Monday, March 27, 2006

WHO STOMPED ON paradise?

We used to live in paradise. Then we lost it. How? The story’s in James DeMeo's Saharasia: the 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World. This book is about a group I call the “Flies Guys.”

The Flies Guys were the first patrists, the first patriarchalists, the first war-god peoples, the sickness that killed the Goddess peoples and shot their Paradise in the head.

Here's their story:

In a nutshell, DeMeo says that before around 4000 BCE, humans were democratic, egalitarian, sex-positive, pleasure-oriented, non-violent Goddess-worshiping "matrists." Over the next 10-20 generations, however, certain matrist groups morphed into "patrists": violent, sexually-repressive, misogynistic, sadistic, male-dominated high-god worshipers with painful and traumatic child rearing techniques.

What caused the morphing? More on that below. First, though, a word on DeMeo's research. This is not any old "armchair science" book. DeMeo backs up his theories - ten years in the making -- with some of the most solid and extensive interdisciplinary data I've ever seen. To present this data for our perusal took over 400 pages, in a large-scale format, of scores of maps, charts, diagrams, figures, tables, drawings, photographs, footnotes and appendices as well as ample data-driven text.

The majority of DeMeo's data are sterling. For example, working with class-A anthropological data (from the Human Relations Area Files, etc.) and meshing those with class-A geological data (from the Budyko-Lettau Dryness Ratio), DeMeo shows that (1) around 4000 BCE a broad ribbon of land across Africa, the Middle East and Asia began dying; 2) People living in this land became the most patriarchal on the planet; and, 3) the further one wanders from this ribbon of land, the less patriarchal people are. DeMeo calls this land "Saharasia." It's an area that covers hundreds of thousands of square miles on our planet.

DeMeo offers a fascinating analysis of how the hideous change from matrist to patrist occurred. He bases his arguments on current studies of starving peoples. The behavioral changes in starving groups are enormous and appalling. Starving people become consumed with eating and lose interest in all other pleasures, including sex. The old and young are abandoned to die. Brothers steal food from sisters, and in some cases parents eat their own children. For children who survive, bad diet leads to laundry lists of psychological and physical abnormalities down the road. The culture breaks down. Life bumps into chaos.

Although this starvation syndrome began in Saharasia ca 4000 BCE, it continued for generation after generation. Most of the crazed groups caught in the desertification process died out. In the few that survived (and why they survived is explained below), mentally-ill behaviors became institutionalized. Mental illness became their way of life; the loss of interest in pleasure; the glorification of the strong; the strong stealing from the weak - all these and more would have become fossilized into a new and actively promoted way of life - a set of behaviors "learned, shared, patterned and transmitted from generation to generation," as my anthropology texts used to define culture. It is at this point, when mental-illness becomes codified, that one witnesses the birth of the patriarchy.

DeMeo contends that the first response to desertification was for the agricultural matrists to abandon their land and become nomadic, riding horseback over rough terrain, frantically searching for food and water. In order to keep babies alive, loving matrist mothers would bind (swaddle) them tightly in cloth. Babies spent all day tied to their mother's backs, unable to move heads, hands, legs or feet. For the successful new patrist groups this swaddling became something glorified. One effect was severe skull deformation in both infants and adults.

DeMeo thinks that infant swaddling and head binding produces a deep-set rage in adults, especially toward mothers, women, and female deity. Hence one possible source of the misogyny and abandonment of female deity that became hallmarks of patriarchal cultures.

"The heads of ... children ... are pressed so tightly by means of a peculiar kind of ligature, that little by little the heads assume the shape of sugar-loaves. The pressure is so great that the noses of the children ... are constantly bleeding.... The child cries and turns black, and when the mother presses on its forehead, a white slimy fluid comes out its nose and ears...." (p. 112).

Fortunately, skull deformation has died out over the past several hundred years (p. 112). Swaddling, however, has not. Even today groups across, and on the edges of Saharasia retain this awful practice in, for example, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China.

Although I don't agree with every theory in his book, I think DeMeo's basic premise - that ancient, widespread, continental desertification drove humans from their natural, healthy state into one of codified mental illness -- is a premise he proves almost beyond a shadow of a doubt.

And knowing that, once upon a time we actually *did* live in "The Garden of Eden," means there's hope we can get back there again.
You can read this review, and others about Saharasia, HERE.

Go HERE to read the first of my six-part series on the Flies Guys, "The Origin of Patriarchy."
Thnx to neneman for the foto of paradise


Anne Johnson said...

I don't disagree with his theory, but I wonder about the dating. His case for 4000 BC would be tighter if one didn't see the same kind of warlike patrist cultures in the Western Hemisphere prior to 1492.

Morgaine said...

Anne- You are assuming that those cultures arose without interaction. There's evidence that the ancients were proficient sailors and that there was interaction across the oceans.

Also, If you look at the violent cultures in the Americas, they also arise in times of famine or pestilence.

Athana said...

Hi, Anne,

Here’s the basic timeline:

Around 4000 BC: First Flies Guys arise in Saharasia

From 4000 BC on: Flies Guys fan out into other parts of the world; generally, there are more signs of them on the edges of Saharasia than, say in northern Europe or Northern Asia, or southern Africa or Australia.

Although DeMeo hasn't studied the Americas as well as he has Europe and Asia, he still sees signs of the Flies Guys waltzing down the west coast of North and South America, and into the Great Basin in Mexico (Aztecs).

"Cranial-deforming warrior groups moving south in the Great Basin also appear to have displaced the Anasazi or early Basketmaker culture of Arizona and New Mexico. Groups such as the nomadic warrior Athapascan Apache and Navaho, and the warlike irrigator-farmer Mohave and River Yuma tribes, moved on a generally southerly course from uncertain northern regions, harassing, displacing and killing previous peaceful or less-warlike cultures." (p. 375)

There are some American Indians who were fierce and warlike, and others who were very non-violent.