Thursday, July 3, 2014

The First Culture

Aristotle 

- What about Aristotle?
- What about him?
- He wrote that some human beings were born slaves, and some made slaves.
- Once slavery has been instituted, some 'by nature', those not disposed to violence, are going to be made slaves.
- Those with better nature. But that's not what he meant. Aristotle wrote that natural slaves are better off being slaves.
- Sure, in a slave society.
- Is there any other kind?
- Yes. We can be fairly sure of that. Anthropology and ethnography show* our first societies consistently had ranks reflecting achievement, but as ranks were not inherited they did not translate into slavery.
- Why not?
- Because in these societies generosity is prestigious. Achieved wealth in the form of food, shelter, tools is given away, not monopolized in families. Studies show that chimps too have rank societies, but ranking cannot be passed on by inheritance. Each generation has to acquire rank for itself. Humans though, developing from out of the earlier societies that rank by generosity, with the heightened foresight that language allows have learned to teach their descendants how to frighten outsiders into submission, and institutionalize slavery by monopolizing food, shelter, and tools. Slavery is not natural. It's our first, characteristically human, culture.
- I've read that in Australia, dolphin mothers have been observed teaching tool use for hunting, not generally practiced in their group, only to their own offspring.
- Does the exclusivity establish social relations?
- Depends how you look at it. To favor family over outsiders is a social relation, in-group and out-group.
- But can we see the influence of foresight? A deliberate attempt to change social relations, rather than deepen existing relations?
- I don't know.
- To institute deliberately inherited social class division we need at minimum to imagine, define both classes, the frightening and the frightened.
- And the dolphins didn't have to do that.
- No.
- But why do you think making class inherited has to be deliberate?
- Partly because other species without our foresight didn't discover the behavior, partly because generosity was first. Generosity when acted on is complete. Wanting a world where you and your ancestors and descendants have property, and others don't, requires acting, and then attention and adapting to results. Generosity can be by habit, not so imposing order on the world.**
- Maybe we just stumbled into it.
- But then why didn't other species? Our foundation myths tell the story of a fall, of evil appearing in our nature as a result of gaining knowledge.
- And evil is deliberately choosing what you know is wrong for the sake of rewards in a group.
- Yes. The anthropological and ethnographic evidence fits.***

Further Reading: Eve In The Garden Of Eden
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* See The Creation Of Inequality, Flannery and Marcus, 2012
*** See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse On The Arts And Sciences