Paradoxes of State and Civilization Narratives

Below is a passage from a recent book by James C. Scott, Against the Grain.

The book is about agriculture, sedentism, and early statism. The author questions the standard narrative. In doing so, he looks more closely at what the evidence actually shows us about civilization, specifically in terms of supposed collapses and dark ages (elsewhere in the book, he also discusses how non-state ‘barbarians’ are connected to, influenced by, and defined according to states).

Oddly, Scott never mentions Göbekli Tepe. It is an ancient archaeological site that offers intriguing evidence of civilization preceding and hence not requiring agriculture, sedentism, or statism. As has been said of it, “First came the temple, then the city.” That would seem to fit into the book’s framework.

The other topic not mentioned, less surprisingly, is Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism. Jaynes’ view might complicate Scott’s interpretations. Scott goes into great detail about domestication and slavery, specifically in the archaic civilizations such as first seen with the walled city-states. But Jaynes pointed out that authoritarianism as we know it didn’t seem to exist early on, as the bicameral mind made social conformity possible through non-individualistic identity and collective experience (explained in terms of the hypothesis of archaic authorization).

Scott’s focus is more on external factors. From perusing the book, he doesn’t seem to fully take into account social science research, cultural studies, anthropology, philology, etc. The thesis of the book could have been further developed by exploring other areas, although maybe the narrow focus is useful for emphasizing the central point about agriculture. There is a deeper issue, though, that the author does touch upon. What does it mean to be a domesticated human? After all, that is what civilization is about.

He does offer an interesting take on human domestication. Basically, he doesn’t see that most humans ever take the yoke of civilization willingly. There must be systems of force and control in place to make people submit. I might agree, even as I’m not sure that this is the central issue. It’s less about how people submit in body than how they submit in mind. Whether or not we are sheep, there is no shepherd. Even the rulers of the state are sheep.

The temple comes first. Before civilization proper, before walled city-states, before large-scale settlement, before agriculture, before even pottery, there was a temple. What does the temple represent?

* * *

Against the Grain
by James C. Scott
pp. 22-27


A foundational question underlying state formation is how we ( Homo sapiens sapiens ) came to live amid the unprecedented concentrations of domesticated plants, animals, and people that characterize states. From this wide-angle view, the state form is anything but natural or given. Homo sapiens appeared as a subspecies about 200,000 years ago and is found outside of Africa and the Levant no more than 60,000 years ago. The first evidence of cultivated plants and of sedentary communities appears roughly 12,000 years ago. Until then—that is to say for ninety-five percent of the human experience on earth—we lived in small, mobile, dispersed, relatively egalitarian, hunting-and-gathering bands. Still more remarkable, for those interested in the state form, is the fact that the very first small, stratified, tax-collecting, walled states pop up in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley only around 3,100 BCE, more than four millennia after the first crop domestications and sedentism. This massive lag is a problem for those theorists who would naturalize the state form and assume that once crops and sedentism, the technological and demographic requirements, respectively, for state formation were established, states/empires would immediately arise as the logical and most efficient units of political order. 4

These raw facts trouble the version of human prehistory that most of us (I include myself here) have unreflectively inherited. Historical humankind has been mesmerized by the narrative of progress and civilization as codified by the first great agrarian kingdoms. As new and powerful societies, they were determined to distinguish themselves as sharply as possible from the populations from which they sprang and that still beckoned and threatened at their fringes. In its essentials, it was an “ascent of man” story. Agriculture, it held, replaced the savage, wild, primitive, lawless, and violent world of hunter-gatherers and nomads. Fixed-field crops, on the other hand, were the origin and guarantor of the settled life, of formal religion, of society, and of government by laws. Those who refused to take up agriculture did so out of ignorance or a refusal to adapt. In virtually all early agricultural settings the superiority of farming was underwritten by an elaborate mythology recounting how a powerful god or goddess entrusted the sacred grain to a chosen people.

Once the basic assumption of the superiority and attraction of fixed-field farming over all previous forms of subsistence is questioned, it becomes clear that this assumption itself rests on a deeper and more embedded assumption that is virtually never questioned. And that assumption is that sedentary life itself is superior to and more attractive than mobile forms of subsistence. The place of the domus and of fixed residence in the civilizational narrative is so deep as to be invisible; fish don’t talk about water! It is simply assumed that weary Homo sapiens couldn’t wait to finally settle down permanently, could not wait to end hundreds of millennia of mobility and seasonal movement. Yet there is massive evidence of determined resistance by mobile peoples everywhere to permanent settlement, even under relatively favorable circumstances. Pastoralists and hunting-and-gathering populations have fought against permanent settlement, associating it, often correctly, with disease and state control. Many Native American peoples were confined to reservations only on the heels of military defeat. Others seized historic opportunities presented by European contact to increase their mobility, the Sioux and Comanche becoming horseback hunters, traders, and raiders, and the Navajo becoming sheep-based pastoralists. Most peoples practicing mobile forms of subsistence—herding, foraging, hunting, marine collecting, and even shifting cultivation—while adapting to modern trade with alacrity, have bitterly fought permanent settlement. At the very least, we have no warrant at all for supposing that the sedentary “givens” of modern life can be read back into human history as a universal aspiration. 5

The basic narrative of sedentism and agriculture has long survived the mythology that originally supplied its charter. From Thomas Hobbes to John Locke to Giambattista Vico to Lewis Henry Morgan to Friedrich Engels to Herbert Spencer to Oswald Spengler to social Darwinist accounts of social evolution in general, the sequence of progress from hunting and gathering to nomadism to agriculture (and from band to village to town to city) was settled doctrine. Such views nearly mimicked Julius Caesar’s evolutionary scheme from households to kindreds to tribes to peoples to the state (a people living under laws), wherein Rome was the apex, with the Celts and then the Germans ranged behind. Though they vary in details, such accounts record the march of civilization conveyed by most pedagogical routines and imprinted on the brains of schoolgirls and schoolboys throughout the world. The move from one mode of subsistence to the next is seen as sharp and definitive. No one, once shown the techniques of agriculture, would dream of remaining a nomad or forager. Each step is presumed to represent an epoch-making leap in mankind’s well-being: more leisure, better nutrition, longer life expectancy, and, at long last, a settled life that promoted the household arts and the development of civilization. Dislodging this narrative from the world’s imagination is well nigh impossible; the twelve-step recovery program required to accomplish that beggars the imagination. I nevertheless make a small start here.

It turns out that the greater part of what we might call the standard narrative has had to be abandoned once confronted with accumulating archaeological evidence. Contrary to earlier assumptions, hunters and gatherers—even today in the marginal refugia they inhabit—are nothing like the famished, one-day-away-from-starvation desperados of folklore. Hunters and gathers have, in fact, never looked so good—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. Agriculturalists, on the contrary, have never looked so bad—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. 6 The current fad of “Paleolithic” diets reflects the seepage of this archaeological knowledge into the popular culture. The shift from hunting and foraging to agriculture—a shift that was slow, halting, reversible, and sometimes incomplete—carried at least as many costs as benefits. Thus while the planting of crops has seemed, in the standard narrative, a crucial step toward a utopian present, it cannot have looked that way to those who first experienced it: a fact some scholars see reflected in the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The wounds the standard narrative has suffered at the hands of recent research are, I believe, life threatening. For example, it has been assumed that fixed residence—sedentism—was a consequence of crop-field agriculture. Crops allowed populations to concentrate and settle, providing a necessary condition for state formation. Inconveniently for the narrative, sedentism is actually quite common in ecologically rich and varied, preagricultural settings—especially wetlands bordering the seasonal migration routes of fish, birds, and larger game. There, in ancient southern Mesopotamia (Greek for “between the rivers”), one encounters sedentary populations, even towns, of up to five thousand inhabitants with little or no agriculture. The opposite anomaly is also encountered: crop planting associated with mobility and dispersal except for a brief harvest period. This last paradox alerts us again to the fact that the implicit assumption of the standard narrative—namely that people couldn’t wait to abandon mobility altogether and “settle down”—may also be mistaken.

Perhaps most troubling of all, the civilizational act at the center of the entire narrative: domestication turns out to be stubbornly elusive. Hominids have, after all, been shaping the plant world—largely with fire—since before Homo sapiens. What counts as the Rubicon of domestication? Is it tending wild plants, weeding them, moving them to a new spot, broadcasting a handful of seeds on rich silt, depositing a seed or two in a depression made with a dibble stick, or ploughing? There appears to be no “aha!” or “Edison light bulb” moment. There are, even today, large stands of wild wheat in Anatolia from which, as Jack Harlan famously showed, one could gather enough grain with a flint sickle in three weeks to feed a family for a year. Long before the deliberate planting of seeds in ploughed fields, foragers had developed all the harvest tools, winnowing baskets, grindstones, and mortars and pestles to process wild grains and pulses. 7 For the layman, dropping seeds in a prepared trench or hole seems decisive. Does discarding the stones of an edible fruit into a patch of waste vegetable compost near one’s camp, knowing that many will sprout and thrive, count?

For archaeo-botanists, evidence of domesticated grains depended on finding grains with nonbrittle rachis (favored intentionally and unintentionally by early planters because the seedheads did not shatter but “waited for the harvester”) and larger seeds. It now turns out that these morphological changes seem to have occurred well after grain crops had been cultivated. What had appeared previously to be unambiguous skeletal evidence of fully domesticated sheep and goats has also been called into question. The result of these ambiguities is twofold. First, it makes the identification of a single domestication event both arbitrary and pointless. Second, it reinforces the case for a very, very long period of what some have called “low-level food production” of plants not entirely wild and yet not fully domesticated either. The best analyses of plant domestication abolish the notion of a singular domestication event and instead argue, on the basis of strong genetic and archaeological evidence, for processes of cultivation lasting up to three millennia in many areas and leading to multiple, scattered domestications of most major crops (wheat, barley, rice, chick peas, lentils). 8

While these archaeological findings leave the standard civilizational narrative in shreds, one can perhaps see this early period as part of a long process, still continuing, in which we humans have intervened to gain more control over the reproductive functions of the plants and animals that interest us. We selectively breed, protect, and exploit them. One might arguably extend this argument to the early agrarian states and their patriarchal control over the reproduction of women, captives, and slaves. Guillermo Algaze puts the matter even more boldly: “Early Near Eastern villages domesticated plants and animals. Uruk urban institutions, in turn, domesticated humans.” 9


Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag

For a number of years, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around fascism and corporatism. The latter is but one part of the former, although sometimes they are used interchangeably. Corporatism was central to fascism, a defining feature.

Corporatism didn’t originate with fascism, though. It has a long history that became well developed under feudalism. In centuries past, corporations were never conflated with private businesses. Instead, corporations were entities of the state government and served the interests of the state. Corporatism, as such, was an entire society based on this.

The slave plantation South is an example of a corporatist society. This is the basis of the argument made by Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. They connected corporatism to traditional conservatism, as opposed to the individualistic liberalism of capitalism. Like in fascism, this slave plantation corporatism was a rigid social order with social roles clearly defined. It’s a mostly forgotten strain of American conservatism that once was powerful.

In fascist regimes, corporatism was used to organize society and the economy by way of the government’s role of linking labor and industry—similar to slavery, it was “designed to minimize class antagonisms” (Genovese & Fox-Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class, p. 668). In its initial phases, industrial corporations gained immense power and wealth, as managerial efficiency becomes the dominant priority, centralized planning combined with private ownership.

Fascism is a counterrevolutionary expression of reactionary conservatism. As Corey Robin explains, the political right worldview (fascist and otherwise) has a particular talent of borrowing, both from the left and from the past. It just as easily borrows elements from pre-modern corporatism as it does from modern socialism and capitalism. It’s a mishmash, unconcerned by principled consistency and ideological coherence. This makes it highly adaptable and potentially hard to detect.

This relates to how the right-wing in the US transformed corporatism into an element of capitalism. The slave plantation south was central to this process, combining elements of pre-capitalism with capitalism. Slave owners like Thomas Jefferson were increasingly moving toward industrialized capitalism. Before the Civil War, many plantations were being industrialized and many slaves were leased out to work in Southern factories.

Looking for fascism or elements of fascism in American society requires careful observation and analysis. It won’t manifest in the way it did in early 20th century Europe. Capitalists have been much more independent in the US, at times leading to their having more power over government than the other way around. It’s less clear in a country like this which direction power runs, either as fascism or inverted totalitarianism. Either way, the economic system is centrally important for social control.

Yet capitalist rhetoric in the US so often speaks of a mistrust of government. Some history would be helpful. Consider again the example of the South. In Democracy and Trust, Mark E. Warren writes that,

The Southern herrenvolk democracy thrived on slavery and after the Reconstruction remained “mired in the defense of a totally segregated society” (Black and Black 1987: 75). It shared with the Northern elite a suspicion of majority rule and mass participation. It continued to use collective systems of mutual trust both to provide political solidarity and to divide and discourage participation in the political system. But it differed radically from its Northern conservative counterpart in its lack of hostility to the state and governmental authorities. What the South loathed was, and remains, not big government but centralized, federal government On the state and city levels, elites see politics as a means of exercising power, not something to be shunned. (pp. 166-7)

I would correct one thing. Southerners were never against centralized, federal government. In fact, until the mid 1800s, the Southern elite dominated the federal goverment. It was their using the federal government to enforce slave laws onto the rest of the country that led to growing conflict that turned into a civil war. What Southerners couldn’t abide was a centralized, federal government that had come under the sway of the growing industry and population of the North.

The Southern elite loved big government so much that they constantly looked toward expanding the politics and economics of slavery. It’s why Southerners transported so many slaves Westward (see Bound Away by Fischer & Kelly) and why they had their eyes on Mexico and Cuba.

Slaveholders even went as far as California during the 1849 gold rush and they brought their slaves with them. California became technically a free state, although slavery persisted. Later on, Civil War conflict arose on the West Coat, but open battle was avoided. Interestingly, the conflict in California also fell along a North-South divide, with the southern Californians seeking secession from northern California even before the Civil War.

Southern California saw further waves of Southerners. Besides earlier transplanted Southerners, this included the so-called Okies of the Dust Bowl looking for agricultural work and the post-war laborers looking for employment in the defense industry. A Southern-influenced culture became well-established in Southern California. This was a highly religious population that eventually would lead to the phenomenon of mega-churches, televangelists, and the culture wars. It also helped shape a particular kind of highly profitable big ag with much power and influence. Kathryn Olmsted, from Right Out of California, wrote that,

These growers were not angry at the New Deal because they hated big government. Unlike Eastern conservatives, Western businessmen were not libertarians who opposed most forms of government intervention in the economy. Agribusiness relied on the government to survive and prosper: it needed price supports for stability, government dams and canals for irrigation, and state university research for crop improvements. These business leaders not only acknowledged but demanded a large role for government in the economy.

By focusing on Western agribusiness, we can see that the New Right was no neoliberal revolt against the dead hand of government intervention. Instead, twentieth-century conservatism was a reaction to the changes in the ways that government was intervening in the economy— in short, a shift from helping big business to creating a level playing field for workers. Even Ronald Reagan, despite his mythical image as a cowboy identified with the frontier, was not really a small-government conservative but a corporate conservative. 110 Reagan’s revolution did not end government intervention in the economy: it only made the government more responsive to the Americans with the most wealth and power. (Kindle Locations 4621-4630)

This Californian political force is what shaped a new generation of right-wing Republicans. Richard Nixon was born and raised in the reactionary heart of Southern California. It was where the Southern Strategy was developed that Nixon would help push onto the national scene. Nixon set the stage for the likes of Ronald Reagan, which helped extend this new conservatism beyond the confines of big ag, as Reagan had become a corporate spokesperson before getting into politics.

The origins of this California big ag is important and unique. Unlike Midwestern farming, that of California more quickly concentrated land ownership and so concentrated wealth and power. Plus, it was highly dependent on infrastructure funded, built, and maintained by big government. It should be noted that big ag was among the major recipients of New Deal farm subsidies. Their complaints about the New Deal was that it gave farm laborers some basic rights, although the New Deal kept the deck stacked in big ag’s favor. Early 20th century Californian big ag is one of the clearest examples of overt fascism in US history.

The conservative elite in California responded to the New Deal similar to how the conservative elite in the South responded to Reconstruction. It led to a backlash where immense power was wielded at the state level. As Olmsted makes clear,

employers could use state and local governments to limit the reach of federal labor reforms. Carey McWilliams and Herbert Klein wrote in The Nation that California had moved from “sporadic vigilante activity to controlled fascism, from the clumsy violence of drunken farmers to the calculated maneuvers of an economic-militaristic machine.” No longer would employers need to rely on hired thugs to smash strikes. Instead, they could trust local prosecutors to brand union leaders as “criminal syndicalists” and then send them to prison. McWilliams and Klein suggested that this antiunion alliance between big business and the courts was similar to the state-business partnership in Hitler’s Germany. 104

But these growers and their supporters were not European-style fascists; they were the forerunners of a new, distinctly American movement. (Kindle Locations 4134-4141)

Still, it was fascism. In The Harvest Gypsies, John Steinbeck wrote that, “Fascistic methods are more numerous, more powerfully applied and more openly practiced in California than any other place in the United States.”

The development of big ag in California was different, at least initially. But everything across the country was moving toward greater concentration. It wasn’t just California. Organizations like the Farm Bureau in other parts of the country became central. As in California, it set farmers against labor, as organized labor in demanding basic rights came to be perceived as radical. Richard McIntyre, in his essay “Labor Militance and the New Deal” from When Government Helped, he writes that, “Groups representing farmers outside the South, such as the Farm Bureau, also supported Taft-Hartley because they saw strikes and secondary boycotts as limiting their ability to get crops to market. The split between labor and various kinds of farmers allowed capitalists to heal their divisions” (p. 133).

It was also a division among farmers themselves, as there had also been agricultural traditions of left-wing politics and populist reform. “From its beginning in Indiana the Farm Bureau made it clear that the organization was composed of respectable members of the farming community and that it was not a bunch of radicals or troublemakers” (Barbara J. Steinson, Rural Life in Indiana, 1800–1950). By respectable, this meant that the haves got more and the have-nots lost what little they had.

Even though big ag took a different route in regions like the Midwest, the end results were similar in the increasing concentration of land and wealth, which is to say the end of the small family farm. This was happening all over, such as in the South: “These ideals emphasized industrialized, commercial farming by ever-larger farms and excluded many smaller farms from receiving the full benefit of federal farm aid. The resulting programs, by design, contributed significantly to the contraction of the farm population and the concentration of farm assets in the Carolinas” (Elizabeth Kathleen Brake, Uncle Sam on the Family Farm).

This country was built on farming. It’s the best farmland in the world. That means vast wealth. Big ag lobbyists have a lot of pull in the federal government. That is why fascism in this country early on found its footing in this sector of the economy, rather than with industry. Over time, corporatism has come to dominate the entire economy, and the locus of power has shifted to the financial sector. Agriculture, like other markets, have become heavily tied to those who control the flow of money. The middle class, through 401(k)s, also have become tied to financial markets.

Corporatism no longer means what it once did. In earlier European fascism, it was dependent on organizational society. That was at a time when civic organizations, labor unions, etc shaped all of life. We no longer live in that kind of world.

Because of this, new forms of authoritarianism don’t require as overt methods of social control. It becomes ever more difficult for the average person to see what is happening and why. More and more people are caught up in a vicious economy, facing poverty and debt, maybe homelessness or incarceration. The large landowner or industrialist won’t likely send out goons to beat you up. There are no Nazi Brownshirts marching in the street. There is no enemy to fight or resist, just a sense of the everything getting worse all around you.

Yet some have begun to grasp the significance of decentralization. Unsurprisingly, a larger focus has been on the source of food, such as the locally grown movement. Raising one’s own food is key in seeking economic and political independence. Old forms of the yeoman farmer may be a thing of the past, but poor communities have begun to turn to community gardens and the younger generation has become interested in making small farming viable again. It was technology with the force of the state behind it that allowed centralization. A new wave of ever more advanced and cheaper technology is making greater decentralization possible.

Those with power, though, won’t give it up easily.

* * *

American Fascism and the New Deal: The Associated Farmers of California and the Pro-Industrial Movement
by Nelson A. Pichardo Almanzar and Brian W. Kulik

Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism
by Kathryn S. Olmsted

From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century
by Alex Gourevitch

Developing the Country: “Scientific Agriculture” and the Roots of the Republican Party
by Ariel Ron

Scientific Agriculture and the Agricultural State Farmers, Capitalism, and Government in the Late Nineteenth Century
by Ariel Ron

Uncle Sam on the Family Farm: Farm Policy and the Business of Southern Agriculture, 1933-1965
by Elizabeth Kathleen Brake

A Progressive Rancher Opposes the New Deal: Dan Casement, Eugenics, and Republican Virtue
by Daniel T. Gresham

Whose Side Is the American Farm Bureau On?
by Ian T. Shearn

Farm Bureau Works Against Small Family Farm ‘Hostages’
Letter to FFC from one member of the Farm Bureau who operates a family farm.

by jcivitas

The Impact of Globalization on Family Farm Agriculture
by Bill Christison

Plowing the Furrows of the Mind

One of the best books I read this past year is The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally. The book covers the type of data HBDers (human biodiversity advocates) and other hereditarians tend to ignore. Kenneally shows how powerful is environment in shaping thought, perception, and behavior.

What really intrigued me is how persistent patterns can be once set into place. Old patterns get disrupted by violence such as colonialism and mass trauma such as slavery. In the place of the old, something new takes form. But this process isn’t always violent. In some cases, technological innovation can change an entire society.

This is true for as simple of a technology as a plow. Just imagine what impact a more complex technology like computers and the internet will have on society in the coming generations and centuries. Also, over this past century or so, we saw a greater change to agriculture than maybe has been seen in all of civilization. Agricultural is becoming industrialized and technologized.

What new social system is being created? How long will it take to become established as a new stable order?

We live in a time of change and we can’t see the end of it. We are like the people who lived during the time when the use of plows first began to spread. All that we know, as all that they knew, is that we are amidst change. This inevitably creates fear and anxiety. It is a crisis that has the potential of being more transformative than a world war. It is a force that will be both destructive and creative, but either way it is unpredictable.

* * * *

The Invisible History of the Human Race:
How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures
by Christine Kenneally
Kindle Locations 2445-2489

Catastrophic events like the plague or slavery are not the only ones that echo down the generations . Widespread and deeply held beliefs can be traced to apparently benign events too, like the invention of technology. In the 1970s the Danish economist Ester Boserup argued that the invention of the plow transformed the way men and women viewed themselves. Boserup’s idea was that because the device changed how farming communities labored, it also changed how people thought about labor itself and about who should be responsible for it.

The main farming technology that existed when the plow was introduced was shifting cultivation. Using a plow takes a lot of upper-body strength and manual power, whereas shifting cultivation relies on handheld tools like hoes and does not require as much strength. As communities took up the plow, it was most effectively used by stronger individuals , and these were most often men. In societies that used shifting cultivation, both men and women used the technology . Of course, the plow was invented not to exclude women but to make cultivation faster and easier in areas where crops like wheat, barley, and teff were grown over large, flat tracts of land in deep soil. Communities living where sorghum and millet grew best— typically in rocky soil— continued to use the hoe. Boserup believed that after the plow forced specialization of labor, with men in the field and women remaining in the home, people formed the belief— after the fact— that this arrangement was how it should be and that women were best suited to home life.

Boserup made a solid historical argument, but no one had tried to measure whether beliefs about innate differences between men and women across the world could really be mapped according to whether their ancestors had used the plow. Nathan Nunn read Boserup’s ideas in graduate school, and ten years later he and some colleagues decided to test them.

Once again Nunn searched for ways to measure the Old World against the new. He and his colleagues divided societies up according to whether they used the plow or shifting cultivation . They gathered current data about male and female lives, including how much women in different societies worked in public versus how much they worked in the home, how often they owned companies, and the degree to which they participated in politics. They also measured public attitudes by comparing responses to statements in the World Value Survey like “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than a woman.”

Nunn found that if you asked an individual whose ancestors grew wheat about his beliefs regarding women’s place, it was much more likely that his notion of gender equality would be weaker than that of someone whose ancestors had grown sorghum or millet. Where the plow was used there was greater gender inequality and women were less common in the workforce. This was true even in contemporary societies in which most of the subjects would never even have seen a plow, much less used one, and in societies where plows today are fully mechanized to the point that a child of either gender would be capable of operating one.

Similar research in the cultural inheritance of psychology has explored the difference between cultures in the West and the East. Many studies have found evidence for more individualistic, analytic ways of thought in the West and more interdependent and holistic conceptions of the self and cooperation in the East. But in 2014 a team of psychologists investigated these differences in populations within China based on whether the culture in question traditionally grew wheat or rice. Comparing cultures within China rather than between the East and West enabled the researchers to remove many confounding factors, like religion and language.

Participants underwent a series of tests in which they paired two of three pictures. In previous studies the way a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot were paired differed according to whether the subject was from the West or the East . The Eastern subjects tended to pair the rabbit with a carrot, which was thought to be the more holistic, relational solution. The Western subjects paired the dog and the rabbit, which is more analytic because the animals belong in the same category. In another test subjects drew pictures of themselves and their friends. Previous studies had shown that westerners drew themselves larger than their friends . Another test surveyed how likely people were to privilege friends over strangers; typically Eastern cultures score higher on this measure.

In all the tests the researchers found that, independent of a community’s wealth or its exposure to pathogens or to other cultures, the people whose ancestors grew rice were much more relational in their thinking than the people whose ancestors were wheat growers. Other measures pointed at differences between the two groups. For example , people from a wheat-growing culture divorced significantly more often than people from a rice-growing culture, a pattern that echoes the difference in divorce rates between the West and the East. The findings were true for people who live in rice and wheat communities today regardless of their occupation; even when subjects had nothing to do with the production of crops, they still inherited the cultural predispositions of their farming forebears.

The differences between the cultures are attributed to the different demands of the two kinds of agriculture. Rice farming depends on complicated irrigation and the cooperation of farmers around the use of water. It also requires twice the amount of labor that is necessary for wheat, so rice-growing communities often stagger the planting of crops in order that all their members can help with the harvest. Wheat farming, by contrast, doesn’t need complicated irrigation or systems of cooperation among growers.

The implication of these studies is that the way we see the world and act in it—whether the end result is gender inequality or trusting strangers— is significantly shaped by internal beliefs and norms that have been passed down in families and small communities . It seems that these norms are even taken with an individual when he moves to another country. But how might history have such a powerful impact on families, even when they have moved away from the place where that history, whatever it was, took place?

Myth, Religion, and Social Development: Part II

Myth, Religion, and Social Development: Part II

Posted on Apr 8th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
(This is also posted in the God Pod.)

I want to bring together the evolutionary causes at work behind myth and religion.  I mentioned these earlier: Campbell’s view on the transition from hunter to planter societies, Philippe’s ideas about the paganism incorporated into Christianity, Spiral Dynamics, and the Axial Age.

To this I want to add Paul Shepard’s theory about Pleistocene man.  Shepard believes that the transition between hunters and planters was the most important shift in social development… or disruption rather.  This shift was world-wide and is comparable to the Axial Age.

Add this all up, and it gives us 2 major shifts connecting 3 major eras.  Its Spiral Dynamics that allows us to map this out.  (It goes without saying that this is all tentative.)

First Era: Prior to the post-Pleistocene shift, we have the vmemes of beige and purple.  It seems that Campbell and Shepard are treating these two inseparably.  As we know very little about the myths of beige, we don’t need to worry about it.  Still, its beige that Shepard is somewhat romanticizing.  In addition, I think the individualistic focus of red vmeme gets mixed in because the myths were written down during the development of the blue vmeme, and red came to represent all of the past.  There is the theory that the vmemes switch between a focus on the individual and a focus on the collective, and it makes sense to me.  So, beige and red would be individualistic which isn’t to say the individual has yet fully developed.

Anyways, to simplify, this first era is the Age of the Shaman… Campbell’s Shamanistic Titan seeking personal power through personal sacrifice.  But the Shaman isn’t a monk… the Shaman is also the Warrior and the Hunter.  Visions have power.

Also, this was the time when the divine man-animal was worshipped, the prototype of all later dying/ressurection gods.  Here is a quote from a review of a book by Paul Shepard(along with Barry Sanders) titled The Sacred Paw:

They give a really good argument for the shifting of the emphasis of the myths from the Bear Mother to the adventures of her sons, who eventually become purely human heroes. The Underworld and Rebirth themes of the Bear Mother are slowly stripped form her until she is nothing but a memory.

Post-Pleistocene(or rather post-hunter/gatherer) shift: The cause of this is explained variously.  Did the Ice Age traumatize the collective psyche of the human species?  Or, according to Shepard, did the shift occur from within… for some unknown reason man falling out of alignment with his environment?  Or was it some kind of Telos(God?) that propelled social evolution?  And was this shift a good thing(an evolugionary advantage) or a bad thing(Shepard’s collective madness)?  For our purposes, answering these questions isn’t necessary.  All we need to know is that a major shift happened.

As for Spiral Dynamics, my guess is that this shift was red vmeme and also red shifting into blue.  This shift probably occurred over a very long period of time.

Second Era: This is the beginnings of civilization proper: agriculture and city-states, and the great Matriarchies… this is very early blue vmeme which isn’t blue as we know it now.  This era was blue in a more pure form, not adulterated by orange and green as found in the Third Era.

At this time, society became hierarchical and the caste system came about… and with it the division of labor.  Life was extremely organized including religion… the visions of the shaman became the oracles that served the priesthood, and the myths became complex rituals.  Life revolved around the seasons and the seasonal celebrations.  This was where we got our celebrations of the Equinxes and Solstices as Solar symbolism was the focus.

(A shift within the Second Era)  In the later part of this era, the Matriarchies lost power and written history began.  But the Patriarchies were also blue and they retained the hierarchical structure even if a different gender was on top.  The primary difference was that orange was beginning to develop with a reemergence of individualism, meaning the hierarchy was not quite as strict as previously.  The shift between Matriarchy and Patriarchy is significant, but it isn’t my focus for the moment.  The development of Patriarchy was a disatisfaction with the old ways.  One explanation(that Jeremy Taylor brings up) is that the precession of the equinoxes altered the timing by which the Matriarchies had planted and harvested.  This led to priesthood no longer being able to predict the seasons and so social unrest followed.  This disatisfaction with the prior Goddess worship can be felt in the myth of Gilgamesh.

Axial Age: (Karl Jaspers first wrote about this, and Karen Armstrong wrote a whole book about it.)  This is when first arose all of the world religions that we know today.  Or, in the case of Hinduism and Judaism, when previous religions were revisioned.  The Old Testament was written down for the first time during this time.  Christianity and Islam were later manifestations of this Age.

Blue is still in power, but orange has developed enough to allow some incisive questioning of tradition.  Also, green is first showing itself to any significant degree.  So we have the development of rationality and self-inquiry along with a sense of social equality and justice.  Liberation was the spiritual response and democracy was the political response.

Mythologically, we have the development of the savior stories as we know them today.  Jesus doesn’t change the world by conquering nations.  He changes the world by confronting himself, challenging the human condition.  The prophets of this age tended to turn inward.

The agricultural city-states were being forced to develop new modes of politics.  The Greeks developed democracy and philosophy.  The great myths were being written down and questioned which meant man was no longer controlled by the gods, but could choose their own destiny.  The heroes of this time often challenged the gods.  Man could save himself, man was coming of age.

Third Era: The age of empires… symbolized in the West by the Romans and the later Catholic Church.  Blue is still very much the dominating paradigm, but orange has become established.  However, the green that showed itself in the Axial Age is squelched back out of existence not to be seen again until the Rennaisance.

Religion becomes more ritualized and homogenized than it had ever before.  Using the Roman Empire as its structure, the Catholic Church destroys and/or incorporates every religion it comes into contact with.  And this is why we have such a strange mix of mythologies in Christianity today.  But also this paved the way for us moderns to see the universal truths behind all myths.  (Buddhism did something similar for the East.)

During this time, Jesus the prophet and savior becomes the Ruler of the World.

To be continued…

Access_public Access: Public 3 Comments Print Post this!views (190)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 1 hour later

Nicole said

i’m really enjoying this series… thanks so much for cross posting!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m glad you’re enjoying it, but I do hope some others will respond.  I really don’t know to what degree this all makes sense.  My knowledge of Spiral Dynamics is pretty basic, but its not the most important part of my thinking here even though I’m using it as a central context.

I don’t have any perfectly clear ideas at the moment.  I’m just pondering the possibilities of patterns.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

excellent! yes, we are in a bit of a lull at the moment on the God Pod… just catching our breath before the next waves of activity i’m sure! 🙂