A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
PART TWO: The Origin of Women's Oppression
CHAPTER 6.2. The Origin of the Sexual Division of Labor and the First Stage of Supraorganismic Formation
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We have accomplished the generalities of the event of the integration of the sexes, which is the first step in the formation of a true supraorganism. Now we have to return to the question, “Why do human males provide food for females and offspring – something that no other primates do?” This essentially asks how the integration of the sexes came about. Chris Knight in his aforementioned classics, together with Camilla Power and Ian Watts in a series of interesting articles, have speculated upon the details of the process of this integration. Their specific novelty consists in identifying the (more or less) common-sense female solicitation of male parental effort to offset the cost of increased encephalization with the emergence of the symbolic order, the ritual system peculiar to Homo sapiens sapiens among all the living organisms that have ever appeared on Earth. Namely, with the appearance of the noosphere.
First, Power and Watts's “Female Strategies and Collective Behavior” in The Archaeology of Human Ancestry. Power and Watts return to the problem of encephalization, and indicate that there were two strategies to meet the extra energetic costs it generated: the first is the modification of life-history variables, the neoteny already discussed; the second is selection upon features of the reproductive cycle, or upon the female reproductive signals that regulated it. (Evidently they are focusing on the African population of archaic Homo sapiens, since regarding the second point populations of archaic Homo sapiens elsewhere employed quite different strategies.) They want us to understand that the second phase of encephalization (the Homo phase) was quite different from the first; from Australopithecus to homo, “the increased energetic costs of the first phase of brain expansion could have been offset by such factors as reduction in gut size and increased female body size” (ibid., p. 310), the latter of which was probably more than anything else the cause for the reduction of sexual dimorphism from 1.4 in Australopithecus (the same as for chimpanzee) to 1.2 in Homo erectus. “…early Homo mothers did not rely on systematic male provisioning to meet their increasing reproductive costs” (p. 310).1 It is during the time of archaic Homo sapiens that brain size expanded exponentially and demanded from females new, parasitic strategies to meet the intensified energetic costs of encephalization (ibid., p. 310- 11). The new method would center on the second strategy, on female reproductive signals, wherein consists females’ method of soliciting male parental investment: “[female] reproductive signals would have been prime mechanisms for rewarding more attentive ‘investor’ males and punishing philanderers” (ibid, p. 307).
As always in evolution, an evolutionary leap was taken via novel employment of some new features which had originally emerged for a different reason. The new features at hand to the archaic Homo sapiens mothers are: (1) the concealment of ovulation and loss of oestrus with continuous receptivity which withheld from males information about female’s fertility state. Concealment of female fertility information had the effect of encouraging males to guard a particular female and abandoning philanderism (which would be too time-costly without knowledge of females’ fertile moment), thus promoting monogamous bonding and male investment in offspring. (2) Further contributing to one-to-one pair-bonding between the sexes would be the ability for a group of females to synchronize their fertility moment, which made single males unable to guard and impregnate a group of females. (Such synchronization is a documented fact. "The modern human female appears well designed for such widespread cycle synchrony, since she has the capacity for cyclicity linked to an environmental cue. Her mean length of menstrual cycle corresponds to the mean lunar synodic period at 29.5 days, and her mean length of gestation at 266 days is a precise nine times multiple of the mean lunar synodic period. In ancestral populations, any tendency to cycle synchrony aligned by lunar phase would have been further constrained by seasonal and ecological factors, affecting nutritional status and fertility rates. Significant seasonality of birth has been documented for hunter-gatherer populations…” (ibid., p. 308). (3) Females’ profuse menstrual bleeding, more amplified than in other primate species. Unlike the first one, menstruation gave away information, though not of fertility per se, but of impending fertility. There was then selective pressure upon males to respond to such signal, to wait around and guard the menstruating females in order to impregnate her soon. “This implies that pronounced menstrual bleeding functioned to attract extra male attention, procuring mating effort in the form of protection, some food sharing, grooming and coalitionary support” (ibid., p. 310). But “once a female was pregnant, she risked losing that extra male attention to other menstruating females in the vicinity” (ibid., p. 310). With debilitating costs of infant encephalization to remedy, the group of related females attempted to synchronize menstruation signal of impending fertility by body-painting themselves in red pigment to sham menstruation “on occasions when one of their number was actually menstruating” (ibid., p. 311). In this manner of synchronizing, or manufacturing the synchronization of, the only available indicator of (impending) fertility, “coalition members could retain the advantage of menstruation… for attracting male attention, and retain the advantage of synchrony for maximizing male parental investment” (ibid., p. 311).
The act of synchronization of menstruation was one of “deception” in that some females who were not imminently fertile pretended to be, and a first step toward the establishment of that pride of humanity in contrast to other species, i.e. symbolism, in that the deception was not individual as among other primates but a imaginary construct sustained by the whole collective. However, this female deceptive display was only proto-symbolism since it remained dependent for its activation on local incidences of actual menstruation. Its efficacy was no more than promotion of male guarding. This was the strategies of archaic Homo females and was consistent with archaic Homo sapiens’ “similar foraging strategies between the sexes, with females accompanying males for hunting of no more than small to medium game” (ibid., p. 312).
Now “for late archaics undergoing maximal reproductive stress, there would be pressure to reduce activity levels, particularly the energetic cost of travel… [Full] symbolism arose in this context. To minimize travel costs, coalition of women began to invest more heavily in ‘campsites’” (ibid., p. 312). (One wants to take note of archaeological evidences of structured hearth or invested home bases at this point.) Proto-symbolism became true symbolism “when cosmetic displays are staged as a default – a matter of monthly, habitual performance, irrespective of whether any local female is actually menstruating. Body painting within groups repeatedly creates, sustains and recreates this abstract construct [of Impending Fertility/Blood]. Such energetically costly repeated rituals must be linked to the level, regularity and kind of male provisioning effort it engenders” (ibid., p. 312).
The regular male provisioning effort means the onset of true sexual division of labor, structured around female symbolism and (false) menstruation. What happened is this. Females performed rituals of (false) menstruation to signal refusal of sexual access except to males who would return home with high quality nutrient: meat. This humanity’s first ritual, then, had the purpose of focusing men’s mind on imminent hunting, with the prospect that successful hunters would be offered sexual access soon. The sequence of events leading to the origin of ritual, the beginning of the symbolic, then, is: naturally evolved reproductive cycle synchrony; sham menstruation or proto-symbolism to promote pair-bonding; false menstruation dance as “No” to induce permanently fixed male provisioning: the onset of sexual division of labor.
Timing: Women would organize the monthly timing of rituals in accordance with the naturally given lunar-phase alignment of menstrual cycles. They would perform rituals at dark moon, and men would go on hunting in the optimal time of waxing moon after the first quarter with maximal aid of nocturnal light to long-distance hunting, and return around full-moon, coincident with ovulation. This would be “the appropriate time for cooking fires to be lit” (ibid., p. 313).
Method: The female exploitation of male foraging efforts was a mode of counter-domination. Thus a sexual signal of “Yes” (menstruation as impending fertility) was turned into a “No”: in the mammalian world, submissive individuals signal subordination through “Yes” in the form of “presenting”, or offering vulnerable organs to the dominant individual for inspection or copulation; but human females attempted to invert the displays of subordination. Hence the three normal or natural mammalian signals of “Yes” or subordination, or sexual signals, were converted into their opposites to constitute the content of the pantomime dance of monthly ritual menstruation. Animal signals for copulation involve “signaling to prospective partners, ‘right species/ right sex /right time’” (Chris Knight, “Darwinism and Collective Representations”, The Archaeology of Human Ancestry, p. 341). The late archaic Homo females’ signals, on the other hand, consisted in “wrong species/ wrong sex/ wrong time” with their dressing up as animals, wearing artificial penis like males, and body-painting in red to pantomime menstruation (which meant wrong time for sex). Women could only implant such anti-common sense message (that they were the wrong species and wrong sex – male animals – for copulation), could only “overcome listener-resistance” (ibid., p. 341), with ritual dances as “energetically expensive, repetitive, highly iconographic pantomime” (p. 342). The first ritual, the first symbolic ever of humanity, was women’s exaggerated dance to masquerade as animals, as males, and as menstruating. This was the form in which was assumed the aforementioned “women’s refusal of sexual access except to males who would return home with meat.”2
One notes the Marxist tendency in this theory of Knight, Power, and Watts. Insofar as the beginning of ritual (of culture) resulted from the reversal of a natural signal, culture, then, is essentially the reversal of nature: culture results from inverting nature. And deception, especially collective deception, is the mark of culture.
Knight sees the two peculiarly human phenomena as intimately associated with the (natural) evolution toward human (ritualized) culture: first, as hinted at, the human female reproductive physiology, and second, the human language.
Firstly, the human females’ reproductive physiology – their loss of oestrus and continual sexual receptivity – is found in no other primates. Continual sexual receptivity essentially means that “[the human female’s] interest in sex, despite possible slight peaks at ovulation and/or menstruation… never becomes as overwhelming as it is for primates in peak receptivity and remains essentially unchanged. Conversely, she is equally able to refuse sex at any time: at no point during her cycle is she the slave of her hormonal state” (Blood Relations, p. 203). “Whereas the basic primate pattern is to deliver a periodic ‘yes’ signal against a background of continuous sexual ‘no’, humans emit a periodic ‘no’ signal against a background of continuous ‘yes’. This reversal indicates something of the nature and scale of the sexual revolution central to the process of becoming human” (ibid., p. 210). In other words, the evolution of the human female reproductive physiology itself becomes intelligible as moving toward the goal of a delivery of sex strike, meaning that “female gender solidarity were increasingly being prioritized as a means of upholding collective sexual bargaining power” (p. 204): obtaining male parental and spousal support so as to be able to raise slow-maturing, large-brained offspring (“true” humans). Knight adds that even “human females’ permanently enlarged breasts – unlike the small, wrinkled ones of chimpanzees which enlarge only specifically for lactation” – can be understood as having evolved to send out a “no” signal, since, by “remain[ing] full-looking at all times… [they] giv[e] little clue as to real reproductive status…. With her large breasts, a female who is really fertile in effect signals as if she were breast-feeding and therefore unlikely to conceive…. Like ovulation concealment and ovarian synchrony, in other words, lactation-mimicking breast enlargement can be understood as an adaptation through which females prevent males from picking and choosing between them on a short-term basis in accordance with varying prospects for fertile intercourse” (p. 219).
As noted earlier (ft. 2, prev. sect), Knight sees in the Rift Valley a semi-aquatic environment to which the evolving hominids must have adapted themselves. He not only considers bipedality as evolving from adaptation to an aquatic condition (e.g. the need to wade through shallow waters), but also other peculiarly human physical characteristics: “The need to move within three contrasting media – trees, open ground and water – would have hastened the tempo of evolutionary development.... As less efficient swimmers occasionally drowned, the survivors would have displayed increasing hairlessness, a thick subcutaneous fat layer, chubby and buoyant babies, streamlined body contours, downwards-facing nostrils, a descended larynx, unusually good control over breathing, enhanced diving abilities – and the many other clearly water-adaptive characteristics which make humans such unusual primates” (p. 236). Taking up the “out-of-Africa-again-and-again” hypothesis concerning human evolution,2 Knight furthermore hypothesizes a causal connection between this semi-aquatic surrounding and the evolution of the human female reproductive physiology – including most importantly ovarian synchronization – which “promoted intensified parenting (including a growing paternal input) and hence gave rise to a succession of bipeds with more and more neotenous features, and larger and larger brains” (p. 244). Namely, females under selection pressures learned to synchronize their ovarian cycles by drawing on tidal cues of lakes: hence the aforementioned alignment of the menstrual cycle with lunar periods (p. 244 – 6).3 It is through the male provisioning of mates and offspring enabled by such environmental regulation of female cycles -- which eventually evolved into ritual (cultural) regulation -- that females were freed to raise increasingly encephalized offspring, and “[e]ach time a new type was produced, certain descendants of these evolved hominids may have been forced by population pressure to migrate southwards and sometimes northwards in successive waves, replacing their less neotenous, usually smaller-brained local antecedents – hominid cousins who in their local (drier) habitat had not evolved in similar directions or at the same rate” (p. 244). For this reason, “from the Miocene onwards until the Last Interglacial, the Rift Valley retained its unique position as the evolutionary cradle of large-brained, gracile hominids” (p. 242), thus explaining the “out-of-Africa-again-and-again” model of human evolution.
Note however that the “revolution” (i.e. the institution of sexual division of labor) envisaged by Knight to have occurred through female synchronization of menstrual cycles and refusal of immediate sexual access is within the context of the Cyclopean (harem) system, with one alpha-male controlling a group of females: whereas maximized asynchrony would be the result of a harem system since “each female [must] carefully avoid impinging on the sexual time of her sisters”, here “females who synchronize begin to seek out lower-ranking males [who have no mates]. They bring previously excluded males into the system, where they become of value in assisting with child-care and provisioning. This implies a political process in which the status of dominant polygamous males is subverted in favor of previously lower-ranking males more likely to meet changing female requirements.” “[I]f the females in a harem can break out and gain access to a male each, then they should logically lessen internal competition and tie their mates more continuously to themselves precisely by blurring all cyclical distinctions to the maximum possible extent, whilst simultaneously synchronizing with one another” (p. 218). But presumably this revolution could also happen within the group-marriage system of the chimpanzees (a lineage closer to humans), in which case it would transform the “group promiscuity” of the chimpanzee world into “group monogamy” of the early tribal humans (i.e. the moiety kinship system). This monogamy must be however sharply distinguished from the “isolated monogamy” of the gibbons (“those whose monogamy is premised on the complete spatial isolation of females from one another – the gibbon pattern – are if anything still further removed from the evolving human norm. The human revolution was pioneered by females who combined pair-bonding with intensified gender solidarity, so that sexual attachments were not at the expense of wider forms of connectedness”; p. 220) – which is not conducive to the development of sociality and large-brain capacity (“Compared with other primates, those which are monogamous appear to eat lower-quality diets, have an inferior ability to perceive social relationships and have minimal levels of role differentiation”; p. 176) – and in fact combines the best of the group-marriage system (gender solidarity) with the best of the primate monogamy system (monogamy as allowing the maximal degree of exploitation of male labor power).
As noted (Footnote 1), another reason for the decrease of sexual dimorphism is female ovarian synchrony, which, by drawing into the mating-provisioning system “other” males out-competed by the alpha-male, would lessen the inter-male competition for females characteristic of the sexual politics of the primate world and which normally favors large-size aggressive but selfish (un-cooperative) males. “[I]t is generally true that a high level of dimorphism tends to correlate with a harem system, or at least with strong sexual competition between males” (p. 226). Thus, for Knight, fossil evidences for the decrease of sexual dimorphism could be evaluated as suggesting female synchrony and solidarity. Since female synchrony depended upon area-intensive foraging of bands of females (especially along shorelines), Knight hypothesizes that lineages of hominid evolution leading to other less gracile and more robust types (for example, “the robust australopithecines or some of the more robust and/or dimorphic species of Homo”) diverged when, “as radiating hominids colonized what were by previous standards impoverished or arid areas, female ovarian synchrony became difficult to maintain. Groups of foraging, largely self-sufficient females would have had to space themselves out in the search for food… The possibilities for widespread female gender solidarity would therefore have been weak or non-existent, and in most situations this may have allowed males to monopolize individuals or small groups…. It is tempting to speculate that in the more barren or more marginal environments occupied by Homo erectus or archaic Homo sapiens, patterns of this kind became established. Such developments would in turn have set up locally specific selection pressures driving hominid evolution in non-modern directions” (ibid.). It is thus that “in the more arid or otherwise marginal habitats which [the Eurasian Homo erectus] were able to colonize, archaic humans [who descended from them] – who owed their [large] brains ultimately not to local conditions but to the peculiar [ecologically rich shoreline] circumstances of their African origins – would have been obliged to adapt locally in ways which did not involve significant further neoteny, gracility or encephalization. Instead, increased dispersal, a corresponding decline in social complexity and new, strenuous physical demands would have led to enhanced robustness and to certain emphasis on physical at the expense of highly sophisticated communicative/ social skills [which were requisite for supraorganismic formation]. This, in any event, is one interpretation which can be put upon some of the super-robust features of Homo erectus in Asia and the earlier specimens of archaic Homo sapiens in Europe and elsewhere – in particular the massive limb bones, enormous brow ridges and astonishingly thick skulls” (p. 277, emphasis added). It is their backward sociality which then resulted in their complete replacement by the anatomically modern humans. (Such view concerning the primitiveness of pre-modern Homo, current within the Anglophonic circles, is, of course, as hinted at, increasingly questioned by the European researchers, who have come to regard the archaic Homo sapiens and even the earlier hominids as possibly possessing a ritualized life and hence a certain degree of social complexity; c.f. “Die Spur des Jaegers”, in Spiegel, June 2004.)
Secondly, Knight seems to be arguing for the origin of full-blown, grammatical/ narrative speech as of the same time as that of ritual. To understand this, it is important to keep in mind the important difference between the human cognitive world and that of the animals... between culture and nature. We have said that culture is a negation of nature, so that the mindset, or cognitive map, of a socially active human is structured in inverse of that of an unsocial, free-roaming animal: whereas self-interest and the drive for satisfaction of desires govern that of the latter (for most species and during most of the time, at least), social duties implying self-sacrifice, altruism, and repression of desires structure the former. And while concrete, tangible reality fills the latter, invisible, intangible and non-existent entities organize the former. ("The communal map unique to humans is sociocentric, its motivational biases regularly inverting those of ordinary perception -- so that onerous social duties... are positively marked, while opportunities for sexual self-indulgence are marked 'danger' or 'taboo'. The representations central to the communal map are intangibles, without perceptual counterparts. 'God', 'Unicorn' and 'Totem' are among the possibilities." Chris Knight, "Darwinism and Collective Representations", in The Archaeology of Human Ancestry, p. 331.) The former, the repression of the self, is certainly the consequence of social life, the effect of the formation of the supraorganism on its constituents. The latter, beliefs in the intangibles/ spirituals, began in the beginning of the sexual division of labor.
The belief in the intangibles (God, Totem, The Ancestral Ghost) as expressed in rituals holds the key to the origin of language, according to Chris Knight. He regards speech and ritual as two interdependent aspects of a single symbolic domain, whose essential purpose is collective deception or illusion non-perceptible but capable of being referred to by a common code. Rituals implant and replicate the non-perceptible illusion (God, Totem, etc.) within the psyche of the communal members through heavy emotional involvement during the ritual process: the first example in human history of the mobilization of an individual’s emotion – like some miracle-performing priest in a cult frequent in today’s society – to induce him or her to believe in the non-sensible and/or the unbelievable; and speech functions to gossip about the illusions and plan the rituals. He makes us remember that the essence of the peculiarly human cognitism is regular inversion or negation of obvious perception to create illusory intangibles: God, Totem, The Ancestral Ghost; and that the very essence of speech lies in “cryptic mutual reference to intangibles” (ibid.). “This definition [of speech] clarifies why other primates have never evolved it. [They] know of no gods, and seemingly need none. There is therefore nothing for them to vocalize about – except ongoing real events and experiences, for which purpose a gesture/ call system suffices” (p. 332). Thus speech evolved in the collective of co-operating (female?) individuals (p. 339); and rituals evolved among the coalition of conspirators to overcome the others' resistance against the (ridiculous, fantastic, obviously false, and hence otherwise unbelievable) message. This interpretation fits well within certain theory on the origin of grammatical language, or language as we know it: the theory that the transition from the proto-language of Homo erectus (which is a “command” language, composed largely of imperatives) to the grammatical, narrative language or language as we know it (language of grammatical and syntactic rules allowing the formulations of indicatives and so narration of stories, i.e. myths) took place when human ancestors developed the practice of story-telling, i.e. myth-making: that is, precisely the telling of stories of which god did what, which things came from which action of gods, etc.4 Here this new function, this new practice of humans, the narration of fantasies or fantastic stories, and hence the new form of language, grammatical language, would have emerged within the context of female gossips about the content of their deception. Presumably as the function of females telling stories about how their animality and ambivalent sexual identity came about through imaginary and supernatural beings and processes. The stories would be necessary as explanations for these otherwise unbelievable (since false) “put-ons” (sexual hermaphroditism and animality). These stories, fantastic, obviously false, hard-to-believe, but made believed by all through heavy emotional inducement (“initiation”), would then be the first myths, this epoch-making event. We thus see that the “transition from nature to culture” or to the “symbolic” -- from the biosphere to the noosphere -- is marked by a certain negation, a denial of reality, and by the creation of, and dwelling in, ridiculous illusions. This is also the moment of the commencement of spiritual history (in contradistinction to material history), the moment at which the spiritual history of the Universe branched off from its material “unfolding” (Entwicklung); or the moment at which imagination was freed into existence. From this moment onwards humans were to dwell in fantasies and illusions of supernatural gods and processes for some 100,000 years, absolutely convinced in the reality of these illusions, ordering their entire existence around these, and devoting (or “wasting”) a large portion of their resources and energies to the maintenance of these illusions: sacrifices of animals and some of their own number to the gods, which they could have consumed themselves; endless killings in the name of these gods; setting aside valuable resources to construct houses for these gods, instead of for themselves, etc. It is only until the late 1700s that, with the gradual rise of sciences, of the new structural perspective, human beings became “practical”, finally returning to Earth again. (According to Knight's view, that is.)
Two comments are in order here. Firstly, Animals need no gods, for these supranaturals are illusions from collective self-deception, and living in a competitive natural world our primate relatives experience strong pressure to distinguish between fantasy and reality and to focus on the latter only. Primates, it is true, are capable of individual deception: "They can, after all, deceive - as in the case of the sub-adult male baboon found harassing a youngster and then pursued by the victim's adult protectors. Unexpectedly, the culprit stood on its hindlegs, staring as if watching a distant predator; although this did not exist, it distracted the pursuers' attention long enough for the deceiver to escape..." (ibid., p. 334). But this differs from the collective deception we call symbolism (e.g. belief in God): "It might be claimed that the 'false' predator was in effect a symbolic predator... It was not, because having checked it out, the victims of the deceit lost all interest in the unreal phenomenon..." (ibid.). Without the whole of the community immersing themselves in a common deception, there was no need for language. "And it is because other primates' deceptions are never collectively perpetuated that they cannot be labelled by the community. Private lies, private fantasized experiences, are simply not the kinds of things to which agreed, collective labels can be attached" (ibid.).
Secondly, as regards the branching-off of spiritual history. While we agree with the sociological function of rituals as is presented here (the initiation of the sexual division of labor), the contents of rituals are not exhausted thereby. When language came into being, the fundamental truth of nature can be intuited, i.e. the laws of thermodynamics. Our theory is that a naive, functional understanding of Conservation leads to the concept of the immortality of the soul which then gives rise to the belief in gods or the Ancestral Ghost. Then the same naive understanding of entropy leads to the belief in the necessity of cosmos- and society-restorative rituals. Only then is the story of primitive religiosity complete, much of which is constituted additionally by men's response to the exigencies of meat women have placed on them. By this time the symbolic culture has become predominated by men instead. C.f. "A Thermodynamic Genealogy of Primitive Religions," where also the flaws in Knight's and Power's rather atheistic approach in the re-construction of the origin of religiosity will become apparent.
Place and Time: The onset of “true” sexual division of labor, associated with the establishment of the symbolic order, took place in South Africa, and probably was common also in central and eastern Africa, around 110,000 years BP, to judge from the archaeological evidence of ochre use (Power and Watts). From the period of late archaic Homo sapiens, 300 – 110 kyr BP, we have limited amount of red ochre use in the archaeological record, suggesting an infrequent, context-dependent proto-ritual of sham menstruation in south Africa, which was also associated with less planning-depth and the consequent greater reliance on bio-degradable material that left no vestiges behind. In Europe of this time, among the Neanderthals, there was the same irregularity, and black manganese predominated in place of red. Around the turn to anatomically modern human (amh), or Homo sapiens sapiens, 110 kyr BP, the use of red ochre increased exponentially in southern Africa, suggesting regular and false menstruation rituals and the onset of the targeted regular male provisioning or sexual division of labor as an institution. In consequence other symbolic activities were “freed” into existence: “This includes possible recording systems in the form of serially notched bones, symbolically elaborated burial, the transport of marine shells over distances of 100 km [sign of ‘trade’ and hence of an emergent Interaction Sphere, the formation of which, as we shall see, would be essential to the emergence of the second phase of symbolism, the Upper Paleolithic Revolution], and engraved ostrich eggshell” (Power and Watts, p. 319). White and yellow also occurred, indicating ritual complexity; but never black. In Upper Paleolithic Europe of circa 40,000 years BP, when the anatomically modern human first arrived there (they were the Dene-Caucasians, as we shall see), Neanderthals seemed to have adopted the sexual division of labor and the attendant rituals from their new competitors under pressure of competition: they saw that their amh cousin’s way seemed superior, and they attempted to emulate it, just as nations throughout attempted to emulate the Euro-American ways in the 19th and 20th century under pressure of competition (or of the Interaction Sphere). “It is only during the Chatelperronean, when Neanderthals are widely believed to have been in direct competition with the newly arrived 'moderns', that we witness a dramatic increase in the use of red ochre [indicating Neanderthal’s adoption of rituals for the purpose of the integration of sexes], best illustrated at Arcy-sur-Cure” (ibid., p. 317).
Incidentally, the timing of 110 kyr BP matches that of the origin of human language calculated through backward projection of language divergence rate based on language diversity of New Guinea, supposing polygenesis of all human languages in a belt of populations which, of course, probably diverged from a single archaic Homo sapiens population; the calculation could give 130 kyr BP, supposing monogenesis in a single local population of late archaics or amh in Africa. 5
Power and Watts use this "model" to "specify closely the underlying syntax of ritual signaling... Whenever surviving myth and ritual have anything to say about the moon, menstruation, hunting, sexual abstinence, cooking and so forth, then the symbolic connections should accord with the specified 'time resistant' syntax. The model predicts that periodic female inviolability should be discernible as a focus of ritual traditions. Menstrual taboos satisfy this condition, being sufficiently widespread and invariant to indicate extreme antiquity. Predictably, where hunting is practised, the taboos are closely linked with beliefs concerning hunting luck. [See fourth point below.] Ritual potency is expected to display everywhere a characteristic signature, revealing its ancestry in menstrual seclusion" (ibid., p. 320). This "syntax" they attempt to verify among the Khoisan. First, ochre: "ochre and haematite were widely used in Khoisan menarcheal observance... [e.g.] Among the /Xam... in the context of menarcheal rituals, when the 'new maiden' presented all the women of the band with lumps of haematite for dressing their cloaks and decorating their faces." (Ibid.) "Moreover, ochre-processing seems to have been characteristically a woman's activity." "We have argued that cosmetic manipulation of menstrual signals -- with 'blood' triggering 'periodic seclusion' or 'removal to another world' -- provides a basic transformational template from which other patterns of ritual can be understood to derive" (p. 321). Second, hunting. "Over the year, the most productive form of hunting practised by the Hadza, the !Kung of Dobi and !Kubi, and the /Kaicwa San of the Nata River, took place in the dry season. It consisted of night-stand hunts over game trails leading to water-holes or river-pools." (Ibid.) Third, among the Khoisan, "a normative belief linking success in the hunt to lunar periodicity", often "the waxing phase [being] associated with hunting success" (p. 322). Fourth, "a normative belief associating menstrual with lunar periodicity", specifically, "dark, not full, moon". "The /Xam, !Xu... would not release a menarcheal girl from seclusion until the appearance of the new moon." (Ibid.) And finally, "big game hunting and marital sex are regarded as incompatible." (Ibid.) Now, this incompatibility may reflect female resistance of male advance "by going into animal mode and/or being the wrong sex. As a consequence, the menstruating woman is in a paradoxical position: if by becoming the prey animal [wrong species] she initiates the hunt ['No'-saying], she is in some sense not only the quarry but the hunter as well." The hunter-man, the prey animal, and the menstrual woman merge into a single entity, reflected in the terms the Hadza and !Kung have for a menarcheal girl. "The Hadza say 'she has shot her first zebra'... the !Kung say 'she has shot her first eland.' While in seclusion and upon emergence, the girl must keep her eyes down; in this way, the antelope will do the same and not see the approach of the hunters" (p. 323). Other examples of this type show a magical practice based on the metaphorical (not metonymic) identity among the game, the hunter, and the menstrual girl who ends up enactingly coordinating the hunt from seclusion. The syntax may be schematized from the description of the Hadza ("the dry season marks the phase of social aggregation when their most sacred rituals are held -- the epeme dances held on each night of the dark moon for the duration of the aggregation. All camp fires are extinguished and the women call upon each man in turn to dance, referring to him exclusively in consanguineal kinship terms [therefore, as sisters, etc., they become inappropriate for mating]... [At the same time] women synchronize their menstruation with dark moon... The dance emphasizes gender segregation cross-cut by kinship solidarity. As well as being a healing dance, it is believed to ensure success in forthcoming hunts... [Thus the pattern:] first, men should not hunt nor have sex while their wives are bleeding: wherein lies the origin of the consideration of "ceremonial chastity" in many parts of the world "as an indispensable condition of hunting success, while a menstruating woman is thought of as the gravest possible threat to the chase [to hunting luck]" (Blood Relations, p. 389); second, the most successful hunting in the dry season occurs around full moon; and third, menstruation normatively occurs at dark moon, at the same time as the most sacred ritual" [Power, p. 322]):
|0.00||Full Moon||(sex and feasting ?)||(sex and feasting ?)|
|0.00-0.25||Waning Gibbous Moon||.||.|
|0.25||Last Quarter Moon||.||.|
|0.25-0.50||Waning Crescent Moon||.||.|
|0.50||New Moon||no sex, no hunting||ritual dance, (synchronized) menstruation, seclusion|
|0.50-0.75||Waxing Crescent Moon||.||.|
|0.75||First Quarter Moon||.||.|
|0.75-1.00||Waxing Gibbous Moon||hunting success||.|
|1.00||Full Moon (again)||return from hunting||emergence from seclusion|
Power and Watts provide an example of Khoisan myth underlying this syntax: "In the Hadza matriarchy myth of Mambedaka, the original owner of the sacred epeme meat is an old woman who dresses as a man, hunts zebra and wears a zebra penis which she uses to have sex with her 'wives'. She demands that men bring the epeme meat to her cooking pot which she distributes to the 'wives'. Men have no share in the sacred meat until the violent overthrow of Mambedaka's rule. This is a graphic depiction of the logic of women procuring fatty meat from men by signalling 'wrong sex, wrong species'" (p. 323; emphasis added).6
Chris Knight remarks on how lunar periodicity should correlate with the "female sex-strike until male provisioning of meat": "Lunar time is most simply structured through bisection, yielding a waxing and a waning half of each month. A strike is an all-or-nothing event, either 'off' or 'on', giving two possibilities: 'on' during waning moon while 'off' during waxing, or vice versa. Action during waning moon would schedule the climax of hunting, butchering and transportation within the darkest portion of each month. Since this would limit the effective day length available to complete these activities, we predict the reverse polarity - strike action during waxing moon, climaxing with the return of the hunt by or around full moon. As 'on' switches to 'off' at this point, fires are lit, meat is cooked and marital relations resumed. Ritual signals cross-culturally should reflect this binary on/off logic, 'on' coinciding with crescent moon, 'off' with the moon's waning." ("Origin of Human Society") The dark moon when menstruation commences and the strike is about to begin, would thus also correlate with "anti-fire" (Blood Relations, p. 340; thus also the opposition between [menstrual] blood and fire in the primitive mind: CH. 7.2. "The Origin of Male-Domination in Tribal Societies"). He then produces the diagrammatic representation of the above table-schema.
"A model Ice Age hunting community's ritually structured schedule of work and rest. In addition to daily, seasonal, and other periodicities, life normatively alternates to a fortnightly rhythm, switching between a 'production' phase of ritual power (initiated by menstrual onset, continued into hunting, butchery, etc. and terminated as raw meat is transformed into cooked) and a corresponding 'consumption' phase of surrender or relaxation (beginning with feasting and celebratory love-making, terminated as meat supplies run low and the next menstrual onset approaches.) The thick black line signifies the dominance of blood-relations whilst blood of any kind is flowing." I.e. menstrual blood or the red body-paint shaming it, and the bleeding from the animals hunted. The hunter is prevented - through a women's counter-measure - from consuming the hunted game in secret without sharing with the community by realizing the commonality between the menstrual blood and the game blood and consequently transferring the taboo ('No touching') character of the menstrual blood onto the game blood. The common identification of animal blood and menstrual blood among the African tribes again serves as a confirmation of this.7 The resultant "imposition of menstrual avoidances restricting legitimate meat-cooking to only certain specific lunar/ menstrually defined times" leads to the mythologically embedded cultural logic of "anti-fire-dark moon-raw (and menstruation plus no-sex)" and "fire-full moon-cooked (and marital sex)" and explains "many puzzling ethnographic linkages between menstruation, the moon and blood-linked cooking taboos" (Blood Relations, p. 325). The waxing phase is therefore not only a time of abstinence but also starvation and raw food which, with blood as yet un-removed by women’s fire, cannot be eaten. All this, Knight asserts, also underlies what he calls the "Own Kill Taboo" or superstition prevalent among the primitive hunters - that a hunter who eats the meat of the animal that he has hunted himself rather than the meat of the animal that hunters of the other exogamous moiety have hunted will incur "bad luck" for his future hunting expeditions. "The switch to white at full moon connotes cooking fire's lifting of the taboos associated with 'rawness' or visible blood [since game blood has become just as much a taboo as menstrual blood, when women emerge from seclusion they remove menstrual blood to get ready for copulation -- ending the strike -- and at the same time the hunters return and women remove also the taboo of game blood by cooking the meat], allowing feasting to proceed and marital partners to conjoin." (“Origin of Human Society”)
Such logic must underlie the nearly universal fact of human habit that “[a]ll over the world, wherever the full moon is celebrated at all, the all-night dances are celebrations of life in opposition to death, and very often involve sex games and love-making” (Blood Relations, p. 345). Knight summarizes thusly in detail the beginning of the human culture and the sexual division of labor (corresponding to the beginning of human supraorganismic formation):
Once a lunar month, women enter seclusion. The moon is now dark. At this time, people do not walk out at night, or visit one another, or go hunting. They remain with kin, reassembling as coalitions of kin, men focusing around their "mothers" and "sisters", not their wives. Menstrual blood is now flowing, or at least assumed to be, and although a man can be in close proximity to his mother's blood, his wife's is to be avoided.
At dark moon, the blood which flows seems to come from the moon. It is the moon, after all, which brings kin together. It is the clock with which they synchronize their reunion. All symbolic authority in this phase is associated with mothers/sisters, not fathers. All bodily intimacy (for example, in dancing) is legitimate only to the extent that the symbolic authority of blood and of maternity is upheld. Men are of course involved, but the blood contact immediately defines them as "sons" and "brothers" in relation to their kinswomen [recall the epeme dance], not fathers, husbands or lovers in relation to affines. This can be put another way by saying that to the extent that men are touched by the "magic" of blood, their sexuality is washed away, temporarily suppressed…. [What this does is to] preclude female sexual yielding or surrender to a partner in adult heterosexual intercourse…. [T]he sex strike must remain firm.
With sexual energies aroused but not satisfied, both men and women now concentrate their attention on a future goal, channeling all energies into work. Traps are put in place and set, weapons sharpened or made. As the moon waxes, the time for the hunt itself draws near.
Towards full moon, when nights are light, hunting begins. The closer to full moon, the closer to the most propitious time for the kill. Following success, the meat is brought home; fires and earth ovens are prepared; the meat is ceremonially cooked. The killing-to-cooking (blood-to-fire) transition coincides with the transition from waxing to waning moon. Cooking, lunar transition, the removal of blood in meat and the lifting of the blood spell are all symbolized by the same light and fire. The collective, sex-striking community now dissolves: from now on come feasting, celebration and sex. Couples are left free to enjoy one another's bodies, just as they are free to partake of cooked meat. This lasts for anything up to thirteen or fourteen days – in principle until the time for the polar opposite spell-casting transformation has arrived.
Following a period of pre-menstrual build-up and tension, the power of the strike is once again unleashed. The cooked-to-raw (fire-to-blood) transition occurs ideally at dark moon. The menstrual flow then puts a stop to all feasting and love-making. Now males are reclaimed as sex-strike allies by their mothers and sisters, discipline and solidarity once more prevail over sex – and the cycle is set in motion for a further round.
We are left, then, with a picture of two social “worlds” corresponding to two kinds of time – that of the waxing moon on the one hand, waning moon on the other…. In one temporal sector, blood relations dominate, marital relations are excluded, meat is raw and meat hunger prevails; in the other, cooking-fires are lit, marital relations predominate and there is feasting on cooked meat. In the first phase, men are essentially “maternal uncles”, “sons” and “brothers” to their kin, while women are “mothers”, “sisters” and “daughters”; with the transition to the second phase, everyone exchanges partners and roles – to become spouses or lovers to polar opposite kinds of relatives… (p. 413 - 6).
The implication of the moiety tribal system in this we will consider in the next section.
Certainly this scenario is merely theoretical, i.e. speculative; and it reflects, and receives conditioning from, no doubt, the contemporary ideology, especially that of the exaltation of woman so popular nowadays, in that the decisive evolutionary leap into our humanity, i.e. into the symbolic domain and the division of labor/ society (the noosphere, or level 6 of the layered structure of the Universe), is now seen as initiated by women, not by men through their over-exalted hunting activity as in the past models, whose male-bias was conditioned by social male-dominance universal before the 1960s. Today female-bias is popular, and any theory reflecting female-bias is in the trend. This is of course an instance of intellectual construct being conditioned by social reality, i.e. the transition, since the 1960s, to an ever larger consumer market society whose enlargement has depended upon the recruitment of women into public production as hitherto un-sapped resources -- and also as stronger consumers -- once manpower had become insufficient for the further trashing of the planet. Ideological male-bashing and female-exalting – the incessant emphasis on woman’ ability to participate in public production as well as men, or even better than men, which is the rule in today’s discourse regarding the sexes – would facilitate such recruitment: something like Marx’s substructure (relations of production) conditioning the superstructure (the discursive world: the media and books). But such female-biased model has one solid founding in empirical truth-value: after all, encephalization was the major, and probably the most conspicuous aspect of human evolution, and it is females who had to bear the cost of this fundamental theme of human evolution; it is women who had to bear large-brained fetus, and to rear slow-growing babies. And to the extent that any evolutionary innovations (such as the division of labor and the symbolic order) must have come about through a reason, i.e. under pressure or been compelled into being – since both biological and social evolution has taught us that evolution is fundamentally a conservative process, that no innovation would occur unless the organism or the social group of humans were compelled by new burdens of circumstances to introduce innovations as remedies – it might just be females, who, unlike men (who walked away free from encephalized babies), were compelled to do something, to devise some strategies that would remedy the new costs of encephalization, initiating social innovations thusly. Whether, then, women initiated the move to sexual division of labor and to the symbolic in exact details as speculated by Power, Watts and Knight can be open to debate, but the fact that they did initiate this move in some way or other should be confidently accepted. This must be admitted, notwithstanding Lévi-Strauss’ criticism in respect to the speculative nature of the currently trendy female-biased theories.8
It is worth reflecting, at this moment, on how the progress of time has so distorted the original point de départ, to produce such surprising situation at the other end of the process. It is most likely that it is women who had, by soliciting male parental effort to offset the burdens of encephalization, laid the foundation for, first, the “primordial” male dominance in hunting and gathering societies and, later, patriarchy at the incipience of “civilization”. Men systematized and “institutionalized” their meat-hunting activity only at the solicitation of women; but through and within the integration of the social collective that this systematization and institutionalization made possible, men also discovered their avenue to power, to the control of women and the whole social collective. We can see why: Insofar as the integration of individuals into a supraorganism increases the metabolic rate of the whole and so facilitates the survival of every individual member therein (just as protists may gather to form a colony in time of starvation), and insofar as meat facilitates such integration, it naturally carries a symbolic value that, no doubt, does much to generate political authority for its procurers: men. Thus Leakey and Lewin remarks: “… the importance of meat is not so much that it is especially palatable or nutritious, but rather that it is vital to cultural interchange between individuals within bands, and between bands too. In a hunting and gathering community the exchange and sharing of food is at the core of the social structure, but there is an essential difference between the fate of the hunted meat and gathered plants; plant foods generally remain within the immediate family circle whereas meat may be distributed outside the immediate families of the men who have provided it... A person who is in a position to distribute meat is therefore at the center of a network of reciprocal relationships which help to strengthen alliances between groups involved and the distributors of meat are those who hunted it – men. Women in hunter-gatherer societies are therefore, in this respect, at a disadvantage insofar as their social position is concerned” (Origin, p. 233). Thus the “primordial” political dominance of men in hunter-gatherer societies, to the extent that it originated from their work in the integration of the social collective and hence in the formation of supraorganism, went deeper in its foundation than the mere integration of sexes (which certainly was already inaugurating a new efficiency in production/ consumption or metabolism of the group), and was furthermore based on their work in the integration of all integrated sexual units, i.e. in the formation of political alliances that made society proper. Men’s hunting role allowed them to form alliances that had an efficacy in forming divisions and integration of the social collective, whence a political structure gradually emerged; “politics” is how we designate the fact that, since the integration of supraorganism was men’s business, they naturally, in the daily functioning of the metabolism of the supraorganism, let their influence be felt in the arrangement of affairs. And insofar as women specialized themselves to the business of tending to encephalized babies, they were increasingly left out of the alliance, or political, networks of exchange by men and between men, and hence becoming gradually voiceless in the internal administration of the tribe. This is the origin of politics as we know it (as we know it: that is, politics beyond the dynamics of interactions that constitute, say, the hierarchical network in a band of baboons or the paradisical association of bonobos). Again, we see that the pressure for the formation of supraorganism, though in principle indifferent to the question of who should dominate whom in its internal structure, gradually produced a situation where males profited with gains in political influence at the expense of females. We may call this accidental or “apparent” power of men “secondary power”, which is of an opportunistic nature, the primary being the thermodynamic structure of the universe which has organized the situation in the first place such that any secondary power (such as that accrued to men) may become possible.
Leakey/ Lewin thus concludes: “Meat, then, serves as a valued currency in the political affairs of developing human society” (ibid., p. 233). We shall learn more about this later.
The model proposed by Power, Watts, and Knight also enlightens us as to the origin of taboo associated with menstrual blood, and the image, “sense” or “feel” of women, on the part of men, as mystical, enigmatic, ambiguous, and dangerous beings, which it is in fact women who first induced in men through their No-dances: hermaphroditism, ambivalence between humanity and animality, and the blood signifying the Forbidden; these, which later were incorporated into men's symbolic and ideological justification for the exclusion and, eventually, oppression of women, were very likely the inventions of women themselves in the first place. What has happened can be summarized simply for now: women with their profuse bleeding were able to construct themselves – on account, also, of the general human awakening to thermodynamics – as “sacred”, but sacred only in the raw, negative, un-domesticated sense (“sacred because dangerous, and dangerous because sacred”, Blood Relations, p. 384). This is how they were able to start ritual (noospheric) life and persuade men to hunt for them. Then, as we shall see, when men were able to reverse the “female ritual dominance”, they transformed at the same time women’s raw sacredness (dangerous, i.e. order-dissoluting, because too “energetic” before harness) into simply evil and polluting (order-dissoluting simply so, no energy to be harnessed). This scenario is very instructive regarding the distortive effect of time: one never knows how the course of time may distort one’s invention at one time for one purpose into something completely different at another time. Women’s counter-dominance circa 100,000 to 130,000 BP had been turned into the mechanism of their oppression by the Christ Era.
Cultural advances as functions of “revolutions”: Knight’s Marxist framework. In the pre-human primate world, the selection pressure is upon the individuals, not on the group or species, because, without female gender solidarity to entrain co-operation from males also as a group, the alpha male would attempt to monopolize as much resources and as many females as possible all for himself, the “group” being thus characterized internally more by conflicts than by co-operation and the division of labor. The strongest singular males would leave more descendants. Knight interprets the mysterious, non-evolving hand-axes of the Acheulean tradition, which remained static in technological level and style for a million years or so, and the earliest hominid use of fire, both in this light. If the earlier hominids such as Homo erectus or even the Neanderthals (before contact with amh) had not still transcended the primate type of alpha male-dominated sexual politics, and therefore were not “capable of the kind of organization in which the group can periodically split into distinct parties each with its own logistic task” – i.e. acting together as a supraorganism – then the Acheulean hand-axes, which have baffled researchers because of their uselessness as hunting weapons and inefficacy as cutting instrument for scavenged meat, could become intelligible as tools for personal defense which one male might use to fend off other males – thus having nothing whatever to do with hunting or scavenging of meat: this then fits in with Knight’s speculation that the robust features of the pre-modern Homo (re-)appeared due to their evolution, under pressure from less ecologically rich environment, in a contrary direction as compared with their anatomically modern cousin. And fire similarly could not have been used as yet by the female members of the pre-modern species to cook food, but was kept on for other more basic purposes. “In other words, fire’s potentialities may at first have been constrained by the limitations of a basically primate-like social system” (Blood Relations, p. 266). Fire cooking means hearth, which means a home base, which means social divisions and division of labor, and “when, finally, the ‘home base’ institution in its modern form [tribal moiety system] did appear, it was because an age-old, primate-derived sexual-political obstruction associated with male sexual dominance had at last been removed” (p. 272). Technological advances had political preconditions (p. 265), requiring social solidarity (supraorganismic formation). And the primate “selfish” type of sexual politics prevents supraorganismic and noospheric formation, while the result of ovarian synchrony has been such supraorganismic formation. Later we’ll learn better how every reversal in sexual politics – from women’s oppression to their liberation – in fact aims at supraorganismic formation. “It is widely agreed that the emergence of symbolic culture involved ‘the replacement of ape-like systems of interpersonal dominance… by systems of at least relatively egalitarian, stable, and reliable relations of rights and obligations’” (citing Whallon, ibid.). Only then is the selection pressure upon the group rather than on the individual. The pre-modern Homo’s technological stasis, social simplicity, and less gracile, less neotenous physique, thus, were all consequences of their lesser capacity for supraorganismic formation, and it is the talent of the anatomically modern type for supraorganismic formation which conferred upon them an edge in the game of survival over their evolutionary cousins: supraorganismic formation is evolutionarily selected for. Furthermore, when Knight argues against the traditional gradualist approach to the evolution of human culture – that the sexual division of labor and social divisions emerged gradually during the several million years of hominid evolutions, starting with Homo habilis or even Australopithecus – by presenting the model that symbolic culture, society, and human solidarity were the product of “a relatively sudden [and recent] change involving a redistribution of power and a radical transformation of all social, sexual and also spatial relationships” such as has just been narrated, he is pointing out how noospheric supraorganismic formation had “involved a revolution in the most literal sense of the word” (ibid.).
Symbolic counter-revolution by men and the origin of social inequality. The next important stage in the evolution of the symbolic would have been when men adopted and invented a ritual order for themselves, under the influence, and on the model, of the female ritual order. During some time after the female invention of the symbolic there must have been a reversal of trend in the symbolic order: the male ritual order acquired precedence over that of the female in the political dynamics of the group (tribe), that is, the male ritual order was invented as the ideological justification or ground for the political authority of men which came out of their exchange network, and eventually became the autonomous source of this political authority. This came about when the political authority of men which this new ritual order justified in turn reinforced the prestige of the new order, increasingly of a peculiarly male character and completely exclusive of female participation. The precedence in prestige of the male symbolic order, the alliance system that the distribution of hunted meat by men was able to weave, and of which the “exchange of women” in the subsequently emerging marriage system became a most important part, and the increasing dependence of women and of the whole group on men in regard to energy source, especially in harsh environment – these, intertwining into a complex network, became a sort of “proto-patriarchy”, here termed (tribal) "male-predominance", the prehistoric foundation on which the historical male-dominance (classical patriarchy = civilization = historical period) was built. We must emphasize again that the integration of the group made possible by the alliance system was “selected” in evolution because it facilitated the metabolism or “survival” of the whole social collective.
The rise of the male symbolic order at the expense of the female should be postulated with respect to the ethnographic data. C.f. Stephen Shennan, “Social Inequality and the Transmission of Cultural Traditions in Forager Societies”, in The Archaeology of Human Ancestry. It used to be assumed that the egalitarianism of the “simpler” hunter-gatherer social group represented the “original condition”, the “universal social evolutionary baseline” (p. 368) from which social inequality later emerged, on the basis of material accumulation which became a feature of the “complex” hunter-gatherer society that evolved from the simpler one. What made the simpler hunter-gatherers simple was their immediate return system and what made the complex hunter-gatherers complex, their delayed return system. Shennan cites Woodburn’s definition as follows:
An immediate-return system is one in which activities oriented to the present (rather than to the past or the future) are stressed; in which people deploy their labor to obtain food and other resources which will be used on the day they were obtained or casually over the days that follow… in which people do not hold valued assets which represent a yield, a return for labor applied over time, or valued assets which are held and managed in a way which resembles and has similar social implications to delayed yields on labour; in which people are systematically disengaged from assets, from the potential in assets for creating dependency.
A delayed-return system is one in which, in contrast, activities are oriented to the past and the future as well as to the present; in which people hold rights over valued assets of some sort, which either represent a yield, a return for labour applied over time, or, if not, are held and managed in a way which resembles and has similar social implications to delayed yields on labor (ibid., p. 367-68).
Other features associated with complex hunter-gatherers are “a subsistence system based on sedentism and storage, and thus a foundation for material inequalities [through accumulation, that is]” and “transport technology [that] makes a very significant difference to the possibilities of material accumulation among foraging groups” (p. 367). One can see that the so-called complex hunter-gatherer societies, in which social inequality – and hence the subordination of women to men – first became a conspicuous feature of Homo sapiens sapiens social collective, must have emerged late in pre-history, in view of the increased complexity of its social structure and the greater advancement of its material technology and energy processing (e.g. food storage). However, it has become apparent nowadays that the so-called egalitarian foragers of contemporary time (the Bushmen, Mbuti, Hadza, etc) are not quite so egalitarian, that these groups are not necessarily representative and preservative of the ancestral condition, but rather owe at least part of their current social structure (e.g. the immediate-return system on which their alleged egalitarianism is based) to the contemporary environmental dynamics in which they reside (this includes both the ecological niches and the surrounding societies), and that “the past saw a greater variety of systems, among which delayed-return systems with their inequalities were certainly more frequent” (p. 386).
What Homo sapiens sapiens social collective came onto the ecological scene just after the revolution of the Symbolic and the beginning of sexual division of labor, both initiated by women, would, then, have developed social inequalities within itself or among its varieties on the African continent or in Near East. Not only would material accumulation or differential access to material possession have been a factor in generating the first social inequalities, but also “inequalities in access to ritual knowledge” (of the male symbolic order!) could have played a major part in this. This is Shennan’s point, and what compels the postulation of a rise of male symbolic order vis-à-vis the original female order.
Even among the most egalitarian forager societies, in which there exist not enough material bases for social inequality, differential access to ritual knowledge of the male symbolic order creates inequality among men, in that certain men possess it and others do not (teacher vis-à-vis pupils or men with right to knowledge vs. men without such right), and between men and women in that women by their sex are excluded from (male) ritual knowledge altogether. This is important. In all cases of forager societies discussed by Shennan the dominant symbolic order is a male prerogative: a sort of revolution must have occurred after women’s invention of the Symbolic to bring about this condition which is the norm today; and what’s more, the inequality among men is always associated with inequality between men and women, and vice-versa. (C.f. comments on the nature of male-domination in regards to classical patriarchy in Chapter 8.3.) Shennan’s cases are: (1) Pintupi of Australia: land ownership is determined by “control over stories, objects and ritual associated with mythological ancestors at a particular place.” (p. 369) Initiation of young men by the elders into ritual knowledge “necessary to look after the country” is just as important as material possession of it. Shennan cites Myer’s description:
From the Pintupi point of view, the emphasis is just as much on the social production of persons who can “hold” the country, that is, on initiating young men and teaching them the ritual knowledge necessary to look after the country, as it is on getting the country. The Pintupi image of social continuity is effectively one in which “country” as an object is passed down – “given” – from generation to generation. The pintupi regard this “giving” as a contribution to the substance and identity of the recipient, a kind of transmission of one generation’s (or person’s) identity to the next. By learning about the Dreaming and seeing the rituals, one’s very being is altered… Certainly, while younger recipients are supposed to reciprocate the gift of knowledge – hunting meat for those who give the knowledge and deferring to them – they cannot really repay what has been given… Pintupi stress that men must hold the Law and pass it on. In fact, men are enormously concerned to pass on their knowledge and their identification with places to their “sons” and “sister’s sons” (p. 369). [In a system of marriage with mother’s brother’s daughter, one’s sister’s son is effectively one’s own son, in that one’s sister belongs to one’s same moiety.]
(2) Mardujarra in Western Australia, “where ecological conditions are such that significant secular inequalities do not emerge”, but where nevertheless “there are relations of inequality in the sphere of ritual and specifically initiation”. (p. 370) He goes on to cite Tonkinson’s description:
In the Mardujarra case, the control exerted by older men over their younger counterparts is a generalized one. It is based on the older men’s monopoly of esoteric knowledge, which will be transmitted only if young men conform to the dictates of the Law, and are willing to hunt meat in continuing reciprocal payment for the major secrets that are progressively revealed to them… What is being indelibly imprinted on the novices is the imperative that they ensure, through conformity and active participation in the religious life, the continued release of power from the realm of the Dreaming into the physical and social world (ibid.).
(3) “Even among the Hadza, one of his archetypal ‘immediate return’ societies, Woodburn notes, the initiated men’s group maintains important privileges over certain joints of meat of large game animals. These privileges are linked with exclusive possession of secret sacred knowledge and ritual to which all women [!] and young men are denied access.” (ibid.)
(4) The foragers of the North American Great Basin, who “are generally regarded as one of the classic egalitarian societies. However, Whitley presents a different view. Not only was there inequality between men and women, but also among men, in particular between those who are shamans, and thus had access to supernatural power, and those who weren’t. Village and band headmen were almost always shamans, and shamanism, like headship, was largely hereditary”. (ibid.) He cites Whitley in full:
It was only through the acquisition of shamanistic power that men could truly become political actors and gain prestige and status in Numic society. In turn, this advantaged them in a number of ways: women desired such men as preferred marriage partners, and the population at large respected them, largely out of fear of their potentially malevolent [power]. And in that shamanistic power was partly inherited, but in any case limited to a small segment of the population (estimated at about 2%), it is apparent that a very restricted, incipient elite group, comprised of shaman/headmen, existed within the ostensibly egalitarian Numic society (ibid.).
Starting from Chapter 7.2. "The Origin of Male-Domination in Tribal Societies: The Male Reversal of Matriliny and the Exchange of Women" We'll learn how the male symbolic counter-revolution which gave rise to this inequality in ritual power among men and between men and women could have occurred.
Andrew Lehman -- inspired in part by Chris Knight as well -- has however constructed a different scenario for the evolution of gender, placing the axis of the evolution of the Symbolic (specifically language) on the male side instead, as a consequence of the sexual selection of males by females. C.f his "Origin of Culture". His different narrative will be discussed later.
1. Sexual dimorphism refers to the ratio in body size between male and female. Thus an average male of Australopithecus is 1.4 times larger than an average female thereof, and an average male of Homo erectus is 1.2 times larger than an average female thereof. Evidently, to be able to rear larger brain babies, the females were getting larger. On the other hand, the decrease of male-size may indicate female ovarian synchrony. See below.
2. C.f. Ian Tattersall, "Out of Africa Again... and Again?" in Scientific American, April, 1997.
3. In explaining why women in contemporary societies, “modern” or otherwise, fail to exhibit clear alignment of their menstrual cycles with tidal cues or lunar phases, Knight suggests that conditions, specifically “gender politics and mating systems[,] have in most regions changed dramatically since the Late Pleistocene” (p. 253), such that menstrual synchrony through lunar-phase alignment has now become rather maladaptive and thus no longer occurs. He is specifically arguing against Cloudsley-Thompson’s study (Biological Clocks. Their Functions in Nature, 1980), which “suggests that a civilized, indoor life with artificial lighting may now be the factor which prevents most women from synchronizing.” Instead, current “evidence suggests that it is mating systems – what social anthropologists term ‘systems of kinship and marriage’ – which are the primary determinants, not light availability considered in isolation” (p. 252).
5. Johanna Nichols, "The Origin and Dispersal of Languages: Linguistic Evidence" in The Origin and Diversification of Language, ed. Nina Jablonski and Leslie Aiello; Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, no. 24, San Francisco, 1998. The author here uses, as the standard, the extent of the diversification of the Indo-European language family in its commonly presumed 6000 years of existence (which Colin Renfrew shows in his Archaeology and Language to be actually about 8000 years) and tries to calculate the age of human language given its diversifications. For most places, e.g. Africa, it does not work, for modern humans originated there 100,000 years ago but "the age [of African languages] computed from the stock divergence half-life is 42,000 years. The great discrepancy between the linguistic and archaeological ages of Africa indicates that there has been much extinction of linguistic diversity there, and/or loss by emigration" (p. 138). But for New Guinea, "which has the world's highest stock density", it works: the linguistic age of New Guinea (together with Australia) -- 60,000 years -- roughly matches its archaeological date of 50,000 years of occupation there by modern humans. (Ibid.) "The outcome is that to populate the traditionally inhabited world with language families at the density that can be reached when circumstances are favorable -- that of New Guinea -- would take some 132,000 years. This is then the linguistic age of the world [supposing all languages in the world descended from a single language]..." (p. 138 -9). Elsewhere: "Taking into account all of the factors discussed here, it is likely that the human linguistic population prior to the expansion out of Africa consisted of perhaps a hundred distinct languages falling into perhaps ten distinct stock-like genetic lineages and showing several distinct areal patterns of typological resemblance and probably a good deal of typological diversity over the entire range. To populate the traditionally inhabited world at New Guinea densities from an ancestral population of 10 stocks would require 108,000 years, a time frame reaching back to the eve of dispersal of anatomically modern human" (p. 142). The author holds the view that the substratum Homo population, Homo erectus-late archaic Homo sapiens, must have already possessed some sort of language, which we have identified as command language ("cut root" or "chase bison [or whatever animal in Africa at the time]"); and so that the original ten or so stocks (which, if they had any sort of "typology" at all, must have already been grammatical, i.e. narrative language that could tell a story like our present day languages) were originally regional variations of the languages from the Homo erectus families, much like English today is the regional variation of the Indo-European family.
6. For another graphic image of women wearing penis sheath and dancing, c.f. the painting on this basin unearthed in 1973 around Chinghai, from a Ma-chia-yao phase site (Yang-Shao period of China, 5000 - 7000 B.P.; Chih, Archaeology of Ancient China, 4th ed.; p. 152).
Note that the myths of the San people "tell of a primeval time when animals were people; after an initiation creation event, they differentiated. But these first people were often stupid, lacking customs and manners, and only after a second creation did they become the San of today. (According to one account, it took a single creation for men to become fully human, but two for women.)" Anne Solomon, "Rock Art in South Africa", Scientific America, Nov. 1996. One can discern in the pantomime No-dance of these early women (i.e. wrong species) the first totemic tendency toward an identity and interchangeability between animals and humans, but the issue is probably more complicated, we argue, implying as well the origin of animistic consciousness in human awakening to the thermodynamic structure of the Universe.
7. How is this transference of value or identification made? Knight first refers us back to the aforementioned magico-metaphorical identification among the Kalahari San peoples between the game animal and the menstruant: "There is no doubt that it is because she is bleeding that she is identified with game which should also bleed when successfully hunted" (ibid., p. 384). Now he uses common-sense to explain both the game-blood taboo and the magical identification: “Any man noticed to be blood-covered might then have been suspected of ‘strike-breaking’. Like a rapist or murderer, he would have had ‘blood on his hands’…. Somehow… in the course of evolution it had become established that blood was simply blood. That is, it made no difference where the blood came from: it was conceptually the same. The blood of rape, murder or strike-breaking, the blood of the hunt, the blood of menstruation or childbirth: it was all in the final analysis just blood” (p. 38). That blood becomes simply blood, in our conception (a thermodynamic genealogy of religions), however, has a very good reason, and is the straightforward function of the perception of consubstantiality of Being in anamnesis of Conservation and of the animistic perspective on reality (later). Blood is moreover in this perspective the concrete, concentrated, fluid manifestation of the raw energy of which all things in the universe are made (the primitives’ understanding of E = mc2 – too raw, too energetic, not yet domesticated, le sacré sauvage (in Roger Bastide’s words), hence dangerous for now and tabooed; like the sun, although good (i.e. energetically nourishing), would kill you if you are over-exposed to its raw light. (See "The Origin of the Sacred".) “Raw meat [thus] could have marked a man with bloodstains just as easily as could contact with a menstruating women…. [Raw meat] would have stayed taboo for as long as it remained uncooked – just as women remained ‘taboo’ whilst menstruating” (p. 39). Cooking, then, tames the overly energetic, “wild sacred”, i.e. domesticates it: le sacré domestique.
8. C.f. Lévi-Strauss, “La sexualité féminine et l’origine de la société” in Les temps modernes, March-April, 1998, N. 598, p. 78 - 84. Here he deplores the current trend in the Anglophonic anthropological circle of favoring the role of (changing) female physiology in the instigation of the human transition from nature to culture (society), at the expense of the traditionally favored mechanisms of tool-making and language-acquisition. The female physiological change in question is of course the loss of oestrus, and so sexual receptibility for all seasons. He lists five theoretical scenarios that have taken off from this fact. One, that women who are sexually accessible for all seasons obtain male-guarding and so male-provisioning. Second, that, by not “advertising” their sexual availability, they make male-guarding more difficult and so increase their chance of being impregnated by other males, despite being “not the best reproducers.” The third, appearing in the French circle itself, that, by being constantly sexually available, and so attracting too many males, women compromise social stability and thus induce the establishment of incest-taboo which makes them inaccessible to men most subject to constant temptation because of common domesticity, and which, as is known, constitutes the moment of the transition from nature to society. The fourth is that of Camilla Power’s, which, “far from putting ahead the total loss of oestrus” (p. 81), stipulates that the more abundant menstruation of human females than other animals causes them to compete for male attention, the resolution of which is the formation of the coalition of women who feign menstruation together. (Power’s of course also incorporates the first.) The fifth is that the concealment of ovulation allows less intelligent women – who don’t understand the relationship between ovulation and fertility – to be able to propagate their genes also, or even better than the intelligent women. Lévi-Strauss’ purpose in listing all these is to show their mutual incompatibility and contradiction, which is his first objection to the trend. The second fault of the trend, which he sees as the underlying reason for its first fault, is the lack of empirical evidence because of which, he says, nothing meaningful can really be said of times so ancient. His third objection can be directed effectively against Chris Knight’s scenario of the origin of language. It consists in this: the neurological requisite for the capacity for language existed long before our species, already among Homo habilis. (“Des moulages endocrâniens faits sur les restes d’Homo habilis, un des nos lointains prédécesseurs, montrent que le lobe frontal gauche et l’aire dite de Broca, centre du langage, étaient déjà formés il y a plus de deux millions d’années. Comme le nom dont on l’a baptisé le souligne, Homo habilis fabriquait des outils rudimentaires, certes, mais répondant à des formes standardisées. Il n’est pas indifférent de noter à cet égard que le centre cérébral qui commande la main droite est contingu à l’aire de Broca, et que les deux centres se sont développés de concert. Rien ne permet d’affirmer qu’Homo habilis parlait, mais il en avait les premiers moyens”; p. 83.) Culture, with its language and incest taboo, cannot be brought into being by the concealment of ovulation; rather, oestrus once lost, it’s this culture which renders useless all the physiological reactions that accompany it (the swelling, the reddening, and the emission of odor), which thus atrophied and disappeared. “La culture modèlerait la nature et non l’inverse” (p. 84).
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