Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Migration 12: What Does Migration Have To Do With Grand Canyon, You Ask?

It seems it is important to stop a moment and answer that question. 

For one thing, there is much more I would like to write about migration, language, social organization, humanity's history, etc., that will not directly touch Grand Canyon matters, but would flesh out into a coherent picture of humanity, in the sense that how we evolved is vital information about how we live today. 
  Moreover, for the other, main, thing, I do believe that the fundamental reason for my trying to recover and present Grand Canyon's political, human, history is that the Canyon is, for today and continuing, an icon of immense significance for understanding what choices we humans are making about the world we live in and what we want it to be. 
My guiding idea is that language is a genetic phenomenon: at some point in our evolution, there were mutations that made language possible, an adaptation strongly selected for because it increased the likelihood of individual survival. It is apparently a fairly recent development, a few hundreds of millennia, not millions of years, old. Not so clear-cut a genetic matter is humanity's characteristic of migrating, of spreading -- across the landscape, yes, but also in moving goods and ideas, things and concepts, technologies and inventions. A parsimonious theory would say that increasing sophistication of language use is the foundation of our migratory behavior. I do believe they are inextricable: we talk about moving, and we move. We move, and we talk it over. And after a hundred millennia or so, we have the internet and oil supertankers. 

A hundred or more millennia ago, as a creature dependent on plants and animals naturally occurring for our food, humans' ability to talk and willingness to move on led, I think, to a social-cultural organization in which small (a few dozen, a hundred?, individuals) bands of more or less strongly blood-related kin prospered by being mutually supportive, more or less egalitarian in build and relationships, and in which discussion and sharing were the dominant behaviors, rather than violence and competition.
I was struck, for instance, reading about M. Knack's characterization of the Southern Paiute bands who live on the Canyon's Northside, as using accommodation for handling relations between different bands (my post of 29 Sep 2009), and even more foreign intruders. Sadly, it was a  social tool that failed when used with Utes, Navajo, and Mormons. 

This led me to wonder if it was the same tool used by the Havasupai. Could it be that they came to their canyon as an accommodation to resource needs of the several bands (now evolved into the Hualapai) on the plateaus of the Canyon's south-west? Even more to the point, was accommodation what Ko-hot' had in mind when he told army officers that all the Havasupai wanted was their canyon set aside so that pushy whitefolk now coming onto their plateau above would not cause them grief? (my posts of 21 & 29 Sep 2009).  Which those whitefolk stockmen and prospectors, no accommodationists, then did.

Now where would that leave the Hualapai response, in which bands together responded violently to the violence deployed by the civilized whitefolk society that was radically intruding on their lands? 

Of course, these were the descendants of those who had migrated into the post-glacial New World 10, 15, 20 millennia ago. They were peoples who did some farming, as well as hunting and gathering, not simply stamped from the template of those who left Africa 60 and more millennia ago.  

The Hopi too have a millennia-long past of farming and settlement, but also one characterized by the need to migrate when conditions changed. Into the same lands they live on east of the Canyon, the Navajo showed up as pastoralists looking for pasture, and with minor interruptions, have been spreading out as much as they could. So even before the disruption by whitefolk, that area was the site of contention between sophisticated societies.

Are these just examples of the blooming, buzzing confusion of human relationships? How could we have gotten from those African bands of 100 millennia ago to these Grand Canyon stories?
Humans in those small, language-based, mutually supportive, migrating, egalitarian bands have left evidences of their sophistication in many areas of human activity, evidences that always astonish us when we find their artifacts. Surely, they must have been hit hard by the last glacial. Or perhaps it made them think really, really hard. For the most life-changing of all human inventions appeared as the ice retreated. Domestication, the Neolithic Revolution, did not tame human existence, it caused a true explosion. It may have been more like a slow-burning fuse than a Big Bang, but over these 6-7 millennia, our inventiveness is accelerating, if not always smoothly.

The Neolithic Revolution stimulated a cascade of inventions: To farm successfully we needed land and we needed labor on that land. Farming is hard to do combined with migration (though goodness knows, the two are intertwined in many ways), and so humans settled. More significantly, they took whatever notion they had of "mine and yours", and applying it to those essentials of land and labor, conceptualized property. Property accumulated and concentrated gave us villages, and eventually cities, states, and empires. Sometime in there, property and maleness got entangled. Maybe it was a differential strength thing; maybe a genetic imbalance of the ability to defend, or of assertiveness. Even if not a dominant component of our genetic nature, somehow competitiveness & acquisition bled into violence, and as populations grew and controlled territory, to more and more organized forms of war. 

The need for stability to maximize crop yield from our seemingly wonderful new invention meant that property tied labor to the property owners.  Not much of a step then to arrangements by which men bound women and their children. Mutually supportive, egalitarian relationships within a migratory, hunting-gathering band did not require paternalism; jointly taking care of children, of mothers, would tend toward evolutionary success. Contrariwise, to be successful, working and defending fixed property seemed to require those binding contracts, marriage & inheritance. Certainly, what had developed in a few hundreds of years' time was kingship and its supporting institutions like religion and civilization--you know, high, long walls, big self-important statues, sports stadiums, etc.

What may have been the most significant result of this Revolution will bring me back to the Canyon, for it concerns the environment. We all know about climate change from the industrialization of the past couple of centuries. William Ruddiman (Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, How Humans Took Control of Climate, Princeton, 2005) presents the climatological case that the Neolithic led, at first very slowly, but accumulatively, to a growth in human activities that has been warming the climate for the past six millennia or so. Indeed, his work shows that this long-term gradualist climate change has deferred a cooling that otherwise would even now be leading into another glacial. 

As an indicator of "humans taking control of their environment", thats pretty powerful.
As an icon of "maybe humans need to think about what they are doing to their environment", I think the Grand Canyon is pretty powerful. Indeed, that is what I am trying to do here. Go back to the Paiute, the Havasupai, the Hualapai, the Hopi, the Navajo. Throw in the whitefolk, with all our various tribes: advocates for the Canyon, river-runners, federal officials, scientists, dam-builders, etc., etc. Each of these has contributed to the political history of the Canyon. In some sense, though there are always a diversity of views, each has a view of what they want when they seek to impact Canyon affairs. I have written, for instance, at length about the dam-builders and their vision for the Canyon, and by implication, for the nation and the world. 

It is a very different vision from mine. Likewise, the Hualapai, once would-be dam-builders, have now migrated their vision to a different form, one still consonant with their determination that their Reservation can provide them with prosperity. And the other major land-owners, the Havasupai, the Navajo, the United States acting through several government agencies? All different visions of the Canyon. Each, it seems to me, must have explicitly or by implication from their actions, a view of the Canyon that is embedded in their view of the world and how it is legitimate to act.

In general, and in specific ways, then, this story I am offering about our ancestors -- language-using and migratory, mutually supportive and dependent directly on their environment -- is a story in which the Grand Canyon is an iconic landscape and people-scape. What we do there is what we are doing everywhere. What we believe we are doing there is a judgment on whether we are going to be, anywhere.

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