Tuesday, January 08, 2008


a Universal Basis For Science And Religion, Part 6

A Universal Basis, Part 6; Specialists

In ordinary times when there are no crises the normal social structure, a discussion leading to a consensus, works quite nicely. Sometimes, however, it isn't fast enough.

If the tribe, or a sub-group like a hunting party, has to act in a cooperative way in a rapid timescale; the most effective method is to have one person in charge and the others simply obey his tactical commands. This is particularly the case when the prey (or predator) is a "barbarian"; an animal that looks pretty much like us but doesn't speak a human (i.e., our) language. (The greeks thought barbarians only said "bar...bar".) This hunting chief (or war chief) has executive power only during the crisis, but it is still a role that is strongly nonconformist. The hunting chief has to act in a way that compensates for the nonconformity or his actions will destabilize the mutually conformist tribe.

In a similar way a crisis may occur that does not respond to action and creates anxiety in the tribe. If someone gets sick, or a grove of trees doesn't bear like it used to, or a storm keeps the gatherers home till the stores are used up, someone needs to respond to the situation. Nowadays we use the siberian word "shaman" for such a person. The shaman tells everyone what to do. The person gets well or dies, the grove bears late or we switch to another nut or fruit, the storm eventually ends. But the shaman has to act in a magical way that restores the tribe's confidence without being nonconformist in a way that destabilizes the tribe.

The shaman and the hunting chief have two tricks that allow them to live in equilibrium with the conformity of the rest of the tribe. First they are "equal-on-the-average" in that they take actions that the rest of the tribe considers very risky. That risky behavior assures that 'on the average' they are not better off than everyone else. Typically the hunting chief takes actions in the hunt (or in combat) that are more dangerous or "heroic" than ordinary hunters (or warriors). Typically the shaman goes through a trying apprenticeship and often goes into a deathlike trance that is heroic on the spiritual level.

If the hunting chief or shaman does not act so that the tribe believes that he or she is not "equal on the average", the tribespeople become alienated and the social structure falls apart.

This takes care of the public relations part of the actions of the chief and shaman, it makes them right with the tribe. There is also a psychological action that they take to make them right with themselves. They typically have a "spirit helper" or "muse" that is superhuman and gives them permission to be nonconformist. These muses are personal, however, and the ordinary members of the tribe, who don't break any major taboos, have no need to relate to a muse.

Agriculture changes the whole picture.

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