Friday, October 3, 2008

Quick history lesson for young people

Again, what I am going to teach here is material that used to be taught in schools, but has been censored, oppressed, warped and by now forgotten due to anti-religious zealotry and revisionist viewing of human history (where history is viewed in overly sentimentalized and almost "TV episode" fashion). So out of special concern for young people, here is an important lesson about human history.

Humans evolved out of hundreds of thousands of years of sheer survival. So just like the animals, for most of humanity's existence they were individuals who bonded for mating, producing offspring, and who lived hand to mouth as gatherers and/or hunters.

The first communities were therefore extended families. The most fundamental unit of human existence is the individual who pairs with a member of the opposite sex, has children, and those children eventually grow up and marry. Thus extended families (siblings, parents, children and offspring) became larger in proportion to the ability of the people to support themselves on the land. This is why many "conservatives" patiently explain to modern youth that the family is the basic unit of humanity. No one would be alive today if male did not mate with female and produced offspring, who then lived within an extended family that pulled together in order to hunt or gather enough food for all to survive.

My second point, beside the one about the traditional family being humanity's factual basic unit of humanity's continuation and flourishing, is that this is why in many areas of the world there is extreme zealotry regarding tribal affiliation and clans. This is the result of social evolution, where as families grew larger and larger "becoming super-extended families," they began to self identify as a clan or a tribe.

So this is why you see such an eruption of violence based on tribal, clan or "ethnic" identities in the world today, even in these "modern" times. Tribes and clans have been for thousands of years of human history the basic communal survival unit. Clans and tribes who stuck together and who had strong identities tended to be successful, enabling more children to be born and raised and more prosperous (in terms of survival) communities to be established.

At first these communities, based on extended family, clan and tribe, were "virtual" communities and not real. I'm using computer terms to help modern youth better understand what I mean. These communities were not settled into houses and neighborhoods. They were nomads because people still lived hand to mouth, hunting and gathering wherever they could find food and reliable sources of water. So that is the third point that I want to explain to you, that the integrity of early extended families, clans and tribes were "portable." In other words, the glue among the families and tribes was stronger than anything else since it was not based on a location. In other words, people lived the opposite of what they do today, where families (such as they are) disperse as kids go to college or move for their first jobs, and even the basic family unit is scattered across states and even countries. For most of human history the extended family was mobile, sticking together and growing in size as they found locations where they could find reliable food, water and shelter from the elements.

Eventually humans learned how to domesticate animals and so flocks of sheep and goats, and herds of oxen and cattle accompanied the extended families and tribes. It is at this stage in human history that salvation history is first documented. Now when you read in the Bible about the patriarch Abraham and his descendants you can understand the human history and social context that you are reading. Abraham headed a huge extended migratory (mobile and nomadic) human family. Abraham became "prosperous" and blessed because he grew the size of the herds so that his children and the extended clan could live and thrive. For example, while liberals like to talk about "human breast milk is best" and "tsk tsk" women who bottle feed using cow milk (and worry about excessive "meat" and "milk" use, even obsessing about cow farts), there was little choice back then, for yes, while women breast fed, they also were pregnant very often and often ran dry. Women who had their first birth often could not produce milk if they themselves were malnourished or sickly. Thus the importance if one reads throughout history of human "wet nurses" (a woman who did have milk to nurse the baby of a woman who could not produce milk). But when humans were still living a subsistence life, there was not an abundance of wet nurses since all humans were under the strain of simply finding enough calories to survive. Humans literally would not be alive today if it was not for cow's milk. So it is not just the meat of domesticated animals that was important, but the dairy products that was singularly responsible for many children having fluids and milk that allowed them to live.

That, then, is my next point. This is why the constant motif throughout the monotheist one true God faith books, the Old Testament, the New Testament, is of "flocks." A man's wealth and blessings was measured in his flocks because it was through a growing and healthy flock that a man could support his growing and healthy family. Eventually the ability to grow a flock that could support one's family became the measure of a man's authority and governance for that obvious reason. So as early extended families slowly evolved into communities the "decision makers" were the men upon whose shoulders the survival of the entire family relied. It was not being "mean" or "sexist" or "exclusionary." Men who were patriarchs of the family earned that position not because of biology but because they grew their families by providing for them and others became eager to marry their children into extended families and clans that could provide food, water and shelter.

You can read in the Old Testament about how the tribes of Israel formed as extended families branched where each new branch or "tribe" is headed by a son who could provide for his own extended family. So extended families that were successful "sprouted" new extended families that in some cases became independent tribal identities. You can see in both Biblical history and in recorded human secular history that tribes become rivals when there is a friction for controlling enough resources so that the tribe can grow and thrive. So there are two points to note. One is that tribes sprang up from an ancestral successful extended family that splits. The other is that scarcity of resources can make tribes that sprang from the same family become hostile and competitors if they feel they must contend over food, water, land and other resources that are needed for survival. Thus you must understand that it is not humans being "evil" or "mean" when there are wars and strife between tribes, although that is often the outcome, but that tribal allegiance and strife are human survival instincts that are easily triggered. Thus you see mindless slaughter in places like Kenya in the past year between tribes, for example. Tribal allegiance and hostility, while not admirable, are human evolved survival traits.

Eventually humans settled down in locations where they could be certain of year around food, water and shelter materials. This happened in different locales at different times but the great prototype cities evolved in the fertile areas of Egypt, India, and the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Iraq and vicinity). So remember, humans have thousands of years of extended family, clan and tribal affiliation before they have a "land based" affiliation.

Logically, the same values that evolved from necessity (the patriarch who could provide flocks to support his extended family) became transferred to settled life (the patriarch who had land to grow crops, graze his herds and create trades and crafts needed for income and survival) became the "decision makers" in the community. Again, this was logical and desirable and not "oppression." The man who could provide food and shelter for his large extended family became the sought out and desired "in law" for other families who eagerly sought life and security for their children within the patriarch's family. Decisions that affected the community as a whole were made by these men who provided for large established and growing families. I know that revisionists like to disparage our ancestors by calling them "old men elders who controlled everything," but that is totally wrong. Elders conveyed knowledge and wisdom about how to live, but the strong patriarch who had providing for his family as his daily reality was the one who made decisions out of necessity, not a "power grab" or to keep others subservient. By the way, the time of the Qur'an documents that intersection between the nomadic times and the time of settling down in established towns. Thus many of the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) regards the extending of largess and alms (charity) by the patriarchs toward those in need, within settlements.

I don't want to do a huge post on social and human history so let me leap forward to the past several hundred years to make my final and important point on this topic.

All that I describe here is the reason why when the United States was founded, over two hundred years ago, political power was vested in the hands of land owning men. This was true all around the world in all cultures. It's not like mean people got together and coordinated somehow an evil plot to keep the "poor" and "women" "down" while they grabbed power. As recently as several hundred years ago it was reality, simple reality, that decisions had to be made by men who owned the land that provided a living (even if it was meagre) for their extended families and also for the communities that depended upon them. Humans correctly evolved a social system whereby patriarchs who grew flocks and later land holdings and associated agriculture and later industrial activities had an extra burden of responsibility to make relevant decisions. This is why England has what seems like a laughable system of "the House of Lords" where just having the title of Lord gives someone a seat in their equivalent of the Senate. Just because most of them are silly and stupid idle idiots now does not mean that the system was wrong in the first place. It was the logical structure where adult men who owned land and accumulated wealth made decisions where they had to be made. It is the genius of the United States Founding Fathers that they envisioned such a "land based" responsibility as a democratic republic where senators and representatives were selected based on the collective states' "land" rather than personal holdings.

You can see why I am so annoyed by modern ignorant people who snipe at the Founding Fathers, making them out to be some sort of oppressors because of the white male land owning structure that existed in that time. That was reality, sugar pies, not oppression. In the 1700's humans were still, on the most part, at a stage of development where land holding white males (or land holding Chinese males, if you go to the other side of the world) had to bear the responsibility of feeding their families and providing for the extended community. Until only one hundred years ago virtually eighty to ninety percent of the human population was farmers, involved full time in agriculture. Thus the world spun around land holding men who had responsibility to provide food for their families and additional food to community dependents. Governance, whether in Europe or the United States, all sprang from that reality. If you need a case study look at the torture of Zimbabwe. There is continual economic destruction and chaos because of the abrupt severing of the land owning white male farmers to redistribution of land without the accompanying assuming of responsibility based on stability and know how. Patriarchs used to pass on the knowledge to their sons and daughter in like an apprentice fashion. When you have abrupt social churning and re-engineering that period of apprenticeship and transition is totally lost. Anyway, I mention this example not to make a racial point, because the story would be the same no matter what the skin color of the dominant land owning social segment and the underclass. (Look at India if you need an example of that). My point is that humans evolved a system of first "flock and herd holding" and then "land holding" patriarchs who had survival responsibility for their families, clans, tribes and later communities that was based on efficiency, reality and prosperity and thriving success.

Everywhere that humans spread as their populations grew they brought the same model of success with them and indeed the same model sprang up all over the world among separate civilizations. Tribes and clans formed based on the prosperity of "patriarchs" who succeeded in best providing for their growing extended families in a world that was strictly one hundred percent agricultural, except where gathering continued to be successful, such as coastal fishing based societies. But the vast majority of human success until the Age of Industrialization (the mid 1800's) was based on farming, farming, farming. Thus the patriarch land holder (and the resources on that land) were the logical and defacto decision makers. You can see examples of this in oldies "Western" films where "cattle barons" feuded with "sheep farmers." These are "tribes" feuding over resources to feed their families and become prosperous. The "cattle barons" held a lot of power and that is to be expected so long as the society was entirely agriculture and pastoral based. Cattle barons were not getting together to make decisions (bad or good) as a way to spite women or people of other races. Reality for the vast majority of human history and indeed the primary survival trait of humans is that a strong family holds close together in order to cultivate the land and develop food for subsistence and "surplus." With subsistence you feed your family, with surplus you sell the extra to prosper (and store surplus against famine or other disaster). In fact, capitalism springs from that very concept, but that's another subject.

My point, in summary, is that humans evolved social structures because they were necessary and worked (and were in fact key survival traits), and not because they were "exclusionary" or "power grabbing." These social structures are the traditional family, the extended family, clan or tribal identity (patriotism), and the role and responsibility of the "provider." For thousands of years humans grew in their numbers and prosperity, and their stability in the sense that a famine, for example, need not wipe out entire segments of humanity. Unfairness and injustice have always existed among humans, but the important point is that it's not like humans ran around looking for ways to be unfair and unjust. Unfairness and injustice is a human flaw, but that does not mean that the systems that worked (traditional families, patriarchs, responsible land owners, the role of "providers") are in error or evil. In fact, the opposite is true. When the extended family is the primary concern, that is actually an antidote against greed and oppression. When single consumerists rule you have a serious problem in societal breakdown and skewing of priorities. For example, many "wealthy landowners" of several centuries ago endowed schools and hospitals because of their family values; it would never have occurred to them to pour their money into personal "recreation." Today there are still generous individuals, but many donate money to causes far from home and do not invest in their community, and many do so for individualistic reasons, rather than "patriarchal" or even "matriarchal" reasons. Again, that's a rant for another time and place, but I think you see my point. I am so tired of hearing certain people trash the Founding Fathers and their brilliance, and impugn bad motives to generations of good people who had basically two choices on the menu: farm or starve. It's only this recent incredibly alienated "modern" generation that cannot even comprehend what and why their ancestors did what they did, and what they tried to pass on to their descendants.

I hope you find this helpful and remember, I'm just pointing you in the right direction to how to understand history, both secular and sacred, in the context of reality, and that knowing this you can do a lot of reading and research with really new and clearer eyes. No one can claim to be a diplomat, a pacifist, or a "peace maker" if you do not even understand how humans evolved and why they do the things that they do, what worked and what did not work, and the foundations of human stability and success.