Category Archives: Anthropology/Archaeology

The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence Part 2

(My neck of the woods, from space. NASA composite image)

Hello again folks!

When I originally wrote this post, I didn’t expect this to have a second part, nor did I expect it to warrant a response; especially a three part one. As such, I give a hat tip to my friend Sarenth over at his blog, and his response from the first article I used in my original piece here.

I wanted to address a few of the points he raised, and add on a lot more to the original piece. There would appear a lot more to say on this matter. First off I will start with a couple of points, as a response to Sarenth. This is to clarify my own position, more than it is to argue with his.

Overall, Sarenth is very critical of the ideas of the first article, and the ideas within. That is within his right to be so, and you are welcome to check out his thoughts for yourself. For the record of this series, neurology, science, specific definitions of the soul, and transhumanism are outside the content of this series.  That is not what I am here to talk about, as this series is more philosophy than anything. But there is one point I do wish to address. Sarenth says;

“Certainly, if we consider the the soul “as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?” then my hugr,my munr (memory) and possibly my lich, my body, would be all that I am.  It denies the other parts of the Northern Tradition and Heathen Soul Matrix.  

This boils down the soul itself to a purely materialist concept, dispensing entirely with the numenous.  It may make the concept of the soul more palatable to ‘modern’ people, but it is poor theology.  It is like saying “All I am is my cells.”  While strictly true in a physical, materialist sense, it belies the creativity with which I write, the life I lead.  “What of my mind and my individual will?” for example, is a concept poorly explained in such a system.  If indeed we have any notion that we are other than living in a mechanical, purely material universe, then this notion ignores our will, and the mind itself.  If the concept of the soul merely boils down to “You being you is merely the result of your genetics, and the way your brain is formed and wired”, then it not only neuters the understanding of the soul, it outright destroys it.”

I do want to make clear, that in no way am I personally suggesting that the sum-total of our material bodies is all that we are. Nor is redefining what “soul” means of any real interest to me (with the exception being the immortal part.) All I am is not my cells, or my material and energy cycles. That is nearly precisely the opposite of what I want to talk about here.

In fact, per the original NPR article, what I really want to frame is this quote here from Gleiser;

“Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you” 

The real point I want to make is not the brain, or its neurology; but of emergent properties. The mind, all that we think and feel, emerges from the connections in our brains. The (human) soul, as I currently like to think of it, is an emergent property of the sum total of the connections between the cells and material in our bodies. Trillions and trillions and trillions of connections of matter, energy,  and complex systems interacting.

As I imagine the soul, it is what emerges when all those connections are considered. Like trillions of little “spiritual filaments” connecting everything in our mind and body, and which is greater than our individual material selves. I envision it like a really complex mesh of trillions of little glowing filaments it a more or less human shape. That is my essence, my spirit, my soul. Without those connections, all I am would cease to be. (Which is more or less what happens at death, but now is not the time.)

All in all, drawing from Sarenth’s post, Soul Matrix is a great word for this. A complex network from which something else develops. Meshing, Matrix, Network, Wiring; all of which I will use to describe the emergent property I currently think of as the soul.

As far as terms like Hugr and Munr are concerned, they can be used as a “spiritual shorthand.” Frankly, smaller numbers of “parts” are a lot easier to communicate than “a matrix of a trillion trillion light filaments.” Both have their place, I think.

However, moving beyond the individual, we are connected to pretty much everything else on this planet. Some of these connections are tangible, like matter relationships with our food. Some are not nearly as tangible, like the words we exchange with one another. When we extend these connections, these “filaments” beyond ourselves; things start to get really interesting.

As I have said before, I am a big fan of the concept of emergent properties. As you network and connect a greater number of parts, synergies start to happen. Synergy here is defined as “the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”, and not as some bad corporate propaganda. Two oxygen atoms connect with a hydrogen, and water happens; which has characteristics of neither. You get enough water together with other molecules and some self-replicating proteins, single celled life happens. When evolution experiments with enough arrangements of different forms of life over the long flow of time; humans happen.

In short, the sum is greater than the sum of the parts. At each new level of organization, new properties emerge that are not predicated by the lower levels. This has fascinating implications from an animistic point of view, which is all about creating relationships.

Enough plants, animals, rocks and rivers together and you get an ecosystem. You get enough humans together together and you get a society. When you experiment with enough societies, you get more complex and larger forms of networked humans.

(Note, both evolution and social development are non-linear processes. There are failures, successes, stops and starts.)

Yet, what happens when you get a “critical mass” of human societies networked with other systems on a planetary scale? Something interesting may be emerging indeed… Here I turned to an article from the BBC;

“In Ancient Greek mythology, the Earth Goddess Gaia had nine titan sons, who attempted to control not just the Earth, but the entire Universe. I’d like to introduce another. It’s a new creature who emerged only in recent decades. But it’s a creature who is already as influential over life on the planet as the phytoplankton or forests that regulate global temperature, the weather and the air we breathe.

That new creature is us, or more precisely, what humanity is becoming. The entirety of our species, Homo sapiens, is evolving into a superorganism; I’ll call this new life force Homo omnis, or ‘Homni’.

We have now become the dominant force shaping our planet. Some say that because of our actions we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the age of man. Homni is a product of this age, a product of human industrialisation, population expansion, globalisation and the revolution in communications technology, and he is immensely powerful.”

The idea of the superorganism is an old one, and here it is used more as an analogy than as a literal truth. Herbert Spencer was one of the first to propose the idea in the social theory. Here is a excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Spencer explored the holistic nature of society as a social organism… For Spencer, the super-organic was an emergent property of interacting organisms, that is, human beings. ”     

Still, the idea has gone through many thinkers, and many different variations. When thinking about an increasingly networked world, the superorganism becomes an interesting analogy. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; we might want to think about looking a lot harder at the parts we each play. Such a worldview would favor greater collaboration, greater integration and networking, and a life centered approach. The whole of it all would be one part humanity, one part technology, and one part ecology.

We would need to look at the world through a much more holistic lens.

I give the last word here to the BBC;

“And here lies an interesting paradox. Humans may have evolved through a process of natural selection – essentially outcompeting rivals to death – but as palaeontologist Tim Flannery says, this has led not to a “dog-eat-dog world”, but to a cooperative society. He believes we are in the process of forming an interdependent global society with a set of shared beliefs – a “civilisation of ideas” – that will transform Earth into a more equitable and ecologically curated planet. It’s an optimistic view of Homni, based on the fact that most people want to get on with each other and look after their neighbourhood environment. Whether, or to what degree, Flannery’s altruistic view of humanity bears out is the big question.”

 Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

BBC – Superorganism

Collective Intelligence

Superorganism

The Technium

The Hobbesian


Updates 2/15/17

“Have I awakened
Deep inside some madman’s dream?
This is not my country
This is not what I believe
Have I awakened
Deep inside some madman’s dream?
I can barely recognize
The place this used to be”

Assemblage 23 – Madman’s Dream

Good evening folks!

Well, it is evening here anyways. I cannot speak to whatever part of the world you may be reading this from. I just wanted to post a (hopefully) quick update blog, so you all can stay in the loop and read about all the exciting things I am working on.

Plus I needed another filler post here as I work to get another post with a little more substance ready…

So here I am, letting you know I haven’t forgotten about you all.

Okay, so here are some updates;

  1. I am coming up on the halfway mark on another manuscript. That’s approximately 35 -40k words for those of you playing the home game. I am working away on a cyberpunk/cybershaman type novel, and I have to say it has really been fun to write so far. I get to play with some pretty interesting topics; such as spirituality, sustainability, and how all that relates to technology. I also really enjoy speculating about what the world might look like in the not-so-distant future.
  2. I have announced it on Facebook, but I will relay that here as well. I have been accepted to write for Paganbloggers.com. Currently I expect that to start moving sometime in March, and I am really excited about this new opportunity. In addition, they are running an Indiegogo to help fund this new site for pagans, by pagans. You can check that out here!
  3. I have finished up editing the fifth book in the Elder Blood Saga. The final book in the series!  I will be getting the artwork for that started in the near future.
  4. I continue to do my best to grow and expand the shop! Have you checked out The White Wolf yet? The link is over there —> It is the home for my writing, crafting, and other work.
  5. Currently, I plan to start a 2+ year shamanic intensive in March. It seems to be the next step in my spiritual journey, and I am anxious/excited to take that next step.

I think that pretty much covers what is going on with me. There is certainly a lot going on in the world, and I’ve been doing my best to keep up with it all. I post a fair bit about many things over on my personal Facebook; not limited to science, spirituality, politics, the environment.. You know a lot of the things I talk about here.

I don’t want to go into that all too deeply here, especially the political bit. Primarily, this is not a political blog. I will delve into that from time to time of course, as it intersects with a lot of what I do talk about here. I think I could even make a fair argument that politics is part of the whole Anthropology thing, as it is concerned with humans; and politics is part of how humans govern one another. There is certainly a case to be made there, as well as topics such as building a sustainable civilization, religious freedoms, and the environment. Plus add the fact that I am sci-fi writer, so on occasion, politics does come up.

There is a lot to say on that front to be sure. The first month or so of the new administration in the US has been… overwhelming. I have been trying my best to keep up, but it seems like every hour something new is breaking. It is also fair to say that many of the things that are coming out of Washington trouble me deeply, and run contrary to many of my views. It just creates this baseline anxiety for me. I’m worried for myself, and my friends and family. Many of them fall into the “marginal” categories, and their rights will be the first to be questioned.

Needless to say, I am part of the resistance. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, and I have serious questions for both parties. Another Republican in charge wouldn’t have bothered me as much as #45. I never thought I’d wish for Bush Jr back. But truly, the administration of #45 scares me.

But, I am both an optimist and a realist. I am an optimist because I believe that humans have so much potential. I am a realist because I realize the amount of work that it will take to get there. That is why I am trying to stay positive about all this, and inspiring and hopeful as I can. This does not means I don’t think the days ahead aren’t dark.

However #45 is a reaction to 8 years of Obama, and vI like to think that the counterreaction to this administration will be fierce; and the further it tries to push things, the more fierce that counterreaction will be. I also think we will have the opportunity to build a better world on the far side. A more global, interconnected, and sustainable world.

I like this Positive Reframe a fair bit.

But that doesn’t mean there is a lot of hard work ahead of us, and I won’t lie to you and say that work will be all unicorns and rainbows either. People are going to suffer under #45, good people. My people, and I will stand with them.

If you feel called to resist, do so. I will stand for our environment, for science, for my spirituality, and for minorities of all stripes. I don’t know at the current time how far this will go, but I will stand by my values all the same.

Here is a piece I like from Scientific American about resisting.

I particularly like this bit;

“His writings, which have been translated into dozens of languages and are available on the internet, describe a wide variety of tactics: worker strikes, student strikes, mass petitions, underground newspapers, skywriting, display of flags and banners, boycotts of goods, boycotts of sporting events, refusal to pay rent, withdrawal of bank savings, fasts, mock trials, occupation of government buildings, marches, motorcades, teach-ins, pray-ins, ostracism of collaborators, publication of names of collaborators, seeking imprisonment, formation of parallel government and mass disrobing.

Many of Sharp’s methods involve mockery, which the !Kung and other hunter-gatherer groups also employ against the swell-headed.”

Yes, I realize not all these actions are legal. It will be up to each and everyone of us to decide where our “Sacred Cows” are, and what we are willing to risk.

That said, by all means protest. March, rally, strike if you have to. Take a tip from the Natives at Standing Rock, and pray as well as protest. Write, make memes, share reputable news sources, learn the facts, make memes… Do whatever calls to you, and do it.

And hopefully the next world awaits…

 “Build me a future,
Splendid and graceful.
Make it better by design.
Perfected strategies, applied technologies.
A brighter future for a darker age.”

Vnv Nation – Streamline

 


End of Nations? Part 3

Here, we diverge from the idea of the Nation-State, and into what a Post-Nation world might look like. The article points to the European Union as a potential model, a federation of smaller units.

Even so, the EU may point the way to what a post-nation-state world will look like.

Zielonka agrees that further integration of Europe’s governing systems is needed as economies become more interdependent. But he says Europe’s often-paralysed hierarchy cannot achieve this. Instead he sees the replacement of hierarchy by networks of cities, regions and even non-governmental organisations. Sound familiar? Proponents call it neo-medievalism.“

This brings up some interesting points, which I would like to explore more in later works. However, I did come across some thoughts recently that highlight a little more what this kind of world might look like. Here are a few excerpts from An Anarchist FAQ

“The social and political structure of anarchy is similar to that of the economic structure, i.e., it is based on a voluntary federation of decentralized, directly democratic policy-making bodies. These are the neighborhood and community assemblies and their confederations. In these grassroots political units, the concept of “self-management” becomes that of “self-government”, a form of municipal organisation in which people take back control of their living places from the bureaucratic state and the capitalist class whose interests it serves.

[…]

The key to that change, from the anarchist standpoint, is the creation of a network of participatory communities based on self-government through direct, face-to-face democracy in grassroots neighborhood and community assemblies [meetings for discussion, debate, and decision making].

[…]

Since not all issues are local, the neighborhood and community assemblies will also elect mandated and re-callable delegates to the larger-scale units of self-government in order to address issues affecting larger areas, such as urban districts, the city or town as a whole, the county, the bio-region, and ultimately the entire planet. Thus the assemblies will confederate at several levels in order to develop and co-ordinate common policies to deal with common problems. “

Now, I don’t consider myself an anarchist by any sense of the word, but that does not mean there are not interesting ideas to be found in the context of a post-Nation world. We are in fact talking about here the greater integration and networking of numerous scales of organization. Self-government is definitely one of the ideas I support with democracy, and it is curious that there are interesting parallels between this think and several democratic Nations throughout the world, notably the European Union and the United States.

I am not saying that these democratic structures are anarchic in any way, and I am sympathetic to many of the critiques of those systems. For example, especially in the United States I do feel the governmental structure has become quite self-serving and top heavy as hierarchical institutions. I for one would love to see it reworked to allow for not only greater direct democracy, such as has been outlined above, but also better representation. The idea of “mandated and re-callable” delegations has a certain appeal to it. My own representative government here in Michigan has flouted the will of the people in many important issues, and made no attempt to hide that. And yet, we the people have little recourse to deal with something like that.

I return here to the idea of better intergrated and interdependent networks; in the NewScientist article;

Ian Goldin, head of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, which analyses global problems, thinks such networks must emerge. He believes existing institutions such as UN agencies and the World Bank are structurally unable to deal with problems that emerge from global interrelatedness, such as economic instability, pandemics, climate change and cybersecurity – partly because they are hierarchies of member states which themselves cannot deal with these global problems. He quotes Slaughter: “Networked problems require a networked response.” “

I cannot stress that last part enough. Networked problems require a networked response. As we face more and more problems on a global scale top-down institutions lack the flexibility and adaptability to deal with really complex problems. As the article points out, hierarchy requires the person at the top to get their head around the whole of the complexity. That is nearly impossible as the world grows entirely more complex. Things such as climate change and habitat loss require a much more adaptable and integrated response.

I return to the article here to further expand on this point;

Moreover, says Dani Rodrik of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, the very globalised economy that is allowing these networks to emerge needs something or somebody to write and enforce the rules. Nation states are currently the only entities powerful enough to do this.

Yet their limitations are clear, both in solving global problems and resolving local conflicts. One solution may be to pay more attention to the scale of government. Known as subsidiarity, this is a basic principle of the EU: the idea that government should act at the level where it is most effective, with local government for local problems and higher powers at higher scales. There is empirical evidence that it works: social and ecological systems can be better governed when their users self-organise than when they are run by outside leaders.”

A government should act at the level it is most effective. I think there is a fair bit of truth in that. Yet, it comes to the point that we have to admit that most of this is just future speculation. It is an idea for one possible way forward for our societies. I for one think it is a decent idea, as I want to see us become a more globalized and integrated people. I want us to continue to push ourselves to become a planetary society (Type I on the Kardashev Scale), and that will require more networking and integration. Yet, as the article points out; how we get there (if we get there) is anyone’s best guess;

However, it is hard to see how our political system can evolve coherently in that direction. Nation states could get in the way of both devolution to local control and networking to achieve global goals. With climate change, it is arguable that they already have.”

Now, this article was written in 2014, back before the Paris Climate Agreement. Still, Nation-States consistently create problems and obstacles to further integration. Here I give the article the last word;

Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries. But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.”

Yes, time to start imagining.

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/

Anarchist FAQ

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secI5.html


End of Nations? Part 2

We begin today where we left off last time, the article from NewScientist has this to say about complexity;

Complexity was limited by the energy a society could harness. For most of history that essentially meant human and animal labour. In the late Middle Ages, Europe harnessed more, especially water power. This boosted social complexity – trade increased, for example– requiring more government. A decentralised feudal system gave way to centralised monarchies with more power.

But these were still not nation states.“

Are you at all familiar with the Kardashev scale? This scale was developed back in the 1960’s, and ranks a civilization based on the energy at its disposal. Currently there are five classes on the scale, and currently our society doesn’t even register. A decent overview is at Futurism. We are still a type 0 civilization, and have a long way to go before we are even type I. For reference, a Type I civilization is able to harness all the energy of a neighboring star. Can you imagine solar power on that kind of scale? Here is just an excerpt from Futurism;

Essentially, to measure a civilization’s advancement (awesomeness), the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to utilize. Notably, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (whether it populates a planet, galaxy, or an entire universe)…

Type 0: Subglobal Culture—This civilization extracts its energy and raw-materials from crude organic-based sources such as wood, coal, and oil. Any rockets utilized by such a civilization would necessarily depend on chemical propulsion. Since such travel is so pitifully slow, a civilization at this level would be (for the most part) confined to its home planet. Unfortunately, this is about where we are. We haven’t quite made it to Type I yet.”

Moving back to the article, as was pointed out through most of history, there was a relatively low amount of energy available to us. That started to change as the world industrialized.

By then Europe had hit the tipping point of the industrial revolution. Harnessing vastly more energy from coal meant that complex behaviours performed by individuals, such as weaving, could be amplified, says Bar-Yam, producing much more complex collective behaviours.

This demanded a different kind of government. In 1776 and 1789, revolutions in the US and France created the first nation states, defined by the national identity of their citizens rather than the bloodlines of their rulers. According to one landmark history of the period, says Breuilly, “in 1800 almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French. By 1900 they all did.” For various reasons, people in England had an earlier sense of “Englishness”, he says, but it was not expressed as a nationalist ideology.”

As the industrial revolution took hold, it brought more energy into the equation, and this brought with it the need for more complex systems to regulate the new reality. There were a lot of different reasons for this.

Part of the reason was a pragmatic adaptation of the scale of political control required to run an industrial economy. Unlike farming, industry needs steel, coal and other resources which are not uniformly distributed, so many micro-states were no longer viable. Meanwhile, empires became unwieldy as they industrialised and needed more actual governing.

That meant hierarchical control structures ballooned, with more layers of middle management. Such bureaucracy was what really brought people together in nation-sized units, argues Maleševic. But not by design: it emerged out of the behaviour of complex hierarchical systems. As people do more kinds of activities, says Bar-Yam, the control structure of their society inevitably becomes denser.”

And as the article points out, this lead to a whole host of new processes that brought the nation-state to the forefront of modern politics. The number of beurocrats per capita expanded, and numerous processes of nation building, which bring the people to identify with their nation. the identity of the people went into play. In addition, through governmental forms such as democracy, the nation granted its citizens a stake in the nation, and they started to feel it was “theirs.”

Yet, even nationalism has it’s limits. Nationalism and Globalism and both two edged swords in many respects. As the world grows increasingly global, this brings with it a tribal tendency to dwell into isolation in one’s nation. Returning to the article helps expand this point.

According to Brian Slattery of York University in Toronto, Canada, nation states still thrive on a widely held belief that “the world is naturally made of distinct, homogeneous national or tribal groups which occupy separate portions of the globe, and claim most people’s primary allegiance”. But anthropological research does not bear that out, he says. Even in tribal societies, ethnic and cultural pluralism has always been widespread. Multilingualism is common, cultures shade into each other, and language and cultural groups are not congruent. “

I do not think I need to belabor this point too much, as I think the point has been pretty clearly stated. Nation-States create within themselves a “national identity”, which often ignores the reality of multiculturalism in pretty much every Nation in the world. As this article has clearly shown, the Nation-State is a fairly recent phenomenon.

This is where we are going to leave this part of the series, and next time we explore more of what a Post-Nation world might look like.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/


End of Nations? Part 1

There was an article I came across some time ago by NewScientist that really struck a cord with me. As a science fiction writer, I spend a great deal of time doing though experiments and engaging in creative speculation. To put this another way, I wonder a great deal of the future looks like.

In some respect, trying to predict the future is really a futile endeavor. To make predictions about the future, often we resort to historical analogy or the extrapolation of current trends. There are big problems with both of these approaches, which makes me question how useful they really are. For historical analogy, the big problem is historical particularity. At no time in history did our civilization look exactly like it does today, we have industry, computers, and a far bit of other things that don’t have precedents in things like the Roman Empire or Ancient Egypt. That means, after a point, historical analogies fail.

The problem with extrapolation of current trends is the inherent assumption that current trends will continue. For example, I could speculate that our hunger for oil will destroy the planet. There is plenty of good sci-fi out there that does just that. The problem of course arises, when we assume our habit of oil consumption will continue. It may, or it may not. I cannot say for sure.

As another example, I could write a story about a prosperous and brighter future, based on the current trends in science and the gains we have made in environmental protection. That assumes these trends will continue. In real life, we may just get an administration that destroys all those glimmers of hope. Not only does that make the future a lot dimmer, but it also breaks my future predictions.

At the same time, I find creative speculation to be a lot of fun, if not all that productive. No, it is unlikely that I can make sound predictions about the future (though some author’s certainly have been real close), I find the process behind it to be a lot of fun. In other words, it is really fun to imagine what the future might look like.

As such, when I came across End of Nations: Is there an Alternative to Countries? Over at NewScientist, it got my imaginative circuits firing. I hope you indulge me while I talk a little about the article.

Begins with this little number;

Nation states cause some of our biggest problems, from civil war to climate inaction. Science suggests there are better ways to run a planet “

The world is a pretty complex place these days, and the major players on the world state are in fact nation-states. As the article points out, there are about 193 of them these days. However, it was not always that way. In fact, the idea of a nation-state is actually fairly new on a relative time scale. Civilization as we think about it, mostly centered on cities, has been around at least 10,000 years. Nation-states have generally only been around for the last 500. A lot of people have started to wonder if nation-states are the best way to organize our world and confront the challenges ahead.

Yet there is a growing feeling among economists, political scientists and even national governments that the nation state is not necessarily the best scale on which to run our affairs. We must manage vital matters like food supply and climate on a global scale, yet national agendas repeatedly trump the global good. At a smaller scale, city and regional administrations often seem to serve people better than national governments.

How, then, should we organise ourselves? Is the nation state a natural, inevitable institution? Or is it a dangerous anachronism in a globalised world?”

At this point, the article asks us to imagine what another way of organization. But before we can approach that question, the article launches into a little bit of the history behind nation-states. It details how the nation-state is really a recent invention, and that this method of structuring our societies didn’t really exist before circa the 18th century.

The article rightly points out that for a long span of human history, we did not organize ourselves in this way;

That goes back to the anthropology, and psychology, of humanity’s earliest politics. We started as wandering, extended families, then formed larger bands of hunter-gatherers, and then, around 10,000 years ago, settled in farming villages. Such alliances had adaptive advantages, as people cooperated to feed and defend themselves.”

Yet, there were limits to what people could do as roaming bands, or even larger organizations such as villages. According to the article, Robin Dunbar suggests that an individual person can keep track of their relationship’s with about 150 people or so. That means, say in a world of 7 billion some odd people, individually most of us are going to be able to have decent social relationships with a very small number of people. Call it your “inner circle” if you like.

But, aside from cooperation for food supplies, there was also another important reason for a lot of friends.

But there was one important reason to have more friends than that: war. “In small-scale societies, between 10 and 60 per cent of male deaths are attributable to warfare,” says Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut at Storrs. More allies meant a higher chance of survival.”

As long as there has been humans, there have been human deaths because of violence. I really wish I could feed the quint romance that there was some mythical “peaceful” time in our past, but there wasn’t. Some societies and tribes were more peaceful than others, sure, but as long as we have been around we can point to evidence of violence. But there is another thing that needs to be said here. Humans are also social by nature, our best chances of survival are when we work together, not when we are alone. So we found ways to organize ourselves, and these larger alliances helped us to survive. This in turn, gave rise to hierarchies.

How did they get past Dunbar’s number? Humanity’s universal answer was the invention of hierarchy. Several villages allied themselves under a chief; several chiefdoms banded together under a higher chief. To grow, these alliances added more villages, and if necessary more layers of hierarchy.

Larger hierarchies not only won more wars but also fed more people through economies of scale, which enabled technical and social innovations such as irrigation, food storage, record-keeping and a unifying religion. Cities, kingdoms and empires followed.”

As I have already pointed out, this was hardly a linear process. The transition from hunter-gatherers to empires and monarchies was an up-down-and all around process. Cities rose and fell, empires did the same. What was the reason for this? There are several factors involved to be sure, but one of the keep points, as pointed out in the article, was that most pre-industrial societies were relatively not all that complex.

One key point is that agrarian societies required little actual governing. Nine people in 10 were peasants who had to farm or starve, so were largely self-organising. Government intervened to take its cut, enforce basic criminal law and keep the peace within its undisputed territories. Otherwise its main role was to fight to keep those territories, or acquire more. “

As such, even the largest empires such as Rome, didn’t have to do very much in terms of governing. The individual communities did most of that themselves, though Rome itself provided the organizing structure behind the society, which granted them with a fairly consistent supply of manpower and food production. Back to the article to expand on this point.

Such loose control, says Bar-Yam, meant pre-modern political units were only capable of scaling up a few simple actions such as growing food, fighting battles, collecting tribute and keeping order. Some, like the Roman Empire, did this on a very large scale. But complexity – the different actions society could collectively perform – was relatively low.

We are getting towards what I think is the real heart of the matter. In the case of most pre-industrial societies, the relative complexity was pretty low. The article here defines complexity as the “different actions a society could preform”, and as has already been pointed out, most of these activities were either food production, war or keeping order. But then the question that follows is why was that relative complexity so low?

We will explore that question more in the next part of this series.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/


Walking with the Ancestors Part 7-A

The next stop on our journey is a little bit west of the Anzick Boy, as discussed in Chapter 6 of this project. This time we are around 9000 years ago, in the state now known as Washington.

anzick-kennewick

We are at the teal dot on the west coast of the USA, circa 9,000 years ago

This find is known as the Kennewick Man, or The Ancient One, and has a long and controversial story behind it. I am going to use a few selections here to set the scene.

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.” (Smithsonian/history)

What was evident right away was how complete the skeleton, which is often not the case with these kind of finds. To see a picture of the skeleton, be sure to check out the NPR link below. There is some great material there, which I am only going to be able to discuss a small segment here.

Okay, so a couple of college students stumble over this really complete skeleton, and almost immediately a controversy breaks out. One of the big reasons being, and something I have mentioned before; the conflict between respect for the dead and the need for future study and research. I will take a few more excerpts to really put this into perspective.

The fight has been raging for 20 years, ever since a couple of college kids stumbled — literally — across a human skull while wading in a river in Washington state. They thought they’d found a murder victim, and flagged down a nearby cop, who called in a local expert. Instead, they had discovered some of the oldest, most complete human remains ever dug up in North America.

Archaeologists dubbed the skeleton Kennewick Man, after the place he was found, and hoped his bones could help settle one of the greatest mysteries in the story of human migration: how did Homo sapiens, originating in Africa, end up in the Americas?” (NPR)

That sets up one side of this conflict. The archaeologists that excavated the skeleton had a lot of questions, and there was a great deal of testing and research to do before they could even begin to answer some of those questions. It is well known that research and testing is a time intensive process, and so they would need to hold onto the bones for future study. In addition, this says nothing about tests and research tools that have not been discovered yet. If a skeleton is reburied, scientists and future researchers won’t have access to it for future study.

However (and this is kind of a long excerpt;

But a group of Native American tribes considered The Ancient One, as they call him, a direct tribal ancestor — and they didn’t need science to explain how people ended up here. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time,” a leader of the Umatilla tribe wrote in a statement at the time. “We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.”

Working together, five tribes demanded that The Ancient One’s remains not be poked or prodded in the name of science, and instead be promptly reburied in accordance with tribal custom — and under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That federal law, passed in 1990, requires certain Native American artifacts and remains to be handed over to culturally affiliated tribes or provable descendants.

“The tribes had good reason to be sensitive,” writes Smithsonian Magazine’s Douglas Preston. “The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people.” “ (NPR)

The Native American’s claim was wrapped in a deep history of colonialism and oppression on top of the rights of the dead. This is a big issue, and I certainly don’t have the space to detail it all here. I think the excerpt above gives a rough idea of what we were talking about. It is the intersection of a lot of issues that have had a strong (and often negative) effect on Native peoples across the county.

It is an ongoing struggle for sure; as it highlighted nicely by this excerpt from NPR,

“It’s the chafe between science and spirituality,” writes Kevin Taylor at Indian Country Today, “between people who say the remains have so much to tell us about the ancient human past that they should remain available for research, versus people who feel a kinship with the ancient bones and say they should be reburied to show proper reverence for the dead.” “

I have a lot of thoughts about this, as both a student of anthropology AND a spirit worker/shamanic practitioner. I will come back to this at the end of this piece, because there is more of this story to tell.

So we have these two “sides” in conflict about the ultimate fate the Kennewick Man (anthropologists et al)/ The Ancient One (Native Peoples et al), and is the case with many of these things, the conflict has played out of the last twenty years or so.

But for these bones to fall under the protection of NAGPRA, there had to be proof of a connection between the remains and the people fighting to reclaim them today. The scientists said no such connection existed. The tribal leaders insisted it did; they could feel it in their bones. “ (NPR)

That was the crux of many of the ethical as well as legal fights that took place over the last two decades.

That question ended up spawning an unprecedented legal and ethical battle in which prominent archaeologists and anthropologists would sue the U.S. government for the chance to study the bones. Femur bones would go missing under unexplained circumstances. Bitter arguments would be pitched over the migration patterns and feeding habits of sea lions, the curvature and racial implications of cheekbones, the validity of oral tradition as courtroom evidence. “ (NPR)

The skeleton was found on federal land, so it technically fell under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control.” (Smithsonian/history)

In 2004, a San Francisco federal appeals court sided with researchers, citing previous analyses that showed Kennewick Man was not Native American, writes Guarino.” (Smithsonian/history)

On and on it went, and for the most part to verdicts favored the scientists. Now, I am not trying to set up the scientists as bad guys, but they didn’t come out looking spotless either. That being said, it is hard to underestimate what we have learned from the Kennewick Man. I wouldn’t be here writing about my ancestral connection to him if we didn’t.

For perspective;

Eventually, the scientists did get a legally approved (though very brief and highly constricted) look at Kennewick Man, and what they learned is truly amazing. Based on the shape of his skull and other features, they theorized that he or his forebears may have been Asian coastal seafarers. They may have journeyed by boat along the south Alaskan shoreline and ultimately all the way down the Americas, hugging the coast and living off kelp, fish, sea lions and the like.”

This is the “coastal migration” theory of the peopling of the Americas, which suggests that a wave, or waves, of people traveled and lived along the Pacific coast long before other travelers chased herds of tasty mastodons and mammoths across a land bridge into Alaska.

They also learned a tremendous amount about what Kennewick Man’s life may have been like. Here’s more from Preston:

“Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone growths consistent with ‘surfer’s ear,’ caused by frequent immersion in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his heels. … Many years before Kennewick Man’s death, a heavy blow to his chest broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was one tough dude.” “ (NPR)

It is hard to understate how much we have learned from finds such as this one. Like I said, without his DNA data, I would not know I was related to this man in any way. However, the case of the Kennewick Man is one I learned about in my college days; for exactly the reasons I have laid out here. This find is a great case study concerning how we practice science, as well as how we treat the dead.

I am not trying to mince words here. I do feel that the Native Peoples really got the shaft in this case, up until 2015 (I will get to that in a minute). The unethical practices of some of the scientists was really distasteful, and how both federal law (NAGPRA) as well as the legal system being used for a further tool of exploitation and oppression of Native People’s really leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2015 new research began to pour out that supported the claims of the Native Peoples.

A group of scientists based in Denmark made a major breakthrough in 2015, after they recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone and used it to map Kennewick Man’s genetic code. When they compared that code with DNA from different populations around the world, the geneticists found it was closest to that of modern Native Americans. Their findings, published in the journal Nature in July 2015, contradicted previous assertions by scientists linking Kennewick Man to Polynesians or to the Ainu people of Japan.

At the initiative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientists at the University of Chicago were recently able to independently verify the results of that unprecedented DNA study.” (History)

That DNA is why I am able to talk about this at all. Not only did it confirm my relation to the Kennewick Man, it was also the reason that the bones will be given back to Native Peoples, and proved that their claim was a valid one.

Now, members of the Colville tribe and four others say they’ll work together to complete the repatriation — or reburial — process, and the government has shown zero interest in standing in their way. “ (NPR)

I do not know whether or not the Kennewick Man/Ancient One has been reburied as of this time. But this case does open up a lot of questions about the practice of archaeology, and the role of Native Peoples, as well as the general treatment of the dead.

One of the scientists involved in revealing a genetic connection between Kennewick Man and living Native Americans invited members of the five tribes into the lab, where they put on body suits and entered a “clean room” to pay their respects to The Ancient One. In the wake of Kennewick, scientists have been reflecting on ways to work with indigenous communities when these kinds of conflicts come up:

“Many other researchers are taking a similar approach. [Dennis O’Rourke, a biological anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City] says that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to working with native communities. He finds some of the North American Arctic groups he works with eager to contribute to his research, others are less so; and their opinions shift over time.

” ‘We really have to change the top-down approach, where we come to people and say “these are our research questions and you should participate, because — SCIENCE,” ‘ says Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin.” (NPR)

Yet, on the other hand;

Other scientists say there’s a real danger in altering scientific methods to accommodate religious belief. Elizabeth Weiss, an anthropologist at San Jose State, outlined impediments to her own work in a 2001 paper on the Kennewick controversy, and argued that regulations like NAGPRA require far too little evidence proving a cultural connection to modern-day native communities. She also suggested that such regulations — which increased around the world in the wake of NAGPRA — can have a chilling effect on scientific research:

“Consider having dedicated a large part of one’s life to unearthing the materials that are now being examined. Even casts and other important works — such as videotapes, photos, and excavation records — are in increasing danger of confiscation. Some scientists have expressed fear that their federal grants would be in jeopardy if they objected too openly to current policies. Under such circumstances, most scientists do not even begin ‘high-risk’ projects. Finds that could threaten Native American origin beliefs are especially likely to be targeted. Defendants could become embroiled for years in expensive lawsuits that neither they nor their institutions can afford …

“The politics of bone gathering in Africa are notorious … and one shudders to imagine what might happen if activists could convince modern Africans to claim early human skeletons as their ancestors, so that they too could be reburied.” (NPR)

I said I would circle back to this, and here it is. This whole case sets up a clear example of how science can conflict with oral histories, indigenous traditions, and the general respect for the dead. In my opinion, I think it is possible to have our cake and eat it to, it is a question of balance to me. I agree with Raff, in which there is no silver bullet for these issues. That being said, I think there is certainly a case to be made for collaboration instead of competition. When we are talking about skeletal remains, we are not just talking about objects without a context. We are talking about the remains of the dead, and their relationship to their possible still living descendants and traditions.

As both student of anthropology and a spirit worker, I can see this from both sides. I agree partially with Weiss, that there is a real possibility that science may suffer if that uneasy balance is disturbed. As I have already said, I wouldn’t be here talking about the Kennewick Man if it wasn’t for everything we have learned from studying the finds.

If this series has shown anything, is that I can claim “early skeletons” among my ancestors. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without science. I think we can find a balance between science, and respect for the dead.

Kennewick Man/The Ancient One: Sadly, I do not have an exact percentage match for this one. The data is not included in the calculation tool I use. However, I do know that I do match this one, but it is a low count. I would put our relationship in the “distant relative category.”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennewick_Man

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/05/05/476631934/a-long-complicated-battle-over-9-000-year-old-bones-is-finally-over

http://www.history.com/news/army-corps-of-engineers-confirms-kennewick-man-is-native-american

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/meet-kennewick-man.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/kennewick-man-finally-freed-share-his-secrets-180952462/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/over-9000-years-later-kennewick-man-will-be-given-native-american-burial-180958947/


Walking with the Ancestors Part 6-B

The tent was mostly dark, except for the small fire burning in it’s center. The shadows danced and played across the the hide sides of the structure. The air was filled with the scents of countless herbs.

In the middle of the tent, sat a shaman. With a steady, melodic rhythm; he pounded away at his drum while calling to the ancestors of his people. The world shifted, and the shadows started to come out of the walls, and sit besides him by the fire.

“What is it you need?” One of the ancestors asked. The shaman took a deep breath before he answered.

“There is a large decision before our people, and I wanted to seek advice from you.” The shaman said.

“You are wondering if you should follow the path through the ice?” Another ancestor spoke.

“Yes. I have discussed with some of the wisest among our people, and they say that world is changing. The ice is melting, and some think we should follow the path that is opening up for us.”

“The ice is melting, let there be no doubt about that. The world is warming in a way that has not been seen in ages.” An ancestor said.

“How can you be sure? The ice has been there as long as the oldest stories tell, and some of my people think that it will always be there.” The shaman said.

“All things change in this world, and if you doubt us, we can show you.” Another ancestor said.

“It is natural to have doubts, and it is wise to ask questions.” A second ancestor added. The shaman nodded.

“Show me.” He said. The ancestors circled and started to chant. The shaman did not know this one, but soon picked it up, and chanted along with them.

The outline of the tent shifted and fell, and a great hole opened up below them. The shaman fell into the dark abyss, and fell and fell. He screamed out in terror, fearing for his life. He saw light fast approaching at the bottom of the hole, and he knew the end had come.

He fell out of a hole in the sky, and into snow that was deeper than he had ever known. His body plunged beneath the snow, and the snow fell in around him. He struggled for air, but all his lungs found was the bitter, suffocating cold. His chest tightened, and he tried to cry out; but there was no air in his lungs.

Several hands plunged down through the snow, and grabbed his wrists. With one mighty pull, the ancestors pulled the shaman from the snow.

“Sorry about that.” One of the ancestors said.

“I nearly died.” The shaman added.

“Do you think that kind of travel is easy? We make mistakes.” One of the ancestors said.

“Well, he makes mistakes. I told him he was doing it wrong.” Another ancestor added.

The shaman couldn’t help but laugh.

“Where are we?” He asked.

“A good vantage point. Come this way.” One of the ancestors said. The small group crossed the snowy terrain, and came up a high ridge.

At the top of the ridge, the shaman looked out over the land. As far as he could see, the land was locked in snow and ice. The blinding white seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon.

“Now watch.” One of the ancestors said.

The shaman watched as the sun started to race across the sky, and was followed by night. The moon trailed across the sky not long after, and the shaman knew that time was passing at an incredible pace.

After a point, time was moving so fast that there was barely a clear distinction between night and day.

The shaman watched as the ice before him slowly started to melt. Great rivers started to form in the glaciers and ice plains, and these carved great valleys into the ice. Soon, an entire canyon opened up through the ice, and the shaman could see a clear path to the horizon. He also saw green start to appear at the edge of the ice.

“That is where your people will need to go.” One of the ancestors said.

“That will be a long journey.” The shaman said.

“It will be, but that land will be home to thousands of generation of your descendants.” The ancestor said.

“When will the path be opened? It looked to be a long time from now.” The shaman said.

“It is open now. Do not let what you have seen here trick you. You have seen from ages in the past to many winters into the future. You must go soon.” The ancestor said.

The world dropped out and faded to black.

The shaman snapped back to his tent, and he slowed the rhythm on his drum until it came to a stop.

 

Commentary;

I tried tackling this story from a few different angles, but still came up against the ominous wall of writer’s block. This story just popped into my head this morning, and so I went to town typing it out. I think I am happy with the results.

At first I tried to construct this from the perspective of the Anzick Boy, since that was the topic of the last part in this series. But no matter how I tried, that didn’t just seem right. As such, I created this story as a kind of “prequel” to the Anzick Boy, and how he got to North America.

It is important to note that there are several different “paths” the ancestors of the Native Americans might have taken. Some theories suggest they might have come by sea, following the coast around the North Pacific. Other scholars think they might have migrated through paths in the ice as the glaciers retreated as the last Ice Age came to an end. That was the idea I hooked on here.

I guess that is it for now. Onward!

Thanks for reading!