Every production phase or civilization or other human invention goes through a so called transformation process. Transitions are social transformation processes that cover at least one generation. In this article I will use one such transition to demonstrate that humanity is at a crossroads: up to a third world war or will humanity create new heaven on earth.
When we consider the characteristics of the phases of a social transformation we may find ourselves at the end of what might be called the third industrial revolution. Transitions are social transformation processes that cover at least one generation (= 25 years). A transition has the following characteristics:
- it involves a structural change of civilization or a complex subsystem of our civilization
- it shows technological, economical, ecological, socio cultural and institutional changes at different levels that influence and enhance each other
- it is the result of slow changes (changes in supplies) and fast dynamics (flows)
Examples of historical transitions are the demographical transition and the transition from coal to natural gas which caused transition in the use of energy. A transition process is not fixed from the start because during the transition processes will adapt to the new situation. A transition is not dogmatic.
Figure: demographical transition
Four transition phases
In general transitions can be seen to go through the S curve and we can distinguish four phases (see fig. 1):
- a pre development phase of a dynamic balance in which the present status does not visibly change
- a take off phase in which the process of change starts because of changes in the system
- an acceleration phase in which visible structural changes take place through an accumulation of socio cultural, economical, ecological and institutional changes influencing each other; in this phase we see collective learning processes, diffusion and processes of embedding
- a stabilization phase in which the speed of sociological change slows down and a new dynamic balance is achieved through learning
A product life cycle also goes through an S curve. In that case there is a fifth phase:
- the degeneration phase in which cost rises because of over capacity and the producer will finally withdraw from the market.
The S curve of a transition
Figure: Four phases in a transition best visualized by means of an
S – curve: Pre-development, Take off, Acceleration, Stabilization.
Spreading process of transitions
The process of the spreading of transitions over civilizations is influenced by a number of elements:
- physical barriers: oceans, deserts, mountain ranges, swamps, lakes
- socio cultural barriers: difference in culture and languages
- religious barriers
- psychological barriers
The Neolithic transition was the most transition for mankind. This first agricultural revolution (10000 – 3000 BC) forms the change from societies of hunter gatherers (20 – 50 people) close to water with a nomadic existence to a society of people living in settlements growing crops and animals. A hierarchical society came into existence. Joint organizations protected and governed the interests of the individual. Performing (obligatory) services for the community could be viewed as a first type of taxation. Stocks were set up with stock management, trade emerged, inequality and theft. Ways of administering justice were invented to solve conflicts within and between communities and war became a way of protecting interests.
The Neolithic revolution started in those places that were most favorable because of the climate and sources of food. In very cold, very hot or dry areas the hunter gatherer societies lasted longer. Several areas are pointed out as possible starting points: southern Anatolia, the basins the Yangtze Kiang and Yellow river in China, the valley of the Indus, the present Peru in the Andes or what is now Mexico in Central America. From these areas the revolution spread across the world.
The start of the Neolithic era and the spreading process are different in each area. In some areas the changes are relatively quick and some authors therefore like to speak of a Neolithic revolution. Modern historians prefer to speak of the Neolithic evolution. They have come to realize that in many areas the process took much longer and was much more gradual than they originally thought.
Three drastic transitions
When we look back over the past two centuries, we see three transitions taking place with far-reaching effects.
- The first industrial revolution
The first industrial revolution lasted from around 1780 tot 1850. It was characterized by a transition from small scale handwork to mechanized production in factories. The great catalyst in the process was the steam engine which also caused a revolution in transport as it was used in railways and shipping. The first industrial revolution was centered around the cotton industry. Because steam engines were made of iron and ran on coal, both coal mining and iron industry also flourished.
Britain was the first country that faced the industrial revolution. The steam engine was initially mainly used to power the water pumps of mines. A major change occurred in the textile industry. Because of population growth and colonial expansion the demand for cotton products quickly increased. Because spinners and weavers could not keep up with the demand, there was an urgent need for a loom with an external power unit, the power loom.
A semi-automatic shuttleless loom was invented, and a machine was created that could spin several threads simultaneously. This "Spinning Jenny", invented in 1764 by James Hargreaves, was followed in 1779 by a greatly improved loom: 'Mule Jenny’. At first they were water-powered, but after 1780 the steam engine had been strongly improved so that it could also be used in the factories could be used as a power source. Now much more textiles could be produced. This was necessary because in 1750, Europe had 130 million inhabitants, but in 1850 this number had doubled, partly because of the agricultural revolution. (This went along with the industrial revolution; fertilizers were imported, drainage systems were designed and ox was replaced by the horse. By far the most important element of the agricultural revolution was the change from subsistence to production for the market.)
All those people needed clothing. Thanks to the machine faster and cheaper production was possible and labor remained cheap. The textile industry has been one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution.
Belgium becomes the first industrialized country in continental Europe. Belgium is "in a state of industrial revolution" under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. The industrial centers were Ghent (cotton and flax industries), Verviers (mechanized wool production), Liège (iron, coal, zinc, machinery and glass), Mons and Charleroi. On the mainland, France and Prussia followed somewhat later. In America the northeastern states of the United States followed quickly. After 1870 Japan was industrialized as the first non-Western country. The rest of Europe followed only around 1880.
The beginning of the end of this revolution was in 1845 when Friedrich Engels, son of a German textile baron, described the living conditions of the English working class in “The condition of the working class in England“.
- The second industrial revolution
The second industrial revolution started around 1870 and ended around 1930. It was characterized by ongoing mechanization because of the introduction of the assembly line, the replacement of iron by steel and the development of the chemical