Berman, M. Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. 2000.
Often used terms in this book:
Immediate Return Economy: hunter-gatherer societies for the most part, but particularly those that do not store food/accumulate excess food/goods
Delayed Return Economy: the storing of food/goods, as in all agricultural and some HG societies
Sacred Authority Complex (SAC): the need for certainty/meaning in a world that has been separated from nature comes in vertical structure and idealistic/abstract form; the heroes of religion and politics become the only channels to the scared, a sacred that used to be available to everyone; idea replaces experience; ideology replaces living myths; mental replaces physical as the realm of fundamental reality
HG: hunter-gatherer, pre agricultural
Paradox: A psychological state that is preferred to the clinging to ideologies/“truths” (religious/political/philosophical/economic etc)
Vertical Awareness: the tendency to hierarchize reality and in particular social structures (common to post agricultural societies)
Horizontal Awareness: diffuse alertness, non focused, non hierarchical (common to pre agricultural societies)
(2) [comparing a “revival meeting’-like rally with JFK in 1960 with a “low key,” “reflective talk” rally with Eugene McCarthy in 1968] As the years passed, I realized that these two vignettes epitomized the misunderstanding of strength that is so characteristic of American culture, and, I argue in this book, of civilization in general. Not that JFK had no strength, but that it was largely submerged in what might be called “heroic” energy - which accounts, at least in part, for the American romance with the Kennedy dynasty and the glory of “Camelot.” However, Eugene McCarthy was coming from a very different place, a non heroic one. Since he understood that heroics got us into Vietnam, he realized that heroics would probably not be able to get us out of there. He knew that true courage lay in questioning, in being tolerant of ambiguity, and was willing to live out of that space in a public way. But to an electorate long used to conflating strength and charisma, such a position could only appear weak and ineffectual. If you’re not a hero, in this way of thinking, you must be insecure.
- compare Chomsky, Zinn, Nader with Reagan, W Bush, Schwarzenegger
- Jung’s individuation occurs when one is able to function well while constantly holding opposites, being ‘on the fence.’
(2) Our experience of politics has been conditioned by aberrant circumstances. The state - an autonomous political unit having a hierarchical, centralized government capable of levying taxes, making war, and enforcing laws - has been with us for only about six thousand years. The majority of human political experience has been relatively (though not entirely) egalitarian: small, nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers that had no chiefs and , in Pierre Clastres’ formulation (Society Against the State), no relationship of command/obedience. One of the issues I shall be exploring in this book is the origin of social inequality, that is, how the human race went from what might be called “horizontal” egalitarian relations to “vertical” hierarchical ones and what the stages were that existed between HG society and agricultural civilization.
(3) There are certain experiences common to the human race - certainly to Homo sapiens sapiens (i.e. “modern” humans or Cro-Magnons - which includes ourselves - who go back ninety thousand to one hundred thousand years) and possibly to Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (who flourished from -130,000 to -35,000 years) - that constitute a kind of biological baseline. One of these existential awareness, the perception of having a self separate from the environment, and from others, that commonly surfaces in the third year of life. According to what is known as the Object Relations school of psychology, which deals with very early infant experience, this moment of identity is also the moment of alienation, of distinctness from the rest of the world. By thirty-five thousand years ago, for example, we find a sharp increase in artifacts such as personal ornaments and grave goods, suggesting the emergence of self-conscious awareness. In any case, the effects of this alienation are, and probably were to some extent, painful [see Fromm/Marcuse]; and historically, the human race has tried to grapple with it in three basic ways. The first is the mode of consciousness associated with HG civilization, which I shall refer to as “paradox,” or the experience of “space.” This is a diffuse or peripheral awareness, which can be characterized as being “horizontal” in nature, in the same way that HG politics is. It is not characterized by a search for “meaning,” an insistence or hope that the world be this way or that. It simply accepts the world as it presents itself, and in that sense, it would seem to require a very high level of trust. One does not “deal with” alienation (the split between Self and World) as much as live with it, accept the discomfort as just a part of what is.
The second mode is very much about meaning and the process of being absorbed in it. I call this constellation the “sacred authority complex” (SAC); and despite what seem to be antecedents of it in Paleolithic times, I believe its real flowering, certainly its institutionalization, coincides with agricultural, sedentary civilization. Trust in the world is now much less, and fear of death has assumed a prominent place. The human being has not so much a world as a world view; and the perception tends to be vertical in nature. In other words, whereas with paradox the “sacred,” such as it is, simply is the world, in the case of the SAC sacrality has been projected upward, into the realm of the gods. Hence we get the great theocracies of the Near East, whose religious (and political) structures were embodied in pyramids and ziggurats [Mesopotamia] reaching up to the sky. Atop these monuments, symbolically speaking, was a semi divine figure such as a pharaoh, who - like the pope, millennia later - was regarded as God’s (or gods’) representative on earth. Validation of the national way of life was provided both cosmologically and politically, for both spheres partook of a scared order that stood as the guarantor of reality itself. Explanations for all events in this vertical system were thus total, absolute…The SAC forms a kind of psychological cocoon, in which security is relatively assured and potential alienation kept under control.
Sometime around 2000 BC or after, the verticality of the SAC became even sharper. This was the emergence of what I have referred to elsewhere as the “ascent experience,” although traces of it may existed in the Paleolithic. By “ascent experience” I mean the phenomenon of unite trance or ecstasy, which is the most dramatic way of generating (temporary) psychological security. As I shall indicate later on, this mode of consciousness corresponds to a certain hero mythology that is endemic to recent civilization, though it does have certain antecedents (the Gilgamesh epic of Mesopotamia, for example, which dates from the third millennia BC). It is this mode of consciousness that the American psychologist Julian Jaynes popularized with his notion of the “bicameral mind.” Although he incorrectly assigned it to all of agricultural civilization, it is more likely a heightened form of the SAC.
In contrast to paradox, or the diffuse alertness of HG consciousness, ascent experience is vertical and intense; it provides “certainty” both in terms of its overwhelming numinous quality and in terms of the spiritual/political hierarchy it inevitably generates. In religious forms such as as the Greek mystery cults, ritual practices were used to obliterate consciousness, to submerge the ego in to the One, the Absolute. It was from these cults that Gnosticism, and eventually Christianity, flourished, and they had a heavy impact on Plato’s Dialogues as well, which often entered Western civilization as a kind of countercultural, underground stream (the Neoplatonism of the Renaissance, for example). All of this served to offset the pain of ego-consciousness by means of a mystical experience that merged the psyche with the rest of creation, what Freud called the “oceanic experience.” In his view, the experience was regressive, the attempt to return to a fetal state, or to the primitive, archaic mother. Jung, as is well known, regarded is as progressive, the contacting of a certain kind of primitive wisdom. Both were probably correct; and since the two views are irreconcilable, there is a conundrum within Western culture especially that sits with us, very uneasily, to this day.
The third way of dealing with ego-consciousness is the mode of industrial societies, what might rightly be called “dullardism” - lowering consciousness, in other words, “spacing out.” Trance practice still exists in these societies, but only as a type of “heresy” among marginal or fringe groups. This is why drugs such as valium and prozac are legal in the United States and Europe and why peyote and magic mushrooms are not. With dullardism, the goal is simply to go unconscious, by means of tranquilizers, alcohol, TV, spectator sports, organized religion, compulsive busyness and workaholism, and so on (even thought many of these provide a short term “high”). I won’t be saying very much about this mode, inasmuch as it is not very interesting, and all too familiar, in any case. It is perhaps noteworthy, however, that civilization, whether agriculture or industrial, is a seamless whole. In both, political arrangements are vertical, and the sacred is elsewhere, “in heaven,” [and] with the leadership partaking of sanctity (a divine order [religious and political/national]) or imbued with aura, charisma. This is not to say that democracies don’t often elect dull and unimaginative leaders, but the ideal, at any rate, is a heroic one, which accounts for the survival of monarchies in many democratic countries as well as the attraction to popular charismatic figures, such as the Kennedys [and more recently the Bushs and Clintons]. Hence, the famous observation by the German sociologist, Max Weber, that we swing between bureaucracy and charisma. Indeed, the two seem to need each other.
As institutionalized entities, at any rate, vertical politics and consciousness have not been with us for very long. On an anthropological time scale, for example, the state is clearly aberrant. Whether one reads Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West) or Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies), one comes away with a similar impression, that civilizations are inherently unstable; they inevitably collapse. Pursuing a vertical ideal, their center of gravity is too high. HG societies seem indefinitely sustainable..
- Existential Awareness = sense of separate self, tension of individual freedom with alienation, is dealt with by:
1. Paradox - accepting the tension as paradox, accepting “diffuse” meanings, rather than certainty (which modern civ is obsessed with)
- “diffuse or peripheral awareness” see S Diamond, In Search of the Primitive, connotative truth vs denotative truth; Ortega y Gasset “Meditations on Hunting;” E Hall, Beyond Culture, openness of polychromic time vs hard line of linear/ monochronic time
- trust in natural cycles; no separation of “sacred” and “world”
2. Sacred Authority Complex - as separation from nature occurs (domestication of plants and animals), meaning becomes
“abstract,” one doesn’t live in a world, but in a worldview, i.e., a worldthought, a place where meaning/certainty has to be put back into life, because the Self has been removed from Nature/natural cycles. Therefore verticality arises in social and religious life - some things have more meaning than others, according to what economically benefits those at the top of the hierarchy. “Idea” takes over for/dominates “experience” as revealer of truth, and it’s projected upward in hierarchies toward an idealistic godhead that is not ordinarily experienced, or only by the tops of the human hierarchy or by ecstatic trance. - manipulation (leading to domination) of natural cycles
3. Dullardism - the non-experience of cog in the machine/mindlessness of constant labor or entertainment, vicarious/virtual experience, medicated experience
- to become unconscious of what? the sacred, which has become so “elsewhere” as to not be a part of everyday life anymore, therefore meaning is detached, lost in the temporary (yet intense) hysteria of trance (religious. political, national, sport, etc..)
(6) I’m not necessarily discounting the possibility of “mysticism” in the Paleolithic, but I wonder whether we have overemphasized it because of its dramatic role in our own religious traditions. The dominant mode of consciousness among HGs today, as well as in the past, may not be unitive trance, but a diffuse, peripheral type of awareness that I am calling paradox. I suspect paradox is a very old genetic memory, in that it seems to be continuous with the kind of alertness that animals often display. In humans, as the word “paradox” suggests, it includes holding contradictory propositions, or emotions, simultaneously; sustaining the tension of this conflict so that a deeper reality can emerge than one would have if on simply opted, for example, for Self and Other. In the SAC, no paradox is present; one has “certainty" instead. And in unitive trance (ascent experience), Self dissolves into Other, and that is that. This latter process also can be fed into war, for example, in which the Other is obliterated in favor of the Self, even while the Self is dissolved into the nation or the cause. It would seem that these are psychologically infantile (or adolescent) solutions to the problem of bipolar (Self/Other) contradiction. What many HGs seem to display, by contrast, is a kind of mature ambiguity.
In fact, there is nothing mysterious about paradox, but it is nevertheless difficult to define in any precise way.
- in a world where black and white certainty is the only way of thinking
(8) ..This quality of the universal in the particular, and vice versa, is what the American author John Briggs refers to (Fire in the Crucible) as “omnivalence,” in which the mind is moved to unfold itself in the space between contradictions…One might call this state “nonegoic,” but that can be misleading, since it is a state of heightened self-awareness, one that is not about boundary loss, bliss, or the SAC in any way.
I ran across one description of this state in a lovely book by Joanna Field (pseudonym of the British therapists Marion Milner), A Life of One’s Own, in which she refers to it as wide, as opposed to narrow attention, and compares it to the hovering of a kestrel. This mindset is actually well known in the anthropological literature. Here is the description given by Hugh Brody, who spent time living with native groups in British Columbia:
“Above all they are still and receptive, prepared for whatever insight or realization may come to them, and ready for whatever stimulus to action might arise. This state of attentive waiting is perhaps as close as people can come to the falcon’s suspended flight, when the bird, seemingly motionless, is ready to plummet in decisive action.”
Similarly, in Meditations on Hunting, Ortega y Gasset wrote:
“It is a ‘universal’ attention, which does not inscribe itself on any point and tries to be on all points. There is a magnificent term for this, [namely] …alertness…Only the hunter, imitating the perpetual alertness of the wild animal…sees everything.”
And Walter Ong, writing in the American Anthropologist in 1969, called it a “world presence” rather than a world view. The latter phrase wrote Ong, suggests something fixed, a “major unifying perception.” World presence, on the other hand, is about sensuality, immediacy, and “a certain kind of relevance.”
I call this consciousness “paradoxical” because it is simultaneously focused and nonfocused. It is hovering, or peripheral, rather than intense or ecstatic; and paradox also exists in the fact that a moment such as this feels completely individual and unique and, at the same time, universal. As a result, that which is most personal is also felt to be the most general, the most connected to to the human beings. In addition, that which is fleeting is experienced as that which is most enduring.
Again, there is nothing mysterious about this. New Yorker staff writer Tony Hiss, in his discussion of urban planning (The Experience of Place), is well aware of this mode of consciousness and describes it in a number of ways:
“Our habitual style of thinking…is a stream of consciousness pouring and pushing its way through the present; but this [other] feeling, which I simultaneous perception, seems calmer, more like a clear, deep, reflective lake. Both the pinpoint focus of ordinary perception, which lets us shut ourselves off from our ordinary surroundings, and the broad-band focus of simultaneous, which keeps us linked to our surroundings, are inherited skills built into each of us. People sometimes get so good at blotting out the sights and sounds and smells around them that simultaneous perception, when it resurfaces, can catch them by surprise. But because the s ability is always in operation, it’s constantly available. And whenever we summon it, it’s richly informative.”
In another passage, Hiss quotes art historian Anton Ehrenzweig, who refers to the experience as that of “utter watchfulness,” paying equal attention to everything at once. Hiss says it involves “gaining a relaxed sense of our own outside edge…[such that] we divide our attention equally between ourselves and things outside ourselves.” This form of perception, he goes on to say, “putting at our disposal an evenhanded, instantaneous, and outward-looking flow of attention, acts like a sixth sense.” When we diffuse our attention and relax its intensity, he concludes, we initiate a “change that lets us start to see all the things around us at once and yet also look calmly and steadily at each one of them.”
- horizontal time doesn’t “push,” because there’s no linear time or social verticality to push through; diffuse, connotative
(11) [the real world is in the] permanently ephemeral moment….the moment that is fully experienced lasts forever.
- oral traditions where there are stories/histories that can last many days
(11) Shall we call this experience “sacred”? The problem with this is that it is a modern (i.e. civilized) way of relating to it. For HG societies, there was not a separate category of existence called “the sacred.” When Native Americans refer to the Great Spirit, they often are (it depends on the tribe) talking about the wind. This spirit is “merely” the creation itself: water coming off a leaf, the small of the forest after rain, the warm blood of a deer. This was a culture that lived, as Virginia Woolf put it, “between the acts”; alertness is the sine qua non of a hunting society. The great anthropologist Paul Radin, who did extensive fieldwork with the Winnebago Indians, argued that for such peoples, reality was heightened to such a pitch that the details of the environment seemed to “blaze.” This terminology can be misleading, in that it might suggest a kind of trance experience; but there is no loss of consciousness or “fusion with the Absolute” here. This is immanence, not transcendence; it involves heightened awareness, not “burning bush” experiences and boundary loss. In this world, the secular is the sacred, which is all around us. This is why I call it a horizontal perception.
(11) The SAC, and later, unitive trance, are quite different from this. What (agricultural) civilization managed to do was to disenchant the world in a peripheral sense and then reentrant it in a focused or centralized sense. Vertical energy finally overwhelmed and replaced horizontal energy, and this is mirrored, as already noted, in the architecture of the great theocracies, such as Egyptian pyramids or Aztec temples. This energy is also the basis of religions and priesthoods. With unitive trance in particular, erotic energy, if you will, is expunged from the environment at large and then channeled into certain specific experiences, now regarded as cultural norms: romantic love, for example (which does not typically exist among HGs); heroism (Arthurian legends, the search for the grail); and the need to go to war. More than one write since Freud has commented on the close relationship of these to death. For example, war is chronically irresistible to civilization because it provides situations of numinous intensity, so that one feels bonded to the universe, “alive.” Sartre describes such a “religious” war experience in his novel Nausea; and Betrand Russell, in his autobiography, recalls wandering around Trafalgar Square in 1914, just after war was declared, and being struck by how palpable was the excitement, the sense of physical relief that permeated the air. “I discovered to my amazement,” he writes, “that average men and women were delighted at the prospect of war.” He goes on, “What filled me with…horror, was the fact that the anticipation of carnage was delightful to something like ninety percent of the population, I had to revise my views on human nature.”
- romantic love doesn’t exist in world where individuals don’t feel a desperate lack, a must be “completed” by someone else, in a world where non-human nature/ human community are not separate.
(12) In any case, we see that the structure of religion in civilization, particularly Western civilization (whether we are talking about heresy or orthodoxy), is a vertical one, with the mundane world regarded as being down there, below, and heaven up above. Starting at some point around 2000 BC (see chapter 4), this verticality acquired its own dichotomy, a sharp division between the sacred and the secular, with salvation being a promise held out by the sacred sphere. By contrast, I would argue, HG “religion” was for the most part nothing more complicated than the “magic” of everyday life. Why assume, for example, that Paleolithic cave paintings are reflections of mystical trance trance or oceanic experience? Nothing so exotic may be involved. It is at least as likely that our ancestors were “simply” celebrating energy, aliveness, such as can be seen in the vibrant colors and implied movement of the animals they painted. Although trance may have occurred occasionally, one does not have to undergo boundary loss to know the sacredness of life.
There is another issue as well. Vertical experience, whether of the SAC or the ecstatic variety, has an unavoidable political counterpart. [Julian] Jaynes regarded bicamerality as a quest for certainty, in particular, for authority or authorization. The psychic “certainty” of this experience was paralleled by the desire of agricultural civilization to possess certainty on other levels as well. A huge distortion ensued. With the rise of sedentary civilization, the human race went from paradox, a kind of kaleidoscopic consciousness, to fixed systems of religious “truth,” This development, I believe, has had enormous consequences in terms of our political adherence to ideologies of various kinds. The net effect has been salutary. During the last four millennia in particular, civilization has been preoccupied with transcendence, and this has led to a kind of absolutism in the way we live and think. “Cultural hypnosis” means not only that we take whatever paradigm we live in as real, but that we can only conceive of escaping that paradigm by installing another paradigm in its place. “Worship,” even of the secular variety, continues to be the norm.
- “absolutism,” i.e. certainty, black and white, hard lines, vs paradox, diffuseness..
- certainty is needed more and more the more you remove yourself from natural processes
(15) Years of body work and meditation led me to believe that paradigm zeal is rooted in a denial of our somatic experience. Emotions, often painful, live in the body; paradigm shift addiction (like substance addiction) enables us to escape these emotions and live in our heads. Carl Jung and the transpersonalists, despite some valuable insights, were (are) cut off from bodily experience; they created a larger mind than the dominant intellectual paradigm, but when all was said and done, it was still a mind. Their call for a renewed spirituality only went so far, in my view; clearly, we needed a new renewed corporeality if we were not going to repress the body and fall into the trap of a new mythology, make a fetish our of our supposedly new spirituality. All of this became the subject of a subsequent book, Coming to Our Senses..
- “paradigm shift addiction” could also be labeled “progress addiction” - always searching for the next new thing, because the present situation is not good enough, rooted in the promise of the second coming within linear time
(15) Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines is about the role of movement in the evolution of human life and consciousness. Chitin believed that sedentary life spawned a host of illusions, religion among them, that were harmful to the human race and that were largely absent from HG and nomadic societies. The implication was that be going sedentary, we had shifted from a direct experience of life to the pursuit of substitutes, and that a ceratin kind of mental flexibility had gotten lost as well.
(16) [After citing Wittgenstein’s last twenty years and Bernadette Robert’s The Experience of No-Self]…I began to see that freedom lay not in paradigms, which were just different versions of the SAC, but in a particular experience that was not endowed with any salvationist properties. I didn’t know how this might apply to culture at large, but I saw that a very different understanding of reality was at least possible, and it seemed to me that HGs had had it and perhaps still did.
Much of this, then, revolves around the issue of sedentism. As I shall argue later on, being nomadic is something that culturally and physiologically reinforced kaleidoscopic or paradoxical perception, for the landscape is constantly shifting before one. Fixed abodes lend themselves to fixed perceptions [therefore the perceived need for certainty, as well as the illusion that certainty is obtainable and a/the means toward progress], as well as for the need for certainty, both religious and political. Given that the bulk of human experience on this earth is ambulatory, it seems likely that beneath our desperate need for certainty lies something much deeper, and that is our need for indeterminism, for the world to be unpredictable, surprising, alive.
(17) I am not convinced that the human race actually has a “destiny,” some sort of fate that is written down somewhere, which God, Hegel, and a few mystics have been privileged to know.
- "ideologies are refined forms of the Gods and Destiny.." The Unconscious Civilization.
(18) “Certainties” of all sorts may reassure us psychologically, but they do that only by sharply restricting the range of our experience. Treated with non ideological integrity, as a lived (somatic) experience rather than a formula, paradox may teach us that broader possibilities exist.
- vertical: certainty, focused, singular, ecstatic, intellectual, transcendent, out of body
- horizontal: ambiguous, diffuse, plural, peripheral, corporeal, imminent, in body
Ch 1. The Writing on the Wall
“Secularization…is an age-old cosmological type…which need have nothing to do with urban life or modern science…The idea that primitive man is by nature deeply religious is nonsense…The illusion that all primitives are pious, credulous, and subject to the teachings of priests or magicians has probably done even more to impede our understanding of our own civilization than it has confused the interpretations of archaeologists dealing with the dead past,” Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols.
(22) In a survey done some years ago by American Anthropologist Erika Bourguignon, 90 percent of the 488 small societies she examined from around the globe proved to have some form of institutionalized religious practice involving an altered state of consciousness (ASC).
(23) What I am going to propose…is that sacred experience did exist in the Paleolithic, but that for the most part, it was not the sort envisioned by writers such as Eliade [ecstatic trance]. Instead, what was dominant was a more horizontal spirituality, a persistent “secular” tradition that is a lot less exotic, but that, because of its obviousness (and our own fascination with the exotic), has escaped our attention. This may, in turn, give us some insight into what our “spiritual birthright” really is, and what that means in political and religious terms.
(24) Writers such as Joseph Campbell and Eliade ultimately had no real interest in data; they were on vision quests, not scholarly quests, and had their answers in advance. Their examples presuppose a universal mythic substrate and then, in circular fashion, are used to “prove” the existence of the substrate. If this gets a lot of people excited, it is almost invariably at the expense of intellectual integrity.
(27) [projecting shamanic trance qualities onto cave art] At the very least is a good example of violating the principle of parsimony in science: don’t create elaborate explanations for a phenomenon when a simpler one will do. It turns out that with one possible exception, no European Paleolithic caves contain any evidence of ritual performance, such as the presence of altars, implements, or signs of frequent human visitation. “There is no representation by these ancient gravers and painters of any sort of practice of curing another human being, nor is there any evidence of ecstasy or possession,” writes anthropologist Lawrence Krader. “The most careful conclusion we can draw,” says another expert, “is that shamanism may have been missing in the earliest hunting cultures.” The point is that those scholars who have to have trance or initiation ceremonies going on in the caves are not, as they think, finding Paleolithic religion. Rather, they are demanding that Paleolithic human beings be religious!
(29) What is an open question is whether the disposition to ASCs (altered states of consciousness) is psychobiological in nature. As Erika Bourguignon notes, a 90 percent figure for contemporary tribes certainly would point in that direction; but this may not be the crucial issue. The fact that many tribes don’t practice it is no less significant, for it suggests that such beliefs and practices, even if wired into the brain in terms of capacity, get triggered only in certain cultural contexts. These contexts may not be pathological, for all we know, and possibly confined to the Neolithic era. The “10 percent crowd” could be the healthy group, the ones we should be looking at. Thus, Peter Wilson argues (The Domestication of the Human Species) that ASCs emerge in contexts of group stress where no fission-and-fusion pattern (the freedom to leave the community and regroup) is present. Possession trance, writes Wilson, “or its frequency, relates to the extent of community life and hence may be involved with the increasing intensity of problems that emerge with daily group life.” In turn, this would be a function of population pressure and population density - things that were not problems prior to the Neolithic Revolution.
(30) The overwhelming impression conveyed by the roughly three hundred animal figures at Chauvet [30,000 yr old cave art in southern France] is not one of religious feeling, but of a vivid and direct naturalism.
(30) In a very trenchant critique of Western biblical ethnocentrism, S.N. Balagangadhara argues that the notion of a society without religion is something we find disturbing because we ethnocentrically equate religion with experience of the sacred. Yet, he says, some societies are capable of sacred experience without having to generate any sort of religious world view at all. On what basis, he continues, can we argue that early humans were religious? Funeral practices won’t work for the reason already cited: they may not be religious practices. And if we want to argue that religion had to exist among our Paleolithic ancestors because it is a universal hedge against death, we overlook the possibility that our ancestors might have simply regarded death as death, not as something terrifying or mysterious (this is in fact true of some HG societies today). There is no evidence that they would invent a god or transcendent world, just because we do. As Nicholas Thomas and Caroline Humphrey demonstrate very convincingly in their volume Shamanism, History, and the State, shamanism “is more of an exotic essence, a romanticized inversion of Western rationalism, than a scholarly category that can stand up to any sustained interrogation.”
- “death not terrifying or mysterious” see Don’t Sleep There are Snakes
(31) As in the case of the footprints at Le Tuc d’Audoubert, parsimonious explanations leas us away from symbolism, not toward it. What we are seeing on these walls is not only an appreciation of vitality but also the product of classic HG alertness. If this is “animism,” it would seem to be a very secular variety of it. It consists mostly in a sense of the awareness of Presence, of the “magic” that exists in Self being differentiated from Other; of the awareness of Self as one is aware of the Other. I put it to that this was HG spirituality, experience of the sacred - a horizontal experience, not a tale of souls ascending to heaven.
(33) Peter Wilson says that domestication was a major modification here, altering the ability of humans to pay attention. HG societies, he says, “are marked by an emphasis on ‘focus’ in contrast to domesticated societies, which are distinguished by an emphasis on the boundary.” Survival is the underlying issue here: among HG and nomadic peoples, survival depends on being able to distinguish a bird form the surrounding, dense foliage of a tree, or to spot a snake several hundred yards away. In a word, they are much more alert.
- domestication = boundary delineation, i.e. the quest for certainty (black and white, yes or no reality) over diffuse/connotative awareness. See S Diamond, H.P. Duerr
(35) Self awareness is a non-linear process, something that grows in fits and starts, and the presence of an existential identity with a reflective internal life (something that does not happen for the rest of the animal kingdom) takes a bit of time to stabilize. If the truth be told, it is a process that is never really complete.
In any case, the process/event of understanding that you are “in here” and that the other person (or in general, your environment) is “out there” is the birth of individual identity, but also of alienation from the world. The birth of real self awareness tears the psyche in two, creates what one psychologist (Jacques Lacan) called “the gap,” or what another (Michael Balint) referred to as the “basic fault.” A lot of how this is negotiated depends on the immediate surroundings, and if they are benevolent, so much the better for our feelings of being at home in the world. But there is always a tear, a pulling away from a primal unity; and it is in the search to mend that, to fill in the gap, that much of our sacred yearning is rooted. A “lived distance” now divides us from the world, and to varying degrees, we find it painful.
- “never really complete” Jung’s individuation; “individual identity [freedom] but also alienation” Fromm and Marcuse
(36) There are various ways of dealing with that pain; the one that is universal is the breast. In HG society, breast feeding often goes on up to age four, and this undoubtedly accounts for the healthy psychological outlook that the individuals in undisturbed forager societies seem to have. But weaning of any sort means that something has to take up the slack, and this is where the possibility for paradox or for addictive attachment - the root of the SAC - both open up. The Freudian term is cathexsis, and in our own culture the most familiar form of it in weaned infants is the teddy bear, generically speaking; what the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called the “transitional object.” The T.O. becomes a breast substitute, the intermediary between Self and World. It is for this reason that such objects are, for children, quasi magical, endowed with aura (just try to pry a T.O. loose from an infant, and you’ll see what I mean). Winnicott argued that we didn’t lose our tendencies for cathexsis later on in life; we merely found more sophisticated substitutes - for example, religions and ideologies.
- “fill the gap” religion/ideology of any kind = transitional object to bridge “the gap” between Self and Other (environment)
(36) All of this opens up a host of questions. What about the role of child-rearing in the formation of attachment? Do all cultures have T.O.s, or do HGs cathect something else, beyond the breast? Given the diffuse quality of paradox, how did it manage to emerge at all? Is Object Relations true for all time? And if not true for homo erectus, just how far back can we reasonably extrapolate it?..For now, we need to deal with the question of the universality of Object Relations theory. Specifically, was there a time when the human race awoke to its own interiority, stepped from what we might call “porto-paradox” into something else? When did interiority - mind - come into existence?
(37) Animals live in the eternal present, a kind of proto-paradox. To realize that one is operating in a time stream is to possess a radically different consciousness. The American anthropologist Irving Hallowell saw art, for example, as clear evidence of self-awareness, because it involves abstraction and representation, the conveying to others what is in your individual mind (self).
(37) Julian Jaynes’ principal characterization of the new mental configuration [self awareness] is that of a metaphorical mind space, including a sense of past and future, which allows us to see ourselves in the “story” of our lives. In other words, when we are conscious in this self reflective sense, we possess what he calls an “analog ‘I’,” a metaphor we have of ourselves that can move about in our imagination. We “see” this imago, this self, doing things in the world, that is in space and time; and on this basis, we make decisions regarding the imagined outcomes that would be impossible if we couldn’t imagine this self..
Animal alertness is, of course, the ground of our consciousness; it represents our evolutionary origins, our genetic or ancestral “being,” as it were. In such a state, there is no reflection or anticipation, but only an immediate awareness of the environment and a reaction to it - as I said, a proto-form of paradox. The entry of a time scale, of a metaphorical “I” having goals in the world, changes all of this. Not that alertness is automatically lost, but that reflection is now also present, and this conflicts with a purely alert state (human paradox means living inside and outside of a time frame simultaneously). It puts the human race on a path that takes it out of the animal state, and that eventually gets manifested in the creation of history and culture.
(38) “Middle/Upper Paleolithic Transition” [circa 100k - 10k ago].
(38) The crucial issue in this development [later human evolution] is the relentless, and finally explosive, cumulation of intent, or goal orientation; what archaeologist refer to as “planning depth” (p.d.). This in turn implicates the kind of consciousness described by Jaynes, the ego awareness necessary to see oneself in a story, in future time. Conscious tool making implies the ability to impose a mental template (arbitrary form) on unworked (i.e. formless) material. Thus Lewis Winford defines p.d. as the amount of time between anticipatory action and their results, and the investments humans make in these actions. However, we need to be cautious here because too use certainly exists among apes and monkeys (as well as some other animals); they can abstract the objective consequences of an action and store them in a form accessible to mental control. Apes, for example, will stack boxes to reach food on a roof or put short sticks together to make a long one. Some conceptual and behavioral continuity thus exists between humans and apes. Nevertheless, it is the discontinuities between humans and apes that are most striking. Does can work only with “real world” perceptions; it is a the future/imaginary level that their constructural capacity is lacking. Hence, they can stack boxes, but they do not look at stone flakes and imagine an arrowhead. This is why ape “art” displays no symbolic pattern, whereas for example, children will quickly arrange generic face cutouts (nose, mouth, etc) into a face pattern..
(40) Neanderthals [130 to 35 k before present] did very little planning; for example, they did not exploit cyclical events such as the migration of fish or reindeer. All that would come later. As Lewis Winford puts it, we also need to distinguish between curated and expedient technologies. “Curation” is a maintenance behavior, that is, activities such as repair, designed to give tools long life, whereas expedient technologies refer to on-site, reactive use. Thus, curation is an advanced level of p.d. (one can have p.d. without curation but no curation without p.d.).
(42) It is in the Upper Paleolithic that (35 k bp) culture, fueled by intent, swiftly starts replacing biology as the chief agent of human survival.
..The dramatic increase in personal ornamentation around -35,000, when almost none existed before, suggests a different type of mental functioning, as does the emergence of art and abstract design. The elaboration of burial (mortuary treatment) is another indicator.
Part of that new world is the framework of historical time. This represents a whole new dimension, a break with the “eternal present.”
(43) Between -35,000 and -30,000 years, something new crystalizes; hominids step from biology into culture. And culture, in essence, involves self-conscious awareness and intent. By the time we arrive at the Neolithic, with the planting of grain, the experimentation with animal domestication, and the almost constant preoccupation with survival - activities that involve an enormous amount of planning depth - paradox is virtually lost. Feeling at home in the world is now going to require stronger spiritual medicine; religion, in fact.
- “spiritual medicine” is needed when you no longer live in the cycles of nature (thinking that manipulating them is better).
(43) This review of cultural prehistory hopefully serves to show that with Homo sapiens sapiens, the Self/Other split, or self-objectification, that had been slowly germinating prior to -100,000, now came rapidly into its own. Lived distance is now part of the human process, on both the individual and the cultural level. This split between Self and World creates a need for “mending,” and it is this that gives rise to the phenomenon of attachment. Attachment, in turn, takes various forms paradox was probably the most common, and also the least “attached.” With the nursing of infants running to four years in length, HG children did not develop attachments to Transitional Objects, but cathected the whole environment instead, giving it a kind of subjective radiance, which is what (I believe) we are for the most part seeing on the walls of Lascaux. The Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire, made famous by Colin Turnbull in The Forest People, don’t worship anything; the “merely” regard the forest, their universe, as alive, friendly. The SAC, which is a Neolithic phenomenon, represents a very different sort of energy. It arose under different circumstances, ones that accentuated the Self/Other split.
- “don’t worship” like the Piraha of Don’t Sleep There are Snakes
- the lived-in-natural-world becomes/is the “transitional object,” the “friendly” thing that is needed for a sense of home and basic sanity
(44) The one thing everyone seems to agree upon is the centrality of the mother/infant dyad for healthy primate life, an attachment that Bowlby calls “monotropic.” Monotrophy, as Bowlby defines it, is a “strong bias for attachment behavior to become directed mainly towards one particular person and for a child to become strongly possessive of that person.” Attachment, he claims, is biological; it exists in an evolutionary context. For the human race to have survived despite the period of infant dependency, says Bowlby, attachment and reciprocal care behavior must exist as a stable configuration. Culture can vary, but underneath it all is a species-based biological drive for infant attachment and maternal reciprocation, that is, for a dyad. In short, this is ethological, a matter of “imprinting,” and probably occurs during the “window” of one to eighteen months after birth. Without this match between infant programming and maternal response, the capacity for attachment, for what the eminent psychologist Erik Erikson calls “basic trust, is permanently lost.
(44) In an article on “The Development of Ritualization,” Erikson makes explicit the link between the SAC - in particular, unitive trance - and the bond between mother and infant. Arguing that there are “connections between seemingly distant phenomena, such as human infancy and man’s institutions,” Erikson suggests that ritual behavior “seems to be grounded in the preverbal experience of infants,” in particular, in the mutuality of recognition that is reenacted over and over again between mother and infant. Erikson suggests “that this first and dimmest affirmation, this sense of a hallowed presence, contributes to man’s ritual making a pervasive element which we will call the ’Numinous’.” It is this first dyadic, numinous experience, he says, that the individual will try, later in life, to capture repeatedly, through experiences of fusion such as romantic love, immersion in a leader’s charisma, or religious observance. “The result is a sense of separateness transcended.”
- religious ritual/ceremony akin to repetitive actions of infants - desire for “hallowed presence,” “numinous experience” of cyclical events
(46) Given the fact that some Angst der Kreatur - “creature anxiety,” as the German psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, called it - is always present, and that the mother’s role is always crucial, it is nevertheless the case that there is a great deal of lability possible with respect to child-rearing practices and the infant psyches that they shape. But under what would become the stress and insecurity of Neolithic life, what is a natural spiritual life - love of the world as it presents itself - moves aside to make way for the shaman, for ecstasy, myth, ritual, charisma, and in general, vertical religious experience. The fear of death that is generated by that life, and the altered child-rearing practices that often accompany it, make transcendent solutions (and explanations) increasingly attractive. As the British psychoanalyst Ernst Jones once put it, “The religious life is a dramatization projected onto the cosmos of the fears and desires arising from the parent-child relation.” Causally speaking, it is larger than this, of course, but you get the point.
If the dyadic pattern and the “hallowed presence” phenomenon are the world historical (and contemporary) norm, no alternatives to the vertical religious pattern would be possible. Infants raised in such a context would (and do) grow up imprinted for charismatic experience, learning to view sacred authority as the highest “truth.” which would then serve to reaffirm the vertical social order. This is, of course, what is known as “civilization.” Thus Nicholas Thomas and Caorline Humphrey note that Mircea Eliade’s classic model of north Asian shamanism looks very different when seen in political context, in which the claim to be able to ascend to the sky and obtain esoteric knowledge was “a politically highly charged matter.” What seem intrinsic features of shamanism, they say, are actually historically continent. For political power, even in state systems, operates through ideas such as the knowledge of destiny, (Shamanism, History, and the State).
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and for much of our (pre)history, it wasn’t. If the mother/infant bond and Object Relations are core phenomena, they are nevertheless plastic as well. What Philip Slater once called “steep-gradient” psyches - those nurtured by the “hallowed presence” into oral dependency and transcendent yearning - have not been dominant for HGs; and as we shall see, the phenomenon of movement [nomadism] has a lot to do with this. Felicitous Goodman notes that whereas agriculturalists seek transformation (the stuff of myth and ritual), HGs are interested in balance.
Religious verticality exists in the context of political verticality.
- “transformation” not necessary when the natural world/natural cycles provides the need for dynamic processes within psyche
- dyadic pattern (mother/child), “hallowed presence” of childhood turns to chase for romantic love (sense that individual is not complete without another, which does not seem to occur in primitive culture, where relationship to natural world and community, and community to natural world - where individual does not feel separate from either, i.e. individuals often respond with “we think” or “the piranha feel..” in Don’t Sleep There are Snakes - individuals don’t respond with “I think..” - provides “completeness").
- modern religion is an institutionalized attempt to recapture (and control - institutionalize) a relationship with the sacred that was normal, everyday life in nature-based societies.
Ch 2. Politics and Power
“Let me hear no more of our kind’s natural necessity to form hierarchical groups. An observer viewing human life shortly after cultural takeoff would easily have concluded that our species was destined to be irredeemably egalitarian except for distinctions of sex and age. That someday the world would be divided into aristocrats and commoners, masters and slaves, billionaires and homeless beggars would have seemed wholly contrary to human nature as evidenced in the the affairs of every human society then on earth,” (M Harris, Our Kind).
(50) “Normal,” of course, is not the same as “healthy.”
(50) In The Dawn of European Civilization ,V. Gordon Childe, following Marx, put forth a “global” division based on the introduction of agriculture. HG societies, he said, are egalitarian; agricultural civilization, complex (i.e. hierarchical). If you want to find the origins of social inequality, in this view, you need look no further than the nearest seed.
Childe’s concept addressed a very real anthropological puzzle: How is it that after 1 to 2 million years of a very different way of life, characterized by movement and foraging, agriculture and sedentism were almost universally chosen over this in just a few short millennia?…Childe [following Malthus and L.H. Morgan] further argued that it was this change from food procurement to food production that paved the way for civilization, that is, for class society and the state, because only agriculture was capable of guaranteeing a surplus large enough to maintain a “nonproductive” class. It was thus in the crucial split between those who domesticated plants and animals, and HGs, who did not, that the roots of civilization could be found.
…We need only contrast the civilization of Sumer in 3500 BC to the band societies of, say, 20,000 BC (i.e. what we know of them archaeologically) to realize that we are looking at two very different worlds. Virtually all scholars agree that food production, that is, “the use of domesticated plans and animals as the primary basis of subsistence…is the economic foundation upon which the state and modern civilization are built and maintained.”
(52) [But] the fundamental split, said James Woodburn [refining Childe’s thesis], was not between foraging and agriculture, or between primitive and civilized, but between peoples caught up in what he called a “delayed return” economy as opposed to an “immediate return” one. Some HGs, he said, actually fell into the former category. We thus have to look for complexity (hierarchy, social inequality) not in the development of agriculture, but within HG society itself.
What Woodburn discovered in Tanzania was the the Hadza do not experience any severe food shortages and that they are unconcerned about the future. The population density is low, and groups move camp often, perhaps every two or three weeks. Although all Hadza consider themselves to be kin, they have few obligations to each other and are not bound by commitments. This is, Woodbury wrote, a major source of their strength. Everyone has direct access to valued assets, and this provides security for all. In Hadza society, you can separate yourself from those with whom you are in conflict without incurring any loss. Dependency, let alone hierarchy, is not part of the Hadza way of life. I shall say more about this below, but it is important to ponder that what is perhaps the popular image of HG societies - close, warm communities that are simultaneously very supportive and very conformist/restricitve - may be off the mark. Instead, what we often find is a great deal of autonomy and independence - freedom, in short - although not that of the bourgeois version of individualism of, say, nineteenth century England. Woodbury also believed that the Hadza were not unique, that “this relative lack of sustained reciprocal load-bearing relationships is widely characteristic of the social organization of nomadic hunter-gatherers.” Indeed, it usually goes by the name of “fission and fusion” and is a common pattern.
What accounts for this freedom? The difference, according to Woodbury, lies in the mode of production. Immediate-return (IR) systems reject the notion of a surplus. Tribes such as the Hadza, the !Kung, and the Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire do not accumulate property. I such societies, even if you don’t participate in a particular hunt, you have the right to eat, and individual hunters have no future claims on those they feed. One is not constrained by group decisions, and these societies either have no leaders or have leasers who wield no coercive power. Delayed-return (DR) societies, which are based on the accumulation of surplus, inevitably lose their egalitarianism; there is a preferred status for those who arrange and manage the surplus for the rest of the tribe. Such systems also create dependency on specific persons so that one is caught up in a network of binding ties and corporate groups that can determine one’s survival. This is typical of agricultural civilization, but says Woodbury, it is also the rule for DR foragers as well. Thus, sedentary or semisedentrary HGs, such as the Haida or Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest; the Plains Indians, who invest time in keeping horses; Australian aborigines, among whom the men retain long term rights over the women (through marriage brokering, etc) are all DR and characterized by social inequality.
- immediate return - no need for social hierarchy. individual freedom yet/and ego is a true, communal “we”
(54) Central to the IR economy - or at least, a necessary condition for it - is the phenomenon of movement. Movement words heavily against any tendencies toward surplus building and accumulation, which suggests that sedentism is a key factor in the origins of social inequality.
- Shepard’s Tender Carnivore and Scared Game: animals in captivity show psychological problems similar to humans in dense populations. Direct correlation between amount of personal/communal space (geographically) to psychic freedom/health.
(56) The shift to storage, Alain Testart believes, involves an important mental shift: a distrust of nature, which is echoed (and, I wold say, accompanied by) a distrust of human beings. For the nomadic way of life involves a fundamental trust in the ability of the natural world to provide , and along with this, an ethos of sharing with others in the band or group. All this is violated once storage gets going in a large scale way. All in all, Testart’s work, which includes a fairly convincing ethnographic examination of forty storing HG societies, demonstrates that “the relevant factor for the development of inequalities is not the presence or absence of agriculture, but the presence or absence of a storing economy, whether it be hunting-gathering or agriculture.”
(57) The anthropological consensus on the subject seems to be something like this: there are a (very small) number of HGs alive on the planet today who do, or did until recently, display a number of characteristic s that, from the vantage point of modern civilization, appear quite enviable. These include egalitarian sharing patterns; anti-authoritarian tendencies; respect for individuality combined with an emphasis on cooperation; flexible living arrangements; permissive child rearing practices; and a system of “generalized” (as opposed to “balanced”) reciprocity. These societies have achieved a greater degree of equality of wealth , power, and prestige than any other societies we know of. They are based on immediate return economies and the discouragement of accumulation.
(58) From a modern point of view, HG societies would seem to be apolitical. What Clastres argues [in Society Against the State] is that such a viewpoint is the bias of a culture that equates politics with the state. From the viewpoint of Western ethnography, in other words, power is identical to coercion, or violence; it is “the ability to channel the behavior of others by threat of use of sanctions.” A society that doesn’t operate on such a basis is, in our terms, regarded as a society without power. Yet throughout Mexico, as well as Central and South America, Clastres argues, there have been and still are Indian or native societies headed by caciques who do not possess power in the classical Western sense. As Clastres puts it, “no relationship of command-obedience is in force.” The notion that coercion, subordination, and hierarchy constitute the essence of political power, in all times and all places, is merely the bias of verticality organized cultures. It is for this reason that the first European explorers felt psychologically at home in the Mexico of the Aztecs or the Peru of the Incas; these empires wielded power in the way that people from monarchic nations understood it. But when the same explorers encountered, for example, the Tupinamba Indians of Paraguay, they were completely disoriented, describing them as “people without god, law, and king.”
From the beginning, says Clastres, our ethnography has been skewed; we have taken our own definition of power as the yardstick of meaning and then gone out into the field to see how stateless societies measure up. What we find is a “lack,” when what we are really doing is displaying our own conceptual poverty. What this approach misses is the political achievement of those cultures that practice power of non power because, from the outside, it looks like nothing. And, in a sense, it is nothing; but as Clastres shows, this is a very rich nothing, a nothing, which, like the “empty hand” of karate, actually contains enormous power.
So the way we in the industrial West organize relationships of power is seen (by us) as the apex of a certain political or historical progression, and groups such as the Tupinamba are classified to the degree to which they approximate this ideal. We also believe in a continuity between these various forms. Hence, the political organization of HGs is referred to as an “embryonic” form of power, implying that we constitute the adult stage. Or we claim that the Sioux Indians failed to achieve what was attained by the Aztecs. As Clusters points out, this is ideology, not scientific investigation.
(59) It is [often] the case that the non coercive model switches to a coercive model during wartime. During war, the chief (of the war chief, if it is a different person) commands substantial power. Hence, the coercive model is adopted only in exceptional circumstances, namely those of an external threat. This is interesting: it suggests that since civilization uses the coercive model as the norm, it is, in a strange sense, always in a state of war.
- civilization is (must be, by definition) in a state of perpetual war, perpetual “protection” of land boundaries and (stored and non-stored) resources, and most of all, of ideologies like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “democracy.”
(60) Why have a chief at all then? Clastres comments that in fact, a number of tribes do not, and that in the language of at least one tribe, the Jivaro, the word “chief” doesn’t even exist (this was also true of the San Bushmen of southern Africa, who survived into the twentieth century). But the powerless chief is more typical because his existence as a person serves to embody the paradox of native political arrangements.
(60) We see then the mistake of referring to “primitive” society as politically “lacking” something, as though the state were were the inevitable destiny of every society. It is more likely that we have lost touch with our own remarkable possibilities and that the shift to coercive structures that occurred on the civil or political level was an immense loss. Primitive politics is in fact about mastery, but not in the coercive sense of the term.. What we are witnessing is political genius [of embodying paradox], even if it has proven to be very fragile.
(61) Richard Lee’s “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari” [where they entire tribe showed disappointment in receiving a gift of an ox from Lee, claiming that it was a worthless “bag of bones,” but ate and danced for two days and nights on the fat animal]…”Why did you tell me the ox was worthless,” he asked, “when you knew it was loaded with fat?” “It’s our way,” gaugo replied. “A Bushman who has been hunting, for example, must not come back and announce a big kill. He must sit in silence until someone asks him about it. Then we all go out to look at the animal, and tell him it’s just a bag of bones, but that we’ll slaughter it anyway, even though it’s hardly worth it.”
Similarly, Tomazo explained to Lee, “It’s about arrogance. When a member of the tribe kills much meat, he can come to think of himself as a chief, and the rest of us as his servants. Someday, his pride will lead him to kill someone.”
All of this gave Lee a lot to think about, about the “Clastrean” choice that the !Kung had made, to reject vertical power relations. “Was it this independence of the spirit,” he wondered, “that had kept the Bushmen culturally viable in the face of generations of contact with more powerful societies?”…
The point is, they know what vertical power is, and they don’t want it; they know it will rip their culture apart. Clastres argues, for example, that the role of torture in initiation ceremonies was to send (and embody) the massage: “you are no more or no less than anybody else.”
- ego check. paradox of talking down to/making fun of great achievements.
(63) The foraging strategy is that of adjusting people to resources (via mobility), the agricultural option is that of adjusting resources to people, which requires governments.
(63) …With non sedentary populations, temporary campsites are often not preserved, as in the case of sedentary groups. Hence, archaeological studies tend to emphasize agricultural populations rather than HGs. The result is that the data can easily create the impression of a population explosion accompanying agriculture, when all that has exploded is the availability of reliable data.
(65) Robert Carneiro suggests a social circumscription in which the presence of nearby populations make nomadic behavior - the fission and fusion pattern of HG societies - impossible. Since a tribe in this situation could not expand horizontally, vertical arrangements were the only alternative.
- nomadism = constant expansion horizontally in a geographical sense, but without possession/ownership
- sedentism = expansion vertically, ideologically (i.e. “progress”), expansion only in the sense of ownership
(66) When conflict arises [and there is enough geographic space], people simply pull up stakes and move on [fission and fusion]. This is the path of least resistance, which is why we can imagine it stretching back into the Paleolithic, when immense spaces were available.
[James] Woodbury also points out that such arrangements work against the development of authority. We have to divest ourselves of the belief that given the opportunity, people will form into the sort of tightly knit groups that are found among farming peoples. Human beings may not be all that social, and may find the cooperative long-term commitments inherent in farming or delayed return economies oppressive.
- Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Social connection with Nature is as meaningful as social connection with people. Or a social connection with Nature is a precondition for a healthy connection with people.
(67) This egalitarian system, writes Margaret Power, “is characteristic of both (undisturbed) chimpanzees and (undisturbed) humans who live by the ‘immediate return’ foraging system.” Prior to 1965, when a change in the feeding pattern was instituted at Gombe, Goodall’s reports showed that the chimps there were nonaggressive, nonhierarchical, and nonterritorial, without any one leader or alpha male; and this has been corroborated by all researchers who have used naturalistic feeding methods. all observers, says Margaret Power, have found that the fission and fusion pattern is characteristic of chimpanzees; and in 1965, Goodall stated that wild chimps did not form separate communities but united freely from time to time.
In 1965, a change was instituted that made the existence of fluid independent communities impossible, and what resulted was total bedlam. The new system was a that of human controlled banana feeding, which fostered direct competition among the Gombe chimps for limited food. It involved making the chimps wait in groups for the food to be released, introducing elements of temporal uncertainty, irregularity, and population clustering. The result was a sharp increase in the number of aggressive interactions. In fact, the whole foraging social order broke down, and the chimps began to kill each other. What rapidly evolved was a ranked society, with great emphasis on territoriality. By 1972, groups of apes began patrolling the peripheries of their home range, brutally attacking the outsiders they encountered. The year before, one group of chimps had left the Gombe area and moved south. This was known as the Kahama group; the ones that remained were the Kasekala group. Between 1971 and 19786, the Kasekala males sought out and killed all of the members of the Kahama group.
These are dramatic events, and it is a pity, as Margaret Power notes, that reports on and from Gombe argue for innate territoriality, hierarchy, and aggression, when chimp behavior prior to 1965 clearly contradicts this. Change things such as food supplies, population densities, and the possibilities for spontaneous group formation and dissolution, and all hell breaks loose - no less for apes then for humans. If people or chimps want community, they want it on their own terms, not under conditions of obligation and dependency.
- metaphor for sedentism and civilization. when means of production become manipulated/controlled by an outside force (outside of the common community, “all hell breaks loose.”
- Shepard’s Tender Carnivore and the Scared Game, cities are like zoos.
(68) All of this suggests that our natural propensity is at least partly egalitarian, but not especially communitarian. Band societies are nomadic; they value individual autonomy; and they do not form person-specific economic dependencies. For the most part, conflict is not resolved by working things out, but by throwing in the towel. All of this suggests that community, at least as understood within the conceptual framework of the last ten thousand years, is unnatural. The basic model for human relations is the family, and this cannot be extended much beyond twenty five or thirty people. As population growth creates population density in circumscribed areas, all manner of attempts are made to reduce conflict, but the biological basis for “getting along” is very weak. This is where hierarchy enters the picture.
(69) A survey of George Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas shows that for any cultures having communities consisting of more than four hundred people, there are no egalitarian-like qualities; whereas for communities of less than four hundred, only seven of the 862 Murdock catalogued had some kind of hierarchy (and those seven were without significant class distinctions). Thus, it would seem that group size is a significant regulator of the amount of social inequality that can present at any one time.
(72) Ultimate answers regarding power relations are rooted in psychological issues that arise from the cognitive/emotional split between Self and Other referred to in chapter 1, and no amount of Rousseau [social contract] can make this go away.
(76) Two things inevitably happen under conditions of sedentism and agriculture: a change in a society;s relationship to movement and a change in its relationship to time. But the shift in time frame - which is really the shift from paradox to the constellation of futurizing and intent - is not much dependent on agriculture per se as it is on the existence of the DR economy [delayed return]. All of the anthropological data we have supports the notion that cultures with IR economies [immediate return] tend to entertain charismatic behavior largely under conditions of stress. Otherwise, the focus is on this life; “the sacred” is merely what is present in front of them. Such cultures do not generate prophets or guru figures; “worship” is simply participation in the here and now. This is difficult to do in the context of a DR economy. This difference with respect to time orientation is especially noticeable in the area of attitudes toward death and an afterlife. In a revealing study of this subject, James Woodbury reports on his survey of such beliefs among the Hadza, the !Kung, the Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire, and the Baka Pygmies of the Cameroon. All four of these HG groups live near farmers and are aware that their neighbors have very negative feelings toward the HG practices associated with death. Indeed, it must be very interesting to be around people who think death is no big deal. The Hadza don’t mark their grave sites; many of them say that when one dies, one rots, and that is that. Similarly, the Baka don’t believe in an afterlife, ghosts, or spirits. They say, “when you’re dead, your’e dead, and that’s the end of you.” Until recently, they left their dead in the forest to be eaten by animals. As for the Mbuti, when missionaries or agricultural neighbors come to talk to them about the afterlife, they say, “How do you know? Have you died and been there?” None of these groups have chiefs or shamans who administer death rituals.
- see also Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes
(77) Colin Turnbull’s work with the Mbuti Pygmies provide an equally dramatic case study here. Reading through his account of Mbuti life (IR economy), one cannot help but be struck by the “isness” of it all. Unlike the neighboring Bantu villages (DR economies), the Pygmies have a “sacred” reality that is no more sacred or esoteric than the forest in which they dwell. There is a notable absence of any preoccupation with political power, magical rites, and “hidden realities,” which is the stuff of Bantu village life. The Mbuti regard all of this as superstition. Their central “religious” ritual, the molimo, is a cycle of songs sung in times of crisis and accompanied by the playing of a long wooden trumpet. But the trumpet is not regarded as a sacred object; in fact, the Mbuti sometimes use a metal drainpipe for the same purpose, and the song cycle is devoid of any magical components. It is just something that is done. When something goes wrong in the village, the inhabitants believe that sorcery is the cause. When something goes wrong in the forest, the Pygmies believe that the forest fell asleep; so they sing to it wake it up. The forest, writes Turnbull, is “presence,” or “God,” and communion with it is all that is necessary. This is not a vertical god; Turnbull’s narrative makes no mention of ecstatic states or anything resembling a sacred authority complex. As for the practice of magic, the Mbuti regard it as manipulative, egoistic, and antisocial. While the villagers are soaking in magic and ritual in an effort to get the spirits to do their bidding, the Pygmies “believe in a benevolent deity or supernatural power which they identify with the forest.” They do have a concept of pepo, a life force, which they see as animating all moving things, but this is no great mystery. In fact, the world has connotations of “breath” and “wind.” Turnbull writes:
“The perennial certainty of economic sufficiency, the general lack of crisis in their lives, all lead the Mbuti to the conviction that the forest, regarded as the source of pepo and of their whole existence, is benevolent, and that the natural course of life is good. The absence of magic…is simply an indication of the normal absence of crisis.”
- “perennial certainty of economic sufficiency” vs myth of subsistence; “lack of crisis” vs crisis culture of agricultural/technological/ industrial society
(78) [Among the !Kung, the Ghazani Basarwa (Bushmen), and the Mbuti, “a similar pattern exists,” when forced into sedentary farming..] Hierarchy, competition, and belief in spirits and witchcraft all arose together. Paradox and egalitarianism are extremely fragile flowers; it doesn’t take much for religious and political hierarchy to overwhelm them. Hence the comment of Charles Lindholm (Charisma) that a “Weberian charismatic authority figure…lies very near the surface of even the determinedly egalitarian Bushman collectivity.” As in the case of the rise of an aggressive subgroup, if conditions are right, verticality gets “sprung.”
(81) In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin argues that movement is not only a leveling mechanism, something that prevents the emergence of social inequality, but also something that is central to nomadic consciousness, to human fulfillment, and that serves to make life so rich here on earth that there was no need for many or most HGs to create religion or concepts of an afterlife. Wandering, say Chitin, reestablishes an original harmony (read: paradox) that existed between human beings and the universe. He argues that it is an instinctive migratory urge, something we carry with us in a genetic or internet sense.
It is precisely the nomadic (i.e. ambulatory) aspect of HG life that sustains the perception of paradox and the fluidity of mind that was lost when the human race sat down. The HG way of life, with its evolutionary basis in movement and animal alertness, adds up to a kind of process psychology; the going is the goal. The wandering life is not about finding permanence, securing a beachhead against change or insecurity. Rather, movement is the physiological substrate of the paradoxical experience, or embracing life as it presents itself, rather than exclusively through the filters of myth and ritual, which are mistakenly taken to be, in sedentary societies, the fundamental sources of aliveness. In this sense, HGs were the first phenomenologists, or “non-ists,” if you will, and this outlook corresponds to more than 99 percent of the human experience on this planet. Indeed, if walking is the leveling mechanism that keeps verticality at bay, we have to remember that hominids have been doing it for something like 4 million years. Probably nothing else in our evolutionary history has such continuity.
- “not about finding permanence,” in the ideological, christian/platonic sense of truth
- Gary Snyder, “Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility,” (The Practice of the Wild).
(82) [summary] The potential for verticality of both a political and a religious sort may possibly be inherent in human makeup, but apparently it gets (or got) triggered in HG societies for the most part only under certain stressful conditions. When that happens, a certain aggressive subgroup comes forward to take power, and this pushes the rest of the group into a prisoner’s dilemma situation: get on the bandwagon or get left behind.
Ch 3. As the Soul is Bent: The Psycho-Religious Roots of Social Inequality
(87) The greatest difference between First and Third world patterns of mother/infant interaction lies in the emphasis on somatic attention, in the latter case, as opposed to visual and vocal attention, in the former. That is to say, both Western and non-Western societies provide their infants with what Donald Winnicott calls a “holding environment,” but in one case the holding is largely tactile, while in the other it is primarily emotive/interactive (verbal and visual)…We have to wonder what difference this shift in emphasis makes.
(87) [In Japanese culture, where there is an emphasis on decency in the first three years] the infant is never left to cry, and the Western practice of having the baby sleep in a separate room and cry itself to sleep is shocking to Japanese mothers. To them, physical contact is regarded as indispensable.
(88) Whereas the American model is that of seeing the infant as a dependent organism that needs to become independent in order to mature, the Japanese regard the infant as a separate organism who needs, from birth, to be drawn into interdependent relations. Thus, the mother/child symbiosis is “pathology” in New York, “health” in Tokyo. While the American mother typically looks at her baby and “chats” with it, the Japanese mother carries, rocks, and soothes it.
- Continuum Concept, Beyond Culture
(88) Israeli social worker Mordechai Rotenberg chose to view the Japanese style as one of “reciprocal individualism,” which he characterized as harmonious, fulfilling human needs for affiliation and nurturance. By contrast, he regarded the “alienating individualism” of Western Puritan societies as competitive and egoistic, a pattern of being driven by the need for achievement, which finally issues out in loneliness.
- Fromm, Marcuse
(89) [Studies] of French mother/infant interaction show a very different pattern [from high physical contact of Indian mothers]. Communication is not primarily kinesthetic but visual, involving smiling, talking, and looking with great intensity. The infant is bathed with a sponge [a distancing object], and put on a table during the activity, which again means less touch and more looking.
- the separation implies a paternalistic duty to shape, critique, judge, manipulate (from a distance), rather than be physically with and allow to grow non-manipulatively.
(90) The Indian baby’s relations are not with toys [transitional objects], but with persons, family members. Helene Stork believes that early separations of mother and infant in Western societies occur before the infant can handle these psychologically, thereby interfering with the attachment process.
(90) This combination of physical attention and emotional restraint, Stanely Kurtz claims, is quite deliberate, serving to push the child toward the group. The absence of any emotional mothering also leads to religions that idealize the notion of a detached, spiritual self, something for which India is famous. The mother, says Kurtz, is present for feeding and rocking the infant, but is otherwise emotionally distant. She puts no great emphasis on the child as a unique individual. All of this serves to reassure the child of the world’s benevolence and to move it away from a too-direct link with the mother.
[n 8] There is no loving empathy in these cultures [in Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia], says Robert LeVine; what we find instead is a ‘simple, continuous physical presence.’ Which means the infant is always on or near a caregiver’s body; crying is quickly attended to, usually via the breast; and there is little attention given to the infant as an emotional individual, such as by eye contact or chatting, (Child Care and Culture, 1994).
(91) The world norm is for the infant to be on or near the mother (or female caregiver) day and night, and this was very likely the Paleolithic pattern as well. Dr. Spock and other child care experts have typically been concerned that all of this early physical holding promotes dependency, but just the opposite has proven to be the case: interference with early somatic needs, and the imposition of “autonomy” before a child can handle it, creates a sense of absence where there should be a primary experience of relationship. In effect, if one gets punished or reproved for being human, what will result is a pervasive sense of anxiety, confusion, false independence and (often hidden) over dependence. Miss this early phase of holding, and you remain caught in dependency needs forever. In such a world, domination and hierarchy become very attractive, “natural,” the “human condition.”
- (almost) constant physical availability reaffirms the child’s place, the child’s need to be loved, it’s need to feel/be safe, but emotional aloofness suggests/implies to the child that his needs are important only as within the group. An individual ego, apart from, as distinct from the family/group will not be coddled. If it is, the “brat” results. This is turned upside down in the West. Less physical availability (both parents work, and want to sleep undisturbed in their own room, etc) is made up for with psychological/emotional indulgence, which strokes the ego, creates “the little prince,” who always causes a scene because he has little awareness of, respect for his existence in the group.
(93) As in virtually all HG societies, and some agricultural ones as well, infants are not the central focus; they only exist “as appendages to their caretakers’ activities,”…This notion of a “diffuse emotionality” ought to catch our attention; it spreads out the energy contained in what Erik Erikson referred to as the “hallowed presence” of the mother/infant dyad and is, again, a kind of world norm.
(93) Among the Efe [Zaire], multiple caregiving begins ar birth. In fact, the majority of daytime care taking during the first six months of an Efe infant’s life is nonmaternal. Morelli and Tronick hypothesize that this pattern fosters the capacity to relate to many individuals and the development of multiple bases of security and attachment…Thus Tronick argues that the theory of mono trophy is a rigid overgeneralization, and that while dyadic child rearing creates a sharply focused pattern, multiple mothering promotes one that is more diffuse. Since each person the Efe infant interacts with has a different style, the infant must learn to adjust to each. As a result, its social repertoire is flexible and broadly based, not locked into one stylistic set of stimuli. And as the case of the !Kung and the Ankara, Efe mothers and other caregivers have other involvements, such as work. They are not, as in many agricultural and industrial societies, “professional mothers.”
- Monotropy: the concept that infants have an innate and inborn capacity to attach primarily to a single caregiver or attachment figure. This concept was proposed by John Bowlby and is a component of attachment theory.
(95) What Western or urban children get is a child-rearing pattern that is atypical on the a world scale and that amounts to a double whammy. This is not to say the multiple caregiving pattern is problem free or that it creates perfect societies. Far from it. But it we are focusing on the issue of basic trust and psychic stability, it is clear whence the drivenness and pervasive malaise of narcissistic cultures originate. With a lack of very much somatic holding and a caregiver pattern that is dyadic and exclusive, we get an adult who is typically brittle and high strung; the “center of gravity” is too high. Such a zero-sum personality (all or nothing personality) is largely erected around fear, around a hole, one might say, and this is why Object Relations is particularly accurate in its description of the contemporary Western personality. And although some degree of fear and alienation is always present in the human psyche, this nonsomatic/dyadic pattern creates a tremendous need for hierarchy to generate (pseudo) stability. It doesn’t work very well, or course; domination produces a chain reaction without end, and this has a parallel in the outside world.
(96) [When] caregivers constantly shift, the child learns that single individuals are unreliable but that the community itself never is.
(96) Kibbutsniks [members of Israeli collective communities] have a great deal of basic trust, and we see quite clearly here that such security can be acheived outside of the dyadic format. They escape the existential despair common in the West, and from cradle to grave, they never feel useless or isolated. But they pay a price, having little ability for emotional intimacy and little interest in individual achievement. They feel no need to explore, to push ahead.
(96) Following Object Relations theory, I have been assuming something about the root cause of social inequality, namely, that the need to dominate others is a way of handling one’s own insecurities, one’s creature anxiety and alienation.
(97) I remain convinced by Erik Erikson’s assertion (from chapter 1) that there are “connections between seemingly distant phenomena, such as human infancy and man’s institutions” and that it makes sense to suggest that monotrphy, the “hallowed presence” of the dyad, produces a psyche that is driven to generate vertical structures that then have to be defended from collapse.
(99) In societies with low accumulation [storage], adults will be individualistic, assertive, and adventuresome. In societies with high accumulation, they will be conservative and compliant…Overwhelmingly, societies with high accumulation showed a strong pressure board responsibility and obedience and low tendencies toward achievement, self-reliance, and independence - regardless of gender. High accumulation went with compliance; low accumulation with assertion. The factor of accumulation proved to have a higher correlation with these patterns than any other cultural variable.
This piece of research establishes quite clearly that the self of the forager is (for the most part) a different creature from that of the agropastoralist, and certainly from the individual living in civilization. HG society works because its members are risk takers. Imagination counts much more than past experience. However, civilization works because its members do what they are told; and they accumulate not food, but “wisdom,” which they pass on through stories, proverbs, and tradition. From here it is a short step to myth and ritual, literacy and numeracy, and , usually, ideology and dogma.
- from Barry, Child, and Bacon, “Relation of Child Training to subsistence Economy,” American Anthologist, 61 (1959).
- low accumulation/HG: horizontal, diffuse, creative, independent, assertive
- high accumulation/sedentary: vertical, certainty-dependent, obedient, dependent, compliant
- accumulation of resources = accumulation of dogma/ideology
(103) The power of all this in biological and demographic terms is important to keep in mind because it strongly suggests that the Neolithic configuration of sedentism, population pressure, food accumulation, frequent birthing, and early weaning - factors that I personally believe enhance human insecurity and are behind the drive for dominance and hierarchy - is very recent in human history and quite unnatural.
(108) Child rearing can teach you that self and other can remain in balance; or it can teach you that there is room for only one ego in any relationship. In the latter case, one dissolves the Self, ecstatically, into the power of the Other; on the macrolevel, vertical politics is a foregone conclusion.
(111) [In the Glory of Hera and Footholds] Philip Slater argues that the exclusion of women from any civic life or arena of importance in ancient Greece meant that dominating their children was the only outlet for their urge for autonomy. In particular, there was a tendency on the part of the mother to project longings for her own life or destiny onto her son, who would be her hero, live the life she was never free to live…the nature of this neurotic, dyadic intensity, says Slater, created personality types that might be called “steep”: people who put all their eggs in one basket, as opposed to “level” people (what I have referred to as the “diffuse” personality) who are capable of treating many things as a source of gratification. Dyads produce steepness, says Slater; multiple caregiving is more conducive to levelness.
The resulting Greek culture was based on the precariousness of this steep-gradient (zero-sum) personality. A man grew up feeling that unless he were some type of hero, he was nothing at all. Pride and prestige defined the ethos of classical Greece. Not is this limited to Greece. Slater obviously sees contemporary America as a narcissistic, achievement-oriented culture, but he also refers to Ruth Benedict’s study of the Kwakiutl Indians - HGs involved in storage and sedentism - as illustrative of the same thing. Benedict’s study revealed a culture whose men were devoted to self-gratification, economic display, and the humiliation of rivals. What is significant about any culture is its energetic configuration. Kwakiutl narcissism, says Slater, look a lot more like 5th century Athens than the typical contemporary “primitive” society.
(112) Was the glory for Greece worth it, asks Slater, if it required this narcissistic structure to make it possible? For the most part, his answer if no. In ancient Greece, or 20th century America, we have great art and technology and a large body of knowledge, but the suffering on a deep emotional level was/is correspondingly great. This degree of narcissism, says Slater, means that life is never savored, that “the joys of the many are sacrificed to the achievements of the few.” The majority of people in these cultures are left bitter because they operate out of the same value system, yet can’t achieve heroic status…
- Fromm, Marcuse, etc
The connection between intense mothering and the culture of achievement does seem to be intuitively correct, and it has some psychoanalytical data to support it. Freud wrote that a son who is his mother’s special pride (as he himself was) will retain “the feeling of a conqueror” throughout his life. In her own research on this relationship, Carole Klein found that “when we study the lives of famous men, over and over again we find the son who has been singled out by a fiercely determined mother.” Similarly, the work of Victor and Mildred Goertzel,aCradles of Eminence, which is a study of the childhoods of eminent men, shows that the mothers involved often had heroic dreams for their sons…The Goertzel’s found that military sons had great difficulty in separating from their mothers and that overpossesive mother of a peer-rejected child, especially when relations with the husband are poor, “is most likely to rear…a military hero who enjoys the carnage of battle.” This should not be all that surprising. War offers numerous opportunities for ecstatic experience, the peak of intensity that, of course, reproduces the “hallowed presence” of dyadic infancy. It is another way, as Galway Kinyell would say, of entering the "holy land” [or promised land of American or Israel]. The problem with vertical energy is that you can never get enough of it. There is no end to achievement and no end to war, as civilization has found out. All of this, it seems to me, should give us some idea of who the aggressive subgroup is [who come to dominate hierarchical societies]. Heroes are made, not born, and they are certainly not timeless archetypes.
- “no end to achievement and war,” which is a key foundation of Capitalism. There should not be an end, because you should never feel satisfied, content, restful, peaceful (the anxiety of progress).
(114) Boys and girls have a very different problematic to deal with in terms of the “hallowed presence,” of the powerful figure of the mother in the nursery. Being of the same gender as Mom, girls will find their identity by identifying with the mother, whereas boys find it be separating from her. So boys grow up learning to fear this energy, learning to become “rational,” and to distance themselves from their bodies and their emotions, which are seen as female. (Falling in love, falling for charismatic leaders, going to war, or becoming alcoholics are often the only exceptions men will make to this distancing behavior.) But girls are nervous about his energy as well and grow up fearing that they can never fulfill the “goddess” role that their mothers modeled for them on the unconscious level. So, as women, they choose to collude in patriarchal arrangements, since the unstated premise is, “let go of the gates of reason and logic, and all hell will break loose” (which in our culture is absolutely true).
(115) Under conditions of gender equality, the infant is peripheral to a busy, meaningful adult (female) life. Introduce a major socioeconomic role for the man [like big game hunting - Upper Paleolithic, ca. 30,000 BC] and a correspondingly lesser role for the woman - both of which agriculture eventually does - and the infant moves from periphery to center, becoming the focus of the mother’s life and giving rise to the narcissism already described.
It is for all these reasons that “fusion” and “oneness” lie at the heart of the SAC and the religious configuration of agricultural civilization and why paradox become so difficult to sustain.
- “steep” personalities in vertical/hierarchical societies: all or nothing, obsessive, individual achievement oriented
- “level” personalities in horizontal societies: diffuse, liminal balancing/holding of opposites, group/share oriented
- big game hunting/sedentary life/agriculture “lessens” the female role to primary caregiver, therefore, hero worship of child (because of dyadic child rearing), therefore “steep” personalities create institutionalized social/political/religious hierarchies
Ch 4. Agriculture, Religion, and the Great Mother
(117) [summary] I have been arguing for the existence, historically, of two basic constellations: HG society (or more precisely, immediate return economies) - whose conception of the sacred is diffuse, paradoxical, and horizontal - and agricultural civilization (or more generally, delayed-return economies) - whose notion of the numinous is vertical, ranging from a generalized sacred authority to the unitive trance. I have also argued that the pattern of horizontal versus vertical religious experience is, not coincidently, roughly duplicated in the pattern of (relative) egalitarianism versus social inequality and that all of this, in turn, is tied into child-rearing patterns. Multiple caregiving tends to create a less “steep gradient” child, and, in addition, the mother in HG societies focuses on the infant much less because she is directly involved in the social and economic activities of her society. In delated return economies, the woman’s economic role is much reduced: she becomes a “professional mother,” especially with the narrow birth spacing that is concomitant with a sedentary lifestyle. This entails a too-strong focus on the infant, giving rise to the “hallowed presence” phenomenon discussed by Erik Erikson. To complete the cycle, infants raised in such a context get imprinted for charismatic experience; that is, they learn to see sacred authority as expressive of the highest truth, which then serves to reaffirm the vertical social order. Men caught up in this configuration feel the need to be heroic; and when we combine this with the fear and insecurity that is endemic to DR economies, and with sibling rivalry and the need for intense parental investment, we get a configuration of aggressive sub-groups, command/obedience relations, and prisoner’s dilemma situations that characterize the power structures of the Neolithic age and beyond. This is…a summary of the negative aspects of life in civilization.
(118) The insistence of certainty (sacred authority) that characterized the Neolithic now shows up in the daily newspapers of the Western industrial nations and in the speeches of their politicians, who can seem to think only in formulas. Indeed, Reagan saw nothing wrong, as president, in replying to questions at press conferences by reading slogans off of flash cards that he assembled in front of him. More to the point, the American public found his replies acceptable, even “wise”…Whether modern or postmodern, our world is caught up in a consciousness that has its origins in the Sacred Authority Complex as the source of truth. We are all, in Eric Hoffer’s memorable phrase, true believers.
(119) The core problem, as indicated in chapter 1, is that of a fallacious methodology, namely that of comparative mythology; the tendency, as the eminent Assyriologist Leo Oppenheim once put it, to compile “smoothly written systematizations decked out in a mass of all-too-ingenious comparisons and parallels obtained by zig zagging all over the globe and though the known history of man.” This approach goes back to James Frazer and JJ Bachofen in 19th century; in the 20th, the leading figure has been Jung, with Eliade and Joseph Campbell following close behind. But as so many scholars have shown, the assumption of a mythic substrate of “collective unconscious” is just that - an assumption. Imported into history or anthropology, it amounts to no more than an attempt to force the record of the past into a framework previously decided upon; and this problem is endemic to all Jungian work. A much more realistic approach is the one captured by an old saw from gestalt psychology: “our goal is not to make things happen; it is to see what actually does happen.” The same cannot be said of the “comparative mythology” school, whose methodology is just the opposite.
- obsession to taxonomize everything - nature, culture, history, etc.. to manipulate/control/predict, etc..
(120) In Das Mutterrecht (1861) [an important source for Jung], J.J. Bachofen argued, without any solid evidence, that the human race had gone from matriarchy to patriarchy, an argument that virtually no present day anthologist accepts as valid.
(120) “History is not the bread of the faithful”[mystery is], Richard Noll (Jung Cult).
(123) Neumann’s self admitted goal [in The Great Mother, 1955] is therapeutic rather than historical, his purpose being to achieve psychic wholeness for Western culture by balancing its over male orientation with an exposure to the feminine world.
(124) Thus, it is undoubtedly true that male civilization has ignored its female side, has suffered as a result, and that recovering that side would be a salutary thing…But it is more a statement about the present than about the past. There simply is no concrete evidence for continuous goddess worship or Paleolithic fertility cults.
(136) Gilgamesh was an early ruler and became the first hero figure of the ancient world. Besides the invention of writing (ca. 3500 BC), Sumer’s key achievements were in agriculture: techniques of farming, and the creation of an intricate system of canals for irrigation.
(143) In pre-Axial civilizations, there was no salvation as in redemption of the soul, continuity of the spirit, and so on. The focus was on physical continuity into the next world, which is why, for example, Egyptians embalmed their dead and buried them with food (esp bread and beer), toilet articles, and weapons…It is only with the clear breakdown of bicamerality, well into the Axial Age, that we have unequivocal evidence of organized cult practice of an esoteric nature.
- millenarianism, bent toward salvation/escape/transcendence into a different world
(144) Axial civilizations share a totalistic view of change; there is always the attempt to remake the world according to prevailing transcendent vision. For Eisenstadt, then, the Axial Age marks the birth of ideology.
- ideology is the attempt to “remake the world.”
- no need to remake the world in Nature Based societies, no need to progress to something else, to be saved from current world
- Bicamerality comes with the mundaneness of Agricultural life - the need to transcend it, in ecstatic states, to be saved from it in an eternal realm, which is not necessary in the “diffuse alertness,” “blaze of reality,” the eternal recurrence of HGs. The “eternity of natural cycles,” in day to day physical life (not separate from mental/spiritual life) vs the eternity of an abstract/theoretical/non physical spirit world.
(148) The Axial Age is a desperate one, and we are, effectively, still living within it. Ascent is a recent phenomenon; for the most part, it is rooted in alienation, in not finding this world as enough…if we get hooked on ecstasy and heroic “rebirth,” there is the likelihood that we shall never get down to the deeper layer of paradox.
(149) This is the link to our previous chapter. The force of the Great Mother image derives from unconscious memories in infancy; this is what makes mothering and issues of gender equality so significant for culture at large. A possessive goddess is quite congruent with an infantile society; and the link with agriculture is, as we noted in chapter 3, one of obedience as a lifestyle…If you are trained from infancy into the SAC (Sacred Authority Complex), you’ll do what you’re told.
You will also get enchanted by ideologies of various sorts, tend to swallow things whole, and call your beliefs certainties. Existential and psychological certainty will be, on an unconscious level, your number one concern…But adulthood involves a healthy balance between suspicion and trust, and balance is not what agricultural civilization or Great Mother worship is about.
Ch 5. The Zone of Flux
(157) Nomadism is the attempt to restore paradox to the center of human consciousness, a perception that got lost in the shift to a sedentary way of life. It recognizes that sedentary civilization cripples us emotionally, in consequence of the damage it does in social, psychological, and even physiological terms, and nomadism seeks the wholeness and integrity that we had prior to the constellation of narcissism and dependency fostered by political hierarchy and the sacred authority complex…In contrast to dependency and the hierarchical law of the polis, nomadism displays autonomy, self-rule, the distributive law of the pasture - nomos in Greek. From nomos we also the work “nemesis,” divine justice or retribution. Nomads are the nemesis of sedentary civilization.
For the state, on the other hand, nothing must be vagabond, nothing must be allowed just to follow the natural meandering of things. It seeks to fix everything into categories, not to follow the intrinsic evolution of a phenomenon, its intuitive conditions.
(166) [following Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines] It is movement that makes religious ritual superfluous. Movement across the landscape in such a vivid, immediate experience that the need for anything more complicated than paradox is largely obviated.
(168) [Mary Douglas in Natural Symbols] argues that a situation in which people are not constrained by group loyalties, but only by rules of reciprocal transaction, leads them to avoid framing reality in transcendent terms; to not separate mind from matter, revering one and despising the other. Their outlook is really secular, and we make a mistake, she says, if we associate the latter term with science and modernity alone.
(168) With this we come to the heart of the matter about paradox and the SAC, which I have been arguing with respect to HGs, whether in 20th century Zaire or at Lascaux, and which I think also ca be said for a number of nomadic societies. “Should not one suppose,” writes Mary Douglas, “that a society which does not need to make explicit its representations of itself to itself is a special type of society?” Indeed; and the same applies to individuals as well. The constant need of human beings in civilization to create ideologies, religious beliefs, political hierarchies, and the like, investing all these with meaning so as to feel mirrored, real, validated, part of some larger, transcendent reality - all of which we commonly regard as healthy - is largely the product of dependency and sedentism and does not (for the most part) appear in societies that value autonomy and mobility. In its most recent historical manifestation, the need for this kind of self-representation takes the form of millenarian beliefs, expressed in native trance. The idea is that matter will be replaced by sprit, by ultimate, undifferentiated goodness. Hence, says Douglas, “the millenarianist goes in for frenzies; he welcomes the letting-go experience….He seeks bodily ecstasy which, by expressing for him the explosive advent of the new age, reaffirms the value of the doctrine.”
Of course, this is the dynamics of axial civilization; it speaks to the “strain” that exists between the transcendent and the mundane. We commonly think that primitive people were religious or “spiritual,” and the civilized people tend to be secular; but with the possible exception of the last few hundred years, this may not be the case. The notion of a progressive decrease in magic, for example, accompanying the rise of civilization, says Douglas, may be an “optical illusion.”
(169) Religion, wrote Bruce Chatwin, is a response to anxiety, and it is at least possible that movement, by eliminating anxiety in a whole number of ways, removes the need for religion as well. The great religions, says Chatwin, arose among settled people who previously had been nomads - such as Jews, Arabs, or Zoroastrians - and whose ceremonial is filled with pastoral metaphors, notions of pilgrimage, and so on. But my point is not merely a Marxist (or Freudian) one of religion being an opiate; rather, it involves an issue that Marx would never have imagined: that under conditions of movement, autonomy, and egalitarianism, a perception of the world is present that is both natural and remarkable, a perception that was the norm for most of human existence.
(173) As the anthropologist Joseph Berland explains it, “field independence” is the tendency to see parts of a perceptual field discretely, as separate from the whole, whereas field dependence is a holistic perception, in which parts of a field are seen as merged with the whole. The former is especially valued in HG and nomadic societies, for survival depends on being able to see things quickly and at a great distance. However, holistic perception is more adaptive in sedentary society, where group pressure and conformity serve tomato these societies “work.”
(174) Mobility correlates with alertness to the natural world.
(174) The key terms to understanding nomadic social and political organization are “fluid,” “elusive,” and “ephemeral,” qualities that lie at the heart of nomadic egalitarianism…Nomadic society has an aversion to specialization, and political participation is widely diffused.
(181) We were mobile for about 99 percent of our history; is it any wonder that civilization - the repression of our mobile genetic heritage - slowly began to spawn ways of life based on movement once again, until these finally crystallized as warrior nomadism, that is, as anti-civilization?
(187) It is with Zoroaster that the dichotomy between settled and nomadic not only reaches it apogee but is transformed into something very different: the ancient combat myth of the Vedas and the Near Eastern mythologies now elevated to the level of apocalyptic faith. Nomads are no longer merely a nuisance. Unless armageddon occurs and they are completely defeated, the now-settled community or pastoralist farmers will not survive. So things are no longer oscillatory but linear, and as Mary Boyce tells us, Zoroaster’s concept of history having an end was wholly original.
(190) Claire Parnet writes: “Nomads are always in the middle. The steppe always grows from the middle, it is between the great forests and the great empires. The steppe, the grass and the nomads are the same thing. The nomads have neither past nor future, they have only becomings, woman-becoming, animal-becoming, horse-becoming: their extraordinary animalist art. Nomads have no history, they only have geography.
- meaning is in liminal states, in between states, paradox, Jungian balance
- imminence instead of transcendence
- “no history” of Piraha (Don’t Sleep There are Snakes)
Ch 6. Wandering God: The Recovery of Paradox in the Twentieth Century
(191) “An honest religious thinker is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slenderest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it,” (Wittgenstein, Culture and Value).
(191) Rhizomatic thinking is spiritual nomadism, which, if it is “not going anywhere,” is doing so because it understands that, in the most fundamental sense, there is really nowhere to go. (“Without a destination, said the 12th century Zen master, Hakuin, “I am never lost.”)
- Kafka, Heinrich von Kleist, Virginia Woolf, Wittgenstein
(198) For nomads, truth is a verb, something you live. No sooner are you at one point than an elaboration or revision suggests itself. “Incompetence,” wrote Flaubert, “consists of wanting to reach conclusions.”
(203) In [Wittgenstein’s] Philosophical Investigations, the world of Lebensformen is where meaning is possible only in community. Platonic/Cartesian transcendence, essences, and universals are seen as pathological, and the local language of a closed community is the road to health.
- the pathology of globalization vs local geographical tribalism
(210) For Plato, material phenomena are illusions; it is the Ideal Type in each case - the perfect circle, for example - that somehow causes the material manifestations, for example, a cup or a ring. Or, in the case of Newtonian physics, one might mistakenly think that the cup is the real thing, when in fact it is composed of atomic particles. Thus, reason “knows better” than the evidence of the senses.
- blunder in Western thinking that the parts of a thing are considered “more real” than the whole thing.
(211) Joseph Neddham once argued that the East “failed” to develop Galilean science because it had no belief in underlying laws of nature.
- was not obsessed with separating itself from Nature, therefore, absolute laws not necessary
Ch 7. The Other Voice
(213) “We suffer from an addictive weakness for large illusions…Power in our civilization is repeatedly tied to the pursuit of all-inclusive truths and utopias…The unshakable belief that we are on the trail to truth - and therefore to the solution to our problems - prevents us from identifying this obsession as an ideology,” (John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization).
(224) As Hannah Arendt once commented, the presupposition of any great, hidden purpose in history that is ineluctably working itself out and that must inevitably lead to some specified outcome (good or bad) “is one of the most virulent and dangerous diseases of the modern age.” [Richard] Tarnas’ vision [The Passion of the Western Mind] is only one more example of what Norman Cohn describes as the Zoroastrtian/utopian impulse, the belief that all conflict will be resolved and that Western civilization will finally come to “rest.” It is a child’s view of the world, really, the ache for its mother; what Albert Camus once referred to as “nostalgia for the absolute,” the frenzied wish to be cured [of some perceived sense of incompleteness, prosletized by the elites].
- obsession with certainty (as it presumably facilitates control, manipulation, domination, etc..)
(225) We have suffered from this ‘either-or’ sickness for a long time,” writes John Ralston Saul. “With the stroke of an intellectual argument, the planet is put in its place. Terrifying. Only the bravest and most foolish of individuals would not become passive before such awe-inspiring destinies.” Where, he goes on, does this desperate need come from? It is the need of a child who refuses to grow up. The need to believe in single-stroke solutions, says Saul, is rooted in a fear of reality - and I suspect, a fear of one’s self [in total, a fear of nature]. One escapes into future scenarios and avoids the immediate and uncomfortable difficulties of one’s daily life.
(226) Einstein, “Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free beings, admiring, asking, and observing, there we enter the realm of art and science.”
(231) There are two things that strike me as integral to HG civilization that we moderns can adopt…The first is the cultivation of silent spaces; the second, the radical acceptance of death. Both of these contribute greatly to the ability to experience paradox.
(232) Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, watching the exquisite fish move silently past me, a mere six inches from my nose, or looking down and seeing the purple coral spiraling up toward me, I thought, “what religion do I possible need, beyond this? what other evidence of ‘the sacred’ could possibly be necessary?”
- see first chapter of On Aggression, K Lorenz
(232) The Jungian cultivation of a Higher Self finally reveals itself as a defense against having to live a life without God. This is the “false expectation that some ultimate reality lies hidden somewhere behind, beneath, or beyond what is.” Hence, the error of the transcendent or transpersonal search for “the ground of Being,” when we cannot grasp that Being requires no ground.
…”Clinging to God,” Bernadette Roberts says, “may be a great mistrust and the ultimate expression of disbelief.”
(234) This ancient HG legacy remains open to us…it enables us to see through religion…on a basis of understanding that religion, God, and vertical spirituality are the fall from grace, grace being nothing more than the experience of paradox.
(244) To submerge the entire planet in a business culture is demeaning to human beings and inimical to life itself.
(244) “At the core of every human being,” wrote D.H. Lawrence, “there is a revolt against that which is fixed.” The wandering life is just too deep a part of our genetic memory for us to forget it completely.
- the image of toddlers or kittens/puppies knocking everything over in sight as a way of growing into/learning socially acceptable boundaries