BY BRIAN HILL
The current snow storm of stupid male abuses of women are surely a headline that the male dominated state has almost come to its end. Now is time for women to nurture new life. Could the new florescence of woman’s voices open a door to questioning/challenging male dominance, exploitation of women/nature and the Western world view of exploitation and control? What will the new world view look like now that the withering Western world view is Global? Maybe we should talk about the differences between class based and family based cultures? How and when does the shift from family based to class based cultures occur, and will family based culture reappear as the state diminishes as it has in previous civilizations? How today can we see hints of family and family based culture germinating, and how can these nuances be nurtured?
About 99 per cent of homo sapiens’ time on earth has been lived as non-waring, seasonal gathering and hunting bands of extended families moving from place to place according to seasonal menus. But with the onset of the last great global warming period which began about 9000 – 14,000 years ago in different places on earth, hunting provided less and gathering more of humans’ diets.
In central Mexico, for example, diets changed from 66% meat from herds of antelope and jack rabbits to only 33% meat. Plant and seed gathering which was done in large part by women became more important, and soon beans, chili peppers and a host of agricultural crops, including corn, were domesticated beginning about 8000 years ago.
Thus, women can be said to have given birth to farming. Because of this there was a huge change in life-styles, namely, seasonal nomadism evolved to sedentary life. Extended families, following this shift, lived in one place all year so that they could grow a surplus of staple foods, like corn, beans, rice, wheat, rye, bulgar, garbanzos, potatoes, chilis, buckwheat, quinoa, yucca, yams, sweet potatoes, squash, … in those seven, more or less, places on earth where civilizations began independently.
Permanent villages, towns and cities, i.e., civilizations, are impossible without surplus food supplies – farming. Women, thus, domesticated men. In order for sedentary life to succeed, food surpluses had to be grown and stored so that there would be food during the seasons when subsistence gathering was sparse.
Surpluses also made it possible for some people to NOT grow all the food they needed for subsistence because families that produced food gave some of their produce to the first social class – shamans. The shamans, brujos & brujas, provided medical/socio-religious services to these early villages. This first social class was not based on blood lines, but on services s/he provided to several or more families.
Here are some nuances that came about through the birth of agriculture:
- Even though it was relatively short lived, the status of women increased because they were mainly responsible for domestication of staple foods, the Tlatilco culture of Mesoamerica and the Venus culture of Europe are good examples. Men most often domesticated animals.
- Sedentary villages, towns and eventually cities.
- The first social class – shamans.
- new specialized technologies.
- The calendar.
- Monumental public architecture
- Male dominance
Until this point in human cultural evolution the cohesion and functioning of cultures was based largely on family. Then, with shamans serving people who were not members of his or her family, social classes were born. This is an important nuance because eventually social classes would become the dominant form of social structure – class based social structure would take over the functions of the family, and in the final stages of this cultural evolution, as is happening at present, class dominated cultures disintegrate, i.e., civilizations fall and revitalized local cultures flourished to take their place. And then this process of cultural evolution starts all over again. There are three general phases of civilizations; (a) formative or farming, (b) theocratic and (c) military. These stages are too much to describe in a short article.
The importance of family based cultures evolving into class based cultures seems vital for us to understand today because our culture is very dysfunctional, and, like it or not, we will sooner or later be charged with the responsibility of finding new ways of reviving old ways of living together locally. How will we provide the necessities of life for everyone – food, shelter, education, health care, spiritual fulfillment, social cohesion, subsistence (wealth creation and distribution), …?
Native American, Latin, Jewish, Asian, African and many other cultures still have more or less strong family traditions even though they are dominated by global, class based civilization. They, therefore, may be looked to for possible solutions to the disintegration of Western civilization. First Peoples (indigenous) cultures for us in the US may point a way for those of us whose families have contracted to the point that we cannot even have balanced nuclear families. For several decades now some Native cultures have been experiencing revitalization of their family based cultures. Should more emphasis now be placed on family portions of culture, like extended families, clans and tribes? Is it time to rethink class based culture and subsequent male dominance? What would this mean for our societies at large? Should we think of family based businesses/economics rather than corporate based economics? And, is it time once more, like in Tlatilco and Venus cultures to elevate the status of women/nature? Is it time for men to serve woman, family and nature instead of their bosses?
Perhaps this current righteous uproar by women against sexual abuse by men is an opening signal to fully shift from the disintegrating male dominated world view of hierarchical domination and control to a more feminine world view of equality and reciprocity where better is better, rather than more being better, where spirit and the mundane are integrated.
What will the role of woman be as our dysfunctional male dominated civilization transforms to revitalized, localized, bioregional cultures: According to the swing of the pendulum of cultural evolution based on the track record of previous civilizations, it is time for women with the cooperative help of men, like when women developed agriculture – Google esp., the Tlatilco culture of Mexico and the Venus culture of Europe – to insist on family revitalization, farming, spiritualization, balance, qualitative values, reciprocal rather than exploitative relationships and equality?
His-story: Of course history is boring for women because it leaves out ‘Her-story’. The Tlatilco and Venus periods of culture are great examples of when women were respected more than men. What, women ruled? Yes, and in Oaxaca the Zapotec women still do in large part.
Back to the first social class – the shaman class – and the origin of the nation state: Band, tribal and tribal nation cultures are family based, whereas states and nation states are increasingly class based. Social classes inevitably metamorphose the functions of family based cultures, and the transformation has cancerous consequences. Social cohesion and balanced life is replaced by competition (progress?), male domination, reciprocal relationship with nature (see, Forest People by Colin Turnbull) becomes exploitative, material values replace spiritual values, families contract, more is better rather than better being better, addiction replaces integrated, functional cultural traditions, mental health diminishes, poverty replaces social welfare.
Male dominated cultures, civilizations, do however develop the conscious mind, like science, and this could be a good thing, especially if we learn to use it to complement and restore nature rather than to exploit and futilely attempt to control her. Maybe our technology today has destroyed so many natural processes that unless we use it to restore the mess we have made of nature the earth will become one giant desert where almost all life is impossible.
What usually happens in nature, including human cultures and civilizations, is what Marx called the ‘dialectic’, Ortega y Gasset called the ‘pendulum of history’ and Toynbee, ‘challenge and response’; changes go from one extreme to the other like tides, seasons, life cycles, seasons, … So we should expect that, after a dozen or so millennia of male dominated civilizations, there will probably be a period of strong woman influence, and then balance should be the rule. If we want to begin a new phase, as the Existentialists predicted – ‘history and future dissolved into an eternal present’ – then our conscious focus as the first conscious, global human culture, as McLuhan suggests below, is to facilitate the dominance of women now until the tide shifts and a new balance is established.
About 50 years ago Marshall McKluhan said that this is the first time for ‘universal human consciousness’. What he meant is that this is the first time almost everyone on earth has a very similar understanding that we all live on one earth and that it is inhabited by people. Until TV this consciousness did not exist, McKluhan said. This should mean, he reasoned, that we can now consciously facilitate natural processes, we don’t have to make the same mistakes, esp., we can consciously prevent the disintegration of civilization, we can transform technology to repair the damage we’ve done to the earth and then learn to make it more habitable for all life – that remains to be seen.
If we can respond to the present uprising to the millennia of oppression of women (and nature) by making her sacred again and fully, legally respect her needs and rights the transition to the new Existential Phase of human life may be a new springtime for all life.
Brian Hill is an Archaeologist and Cultural Anthropologist in California.