Tentaive basis for a theory of cultural evolution, trauma and civilisation

Tentaive basis for a theory of cultural evolution, trauma and civilisation

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    • #38440
      MAHB Admin

      Thank you for sharing this Sarah! Looking forward to what MAHB members have to say.

    • #38436
      Sarah Lim

      I’d very much love to take up Paul Ehrlich’s challenge to find a Darwinian equivalent for a theory of human cultural evolution and why some human cultures are capable of dramatic change in a short period of time. I’ve been mulling over this after listening to some of Paul’s talks, reading George Mobus’ theory of sapience and some other works by cultural anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday and primate anthropologist Richard Wrangham.

      My hypothesis is that the rapid overconsumption we see in modern industrial civilization is the result of 10,000+ years of extreme cumulative trauma and mass malnutrition. The overconsumption we see today is akin to how there were Auschwitz survivors who ironically gorged themselves to death because they consumed an enormous amount of food upon being rescued, causing their bodies to go into shock and killing them. Advocates of the Paleo diet claim that humanity evolved to eat in “famine and feast” cycles, which is the basis for claiming that intermittent fasting is the optimal dietary schedule. Overconsumption seems to be an inherent human psychological response to the trauma of long term starvation. We know that since civilization became the dominant mode of human life 10,000 years ago, the overwhelming majority of the human population lived in destitution and had their lifespans cut short due to overwork and chronic malnutrition. Jared Diamond has spoken of how the skeletons of humans from early civilizations bear the marks of all kinds of developmental deformities and sport mishapen jaw bones, while the skeletons of hunter-gatherers during the same period were a full head taller and had significantly less tooth decay. For most of the history of human civilization, the majority of the population lived in some form of indentured slavery or chattel slavery, with only a tiny minority of the elite being able to live a life of leisure and afford relatively adequate nutrition.

      It can thus be assumed that the trauma that predisposes us towards astronomical levels of overconsumption is the result of a snowball effect of the past 10,000 years of our genetic forebears living in slavery and chronic hunger, when the first ever modern homo sapiens who predated them spent 150,000 years as wild roaming nomads who evolved to have diets rich in protein, animal fat, wild plants and a variety of fruit.

      1. Peggy Reeves Sanday studied both matriarchal/matrilineal tribes where occurrences of rape were low and patriarchal tribes where instances of rape, intertribal warfare and authoritative leadership styles are widespread. She found that the high-rape, warfare-inclined patriarchal cultures were often ones which suffered major traumas caused by mass starvation or catastrophic natural disasters, and that the male leaders of this tribe took their internalised trauma out on the females.

      2. Richard Manning has said, without irony or humor, that the vast majority of people living in civilization today are suffering from stunted brain development due to an inadequate high-carbohydrate diet. Despite the fact that the average standard of living in industrialised nations has risen dramatically, much of the modern industrialised diet is still heavily based on carbohydrates. Although the consumption of meat, fruit and vegetables has increased significantly, most of our factory-farmed meat is riddled with anti-biotics and growth hormones. The fruit and vegetables we get from large scale industrialised farms are often blasted with harmful pesticides.

      3. In Richard Wrangham’s “Demonic Males”, Wrangham has made the highly controversial claim that food scarcity triggers a propensity towards coalitionary violence in our closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzees. The contrasts between male-dominated, warfare-prone chimpanzee societies and comparably peaceful female-led bonobo societies is intriguing, precisely because the two species are so genetically and physically similar that they are virtually indistinguishable. Wrangham concluded that the chimpanzee’s predilection towards aggression stemmed from the fact that the chimpanzee community he was observing shared their territory with a gorilla population, whom they frequently engaged in violent skirmishes with over access to food. In contrast, the bonobos lived in an exceptionally stable area where food was highly abundant and competition for it was almost non-existent.

    • #46021
      Angela Manno

      Completely fascinating and heartbreaking. As I was reading, I was thinking about our massive, concomitant spiritual starvation. Twelve step recovery programs are filled with people who suffer from overeating, chemical and substance addictions attributed ultimately to a “hole in the soul”. I think both kinds is starvation go hand in hand. I wonder whether this analysis is applicable to intact indigenous societies; the availability of food, spiritual life and and way of life all seem to be part of one fabric. I am thinking of the Amazon societies in particular who have been, up to very recently, untouched by fat takers and hungry ghosts.

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