In the late 19th century society began realigning its belief in existence as a Great Chain of Being to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Just as life evolved, so too did societies. This was regarded as part of the natural law, a view that became known as social Darwinism. Humanity had progressed triumphantly from Stone Age to Bronze Age and Iron Age, advancing inexorably into the Industrial Revolution according to the laws of social evolution. Different kinds of social organization were simply progressive phases that passed sequentially from savagery, to barbarism, to civilization. Insofar as the idea of civilization entailed cities (civis – city-dweller, citizen) a hunter-gatherer could never be considered civilized, but always a savage.
Over time this view lost favour as its underlying moral and ethnic arrogance became more apparent, along with its simplistic assumption of linear cultural progress. It was also becoming evident that the nomadic lifestyle had its advantages, while urban living brought its own unique set of problems.
In the 1960s a new social relativism emerged among anthropologists who suggested that to attempt an even remotely objective measure of societies was an ethnocentric delusion – this was, in reality, simply Westerners appraising other societies in relation to themselves.
The wheel has turned once again now as social organization and its consequences are regarded as factual and measurable, even if our moral conclusions about the consequences are a matter for debate.
Technological complexity does not have automatic implications concerning brainpower, luck, worthiness, or impact on happiness. Nor does it make necessary judgements about its environmental, social, and economic consequences.