The breast is best. That signifies the central importance of breastfeeding. But one could also take it as pointing to our cultural obsession with human mammary glands, something not shared by all cultures. I’m going to make the argument that the breast, at least in American society, is the main site of social control. Before making my case, let me explore what social control has meant, as society has developed over the millennia.
There is a connection between social control and self-control. The most extreme forms of this dualistic dynamic is authoritarianism and hyper-individualism (Westworld, Scripts, and Freedom), the reason liberty has a close relationship to slavery (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). In reading Julian Jaynes’ classic, he makes this clear, although he confuses the matter a bit. He sometimes refers to the early Bronze Age societies as ‘authoritarian’, but he definitely does not mean totalitarianism, something that only describes the civilizations that followed later on. In the broader usage, the word ‘authoritarianism’ is sometimes tinged with his notions of archaic authorization and collective cognitive imperative (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”). The authority in question, as Jaynes argued, are the external or dispersed voices that early humans heard and followed (as today we hear and follow the voices in our own metaphorical “inner space”, what we call thoughts or what Jaynes referred to as self-authorization; The Spell of Inner Speech). Without an archaic authorization heard in the world allowing social order to emerge organically, an authoritarian system has to enforce the social order from above: “the ultimate power of authoritarianism, as Jaynes makes clear, isn’t overt force and brute violence. Outward forms of power are only necessary to the degree that external authorization is relatively weak, as is typically the case in modern societies” (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”).
And the ego is this new form of authoritarian power internalized, a monotheistic demiurge to rule over the inner world. Totalitarianism turns in on itself and becomes Jaynesian consciousness, a totalizing field of identity, but the bicameral mind continues to lurk in the shadows, something any aspiring authoritarian can take advantage of (Ben G. Price, Authoritarian Grammar and Fundamentalist Arithmetic). “We are all potential goosestepping authoritarian followers, waiting for the right conditions to bring our primal natures out into the open. With the fiery voice of authority, we can be quickly lulled into compliance by an inspiring or invigorating vision […] The danger is that the more we idolize individuality the more prone we become to what is so far beyond the individual. It is the glare of hyper-individualism that casts the shadow of authoritarianism” (Music and Dance on the Mind).
The practice of literally carving laws into stone came rather late in the Bronze Age, during the period that preceded the near total collapse of all the major societies. That totalitarianism then, as today, coincided with brutality and oppression — never before seen in the historical record. Authoritarianism as totalitarianism apparently was something new in human experience. That might be because totalitarianism requires higher levels of abstraction, such as dogmatic laws that are envisioned and enforced as universal truths, principle, and commandments. Such abstract thinking was encouraged by the spread of more complex writing (e.g., literature), beyond what earlier had been primarily limited to minimalistic record-keeping. Individualism, as I said, also arose out of this violent birth of what would eventually mature into the Axial Age. It was the radically emergent individual, after all, that needed to be controlled. We now take this all for granted, the way the world is.
There was authority as archaic authorization prior to any hint of totalitarianism, but I question if it is useful to speak of it as authoritarianism. The earliest civilizations were mostly city-states, closer to hunter-gather tribes than to anything we’d recognize in the later vast empires or in our modern nation-states. Even in gaining the capacity for great achievements, the earliest civilizations remained rather basic in form. Consider the impressive Egyptian kingdoms that, having constructed vast stone monuments, didn’t even bother to build roads and bridges. They were such a small population so tightly clustered together in that narrow patch of fertility surrounded and protected by desert that nothing more complex was required. There weren’t the vast distances of a centralized government, the disconnections between complex hierarchies, nor numerous specialized social roles beyond the immediate work at hand. These societies were small and simple, the conditions necessary for their maintaining order through social identity, through the conformity of groupthink and cultural worldview, rather than violent force. Besides lacking written laws, they also lacked police forces and standing armies. They were loosely organized communities, having originated as informal settlements that had become permanent over time.
Now back to the breast, the first source of sustenance and nurturance. Unfortunately, we don’t have any idea about what the ancients might have thought of the breast as a focus of concern, although Jaynes did have some fascinating thoughts about the naked body and sexuality. As totalitarianism appeared late, so did pornography in the broad sense as found in portrayals of sex engraved in stone, around the same time that laws also were being engraved. With fantasies of sexuality, there was sin that needed to be controlled, guilt that needed to be punished, and the laws to achieve this end. It was all of a single package, an emergent worldview and way of being, an anxiety-driven self-consciousness.
Lacking a time travel machine, the next best option is to look at other societies that challenge biases of Western modernity, specifically here in the United States. Let me begin with American society. First off, I’d note that with the Puritan comes the prurient. Americans are obsessed with all things sexual. And so the sexual has a way of pervading our society. Even something so innocent as the female breast, designed by evolution to feed infants, somehow becomes a sexual object. That projection of lust and shame isn’t seen in all societies. In hunter-gatherer tribes, it is common for the breast to have no grand significance at all. The weirdness doesn’t end there. We don’t have to look to tribal people to find cultures that aren’t sexually prudish. Among some traditional cultures in Asia and elsewhere, even the touching of someone else’s genitals doesn’t necessarily express sexual intentions, as instead it can be a way of greeting someone or showing fondness for a family member. But admittedly, the cultures that seem the most foreign to us are those that have remained the most isolated from Western influences.
The Piraha, according to Daniel Everett, are rather relaxed about sex and sexuality (Dark Matter of the Mind). It’s not that they typically have sex out in the open, except during communal dances when orgies sometimes occur, but their lifestyle doesn’t accord much privacy. Talking about sex is no big deal and children are exposed to it from a young age. Sexuality is considered a normal part of life, certainly not something to be shamed or repressed. As with some other societies, sexual play is common and not always leading to sex. That is true among both adults and children, including what Westerners would call pedophilia. A child groping an adults genitals is not considered a big deal to them. And certainly there is no issue with two children dry-humping each other or whatever, as children are wont to do in their curiosity and budding sexuality. Sex is so common among the Piraha that potential sexual partners are more available, such as with a cousin, step-sibling, or step-parent. The main restrictions are between full siblings and between a child and a biological parent or grandparent. This is a close-knit community.
“The Pirahãs all seem to be intimate friends,” writes Everett, “no matter what village they come from. Pirahãs talk as though they know every other Pirahã extremely well. I suspect that this may be related to their physical connections. Given the lack of stigma attached to and the relative frequency of divorce, promiscuousness associated with dancing and singing, and post- and prepubescent sexual experimentation, it isn’t far off the mark to conjecture that many Pirahãs have had sex with a high percentage of the other Pirahãs. This alone means that their relationships will be based on an intimacy unfamiliar to larger societies (the community that sleeps together stays together?). Imagine if you’d had sex with a sizable percentage of the residents of your neighborhood and that this fact was judged by the entire society as neither good nor bad, just a fact about life— like saying you’ve tasted many kinds of food” (Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, p. 88).
[As a quick note, the Piraha have some interesting practices with breastfeeding. When hunting, orphaned animals sometimes are brought back to the village and breastfed alongside human offspring, one at each breast. These human-raised animals will often be eaten later on. But that must create another kind of intimacy for babies and toddlers, a kind of intimacy that includes other species. The toddler who is weaned might have as one of his first meals the meat of the animal that was his early playmate or at least breast-mate. Their diet, as with their entire lifestyle, is intimate in numerous ways.]
That offers quite the contrast to our own society. Appropriate ways of relating and touching are much more constrained (certainly, breastfeeding other species is not typical for American mothers). Not only would an adult Westerner be imprisoned for touching a child’s genitalia and a child severely chastised for touching an adult’s genitalia, two children would be shamed for touching one another or even for touching themselves. Think about that. Think about all of the children over the generations who have been ridiculed, screamed at, spanked, beaten, or otherwise traumatized for simply touching themselves or innocently playing with another child. Every form of touch is potentially fraught and becoming ever more fraught over time. This surely causes immense fear and anxiety in children raised in such a society. A psychological scarification forms into thick egoic boundaries, the individual isolated and separate from all others. It is the foot-binding of the human mind.
There is one and only one form of touch young children in the West are almost always guaranteed. They can breastfeed. They are allowed human contact with their mother’s breast. And it has become increasingly common for breastfeeding to extend for the first several years. All of the psychic energy that has few other human outlets of skin-to-skin contact gets narrowed down to the mother’s breast. The potency of this gets underestimated, as it makes many of us uncomfortable to think about it. Consider that a significant number of mothers have experienced an orgasm while breastfeeding. This happens often enough to be well within the range of a normal biological response, assuming it’s not cultural. Yet such widespread experience is likely to be judged as perverse, either by the mother in judging herself or by others if she were ever to admit to it. The breast becomes a site of shame, even as it is a site of desire.
Then, as part of weening, the child is given a pacifier. All the psychic energy that was limited to the breast then gets transferred to an inanimate object (Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation). The argument for pacifiers is that they’re self-soothing, but when you think about that, it is rather demented. Young children need parents and other adults to soothe them. For them to not be able to rely upon others in this basic human need creates a psychological crisis. The pacifier lacks any human quality, any nurturance or nutrient. It is empty and that emptiness is internalized. The child becomes identified with the pacifier as object. The egoic-self becomes an object with a part of the psyche that stands outside of itself (what Jaynes refers to as the analogous ‘I’ and metaphorical ‘me’) — the bundled mind becomes a splintered self (Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature). This is extremely bizarre, an expression of WEIRD culture (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic; although the last part is questionable in the case of the United States). Until quite recently in the scheme of history and evolution, regular intimacy among humans was the norm. The first pacifier wasn’t used until 1935.
So, even in the West, some of these changes don’t go back very far. A certain kind of prudishness was introduced to the Western mind with Christianity, one of the transformative effects of the Axial Age. But even then, sexuality was much more relaxed in the Western world for a long time after that. “As late as Feudalism, heavily Christianized Europe offered little opportunity for privacy and maintained a relatively open attitude about sexuality during many public celebrations, specifically Carnival, and they spent an amazing amount of their time in public celebrations. Barbara Ehrenreich describes this ecstatic communality in Dancing in the Streets. Like the Piraha, these earlier Europeans had a more social and fluid sense of identity” (Hunger for Connection). It is no surprise that, as more open sexuality and ecstatic communality declined, modern hyper-individualism followed. Some like to praise the Western mind as more fluid (Ricardo Duchesne, The Higher Cognitive Fluidity of the European Mind), but for the same reason it is also more unstable and sometimes self-destructive. This is a far different kind of fluidity, if we are to cal it that at all. Individuality, in its insatiable hunger, cannibalizes its own social foundation.
* * *
It occurs to me that this breast obsession is another example of symbolic conflation. As I’ve often explained, a symbolic conflation is the central way of maintaining social order. And the body is the primary field of their operation, typically involving highly potent focal points involving sexuality (e.g., abortion). The symbolic conflation obscures and distracts from the real issues and points of conflict. Obviously, the female breast becomes a symbol of something far beyond its evolutionary and biological reality as mammalian mammary gland. This also relates to the discussion of metonymy and shame by Lewis Hyde in his book The Trickster Makes This World — see two of my posts where I connect Hyde’s work to that of Jaynes’: Lock Without a Key and “Why are you thinking about this?”.
* * *
Not to go all Bill Clinton on you, but we need to define what we mean by “performing a sexual act.” For now let’s just say that, based strictly on appearances, some cultures tolerate stuff that in the United States would get you branded as a pervert. Examples:
In 2006 a Cambodian immigrant living in the Las Vegas area was charged with sexual assault for allegedly performing fellatio on her 6-year-old son. The woman’s attorney said what she’d actually done was kiss the kid’s penis, once, when he was 4 or 5. A spokesperson for the Cambodian Association of America said that while this kind of thing wasn’t widespread in Cambodia, some rural folk went in for it as an expression of love or respect, although in his experience never with children older than 1 or maybe 2.
En route to being elected U.S. senator from Virginia in 2006, Jim Webb, onetime Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, was lambasted by his opponent for a passage in his 2001 novel Lost Soldiers in which a Thai man picks up his naked young son and puts his penis in his mouth. Webb responded that he had personally witnessed such a greeting in a Bangkok slum.
Numerous ethnographers report that mothers and caregivers in rural New Guinea routinely fondle the genitals of infants and toddlers of both sexes. In the case of boys this supposedly aids the growth of the penis. It’s often done in public and is a source of great amusement.
The Telegu-speaking people of central India dote on the penises of boys up through age six, which they hold, rub, and kiss. (Girls escape with minor same-sex touching.) A typical greeting involves an adult grabbing a boy’s arm with one hand and his penis with the other.
A 1946 report claimed that among lower-class Japanese families, parents would play with the genitals of children to help them fall asleep, and a researcher visiting Japan in the 1930s noted that mothers played with the genitals of their sons.
I didn’t make an exhaustive search and so don’t know to what extent such things occur in Latin America, Europe, Australia, or elsewhere. However, it appears that:
Fooling with kids’ privates is a fairly widespread practice in Asia, particularly among people toward the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. The reports are too numerous and credible for them all to be dismissed as the ravings of hysterical Westerners. My surmise is that, as societies become more westernized, urban, and affluent, the practice dies out.
The acts are sexual in the sense that those doing the fondling are well aware of the sexual implications and find it droll to give a little boy an erection.
Lurid tales occasionally do surface. Reports of mother-son incest were briefly faddish in Japanese magazines in the 1980s. These stories played off the unflattering Japanese stereotype of the mother obsessed with getting her son into a top school, suggesting some “education mamas” would violate the ultimate taboo to help their horny pubescent boys stay relaxed and focused on studying. A few Westerners have taken these urban legends at face value. Lloyd deMause, founder of and prolific contributor to a publication called the Journal of Psychohistory, cites the Japanese mother-son stories as prime evidence in his account of what he calls “the universality of incest.” It’s pretty clear, however, that incest inspires as much revulsion in Japan as anywhere else.
A less excitable take on things is that Asian societies just aren’t as hung up about matters of the flesh as we Western prudes are. In Japan, mixed-sex naked public bathing was fairly common until the postwar occupation, and some families bathe together now if they have a big enough tub. Nonetheless, so far as I can determine, Asian societies have always drawn a bright line between fooling around with babies and toddlers and having sex with your kids. If Westerners can’t fathom that elementary distinction, well, whose problem is that?
Dark Matter of the Mind
by Daniel L. Everett
Kindle Location 2688-2698
These points of group attachment are strengthened during the children’s maturation through other natural experiences of community life as the children learn their language, the configuration of their village and to sleep on the ground or on rough, uneven wooden platforms made from branches or saplings. As with other children of traditional societies, Pirahã young people experience the biological aspects of life with far less buffering than Western children. They remember these experiences, consciously or unconsciously, even though these apperceptions are not linguistic.
Pirahã children observe their parents’ physical activities in ways that children from more buffered societies do not (though often similar to the surrounding cultures just mentioned). They regularly see and hear their parents and other members of the village engage in sex (though Pirahã adults are modest by most standards, there is still only so much privacy available in a world without walls and locked doors), eliminate bodily waste, bathe, die, suffer severe pain without medication, and so on. 8 They know that their parents are like them. A small toddler will walk up to its mother while she is talking, making a basket, or spinning cotton and pull her breast out of the top of her dress (Pirahã women use only one dress design for all), and nurse— its mother’s body is its own in this respect. This access to the mother’s body is a form of entitlement and strong attachment.
Kindle Location 2736-2745
Sexual behavior is another behavior distinguishing Pirahãs from most middle-class Westerners early on. A young Pirahã girl of about five years came up to me once many years ago as I was working and made crude sexual gestures, holding her genitalia and thrusting them at me repeatedly, laughing hysterically the whole time. The people who saw this behavior gave no sign that they were bothered. Just child behavior, like picking your nose or farting. Not worth commenting about.
But the lesson is not that a child acted in a way that a Western adult might find vulgar. Rather, the lesson, as I looked into this, is that Pirahã children learn a lot more about sex early on, by observation, than most American children. Moreover, their acquisition of carnal knowledge early on is not limited to observation. A man once introduced me to a nine- or ten-year-old girl and presented her as his wife. “But just to play,” he quickly added. Pirahã young people begin to engage sexually, though apparently not in full intercourse, from early on. Touching and being touched seem to be common for Pirahã boys and girls from about seven years of age on. They are all sexually active by puberty, with older men and women frequently initiating younger girls and boys, respectively. There is no evidence that the children then or as adults find this pedophilia the least bit traumatic.
Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes
by Daniel L. Everett
Sex and marriage also involve no ritual that I can see. Although Pirahãs are reluctant to discuss their own intimate sexual details, they have done so in general terms on occasion. They refer to cunnilingus and fellatio as “licking like dogs,” though this comparison to animal behavior is not intended to denigrate the act at all. They consider animals good examples of how to live. Sexual intercourse is described as eating the other. “I ate him” or “I ate her” means “I had sexual intercourse with him or her.” The Pirahãs quite enjoy sex and allude to it or talk about others’ sexual activity freely.
Sex is not limited to spouses, though that is the norm for married men and women. Unmarried Pirahãs have sex as they wish. To have sex with someone else’s spouse is frowned upon and can be risky, but it happens. If the couple is married to each other, they will just walk off in the forest a ways to have sex. The same is true if neither member of the couple is married. If one or both members of the couple are married to someone else, however, they will usually leave the village for a few days. If they return and remain together, the old partners are thereby divorced and the new couple is married. First marriages are recognized simply by cohabitation. If they do not choose to remain together, then the cuckolded spouses may or may not choose to allow them back. Whatever happens, there is no further mention of it or complaint about it, at least not openly, once the couple has returned. However, while the lovers are absent from the village, their spouses search for them, wail, and complain loudly to everyone. Sometimes the spouses left behind asked me to take them in my motorboat to search for the missing partners, but I never did. […]
During the dance, a Pirahã woman asked me, “Do you only lie on top of one woman? Or do you want to lie on others?”
“I just lie on one. I don’t want others.”
“He doesn’t want other women,” she announced.
“Does Keren like other men?”
“No, she just wants me,” I responded as a good Christian husband.
Sexual relations are relatively free between unmarried individuals and even between individuals married to other partners during village dancing and singing, usually during full moons. Aggression is observed from time to time, from mild to severe (Keren witnessed a gang rape of a young unmarried girl by most of the village men). But aggression is never condoned and it is very rare.
The Pirahãs all seem to be intimate friends, no matter what village they come from. Pirahãs talk as though they know every other Pirahã extremely well. I suspect that this may be related to their physical connections. Given the lack of stigma attached to and the relative frequency of divorce, promiscuousness associated with dancing and singing, and post- and prepubescent sexual experimentation, it isn’t far off the mark to conjecture that many Pirahãs have had sex with a high percentage of the other Pirahãs. This alone means that their relationships will be based on an intimacy unfamiliar to larger societies (the community that sleeps together stays together?). Imagine if you’d had sex with a sizable percentage of the residents of your neighborhood and that this fact was judged by the entire society as neither good nor bad, just a fact about life— like saying you’ve tasted many kinds of food.
Again, couples initiate cohabitation and procreation without ceremony. If they are unattached at the time, they simply begin to live together in the same house. If they are married, they first disappear from the village for two to four days, while their former spouses call for and search for them. Upon their return, they begin a new household or, if it was just a “fling,” return to their previous spouses. There is almost never any retaliation from the cuckolded spouses against those with whom their spouses have affairs. Relations between men and women and boys and girls, whether married or not, are always cordial and often marked by light to heavy flirting.
Sexually it is the same. So long as children are not forced or hurt, there is no prohibition against their participating in sex with adults. I remember once talking to Xisaoxoi, a Pirahã man in his late thirties, when a nine- or ten-year-old girl was standing beside him. As we talked, she rubbed her hands sensually over his chest and back and rubbed his crotch area through his thin, worn nylon shorts. Both were enjoying themselves.
“What’s she doing?” I asked superfluously.
“Oh, she’s just playing. We play together. When she’s big she will be my wife” was his nonchalant reply— and, indeed, after the girl went through puberty, they were married.
Marriage itself among the Pirahãs, like marriage in all cultures, comes with sets of mores that are enforced in different ways. People often ask me, for example, how the Pirahãs deal with infidelity in marriage. So how would this couple, the relatively old man and the young girl, deal with infidelity? They would deal with it like other Pirahãs, in what I take to be a very civilized fashion.
The solution or response to infidelity can even be humorous. One morning I walked over to my friend Kóhoibiíihíai’s home to ask him to teach me more of his language. As I approached his hut, everything looked pretty normal. His wife, Xíbaihóíxoi, was sitting up and he was lying down with his head in her lap.
“Hey, can you help me learn Pirahã words today?” I inquired.
He started to raise his head to answer. Then I noticed that Xíbaihóíxoi was holding him by the hair of his head. As he tried to raise his head, she jerked his head back by the hair, picked up a stick at her side and started whacking him irregularly on the top of his head, occasionally hitting him in the face. He laughed hard, but not too hard, because she jerked his hair every time he moved.
“My wife won’t let me go anywhere,” he said, giggling.
His wife was smirking but the grin disappeared right away and she struck him harder. Some of those whacks looked pretty painful to me. Kóhoi wasn’t in the best position to talk, so I left and found Xahoábisi, another good language teacher. He could work with me, he said.
As we walked back to my house together, I asked, “So what is going on with Kóhoibiíihíai? Xíbaihóíxoi is holding down his head and hitting him with a stick.”
“Oh, he was playing with another woman last night,” Xahoábisi chortled. “So this morning his woman is mad at him. He can’t go anywhere today.”
The fact that Kóhoi, a strong man and a fearless hunter, would lie like that all day and allow his wife to whack him at will (three hours later I revisited them and they were in the same position) was clearly partly voluntary penance. But it was partly a culturally prescribed remedy. I have since seen other men endure the same treatment.
By the next day, all seemed well. I didn’t hear of Kóhoi playing around with women again for quite a while after that. A nifty way to solve marital problems, I thought. It doesn’t always work, of course. There are divorces (without ceremony) among the Pirahãs. But this form of punishment for straying is effective. The woman can express her anger tangibly and the husband can show her he is sorry by letting her bang away on his head at will for a day. It is important to note that this involves no shouting or overt anger. The giggling, smirking, and laughter are all necessary components of the process, since anger is the cardinal sin among the Pirahãs. Female infidelity is also fairly common. When this happens the man looks for his wife. He may say something mean or threatening to the male who cuckolded him. But violence against anyone, children or adults, is unacceptable to the Pirahãs.
Other observations of Pirahã sexuality were a bit more shocking to my Christian sensibilities, especially when they involved clashes between our culture and Pirahã values. One afternoon during our second family stay among the Pirahãs, I walked out of the back room of our split-wood and thatched-roof home on the Maici into the central area of the house, which had no walls and in practice belonged more to the Pirahãs than to us. Shannon was staring at two Pirahã men lying on the floor in front of her. They were laughing, with their shorts pulled down around their ankles, each grabbing the other’s genitals and slapping each other on the back, rolling about the floor. Shannon grinned at me when I walked in. As a product of sexophobic American culture, I was shocked. “Hey, don’t do that in front of my daughter!” I yelled indignantly.
They stopped giggling and looked up at me. “Don’t do what?”
“That, what you’re doing, grabbing each other by the penis.”
“Oh,” they said, looking rather puzzled. “He doesn’t like to see us have fun with each other.” They pulled their pants up and, ever adaptable to new circumstances, changed the subject and asked me if I had any candy.
I never really needed to tell Shannon or her siblings much about human reproduction, death, or other biological processes. They got a pretty good idea of all that from watching the Pirahãs.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
by Julian Jaynes
From Mating to “Sex”
The third example I would consider here is the affect of mating. It is similar in some respects to other affects but in other ways quite distinct. Animal studies show that mating, contrary to what the popular mind thinks, is not a necessary drive that builds up like hunger or thirst (although it seems so because of consciousness), but an elaborate behavior pattern waiting to be triggered off by very specific stimuli. Mating in most animals is thus confined to certain appropriate times of the year or day as well as to certain appropriate sets of stimuli as in another’s behavior, or pheromones, light conditions, privacy, security, and many other variables. These include the enormous variety of extremely complicated courtship procedures that for rather subtle evolutionary advantages seem in many animals almost designed to prevent mating rather than to encourage it, as one might expect from an oversimplified idea of the workings of natural selection. Among the anthropoid apes, in contrast to other primates, mating is so rare in the natural habitat as to have baffled early ethologists as to how these most human-like species reproduced at all. So too perhaps with bicameral man.
But when human beings can be conscious about their mating behavior, can reminisce about it in the past and imagine it in the future, we are in a very different world, indeed, one that seems more familiar to us. Try to imagine what your “sexual life” would be if you could not fantasize about sex.
What is the evidence for this change? Scholars of the ancient world, I think, would agree that the murals and sculptures of what I’m calling the bicameral world, that is, before 1000B.C., are chaste; depictions with sexual references are scarcely existent, although there are exceptions. The modest, innocent murals from bicameral Thera now on the second floor of the National Museum in Athens are good examples.
But with the coming of consciousness, particularly in Greece, where the evidence is most clear, the remains of these early Greek societies are anything but chaste. 25 Beginning with seventh century B.C. vase paintings, with the depictions of ithyphallic satyrs, new, semidivine beings, sex seems indeed a prominent concern. And I mean to use the word concern, for it does not at first seem to be simply pornographic excitement. For example, on one island in the Aegean, Delos, is a temple of huge phallic erections.
Boundary stones all over Attica were in the form of what are called herms: square stone posts about four feet high, topped with a sculptured head usually of Hermes and, at the appropriate height, the only other sculptured feature of the post, a penile erection. Not only were these herms not laughter-producing, as they certainly would be to children of today, they were regarded as serious and important, since in Plato’s Symposium “the mutilation of the herms” by the drunken general Alcibiades, in which he evidently knocked off these protuberances with his sword around the city of Athens, is regarded as a sacrilege.
Erect phalli of stone or other material have been found in large numbers in the course of excavations. There were amulets of phalli. Vase paintings show naked female dancers swinging a phallus in a Dionysian cult. One inscription describes the measures to be taken even in times of war to make sure that the phallus procession should be led safely into the city. Colonies were obliged to send phalli to Athens for the great Dionysian festivals. Even Aristotle refers to phallic farces or satyr plays which generally followed the ritual performances of the great tragedies.
If this were all, we might be able to agree with older Victorian interpretations that this phallicism was merely an objective fertility rite. But the evidence from actual sexual behavior following the advent of conscious fantasy speaks otherwise. Brothels, supposedly instituted by Solon, were everywhere and of every kind by the fourth century B.C. Vase paintings depict every possible sexual behavior from masturbation to bestiality to human threesomes, as well as homosexuality in every possible form.
The latter indeed began only at this time, due, I suggest, in part to the new human ability to fantasize. Homosexuality is utterly absent from the Homeric poems. This is contrary to what some recent Freudian interpretations and even classical references of this period (particularly after its proscription by Plato in The Laws as being contrary to physis, or nature), seeking authorization for homosexuality in Homer, having projected into the strong bonding between Achilles and Patroclus.
And again I would have you consider the problem twenty-five hundred years ago, when human beings were first conscious and could first fantasize about sex, of how they learned to control sexual behavior to achieve a stable society. Particularly because erectile tissue in the male is more prominent than in the female, and that feedback from even partial erections would promote the continuance of sexual fantasy (a process called recruitment), we might expect that this was much more of a male problem than a female one. Perhaps the social customs that came into being for such control resulted in the greater social separation of the sexes (which was certainly obvious by the time of Plato) as well as an enhanced male dominance. We can think of modern orthodox Muslim societies in this respect, in which an exposed female ankle or lock of hair is punishable by law.
I certainly will admit that there are large vacant places in the evidence for what I am saying. And of course there are other affects, like anger becoming our hatred, or more positive ones like excitement with the magical touch of consciousness becoming joy, or affiliation consciousized into love. I have chosen anxiety, guilt, and sex as the most socially important. Readers of a Freudian persuasion will note that their theorizing could begin here. I hope that these hypotheses can provide historians more competent than myself with a new way of looking at this extremely important period of human history, when so much of what we regard as modern psychology and personality was being formed for the first time.
Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Chapter 1 – Julian Jaynes: Introducing His Life and Thought
by William R. Woodward & June F. Tower
Kindle Location 1064-1079
Jaynes gave an overview of the “consequences of consciousness.” Here he seems to have been developing the feeling side of consciousness in its evolution during the first millennium b.c. He reminded his audience of the historical origins of shame in human and animal experience:
Think of primary school, toilet accidents. Think how painful it was. … If you say to a dog, “bad dog,” he wonders what he did wrong. He puts his tail between his legs and crawls off. It is such a biological part of us that we are ashamed to admit it. … Guilt is the consciousness of shame over time. 58
For Jaynes, the Bible remains our best source on ideas of sin. He lectured that “sin is an awful word for it,” but “the whole Hebrew Bible is talking about the importance of guilt.” He asked rhetorically “how do you get rid of guilt?” and then answered that “it is very interesting to remember what Paul makes of the crucifixion of Jesus: Jesus was taking away the sins of the world.”
After shame and guilt, he went on to the consequences of consciousness in “mating and sex, which is one of the interesting things to us.” Theoretically, that is. Julian hastened to point out that “if you go back to the bicameral world, all the art is extremely chaste. … Then if you go to the Greek world that begins around 700 b.c., it is anything but. You have never seen anything so dirty. … There were brothels at this time. It happens in the Etruscans. You find these very gross sexual scenes. So I am saying that sex is a very different thing than it was before.” What is the significance of all this lewdness appearing in human history? “You can imagine what your own sex life would be if you could not fantasize about it. This is consciousness coming in and influencing our behavior, and our physiology. Here we have consciousness, and guilt, and sex, and anxiety.” 59
The Julian Jaynes Collection
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Chapter 14 – Imagination and the Dance of the Self
It is similar with love, although there are differences. It is a little more difficult to talk about. We have affiliation responses in animals (or imprinting, which I have studied) where animals have a very powerful impulse to stay together. But this becomes our complicated kind of love when we can imagine the loved person and go back and forth in our imagination about them.
Similarly — and interestingly — with sex. If you look at the comparative psychology of sexual behavior in animals, it is very clear that this is not an open kind of behavior that happens any time or anything like that. It is cued ethologically into certain kinds of stimuli. So you have to have just the right kind of situation in order for animals to mate.
This is a problem that happens in every zoo: as soon as they get new animals, they want to mate them and have progeny. It is a tremendous problem, because you don’t know ethologically what those tiny cues are — they might be temperature or darkness or whatnot. For human beings it might be moonlight and roses [laughs], but it is this kind of thing that you find evolved into animal behavior.
I tend to think that in bicameral times mating was very similar to what it is in animals in that sense. It was cued into moonlight and roses shall I say, and not otherwise. Therefore it was not a problem in a way. Now, when human beings become conscious, have imagination, and can fantasize about sex, it becomes what we mean in quotes “sex.” Which I think is a problem in the sense that it does not ever quite fit into our conscious society. We go back and forward in history from having a free sex age and then a clamping down of Ms. Grundy 2 and Queen Victoria and so on. It goes back and forth because sex to us is tremendously more important than it was to bicameral man because we can fantasize about it.
Now similarly as I mentioned with the Oedipus story and the idea of guilt, we should be able to go back into history and find evidence for this. The evidence that I found for this — and I should be studying it in different cultures — is again in Greece. If you talk to Greek art historians and you ask them to compare, for example, Greek vase painting of the conscious era with the vase painting or other kinds of painting that went on in what I call the bicameral period — either in Minoan art in Crete or the famous murals that were found in Thera — they will all tell you that there is a big distinction. The older art is chaste, there is nothing about sex in it. But then you come to the vase paintings of Greece. We often think of Greece in terms of Plato and Aristotle and so on, and we do not realize that sex was something very different. For example, they have all of these satyrs with penile erections on their vases and odd things like that. Another example are things called herms. Most people have not heard of them. All the boundary stones of the city were stones about four feet in height called herms. They are called herms, by us anyway, because they were just posts that very often they had a sculpture of Hermes at the top — but sometimes of other people. Then at the appropriate place — the body was just a column — there was a penile erection. I do not think we would find Athens back in these early conscious times very congenial.
These were all over the city of Athens. They were at the boundary stones everywhere. If you think of them being around nowadays you can imagine children giggling and so on. It is enough to make you realize that these people, even at this time, the time of Plato and Aristotle, were very different than we are. And if you read Plato you can find that one of the great crimes of Alcibiades — the Greek general that comes into several of the dialogues — is this terrible, frightful night when he got drunk and went and mutilated the herms. You can imagine what he was knocking off. This is hard for us to realize, because it again makes this point that these people are still not like us even though they are conscious. Because they are new to these emotions. I do not mean to intimate that Greek life was sexually free all over the place because I don’t think that was the case. If you read Kenneth Dover’s 3 classic work about Greek homosexuality, for example, you see it is very different from the gay liberation movement that we can find going on in our country right now. It is a very tame kind of thing.
I don’t think we really understand what is going on. There is the evidence, it is there in vase paintings, it is there in Greek times, but there is something we still do not fully understand about it. But it is different from the bicameral period. We have a different kind of human nature here, and it is against this that we look at where the self can come from.
Chapter 27 – Baltimore Radio Interview: Interview by Robert Lopez
Jaynes: Yes indeed. And it happens with other emotions. Fear becomes anxiety. At the same time we have a huge change in sexual behavior. If you try to sit down and imagine what your sexual life would be like if you couldn’t fantasize about it. It’s a hard thing to do, and you probably would think it would be much less, and I suspect it would be. If we go back to bicameral times, and look at all the artwork, wherever we look, there is nothing sexual about it. There is no pornography or anything even reminiscent of that at all. It’s what classicists call chaste. But when we come into the first conscious period, for example in Greece from 700 b.c . up to 200 or 100 b.c . — the sexual life in Greece is difficult to describe because we are taught of great, noble Perician Athens and we don’t think of the sexual symbols … phalli of all kinds were just simply everywhere. This has been well documented now but it’s not something that’s presented to schoolchildren.
Lopez: You mean then that the erotic pottery that we see in ancient Greece was a result of new found consciousness and the resulting new found fascination with sex?
Jaynes: The ability to fantasize about sex immediately brought it in as a major concern. There is something I don’t understand about it… these phalli or erections were on statues everywhere. They were on the boundary stones called herms around the city of Athens. And yet they weren’t unusual to these people as it certainly would be in Baltimore today if you had these things all around the streets. It seems that sex had a religious quality, which is curious. There were a lot of very odd and different kinds of things that were happening.
Chapter 32 – Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind: University of New Hampshire Discussion
By affect I mean biologically, genetically organized emotions, such that we share with all mammals, and which have a genetically based way of arousing them and then getting rid of their byproducts. But then these become something — and we really don’t have the terminology for it, so I’m going to call them feelings right now, and by that I mean conscious feelings. We have shame, for example. It is very important and powerful — if you remember your childhood, and the importance of fitting yourself into the group without being humiliated. This becomes guilt when you have consciousness operating on it over time. Guilt is the fear of shame. We also see the emergence of anxiety, which is built on the affect of fear.
Then you have the same thing happening with sex. I think mating was pretty perfunctory back in the bicameral period, just as it is with most of the primates. It isn’t an obvious thing in any of the anthropoid apes — like the orangutans, the gorillas, the gibbons, and the chimpanzees. It is not all that obvious. And I think it was the same thing in the bicameral time — there is nothing really “sexy,” if I may use that adjective — in the bicameral paintings and sculptures. But just after this period, beginning in 700 b.c ., the Greek world is a pornographic world if ever there was one. It’s astonishing what happens. [At museums] most of these vases are not upstairs where children can see them, they are usually kept downstairs. At the same time this isn’t just a matter of artifacts; it is a part of their behavior. There is evidence of brothels beginning here, homosexuality perhaps begins at this same time, and we have various kinds of laws to regulate these things. It is something we don’t understand though, because it isn’t quite like our sexuality — it has a religious basis. It is very strange and odd, this almost religious basis. You have the tragedies, like the Oedipus plays, put on as a trilogy, and it was always followed by a phallic farce, for example. This seems extraordinary to us, because it destroys the whole beauty of these plays.
All that was going on in Greece, and was going in with the Etruscans — who didn’t leave much writing, but they left us enough so that we have a pattern and know that there was group sex going on and things like that. We don’t find it so much among the Hebrews I think because the Hebrews — who in some places were monotheistic and in other places were not — had a very powerful God saying “thou shalt not” and so on — follow the law. At least we don’t have evidence for those behaviors.
So we have for the first time increases in sexual behavior and the emergence of guilt and anxiety. Think of that: anxiety, sex, and guilt — if anybody wants to be a Freudian, this is where it begins [laughs]. Because then you had to have psychological mechanisms of controlling this. I mentioned something about repression — that’s one of the things that comes into play here — but all these methods of forgiveness and the whole concept of sin begins at this time.
Gods, Voices, the the Bicameral Mind
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
The birth of consciousness ushered in profound changes for human civilization. In what Jaynes terms the “cognitive explosion,” we see the sudden beginnings of philosophy, science, history, and theater. We also observe the gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism. Consciousness operating on human emotions caused shame to become guilt, fear to become anxiety, anger to become hatred, and mating behavior to give rise to sexual fantasy. Through the spatialization of time, people could, for the first time, think about their lives on a continuum and contemplate their own death.
Chapter 12 – The Origin of Consciousness, Gains and Losses: Walker Percy vs. Julian Jaynes
by Laura Mooneyham White
This sort of “regression from a stressful human existence to a peaceable animal existence” 58 also includes a reversion to a bestial sexuality, as women present rearward for intercourse with the disinterestedness of simple physical need. Heavy sodium, among other things, drastically reduces the frequency of a woman’s estrus, so that hormonal urges and, in consequence, mating, become far less common. Sexual activity becomes emotionless and casual, as casual as in the sexual practices of the higher primates. As Jaynes has noted in a 1982 essay on the effect of consciousness on emotions, such mating, “in contrast to ourselves, is casual and almost minimal, with observations of mating in gibbons, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas in the wild being extremely rare.” 59 Jaynes forecasts the emotionless participation in sex we see in Percy’s drugged and regressive characters, for Jaynes connects the erotic with the conscious capacity to narrate, to tell ourselves a story about our presence in time. Narration makes fantasy possible. Preconscious humans were not obsessed by sexuality, Jaynes argues: “All classicists will agree with this, that all Mycenean and Minoan art, in particular before 1000 B.C., is what seems to us as severely chaste”; “… tomb and wall paintings, sculpture and the writings of bicameral civilizations rarely if ever have any sexual references.” 60 But after the advent of human consciousness, the erotic begins to make its claim upon human attention: “About 700 B.C., Greek and Etruscan art is rampant with sexual references, very definitely demonstrating that sexual feelings were a new and profound concern in human development in these regions. We can perhaps appreciate this change in ourselves if we try to imagine what our sexual lives would be like if we could not fantasize about sexual behavior.” 61
The sexually abused and sodium-dosed children at Belle Ame Academy in Percy’s novel have lost that capacity to narrate about themselves and have therefore lost all sense of shame, all sense of what should be either morally perverse or erotically exciting. As Tom More surveys the six photographs which document the sexual abuse at Belle Ame, he is struck by the demeanor of the children’s faces. One child being subjected to fellatio by an adult male seems in countenance merely “agreeable and incurious.” 62 In another picture, a young girl is being penetrated by the chief villain, Van Dorn; she “is gazing at the camera, almost dutifully, like a cheerleader in a yearbook photo, as if to signify that all is well” 63 Another photograph is a group shot of junior-high age boys witnessing an act of cunnilingus: “Two or three, instead of paying attention to the tableau, are mugging a bit for the camera, as if they were bored, yet withal polite.” 64 Another child in yet another appalling picture seems to have a “demure, even prissy expression.” 65 What is remarkable about these photographs is how eloquently they testify to the needfulness of consciousness for the emotions of guilt, shame, or desire. Percy and Jaynes concur that without consciousness, sex is a mildly entertaining physical activity, either at best or worst.
Chapter 16 – Vico and Jaynes: Neurocultural and Cognitive Operations in the Origin of Consciousness
by Robert E. Haskell
As noted earlier, there are many differences between Vico and Jaynes that cannot be developed here. The following, however, seems noteworthy. In Vico’s “anthropological” description of the first men, he is systematic throughout his New Science in imagining the early sexual appetites, not only of the first males but also of the first females. In fact, it is basically only in this context that he describes the first females. The first men, he says, “must be supposed to have gone off into bestial wandering … [in] the great forests of the earth Jaynes, become “conscious about their mating behavior, can reminisce about it in the past and imagine it in the future, we are in a very different world, indeed, one that seems more familiar to us” ( OC : 466). Vico can be read as saying the same thing; in describing the sexuality of the first men Vico uses the phrase: “the impulse of the bodily motion of lust” ( NS : 1098, my italics), implying a kind of Jaynesian bicameral sexuality not enhanced by consciousness.
The second line of research supporting Jaynes’s claim is as follows. Scholars of ancient history would agree, says Jaynes, that the murals and sculptures during what he calls the bicameral age, that is, before 1000 B.C., are chaste. Though there are exceptions, depictions with sexual references prior to this time are nearly non-existent. After 1000 B.C., there seems to be a veritable explosion of visual depictions of sexuality: ithyphallic satyrs, large stone phalli, naked female dancers, and later, brothels, apparently instituted by Solon of Athens in the fifth century B.C. Such rampant sexuality had to be controlled. According to Vico it was “frightful superstition” (ibid.) and fear of the gods that lead to control. Jaynes speculates that one way was to separate the sexes socially, which has been observed in many preliterate societies. Since males have more visible erectile tissue than females, something had to be done to inhibit the stimulation of sexual imagination (fantasy). Jaynes cites the example of the orthodox Muslim societies in which to expose female ankles or hair is a punishable offence.29
[Note 29: It is interesting to note that both Vico and Jaynes seem to assume a hyper-sexuality on the part of males, not females. Is this an example of Vico’s “conceit of scholars,” or more specifically, the conceit of male scholars? To the contrary, Mary Jane Sherfey (1996), a physician, has suggested that in early history the female sexual appetite was stronger than the male and therefore had to be controlled by the male in order to create and maintain social order.]
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At the very bottom is an interview with Marcel Kuijsten who is responsible for reviving Jaynesian scholarship. The other links are about Julian Jaynes view on (egoic-)consciousness and the self, in explaining what he means by analog ‘I’, metaphor ‘me’, metaphier, metaphrand, paraphier, parphrand, spatialization, excerption, narratization, conciliation (or compatibilization, consillience), etc. Even after all these years studying Jaynesian thought, I still struggle to keep it all straight, but it’s worth trying to understand.
Also interesting is the relationship of Jaynes’ view and that of Tor Norretranders, Benjamin Libet, Friedrich Nietzsche, and David Hume. Further connections can be made to Eastern philosophy and religion, specifically Buddehism. Some claim that Hume probably developed his bundle theory from what he learned of Buddhism from returning missionaries.
Jaynes’s Notion of Consciousness as Self-Referential
by Michael R Finch
Metaphors and Mental Models: The Key to Understanding
by Patrick O’Shaughnessy
Building Consciousness Back Up To Size – Norretranders, Libet and Free Will