The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Archive for May 2011

The Hunter Gatherers and the Pirates – II

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Here’s the concluding part of Ted’s original, “The Hunter Gatherers and the Pirates – I”. Astute readers might recall Ted’s cliffhanger ending to introduce us to the Pirates in this concluding part of his very engaging post, and are eagerly awaiting the progress of the narrative arc. True to form, Ted has executed a coup de grace that I am sure, will go very well with the readers. Nice flourish, Ted. 🙂

Part II the Pirates.

The Narrative so far:

As anatomically modern humans left Africa and hybridized with archaic homo sapiens, men took an evolutionary step backwards towards their big toothed, much more sexually dimorphic forbears, whereas women continued to develop culturally and socially. The big canines didn’t come back, but the aggressive behavior of intra male competition and polygamy that had been associated with big canines did. In the time since the canine teeth had been lost, there had been a lot of cultural development, leading to less sexual dimorphism and pair bonding and male parental investment and nurturing. I postulated that these things were driven by female to female cultural transmission that was indirectly passed onto males.

So when males began to move behaviorally back toward focusing energy on mating as opposed to child rearing, they still retained their tool using capability, this manifested in males fighting each other with weapons instead of their teeth, wheras the women used their brains to make baskets, build shelter, and cultivate gardens.

This caused relationships between men and women to become strained leading to imbalance. This was perhaps not all bad, because possibly it can be seen as rift or split that began to move toward unity at a higher level of organization.

For example the material culture amongst the San is very minimalist. There is no driver for cultural evolution so long as everyone is satisfied with it. It appears to be a very peaceful, fulfilling, satisfying way of life. This basic Forager culture only seems to change due to forces acting upon it from outside and the effect always seems to be more or less devastating. History can be viewed as one big long cultural genocide of the Foragers at the hands of agriculturalists. Foragers don’t usually adopt agriculture, in response to competition from neighbors but instead are supplanted by people practicing it, that invade their territory. Often the invaders kill the men and absorb the women. So you see the mitocondral DNA of foragers being preserved in the population with Y DNA from Farmers. The Y DNA of the foragers is lost forever.

In this rift between the sexes, what would bring them back together in creating lasting pair bonds and cooperation in nurturing the children, would be sexual equality or parity. Egalitarianism.

But what happened was more splits were created, as male and female culture pursued separate paths. Women got more and more adept at producing food by drawing nourishment out of the Earth. Men became more and more adept at killing each other and throwing big feasts, made up of all the wealth the women had produced.

So you have a basic economy here of women producing wealth, the men taking it from them and then fighting each other over it. The goal of healing this rift is “Holism”. Here is a quote from wikipedia’s page on it

“The term holism was introduced by the South African statesman Jan Smuts in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution. Smuts defined holism as “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.”

The idea has ancient roots. Examples of holism can be found throughout human history and in the most diverse socio-cultural contexts, as has been confirmed by many ethnological studies. The French Protestant missionary, Maurice Leenhardt coined the term cosmomorphism to indicate the state of perfect symbiosis with the surrounding environment which characterized the culture of the Melanesians of New Caledonia. For these people, an isolated individual is totally indeterminate, indistinct and featureless until he can find his position within the natural and social world in which he is inserted. The confines between the self and the world are annulled to the point that the material body itself is no guarantee of the sort of recognition of identity which is typical of our own culture.”
Women most likely invented Agriculture creating for a time a Matrilineal phase in Civilization. This can be looked at as a stage in a dialectic.

“However, for the “myth” of matriarchy to have had some validity, and in order for a Classical Greek theatre audience to accept the fact that women such as Helen, Clytemnestra, Antigone, Iphigenia, Hecuba, Andromache, Penelope, Medea, Alcestis, and Elektra (fully half of all extant 5th century plays have powerful women in leading roles) could indeed threaten patriarchal social order or alter the course of history, it must have had some basis in historical reality. The “historical” situation of the majority of the myths and legends is the Bronze Age, during or near the end of the Minoan civilization, and the “reality” may have been not matriarchy per se but rather matriliny.”

       ——– Source.

Agriculture led to a matrilineal culture because the women knew how to bake the bread. “Lord” derives in the German from “loaf ward” Lady…derives somehow from kneading the dough. The point is grain agriculture led to the establishment of elites.

Eventually some how, this matrilineal, matrilocal culture created the conditions for Patriarchy.

Its easy to loose the thread of the narrative here. So many things are a mystery. I believe a rift was created initially between male and female consciousness. But once Patriarchy was spawned, egocentric, “rational” binary thinking continued to create more splits as society became more complex. The original Warrior elite of the horticultural societies came to exploit entire classes of people, man and women.

Enough of this already! Where are the pirates?

Where are the pirates? The Pirates never showed up. They just sent their homunculi. The pirates in this story are ”The Great Pirates” that Buckminster Fuller spoke of. Their actions are illegible. They are the executives of a vast machine. The Borg.

They send their emmisaries on pirate missions. They always do. The pirates we see, the ones in the ships, are not the real pirates, but rather their zombies. Being undead they don’t engage in authentic acts, but only do the bidding of their Dark overlords, who have possessed their bodies with the memes of civilization. I was half joking about the bread, but I say this in all seriousness!

Here they are: As embedding of this video has been disabled, you’ll have to head over to YouTube to to watch the video (under 5 mins) and return back to the narrative, if you like.

None of the actions of the civilized people in this ship are in anyway authentic. First of all its not an Anthropological discovery mission, its simply a Junket. Some important people came to Greater Andaman, dignitaries, so they took them down to gawk at the natives and give them coconuts, like feeding bears at Yellowstone-in both instances, a dangerous thing to do, for the people as well as the bears. The bears become dependant and lose their natural dignity and they often maul the hand that feeds them.

But unlike the case with naïve tourists, the official gift giving campaigns of “civilized” people to “primitive” people is always disingenuous. Its designed to make the primitives dependant so that they can be absorbed into the Borg, into the machine, into the place where authentic human acts become impossible.

These Sentineli Warriors are real and alive. If you invade their island and threaten their families, their way of life, their world, They will kill you and bury your body in a shallow grave. This was the fate of two poaching fisherman that shipwrecked there in 2006. Though violent, this is a free and thus noble act.

Practically none of the violent acts on the part of civilized people perpetrated against primitive indigenous people, are free and noble acts. No one does anything in their own name. Its always soldiers “just doing their job” following directives from the state. Its poor settlers moving into an area in response to a government policy, to keep the exploited peasants from revolting. That’s how these conflicts happen. The exploited vs. the wild. The Pirates(the executives of the vast machine) never show up.

Indigenous people speak heart to heart, buy like the old canard from spaghetti westerns “white man speak with fork tongue.” Its true, but it has nothing to do with being a Northern European. It’s the machine that speaks through the white man. The machine first spoke through olive skinned Middle Easterners and Mediterranean’s, when the Europeans were dressing in animal’s skins stalking wild game through the forest.

There is a barnacle that invades the body of a crab and commandeers the totality of the organism and subverts it from being a crab toward using all its energy to produce more barnacles. The barnacle has “civilized” the crab. The crab has certain stereotypical behaviors that are subverted to the biological needs of the barnacle. The barnacle interferes with the hormones of male crabs and gets them to behave like females so that they will care for the eggs of the barnacle in the way in which a female crab would care for its own young.

We are subverted into reproducing not authentic human culture but rather the machine. Everything the Sentineli do is authentic. They hunt and fish in order to obtain food. Its not “their job.” When these men fish they aren’t selling their labor to the fishing company, who in turn gives them money so that they can buy food.

The indigenous way of life is characterized by raw unmediated experience. Every act is authentic and fulfills an immediate need. They thus have a low memetic parasite load.

Its like this: Everyone has a certain amount of energy in a given day. All human beings have a basic repertoire of behaviors. This energy and repertoire of behaviors are exploited by parasites. The crab has parental behavior that is exploited. It not only the body, that is being exploited by the parasite, but the behavior as well.

Human beings are social animals with a limited number of Archetypes. So the tendency is for the civilized people to treat the primitives as children. This is clearly what is happening here with the Jarawa, kissing cousins of the Sentineli but without the advantage of equal isolation.

Again, because of disabling of embedding, you’ll have to head over to YouTube to watch the video. This is a small part of a larger documentary, and slightly more involved and contains more commentary and interviews (15 mins).

But civilization treats everyone as children. The machine itself, the State, is the parent. The archetype of the elder parent is the archetype that is exploited. It all comes down to parasites and relative immunity. These indigenous have no immunity to measles and influenza nor do they have immunity to the parasitically exploitative memes of civilization.

The Preconquest consciousness is destroyed from the assault of inauthentic human behavior. “Here I am your friend, have these gifts.” The civilized say, while taking their land, resources and destroying their way of life. But the pirates never show up. The settler means him no harm. The settler is not doing it out of hate. He has a lot of parasites to feed. He must pay taxes, he must sell what he has, his labor to people who hold back a profit. He must have money to buy goods from others who hold back a profit. His behavior is regulated by laws enacted by those with authority over him, laws designed to facilitate the order necessary for continued exploitation.

The pirates never show up.

Written by Surio

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Posted in Philosophy

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I wish I was that now!

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Ahh, the last week and a half been a blur. It all began like this:

Uncannily, both mother and wife's response mirrored the last strip

Can't blame them really, this is my usual bravado co-efficient

And it came to this. Actually, it has been a week, and I am still feeling pretty lousy!

But the overall sickness gave rise to some “feverish” imaginations:

All you need is a vivid memory and a vivider imagination, to have some fun 🙂

and some rather “delirious” imaginations too:

It was almost surreal, how much art can imitate life, or in my case, the opposite? Mother did bring me lunch over one such 'swimming with salamanders' dream

But this post is is not about me… No sireeeeee…

A small ode to all those 'mom-lady' out there who end up moulding the 'Calvin's into 'Hobbes's

And of course, that “indomitable” other lady of my life:

First time I called DW that, I had to bring down the comics collection from the attic to explain. Oh, and she *did* laugh heartily afterwards!

Thanks to the excellent ministrations from the two lovely ladies, I am now up and about, but just so…… I am not well enough yet to say, can’t grumble, but overall, I feel comforted, I feel reassured, and in safe pairs of hands. So, can’t complain on this post. :-D! And that does, put my other gripes, worries and rants in perspective. :-)…… like this strip.

Sometimes when I feel dark I always look up this strip. Sometimes it's all in the matter of seeing things, isn't it?

Thanks for including me in your thoughts. And have a great week ahead.

P.S: Ted’s post will go up as advertised. 🙂

Written by Surio

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The Hunter Gatherers and the Pirates – I

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It gives me great pleasure to feature Palimpsest’s first guest post series by Ted Heistman, who’s an artist and a writer. If I have to introduce Ted in a few words, it suffices to say: It is also a pleasant coincidence that some of Ted’s adventures closely mirror one of my favourite writers, E. Wade Davis (climbed mountains, canoed 100s of miles, hiked the “lost coast”, hiked across wilderness, sessions with shamans……Ted’s quite a piece of work, I tell you ;-))!

The idea for this series of posts grew from the comments that Ted left at Ribbonfarm on Brian Potter’s (wait for this…) guest post (!), “The Russian Fox and the Evolution of Intelligence”. Some of the first things that sprang at me from Ted’s comments were the following “Palimpsesteque” (*) themes: a) an overarching empathy (often confused with sympathy) for things, b) a sense of wonderment (i.e., lack of hubris) of things discovered so far, and, c) an exploration of a non homo-industrialis world-view and, without looking at it from a “homo-industrialis” lenses. Feel free to add your own impressions to this list.
(*) if I may be permitted the odd “preen” for just one moment 😉

Brian’s post is yet another post that is part of a series of loosely-coupled posts on Ribbonfarm lately (“Cognitive Archaelogy of the West”, “The return of the Barbarian”) that have followed a thematic exploration of History and the respective authors’ points of views on the facet of History being explored. The reason I mention this here, is because Ted’s series is a heroic attempt to capture the major views from all of these posts and present significant departures from each of them (*). A highly commendable effort, if you ask me.
(*) Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to read those posts first, before tackling Ted’s post.

I hope you will find Ted’s writing in this blog series, engaging, intriguing and thought–provoking, just as I did. Enjoy! And do leave your thoughts for Ted in the comments!

P.S: Language purists, please forgive. This post doesn’t use British English.  😉

P.P.S: If you’d like to do a guest post, please leave a note here

The Hunter Gatherers and the Pirates — I

Concepts discussed: Dual structure of Self Awareness, Gender roles, Pre-conquest consciousness, Patriarchy, Master Slave dialectic, Splits in consciousness leading to imbalance.

I prepose a hypothetical encounter between a group of uncontacted Hunter Gathers living on an island and a ship full of pirates traveling the seas during the Age of Exploration.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Sentinel Islanders, a group of uncontacted hunter gatherers living in a coral atoll in the Andaman Island chain in the Indian Ocean. They are the most isolated culture on the globe. If pre-conquest consciousness still exists anywhere it exists there. From the few photographs and video clips of them available, I always try to get a look into their eyes to see if I can catch a glimpse of how they see the world. I am interesting in discerning what form of consciousness they possess. Are they more innocent and naïve than we living in civilization, possessing a child like consciousness, representing some earlier stage of development? Or are they wise, knowing something we once knew but which has been lost? At times I lean more towards the former and at other times the latter.

I am hoping that gaining insight into this question would lend me some insight in solving the mystery of consciousness itself.

Self awareness is a redundancy. It is the awareness of awareness; being aware that you are aware. Sometimes this is referred to as self consciousness, other times simply as consciousness which is misleading.

Here is the problem: Possibly not everyone is equally self aware, so not everyone is equally sure we are all talking about the same thing.

For the sake of argument I will divide self consciousness in two and designate one side “selfness” and the other side as “consciousness”

I am convinced that some people attempting to create self aware computers don’t have it totally figured out, which obviously puts them at a serious disadvantage in achieving their goal. They’re attempting to reproduce something they don’t possess themselves in the full sense.  Having a redundancy of consciousness implies two complementary types or layers or levels of consciousness. Problems occur when this redundancy is seen as a duality and one is chosen over the other in such away as to negate the other instead of seeing them as a unity.  For example, seeing the two forms of consciousness, the rational/empirical in counter distinction to the intuitive/holistic as being “scientific facts vs. bullshit.” The Western Scientific Worldview, call it “positivism” or Physicalism, materialism or scientism, favors selfness over consciousness.

Full self consciousness can only be achieved through experiencing a balanced tension between the two. Favor one or the other, or outright “choosing” one over the other leads to a fractured type of consciousness.

Philosophers such as Hegel relate this problem to the subject object split in language.

I see this fracture related to the debate on the origin of consciousness between emergentism and panpsychism. I believe this is a debate that will never be resolved one way or the other.

There is ground layer of a diffuse form of consciousness, which is all around us and interpenetrating everything. This is the basis of animism also known as panpsychism. I believe that we experience empathy through connecting with this diffuse type of consciousness and that over this is another type of consciousness comprising executive function is what is known as the ego. The ego is the “I” or the selfness in self consciousness.

Having both is to possess true self awareness. If you “move” too far into the ego domain you become an isolated “I” living in a paradoxically hostile yet solipsistic universe. Everything is seen as a multitude of objects with clearly defined borders. The world is seen as dead matter operating mechanistically, like a giant watch.

This is alienation. Separateness. Once alienated there is an attempt by the ego to restore balance by bringing “objects” in ones environment under possession and  control of this alienated ego. The organization of these objects lends itself to formal abstract categories of logic.  Western culture has experienced a history of an orientation on the ego side of the split.

Favoring the other type of consciousness would be various groups of hunter gatherers living in so called liminal consciousness. One reason for my ambivalence is the apparent lack of resilience of this form of consciousness.  If it were a superior way to be, would it be so easily destroyed by contact with Westerners? Though, its definitely a way of life that is more harmonious with ones environment.

This a mindset that is empathic  because it sees everything in ones environment as being in a sense composed of the same conscious material as oneself.  It’s an intersubjective awareness that causes the borders between things being fuzzy, not so hard edged and static but more fluid. Everything is seen as connected to the one soul that permeates everything, so the result is to care for ones environment like one cares for oneself. The boundary where one ends and the environment begins is unclear. The boundary between dreaming and being awake is unclear. Boundaries between individuals are unclear So people touch each other more. They stand closer, hold hands, share. It goes along with a communal lifestyle and nakedness. A bunch of naked people, men women and children sleeping with bodies all touching each other inside a hut, is indicative of this liminal style of consciousness and the concomitant weakly developed ego identities. There is evidence that such societies even dream communally. But in another sense individuality is recognized and respected, there is little coercion to force others to behave in a certain way. Ritual is very minimal in such societies. Not all societies designated as “primitive” have this liminal pre-conquest style of consciousness.

For some reason this style of consciousness is easily destroyed through contact with westerners. It’s like they are shocked awake from a pleasant dream. It’s traumatizing. When this happens memory is affected, possibly because memory is also stored communally in these societies.

What happens when this preconquest consciousness is destroyed is that everyone is atomized into individual isolated egos. Such isolated alienated egos have been the building blocks, the raw material of Western Civilization. However the diffuse all permeating animistic consciousness was never fully destroyed, but rather discounted, ignored and relegated to the background.

Alienated Egos are in competition with all other egos. Every ego would like to rule the entire planet. The impulse to empire arises from ego consciousness. The vast majority are thwarted in this endeavor and so come up with various coping strategies. One is identification. This is the birth of the authoritarian mindset (link). Such thwarted egos live out their ego fantasies vicariously through a strong leader.

But egalitarian hunter gatherer societies don’t have “strong leaders” They have elders who lend survival wisdom without forcing compliance.

This liminal preconquest style of consciousness is in a sense innocent and naïve. Being unselfconsciously naked illustrates this. Being aware of ones naked body is literally to be “self conscious” about it. But, possibly, its not that people in this state have no self awareness at all. They just don’t have splits. The split that causes people to be ashamed of being naked is a mind body split. But even tribes existing in preconquest consciousness have dualities. I make a distinction here between dualities and splits. A split employs binary logic where one side is chosen and the other is negated. A duality is a unity of opposites. Among such tribes there is a duality between the individual and the group. There is duality between mind and body. There is a duality recognized between male and female.

The pre conquest consciousness does possess executive function which creates boundaries. The reason the executive function creates boundaries is because it realizes not all things are under its control. The emergent phenomenon of the executive function is a unifying force. So a boundary emerges between things under its control and things not (yet) under its control. In preconquest tribes executive function does emerges and that is what constitutes them as a tribe, rather than a group of disconnected individuals. There is the tribe and outside the boundaries are “others.”

It falls to the males of the tribe to enforce the boundaries. It’s a masculine role. The adult male members of the tribe are thus hunters and warriors by default more or less by virtue of being male. Their sphere is on the edge of the tribe. Hunting, driving off intruders, all occur at the edge. Killing is also a border activity. Males thus dwell on the border between life and death. Once again, with reverence for departed ancestors and a vivid spirit world, this border among such tribes is also fuzzy, but it exists.

Interestingly among the Sentineli, this appears to not be concrete permanent aspect of society concretized through culture but a fluid defensive posture.

At the sign of dangerous intruders Men will surround the women, the male sphere encasing the female sphere like the skin of an organism. This is the origin of concepts such as yin and yang, Earth being yin, the Sky or heavens being Yang. Its been carried on in both eastern and western mystical theological traditions Also phrases like the “ground” of being referring to being a diffuse all permeating consciousness.

The female sphere nested as it is inside the male sphere would seem to be more limited in scope, yet paradoxically is more connected to the infinite. The male sphere would seem to exceed the female sphere in scope but yet is focused more on limitation. In alchemy this relationship is described as a circle representing the female aspect and a square representing the male and a dynamic balance of “squaring of the circle” is sought through various mathematical formulations.

Among hunter gatherers this difference in orientation between hunting and defending males and gathering and nurturing females shows a division of labor, but unlike civilized societies, there is a unity between opposites. One is not favored over the other, for the members of the tribe have formed a coherent unity between these dualities and not a split. The women are not unaware of the borders, they also do kill certain types of animals, but they are more plugged into the diffuse all permeating animistic type of consciousness. But they do possess ego, they have executive function and the males also can be nurturing. The males are Dad’s that have high parental investment in the young. But a unity and a balance have been achieved so that the overall orientation is on some sense, in comparison to Strictly Patriarchal societies, of more of a female “spirit” as it were. It’s not Matriarchal which would imply a female dominated hierarchy. It’s egalitarian. A positive feeling of well being permeates the members of the tribe and they feel no sense of lack. This equilibrium they have achieved creates evolutionary stasis. Having everything they need and feeling inwardly content, they change very little over time. If you were to look at the respective charge of the men as being yang or positive and the charge of the women as negative, you would see them living in balance and thus the tribe as a whole would be neutral. That’s why its at peace and feels no need to change and if left to itself does not change.

When the ego side of consciousness comes to dominate everything becomes overall negative. What permeates everything is not a feeling of abundance and well being but a sense of alienation and lack. An analogy would be a structure with negative air pressure. It begins to suck things into its internal vacuum. The organization of such a society is One powerful ego coming to dominate less powerful atomized egos. But perhaps its not all bad. If there is such a thing as evolutionary progress this is a driver for it. Negativity drives progress. If you feel dissatisfaction with life, emptiness in your soul, you will seek to rectify the situation.

In the master slave dialectic, Hegel describes two consciousnesses encountering each other and engaging in a “struggle to the death” for dominion. One side gives in to the other and becomes a slave in exchange for being spared. The difference in the side that eventually becomes master is that they feared death less. They would have rather died than become enslaved.

It’s hard to see how the two societies, the Pirates and the Hunter Gatherers could spring from the same source. They are separated by a long series of historical developments that occurred in relative isolation from one another.

A strict line of demarcation has recently come into favor among anthropologists, which is the so called dawn of agriculture; which implies that somehow hunter gathers at some point in history made a leap from hunting and gathering to intensive agriculture of cereal grains. Often overlooked is a way of life that acts as a sort or middle ground or intermediate stage between the two. This middle ground is primitive horticulture or female farming systems.

This is the way of life of the Papuans and various Brazilian tribes such as the Yanomano. These aren’t peaceful egalitarian societies. The male female division of labor is much stricter and more pronounced. Life is characterized by strict taboos and rituals. Females are viewed as ceremonially unclean; males often dwell apart from females. Various types of knowledge is monopolized among males and kept from women and children. Often the males of such societies use psychedelic drugs and forbid its use among females. These societies are also warlike and violent.

“In cad societies, the public relations between men and women are aloof; men and women often do not eat and sleep together; and males are involved in personal adornment, fancy and decorative weapons and art, and local raiding and warfare. In many such groups, for example, men eat and sleep in a men’s house rather than with families. Marriages are not durable, and children from an early age are likely to be left to the care of siblings and other children. The latter societies are called “peer-rearing” societies in the literature, whereas dad societies are more often “parent-rearing” societies.”

      —- Source: In Our Genes

The males are flashier than the females and elaborately decorate themselves. The men do very little that could be described as productive labor, beyond building fancy weapons and adorning themselves. The role of the woman resembles that of slaves or property to the men. This is evidenced by the fact Adultery is a crime among such societies that is punishable by death.

In contrast among egalitarian hunter gatherers such as the Hadza, although more monogamous often decide to divorce and change partners. Women freely choose mates and aren’t viewed as property.

In horticultural societies, women are gardeners, not simply gatherers. This way of life is more sedentary and within certain bounds, than that of nomadic hunting and gathering societies. So this different economy subjects individuals to different selection pressures. Such societies may have been the origin of the development of psychopathic traits. There is evidence for a genetic basis of psychopathy and also that some of these genes are sex specific. This may point to separate parallel lines of development for male and female traits in these horticultural societies, men being subject to one set of selection pressure, women to another. The males would be selected for their ability for coalitional violence and self aggrandizement, the females for traits related to being effective gardeners and nurturers of children.

Yanomamo woman with visitor. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia.

This, from Wikipedia’s entry on Yanomano Women:

“Many anthropological studies have emphasized the concept that the Yanomamo are very violent people and although this can be true, the women of the Yanomamo culture are an entirely different story.

Although males primarily dominate the Yanomamo culture, Yanomamo women play a very important role in sustaining this lifestyle. The women in the Yanomamo tribe are responsible for all the domestic duties and chores, excluding hunting and killing game for food. Although the women do not hunt, they do work in the gardens and gather small sources as food. The gardens plots are sectioned off by family, and grow bananas, sugarcane, mangoes, sweet potatoes, papaya, manioc, and other crops. The Yanomamo women cultivate these gardens until they are no longer fertile, and then move their plots. Women are expected to carry 70 to 80 pound loads of crops on their backs during harvesting, using bark straps and woven baskets. Plantains and grubs are common sources of food, and are staples in the Yanomamo diet….

In the mornings, while the men are off hunting, the women and young children go off in search of termite nests and other grubs, which will later be roasted at the family hearths. Sometimes, the women also pursue frogs, land crabs, or caterpillars, or even look for vines that can be woven into baskets. While some women gather these small sources of food, other women go off and fish for several hours during the day.The women also commonly use plants such as manioc to turn into flat cakes, which they cook over a small pile of coals. Yanomamo women are expected to bear and raise many children, who are expected to help their mothers with domestic chores from a very young age, and mothers rely very much on help from their daughters.

Using small strings of bark and roots, Yanomamo women weave and decorate baskets. They use these baskets to carry plants, crops, and food to bring back to the shabono. They use a red berry known as onoto to dye the baskets, as well as to paint their bodies and dye their loin cloths.After the baskets are painted, they are further decorated with masticated charcoal pigment.

“…The Yanomamo people have a history of acting extremely violently not only towards other tribes, but towards one another. Men generally initiate this violence, and women are often victims of physical abuse and anger. Inter-village warfare is common, but does not too commonly affect women. When Yanomamo tribes fight and raid nearby tribes, women are often raped, beaten, and brought back to their shabono to be kept in their tribe. During the raids, Yanomamo men capture and bring back the other women in hopes of marrying them. Wives are beaten on a regular basis, so as to keep them “in order” and faithful to their husbands.Sexual jealousy causes a majority of the violence.

Women are beaten with clubs, sticks, machetes, and other blunt or sharp objects. Burning with a branding stick occurs often, and symbolizes a male’s strength or dominance over his wife.”

Now, in terms of the animal kingdom as a whole, how unique of a development is it to have larger flashier males defending territories and competing with other males for harems of females? It’s not particularly unique at all; certainly not universal but very common. It’s common among the lower primates and higher primates, Mandrills being one colorful example, Gorillas another. So possibly an increase in sexual dimorphism among horticultural society is a reversion, in a sense to an earlier type. Possibly at some early point in hominidization, brain development and tool use developed along female lines and were passed on to the males. Typical male Behavior of aggression and territoriality is really not all that complex in comparison to tool use, cooking with fire, building shelter etc. If females first became skilled in weaving baskets prior to med carving stone tools, the plant fibers in these baskets would be less likely to be preserved in the fossil record. But Psychological evidence in modern human points to the this being the case. Girls not only show greater empathy than boys but also superior manual dexterity and earlier language acquisition. This may point to a female origin of these traits of tool use and language.

An Andaman Islander

Tool use and complex language are the often signified in what makes us human. Possibly women became human first in a sense and then later males. At some point in our evolutionary history males lost their huge canine teeth and developed less sexual dimorphism, territorial aggression and polygamy. The trend in brain size appears to have evolved hand in hand with males becoming less aggressive with each other and more nurturing of the young and more intimate in relation with females. Why this would lead to greater reproductive success shouldn’t be a mystery. With males as well as females caring for the young there would be twice the investment that they would mature into adulthood. With less violence among males, there would be more males around to care for the young. Its not hard to see how this could result in a positive feedback loop leading finally to more sensitive males who help care for children who in turn develop high intelligence.

So to go from Peaceful egalitarian males, to violent males with remote relations to their women and offspring is in a way a backwards trend. But as we move from Africa, with the ancestors of the San and Khosian people to the Levant and later to Asia and Europe, historically that is what we see.

I notice one interesting fact that Andaman islanders possess less sexual dimorphism than Papuans. Papuan men have beards, and more massively muscular builds. They really look much more fierce and intimidating and also adorn themselves much more elaborately and colorfully.

How did people leave Africa without facial hair and develop it outside of Africa? How did peaceful and egalitarian foragers become Warlike Agricultural Patriarchs?  Perhaps beards are a Neanderthal trait. Perhaps Neanderthals showed greater sexual dimorphism than Homo sapiens. Papuans like Europeans and unlike San Bushmen and Andaman Islanders have Neanderthal blood and also beards.

Papuan man photograph taken from here. Which Group produces better Rugby players? Guess?

Rugby player

I don’t believe that the first hypothetical encounter between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthal has ever been satisfactorily described. There is always the assumption the Homo sapiens with their superior brain power and technology slaughtered the Neanderthals and drove them to seek refuge in the hills. Interbreeding is assumed to have taken place when the Homo sapiens conquerors chose to rape some of the squat, hairy beetle browed Neanderthal women, who were nearly as large and physically imposing as the men.

This Strikes me as implausible.  First of all, the first modern humans to leave Africa resembled the San Bushmen. The San, the Khosians, and Andaman Islanders, whom all share a common phenotype with each other and by extrapolation, also, must have shared these traits with the first anatomically modern humans to leave Africa. They were small in stature, fine boned. They were naked and beardless with short peppercorn hair.  Their technology wasn’t that much more advanced than that of the Neanderthals.

The Neanderthals were big boned and over 200 lbs with massively powerful musculature. Their bones were denser and their hands were so powerful that the wear patterns of their stone tools cannot be reproduced by anthropologists. The Men probably had beards, and possibly instead of short peppercorn hair had long straight red hair like lions manes making them appear much larger than they actually were. They weren’t hunter gatherers, but more like ambush predators, that subsisted primarily on big game, which they killed with stabbing weapons at close range.

The Humans, in comparison, subsisted on small game and consumed more plant matter.

Possibly the Bushmen had superior long range weapons. But in an ambush with the fighting being done at close range the Neanderthals would have the advantage. In a physical fight between two groups of men, how much of a difference would a slight advantage in technology and social intelligence make?

I think the first encounter was disastrous for the humans. Probably the men were killed and the women were stolen by the Neanderthals. So then you would have a situation of Neanderthal men and captive women, who exceed the Neanderthals in intelligence, but fall short in power.

Possibly this would give rise to hybrid populations, possessing heterosis, approximating the intelligence gap between human and Neanderthal but exceeding both parents in physical size and strength. They would be a race of Giants.

Perhaps this is the origin of the Biblical account of the Nephilim: The sons of God.

Genesis 6:1-4 (New International Version, © 2011)

Genesis 6

“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”

Possibly it’s hard for us to consider squat hairy Neanderthals being viewed as Gods. But in the primitive mind destructive natural forces are often attributed to the divine. If we see them the way the first humans saw them as group of horrifically violent raiders who periodically descended upon their group and slaughtered all the men and stole the women, it becomes a bit easier to imagine.

Another piece of the puzzle is that the Neanderthals may have used fire in their warfare in a similar way in which they employed it in their ambush hunting of large game such as mammoths. Possibly like the Andaman Islanders the first humans had not fully mastered the use of fire, whereas the Neanderthals had.

It’s likely the Neanderthals were Nocturnal hunters.  A few things point to this such as their large eye sockets, which imply they had larger eyes than modern humans. Possibly they would descend upon the Bushmen at night, burn their village, slaughter the men and steal the women.  Any survivors would find themselves surrounded by devastation. Their village would be burned to the ground, their love ones killed or carried off. It would resemble being the survivor of a storm, such as a hurricane or a tsunami.  Like the devastation of a storm it was attributed to the divine.

Rather than being supplanted, possibly the Neanderthals hybridized themselves into extinction. Males may have favored females with Homo sapiens traits over Neanderthal women. Neanderthal traits may have showed up more in males. If a Patriarchal hybrid race of half Neanderthals raided a new group of Homo sapiens and stole their women, the next generation would be 75% Human and only 25% Neanderthal. Eventually the Homo sapiens traits would come to predominate. Possibly there would be sex limited genes related to predatory Neanderthal traits that would continue to show up in males and not females, increasing the relative behavioral distance between males and females.

In Patriarchal  middle Eastern (where the hybridization took place) societies men wear beards and practice polygamy, whereas in modern society with less proscribed roles between sexes and more equality between sexes, men with the genetics for growing beards often shave them.  I think its something worth looking into. Some things to consider:

  1. Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalis are believed to have first interbred in the Levant
  2. Agriculture began in the Levant
  3. Even today in the Middle East we see Patriarchal societies composed of bearded War Like men practicing polygamy.
  4. Genes involving dopamine reception DAT 1 and the DRD4 & repeat allele correlated with aggressiveness, impulsiveness, unpredictability (traits valued in Warrior societies)seem to have appeared around the time that Homo Sapiens first encountered Neanderthal.
  5. These genes may be sex limited, which would explain why more psychopaths are men.
  6. Sex limited genes, leading to violent behavior in men, while not affecting females, would cause men to act more primitive than the women in the same population.
  7. This would result in different selection pressure for men and women respectively leading to more extreme sexual division of labor, spousal abuse, rape, male coalitional violence etc, on one hand with gardening and industrial skills on the part of women.
  8. Over time equilibrium would be reached, men and women would become more equal, the way in which this is becoming the case in modern societies.
  9. This process of men becoming less violent and women becoming more autonomous mimics the evolutionary developments in African hominids resulting in the first anatomically modern humans, which were culturally egalitarian foragers with high parental investment of both parents.

So in primitive horticultural societies we have a male female split, which possibly represents an evolutionary step backwards. But it happens after a good deal of psychological development had already taken place among female culture. So this split is looked at abstractly and philosophically. The male is preferred and the female seen as unclean and inferior. The division of labor is stricter which leads to another split between manual/productive labor on one side (women’s work) and warfare and other specific ceremonial and religious type duties on the other (the manly Aristocratic virtues).

As long as tribes constituted in such a way are equal in power with similarly constituted mutually hostile tribes on their borders, they keep each other in check.

But when one tribe gains some type of advantage over the other tribes and from this advantage doesn’t kill its neighbors outright, but dominates them and incorporates them, more splits in consciousness occur, more complexity is introduced. You now have the institution of slavery.

Slaves, like women in these horticultural societies, are properties of the dominant men, and the other men are not equal but organized into often hereditary orders of rank. You now have the makings of a caste society. The most primitive form of this is a tripartite scheme involving a warrior caste a priestly caste and a laboring caste. The powerful advantage created by Agriculture, that gave the violent tribe the ability to conquer and enslave other tribes, then creates powerful political polities that end up controlling violence as the population becomes crowded. Violence is discouraged. This results in men engaging in manual labor becoming less violent and also increasing parental investment and maintaining better relations with the women.

We see once again the formation of “Dad Societies”. (See In our genes)

When Archaic Hominids bred with humans and created this split, this lack of rapport between men and women, leading to domination by the males and a mediated relationship to nature, progress can perhaps be measured not in technology but in the relative improvements in relations between the sexes and with the ability to live in harmony with our natural environment.

Any progress we make is in healing the splits and cannot be measured in Dominator males coming up with increasing complex and abstract versions of canine teeth. But what has happened is that the original male female split and the binary logic it gave rise to on every turn created yet more splits. First male/ female, then master /slave.

But among the Sentineli, we don’t see these splits but rather a unity of opposites. We see a balance, exemplified in the relations between men and women, where we see parity between the sexes and ecological balance with their environment that has enabled a stable population of 250 people to exist for 60,000 years on a seventy square mile coral atoll. If a culture could be categorized as sustainable, this would be an exemplary example. Must a culture be Stone Age, in order to be sustainable? As we have seen in the case with the Highland Papuans and the Yanomano, male dominated cultures predicated on violence and domination of women can occur in a stone age technological level. Can a peaceful egalitarian culture characterized by intimate rapport ones community and ecosphere exist in a more technologically advanced society? This is a theme we will be exploring in part two.

Next post I would like to look at the pirates, with insights into the underlying social structures and psychology of Western Civilization. I would like to explore why contact with Westerners has such a detrimental effect on pre-conquest consciousness. I will use a disease model to describe “harmful memes” in a similar way in which Andaman islanders and other uncontacted tribes are often devastated by Western diseases such as measles and influenza. We will also look at the underlying power relationships that manifest in the material artifacts of the Pirate ship, weapons, etc. in this Hypothetical encounter.

Stay Tuned for Part Two the Pirates!

Written by Surio

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Posted in Philosophy

Arbour day musings

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My association with the word “Arboreal” goes a long way. As a young boy, my memories of nicknames from relatives were “Dennis the Menace”, “Terror on two legs”, etc. You can probably guess why. 😉 Inevitably, I got into trouble, a lot of trouble with my mother because of the amount of mischief I was capable of in a given time :-D. It was invariably my grandfather who used to affectionately rescue me from my mother’s wrath by remarking “He’s a natural ‘arboreal creature’. We’ll have to be more on our toes with this one”.

As the word was used so often, it was one of the first words I looked up when I could lay hands on the dictionary. I was lucky to grow up in various spacious Railway quarters, and in semi-urban areas with trees, so in a way I did live up to grandfather’s nickname, rather pleased to say. So, I have always had an affection to that word. Growing up, I discovered to my pleasant surprise, something called “Arbo(u)r day” too (I am not sure of the spelling). It seems timely to talk about it because I’ve remembered facts as mnemonics… “Labour day follows Arbo(u)r day”. And the mnemonic passed my mind recently.

Brief History:

Arbor Day was founded in 1872 in Nebraska, USA. The customary observance is to plant a tree. On the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted. It is celebrated every year on the last Friday in April (and this post is being read by you in the first Friday of May? ;-)). Each state celebrates its own state holiday.

The movement was founded by one Julius Sterling Morton a well-known nature lover and conservationist who later joined politics. Julius Sterling Morton. His son Joy Morton’s original 400-acre Thornhill Estate has been transformed into a 1,700-acre living history museum of over 4,000 different types of trees, shrubs and other woody plants, with the mission to encourage the planting of trees as well as promoting nature as a source of inspiration, wonder and joy, especially for children. (Hear hear. I didn’t know this until lately)

Now one of the greatest ironies is that Every movement needs its hero, for it to flourish. In its day, Arbour day found its patron saint in the then U.S. President, Teddy Roosevelt. He took to it as a duck to water, and initiated a mass tree planting campaign. He is known to have famously said: “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as hopeless.” Indeed, he managed in his time, to create or enlarge 150 national forests, mainly by presidential fiat. These carried over into the Progressive era where city municipalities took it upon themsevles to plant trees in cities.


Urban India pretty much typifies hell these days. Trees from a bygone era are dying and most news papers carry stories like “Dead branch crushes businessman’s brand new dream car. What are the authorities doing?”. And flip side of “growth, GDP, economy” means the ones that don’t protest, get eliminated.

In the 1990s the Chicago mayor commissioned a study to gain concrete answers to some simple and fundamental questions such as:

  • How did trees interact with the ecosystem? Did they really affect air quality?
  • Anyone whose family home was shaded by large oaks/maples knew the cool of those trees on a hot summer day, but how much did they reduce the need for air conditioning?
  • When thunderstorms lashed down, how many gallons of rainwater did the leaves of a Norway maple absorb and keep out of the stressed sewerage system?

The study was carried out in Chicago (12MB PDF!) and said that the urban forest consisted of roughly 51 million trees, and the canopy shaded only 11 percent of the city, less than half of the proportion city officials believed was ideal. What it also found was that

  • In 1991, trees in Chicago removed an estimated 17 tons of carbon monoxide, 93 tons of sulfur dioxide, 98 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 210 tons of ozone, and 234 tons of particulate matter.
  • Trees in the Chicago metro area sequestered about 155,000 tons of carbon a year. But, that annual intake equalled the amount of carbon emitted by transportation vehicles in the Chicago area in just one week! 😮 Oh dear!
  • Where trees were large and lush, they could improve air quality by as much as 15 percent during the hottest hours of midday. The shade from a large street tree growing to the west of a typical brick residence reduced annual air-conditioning energy use by two to seven percent.
  • In 1993, more than 111,000 trees had been planted in Sacramento as part of electricity conservation, and the Sacramento municipality wanted to assess whether they were starting to reduce energy use. Number crunching revealed that a tree planted to the west of a house saved about three times more energy in a year than the same kind of tree planted to the south. Even today, the trees’ shade collectively saves the utility from having to supply $1.2 million worth of electricity annually. But it seems, running the shade program costs the utility $1.5 million a year! Enter Carbon credits… Exit Surio.

Labour is well looked after today in most places. More can be done, but there are enough blessings to count, at least in some parts of the world. Arbor, by contrast is doing so poorly it makes me mad just thinking about it. We need to do all we can, because the trees cannot form a collective, mobilise a union, or even worse, create lobbies and hoodwink us!

So, please, if you are reading this, and if you have a yard, or some space of your own, I beg of you to plant some trees, preferably local species; even more preferable if it is flower-bearing and fruit-bearing variety (the “bird and the bees” like ’em ;-)) Thank you, Thank you, thank you………. (See third frame below for more detail :-P)


Thankyouthankyouthankyou? Most definitely!

The future generation will thank you and manage to survive because of this. There are only a handful of people around the World who do this in a commendable way: Willie Smits, (the late) Steve Irwin (God bless the man), Felix Dennis…. anyone else? Each of us needs to do what one can.

If you feel this is a bummer post and demand to be cheered up, here’s a few minutes of very enjoyable arboreal (or is it ethereal?) scat and jazz that greatly entertained me as a boy 😉

Written by Surio

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Beauty, beholder and its perceived value

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Whenever I hear or read phrases such as “valued at”, “it is worth <ABC>”, etc., I am reminded of a small story from one of our puranas, the Rāmāyaṇa: In a nutshell,

Rāmāyaṇa is a narrative of the life and times of Sri Ramachandra (considered an avatara of Lord Vishnu, who took this form in order to fulfill his role in Ravana’s destruction). Rama, is the eldest of four brothers. Sita is his wife. Due to the machinations of one of his father’s wives, Rama, along with Sita and his brother Lakshmana was sent to the forests in exile for a span of 14 years.

Here, events conspire in such a way that Ravana abducts Sita, and carries her off to Lanka, his kingdom. This sets the scene for Rama’s meeting of Hanuman, Jambhavan and Sugriva setting the scene for the epic crossing of the ocean and the equally epic battle between the monkeys led by Rama and Ravana’s army.

The anecdote I am about to narrate, is set while this battle is in progress. One day, after a particularly hairy day of fighting, a few monkeys got to talking with each other. “Tell me something”, said one of the monkeys nursing his wounds and his sore body, “why exactly have we come all this way, and risking life and limb, fighting day after day?”. The others replied, “You know what, we don’t know either!”. So they all went to Hanuman with this question. Hanuman admonished their ignorance and explained that the mission was to rescue Sita, that “jewel among women”(*), “the most holiest” and “the most beautiful”. So, the monkeys’ curiosity is picqued and they ask for “a glimpse” of this great lady once the war is won.

(*) Ironically, Ravana’s wife, Mandodari is described as a much more beautiful woman in Valmiki’s Ramayana. When Hanuman, the monkey messenger of Rama, comes to Lanka in search of Sita, he is stupefied by Mandodari’s beauty when he enters Ravana’s bed chambers and mistakes Mandodari for Sita.

After the war is won, Hanuman, remembering the request of the troops, requests Sita to visit their camps once, to which she readily acquieses. As she is inspecting the troops, one of the monkeys lamented loudly, “What!? Is this is the most beautiful jewel for whom we fought day after day?”. As the others turned towards him, he continued, “But how can she be termed beautiful. For she has no tail!. How can someone be considered beautiful, without a tail!”. Continuing, now with a misty look in his eyes, “Now, my wife……”. “She’s got the most beautiful tail in her village”. And, turning to the others, “You’ve all seen my wife right, so don’t you agree?”. To which there were loud assents and murmers of approval to the same.

Surio comments: So, whenever, I am being hard sold on anything…. with “scarcity” and “value” thrown with good measure, I always recall this story. Pop comes the moral behind the story.

All value is perceived value. All value is perceived value. All value is…

In today’s consumerist culture, this takes on much further significance. No matter what you are told about “the next best thing after sliced bread”, in any advert, remember, it only takes as much significance as you allow it to take (i.e., It may be the “most best jewel”, but does it have a tail? 😉 ). Remember, the power of believing or rejecting the spiel is within you!

Considering how significant Sita is to Hindu culture, I am always impressed at the foresight of including this incident within the puranic versions of the text and its re-telling of this to this date.

So, this latest iFad of yours, does it have a “tail”? :-D!

Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy