Up until now, civilization has done its best to put Man at the top, and Woman at the bottom of civilization’s hierarchical structure. I always attributed this to simple social zoology where the alpha-male heads the group. That may still be the primary reason, but I also see universal forces at play behind the dynamics of male-female relationships.
I suspect that cultural traditions and biological instincts come about following a similar evolutionary process, albeit, at greatly different time scales. No one individual of a species intentionally creates a tradition or instinct, yet populations end up expressing traditional and instinctive behaviors for generations… until circumstances shift. For mice and ants, such shifts lead to changes via biological evolution. For humans, such shifts lead to changes via cultural evolution. All the same, societies of men, mice or ants share some deeply similar characteristics. (See Ant Are Us, p.216 and A Brother is a Brother, p.246)
Shifting circumstances result in evolutionary change, whether biological or cultural. That’s how humans, ants, and all, arrived at where we are today. With your deepest intuitive sense of what makes humans tick, try imagining the changes that lie ahead for us now that the age of electricity is advancing at what feels like light speed! Here are some connections I see.
A post agricultural-revolution world
With the advent of agriculture, large populations of less intimately connected people had to pull together to make the new system work. Gone was the deep life-long bonding between individuals of the small hunter-gatherer group. That fundamental shift was just begging for trouble within agricultural society (i.e., internecine feuds).
This is where a culture’s traditions can step in to help stabilize society. Traditions give less connected individuals at least an illusion of connection by sharing the same music, food, dress, religion, beliefs, etc. Most importantly, these stabilizing aspects help hold the family together. After all, family stability is the bedrock of civilization as a whole. Lose that, and it becomes every man and woman for him/her self. Chaos! Accordingly, what paradigm and tradition needs to evolve to stabilize civilization enough?
Determining what paradigm most effectively holds society together requires me returning to my original morning musings: What keeps the dynamics of male-female relationships either working well, long-term and stable vs. what leads to their early demise?
I suspect that when a woman feels she owns her man lock stock and barrel she is more likely to roam, innately on the look out for a more fit fathering prospect. The same applies to when a man feels he owns his woman. The gut feeling here: Two birds in the bush are worth more than one in the hand. As the female is the cornerstone of primate nesting behavior, civilization inevitably evolved a paradigm that favors keeping woman in the lower, less mobile position. This, along with any alpha-male instinct, accounts for why ‘man is king’, so to speak.
The Venus of Willendorf figurine hints that things were somewhat different during the hunter-gather times. To be sure, this analysis 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. For one thing, we may not be naturally that hierarchical in the wild. The extreme hierarchy we see now is likely a consequence of civilization. Anyhow, even if I’m wrong about the hierarchy / monogamy part, the overall story is the same, so on with the show…
Industrialization and the birth of the electric-age
The advent of industrialization and modern, market economies made the man is king paradigm increasingly obsolete. The women’s lib and the other social movements over the last century became inevitable. Where does humanity go from here? Who knows? I imagine that the Electric-Age is bringing about the most profound change in human circumstances since our ancestors harnessed fire; if not that, then certainly since the agricultural revolution. Chapter 51 says circumstances bring us to maturity. In a large-scale, long-term sense of that maturing process, it is easy to imagine how profoundly up in the air everything is once again. Human culture’s paradigm is changing, and with the past as our only guide means that we have no clue to what we are doing. We are like children, born into a new world stumbling along and feeling our way forward. Ironically perhaps, this leads me to picture a time when humanity will more easily appreciate the more fluid Taoist view of reality.
(1) Google: Primate Behavior: Adaptations of Group Living for details on primate behavior. My hypothesis rests on what constitutes a truly hierarchical animal. The evidence shows that, as primates, we are naturally more egalitarian than hierarchical. 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.