Re: Rites of Passage

Robert Snower (
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 03:15:31 GMT (Gerold Firl) wrote:

>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.

But why didn't they eat ice cream and cake, and then play bingo? That
would be a splendid way to "mark their public graduation into a new
social role." No. They got circumcised. Why?

>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.

The "adult role" consists in a million different activities, including
of course ones related to sex, of which their are an infinite number
of symbols. Circumcision? Why on earth that?

>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.

I am not acquainted with the content of these ceremonies. But I would
see them as degraded or metaphorical versions of the primordial, and
the emotion which infuses them as of ancestral origin..

>|> 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).

In this and the next paragraph you are obscuring the issue. We are
talking about the generation of society from something which is not
society. Biology (evolution and sociobiology) sees a universe of
individuals and nuclear families. Natural selection (differential
reproductive success) occurs by way of competition on the individual
level. The emergence of the social group has to be explained.
Because membership in a cooperating group requires a foregoing of
individual fitness in favor of the group (altruism instead of
selfishness). This foregoing of self-interest occurs, in the
biological paradigm, ONLY via kinship (inclusive fitness--like genes
in related individuals). Thus two innovative features will generate a
society: the cessation of natural selection at the individual level
(reproductive competition among individuals) and a populaition of
kinfolk. Now go to the paragraph above about Mark Shapiro.

>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.

Best wishes. R. Snower