Wednesday, May 11, 2011

System clash; spinning some thoughts

Franicis Fukuyama has written for decades as an expounder of neo-conservatism, though during the Bush debacles, he re-thought some of the conclusions that old-fashioned line of thought led to, with accompanying actions (aggression/invasion of Iraq). His reputation is that of an erudite political intellectual, an academy-based explorer of socio-politico-culturo-economo ideas. His latest book The Origins of Political Order  (I will use FF) grapples with the whole sweep of human history. (Though I want to say right at the start, not with the consciousness of a "history of humanity" that infuses J. Diamond's work.) He makes connections into non-human behaviors, and from there, offers thoughts about primate/hominid/early human(homo sapiens) organization. 

Continuing into the last 100 millennia, he writes about family, band, and tribal structures and how they bear on human's developing sense of ways to deal with the frictions and difficulties of a social animal. He spends time on Hobbes/Locke/Rousseau, and with the anthropologists. Sadly, his viewpoint is that of the whitefolk academic, a product of the proud European tradition that we are what evolution has been aiming at all the time: an excellent, and the best, civilization anybody could imagine. He makes the incredible error of thinking that one can think about "primitive" human social structures, when such arrangements disappeared tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years ago. More on this later.

One of my basic assumptions in writing about the Grand Canyon's political history is that the major development in recent times has been the conquest of land and first-american people by whitefolk and the imposition of our very specific political-legal framework on Grand Canyon affairs. That is to say, binding political decisions are made only within that framework. That of course need not be true for, say, a Havasupai arrangement that affects only Havasupai. For such a decision to be more broadly effective, much less national, it must however be re-cast into our framework. The connection to FF is that he discusses such interactions from a different starting point than I do. Not just the conservative part, but the academic part, and the European superiority part. He is a useful and very current sounding board. 

For I do need to review the Havasupai and Hualapai situations, Writing on the history of parks and dams into the 1960's, they have been still peripheral. But their own stories become central from 1964. And certainly were before 1880. Writing about the clash, dominance, and working out between the different political orders ought to be enriched by reflecting on what FF says.

At the start, looking at the XVII-XVIIIth philosophers, he uses that as the platform for a fundamental point: there was never a time in our evolution when we did not live in groups, socially; we were never isolated individuals who made a compact. We have always had to deal with our differences, frictions, passions. He chats about chimps, and their ways. And somewhere we evolved language, a superior way to grasp "relations" and work out how to work them. He doesnt say, but I like the notion that we learned early to cook food, supplying our bodies/brains with more energy. He doesnt either mention art (preserved in caves for tens of thousands of years old and already sophisticated. So how much further back would it have occured, but unpreserved?) or stress the invention of domestication a mere 700-1000 generations ago. He does, not surprisingly given his cultural bias, bring up religion early and often, and I think, more causal than as effect. He does not project Diamond's species-wide view, nor emphasize the central role of "spread" (physically, and of ideas & technology) in our make-up, out from Africa to Eurasia, all down to Australia, and then later over into and through the Americas, and across the Pacific.

For me, all these elements -- language, art, spread, domestication -- argue for the point that there have never been any "primitive" homo sapiens groups. There has been evolution, yes, in our artifacts and arrangements, as we grew more and more numerous, and as we came into different environments, adapting what we knew to exploit them. We have never experienced any "primitive" human societies, just different ones. This, of course, makes me, for FF a pc, knee-jerk, woolly minded liberal. Which is alright; his hard-headed, clear-eyed, facts-are-facts, lets-face-reality conservativism is just a romanticized, christianist, megalomania to justify trying to dominate anybody and everybody else on the grounds that we know best. (See under "Iraq".)

When we talk about how Havasupai, for instance, and whitefolk interacted, we are not talking about inferior and superior societies, but that the latter, using several methods, "conquered" the former, imposing the whitefolk political-legal system. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile, and necessary for the history, to talk about the systems of others that were shunted aside, as I did in my entries of Sep-Oct 2009.

On stages: We evolve, FF says p. 51, but wants to avoid saying "higher", just "more complex, richer, and more powerful", . But he keeps back-sliding. Existing hunting-gathering (h-g) or tribal socities are instances of earlier levels. P. 53: His stages of political organization: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, states. "Many believe" "primordial" "was tribal". But h-g groups were organized in a "much simpler fashion". But I would argue that they were just using an Occam's Razor of social organization; why would the Paiutes build a skyscraper? How could Hollanders live in brush shelters? But turn off the electricity, and how many skyscraper dwellers would remain?

Some details from FF: Within bands, recognized individuals may emerge, but no hereditarily. The tribe appeared, with agriculture, and a more elaborate kin systems. The denser population "required" different a social organization, with ancestor worship, religion, community, looking back & forward in time as well as across space. He mentions, but does not choose in the chicken-egg of religion and organization by tribe. He does say: tribes were created at particular historical moment (and Dobyns-Euler do say that the Hualapai bands were made a tribe by whitefolk pressures). They are not immune to break-down from change, and christian belief did that in Europe (he is big on religion). He brings up property, and gets tangled up in authority and justice; the lack of coercion for enforcement in a tribe. He does not even mention corruption.

He summarizes (p 45 bottom): Different societies have similar solutions. You start from a kinship basis, which complicated itself. Then states & bureaucracy appeared, agrarians going to centralized monarchy. Now democratic accountability and sovereignty are ideals.

Fukuyama, Francis; The Origins of Political Order; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2011

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