ACADEMY & GALLERY
A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
The Elementary Structures of Kinship
1. Chris Knight's derivation of the elementary structures of kinship from the sex-strike model for the origin of culture
Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.
Chris Knight's sex-strike model should have explained the origins of (1) (sexual) morality, (2) art (especially artistic body-decoration and "clothing"), (3) the tribal moiety system with classificatory kinship, and (4) rituals and religions. Here, in this thermodynamic interpretation of the material aspect of history, we should exclude the discussion of the last and our analysis of the first stage of supraorganismic formation shall culminate in the scenario of the rise of "the elementary structures of kinship" (i.e. the third), in Lévi-Strauss' sense and as Knight has specifically indicated.
Chris Knight's sex-strike model has several important implications:
- (1) Women's greater ability to enjoy sex than other primates.
- (2) The peculiar human capacity for "time-envisaging" - especially among males. (C.f. Andrew Lehman's view, later.)
- (3) Social organization - the matrilineal moiety system with classificatory kinship and ritual life.
Time-envisaging appears when, and is premised on the event that, female synchrony/ sex-strike forces men "to time their hunting expeditions so as to harmonize with the physiological rhythms of the females" (Blood Relations, p. 285) and thus ultimately with lunar periodicity, as seen already. Such sympathy between one gender group's normative cycling and another's hunting (ibid.) would result in social organization across space (organization on the synchronic axis: matrilineal moiety system with classificatory kinship) and through time (organization on the diachronic axis: ritual organization of the passage of life/ time in cyclic repetition, or what is common known as [primitive, pre-salvational, intraworld] "religion"). This spatial and temporal organization leads to group integration - the group now acting as an integrated unit through time: i.e. supraorganismic formation. We are here specifically to focus on the supraorganismic organization on the spatial plane which results in "the elementary structures of kinship."
1. Rules, morality, the meaning of "prostitution," the incest taboo and exogamy. While any contemporary reader would have seen in the sex-strike model for the origin of human culture the origin of prostitution, Knight himself defines "prostitution" rather differently. For him, "[p]rostitution does not consist in the simple demand of a reward for sexual services" which is our usual conception of what prostitution is. (Timothy Mason, "Evolution or Revolution? A review of Chris Knight's 'Blood Relations") It is therefore not a manifestation of prostitution when pervasively among hunting-gathering tribal cultures "[h]unters normatively avoid eating their kills [the 'own kill rule'] precisely because the whole point of hunting is to surrender the meat so as to earn goodwill from their spouses and/or in-laws and thereby qualify for marital relations.... [A]mongst almost all hunters and gatherers, as well as in more developed tribal cultures, it is actually considered wrong for a woman to have sex without extracting some material gift from her spouse or lover. To this we can add that wives with their kin rather than husbands or lovers are in the forefront in enforcing this rule, and that there is a sound economic basis for it. For a woman to offer sex 'free' would be for her to let down her sisters and her kin [her brothers, mothers, etc.]. It would undercut their sexual bargaining power, and consequently they would collectively react" (Knight, ibid., p. 186). What appears to us moderners as prostitution with the connotation of "morally condemnable" is therefore actually the very content of sexual morality for the primitives. The "scientific basis for distinguishing between 'prostitution' and so-called 'moral' patterns, when in both cases females grant sexual favours in exchange for material benefits" (p. 187), so Knight notes, is that in the primitive case the woman "sells" her body for the sake of maintaining the solidarity of her kin group (her "moiety") - and for the sake of their nourishment - whereas in modern societies a prostitute, by "selling" her body, breaks up the solidarity of her sister-comrades: while other women may be withdrawing sex from their husbands and partners in order to obtain material goods from them, this woman, like an opportunist entrepreneur, stands out to sell sex to those sex-deprived men for her own nourishment: a selfish strike-breaker, in other words. Here however we will not bother with such precision of the meaning of "prostitution", and just accept the surface meaning of it as "sex for economic benefits" because, firstly, we want a connotation-free (positive or negative) definition, and secondly, because the mechanism of "pimping" and "prostitution" when the latter is so simply defined is just the mechanism of the elementary structures of kinship. So, let us trace out two lines of inquiry that may take off from this point: the appearance of sexual morality and that of the matrilineal moiety system with classificatory kinship, both of which can be derived from the concept of women's kin as pimps.
Firstly, Knight derives in a very natural fashion from the sex-strike model that peculiar foundation of human association whose origin has baffled anthropologists and the like since the beginning - the incest taboo: In the first place, the sending-off by females of all able-bodied males to long-distance, organized logistic hunting expedition through the temporary refusal of sex can only work - i.e. these males will only be willing to leave for long-distance travelling, as one block, without worries about the faithfulness of the women staying behind or about any future non-delivery of "what is promised" - when these females do not make an exception of the staying-home, as yet immature brothers and sons (p. 301). Secondly, as we all know, "prostitution" works best when the "pimps" do not themselves get involved with the prostitutes: the male-allies in women's sex-strike - women's brothers - can best exploit the muscle-power of the "other guys" - can most effectively "motivate" the latter - when they themselves do not touch the women (p. 302). Thus is established the taboo of incest between "brothers" and "sisters" or "uncles" and "nieces" (in the classificatory sense: below) in the same clan (moiety: below). Even more easily derivable is the prohibition of incest between fathers and daughter: "The prohibition can be derived from the [sex-strike] model if we remember that a coalition of related mothers would need their daughters to 'marry well' - to attach themselves to young men whose hunting skills would contribute additional meat to the extended household or lineage as a whole.... The objective of augmenting [meat] supplies would be undermined completely if such existing older spouses [i.e. husbands of the mothers, or fathers of the daughters] were to be allowed 'additional' sex - sex with their own daughters - when they would remain unable to bring in any more meat than previously. The additional earning potential of the daughters would then be wasted completely" (p. 307 - 8). However, because the fathers after all belong to the opposing clan - that which brings meat to this clan - in primitive, matrilineal tribes incest between fathers and daughters is often not regarded as offensive to the same degree as that between uncle or nieces (i.e. between "pimps" and "prostitutes"). Easily derivable also is the prohibition of incest between mothers and son-in-laws, because such relations would mean that "[t]he female figure [i.e. the mother] entrusted with the authority of the sex-strike in relation to a given man would herself be a sexual object in his eyes..." which would furthermore undermine the condition for maximized exploitation that "daughters marry males of the appropriate, subordinate, younger generation" (p. 308).
So, what is most interesting to notice is that underlying the most important part of the incest taboo - that the males of a clan or moiety should never have sexual or marital relationship with the women of that same clan or moiety - is just the "pimp" logic. As Knight has put it elsewhere ("Sex and Language as Pretend Play" in The Evolution of Culture, ed. Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight and Camilla Power. 1999. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK):
Suppose males in alliance with sisters and other kin conduct "warfare" against outgroup males, seeking to exploit their muscle-power by offering marital access only in return for provisioning. This is not an unreasonable idea: hunter-gatherer "brideservice" embodies precisely this principle. A young man seeking a bride first has to prove himself as a hunter. When he has made a kill, he may stand a chance of sexual acceptance. He takes the meat to the kin of his chosen bride. They may inspect the meat and, if satisfied, allow the young man to stay a night. If he wants future sex, he will have to bring more meat. Should he prove unlucky, lazy or incompetent, he may be told to stay away. To avoid unwanted liaisons, many hunter-gatherers remain distrustful of sons-in-law for years, preventing them from asserting permanent marital rights in their brides. Even after a child has been born, the young man will usually be expected to make substantial regular contributions of meat to both the bride and her kin...
Success in this strategy presupposes women's ability to mobilize male kin where necessary against uncooperative mates or spouses. Where this condition is met, the relationship between wife's kin and in-marrying bridegroom may be emphatically hierarchical and one-sided. Among many hunter-gatherers, a male will not even be considered as a potential son-in-law before he has undergone initiation, the function of which is to teach him what ritual obligation means. There must be no answering back. Victory to the "wife-givers" [i.e. the pimps] is predetermined long in advance. If this is "war", then, it is peculiar in that the same side invariably wins. This may seem less puzzling, however, when we remember that for the "defeated" side, there is much consolation. The "exploited" outgroup males are in fact being allowed access to the group's fertile females. The reproductive fitness of these males will be enhanced if they obtain hunted meat not in order to eat it themselves but as a form of currency which can be traded for sexual access, with the benefits accruing to their offspring.... On Darwinian grounds, we would not expect these males to resist such "exploitative" arrangements beyond a certain point.
In all this, loud ritual signals [e.g. sham menstruation no-dance] are securing coalitionary dominance in order to maintain a system of economic "exploitation". The immediate beneficiaries are coalitionary alliances of mothers and their offspring, who would otherwise be unable to secure comparable meat-supplies.... Note, however, that the strategy is one in which males as mates are being exploited not by females acting alone but by mixed-sex kin-based coalitions. Ingroup males, no less than females, are engaging in the necessary economic "exploitation" of outgroup males who in turn - as brothers in relation to their own kinswomen - help sisters/mothers "exploit" their in-marrying spouses and sons-in-law. [This is the origin of the moiety system as reciprocal prostitution: see below.]
In evolutionary perspective, the emergence of such coalitionary strategies may be seen as female-driven.... Evolving human females, heavily burdened with increasingly encephalized, slow-developing offspring, would have been under pressure to secure investment from wherever this could be obtained. Support in rearing offspring could potentially be enlisted from (a) local kin-related females, (b) kin related males and (c) male sexual partners. I have argued... that the optimal strategy was to draw on support from all three, securing coalitionary backing from (a) and (b) [as fellow prostitutes and pimps] in the task of economically exploiting (c) [customers]. Females enhanced their fitness, if this model is accepted, by combining sexual allure with coalitionary organizing skills aimed at maximizing "brideservice" exploitation of spouses.
We thus see first of all how the sexual morality of the first "true" humans gradually gets enriched to the form in which we know it: not only is it immoral for a woman to have sex with strangers for free and for pleasure only, but so would it be immoral for anyone who is not a maximally exploitable stranger to have sex with her. And we see with it the meaning of marriage as simply "prostitution". Hence when Knight says that "[a]ll over the world, wherever hunting was part of the traditional way of life, women treated marriage as an economic-and-sexual relationship, claiming for themselves the meat which their spouses obtained. Indeed, contrary to the views of Lévi-Strauss, this was everywhere what marital alliances were largely about..." (Blood Relations, p. 146); or when he lists such example of "own kill taboo" as of the "Ache, hunter-gatherers of eastern Paraguay", where "'men consume very little meat from game items that they themselves killed'. All game caught each morning is taken to the women's group, so that the hunters can continue unencumbered; the meat is shared... throughout the foraging band.... [and] distributed widely... always by a man other than the hunter himself" (ibid.); he is simply pointing out that the human marriage institution since the beginning (since the matrilineal period) is just an institution of prostitution in the simple sense. Hence also "bride-service": "Among most hunters and gatherers, a man's wife was never simply 'won'. She was not suddenly transferred, in a single, once-for-all transaction called 'marriage'. She had to be earned [with gifts] over a period of years or even decades, in a process known as 'bride-service'..." Thus among the Aborigines of Western Australia, "the passage of gifts from a man to his wife's kin [becomes] 'a constant drain on a man's resources throughout his lifetime'.... Here as in other cultures, the man's gifts were mainly of meat which he had hunted himself" (p. 142). "[N]o meat [then] means, in effect, no sex, and eventually, complete annulment of the man's marital status" (p. 141); "[a]n unsatisfactory husband or lover (particularly if he is not well established or is a lazy, inept or selfish hunter) may be unceremonially told to go" (ibid.). Since the very beginning, thus, women's love is never "love for love's sake": "Almost universally, similar ideas prevailed, women feeling sexual desire not in isolation but in a situation-dependent way, according to whether their menfolk were proving themselves or not. 'Women expect meat from lovers' ... [in] 'bride-service societies' throughout the world. Far from being unusual, men's need to ply their wives and/or in-laws with meat as the test of their virility and the condition of the marital tie may indeed be regarded as the norm -- certainly among hunters and gatherers and probably much more widely" (p. 147). Women's shallow and materialistic mating behavior in today's free-societies indeed repeats a lot of the patterns of the women of the first matrilineal human societies.
The power of women's kin in respect to the suitor is also based on the above-outlined prostitution-pimp system. Just as the customer fears the pimps more than the prostitute, so
It seems probable that in most cultures the authority figures most feared or "respected" by the bridegroom were indeed the bride's mother, father, brothers or other older relatives, rather than the young woman herself. Nevertheless, usually, the effect was to secure meat for the wife. In Australia, among the Walbiri Aborigines, a man's wife's brothers or other kin may "upbraid and sometimes attack him physically if he refuses to give meat to his wife. Other members of the community approve as legitimate their attempts to force him to adhere to the law. Moreover, the meat should come from game he has hunted himself".... Among the Siberian Yukaghir, the picture we are given is that of a young man taken into his in-laws' house where he must "serve" for his wife for "as long as any members of the family older than herself are alive". His position is strictly subordinate: "He must neither look at nor speak to the parents and older relatives of his wife. He must obey all the orders given by these relatives. The products of his hunting and fishing are under the control of his mother-in-law..." (p. 142).
But we see second of all how a system of the males of one group acting as pimps for their female kin to exploit the productive power of the males of the other group and vice versa is just that most primitive, first human social association, the matrilineal moiety system - the "division of the male community into two counterposed camps, each with its own internal solidarity" or "a community divided into only two intermarrying clans" - engaging in Lévi-Strauss' "restricted exchange of women":
The recently matured hunters seek sexual relations outside the community of their own women. But which other women exist within the system for them to turn to? The answer is simple. Their fathers [as "pimps"] must have been nurtured in a female group of mothers and sisters with whom sexual freedom was (for these "fathers") "unthinkable". In seeking sexual relations [as "customers"], the sons must turn to this female group, since there are no other women in the system. Assuming that they seek partners of their own generation, the sons will relate to the daughters of this group - "fathers' sisters' daughters", who would also be "mothers' brothers' daughters". This is an example of "restricted exchange", a pattern which is taken to be the simplest, most elementary structure of kinship by Claude Lévi-Strauss... (Knight, p. 303).
We must also follow Knight in specifying in more details what "rules" (such as of morality) really are. "A cultural rule exists when there is genuinely collective agreement to secure adherence to it", such that "[a] violation is supposed to outrage not just the few directly affected individuals but the community at large" (p. 296). Note that "[s]uch a situation does not prevail among non-human primates" even if "[b]aboons and chimpanzees behave in predictable ways, according to conventionalized patterns determined both genetically and in complex interplay with the social and external environment" (ibid.). In the event of a gorilla, for example, attempting incestuous relationship with his daughter, the neighboring gorillas would "simply show indifference, leaving individuals to get on with things as best they could in their own way, each basically preoccupied with its own affairs...." In the case of non-human primates, "there would be little in the way of community outrage in the face of the incest" because here "there is no overarching collective body which makes it its business to interfere with its members' private affairs" (p. 297). But in the case of the human collective "the behavior patterns culture prescribes emanate from a source beyond instinct and beyond private enforcement by sectional interest groups or by individuals. In a human cultural system with its harmonizing collective rituals and its formal structures of kinship we find something which transcends the parochial, petty level of interaction to which primates are confined"; and such "shared perceptions and understandings are what language, ritual and culture in its traditional forms are essentially about" (ibid.). The incest taboo, and the associated sexual morality concerning who to have sex with and when or even what to wear and when to wear what is the function of the "collective sexual self-control.... As a sexual being, [the woman] was now socialized - an asset to her gender group as a whole. Her body was no longer just that of a physical individual. It was the incarnation of something collective, something universal, or... something divine" (p. 299). In other words, the woman's body is subsumed into a unified collective as the latter's reproductive "cell" motivating the "somatic cells" (males) of this "supra-body" to reach out and extract energy from the environment for the whole supra-body: the supraorganismic formation which primate collectives have never attained - while some insect societies have - and which is what constitutes the superior survivability of the anatomically modern humans with respect to their other human cousins and primate relatives. This is the essential meaning behind Lévi-Strauss' assertion in the beginning of Les structures élémentaires de la parenté that the incest taboo's principal raison d'être lies in its support for the alliance networks that hold the social collective together against its otherwise natural tendency to collapse if people were left to have sex with whoever should please them.1 What Knight in his revolutionary spirit overlooks, as shall be seen later, is that this women's revolution to facilitate human supraorganismic formation for the sake of greater consumption ("higher living standard") and so superior survivability of the group also brings into being this group's superior capacity to destroy the ecological environment through excess energy extraction - and, eventually, through environmentally lethal, non-bio-degradable supraorganismic defecation.2
2.Classificatory kinship We'll talk a bit more later about the material pre-condition for the matrilineal quality of the first moiety system. In the last step of derivation let's simply recapitulate how the gender solidarity -women as a block striking, men as a block cooperatively hunting - resulting from the sex-strike means naturally also the classificatory kinship which constitutes the foundation of the "elementary structure of kinship". Classificatory kinship - the principle of the formal equivalence of siblings - Knight reminds us, is the most primitive form of human kinship, persisting among the natives of Australia, of the Americas, of Oceana.... As Radcliffe-Brown has put it in the case of Aboriginal Australia, where terminology is concerned:
a man is always classed with his brother and a woman with her sister. If I apply a given term of relationship to a man, I apply the same term to his brother. Thus I call my father's brother by the same term that I apply to my father, and similarly, I call my mother's sister "mother". The consequential relationships are followed out. The children of any man I call "father" or of any woman I call "mother" are my "brothers" and "sisters". The children of any man I call "brother", if I am a male, call me "father", and I call them "son" and "daughter" (The Social Organization of Australian Tribes, 1931, p. 13; cited by Knight, p. 309).
The essence of classificatory kinship can be described as "the block of pimps and fellow prostitutes": sisters striking together and standing in for each other as required to raise large-brain, slow-maturing babies. The classificatory kinship of a moiety system expresses the principle of indifference with regard to individuals - that "large-scale coalition relationships have primacy over personal interests or bonds" (p. 311). "This, it will be recognized, is the fundamental feature of our sex-strike model, in which the women of a community as a whole form into an immense coalition and say 'yes' or 'no' in relating collectively to their sexual partners taken as a whole" (ibid.). The classificatory kinship is the reflection of the first environmentally destructive supraorganismic formation motivated by the need for a collective effort to raise encephalized babies and to persuade the "other half" to extract from the external environment the energy needed for this.
3. Matriliny and the rules of exchange as the consequence of binary reciprocation of the prostitution-pimp system. Knight with his sex-strike model has revived the old anthropological claim that the matrilineal system (sometimes, "matriarchy") was the initial human situation since it follows so easily from a sex-strike situation - and, in our terms here, from the system of prostitutes-pimps formed by women and their kin. "In a matrilineal clan system husbands can usually be divorced easily, and tend not to have rights in either children or food-stocks in their wives' households. On the other hand, these husbands have to provide food for these households" - to this is very similar our contemporary divorce situation of which the fathers' rights organizations frequently complain: the divorced father is taxed (alimony) but has no rights to his children - "often under the authority of wives' brothers [the pimps] who have a stake in the home." Hence we hear that in a matrilineal society it is not the woman who is dominant but the maternal uncle. "A frequent reason for divorce or sexual refusal [as indicated] is alleged laziness on the part of an in-marrying husband. This logic was exactly what [the] model [of sex-strike or prostitution-pimp] had already given...: a situation in which women and their male kin organize a sexual rebuff to 'outsider' males unless they provide food. The food which is taken in from these 'outsiders' then becomes the shared property of matrilineal 'insiders' - offspring and uterine kin of the woman.... [Thus] if the in-marrying males were to be allowed to eat meals in their wives' household, it ought to be as a favor and on sufferance, not as a matter of their rights in the food-stocks as such. This should not be a problem for men, however, provided they could always go to their sisters' or mothers' households and be sure of rights there" - i.e. the mutual prostitution between clans ("the moiety system") compensates: the customer will be the pimp in his turn. Knight thus is able to produce the diagram (below) illustrating an ideal matrilineal system (the first human "tribe"). "Virtually every account of a matrilineally organized community that I consulted confirmed that men did retain rights throughout life in the household property and offspring of their mothers/sisters, and that there were various taboos or inhibitions against helping themselves to provisions within the households of their wives" (p. 27). Matriliny as such then can be characterized doubly: "If matriliny was, in effect, an 'own-offspring rule' - a rule denying men rights in their own sexual 'produce' [thus the children belong to, and trace their descent from, their mother's lineage] - then the economic counterpart of this... was an 'own-produce rule', denying men rights in whatever they themselves had produced by way of food" (p. 29): the own-kill taboo. Since the food that one clan (or its men) produces (hunted game) must be relinquished to the other (their wives') clan and vice versa, the resulting situation is the imperative of exchange -- the "rule of the gift" -- which holds a moiety community together in co-operation. This imperative of exchange of food combined with the incest taboo (the reproductive and productive aspects of "matriliny") thus helps us perceive the essence of a matrilineal moiety system with classificatory kinship as a system of mandatory reciprocal prostitution -- mandatory because the pimp in one prostitution "ring" (clan) is absolutely forbidden from enjoying his "own girls" but is instead absolutely required to "buy sex" from his customers' ring with his own hunted meat -- and is immortalized in the well-known Arapesh aphorism, first brought forward by Margaret Mead:
Your own mother,
Your own sister,
Your own pigs,
Your own yams that you have piled up,
You may not eat.
Other people's mothers,
Other people's sisters,
Other people's pigs,
Other people's yams that they have piled up,
You may eat.
Since this "matrilineal situation" or "mandatory reciprocal prostitution" underlies what is usually recognized as "totemism", or the taboos associated with "totemism" - the imperative of avoiding eating one's own flesh, whether women or the animal taken as one's ancestry - Knight regards "totemism" as simply the principle of exchange. For example, in Australia not only are persons tracing their ancestry to the same totem forbidden to inter-marry, but they are also forbidden to eat their totem animal but must surrender it to the other totemic clan as food, and, as that other totemic clan must do likewise, a system of exchange (of women and food) results. "According to this logic, a man's sisters are inseparable from himself and, sexually, they are therefore for others to take as sexual partners. A man's hunting products -- the game animals which he kills -- are likewise inseparable from himself, and are his own flesh, his own blood, or his own essence, which he is not allowed to eat. Not two rules are in force but only one: the rule against 'eating one's own flesh'" (p. 109). Hence, "[i]n the native languages, the term for 'totem' is simply the term for 'meat' or 'flesh' -- or perhaps some other aspect of the social or collective 'self'. In this connection it is worth remembering that our very word 'totemism' is derived from an Objiwa expression which means... simply 'uterine kin'" (ibid.).
From Knight, ibid., p. 28
We have thus learned that it is through a system of mandatory reciprocal prostitution that the anatomically modern humans first learn how to develop a systematic division of labor - how to work as a group, in unison, as a single entity, as a supraorganism -- in order to better exploit the ecological environment - better than all their cousin species - and to survive and prosper. The survival and prosperity of the individuals are ensured and at the same time sublimated into the survival and prosperity of the group when the group's interest and identity take precedence over the individuals': solidarity, first in terms of gender. Why human gender relations are structured the way they are - in terms of domination, subordination, equality, or whatever - can only become intelligible through consideration of their function in the formation of this supraorganism - in, that is, its environmental exploitation mode.
4. The elementary structure: cross-cousin marriage as the consequence of the sex-strike model. As noted, the simplest form of "restricted exchange" (marriage with father's sister's daughter who is also mother's brother's daughter or vice versa, this from the male perspective) of Lévi-Strauss is the direct consequence of mandatory reciprocal prostitution. The kind of marriage which usually but not always appears with the dualist organization (two intermarrying moieties), and where, whether the mode of descent be matrilineal or patrilineal, the children of the brother of one's father and those of the sister of one's mother (i.e. one's parallel cousins) are placed in the same moiety as oneself and hence referred to as one's brothers and sisters and forbidden for marriage by the law of exogamy, while the children of the sister of one's father and those of the brother of one's mother (i.e. one's cross cousins) belong always to the other moiety and hence are referred to as one's "spouse" and marriable by the law of exogamy" (Les structures élémentaires de la parenté, 2nd ed., p. 114) -- such marriage is known as "cross-cousin marriage". Cross-cousin marriage (with the prohibition of marriage between parallel cousins, which is considered "incest") is the most prevalent kind of marriage among pre-modern societies. "But the frequence of [cross-cousin marriage] is much greater than that of exogamous moieties [i.e. of the dualist organization]"; while the latter necessarily implies the former, the former can exist in groups which are not divided into moieties (p. 117 - 8). Lévi-Strauss has his own explanation for this. Dualist organizations are more generalized ways of establishing marriage reciprocity, because "while dualist organization with exogamous moieties gives a vague definition of [who the spouse will be], it determines in the most rigorous way the number and identity of the possible spouses" (p. 119); but on the other hand "the system of marriage between cross-cousins determines with the greatest precision the individual with whom one must obligatorily marry" (p. 118). One is more like negative prohibition, the other, positive prescription. Hence Lévi-Strauss directs us away from the usual historical approach of trying to determine the chronological precedence of one over the other and leads us towards a systemic approach of one being thought of as enough or more effective in establishing reciprocity between two units under different circumstances, thus explaining cases where when dualist organizations disappear cross-cousin marriages appear (p. 120).
But whereas the dualist organization seems derivable directly from the sex-strike situation, the prescriptive cross-cousin marriage as further precision of reciprocity (i.e. mandatory reciprocal prostitution) seems to have other, post-matrilineal origins. Lévi-Strauss distinguishes in terms of descent between unilineal (patrilineal or matrilineal), bilineal (one superimposed upon the other), and undifferentiated. Systems with undifferentiated descent (where one inherits properties, social prestige and status from the mother as well as from the father and vice versa) are what characterize "complex systems" such as found in modern societies (i.e. in nation-states), and their presence among pre-modern societies (i.e. tribal societies and pre-nation-state states) causes Lévi-Strauss to dispense with the presumed coincidence between the division between "traditional" and "modern" societies and the division between "elementary" and "complex" structures of kinship (p. 123). This third type will hence be excluded from consideration here. To explain why while cross-cousins are preferred for marriage but cross-aunts and -nieces are excluded although the latter are also placed in the other moiety by the dualist organization -- and this "prescription of equivalent generation", as seen, Knight explains by reference to the principle of maximization of exploitation -- Lévi-Strauss resorts to the mechanism of bilineal descent, whose origin is thus explained by the refinement of reciprocity:
Suppose, now, that to the first unilateral dichotomy of a dualist organization is added a second, equally unilateral, but which follows the other line [of descent]. Let there be, for example, a system of matrilineal moieties A and B; and then a second division, this time patrilineal, between two groups X and Y. Each individual will take from his [the ego being male] mother status A or B, and from his father status X or Y; each then will be defined by two indices: AX, AY, BY, or BX. If the rule of marriage is that possible spouses should differ both by the maternal index [of descent] and the paternal index [of descent], one can easily confirm that only cross cousins satisfy such double requirement, while cross uncles or aunts, and cross nephew or nieces, differ only by one index (p. 124).
But we, in effect, shall dispense with such structural explanation -- Knight's principle of maximization of exploitation being quite sufficient -- and resort to historicism, by arguing that bilineal descent (filiation bilinéaire) results from that male counter-revolution, as will be seen next.
2. Knight wrote his Blood Relations in the hope that he would inspire another female-led revolution replicating the first (sex-strike). What is his vision of this revolution? What is its goal? This can be discerned in two of his pronouncements: "... anything that enhances our power -- the survival capabilities of the human species as a whole at this stage of our evolution on this planet -- can be termed 'science'; any human construct that denies us power, or restricts power only to some sectional interest or ruling elite, is 'ideology' or 'myth'" (p. 516). Science, of course, is here not only identified with (roughly) "truth" but also as redemptive of our physical existence. And then he answers the previously noted possible objection about the female-bias in those recent "origins theories" by saying that "Although in the short term seemingly 'one-sided', this essence [of the earliest forms of science, i.e. women's sham menstruation rituals and their attendant myths] has in fact nothing to do with political bias. Rather, it is only through the empowerment of the oppressed that the biases of ruling genders and classes can be overcome. It is only through such empowerment that wider, universalistic interests can be established in place of sectional ones, and that people's collective consciousness of their own strength can be made more and more freely communicable, broadly representative and therefore non-partisan or 'scientific'" (p. 520; truth is therefore defined by him as encompassing the broadest possible perspectives). We have earlier already pointed out the problem with such typical Leftist world-view with regard to the essentially same views of Rosemary Radford Ruether ("The Problem of Cultural Feminism", Ftnt. 9). Whatever Knight or other Leftists may have in mind, in practice "what enhances the survival capabilities of the human species" always ends up being increased consumption, and "revolution" ends up meaning no more than breaking up the restriction of increased consumption to the elites. In other words, "revolution's" establishment of "wider, universalistic interests" means usually just the equalization or mass-possession -- in place of elite possession -- of the means of production and consumption, resulting in increased consumption for the "oppressed". Such will of course increase environmental destruction and in the end bring humanity as a species quicker to its destiny of extinction. In the following, we will note how women's revolution through menstrual synchrony had caused the widespread extinction of animal species throughout the world since the Upper Paleolithic.
| previous section | Table of Content | next section |