Friday, May 29, 2015

What On Earth Happened To All Our Ancient Tribal Methods? We Don't Practice Enough To Find What Scales.

   (Commentary posted by Roger Erickson)
Humans have been coordinating on a truly massive scale, for tens of thousands of years ..... without computers, without convertible currency systems, without pencil and paper, and even without agriculture.

How? By constant practice.

And along the way, incredibly useful methods were invented, and practiced, including methods for conflict mediation, among many other applications. Those many tribal methods don't all scale, unadjusted, to fit our current, supra-tribal population densities & mixing rates, but most are necessary but not sufficient steps to practice, while constantly discovering how to organize on an ever greater scale.
Yet here we are today, with nearly everyone acting as though all those finely tuned tribal coordination methods never existed, and that coordinating is a totally new invention. :(
The Theology of Consensus

For Pete's sake! Have we thrown out our cultural methods with the bathwater, not just the baby? Most neighbors today don't even know how to co-run a neighborhood meeting anymore, let alone scale up a supra-tribal democracy. They never get enough practice.

Theologists of all stripes (including the economic theologists) mean well, but they have no prior experience, and near zero practice. Heck, even car salesmen have a personal theology, made up on the spot. That doesn't mean their theology works for their aggregate. Only feedback from group practice determines what does & doesn't work.

Many biologists & anthropologists & ecologists (& other natural scientists) lament the lack of effort to select more critically from our endless list of theologies (and other aggregate habits). Natural selection is eventually coming, of course. We're just not practicing how best to respond, once the hour strikes, or at least not paying much attention to how things are going.

Would we be instantly far better off if we swapped all banksters and orthodox economists for anthropologists and "primitive" tribal leaders? I'd sure vote to give it a try. At least the latter 2 groups have lots of practice and experience at something other than looting and bamboozling.


Tom Hickey said...

See Marx's socio-economic theory of alienation (Entfremdung)

Many think of Marx as chiefly an economist, but he was a primarily philosopher working in social and political theory and one of the foremost forerunners of sociology as a social science. His doctorate was in philosophy and he wrote his dissertation on Greek thought.

Marx's theory of alienation explains why humans have become alienated from their nature, which is to be free. Tribes successfully progressed from the natural freedom of animals to the organized freedom of life in tribes living at more or less a subsistence level.

But as soon as technological advances made surpluses possible, then the issue of dividing the surplus arose and with it social stratification (class structure), asymmetrical power (politics and eventually states) and asymmetrical distribution (slavery, feudalism, and then capitalism).

From these distinctions, social, political and economic differences arose that resulted in some being alienated, and if some are alienated then all are because it takes equal relationships in which others are recognized as equivalent in nature for freedom to be social, which is a requirement for a free society.

In this view, which Hegel initially developed, there is no individual human freedom. Individual freedom is the natural freedom of animals under the laws of nature (law of the jungle). The chief difference between humans and animals is their social nature. The ancient Greeks defined human being as not only rational (anthropos logikos) but also social (anthropos politikos). Logos signifies not only reason in the modern sense but also capable of ordering, that is, organizing. Politikos is from the same root as polis (city state) and signifies what we would now call "civil life" or "civilized."

Hegel viewed the Prussian state as the accomplishment of this, but Marx disagreed because alienation — which is really a Hegelian notion that Hegel developed in Phenomenology of Spirit (Mind) — German Phänomenologie des Geistes.

This is quite different from the British view of liberalism based on the individualism of Locke and Mill that subsequently influenced American political thinkers. This view was transferred to economics through Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham.

As a result European political theory developed along the lines of social democracy and socialism, whereas British and American political theory developed along the lines of classical liberalism that emphasized individualism.

Roger Erickson said...

I still think that most tribal denizens would laugh at Marx, Tom.

Not for the specifics of what he & all philosophers since have said ... but merely for so much TALK about possible options & possible solutions ... instead of just getting on with the pragmatic practice of discovering what does/doesn't work at each new scale .... by PRACTICING more, every day.

Theory & experimental feedback are yin & yang. As soon as we do too much of either in isolation, then we fly off on an irrelevant tangent.

Matt Franko said...

Their libertarian ideologies prevent them from practicing Roger as any alternative approach to be put into practice would be less libertarian. .

libertarians are anti-social by definition. .. they see themselves as a tribe of one and every body else can go f themselves. ...

Kristjan said...

Sorry to interrupt, I found this MMT critique, again stating that free float is a minority pursuit.

This is interesting: "Fixed exchange rates are also helpful should the government be seeking to borrow abroad. It might chose to do this because the supply of domestic savings is simply too small, and there could be crowding out effects within a small developing economy. As it is, many of the smaller countries are still not regarded as being of investment grade, even with a fixed exchange rate regime."


Tom Hickey said...

Denizens of tribal systems didn't have to contend with what Marx and we are contending with. It's interesting to see what surviving Stone Age tribes say about us, as well as to read studies on their social organization. They didn't have unemployment, money, markets, wage labor, profits, rents, and all the things that Marx lists as leading to alienation. In psychology, alienation is one of the chief factors in mental disorders. In Civilization and Its DiscontentsCivilization and Its Discontents, Freud opined that it could kill us off as a species, especially as society becomes more mechanized and less human.

Comes down to division of the surplus. In terms of economics, its is chiefly a distributional issue rather than either production (supply, neoclassical) or consumption (demand, Keynesian). In the Marxian view, there is no viable long term solution without addressing distribution, which means how the surplus is divided socially and politically. Therefore, the solution is not so much an economic issue as a social and political one involving socio-economic infrastructure of society.

Not that I agree completely with either Marx or Freud but their insights are pieces of a largely puzzle that I explored in grad school and wrote a mater's thesis on. It was entitle Revolution or Evolution: Toward a Theory of Social Change. People like Marx and Freud point to the challenge of modern society. My conclusion was that the solution was based on raising the level of collective consciousness.

The most appropriate model of personal and social transformation is not necessarily linear but rather spiraling upward in a cone, returning to explore previous types of experience at a more expanded level. The point at the bottom of the cone is the natural freedom of animals and the spirals are the record of the quest for transforming the natural freedom in individuals in nature to natural but self-organized freedom of society. The basis of this expanding cognitive awareness of universality and affective awareness of love.

Tom Hickey said...

@ Kristjan

Thanks. Promoted to a post.

MRW said...


Michael Hudson and his Harvard colloquium just published a book about this. He explains the colloquium and how there have been so many advances in ancient anthropology, archeology, and ancient languages during the last decade--including Gobekli Tepe--that they had to wait ten years to come out with the book, "Labor in the Ancient World." (Published last month.)

You can listen to an interview about it here.

One Hudson treat: the Pyramids weren't built with slaves. They found the invoices and payments. They were built with highly-skilled labor. And they attracted them from all over the occupied world on that side of the pond then with beer parties and a lot of meat. It was how the great public works were built.

Matt Franko said...

MRW thanks for that....

one of the things in the Hebrew scriptures that id say most get wrong is the Israelites in Egypt and that they were slaves... (perhaps "wage slaves" if you are an illogical person and use that oxymoron ...)

When Pharaoh told Joseph to invite his family over there were 75 that came over, when they left they numbered like 425k iirc adult males... so probably 1M+....

So they went from 75 to 1M not too shabby.. but then when they were to up and leave that created some angst for sure... perhaps collapsed the economy .. rsp

Roger Erickson said...

Tom, MRW,
Yes, the book on the history of labor may help, but it won't be a surprise to members of the last remnants of existing tribal cultures (ps: few tribes actually retain much culture, but some do).

What I was trying to drive home is that all the theorizing in the world won't help, without an accompanying whole-aggregate body of practice to constantly fine tune cultural-circuits & outcomes.

Same issue as reading endless books about riding a bike. It won't help until you actually train your nervous system to rewire itself to support the specific reflex speeds needed, by actual practice.

Ditto for supra-tribal cultures. Without full employment AND full-scale exploration of emerging aggregate options .... we'll "fall off the aggregate bike" a lot just when we finally need to ride it. It won't be as pretty as it could be, which is always a shame, just on a massive scale.

We need social practice on a massive scale in order to "rewire" needed, constantly emerging bureaucratic circuits to meet emerging options, and base demands.

Fully invested tribal members learn this explicitly, as do teammates to some degree, in various smaller & more transient team efforts, from sports to militaries. That's why I say that tribal members would agree fully with writers from Marx to Hudson, but still laugh at their naivete at missing the practical point of practice.

Belonging to some aggregate that actually practices evokes basic longings, ergo the allure of gang membership. Why not cultural MEMBERSHIP in a form that matters? We need platforms and challenges worthy of our cooperative urge for team & cultural success.

It's back to the "growth-spurt" analogy I harp on.

Adolescents going through a growth spurt HAVE to get clumsier before they can regain and augment agility. Ditto for aggregates going through continuous growth. Human culture's are ALWAYS in the midst of getting clumsier AS they constantly reinvent new ways to regain and augment cultural agility. Organizing a growing population is the most difficult task known. Only humans can do what we've done ... yet we create our own danger as fast as we create aggregate options.

For both cases however, successful growth of adolescent humans or evolving human cultures, agility (and survival) increases ONLY if adequate levels of practice are kept up.

To biologists and anthropologists, that's the far bigger point to make about full and challenging employment. An unemployed electorate is a stagnating culture, not an optimally adapting one.

A human ghetto is close to cultural gangrene. And it's plain stupid, since it's entirely voluntary on the part of the aggregate (akin to a human eating himself to death, until, somewhere past 800 lbs his extremities rot & the consequences kill him).

Writing this, or whole books, is just step one (personal practice, at recruiting). If we don't generate productive aggregate practice on an adequately massive scale ... soon enough ... we're facing severe cultural loss (equivalent of having to cut off gangrenous toes or whole limbs). It's always a shame. We can do better.

Tom Hickey said...

Agree, Roger. For me as an educator, the issue is education in the broadest sense of leading from within to explore full potential as an individual with a unique constitution, a member of society, and a human being. We know biologically that this needs to start from right pregnancy, and even before with healthy parents, to give every person the fullest opportunity. This is arguably THE purpose of society. Everything else is peripheral and will take care of itself to the degree that this is accomplished.

MRW said...

I heard an Interview with Dr. Norman Doidge on CBC about five years ago while I was traveling. Doidge wrote, The Brain That Changes Itself. He said that neuroscience research since the early Aughts had discovered something that the neuroscientists never expected.

Throughout the 20th C everyone thought that the brain was the determinant of thought and therefore action. In other words, the brain ruled.

What the latest neuroscience proved (also?), instead, was that behavior determines the culture, and culture rewires the brain. Only needs six months to take effect.

Gives new meaning and importance, IMO, to the idea of watchfulness and awareness. The Nip-It-In-The-Bud reaction on a societal level. Self-awareness on the individual level.

MRW said...


You might be interested in this 1999 Ha'aretz magazine article:

Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho By Ze'ev Herzog. Copy retained here. This article ignited flames among the biblical archeologists at the time, both Christian and Jewish, who rushed to protect their respective flanks but the archeological digs were hard to refute.

Herzog, according to Wikipedia, is an "Israeli archeologist, professor of archaeology at The Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University specializing in social archaeology, ancient architecture and field archaeology. Ze’ev Herzog has been the director of The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology since 2005, and serves as archaeological advisor to the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority in the preservation and development of National Parks at Arad and Beer Sheba.

Herzog took part in the excavations of Tel Hazor and Tel Megiddo with Yigael Yadin and in excavations at Tel Arad and Tel Be'er Sheva with Yohanan Aharoni. He directed the excavations at Tel Beer Sheba, Tel Michal and Tel Gerisa and in 1997 began a new exploration project at Tel Yafo (ancient Jaffa).

Herzog is among archaeologists who say that “biblical archaeology is not anymore the ruling paradigm in archaeology and that archaeology became an independent discipline with its own conclusions and own observations which indeed present us a picture of a reality of ancient Israel quite different from the one which is described in the biblical stories.”[1]

Roger Erickson said...

re: "The Brain That Changes Itself"

that's pretty old hat;
animal trainers knew that implicitly thousands of years ago, (as did parents :) )

But yes, experience shapes CNS development & continuance ... that's been documented out the ying yang since the 1960s, if not before.

Roger Erickson said...

MRW, Matt - Worldwide response to hardline Israeli policies continues to grow

Tom Hickey said...

The brain is hardware. It comes with only very basic software, enough to survive alone but not enough to raise a human being to the social level without human interaction, as the discovery of feral children shows.

Roger Erickson said...

Exactly, Tom.

ps: MRW, Matt

the "exodus" never happened; at least not at any referenceable scale

original reference for the article MRW mentionend

The Bible. There is no evidence on the ground (original)
(automatic translation from Hebrew)'ev_Herzog

Matt Franko said...

M and Roger if you read the Hebrew scriptures it tells a different story than what is often portrayed in the popular media/cinema. ..

I just recently watched the 'Exodus' movie with Christian Bale on ppv and it left out many important details imo and took some license for sure... never watched the 'Noah' movie with Russell Crowe after I read a review sounded way out there....

Imo God's dealings with Israel was another in a series of demonstrative failures. That one being "here, let Me just take you aside and write some things down for you..." obviously didn't work...

Garden of Eden: Fail

Way of Cain post Garden of Eden: Fail

Post flood surplus society: Fail

Taking Israel aside and writing some specific things down for their benefit: Fail

Now we (mankind) are under His grace (favor) and imo we're going to eventually figure this out properly ie what we really have right now and what good we can do with it... .. when we do it will usher in a new era where we will be taught and receive a better understanding of just authority ... but it looks like that too will eventually fail...


Tom Hickey said...

Now we (mankind) are under His grace (favor) and imo we're going to eventually figure this out properly ie what we really have right now and what good we can do with it... .. when we do it will usher in a new era where we will be taught and receive a better understanding of just authority ... but it looks like that too will eventually fail...

Meher Baba, The Universal Message and The New Humanity.

Serge_Tomiko said...

Civilization and its discontents? Pure 68r Marxism?

Bro, it's 2015. I know you cats don't believe in genetics, but that's why you will be forgotten.

You boomers are nuts. The world flatly contradicts all of your beliefs (freud? you pervert!), yet you're still stuck in this solipsistic worldview...

Roger Erickson said...

Admittedly, this conversation started from a perspective on (hidden) genetics, culture & autocatalysis ... and some veered off into religion.

Yet blanket labeling everyone past a certain age a solipsist isn't improving the quality of discussion.

The only rational thing to do is make a suggestion. Do you have something illuminating to add?