological research throughout the western United States for more than forty years.

Kelly applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the last page of The Fifth Beginning’s penultimate chapter, so that tells you something about the book: it’s short. I figured someone might actually read a short book, and having your book read is the point, right?

Page 99 also marks the end of the book’s discussion of four major transitions--I call them beginnings--in humanity’s six-million-year history. And that with “hindsight we can see that dramatic changes in the material record of humanity’s odyssey on earth—stone tools, art and burials, villages, domesticated crops, elaborate tombs, palisades, temples, palaces, and so on—point to equally dramatic changes in how people related to one another.” I then ask: “Is that it? Are we at the end of history?” and propose that the answer lies in whether “another major shift [is] visible from an archaeological perspective.”

The final chapter argues that the material record of the Anthropocene suggests we are indeed in a fifth beginning, a time when, once again, the character of human life will change significantly and irreversibly. This change will be comparable to the origin of technology, culture, agriculture and the state.

All these beginnings are emergent phenomena, the result of evolutionary processes aimed at achieving one lifeway that eventually turn humanity into something completely different. Using an understanding of the first four beginnings as practice, in the final chapter I look at how three processes, the escalating cost of war, the global reach of capitalism, and a global communication network seem likely to result in the replacement of war, capitalism, and the nation-state with new methods of conflict resolution, a new form of economy, and global self-governance. It’s the end of life as we know it. Despite recent events, I take a hopeful view on humanity’s future, focusing not on chaos but on humanity’s great potential.
.Learn more about The Fifth Beginning at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue