Patriarchy: An Anthropological Study

 

The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time

by Elise Boulding

Westview Press (1976)

Book Review

Published at the height of the women’s movement, this is a remarkable read. The first book of its kind, it employs extensive anthropological and historical evidence to trace the contribution of women to the rise of civilization. In most historical accounts, the role of women in development has been largely invisible

Beginning with the appearance of our hominid ancestors in Africa two million years ago, Boulding traces their migration to the Middle East, Europe, Asia and North and South America – highlighting the early civilizations that developed in each of these regions. She concludes with the current role of women in each of these geographical areas.

The part of the book I found most surprising describes the role women played in inventing tools from pebbles, bones and skulls to use in food preparation. They also invented ceramic pots and bags made of animal skins to store it and built huts to provide a protected space for child rearing.

During the hunter gather period, men and women played an equal role in production activities and decision making. After they learned to grow their own crops (following a decline in large game animals), women tended to be dominant because hunting was precarious and men relied on women for food. Women also had charge of the first domesticated animals (goats, sheep and pigs) and passed control of their land and livestock in a matrinlineal pattern.

Better access to food increase population density, which in turn necessitated an increase in food production. This led to the discovery of the plow and the domestication of cattle, which shifted basic control of food production to men. They, in turn, assigned women secondary tasks, such as weeding and collecting firewood and water.

The discovery of mining and metal working technology occurred around the same time, which would lead to the rise of trading economies and armies to protect settlers against raiding hunter gatherers. With the rise of cities and militarization, societies were “stratified” for the first time. “Stratification” and the rise of an idle ruling elite (kings and priests) would lead to the development of a social hierarchy that tended excluded women from public spaces and confined them to domestic labor at home.

According to Boulding, women still played a number of public leadership roles during antiquity and the Middle Ages – a privilege they lost during the Industrial Revolution.

 

Is Schizophrenia an Inflammatory Illness?

madness of adam and eve

The Madness of Adam and Even: How Schizophrenia Shaped Humanity

by David Horrobin (2001 Bantam Press)

Book Review

The Madness of Adam and Eve advances a dual hypothesis: 1) that schizophrenia is a whole body disorder, rather than a “brain disease, as promoted by Big Pharma and the psychiatric fraternity and 2) that schizophrenia stems from the same series of genetic mutations that led to the appearance of the human species (homo sapiens) 100,000 years ago.

The specific biochemical “error” Horrobin credits for causing schizophrenia is a defect in the metabolism of arachidonic acid (AA), a fatty acid that facilitates smooth signal transmission between nerve endings. Horobin believes a genetic mutation around 100,000 years ago caused a massive increase in AA production, enabling a giant increase in dendritic connections between neurons. This, in turn, resulted in a sudden explosion in human intellectual capacity, as well as the sudden appearance of art, music and organized religion.

Horribin also maintains that schizophrenia was a relatively mild illness in hunter gatherer societies, owing to a diet rich in the omega 3 fatty acids essential for optiminal brain function. With the major dietary changes that accompanied the agricultural and industrial revolution, schizophrenia has become much more severe. The switch from omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to saturated animal fat was by far the most significant, as saturated fats can suppress the uptake and utilization of omega 3 fatty acids.

Horrobin’s hypothesis is born out by WHO research revealing that schizophrenia is more severe in the industrialized west, studies showing that schizophrenics improve when given large doses of the omega 3 fatty acid EPA, and the failure of schizophrenics to experience a “niacin blush”* when exposed to megadoses of niacin.

Aimed at a lay audience, The Madness of Adam and Eve doesn’t always distinguish clearly between theory and established fact. While Horribin’s ideas make an important contribution to the understanding of mental illness, his overemphasis on genetic determinism in the origin of mental illness is clearly dated. In 2002, the field of epigenetics** was still in its infancy and there was limited understanding of the role of noxious prenatal influences on gene expression and the development of chronic physical and mental illnesses. Nor was the role of harmful intestinal bacteria and endotoxin-related inflammation recognized in the etiology of autism, schizophrenia and depression.

His portrayal of the intellectual inferiority of Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man) is also obsolete. More recent archeological evidence suggests that Neanderthal man was the intellectual equal of homo sapiens.

*A niacin flush is sudden reddening and burning of the skin caused when niacin promotes conversion of AA to the inflammatory peptide prostaglandin. Several researchers have proposed using a niacin skin test as a research tool in studying schizophrenia.

**Epignetics is the study of hormonal and other prenatal influence that affect the expression of genes as specific protein enzymes.

When Horrobin died in 2003, the British Medical Journal wrote a particularly nasty obituary describing him as “the greatest snake oil salesman of his age.” A decade of research into the beneficial role of omega 3 oil in the treatment of depression (particularly post natal depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia and premenstrual syndrome) has clearly vindicated him. The supplementation of prescription psychotropics with omega 3 oils is now standard psychiatric practice. 

Research into his theory that schizophrenia is a whole body inflammatory illness, rather than a brain disease, is also advancing. More recent studies focus on inflammation caused by endotoxin-producing by gram negative intestinal bacteria. Thus far schizophrenics’ demonstrated impairment in prostaglandin synthesis has failed to translate into viable treatment options.

There have been numerous studies suggesting a beneficial effect of non steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication (such as ibuprofen and naprosyn) in the treatment of schizophrenia. Unfortunately NSAIDs, like psychotropics, have numerous serious side effects, including peptic ulcer disease and reduced kidney function.

 

Collapse: Revisiting the Adam and Eve Myth

short history of progress

A Short History of Progress

by Ronald Wright (2004 Caroll and Graf)

Book Review

The theme of A Short History of Progress is social collapse. In it, Canadian historical archeologist Ronald Wright summarizes humankind’s biological and cultural evolution, as well as tracing the role of ecological destruction in the collapse of the some of the most significant civilizations (Sumer, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Easter Island and the Mayan civilization). Exhaustively researched, the book advances the theory that many of colossal blunders made by modern leaders are very old mistakes made by earlier civilizations. Wright starts with the mystery of the agricultural revolution that occurred around 10,000 BC, when Homo sapiens ceased to rely on hunting and berry-picking and began growing their own food. Twelve thousand years ago, the global population was still small enough that there was more than ample wild food to feed them. Yet for some reason, a half dozen human settlements in widely separated regions simultaneously domesticated plants and animals. Why?

The Importance of Stable Climate

Citing extensive geological and archeological evidence, Wright suggests plant and animal domestication may have been triggered by unprecedented climate stability. Prior to 10,000 BC, the earth’s climate was wildly unstable, with ice ages developing and abating over periods as short as a decade or so. These sudden periodic changes in climate forced our hunter gatherer ancestors to continually migrate in search of food. The climate stabilization that occurred following the last ice age (around 10,000 BC) enabled them to settle in larger groups, save seeds to cultivate crops that took months to harvest, and engage in trade for other basic necessities.

Wright goes on to describe a number of diverse civilizations that arose and collapsed between 4,000 and 1,000 BC – and their unfortunate tendency towards mindless habitat destruction and runaway population growth, consumption, and technological development. In each case, an identical social transformation takes place as resources become increasingly scarce. As prehistoric peoples find it harder and harder to feed themselves, inevitably a privileged elite emerges to confiscate communal lands and enslave their inhabitants. They then install a despotic tyrant who hastens ecological collapse by wasting scare resources on a spree of militarization and temple or pyramid building. This process is almost always accompanied by wholesale murder, torture, and unproductive wars.

Wright relates this typical pattern of ecological destruction and collapse to a series of “progress traps,” in which specific human inventions turn out to have extremely negative unintended consequences. Instead of fixing the underlying problem they’re meant to solve, the inventions create an even worse environmental mess. It’s a pattern so common in prehistory that it’s become enshrined in the Adam and Eve and similar creation myths. All describe how the quest for knowledge ended humankind’s access to freely available and abundant food and forced them to produce their own.

Our Ancestors Wipe Out the Neanderthals and Mammoths

According to Wright, the first of these “progress traps” was the invention of weapons (for hunting) by early Homo sapiens. Wright blames this early invention of weapons for the first (archeologically) recorded instance of genocide – namely the wiping out of Homo Neanderthalis (Neanderthal man) by Cro-Magnon man between 40,000 and 30,000 BC. This was followed by other important mass extinctions as Homo sapiens spread out across the globe between 30,000 and 15,000 BC. The most recent archeological evidence suggests the mammoth, camel and horse became extinct in North America during this period because of perfected hunting techniques that allowed human beings to carry out mass slaughters (involving as many as 1,000 mammoths or 100,000 horses simultaneously).

Some archeologists attribute the end of hunting as a predominate food source (in numerous regions simultaneously) and the rise of plant-based diets to the decline in game animals stemming from this indiscriminate slaughter. The birth of agriculture, in turn leads to widespread deforestation and soil erosion in all the ancient civilizations, accompanied by soil salinization from over-irrigation. According to Wright, the entire cycle takes around a thousand years, which happens to be the average lifespan of most historic civilizations.

Turning Iraq Into a Desert

The first civilization to collapse in this way was Sumer (in southern Iraq), which flourished between 3,000 and 2,000 BC. The Sumerians invented irrigation, the city, the corporation (in the form of priestly bureaucracies), writing (for trade purposes), hereditary kings and slavery. By 2,500 BC, soil salinization (from irrigation) had caused a massive drop-off in crop yields. Instead of implementing environmental reforms, the ruling elite tried to intensify production by confiscating communal lands, introducing slavery and human sacrifice and engaging in chronic warfare.

From Sumer the cradle of civilization moved north to Mesopotamia (Babylon), in the region of northern Iraq and Syria, and humankind created one of the first man made deserts out of a region lush in date palms and other native vegetation.

Around 1,000 BC, similar civilizations also appeared in India, China, Mexico, Peru and parts of Europe. The Greeks (around 600 BC) were the first with any conscious awareness that they were destroying their own habitat. Plato writes a vivid description of the dangers of erosion and runoff from deforestation. The Athenian leader Solon tried to halt increasing ecological devastation by outlawing debt serfdom, food exports, and farming on steep slopes. Pisistratus offered grants to farmers to plant olive trees for soil reclamation.

Wright makes a good case for similar environmental destruction, rather than barbarian invasion, causing Rome to collapse. By the time of Augustus, Italian land had become so degraded that Rome was forced to import most of their food from North Africa, Gaul, and other colonies.

The Role of the New World

The most interesting section of the book concerns the role the New World played in rescuing the environmentally decimated European civilization. According to Wright, it was mainly New World gold and silver that capitalized the industrial revolution. However he also stresses the importance of the New World foods that were added to the European diet at a point where the population had outstripped their food supply. Maize (sweet corn) and potatoes are twice as productive (in terms of calories per acre) as wheat and barley, the traditional European staples. He also makes the point – ominously – that, despite all our apparent technological progress, humankind hasn’t introduced one new food since the Stone Age. In fact, Homo sapiens hasn’t evolved culturally or intellectually since our ancestors failed to confront resource scarcity in a way conducive to their survival.

If anything, given mass extinctions, potentially catastrophic climate change, and a growing scarcity of energy, water and fertile soil, we seem to be repeating the old maladaptive pattern. As examples, Wright cites the idiotic war on terrorism, which has ironic parallels with the chronic warfare the Sumerians launched 4,000 years ago. He also cites the rise of the New Right and the folly of trying to address resource scarcity by consolidating wealth and power in the hands of a tiny elite.

How an LVT Might Have Altered the Course of History

traumatizedsociety_DV

The Traumatised Society: How to Outlaw Cheating and Save Our Civilisation

by Fred Harrison (Shepheard-Wallwyn Limited, 2012)

Book Review – Part II

(In this section Harrison discusses the history of countries and communities that have tried to enact a Land Value Tax. See Part I here)

Britain’s Experience with Land Value Tax (LVT)

In Britain there have been several attempts to end predatory rent-seeking through the enactment of LVT. As a result of Henry George’s 1879 international bestseller Progress and Poverty, Winston Churchill (still a liberal in 1909) became one of the most vocal proponents of the People’s Budget. The law, passed by the British parliament in 1909, sought to shift the burden of taxation from wages to land. It was never implemented because the British aristocracy went to court to block the land valuation required to assess the tax. In 1931 Parliament passed a revised version of the People’s Budget, which Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain simply deleted it from the law book in 1934. If the LVT had been fully implemented, Britain would have been spared the worst effects of the Great Depression.

How an LVT Might Have Altered the Course of History

Harrison moves on to explore how an LVT might have alleviated severe economic and political turmoil in other countries:

  • Ireland – rent seekers “sucked: out all the wealth of Ireland for 200 years, a process that didn’t end with independence. Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” could have been sustainable if it had been funded by a LVT rather than debt. The result was a debt/real estate bubble that left the country even worse off when the bubble burst in 2008. In 2010, Harrison advocated for Ireland to pay off its debt by implementing a LVT. This would have provided the revenue the Irish government needed to stimulate growth. Instead the IMF bailout and austerity cuts has deeply suppressed growth.
  • China – made a fatal error by failing to implement an LVT when they began to privatize collectively owned land in the 1980s. China is currently facing slowing growth, thanks to a $1.7 trillion debt incurred by their city and provincial governments. While the central government was building up massive cash reserves by selling cheap exports, they forced regional governments to self-fund their public services. The only way they could do this was by selling land to property developers and by borrowing money.
  • Cuba – made a fatal error on November 11, 2011 when they began selling collectively owned land to rent-seekers, and allowed rents to be capitalized into land prices – instead of taxing them.
  • Russia – Gorbachev envisioned land remaining in public hands as part of Glasnost. After a threatened military coup forced him to step down, Harrison went to Russia trying to persuade Yeltsin to adapt an LVT. Instead Russia’s first president opened the country to the IMF and western rent-seekers. Both sucked out sufficient wealth to set the country’s standard of living back several decades.
  • Africa – South Africa’s current economic difficulties relate to a fatal error they made in 2004. They amended their LVT to add a tax on property improvements but should have done the opposite – increase the LVT and reduce other taxes. Much of the land in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is still communally owned. Thus there is still great potential for emerging African economies to adopt an LVT. This would allow them to develop debt-free, sustainable economies that don’t leave the majority of the population in abject poverty.
  • The US – suffers from a “constitutional neurosis,” according to Harrison. Supposedly the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were based on the Scottish Enlightenment. Whereas John Locke talked about a universal right to “Life, Liberty and Estate (Land),” our founding fathers changed this to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” even before the Constitution was written.

The Future of LVT

As Harrison points out, at present rent-seekers are extremely powerful and have absolute control over government, media, and public education. Nevertheless as countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America escape US military control, it’s imperative they have an avenue to escape the economic control of local and international rent-seekers. By adopting an LVT, they guarantee themselves sufficient income to provide government and public services – without falling into the predatory clutches of international bankers and the IMF.

In his 2011 book Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle, Walter Rybeck relates how the US contemplated LVT enabling legislation during the Carter administration. As an assistant to Representative Henry Reuss (D-Milwaukee), Rybeck helped Reuss (as chair of the House, Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee) promote land and resource taxes as a way to address crumbling infrastructure in financially strapped cities and states.

Enter Sarah Palin

According to Rybeck, a number of communities (and one state) have already adopted variations of an LVT. Alaska’s oil/gas tax is the best example of a resource-based LVT. This tax provides 80-90% of Alaska’s general fund, as well as providing annual dividends to residents. As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin introduced Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES), which charges a 25 percent tax rate on oil profits, with the rate increasing progressively as oil prices go up.

Five other states have passed LVT enabling legislationConnecticutMarylandNew YorkPennsylvaniaVirginiaWashington – to make it easier for local communities to adopt an LVT.

Other American communities that have already benefited from an LVT include California’s Central Valley, Fairhope in Alabama, Arden in Delaware, and Pittsburgh and other cities in Pennsylvania.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

The Trauma of Cultural Genocide

traumatizedsociety_DV

The Traumatised Society: How to Outlaw Cheating and Save Our Civilisation

by Fred Harrison (Shepheard-Wallwyn Limited, 2012)

Book Review – Part I

(The first half of Harrison’s book explores the history of land value tax and the cultural genocide that resulted from the Enclosure Acts and the dispossession of Europeans from communally owned lands.)

The Land Value Tax (LVT) is a “radical” form of taxation first proposed by Henry George in his 1879 Progress and Poverty (see Progress and Poverty: the Suppressed Economics Classic). What George proposes is to replace taxes on wages, purchases, and investments with a tax on unimproved land and natural resources. In The Traumatised Society, Fred Harrison  provides an exhaustive update of George’s original work.

As Winston Churchill famously observed, “History is written by the victors.” Nearly all history books written in the last 400 years were written by or on behalf of the ruling elite. The Traumatised Society is unique in that it recounts the history of the industrial revolution from the perspective of the 99%. Harrison also presents a simple, but elegant prescription for taking back power from the corporate oligarchy, ending economic inequality and the debt crisis, staving off ecological disaster, and preventing World War III. On the surface these claims appear extravagant and somewhat grandiose. Yet, in my view, Harrison makes his case very convincingly.

Adam Smith was the first prominent economist to propose the LVT as the most “moral” and least economically harmful tax in his classic Wealth of Nations. Neoconservative icon Milton Friedman also considered it the “least bad” kind of tax. The most famous contemporary Georgist is former World Bank Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

Basically the argument for an LVT goes as follows: because publicly funded infrastructure increases land values, this added value should return to the public. It shouldn’t return to the landowner, who has done nothing more than sit on his land. An LVT provides a valuable source of public revenue. It eliminates the need for governments to borrow from private banks without depleting the total wealth of the landowner.

Economies and personal freedom flourish wherever an LVT has been implemented. As Harrison reminds us, the economic surge known as the Asian Tiger didn’t start in China, but in Taiwan and Hong Kong – as a direct result of LVT-based economies. Moreover unlike China, economic growth in both Taiwan and Hong Kong has proved genuine and sustainable. In 2011, the per capita GDP of China was $8,400, while that of Taiwan was $37,900.

The Trauma of Cultural Genocide

The title The Traumatised Society is based on a severe dislocation Europeans experienced during the eighteenth century, a process remarkably similar to that of African slaves and indigenous people oppressed by colonization. The cause of this dislocation was The Enclosure Acts, a series of laws that drove our peasant ancestors off the communal farm lands that had supported them for a thousand years and fenced it to off as private property. In England alone, 160,000 freehold farmers were thrown off their land between 1700 and 1812. In addition to being stripped of their livelihood, our ancestors also experienced “cultural genocide,” as they lost a thousand years of cultural tradition linked to communal land ownership. This process is vividly described in the poems of 18th century poet John Clare, whose parents ended up in the poor house (i.e. jail) after being thrown off their land. Clare’s work was suppressed until the late 19th century, when the work of American journalist Henry George revived the British land reform movement.

The end result of this massive dislocation has been slavery, debt, alienation, depression, poverty (which was virtually non-existent prior to the Industrial Revolution), murder, rape, child abuse and alcohol and drug addiction. Counselors and therapists who work with African American and indigenous communities are very much aware of the trauma, which is passed from generation to generation, that results from severe economic dislocation and cultural genocide. Ironically, however, Europeans have no historical memory that we have been subjected to the same kind of trauma.

According to Harrison, the “moral evolution” of the human race ceased in the 1700s. This is when an authentic human culture of cooperation and interdependence was replaced with an artificial “cheating culture,” in which the highest ideal is to get something for nothing. The modern, free market version of Christianity is part and parcel of this phony culture – as is Marxism. Harrison feels Marx did us a great disservice by demonizing capitalism. The capitalistic funding model in itself isn’t the primary source of our major economic and social problems.

The Concept of Economic Rents

The Traumatised Society is written in classical economic language, in which “rent” refers to unearned income from the monopolization of land, natural resources, or the cultural commons (e.g. the public airwaves and money). Economic rent includes unearned profit gained from selling land that has increased in value (often due to land speculation). A “rent-seeker” is someone who derives unearned income from monopolization of these resources.

For most of human history land and resources were owned communally and any “rent” or unearned income went to finance public services. Beginning in the 18th century, this all changed. When “rent-seekers” privatized land and natural resources, they also captured control of government and shifted the burden of funding public services to workers. In this way modern capitalist society came to be divided into two classes, the Predators or rent-seekers, and the Producers, who engage in work to create economic wealth.

As more and more wealth is extracted from Producers, both as “rents” and as taxes, there is less and less money available to maintain public infrastructure. Eventually the number of Producers becomes inadequate to support the Predator rent-seeking class. At this point, the latter seeks to remedy the problem by conquering new lands and colonizing new populations, by using fossil fuel technology to increase productivity, by borrowing and extracting wealth from future generations, and/or by capital depletion (liquidating assets created by past production – like Greece).

Originally published in Dissident Voice

To be continued.