by Liam Scheff
As I write my new book, I’ll pause to sketch a short picture in black and white of what I’m finding in the piles of research I’m reading and listening to. The new book is about the myth of monogamy, why it’s detrimental, and what to do about it.
To understand these questions, I’ve been poring over the anthropological literature on sex, tribes and the development of culture over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. Here’s the short version. I’ll have more on the way soon, with some books and references for you to read…
It all began as we wandered.
We were foragers, and spent hundreds of thousands (or millions) of years gathering from the abundant land for our needs. This is the most deeply rooted part of our being.
It was hundreds of thousands of years before we developed agriculture in certain parts of the world. About 10,000 years ago, we did just that and altered our society, our mating patterns and our sense of identity with or against the natural world.
Around the same time, some tribes developed animal agriculture, or herding, in place of plant agriculture. They had the hardest lives, and the least ability to suffer a loss of their life-blood, which came in the form of cattle, which they valued above all else.
Look at the differences among these cultures, and ask yourself which culture most resembles yours. Which one would you prefer to live in?
1. Foraging Cultures (bands or tribes):
Traverse environment seasonally to procure food. Worship the goddess who brings and takes life; and the gods and goddesses she births. Low-conflict.
Loose coupling systems. Children born are all “of the tribe” and are taken care of by everyone. Individuals can mate with different partners over a lifetime. Prohibition against hitting or physically punishing children, who are considered immature and in a long learning phase of life.
Food sharing is the key principle; all that is gathered is shared so that everyone partakes (everyone has good, better and worse days, and it’s seen to even out).
Elderly are valued for being the most skilled at textile and tool-working.
Sharing and cooperation are the key issues in agricultural societies. They are egalitarian, loosely structured and communal.
2. Agricultural Cultures:
Work with varieties of high-producing plants to create food. Manage local land, water resources. Store grain and roots for dry and cold seasons. Develop priestly class to worship god, goddesses of harvest, grain, crops. Develop first large settlements, towns. Fortify these against raiding.
Develop concepts of personal property. “Wife” becomes second to “Husband” or houseowner. Children become property of husband. Male children are more valuable than female children. The elderly are more valued for tool-making skills and textiles, but less valuable in the hard work of agriculture.
Develop codes of conduct for interpersonal interaction. Tend to be monogamous or polygynous (many wives) or polyandrous (several husbands per wife), with large extended families, but the wealthy tend to be polygynous (many wives, and plenty of ‘affairs’ or lovers). The teaching and disciplining of children is structured and harder than foragers, but far less severe than herding cultures.
Wealth and poverty are key issues in agricultural societies. They are less egalitarian, more structured and strongly hierarchical.
3. Herding Cultures:
Drive animals across land. Slaughter them for food. Develop money based on heads (“capita”) of cattle. Engage in raiding and warfare to meet food needs.
Devalue and suppress women. Tend to be polygynous – many wives per husband. Reject Goddess culture. Worship war deity. Long list of sexual improprieties (mostly concerned with governing role of women and anti-homosexual). Corporal punishment (hitting, beating) for perceived “infractions.” Death penalty.
Children are property of men. Male children are valuable for work, women to trade for cattle in arranged marriages. Physical beating as “teaching” of children is normal. The elderly are less valued, unless they were once wealthy.
War and crime are key issues in herding cultures. They obsess over the sex lives and suspected sexual infractions of their members, whom they seek to control by constant reinforcement of top-down, male-dominated control.
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Life is always full of challenges, and none of the three cultural adaptations above was free of difficulties. But there is a marked increase in violence, aggression, control, fear and the devaluation of people in the herding culture versus the foraging and agricultural.
We live in a mixed inheritance – agricultural cultures invaded by and impacted by the herders. Beneath both is the ancient and long-lasting soul of our more egalitarian, more harmonious foraging root ancestry.
Understanding the passage through these three ways of being is instructive when analyzing the agricultural-herding world that we inhabit. We can see clearly where greed, control, violence, warfare, raiding, seizing, and suppression of compassion and affection (the feminine) in our culture has come from and what it has cost us. We can also see that another way of life existed, and is again possible.
Liam Scheff is author of “Official Stories,” drilling to the core of the gooey religious center of science. His new book on the myth of monogamy (and the cultural disaster it brings) will be out in winter of 2015.