The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 2 - The Outlook of Organic Society

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(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "Broader movements and issues are now on the horizon of modern society that, while they must necessarily involve workers, require a perspective that is larger than the factory, trade union, and a proletarian orientation." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...real growth occurs exactly when people have different views and confront each other in order to creatively arrive at more advanced levels of truth -- not adopt a low common denominator of ideas that is 'acceptable' to everyone but actually satisfies no one in the long run. Truth is achieved through dialogue and, yes, harsh disputes -- not by a deadening homogeneity and a bleak silence that ultimately turns bland 'ideas' into rigid dogmas." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...a market economy based on dog-eat-dog as a law of survival and 'progress' has penetrated every aspect of society..." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)


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Chapter 2 - The Outlook of Organic Society

2. The Outlook of Organic Society

The notion that man is destined to dominate nature is by no means a universal feature of human culture. If anything, this notion is almost completely alien to the outlook of so-called primitive or preliterate communities. I cannot emphasize too strongly that the concept emerged very gradually from a broader social development: the increasing domination of human by human. The breakdown of primordial equality into hierarchical systems of inequality, the disintegration of early kinship groups into social classes, the dissolution of tribal communities into the city, and finally the usurpation of social administration by the State — all profoundly altered not only social life but also the attitude of people toward each other, humanity's vision of itself, and ultimately its attitude toward the natural world. In many ways, we are still agonized by the problems that emerged with these sweeping changes. Perhaps only by examining the attitudes of certain preliterate peoples can we gauge the extent to which domination shapes the most intimate thoughts and the most minute actions of the individual today.

Until recently, discussions about the outlook of preliterate peoples were complicated by opinions that the logical operations of these peoples were distinctly different from our own. To speak of what was called "primitive mentality" as a "prelogical" phenomenon, to use Levy-Bruhl's unhappy term, or more recently, in the language of mythopoeically oriented mystics, "nonlinear thinking," results from a prejudicial misreading of early social sensibilities. From a formal viewpoint, there is a very real sense in which preliterate people were or are obliged to think in much the same "linear" sense as we are in dealing with the more mundane aspects of life. Whatever their shortcomings as a substitute for wisdom and a world outlook, conventional logical operations are needed for survival. Women gathered plants, men shaped hunting implements, and children contrived games according to logical procedures that were closely akin to our own.

But this formal similarity is not at issue in discussing the preliterate outlook toward society. What is significant about the differences in outlook between ourselves and preliterate peoples is that while the latter think like us in a structural sense, their thinking occurs in a cultural context that is fundamentally different from ours. Although their logical operations may be identical to ours formally, their values differ from ours qualitatively. The further back we go to communities that lack economic classes and a political State — communities that might well be called organic societies because of their intense solidarity internally and with the natural world — the greater evidence we find of an outlook toward life that visualized people, things, and relations in terms of their uniqueness rather than their "superiority" or "inferiority." To such communities, individuals and things were not necessarily better or worse than each other; they were simply dissimilar. Each was prized for itself, indeed, for its unique traits. The conception of individual autonomy had not yet acquired the fictive "sovereignty" it has achieved today. The world was perceived as a composite of many different parts, each indispensable to its unity and harmony. Individuality, to the extent that it did not conflict with the community interest on which the survival of all depended, was seen more in terms of interdependence than independence. Variety was prized within the larger tapestry of the community — as a priceless ingredient of communal unity.

In the various organic societies where this outlook still prevails, notions such as "equality" and "freedom" do not exist. They are implicit in the very outlook itself. Moreover, because they are not placed in juxtaposition to the concepts of "inequality" and "unfreedom," these notions lack definability. As Dorothy Lee observed in her deeply incisive and sensitive essays on this outlook:

Equality exists in the very nature of things, as a byproduct of the democratic structure of the culture itself, not as a principle to be applied. In such societies, there is no attempt to achieve the goal of equality, and in fact there is no concept of equality. Often, there is no linguistic mechanism whatever for comparison. What we find is absolute respect for man, for all individuals irrespective of age and sex.[7]

The absence of coercive and domineering values in organic cultures is perhaps best illustrated by the syntax of the Wintu Indians, a people that Lee studied very closely. She notes that terms commonly expressive of coercion in modern languages are arranged, in Wintu syntax, to denote cooperative behavior instead. A Wintu mother, for example, does not "take" a baby into the shade; she goes with it. A chief does not "rule" his people; he stands with them. "They never say, and in fact they cannot say, as we do, 'I have a sister,' or a 'son,' or 'husband,'" Lee observes. "To live with is the usual way in which they express what we call possession, and they use this term for everything that they respect, so that a man will be said to live with his bow and arrows."

The phrase "to live with" implies not only a deep sense of mutual respect for person and a high regard for individual voluntarism; it also implies a profound sense of unity between the individual and the group. We need not go any further than an examination of American Indian life to find abundant evidence of this fact. The traditional society of the Hopi was geared entirely toward group solidarity. Nearly all the basic tasks of the community, from planting to food preparation, were done cooperatively. Together with the adults, children participated in most of these tasks. At every age level, the individual was charged with a sense of responsibility for the community. So all-pervasive were these group attitudes that Hopi children, placed in schools administered by whites, could be persuaded only with the greatest difficulty to keep score in competitive games.

These strong attitudes of intragroup solidarity were fostered in the earliest days of Hopi childhood and continued through life. They began in infancy with the process of weaning, which emphasized interdependence between Hopi individuals and the group — in marked contrast to the surrounding white culture's emphasis on "independence." Weaning is not merely "a transition from milk to solid foods," observes Dorothy Eggan in a study of Hopi socialization. "It is also a gradual process of achieving independence from the comfort of the mother's body and care, of transferring affections to other persons, and of finding satisfactions within oneself and in the outside world." In this sense, many whites "are never weaned, which has unfortunate consequences in a society where individual effort and independence are stressed. The Hopi child, on the other hand, from the day of his birth was being weaned from his biological mother." But this weaning process resulted not from social indifference or maternal neglect. To the contrary, and very characteristically:

Many arms gave him comfort, many faces smiled at him, and from a very early age he was given bits of food which were chewed by various members of the family and placed in his mouth. So for a Hopi, the outside world in which he needed to find satisfaction was never far away.

From this feeling of unity between the individual and the community emerges a feeling of unity between the community and its environment. Psychologically, people in organic communities must believe that they exercise a greater influence on natural forces than is actually afforded them by their relatively simple technology. Such a belief is fostered by group rituals and magical procedures. Elaborate as these rituals and procedures may be, however, humanity's sense of dependence on the natural world, indeed, on its immediate environment, never disappears. Although this sense of dependence may generate abject fear or an equally abject reverence, there is a point in the development of organic society where it visibly generates a sense of symbiosis, of communal interdependence and cooperation, that tends to transcend raw feelings of terror and awe. Here, people not only propitiate powerful forces or try to manipulate them; their ceremonials help (as they see it) in a creative sense: they aid in multiplying food animals, or in bringing changes in weather and season, or in promoting the fertility of crops. The organic community is conceived to be part of the balance of nature — a forest community or a soil community — in short, a truly ecological community or ecocommunity peculiar to its ecosystem, with an active sense of participation in the overall environment and the cycles of nature.

The fine distinction between fear and reverence becomes more evident when we turn to accounts of certain ceremonials among preliterate peoples. Aside from ceremonials and rituals characterized by social functions, such as initiation rites, we encounter others marked by ecological functions. Among the Hopi, major horticultural ceremonies have the role of summoning forth the cycles of the cosmic order, of actualizing the solstices and the different stages in the growth of maize from germination to maturation. Although this order and these stages are known to be predetermined, human ceremonial involvement is an integral part of that predetermination. In contrast to strictly magical procedures, Hopi ceremonies assign a participatory rather than a manipulatory function to humans. People play a complementary role in natural cycles: they facilitate the workings of the cosmic order. Their ceremonies are part of a complex web of life that extends from the germination of corn to the arrival of the solstices. As Dorothy Lee observed,

Every aspect of nature, plants and rocks and animals, colors and cardinal directions and numbers and sex distinctions, the dead and the living, all have a cooperative share in the maintenance of the universal order. Eventually, the effort of each individual, human or not, goes into this huge whole. And here, too, it is every aspect of a person which counts. The entire being of the Hopi individual affects the balance of nature; and as each individual develops his inner potential, so he enhances his participation, so does the entire universe become invigorated.

Contemporary ecological rhetoric tends to blur the wealth of implications that follow from the integration of the individual, community, and environment into a "universal order." Since Lee penned these lines, almost every one of her words have become the cheap coin of the "human potential" movement. Preliterate cultures, in fact, often begin with a cosmology consisting of the conclusions that our current bouquet of mystics profess to attain. To organic societies, the puzzling cosmological issue is not life, which exists everywhere and in all things; the puzzle is death, the inexplicably unique condition of nonliving and hence nonbeing. "Soul," in some sense, permeates the entirety of existence; the "dead" matter that science has given us since the Renaissance, as Hans Jonas has so sensitively pointed out, "was yet to be discovered — as indeed its concept, so familiar to us, is anything but obvious." What is most natural to organic societies is an aboundingly fecund, all-encompassing "livingness" that is integral to its knowingness, a world of life that "occupies the whole foreground exposed to man's immediate view. . . . Earth, wind, and water — begetting, teeming, nurturing, destroying — are anything but models of 'mere matter.'"

The direct involvement of humanity with nature is thus not an abstraction, and Dorothy Lee's account of the Hopi ceremonials is not a description of "primitive man's science," as Victorian anthropologists believed. Nature begins as life. From the very outset of human consciousness, it enters directly into consociation with humanity — not merely harmonization or even balance. Nature as life eats at every repast, succors every new birth, grows with every child, aids every hand that throws a spear or plucks a plant, warms itself at the hearth in the dancing shadows, and sits amid the councils of the community just as the rustle of the leaves and grasses is part of the air itself — not merely a sound borne on the wind. Ecological ceremonials validate the "citizenship" nature acquires as part of the human environment. "The People" (to use the name that many preliterate communities give to themselves) do not disappear into nature or nature into "the People." But nature is not merely a habitat; it is a participant that advises the community with its omens, secures it with its camouflage, leaves it telltale messages in broken twigs and footprints, whispers warnings to it in the wind's voice, nourishes it with a largesse of plants and animals, and in its countless functions and counsels is absorbed into the community's nexus of rights and duties.

What the ecological ceremonial does, in effect, is socialize the natural world and complete the involvement of society with nature. Here, the ceremonial, despite its naively fictive content, speaks more truthfully to the richly articulated interface between society and nature than concepts that deal with the natural world as a "matrix," "background," or worse, "precondition" for the social world. Indeed, far from dealing with nature as an "It" or a "Thou" (to use Martin Suber's terms), the ceremonial validates nature as kin, a blooded, all-important estate that words like citizen can never attain. Nature is named even before if is deified; it is personified as part of the community before it is raised above it as "supernature." To the pygmies of the Ituri forest, it is "Ndura" and to the settled Bantu villagers the same word strictly designates the forest that the pygmies regard as a veritable entity in itself, active and formative in all its functions.

Hence, the very notion of nature is always social at this point in human development — in an ontological sense that the protoplasm of humankind retains an abiding continuity with the protoplasm of nature. To speak in the language of organic society, the blood that flows between the community and nature in the process of being kin is circulated by distinct acts of the community: ceremonials, dances, dramas, songs, decorations, and symbols. The dancers who imitate animals in their gestures or birds in their calls are engaged in more than mere mimesis; they form a communal and choral unity with nature, a unity that edges into the intimate intercourse of sexuality, birth and the interchange of blood. By virtue of a community solidarity that such widely bandied terms as stewardship can hardly convey, organic societies "hear" a nature and "speak" for a nature that will be slowly muffled and muted by the "civilizations" that gain historic ascendancy over them. Until then, nature is no silent world or passive environment lacking meaning beyond the dictates of human manipulation. Hence, social ecology has its origins in humanity's initial awareness of its own sociality — not merely as a cognitive dimension of epistemology but as an ontological consociation with the natural world.

I do not mean to deny the old epistemological canon that human beings see nature in social terms, preformed by social categories and interests. But this canon requires further articulation and elaboration. The word social should not sweep us into a deluge of intellectual abstractions that ignore the distinctions between one social form and another. It is easy to see that organic society's harmonized view of nature follows directly from the harmonized relations within the early human community. Just as medieval theology structured the Christian heaven on feudal lines, so people of all ages have projected their social structures onto the natural world. To the Algonquians of the North American forests, beavers lived in clans and lodges of their own, wisely cooperating to promote the well-being of the community. Animals also had their magic, their totem ancestors (the elder brother), and were invigorated by the Manitou, whose spirit nourished the entire cosmos. Accordingly, animals had to be conciliated or else they might refuse to provide humans with skins and meat. The cooperative spirit that formed a basis for the survival of the organic community was an integral part of the outlook of preliterate people toward nature and the interplay between the natural world and the social.

We have yet to find a language that adequately encompasses the quality of this deeply embedded cooperative spirit. Expressions like "love of nature" or "communism," not to speak of the jargon favored by contemporary sociology, are permeated by the problematical relationships of our own society and mentality. Preliterate humans did not have to "love" nature; they lived in a kinship relationship with it, a relationship more primary than our use of the term love. They would not distinguish between our "esthetic" sense on this score and their own functional approach to the natural world, because natural beauty is there to begin with — in the very cradle of the individual's experience. The poetic language that awakens such admiration among whites who encounter the spokesmen for Indian grievances is rarely "poetry" to the speaker; rather, it is an unconscious eloquence that reflects the dignity of Indian life.

So too with other elements of organic society and its values: cooperation is too primary to be adequately expressed in the language of western society. From the outset of life, coercion in dealing with children is so notably rare in most preliterate communities that western observers are often astonished by the gentleness with which so-called primitives deal with the most intractable of their young. Yet in preliterate communities the parents are not "permissive"; they simply respect the personality of their children, much as they do that of the adults in their communities. Until age hierarchies begin to emerge, the everyday behavior of parents fosters an almost unbroken continuity in the lives of the young between the years of childhood and adulthood. Farley Mowatt, a biologist who lived on the Canadian barrens among the last remnant band of the Ihalmiut Eskimo, noted that if a boy wished to become a hunter, he was not scolded for his presumption or treated with amused condescension. To the contrary, his father seriously fashioned a miniature bow and some arrows that were genuine weapons, not toys. The boy then went out to hunt, encouraged by all the traditional words of good luck that the Ihalmiut accorded an experienced adult. On his return, Mowatt tells us,

He is greeted as gravely as if he were his father. The whole camp wishes to hear of his hunt, and he can expect the same ridicule at failure, or the same praise if he managed to kill a little bird, which would come upon a full grown man. So he plays, and learns, under no shadow of parental disapproval, and under no restraint of fear.

The Ihalmiut are not exceptional. The inherently nonauthoritarian relationships Mowatt encountered between Eskimo children and adults is still quite common in surviving organic societies. It extends not only to ties between, children and adults but also to the prevailing notions of property, exchange, and leadership. Here again, the terminology of western society fails us. The word property connotes an individual appropriation of goods, a personal claim to tools, land, and other resources. Conceived in this loose sense, property is fairly common in organic societies, even in groups that have a very simple, undeveloped technology. By the same token, cooperative work and the sharing of resources on a scale that could be called communistic is also fairly common. On both the productive side of economic life and the consumptive, appropriation of tools, weapons, food, and even clothing may range widely — often idiosyncratically, in western eyes — from the possessive and seemingly individualistic to the most meticulous, often ritualistic, parceling out of a harvest or a hunt among members of a community.

But primary to both of these seemingly contrasting relationships is the practice of usufruct, the freedom of individuals in a community to appropriate resources merely by virtue of the fact that they are using them. Such resources belong to the user as long as they are being used. Function, in effect, replaces our hallowed concept of possession — not merely as a loan or even "mutual aid," but as an unconscious emphasis on use itself, on need that is free of psychological entanglements with proprietorship, work, and even reciprocity. The western identification of individuality with ownership and personality with craft — the latter laden with a metaphysics of selfhood as expressed in a crafted object wrested by human powers from an intractable nature — has yet to emerge from the notion of use itself and the guileless enjoyment of needed things. Need, in effect, still orchestrates work to the point where property of any kind, communal or otherwise, has yet to acquire independence from the claims of satisfaction. A collective need subtly orchestrates work, not personal need alone, for the collective claim is implicit in the primacy of usufruct over proprietorship. Hence, even the work performed in one's own dwelling has an underlying collective dimension in the potential availability of its products to the entire community.

Communal property, once property itself has become a category of consciousness, already marks the first step toward private property — just as reciprocity, once it too becomes a category of consciousness, marks the first step toward exchange. Proudhon's celebration of "mutual aid" and contractual federalism, like Marx's celebration of communal property and planned production, mark no appreciable advance over the primal principle of usufruct. Both thinkers were captive to the notion of interest, to the rational satisfaction of egotism.

There may have been a period in humanity's early development when interest had not yet emerged to replace complementarity, the disinterested willingness to pool needed things and needed services. There was a time when Gontran de Poncins, wandering into the most remote reaches of the Arctic, could still encounter "the pure, the true Eskimos, the Eskimos who knew not how to lie" — and hence to manipulate, to calculate, to project a private interest beyond social need. Here, community attained a completeness so exquisite and artless that needed things and services fit together in a lovely mosaic with a haunting personality of its own.

We should not disdain these almost utopian glimpses of humanity's potentialities, with their unsullied qualities for giving and collectivity. Preliterate peoples that still lack an "I" with which to replace a "we" are not (as Levy-Bruhl was to suggest) deficient in individuality as much as they are rich in community. This is a greatness of wealth that can yield a lofty disdain for objects.[8] Cooperation, at this point, is more than just a cement between members of the group; it is an organic melding of identities that, without losing individual uniqueness, retains and fosters the unity of consociation. Contract, forced into this wholeness, serves merely to subvert it-turning an unthinking sense of responsibility into a calculating nexus of aid and an unconscious sense of collectivity into a preening sense of mutuality. As for reciprocity, so often cited as the highest evocation of collectivity, we shall see that it is more significant in forming alliances between groups than in fostering internal solidarity within them.

Usufruct, in short, differs qualitatively from the quid pro quo of reciprocity, exchange, and mutual aid — all of which are trapped within history's demeaning account books with their "just" ratios and their "honest" balance sheets. Caught in this limited sphere of calculation, consociation is always tainted by the rationality of arithmetic. The human spirit can never transcend a quantitative world of "fair dealings" between canny egos whose ideology of interest barely conceals a mean-spirited proclivity for acquisition. To be sure, social forces were to fracture the human collectivity by introducing contractual ties and cultivating the ego's most acquisitive impulses. Insofar as the guileless peoples of organic societies held to the values of usufruct in an unconscious manner, they remained terribly vulnerable to the lure, often the harsh imposition, of an emerging contractual world. Rarely is history notable for its capacity to select and preserve the most virtuous traits of humanity. But there is still no reason why hope, reinforced by consciousness and redolent with ancestral memories, may not linger within us as an awareness of what humanity has been in the past and what it can become in the future.

Contractual relations — of more properly, the "treaties" and "oaths" that give specifiable forms to community life-may have served humanity well when compelling need or the perplexities of an increasingly complex social environment placed a premium on a clearly defined system of rights and duties. The more demanding the environment, the more preliterate peoples must explicate the ways in which they are responsible for each other and how they must deal with exogenous factors — particularly nearby communities — that impinge on them. Need now emerges as an ordering and structuring force in institutionalizing the fairly casual, and even pleasurable, aspects of life. Sexual, kinship, reciprocal, federative, and civil areas of the community must acquire greater structure — to deal not only with a more pressing nature but particularly one that includes adjacent communities staking out claims of their own to a common environment. Such claims are internalized by the community itself as a system of sharing. And not only do interests now arise that must be carefully and later meticulously articulated, but, ironically, they also arise from individuals who begin to feel that they carry visibly heavier burdens and responsibilities within the community. These individuals are the nascent "oppressed" (often women) and those we might regard as the nascent "privileged."

Men and women in preliterate communities need each other not only to satisfy their sexual desires but also for the material support they give to each other.[9] Their marriage establishes a primary division of labor — a sexual division of labor with a sexualized economy as well — that tends to apportion hunting and pastoral tasks to men, including the defense of the community and its relationship to the outsider, and domestic, food-gathering, and horticultural responsibilities to women. By a sexual division of labor, I do not mean merely a biological one, important as the biological dimension may be, but an economy that acquires the very gender of the sex to which it is apportioned. Nor was it necessarily men who formulated the apportionment of the community's material activities between the sexes. More likely than not, in my view, it was women who made this apportionment with a sense of concern over the integrity of their richly hallowed responsibilities and their personal rights. Only later did the emergence of more complex and hierarchical social forms turn their domestic roles against them. This development, as we shall see, was to come from a male envy that must be carefully unraveled.

At a low subsistence level and in a fairly primal community, both divisions of labor are needed for the well-being, if not the survival, of all its members; hence, the sexes treat each other with respect. Indeed, the ability of a man or woman to perform well in this division of labor profoundly influences the choice of a mate and preserves the integrity of a marriage — which is often dissolved by the woman, whose responsibilities in sheltering, feeding, and raising the young visibly outweigh the man's usefulness in discharging these all-important functions. Given the woman's de facto role in the early community's social arrangements, our obsessive preoccupation with "primitive monogamy" seems almost preposterous — if it weren't so plainly ideological and obfuscatory.

The blood-tie and the rights and duties that surround it are embodied in an unspoken oath that comprised the only visible unifying principle of early community life. And this bond initially derives from woman. She alone becomes the very protoplasm of sociality: the ancestress that cements the young into lasting consociation, the source of the blood that flows in their veins, the one who nourishes a commonality of origins, the rearer who produces a mutuality of shared physical and spiritual recognition that extends from infancy to death. She is the instructress in the basic ways of life, the most indisputable personification of community as such, conceived as an intimate familial experience. The young, who first see each other as kin — as common flesh, bone, and blood through their mother — later see each other with an intense sense of identity through her memory, and only faintly in the father, whose physical features they closely resemble.

With the commonality of blood comes the commanding oath that ordains unequivocable support between kin. This support entails not only sharing and devotion but the right to summon an unquestioned retribution on those who injuriously despoil the blood of a kinsperson. Beyond the obvious material needs that must be satisfied for survival itself, the claims of the blood oath provide the first dictates that the primal community encounters. They are the earliest communal reflexes that emerge from human consociation, although deeply laden with mystery. Community, through the blood oath, thus affirms itself with each birth and death. To violate it is to violate the solidarity of the group itself, to challenge its sense of communal mystery. Hence, such violations, be they from within the group or from without, are too heinous to contemplate. Only later will dramatic changes in the most fundamental premises of organic society make kinship and its claims a consciously debatable issue and a subject for ceremonial exploration.[10]

Mere reflexes, however, are too binding, too defensive, too rigid and self-enclosing to permit any broader social advances. They do not allow for a social solidarity based on conscious alliances, on: further social constructions and elaborations. They constitute an inward retreat into a guardedness and suspicion toward all that is exogenous to the community — a fear of the social horizon that lies beyond the limited terrain staked out by the blood oath. Hence, necessity and time demand that ways be found to place the community in a much larger social matrix. Obligations must be established beyond the confines of the self-enclosed group to claim new rights that will foster survival — in short, a broader system of rights and duties that will bring exogenous groups into the service of the community in periods of misfortune and conflict. Limited by the blood oath, allies are difficult to find; the community, based on association through kinship alone, finds it impossible to recognize itself in other communities that do not share common ancestral lineages. Unless such lineages can be created by intermarriages that recreate the blood oath on its primal terms of shared kinship, new oaths must be devised that, while secondary to blood, can find a comparable tangibility in things. Claude Levi-Strauss's notion to the contrary notwithstanding, women are decidedly not such "things" that men can trade with each other to acquire allies. They are the origins of kinship and sociality — the arché of community and its immanent power of solidarity — not little pastries that can be savored and traded away in a Parisian bistro.

Even "things" as such do not suffice, for they suggest a system of accounts and ratios that stand at odds with organic society's practice of usufruct. Hence, before things can become gifts — I leave aside their later debasement into commodities — they first become symbols. What initially counts for early preliterate peoples is not a thing's usefulness in the economy of organic society but its symbolism as the physical embodiment of reciprocity, of a willingness to enter into mutual obligation. These are the treaties that extend beyond the blood oath into social oaths: the early elaboration of the biological community into human society, the first glimmerings of a universal humanitas that lies beyond the horizon of a universal animalitas.

As preliterate communities extended their range of acquired "relatives," the traditional kinship nexus was probably increasingly permeated by the social. Marriage, reciprocity, the ritualistic adoption of strangers as blood relatives, and intracommunity institutions like fraternities and totemic societies must have produced a slow consolidation and layering of responsibilities, particularly in more dynamic organic societies, that were to be richly articulated by custom and ritual. From this social substance there began to emerge a new civil sphere parallel to the older domestic sphere.

That this civil sphere was free of coercion and command is indicated by our evidence of "authority" in the few organic societies that have survived European acculturation. What we flippantly call "leadership" in organic societies often turns out to be guidance, lacking the usual accouterments of command. Its "power" is functional rather than political. Chiefs, where they authentically exist and are not the mere creations of the colonizer's mind, have no true authority in a coercive sense. They are advisers, teachers, and consultants, esteemed for their experience and wisdom. Whatever "power" they do have is usually confined to highly delimited tasks such as the coordination of hunts and war expeditions. It ends with the tasks to be performed. Hence, it is episodic power, not institutional; periodic, not traditional — like the "dominance" traits we encounter among primates.

Our entire language is permeated by historically charged euphemisms that acquire a reified life of their own. Obedience displaces allegiance, command displaces coordination, power displaces wisdom, acquisition displaces giving, commodities displace gifts. While these changes are real enough historically with the rise of hierarchy, class, and property, they become grossly misleading when they extend their sovereignty to language as such and stake out their claim to the totality of social life. When used as tools in ferreting out the memory of humanity, they do not help to contrast present to past and reveal the tentative nature of the existing world and of prevailing patterns of human behavior; to the contrary, they assimilate the past to the present and in the very pretense of illuminating the past, they cunningly conceal it from our eyes. This betrayal by language is crassly ideological and has served authority well. Behind the inextricable web of history, which so often prevents us from viewing a long development from the point of its origins and beclouds us with an ideology of "hindsight," lies the even more obfuscating symbolism of a language nourished by deception. For remembrance to return in all its authenticity, with the harsh challenge it presents to the existing order, it must retain its fidelity to the arché of things and attain a consciousness of its own history. In short, memory itself must "remember" its own evolution into ideology as well as the evolution of humanity it professes to reveal[11]

Anthropological etiquette requires that I occasionally sprinkle my remarks with the usual caveats about my use of "selective data," my proclivity for "rampant speculation," and my "normative interpretation" of disputable research materials. Accordingly, the reader should realize that by interpreting the same material differently, one could show that organic society was egotistical, competitive, aggressive, hierarchical, and beleaguered by all the anxieties that plague "civilized" humanity. Having made this obeisance to convention, let me now argue the contrary. A careful review of the anthropological data at hand will show that communities like the Hopi, Wintu, Ihalmiut, and others cited here and in the following pages were not culturally unique; indeed, where we find an organic society in which our modern values and traits prevail, this usually can be explained by unsettling technological changes, invasions, problems of dealing with a particularly difficult environment, and, above all, by contacts with whites.

Paul Radin, summing up decades of anthropological experience, research, and fieldwork, once observed:

If I were asked to state briefly and succinctly what are the outstanding features of aboriginal civilizations, I, for one, would have no hesitation in answering that there are three: the respect for the individual, irrespective of age or sex; the amazing degree of social and political integration achieved by them; and the existence of a concept of personal security which transcends all governmental forms and all tribal and group interests and conflicts.

These features can be summarized as: complete parity or equality between individuals, age-groups and sexes; usufruct and later reciprocity; the avoidance of coercion in dealing with internal affairs; and finally, what Radin calls the "irreducible minimum" — the "inalienable right" (in Radin's words) of every individual in the community "to food, shelter and clothing" irrespective of the amount of work contributed by the individual to the acquisition of the means of life. "To deny anyone this irreducible minimum was equivalent to saying that a man no longer existed, that he was dead" — in short, to cut across the grain of the world conceived as a universe of life.

I do not mean to imply that any existing "primitive" communities can be regarded as models for early periods of human social development. They are the remnant bands of a long history that has always towed them along ways far removed from an ancestral world that separated humanity from animality. More likely than not, the solidarity that existed in Radin's "aboriginal civilizations," their high respect for the natural world and the members of their communities, may have been far more intense in prehistory, when there were none of the divisive political and commercial relations of modern capitalism that have so grossly distorted existing organic societies.

But culture traits do not exist in a vacuum. Although they may be integrated in many different and unexpected ways, certain characteristic patterns tend to emerge that yield broadly similar institutions and sensibilities, despite differences in time and location. The cultural facts of dress, technics, and environment that link prehistoric peoples with existing "primitives" is so striking that it is difficult to believe that Siberian mammoth hunters of yesteryear, with their fur parkas, bone tool kit, and glaciated surroundings were so dissimilar from the Arctic seal hunters of de Poncin's day. The physical pattern that has fallen together here has a unity that justifies a number of related cultural inferences.

Thus, the presence of female figurines, obviously laden with magical or religious significance, in the debris of a prehistoric hunting camp or a Neolithic horticultural village suggests the reasonable probability that the community accorded women a social prestige that would be difficult to find in the patriarchal societies of pastoral nomads. Indeed, such a community may even have traced its lineage system through the mother's name (matrilineal descent). If paleolithic bone implements are etched with cult-like drawings of animals, we have adequate reason to believe that the community had an animistic outlook toward the natural world. If the size of prehistoric house foundations is noteworthy for the absence of large individual dwellings and the adornments in burial sites exhibit no conspicuous wealth, we can believe that social equality existed in the community and that it had an egalitarian outlook toward its own members. Each trait, found singly, may not be convincing support for such general conclusions. But if they are all found together and if they are sufficiently widespread to be characteristic of an entire social era, it would certainly require a hard-nosed empirical outlook and an almost perverse fear of generalization not to accept these conclusions.

In any case, some ten thousand years ago, in an area between the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean, nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers began to develop a crude system of horticulture and settle down in small villages, where they engaged in mixed farming. They were followed quite independently some four or five thousand years later in a similar development by Indians of central Mexico. The development of horticulture, or gardening, was probably initiated by women. Evidence for this belief comes from studies of mythology and from existing preliterate communities based on a hoe-gardening technology. In this remote period of transition, when a sense of belonging to a relatively fixed soil community increasingly replaced a nomadic outlook, social life began to acquire entirely new unitary qualities that (to borrow a term devised by Erich Fromm) can best be called matricentric. By using this term, I do not wish to imply that women exercised any form of institutional sovereignty over men or achieved a commanding status in the management of society. I merely mean that the community, in separating itself from a certain degree of dependence on game and migratory animals, began to shift its social imagery from the male hunter to the female food-gatherer, from the predator to the procreator, from the camp fire to the domestic hearth, from cultural traits associated with the father to those associated with the mother.[12] The change in emphasis is primarily cultural. ''Certainly 'home and mother' are written over every phase of neolithic agriculture," observes Lewis Mumford, "and not least over the new village centers, at least identifiable in the foundations of houses and graves." One can agree with Mumford that it was woman who probably

tended the garden crops and accomplished those masterpieces of selection and cross-fertilization which turned raw wild species into the prolific and richly nutritious domestic varieties; it was woman who made the first containers, weaving baskets and coiling the first clay pots . . . . Without this long period of agricultural' and domestic development, the surplus of food and manpower that made urban life possible would not have been forthcoming.[13]

Today, one would want to replace some of Mumford's words, such as his sweeping use of "agriculture," which men were to extend beyond woman's discovery of gardening into the mass production of food and animals. We would want to confine "home and mother" to early phases of the Neolithic rather than "every phase." Similarly, where the selection of edible plant varieties ends and cross-fertilization for new ones begins is a highly blurred interface in the prehistory of food cultivation. But the spirit of Mumford's remarks is even more valid today than it was two decades ago, when a heavy-handed, male-oriented anthropology would have rejected it as sentimental.

If anything, woman's stature in inscribing her sensibilities and her hands on the beginnings of human history has grown rather than diminished. It was she who, unlike any other living creature, made the sharing of food a consistent communal activity and even a hospitable one that embraced the stranger, hence fostering sharing as a uniquely human desideratum. Birds and mammals, to be sure, feed their young and exhibit extraordinary protectiveness on their behalf. Among mammals, females provide the produce of their bodies in the form of milk and warmth. But only woman was to make sharing a universally social phenomenon to the point where her young — as siblings, then male and female adults, and finally parents — became sharers irrespective of their sex and age. It is she who turned sharing into a hallowed communal imperative, not merely an episodic or marginal feature.

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that woman's foraging activities helped awaken in humanity an acute sense of place, of oikos. Her nurturing sensibility helped create not only the origins of society but literally the roots of civilization — a terrain the male has arrogantly claimed for himself. Her "stake in civilization" was different from that of the predatory male: it was more domestic, more pacifying, and more caring. Her sensibility ran deeper and was laden with more hope than the male's, for she embodied in her very physical being mythology's ancient message of a lost "golden age" and a fecund nature. Yet ironically she has been with us all the time with a special genius and mystery — one whose potentialities have been brutally diminished but ever present as a voice of conscience in the bloody cauldron that men have claimed for their "civilization."

The benign qualities nurtured in this Neolithic village world are perhaps no less significant than its material achievements. A close association exists between communal management of land and matrilineal descent in surviving gardening cultures. Clan society, perhaps a slow reworking of totemic cults in hunting bands, may have reached its apogee in this period and, with it, a communal disposition of the land and its products. "To live with" had probably become "to share," if the two expressions were ever different in their meaning. In the remains of early Neolithic villages, we often sense the existence of what was once a clearly peaceful society, strewn with symbols of the fecundity of life and the bounty of nature. Although there is evidence of weapons, defensive palisades, and protective ditches, early horticulturists seem to have emphasized peaceful arts and sedentary pursuits. Judging from the building sites and graves, there is little evidence, if any, that social inequality existed within these communities or that warfare marked the relationships between them.

Presiding over this remote world was the figure and symbolism of the Mother Goddess, a fertility principle so old in time that its stone remains have even been found in Paleolithic caves and encampments. Hunter-gatherers, early horticulturists, advanced agriculturists, and the priests of "high civilizations" have imparted utterly contradictory traits to her — some deliciously benign, others darkly demonic. But it is more than fair to assume that in the early Neolithic, the priests had not yet sculpted the cruel, Kali-like image into her figure. Apparently, like Demeter, she was more of a feminine principle, latent with loving and mourning, not the mere fertility symbol — the magic thing that endeared her to hunter-gatherers. That she could not remain untainted by patriarchy is obvious from a reading of the Odyssey, in which the island-hopping seafarers debase woman and her domain to cruel chthonic enchantresses who devour the trusting warriors in distress.

What strongly reinforces interpretations of the goddess as a more giving principle is the unqualified nature of mother-love itself in contrast to the conditional love associated with patriarchy. Erich Fromm, in the provocative essays he prepared for the Institute for Social Research, noted that woman's love, compared with that of the judgmental patriarch who provides love as a reward for the child's performance and fulfillment of its duties, "is not dependent on any moral or social obligation to be carried out by the child; there is not even an obligation to return her love." This unconditional love, without expectation of any filial reward, yields the total deobjectification of person that makes humanness its own end rather than a tool of hierarchy and classes. To assume that the goddess did not symbolize this untainted sense of identification is to question her association with the feminine — in short, to turn her into a god, which priestly corporations were to do later with extraordinary deftness. Odysseus, in degrading Demeter to Circe, also reveals how the lovely sirens might have charmed humans and beasts into a sense of commonality with each other. Homer's epic, however, will forever hide from us the intriguing possibility that their song originally gave to humanity the music of life rather than the luring melody of death.

How close the early Neolithic village world may have been to that of the early Pueblo Indians, which the most hardened white invaders were to describe in such glowing terms, may never be known. Yet the thought lingers that, at the dawn of history, a village society had emerged in which life seemed to be unified by a communal disposition of work and its products; by a procreative relationship with the natural world, one that found overt expression in fertility rites; by a pacification of the relationships between humans and the world around them. The hunter-gatherers may have left the world virtually untouched aside from the grasslands they cleared for the great herds, but such an achievement is safely marked by its absence of activity. There is a want of environmental artistry, of a landscape that has been left the better for humanity's presence, one that has the breath of mind as well as spirit bestowed upon it. Today, when the hunter-gatherer's mere parasitism of the environment has emerged as a virtue in juxtaposition to contemporary man's insane exploitation, we tend to fetishize restraint to the point of passivity and nondoing. Yet the matricentric horticulturists managed to touch the earth and change it, but with a grace, delicacy, and feeling that may be regarded as evolution's own harvest. Their archaeology is an expression of human artfulness and natural fulfillment. Neolithic artifacts seem to reflect a communion of humanity and nature that patently expressed the communion of humans with each other: a solidarity of the community with the world of life that articulated an intense solidarity within the community itself. As long as this internal solidarity persisted, nature was its beneficiary. When it began to decay, the surrounding world began to decay with it — and thence came the long wintertime of domination and oppression we normally call "civilization."

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November 30, 1981 :
Chapter 2 - The Outlook of Organic Society -- Publication.

July 10, 2019 16:12:54 :
Chapter 2 - The Outlook of Organic Society -- Added to


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