Thursday


Permutations of Militancy, Hierarchy, and Settlement

militancy hierarchy settlement 2

as Predictors of Post-Civilization Successor Institutions


War is coextensive with civilization. Or, to add an important qualification, war has been coextensive with civilization so far. Another way to express this is to say that warfare is an invariant property of civilization as we know always known it. Where there is civilization, there will be war, and where there is war (except for the Hobbesian war of all against all) there is a civilization making that war possible.

War is not the only invariant property of civilization. I can think of at least two other civilizational invariants, namely hierarchy and settlement. Civilizations as we have known them to date vary according to the particular kind of militancy, the particular kind of social hierarchy, and the particular kind of settlement practised, yet the possession of some kind of militancy, some kind of hierarchy, and some kind of settlement has proved invariant in the history of civilization.

I have addressed this question previously in separate posts that did not make clear the systematic relationship that holds among invariant properties of civilizations. For example, in Civilization and War as Social Technologies I emphasized that war and civilization are locked in a coevolutionary spiral. It could with equal justification be said that civilization and hierarchy are locked in a coevolutionary spiral, or that civilization and settlement are locked in a coevolutionary spiral.

In Invariant Social Structures I observed that the one social structure that remained constant in the transition from agrarian civilization to industrialized civilization was, “a very small political elite in positions of real power and the vast majority of people without any access to power at all.” It could with equal justification be said that war and settlement also remained constant in the transition from agrarian to industrialized civilization.

In Civilizations Settled and Unsettled and in Settled Life, Settled Thought I tried to show how settlement is intrinsic to civilization and is central to the thought of civilized peoples. It could be said with equal justification that militarism and hierarchy have been constitutive of the thought of civilized peoples.

In Civilizations Settled and Unsettled, in distinguishing between settled and transient civilizations, I observed that transient civilizations (such as the Vikings, the Mongols, and the plains Indians) were exceptions to the rule of settled civilization, that there had not yet been an industrialized transient civilization, and that this possibility, i.e., transient industrialism, remains an unfulfilled possibility of human history. A related thought appeared in What comes after civilization? in which I speculated on the possibility of post-civilizational social institutions. I took this thought a step further in Civilization, War, and Industrial Technology, in which I wrote the following:

“…the conception of civilization without war is far more radical than the conception of civilization without technological progress. It is, in fact, so radical, and war is, in fact, so inherent to civilization, that the end of war would also mean the end of civilization. Civilization could not survive intact the excision of war. The end of war would mean not the emergence of a civilization without war — war and civilization have been co-extensive — but rather the emergence of some new social institution that would supplant civilization.”

Taking together the civilizational invariants of militarism, hierarchy, and settlement, we arrive at eight possible permutations, one of which is civilization as we know it today, while the others may have some vague historical precedents — the most radically distinct social institution of nomadic egalitarian pacifism bears a striking resemblance to what has been called the Paleolithic Golden Age — but which may also be understood as templates for post-civilizational successor institutions.

war hierarch settlement 1

1. settled hierarchical militarism

2. nomadic hierarchical militarism

3. settled egalitarian militarism

4. nomadic egalitarian militarism

5. settled hierarchical pacifism

6. nomadic hierarchical pacifism

7. settled egalitarian pacifism

8. nomadic egalitarian pacifism

war hierarchy settlement 2

It is an interesting corollary the entanglement of civilizational invariants that, not only is each engaged in coevolution with civilization, but each is also engaged in coevolution with the others, so that there is a coevolutionary spiral of war and settlement, of war and hierarchy, and of hierarchy and settlement.

There has been a scientific revolution in historiography that has unfolded for the last several decades, and, in so far as history studies civilizations, the next step is to think scientifically about civilization. Thinking scientifically about civilization is obviously going to result in difference according to how one conceives science and how one conceives civilization. While my approach to this is rather different than mainstream historiography, I have written about the possibility of The Future Science of Civilizations, and the above investigation in the invariants of civilization may be taken as representative of how I would approach such a science of civilization (as well as of post-civilizational successor institutions).

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Wednesday


In a couple of posts about the Nazca lines, Lines in the Desert and Nazca to Ica, I twice quoted The Ancient Civilizations of Peru by J. Alden Mason, firstly on the method used to construct the lines at Nazca — moving stones out of a given area — and on the apparent nature of Nazca society — egalitarian and non-hierarchical.

While I cited these passages in separate posts, I now see how the two go together. Mason notes that Nazca society did not involve the kind of monumental architecture that we see in technologically equivalent societies. Although there was a ceremonial center at Cahauchi (I didn’t get to Cahauchi while I was in Nazca), which I understand is an enormous architecture complex, the line are the primary legacy of the Nazca culture, and lines in the desert are the different different kind of legacy than, say, the multiple and monumental pyramids of the Mayans or the Egyptians.

If Mason is right about the decentralized and egalitarian society of the Nazca, focused on the production of consumer goods such as textiles and pottery, and the megalomaniacs of Nazca society were not (as elsewhere) given state power to create monuments to themselves, it would be reasonable to suppose that the monuments of Nazca society were also decentralized — and the lines of the Nazca must be among the most decentralized of archaeological monuments, spread as they are over miles of desert.

Given the incredible simplicity of the method of the construction of the lines at Nazca it is entirely plausible to me that a non-authoritarian, decentralized, and egalitarian society could have produced these great works in a way entirely consistent with its social structure. Mason wrote that the textiles and pottery produced by the Nazca culture were often employed as grave goods, suggesting a significant ancestor cult. It should be noted in this context that textiles and pottery are produced either by individual craftsmen or small workshops. I can imagine a family commissioning works of cloth or pottery for an elaborate interment rich with grave goods.

In the same way I can imagine an individual or a family commissioning a particular pattern in the desert. A single shaman, or a small community of them, might set themselves up in business creating patterns in the desert. The work would be tedious, but it could be accomplished by one or a few persons. With a length of cord a straight line can be marked, and then one or two or a handful of persons (maybe an shaman and an apprentice) could patiently move the stones out of the area bounded by the length of cord, stacking them at the end.

The point here is the this is the kind of monument that could be created by one person or a few persons with sufficient time — like textiles or pottery. Given an economy that already supports individuals and small groups dedicated to the production of specialty works, the lines of Nazca may have been similarly specialty works undertaken by one or a few persons. Given an income for the work (freeing the workmen from the necessity of otherwise earning a living), and many generations of commissions, a relatively small number of persons might well fill a desert with overlapping symbols.

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