Domestication and Patriarchy

“There was no anger in her for Kino. He had said, ‘I am a man’, and that meant certain things to Juana. It meant that he was half insane and half god. It meant that Kino would drive his strength against a mountain and plunge his strength against the sea. Juana, in her woman’s soul, knew that the mountain would stand while the man broke himself; that the sea would surge while the man drowned in it.”
The Pearl, by John Steinbeck

This entry is a guest entry so the words below will not be written by me. I’ve been in contact with the writer and got the green light to post it, green light.. oh environmental friendly! Jokes aside I find it to be very thoughtful and takes on domestication and patriarchies connection to domestication in a much refreshing way. Enjoy the read.

Patriarchy as a power structure and institution of domination (we are not talking about random assholes throughout history, of which that has and will exist forever, even in egalitarian indigenous societies, but rather societal norms of male supremacy) arose because of domestication, meaning there’s something inherent in the domestication process that produces inequality based on sex, or it existed pre-domestication and thus exists independent of it and civ, and therefore it may be just human nature.

If it is the former, then our fight against patriarchy is part of the larger fight against civ, and its driving logic – domestication. By fighting the over-arching power structure from which all other power structures proliferate (civilization), and attacking the power structures within it, we have the opportunity to create a truly free society – including the absence of male dominance. If it is the latter though, then our fight against patriarchy is going to be even harder and require different tactics, because fighting civ and its power structures won’t be enough. It may yield less domination and greater equality, but it won’t end patriarchy as an institution. It will be a power structure that will have to be fought independently, and continuously fought, and with constant vigilance even if successful, even long after the fall, and would be required even of uncivilized indigenous people. This is because in this scenario, it would be human nature for men to dominate women and we’d be fighting biology and natural human tendencies.

I believe patriarchy is a power structure stemming from domestication, not human nature, and fortunately anthropological evidence seems to support that.

Patriarchy doesn’t stem from agriculture, or civilization, but rather from domestication; agriculture and civ merely enhance it. Domestication is a process of controlling life. It is also the process by which previously nomadic human populations shift towards a sedentary or settled existence. Domestication existed before civilization, but definitely gave rise to it. As nomadic foragers traded wildness for horticulture, even if only to augment foraging, they undertook a transition that took them from a way of life that existed in balance with land and life to one that embodied totalitarian relationship, control and manipulation of the land. Once you introduce gardens, you become dependent on their production for sustenance. You necessarily see the land as a producer, something to be owned and manipulated for the production of food. You also become sedentary, as you have to remain near the gardens at least for significant periods of time throughout the year, if not completely permanent, to sow, tend, and harvest, as well as defend. Healthy competition among nonhumans becomes warlike, and animals that you would see as competitive become enemy, even something to exterminate. And your gardens have to be defended against other humans as well. In addition, along with this comes the notion of property, the carving up of the land for ownership – saying this is mine. By claiming ownership of the land, not only do you deny its agency and inherent right to exist separate from your exploitation, but you deprive it from others’ use, both humans and non-humans. You hold something of value, and others are denied access to it. Therefore it is something you hold over them. Maybe you coerce services for its access, or use its products for trade. It is property, and thus wealth and power. And your relationship to the land and all human and non-human life outside your circle becomes hierarchical.

And with this constant need to defend your property from others, who may not respect your claim to ownership and exclusive use, horticulturists tend to develop a warrior culture, and valorize strength and courage and stoicism and masculinity. With warrior culture comes a preference for men, as on average men are biologically more muscular and often more aggressive. Men cults with men’s houses arise, as constant back and forth raiding and revenge raiding becomes routine. And with the acceptance of hierarchy and power already, over the land, over non-human life, over those outside one’s tribe, and with a preference for men and masculinity in general, there’s few obstacles to seeing women as not only inferior, but as yet another resource to own, as further property.

Agriculture takes all this to the extreme. Agriculture didn’t arise out of horticultural communities, but rather arose directly from foragers in areas dominated by specific wild grasses. Foragers grew sedentary as they fenced in these grains, creating permanent settlements (and vast fields with even less crop and food diversity than horticulturists) and learned how to domesticate them, thus creating the first true cities. This happened in the Middle East and the Indus Valley with wheat and wheat-like grains, Southeast Asia with rice, South America with quinoa, and corn in Central and Southwestern North America. Social stratification based on sex and class, the othering of outsiders, mass surpluses of food, ownership of land and resources and the products of laborers engaged in non-food producing endeavors thanks to the surplus – all both emerging from and leading to more wealth, property, inequality, war, empire, and so on.

This is backed up by what we know of ancient hunter-gatherers through first hand recorded accounts as well as those still living today. Hunter-gatherers today (heartbreakingly few) that are fully forager, and have abstained from the encroaching influence of the dominant culture (again, heartbreakingly few), remain egalitarian. If there is a division of labor based on sex, it is based on true physical differences, not notions of superiority, such as men hunting the large game, and women nursing children. But most tasks are held in common, like gathering firewood, making clothes and hunting tools, and gathering fruit and nuts. And what they make and own is few due to the natural limitations to surplus that a nomadic existence ensures.

But indigenous communities that have adopted some horticulture, or who have completely switched to subsistence farming, are less egalitarian, for all the reasons mentioned above. Many Polynesian island communities exemplified this, as do most of the remaining indigenous people of the interior of Papua New Guinea. And even indigenous people that aren’t horticulturalists fall victim to patriarchy if they become domesticated. Tribes of the Pacific Northwest were hunter-gatherers, but yet still sedentary because of the abundance of the salmon runs. And they had hierarchies with Chiefs and Big Men, ownership of surplus and wealth, power over others, a warrior culture. Many Inuit peoples fared the same despite their complete lack of either horticulture or agriculture, because as they domesticated dogs for transportation, it allowed those who did to store and transport more than they could carry, leading to wealth accumulation and property.

That’s not to criticize them in any way. Their way of life, though not completely without power relations and hierarchy, still involved a reverence for life and the land and can’t compare to the level of destruction caused by civilization and industry. But I think it’s important, and not just feel-good theorizing, to try to understand the real origins of coercive power and hierarchy, including patriarchy, because if we are ever to create autonomous communities in right relationship with the land and human and non-human life, and though we can stand in solidarity with all indigenous peoples regardless of food acquisition method, we should discard the characteristics of those societies that tended to inequality.

This really comes down to the return systems of indigenous people, as there’s a difference between immediate return hunter-gatherers and even non-trade oriented delayed return hunter-gathers, who are egalitarian, and the trade-oriented delayed return economies of non-egalitarian indigenous people.

– Ryan The Green

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