Archive for the ‘humanosophy’ Category

1. What is "Humanosophy"?


This is the first post of this brand-new blog. What does “Humanosophy” mean? Humanosophy stands for a basic insight in what it means to be human: an insight based on knowledge from realms of science such as archaeology and paleo-anthropology, biology, anthropology and psychology. What is new about humanosophy? Not these research-based insights by themselves, but  rather the fact that humanosophy integrates the knowledge from these various disciplines into one multi-disciplinary, common, shared story of mankind.

So this blog will introduce you to this common identity and background that is shared by us all, as human beings on this little planet. Once our earliest ancestors were apes, now we are humans. The story of how we became what and how we are today is the core business of a humanosopher: reconstructing the shared story of our human development and identity.

[You:] Isn’t that the core business of philosophy? Or (and) of humanism?

That should it be indeed. But have you read already the philosophical or humanistic shared story of our human development and identity? The answer is no. And that’s a pity. Because as long as this story is not available, the backward patriarchal Adam-and-Eve story is still in charge. To the detriment of millions of women who lead an unhappy and undignified life; or of millions of secular people who feel no ground under their thinking.
Because I spend all my life in reconstructing how we became human and determining human nature, doing the work of a philosopher and humanist, I name myself ‘humanosopher’, hoping you’ll become humanosopher too.

[You:] But there are already tens of science-based books of human origins!

O yes. But they put on record the successive fossils of australopithic and human kinds, the successive technologies of stone and other tools, the growing contents of skulls and so on. But you can nowhere read what made our ancestors so special that they displayed behaviour that no other kind of apes ever did, like taming the fire and believe in gods. No of those books can replace the pessimistic and suppressing monotheistic creation story.

[You:] Aah! you want to write a modern bible!

No, I want to plea for a science-based project of the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of the Human Rights (1948) is based on the humanness of men. I plea for a science-based project to filling in this humanness, with participation of all governmental universities of all countries. A never ending project: as long as science progresses. But in later posts I will work out this idea. In the next post I want to give you an oversight of the authors who are important for my thinking.

As for your mentioning of the idea for a modern bible: in the following posts I’ll sketch a science-based human mental story: how we became linguistic apes (the picture above omens it already) and how our early ancestors experienced their world in a creation story of it. It is an innate need in us: we need a ‘creation story’ of our world to feel grounded in it and to feel human togetherness. Humanosophy is a humanistic/philosophical endeavor to work on this, with help of as much scientific material as possible.   

2. Essential authors for the humanosopher

First and foremost: today most academic authors, writing about humans, are important or at least interesting. The following short list is only to give you an idea of my thinking.

I name them from memory.

  • Frans de Waal, with his books Chimpansee politiek (1982), Good Natured (1996) and Bonobo (1997).
  • Marvin Harris Our Kind (1989).
  • Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steal(1997).
  • Roger Fouts Next of Kin (1997).
  • Johanson & Shreeve Lucy’s Child (1989).
  • Chagnon Yanomamö. The Fierce People (1983).
  • Steven Mithen The Prehistory of the Mind (1996), After the Ice (2003).
  • Steven Stanley Children of the Ice Age (1996).
  • Michael Corballis The Lopsided Ape (1991).
  • Ad Borsboom De clan van de Wilde Honing (1996).

Aah! Much-much more books. But this is only to give you an idea. And it was not all from memory: for each book I stood up and reached to the shelf above my head, put it before my nose to write the title and year right.

I read four newspapers each day, cut important articles or items and the clippings come in tabloid size scrap-books of 250 pages (I am now at volume number 37). I can recover the articles in a card system. The same applies to what I find on internet and what I print out (very much). When the pile of prints is about two centimetres high, I glue the pages to an hardcover book, number the pages and start to read. Each article is noted down on the front, so is easy to recover. My little house is full of bookshelves; I’m busy with download no. 323.

A humanosopher is reading from breakfast till he switches off his bedside lamp (with the only break for the daily walk and the trip to the supermarket).

3. Human nature

Human nature is a three stage rocket.

1. On the most basic level we are a life form, like bacteria. All existing life forms strive to take as much energy as possible out of their environment, to maintain and propagate their own organism. The me-myself-and-I- inclination. This is still an influential incentive in us and it is or becomes dominant when we are in danger or think we are. And when it is tolerated by our environment and situation (a situation of power, e.g.).2. But we are (as apes et al) a kind of group animals. A group animal will be able to gather more energy sources when it belongs to a group then when it is alone. A group animal has an interest in the power of his group (collective) , in competition with other groups. This means that a group animal has to give up a part of his ego-inclination on behalf of the power of his group. Two incentives fight in the soul of the group animal: self-interest and common interest! How can it live with that internal conflict? By culture, by norms and values. The chimpanzees, who live under permanent threat of war with other groups, are the best examples of this. We know it as the fight between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in our conscience. An aside: collectivistic systems like fascism and other forms of despotism always need to create a situation of war against a (foreign) enemy, to suppress opposition.

3. As group animals we bear in us both egoism and altruism. But as humans we bear in us a third incentive on top of both. In the cultural evolution of our ancestors, who lived for about two millions of years in small bands, as nomads on the verge of extinction, we couldn’t permit disharmony, not within our own band nor with neighbour bands from which we were dependent for sex partners, common hunting, exchange of knowledge and asylum in bad times. This human incentive is our nature of the ‘noble wild’ that each of us wants to be in his deepest desire. This deep incentive became frustrated in us some ten thousand years ago, when we came to live in an overpopulation situation, like the chimpanzees. Frustrated; but far too short ago to destroy this third stage in us.

How we acquired this third hyper-social quality, we will see in the next post: “How we became humans from apes”.

In modern philosophy, the thinking about human nature became frustrated by political correctness. The ongoing nature/nurture debate, a distinction made by Galton (1822-1911), is about what is most influential in our behaviour: the environment in which we are born and live, or hereditary and genetic factors. In post-modern philosophy the environmental factors were considered dominant. Scientific attention for hereditary and genetic factors was been associated with eugenics and even fascism. In reality both nature and nurture are playing their role in us, so in post-modernism, dominant in the years after World War II, the debate was severely biased. When I started in 1993 with the humanosophy-project, a friendly biologist still cautioned me for this pitfall. I’m happy postmodernism is ‘out’: it was a philosophical desert and standstill.

4. How we became humans 1

Eight millions years ago [8 mya] our ancestors were normal animals. They were apes. Our ‘nephews’, the chimpanzees and the bonobos, still are apes and normal animals. Apes live in rainforests. When the place where our earliest ancestors lived had not been changed, we would still be apes and normal animals.

However, from 10 mya the climate was becoming cooler and dryer. Rainforest needs heat and wetness; so the rainforest belt, in early Miocene reaching over southern France and Italy, shrank and 8 mya our ancestral jungle turned slowly into open savannah. It is here where our story begins.

Frans de Waal (Bonobo 1997) says that, when we want an image of our earliest ancestors, we can look at the bonobos. They are the only kind of chimpanzee whose environment never changed. A species only changes when its environment changes. The environment of our earliest ancestors changed totally, so our earliest ancestors changed totally. The environment of the ancestors of the chimpanzees changed much later and somewhat, so the chimpanzees changed somewhat.

Here, we will name our earliest ancestors ‘our ANBOS’ (ancestor-bonobos).

It took tens of hundred thousands of years for their jungle to turn into a savannah. The ANBOS never had any idea of this change; for them the world was in every phase like it always was. So the adaptations to the new conditions passed unnoticed. But for our story these adaptations are crucial.

The savannah is a diversified environment consisting of open woodlands mixed with impenetrable shrubs and grasslands accommodating herds of many kinds of grass eaters.

Our ANBOS lived in the woodlands, where they spent the nights in nests high in the trees. But these woodlands along the shores of rivers and lakes didn’t contain the fruit trees their ancestors used for sustenance. For their food, our ANBOS had to roam the open grasslands which was very dangerous because of the big cats that preyed on the grass eaters. Big lions, sabre toothed tigers and similar species were formidable predators. The sabre toothed tigers were specialists in preying on pachyderms: rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and (ancestors of the) elephants. In a short sprint the sabre tooth ran under them and ripped open their bellies with their sabre teeth. The mighty colossus was felled and after his downfall the ‘tiger’ fed on the entrails only. The sabre teeth were too frail for the rest of the cadaver. The rest of the carrion was left to the giant hyenas. Nature is cruel and doesn’t know empathy.

What I emphasize: the Miocene (22 – 5 mya) savannah was characterised by megafauna and was much more dangerous than the current Serengeti. Though the little ANBOS were much stronger than we are now, they needed special armament to roam the grasslands safely.  As normal apes, they protected themselves by throwing anything they could grasp at their predators.

Jane Goodall tells the story of Mister Worzle. The bananas she put down for the chimpanzees in order to keep them in her neighborhood for studying their behaviour, also allured baboons (a large and brave monkey) who frightened some female chimpanzees. But Mister Worzle did not give a centimeter of ground and threw anything he could grasp: grass, branches, one time a bunch of bananas (the baboons were happy!). But soon he discovered that stones worked and soon found out that bigger stones worked even better.

5. How we became humans 2: Stones

Our ANBOS had to become professional stone throwers. They could not safely take a step on the open grasslands without their armament of stones. One stone was not enough to ensure their safety; they needed a handful of stones.

But how can apes carry a handful of stones? On the open grasslands, plenty of animal hides could be found. Sabre toothed tigers ate the entrails of their kill. The hyenas with their mighty jaws were capable of eating the rest of the carcass, including bones, but left the basically inedible, hairy hides. So the ANBOS used those animal hides to carry things; and with their long experience in braiding their sleep nests, knitting these hides together was easy. But how would apes carry bags filled with stones? How do bonobos and chimps carry heavy things? They use their hands, and in order to do so they must walk upright on their feet.

In tens of hundreds of thousands of years our ANBOS, having no other choice, turned into ‘professional’ bipeds with longer and stronger legs, special pelvic and buttock muscles, special midriff, and adapted blood circulation. At least they began to develop these features in a way that was good enough for foraging on the savannah. They still kept the climbing facilities of their hands and feet: it was not safe to sleep on the ground, so they still had to make their sleeping platforms high in the bushland trees.

Females had to carry their babies and gather food for themselves and the rest of the group, so they couldn’t carry and throw stones. Males couldn’t gather food: they had to protect the others, because the predators were always watchful for moments of inattentiveness. So from the very beginning, our ANBOS cultivated a division of labour. Women and children gathered the food: grass seeds, tubers and roots (with digging sticks), larvae and insects, eggs and small animals. The adult men did nothing but provide safety. The groups with the most effective behavior flourished, kept more young alive and soon outnumbered the groups that were clumsy at these things. In tens of hundreds of thousands of years, through hundreds of generations, the most adept populations survived.

The same mechanism applies to group harmony. Bonobos live in female-dominated groups characterized by group harmony. They solve all tensions with sex. It is clear that our ANBOS ‘professionalised’ this behaviour too. Nice breasts and buttocks for the women (the ‘attractive’ red vaginas of the chimpanzee-women and heavy scrotums of the males were not maintainable for bipeds), large penises for the men, and continuous sexual willingness and unnoticeable oestrus of the women are all mechanisms for reducing tensions.

Didn’t the men hunt? No way. The bipedal speed was insufficient to keep up with the savannah predators. But thanks to the presence of predators such as sabre toothed tigers, there were hides all over the place, leftovers of the other carnivores of the savannah. The hides provided a new niche for the handy apes. The ANBOS could pick and scrape protein-rich tissue from the hides with the sharp edges of bones, shells and stones. And when a hide was totally clean, it made a perfect bag for carrying things, a blanket on cold nights, a screen against sun, wind, or rain, or a practical canvas for stone tools. The multipurpose hides were the ANBOS’ most valuable property. The ‘paleos’ lack attention for the importance of these hides in the technical development of our ancestors. It was the beginning of ‘the stone age’: the beginning of the use of stone flakes for processing hides.

All these environmental changes and physical adaptations developed unperceived by our ANBOS. Just like normal apes 10 million years ago, they made their daily foraging tracks in a vast territory. In the course of two million years even more open grasslands became part of their territory and daily route. All needed adaptations developed during this time. By 6 million years ago, our ANBOS were experienced savannah dwellers.

They had evolved into a new kind of chimp, a totally new species in the history of life on earth: the australopiths. The only thing which remained unchanged was their way of life. They would leave their nests early in the morning, wander along a route they knew perfectly, gathering food along the way, and finally come to the next wood where they would share the gathered food and then make their nests high in the trees. The only part of the routine that changed was that instead of eating their food while ranging on the woodlands, they carried most of the gathered food (tubers, grass seeds, larvae, eggs, and so on) to their camps to be distributed equally among group members.

99.5 % of the time we exist, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. This is an important fact for understanding ourselves.

6. How we became humans 3: Names for the things

 

What makes our species so special, compared to other ones?

We are the only kind of animals who have names for the things.

All group animals have their specific kind of communication; without communication you cannot be a group animal anyhow. But no kind of animals possesses names for the things.

How can I be so sure of this?

Well, having names for the things does something with an animal. With names for the things it can talk with its companions about everything, even things that aren’t on the spot, on a faraway place or in another season, in the future or in the past. He can consult and devise plans. If other kinds had names for the things, we would have perceived it for a long time.

But … (you are not convinced) the vervet monkeys, and the chimpanzees, and … ?

You are right, they have some special calls for special things. Chimps have even a call for meat, distinguishing from the call for fruit. However, a chimp can only utter those calls in reaction on seeing (or smelling) fruit or meat. Moreover, in such situations our chimp cannot withhold such a cry. Also, he cannot call [meat!] when he just wants a beef burger. In the next blog I will go further into the implications of names for the things for the mentality of an animal.

The discussion about man’s first language was already animated in the eighteenth century, and dominated the first meetings of the Société de Linguistique (found in 1864) of Paris. Most of the presented ideas, especially those that emphasized sign language as the first kind of language, earned scornful laughter and to maintain the serious character of the meetings, in 1866 the direction of the Société forbade further presentations about language origins. The taboo on this subject also held  Darwin back in his theorizing about language origins. Darwin’s authority long discouraged later theorizing, especially about sign language as the beginning of our linguistic competence. And even today by far most linguists, theorizing about language origins, neglect this possibility. Without or with poor argumentation. Poor knowledge of the character of sign languages is a hampering factor also.

Language origins is essentially a matter of speculation. So all theories will remain speculative. However, there are weak and strong speculations; the latter are based on strong arguments and elucidate most questions.

As I suggested: most of the modern linguists see language as speaking and the ape vocalizations as starting point of it. None of the scientists see the implications of names for the things for the mentality of an animal and poses the question why our ancestors became the masters of the animal world, and not one of the other kinds of apes or animals. As long as one cannot answer this question (nor even imagine this question), we have a weak speculation.

OK, let we go to the next post, for a strong one.

7. How we became humans 4: Language – linguisticness

In one australopithecus group, some 4 million years ago, the custom of imitating things with the hands appeared. This started (in my scenario, perhaps you have another) as a playful performance between some girls.

At first my idea was that the more complicated new foraging environment enforced a sophistication of normal ape communication. However, recent discoveries of savanna chimpanzee women who dig up roots with digging sticks – without language communication! – convinced me that our linguality is not the result of a need to survive. The only other scenario I could imagine was that it started as a casual girl play.

The alpha woman had decided this morning that the foraging route was ‘that way!’. The girl on the right knew that this would lead to the place with the delicious berries! She wanted desperately to communicate her excitement with her friends. And she imitated [berry] with her hand. The sitting girl tries to imagine what is in the mind of her friend. The girl left is only agitated because they are in danger: the others are already on the way and the predators are always on the look-out. But then the sitting girl will get it. And she makes the imitating gesture too! And then there is laughter! All day long they make the same gesture, and laugh. The next day the foraging route leads to another place, and the other girl tries to think over another gesture for another thing. And again there is laughter all day long.

That’s my speculation. I made this picture of the pivotal moment. Perhaps you can imagine another and better scenario. But it has to be started with something: we are language-using creatures now.

This casual girl play (or something like that) was a performance that never happened in the whole history of life on earth: an animal that communicates a thing that is not there on the spot. An animal that communicates not a feeling or emotion, but a special thing that is in her mind. The imitating gesture is a name. A gestured word. It is a handle, a grip, with which you can grasp a thing in your mind and put it in someone else’s mind. No other kind of animal has this capability.

A casual girl play; when that particular day the alpha women or man accidentally would have been bad-tempered and annoyed, this play could have been stopped and then we would have been still normal australopitheci today.

But is was a nice, a creative, a generative play and it didn’t stop. It became a special group culture; when the girls moved to another group to find a partner, they took the habit along and so the culture spread over the whole tribe. Our earliest ancestors.

What then makes having names for the things so important for human evolution?

1. The feeling of distance between the ‘namer’ and the named thing. Normal animals are part of their environment; for our ancestors there became ‘light’ between them and their environment. Not yet on individual scale, more as the feeling of ‘us’ (our group) and their environment. The distance between subject and object. Our ancestors became the first and only animals who could objectify the world of things. Philosophers like Kant understand what I mean. Thanks, Kant.

2. Our ancestors became the first and only animals who could talk with each other about things that were not there, not on the spot or on that moment: a plant, a place, an animals, water, earthquake, volcano, yesterday, tomorrow, other season, you name it.

3. Knowledge obtained by the older generation could be transmitted more easily and in more detail to the younger generation; knowledge could accumulate in our ancestors.

4. Naming a thing gives a feeling of power over the thing. It is this aspect that helped our ancestors to lose of their animal fear for the fire and to use it; no other animal has ever achieved this.

5. Two know more than one, and with a group we can solve big problems: our ancestors could put together all individual intelligence, could brainstorm; they could develop plans, they could consult together. From the slow and scared new savanna-dwellers of the Miocene with names for the things, they soon became the hooligans of the Pleistocene African savanna.

Bigger brains perhaps? Oh no. It was long after the birth of the facility of names for things, long after the first use of fire, long after the spread over the African continent and the first Out of Africa, that our ancestors got bigger brains. The more social an animal species is, the bigger the brains. Linguisticness is the most social of all social behaviors. So bigger brains are the result of it, not the cause.

Linguisticness! Ever more names for more and more things… In the end the whole environment of our ancestors, their whole ‘world’, existed of named things. Our ancestors got to live in a named world, a words world. That’s a sort of ‘virtual world’, and we still live in it. For us a thing only exists when we have a name for it. Isn’t it, Kant? (He nods.) We are linguistic creatures.

8. What is so special about linguisticness?

Our earliest ancestors were apes: normal animals. Now we are humans. A very, very special kind of animals: all that horrible predators such as lions and hyenas are now attractions in our zoos and nowhere it is vice versa. We are communicating via Windows Live Writer: no other animal does. We are abnormal animals What made us abnormal animals? Linguisticness.

It started with nothing. OK, it started with a stupid girls play: imitating/communicating with your hands something what is an image (idea)  in your mind.

An incidental new habit … a huge step towards becoming human! This was a totally new phenomenon in the history of life on earth. All group animals have their own means of communication. But in no other species can individuals communicate about something beyond their awareness, about something in another place, in another season, in the past or in the future. These gesture-imitations of things by our ancestor-bonobos were (the beginnings of) names for the things, enabling them to communicate on a new level.

Once an animal can name things, something special happens at the mental level. This is not only a better means for communication and cooperation. It is not only a way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the following, thus building up a reservoir of knowledge in the entire population. It also is the creation of a (feeling of) distance between the namer and the named thing, the creation (or experience) of distance between a creature and his environment. This was something entirely new in the history of life: a creature that was no longer totally dependent on his environment, a creature that could objectify things in his environment.

One might also see this as a parallel to the professionalizing of the ape’s ability of throwing, which furnished a distance between the thrower and the object: only this time in the mental sphere. Throwing  enables to keeping the predator at bay; naming enables to grasping the predator,  mentally. This supplies a feeling of power over the object, even – or just – when you are not powerful. This new faculty set our species apart from the animal world. It defines humanity. So we have to find a name for this characteristic. We choose linguisticness.

The term linguisticness is coined by the philosopher Heidegger, as English for his Sprachlichleit. But Heidegger was an idealistic philosopher, and deserved a scientific view on humanness. This missed the hermeneutic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) either, but from his ‘magnum opus’ Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode) we derive its useful definition of linguisticness. We read in the chapter Seinsverfassung: “Linguisticness characterizes our human world-experience” … and the exercize of “the wirkungsgeschichtliche Bewusstsein”. We adopt this hermeneutic term and give it a humanosophic (and more comprehensible) content!

The road to linguisticness started ex nihilo (such as the Big Bang?), but I think it started from the very beginning. Because the need for more communication existed from the beginning, and the free hands with those ten fingers were available from the beginning. It started from nothing and it started slowly, like all developments in nature, like the beginning of life itself on earth.[1]

It started incidentally, with a single gestured imitation. But it proved to be a useful habit in a world which demanded better communication. So it grew quickly into ever more names for ever more things. Our ancestral tribe became an entirely new kind of animal in nature, a species with more flexibility and inventiveness than all others, even than other hominid populations whose groups remained without such a cultural habit of communication. Around the time of ‘the great jump’ of our species, ca 2.5 million years ago, all other hominids got extinct. Hominids is the name palaeontologists give to bipedal apes of the Mio-Pliocene period (Pliocene is 5 – 1.4 million years ago and Miocene is the preceding era). The common name for these Pliocene hominids is Australopithecus.

Our ancestor-australopiths developed more flexibility and inventiveness than other animals and even than other australopiths. Why? This was the result of the power of consultation and conference with one another. Two know more than one, and as a group you can solve big problems. One hooligan may be a timid boy, but as a group, hooligans are terrifying. It is the stack-up of inventiveness. Australopith groups without this facility of conferring with each another – boisei, robustus, aethiopicus, even afarensis– died out, presumably with some help of the ancestor-australopiths, the ‘hooligans’ of the Pliocene savannah. Abnormal animals! Linguistic apes!


[1] For three billion years, there was nothing to see – there weren’t eyes anyway; only the sky turned from brown into blue. And then: whoops! – from 500 million years ago on, little worms and crabs and fishes, plants and amphibians on the land, reptiles, dinosaurs and mammals, apes, us.

9. The second big jump to humanity: fire.

We are not sure which fossil, if any, belongs to the population of animals that could name things. Brunet, head of the French group which found the 6-7 million year old hominid skull in Chad, is shown with the skull, saying: “It’s a lot of emotion to have in my hand the beginning of the human lineage…” But there is no label on the skull, and it is impossible to know if the skull in his hand is from an ancestor-bonobo, or from a prey of the ancestor-bonobos.

Around 2.5 million years ago, the ancestor-bonobos evolved into ancestor-australopiths. There is proof of their existence: not a skull, but stone tools.

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At 15 locations east and west of the Kada Gona river, Ethiopia, Sileshi Semaw and his team recovered more than 3000 surface and excavated artifacts, dated 2.6 –2.5 million years ago. [Journal of Archaeological Science (2000) 27, 1197-1214]

Makers of these well-flaked artifacts: Australopithecus garhi. Archaeological name of these earliest stone industry: Oldowan.

Other early Oldowan sites, older than 2 million years ago: Olduvai, Omo, Bouri, Lokalei.

All these 2.5 million years old artifacts were found together with animal bones, many of them with stone-tool cut-marks. A recent publication[1] about cut-marks on bones from the Dikika site in Ethiopia demonstrates that stone ‘knives’ for processing of bones of scavenged carcasses may have been used even earlier: 3,4 million years ago. So these artifacts are butchery tools: the cut-marks on the bones are the result of “hunting and/or aggressive scavenging of large ungulate carcasses”.

To me, these Kada Gona tools are the hallmark of the second big jump of our ancestors, as the consequence of the first jump: names for the things. It was the climate again that triggered the jump. For five million years, the climate had been stable without giving much reason for changing behavior. But then the Ice Ages, the periodical increase of ice caps on the poles and around the high mountains, began. Now there were cold periods (stadials, maxima) interspersed with warm periods (interstadials, minima). It started with a dramatic cooling and drying. Jungles receded to a narrow and interrupted belt around the equator; savannahs turned into deserts. There were ever less trees to sleep in, ever more natural fires.

The ancestor-australopiths knew some attractive qualities of fire, and they were not the only animals who were lured by the far clouds of a natural fire. Vultures and other carrion eaters and even antelopes approached carefully, enticed by carrion and salty ashes. The females that could name things knew that some tubers and other plants, normally not edible, were edible after the work of the fire.

Why women again? Women have to feed their children. In everything they do, they are motivated by the need for more and better food for their children. Perhaps this time it was an old and experienced woman, a grandmother who had the courage to take a glowing branch of an smoldering natural fire. Trembling with fear, she took it to a safe place, fed it with dry grass and wood and breathed in new life: fire.

Terrified, of course, the other ancestor-australopiths observed from a distance, screaming in fear at what the grandma did. She held a tuber on her digging stick in the flames. When she thought the tuber was done, she tasted it, went with the tuber to her granddaughter. Granddaughter would remember this moment ever in her life.

Too nice, this ‘just-so-story’? Then consider this: gorillas have been observed sitting near a smoldering fire in nights when the temperature on the savannah approached the freezing point. But no ape is known to ‘feed’ the extinguishing fire with combustible material.

But our ancestor-australopiths did: because they already had a name for fire, they gradually lost their instinctive fear of the fire and got a feeling of power over it. After this, of course it took many generations before they had developed the technique to carry the fire from one campsite to the other, as live charcoal in a bovine’s horn or in some similar way.[2]


[1] Nature, 12 Aug.’10
[2] If you don’t believe that such an early ‘taming’ of fire can be postulated, ask Ralph Rowlett of the University of Missouri-Columbia in Missouri.

10. About the dating of the first use of fire.

How dare I assume that this taming of fire occurred some 2 million years ago? Most paleos don’t go farther back than the 790,000 years old Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site in Israel, where charred wood and seeds were recovered[1]. Most paleos only accept evidence of fire use when there are hearth stones used; but even today San people don’t use hearth stones when the cook a tuber en route. They dig up a tuber, gather some dry material and branches, sit down, make fire with turning around the point of a digging stick between the hand palms onto a dry piece of wood. When the tinder glows, they blow it in flame et voila!: fire. Some brave paleos accept the evidence from Swartkrans and Chesowanja dating 1.5 million years ago, but that is the limit.

For me as a humanosopher, there are three kinds of evidence of an earlier use. First: there is no other way our ancestor-australopiths could have evolved smaller teeth and more gracile chewing apparatus (mouth) than through more soft and digestible food. Second: no other way to become larger beings and with larger brainpans, than through some kind of radically improved food supply. As experimentally proven by Richard Wrangham[2], a raw (not cooked, not grilled, not roasted) chimpanzee diet would be simply inadequate to sustain larger-brained beings of human size. Three: palaeontologists such as Ralph Rowlett and Randy Bellomo studied the differences in the soil beneath a natural fire and a campfire. The soil under campfires reaches much higher temperatures and a campfire leaves behind a bowl-shaped layer of highly oxidized and magnetized soil. At Koobi Fora in the African Rift Valley, Jack Harris of Rutgers University in New Jersey found such evidence of campfires dating 1.6 million years ago. Fire control must have started a long time before that moment.

‘2 million years ago’ is of course not an exact date; it is just an educated guess.

Perhaps controlled fire existed even earlier than these 2 million years ago. The first ‘professional’ stone tools found at Kada Gona are 2.6 million years old. They attest to a new niche for protein: meat.

For the start of meat consumption, we have to look back to about 6 million years ago: to the hides that could be found all over the Miocene savannah. In the following millions of years the hooligans of the savannah, ever more audacious with their stones, learned to chase away feeding predators from their prey. That was the moment when the males began to contribute to the diet: carrion became an increasingly important part of nutrition.

About 2,5 million years ago, the earth climate became even more cool and dry: the onset of the Ice Ages. Woodland savannah began to turn into desert savannah. The carrion competition grew more fierce. The best sources of carrion, the pachyderms (elephants, rhinos, hippos) had skins that were too thick for lions and hyenas and vultures to penetrate. Those predators had to wait until, after two or three days, the skin cracked open by decomposition gasses. However, with their knife-sharp stone tools the ancestor-australopiths could start processing the dead animal immediately!

The evidence of the stone tools of Kada Gona (2,6 million years ago) is recently transcended by the publication of the Dikika Research Project: evidence of stone tool use and meat-eating dating back 3,4 million years![3] And who made and handled this early stone tools? In June 2010, the discovery of Kadanuumuu, a 3.6 million years old australopith, was published. Its skeleton was found in Afar, where also the famous Lucy-skeleton was found. But Kadanuumuu was nearly a half million years older, much taller and had a more humanlike shoulder blade. So in my view, these people were the butchers of the Dikika antelope from 3,4 million years ago.

The image on the right is a artist reconstruction of the Dikika Child fossil

Meat was a new protein niche for our hooligan ancestors. It incited them to improve their stone ‘knives’. For millions of years, the standard way to make a ‘knife’ or scraper had been to smash a stone against another stone or rock, and then pick out the best ‘knife’. In the new circumstances, this was no longer sufficient. I think knapping the ‘knife’ from a core stone with a hammer stone was too risky for long, bent ape fingers (they still needed those ape fingers for climbing quickly into trees for sleeping and safety). But in order to improve the stone ‘knives’ they needed some knapping technique; and in order to develop a knapping technique they would need shorter, “handier” fingers.

Evolution had to find a balance between the need for long, bent fingers for climbing and making nests in trees on one side, and the need for shorter, handier fingers for knapping better knives on the other. It was the use of the fire that altered this balance. Since the fire provided protection from predators, this made it possible to stay on the ground instead of climbing in a treetop to build nests. Because our australopith ancestors no longer needed to climb trees at night, they no longer needed long “ape” fingers. This allowed the development of shorter, handier fingers suitable for better knife production.


[1] in a recent PNAS article (March 2011) the paleos Roebroeks and Villa suggest that the real control of fire is not older than 400.000 years; we have to take in consideration that their research only concerns European archaeological sites, and that they emphasize that earlier use of fire was possible in an opportunistic way: using smoldering wood from a natural fire, keeping it smoldering in a gourd or something
[2] Cooking Up Bigger Brains (2008); Wrangham himself did a research experiment by trying to live on a chimpanzee diet of fruit and raw meat: he found it not feasible for humans!
3] in a PNAS-article 17 Oct.’10 Dominguez-Rodrigo et al. charged this claim and proposed the marks as inflicted by animals trampling on the bones. However, they didn’t look at the original specimens but based their arguments on photos of the bones. Moreover, their research lacked the rigor of multiple person blind testing. The arguments were easily fielded. The paper was rushed forward in a scientifically unjustified hurry.

11. the impact of fire control on communication

I started my fire-paragraphs naming it ‘a big jump’. The most important aspect of it comes now:  the impact of the campfire on communication.

Before this momentum of fire control, communication was limited to daytime: during the foraging hours and the food sharing upon reaching the next sleeping place. Before twilight, for safety purposes, everyone had to climb high in a tree to make a nest, which effectively ended communication. But now, with a campfire keeping predators at bay, they could rest and communicate all night long! Those nightly hours could be used for nothing else but communication. They began dancing and singing around the campfire. In my view, dancing and singing cannot be separated here, which why we may call it danced singing.

Why danced singing? I repeat: for our ancestor-bonobos, normal ape communication (cries, gestures, facial expressions and other body language) was extended with a humanlike component: names for the things. Those names were produced with hand gestures, not with cries. For apes have no neurological control over their voice: ape cries are controlled by the limbic system. But they weren’t deaf, like present-day sign language users. Their gesturing came with accompanying cries. In the long evenings around the campfire, the growing gestural communication with names for the things became a proto-form of sign language: physically no more than an extension of their ape body language. The screeches were a proto-form of singing. Later more about danced singing. First: What did they communicate?

One might say: nothing at all, they just wrapped themselves in a hide and went to sleep while only one of them (a man of course) kept his eyes open and the fire burning. Speculating in this way however, one might easily overlook that they were a subspecies of bonobos: fervent communicators! In their new, more dangerous habitat they lived in closer togetherness than their rain forest ancestors, so they needed to be even more social. The new circumstances in combination with their bonobo-like inclination had already lead them to their new habit of names for the things.

So: what did they communicate? I propose it was the exchange of thoughts, expressions of what was going on in their mind: in other words, they were sharing emotions. For example the memory of some shocking event in the past day. Communicating these emotions took the form of performances. Let me dish up a possible ‘performance’ here. The threatening encounter with the dangerous buffalo!

The men had made a line with their stones at hand. The buffalo had hesitated, perhaps he remembered an encounter with a troupe of those apes, resulting in a hailstorm of painful stones. He scraped with his hoofs. After some long lasting seconds the buffalo had turned his back and moved.

Now, quietly around the campfire, a woman, with that threatening event in her mind, got up and imitated it with emotional gestures. The others screamed in approval. A man jumped up and imitated the buffalo. The emotional screaming increased. Other men jumped up and made the defense line, with imitated stones at hand. Then the ‘buffalo’ slunk off, and the screaming became jubilation. And calm returned in the group. But the nice performance stayed in everybody’s mind, and after several quiet minutes some women jumped up again and repeated the performance. And again, and again, until everybody wrapped himself in his hide to go to sleep. Evening after evening they did ‘the buffalo’ over and over, until a new event was subject of a new performance.

Generations after generations similar nightly performances became ever more sophisticated, and the gestured communication too. Sophistication means that the gestured ‘words’ underwent standardizing and shortening. Because when the beginning of a gestured ‘word’ is already understood, you don’t need to finish the whole gesture. In a group of women gossiping by sign language and cries, each woman wants to contribute her share. (Why women? Hunting men make no noise. But gathering women chatter and laugh: noise chases serpents away.)

Expressing such emotional thoughts the person used her/his whole body (just like bonobos do today) with accompanying cries. The others responded with imitating gestures and cries, and many of them jumped up and joined the communicating person. And when communicating very emotional items, the whole group was dancing and crying, over and over. From generation to generation, this behavior became ever more ritualized, controlled and refined.

When I say ‘ritualizing’, I mean, as neatly formulated in Wikipedia, "behavior that is formally organized into repeatable patterns, the basic function of which is to facilitate interactions between individuals, between an individual and his deity, or between an individual and himself across a span of time." Ritual synchronizes the activity of participants, a phenomenon that contributes to group cohesion – which can also contribute to survival. Some scholars also suggest that human ritual behavior reduces anxiety. It makes me think of the ‘war dances’ of the Yanomamö , as preparation of a raid. A more modern example may be the ritual drilling of recruits in the barracks.

This development towards better expression through more refined body control affected both dancing and singing. First the dancing. Our ancestors were sharing emotions in an evermore ritualized mode of body language: their bodily expression of experiences, feelings and thoughts evolved into a kind of ballet, of formal dancing. In the course of this evolution, the specific gestures for specific meanings became more formally stylized. A more modern example of extremely stylized and formalized dancing is the 19th century Balinese religious dancing (as described by Dutch colonials) where women told a complex story without any word – just by dancing. In a way, present-day sign language for the deaf functions in a similar way: especially when this concerns a message with emotional content, the sign language may look like a kind of ballet dancing.

Next the singing. Our ancestors were like bonobos, so much more expressive than chimpanzees, who are more silent. Just like their dancing was gradually ritualized, the accompanying cries and calls underwent ritualizing in the evening-after-evening performances. Over the generations, this gradually led to better neurological voice control. The more meaning and information one can convey by voice, the more impressive and effective the resulting performance will be.

I will get back to this combination of dancing and singing later, in the context of the origin of our religious feelings.

12. Homo erectus

6. homo erectus

The control of fire turned the ancestor-australopiths into Homo erectus. Fire use began in one group of ancestor-australopiths, but soon spread throughout all groups, by exchanges of sex partners and group interactions (in a way similar to the dispersion of agriculture later on). The H. erectus population dispersed over Africa and started the first Out of Africa migration into Eurasia.

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Traditionally H. erectus is always imagined as a male. So I was glad to find a reconstruction of a female H. erectus on the blog-site “Kay Nou = Our House”. Thanks, Kay Nou. Her digging stick was nice; but she missed her hide bag. So I gave her one. Unlike in this picture, she was never alone on the savanna, nor elsewhere.

Finds from an earlier period, in the archaeological sites Dmanisi (1,7 million years ago) and Flores (descendants of Java hominids from 1,6 million years ago) show a more primitive hominid, with a more primitive toolbox. So many paleos today believe that it was an earlier hominid, H. habilis or H. rudolfensis that spread Out of Africa into the Far East, developing to H. erectus. A later erectus group returned to Africa as ancestors of the Turkana population. For the humanosopher, this theory of a much earlier Out of Africa migration corroborates the early use of fire, because moving out of the tropics requires fire-use.

13. lingual creatures

 

Our species is the only one in nature which controls fire. This unique capability was directly related to the fact that our ancestor-australopiths were the only species to become linguistic creatures, developing names for the things. Let me expound the new concept of linguisticness that I already mentioned before.

A linguistic creature experiences his world as a named world. It knows his world just like all other animals know their world. But with names for the things, it can confer about those things with companions: two know more than one, and a whole group can solve big problems. As mentioned before, names for the things created a (feeling of) distance between the namer and the named thing, the (experience of) distance between a creature and its environment. Between subject and object: our ancestors became the first and only creatures who could objectify things. Objectifying generates (a feeling of) power over the things. It resulted in the use of fire, and this in turn facilitated the jump forward of nightly gestural group communication. It generated a new kind of power over other species of animals, making our ancestors into the ‘hooligans’ of the savanna.

Names for the things is what made us humans. It may have been the result of a casual and fortuitous girls’ play. It was not necessarily caused by some gene mutation or brain growth or the emerging of syntax: such developments were rather result, not cause.

Having several names for several things is by itself not enough to become a lingual creature. Look at the family Washoe. This is the group of chimpanzees who were made to learn ASL (American Sign Language) when they were young and in a human family setting, presently living at the CHCI of Central Washington University of Ellensburg, in the lifelong care of Roger and Debbie Fouts[1]. The Washoe chimpanzee family is able to use some 300 different names for 300 different things. You may call this proto-language, but this does not necessarily mean they experience their world as a “named world”. What makes an ape into a lingual creature? In other words, what transforms animal gesture communication into a language?

Apart from the fact that the language competence of these apes-in-prison lacks roots in an inborn disposition like ours: inherent to language is a stock of words, a vocabulary, an inexhaustible stock of names for a countless number of things – linguists (language philosophers) speak of generivity. This makes one’s whole world into something that can be experienced primarily as a world of named things, and makes the consciousness of an ape with such a language competence into a linguistic consciousness.

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How do we produce our present spoken vocabulary? With phonemes: sounds that have no meaning of their own (the vowels and consonants of the alphabet), but are the building blocks of an endless number of words. We produce those phonemes with our speech apparatus: throat, tongue, lips and cheeks. But apes cannot produce enough similar phonemes, because their throat is too short and their tongue too narrow. Experiments in training a young chimpanzee to speak resulted in p-p for papa and c-p for cup, pronounced without vowels. The most serious handicap however is that apes cannot really control their voice. Their cries are neurologically driven by the limbic system: an evolutionary older part of the brain, the same that also produces our own cries of pain or anguish or rage or ecstasy. When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we cannot withhold a cry of pain: the older parts of our brain are beyond conscious control.

How could our ancestors – even Neanderthals may have lacked the modern speech apparatus – build up a stock of gestured words without being physically able to produce phonemes? In his groundbreaking research on modern sign languages of the deaf (such as American Sign Language, ASL) William Stokoe[2] has showed that gestured languages can be just as flexible in combining gestures as spoken languages can be flexible in combining phonemes. Stokoe named the sign language alternative for phonemes cheremes: gestures without intrinsic meaning which by combing them can be used as building stones for an endless number of gestured words. Just like we speak all our words by uttering a limited number of phonemes in countless different combinations, modern ASL achieves something similar by combining 55 cheremes (base gesture elements).

So the gestured ‘sign’ language of our ancestors may have evolved from simple gestures denoting specific objects, into a stock of names or a vocabulary using combinations of cheremes, making an unlimited number of ‘words’ from a limited number of base elements: small and quick hand configurations, hand locations and hand movements.

To illustrate this development, let me briefly go into a nice parallel: the similar development of script (written language). 8.000 years ago, ever more people in the Middle East lived as farmers in villages. Each family contributed a part of the yield of their fields and cattle to the ‘temple’ (the common hall for religious anniversaries, for meetings and barter with other villages, and for emergencies). To prevent parasitical behavior and envy, the temple functionaries needed to register each family’s contributions exactly. In early Sumeria, these notes were engraved in the clay of the storage urns (later of clay tablets). The first notes were pure imitations, drawings. These were at best ‘minimal art’: a representation divested of all that was not strictly necessary for identification.

In due course, these representations became more and more stylized symbols. This was the start of Sumerian writing: pictograms, simple representations of what was meant. A simple depiction of a head stood for <head> and two wriggling lines for <water>. But soon these two symbols combined meant <drinking> and even <drink>. In this way, the pictograms became more and more schematic. The big jump came when some pictograms got a sound value, mostly the initial sound of the word-symbol. Soon there was a complete alphabet. The symbols did no longer point to some specific object, but came to represent just sounds – initially mostly consonants. By combining these by themselves meaningless symbols, now every possible word could be written easily. Such written language made it possible to record personal messages, enactments and laws, oral traditions, heroism of the successive kings, important events, scholarship, philosophy, everything. This written language started the historical era (before the invention of script, it was prehistory).

The earlier development of signed language may have followed a similar route. The cheremes (snippets of sign language) initially came into human communication as very simple and direct gestures. In due time, some gestures got the function of syllables: they evolved into building stones (cheremes) for signed words. Didn’t those cheremes make the gestured communication slower? After all, instead of making one primitive object-sign, you now had to combine some small gestures (cheremes) to indicate the same object. This question can be answered in two ways.

In the first place we can refer to the universal linguistic abbreviating propensity: the aversion to repeat an already uttered word or sentence element – and when you repeat it nevertheless, you do it mainly to give it extra emphasis. We may assume that from the beginning there was a natural tendency (just like in modern sign language) to make the language gestures as fast and simple as possible, if only for communication efficiency: when just the start of a gesture is already enough to be understood, you don’t need to finish the whole gesture. The faster you can produce gestures, the shorter the time you need to make your point or to contribute to a discussion.

In some cases however, the use of cheremes (even when these were as small and fast as possible) may have resulted in more complexity. For instance, instead of one gesture for the object “ tiger” you might now need to use a combination of three quick cheremes to indicate the same object. So why would people opt for increasing complexity? Here the second answer comes forward. The price one may have paid for a little more complexity, at the same time bought a huge advantage: thanks to using cheremes, the number of possible words and expressions now became really limitless. While primitive sign language might have had a gesture indicating “tiger”, it may not have had gestures specifying “reddish tiger” or “wounded tiger” or “a cloud in the sky shaped like a tiger”. The use of cheremes made it possible to say (gesture) all this, and more.[3] Eventually, they made it possible to discuss even abstract concepts for which no simple gesture would ever have been adequate. How important this was, we will see when discussing the evolution of the creation story as a central factor in the evolution of mankind.

Now three other questions occur that have to be answered. Firstly, is it admissible to infer ancestral behavior from the cultures of present-day hunter-gatherer tribes? The humanosophic answer is: yes we may, because there is a continuum between our modern behavior and that from our ancestors, a continuum that is transmitted by genetic inheritance, tradition and inveterate habits. Old usages and practices and customs stay alive till they no longer fit. The same goes for language characteristics: deeply rooted in communication practice, they are transmitted from generation to generation as a vital part of a culture.

But if is this a valid comparison, then may we also assume that the signed communication of our ancestors developed towards the same level of sophistication (especially regarding the emergence of cheremes) [4] as modern sign languages such as ASL (American Sign Language)? Our deaf populations possess modern human brains, don’t they, and are integrated into a modern urban culture that requires more sophistication, for example in order to discuss the stock exchange by ASL? The humanosophic answer is: yes, we may, because the modern sign language is a flower out of the seed from the gestured linguality of our Early Human ancestors. In essence, it is the same flower as we can see sprouting when our modern babies pick up language from their environment, irrespective of whether this is gestured or spoken language.

The third occurring question is: why would people eventually switch from gestured to spoken language? The answer is that signed language may be adequate, but less so when you have your hands full, or in a situation that you can only hear each other. For this reason, from the very beginning visual communication has been supported by making sounds such as guttural and dental clicks, labial sounds, and emotional cries. Even from the beginning of gestured communication, such vocal additions were structural word parts. So we may suppose a continuum between the most primitive gestured communication and the ‘click!’-languages of nowadays San people of southern Africa (and our own gesturing even when we are talking on telephone). There has been, however, a turning point in this continuum: the rise of the ability to communicate with sounds alone, without gestures. We will talk about this in the paragraph Anatomical Modern Humans.

To summarize: in the paragraph about the first use of fire, we speculated about the Australopithic population to which we could attribute the wonderful innovation of controlled use of fire. We found Kadanuumuu (estimated 1,5-1,8 m. high) a good representative because of his humanlike posture, much taller than “Lucy” (1,1 m. high, dated 3,2 million years ago), and yet hundreds of thousands of years older. We supposed the use of fire here because such a taller population of Australopithecus afarensis must have had better food at his disposal. In its turn, control of fire in our view assumes the presence of linguality.

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Excavations between 2005 and 2008 in the Afar Region of Ethiopia uncovered an upper arm, a collarbone, neck bones, ribs, pelvis, sacrum, a thighbone, a shinbone and an adult shoulder blade. The partial Australopithecus afarensis fossil is dated 3.58-million-year-old and nicknamed Kadanuumuu, ("Big Man" in the Afar language).

Fragment of Kadanuumuu’s lower arm bone  to muse about: apart from throwing stones, this very 3.58 mya bone may have been used to gesture with companions. Kadanuumuu as a lingual creature!

‘Ardi’, Australopithecus ramidus, from 4,4 mya Afar Rift Ethiopia, had an ape-like short thumb. The hominid species Australopithecus sediba, recently found in South Africa, was presumably from A. africanus origin and possibly a transitional species to H. habilis and even H. erectus. It has a humanlike thumb but is only 1.98 million years old, 2.42 years younger than Kadanuumuu. Somewhere during those 2,42 million year-long interval, the more humanlike thumb of Sediba must have evolved. The skeleton of the much older Kadanuumuu, “Big Man” provides no hand- or foot bones, so in fact we cannot know yet what kind of thumbs he may have had. Hopefully, ongoing archaeological research will clarify this.


[1] see www.cwu.edu/~cwuchci

[2] William Stokoe (1919-2000), Professor at Gallaudet University of Washington, DC, was the creator of the linguistic study of the sign languages of the deaf. Before, the sign language used by the deaf was generally believed to be a corrupt visual code for spoken language, or elaborate pantomime. Stokoe’s first and eye opening book was Sign Language Structure (1963) and till the end of his life he was the indefatigable champion of the language of the deaf.

[3] cheremes emerged in thousands of generations of dancing/singing the creation story of their world. The story grew in detail and complexity; so did the gestured representation and performing.

[4] The research of Stokoe and others on signed language reveals how easy it is to produce adjectival or adverbial and other elements of syntax with modification of or additions to the gestured words by facial expression and posture changes: “Adjectives need neither to precede nor to follow nouns as physically distinct elements but can appear simultaneously as modifications in the performance of the sign language word. Likewise, adverbial modification of gesture action is natural effect of the way that visible gestures are performed.” Other grammatical elements of language such as the pattern of Subject-Verb-Object emerge spontaneously and inevitable in a social phenomenon as language: one cannot participate when one doesn’t know the meaning of the spontaneously emerged words, as little as one doesn’t follow the spontaneously emerged rules. Chomski’s speculation that grammar is the essential characteristic of human language doesn’t make sense. Names for things is the essential characteristic.

14. lingual consciousness

 

There must have been a moment in history when acting from instinct became less dominant than acting from deliberation and consulting. No two captains on the ship of your thinking! With the advent of fire control, our ancestors demonstrated that unlike normal animals, they were no longer acting purely by instinctive reaction to sensory impulses.

Thinking? Animals? Of course animals do think. Most kinds of mammals and birds make scenarios in their brains: they weigh the different possibilities of what can happen or be done, in order to choose what is best. Intelligence is widely spread! We are used to seeing some kinds of animals or birds as more intelligent than other kinds, but every species exhibits its highest level of intelligence in its own special niche. The tortoise is the most intelligent animal in the tortoise niche. And where instinct is concerned: only ‘lower’ kinds of animals act exclusively by instinctive reactions. Group animals act largely by learning, example and intelligent trial and error. The animals we use to label as ‘most intelligent’, are nearly always group animals. But intelligence is a personal quality: as far is intelligence is concerned, not all dogs are created equal.

But consciousness is unique to humans, isn’t it? It depends on how we define ‘consciousness’. If you mean: being aware of one’s environment, then this applies to animals as well. Every mammal does continually process environment information, unless it has been knocked out. Do you mean: self-conscious? Apes, elephants and dolphins evidently display self-consciousness. As proven in several experiments[1], they are able to look in a mirror and be aware that they see themselves.

What then is unique to humans? The main difference is not that we, as all mammals, are thinking beings, but that we on top of this animal thinking have names for the things. Animal thinking is the manipulating of things with representations (mental images of the things) in the brain. In our human thinking, these representations have labels, ‘handles’, ‘grips’: the names that enable us to ‘grasp’ things. So we are able to handle things better: not just when communicating about them, but also for easier and more inventive thinking. If we define creativity as the ability to combine things, then our names for the things make it easier to make new combinations, and therefore to think in a creative way.

So when we speak about a concept of ‘human consciousness’, we really ought to name this lingual consciousness. Consciousness is not unique to humans, but lingual consciousness is.


[1] p.e. G. G. Gallup (1970) Chimpanzees: Self-recognition and after him many others on other animals in addition to elephants and dolphins

15. Linguality and its consequences

 

The philosophical term ‘linguality’ is the translation of Heidegger’s concept Sprachlichkeit. In the work of another hermeneutic philosopher it appears even as ‘linguisticality’, but for humanosophic purposes the word ‘linguality’ suffices. However, our definition is not exactly the same as Heidegger’s.

What is then the humanosophic definition? We already defined ‘humanosophy’: the humanist/philosophical view on human nature as the mental condition of an ape who has begun to use names for the things, gradually finding himself in a named world, in a virtual ‘words-world’. The definition of linguality in this context (in another sense than just ‘the ability to use language’) is obvious: with ‘linguality’ we mean the mental predisposition to experience the world in concepts. This is the characteristic that makes us humans unique among all animals.

Seen from a wider perspective, linguality is the latest, most complex culmination of a natural, even universal development. According to the American astrophysicist Eric Chaisson, the universe started with the simplest kind of complexity: the mere fusion of hydrogen and helium into primordial stars. This fusion produced complex molecules that endured in the clouds of dust around the implosions of those first stars. In favorable environments, on some planets of the second generation of stars, such complex molecules (matter) could generate even more complex combinations, like RNA on Earth. In the rare ideal circumstances on our own planet Earth, the complexity of matter progressed step by step to the evolution of DNA, and eventually of more complex life forms. This evolution was about finding ever more refined tricks to absorb energy from the environment. The cell was a step, and so was the super cell, was multicellularity, were organisms, were sensory organs, were brains, was intelligence. Living in groups was a step. The lingual consciousness of humans is the ultimate trick, the (preliminary?) culmination of complexity of matter in the Universe. But: still serving to absorb energy from the environment to stay alive and multiply.

Our lingual consciousness, the grasping, comprehending understanding of the world, started with the first gestured name. In the beginning, it was still rather inadequate. Nevertheless, eventually the humans had to rely on it: they had made instinct secondary. When you no longer use an organ it will shrink, and something similar happened to our instinct. Because the humans began to understand their world with a lingual understanding that was still weak and unreliable, they fell prey to incertitude. Therefore, this is the first major consequence of linguality: it made us into worrying apes’.

By itself, incertitude is not a new phenomenon in the Universe. When an animal comes upon a situation where his instinct cannot give an adequate impulse, it may feel uncertain. But for humans, incertitude became a more permanent part of daily life experience.

One cannot live with constant incertitude, so the early humans developed two anguish allaying mechanisms. The first one was repetition: rhythm, dancing, singing, rituals: I already mentioned some scholars who suggest that human ritual behavior reduces anxiety. Tradition has the same effect: doing things the same way they had be done since many generations. Consequently, the early humans were astonishingly conservative. Over more than a million of years, the form and material of their hand-axes showed virtually no change. In their named world, the most important tradition and ritual was the danced singing of the creation story every night around the camp fire.

The second anguish-allaying factor became belief: a firm inner conviction that things are the way we want them to be, or at least are the way somebody with status and/or authority says they should be. In primitive times humans were not yet acquainted with the concept of authority: in the group, they were more or less equal. Therefore the most important parts of their belief were not based on some kind of authority, but rather on magic (fear allaying ritual actions) and myth (tradition-based elucidations of the world).

Until our scientific times, it was never important whether a story was true. It mattered only if it was a good (useful) story, a story which people wanted to be true, which was felt to be relevant to their existence. Just like in a later era, in the time of patriarchal society, the story of the birth of Eve out of a rib of Adam became a good story because it was just what the men wanted to hear, as a reinforcement of their supremacy. Such stories had to be true.

The thus acquired certitude enabled our ancestors to intervene in their environment. As I said before: names for the things also gave them (a feeling of) power over the things. linguality created a distance between the understanding brain and the object, the understood thing or phenomenon. Humankind became a factor in nature that mastered a mental but also an instrumental power over the world, the first critical intervention in the natural environment being the control of fire. The inner conviction that some ritual words – such as incantations, charms or spells – evoke magical forces that can create or destroy, is just as ancient. Knowing somebody’s name gives a feeling of power over him. Naming somebody can be felt as disrespectful, or even be understood as violating the named one’s integrity (which is why in several traditional religions, including Judaism, the actual name of the feared powers (be it natural elements such as a tiger or a volcano, or the gods, or a single God) may not be spoken aloud.

As another consequence of having names for the things, the ability to exchange complex thought scenarios with each other became a powerful new strategy: two know more than one, and people now could share their thoughts and overcome the biggest problems. Essentially, this is the power of democracy.

Some other consequences need to be mentioned here. Between the lingual creatures and their environment, an apparatus of thousands of concepts (the sign language codes associated with representations in the brains) arose, which created a ‘virtual’ world. All things in our world are named things, but how can we be sure that this is the only world? Many philosophers (Plato with his cave metaphor; Kant with the thing as representation and the thing in itself) wrestle with the feeling that, besides the world we know, there is a another or even more real world, but one which slips out of our hands as soon as we try to name and know it: talking about it is by definition not possible. Perhaps this philosophical ‘second’ or ‘real’ world exists in the larger part of our thinking: lingual consciousness takes only 20% of our actual thinking.

A last important consequence was the emergence of the bastion of holiness. Our ancestors kept their incertitude at bay with belief and magic rituals. They believed when and where they couldn’t know for sure: these beliefs were imagined certitudes, pseudo-elucidations, not based on hard evidence. Deep in their minds, incertitude lived on. So the necessary elucidations were canonized into holy elucidations. Holy is unassailable, untouchable: something holy may not be doubted or called in question. But this runs counter to the progress of our lingual consciousness, our knowing, our rationality. To the only ability which can really free us from incertitude. This contradiction between holiness and rationality is the most dramatic consequence of our growing into lingual creatures.

By briefly discussing these important consequences of the emergence of our named world, a world consisting of named things, I hope to have given some meaningful context to my new up-filling of the concept linguality.

16. Religion explained

 

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought is the title of a 2001 book of Pascal Boyer, a French-American anthropologist. Because of its actuality and its daring title it is a much discussed and translated book. Most of the reviews, however, are not very enthusiast, complaining of its dry and abstract philosophical and cognitive-psychological argumentation. Even more serious is the conclusion that the book does not really explain the phenomenon of religion. Boyer himself excuses this lack of satisfactory explanation with the statement that “religion is not a single entity resulting from a single cause.”[1]

But is he right? Couldn’t religion in essence be just that: a single entity resulting from a single cause? For the humanosopher, who explains consciousness as lingual consciousness, the obvious mission here is to unravel the real evolutionary origin of religious thought.

Our ancestors, now armed not only with stones and sticks but also with fire[2], spread from the tropics to the temperate zones in Africa and Eurasia. It was a slow migration: about 30 miles per generation. When a successful group became too numerous, tensions arose and then soon a little group of young women, children and men would decide to move to a new territory. I assume that this land may already have been known because adolescents had to make a long journey as part of their initiation in adult life – upon their safe return, they were able to recall for the remainder of their lives the faraway regions and people they had encountered on their journey.

The settlers of new territories were the first humans who gave the mountains, rivers, lakes, marshes, fruit trees and wild animals their names. For humans, lingual consciousness became more dominant than the instinctive consciousness of other animals: in that lingual part of our mind, things exist to the extent we have a name for it. For our ancestors, as lingual creatures, those first name-giving settlers were the creators of their tribal territory. People always had (and still have) the practice of defining a total group as one person (The American for all Americans, The Australian for all Australians) and in a similar way, our ancestors spoke of The Big Ancestor.

I dare not to speculate exactly when and where this process began. The first hard evidence (in my opinion) of how these humans expressed the experience of their world in danced singing, is Bilzingsleben: an archaeological site in Germany, a H. heidelbergensis campsite from

370.000 years ago (Reinsdorf interglacial). This is the first known place with evidence of a special dance place between 3 huts[3].

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reconstruction Bilzingsleben camp site of Early Humans, 370.000 years ago

These Early Humans were lingual creatures. But humans are part of the animal world. In their own mind, they were not lingual creatures but animals. Honestly spoken, not even in our mind, dear reader, we ourselves are lingual creatures. I mean: we are not continuously aware of it. Just like fishes are not aware of water. The Early Humans felt they were animals originating from a special kind of animal. Their way of thinking was totemistic.

We may compare the Early Humans’ step into new territories with a newborn baby’s entrance into a new world. Right after the sudden and painful experience of birth, felt as a cruel separation, newborn babies would like to be part of their mother again, just as they had been before. They feel strangely isolated. During the long time they sleep, this isolation is felt less acute, especially when the usual moves, shakes and sounds continue. But when awake, they need the unceasing and loving attention of their mother and others to give them the confidence of safety. Slowly and gradually, neurological programming can then do its work letting them grow up, step by step, to normal childhood and maturity.

The same step by step development characterizes the experience of the environment (world) of our ancestors. As lingual creatures they lived in a named world; a world full of named things. For these Early Humans it was an ever growing number of names for an ever growing number of things. This mass of names would grow into a chaos in their heads if it lacked any structure. The most obvious structure herein is, is the story: the linear a-to-z telling. This structuring function was accomplished by their creation story: the ritual story of how their world had begun and developed, inclusive humans, up to how it was now. (Their ‘world’ was the tribal territory, and ‘humans’ were the people of their tribe. People of other tribes, with strange languages, were not real human because “they couldn’t even talk”; but they could become human by adoption or marriage: by incorporation in the tribe, which for them was humanity.)

We today, being lingual creatures, are in this respect not really different from Early Humans: we still need to comprehend our world in a story. It strings loose facts and events together into a coherent whole that provides meaning. When a moving, stirring event befalls us, we feel a strong need to tell it to others: we feel sharing it is the best way to come to terms with it. For the humanosopher, the loss of the monotheistic creation story in the free world’s consumers society, without replacing it with a new and more suitable alternative, is the cause of the moral decline. Our conscience has no longer a common, universally shared basic story. In the Introduction I referred to Tony Judt and his tormenting concern. In Part Two I will present a potential solution.

The little group of young women, children and men who were the first to settle new territories, were the first ones to give the things in that territory their names. For lingual creatures, this is what defines the existence of things. For their descendants, the ancestral settler group was personified in ‘epic concentration’, The Big Ancestor.

We need to emphasize here that this tribal Big Ancestor is in no way synonymous with the figure of God as worshipped in today’s main monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). That modern God was constructed 400,000 years later: only a few thousand years ago. We will discuss the recent origins of this monotheistic God concept later. The tribal “Big Ancestor” we are talking about here – who was not regarded as a specific person but rather as a reference to the mythical ancestral group – was a very different concept. This was not a man, nor a woman, nor some kind of animal: it was something in between.

The early Big Ancestor is in essence ourselves – it personified the first little settlers group – and even later thinkers and shamans have always remained aware of this. In the classic Greek-Roman culture of the first century BC, this still was the central and deepest mystery of the Mystery Cults and of the Gnosis movement: that God is ourselves. Let us take a closer look at him, in the form he still figures as a central force in the creation stories of present-day ‘primitive’ populations such as the Australian Aboriginals.

The creation story of such tribes still tells how in a long-ago Dreamtime[4], the Big Ancestor entered the tribe land on a special place and began to journey all through the known world. Everywhere on his journey She/He/It deposited mountains, lakes and trees and all the special features of the land. She/He/It also left, in a special place, the little souls who could fly into the wombs of women who passed by that place, the same place to where the souls return after death. The Big Ancestor could travel through the sky or under the ground. Once finished with his creation effort, She/He/It departed from the land through a special hole in the ground: the land now was ready for the tribe.

Special creations (mountains, trees, animals etc.) were also important Figures in the Story, with special tasks or abilities. This Story of the creation of their world was so important to them, that they believed their world would come to an end when they no longer sung-and-danced their world. And that makes sense: it was a named world for them. And it still is for us – but we are familiar with the fact that the world goes on even when we are never dancing-and-singing it.

In the dawn of humanity there never was a tribe without a sung-and-danced Creation Story. Over thousands of generations of singing-and-dancing the essence of our world and our community, this practice has become so-to-speak a part of our genome. It lives on within each of us as our religious feeling. We are born with the expectation of experiencing a sung-and-danced representation of the world and togetherness. When a baby cries, it will be quiet or even begin to smile when mama sings-and-dances with the baby in her arms. This is the base of the religious feeling that remains with us even when we are convinced secularists or atheists. It is this ancestral practice of dancing-and-singing the world that makes us “incurably religious” as theologian Dorothee Sölle defined it[5], even though she herself did not see the link.

This instinctive reaction does not just apply to babies. Many grown-ups will feel an urge to dance when hearing dance music. In a similar way, many people will experience deeply rooted feelings when hearing religious music such as the Matthäus Passion or In Paradisum. And in fact, the chants by the public in football stadiums do also have the same effect.

All these common, instinctive reactions to singing and music led me to presume that the sung-and-danced creation stories by our ancestors played an important role in the group cohesion, which is why this social song-and-dance mechanism is basically still working even in the nature of western people today.

The creation story as described above evolved over thousands of generations, along with the evolution of the prehistoric economy. In the creation stories of a few present-day tribes (such as Australian Aborigines) we can still recognize its original form.


[1] “Religion Explained’ reminds me of “Consciousness Explained” by Daniel Dennett: this book didn’t explain consciousness either

[2] this position seems seriously questioned in the recent PNAS article of Roebroeks and Villa (March 2011) “On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe”. However, they emphasize that their research concerned (a) the European fire use and (b) the producing of fire: they didn’t question the use of fire by keeping smoldering charcoal obtained from a natural fire

[3] I was glad to read that Steven Mithen in his book Singing Neanderthals (2006) describes this same excavation, with the “demarcated space for performance (!) … to sing and dance, to tell stories through mime, to entertain and enthrall …” [‘mime’: Mithen has no idea of linguality, and even speculates that Neanderthals had not yet language!]

[4] an important concept of the Aboriginals, but one that is found with ‘primitive’ populations all over the world: it indicates the time of the beginning of being human, when the ancestors felt themselves still being animals, a part of the animal world, not yet lingual creatures with their existential incertitude as ‘worrying apes’

[5] Dorothee Sölle (1929 – 2003) was a German liberation theologian and writer who coined the term Christofascism

17. Anatomical Modern Humans (AMHs)

 

As said before, sign language is an extension of body language. Not just the hands and fingers play their role, but also the arms, facial expressions, and posture and movements of the body as a whole. In early humans’ emotional and dramatic performances, this body language function merged into a kind of dancing which over time became more and more ritualized. One of the essential features of dancing has always been the repetitive movements, which (just like walking, jogging or playing sentry-go) release endorphins. As such, it serves as one of our uncertainty-allaying mechanisms.

As for singing, I already mentioned how our ancestor-bonobos probably were very communicative animals, screeching emotionally all day long just like present-day bonobos. From the beginning, vocal sounds accompanied their gestured communication. Besides the screeches that were beyond conscious control (being driven from the limbic system) there probably evolved a more intentional application of conscious (neocortical driven) sounds like [puffs] and [clicks] and [mmms], to support the communicating of still primarily gestured names for things. Such non-vocal sounds proved useful in the dark, too[1]. In the dancing-singing of the Creation Story, the neocortical control gradually emerged over many generations: in line with Steven Mithen[2] I assume that the Neanderthals were indeed already more or less ‘singing Neanderthals’.

Most scholars assume that the AMHs (Anatomical Modern Humans) were the first real speakers to communicate with spoken names, while for them the gestures were reduced to an accompanying role. In a relative short time during the great migrations, these AMH descendants of the African early humans replaced earlier humans wherever they showed up. These Anatomical Modern Humans are our nearest ancestors: every human today is an AMH.

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Scratching on ochre from Blombos cave, South Africa.

Now what made these first AMHs so special? A genetic mutation, says Richard Klein of Stanford University.[3] Other paleos do not agree, but they do not offer a satisfying answer on the question either. Sure is that (apart from anatomical differences) the AMHs in Africa were culturally quite different from all earlier humans. Unlike their predecessors, they used bone, antler and ivory to make fish hooks and harpoons. For the first time in human history, they also relied on sea food: their camp sites were characterized by shell middens.

At the Blombos cave some chunks of ochre were found that were marked with cross-hatched scratches 70,000 years ago: perhaps the first graphic symbols ever. And the research of Richard Klein[4] shows how the AMHs hunted buffaloes with more sophisticated weapons. But still the question remains: why did AMHs develop this new behavior, while the Early Humans did not?

I have my own humanosophic hypothesis here. Communicating with only one’s mouth and without further body language makes lying more easy. When trying to lie with sign language, you have to keep too much nerves of your body under control (and the person you are trying to deceive, will already be closely watching your body language). The others will see more easily that you are lying. Even in today’s sign language for the deaf, lying is much more difficult than in spoken language[5]. But when you communicate primarily by sounds, you can lie with a poker face.

Of course the AMHs didn’t lie every day or even every year. But the fact that they could so when needed, may have made them a tiny little bit more self-confident and individualistic. This growing inner confidence made them a little more flexible, a little less restricted to rigid traditions. In the early human mindset, thus far mainly formed by traditions and rituals, tradition and truth were two closely related concepts. Once people became aware they were able to lie (to deviate from truth) this may have made them, by inference, more aware of the possibility to deviate from tradition as well. Eventually this made them more inventive. Unlike their conservative[6] Neanderthal counterparts, the AMHs began to manufacture new kinds of hunting weapons (such as fish harpoons and fish hooks) from other material than the traditional stone: bone, antler and ivory. These helped them to open a new food niche which until then was not being used by other early humans: the water world.

Maybe I overplay my hand with this theory about the effect of the new spoken communication. We also might simply ascribe the transition from Early Human to AMH to the fact that the AMH ancestors in the glacial period of extreme dryness were forced to search for alternative food sources – which they found at the coast, in lakes and in rivers. Therefore they became coastline dwellers, adapting to feeding on shells and other water animals. The oldest harpoons, found at Katanda, date from 90,000 years ago; the beads, used as jewellery, found at Blombos cave, are from 75,000 years ago. Christopher Hensilwood, the paleo who found them, says: “There’s more and more evidence that they could fish and hunt large mammals, and that they were making fine bone tools. When our ancestors left Africa, they were already modern, already thinking and behaving in many senses the way we do today.”[7] However, this still leaves the question open why these Early Humans were able to make these ‘modern’ changes, and why this did not happen earlier than some 90.000 years ago.

Their extra nutritional niche: mollusks, fish and other water animals, enabled them to feed larger groups. The groups of the Early Humans numbered around 30 people; those of the AMHs could number around 100 people. In a small group, new ideas may find not enough support and die away, while in a larger group new ideas may easily find at least some followers. Furthermore: as a consequence of better nutrition, the number of AMH-groups also increased, which in turn caused more inter-group exchange of goods and ideas over larger areas. Hensilwood[8] points out the increase in population of modern humans, and how this easily explains both the new, modern behavior that lead to the ‘Out of Africa’-migrations, and the “creative explosion” that took place around 45,000 years ago in Europe. But the question why these Early Humans managed to achieve this, and why it did not happen earlier than some 90.000 years ago, is still waiting for a scientific answer (maybe our humanosophic approach can offer better answers here).

Vocal communicating – just by larynx and mouth – must have had a strange effect on an Early Human: making her a tiny little bit more individualistic, a tiny little bit more independent from traditional thinking. Yes, I see this as a female attainment again; for the still-gesturing men this may have been a female foolishness, too weird and unreliable to use it in their ritual prayers to the Big Ancestor before hunting. Women had a big share in the daily danced-singing of the Creation Story, but also in the allaying and charming and medicating of illness. I think the first shamans were mostly women.[9] So initially, the sophisticating of traditional sign language with ever more meaningful vocalizations may have been primarily a female concern.

Harpoons of 90.000 years ago, jewelry of 75.000 years ago: AMH-behavior may have flourished around 100.000 years ago. Also the consequences from this behavior: increasing population and perhaps some population stress, resulting in the first Out of Africa II movement. This first emigration wave (we could name it OoAII-A) not only let his traces in Skhul and Qafzeh (dated around 100.000 years ago) but also the first AMH-groups arriving in the Far East.


[1] the dark … for the Early Humans we have to consider their very sharp vision; even the slightest light was enough for them to see in the dark

[2] Steven Mithen Singing Neanderthals (2006) proposes the term Hmmmm for the pre-linguistic system of communication used by Early Humans: an acronym for Holistic (non-compositional), Manipulative (utterances are commands or suggestions, not descriptive statements), Multi-modal (acoustic as well as gestural and mimetic), Musical, end Mimetic

[3] a friendly but rather negative review of his (and science writer Blake Edgar’s) book The Dawn of Human Culture (2002), including his theory that spoken language was the result of a genetic mutation, immediately followed by a cultural ‘big bang’, has been written by Derek Bickerton in Scientific American Sept. 2002, “A Bare-Bones Account of Human Evolution”. The review ends: “The likeliest conclusion is that language as we know it arose most probably through some fusion of preexisting capacities, around the time our species originated more than 100,000 years ago. Precisely how this happened remains one of the great unsolved scientific problems. Unfortunately, Klein and Edgar don’t bring its solution any nearer.”

[4] he discovered that the Early Humans from the Klasies River caves concentrated on eland—large antelopes—instead of the more dangerous buffaloes, although buffaloes probably outnumbered eland in the local environment. In more recent sites, by contrast, buffalo bones dominate those of eland. “Something happened after 50,000 years ago that allowed people to hunt buffaloes.” (Klein, R. G. & Cruz-Uribe, K. (1984) The Analysis of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago).

[5] we remember the reactions of American deaf people on a speech of Ronald Reagan: they saw he was lying

[6] we were in the excavation site Veldwezelt-Hezerwater (Belgium): two Neanderthal campsites, one from 130.000 ya and another from 34.000 ya. On the question: is there difference in stone technology? was the answer: not at all!

[7] in National Geographic News, April 15, 2004

[8] Christopher S. Henshilwood is a Research Professor at the Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand. With Francesco d’Errico e.a. he excavated the Blombos cave (near Cape Town, SA) and found ornament shell beads from 75,000 years old. So 5000 years older then the engraved ochre chunks mentioned before. The oldest shell midden, the ‘hallmark’ of AMH-behavior, is also found at Blombos cave … dated 140,000 years old

[9] Remnants of this tradition can still be found in several aboriginal cultures, for example in Siberia; see also the work of Mircea Eliade.

18. On the verge of extinction

 

A key moment in the dispersion of AMHs over the rest of the globe happened 74,000 years ago with the disastrous explosion of the supervolcano Toba, located in northern Sumatra. This was the largest volcanic event on earth in the past two million years. It involved the explosive eruption of at least 2,800 square kilometers of tephra (Greek word for ‘ash’) , causing ash plumes to cover a large part of the world, from the south China Sea to the Arabian Sea. It left behind what still is the world’s largest caldera: Lake Toba.

For comparison: the largest volcano event in historical times was the Tambora eruption on the Indonesian island Sumbawa in 1815. It produced the ‘year without summer’ in 1816. But Toba ejected about 300 times more volcanic ash than the eruption of Tambora and caused six years of climatic deterioration (‘volcanic winter’) which in turn caused the decimation of animal and human life over very large areas.

That most paleo authors do not mention the Toba bottleneck – in the discussion between Richard Klein and his critics Hensilwood and d’Errico e.a. we don’t find any reference to the Toba event – can perhaps be ascribed to the fact that thorough research on this catastrophe is fairly recent.[1] How severe the impact has been on the total human population is still unclear, but geneticists Jore and Harpending[2] propose that all humans alive today are descendants from a very small part of the earlier population: perhaps some 8000 breeding pairs about 70.000 years ago[3]. The impact on the northern hemisphere was more severe than in the south; nevertheless also Neanderthals survived the supposed six years of volcanic winter. The AMHs had even better chances, not only because they lived farther south, but also because of their broader subsistence strategy based on hunting and gathering coastal resources (shellfish, fish, sea lions and rodents, as well as bovids and antelope).

In Jwalapuram in India, archaeologists dug through the several metres-thick Toba ash layer (see photo). First, above the Toba tuff, they found many stone artefacts from about 74,000 years ago, made from limestone, chert, chalcedony and quartzite, with blades and bladelets representing a Late Pleistocene assemblage also assigned to the Middle Paleolithic. Digging deeper, below the thick Toba tuff layer, they found many more stone tools that could be dated at about 77,000 years ago, of limestone, quarzite, and chert: scrapers, blades and a burin also identifyable as Indian Middle Paleolithic. This lithic assemblage clusters together with the lithic technology of sub-Saharan Africa, and indicates that the AMHs belonged to the first migration wave out of Africa. We will talk about this in the next paragraph.

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The Toba ash deposit layers, as excavated at Jwalapuram in Southern India. The ash layers reach from just above the bottom of the pit to halfway up the ladder. Only the bottom layer dates from immediately after the eruption: the higher layers originate from aeolian transport and slope-wash during annual monsoons into this low location.

According to the excavators, before the explosion this place was a ‘paradise’ on the shore of a lake. Then it got buried under two-to-five metres of volcanic ash. The next six years, with the atmosphere still full of ash particles, were a volcanic winter. During the next thousand years, the climate still was extreme cold: a glacial maximum[4]. But perhaps after some decennia of annual monsoons, big parts of the area became sufficiently overgrown to harbourgrass eaters again. So archaic AMHs must have lived in this area, and after the Toba explosion survivors reappeared as soon as grass vegetation and grazing animals reappeared.

The Jwalapuran excavation is not the only site showing evidence of the Out of Africa (OoA)-migration of the AMHs, both before and after the Toba explosion. Another recent excavation site is Jebel Faya[5], where 125,000 year old hand axes are found, showing a pattern of flaking seen only in early Africa. Indicating an out-of-Africa migration 20.000 earlier than thought before. Indeed, 130,000 years ago, there was a window of climate change. The Arabian Peninsula was more habitable than today.


[1] in an article in October 1993 Ann Gibbons, a staff journalist for Science, first suggested that a bottleneck in human evolution about 50,000 years ago could be linked to the Toba eruption. Rampino and Self backed up this idea in a letter to the journal later that year. The bottleneck theory was further developed by Ambrose in 1998 and Rampino & Ambrose in 2000, who invoked the Toba eruption to explain a severe culling of the human population. (Wikipedia)

[2] Population Bottleneck from Macmillan Science Library: Genetics. Copyright © 2001-2006

[3] Wikipedia “Toba catastrophe theory”

[4] OIS 3 – 63,000 to 45,000 years ago (warm)
OIS 4 – 73,000 to 63,000 years ago (cold)
OIS 5 – 130,000 to 74,000 years ago (warm)

[5] Anthropology Net 27 Jan 2011: Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tubingen and his team excavating the Jebel Faya site in the United Arab Emirates

19. Migration waves and genetic diversity

 

The first OoA-migration was around 2 millions of years ago, by H. ergaster groups. Researchers name this OoA-I, and the later one from around 100,000 years ago by the AMH groups is called OoA-II. Within the latter, we see two migration waves: OoA-IIa (between 115,000-74,000 years ago) and OoA-IIb (65,000 years ago, after the Toba bottleneck).

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The AMHs in East Africa developed from a more long and slender, ‘nilotic’[1] Middle-Stone-Age population type some 200,000 years ago. They first dispersed over the African continent,[2] replacing the Early Human populations, who disappeared. 130.000 years ago, a small group left the continent and began dispersing all over the world.

Map of early human migrations according to mitochondrial population genetics. Each character represents a different haplo group. All Out-of-Africa groups descend from the African L3M group.

OoA-IIa took place in a warm period when the Sahara barrier was green. So perhaps the first AMHs left Africa along the Nile. As mentioned above, AMH hand axes are found on the Arabian Peninsula dated 125.000 years ago. Paleos have found fossil AMH remains dated 120,000 years old in the Mount Carmel caves Skhul and Qafzeh (Israël). Their stone assemblages did not differ from those made by the Neanderthals who had survived the severe cold period after the Toba catastrophe in the same caves, which during that period were abandoned by the AMHs. The paleos see the latter as ‘archaic AMHs’, because they do not yet show the more modern life style of the Blombos populations in the Southern tip of Africa.

We can follow the migrations by looking at archaeological remains. We can also reconstruct them by looking at the dispersal of different types of musical traditions

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humans, because in the rest of the world the genetic diversity is much smaller. Tishkoff[4] also suggests that the group which migrated out of Africa came from northern East Africa. "The diversity of groups in Ethiopia and Somalia is intermediate between that of the rest of Africa and the rest of the world," according to Tishkoff: "perhaps this group was isolated from the rest of the African continent before they migrated into the Middle East and Europe." As said, this first OoA-group doesn’t show the life style of the southern AMHs of Blombos cave and other sites. So this archaic group may have been driven northwards along the Nile by the population pressure of more modern AMHs from the south. Because their first appearance outside Africa is on the Arabic Peninsula, near the Strait of Hormuz (Jeben Faya, 128,000 years ago) and they appear in the Levant 8000 years later, it is also possible that they left Africa by crossing the Strait of Bab en Mandab. Or should we suppose two emigration groups of archaic AMHs? Because their stone technology is a little different.

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Most of the ‘archaic AMHs’ (OoA-IIa) moved ‘beachcombing’ to the East. In this relatively warm period, lush vegetation on the Arabic Peninsula made it habitable for grazing animals and their human predators. Recently, African-looking hand axes have been found in Jebel Faya (UAE)[5] . From there, migration to India may have taken place, where we find them

Semang woman, descendant of OoAIIa-people

“spearing dinner and filleting meat” 76,000 years ago in Jwalapuram.[6] At the moment of the Toba catastrophe, most of them had already passed that area, beachcombing farther eastward. Their descendants populated Sundaland and eventually reached the Sahul continent (New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania). Today we still find descendants of these early AMHs in the jungle of Malaysia: the Semang (see photo). The Malaysians name them Orang Asli, and in the Philippines they are named Negritos.

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In their homeland Africa, the AMHs recovered soon after the Toba disaster. Since that time, they developed the modern life style we already mentioned: indicated by fish spears and other tools from bone, ivory and antler, shell beads, engravings on ochre lumps. And perhaps they used spoken language. About 65,000 years ago, their coastal population became large enough to start the OoA-IIb migration wave. This time, they crossed the red Sea at the Strait of Bab el Mandab. Presumably in several waves (see the second map below).

The OoAIIb-migration (post-‘Toba’)

By 45,000 years ago, or possibly earlier, they had settled in Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia.

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Today’s Australian Aboriginals are descended from the first humans to travel far from their African origins. (From: “Aboriginal genome analysis”, Nature. 477, 28 Sept. ’11)

The modern humans entered Europe, inhabited until then by Neanderthals only, around 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthals, who were Early Humans, now were confronted with a totally different kind of humans: noisy, numerous, armed with farther reaching spears and living from fish. People who didn’t react on your gestured communication. So as a Neanderthal, you could better avoid confrontations and retreat into an area without fish. By 35,000 years ago, the AMHs had populated most of the Old World and forced the Neanderthals into mountain strongholds in Croatia, the Iberian Peninsula, the Crimea and elsewhere. The Neanderthal groups became isolated from each other, suffered ever more from inbreeding and would become extinct 25,000 years ago.

Finally, around 15,000 years ago, humans crossed from Asia to North America and from there to South America. The white regions on the map is territory that was never been tread by humans before.


[1] Nilotes are often described as gracile in build, being slimmer and of greater stature than the average human, and having long limbs with very long distal segments (forearms, calves). This characteristic is thought to be a climatic adaptation to allow their bodies to shed heat more efficiently.

[2] "We found an enormous amount of diversity within and between the African populations, and we found much less diversity in non-African populations," Tishkoff told attendees today (Jan. 22) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim. "Only a small subset of the diversity in Africa is found in Europe and the Middle East, and an even narrower set is found in American Indians." (Science Daily, Jan 25, 1999)

[3] Journal of World Prehistory March 2003 “Language, Symbolism and Music – An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective” from Francesco d’Errico et al.

[4] Penn State University

[5] by Hans Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen and his team, in 2010

[6] according to Petraglia and his colleagues

20. Good natured

 

This is the title of the philosophically most relevant book of primatologist Frans de Waal (1996). Now we get to the point I mentioned before: that during 95,5% of all the time that our species can be considered human, our ancestors lived as gatherers-hunters. In these millions of years, our human nature has been formed. In the most recent eight thousand years (0,5% of our history) that we have been living as settled farmers, our original gatherer-hunter nature has been frustrated, but not wiped out.

First, something about a question that has been much debated in the last few thousand years of philosophy: is human nature intrinsically good or bad? Many philosophers from the past, for example Plato or Hobbes, tended to the second option. In many forms of religious belief, for example ultra-orthodox Protestantism, an inherent badness – sinfulness – of human nature is postulated as well. On the other hand we have had philosophers, such as in the 18th century Enlightenment, who opted for a positive – sometimes even naively positive – view on human nature: just let Reason reign, install true democracy, and everything will be alright. Both views on human nature are simplistic and one-sided because implicitly, they are based on moral presumptions about what constitutes “good” versus “bad” behavior.

In more modern philosophy, the trend is rather to avoid such moral presumptions about human nature. Modern philosophy has often (and not always in a fruitful manner) been reduced to playing with words and abstractions, while claiming to not being able to contribute much when it comes to moral matters. Whether we like it or not, by avoiding such moral positions, modern philosophy does no longer function as the moral beacon it once, alongside religion, was in human society and has made itself in a social sense largely irrelevant.

As for the anthropologists, they too seem to follow a pessimistic philosophical view on human nature. In the 1950s, shortly after World War II, among them the “killer ape hypothesis” of anthropologist Raymond Dart was influential. According this hypothesis, war and interpersonal aggression was the driving force behind human evolution. Science writer Robert Ardrey expanded on this idea in African Genesis (1961), suggesting that the urge to act violently was a fundamental trait of the human mindset. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz also emphasized this pessimistic view of human nature with his book On aggression (1966). According Lorenz, animals, particularly males, are biologically programmed to fight over resources. Movies such as Planet of the Apes (1968) show that this issue affected popular opinion[1]. In 1996, Wrangham and Peterson followed the Dart/Lorenz trail in their influential book Demonic Males, suggesting an evolutionary connection between violent chimpanzees and violent man. However, in the same year the Dutch/American ethologist Frans de Waal countered with his influential book Good Natured.

The reader will already understand that the humanosophic view follows the latter view. Wrangham and Peterson even presume that our H. erectus ancestors deceived others and waged wars. We think that war emerged simply as the result of overpopulation: as the consequence of a social, not an inherent problem. H. erectus groups were sparse and needed each other for their survival. When two groups met each other, this was more reason for feast than for war: the groups needed each other for interchanging experiences and partners, and presumably for handing out sparks of fire[2]. As for the deceiving, we already presumed that H. erectuses were sign language communicators, for whom deceiving is more difficult: with body language, it would mean having to hold many muscles under more conscious control, which is difficult even for present-day sign language communicators.

Other convincing concrete evidence of our assumption of peacefulness is furnished by the most primitive people of present-day mankind: the scarce little populations of pure gatherer-hunters, like the Inuit and the San people. If it had been our ancestors’ nature to deceive each other and to wage wars, then these last of the gatherer-hunters would demonstrate a similar war-faring culture. But on the contrary, these are very peaceful people.

Many of the other primitive groups we know today, like the Yanomamö in the Amazon area and the Mountain Papuans in New Guinea, are not just gatherer-hunters anymore but rather horticulturalists. These groups live in a totally other situation than the gatherer-hunters: a situation of overpopulation, since too many groups have to share limited resources. This situation leaves them no other choice than to fight for survival. It is such overpopulation that forced them to give up the pure gatherer-hunter lifestyle. But in the long run of human history, this overpopulation is a relative recent phenomenon.

Human nature as we view it, is a three-stage rocket. The first stage we share with all living creatures, even with bacteria and plants. It is the individual drive to take as much energy as possible from the environment to stay alive and procreate. It is this self-centered survival drive that still gets the upper hand in real or imagined panic situations.

The second stage: our ancestors were group animals. By living in a group they were able to extract energy, to stay alive and procreate, in a more efficient way than an individual. Theoretically there are three kinds of groups: firstly the insect-groups like ants or bees where the individual is no more than a component of one collective organism, secondly the herd-groups like swarms of fishes or sparrows, and herds of zebras or buffaloes[3], and in the third place the social groups of highly self-conscious animals such as elephants, dolphins and apes.

We are apes, so for our second stage we have to look to the group animals and especially to the bonobos and chimpanzees: our next of kin. In the permanent survival fight between their groups, chimpanzees have an individual interest in being a member of the strongest group. To keep their group strong, they must minimize the internal fights. When two chimpanzee males do have a fight, then afterwards they try desperately to reconcile. Bonobos use sex for minimizing internal group tensions.

These group animals to which we humans belong, are driven by two contradictory impulses: egoism (the me-myself-and-I drive) and altruism (you have more chances to survive and to pass on your DNA in an harmonious group, so you must curb your egoism). These two impulses are at right angles to each other and would condemn individuals to a paralyzing indecision if they did not have a calming mechanism at their disposal: manners, rules for social intercourse, culture, ‘norms and values’. Basically this mechanism is present with all group animals,[4] and in a more complex manner, similar mechanisms still keep us humans together. In moralistic philosophy, the two opposite impulses (altruistic vs. egoistic) often correspond with concepts of good and evil.

This ‘norms and values culture’ only works within a coherent group. It does not extend across different groups: in fact, it is a form of egoism-as-a-group. It does allow aggression and violence against any other groups. But we saw that the groups of Early Humans were small (about 25 individuals) and rare, and so they needed each other. During the countless centuries that our ancestors were Homo, there was rarely any reason or opportunity for aggression and violence between groups at all. The groups needed each other for their survival: for exchange of sex partners, knowledge and experience. When two of these groups met, it was occasion for a feast.

However, as for the moralistic good and evil, how should we label violence against other groups of the same kind? Good or evil? So we have to define what is ‘good’. Good is what is conducive for the survival. For the individual survival? Then purely egoistic, self-centered behavior would be ‘good’! But usually such behavior is not good for the group as a whole: from the group perspective, such egoistic behavior is ‘evil’! So ape groups developed ‘norms and values’, developed a primitive form of morality: for a group animal, good is behavior that is conducive for the survival of the group.

As for the third stage of the human nature rocket, our ancestors developed a social norms and values culture that extended beyond the limits of one’s own group: as long as our ancestral Early Humans were pure gatherer-hunters, they were are able to behave as noble wilds, living in harmony with their natural environment, with each other, and even with other human groups. And because that long-long time has determined our human nature, we are still noble wilds in our deepest desires. For humans, harmony is good.[5] ***It is the result of natural selection: in the harsh environments groups with harmony flourished more than quarreling groups. After thousands of generations, inclination to harmony became an innate tendency.

We still long for harmony, we still feel that being kind to each other is the most livable basis for society. Since we became AMHs (the last 100.000 years after 2 million years of being gatherer-hunters) this basic social feeling got perhaps somewhat frustrated when larger groups of 150-200 individuals evolved. But it only got frustrated totally after we became horticulturalists, with all the warfare and machismo that this recent lifestyle implied. The lowest point was reached in the class-based societies since 5000 years ago, with slavery, mass cruelties and monotheism.

Today we have a chance for recuperation. The unique quality of humanity is that we are capable of reflection. This capability may be seen as a further refining step on the path of extracting energy from the environment and of passing-on DNA. On the basis of reflection we may become aware that all groups of humans have the same interest: surviving on the planet Earth. Beyond our own planet, there is no alternative place available for extracting our energy and for passing-on our DNA. Once we see the need for it, we humans have the capability to make the next step beyond group harmony: global harmony between all our groups.

Our universal basic story, the science-based new ‘creation story’, may serve as an essential building stone for this reflection.

So are Wrangham & Peterson wrong with their Demonic Males? No, not wrong, but biased and overlooking the long-long evolutionary human history of low population density that repeatedly brought us to the verge of extinction. Wrangham & Peterson and their adepts see only ‘stage’ 1 and 2 as human nature. They are obviously ignorant of the peaceful nature of our longtime pure gathering-hunting existence, unaware of the more recent effects of overpopulation, and therefore unacquainted with the overall historical development of human nature.


[1] perhaps influenced by the German/American humanist psychologist Erich Fromm, in 1986 under US auspices the Seville Statement on Violence stated that while patterns of human aggression may be inherited, warfare need not be a necessary consequence

[2] even today Andaman groups have to ‘lend’ fire when their own fire has been extinguished by accident

[3] the herd is still the best environment for the individual to realize its me-myself-and-I interests, but its survival is best served by being as un-individualistic as possible in appearance and in behavior

[4] Frans de Waal Our Inner Ape. Why We Are Who We Are (2005)

[5] *** Not for humans only. Recently biologist Radersma of University Groningen published his thesis (2011) about research on great tits. Nest with an equal number of male and female chickens flourished better than imbalanced nest: less quarrel and competition and loss of energy

21. Gatherer-Hunters (GHs)

 

As we said: 99,5 % of the time of our kind our ancestors were gatherer-hunters, and essentially we have retained the gatherer-hunter nature of harmony and peacefulness. For fierce people like the Yanomamö mentioned before, anthropologists and missionaries reported low spirits and desperation among those groups. Unfortunately, the same anthropologists and missionaries fail to offer any explanation for this unhappiness among these tribes. My personal hypothesis is that such desperation may be caused by people like the Yanomamö not being able – due to overpopulation stress factors – of a lifestyle according to their innate nature of peaceful humanity.

Today most primitive societies are horticulturalist. We see a sharp distinction between the ancestral GH-behavior (equality between the sexes and the generations, complete absence of exercise of power, in short ‘noble wild’-behavior) and the interpersonal relationships of humans since the overpopulation situation changed human behavior. The best short-term we may use here for cultures showing this more recent behavior is AGR, as this suggests both aggression and agriculture. However, horticulturalists are not yet farmers. They slash and burn a field in the jungle where they grow sweet potatoes or plantains, and usually live in longhouses or shabonos. For some months each year, they happily take up their old gathering/hunting life, but most of the time they need to guard their village against hostile neighbors. War makes men important. AGRs are what becomes of GHs in an overpopulation situation.

Today there are scarcely people who still live as pure GHs. Even in the most remote territories the economic life has changed; even people who see themselves as GHs, do part-time farm work, keep some cattle or have some additional form of income. But in their child-rearing and communal lifestyle they still keep their old GH-tradition as a valuable heritage, and are proud of it.

The only anthropologist who studied the life of GH-people in comparison with the life of horticulturalists and primitive farmers is Hugh Brody.[1] To give an impression of the GH-mentality I summarize a passage out of his book The other side of Eden (London, 2001):

In a tent made from hides – but it can also be an igloo or a government’s prefab – the baby awakes. She is taken up, cuddled, breast-fed, and people are talking to her: she hears the voices of people in the room. Above all the familiar voice of her mother who says she’s drinking fine. It is her own decision if and when she drinks or stops drinking. The sounds of voices are reassuring to her. When she dozes off after drinking, she goes in mothers amautik, the baby carrier that is part of the parka, against mothers back. The mother senses by the baby’s movements when her child must relieve herself; then she takes the baby and holds her above a proper place, talking in a cheerful tone. While wiping her clean, mother says: “Now you’re done again my fatty, my darling.”

Grandfather comes near for a while and says, with his face close to hers: “Dear little wife of mine! You are my little wife? Yes, you are!” The mother smiles and holds her daughter up: “Mother? Yes, you are my mother!” Because the baby was born shortly after the passing away of her grandmother, she is seen as the atiq, the ghost of her grandma, and she has inherited her grandmother’s name too. Though all babies are cherished, an atiq is extra loved and adored as an obvious link in the chain of generations.

Babies are treated with respect – like everybody is treated with respect. Babies get all they want. They may sleep when they want, they never are brushed off because babies can never do something wrong[2].

From the beginning of their life children listen to stories. Nothing is concealed for the child: it picks up only what it can handle. Grandfather tells of the creation of the sea mammals, the principal prey of the Inuit. Stories with all sexual and bloody details, and mysteries. The children listen as long as they want, often hearing the same stories repeated, growing up with them. They see how adults respect each other and that everybody has her/his special abilities and tasks. They learn the names of the animals and plants effortlessly and grow up as Inuit.

All anthropologists who have studied the scarce GH-communities, report the same: notwithstanding the desert- or icy cold character of their environment, people are strikingly healthy and happy. They all interact with their children, with each other, with animals and plants in a respectful way. Nature is hard and merciless, meaning that for GHs, existence itself is precarious. On awakening, you will not always know for sure whether you will find something to eat that day. But for them and their ancestors, it had always been like this. Today, the few remaining GHs still are living like the social animals from which we all descend. Yes: noble wilds.

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Above you saw a noble wild (an NT-man: a human before the effects of overpopulation) with a modern human (one of the authors, visiting the Neandertal Museum in Mettmann (Germany), photographed by the other author, on 5 January 2012. It is not that the NTs were better humans than we, AMHs. The difference is that the NTs still lived in small groups, with female dominance – so still embarrassingly conservative – and the AMHs are frustrated by the effects of overpopulation.


[1] Hugh Brody is a British anthropologist, writer, director and lecturer. He was born in 1943 and educated at Trinity College, Oxford. He taught social anthropology at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is an Honorary Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, and an Associate of the School for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto

[2] GH’s do not yet have that automatic distrust of human nature that we, AGR’s, civilized and thus frustrated humans, may have developed; GH’s see humans still as essentially good natured; GH’s impute special qualities and capacities to babies and children, on account of their being good natured: capacities which they as adults think to have lost

22. Overpopulation

 

Our species started in very harmonious groups with the women as the dominant gender. Survival on the savannahs was extremely precarious. Groups living in harmony flourished better than groups with tensions: natural selection advanced harmony within the groups or tribes. Millions and millions of years of harmony is what made us the most social beings in nature, while the other side of our nature – violently defending ourselves and our kin – was pushed far away to the background. On the sparsely populated savannahs, such violent behavior was just not needed for survival.

Why then are men the dominant gender now? Why did Plato live in a time of civil war and slavery? Why then a Holocaust, Nanking massacre or, more recently, the Rwanda tribal mass murder? Why was our natural tendency to live in harmony overshadowed by other, more violent tendencies? We find the answer in the chimpanzees, and the keyword is overpopulation.

We may assume the ancestors of the chimpanzees lived more harmoniously than their descendants now, and again climate changes were a main cause here. Two million years ago, the start of the Ice Ages caused a dryer climate, shrinking the rainforests area. This shrinking of their territories caused overpopulation among the ancestors of the modern chimpanzees, which incited a more fierce struggle for survival. Struggle and war made the males more important. In the fiercer competition between different groups, the groups with the most violent men had a better survival chance. This process repeated itself with each new Ice Age, over and over again, about twenty times. In the long run, this made chimpanzees more violent (unlike for example bonobos, who thanks to a different environment were able to retail their original nonviolent lifestyle).

For our ancestors, this situation of overpopulation started not 2 million years ago, but just some 100 thousand years ago in Northern Africa, where the Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) had appeared as descendants of a local African Middle Stone Age (MSA) population, who in their turn were descendants of the African Homo erectus.

The tropical H. erectus (par exemple Nariokotome Boy) and the MSAs had been long and slender. Just like the stocky figures of the Neandertals (NT-s) had adapted to a colder climate, their African contemporaries (the MSA-culture, you could see them as Afro-NT’s) had adapted to a hot climate. Their being long and slender also meant longer necks with more place for a lower throat and a bigger pharynx. Our pharynx plays an important role in singing and making vowels. This makes spoken language possible.

We already told about the communication moment. In most discussions, you get little time to make your point and each woman wants to contribute her part. From the very beginning, their voices played a role in the sign communication. When communicating in the dark, or with full hands, they always felt pressed to put more lingual content in their vocal sounds, with clicks! and pfffs! and mmms![1]. I also mentioned the influence of the daily dancing-and-singing of the Creation Story in gradually developing more cortical voice control. For the long and slender Afro-NT’s, longer necks may have facilitated this process. 100.000 years ago, the communication of this African population was in the midst of a transition from pure sign language supported by a few sounds, to ever more spoken language supported by gestures.

I think this had to do with the females in the first place. Women were dominant in religious performances, like they were dominant in medical care and magic. Males should never put the success of their hunting at risk by using female speech to pray to the Big Ancestor: they clung on the sacral sign language for their hunting prayers. Nowadays before each hunting trip, the Semai hunters still use sign language to pray to their Big Ancestor. When we look at the important role of gestures in sacred rituals today, we see that sign language must have survived a long time in the sacral singing-and-dancing of the Creation Stories which had such a dominant place in the lives of our ancestors.

To get back to the point: why war and why male dominance? We saw that with chimpanzees, overpopulation brought fighting and fostered violence in males. The same mechanism applies to humans in more recent times. During most of our evolution, populations grew slowly and the world was wide. So equality between the genders or even female dominance was common in the groups and clans. But because women will defend their children, and may quarrel to find their place in the status order, they will often look for a powerful hulk as an arbitrator. It is quite possible that from the earliest times, even female dominated communities had a headman. Of course, he had to be accepted by the women[2] and under female control. In larger and later groups, males and females may have lived apart for most hours of a day, and each have had their own rituals, but even then a headman ‘headed’ a group.

We still see the same in all tribes with incessant and hopeless tribal wars: it occurs always and only in a situation of overpopulation. But why do all these tribes know machism (male dominance) and sometimes severe violence against women? Why this unproductive suppression of their indispensable and attractive partners in life? This may be the consequence of the female dominance in the long, long times before the overpopulation situation. In times of survival fights however, the ‘fittest’ groups are the groups with the most violent males, as we saw. Therefore, women began to see violence as a good quality in males and to promote this warrior-attitude in their men and sons.

The males learned their warrior qualities were very, very important. And by inference, they began to see their own rituals as far more important than the rituals of the women. In many cultural myths all over the world this is illustrated by the element of males taking over the holy flutes for their own ritual use.

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The first indication of overpopulation (accompanied by the start of wars and male dominance) in European AMHs may date from the onset of a cold period of OIS-2[3] about 35.000 years ago. Hunting territories shrunk, groups were driven together in the southern refugia. The cave paintings of Chauvet and elsewhere may be seen as male initiation sanctuaries: as places for secluded male rituals, separated from the women. At the same time, female rituals became more concentrated on the growing importance of food plants like peas and lentils, the boons of Mother Earth which they venerated with the renowned Venus figurines such as the Willendorf statuette.

Venus of Willendorf, Austria. Limestone, ca 25.000 BC

Many paleos wonder why the AMHs in Europe developed brilliant cave paintings and Venus statuettes (the ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’), while those living in Africa for much longer did not produce that many art works. For example, archaeologist Richard G. Klein theorizes about some brain-related gen mutation leading through symbolic language to symbolic art. We think there is a more simple explanation: artistic activity may have been fostered by a colder climate, where in a long icy winter (when people lived mainly from food gathered in autumn) there was less to do. This may be corroborated when we compare the activities of Inuit gatherer-hunters with African gatherer-hunters such as the San.

Later on, other events contributed to overpopulation and male dominance. About 16.000 years ago, in the northern hemisphere, the big mammals (mammoths, cave bears, giant deer, sabre toothed tiger, etcetera) became extinct. This was the time of the invention of bow and arrow, and the domestication of the wolf. This also was the time of the dispersion of AMHs all over the world, including the Americas. This was the time of beginning horticulture. In regions of Eurasia with a high density of shabono’s (the temporary villages or long-houses of semi nomadic horticulturers) the first acute struggles for survival arose.

But on a more fundamental level, it was only the situation that had changed (war), not the males or the women themselves. So the males had to suppress their incertitude, to allay their own doubts: they declared their newly-won importance holy. A deep incertitude of the males may have contributed to a new phenomenon: a constant denigration of female abilities. Present-day religious fundamentalists still display this primitive incertitude, by isolating and over-protecting their wives, by limiting female freedom of action, or by demonizing love affairs or abortions.

A good question is: was machismo not a legacy of the early AMHs? Was their immigration Out of Africa not a result of overpopulation? Even the most egalitarian tribes like the Mbuti (Congo) know a certain degree of machismo. In the past, Mbuti males annexed the molima, the rites of the holy flutes and excluded the women from it. As a part of the present ritual, women still disturb the males’ ritual crying that the men have stolen the molima and the holy flutes from them.

So when you say machismo may be very old, I agree. For example, as we can see with chimpanzees, machismo may always have been a strategy to cope with situations of overpopulation and/or competition. Both peacefulness and a warrior-attitude have always been strategies to cope with specific environmental challenges. For most of human history, a predominantly peaceful way of living was the most successful way to interact with the environment. When about 20,000 years ago overpopulation started to become an environmental factor, gradually a warrior-like style of living became the more successful attitude.

I paraphrased a few pages from the book The other side of Eden (London, 2001) about the lifestyle of ‘noble wilds’. But human nature is a three-stage rocket. So here is an anecdote about noble wilds in an overpopulation situation, already forty years in my mind, so I have forgotten the source. It is from a visitor or missionary :

Oh what a noble people, so respectful for each other and for their children! So much better humans than we in our western civilization!

One day men learned that strangers were roaming in the north of the territory. So they had to go down there. Perhaps whiteman would like to come along? Oh yes, sure, whiteman was always ready to learn some new.

They stalked the camp of the strangers. It appeared that the men were hunting and the women gathering, so they found only old people and children in the camp. All of them were slaughtered ruthlessly. A desperate girl crawled to the petrified onlooking visitor for help. “Oh, you want to fuck her, whiteman?” asked a helpful Indian, “wait a moment”– and he pushed his spear through the girl’s body into the ground.[4]

From this story we may conclude that we are very social, but only to those we see as fellow humans. For the Indians, the strangers were not fellow humans. Not even humans. To them, these others were rather a form of harmful wildlife that you need to destroy. It can also be concluded that this awful behavior didn’t make them less social: it had survival value. Only one group can make a living from a given territory. Those Indians didn’t have a government to regulate their behavior. In any threatening situation, selfishness is dominating, and this also applies to a GH-collective. Today we still see the same behavior in AGR-societies such as Rwanda. It can be seen in any civilization, such as the Japanese (the Nanking massacre) or the German civilization (Holocaust). Such behavior can be revived by ideological indoctrination and can happen even when the supposed threat is in fact an imaginary one. In the just-mentioned cases, the Tutsi, the Chinese, the Jews were not a real threats, but ideological indoctrination had caused them to be felt as a threat. In a sense, such indoctrination created an imaginary overpopulation situation.


[1] in the 1950s, the American Hayes couple raised a chimpanzee, Vicky, as if she was a human child: this was intended as an experiment of training in speaking. But the only result was ‚mama’, ‚papa’. ‚up’ and ‚cup’, soundlessly spoken

[2] As described by Frans de Waal, even the dominant bonobo females prefer an alpha male, because females to one another have difficulties in amending quarrels; but the alpha female makes the foraging decisions, not the alpha male

[3] Marine isotope stages (MIS), marine oxygen-isotope stages, or oxygen isotope stages (OIS), are alternating warm and cool periods in the Earth’s paleoclimate, deduced from oxygen isotope data reflecting temperature curves derived from data from deep sea core samples.

[4] surely not from Jesuit Relations, field letters from the missionary priests, published for two hundred years beginning in the early 17th century as a fundraising tool. Because the Jesuits found their own civilization superior, and urged the native men to beat their children and to suppress their women

23. Leadership and animism

 

We humans are the only species that can individually consult each other in order to handle the challenges of our environment. Having started long ago as a tiny population of apes trying to survive in a hostile environment, thanks to this special faculty we now are the dominant vertebrates. This special faculty enabled our ancestors to survive in hostile environments and climates, and to survive big catastrophes that for many other species spelled extinction. It is this uniquely human faculty of being able to consult each other in order to make common decisions (democracy) that we will present as the base of a new, universal human self-confidence.

In the original groups of 25 individuals that existed at the time when our human nature was formed, during the long-long time of our Early Human ancestors, it may have been relatively easy to arrive at common decisions. In his 1990 book Our Kind. Who we are, where we came from & where we are going, Marvin Harris looks at today’s small populations: with 50 people per band or 150 per village. Everybody knows everybody else intimately, people are bound together in the reciprocal exchange of killed animals and gathered food. Examples of these are !Kung People of Botswana and the Inuit of Alaska (both still true hunter-gatherer cultures), and the Mehinacu of Brazil’s Xingu National Park or the Semai of Malaysia (both horticultural societies).

Since chance plays a great role in success of hunting and even in gathering, individuals who have a lucky catch one day, may need a handout on the next. So the best way to guarantee a daily portion of food is to be generous. Anthropologist Richard Gould said: The greater the amount of risk, the greater the extent of sharing”. Richard Lee in The !Kung San (1979) watched small groups of men and women returning home every evening with the animals, wild fruits and plants that they had killed or gathered. They shared everything equally, even with camp mates who had stayed behind and spent the day sleeping or taking care of tools and weapons. “Not only families pool that day’s production, but the entire camp – residents and visitors alike – shares equally in the total quantity of food available. The evening meal of any one family is made up of portions of food from each of the other families. Foodstuffs are distributed raw or are prepared by the collectors and then distributed. There is a constant flow of nuts, berries, roots and melons from one family fireplace to another until each person resident has received an equal portion. The following morning a different combination of foragers moves out of the camp.”

What about leadership? To the extent that political leadership exists at all among simple band-and-village societies, it is exercised by individuals called headmen. However, they lack the power to compel others to obey orders. How can such a headman lead?

Among the Inuit, a group will follow an outstanding hunter, especially the leader of the whale hunting party. But in all other matters, his opinion carries no more weight than any other man’s. Among the Amazon Indians, headmanship is mostly an irksome job. As the first one to rise in the morning, the headman stands in the middle of the village and shouts, rousing his companions. If something needs to be done, it is the headman who works at it harder than anyone else. After a fishing or hunting expedition, he gives away more of the catch than anyone else. In trading with other groups, he is careful not to keep the best items for himself. Among the Mehinacu the headman is a kind of scoutmaster. Among the warlike Yanomamö he is the captain at the raids. It is his task to patrol outside the shabono (village) in the morning and to risk being shot by a raiders group. He has also to maintain the biggest garden in order to feed guests (every man tries to keep his garden as small as possible!)

Among the Semai, who are horticulturers like the Amazon Indians and with a gift economy too, the headman is more a spokesman for public opinion than a molder of it. Disputes in the Semai community are resolved by holding a becharaa (public assembly) at the headman’s house. This assembly may last for days and involves thorough discussion of the causes, motivations and resolutions, ending with the headman charging either or both of the

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disputants not to repeat their behavior lest it endanger the community. Somebody who neglects the becharaa verdict, is really endangering his life[1]. In hunter-gatherer societies, the principle of making decisions by reaching consensus of all adults in the group is the most frequent model of decision-making, although there are a few exceptions. The Gwi hunters in Botswana discuss their intentions carefully to avoid mutual interference (see photo).

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Today most tribal AMM-groups, usually numbering some 150 people, are horticulturers living in an overpopulated region. Even when they live in peace and equality, in every social group nonconformists and malcontents try to use the system for their own advantage. Individuals who take more than they give and lay back in their hammocks while others do the work. But such freeloaders have to watch out for the shaman. In the past, every band- and village society had such a shaman or witch-doctor with a special aptitude for communicating with the spiritual world and more specific: with the tribe’s Big Ancestor (in later times: God). To go into trance they took hallucinogenic substances, danced to a monotonous drumbeat, inhaled magic smoke. For healing they had a rich repertoire of huffing, puffing and sucking practices, and multiple other tricks. This shaman, woman or man, was not a headman. In their spiritual world, illness or disease was not primarily physical, but rather caused by evil spirits. But from her or his divinatory trance, the shaman could pinpoint and accuse a freeloader, who might be lucky to be only expelled.

Navajo amulet pouch

In all aspects that we will encounter in the following paragraphs about the transition from small populations to modern democracy we have to realize that our ancestors were animistic creatures: believing that souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in animals, trees, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, the sea, the air and so on. People always believed – and some of us still believe – that these spirit beings can be induced or compelled to help us in hunting or winning a match, in healing from an illness or winning in the casino, in surviving a dangerous voyage or going to heaven. For example, among the Inuit each man had to have a hunting song: a combination of chant, prayer and magic formula that he inherited from his father or his uncles. Around his neck he wore an amulet: a little bag filled with tiny animal carvings, bits of claws and fur, pebbles, insects, and other items, each corresponding to a personal spirit helper who protected him against hostile spirits and helped him to succeed.

Another human characteristic that stems from our ancestors is tribalism: a strong feeling of identity with our parental tribe. As modern free market consumers, today we have learned to view ourselves primarily as individuals. But for a member of a tribe it is nearly impossible to feel what it means to be an individual. Being a tribal person means: being a member of one special family, and this family being part of one special clan. A broader loyalty may be felt for the special tribe to which that one clan belongs. An even wider loyalty can be felt towards a group of related tribes, but only in confrontation with a common, shared enemy: without such a shared enemy, the tribes’ unity will disintegrate. That is what we have to keep in mind when we progress in the cultural evolution from the small groups to more complex societies. In some cases, even in modern societies tribalism can be apparent: for example, the Nazi ideology and its built-in antisemitism can be interpreted as a ‘modern’ form of tribalism.


[1] presumably Otzi, the ‘iceman’ found in 1991, is such a maroon

24. From headman to Big Man: the rise of distribution

 

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Just like today in small tribal societies such as the !Kung San and the Semai, in the past reciprocity was long the only form of exchange practiced in egalitarian band- and village people. Among more agricultural populations, another way to give and take arose with the seasonal feasts among the bands. When wild seeds ripened and game was abundant, neighboring bands gathered on a special place, each bringing an abundant stock of food and beverage in baskets and bags, for a days long festival of dancing and singing and the ritual renewal of group identity. A well-known archaeological example of such a festival place is the famous Gobekli Tepe site.

Gobekli Tepe, East-Turkey: a huge hill full of sanctuaries, built from large outhacked sandstone pilars, dated some 9000 years BC

At such occasions, no longer the headman alone could be responsible for the abundant stock of food and beverage: each family had to help with contribution of food and beverage. The headman now functioned as the administrator of the stock.

When agriculture became the prime source of food, saving this stock became a permanent and institutionalized necessity: a stored surplus to overcome bad harvests. The headman-redistributor became the Big Man: a prestigious figure with a storage building to whom each family turned over his surplus on preservable food such as wild cereals, nuts and sweet potatoes, yams or taro. Only on places where such products could be harvested or cultivated, could redistribution emerge and with it the role of the Big Man. This is why even today we won’t find Big Man figures in Aboriginal tribes: in Australia, there were little to none preservable and storable products to cultivate.

Full agriculture leads easily to overpopulation stress. A situation of overpopulation happens to apply to our next of kin, too: the chimpanzees. It is interesting to look back for a moment to apes here, as they represent the most primitive component of our nature. For most of our evolution time, we lived rather like the peaceful bonobos. But when suffering from overpopulation stress, we live more like (less peaceful) chimpanzees.

Do chimpanzees have Big Men? Normally in chimp groups the alpha males change every four years. But Frans de Waal mentions one interesting case.[1] One alpha man managed to remain in charge twelve years, manipulating his rivals by redistributing surplus food. Even when he was not the successful hunter himself, he distributed the coveted prey. The largest morsels were for the most serious competitors, and for himself he took little or nothing. Chimpanzees are political animals.

Back to our own species: the Big Man became a prestigious figure. Even when he had to work harder and to reserve smaller and less desirable portions for himself, the headman-distributor was compensated with admiration and prestige. Every woman was proud to become his wife, and he was good enough to embrace many of them. Every boy’s ambition was to become a Big Man. For who has the say over the redistribution, has the power at his grasp. The council of the eldest remained an institute to be taken into account, but the growing power of the Big Man and his guard, especially when he functioned as headman in wars, made this institute by slow stages into an applause machine.

A classical anthropological study of Big Man is the late Douglas Oliver’s The Pacific Islands (1951). He studied the Siuai, a village people living on one of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. In the Siuai language, the big man was known as the mumi. Organizing great feasts and publicly demonstrating the tribe’s (and his own) prosperity by giving things away was the essence of mumihood. Therefore, great mumis consumed less meat and other delicacies than ordinary men. The Solomon Islands saying is: “The giver of the feast takes the bones and the stale cakes; the meat and the fat go to the others.”

As long as those Big Man societies lived in peace, there was little inducement to change anything. But the combination of seaworthy canoes and restless, energetic young men enticed to visit other settlements and islands, to trade, exploration and raiding. The great mumi consumed less and gave much, gaining prestige and adoration. His ongoing effort helped to increase production: the mumi and his followers initiated agrarian methods and improvements such as dams and canals. All this augmented his prestige. His (again, restless and energetic) sons inherited this prestige and adoration without having to establish it by modest and self-sacrificing behavior. Their young followers weren’t content with ‘bones and stale cakes’ either. It were these young men who manned the canoes, and it depended on the defensive force of the visited settlement whether it became a trade visit or a raid.

An exceptional form of Big Man-ship came to exist among the Kwakiutl and other Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians 2000 years ago. They were not yet horticulturists and yet they knew Big Men. The cause was environmental: this population lived in an exceptional rich biotope. There was plenty of food; the staple food was salmon. Six or seven times each year rich schools of salmons swam up into the rivers for spawning upstream, and one could catch them even by hand. When the technique of drying fish made it possible to keep it in store, this led to a kind of ‘mumihood’: chiefs who boosted production to arrange ever more splendid and wasteful feasts (potlaches) for other tribes.

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Kwakiutl chiefs also became war leaders who by boasting and potlatches recruited men from neighboring tribes to fight alongside them on trading and raiding expeditions. The Tobriand chiefs were equally war lords. Anthropologist Malinowski stated that they conducted systematic and relentless wars, venturing across the open ocean in their canoes to trade or to fight with islands over a hundred miles away.[2]

What was the root cause of this propensity to warfare, universal among horticultural and early agricultural societies? Especially societies that had seaworthy canoes or riding horses? Two million years long our ancestral groups lived in peace with each other, so making war is not an inherited property. However, when we discussed “Human nature” we already saw that good was “what is conducive for the survival”. Picking fruits and other food is good. Hunting other animals is good. For the AMHs who were living in evermore larger groups and who were confronted with a situation of overpopulation,[3] other groups were not human. Humans were people of their own tribe only: people with which one could communicate. ‘Inuit’ means ‘human’. ‘Yanomamö’ means ‘human’. People with another language weren’t really humans: they couldn’t even talk properly. When Early Human groups met each other, it was a reason to feast: they knew each other and there were relationships. But when AMHs were confronted with a group of strangers, fighting and murdering was good, because only one group could live from the territory.

Raiding another group was good. The winner of the confrontation seized the survival means of the looser. In situations of overpopulation, raiding is good – but dangerous too. The young Jane Goodall was the first to discover that chimpanzees raid each others’ groups. Chimpanzees patrol into another group’s territory very quietly, hoping to meet a single foraging man and to kill him. When they repeatedly succeed in doing so, the other group is weakened so much that they can take over all its women. In The Fierce People about the Yanomamö we can read that these people behaved in a very similar way.[4]

An important factor in the propensity to warfare were the young men. The !Kung were alert for high aspirations of young men and had their methods to “cool his heart and make him gentle.” The Mehinacu and other Amazon tribes invested much time and effort in long and extensive initiation ceremonies during which the young men were ‘tamed’ and integrated in the males’ world. The Yanomamö lived under such an overpopulation stress that they had no time left for initiation rituals, and consequently they had a serious problem with their young men. The problem was worsened by the fact that most men had more wives, which caused a women shortage: in many tribal societies, finding women is a motive for raiding[5]. Generally, in most cases it were the young men who manned the canoes and were eager to kill and to become a man.

The root of all this evil is that the victims are not seen as fellow people by the slayers. Or perhaps the root is that we believe what we like to believe. Power corrupts. When we are in power, it is easier to believe that our victim is not a fellow human but some kind of weed. For raiders such as the young horse-riding Mongols or seafaring Vikings, villages of unarmed farmers were a sort of fruit that they only had to gather.

It is the raiding that has been the motivation to develop counter-measures in the form of religious structures (monotheism) and political actions (subduing ‘wild’ tribes), both aiming at the restoration of social order in the interest of trade and prosperity. This is what we mean by ‘civilization’ as a historical process.


[1] He told it at a lecture that I attended

[2] The Trobriand Islands, 1915

[3] Even the American northwest coast Indians (Kwakiutl et al.), still being hunters and gatherers, arrived in an overpopulation situation, due to the richness and abundance of their territories, populated by some hundred tribes. It led to sedentism, trade, warfare, social stratification. Perhaps the potlaches were a means to avoid and reduce wars between the tribes. The population never reached the phase of city states and empires because it lacked cereals. (James Deetz, The First Americans, Time/Life, 1973)

[4]Strong villages should take advantage of weaker villages and coerce them out of women; to prevent this, the members of all villages should therefore behave as if they were strong. Thus, the military threat creates a situation in which intervillage alliance is desirable, but at the same time spawns a military ideology that inhibits the formation of such alliances: allies need but cannot trust each other. They are obliged to behave aggressively in order to display their respective strengths. Alliances between villages involve casual trading, mutual feasting, and finally the exchange of women. The most intimate allies are those who, in addition to trading and feasting, exchange women. Alliances with trade and feasting but without proceeding to woman-exchange, are weak alliances. Nevertheless they serve to limit the degree of war. The Yanomamö tend to avoid attacking those villages with which they trade and feast, and rarely accuse each other of practicing harmful magic. Allies bound to each other by ‘affine’ (marriages-bound) kinship ties, are more interdependent: are under obligation to exchange women.” Napoleon Chagnon The Fierce People (NY 1983) p. 147

[5] Remember the ‘rape of the Sabine women’, an episode in the legendary history of Rome

25. The roots of democracy

 

Yams, sweet potatoes, taro and dried salmons are calorie-rich but perishable: they can be stored for only a few months. The first chiefdoms in history that evolved to states showed up in the Middle-East, where cereals could be harvested and be stored till the next year. Only on the places where wheat, rice and maize could be found and cultivated, states could evolve. In its wake, the free market democracy evolved that is gradually conquering the entire world. The first actual states, based on a wheat-economy, emerged in the Middle East.

Endowed with wild cereals and animal species suitable for domestication (sheep, goats, cattle and pigs), the Levant and the foothills of the Zagros Mountains (today’s Eastern Turkey) facilitated an early conversion to a more sedentary way of life. The climatic warming after 12,600 BC enticed foraging women to build ever more permanent huts near rich fields of wild wheat, to prevent that other foragers were earlier on the spot to harvest the food[1]. The women learned to store their seasonal yield, so that they could pound the grains with pestles on grinding stones during winter and spring time, producing flour for baking bread every day.

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Natufian culture, about 12,000 BC until 9500 BC

The population of this region – named Natufians after the archaeological sites around Wadi al-Natuf – bloomed until a return of cold and dryness around 10,800 BC[2] caused famine, forcing most survivors to return to their ancestral nomadic way of life. Some women, trying to placate the Great Mother Earth (who had been so generous before and apparently had got angry now) by returning some of the best grains to special places. And see: the great Mother was grateful and produced more of this same quality wheat in the next season. This was the beginning of agriculture. Selecting the best grains for Mother Earth was the beginning of cultivation. In essence this attempt to influence the powers of nature was the first form of ‘sacrificing’ that in later times, when men took control over religion, would develop into more specific forms, involving altars, priests and temples.

When around 9,600 BC[3] a better climate returned, this initial grain-sowing ritual led to preparing fields for harvesting crops. This led to permanent villages with common storage facilities as a part of the common ritual building. The shaman, who we have to name ‘priest’ from now, and his assistants, administrated the distribution. Here we see the Priest, instead of a Big Man, as the distributor. But the basic rule is a similar one: he who has the say over the distribution, has the power at his grasp.

How did it work? When a family was not able to deliver the required quantum of the harvest to the temple, it received a survival quantum from the stored grain, on security of the property of its field. When in the next seasons the same family kept failing to meet its debt, then eventually the property of the field went over to the temple. From then on, that family was serf of the temple. This kind of process was the actual start of stratification between owners and serfs: the temple was rich, some people were rich, most people were poor.

The distribution administration required some way of registering the quantity that each farmer family had contributed to the Temple. How this was done in the Natufian Temples is unknown, but it had to be done to prevent free-riding. In the first Sumerian city-states, this need for administration would lead to the development of writing on clay tablets (around 3500 BC).

Peaceful as farmer-villages may be, they could not do without some kind of defensive force and a headman: there was always the threat to be raided by vagrant groups. Later on, growing differences in wealth between different settlements may also have fostered the rise of some kind of military force. The world of the Late Natufians developed into a free market, with extended trade routes of obsidian from Anatolia (today’s Turkey). In the Stone Age, volcanic obsidian was the most sought material for producing razor-sharp ‘knives’.[4] Other trade goods were shells from the Red Sea and exotic stones for making ornaments, cereal seeds, Dead Sea bitumen, lumber, hides, dogs, sheep.

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Villages that profited from their location on trade routes or from their own production, became rich while others remained poor. Rich villages could feed more people. Producing trade goods led to division of labor (using specialist production workers).When a rich village needed more territory or a better water supply, it could take over and integrate poor villages and grow into a small town. When a poor village was unwilling to be integrated, the rich village had the greater military power to subdue and enslave the poor village by force. The leader of the military expeditions was the headman, the chief. And here we see the origins of the historical conflict between ‘church and state’: who is in charge, the High Priest or the Chief/Big Man/King? The Sumerian cities during the Uruk period were probably theocratic, headed by a priest-king (ensi), assisted by a council of elders.

Sumer was the first chiefdom that became a state. Situated in a rainless but swampy and flood-prone deltaic zone of the two river mouths, the fields of wheat and barley were dependent on irrigation works. The local farmer population had to furnish high taxes and free labor for this water infrastructure. Organizing this labour required an advanced administration. Sumerian cities were the first civilization to practice intensive, year-round agriculture, showing around 5000 BC the use of core agricultural techniques: large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping, organized irrigation and labor division.

By 4350 BC, mud-brick structures with ramps and terraces called ziggurats, combining the function of fortress and temple, began to loom over the larger settlements. By 3500 BC there were streets, houses, temples, palaces, and fortifications in Uruk. Perhaps the definitive transition to a city state occurred in Uruk, or else in one of the other Sumerian cities such as Lagash, Eridu, Ur, or Nippur. All these had become flourishing independent kingdoms by 3200 BC, dividing their territories by canals and boundary stones. Each had a central temple dedicated to the city’s particular patron or goddess, and each city was administered by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal, literally ‘Big Man’) who also was intimately tied to the city’s religious rites.

Frequent wars among Sumerian city-states boosted military technology. The first recorded war, pictured on the Stele of Vultures, between Lagash and Umma in 2525 BC, shows the king of Lagash leading an army consisting mostly of infantry. The infantrymen carry spears and leather or wicker shields, and wear copper helmets. They show a kind of phalanx formation, which requires training and discipline. This suggests that they were professional soldiers. On the Standard of Ur, from 2600 BC, the first chariots appear, pulled by onagers[5].

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In Egypt, where just like in Sumer agriculture was dependent from regular flooding – in this case the predictable annual flood of the river Nile) the development of cities, administration and culture took a more or less similar course – with the difference that in Egypt, government and its power base became more centralized. The richest places were the few cities that could rely on two crops each year: thus Abydos, Memphis, and Thebes became the power centers of ancient Egyptian civilization. In ancient Egypt, the construction and maintenance of irrigation canals was a major endeavor of the pharaohs. The Old, Middle and New Kingdom each were periods in Egyptian history when strong central government flourished in times of ‘good Niles’ (ample yearly flooding), followed by periods of ‘bad Niles’: stagnation in economy, accompanied by social, military, and artistic decline.

Egypt, lacking forests, got its timber from what is Lebanon today. This trade gave rise to important city-states such as Ugarit, Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, that came to flourish as the Phoenician civilization. The Phoenicians traded in Lebanese wood, copper from Cyprus, and ever more goods from evermore regions, such as tin and silver from Spain. They also intermediated between the Hittite and the Egyptian empires, keeping them and the trade in peace (the beginning of diplomacy). This lasted until around 1200 BC: some of the last documents from Ugarit mention severe starvation in Anatolia. This induced migration from the Mediterrean and other regions. The so-called Sea Peoples embarked on piracy raids, causing the collapse of many cities and empires such as Ugarit, Mycene, and the Hittite empire. This marked the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age.

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The influence of the commercial Phoenician civilization in the Mediterranean area has been immense. It created many trading factories, which in later times developed to cities themselves (see the map). One of the most important innovations was the Phoenician alphabet, mother of modern writing. When the Greeks adopted this alphabet, they just needed to add some signs for vowels. From the Greeks, alphabetic writing was brought to the rest of Europe, eventually leading the modern West-European and Russian alphabets.

It is astonishing that we have no scriptural legacy from any Phoenician town. Being traders, Phoenician people must have written a lot, but they didn’t share those writings outside their society. Very frustrating for us now, but this secretive behavior served these people well over the years[6], allowing their small and unarmed societies to survive among the military superpowers that surrounded them. Nevertheless, the Phoenicians were the far-ranging sea traders who went from society to society carrying discoveries, inventions, techniques, customs and many material objects from one to the other. They were important go-betweens, incorporating one of the positive characteristics of a free market situation. Other societies wrote frequently about the Phoenicians. Those many bits and pieces together give us an idea of this unique Phoenician ‘free market’ phase.

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Less known than Sumer and Egypt, the Indus civilization was equally important, larger, and technologically more advanced. Also known as the ‘Harappa’-civilization, it

developed around 6500 BC in the fertile Indus valleys and flourished until about 1200 BC it collapsed by drought and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was first of all a trading

economy. Archaeologists have found over 1000 cities and settlements for this civilization; mayor ones were Harappa and Mohendjodaro in today’s Pakistan, and Mangalore and Lothal in

India. These cities show an astonishingly modern planning, architecture and technology: houses built with baked uniform bricks, two or more floors, bathrooms with water supply.

Archaeological finds do not indicate male dominance, belligerence, stratification, monotheism; idols or temples have not been found either.

These cities could not have thrived without schools and literacy. But till yet there is no script found or deciphered. Is it the same mystery as with the Phoenicians?

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Harappa seals

These cities could not have been built and maintained without a central government: some kind of king or city council. But so far, no statue of a chief or commander has been found. The only ‘big man’-figure is a priestly statue (see above), so the government may have had a religious or sacral character. For the rest many male and female figures have been found representing activities (dance, music, painting), and fertility figurines.

Trade was important for the Harappan civilization due to its convenient location halfway between Sumer and Egypt on one side, and India and the Far East on the other side.

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The town of Lothal had the most modern seaport facilities of that time. The Indus civilization must have had a stimulating cultural influence on other civilizations, but the only evidence for this are its many seals.[7] Official Harappa seals have been found in Sumer, Egypt and other places in the Bronze Age world. These seals were marked with the (not yet deciphered) Indus script writing, and inscribed with elegant portrayals of real and imagined animals (suggesting a symbolic or religious intent). No emperor or Big Man figure is found on these seals: this indicates a society without a centralized autocratic power. Perhaps they were used as a kind of money, but this is not clear yet. In Mesopotamia, it took until around 600 BC before the first money appeared.

The Harappan civilization was a bronze age civilization, and like many civilizations of that time (such as the Minoan, the Ugarit and the Hittite) it ended around 1200 BC. This was a time of change: the onset of the Iron Age, and of migrations such as of the Sea Peoples. The invention of iron melting-and-hammering has been attributed to the Hittites of Anatolia, but recent research has found iron working in the Ganges Valley around 2000 BC, and 1200 BC in Africa. Sure is that around 1200 BC steel[8], as a stronger, lighter, and cheaper material, replaced bronze for tools and weapons all over the civilized world.

Another important change at this time was the transition from iconic script to alphabetic script, an invention which made it possible to write down every spoken word without having to make new icons for every word. The oldest alphabetic script stems from Ugarit , a Canaanite city-state which around 1300 BC was one of the centers of the literate Bronze Age world. It was an important link in the sea trade between Egypt, Cyprus, Creta, and the Cyclades. The town was burned around 1190 BC by pirates. Perhaps this catastrophe accidentally baked the writing tablets in the archives of the merchant-king, the temples, and the houses of rich merchants. Many of these tablets were written in an alphabet of 30 tokens: 27 consonants and three for a, i, and o. They give information about the Ugarit society and show the high status of women, especially the mothers. This is characteristic for more Bronze Age civilizations, such as that from Elam and Indus.

The onset of the Iron Age (1300-600 BC)[9] appears to have been triggered by a catastrophic drought and starvation, the breaking adrift of the Sea Peoples (pirates from Greece and Anatolia) and the devastation of Bronze Age civilizations such as the Hittite empire, the Mycaenean, and the Ugaritic civilizations, with at the same time a temporal decline of Egyptian and Mesopotanian civilizations. It was the beginning of warfare and raiding by horse-riding pastoral[10] peoples from the Russian steppes. The decline of the Hittite empire contributed to the rise of the Assyrian empire that would dominate the Middle East for centuries. At the same time, the onset of the Iron Age started the decline of the ancient high status of women: in society in general, and particularly in the agricultural religions. The rise of monotheism around 600 BC established the definitive victory of male dominance in religion.


[1] Longtime this is performed by pounding the corn stalks with their digging sticks with a woven basket to catch the grains; only later, when the good grains shucked on the ear, the women began to make and use a sickle, threshing the grains at home; still later they cut the whole culms, to use the straw for stronger loam for the walls of their huts

[2] Perhaps caused by the Laacher See explosion, the LSE-event

[3] The start of the Holocene, we still live in

[4] Archaeologists can determine the source of origin of an obsidian tool. The Anatolian obsidian source was the base of Hasan Dag volcano, and the significant trading in it gave rise to the settlement Catal Huyuk. Because the obsidian blades and spear points had to bear sacred incantations to insure their swiftness and flight to bring down the kill, the manufacture required priests and priestesses. Half of the buildings in Catal Huyuk were shrines. The city was not just a major trade center, but also a religious center.

[5] Onagers are a little larger than donkeys at about 290 kilograms (640 lb) and 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) (head-body length), and are a little more horse-like.

[6] For example. Phoenician seafaring merchants had discovered the tin deposits of the British islands. Tin was a vital metal for making bronze, but its deposits were small and scarce. The Phoenicians kept the knowledge of the Cornish tin mines closely guarded secret so they could control trade in the metal and charge an high price for it.

[7] For now 4000 seals have been found, some 2000 of it in Mohenjodaro alone.

[8] Iron in its natural form is too soft for tools – though harder than bronze –unless it is combined with carbon to make steel.

[9] The conventional end date for the Iron Age is about 600 BC, although technically, we are in fact still living in the Iron Age today.

[10] pastoralism. When early agrarian villages in bad times had to leave their hamlet and to resume their ancestral nomadic HG life-stile to escape starvation, the women took their half-wild goats and sheep with them, perhaps on ropes. When better times returned, several successful nomadic groups didn’t resume agriculture but developed the new pastoral life-stile.

26. The rise of monotheism

 

Is machismo the reason that monotheistic religions are so hostile towards women?? For an answer, we need to look at the beginnings of monotheism.

Monotheism is a product of the Late Iron Age, when ever more AGR-villages, originally peaceful and egalitarian, were subdued and enslaved and became part of bigger realms of warlords who had become to godlike emperors. Big Men and their guards kept harems of women, a young man could only get a young woman for himself after proof of real manhood: being killer of enemies. In short: monotheism arose in a world of horse-mounted warrior bands of dynamic young males who raided and robbed unarmed peasant villagers under the banner of their war god.

Originally, in the pantheon of the empires of the Iron Age, these war gods were just lower gods under the Upper god, the heir of the Big Ancestor figure in the ancestral creation stories.

Zoroastrianism is one of the first forms of monotheism. Originated in the frustration of the tribal priests by the skewed offering of the young warriors to only the war gods. The loss of their ancestral morality inspired Zarathustra (and presumably other priests, such as Melchisedek, priest of El Elyon, ‘the Highest God’) to create new rituals and offerings to the ancestral Big Ancestor, the Creator of their tribal world.

Around 800 BC, also Zarathustra saw with grief the decline of the old tribal morality. Zarathustra preached the Supreme god Ahura Mazda (‘big lord’), who had to be adored in the pureness of the temple’s fire, and who should be served by noble behavior: thinking good things, saying good words and doing good deeds.

17th century representation of the main elements of Zoroastrian belief

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In the following centuries this new belief, Zoroastrianism, got many followers in Mesopotamia. It posed the belief in one God, The Lord, who was not worshipped in the form of a physical statue. Central in this belief was a dualistic tendency: a continuous struggle between good and evil, as represented by good and bad behavior, by angels and devils, by heaven and hell. It also assumed an ‘end of times’ and a ‘last judgment’. It promised a Messiah, a resurrection, and paradise in a hereafter. For the fire rituals in its temples, it prescribed extensive purity. In short, it was a totally new and modern belief for its time. In comparison with other contemporary religions, Zoroastrianism was more women-friendly and tolerant against other religions.

27. Judaism

 

***The first monotheisms such as the doctrines of Melchisedek[1] (only known from the Judaic Bible: a Sumerian High Priest of ‘the Most High God’, to whom Abram, a Sumerian too but for the Judaic Bible writers the founder of their doctrine, presented a tithe – showing that Melchisedek was superior to Abram) and Zarathustra were designed to make people to better humans, by bringing back the ancestral ‘noble’ morality and the danced/sung creation story of the Big Ancestor Figure. The later monotheisms however were sociopolitical seizures of power, were instrumental for a clergy to control their believers. A new phenomenon in the world of pantheist beliefs. Such a monotheism generates power. Inherent to these monotheisms is struggle between clergy and king.

The Judaist patriarchs of Jerusalem were not motivated by a moral idea such as the aforementioned priests, but by political idea: to concentrate all the agricultural products of the Jewish tribes to one and only altar: that of their temple. This non-moral but political inspiration would characterize all later effluences of Judaism, such as Christianity and Islam: religions that not aim to improve people to become better humans, but to create political power and domination in the first place.

The Jewish population consisted mainly of farmers, who tried to ensure the yield of fields, orchards and herds by offerings on a manifold of altars and ‘holy heights’ all over the land. Because agriculture is from origin a female business – the vegetable world was the women’s domain – the fertility gods were still mostly goddesses and the rituals mostly female ‘magic’, like everywhere in the primitive agrarian world.

Why concentrating all agricultural revenues to one altar?

Since centuries, the Jewish tribes were subdued and bled by either the Egyptians or the Assyrians. But in an interlude around 700 BC both superpowers happened to be temporarily impotent, so this offered an exquisite opportunity to execute an older plan. The Israelic priests – decennia before fled to Jerusalem in Juda – thought this situation a chance to gather as much money as possible to create an own standing army, so that they would be released from the usurpation by the superpowers, and possibly to become a superpower themselves!

A splendid idea, possibly inspired by the example of the Egyptian king Achenaton centuries before, who also established a new religion with political aim. The priests plan was moreover fueled by the opportunity of a young and willing king, the eight year old Josia. The priests wrote a ‘holy’ book about a super god Jahweh, the young king gathered and indoctrinated a militia. In the eighteenth year of his reign, in 622 BC, all is ready for the execi=ution of the plan. In II Kings and II Chronicle of the Bible the scenario can be read barely camouflaged, beginning with the ‘discovery’ of an ‘old’ written text under debris of temple renovation. Bible experts say it is was body text of Deuteronomy.

In 58 BC the magnificent plan chattered: the Assyrian king Nebukadnessar took Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and the priest were expatriated to Babylon.

In the metropolis Babylon, ancient stories such as the Sumerian origin story and the epic of Gilgamesh were still living around. Zoroastrianism was one of the popular religions. The Judaist priests used all kinds of Babylonian stories and zoroastrist elements to fit up their shabby Jahwism: angels, heaven and hell, believe in ‘the end of times’, struggle between good and bad, final judgment, a regime of do’s and don’ts, believe in a Messiah, a Redeemer, believe in a resurrection and in paradise. All those elements were alien to the ancestral Jewish beliefs and the Sadducees didn’t accept them. But the populist Pharisees did and were in the majority.

Alas, the Bible writers retained three Deuteronomic elements: hostility against women (to take over women’s ancestral power over religion and to destroy the offer places all over the land to concentrate the social product in the Temple), hostility against every other religion, and divine election delusion.

***This made Judaism to a bad religion: not focused on humanism, on becoming better fellow men, like Zoroastrianism, but as an instrument of social-economic and political power: focused on submissiveness of the believers.

It has been this bad religion that became foundation of Christianity and Islam.

The Torah (the Jewish Bible) started with only Deuteronomy, but is in Babylon and later further in Jerusalem enlarged with many other ‘holy’ texts and songs. Relevant here is the notion of Bible experts[2] that Genesis was the latest text to be added. Nevertheless is this text the first of the Torah[3], and the first one, Deuteronomy, is listed as the last one. This conversion we will encounter in the Koran if the Islam. What here is interesting is, that every new belief has to start with the Origin Story.


[1] According to one author – I have no further reference – there is a Sumerian clay tablet with a set of ten orders, very similar to the Ten Commands , written by a priest Melchisedek…very useful for Judaic Bible writers. Also Psalm 110:4: Thou art a priest for even after the manner of Melchisedek indicates a doctrine. The Bible writers had no interest in further elucidation of the ‘manner’ of a non-Jahwist priest, they only used its authority and his content.

[2] A. van der Kooij & K. van der Toorn Canonization & Decanonozation (Leiden, 1997): “Within the Torah the book of Genesis was presumably the latest book to be added; the addition must likely occurred in the sixth or fifth century BCE.”

[3] 1. Genesis 2. Exodus 3. Leviticus 4. Numbers 5. Deuteronomy

28. Origin of Christianity

 

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Christianity started as a Jewish sect around the beginning of our common era. It was initiated by the higher educated Jew Paulus, who wanted to modernize Jewish religion. The Jews were part of the Roman empire, where mystery cults already had become very popular, especially among the higher educated elite. Several Greco-Roman mystery cults concentrated on a cult hero (Osiris, Adonis, Bacchus, Apollo et al.) who sacrificed himself for the saving of the believers and resurrected.

amulet from mystery cult of Orpheos Bakkos

These cults were ‘mystery cults’ because it were competitors of the official antique religions. Public rituals would have provoked actions of the Jupiter priesthood, so the initiates had to swear secrecy. The mystery cults of Greco-Roman antiquity include not just the Eleusinian, the Dionysian and the Orphic mysteries: every big town had one or more specific cult varieties. One could be initiated in more than one Mystery cult [1] and at the same time remain a formal believer in the state religion. A special mystery cult was the Mithraism, which was widespread in the Roman military legions.

Paulus initially was an adherent of the ‘christians’, a Jewish sect in Jeruzalem and Antiochia, followers of an executed Messianistic prophet Jesus. But after disagreement with other leaders of the sect he went back to his home town Tarsus, where he may have hatched the idea of a Jewish mystery cult around a Jewish hero Jesus. After fifteen years he renewed the contact with the Christians of Antiochia and joined them again. He undertook four proselitizing journeys in the Roman world, preaching a mystery-cult-like Christianity.

In the meantime the Jerusalem leaders created their own episcopal variant of Christianity. The origin of the religious office of bishop lay in the proselytistic character of Christianity. This Jerusalem version proselytized under the mass of the poor, not only with the gospel of a happy hereafter, but also with alms[2]. The money for that came from rich supporters (mostly wealthy women) who were convinced by the idea of an imminent end of the world and a fitting disposal of one’s wealth. The apostles continued Jesus’ approach with increasing success. They needed special helpers to manage the gifts and to organize the feeding of the poor. The supervisor was the επίςκοπος, the bishop: a function of growing importance in every Christian community (church).

Until the year 180, five variants of Christianity existed:

1. Ebionites. The simple descendants from the first community of Jeruzalem. Before the year 70 (the siege and destruction of the town) they had escaped to Transjordania. For these original Christians Jesus was no God but rather an excellent human who was adopted by God as his son on the occasion of his baptizing by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.

2. The Marcionites, followers of Marcion, who rejected the Jewish bible and accepted women as equal prophets.

3. The Arians, followers of Arius, an Alexandrian priest who stated that Jesus, being son of God, was created by God and therefore, like the Holy Ghost, was of a lower status than the Father God.

4. The Paulinic and gnostic Christians, mostly living around Alexandria. Gnosticism would remain one of the strongest competitors of the episcopal church concept until well into the 4th century.

5. The episcopal church, that turned out to be the ultimate winner. In 180 the bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus, started an attack against the gnosticism. In his clever and influential book Adversus Haereses, he qualified the gnostic writers as heretics. Irenaeus also argued that the Roman church ought to be the principal seat of Christianity. After Irenaeus, church father Tertullianus continued the attack against gnosticicm, Marcionism and all other deviant views. He also demonized women as a lower form of humans, considered to have been created from a ribbon of Adam, and to be deceptive ports of the devil.

The main difference between the gnostic and the episcopal concepts had to do with the role of the individual believers. In gnosticism, individual faith was based on the personal, emotional contact with (and experience of) Divine Truth. In this respect, gnosticism was built on a principle similar to (in some respects borrowed from) the earlier pagan mystery cults. What mattered, were your personal feelings: your individual relation with Jesus. In the episcopal variant, individual faith was in the first place some kind of conviction that you shared with all other members of the community: something that had to be agreed upon. In the long run, agreeing about the actual content of belief became a matter of decision left to the bishops: believers just had to accept such decisions – or else they would be kicked out of the community. Gnosticism, while attractive for those just-converted believers who wanted to maintain some personal, half-pagan elements in a new Christian context, thus formed a threat to the more formally organized episcopal ecclesia, and in particular to the authority claimed by its bishops. The church fathers demonized individual ‘gnosticism’, and praised commonly shared, doctrinal ‘belief’ as the supreme virtue.

The struggle between the different variants of Christianity came to a height in the 3th and 4th centuries. It was eventually won by the episcopal variant, partly because this one was the best organized, and partly as a result of political developments.

In 250, when the Roman emperor Decius started a persecution of the Christians, more and more young Christians were actually seeking a public form of martyrdom. In prison they wrote letters, with eulogizing and gnostic content. Friends and admirers outside prison edited and popularized these letters, spreading often contradicting ideas end views[3]. It became important to establish some kind of formal, common doctrine in order to safeguard ecclesiastical unity. The leaders of various Christian communities gathered in councils to agree upon an official doctrine. In these councils, decisions about the Christian doctrine were made by intensive discussions followed by voting. The majority decided what would become dogma, and what not. Actually this was a totally new phenomenon in the Greco-Roman religious world, perhaps in the entire human history. In the end, one might say that persecution of Christians led to a need for more organization, therefore strengthening the episcopal church concept.

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Greek-Orthodox icon depicting the main decision-makers at Constantine’s 325 Nicea council

In 313 the emperor Constantine felt the need to establish one universal religion for his entire empire. At that time, Mithraism had become widely accepted, especially in the legions. But the Mithras cult was a personal affair, not a collective doctrine. Mithraism had no organization, no councils. So Constantine choose the episcopal form of Christianity, because of his unity and organization, which also offered him an effective instrument for morally disciplining the masses. However, a problem was that within Christianity, there still was an acute conflict between different groups regarding doctrinal points: especially about the divinity of Jesus, or rather about the scope and extent of His divinity. Therefore in 325 Constantine organized a big council to end such quarrels once and for all. From then on, Christianity was official state religion with a divine trinity established by vote. With the support of the mighty emperor, Christian zealots began to destroy statues, temples, book scrolls, cult objects and other hallmarks of non-christian beliefs.

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Mother Isis with the Godchild Horus

On the other hand, one should not forget that even within the strict episcopal concept of Christianity, many old pagan elements were retained (although remodeled) in order to ease a smooth and widely supported conversion to Christian beliefs. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost reflected in some ways the old pantheon (Zeus and his sons) while the Virgin Mary was given a prominent place in order to provide a new, Christian alternative for the goddesses in the old pantheon. *** Just like we saw in Judaism, most elements are ‘borrowed’ from other belief systems and the few own elements are deteriorations. Were the own Judaist elements hostility against women and other beliefs, and election-delusion, the own element of Christianity was the use of the episcopal organization as a Machiavellian instrument of political power. Neither are helpful for human happiness or welfare.

Nevertheless, Christianity can be seen as a step forward. It was functional in civilizing warlike tribes, uniting them in bigger systems in the belief of One Only True God. And it propagated more humanistic elements compared to Judaism and Islam, especially on honor (“turn the enemy the other cheek”).

Let we look to Islam now.


[1] Julian the Apostate in the mid 4th century is known to have been initiated into three distinct mystery cults

[2] The same tactics have been used by all fractions in their way to political power, including the Christian missionaries and the Taliban: offering money for the widows and orphans and medical help for the poor

[3] Robin Lane Fox Pagans and Christians in the Mediterranean World (1986) p. 471

29. Origin of Islam

 

In recapitulation, in the Iron Age we see tribes, each cherishing their own ancestral Big Ancestor Figure, extending their own cultural sphere, either by war or by trade or a combination of both. Their need to reconcile different spheres implied the need for a shared Supergod Figure. John Bowker describes this trend in detail, in his God. A brief history (London, 2002): in the Nile Valley, in Asia, in India.

A similar development took place in Arabia, home of the Islam. This dry peninsula, situated conveniently between Western Europe and the Far East, had become prosperous by transit trade, and also itself produced the main ingredients for the incense used in the religious rituals of the Greco-Roman world. Its wilderness and dryness kept the peninsula out of the reach of the Persian and Roman armies, so the prosperity of the Arab tribes kept booming. In the end, however, the Romans built harbors for tall ships on the Egyptian Red Sea coast which enabled them to bypass Arabia and to trade with India and China in a more direct way, causing a dramatic decline in Arabia.

Impoverished Arab tribes moved north, only to be contained by both the Roman and the Persian empire in Arab buffer states on their borders, meant to limit Arab immigration[1]. For the Roman Byzantines the Ghassanids were the buffer state, and for the Persians the Gerrheans. In both cases, these buffer states were strong enough to supply the empire with soldiers; and both buffer states had already been influenced by Christian missionaries: the Ghassanids by ‘Monophysites’ and the Gerrheans by ‘Nestorians’. Both Christian denominations were hostile against each other. After a period of balance of power, Romans and Persians got in a deadly clinch, causing the collapse of the Persian empire which was subsequently taken over by the Arabs.

In this situation, with a grown but now impoverished and desperate population, the Islam was born. Several prophets/gang leaders gathered bands of young warriors to benefit from the weakness of the superpowers the Roman empire and the Persian empire, involved in a deadly struggle with each other. Mohammed was one of these prophets. He got support of three rich friends, who believed in his idea of one Arabian supergod, like the Jewish and Christian gods: they hoped that such a common ideology would create the unity that was needed to end the trade-hampering ghazwas (tribal raids). With their money, Mohammed armed a gang of young mujahedeen (emigrants/warriors, hoping on a chance to emigrate to the northern lands with ‘ever flowing waters’).

When the Shah tried to annex Gerrhea for more tax output, the Gerrhean king opened the sluice for mujahedeen gangs for help. Just when Mohammed arrived with his gang, the Shah had resigned of his plan. The Mohammed gang was not welcome: for the more civilized Gerrheans they were vile people with a western dialect and probably Monophysites!

The friends returned to Mecca, but they found the gate closed. The Meccan citizens kept wary for their lucrative Kaaba business.

Mohammed’s gang was beginning to expire, but luckily (?) arrived a request from Yathrib (later Medina): for help in a quarrel with a Jewish tribe. Mohammed succeeded in help, and more: he made Medina his base.

After several laborious years (and some narrow escapes) Mohammed and his friends became successful: when Mohammed died, half Arabia had been pacified by the new ideology.

Mohammed’s leadership was continued by his friends Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman from the Quraisj-clan, not by his adopted son Ali who was from Mohammed’s Hashim-clan. Under Abu Bakr, the entire Arabian peninsula was Islamized. Under Omar a big part of Persia, the Levant and Egypt followed. Under Uthman followed the rest of the Persian empire and more parts of North Africa. The Islam ideology had turned out a great success story.

As a prophet, Mohammed had pretended that his ideas came from his God, Allah, transported to him by an angel. Like other prophets, he produced Jewish-Christian aphorisms to inspire his followers. In later days the remembered aphorisms together with sermons and preaches have been gathered in a ‘holy’ book, Koran.

This ‘holy’ book, however, mainly consists of fragments of sermons of later imams which still referred to Jewish-Christian theological origins. This sermons are hastily recorded by someone who incidental mastered the art of writing. His casual quotations became later part of the Holy Koran. When you read Soera 2 Al-Bakara, you meet a clumsy narrative, when you compare it with the narratives in the Bible. But when you realize that this are hastily recorded quotations of a sermon (comparative with the quotations in a college cahier), you meet a Jewish/Christian sermon

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abstract. For today’s Islamic imams the inaccessible texts of the Holy Koran make it easier to impose their own beliefs and conceptions to their audience.

692 Jerusalem Rock Dome inscription (mosaic)

The oldest inscription of the Islam, in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, is a theological-political statement of the Omajjid Caliph Abd al-Malik meant to deny the claims of his monophysitic Byzantine opponent Heraclius. The inscription dates from 692 and reads: "Oh people of the Book, (…) the messiah Jesus son of Mary was only the messenger [muhammadu-n] of God (…) it is not on God to take a son …".

Theologically, in 692 the Arabs were still involved in some Christian doctrinal discussion, but at the same time they were already developing their own specific theological framework – including special prescriptions such as salaat (obligatory prayers) and zakaat (tax). *** Perhaps is ‘developing’ not the right word: salaat, more times a day praying in the direction of Mecca was already part of the Arabic religion in pre-Islamite times. In Mecca was the Kasbah, with the holy black stone, the center of devotion to the Moon god Hubal, symbolized with the crescent moon. This symbol was already used in the Sumerian religion for Sin (or Nanna), the Moon god, "father of the gods", "chief of the gods", "creator of all things", and the like. The "wisdom" personified by the moon-god is likewise an expression of the science of astronomy or the practice of astrology, in which the observation of the moon’s phases is an important factor. For many scientists this is an indication of relationship of the Arabian cultures and the Mesopotamian cultures, contrasting with the Egyptian and Hellenist cultures who used the Sun as their main symbol (later also adopted by Christianity). As to the Kasbah, the practice of 7 x running around the holy Moon stone also existed in pre-Islamite times, as well as congregate on Friday for prayers, and zakaat.

So the Islam is partially a Judaic-Christian, and a pre-Islamite religion.

In 737, the Arab conquest machine was stopped by the Francs at Poitiers. To prevent disintegration of the enormous Arab empire, a common Arab creed was needed more than ever. So from now on, the Abbasid Caliphs actively fostered the further development of Islam as a specifically Arab denomination. The Koran, the sira (biography of the prophet) and the hadith (the conduct of the prophet) got their definitive form and content. Also the fiqh (ethics) and the sharia (legislation) were formally written down.

As mentioned above, Mohammed’s leadership was continued by caliphs of the Quraisj-clan and not by his adopted nephew Ali from his own Hashim-clan. After three Quraisj-caliphs, the Hashim-clan was on turn, but Ali was murdered soon by Muawija, nephew of the Omajjad Uthman. With Muawija the Omajjads got the power, in a series of 14 caliphs, from 661 to 750. The murder on Ali and his son Hussain was also the beginning of the schism between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Shiitism is mainly living in Iran and a part of Iraq. The rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni.

At first sight, monotheistic religions seem rather stabile systems. Christianity endured in the Western states until the breakthrough of the free market and is still holding out in not free societies. The eventual breakthrough of the free market society in the Western states was made possible by the fact that in Europe the secular power always has been divided. The heads of state (emperors and kings) never succeeded in subjecting the local counts and dukes. To finance their wars they were forced to borrow money at the bankers of the cities, in return for liberties. Slowly the power shifted from the gentry to the bourgeoisie. The Church had to move along, at the expense of several schisms and separations like Protestantism and Anglicanism. All religious denominations kept their conservative character, and kept trying to slow down the inevitable innovation and progression.

The Islamite empire was progressive under the Abbasid dynasty until in 1258 the Mongols devastated Bagdad and killed the last Abbasid emperor. Around 1500 Portuguese and Dutch seafaring entrepreneurs got around the Islamite trade monopoly with the Far East, and this was the end of the Muslim golden age. The Islam was of no help. On the contrary, the Islamic patriarchs consequently prohibited all forms of innovation and progression. ***The Islam world submerged in despoty and ‘Middle Age’-darkness, became a monolith of social conservatism and remained so to this day.

The Western bourgeoisie sucked in all the innovations of the eastern trade during the Abbasid era, technological innovations such as paper making, gun powder, typography, wind- and watermills, scientific innovations such as algebra, medical and chemical science, and developed all these achievements in a laborious struggle with churches and landlords. After the French Revolution in 1789, the European bourgeoisie got a firm grip on the market and the industry. The break-through of the free market economy after the sixties of the twentieth century gave the death blow to monotheism. The free market economy is unstoppable in its turn. Fundamentalist sects and fractions of Judaic, Christian and Islamic spheres fight against its take-over, but the free market economy is as a warm spring wind, thawing the permafrost of old forms and thoughts, doing collapse all institutions build on it. No state or person exercises power over this economy, it penetrates each civilization via capillaries. Those in power can only try to hamper the process, not stop. ….


[1] The same limes politics as the Romans practiced on the German tribes from northern Europe.

30. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism

 

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Hinduism is in size the third world religion today, after Christianity and Islam. Because there are also polytheistic and monistic varieties (the latter believing that God and the human soul are one), it is only partially a monotheistic belief.

On account of its multiple appearances, one cannot say that Hinduism is one single religion: rather, the term ‘hinduism’ is the collective name for the beliefs of more than a billion of people in and outside the subcontinent of India. Unlike the Muslim and Christian belief systems, Hinduism is not very well suited to be used as a formal state religion (like Islam in some Middle East states or Christianity in European Middle Ages). The reason is not just the greater variety within Hinduism itself, but also the fact that in its main region (the Indian subcontinent) it has to compete with sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians and Parsi (Zoroastrists). For that reason after the independence of India in 1947, Gandhi’s winning Congress Party proclaimed not just Democracy, but also Secularism as the basis of the Constitution: for India to become a united state, its founders needed a secular foundation.

Under the government of the Congress Party, the standard of living on the subcontinent rose. But the welfare had been unevenly distributed and the corruption and the abuse of power gave rise to competitive other parties and fundamentalist movements. The Hindu fundamentalists are emulating the Muslim fundamentalists in all aspects.

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China has a comparable state situation: an enormous territory, with an alarming poverty and regions of overpopulation, and a multiplicity of beliefs such as Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religions. In the 2nd century BC, Confucianism was recognized as the Han state cult, and the Five Classics became the core of education: (1) humaneness or benevolence, in accordance with (2) ritual norms, (3) loyalty to one’s true nature, (4) reciprocity and (5) filial piety. Together these constitute virtue.

Confucianism is characterized by a highly optimistic view of human nature. Although Confucius himself lived a rather ordinary life, the faith in the possibility of ordinary humans to become awe-inspiring sages is deeply rooted in the Confucian heritage. The insistence that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal effort is typically Confucian. For centuries, some people could seek social advancement by participating in the prestigious Imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the government select skillful bureaucrats. Examinations and a culture of merit are still greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have advocated the idea that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.

Despite the position of Confucianism as a state religion, Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion and many other beliefs remained, and the imperial government was never able to address mass poverty, overpopulation and starvation. From the 1949 Maoist revolution

until about 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy without private businesses or capitalism. To propel the country towards a modern, industrialized communist society, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, although this had dubious economic results. But his drastic one-child policy saved the country from dramatic overpopulation.

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and moved towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Collectivization of the agriculture was dismantled and farmlands were privatized to increase productivity. Modern-day China is mainly a market economy based on private property ownership, and is the world’s leading example of state capitalism. Orthodox Maoism is no longer an adequate alternative for a state religion here, while Confucianism is too archaic for a booming state-capitalistic country. Therefore, the Chinese government is desperately searching for an adequate state religion – or at least, morality – that is also in line with the free market economy. China’s economy is booming, but dependent of the international market for its raw materials and energy, and for the export of its products. ***Maybe we have an idea for China

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Iillustration to an old Chinese story, meaning that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one. Painting in the litang style portraying three men laughing by a river stream, 12th century, Song Dynasty.

*** We may not forget to add a paragraph about BUDDHISM (500 BC) and TAOISM (200 BC)

Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, all were based on the assumption of a Big Ancestor-like Highest God who rules the world. Confucianism (500 BC) and Taoism did not, and Buddhism either. These religions are ethic: based on the universal human assumption that peace and happiness can be gained when all people are wise and do well. So it is a question of devising rules for good behavior and propagating them. Zarathustra’s religion was, being monotheistic, an ethic religion equally, and the ethics were part of the Machiavellian monotheistic religions as well. In Confucianism and Taoism, ethics were the whole content. What about Buddhism?

The doctrines of Buddha are ethic, but with a deeply pessimistic origin. Life is inherent suffering and pain. One can only escape from is by renouncing all desire and craving. All branches of Buddhism (the major are Mahayana, Theravada and Zen) have the same escapist nature. Perhaps we may attribute this escapism to the hopelessness of the Indian caste society. Where Buddhism tries to convert adherents to become a solitary monk, Confucianism and Taoism on the other hand keep their adherents participating in society and try to convert then to good civilians.

But China is on the road to a free market economy. The leading ex-Maoist party let slip the collectivistic Maoist ideology to generate free market prosperity but is hampered by the old corrupt power clique (no dictatorship without corruption). Confucianism is a too old wine for the new bottle of the free market prosperity. Free market economy cannot stand –isms. Even not libertinism in the end. Free market economy can only breathe democracy. That is what humanosophy sets itself the goal.

30. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism

 

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Hinduism is in size the third world religion today, after Christianity and Islam. Because there are also polytheistic and monistic varieties (the latter believing that God and the human soul are one), it is only partially a monotheistic belief.

On account of its multiple appearances, one cannot say that Hinduism is one single religion: rather, the term ‘hinduism’ is the collective name for the beliefs of more than a billion of people in and outside the subcontinent of India. Unlike the Muslim and Christian belief systems, Hinduism is not very well suited to be used as a formal state religion (like Islam in some Middle East states or Christianity in European Middle Ages). The reason is not just the greater variety within Hinduism itself, but also the fact that in its main region (the Indian subcontinent) it has to compete with sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians and Parsi (Zoroastrists). For that reason after the independence of India in 1947, Gandhi’s winning Congress Party proclaimed not just Democracy, but also Secularism as the basis of the Constitution: for India to become a united state, its founders needed a secular foundation.

Under the government of the Congress Party, the standard of living on the subcontinent rose. But the welfare had been unevenly distributed and the corruption and the abuse of power gave rise to competitive other parties and fundamentalist movements. The Hindu fundamentalists are emulating the Muslim fundamentalists in all aspects.

clip_image004
image-243
China has a comparable state situation: an enormous territory, with an alarming poverty and regions of overpopulation, and a multiplicity of beliefs such as Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religions. In the 2nd century BC, Confucianism was recognized as the Han state cult, and the Five Classics became the core of education: (1) humaneness or benevolence, in accordance with (2) ritual norms, (3) loyalty to one’s true nature, (4) reciprocity and (5) filial piety. Together these constitute virtue.

Confucianism is characterized by a highly optimistic view of human nature. Although Confucius himself lived a rather ordinary life, the faith in the possibility of ordinary humans to become awe-inspiring sages is deeply rooted in the Confucian heritage. The insistence that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal effort is typically Confucian. For centuries, some people could seek social advancement by participating in the prestigious Imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the government select skillful bureaucrats. Examinations and a culture of merit are still greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have advocated the idea that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.

Despite the position of Confucianism as a state religion, Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion and many other beliefs remained, and the imperial government was never able to address mass poverty, overpopulation and starvation. From the 1949 Maoist revolution

until about 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy without private businesses or capitalism. To propel the country towards a modern, industrialized communist society, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, although this had dubious economic results. But his drastic one-child policy saved the country from dramatic overpopulation.

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and moved towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Collectivization of the agriculture was dismantled and farmlands were privatized to increase productivity. Modern-day China is mainly a market economy based on private property ownership, and is the world’s leading example of state capitalism. Orthodox Maoism is no longer an adequate alternative for a state religion here, while Confucianism is too archaic for a booming state-capitalistic country. Therefore, the Chinese government is desperately searching for an adequate state religion – or at least, morality – that is also in line with the free market economy. China’s economy is booming, but dependent of the international market for its raw materials and energy, and for the export of its products. ***Maybe we have an idea for China

clip_image005
image-244

Iillustration to an old Chinese story, meaning that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one. Painting in the litang style portraying three men laughing by a river stream, 12th century, Song Dynasty.

*** We may not forget to add a paragraph about BUDDHISM (500 BC) and TAOISM (200 BC)

Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, all were based on the assumption of a Big Ancestor-like Highest God who rules the world. Confucianism (500 BC) and Taoism did not, and Buddhism either. These religions are ethic: based on the universal human assumption that peace and happiness can be gained when all people are wise and do well. So it is a question of devising rules for good behavior and propagating them. Zarathustra’s religion was, being monotheistic, an ethic religion equally, and the ethics were part of the Machiavellian monotheistic religions as well. In Confucianism and Taoism, ethics were the whole content. What about Buddhism?

The doctrines of Buddha are ethic, but with a deeply pessimistic origin. Life is inherent suffering and pain. One can only escape from is by renouncing all desire and craving. All branches of Buddhism (the major are Mahayana, Theravada and Zen) have the same escapist nature. Perhaps we may attribute this escapism to the hopelessness of the Indian caste society. Where Buddhism tries to convert adherents to become a solitary monk, Confucianism and Taoism on the other hand keep their adherents participating in society and try to convert then to good civilians.

But China is on the road to a free market economy. The leading ex-Maoist party let slip the collectivistic Maoist ideology to generate free market prosperity but is hampered by the old corrupt power clique (no dictatorship without corruption). Confucianism is a too old wine for the new bottle of the free market prosperity. Free market economy cannot stand –isms. Even not libertinism in the end. Free market economy can only breathe democracy. That is what humanosophy sets itself the goal.

31. Historical development of civilization

 

NB. In the following lines I handle a more limited definition of ‘civilization’: not as an equivalent of ‘culture’, but: the activity or mechanism of replacing somebody’s loyalty to his clan or tribe into loyalty to a state or land. So more in the classic meaning: civilized versus barbarian (tribal).

Monotheism, as discussed before in chapter 17, is a characteristic product of the Iron Age. An age of warfare. An age of intensifying trade and improving agricultural techniques. An age of slavery and other sorts of exploitation, and of luxury of the exploiting elites. An age also of tribal raider bands, robbing and burning villages and towns. In summary: an age frustrating the social, peaceful core of human nature.

Of course thinkers were pondering about restoring ancestral moral behavior: the human condition of paradisiacal times before overpopulation complicated human life, the times represented by ancient danced and sung creation stories about the Big Ancestor. The most renowned of these early thinkers was Zarathustra. Unlike later forms of monotheism, his belief in Ahura Mazda (Zoroastrianism) focused on morally responsible behavior and mitigating tribalism, and it had a strong civilizing effect on his believers. As we saw before, the early Jewish patriarchs adapted elements of this Zoroastrian monotheism to dress up their own power-establishing ideology.

In this chapter we will discuss the civilizing power of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For generation after generation, the individual adherents of such religions did believe in the goal and the plan, the perspective and the aim, the target and the object, the intention, the scope and the intent, the design and the meaning, of such a belief system. This belief held big states together, and provided rulers with an important tool to quench social unrest and prevent revolution. Belief can make individuals cooperative. Belief is socially important.

Belief is also personally important, as it can be the foundation of self-confidence. Tennis heroes such as Nadal and Federer need to believe in their own power to be motivated for success, and for football players the same applies. To be successful in an enterprise, one has to motivated for putting energy in it; for to be motivated one has to believe in the goal and the feasibility of the enterprise. Belief and trust are closely related feelings. Both are important for building and maintaining one’s self-image.

Belief in one monotheistic God often has a collectivistic character: an individual is nothing and God is all. The individual’s significance depends from his importance to God. The individual’s salvation depends on God’s mercy. Another aspect of monotheistic belief is that it is not innate: its dogmas and laws have to be taught. God belief is part of our human inheritance only in so far that during a million of years, our ancestors were singing and dancing their world as created by the Big Ancestor.

The collectivistic character of monotheism originated from and joined the tribal mentality. A clan member feels himself a part of his clan in the first place: his individual identity comes in the second place. For a western consumer, whose identity is primarily an individual matter, this is difficult to comprehend: he is a product of the Western tradition of individualism that started with the printing press, social mobility, education, humanism, Reformation, Enlightenment, industrial revolution and in the end Free Market. That tradition is absent in the background of Islamic monotheism, which originally had rather tribal roots in Mohammed’s Arabia. For a while (during the caliphate of Cordoba) Islamic civilization became the most advanced in the world, but after a decline of trade the Muslim power waned and Islamic civilization sunk into fundamentalist rigidity and backwardness. No printing press, no social mobility, no humanism, reformation or enlightenment, no development of individuality.

In the Middle Ages, nothing in western Europe was more political than religion. The church in every parish – nearly always the most imposing building – was as much a symbol of worldly control as a shrine to God. Where the western world took over 500 years to become more secular, it would be unreasonable to expect the Muslim world could manage the same feat in just a few decades.

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Back to the Late Iron Age. The newly introduced monotheistic and collectivistic God was grafted onto the stem of an innate, more generic god belief. Monotheism is not part of our natural inheritance, it is part of a culture. It is a recent patriarchal invention. The propensity to religiousness is innate, but the monotheistic God belief is not. This is a relevant notion, because today ever more Western people no longer feel a bond with monotheist God belief. What did cut the threads is the introduction of television in the sixties, which introduced new models of being human for identification. These new models, stemming from a consumer-oriented free market, were far more attractive than the old model of the churches. In a few generations the bond with monotheism was gone for ever more consumers. But the innate religiosity is much firmer rooted in our genes by over 100,000 years of linguality and animistic religion practice, singing and dancing some kind of creation story.

First, let us look at the civilizing character of Judaism. Unlike Zoroastrianism, the new Jewish God belief did not aim at mitigating tribal warfare and raiding: for the Judaic patriarchs, it primarily had a financial-economic purpose. As for Christianity: it was only the episcopal organization of this sect that made it attractive as state religion for Constantine the Great. It did not become a civilizing instrument until under the Carolingian kings. As to the Islam: it had such a civilizing role from its beginning. This was its founder Mohammed’s only purpose, and for creating of a Muslim empire the creed functioned perfectly.

It was this Muslim power and efficiency, that around 750 AD for the Frankish leader Charles Martel was a greater threat than the raiding of uncivilized Saxons. So most of his organizational and military talent was dedicated to keeping the Muslims behind the Pyrenees. It was his formidable political talent that stopped the first Islamic attempt to conquer Europe. Would it have been a disaster if Charles Martel had been a lesser genius and when Islam had become the ruling religion all over Europe? We intend to think that in that hypothetical case, the Islam might have never developed fundamentalism, and might have functioned as a moderated civilizing monotheism. However, it missed three crucial elements: episcopal and papal organization, monasteries and celibacy.

Charles Martel already used missionaries such as Boniface to control the Frisians, and he won the loyalty of several important bishops and abbots by donating lands and money for the foundation of abbeys such as Echternach. He unified the Franks under his banner and defeated the Saxons. But to him, the invading Muslims in Aquitania were the real threat: a powerful military force, quite different from the tribal warriors such as the Frisians and the Saxons. He knew he needed a full-time, trained, professional army. Until then troops were only available outside the sowing and harvesting seasons, but Charles needed them year-round, and he needed to pay them to compensate for the missed harvests. To obtain money, he seized church lands and property.

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With his well-trained infantry, Charles managed to defeat the Muslims at Tours-Poitiers in 732: one of history’s most consequential battles. The result was a Christian Europe: a system of fiefdoms loyal to local nobles and ultimately to the King (later emperor). Charles secured the support of the ecclesia by donating land and money for founding monasteries and churches, as he needed the ecclesiastical hierarchy for its administrative capacities. The pope from his side was highly dependent on Frankish armies for his independence from Langobardic and Byzantine power. The Byzantine emperor still considered himself to be the only legitimate Roman Emperor and thus ruler of all the provinces of the Roman Empire, whether recognized or not. So after the death of Charles Martel (741) the pope crowned his son Pippin, and decades later Pippin’s son Charles the Great, as Emperor of the “Holy Roman Empire”.

Copying monk in scriptorium

Besides the lacking ecclesiastical organization and monasteries, the Islamic monotheism lacked a third important element: celibacy. Without the care for a family and progeny, the Christian clergy could spend all their time and energy for ecclesiastical work. In the libraries of the monasteries, some monks could dedicate their entire life on hand-copying books and other activities related not just to religion, but also to arts, sciences and civilization in general. For example, many classical Roman texts known to us today would have been lost forever, if they had not been copied by monks in the Middle Ages. This applies to works of Tacitus, Livius, Plinius, and Archimedes: the cultural and scientific revolution that began in the Renaissance, was for a large part founded on pre-medieval works that had been preserved by copying monks.

Of course, other factors played a role as well in the surviving of a Christian culture in medieval Europe: such as the moderate climate, the variety of soil types and thus of agricultural products, the potential of large rivers such as the Loire and the Rhine to function as “natural highways” for transporting products, all in combination with the already mentioned “balance of power” between secular and religious authorities.

Charles Martel laid the foundation of the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’ by establishing monasteries etc. His grandson Charlemagne and his successor Louis the Pious invited scholars from all over the Christian world to their court in Aachen. Famous among them was Alcuin of York (735-804), who standardized a curriculum for use in the Carolingian schools, wrote textbooks, created word lists, established the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometric, astronomy and music). Also famous was John Scotus Eriugena, who succeeded Alcuin at the Palace School. This Irishman was one of the most original thinkers of the entire Middle Ages.

32. The rise of democratic thoughts

 

In order to take a look at the rise of democratic thoughts and practice, we need for a moment to go back to pre-medieval times. Three interdependent characteristics are essential in the long historical development towards human society today. In the first place the rise of modern free economic markets, trade and consumption (beginning with the Phoenician trader city-states about 500 BC). In the second place the rise of formal procedures in collective decision-making, which would ultimately lead towards modern democracy (a process which not coincidentally began in the same Phoenician trader-cities). In the third place the rise of new information channels which made it possible to inform an ever larger part of the population, ultimately creating information channels for the masses in their entirety. These three developments were mutually dependent in the sense that they influenced, supported and strengthened each other.

The word ‘democracy’ is Greek. Today, it represents a form of government in which all people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the decision making. In reality, we have several forms of democracy today, each one more or less approaching the general ideal.

Democratic decision-making is as old as mankind. For most of the time that our ‘homo’ ancestors roamed upon this earth – let us say 2 millions of years long – they lived in relative equality and freedom from any domination. So ‘democracy’ is part of human nature. Since more recent times when overpopulation and warfare between AMH-groups left no other choice but ‘struggle for life’, having a substantial number of violence-capable men became crucial for the surviving of an endangered group. Men got the idea that they were the most important gender. They developed exclusively male initiation- and other rituals, and from then on they didn’t live in equality and freedom anymore. The harsher the warfare in some populations, the harsher the male domination in those populations, and the exclusion of the women from common decision-making.

In the earliest phase of agriculture – a female invention – peace and equality, conform human nature, may have returned for some millennia. But eventually rising overpopulation, causing conflicts between AGR-settlements and villages, reintroduced a ‘struggle for life’, worsened by the rise of new fast vehicles (canoes; horses) that incited nomadic young men (warriors) to start raiding unarmed villages. But even in the Copper Age, women remained important in common decision making: as in the Harappan and even Egyptian civilizations.

Since the Iron Age, a background of warfare and male dominance, slavery and inequality became the normal human condition. However, ‘democracy’, being part of human nature, remained the submerged cork, bobbing up whenever there was a temporary hole in the ice of tyranny. It was free trade that created such holes. Where merchants could rule their own business without a tyrant, they developed some kind of democracy. The Athenian Greeks of 594-322 BC were an historical example.

Usually, we trace the roots of today’s democracy to the Greek poleis. Indeed, the poleis were not like other primordial ancient city-states like Phoenician Tyre or Sidon, which were ruled by a small oligarchy of merchants, and a king, being the primus inter pares of these merchants. The Greek poleis was a political entity ruled by the body of its citizens.

When we look at philosophy and creative thought, the Greek city states in Ionia and later Athens itself yielded thinkers who would remain influential until today. It started in Miletus, with a ‘pre-socratic’ school around 550 BC, with Thales, Anaximandros and his student Anaximenes. Thales is presumed to have gathered knowledge from India, Egypt and Babylon: astrology, geometry, engineering, philosophy, etc. He may have been the first western thinker with hypotheses that did not consider godly intervention: the first freethinker.

Greek philosophy may have influenced western philosophy, but this does not apply to Athenian democracy. Democracy is not just a matter of ideas and convictions, but also a process of social evolution within an economy with a relatively free market. In antique Athens, decisions were made by a ‘one-man-one-vote’ system limited to a select group of free-born male Athenians. Today’s western democracy is based on equal voting by all adult members of a society: because this involves far too much people for direct democracy, we have a representational and parliamentary party-democracy.

So the roots of the modern western democracy that is now globalizing and hopefully will continue to expand on a world-wide scale, do not lay in ancient Greece[1]. Those roots lie rather in the western European Late-Middle-Age market towns. The conditions in this area and period contributed to a fortuitously balanced situation between the powers: the Church, the kings or ‘Roman’ Emperor, the local landlords and the rich merchants in the cities. The kings, needing money to finance their army, were financially dependent from support by the merchants. The merchants furnished the money in exchange for privileges and self-governing of their towns. This was the beginning of a long process leading to ever more democratic forms of governing and republicanism. In these late Middle Ages, along with the cultural Renaissance, democratic ideals could be revived by a small urban elite of more or less free thinking individuals. Such people could be found in city states with a prevailing mercantile influence on communal decisions.

From 1400 AD the merchants gained political influence as European trade revived, after a long period of sleep caused by the invading Vikings from the North and the dominance of the Ottoman empire in the South-East. It first awoke in Italian city-states such as Florence, spreading to Portugal and Spain and to France and the Netherlands. A big help was that the Western lands were feudal, so the power was divided. Slowly the power began to shift from the agricultural landlords, champions of the Christian God belief, to the more free-thinking (and free-trading) bourgeoisie in the cities. In a parallel development, among educated people the individual self-image shifted from religious dependency to a more confident individuality; and in yet another parallel development, culture (painting, sculpture, music) started to flourish again: the Renaissance. This also affected science and philosophy.

Of course the social evolution towards democracy did not just depend from free market conditions: the independent thought and speculations of freethinkers have played an influential role as well. I already mentioned Thales of Miletus as one of the first. Aristoteles of Athens remained very influential throughout the Middle Ages, but in the 12th and 13th century Petrus Abaelardus and Roger Bacon were groundbreaking thinkers. Abaelardus (1079-1142) emphasized the scientific principle of never accepting something without asking questions (nihil credendum nisi prius intellectum). The Oxford scholar and Aristotle-expert Roger Bacon (1214-1294) studied mathematics, optics, Hebraic and Arabic, and the Arabic sciences. He emphasized empiricism and methodology, while rejecting blindly following authority. Desiderius Erasmus in 1506 published The Praise of Folly; although not a reformer himself, he laid the intellectual foundation for the freedom of thought that would result in the Reformation.

In the 17th century Locke, Bayle and Spinoza were independent thinkers. John Locke (1632-1704) contested the absolute rulers’ rights and proposed constitutional democracy. Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) was another Enlightenment pioneer, with his plea for religious tolerance and separation between belief and science. Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677) questioned the reality of miracles and the supernatural, and equated God and nature. The 17th century also produced the influential cultural view of the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who with his Leviathan (1651) was the first to present the idea of a “social contract”, where individuals give up some of their individual rights for the common benefit.

Philosophers such as Spinoza, Locke, Bayle and Newton sparked an elite cultural movement: the Enlightenment. The center of the Enlightenment was France, where it found its base in the salons, such as the salon of Baron D’Holbach. It heralded the power of the human thought, independent from traditional and dogmatic thinking. Among other things, it presents a taxonomy of human knowledge inspired by Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning. The three main branches of knowledge are: "Memory" (history), "Reason" (philosophy) and "Imagination" (poetry). Notable is the fact that theology is considered a branch of philosophy: this categorisation of religion as being subject to human reason and not as an independent source of knowledge caused much of the controversy surrounding the work.

Many contributors saw the Encyclopédie not just as a means to provide access to human knowledge, but also as a vehicle for covertly destroying irrational superstition. In ancien régime France, it caused a storm of controversy, due mostly to its attacks on Catholicism and its defense of religious tolerance. The Encyclopédie praised Protestant thinkers and challenged Catholic dogma.

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Title page of vol.1 of The Encyclopédie

The Encyclopédie (1751-1772) was edited by Denis Diderot and d’Alembert, with contributions by hundreds of leading intellectuals such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu. Some 25,000 copies of the 35-volume set were sold, half of them outside France: it stimulated the emergence of new centers of free thought in England, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Spain – and also in America, where it influenced Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others, playing a major role in the American Revolution. The political ideals expressed in the Encyclopédie influenced the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the Polish-Lithuanian Constitution of 1791.

Count d’Holbach (1723-1789), the first outspoken atheist, and his ally Denis Diderot (1713-1784) can be considered the first real freethinkers. Freethinking is: forming (and formulating) one’s world view on the basis of logical reasoning, without being restricted by irrational beliefs, enforced dogmatism or religious authority. In a culture where the world was generally considered a godly creation, it took courage (and a minimum of safety) to think god-less. A nice reflection of such an inner struggle can be seen in the conflict between the friends Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot in the Paris of 1742. After long consideration, Rousseau wrote: “All the subtleties of metaphysics will not make me doubt the immortality of the soul for a moment. I feel it, I believe it, I want it, I hope for it, I shall defend it to my last breath”. For Diderot, the question of religious belief was a more complex one. Nostalgic for the certainties of his childhood, he would have liked to believe. But his scientific and materialistic world view left no place for some metaphysical ‘high power’. “My heart wants one thing, my head another,” he wrote to his friend.

For Diderot, our desire to believe had to be counterbalanced by our capacity for rational analysis as the only method of gaining factual knowledge of the world. This rationality ought to create a common ground that is not subject to instinct, tribalism or hysteria, but can support the ethics of a society. Rousseau on the other hand ended up giving priority not to his rationality, but to his feelings and beliefs. This crucial difference between the spirituality of Diderot and Rousseau can still be seen in today’s society.

The problems between these two had to do not only with a different position on the emotions-vs-rationality scale, but also with a different position on the collectivism-vs-individualism scale. Thinking on the basis of his strong emotion, Rousseau created a world view characterized by aversion of the physical world, repulsion of sex, a longing for a perfect higher world beyond our senses, for ultimate justice and forgiveness in the afterlife. A world view rather coinciding with the dogmatic vision of the Church. Politically this world view may be characterized as collectivism.

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Leviathan

Collectivism is the social-political doctrine that sees people as a subservient part of a community, obedient to the Leader of the community. Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social (1762) represented – in an idealistic way – such a collectivistic view of society. Rousseau’s theory may have been based on Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), and certainly influenced the radical ideology of Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), leader of French Revolution during its ‘reign of terror’. 19th century philosophers such as Hegel (1770-1831) and Marx (1818-1883) also regarded collectives as more important than their individual members.

To some extent such a view may be understandable, especially when we consider that it is closely related to the ancient tribal feelings which have shaped much of human history since the early Iron Age. However, collectivist feelings can become fatal when they are used as the actual base for a social order, for a political system: the two best known examples of collectivism going awry are fascism and communism. The reigns of Hitler and Stalin illustrate two essential shortcomings of collectivism. In the first place it tends to concentrate the “collective” power in the hands of Leader and his guard – and such near-unlimited power always corrupts. Secondly, it deprives society from one of its most essential sources of progress: consulting each other. A free market society with representative democracy may be laborious and at times painful, but in the end it will better serve the common wealth.

Luckily, the same 19th century that produced the philosophies of Hegel and Marx, also brought forth thinkers who contributed to the development of today’s free market society and democracy. One of the most important was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) who in his book On Liberty (1859)[2] stated that “over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. Nor the state nor any other social body has a right to coerce or restrict the individual, unless the individual causes harm to others. In this context Mill developed the harm principle (stating that each individual has the right to act as he wants, provided these actions do not harm others). His principle of liberty is threefold: freedom to think and speech as one wishes, the freedom to pursue tastes and preferences, and the freedom to meet with others. He sees this freedoms not as ‘natural rights’ but rather as positive contributions to society. Stuart Mill can also be seen as the first male feminist ; as a member of Parliament he advocated women’s rights.


[1] The knowledge about the Athenian democracy dates from the 19th century: since the British lord Elgin transported a whole collection of the marble sculptures from the Athenian acropolis to London and sold them to the British Museum. The fame of these marbles (and the shame of the ‘art robbery’ – but he paid for it to the Turkish government) was the beginning of the knowledge about Greek democracy***

[2] NB In this same year 1859 appeared Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London, John Murray

33. The role of information

 

Over the last two millennia, information monopolies have gradually dwindled away. In the Middle Ages, the church (in the person of bishops and monks) had an information monopoly in several ways: not just because the monastical libraries had a virtual monopoly of guarding and hand-copying books, but also because the language of both the church itself and its books was Latin, a language not understood by most people. In the 16th century, Gutenberg’s invention of movable-type printing made it possible to print books in large numbers and in popular language, meaning that information reached a much larger public. This helped to propagate both the Reformation and other cultural changes, effectually limiting the church’s information monopoly. Gradually, books became merchandise: already for the 16th century impressions of 200-300 copies are known. Initially most of these were Bibles, but this was soon followed by Latin classics such as Cato, Boethius, Aristotle; and almanacs, grammar books, liturgy books. After a while, the scope of subjects and languages became ever wider.

Broadsides (single-side printed sheets) had been in use since the first invention of printing for papal indulgences, royal proclamations and similar ends. Throughout western Europe broadsides became also popular as political pamphlets. The early16th century humanist movement and the leading minds of the Reformation period – Erasmus, Luther, Melanchton and Calvin – used tracts as an easy method to widely circulate their opinions. In France in 1523, the publication of pro-Reformation tracts caused the Sorbonne to petition the king to abolish the diabolical art of printing.

However, the influence of printed opinions increased over time. In 17th century France, pamphlets dealing with the amours of the king and his courtiers found a wide reading public. The presses of the Low Countries teemed with tracts against politicians and Jesuits, exciting extraordinary attention throughout Europe. In the 18th century, writers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, D’Alembert and D’Holbach also produced pamphlets. In the 1780s, the printing of cheap leaflets etc. made it possible to mobilize larger numbers of people for the French Revolution. The scope and influence of printed information between ca. 1520-1800 grew in similar ways in other countries such as Britain and the German kingdoms.

The influence of printed texts (and the number of texts specifically targeting and informing the lower classes) grew alongside with the gradual increase of literacy. While around 1500 only 10% of the Western-European population was able to write their own name, around 1800 this had risen to over 50%, and around 1900 it would get close to 90%. That this rising literacy level in combination with the rising number of popular publications was a powerful agent of social awareness and social change, goes without saying. In the 19th century, cheap newspapers meant that actual news reporting reached the masses. Just like many websites today, cheap “penny” newspapers were in fact subsidized by advertisers who wanted to connect to a wide public. In the late 19th century, new photographic techniques meant (among other things) that for the first time ordinary people could get a realistic idea of the actual horrors of war.[1]

Almost from the beginning, a special aspect of communication has been propaganda: the aim to influence public opinion. The specific goal can be commercial (advertising a product or service) or political (promoting a party or an ideology). The latter, by parties, action groups and governments, is ‘propaganda’ in the usual sense.

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1933 German Volksempfanger

Especially in times of war, propaganda has always been an important weapon. The first victim then is the truth: in world war II German propaganda minister Goebbels knowingly told lies, being confident that for the mass a repeated lie becomes the truth. The nazi regime also was one of the first to systematically use radio and movies for propaganda: they distributed millions of cheap Volksempfänger, radios that could receive only the state’s channels. During the war, the Germans relayed propaganda radio programs (by “Lord Haw-Haw”) to the British population. As for movies, the 1942 movie Jud Süss was a story specifically intended to foster antisemitism; the early-1945 color movie Kolberg was based on an 18th-century story, and meant to foster a spirit of resistance against the approaching Russians.

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Most important of all, however, was the new development after the second world war: the arrival of television in all households in the 1950s (USA) and 1960s (Europe). We want to propose here that the advent of television in fact heralded the end of monotheism in Western societies. For centuries, churches had been able to monopolize the moral and existential self-conception of the masses; but within a few decades, television destroyed this religious monopoly by confronting huge parts of the population with a different kind of “mirror”. The root of this change was the changing self-image of people. Formerly, the message of the churches had defined the human profile: the image of a sinner with only one fundamental choice (to sin or repent), for the rest being subjected to the grace of God. Most people got this message once a week: during Mass. The advertisements and shows of the free market television on the other hand showed every day, in everyone’s free time, the profile of a free, happy, woman- and child-friendly consumer: a much more attractive image for identification.

Our self-image is formed by the way parents and other family members, and later schoolmates and teachers, see and treat us. But we also actively build our own self-image by identification with mother, father, teachers and other ‘idols’. The culture in which we are living also provides influential building stones and idols. Today TV with its commercials and soaps, and the internet with its music videos, networking sites etc. provide identification objects that for many peopleespecially young people – are equally strong as friends and schoolmates. In today’s culture, people are also stimulated to actively construct their self-image by expressing their own identity explicitly, for example on Facebook.

The ongoing expansion of the free market society has furthered (and still stimulates) two important social effects. As discussed in the previous chapter, the advent of television gave popular consumption, information distribution and thus free market economy a boost. Because of its liberating character, it heralded the end of collectivistic monotheism in Western societies, and stimulated the rise of a non-religious self-image based on each individual’s identity as consumer. In due course, this also furthered the rise of democracy. A third effect: where the free market began to function in a more optimal way, it allowed for more human happiness than ever in the last 5000 years.

Unfortunately, this new self-image is lacking something. We will get back to that gap in the next chapters.


[1] The American Civil War (1861-1865) photos by photographers such as Matthew Brady showed for the first time real pictures of wounded and dead soldiers on the battlefield. Such photos had a tremendous impact on public opinion: after this, the old ‘romanticized’ view of war became much harder to accept.

34. Free market economy and an ideal society

 

The ideal society would be the modern version of the paradisiacal equality, freedom, harmony, togetherness and happiness of the ancestral gathering and hunting way of life. We lost this ‘paradise’ some eight thousand years ago: in the transition to agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle that brought warfare and slavery. Since then, a feeling of bereavement has always induced thinkers and philosophers (these are not necessarily always the same) to dream of a better, ideal world. The breakthrough of the free market economy meant ‘the end of history’: the end of five thousand years of forced civilization. It enabled mankind to take some first steps towards regaining the ancestral equality and freedom.

If we were to imagine a utopian free market society, its population would voluntarily work together for the common good on a basis of equality. People would produce goods and services, and earn money in return. Their earnings would allow them to buy goods and services for themselves, and to pay taxes for common facilities and government costs. Such a society would suppose an intricate network of tasks and responsibilities, where everyone would find a job fitting her or his individual talents, aptitude and preferences. This intricate machine would be lubricated not just by the natural flow of money, but also by mutual trust and a belief in shared goals.

In this ideal society, each member would do his best in the conviction that his work serves both the common good and his individual interests. Happiness always implies the feeling that one is meaningful (for other people in the environment, or society as a whole). So in that ideal free market society, everybody would have a fair chance and opportunity to be happy. An important condition for such “social happiness” is that one can participate in common decisions. In short: this ideal society would in many ways resemble a larger-scale version of the ancient hunter-gatherer group-based societies, but without the fearful struggle-for-life that tainted those ancient ways of life.

Our actual free market society has not yet reached the level of such an ideal society. In its original phase, the rising free market implied a situation of inequality and exploitation, based on the old antagonism between a class of property owners and a suppressed working class. A series of revolts and reforms has already somewhat mitigated this inequality, but it still survives in some ways. Our actual society has made all of us into consumers, but it did not fully remove the inequality of chances to participate in it. Only when all citizens will be able to participate in a way that fits their talents and ambitions, will the free market society – and its economy – function optimally. But in the west, the presently prevailing neo-liberal ideology has broadened the gap between poor and rich. In India, the fragmented character of Hinduism and the caste system keeps hampering equality. In China the state-managed model of capitalism is a key obstacle: most large companies still are state-owned, which hampers the natural growth of privately-owned enterprises.

May we expect the wind of change and freedom to undermine the permafrost of old forms and thoughts worldwide? May we see the Arab spring as a beginning? The Muslim world is not the West. The revolting Egyptian Facebook youngsters may want western freedom and democracy and welfare. But they may also want to keep their sisters veiled and subordinate to men. They may want to remain Muslims and to keep the tribal fundaments of Muslim culture unchanged. In the West these old thoughts and forms have already been weakened by over 200 years of enlightenment, a more science-directed school-education, free distribution of all kinds of books, uncensored media and newspapers: all factors that furthered individualism instead of religious and tribal sentiments.

Today, it would take a worldwide disaster of a scope similar to the ancient Toba explosion to disrupt the progress of the free market economy. This progress is almost unstoppable because a free market economy matches human nature, a nature formed in millions of gatherer-hunter-equality and freedom. The happiness of ‘the lost paradise’ has survived only among the last few surviving gatherer-hunter-populations, but the craving for such a happiness survives in us all. The not-yet-perfect free market economy in the west has already made people more happy than their grandparents before, and it is the smell of this happiness that lures young people in the Arabic world.

As we said at the end of the previous chapter, the new self-image – first spread by the television and today even more by the interactive possibilities of internet – is lacking something. Our happy gathering and hunting ancestors experienced their language-world in the creation story they sung and danced around the campfire, as the San people still do today. The essence of this experience is the religious feeling that in some form is part of everybody’s mentality. In the five thousand years of forced civilization, this feeling was used by elites imposing a monotheistic collectivism. The free market freed consumers from this ideological suppression, but it did not give them a new creation story to replace the lost one.

Since the 1960s our western free market economy prevailed without a basic story that could give people a new motivation and direction. Older generations still clung to the old Christian Story, but in the 1980s that common Story was no longer strong and widely shared enough to support the social responsibility of business men. Bankers began to use money that originally was intended for productive investments, for competitive schemes. Due to their political clout, some of them were able to mislead both governments and voters with a neoliberal ideology, until after a few decades their Ponzi schemes exploded – as illustrated by the disastrous Madoff affair[1]. We already mentioned the maxim “greed is good”, the effects of this ideology on neo-liberalism, and the collapse of the financial system in 2008. A fundamental cause of that crash was the lack of a basic story guiding common human behavior.

The ill effects of a weak or missing Story are visible not just in the banking world, but on all levels of Western society. A similar example is the rise of petty street crimes[2] in our cities, which in spite of increasing police efforts has also been on the rise since the 1980s. Other examples of nihilism may be found in the rise of public hooliganism (for example by bands of football supporters), or the rising tendency among public officials in some countries to accept bribes or even manipulate democratic elections. All this is behavior that is connected with something like a moral black hole: the void that has been left by weakening monotheism, and that is begging for some proper replacement.

Chanting hippies

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In the industrializing Western societies, since the early 1900s a growing number of citizens have already been trying to fill that gap on an individual, spiritual, semi-religious level: for example by seeking inspiration and meaningfulness in Eastern mysticism. Around 1900 Buddhism was the latest fashion, in the New Age movement of around 1970 it was Hare Krishna. However, such fashionable and often rather elitist endeavors did little to reach the masses, let alone to really establish a common and morally inspiring vision on humanity. Perhaps such spiritual trends were functional as an answer to some need of escapism, in the same way as participating in a football fan club – for many football fans, this can also serve as a kind of pseudo-religion.

By opening new information channels and breaking old information monopolies, the market economy freed the Western people from … the monotheistic belief. There has always been a relation between the dominant economy and what people believe. In the long time of hunter-gatherers we had a totemistic belief, where people perceive themselves as part of- and originated from the animal world. In Neolithic times we had an animistic belief, where people perceive the world around them as animated: a spirited whole from which their own lives depend. In hierarchically organized societies we had a monotheistic belief, where people perceive the world (and themselves) as created by a single God who governs everything.

In a free market society all such old forms and thoughts fade away. In itself, this can only be seen as a positive development. However, this development had one important negative side effect: which is that we, today’s consumers, now miss the values, shared identification opportunities, and social cohesion that used to be provided by the old common beliefs. Therefore each of us tends to act exclusively in his own interest, with (as we already illustrated) socially negative effects. These negative effects will only worsen if we fail to establish some kind of new, common belief.


[1] Madoff had been put in jail for the rest of his life in 2009

[2] A judge asked a young criminal on the court: why do you these things? The answer was: why not?

35. The power of human cooperation

 

We, authors, assume that such a common new belief can easily be found because we all have in common that we are human beings, with the same origin story and the same desire for happiness. We ought to share a belief in the power of humanity, based on the power of names for the things, the power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The free market economy is slowly globalizing and will hopefully free more and more people. This process will progress more smoothly with the presenting of a story that, in the end, will have the power to replace old, restrictive religious views.

The idea that we will try to offer here, may be seen as an advanced form of the utilitarism of Jeremy Beckham and John Stuart Mill – based on their maxim the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people – advanced by means of the progress of the sciences and humanities in our free market society.

As for the greed characterizing today’s free market society, is that also good as a propelling mechanism, furthering the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? For our actual neo-liberal market economy, the goodness of greed (introduced by the 1987 movie Wall Street) was propagated as a leading principle by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966). After the worldwide collapse of the financial system, Rand’s disciple Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve System (FED), declared "It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously" and he suggested that financial markets need to be better regulated.[1]

We already defined human nature as a ‘three-stage rocket’ propelled by (1) selfishness, (2) group sentiment and (3) our inclination to harmony. We emphasized that all three inclinations are still active in each of us, dependent from the circumstances. We stressed that the third inclination (to harmony) has always been strong as a result of natural selection, serving survival in harsh environments. Tendency to harmony is good.

Our authors’ vision about the role of greed is that when humans miss a common basic story, this negatively affects our tendency to feel common responsibility (stages 2 and 3 of the rocket). Thus, everybody regresses to the first-stage drive of human nature: selfishness – which implies greed. But for human happiness we need the third-stage drive: striving for harmony.

The fading away of the old Christian basic story that used to define our humanity made consumers feel free. But the omission of our philosophers in seeing the resulting gap and in providing us with a new and better basic story made many people selfish, unconcerned and socially unresponsive. The lack of a beacon in the form of a common Story tended to make parents more hedonistic and less responsible, without setting adequate limits for their children and without setting an example in keeping harmony. Whole generations of youngsters are now growing up without a basic story that might give meaning and sense to their life, and without involvement in the common good. Today, we reap the bitter fruits of living decennia without an effective basic story.

We can overcome this oppressing situation by calling attention for a new basic story, that is in fact waiting to be picked up. How to spread the word: that is our challenge for now. With this book we want to promote not just a motivating universal belief in our common future: we also want to promote the promoting of it.


[1] presenting the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report in July, 2002

36. Promoting the new Story for Mankind

 

We have to face three main questions. To summarize:

The first question is why we do need such a new Story. As we tried to point out above, our free market society needs such a new base for shaping human identity and morality, one that can replace the waning old religious creation stories.

The second main question is what, if indeed we do need such a new Story, should be its content. We think that content should focus on a new, coherent, multidisciplinary sciences-based vision of human history since our emergence from ape-hood: the history we tried to outline in the first part of this book. We need not repeat that here.

The third main question is of course: given (1) we see the need for such a Story, and (2) we manage to assemble a meaningful and inspiring content for our new common Story, then (3) how should we proceed to spread it around the world, without forcing it onto people as the old religious institutions tended to do? How can we make sure that gradually, maybe slowly but nevertheless surely, it is accepted and embraced by socially responsible leaders as our new shared source of inspiration, identity, morality and social responsibility?

In our vision, developing, reconstructing and corroborating the material for this content needs to be formally established and permanently coordinated as a joint effort by all the leading universities and research institutes worldwide. Ideally, such an effort ought to be organized under auspices of, and initiated by UNESCO.

In fact, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Rights already hinted at the root of our new common Story, albeit in general terms. Its Preambule begins with: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the worldThe Dutch philosopher Bernard Delfgaauw (1993) interpreted this text as: every person’s humanity requires recognizing and protecting his inherent dignity. This dignity is an essential aspect of our human identity. In the scientific, religious and political context of 1948 it was not yet possible to work out more exactly what might be the basis for this human dignity and identity. But in the meantime, this may have become a little less difficult. Why?

Since then, the scientific situation has improved greatly: increased prosperity led to better funding which intensified valuable field research in disciplines such as archeology, paleoanthropology and ethology. Tremendous technical advances in research instruments and methods brought results within reach that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Thus, our factual knowledge about human history increased considerably and continues to increase rapidly.

As for the religious situation, there were major changes since 1948 as well: in their defensive struggle with rising consumer individualism and freely accessible TV and internet information, religious institutions have begun to lose (or loosen) their formerly suffocating grip on people’s minds. Thinking became more free in various parts of the world and will inevitably continue to do so because the multiplying daily-life consequences of spreading free market opportunities are, quite simply and obviously, irreversible. Veiled Muslim women are desiring (and buying) French designer bags today. Even the most radical American TV evangelists or the fiercest Iranian ayatollahs are all, in the long run, fighting a lost battle.

Only the political situation may be more problematic now than it was in 1948. Perhaps our assessment should be that just like individual consumers have become more independent and self-conscious, in some ways countries, cultures and political movements have become more independent and self-conscious as well – especially outside the Western part of the world. For example, since 1948 most colonies have become politically independent countries and thus more active in demonstrating their own identity. In 1990 Muslim countries such as Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia launched their own alternative Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, based on the Shariah. An openly secular UNESCO project could certainly expect heavy and well-organized political opposition from the Muslim world. Maybe such an official UNESCO project would, for the time being, be feasible in an ideal world only.

This does not mean we should give up on the idea. It does mean however, that the propagation of a new, non-religious, both scientifically founded and morally inspiring Story of Mankind should be planned carefully. This propagation should be effectuated by a series of small tactical steps, avoiding the counterproductive error of trying to do too much at once. The latter would only generate religious and conservative resistance that otherwise may be addressed more easily.

Of course we are not so naïve as to believe that religious-political resistance from various parts of the world will be avoidable – on the contrary, we expect such resistance to be very strong, fierce and emotional. Such strong reactions might actually be a good thing, as indignation and protests from conservative religious backgrounds may help to further public discussion and thus increase publicity and public awareness of the matter.

So let us try now to outline a hypothetical – indicative, nothing more – scenario in the tangible form of a possible ten-year time line. We hope, if you will allow us a little joke, that you will not confuse this proposal with something in the order of the infamous Ten Year Plans in Stalin’s Soviet Russia: of course we mean something entirely different here. And of course we are aware that even the best planning will always need to be changed because of the harsh and unforeseeable reality.

Year one: This very booklet is intended as the first little step. We hope it may help convince some thinkers of the desirability and feasibility of a New Story project, inciting them to write some articles, reviews or reactions pleading for a more coordinated effort to further discuss it. This may draw a substantial number of other thinkers into a public discussion.

Year two: We hope this discussion might evolve into a kind of action group, informal at first – for example in the form of an internet forum – but gradually taking shape as a more organized group, with some kind of presidium and formal membership. The first concrete goal of this society could be to organize a congress or convention, where the society would decide on its own structure, name, goal and action plan.

Note: for the next years we assume that the actual course of events would follow from such a society’s democratically agreed decisions. But in order to concretize a potential scenario, we will just fill in those next years in a hypothetical way here.

Year three: *** At this point the authors of this booklet disagree about the character of the humanosophic project, being a plea for a new basic story for mankind. The disagreement is not ideological, it emanates from a different scientific attitude. Dr. Henk Van Setten is a scientist (historian) and Frans Couwenbergh is a portraitist, be it with academic background. We agree that the free market society and its democracy, as well as the people who lost their old basic story and the youngsters who grew up without such a common narrative, need a new basic story. We agree that this new story for mankind has to be scientifically based. We disagree in the character: is it a beliefs project in the first place or is it a scientific project?

In my view it is a beliefs project. The project has to bring a new belief: in the power of mankind, the human power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The base of this belief is the story of how we have become humans from apes: the story we told in the foregoing chapters. From the very beginning the basic stories – creation stories – were mythic. They did their unifying work without any science. Still today, in many societies the monotheistic and other basic stories function without any science. In the Western societies, the monotheistic basic story loosens it’s unifying potential, not because its unscientific content but because monotheism is collectivistic: an oddness that is incompatible with the ruling free market economy that needs free consumers.

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The new story for mankind will, in my view, derive its power on its completeness, it’s explaining , its answers on the Big Questions. Being as scientific based as possible is helpful, but not essential. Essential is it’s being there. Not as a Book, but as a never ending project. The new basic story is meant for the young people such as on the photo as well as for their addressees: both live without something: a basic story.

The project as I see it is: a broadly respected institution such as the UNESCO presents the project and appoints a small group of science writers to manage the project. The team emits a body narrative. The whole scientific world is invited to comment this body narrative. In three years the team has to process the comments as well as possible in the ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story. In the next three years the new comments have to be processed in the second ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story, and so it will be a never ending project, growing along with the science.

For co-author Henk van Setten, my approach is too amateurish. For him it has to become a scientific undertaking in the first place. Not the work of science writers and philosophers but of scientists. It has to result in a 500 pages volume, perfectly underpinned and provided with footnotes. Only after this standard is accomplished, the new basic Story can start functioning as a kind of scientifically based and universally acceptable Bible.

For me, the scientific component is less important than the psychological component. Mankind never in his history needed scientific underpinning of the center of its linguistical world: the creation story of it. Even the patriarchic Adam-and-Eve-story functioned two millennia without any scientific underpinning. In a free market world, wherein sciences are available, a new common origin story has to be scientifically underpinned, but it is not its most important aspect. To accomplish the new story for mankind as a scientific project, aiming a standard work, could take a hopeless quantum of years because of the different insights and viewpoints. When it comes to a standard work in the end, it will only add a volume in one’s book case, such as the magnificent The human past, edited by Chris Scarre (Thames and Hudson, 2005, 781 pages) [1], € 42,50.
And the effect of all this scientific labor? In my view this approach misses the democratic impact and involvement, it misses the agitation, the commotion, the turmoil, that awakens the attention of the people worldwide. The pure scientific approach also misses the never-ending-character.

But I surmise that our dispute will equally occupy the intended convention. So let us await the conclusion of the majority.

Based on the social and academic weight of the action group and its individual representatives – we hope of course to enlist influential members from different scientific and cultural backgrounds – the convention might outline the general scope, components, goals and priorities of an international multidisciplinary research project aiming at filling the most acute gaps in our knowledge and compiling a broad “story of mankind” based on all kinds of scientific contributions. In other words, building a more or less complete overview of how humans came to exist: like what we tried to outline in the first chapters of this booklet, only much better detailed, better referenced, conforming to high academic standards.


[1] “the most authoritative introduction to social, cultural, and economic developments in human prehistory. Using a regional and chronological framework, this groundbreaking book highlights the enormous diversity of human experience and the ways in which archaeologists are able to learn about it.”

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