Re: Rites of Passage

Gerold Firl (
19 Aug 1996 20:42:29 GMT

In article <4ut8ln$>, (Robert Snower) writes:

|> .................................................... you find the
|> central theme of rites of passage to be circumcision, castration, or
|> metaphors thereof.

That seems like an excessively psycho-analytical view; sometimes a
circumcision is just a circumcision. %^)

Consider an african age-graded society, where young people go through
an initiation ("rite of passage") to enter into the next grade of
adulthood/seniority; the boys do get circumcised, which makes them into
men, but I don't get the feeling that any psychological metaphors of
castration play a major role. The ritual marks their public graduation
into a new social role.

Since a major part of the adult role consists of bringing the next
generation into existance, the rite should be expected to include overt
sexual components.

Consider also the initiations of the masonic orders, which have little
or no sexual connotations. Here we see more clearly the importance of
broader-based social roles as defined by the rite of passage.

|> This was picked up in THE SOCIOBIOLOGY OF HOMO
|> SAPIENS (1975) by Mark Shapiro, which is about the creation of
|> pre-historic society as an adaptation, by means of a metaphorical
|> extension of kinship to those who were not literally related, and also
|> by a reduction in individual sexual competition by ritual (primordial
|> religion), both being essential in order to generate the cooperative
|> spirit society requires for its existence.

I like the idea of society as an extension of kinship. It has the right
evolutionary feel to it; start with an existing structure, and build
from that. Using pre-existing structures based on kinship seems like
the easiest way to develop novel organisational structures for wider

This view puts the message of jesus into a clearer focus: "all men are

Sexual competition is a major concern for people, but the creation of
human society relates to more than that. In the heirarchy of needs,
food comes before sex (at least for womyn).

Think of human political history as a search for better ways of
selecting leaders or decision makers, and developing ways for them to
effectively coordinate the efforts of larger numbers of people. By
choosing the right leader or leaders, and having some system by which
large numbers of people can act in a coordinated manner, a society can
optimize its chances for success relative to neighboring societies.
There are lots of ways to look at the evolution of social units, each
casting their own light and shadows.

People are always calculating the costs/benefits of cooperating vs.
defecting in each exchange with others. An emphasis on sexual
competition is appropriate, but not to the exclusion of other human
priorities which can be just as important.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf