Re: tribes

Wade Tarzia (wade@PMC.UCONN.EDU)
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 09:32:13 -0400

Damn it all -- My e-mail files and habits are all screwed up. Did I send
this privately to TK again instead of the list? Any way, this is a reply
to his reply on some argument that you may have forgotten about in the
great barbecue of language vs. stone-tool-teaching ;-) And a 2nd apology
to TK...


>... Indeed, a basic argument for the
>distinction between specific and general evolution is that the specific
>evolutionary trajectory of a particular group does not march in lockstep
>with general evolutionary stages, that having attained a particular
>evolutionary stage, be it tribe, chiefdom, or state as proposed by Sahlins
>and Service, or egalitarian, rank, or stratified as proposed by Fried, a
>specific society might not evolve further, but might reorganize downward
>or even collapse, based on its own historical circumstances, while the
>general evolution of culture continues. ...

---This is an interesting point for evolution in general, or rather how
evolution is invoked by various people. That is, an improper view of
evoultion is one of "progression" because forms can change in ways that we
would not term progression (a value-ridden term of course). For example,
one of the australopithecines that became more robust until it peetered out
-- which we might term simplification were it not again a centric view
point (simplification for us meaning a trend away toward larger brain
size). Thus social organization has been wrongly seen in this progression
viewpoint, which poisons some scholars against the idea of labelling
tribes, chiefdoms, etc.

I corresponded once with a prominant archaeologist on British archaeology
(I mention status here because I was rather expecting a sophisticated
discussion on chiefdoms), but the person stated something like, "I'd rather
use the term war-lord than chief, because chiefdom carries all that
evolutionary baggage with it." It can, but somehow we have to build into
discussions the realization that societies change, but the change can be
very slow enough to seem like a long tradition (in the archeological record
at least) or the change can be toward complexity or simplifcation based on
pressures faced by the society. But the term "evolve" is what carries
baggage with it, not necessarily "band-tribe-chiefdom." A poor conception
of evolution implies increasing complexity and "betterness" sometimes?