Thursday, June 7, 2012


“Civilization is inherently hierarchical and so, totalitarian, and cannot be any other way.”

I said this in the comments section of my post, Treason. A long-time reader, the blogger over at Epiphany Now, challenged me to speak more directly about that. First, I'll say, the quote should have referenced Western Civilization, which dominates the world, and of which I and probably all of my readers are inheritors of. But to get there, we need to run through the story of Homo sapien, briefly.

The genus Homo* is approximately two million years old. Homo sapien is approximately 200,000 years old. For about 190,000 years, we lived an edenic kind of life, gathering and hunting food, living tight, community lives, quite literally at one with the world around us, and with each other. It was a simple life, and difficult in some ways, and not difficult at all in others, and it was sweet. (Which is not the story we are taught about that time. That time doesn't exist for most of the monotheistic religious, and for just about everybody else in the West, it's the hard, vicious, brutal time of Thomas Hobbes' conception, if they have ever thought of it at all. There are a few tribes left who continue to live something like that edenic life, but we're busy exterminating them with our capital pursuits, that we might be certain in the condemnation of our origins.)
About ten thousand years ago, approximately, we started planting seeds. This is sometime after the great inundation, when sea levels rose approximately 400 ft, with the collapse of the glaciers covering most of Europe and North America. It was a global catastrophe, and there might have been some kind of high civilization prior to this, but that is not part of the Western curriculum, and you will be condemned for going there. Whatever the case, it was a fundamental shift, away from hunting and gathering, a process of establishing increasingly agricultural settlements, eventually growing grains and beans that could be stored. Most of this time, about 3000 years, we lived peaceful, egalitarian lives with a kind of balance between the masculine and feminine, often Goddess worshiping, not yet separate either from community or the land – though it was a culture that was becoming increasingly masculine.

The more grains and beans stored, the more we grew in number. The more people there were in any community, the more likely those grains and beans came under the control of a smaller number of people. The larger the community, the more rigid the social hierarchy, and the more ruthless the actions of those who acquire(d) the most. At the same time, violent gods began to be conceived, who justified violence. Thereafter, men of violence had a self-justifying license to acquire and wield power, to dominate, to plunder, to rape and to kill. Cities grew, war became the rule.

This was about a 4500 year process of increasingly adept and savage technological warfare, in the rise of cities and kings. In response to which we embarked on a path of civil governance (which makes war making more efficient.) This civil governance was entirely patriarchal, inherently dominating, the feminine subdued, and in Athens, the rule of those few men who were crafty enough to maintain control of sufficient capital. This time can be characterized as the rise of the rational, most efficiently described in the person of Aristotle. Separating us officially from nature.

At the same time, Monotheism arose as a world force. Christianity coming to subdue the civil governance and empire of Rome, eventually subsuming Aristotelian rationality, in the person's of Augustine and Aquinas. Science stepped in in the person of Bacon, Descartes scientifically and rationally amputated the mind from the body and the self from nature, Newton made the cosmos mechanical, Hobbes turned the whole affair into one long horror show, and then Smith tied capitalism to theology, and here we are. It's a rough but accurate enough calculus. As I pointed out earlier this week, Harris and Stenger have now amputated us even from mind. Meanwhile, theology is inextricably intertwined with free market ideology, science is a primary tool of the merchants of domination, destruction and death, and God seems to be on the side of plutocrats and oligarchs.

It might be pointed out by any biologist, that hierarchies are inherent to the group structure of all social mammals. There is always the Alpha, and the omega. Yes, and in many such a community, of small number, the Alpha mourns the loss of the omega, and likewise. It is only when we become acquisitive, when that hierarchy turns toward domination, command and control, the pursuit of power over others - and that primarily because there is capital to exploit - that the Alpha and omega no longer have a meaningful connection, and the one comes to dominate the many, in a way that is oppressive to all.

Our institutions here in America arose out of that progression, a greater and greater disconnection between the Alphas who make decisions and the omegas and everybody else who have to abide by them - and all of us, from the biological systems that support us. In the twentieth century it was a popular conception that government institutions were a cure for the depredations of religious, private, and military institutions. Only recently have we begun to realize, they are one in the same, the great head to the hydra of Western Civilization. Which is what OWS doesn't get (or maybe they do). It's not about a shift in who controls institutions (unless you want to become the tyrant); it's about a shift in consciousness.

We tend to believe loosely, and the idea is truly enforced, that we in the West, especially in America, are more evolved. That couldn't be further from the truth. As Darwin said, it isn't strength or intelligence that defines evolution, it's adaptability to change. The changes that are coming are hostile to the continued existence of institutions everywhere, while you can be certain those Institutions will assert their dominance, and the heads of those institutions will craftily maintain their control in increasingly totalitarian fashion; and those dependent upon institutions are sure to defend them, and it cannot be any other way. That is institutional, hierarchical, patriarchal, empirical mind, and it dominates the world. The nut of which, is our separation from and abhorrence of nature, our refusal to accept that we are in any way dependent upon the earth. That is the consciousness we have to shift out of, if we hope to survive the coming changes - I think, if we hope to survive as a species. That shift is happening for some, which is nothing short of evolutionary. Which is a lot like hearkening back to the consciousness of that first 195,000 years, at least, and those most connected to that time, while remaining grounded in the present, are in my conception the most advantaged evolutionarily, facing the coming changes.

* If you've ever wondered why homo is a pejorative for a gay guy, it's just that most straight guys are unconsciously or outright ashamed of their animal origins, which also happens to be why most straight guys are more like domesticated, or feral or mangy dogs, and not more like farm dogs or wolves.


kulturcritic said...

A most enlightening post, William. I especially found your encapsulation of the history of Western culture very illuminating. I do not know if I would agree with you and the biologists about hierarchy generally. In fact, if you look at some political anthropologists you will be surprised to find hierarchy relatively non-existent among our earliest tribal forebears. See, for example, Morton Fried, The Evolution of Policial Society, where is writes:

"The paramount invention that led to human society was sharing... Of almost equal importance was the concomitant reduction in the significance of individual dominance in a hierarchical arrangement within the community. In part, the structural possibility for such a hierarchy was undermined by the demands of sharing..."

William Hunter Duncan said...


Thanks. And you are absolutely right, the majority of the story of Homo sapien, most of those first 190,000 years, would have been about sharing. Just as it remains, for many indigenous people.

Luciddreams said...

I may be too high to understand...or maybe not?

I think you just explained the looking glass? Or perhaps the quantum organization behind the looking glass?

Our knowledge of the past, as a species, summed up intellectually? Where you can start an argument, but you can never leave.

William Hunter Duncan said...


All of that, I think. Hotel California; Aquinas saying, "All my words are like straw to me." Yeah, I'm a little high too. Quantum indeed.

Luciddreams said...

well now that I'm not high...let me try again. I think you nailed it with the acquisitive lifestyle...Morris Berman rails on that point a good bit in his work.

I definitely think this is the switch. Sharing and acquiring as lifestyle choices have different priorities and codes of conducts. What was it Bush called it...the "Ownership Society"?

I think this is central to most spiritual teachings as well. Let go of acquiring things, and not just physical things...all things. Give what you have to those in need and walk away. That's how you reach the pearly gates of Nirvana. If you want to live in hell, then acquire. I think I'm going to take this topic and run with it...I was wanting to blog but wasn't sure what to blog about after reading JMG and you back to back. What the hell am I going to say? Yet that attitude is contrary to JMG's point...we all have something to add to the ongoing conversation.

Great blog, and thanks for the elaboration.

inishglora said...

... which also happens to be why most straight guys are more like domesticated, or feral or mangy dogs, and not more like farm dogs or wolves.

Most Americans today are incapable of discerning the difference between Latin homo "man" and Greek homo "same." I've run across many a redundant reference to "lesbian women and homosexual men." *eyeroll*

However, you draw a good analogy that pinpoints male anxiety and general masculine identity crises that are, IMO, a major root of our species' problems. Have you read "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess"? Arguable premise, but still much food for thought.

William Hunter Duncan said...


Funny, Bush never took much heat for that, in the aftermath of the housing bubble, though he said that in an early State of the Union.

All things flow, as JMG pointed out in his most recent book, and many before him. The first Westerner, I think, was Heraclitus. Nothing then, being eternal. But letting go of acquisitiveness, and attachment, does not necessarily mean walking away from relationships, though it might. It's just knowing, all you ever have will be lost.


The tyranny and absolutism of the One Male God, infused in the psychology of men and women everywhere, believers and non-beievers alike, mostly unconsciously, making a mess of the world. I've never read the book, but I'm familiar with the idea, that even something so foundational as our alphabet is designed to exclude the possibility of a divine feminine energy or principle.

Luciddreams said...

knowing that all you have will be lost is a good distinction to make. I once threw everything I owned into the garbage can. I was in the navy at the time and the only things I kept were my issued things and some civilian clothing. Luckily my roommate retrieved my 300 something cd's so that when I came to my senses I didn't have to regret throwing them away.

Acquiring things is exhausting. Acquiring skill, knowledge, and love on the other hand is joy.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Psalm 90:5 (Translation by Charles Spurgeon)
Thou carriest them away as with a flood. As when a torrent rushes down the river bed and bears all before it, so does the Lord bear away by death the succeeding generations of men. As the hurricane sweeps the clouds from the sky, so time removes the children of men.
They are as a sleep. Before God men must appear as unreal as the dreams of the night, the phantoms of sleep. Not only are our plans and devices like a sleep, but we ourselves are such. "We are such stuff as dreams are made of."
In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. As grass is green in the morning and hay at night, so men are changed from health to corruption in a few hours. We are not cedars, or oaks, but only poor grass, which is vigorous in the spring, but lasts not a summer through. What is there upon earth more frail than we!

Lisa said...

I take pride in our shared intelligence, and most importantly, humility.

Hierarchy Structure

William Hunter Duncan said...

Blessings, Lisa