Our History's Teachings
How has modern civilization benefitted from the lesson of history?
"The only thing in life that will always remain constant, is change." This statement has been repeated over and over again, even by some of the greatest philosophers in the world. It's also been proven true for centuries. From the beginning of time to the modern 21st century, massive changes have occurred in our world. There is a myriad amount of events and people who have helped to modernize civilization. To illustrate, a majority of these influences improved our living circumstances, as opposed to those that put the world into a state of chaos. As the years pass, constant conflict between the world's different people has also benefited us, despite the fact that many had to die so that our lesson could be learned. Modern civilization has benefited greatly from past events such as the formation of India's Caste system, the cultural clash of Native Americans and the Europeans, and the influence of the totalitarian state.
India's caste system separated their people into unchanged groups called castes. A person born into one caste never changed castes or mixed with members of other castes. To illustrate, it was sternly forbidden to marry someone outside of your own caste. Religiously, the caste system is overall a simple division of society in which there are four castes assembled in a hierarchy and inferior to them the outcast. It was also the order or group into which a Hindu was assigned according to religious law.On the other hand, socially the system was more complicated, with a lot more castes and sub-castes and other divisions. The government legally prohibited the practice of caste system. Castes were established by occupations, religions, invaders, and income. They dictated everything from what the castes' people wore, to what they ate. In these ancient times, freedom was unheard of and unfortunately, the people were convinced that this was the only way of living.
The caste system consisted of four major castes. The Brahmans, Kshatriya, Vaishyas,and Sudras all had specific occupations in the Hindu society. The Brahmans and Kshatriya were the priests and warriors, who were perceived as the upper castes, along with the merchant Vaishyas. The Sudras were the servants who were greatly mistreated and referred to as the "Untouchables."
They were referred to by that name because they were given jobs that were considered "impure" or "polluted," such as grave digging,street cleaning, or converting animal hides into leather. Life, for them, was very brutal and restricted. Other castes were terrified that any contact with an Untouchable could pollute their villages. They were even forced to sound a wooden clapper to make people aware of their approach. Many ancient Hindus believed that the Untouchables deserved this treatment. Hindus think that one is born to this caste because of bad karma they received in a previous lifestyle.
All four of these castes were the most distinct and the most specified out of all of the castes and sub-castes. As a result of this strict segregation, India's people became willingly ignorant to wondering about what life was like outside of the caste system. This result was caused by the people's rebellion against the government's opinions and orders. The stubborn minds of these Indians led them to believe their caste's leaders in lieu of the government. They inferred that if they only abide by their caste's laws and customs, in return, they and their families would receive good karma in their next lifetime.
The caste system has greatly segregated India's people to this day, despite the fact that they all share the same beliefs and heritage. Although the system is now illegal all over the world, many people continue to consider their caste membership when making certain decisions in life. Obviously, there are major doubts that the caste system will be banished permanently, since a large majority of Indians still practice it in the inner-cities of India.
Despite the fact that it's one of the many types of segregation seen throughout India, it did have its beneficial qualities. For instance, it did establish a stable social order in the country for quite some time until an official government came into place. All of India's people played a role in their society and had certain jobs. The former caste members are now more tolerant of other castes and sub-castes' people, and the divisions in the society are gradually diminishing. Thus, the caste system is one of the events in our history that has greatly modified our civilization today.
During the early modern times, the discovery of the "New World," now known as North America, was a major cause of conflict for its Natives and for the land-hungry European explorers. Over the course of four and a half centuries, tensions grew into what we now call a cultural clash between the two groups of people. Encounters between peoples who had not previously known of each other's existence were bound to be profoundly unsettling. Europeans were culturally taught to see others as savages, while Native Americans were inclined to view strangers as gods. While the Native Americans prophesied the arrival of Europeans, Europeans fantasized about what awaited them in the lands they hoped to "discover."
In 1492, the population of the Native Americans in the United States alone was from 5 to 15 million people. By 1900, the population of Native Americans was down to 250,000 because of disease, exploitation, enslavement, war, and genocidal federal policies. Indians were considered as a sub-human race that must be removed or terminated. Their status didn't give them a basis for legal recognition in the Americas. Once we considered the injustices that were served to their entire race, we embarked on a quest to heal the damage and pain American Indian people still feel today.
In example, The meeting between Cortes and Montezuma is one of the most epic moments in the history of first encounters between the peoples of Europe and the Americas. Cortes took Montezuma prisoner after being luxuriously greeted. Spanish soldiers invaded the Tenochtitlan villages and committed a mass murder. In response to this massacre, the people of Tenochtitlan rebelled and forced the Spanish to leave the city. Following the Spaniards' departure, the natives resented Montezuma for welcoming Cortes to the city. Thus, Montezuma himself was killed. After Cortes and the Spaniards fled from Tenochtitlan, they planned a renewed attack on the city. In the mean time, a minor epidemic of smallpox broke out among the natives. The Spanish used the natives' weakness as an advantage, and they effortlessly conquered the weakened capital.
Since their initial encounter with Europeans in the late fifteenth century, American native populations have experienced vast losses of life, land, and social cohesion. Illness was usually the first, and most damaging, effect of colonization felt by indigenous peoples. Diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza were introduced by Europeans and reached catastrophic heights among Native Americans, who had never been exposed to these diseases and had no immunity to them. As colonization and westward expansion continued, Native Americans were victims to war, genocide, removal from tribal lands, relocation, and forced labor. These factors all contributed to the extinction of 50 to 90 percent of the indigenous populations by the end of the nineteenth century.
On the other hand, The Indians and the European conquest were an aide to the development of some states that we have today, such as Florida and Virginia. The cultural clash between them was the beginning of the cultural melting pot in which we live today. Although it had its downfalls, such as the spread of European germs and diseases that reduced native populations by as much as 90 percent, many new immunities were inherited by the next generation.
Overall, the cultural clash between the Native Americans and the Europeans did positively affect the conquest of the Americas. In exchange for their religious teachings and new technology, the Europeans were given new forms of music, art, and food from the Native Americans to trade with other parts of the world. The cultural clash of the Europeans and the Natives also resulted in the formation of new races and religion. This clash is part of the reason for the diversity of cultures in the Americas today.
The 20th century is often nicknamed the "Century of Conflict," which is self-explanatory. Many of the most major wars, genocides, and governments arose during that time period. Furthermore, the totalitarian state in Europe was practically a combination of the three. At the extremes of Power, totalitarian governments have slaughtered their people by the tens of millions, while many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute even serial murderers. It has been done in Germany by the Nazis, and in Russia and Italy by Stalin's Bolsheviks. The German people's lives were massively affected by the Holocaust, which was a wide spread genocide to wipe out the Jews. In Russia, and Italy the Bolsheviks' secret police (the CHEKA) arrested, tortured and killed all opponents. In addition, Russia's tsar and his family were killed. The extent of the totalitarian state's terror was endless.
Between the years 0f 1919-1939, a Fascist state was a totalitarian state, controlling all the political, economic and social activities of its people. Fascism is a form of right-wing totalitarianism which emphasizes the subordination of the individual to advance the interests of the state.The term "totalitarianism" was originally coined by Benito Mussolini to describe his regime in Italy, although it is arguable that Italian fascism was not truly totalitarian until 1940. Mussolini always proclaimed, "Everything within the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state." The people should only "believe, obey and fight." In short, the state was the master, the individual the servant.
In the years directly following the first World War, a promising new era of democracy began to unfold. Within two decades, many democratic countries in Europe were taken over by some kind of dictatorship. Russia became a Communist state. Italy and Germany became Fascist states. Of the powers in Europe, only Britain and France remained staunchly democratic. Actually the First World War brought some negative effects to Europe. Life in Europe was far from easy for the people who had to endure the struggles that accompanied the totalitarian regime. Moreover, totalitarianism did not stop in Europe. It spread as far east as Japan. Fortunately this state was put to an end for the most part.
In summary, all three of these events in our history has molded our present state in some way. It has not only influenced the United States, but it has affected the rest of the world as well. Despite the trials and turmoils in the past, modern civilization has benefited greatly from them. To clarify, the formation of India's Caste system, the cultural clash of Native Americans and the Europeans; and the influence of the totalitarian state, each played a specific roll in the outcome of society. As a result, people have a bittersweet understanding of our background.
Despite our world's troubling history, many benefits have been accumulated over the centuries. We were taught of tolerance for other cultures, more liberal governments, and even the discovery of our civilization itself. Thus, modern civilization has learned from our history in numerous ways.
Collier, Christopher. Clash of Cultures. New York: Benchmark Books, 1998.
Conquest of the Americas
Copyright 1998-2007 Dr. Karen Carr, Associate Professor of History, Portland State University
Daniel,Aharon. "Caste System in Modern India."copyright 1999-2005.
Esler, Anthony. "World History: Connections to Today." Prentice Hall 2005.
European Colonization of the Americas
Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Comparisons and Contrasts.
First Contants- Expanding Trade. 
Germany: The Totalitarian State
Joseph Stalin and Totalitarianism. 
Lukes, Bonnie L. "Colonial America." San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2000.
Miller, Martin A., FREUD AND THE BOLSHEVIKS. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
Moynahan, Brian, COMRADES: 1917 -- Russia in Revolution. Little, Brown & Company, 1992.
Questia." Castes in India."
Rotto, Rich. "Caste System."Copyright 1997.