Alan Lomax dictates his theory of cultural evolution
Contributor(s): Contributor: Lomax, Alan
Subject(s): Cultural evolution
Physical form: Cassette Tape
Tape number: T3849
Track Number: 2
Archive ID: T3849b
Belongs to: Lomax, ND
Note: Theory of cultural evolution 1) Progress: All known human cultures can be arranged in a series of types that clearly evolved out of each other in terms of increasing implements and productivity. General types: collectors| hunter-fishers| incipients| animal husbanders| plow agriculturalists| and plow agriculturalists with irrigation. Within this are sixty other steps which also have this progressive relationship with each other. Some of these may represent special regional stages in evolution. 2) Thresholds: Stages in a series represent thresholds not absolute lacks or acquisitions of increments, in other words, a cluster of cultures may have acquired agriculture either as a discovery or learned from other cultures, but until they begin to devoted at least 40 or 50 percent of activity they are not passed over the threshold and become fully agriculturalists, so that the entire cultural web has shifted in the direction of agriculture, this will probably mean that they are not totally sedentary and are still fissive and so forth. 3) Environmental filters: Many of the peculiarities of regional evolution are the result of all or most of the cultures having passed through a similar experience in a similar environment. And thus there may be a strong underlying productive balance in one direction or another, this productive bias, accompanied by a specialized cultural tradition affects the general direction of growth and evolutionary potential. The environmental filters that we can see are as follows: Northern and sub Arctic North America. Since most Amerindians are ex-Siberians, they must have all passed through the huge Arctic and sub Arctic region and during this phase must have had to specialize in hunting and fishing in order to survive. Since such migrations are generally slow, perhaps a century or so ? no matter what the pressure for movement was ? therefore all Amerindians of whatever present location have had a common experience and a common bias toward hunting and fishing. It's likely that at one point all Amerindians were hunters and fishers. The second of these environmental filters is the tropical terrain South of Mexico and onto the Gran Chaco. All Amerindian migrants passed through this zone and must have been turned back from a largely hunting and fishing life toward gathering| and it seems quite likely that from this life of forest root and fruit gathering, they moved on into the manioc agriculture cultures that are universal in the Amazon basin. Agriculture, thus originating somewhere in the tropics, increasing in specialization in Mexico, spreads thence north in perhaps two or three different periods to the North American tribes ready to receive agriculture, i.e., the prosperous hunters of the eastern woodlands, and the Indians living along the rivers of the Southwest, who could establish a rudimentary irrigation system. The third environmental filter is the strip of fertile, open country along the southern rim of the Sahara, the Sudanese Savannah. This appears to have been the staging ground for black African animal husbanders, where they acquired and developed the combination of cereals and small animal husbandry that enabled them to migrate successfully into the whole of the African continent in a number of specialized developments, where large entities villages could prosper around a nucleus of herds and fields, where the work was carried out in the complementary fashion that is specialized to Africa. Most African culture was shaped in this zone. The fourth cultural filter was Southeast Asia. This zone of lush tropical vegetation was cut up into thousands of small valleys and separated pockets of agricultural land and was totally shielded from the pastoral incursions that the rest of Eurasia experienced. The population that passed through this filter all adapted the fish and pork and rice producing systems that were locally developed, and this prepared their culture for the similar environment they were to encounter in Malaysia. There certainly are other such developmental shapers /forging zones in the history of human development. Non-Malthusian principles. Control of population. There is clear evidence that all throughout history mankind has exercised control over population, including spacing of birth. It is believed that the living conditions of hunters automatically limit births. Infanticide has been a widely used technique. The most recent and cases of birth control are the United States, where population growth has been slowed by the general distribution of birth control techniques, and the dramatic instance of China. India (formerly an apparently hopeless case), under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, has joined the list of nations seeking to limit their population growth. Overuse of the land. Extractors did not over extract. Hunters learned to be careful, allowing animal populations to recover. Care for the environment was the structural principle of all the planter systems of agriculture, putting back soil nutrients in the form of mold, cover crops, ashes, chemicals, was widely practiced. Planting techniques of light penetration, hills of soil, in which plants were grown, reduced leaching of tropical soils. Irrigation and terracing were used when consonant with the environment. Conservation was practiced in many zones of plow agriculture ? terraces of East Asia, manure in India, regulated mixed farming of Central Europe ? from the Danube to England, a host of good soil-preserving practices were part of farming techniques. Fallowing, manuring, ditching, cover crops, terracing where appropriate were part of repertoire. Perhaps the only producers who have not practiced conservation were pastoralists and producers with pastoralism as a fundamental part of their cultural tradition. Predators as far as their neighbors are concerned, they overgraze and overstock consistently, so that cover soil is stripped and deserts emerge. Pastoralist seem to have affected the farming style of the peoples of the Middle East and Mediterranean, so that agriculturalist traditions that once included conservation practices were pushed, either by competition or absorption into the soil-wasting approach of their pastoralist neighbors. Wherever this agricultural tradition has penetrated, the land has been pushed to exhaustion. This of course includes the new world and we are all so sunk in our background of pastoral colonialism that it is hard to see that our tradition is the only one besides the Arabs, the Central Asians, and the Nilotes that is clearly anti-environmental. What have been some of the forces at play in the system of evolution we have sketched? First of all, the need for diet and for preservation of the biological continuity of the group there must be a diet that provides necessary calories and chemicals and protein essential for growth and health. The thriving African gathering cultures that have been studied put in two or three woman-hours a day to provide the necessary nuts, seed, fruits, and small animals essential for a balanced diet. The group only moves when forced to by drought or exhaustion of a local crop| gatherers do not compete with each other for terrain| food is shared| and there is a special focus on the well-being of the young. As gatherers move into a more northerly environment, where during part of the year plant growth is reduced in volume, the male hunting role comes into the fore, and women and feminine labor are less important| and where the game is migratory, they must follow it. In all but special areas of the North American Pacific coast, it is possible to exhaust the game quickly, so that the territory essential to support a hunting group must be very large indeed. Thus, hunting and fishing populations are kept at a low level and the tendency is to remain nomadic. With the intensification of effort and the accompanying increase of population, stabilization of settlement can only come in areas like the northwest coast of California, where there is a large and storable food surplus. Agriculture appears to have begun in a number of zones where fishing was sufficiently rewarding so that stable settlements could be maintained. Stability is essential: fields must be looked after, plant predators must be guarded against for the crop to mature. Moreover, intensification of all these efforts, which requires an ever larger labor force, is possible only when the amount of bulk diet increases and a sufficient amount of protein continues to be available. This means that agriculturalists in a protein-poor area must range very widely (if they do not have domesticated animals on which to depend). The large population of incipients in South America was both warlike and cannibalistic. Cannibalism clearly seems to be a resort of agriculturalists faced with protein shortage. M. Harner (?The Ecological Basis for Aztec Sacrifice.? 1977] has now proved that the mass sacrifices in Mexico were ritualized feasts on human flesh, where the priests presided over the ritual distribution of protein to the whole people, and so prevented hysterical and destructive outbreaks that might have otherwise taken place. The warlike character of the Eastern North American tribes, their use of torture to protect their wide hunting and fallowing grounds from incursions of neighboring groups are evidence of the ferocity with which a group will defend its protein-producing terrain prior to agriculture. We must ask what the special situation of the Pueblos was that enabled them to establish stable centers of population with no protein resources. The history of New Guinea now appears to be quite clearly one in which a population moved from first gathering with some hunting into root agriculture, with a fairly late acquisition of swine culture from Southeast Asia. There are still cases of dibble stick agriculturalist there. The pig and root culture has now been studied. It is clear that the New Guinea culture is focused on balance essential to the swine herd (providing protein essential to health) and the preservation of a fertility zone for plant culture that lies within the limits of a practical population. A factor in operation during the whole of evolutionary development is the distance from the center of population to the point of production. When fields are too far away, women tend to drop out of agricultural production ? 1) because they can?t get back to their small infants, 2) they are too far away from male guardians and might be raided, 3) have to spend too much time in transport to make it worthwhile their participation worthwhile. Development of confederacies and strong political entities makes it possible for the productive zone around a village to be as wide as possible, given the conditions of transport. With further intensification, as more men move into the agricultural scene, their presence is not essential. The care of wide-ranging animals falls to the young, vigorous males. Girls can handle the goat herding and take care of the tethered pigs, provided village culture is either isolated or is strong enough to protect itself. But with large, wide-ranging animals ? llamas, horses, cattle ? males take over productive activity. The heavy work required by plow agriculture, which requires long hours at a distance from the center, means masculine involvement. What I am attempting to say is that, with the coming of agriculture and animal husbandry, male hunting and fishing diminishes in importance, and, up to a certain level of intensification, women become more involved| and this involvement is dramatically displayed in the makeup of the culture. For instance in Melanesia, where men are drones and guards, men make a display of their sexuality and virility in a highly ritualized form to impress women and nearby enemies. In Africa, where feminine labor is essential to agricultural production, large-scale polygyny is the rule. Women are so overburdened with the triple tasks of child rearing, family maintenance, and production (not to mention marketing) that a special kind of religion has been developed in order to find an outlet for the strain of their exploitation. The religious cults of Equatorial Africa are clearly designed to give women a chance to display their anger, to blow off steam, and live out their conflicts. This continues to be true in cults in America. In America, too, black women are overworked. In the next stage of intensification, the productive burden falls upon the male. In the productive activity of pastoralism and plow agriculture, large animals, dangerous to children are involved| frequently the point of production is far away from the place where small children can safely be kept| and the climate is likely to be cold. This takes women and children out of the picture as the burden falls upon the men. In these cultures, we find the manifestation of a male overburdening expressed in the anger and jealousy they feel toward women| in sexual exploitation and prostitution| in the rise of mysticism and hegemonies of power| in the ritualization of male superiority in sports and warlike activities| and the downgrading of women and children. These phenomena are part and parcel of the new and terrifying responsibility load of the male as the provider, the person responsible for the protein source, the animal herds, and the armed protector of the stable cultural entity, which is larger than the village and therefore much more likely to be invaded and attacked in a serious way. This brings us to the question of group size. In the early stages of production, the productive/consuming/cultural group was the same. Sharing was the rule. The groups were non territorial with rare exceptions. Sharing of hunting and fishing grounds was adaptive so that bands exchanged populations fairly freely, and stable groups were not essential to the defense of scarce resources. With the development of agriculture and pressure on the environment for protein, territorial defense groups began to be necessary. And it?s interesting that groups emerged in our scale among some of the woodland people, with all the Pueblos, and, next in the series, in New Guinea. The tendency of horticulture to establish such large kin groups is dissipated as this cultural stream moves out into the small islands of the Pacific, where inter-kin sailing and fishing crews become more important than kin groups that define and defend small parcels of agricultural terrain from each other. The whole of tribal Southeast Asia is clearly linear, because here you have the picture of the tribe sitting on a hilltop in a palisaded village defending the fields, pastures, and fishing grounds in the surrounding terrain. The same story seems to have been true in situations like those of tribal India and particularly in Africa, where a strong lineage group grew up around the fields and herds of fairly sizable zones and then budded off into the savannah and later the jungle, in bands of polygynous-household working sets. The tradition of the lineage age-set of the cattle cultures of East Asia is even more crystallized. Here, it was literally, all for the lineage. The life of the overburdened male was entirely focused on developing groups of herd boys and then warriors for the defense of the herd and its grazing ground from the encroachment of neighbors. The spread of pastoralism across the whole of Asia, in all the grassland, and subsequent invasions of these strongly patrilineal groups of nearby agricultural empires forced all of them to adopt patrilineal systems for purposes of terrain defense and then for administration and exploitation of the slaves, serfs, and corvees that arose around the great irrigation systems. Only in Southeast Asia and Indonesia do we have clear evidence of what the world of plow irrigation might have been like without the pressure of the lineage-focused pastoral invaders. The fluid, networking kin-group system was not burdened by the special interest that lineages always develop. Although if a lineage is in healthy condition, a local zone can bloom, nevertheless, given two or three generations of corruption, a locality can wither under the selfish absorption of riches by a grasping linear nobility. The open networks of the kindred system pro
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About the session: Undated recordings, including Lomax's dictation of his theory of cultural evolution, and a talk about Woody Guthrie on the BBC.
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