Re: primordial groups competing

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Mon, 5 Aug 1996 11:52:31 -0500

On Fri, 2 Aug 1996, Julian O'Dea wrote:

> Robert Snower wrote:
> >It seems to me quite plausible that the
> >myriad of early societies were compelled to complete ONE against the OTHER
> >for survival, the group's destiny, and its particular BRAND of cultural
> >solution, being at stake. This conversion of the selection process from the
> >individual unit to the group unit being the whole point of the primordial
> >cultural device, thereby enabling the altruism required by a highly
> >differentiated society of animals not genetically qualified for it.
> >
> I personally like this concept of small groups of humans competing (band vs
> band) to arrive at a successful cultural adaptation. I have toyed with the
> idea that maybe the evolution of art, sport, games, may have been due to
> their value as "displacement activities" and ways of reducing intra-group
> tension. Groups which had cultural means of reducing tension would have
> been more effective and cohesive.

Please go back and look at the basic ethnographies of band societies. You
will notice that bands are not bounded units. Bands -- or rather the
individuals which make them up -- constantly form, disperse, reform,
reorganize, etc. according to changes in the social and natural
environment, annual cycles as well as long term changes . This is not to
say that resource competition did not/does not occur, but don't phrase
your hypotheses in terms of self-consciously bounded units.

[Group self-consciousness (ethnogenesis) is logically a secondary, if not
a tertiary, step in a processual trajectory of political-economic
organization and reorganization. It occurs within groups that are (1)
already focused toward preexisting political-economic goals, and (2) whose
achievement of those goals is perceived by them to be hindered by
competitors. Certainly, although the primary political processes of
organization and reorganization for resource exploitation may invoke a
self-identification, it is at first as a subjective, collective,
inclusive, and communitas identification, not the objective, chauvinistic,
exclusive, and oppositional identification of nationalism.
Ethnogenesis is only one of several trajectories that might be
followed by a group facing competition. When a group discovers a
competitor for its resources, its options are either to ignore the
competition, to disperse (i.e., deciding that it was not worth the effort
to maintain the organization in the face of competition), or to meet the
challenge. Only if the group decides to meet the challenge are its options
focused by the need to utilize existing social and cultural structures, or
to develop new ones. Finally, of those latter choices, the focus on an
explicitly nationalistic identity is only one of several options.

[from Kavanagh, Comanche Political History: An Ethnohistorical Perspective