Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Forward into the past   posted by Razib @ 9/09/2008 12:46:00 PM

Steve points me to a John Tierney column, As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen:
"Humanity's jaunt into monotheism, agriculturally based economies and the monopolization of power and resources by a few men was 'unnatural' in many ways," Dr. Schmitt says, alluding to evidence that hunter-gatherers were relatively egalitarian. "In some ways modern progressive cultures are returning us psychologically to our hunter-gatherer roots," he argues. "That means high sociopolitical gender equality over all, but with men and women expressing predisposed interests in different domains. Removing the stresses of traditional agricultural societies could allow men's, and to a lesser extent women's, more 'natural' personality traits to emerge."

I've made this precise argument on this weblog for several years now. The preoccupation with self-actualization and personal fulfillment which is the true religion of the mass consumer society is not something that I think is historically contingent or a random act of cultural evolution. It is an expression of a very deep rooted modal psychological predisposition that has echoed down from the Paleolithic and has simply been evoked by the modern context.

With all the talk about recent human evolution and the effect of agriculture obviously we've deemphasized the whole Pleistocene Mind model which was in the vogue with Evolutionary Psychologists. But these sorts of distinctions of emphasis highlight that variations of truth are often quantitative, not qualitative. Reality is a mix of various elements, not a set of stark alternatives. Agricultural peoples may carry more copies of AMY1, but they still enjoy the taste of meat. And it is illustrative that the elites of many agricultural societies allocated much of their marginal time to the sport of hunting.

After The Great Divergence and the transition to mass wealth societies we saw unleashed these ancient pent up preferences on a broader level. Today hunting is no longer the purview of rentier aristocracies who engage in their pleasures by capturing the surplus production of the peasantry. But we have not gone back to the past in some Eternal Recurrence. Rather, elements of pre-Neolithic psychology that have come to the fore and become explicit aspects of our cultural framework remain embedded in a matrix riddled with the great residual institutions of the traditional post-Neolithic world (e.g., religion, monarchies, formal law, etc.). And of course though we live in a culture where individuality is prized, we are not fragmented into small hunter-gatherer brands. Instead, the post-Industrial society dwarfs the post-Neolithic in the potential scope of social networks and scale of our tribes to such an extent that even the aforementioned institutions which arose to grapple with the complexities of the pan-tribal world have been stretched to their breaking points.

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