Up until now, civilization has done its best to put Man at the top, and Woman at the bottom of society’s hierarchical structure. I always attributed this to simple social zoology where the ‘alpha male’ heads the group. That may still be a primal reason, but I saw something else while pondering the dynamics of male-female relationships.
I suspect that civilization’s cultures develop their traditions similar to how other animals develop their traditions, i.e., end up acting in the ways they do. No one individual actively creates a traditional way of behavior, yet populations end up actively engaging in traditional behaviors for generations… until circumstances shift. For ants, such shifts lead to changes via biological evolution. For humans, I’d say such shifts lead to changes via cultural evolution. Even so, societies of men, mice, or ants share some deeply similar characteristics. (See Ant Are Us).
Shifting circumstances result in evolutionary change, whether biological or cultural. That’s how we humans, ants, and all, arrived at where we are today. Take your deepest intuitive sense of what makes humans tick and picture the unimaginable changes that lie ahead for us now that the age of electricity is rolling along — Full steam ahead! Here are some connections I see.
A post agricultural-revolution world
Besides the ‘alpha-male’ source spring for culture’s idiosyncrasies was the practical necessity of maintaining social harmony in a post agricultural-revolution world. With the advent of agriculture, large populations of less intimately connected people were pulled together to make the new system work. Gone was the deep life-long bonding between individuals of the small hunter-gatherer group. That was just asking for trouble within the group (i.e., internecine feuds).
This is where a cultural paradigm and its traditions really help stabilize society. It gives less connected individuals at least an illusion of connection by sharing the same music, food, dress, religion, beliefs, etc. The most stabilizing aspects are those that help hold the family together. Family stability is the bedrock of culture and civilization as a whole. Lose that, and it becomes every man and woman for them self. Chaos! So what paradigm and traditions will do the job?
This is getting more involved than I thought, but press on lightly I will. Answering what paradigm most effectively holds culture together requires me returning to my original morning musings: What keeps the dynamics of male-female relationships either working or leads to their demise?
When a woman feels she ‘owns’ her man lock stock and barrel she is more likely to roam, innately on the look out for another fit father prospect. The same applies to when a man feels he ‘owns’ his woman. As the female is the cornerstone of primate nesting practice, culture (especially post agricultural revolution) inevitably evolved the paradigm that favors keeping woman in the lower, less mobile position. This, along with ‘alpha-male’ status, accounts for “Why Man is King”. The Venus of Willendorf figurine hints that things were a bit different during the hunter-gather times. Now this scenario rests on the premise that we are not truly innately monogamous. No truly hierarchical animal (1), ape or otherwise, is monogamous to my knowledge. The two, hierarchy and monogamy are a little like oil and water; they are not mutually supportive. There’s more to it, naturally. In addition, even if I’m wrong about the hierarchy / monogamy part, the overall story is the same, so on with the story…
Industrialization and the birth of the electric-age
The advent of industrialization and modern, market economies made this Man is King model increasingly obsolete. This made the ‘women’s lib’ and the other social movements over the last century inevitable. Where does humanity go from here? Who knows? All I am certain about is that the Electric-Age is perhaps the most profound change in circumstance to visit humanity since our ancestors harnessed fire, or if not that, since the agricultural revolution. Chapter 51 says circumstances bring us to maturity. In the macro sense of that maturing process, it is easy to imagine how profoundly up in the air everything is once again. The paradigm is a-changing. The past being our only guide pretty much means we have no idea what we are doing. We are like children, born into a new world stumbling along and feeling our way forward. There may come a time when society actually embraces the Taoist paradigm / worldview. I won’t be holding my breath!
(1) See http://anthro.palomar.edu/behavior/behave_2.htm for details on primate behavior. My hypothesis rests on what constitutes a truly hierarchical animal. Clearly, we are more an egalitarian than a hierarchical primate. That cooperative trait accounts for much of our survival success. However, our shift to a settled agrarian life required a more hierarchical social structure of civilization.