The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 3 - The Emergence of Hierarchy
(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.)
• "...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....)
• "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....)
• "The social view of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
Chapter 3 - The Emergence of Hierarchy
The breakdown of early Neolithic village society marks a decisive turning point in the development of humanity. In the millenia-long era that separates the earliest horticultural communities from the "high civilizations" of antiquity, we witness the emergence of towns, cities, and finally empires — of a qualitatively new social arena in which the collective control of production was supplanted by elitist control, kinship relations by territorial and class relations, and popular assemblies or councils of elders by state bureaucracies.
This development occurred very unevenly. Where settled agricultural communities were invaded by pastoral nomads, the shift from one social arena to another may have occurred so explosively that it acquired apocalyptic proportions. Languages, customs, and religions seemed to replace each other with bewildering rapidity; old institutions (both heavenly and earthly) were effaced by new ones. But such sweeping changes were rare. More often than not, past and present were subtly melded together into a striking variety of social forms. In such cases, we witness a slow assimilation of traditional forms to new ends, a repeated use of old relationships for new purposes. In the complex interpenetration of old by new, early social forms may have lingered on through the entire span of post-Neolithic history. Not until the emergence of capitalism did the peasant village and its cultural repertory disappear as the locus of rural life — a fact that will be of considerable importance when we consider humanity's legacy of freedom.
Actually, the most complete shift occurred in the psychic apparatus of the individual. Even as the Mother Goddess continued to occupy a foremost place in mythology (but often adorned with the demonic traits required by patriarchy), women began to lose whatever parity they had with men-a change that occurred not only in their social status but in the very view they held of themselves. Both in home and economy, the social division of labor shed its traditional egalitarian features and acquired an increasingly hierarchical form. Man staked out a claim for the superiority of his work over woman's; later, the craftsman asserted his superiority over the food cultivator; finally, the thinker affirmed his sovereignty over the workers. Hierarchy established itself not only objectively, in the real, workaday world, but also subjectively, in the individual unconscious. Percolating into virtually every realm of experience, it has assimilated the syntax of everyday discourse — the very relationship Between subject and object, humanity and nature. Difference was recast from its traditional status as unity in diversity into a linear system of separate, increasingly antagonistic powers — a system validated by all the resources of religion, morality, and philosophy.
What accounts for these vast changes in humanity's development, aside from the meteoric impact of the great historical invasions? And were their darker, often bloody aspects the unavoidable penalties we had to pay for social progress? Our answers to these questions touch on one of the major social problematics of our time — the role of scarcity, reason, labor, and technics in wrenching humanity from its "brutal" animal world into the glittering light of "civilization," or in Marxian terminology, from a world dominated by "necessity" to one dominated by "freedom." My use here of the word dominated is not to be taken lightly; its implications for Marxian theory will be examined later in this work. For the present, let me note that Enlightenment and, more pointedly, Victorian ideologies — the ideologies that Marx shared in their broad contours with liberal economists — explained "man's ascent" from Neolithic "barbarism" to capitalism in strikingly similar ways. These explanations are worth reexamining — not so much to refute them but to place them in a larger perspective than nineteenth-century social theory could possibly attain.
According to these views, history's onward march from the stone age to the modern occurred primarily for reasons related to technological development: the development of advanced agricultural techniques, increasing material surpluses, and the rapid growth of human populations. Without the increases in material surpluses and labor "resources" that Neolithic society first began to make possible, humanity could never have developed a complex economy and political structure. We owe the advent of "civilization" to the early arts of systematic food cultivation and increasingly sophisticated tools like the wheel, kiln, smelter, and loom. All these provided an increasing abundance of food, clothing, shelter, tools, and transportation. With this basic reserve of food and technics, humanity acquired the leisure time to gain a greater insight into natural processes and settled into sedentary life-ways from which emerged our towns and cities, a large-scale agriculture based on grains, the plow, and animal power, and finally a rudimentary, machine technology.
But this development, presumably so rich in promise for humanity's self-fulfillment, has not been free of a Janus-faced ambiguity, of its dark side and treacherous aspects. The stream of human progress has been a divided one: The development toward material security and social complexity has generated contrapuntal forces that yield material insecurity and social conflict unique to "civilization" as such. On the one side, without the agrarian economy that the early Neolithic introduced, society would have been mired indefinitely in a brute subsistence economy living chronically on the edge of survival. Nature, so the social theorists of the past century held, is normally "stingy," an ungiving and deceptive "mother." She has favored humanity with her bounty only in a few remote areas of the world. Rarely has she been the giving nurturer created in distant times by mythopeic thought. The "savage" of Victorian ethnography must always struggle (or "wrestle," to use Marx's term) with her to perpetuate life — which is ordinarily miserable and mercifully brief, tolerable at times but never secure, and only marginally plentiful and idyllic. Humanity's emergence from the constrictive world of natural scarcity has thus been perceived as a largely technical problem of placing the ungiving forces of nature under social command, creating and increasing surpluses, dividing labor (notably, separating crafts from agriculture), and sustaining intellectually productive urban elites. Thus, given the leisure time to think and administer society, these elites could create science, enlarge the entire sphere of human knowledge, and sophisticate human culture. As Proudhon plaintively declared, echoing the. prevailing spirit of the time:
Yes, life is a struggle. But this struggle is not between man and man — it is between man and Nature; and it is each one's duty to share it.
Marx assumed the same view toward the "burden of nature. " But he placed considerable emphasis on human domination as an unavoidable feature of humanity's domination of the natural world. Until the development of modern industry (both Marx and Engels argued), the new surpluses produced by precapitalist technics may vary quantitatively, but rarely are they sufficient to provide abundance and leisure for more than a fortunate minority. Given the relatively low level of preindustrial technics, enough surpluses can be produced to sustain a privileged class of rulers, perhaps even a substantial one under exceptionally favorable geographic and climatic conditions. But these surpluses are not sufficient to free society as a whole from the pressures of want, material insecurity, and toil. If such limited surpluses were equitably divided among the multitudes who produce them, a social condition would emerge in which "want is made general," as Marx observed, "and with want the struggle for necessities and all the old shit would necessarily be reproduced." An egalitarian division of the surpluses would merely yield a society based on equality in poverty, an equality that would simply perpetuate the latent conditions for the restoration of class rule. Ultimately, the abolition of classes presupposes the "development of the productive forces," the advance of technology to a point where everyone can be free from the burdens of "want," material insecurity, and toil. As long as surpluses are merely marginal, social development occurs in a gray zone between a remote past in which productivity is too low to support classes and a distant future in which it is sufficiently high to abolish class rule.
Hence emerges the other side of humanity's drama: the negative side of its development, which conveys the real meaning of the "social problem" as used by Marxian theorists. Technical progress exacts a penalty for the benefits it ultimately confers on humanity. To resolve the problem of natural scarcity, the development of technics entails the reduction of humanity to a technical force. People become instruments of production, just like the tools and machines they create. They, in turn, are subject to the same forms of coordination, rationalization, and control that society tries to impose on nature and inanimate technical instruments. Labor is both the medium whereby humanity forges its own self-formation and the object of social manipulation. It involves not only the projection of human powers into free expression and selfhood but their repression by the performance principle of toil into obedience and self-renunciation. Self-repression and social repression form the indispensable counterpoint to personal emancipation and social emancipation.
For the present, it is important to ask if the problematic I have so summarily presented is quite as autonomous as earlier social theorists have claimed. Is it an inescapable drama — a dialectic that is woven into the human condition as the very substance of history? Does our "disembeddedness" from nature, our "ascent to civilization," and our human fulfillment involve a penalty — the domination of human by human as a precondition for the domination of nature by humanity — that may well turn the "success" of this historic project into a grim mockery by yielding the dehumanization of humanity and the immolation of society?
In trying to answer these questions, we are again burdened by all the paradoxes created by hindsight. The drama that Victorian thought presents would seem irrefutable if we were to look backward from a history layered by stages in which the last stage imparts functions to the first such that every stage is a logical social descendant of previous ones. There is a certain wisdom in the view that the present enlarges the meaning of the past, which does not yet know itself fully in the light of its "destiny." But the notion of "destiny" must never be simplified to mean predestiny. History might well have followed different paths of development that could have yielded "destinies" quite different from those confronting us. And if so, it is important to ask what factors favored one constellation of possibilities over others. For the factors that have shaped our own history are deeply embedded in our sensibilities as the bad habits of the past — habits that we will have to cope with if we are to avoid the dark side of the future that lies before us.
Let us consider a factor that has played an important ideological role in shaping contemporary society: the "stinginess" of nature. Is it a given that nature is "stingy" and that labor is humanity's principal means of redemption from animality? In what ways are scarcity, abundance, and post-scarcity distinguishable from each other? Following the thrust of Victorian ideology, do class societies emerge because enough technics, labor, and "manpower" exist so that society can plunder nature effectively and render exploitation possible, or even inevitable? Or do economic strata usurp the fruits of technics and labor, later to consolidate themselves into clearly definable ruling classes?
In asking these questions, I am deliberately reversing the way in which Victorian social theorists have typically oriented such inquiries. And I am asking not if the notion of dominating nature gave rise to the domination of human by human but rather if the domination of human by human gave rise to the notion of dominating nature. In short, did culture rather than technics, consciousness rather than labor, or hierarchies rather than classes either open or foreclose social possibilities that might have profoundly altered the present human condition with its diminishing prospects of human survival?
Our contemporary commitment to the "logic of history" in its typically economistic form has made it difficult to provide a serious and meaningful account of the explosive clashes between tradition and innovation that must have occurred throughout history. Instead of looking at the past from the standpoint of its origins, we have made both past and future captive to the same belief in economic and technical inexorability that we have imposed on the present. Hence we have been serving up the present as the history of the past — a typically economistic history that slights the need for far-reaching changes in lifestyle, wants, sexual status, definitions of freedom, and communal relations. Accordingly, the stance we take with respect to human social development has a relevance that goes beyond our consciousness of the past. Recast in a more open and intellectually unconstrained manner, it may well provide us with a vision that significantly alters our image of a liberated future.
How easily we can slip into a conventional historical stance can be seen from recent fervent controversies around the meaning given to the concept of scarcity. It has become rather fashionable to describe scarcity simply as a function of needs so that the fewer our needs and the smaller our tool-kit, the more "abundant," even "affluent," nature becomes. In its divine simplicity, this contention removes the need to strike a balance between humanity's obvious potentialities for producing a rich literary tradition, science, a sense of place, and a broad concept of shared humanity on the one side, and, on the other, the limits that an oral tradition, magic, a nomadic way of life, and a parochial sense of folkdom based on kinship place on these potentialities. Actually, by emphasizing material affluence per se in terms of needs and resources, this functional approach to scarcity subtly capitulates to the very economistic stance it is meant to correct. It merely recreates from a hunter-gatherer viewpoint a calculus of resources and wants that a bourgeois viewpoint imparted to social theory during the last century.
At the risk of an excursus, which may try the reader's patience, I would like to discuss the issue of scarcity in somewhat general terms and then return to my more concrete account of the emergence of hierarchy. Scarcity is not merely a functional phenomenon that can be described primarily in terms of needs or wants. Obviously, without a sufficiency in the means of life, life itself is impossible, and without. a certain excess in these means, life is degraded to a cruel struggle for survival, irrespective of the level of needs. Leisure time, under these conditions, is not free time that fosters intellectual advances beyond the magical, artistic, and mythopeic. To a large extent, the "time" of a community on the edge of survival is "suffering time." It is a time when hunger is the all-encompassing fear that persistently lives with the community, a time when the diminution of hunger is the community's constant preoccupation. Clearly, a balance must be struck between a sufficiency of the means of life, a relative freedom of time to fulfill one's abilities on the most advanced levels of human achievement, and ultimately, a degree of self-consciousness, complementarity, and reciprocity that can be called truly human in full recognition of humanity's potentialities. Not only the functional dictates of needs and wants but also a concept of human beings as more than "thinking animals" (to use Paul Shepard's expression) must be introduced to define what we mean by scarcity.
These distinctions raise a second and perhaps more complex problem: scarcity can not only impair human survival but also impede the actualization of human potentialities. Hence, scarcity can be defined In terms of its biological impact and also its cultural consequences. There is a point at which society begins to intervene in the formation of needs to produce a very special type of scarcity: a socially induced scarcity that expresses social contradictions. Such scarcity may occur even when technical development seems to render material scarcity completely unwarranted. Let me emphasize that I am not referring, here, to new or more exotic wants that social development may turn into needs. A society that has enlarged the cultural goals of human life may generate material scarcity even when the technical conditions exist for achieving out-right superfluity in the means of life.
The issue of scarcity is not merely a matter of quantity or even of kind; it can also be a socially contradictory hypostatization of need as such. Just as capitalism leads to production for the sake of production, so too it leads to consumption for the sake of consumption. The great bourgeois maxim, "grow or die," has its counterpart in "buy or die." And just as the production of commodities is no longer related to their function as use-values, as objects of real utility, so wants are no longer related to humanity's sense of its real needs. Both commodities and needs acquire a blind life of their own; they assume a fetishized form, an irrational dimension, that seems to determine the destiny of the people who produce and consume them. Marx's famous notion of the "fetishization of commodities" finds its parallel in a "fetishization of needs." Production and consumption, in effect, acquire suprahuman qualities that are no longer related to technical development and the subject's rational control of the conditions of existence. They are governed instead by an ubiquitous market, by a universal competition not only between commodities but also between the creation of needs — a competition that removes commodities and needs from rational cognition and personal control.
Needs, in effect, become a force of production, not a subjective force. They become blind in the same sense that the production of commodities becomes blind. Orchestrated by forces that are external to the subject, they exist beyond its control like the production of the very commodities that are meant to satisfy them. This autonomy of needs, as we shall see, is developed at the expense of the autonomy of the subject. It reveals a fatal flaw in subjectivity itself, in the autonomy and spontaneity of the individual to control the conditions of his or her own life.
To break the grip of the "fetishization of needs," to dispel it, is to recover the freedom of choice, a project that is tied to the freedom of the self to choose. The words freedom and choice must be emphasized: they exist cojointly and are tied to the ideal of the autonomous individual who is possible only in a free society. Although a hunter-gatherer community may be free from the needs that beleaguer us, it must still answer to very strict material imperatives. Such freedom as it has is the product not of choice but of limited means of life. What makes it "free" are the very limitations of its tool-kit, not an expansive knowledge of the material world. In a truly free society, however, needs would be formed by consciousness and by choice, not simply by environment and tool-kits. The affluence of a free society would be transformed from a wealth of things into a wealth of culture and individual creativity. Hence, want would depend not only on technological development but also on the cultural context in which it is formed. Nature's "stinginess" and technology's level of development would be important, but only as secondary factors in defining scarcity and need.
The problems of needs and scarcity, in short, must be seen as a problem of selectivity — of choice. A world in which needs compete with needs just as commodities compete with commodities is the warped realm of a fetishized, limitless world of consumption. This world of limitless needs has been developed by the immense armamentarium of advertising, the mass media, and the grotesque trivialization of daily life, with its steady disengagement of the individual from any authentic contact with history. Although choice presupposes a sufficiency in the means of life, it does not imply the existence of a mindless abundance of goods that smothers the individual's capacity to select use-values rationally, to define his or her needs in terms of qualitative, ecological, humanistic, indeed, philosophical criteria. Rational choice presupposes not only a sufficiency in the means of life with minimal labor to acquire them; it presupposes above all a rational society.
Freedom from scarcity, or post-scarcity, must be seen in this light if it is to have any liberatory meaning. The concept presupposes that individuals have the material possibility of choosing what they need — not only a sufficiency of available goods from which to choose but a transformation of work, both qualitatively and quantitatively. But none of these achievements is adequate to the idea of post-scarcity if the individual does not have the autonomy, moral insight, and wisdom to choose rationally. Consumerism and mere abundance are mindless. Choice is vitiated by the association of needs with consumption for the sake of consumption — with the use of advertising and the mass media to render the acquisition of good an imperative — to make "need" into "necessity" devoid of rational judgment. What is ultimately at stake for the individual whose needs are rational is the achievement of an autonomous personality and selfhood. Just as work, to use Marx's concepts, defines the subject's identity and provides it with a sense of the ability to transform or alter reality, so needs too define the subject's rationality and provide it with a capacity to transform and alter the nature of the goods produced by work. In both cases, the subject is obliged to form judgments that reflect the extent to which it is rational or irrational, free and autonomous or under the sway of forces beyond its control. Post-scarcity presupposes the former; consumerism, the latter. If the object of capitalism or socialism is to increase needs, the object of anarchism is to increase choice. However much the consumer is deluded into the belief that he or she is choosing freely, the consumer is heteronomous and under the sway of a contrived necessity; the free subject, by contrast, is autonomous and spontaneously fulfills his or her rationally conceived wants.
In summary, it is not in the diminution or expansion of needs that the true history of needs is written. Rather, it is in the selection of needs as a function of the free and spontaneous development of the subject that needs become qualitative and rational. Needs are inseparable from the subjectivity of the "needer" and the context in which his or her personality is formed. The autonomy that is given to use-values in the formation of needs leaves out the personal quality, human powers, and intellectual coherence of their user. It is not industrial productivity that creates mutilated use-values but social irrationality that creates mutilated users.
Scarcity does not mean the same thing when applied to a "savage," peasant, slave, serf, artisan, or proletarian, any more than it means the same thing when it is applied to a chieftain, lord, master, noble, guild-master, or merchant. The material needs of a "savage," peasant, slave, serf, artisan, and proletarian are not so decisively different from each other, but the most important differences that do arise derive from the fact that their individual definitions of scarcity have changed significantly as a result of differences between need structures. Often, the needs of these oppressed classes are generated by their ruling-class counterparts. The history of white bread in the anthropology of needs, for example, is a metaphor for the extent to which tastes associated with gentility — not with physical well-being and survival — are turned into the needs of the lowly as compellingly, in the fetishism of needs, as the very means of survival. Similarly, the ascetic rejection by the lowly of their rulers' needs has functioned as a compensating role in imparting to the oppressed a lofty sense of moral and cultural superiority over their betters. In both cases, the fetishism of needs has impeded humanity in using its technics rationally and selecting its needs consciously.
Our own skewed concepts of scarcity and needs are even more compelling evidence of this fetishism. Until comparatively recent times, needs retained some degree of contact with material reality and were tempered by some degree of rationality. For all the cultural differences that surrounded the concept of scarcity and needs in the past, their fetishization was almost minimal by comparison with our own times. But with the emergence of a complete market society, the ideal of both limitless production and limitless needs became thoroughly mystified — no less by socialist ideologues than by their bourgeois counterparts. The restraints that Greek social theorists like Aristotle tried to place on the market, however much they were honored in the breach, were completely removed, and objects or use-values began to infiltrate the lofty human goals that society had elaborated from the days of their conception in the polis. The ideals of the past, in effect, had become so thoroughly bewitched by things that they were soon to become things rather than ideals. Honor, today, is more important as a credit rating than a sense of moral probity; personality is the sum of one's possessions and holdings rather than a sense of self-awareness and self-cultivation. One can continue this list of contrasts indefinitely.
Having demolished all the ethical and moral limits that once kept it in hand, market society in turn has demolished almost every historic relationship between nature, technics, and material well-being. No longer is nature's "stinginess" a factor in explaining scarcity, nor is scarcity conceived as a function of technical development that explains the creation or satisfaction of needs. Both the culture and the technics of modern capitalism have united to produce crises not of scarcity but of abundance or, at least, the expectation of abundance, all chit-chat about "diminishing resources" aside. Western society may accept the reality of economic crises, inflation, and unemployment, and popular credulity has not rejected the myth of a "stingy" nature that is running out of raw materials and energy resources. Abundance, all the more because it is being denied for structural economic reasons rather than natural ones, still orchestrates the popular culture of present-day society. To mix solid Victorian metaphors with contemporary ones: if "savages" had to perform heroic technical feats to extricate themselves from the "claw-and-fang" world of the jungle and arrive at a sense of their humanity, then modern consumers of market society will have to perform equally heroic ethical feats to extricate themselves from the shopping malls and recover their own sense of humanity.
To "disembed" themselves from the shopping mall, they may require more powerful agents than ethics. They may well require a superfluity of goods so immense in quantity that the prevailing fetishism of needs will have to be dispelled on its own terms. Hence, the ethical limits that were so redolent with meaning from Hellenic times onward may be inadequate today. We have arrived at a point in history's account of need where the very capacity to select needs, which freedom from material scarcity was expected to create, has been subverted by a strictly appetitive sensibility. Society may well have to be overindulged to recover its capacity for selectivity. To lecture society about its "insatiable" appetites, as our resource-conscious environmentalists are wont to do, is precisely what the modern consumer is not prepared to hear. And to impoverish society with contrived shortages, economic dislocations, and material deprivation is certain to shift the mystification of needs over to a more sinister social ethos, the mystification of scarcity. This ethos — already crystallized into the "life-boat ethic," "triage," and a new bourgeois imagery of "claw-and-fang" called survivalism — marks the first steps toward ecofascism.
If terms like scarcity and need are so conditional, once humanity is assured survival and material well-being, why did history betray the rich humanistic ideals it was to create so often in the past — especially when an equitable distribution of resources could have made them achievable? At the threshold of history, as a reading of the ancient texts indicates, an inertial tendency developed in which the attainment of the few to a high estate was inextricably identified with the debasement of the many to a low estate. The bas reliefs of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and later the writings of Plato and Aristotle, leave no doubt that the precondition for the emergence of tribal "big men" involved not only material sufficiency but cultural inferiority. Power, personality, and social immortality are entangled completely with powerlessness, depersonalization, and often genocide. "Big" and "small" have never been differences in size, socially speaking, but differences in contrast, just like "needs" and "luxuries" or "scarcity" and "security." Even to a mind as perceptive as Aristotle's, the greatness of the Hellenes was nature's compensation for the deficiencies of the barbarians. This notion, so compelling in all the relationships between ruler and ruled, often favors display over personal wealth, generosity over acquisition, hardiness over comfort, and self-denial over luxury. It is the former traits, rather than the latter, that elevate the "well-born" over the "ill-born." Much that passes for luxury in the precapitalist world was a lavish exhibition of power rather than pleasure. Repression has commonly been the affirmation of authority, not merely of exploitation, and we often misinterpret history when we suppose that the knout has been applied solely to extract labor rather than obedience. Indeed, the ruling classes of the past have dealt with the ruled as children, not merely as toilers — a fit that has its template as much in patriarchy as it does in technics.
But how did these hierarchical values crystallize out of the egalitarian communities I have described up to now? What social substance gave them reality long before classes and states emerged to give them almost unchallenged power? To ignore the increases in productivity and population of the early Neolithic would be as simplistic as to make them the all-important factor that changed early society's complementary values into later society's egocentric ones. Growing surpluses and "manpower" are much too weighty a fact to be ignored in explaining humanity's movement into history.
But here, too, we encounter a paradox that reverses the conventional interpretation surpluses in goods and labor are given in producing "civilization." The Neolithic villagers were more a species of homo collectivicus than the homo economicus we are today. Their social outlook was shaped by the habits of usufruct and the norms of the irreducible minimum, not by appetites of acquisition and rivalry. Cast into the avaricious and atomized world of capitalism, they would be horrified by the impersonal relationships and grasping egotism of bourgeois society. Thus, the psychological, institutional, and cultural problems these villagers faced in dealing with their new surpluses must have been formidable. How could they dispose of them without transgressing the community's norms of usufruct, complementarity and the irreducible minimum? How could they preserve the harmony and unity of the community in the face of new possibilities for differentials of wealth?
To answer these questions in terms of today's social standards would have been impossible, for these standards had yet to be devised. Many other standards, often totally at odds with our own, were adopted — most notably, disaccumulation rather than accumulation, of which the potlatch ceremonies of the Northwest Coast Indians are an extreme example. Even if we look beyond tribal life to more politically organized societies, we witness an orgy of mortuary construction and the rearing of lavish public buildings of which Egypt's pyramids and Mesopotamia's ziggurats are extreme examples of another kind. Conventional theories based on class analyzes to the contrary notwithstanding, rulership rested less on proprietorship, personal possessions, wealth, and acquisition — in short, the objects that confer power — than it did on the symbolic weight of status, communal representation, religious authority, and the disaccumulation of goods that the Neolithic village had hallowed.
Hence, the moral premises of the early Neolithic village were never totally discarded until millenia later, with the emergence of capitalism. They were manipulated, modified, and often grotesquely distorted. But they persisted like an incubus within the new order of relationships — a menacing force from the past, always lurking within society as the memory of a "golden age." It is difficult to understand how notions of scarcity, emerging surpluses, technical advances, and authoritarian values could have contributed to the formation of classes and the State in the face of the distributive problems surpluses created for these egalitarian societies. The resistance of the Neolithic village to social forms like class, private property, acquisitiveness, and even patriarchy may well have exceeded the difficulties that "free market" capitalism encountered in removing the resistance of English agrarian society to a market economy (to borrow from Karl Polanyi's account). Just as we must look within the medieval world to find the germinal bourgeois spirit that eventually dissolved the manor and guilds of feudal society, so we must look within the primordial community to find the early embryonic structures that transformed organic society into class society. These structures must be regarded as more fundamental than classes. They were hierarchies rooted in age, sex, and quasi-religious and quasi-political needs that created the power and the material relationships from which classes were formed. Given organic society's emphasis on usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum, it is difficult to believe that class rule, private property, and the State could have emerged, fully accoutered and omnipresent, largely because surpluses rendered their existence possible.
Organic societies, even the most egalitarian, are not homogeneous social groups. Each member of the community is defined by certain everyday roles based on sex, age, and ancestral lineage. In early organic societies, these roles do not seem to have been structured along hierarchical lines, nor do they seem to have involved the domination of human by human. Generally, they simply define the individual's responsibilities to the community: the raw materials, as it were, for a functional status in the complex nexus of human relationships. Lineage determines who can or cannot marry whom, and families related by marriage are often as obligated to help each other as are kin directly related by blood ties. Age confers the prestige of experience and wisdom. Finally, sexual differences define the community's basic division of labor.
Even before material surpluses began to increase significantly, the roles each individual played began to change from egalitarian relationships into elites based increasingly on systems of obedience and command. To make this assertion raises a number of very provocative questions. Who were these emerging elites? What was the basis of their privileges in early society? How did they rework organic society's forms of community status — forms based on usufruct, a domestic economy, reciprocity, and egalitarianism — into what were later to become class and exploitative societies? These questions are not academic: they deal with emotionally charged notions that still lurk to this very day in the unconscious apparatus of humanity, notably the influence of biological facts, such as sex, age, and ancestry on social relationships. Unless these notions are carefully examined and the truths separated from the untruths, we are likely to carry an archaic legacy" of domination into whatever social future awaits us.
Of the three roles cited, the sex-linked and age-linked are the most important and somewhat intertwined in the development of the hierarchies that preceded social classes and economic exploitation. For the purposes of clarity, however, we must explore these roles separately. To argue over whether the socialization of individuals into sex-related roles is based on biological facts would be to belabor the obvious; the physical differences between men and women clearly produce different sex-related capacities, at least in materially undeveloped societies. But the nature of these capacities and the extent to which they are reflected by the status of women in preliterate communities are issues that have been so highly colored by cultural biases that rarely are they adequately examined in the anthropological literature. Melville Jacobs rightly warns us that:
Anthropologists of Euro-American origins face a problem of examining their projections of ideas and feelings about women's status into another sociocultural system. To put it badly, judgments by anthropologists about the status of the feminine sex, when the provenience of such scientists is in western civilization whose women occupied a low status throughout the Christian era, are at once suspect if they have not obtained word-for-word native comments and then closely analyzed both them and overt behavior. And this is not a kind of research which can be completed in a day or two.
Such research has yet to be completed for most cultures, despite generations of sharp dispute in modern anthropology.
The fact is that male biases toward women almost consistently color what little research has been done on this touchy subject. Even though they may deny it, men (including the older generation of anthropologists) tend to believe that women are physically "weak" and that they inherently depend on men for their material survival in nature. In more imaginative moments, they regard women as emotionally "fragile" and innately lacking a capacity for "abstract thought."
These notions find no support from disinterested research. Although women are normally physically weaker and shorter than men of the same ethnic background, the word weaker, here, is a relative term: it is relative to the muscular differences between women and men, not to the survival tasks that are imposed on humanity by the natural world. Male prejudice notwithstanding, women who have engaged in arduous work for most of their lives can match men in most physically demanding tasks, as many anthropological accounts of preliterate communities unwittingly reveal. They can certainly learn to hunt as well as men, given the opportunity to do so; normally, in fact, they catch whatever small animals they can find as part of their food-gathering activities. In many cultures, women not only collect the community's plant food, but they also do most of the fishing. If the family's shelter is a small one, it is usually they who build it, not the men. Women show as much endurance as men on long marches, and they commonly carry the same or heavier burdens.
Where women haven't been conditioned into abject passivity, their emotional fortitude and mature behavior often make the men seem like spoiled children. As to their capacity for "abstract thought," women probably contributed a sizable number of religious formulators — the true "generalizers" in preliterate communities — to the prehistory of humanity, as the wide prevalence of Celtic and Nordic shamannesses and prophetesses attests. Nor should we forget, here, that the oracular messages at Delphi, on which the leading men of ancient Greece counted for guidance, were delivered by priestesses. If it was priests who interpreted these cryptic messages to suppliants, this may well have been a patriarchal modification of a more archaic practice, when female prophetesses and chtonic "matriarchal" goddesses occupied a preeminent religious position in organic society.
So much for the "innate" limitations that men so often attribute to women. As for their early status, a careful survey of food-gathering and hunting communities reveals that women enjoyed a higher degree of parity with men than we have been commonly led to believe. Both sexes occupy a distinctly sovereign role in their respective spheres, and their roles are much too complementary economically to make the domination of women by men the comfortable social norm that biased white observers served up generations ago to allay the guilt-feelings of Victorian patriarchs. In daily life, women withdraw into a sorority based on their domestic and food-gathering activities and men into a fraternity of hunters. There, both sexes are completely autonomous. The sharply etched distinctions between "home" and the "world" that exist in modern society do not exist in organic communities. There, home and world are so closely wedded that a man, shut out from a family, is literally a nonsocial being — a being who is nowhere. Although the male tends, even in many egalitarian communities, to view himself as the "head" of the family, his stance is largely temperamental and accords him no special or domestic power. It is simply a form of boastfulness, for the hard facts of life vitiate his pretenses daily. Woman's food-gathering activities usually provide most of the family's food. She not only collects the food, but prepares it, makes the family's clothing, and produces its containers, such as baskets and coiled pottery. She is more in contact with the young than the male and takes a more "commanding" role in their development. If her husband is too overbearing, she can unceremoniously put him out of the hut or simply return to her own family where she and her children are certain of being provided for no matter what her family thinks of her decision. As she ages, her experience becomes a revered source of wisdom; she becomes a "matriarch" in many cases, the head of the family in fact, if not in form.
What women in preliterate communities distinctly do lack is the male's mobility. The human child's protracted development and dependency — a long period of mental plasticity that is vitally necessary for elaborating a cultural continuum — restricts the mother's capacity to move about freely. The primal division of labor that assigned hunting tasks to the male and domestic tasks to the female is based on a hard biological reality: A woman, coupled to a noisy infant, can scarcely be expected to practice the stealth and athleticism needed to hunt large animals. By its very nature, the mother-child relationship limits her to comparatively sedentary lifeways. Moreover, if woman is not weak in terms of her capacity to do hard work, she is certainly the "weaker sex" when pitted against armed, possibly hostile men from an alien community. Women need their men not only as hunters but also as guardians of the family and the group. Men become the community's guardians not by virtue of usurpation, but because they are better equipped muscularly in a materially undeveloped culture to defend their community against hostile marauders.
Without saying as much, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas recounts an episode that sums up this hard reality in a striking fashion. As she and her party approached a suspicious group of Bushmen, the band "drew back and together, the women behind the men, babies in their arms, and watched us hostilely." This is a very primeval tableau. It must have occurred countless times over the ages — the women, with babies in their arms behind the men, their protectors. And it is also a very revealing tableau, latent with major implications for the future development of the early group. For not only hunting, but also defense and later war are part of the male's division of labor. Insofar as these responsibilities require the conscious administrative coordination of people and resources, they are not merely hard biological facts of life; instead, they are uniquely social facts, or what we, in the modern world, are likely to call political.
As bands began to increase in size and number, as they began to differentiate into clans, tribes, tribal federations and make war on each other, an ever larger social space emerged that was increasingly occupied by men. Men tended to become the clan headsmen or tribal chiefs and fill the councils of tribal federations. For all of this was "men's work," like hunting and herding animals. They had the mobility and physical prowess to defend their own communities, attack hostile communities, and thereby administer an extrabiological, distinctly social sphere of life.
In communities where matrilineal descent carried considerable cultural weight and woman's horticultural activities formed the basis of economic life, she assumed social roles very similar in form to those of the man's. Usually, she occupied these roles on the clan level, rarely on the tribal one. Moreover, she almost invariably shared her social role with males. In a matricentric society, these males were her brothers, not her husband. What woman's social eminence in matricentric communities reveals, however, is that the male's rising position in social affairs results not from any conscious degradation of woman to a domestic "unworldly" sphere. To the contrary, what it clearly shows is that, in the beginning at least, the male did not have to "usurp" power from the female; indeed, social "power" as such did not exist and had yet to be created. The social sphere and the man's position in it emerged naturally. The primordial balance that assigned complementary economic functions to both sexes on the basis of parity slowly tipped toward the male, favoring his social preeminence.
But here I must introduce a discordant note. Even as the scale tipped slowly toward the male, his increasing preeminence began to alter the temperament of the primeval group. The social sphere emerged not only as an elaboration of the role in the division of labor; it also tended to assimilate his temperament as a hunter, a guardian, and eventually as a warrior. Doubtless, the new development toward a male-oriented culture occurred very slowly and with many lapses, generally modified by the shifting economic roles of the sexes in the course of social development. In largely food-gathering societies, the community seems to be essentially matricentric in culture and temperament; so, too, in early horticultural societies. On the other hand, in predominantly hunting and pastoral societies, a patricentric culture and temperament seems to predominate. Yet, on this obscure shifting ground of prehistory, one senses a slow crystallization of social norms and moods along male-oriented lines, even before elaborate hierarchies and economic exploitation emerge. With the rise of cities, the biological matrix of social life is almost completely shattered. Kinship ties are replaced by civic ties; the natural environment by a man-made environment; the domestic sphere by a political sphere. Not only patricentricity but patriarchy, for which there is no female analog in organic communities, come into their own completely.
But this development occurs much later. For the present let us examine the differences in temperament between the two sexes and determine if the shift from a matricentric to a patricentric outlook introduced the elements of domination into preliterate societies.
The male, in a hunting community, is a specialist in violence. From the earliest days of his childhood, he identifies with such "masculine" traits as courage, strength, self-assertiveness, decisiveness and athleticism — traits necessary for the welfare of the community. The community, in turn, will prize the male for these traits and foster them in him. If he becomes a good hunter, he will be highly regarded by everyone: by envious men and admiring women, by respectful children and emulative youths. In a society preoccupied with the problem of survival and obliged to share its resources, a good hunter is an asset to all.
Similarly, the female is a specialist in child rearing and food-gathering. Her responsibilities focus on nurture and sustenance. From childhood she will be taught to identify with such "feminine" traits as caring and tenderness, and she will be trained in comparatively sedentary occupations. The community, in turn, will prize her for these traits and foster them in her. If she cultivates these traits, she will be highly regarded for her sense of responsibility to her family, her skill and artfulness. In a matricentric society, these traits will be elevated into social norms that could well be described as the temperament of the community. We find this temperament today in many American Indian and Asian villages that practice horticulture, even if the kinship system is patrilineal. Similarly, in a patricentric society, "masculine" traits will be elevated into the norms of a community temperament, although they rarely coexist with matrilineal systems of kinship.
There is no intrinsic reason why a patricentric community, merely because it has a "masculine" temperament, must be hierarchical or reduce women to a subjugated position. The economic roles of the two sexes are still complementary; without the support that each sex gives to the other, the community will disintegrate. Moreover, both sexes still enjoy complete autonomy in their respective spheres. In projecting our own social attitudes into preliterate society, we often fail to realize how far removed a primordial domestic community is from a modern political society. Later, in a review of early mythology, I shall show that the concept of power is still highly amorphous and undifferentiated in the primordial world. As long as the growing civil sphere is a pragmatic extension of the male's role in the division of labor, it is merely that and no more. Even while the civil sphere is expanding, it is still rooted in domestic life and, in this sense, enveloped by it; hence, the numinous power that surrounds woman in the most patricentric of primordial societies.
Only when social life itself undergoes hierarchical differentiation and emerges as a separate terrain to be organized on its own terms do we find a conflict between the domestic and civil spheres — one that extends hierarchy into domestic life and results not only in the subjugation of woman, but in her degradation. Then, the distinctively "feminine" traits, which primordial society prizes as a high survival asset, sink to the level of social subordination. The woman's nurturing capacities are degraded to renunciation; her tenderness to obedience. Man's ''masculine" traits are also transformed. His courage turns into aggressiveness; his strength is used to dominate; his self-assertiveness is transformed into egotism; his decisiveness into repressive reason. His athleticism is directed increasingly to the arts of war and plunder.
Until these transformations occur, however, it is important to know the raw materials from which hierarchical society will raise its moral and social edifice. The violation of organic society is latent within organic society itself. The primal unity of the early community, both internally and with nature, is weakened merely by the elaboration of the community's social life — its ecological differentiation. Yet, the growing civil space occupied by the male is still enveloped in a natural matrix of blood-ties, family affinities, and work responsibilities based on a sexual division of labor. Not until distinctly social interests emerge that clash directly with this natural matrix and turn the weaknesses, perhaps the growing tensions, of organic society into outright fractures, will the unity between human and human, and between humanity and nature, finally be broken. Then power will emerge, not simply as a social fact, with all its differentiations, but as a concept — and so will the concept of freedom.
To find what is perhaps the one primary group that, more than any other in preliterate communities, transects kinship lines and the division of labor — that in its own right forms the point of departure for a separate social interest as distinguished from the complementary relations that unite the community into a whole — we must turn to the age group, particularly to the community's elders. To be born, to be young, to mature, and finally to grow old and die is a natural fact — as much as it is to be a woman, a man, or belong to a blood-lineage group. But the older one becomes, the more one acquires distinct interests that are not "natural." These interests are uniquely social. The later years of life are a period of diminishing physical powers; the declining years, a period of outright dependency. The aging and the aged develop interests that are tied neither to their sexual roles nor to their lineage. They depend for their survival ultimately on the fact that the community is social in the fullest sense of the term; that it will provide for them not because they participate in the process of production and reproduction, but because of the institutional roles they can create for themselves in the social realm.
The sexes complement each other economically; the old and the young do not. In preliterate communities, the old are vital repositories of knowledge and wisdom, but this very function merely underscores the fact that their capacities belong largely to the cultural and social sphere. Hence, even more than the boasting self-assertive male who may be slowly gaining a sense of social power, the aging and the aged tend to be socially conscious as such — as a matter of survival. They share a common interest independent of their sex and lineage. They have the most to gain by the institutionalization of society and the emergence of hierarchy, for it is within this realm and as a result of this process that they can retain powers that are denied to them by physical weakness and infirmity. Their need for social power, and for hierarchical social power at that, is a function of their loss of biological power. The social sphere is the only realm in which this power can be created and, concomitantly, the only sphere that can cushion their vulnerability to natural forces. Thus, they are the architects par excellence of social life, of social power, and of its institutionalization along hierarchical lines.
The old can also perform many functions that relieve young adults of certain responsibilities. Old women can care for the children and undertake sedentary productive tasks that would otherwise be performed by their daughters. Similarly, old men can make weapons and teach their sons and grandsons to use them more effectively. But these tasks, while they lighten the burdens of the young, do not make the old indispensable to the community. And in a world that is often harsh and insecure, a world ruled by natural necessity, the old are the most dispensable members of the community. Under conditions where food may be in short supply and the life of the community occasionally endangered, they are the first to be disposed of. The anthropological literature is replete with examples in which the old are killed or expelled during periods of hunger, a practice that changes from the episodic into the customary in the case of communities that normally leave their aged members behind to perish whenever the group breaks camp and moves to a different locale.
Thus, the lives of the old are always clouded by a sense of insecurity. This sense is incremental to the insecurity that people of all ages may feel in materially undeveloped communities. The ambiguity that permeates the outlook of the primordial world toward nature — a shifting outlook that mixes reverence or ecological adaptation with fear — is accented among the aged with a measure of hatred, for insofar as fear is concerned they have more to fear from nature's vicissitudes than do the young. The nascent ambiguities of the aged toward nature later give rise to Western "civilization's" mode of repressive reason. This exploitative rationality pits civil society against domestic society and launches social elites on a quest for domination that, in a later historical context, transforms insecurity into egotism, acquisitiveness, and a craze for rule — in short, the social principle graduated by its own inner dialectic into the asocial principle. Here, too, are the seeds for the hatred of eros and the body, a hatred, in turn, that forms the archetypal matrix for willful aggression and the Thanatic death wish.
Initially, the medium by which the old create a modicum of power for themselves is through their control of the socialization process. Fathers teach their sons the arts of getting food; mothers, their daughters. The adults, in turn, consult their parents on virtually every detail of life, from the workaday pragmatic to the ritual. In a preliterate community, the most comprehensive compendium of knowledge is inscribed on the brains of the elders. However much this knowledge is profferred with concern and love, it is not always completely disinterested; it is often permeated, even if unconsciously, by a certain amount of cunning and self-interest. Not only is the young mind shaped by the adults, as must necessarily be the case in all societies, but it is shaped to respect the wisdom of the adults, if not their authority. The harsh initiation ceremonies that many preliterate communities inflict on adolescent boys may well have the purpose of using pain to "brand" the elders' wisdom on young minds, as a number of anthropologists contend; but I would also suggest that it "brands" a sense of their authority as well. The aged, who abhor natural necessity, become the embodiment of social necessity: the dumb "cruelty" that the natural world inflicts on them is transmitted by social catalysis into the conscious cruelty they inflict on the young. Nature begins to take her revenge on the earliest attempts of primordial society to control her. But this is nature internalized, the nature in humanity itself. The attempt to dominate external nature will come later, when humanity is conceptually equipped to transfer its social antagonisms to the natural world outside. By drinking at the magic fountain of wisdom, however, the educators are educated into the temperament of repressive rationality. The toll demanded by nature in the Norse cosmography is already being claimed: the wounded eye of Odin begins to lose its vision.
In fairness to primordial society, we must note that hierarchy founded merely on age is not institutionalized hierarchy. Rather, it is hierarchy in its most nascent form: hierarchy embedded in the matrix of equality. For age is the fate of everyone who does not die prematurely. To the extent that privileges accrue to the elders, everyone in the community is heir to them. Inasmuch as these privileges vary with the fortunes of the community, they are still too tenuous to be regarded as more than compensations for the infirmities that elders must suffer with the aging process. The primordial balance that accords parity to all members of the community, women as well as men, is thereby perpetuated in the privileges accorded to the old. In this sense they cannot be regarded simply as privileges.
What is problematical in the future development of hierarchy is how the elders tried to institutionalize their privileges and what they finally achieved. Radin, in a perceptive if overly ruthless discussion of age-linked hierarchy, notes that the elders in food-gathering communities "almost always functioned as medicine-men of some kind or another," and, with the development of clan-agricultural societies, acquired their "main strength" from the "rituals and ritualistic societies which they largely controlled." Social power begins to crystallize as the fetishization of magical power over certain forces of nature. In trying to deal with this dialectical twist, we must refocus our perspective to include an entirely unique mode of social sensibility and experience, one that is strikingly modern: the sensibility and experience of the elder cum shaman.
The shaman is a strategic figure in any discussion of social hierarchy because he (and, at times, she, although males predominate in time) solidifies the privileges of the elders — a general stratum in the primordial community — into the particularized privileges of a special segment of that stratum. He professionalizes power. He makes power the privilege of an elect few, a group that only carefully chosen apprentices can hope to enter, not the community as a whole. His vatic personality essentially expresses the insecurity of the individual on the scale of a social neurosis. If the male hunter is a specialist in violence, and the woman food-gatherer a specialist in nurture, the shaman is a specialist in fear. As magician and divinator combined in one, he mediates between the suprahuman power of the environment and the fears of the community. Weston La Barre observes that in contrast to the priest, who "implores the Omnipotent," the shaman is "psychologically and socially the more primitive of the two . . . . External powers invade and leave his body with practiced ease, so feeble are his ego boundaries and so false his fantasies." Perhaps more significant than this distinction is the fact that the shaman is the incipient State personified. As distinguished from other members of the primordial community, who participate coequally in the affairs of social life, the shaman and his associates are professionals in political manipulation. They tend to subvert the innocence and amateurism that distinguishes domestic society from political society. Shamans "banded informally [together] even in the simplest food-gathering civilizations," notes Radin. "As soon as the clan political patterns emerged we find them formally united together, either in one group or separately." Bluntly stated, the shamanistic groups to which Radin alludes were incipient political institutions.
Their political role is given greater emphasis by Weston La Barre in his massive study of shamanism and crisis cults:
Every cultist ingroup is incipiently an autonomous entity, a closed society, a political unit, and therefore every Church is a potential State. Overemphasized in explaining crisis cults, the political has been curiously neglected in most studies of shamanism. Both North American and Siberian shamans . . . were often leaders as well as protectors of their groups; and South American shaman-messiahs commonly combined political and magical power over men and cosmos alike. Paul Roux has studied the power equally over the elements and political events among the shamans of Genghis Khan; and Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz has shown that the state oracle or ceremonial divination in Tibet is a prophetic trance of distinctly shamanistic character. The ancient Chinese wu were political shamans too. Clearly the Asiatic and American shaman has the same traditional roots, and his iritrinsic political aspect reappears strikingly in the messianic ghost dance prophets of North America and in the god-kings and shaman-chiefs of South America, Amazonian and Andean alike.
For several pages thereafter, La Barre adduces data of a similar character for almost every area of the world and nearly every early civilization, including the Greco-Roman.
But the shaman's position in primordial society is notoriously insecure. Often highly remunerated for his magical services, he might be as vindictively attacked, perhaps assassinated outright, if his techniques fail. Thus, he must always seek alliances and, more significantly, foster the creation of mutually advantageous power centers for his protection from the community at large. As a quasi-religious formulator, a primitive cosmologist, he literally creates the ideological mythos that crystallizes incipient power into actual power. He may do this in concert with the elders, enhancing their authority over the young, or with the younger but more prominent warriors, who tend to form military societies of their own. From them, in turn, he receives the support he so direly needs to cushion the ill-effects that follow from his fallibility. That he may compete with these powers and attempt to usurp their authority is irrelevant at this period of development. The point is that the shaman is the demiurge of political institutions and coalitions. He not only validates the authority of the elders with a magico-political aura but, in his need for political power, he tends to heighten the "masculine" temperament of a patricentric community. He exaggerates the aggressive and violent elements of that temperament, feeding it with mystical sustenance and supernatural power.
Domination, hierarchy, and the subordination of woman to man now begin to emerge. But it is difficult to delineate in this development the emergence of organized economic classes and the systematic exploitation of a dominated social stratum. The young, to be sure, are placed under the rule of a clan or tribal gerontocracy; the elders, shamans, and warrior chiefs, in turn, acquire distinct social privileges. But so ingrained in society are the primordial rules of usufruct, complementarity and the irreducible minimum that the economy of this early world proves to be surprisingly impervious to these sociopolitical changes. "The majority of aboriginal tribes," observes Radin, "possessed no grouping of individuals based on true class distinctions." He adds that "Slaves not a few of them had, but, while their lives were insecure because they had no status, they were never systematically forced to do menial work or regarded as an inferior and degraded class in our sense of the term." Men of wealth there were, too, in time, but as Manning Nash observes, "in primitive and peasant economies leveling mechanisms play a crucial role in inhibiting aggrandizement by individuals or by special groups." These leveling mechanisms assume a variety of forms:
forced loans to relatives or co-residents; a large feast following economic success; a rivalry of expenditures like the potlatch of the Northwest Coast Indians in which large amounts of valuable goods were destroyed; the ritual levies consequent on holding office in civil and religious hierarchies in Meso-America; or the giveaways of horses and goods of the Plains Indians. Most small-scale economies have a way of scrambling wealth to inhibit reinvestment in technical advance, and this prevents crystallization of class lines on an economic base.
In fact, independent wealth, the most precious of personal goals in bourgeois society, tends to be highly suspect in preliterate societies. Often, it is taken as evidence that the wealthy individual is a sorcerer who has acquired his riches by a sinister compact with demonic powers. Wealth so acquired is "treasure," bewitched power concretized, the stuff from which mythology weaves its Faustian legends. The very "independence" of this wealth — its freedom from direct social control — implies a breach with the most basic of all primordial rules: the mutual obligations imposed by blood ties. The prevalence of the lineage system, as distinguished from "civilization's" territorial system, implies that, even if hierarchy and differentials in status exist, the community consists of kin; its wealth, as Patrick Malloy observes, must be "used to reinforce or expand social relations," not weaken or constrict them. Wealth can be acquired only within the parameters of the lineage system, and it effectively filters down to the community through the workings of the "leveling system." As Malloy astutely observes: the "richest man" in the community will frequently ''be the worst off because he has given all of his material wealth away." He has definite obligations "to provide gifts when requested, take care of bride-wealth, and other important functions critical to the survival of the community."
Thus, nature still binds society to herself with the primal blood oath. This oath validates not only kinship as the basic fact of primordial social life, but its complex network of rights and duties. Before hierarchy and domination can be consolidated into social classes and economic exploitation; before reciprocity can give way to the "free exchange" of commodities; before usufruct can be replaced by private property, and the "irreducible minimum" by toil as the norm for distributing the means of life — before this immensely vast complex can be dissolved and replaced by a class, exchange, and propertied one, the blood oath with all its claims must be broken.
Hierarchy and domination remain captive to the blood oath until an entirely new social terrain can be established to support class relations and the systematic exploitation of human by human. We must fix this preclass, indeed, preeconomic, period in social development clearly in our minds because the vast ideological corpus of "modernity" — capitalism, particularly in its western form — has been designed in large part to veil it from our vision. Even such notions as primitive communism, matriarchy, and social equality, so widely celebrated by radical anthropologists and theorists, play a mystifying role in perpetuating this veil instead of removing it. Lurking within the notion of primitive communism is the insidious concept of a "stingy nature," of a "natural scarcity" that dictates communal relations — as though a communal sharing of things is exogenous to humanity and must be imposed by survival needs to overcome an "innate" human egoism that "modernity" so often identifies with "selfhood." Primitive communism also contains the concept of property, however "communal" in character, that identifies selfhood with ownership. Usufruct, as the transgression of proprietary claims in any form, is concealed by property as a public institution. Indeed, "communal property" is not so far removed conceptually and institutionally from "public property" "nationalized property," or "collectivized property" that the incubus of proprietorship can be said to be removed completely from sensibility and practices of a "communist" society. Finally, "matriarchy" the rule of society by women instead of men, merely alters the nature of rule; it does not lead to its abolition. "Matriarchy" merely changes the gender of domination and thereby perpetuates domination as such.
"Natural scarcity," "property," and "rule" thus persist in the very name of the critique of class society, exploitation, private property, and the acquisition of wealth. By veiling the primordial blood oath that constrains the development of hierarchy and domination into class society, economic exploitation, and property, the class critique merely replaces the constraints of kinship with the constraints of economics instead of transcending both to a higher realm of freedom. It reconstitutes bourgeois right by leaving property unchallenged by usufruct, rule unchallenged by nonhierarchical relationships, and scarcity unchallenged by an abundance from which an ethical selectivity of needs can be derived. The more critical substrate of usufruct, reciprocity, and the irreducible minimum is papered over by a less fundamental critique: the critique of private property, of injustice in the distribution of the means of life, and of an unfair return for labor. Marx's own critique of justice in his remarks on the Gotha Program remains one of the most important contributions he made to radical social theory, but its economistic limitations are evident in the tenor of the work as a whole.
These limitations acquire an almost stark character in the European centricity of his sense of history, particularly as revealed in his emphasis on the "progressive role of capitalism" and his harsh metaphors for the noncapitalist world. Is it true, as Marx emphasized, that "human progress," after mastering "the results of the bourgeois epoch, the market of the world and the modern powers of production" by placing them "under the common control of the most advanced peoples" (notably, Europeans) will "cease to resemble that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain"? These remarks reveal Victorian arrogance at its worst and patently neglect the vital "prehistory" that the nonwestern world had elaborated over many millenia of development.
It is important to remember that class society is not the creation of humanity as a whole. In its most ruthless form, it is the "achievement" of that numerically small proportion of "advanced peoples" who were largely confined to Europe. By far, the great mass of human beings who occupied the planet before the Age of Exploration had developed alternatives of their own to capitalism, even to class society. By no means do we have the right to regard them as arrested societies that awaited the gentle caress of "civilization" and the sculpting of the crucifix. That their social forms, technologies, cultural works, and values have been degraded to mere "anthropologies" rather than histories in their own right is testimony to an intellectual atavism that views anything but its own social creations as mere "remains" of its "prehistory" and the "archaeology" of its own social development.
What we so arrogantly call the "stagnation" of many non-European societies may well have been a different, often highly sensitive, elaboration and enrichment of cultural traits that were ethically and morally incompatible with the predatory dynamism Europeans so flippantly identify with "progress" and "history." To fault these societies as stagnant for elaborating qualities and values that Europeans were to sacrifice to quantity and egoistic acquisition tells us more about European conceptions of history and morality than non-European conceptions of social life.
Only now, after our own "pagan idols" such as nucleonics, biological warfare, and mass culture have humiliated us sufficiently, can we begin to see that non-European cultures may have followed complex social paths that were often more elegant and knowledgeable than our own. Our claims to world cultural hegemony by right of conquest has boomeranged against us. We have been obliged to turn to other cultures not only for more humane values, more delicate sensibilities, and richer ecological insights, but also for technical alternatives to our highly mystified "powers of production" — powers that have already begun to overpower us and threaten the integrity of life on the planet. But until recently, our prevailing system of domination not only blinded us to the full history of our own social development; it also prevented a clear understanding of alternative social developments — some vastly better than our own, others as bad but rarely worse. If these developments are to provide us with alternative ethical and technical pathways to a better future, we must first reexamine the vast legacy of domination that has so far blocked our vision.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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