Re: Religion: definition of

Gerold Firl (
25 Apr 1995 13:43:44 -0700 (Don Steehler), quoted with permission, writes:

>In article <> (Gerold Firl) writes:

>>In a small band, everyone knows everyone else. Typical primate dominance
>>heirarchy-mediated relations suffice to guide social organisation. The
>>advent of societies which were too large to permit everyone to know
>>everyone else required the invention of social mediators which provided
>>guidelines for how individuals should treat each other. Religion was the
>>result. Gods are very useful as impartial arbiters of interpersonal

>Not (at least originally, I believe) in Buddhism.

>>disputes. In a small band, it's simple: the high-status individual wins
>>when there is a conflict of interest. In a large society, an anonymous
>>society, it is easy for violence to break-out when there is a conflict.

I'm not as familiar with buddhism as I'd like to be, but I would say that
there are significant aspects of buddhism which relate directly to
questions of social organization. Nonviolence is very significant; the
internal efficiency of a culture increases dramatically during periods of
domestic peace.

Dietary restrictions are also significant; by reducing meat consumption,
the ecological carrying capacity is immediately increased. I'm probably
overlooking some important interactions, but the two factors mentioned
above have intersections between individual belief and culture-wide

Buddhism doesn't rely very heavily on supernatural entities, verging on
philosophy rather than religion. As such, it has less emotional appeal, at
least in india, than the more overtly religious sects of hinduism.

>How about this distinction: allocated vs. delegated authority.

>authority | allocated delegated
>-----------| -------------------------------------
>relations | egalitarian hierarchical
>politics | democratic authoritarian

>In an egalitarian group, authority is allocated to individuals by group
>consensus. In an hierarchical group authority is delegated by "boss"
>individuals to subordinates - power politics. With this distinction,
>"status" has a different meaning to the group. In democratic/egalitarian
>groups "status" is derived by "agreement;" in hierarchical/authoritarian
>groups "status" is enforced by "authority."

A useful distinction. We can examine the conditions under which each system
of authority would tend to exist: delegated authority systems will be
selected in conditions where dangerous or unpleasant tasks must be
performed, such as military action or low-tech irrigation. Or, in cases
where an exploitative social system exists, where one subset of the
population coercively extracts resources from another.

Taking the longer perspective, the key point is that *some* organizational
system will develop, stabilizing around an attractor which is determined by
the ecological, technological, and historical relations between the culture
and the surroundings.

>You might be interested in Margaret Power's book:

>_The Egalitarians - Human and Chimpanzees: an Anthropological View of Social

Looks interesting. Would you care to comment on her observations?

>Peter J. Wilson's _The Domestication of the Human Species_ explores some
>differences between nomadic bands and sedentary communities. His insights
>may be useful for understanding why "communitarian equality" can be

Another interesting lead. Such an analogy could be an excellent way of
estimating the sociobiological impact of civilization on the human

It has often been noted that domesticated animals are smaller than their
wild ancestors, yet I'm not sure why that would be. A desire for more
easily controlable stock is often cited as the reason, yet large size is
usually of prime concern to breeders. Perhaps insufficient nutrition is a
more significant factor; don't feral animals quickly revert to the wild
type? Applying any of this to humans seems pretty speculative, but
potentially valuable. Any comments on Wilson?

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