The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

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

18 Responses

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  1. Good to read. Interesting thoughts. Some of what you write at first reminds me of Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk ‘How it feels to have a stroke’. I’m not certain that everyone’s ‘right hemisphere experience’ is so positive as she describes; but I think it is wholistic and phenomenological as she describes. I believe that the route into ecological consciousness is to hold both awarenesses. David Abram’s ‘Ecology of magic’ & other works illustrate for me the ecological implications of inhabiting this right-brain consciousness.
    Looking forward to hearing more in your next post.

    Alice Y.

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  2. Apologies I think I forgot to put those links in?

    Jill Bolte Taylor: (20min vid.)

    David Abram: (book chapter text online.)

    Alice Y.

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  3. Yes, I have seen that TED talk clip, it had a big impression on me. I am thinking that if people had more of a balance of the two modes of consciousness, it wouldn’t take a stroke to appreciate the right brain! But that’s what it takes, when the left brain has come to dominate and created really rigid structures.

    Often people do it with drugs. That’s why these violent metaphors are used like “getting smashed.” I think people are seeking transcendent experiences. Others do it with meditation practices, but the next step like you said is to integrate the two together. But I think what has happened over the course of Western Civilization is balance was sought externally, creative people being dominated by rational people. Initially it began, I believe with creative women being dominated by aggressive men. Women turning the landscape into gardens and the men splitting it all into territories to fight over. Then through history as society became more complex that evolved into complex hierarchical societies, that were patriarchal, but it was the lower classes who were creative. More and more men are brought into the sphere of creative activity and fewer and fewer dominant men rule the hierarchy, as these control structures absorb each other.

    What happens next, how I see it, is that more and more people use their creativity as free agents and reclaim the power they have given these outward control structures.


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  4. @Ted/@Alice,
    Your discussion on yin-yang balance and subtle push-pull tug-of-war, reminded me of the following anecdote from the life of Tenali Rama which is similar, though not same.

    “You seem to be intelligent. I offer you two boons, the Golden cup that contains sweet milk of learning, and the diamond cup that contains sour cup of wealth. Choose any one of them”. Tenali Rama thought for a while, and before the Goddess realised, took both the cups and gulped down the milk and curd. The Goddess was enraged at once.

    “How dare you do that?”, she questioned. Again, Tenali Rama, humbly apologised and said, “Both knowledge and wealth are useless without one another. That’s why I had to have both”.


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    • some people are born with wealth and so naturally pursue the other, valuing it for its own sake.

      People born without wealth tend to see learning as a way to gain wealth.

      What are your thoughts on that?

      Does pursuing wisdom lead to wealth?

      Why was Socrates broke?


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      • I’m going to start with the last line and move forward to answering the question.
        >> Why was Socrates broke?
        I think this point is somewhat of a non-sequiter. I don’t have a hard-science/rational answer, but I am going to try the philosophy angle.

        In Christianity, St. Matthew is to have said that the Sun shines equally on the good and the bad, and the rain falls on both just and unjust.
        In Hindu mythology, we find that the protagonist is invariably banished to the forest for 10+ years (Rama, Pandavas et. al) and the antagonists live in splendour and wealth till the day they are killed in battle.
        If one is not of religious disposition, one can pick up Paulo Coelho who makes a similar point about the caprice of the Universe in the Alchemist.

        Bottomline of the argument I am trying to make here is:
        1. There is a certain “fixation” with humans. They demand a ‘clean’ narrative. Every story has a beginning, and an end. A hero and a villain, and a linear flow of all the narrative to boot. This is of course patently untrue in real life and will always be something that is wished for but never ever achieved in reality. I like to blame the Bard for imparting this in our collective consciousness, but maybe I am wrong. After all, you’ve used Socrates as your example and then there was Diogenes himself in those times. 😐
        2. Over the millenia since we’ve formed a hierarchical society, We humans have associated the act of being wealthy(*) as desirable, and therefore, lack of it (its opposite) by virtue becomes undesirable.
        (*) leaving aside the definition of what constitutes wealth for a minute here

        If I clubbed the two points, then it automatically answers your query. In Humans’ misguided quest for “all-rounded” perfection that is happening perennially, we see that those with wealth gravitate towards learning and vice versa.

        On its own, this trait is probably harmless… After all, to each their own. But invariably, “misery loves company”, so firstly cliques are formed. Then, “We” vs. “They” battlelines are drawn around the cliques, and finally, a clean narrative is constructed and documented around this “pursuit by the clique”, i.e., pursuit of wealth by the learned and vice versa. It becomes a meme…. and survives over time. An now we are also trying to make sense of it.

        We shouldn’t. This trait is as old as the hills in Humans. “To keep chasing imaginary butterflies all their life” Best not to romanticise it further.

        At least, that is my thought on this point. Make sense?


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  5. Make sense? Hopefully not too much! I like how you keep it interesting! Clean narrative=probably settling for illusion.


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  6. This whole thing is very interesting, and it does always provoke deep thoughts for me. Having worn myself out with the subject over the course of some decades, I came to summation on historical and cultural matters as such:

    When we review history, and the “why’s” of cultural matters, we are always lacking in foundational details. When we lack in details, we tend to default to opinion. Some of history is likened to a puzzle with no solution.
    However, we persist at a solution as doing otherwise is just uncomfortable. We must have a “logical solution” or we cannot face our failure.
    IE: The Holy Bible. The Bible is not really known to piece together every detail presented. This is why one Scripture, read by one, will be otherwise interpreted by the next reader. We simply lack the logical details to entwine the subjects into a logical conclusion. Of course it is said in some circles that “The Bible explains the Bible”, and that continuation and connection is found from one Book to another, and even from the Old Testament to the New Testament. I chose the Holy Bible only as my example. Now let us look at some artifacts from ancient history. Let us say we are looking at a statue of a frog, with the hooves of a cow and the face of a bird. So, “what is this”? The Professor of Ancient History has already written a paper or two on what this exactly is. But, is that correct, and how does he know? Answer, this is an educated guess, and that’s all it is. Why? Because of the lacking of logical details, leads him to “opinion”.
    There is an old saying “I don’t understand all I know about this”. That’s a fair statement indeed.
    Everyone has to venture a guess, an opinion, even some with “Look, this the way it is”!!!
    So, why are neanderthals called “gods”? Why do some cultures act as described in the post? Unless we have concrete details or a careful study to rule out everything we know is not correct, we are still at a loss. Education is really only a collection of facts. Everything else with detail attached is speculation.
    All we really know for sure, is that is little we know for sure.


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  7. I think scientific rigor is good though to test hypotheses. I could probably come up with some falsifiable predictions. Also one thing to make note of-So far all the neanderthal genomes that have been sequenced have been females. Possibly Neandethal Y DNA will lend further insights.

    I mean I agree though it comes down largely to story telling. People need stories though. That’s Vinkat’s talent at Ribbonfarm coming up with narritives for free lance geeks.

    Free lance geeks are like barbarians….etc. etc.

    I actually find much to respect about barbarians, but I favor hunter gathers, I like constructing narratives around that myth.

    Some stories are better than others and some need revising over time. Even “hard sciences” like physics involve story telling. Arguable String Theory is not science but more like philosophy. Anthropology is mostly story telling, in my opinion. I don’t claim any scientific credentials, but in the past sience fiction writers and journalists have come up with some interesting theories that researchers later developed.

    But you make some really good points. thanks for commenting.


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  8. @HSpencer,
    Good comments there, as Ted also pointed out. Sorry if some of the points grated a bit on you, but let me explain some more.

    As Ted points out, one of the annoying(?!) things about the “empowerment” that social-media/blogosphere has brought about, is the clustering of the self-aggrandizement and to some extent a posturing that surrounds the usage of words like barbarian and nihilism (no thanks to the late Heath Ledger’s iconic “Joker” portrayal) as a means to try and recapture some of the power that we as individuals seem to have relinquished to authority over time and by means of excessive specialisation (we, sir, are just a cog in the wheel). In short, compare “Arnold Schwarzanegger” with “James Stewart”.

    And Ted’s perspectives on the whole “barbarian/nihilist” coupling of posts, actually flipped the entire argument on its head. That, in giving too many weighted-points to “barbarian” mythos, we are actually moving backwards (retrograde), and not forwards. It is “Empathy” that is the key towards regaining our own entity as an exalted human being. To use another Biblical context, “Blessed are the meek” was the runaway theme in all this. As a vedantic novice, it is one of the most profound lines I’ve read in the Bible, and that was resonating mostly in Ted’s points..

    And that was one of the biggest takeaways for me from Ted’s remarks. And that is why I am hosting the “Empathy” driven thoughts as one coherent flowing post. It is an “opinion” nonetheless, but a more uplifting one, IMHO(Ha!)


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    • Hey Surio I thought I would add this comment I left on another blog about barbarians/socipaths etc. seems appropriate here:
      “I think its basically being a free lancer, free agent. A maverick, unconventional, rugged individualist, walking to the sound of a different drummer, these are some archetypes that seem to describe the same thing you are talking about.

      There probably is a correlation to sociopaths. Its kind of sexy. It has shock value, it sounds dangerous, so thats why I think people like you and Venkat have kind of run with it. I don’t think its totally apt though. I mean its kind of like saying instead of being a sheep, I’d rather be a wolf.

      But that’s why its too limited of an archetype to aptly describe what you are talking about. The sheep are the producers of value in that analogy and the wolves simply appropriate it. That’s really what a sociopath is an opportunistic predator or thief.

      So to me being an entrepreneur or a free lance writer is not being a socipath because you create value. Unlike a sheep though you don’t simply let others appropriate it.

      Here is what I think you guys are doing: I think you are integrating this archetype to achieve wholeness. Owning your inner barbarian or inner sociopath. But then you end up something superior than a socipath. But you need to do it to stop being a sheep led to pasture (by following convention)

      That’s my take on it anyway. ”

      Glad you are feeling better. The post is almost done.


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      • Ted, I believe the dualism you’re looking for in this analogy is not sheep/wolf, but sheep/goat, as espoused by Aleister Crowley. The goat is not rapacious like the wolf, so the allegations of sociopathy can be rebuffed. The goat is distinguished by his sure footing in the high places ( it is of course a mountain goat 😉 ) He is still productive, though solitary, and unlikely to be ‘fleeced’ like the sheep.

        I am sure there are further musings to be had on separating the sheep from the goats, not to mention the concept of the scapegoat.


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  9. @Surio

    Nothing about the post did grate on my nerves. In fact, it was one of the most enlightening posts I have read on this subject, and kudo’s to Ted.
    The whole point I was trying to make (and probably failed) was:

    Who built the pyramids? I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and so far I can find no You-Tube video of the construction. However, you asked “who” built them? Should I use the default answer: “The Egyptians, since the pyramids are in their country”? No, I would answer your question like this: “Nobody knows for sure”. Our current Sci-Tech can’t do one like that. But you get angry and say “Listen to me, dingbat, WHO built the pyramids?” So then I am forced to create an acceptable answer, to satisfy both of us.
    Why can’t we admit we just don’t know?


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  10. @Surio (an addition)


    What about the guys and/or gals who from eons ago drew those pictures on the “temple walls”, even in the pyramids if you like. The folks who drew the body of the man with the head of the snake, rat, horse, ram________(insert your choice). This artist must have either dreamed up the picture they drew, or (worse yet) actually saw one of these things walking around! Hummmm, have you ever seen one walking around? Me either. So, we get on the “logic” train. THEY must have actually SEEN one or more of these walking around breathing. OH OH! Well, if that is how it was, then we must assume they quit making those? A long time ago?
    Hummmmmm. Or the artist was on something, had vivid dreams of this stuff, woke up and painted on a wall? Which answer are we more comfortable with? I personally like the idea of the guy toking and waking up to freshly freehand a goat headed seven foot tall man!!


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    • Its very mysterious. The Sphinx is possibly way older than the pyramids. The quarry used for the Pyramids was several hundred miles away. Its no doubt that Wheat agriculture began along the Nile.

      Suddenly an advanced culture seems to arise out of nowhere. I watched a TED talk clip from a primate researcher that works with bonobos and said that the only differences between us and bonobos are not innate but cultural. I tend to agree. We have genes that enable us to pick up language. So there is a chicken and egg problem.


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  11. […] 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 […]

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