Re: Evolution of Sexism

Len Piotrowski (
Thu, 22 Aug 1996 14:27:55 GMT

In article <4van1a$> (Gerold Firl) writes:


>|> At great risk of stepping into the direct line of withering Firl Fire, I would
>|> like to point out that the social goal of increasing the number of males in a
>|> corporate group for the purposes of warfare on neighboring corporate groups
>|> is _not_ facilitated as well by a patrilineal structural arrangement as that
>|> provided by a matrilineal arrangement, suitably augmented by a corresponding
>|> marriage-residence rule. Unmarried children belong to the corporate group in
>|> both arrangements, but males obtained through marriage can be made immediately
>|> available to the matrilineal group for such real-time crisis like warfare.
>|> In the patrilineal situation, too much time would be spent in the investment
>|> of raising males to fulfill a similar function, yet suited to a social crisis
>|> that was largely more cyclical and dispersed through time, or more endemic,
>|> institutionalized, and ritualized within the societies, much like the Yanamamo
>|> "warfare" scenario.

>It sounds like you are suggesting that a *matrilocal* system would be
>optimal for societies involved in serious warfare, since that would allow
>full-grown warriors to be rapidly imported as needed.

Not a " *matrilocal* system," but a unilineal descent group determined through
the female line relative to one determined through the male line.

>One might go even
>further, and suggest that a polyandrous matrilocality would be even
>better, since then each female could pack a lunch for multiple warriors,
>without any of the time and expense of raising and training them from

A rare situation, possibly of use in rare circumstances. However, who has
suggested polyandry as a response to the needs of warfare?

>Of course, a key component of such a strategy would be to ensure
>that the neighboring cultures, which presumably would include the enemies
>against which all this military preparation is targeted, are willing to go
>along with it; in such an environment, any custom which resulted in a net
>outflux of fighting men would probably either be abandoned or else would
>lead to cultural extinction.

No big loss, since it was a model without ground truth and had no viability to
begin with.

>I don't see how a matrilineal descent rule would make much of a
>difference, in terms of military capacity.


>Certainly there is an obvious
>reason why a matriarchy would be at a disadvantage against a patriarchy in
>war; in a matriarchy, the leaders and decision makers would be less
>capable warriors than their counterparts in a patriarchy.

Who said the "warriors" have to be "women" in a matriarchy. At any rate,
plenty of examples of "women warriors" in history that were much the match of
"men warriors." I know plenty of women today that would give you sufficient
combat in a one-on-one to dispel this idea. Combat with weapons from distance
levels the field, too , eh? Most "violence" in traditional societies are not
"warfare" as we understand this term; it's raid and ambush, something I think
even women would be quite capable of mastering.

>The descent rule
>is another matter however, and seems largely irrelevant. Matrilinear
>societies are often patriarchal.

Which illustrates the internal inconsistency of your argument. If patriarchy
alone generates your model, then ethnographic evidence suggests the contrary -
that unilineal descent determines the parameters of significance. In as much
as there are examples of biarchical/matriarchical societies that are more
efficient at mobilizing "man-power," the universal prominence of patriarchy in
these matters seems overstated.

>|> >Paternity-reliability is a major issue, but largely internal to the
>|> >society, as opposed to the external factor of war and conquest. The
>|> >yanomamo probably reflect a social transient, as cultures adjust to
>|> >rapidly changing conditions, particularly the destruction of the river
>|> >indians by amazonian rubber-tappers in the last century or so.
>|> >Paternity-reliability is an ongoing struggle between male and female
>|> >which is always present, while extremes of violent patriarchy like the
>|> >yanomamo are aberrant fluctuations occupying the chaotic transition
>|> >from one state to another.

>|> As was noted above, a patrilineal arrangement by it's nature is incapable of
>|> reacting rapidly, by mobilizing corporate males, to handle a large crisis.

>You mean patrilocal, right?


>|> They would be at a relative disadvantage to respond to "rapidly changing
>|> conditions" with respect to a matrilineal society. Under crisis conditions,
>|> patrilineal corporate groups would indeed tend to suffer greater stress. I
>|> wouldn't necessarily claim that this fact alone calls for a "transition"
>|> model. Many societies may just disappear under the pressure, or move, or
>|> incorporate into a dominating group, or "devolve" into several "simpler"
>|> social-ecological relationships.

>I described the yanomamo situation as a "transient" for two reasons:

>1. Historically, it has existed for only a very short time, roughly a
>century or a century and a half. The yanomamo have not had much time (on
>the scale of cultural change) to adapt to their new circumstances. Their
>numbers have expanded greatly, but their protein-harvesting technologies
>are still based on their previous lifestyle as mobile foot-indians. They
>have hunted-out the forest near their settlements, but have not yet
>learned how to exploit the rivers. I would expect that to change as the
>yanomamo adapt to their new riparian environment.

I dispute this historical scenario. I would think after a "century and a half"
we can safely conclude that they are comfortably "settled-in." Most of the
cultural disruption has occurred from social rather than ecological problems.
And too, the recent introduction of iron (knives and axes, cooking utensils)
and shotguns has contributed to additional changes, both in the social and
ecological fabric of their existence.

>2. I believe that the extreme violence and brutality of yanomamo life is
>sufficiently stressful to the participants that they will attempt to steer
>their culture towards a more peaceful lifestyle.

You mean, they're getting more "violent" to get more "peaceful?" Boggles! I
would also dispute the relativistic nature of your remark. The aspects of
yanomamo life you refer to are hardly more extreme or brutal than other
cultures, past or present.

>This is an interesting
>example of how human agency can influence cultural evolution;

Happens all the time!

>whereas the
>escalation of violence took place by degrees as population density eroded
>protein supplies through a largely unconscious adaptation, where no
>long-term planning on the part of the individuals consciously directed the
>culture towards increased violence,

Excuse me - conscious lack of long-term planning? I don't see it! This
gradualistic, functional model is quite unsatisfying to those of us who find
human life as meaningful social interaction.

> the move towards a more peaceful
>coexistance would result from conscious decisions about how society should

This is self-contradictory. If they were consciously not interested in
long-term planning (even given they understand what you mean by that), what
would be their source for this capacity for making "conscious decisions"
indigenous to the culture available to them at another time?

>Cultural evolution is largely blind, but there is some room for human
>intelligence to choose.

Selection is indeed involved, but much of it is impractical (and thus,
non-evolutionary, non-adaptive). The meaningful world that defines a culture
is not a neat system of functions fit precisely within the surrounding

>|> >[snip]

>|> Forest clearing by a corporate group requires the same mobilization of
>|> "man-power" as warfare, which is not facilitated as well by patrilineal versus
>|> matrilineal group structures. There is no reason, therefore, to assume that a
>|> patrilineal structure is necessary to such a development, or for that matter
>|> the development of agriculture, industrialization, information, or whatever.

>True, it isn't necessary, and now I'm going to take your use of
>"patrilineal" to imply "patriarchal", unless you can tell me how the
>descent rule comes into play.

See above. As I've pointed out previously, it is incorrect to classify as
"patriarchal" those cultural systems which account for the cultural
characteristics you're interested in.

>The reason I suggested that a patriarchal system would be advantageous
>during transitions to new resource-gathering regimes was because of the
>relation between population density, carrying capacity, and inter-group
>conflict. When populations outstrip the carrying capacity for a particular
>level of technology, people move to a new way of life (hunter/gatherer to
>agricultural, agricultural to industrial). Such moves are often (always?)
>accompanied by turmoil, migration, and strife, placing a premium on
>military capability.

Which is just as likely satisfied by a biarchical arrangement, but more
importantly, is more efficiently satisfied by a unilineal descent system based
on the female line.

>|> In fact, there are plenty of examples from ethnography, including the
>|> Contact American Southeast, where the obverse is true. No demonstrated
>|> significant relationship between violence and social-structure has, to my
>|> knowledge, been presented in the literature.

>That would be an interesting study. I would predict that a correlation
>would be found between patriarchy, violence, and resource competition.

You would be wrong, since historical cultural developments include
numerous chiefdoms with biarchical systems of authority, matrilineal descent
groups, utilizing redistributive economic systems!

>|> >[snip]

>True. There is a very interesting analogy to biological evolution, where
>the constraints of previous adaptation canalize future evolution. Wings
>evolve from arms, feathers evolve from scales; evolution works with what
>is already present. Cultures change slowly, on a timescale of generations,
>while environments can change much faster than that. That introduces
>distortions in the response, non-optimal responses which are the best
>availible option, simply because the culture can't change fast enough to
>follow a more advantageous course.

I'm saying that aspect of culture itself inhibit or accentuate certain
possibilities. In other words, aspects of cultural development occur
independent of the environment, evolution, and adaptation.

>In the case of the yanomamo, the local (as opposed to global, using the
>language of numerical analysis) optimum in the face of escalating resource
>scarcity was to focus on improving military capability.

That remains to be proven.

>It may be that a
>better path would have been to focus on developing more effective ways of
>catching fish, and that would undoubtedly have been a long-term attractor
>for yanomamo culture.

What if fish are what the dead ancestors become. Wouldn't want to eat grandma,
or scare up old ghosts, would ya'? By you're reasoning, human harvest would be
a "Modest Proposal." However, I think the "problem" and the culture are much
more involved, being less functional, and more meaningful.

>But before the long-term can be taken care of,
>people have to look to the short term, and for the yanomamo that means
>killing more of the neighbors than they can kill of you, and stealing more
>of their women than are stolen from you.

I happen to disagree.



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