The Fall (by Steve Taylor) – book review
I have been an avid reader all my life but these days I finish fewer and fewer books. Perhaps it’s a sign of age, but I’m quite impatient if I don’t learn something new in the first 30 pages or so. So to discover a book called ‘The Fall’ by Steve Taylor was an absolute delight. I devoured all of it in two days. It is rare that a ‘non-Buddhist book’ makes me think completely differently about the human race and about Nichiren’s goal of Kosen Rufu, but this one was utterly mind-blowing. It reveals that the seeds of war, inequality and environmental destruction were actually sown just six millennia ago and that before then, people lived in peace and harmony. Blimey, who knew?!
Power of Now author Eckhart Tolle describes The Fall as: “An important and fascinating book about the origin, history and impending demise of the ego, highly readable and enlightening.” Every word of that description is true.
Here are five fascinating facts from Taylor’s book. When we were still nomadic hunter gatherers, just 6,000 years ago:
- war barely existed,
- women were respected as equals,
- owning possessions was frowned upon, as was celebrity,
- we were not territorial, we revered nature and perceived ‘spirit force’ everywhere and in everything,
- men were more like ‘new men’, with traits such as empathy, emotional openness and non-aggression.
The problem – the Ego Explosion
So, what happened? ‘The Fall’ is what happened. A previously fertile stretch of land between Africa and China suddenly suffered from catastrophic drought and desertification. This apparently caused a shift in the Indo-European psyche. To survive, we ditched our predominantly caring and matrist mindset and became warlike and patrist. We began to settle on land, developed agriculture, became territorial and built cities with fortifications. We grew emotionless and detached – from each other, from the environment, from what Buddhism would call our ‘bigger interconnected selves’. We began to ring-fence our happiness and became more and more separate from each other. Taylor describes this Fall as an ‘Ego Explosion’ and says it was ‘the most momentous event in the history of the human race.’
What I love about this book is that it answers the question I’ve had bubbling away in my subconscious for a long time: ‘Why should human history be such a terrible saga of violence and oppression?’
For example, I did not know that ‘unfallen people’ had no word for ‘property’, in fact some of the few surviving indigenous tribes in the world actually have no word for ‘I’ or ‘me’. The complete antithesis of our ‘selfie generation’. And Taylor reveals that it was the ‘fallen psyche’ that created anthropomorphic gods who then controlled our destiny. Before that, people understood that everything ‘was interconnected in a vast web of sacredness.’ Taylor also quotes Ken Wilber who says: “at the very core of our being we are one with the universe, infinite and eternal, behind space and time and death.” Now then, where have I read stuff like that before? Sounds like a pretty good description of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo! (Before, that is, people ‘put a beard on the Mystic Law / spirit force’ and called it God…)
Of course, humanity’s fallen psyche has been the springboard for our incredible powers of intellect and scientific invention, but, Taylor argues, these have come at a high price: ‘How can the most intelligent life form the world has ever known be mismanaging its own existence on this planet in such a catastrophic way? An alien observer might conclude that the whole human race has agreed to a collective suicide pact.’
Such questions remind me that in the modern world we venerate clever brains when what the world needs most today is wise hearts (see my previous post on why a high IQ is over-rated.) Taylor adds that the materialistic and hedonistic values of our culture create a mindset where ‘nothing really means anything and we’re going to die at some point anyway, so we’ve just got to enjoy ourselves as much as we can while we’re here.’ He also says: “We have lost awareness of the spirit force which pervades the universe and everything in it.”
The solution – your Buddhahood and mine
Of course the good news is that when Nichiren Buddhists chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo we reconnect at the most fundamental level with that force, we venerate and revere the sacred core of our own and others’ lives, as taught in the principles of ichinen sanzen and esho funi. And we deeply perceive what Eddy Canfor-Dumas describes (in The Buddha, Geoff and Me) as the “mystical, invisible thread between the churning, inner reality of my life and the great outdoors of the rest of the world.”
At first I found Taylor’s book deeply unsettling. I felt guilty for being part of the ‘fallen psyche’. But ultimately The Fall is uplifting. It will ignite hope in any Nichiren Buddhist who ever doubts that their own human revolution can actually make a difference to the collective consciousness. Because it absolutely can. As Daisaku Ikeda famously wrote: “A great inner revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of an entire society and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of humankind.” I understand that cherished quote a hundred times more, thanks to The Fall.
And finally as Nichiren himself wrote in this hope-filled prediction: “The time will come when all people […] will enter on the path of Buddhahood and the Mystic Law alone will flourish throughout the land. In that time, because all people chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo together, the wind will not beleaguer the branches or boughs, nor will the rain fall hard enough to break a clod. […]. Disasters will be driven from the land, and the people will be rid of misfortunes. They will also learn the art of living long, fulfilling lives.”
That will be the inspiration for my prayer on this first day of 2015 and beyond.
11 Replies to “The Fall (by Steve Taylor) – book review”
Have you read Steven Pinker’s book ‘The better angels of our nature’ which argues rather the opposite of this? I found myself wondering when I read that book, how can he know this stuff? And I think I would be asking the same questions of ‘The Fall’ which I have not read. Also, whenever I read things along the lines of man being the greatest intelligence the world has ever known I think of Bertrand Russell’s quip about progress from the protozoan to mankind but that it’s man not the protozoan who assures us of this progress. Tee hee.
Hi Philippa, interesting, I will check out Mr. Pinker’s book and yes, I must admit that while reading The Fall, similar questions crossed my mind, however the author is an established academic and his evidence is very well argued, so although I cannot prove that what he says is true, I really want to believe it! HNY 2015, by the way! David x
Happened to stumble across this website/exchange. And was interested, because I published the Steve Taylor book, and was also highly impressed by the Steven Pinker book (who is a vastly more serious academic than Steve Taylor).
We publish a fair bit in this area, and whether pre-agricultural man was savage or caring – I’ve read lots in the area, and I really don’t know.
The one thing I do know, is that Pinker’s evidence of the decline in murder/criminality etc over the centuries is impressive, and it seems more so with every year that goes by – crime rates are dropping around the Western world.
But it feels like the arguments I used to have with my mother, who died last year at 89 – she’d say something like “the new generation is all going to pot, crime is rampant, back in my day there wasn’t any, you could leave your door unlocked”, and I’d say “Mum, you grew up in the second world war, your father was in a grim prison camp, people were being slaughtered in the tens of millions, how was that better?”
So time will tell. In 100 years, will Pinker or Taylor have called the right tune? I’ld love it if it was the former, I really hope that’s the case, I have kids etc…, but I fear it will be the latter. With global warming looking like it might be coming up to 4 degrees (the last time that happened there were forests at the North Pole), one bad decade, or even a bad year if things got global in terms of warfare, would make all the statistics on improving life mortality rates over the last century etc irrelevant.
many thanks for your informed insight and opinion as publisher of Steve’s book. I must confess to having very little knowledge of anthropology and haven’t yet read Pinker’s book, but as you’re the second person to mention it, I think I better had! As for who will be proved right in centuries to come – my optimistic side wants to believe every word Taylor says, as the message is so empowering. There are also parts of Nichiren Buddhist scripture that predict an age of enlightenment emerging from these rather dark times – ‘no mud, no lotus’ as we say… Ultimately, as Taylor says, it is our choice what happens next.
The problem with Pinker’s work is that it draws on a dataset that may not be reflective of pre-agricultural humanity. The record shows no real violence before the very last years of the last Ice Age.
While life was probably harder than life for modern industrial humanity in general the arguments for peaceful and autonomous lives being led by paleolithic hunter gatherers is broadly true. It’s a big and controversial subject but “limited wants unlimited means” might be worth a read, as would Kaczynski’s (yes him!) criticism of anarcho-primitivism.
Thank you Neal for this blog link and for the book recommendations – I am discovering new words like ‘anarcho-primitivism’ and a fascinating new field that I can study through a Buddhist lens! best wishes, David
Thanks for this excellent review David – it’s great to hear that The Fall had such a big impact on you. I just wanted to make a couple of comments about Steven Pinker and the debate about pre-historic violence. Despite John’s comments, I have very little respect for Pinker as an academic – apart from his work as a cognitive psychologist specialising in language, which is his main area. In terms of his outlook, he’s an evolutionary psychologist, and has a particular view of reality which he cherry picks evidence to justify. Evolutionary psychologists believe that violence is endemic in human nature and try to marshall evidence to prove this – so they usually pick unrepresentative examples of violent hunter-gatherer societies, and isolated examples of prehistoric violence, and ignore peaceful hunter-gather groups. Many (probably most) anthropologists do accept that hunter-gatherer societies are in general peaceful and egalitarian, and that they are representative of earlier human groups. Many (probably most) anthropologists and archaeological accept that warfare was much less common until around 6000 years ago (see Bryan Ferguson and Tim Ingold as examples). On the other hand, I think Pinker is absolutely right that violence is decreasing, and has been decreasing over the last few hundred years – this is what I call ‘the trans-Fall movement’ or the ‘second wave.’
all the best, Steve
Thank you Steve for joining the debate, your comments as author of ‘The Fall’ will definitely be of interest to readers here. best, David
What an interesting review of what sounds like an interesting book! Do you think we might be nearing the end of the latter day of the law then, in terms of warfare at least? I believe that at our core we are peaceful and ‘at one’, so it sounds like a good read – I’ll get a copy. Also, LOVE the quip about ‘before they put a beard on the Mystic Law and called it God’ – teehee!
Hi Karen, thanks for the kind words and yes, the word ‘Mappo’ kept jumping through my mind as I read it!
Thank you so very much for your book review of “The Fall.” I ordered a copy this morning. Looking forward to reading it soon!
All the best,