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Is a normative society a modern occurrence?

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When one learns about history one get the impression that norms used to be much stricter. That throughout history every person was expected behave and be in a certain way based on categories such as gender or class. But that can't always have been the case. These variations from norms must have been useful to us as humans, otherwise evolution would have sorted them away. So when did we as a society invent this norm about how everyone should be the same? Was it when we went from smaller bands of hunter and gatherers to living in larger groups? Was it a cultural form of natural selection were groups who had rigid codes of behavior for some reason did better than those who didn't? Is it for similar reasons that pretty much every large society has been patriarchal?

I find these kind of questions interesting and perhaps if they could be answered it would help us know how to create an actual equal society.

 

 

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Hmm. I've wondered about the extent to which authoritarian ethics coincided with the emergence of agriculture and the attendant systems of centralized government (and institutions in general) which are characterized by rigid organisational hierarchies. It makes sense to me (on the grounds of self-perpetuation alone) that those institutions would be saying something akin to "look, you people basically don't know what's good for you, you need us to tell you that; left to your own devices and intrinsic drives you'll just behave like the base and wicked creatures you naturally are. Let us be your moral guides and set your norms and practices for you." That way the material authority and the moral authority of the "authorities" both come to be normalised; each is seen as equally unchallangeable and derives mutual support from the other. And morality then becomes alienated from individual people; they learn not to trust their own hearts and that instead moral legitimacy has to derive from an external source. Which, as I said, is convenient for the external sources!

 

Another factor is that I guess it's harder for people to vote with their feet in an agricultural/sedentary society vs. a nomadic hunter-gatherer society. So authoritarian practices with rigid cultural norms could become easier to establish and harder to dislodge.

 

It sounds a bit weird to say this, maybe, but in some ways we may have less freedoms today than we've ever had (I know that we're used to thinking the opposite). Options to exist outside of the dominant system of political economy, or even on the fringes of it, seem more limited today than at various points in the past. In ancient India, say, there was a tradition of wandering monastics and it was accepted that "dropping out" of the wider society was a valid choice some people would feel compelled to make - and one that the wider society itself would support. Or, at least, I have heard that said. In 19th century America, Thoreau could go build his cabin in the woods. These days though? Somebody else would already own the land. How would he even get the planning permission? xD

 

You might like David Graeber @Holmbo. If you enjoy thinking about these sorts of things, that is :) 

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9 hours ago, Holmbo said:

Is it for similar reasons that pretty much every large society has been patriarchal?

 

John Stuart Mill gives an explanation of this that I find quite plausible in The Subjection of Women :

 

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The adoption of this system of inequality [patriarchy] never was the result of deliberation, or forethought, or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what would be best for humanity or the good order of society. It arose simply from the fact that from the dawn of human society every woman was in a state of bondage to some man, because 1) she was of value to him and 2) she had less muscular strength than he did.

 

Laws and political systems always begin by recognising the relations they find already existing between individuals, converting a mere physical fact into a legal right, giving it the sanction of society; their main aim is to replace the assertion and protection of these rights by irregular and lawless conflict of physical strength by the assertion and protection of these same rights by public and organised means. In this way, those who had already been compelled to obey became legally bound to obey.

 

(although I don't know if what he says about "every woman" is strictly true, from a modern anthropological perspective)

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On 2016-12-03 at 8:22 PM, NullVector said:

 

 

John Stuart Mill gives an explanation of this that I find quite plausible in The Subjection of Women :

"The adoption of this system of inequality [patriarchy] never was the result of deliberation, or forethought, or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what would be best for humanity or the good order of society. It arose simply from the fact that from the dawn of human society every woman was in a state of bondage to some man, because 1) she was of value to him and 2) she had less muscular strength than he did.

 

Laws and political systems always begin by recognising the relations they find already existing between individuals, converting a mere physical fact into a legal right, giving it the sanction of society; their main aim is to replace the assertion and protection of these rights by irregular and lawless conflict of physical strength by the assertion and protection of these same rights by public and organised means. In this way, those who had already been compelled to obey became legally bound to obey."

 

(although I don't know if what he says about "every woman" is strictly true, from a modern anthropological perspective)

 

I've seen similar arguments for it but it doesn't seem like enough. It would be a huge disadvantage to females if they were not able to pick the male whose genes they wanted for the children they'd carry. Evolution (cultural or genetic) should have benefited those women who joined together with other women to protect their freedom of choice.

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That does make sense. Although, I suppose that if a man had the strength and/or social standing to prevent other men from taking 'his' women, then that could be considered a fairly reliable demonstration of his genetic 'fitness' - and maybe make active selection by women of less evolutionary relevance?

 

But now I've wandered deep into the territory of unfounded speculation and ignorance! I think we would need a committee of anthropologists and ethologists to settle this one! xD

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I have to say, I don't really know anything much (though I have my own unfounded theories - it's just difficult putting them into words; I over think and go down pretty much every rabbit hole that presents itself to me!) but I find this stuff really fascinating.

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2 hours ago, NullVector said:

That does make sense. Although, I suppose that if a man had the strength and/or social standing to prevent other men from taking 'his' women, then that could be considered a fairly reliable demonstration of his genetic 'fitness' - and maybe make active selection by women of less evolutionary relevance?

 

But now I've wandered deep into the territory of unfounded speculation and ignorance! I think we would need a committee of anthropologists and ethologists to settle this one! xD


yes :D Who here is an anthropologist? It's bad diversity if we don't have any. 

 

I read a study at one time about how you could tell from the size of the male sex organ that humans evolved to be monogamous. Because other animals who are monogamous have similar ratio between sex organ and whole body size. While animals were the male has many females or the female has many males have very different ratios.

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This sounds like it could be an interesting read : https://www.amazon.com/dp/0061707805

 

Here's a shorter article, by one of the authors, on Bonobos : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-dawn/201202/7-things-bonobos-can-teach-us-about-love-and-sex

 

(I sort of had Bonobos in the back of my mind when I referenced ethologists before, in reply to your comment on "women who joined together with other women to protect their freedom of choice". Bonobos are somewhat of a matriarchal society, apparently. I was thinking that it could be interesting to look at how other intelligent, social species orchestrate group social and sexual dynamics e.g. chimpanzees, bonobos, dolphins - all quite differently, I'd imagine...)

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19 hours ago, NullVector said:

This sounds like it could be an interesting read : https://www.amazon.com/dp/0061707805

 

Here's a shorter article, by one of the authors, on Bonobos : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-dawn/201202/7-things-bonobos-can-teach-us-about-love-and-sex

 

(I sort of had Bonobos in the back of my mind when I referenced ethologists before, in reply to your comment on "women who joined together with other women to protect their freedom of choice". Bonobos are somewhat of a matriarchal society, apparently. I was thinking that it could be interesting to look at how other intelligent, social species orchestrate group social and sexual dynamics e.g. chimpanzees, bonobos, dolphins - all quite differently, I'd imagine...)

 

Hmm that book does grab my interest.

I was kinda thinking about Bonobos too. And the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. He doesn't really write about gender but he had one small part of the book were he went over the standard argument of men are more agresive and therefore has been able to place themselves in charge.

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My guess is when we started living in large communities. In a small community, you can learn everyone's quirks and figure out how to handle each other, and you don't expect normal behavior from someone who you know won't act that way. As soon as our communities got too big for us to personally know everyone else in the community, we had to figure out ways to guess at how to relate to them, based on stereotypes about people who look like they do.   

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I ended up reading the book Sex At Dawn that I mentioned earlier and decided to revive this thread! :D 

 

So, getting back to the original question(s) @Holmbo asked:

On 12/3/2016 at 9:56 AM, Holmbo said:

These variations from norms must have been useful to us as humans, otherwise evolution would have sorted them away. So when did we as a society invent this norm about how everyone should be the same? Was it when we went from smaller bands of hunter and gatherers to living in larger groups? Was it a cultural form of natural selection were groups who had rigid codes of behavior for some reason did better than those who didn't? Is it for similar reasons that pretty much every large society has been patriarchal?

 

One of the arguments that the authors of the book sketch out is that there is a transition from sexually promiscuous tribal group living with shared child-rearing to a monogamous (and generally patriarchal) 'nuclear family' structure. And that this change comes, to a large extent, out of the transition from a hunter-gather 'communistic' economic system to a private-property owning hierarchical agricultural economic system.

 

The evolutionary argument here is that, in a hunter-gatherer economy, a survival advantage can result from living arrangements whereby resources are pretty much shared throughout the group and children can rely upon multiple male (and female) providers for said resources. Resource and parent 'pooling' is a kind of insurance scheme. If you're a young-ish child living in a monogamous nuclear family context and your father dies in a hunting accident (say) then that is quite bad. But if you have many 'fathers' then it's not so bad (at least from a survival perspective). Hence we can expect hunter-gatherer societies to be much more relaxed about establishing paternity and, at a cultural level, they may even lack the concept of (single father) paternity entirely.

 

But agriculture will often change this attitude to paternity; because private property usually wouldn't be easily divisible and would have to be passed down to a single heir (usually male) to whom it would confer a sizable survival advantage (particularly in a deeply hierarchical society containing large disparities in accumulated material wealth - i.e. pretty much all 'civilized' societies throughout history). That introduces big evolutionary incentives to ensuring that any sole heir is your genetic offspring - and to developing cultural practices that assist with this - hence monogamy, marriage and the nuclear family become much more 'normative' in agricultural/private property owning societies (plus a load of other cultural baggage: e.g. 'sex-shaming' (of women in particular) and plenty of moralistic and/or religious associations of promiscuous sex with 'sin', etc.)

 

In terms of paternity certainty and patriarchy, I suppose we also have to remember that as modern people we're always reasoning with a modern scientific understanding of conception in the backs of our minds (one sperm from one man fertilizes one egg from one woman). But it's in no way obvious (without microscopes, etc.) that a child would be the genetic offspring of a single father - and so you wouldn't expect human cultural practices to be universally based upon that assumed understanding. Many tribes in the Amazon have a rather different theory of paternity!

 

Quote

 

Each of the societies we're about to discuss shares a belief in what scientists call "partible paternity". These groups share a novel conception: a fetus is made of accumulated semen.

Anthropologists Steven Beckerman and Paul Valentine explain, "Pregnancy is viewed as a matter of degree, not clearly distinguished from gestation... all sexually active women are a little pregnant. Over time... semen accumulates in the womb, a fetus is formed, further acts of intercourse follow, and additional semen causes the fetus to grow more." Were a woman to stop having sex when her periods stopped, people in these cultures believe the fetus would stop developing.

This understanding of how semen forms a child leads to some mighty interesting conclusions regarding "responsible" sexual behaviour. Like mothers everywhere, a woman from these societies is eager to give her child every possible advantage in life. To this end, she'll typically seek out sex with an assortment of men. She'll solicit "contributions" from the best hunters, the best storytellers, the funniest, the strongest, and so on - in the hopes that her child will literally absorb the essence of each.

 

 

It's also not the case that agricultural peoples are universally monogamous, patriarchal or even amatonormative. For example, they talk about the Mosuo people of China in chapter 9:

Quote

The Mosuo are a matrilineal, agricultural people, passing property and family name from mother to daughter(s), so the household revolves around the women. When a girl reaches maturity at about thirteen or fourteen, she receives  her own bedroom that opens both to the inner courtyard of the house and to the street through a private door. A Mosuo girl has complete autonomy as to who steps through this private door into her babahuago (flower room). The only strict rule is that her guest must be gone by sunrise. She can have a different lover the following night - or later that same night - if she chooses. There is no expectation of commitment, and any child she conceives is raised in her mother's house, with the help of the girl's brothers and the rest of the community.

 

 

And I absolutely loved this from the page before: :aropride: 

Quote

The Mosuo language has no word for husband or wife, preferring the word azhu, meaning "friend"

(although I might be reading too much into it!)

 

Anyway, food for thought! And I've not even really covered what they have to say about homo sapiens vs. the other great apes in terms of our anatomy and sexual practices (and how the two are linked).

I recommend the book. :) 

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That is interesting @NullVector
I was thinking about checking out the book but I saw a lot of negative reviews of it so it turned me of from it.

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55 minutes ago, Holmbo said:

I was thinking about checking out the book but I saw a lot of negative reviews of it so it turned me of from it

 

I guess it depends on why the negative reviews were negative. 

 

I don't spend my free time reading anthropology journals. It strikes me as entirely possible that the authors oversimplified arguments and/or misrepresented other researchers, through quoting them selectively, or out of context. If the negative reviews cite some evidence to substantiate that line of criticism, then fine (and I'd be interested to read them).

 

But if they read like this one. Well... 

Quote

For example, like a lot of evolutionary biology critiques, this one leans heavily on bonobos (at least so far).  Here's the thing:  humans aren't like bonobos. And do you know how I know that we are not like bonobos?  Because we're not like bonobos. There's no way observed human societies grew out of a species organized along the lines of a bonobo tribe.

We're not like bonobos because we're not like bonobos. There's no way. QED. :facepalm:

 

Negativity isn't always coming from a rational place, IME. Say you've spent your whole life playing by a certain set of rules (and for no other reason than because they were 'The Rules' - as far as you and normative society were concerned) Say, moreover, that you've largely based your sense of self-worth upon the extent to which you won 'The Game', as delimited by 'The Rules'. In that case, if something comes along encouraging you to fundamentally question 'The Rules' and indeed 'The Game'... Well, I've noticed that people often find that kind of thing threatening and can react quite emotionally to it (it's kind of a slap in the face - being told that you've wasted your life xD)

 

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I agree. The reason I listened to the reviews were not that they were negative but because they seemed to give an impression that the book was a bit lecturing and full of itself. Like "only this book dares to go so far with its conclusions about human sexuality". I also got the impression it was claiming to have found the one right way of human sexuality, when more likely there is no possible set up that is right for everyone. I'll probably still read it at some point. It just got pushed down my priority list. Combined with that my reading pad is broken so I'd have to order a physical copy instead of just buying and downloading it online.

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10 hours ago, Holmbo said:

The reason I listened to the reviews were not that they were negative but because they seemed to give an impression that the book was a bit lecturing and full of itself

Yeah, fair enough, it is a bit like that actually xD

As in, the writing style can be a bit strident, in a way that grates in places. It might annoy you! It didn't really bother me much, but I can see why it could lead somebody to write a review like that. IIRC, Chris Ryan even said he would tone it down a notch if he wrote it again...

10 hours ago, Holmbo said:

I also got the impression it was claiming to have found the one right way of human sexuality, when more likely there is no possible set up that is right for everyone

I didn't really get that impression. More that they were saying that long term monogamy isn't the one right way of human sexuality. Maybe they overcompensated here; but if so I mostly give them a pass, on the grounds that there is a lot of cultural pressure put on people to try and make long term monogamy work, even if it isn't a good fit for them (plus those that can make it work tend to be seen as more virtuous that those that can't - or don't want to - which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me).

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@NullVector

I've read most of Sex at Dawn now. I don't like the writing style but there's a lot of interesting content. My favorite so far is the description of how the penis and sperm is so geared for sperm competition between different males. Like how the head of the penis creates a vacum and when the guy pumps it back and forth he pumps out previous sperm.
That part about low fertility spreading (since women no longer mate with multiple men) was scary though. Made me think about The Handmaids Tale :o:D

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On 5/12/2017 at 6:28 AM, Holmbo said:

My favorite so far is the description of how the penis and sperm is so geared for sperm competition between different males. Like how the head of the penis creates a vacum and when the guy pumps it back and forth he pumps out previous sperm.

 

Yeah, that stuff is interesting! I drew on some of it here actually.

 

On 5/12/2017 at 6:28 AM, Holmbo said:

Made me think about The Handmaids Tale :o:D

 

You like Margaret Atwood too? Yay! I've read the MaddAddam trilogy recently and really enjoyed it  :) 

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On 2017-05-13 at 5:29 PM, NullVector said:

 

You like Margaret Atwood too? Yay! I've read the MaddAddam trilogy recently and really enjoyed it  :) 

I've only watched the HBO show so far but I will probably read the book after I've seen it all. I really like the show and I tend to prefer books to their adaptations so I'm pretty sure I'll like it.

Back to this thread. One thing that gives me pause about this kind of historical extrapolation is that they can only get us so far. For example the book claims that humans have evolved to have sex with many people whom they know intimate, not with strangers. So why do so many people enjoy sex with strangers? Is that unnatural then?
I think in the end all we can do is try to allow as much range in the norms as possible and let people explore what makes them happiest.

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