Human civilization has been established for thousands of years, and the human species for even longer. When we look back at the growth of our species across history, it is only normal to ask ourselves a few questions: How did we get here? At what point of our growth are we? And most importantly, what’s next?
Scientists, historians, and philosophers alike have pondered these questions for millennia — the conclusion is that there will never be one single answer to any of them. But for the sake of better understanding the growth process of our civilization, I will try to provide some solutions through the use of a simple image. The narrative structure of a story.
The first stage of most stories is exposition. We meet the first characters and discover the universe of the story we are reading; we can compare this stage to the first appearance of human civilizations across Mesopotamia, which most people reading this would know if a minimum of attention was paid to early secondary school history.
Within those civilizations, we discover the essence and foundations of anthropology: agriculture, tools, language, scripture, and more. This exposition contains essential elements for the rest of the story, but we also discover our first characters, the first human nations. Early Egyptian civilizations, the Assyrian Empire, and a series of proto-civilizations across all corners of the world. We have main characters getting all the spotlight and secondary characters biding their time until they become main characters through the misfortune of the current ones.
But we also start discovering more complex elements, maybe some that will bring trouble as we get deeper into the story’s intrigue. A few are law, war, nationality, or human nature. Once we know all of our characters and the setting has been set, the rising action phase can start. Let’s take inspiration from the model of the Fichtean Curve. We can set the structure of our story as a continuously rising set of crisis points, essentially a lot of sets of rising action, climax, and falling action, continually increasing in intensity. This seems to be the most fitting model for human history.
As we grow, the story’s scope grows, the stakes increase, and the characters develop. The first crises see characters disappear, main characters get relegated to secondary roles, and secondary characters are pushed to the role of main characters. The Assyrians disappear, and the Greeks come out of nowhere with an unexpected rise a few hundred chapters in. Eras pass, some characters reach such high levels of development that the omniscient author of our story decides they must disappear to make the story interesting. Civilizations fall, and others arise. But we soon start discovering that the structure of how the story is written changes. From simply mentioning the names of nations, the author begins focusing on individuals. On humans rather than humankind. Names start appearing: Darius, Sun Tzu, Alexander, Julius.
As the story’s climax seems near with the rise of the story arc of the Roman Empire, the author once again decides to extend the story by reshuffling the cards. And it is essentially the same for the next thousand or so chapters, rising action and then a disappointing climax stolen away at the last minute. So this explains somewhat how we got here, through the hand of an author unwilling to finish a story, and it also helps us understand at what point of our growth we are. We are still in the rising action of a Fichtean curve, floating between increasingly intense crisis points. Knowing the current state of the world, we can say we are at the beginning of a new crisis point after quite a few chapters of calm bliss. But there remains one question, what’s next?
And that is the only one I cannot answer to. As much as my previous answers were flawed and inaccurate, I could still portray a version of an explanation using imagery. But here, my metaphor reaches its breaking point, are we stuck in a series of crises until the author is willing to let the story end? Will it ever end? How intense can the crisis points get? How many will more characters rise and fall in the unending story of humankind? Or maybe my metaphor is wrong, and I am using an erroneous model (It is the most likely possibility), and therefore there is no way this article will help us figure out what’s next. In the end, the message I am trying to communicate through this article is that however you look at history and the story of our species, it is fundamentally just that. A story. Our lives are all stories tied into more extensive chapters, tied into story arcs that we name centuries or millennials. All our growth can be seen as the development of innumerable characters rising and falling. And we are all one of these characters. No matter how insignificant our stories can seem, they are all written into the typical book that we call history, and our actions will all be someone’s memory.
Next time you read a book, remember we all live in one just like it, and we are all writing it right now.