Are Our Hierarchical Societies Intrinsically Abusive?

As I understand it, civilization got its start about 5,500 years ago when folks in ancient Sumer began living in agricultural-based, hierarchical societies.  Before then, our species almost exclusively lived in egalitarian bands of hunter/gatherers.  And one thing the anthropologists have noticed is that the shift from uncivilized hunting/gathering to civilized agriculture was not physically healthy for us.

It’s been discovered that our uncivilized ancestors were on the whole better fed and nourished than our civilized ancestors. Consequently, our uncivilized ancestors were taller, more robust, healthier, and possibly lived longer, than their civilized cousins.

Agriculture was a devil’s bargain.  It supported more people per acre than hunting/gathering.  But most of those people were malnourished.

I think the more you study it, the more you realize that civilization itself was a devil’s bargain — and not merely, or even primarily, because it was physically unhealthy.  Rather, I think civilization has been emotionally and mentally unhealthy for us when compared to our uncivilized past.  Why?

There are a lot of answers to that “Why”, but here’s one — it might even be the best: Civilized societies, perhaps much more than uncivilized societies, abuse their members.  And the abuse most likely creates all sorts of emotional and mental problems.

At least, that’s my hunch.  For the most part, my hunch comes out of what I’ve read in anthropology and closely related fields over the past 35 years.  But of course, I could be wrong.  For one thing, my reading in those fields has been casual, rather than systematic.  After all, I am a proud intellectual who tackles information in order to get laid, rather than a confused scientist who tackles information in order to discover truths  (But why isn’t it working?  Why am I not laid? Who must I see about correcting this?).

At any rate, let’s put aside for a moment the immense and meaningful tragedy of my not getting laid (Readers should seize this opportunity to dry their tears!), and ask ourselves the more relevant question:  If it can indeed be said that civilized societies, perhaps much more than uncivilized societies, abuse their members, then what is meant by “abuse” here?

As I am using the word, “abuse” is any unnecessary repression of a person’s true or genuine nature.

Of course, there is always someone who will object to that definition on the grounds that — if that is abuse — then most of us these days are to one extent or another being abused.  Or put differently, someone will object that abuse simply cannot be any unnecessary repression of a person’s true or genuine nature, because if that were so, then how can society function without abusing its members?

Well, that “objection” all but makes my case for me, doesn’t it?

It seems to me highly likely that the hierarchical societies our species first began living in some 5,500 years ago are intrinsically abusive.  Or, as some might say, “structurally” abusive.  In other words, I think it highly likely there is no real way we humans can live in hierarchical societies without, to various extents, abusing most of the people living in them.

Of course, some hierarchical societies are comparatively more abusive than other hierarchical societies.  Liberal democracies are significantly less abusive of their citizens than dictatorships are abusive of their subjects.  Even though all hierarchical societies today unnecessarily repress people’s genuine natures to one extent or another, it would be foolish to see no difference between one society and the next.

I think you could write a hundred blog posts on this one subject and not exhaust it.  In this post, I am attempting to merely introduce the topic.  I am certainly not, in so few words as these, attempting to persuade anyone that there is truth to the notion our hierarchical societies are intrinsically abusive.  So, I could go on and on about this, but I am now sure and certain I have already said enough to get me laid.  In the future, I hope to return to this subject again and again and again in order to probe deeper and deeper and ever more passionately into the hot, wet, willing TRUTH! of this wonderfully throbbing, hungry subject in order to get at whatever truths there might be in this matter.

3 thoughts on “Are Our Hierarchical Societies Intrinsically Abusive?

  1. In the hierarchy of the blog world, I am most certain you have abused your writing privileges here. Hierarchical, civilizational abuse. I like it.

    Like

  2. I would say yes and no…

    Yes, because the very act of imposing an order on a group of individuals is by it’s very nature going to involve power struggles between said individuals. Even among generally egalitarian communities with no hard power structure, there is subtle political maneuvering going on.

    And No…
    Agrarian cultures are no more prone to be abusive than non or semi agrarian ones. However cultures that invent and control currency are more prone to such abuse.
    For example most First Nations were agrarian/semi-agrarian and they remained remarkably egalitarian. The exceptions were to be found among the Nations that grew beyond a point where simple commerce was possible and the need for market based economies were introduced.

    The same goes for many other Native peoples from Africa to the Pacific Islands.

    Agrarianism wasn’t invented to control people… it was a way to provide a more stable food supply. Hunter gatherers have it good when they can find food… but if the food leaves the area then they are stuck. They also can’t afford to care for the elderly and sick as well as semi and non-nomadic people can.

    I think that abuse creeps in where hereditary power and market power become a part of the culture. These are inherent to successful (and thus overpopulated)communities.

    Such communities require ever more resources, entertainments and control… all of which leads to larger sections of the populace being suppressed in one way or another to the benefit of those at the top. IMHO.

    but I’m still an optimist, I think we still can slow down and reverse the trend to a more egalitarian lifestyle. We have the technology all we need is the will.

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