Rebirth of Reason


On the Origins of the Taking Syndrome
by A. Robert Malcom

Also see "On the Origins of the Trading Syndrome," by A. Robert Malcom.

When the earliest humans spread out from the African terrain, the general assumption is that they all spread "upward," that is, to the northern areas. One group, which in time became the Neanderthals, crossed into western Europe at what was then a land bridge at the Gibraltar straits. Others more or less settled among the shores of the Mediterranean, which at that time were not the desert-like areas known today. Most wandered to the northeast, some settling along the delta of the Nile, others across the curve into the Anatolian region, still others crossing the isles into the Grecian areas into what became Thrace. The rest, by various ways, traversed across the near east region into the region of the Indo of the far east. As each advance took place across the land, offshoots pressed farther north, depending on the position of the Ice Age glaciers. There was also, after a time, a return migration from the Indo area across the northern lands, following the game which they by that time had begun to hunt, having become very much a hunter society.

It was those who settled along the eastern coastal waters of the Mediterranean, in Thrace and the Anatolian regions and down into the Mesopotamian valley, from which, it seems, civilization first took root, where the lush land did not give rise to a fierce struggle to survive, but rather permitted the leisure from which all the rest developed. (Of course, here there is a caveat—too much lushness does not generate development, as there is little incentive for improvement.)

In the north, however, matters were very different. With the shifting of the ice masses of the Ice Ages, what were once lush lands ceased to remain so. As a consequence, the leisurely lifestyle exemplified by those who settled on more southern areasa life marked by gathering/foraging more than by hunting, and a diet consisting more of vegetarian/seafood staples than meatall changed. The hunters became the more important members to the group's survival. This principal economic activity, focused on what could be considered a parasitic relationship to animals, was of course, the special domain of men. Thus the political/religious institutions which evolved took a quite different turn than the developed areas of the Anatolian region. There arose a system of patrilineal families, which were united into kinship by the authority of a chieftan, the person who was responsible for daily decisions as to where to seek out pastures to shepherd stock animals like goats, and the area where game was to be sought. Because expediency is often the measure of survival in harsh times, especially in a culture not highly developed, pastoralists were more apt to engage in the (often violent) seizure of another's hunting or pastoral groundsit was, after all, the quickest path to wealth, and the most obvious display of prowess. Thus arose the importance of the discipline and practice of warfor war, as Jacob Bronowski pointed out in his Ascent of Man, is organized theft.

The hunter society, by its nature, stems more from the centripetal form of relationships. Alpha-males are considered necesary for the social structure to work for survival in a harsher land where leisure is much more at a general premium and foraging does not garner the surpluses found in the more hospitable climates. The political/religious would, then, is based on the agonic mode of commanding attention. This serves the purpose of channeling the aggression of the males into a common bond to defend the members of the respective societies against, in the original pre-human ape/hominid societies, the leopard, or other similar predatory animals powerful enough to threaten the groups' survival. As the ape evolved into the human, the "leopard" became a metaphor to signify "the enemy." Their religion, then, evolved as a means, eventually, to justify the politics. In so doing, it would have had to shift emphasis from the benign Mother Goddess that the women had preached into something congruent with the male domination of the hunters surviving in a harsh land.

Religion is a primitive form of philosophy. The ethics of religions stem from what, pragmatically, were the actions considered as virtues to the groups involved. These in turn stemmed from the conditions in which the groups lived as they developed cognitive abilities. As Jacobs pointed out, there are those two fundamental sets of virtues. I suspect, though, that there were few areas on earth where conditions were so ideal as to foster rapid growth that led to the earliest civilizations beyond the initial group developmentsand that this is why, in a few select areas, matriarchal societies were able to take hold and advance as rapidly as cognitive possibilities allowed. The other groups did advance, but at a much slower rate, for the reasons already pointed out.

I further suspect that the virtues of the trader syndrome were in place before these divisions among the civilized groups, and eventually the diaspora, took place. This is not to say that the competing groups around the civilized ones did not possess a rudiment of virtue sets, but that their developments, if they had them, proceeded much more slowly, and probably turned patriarchal as well in the course of time.

In any case, these virtues acquired prominence over the course of time, and ethics arose from them. Could ethics have arisen without religion? Probably not, for the initial striving to understand the world in a patterned sense, even in the optimal case, would have resorted to analogies and metaphors. Thus the "mother earth" diety, for instance. I don't, however, hold to the idea that the matriarchal religions had to develop as ferociously as the patriarchal ones did, mostly because I believe that their development was far more benign and fostered much less inquisitiveness.

What had been originally a mild form of the matriarchal/matrilineal associationwhere the first religions arose from the first attempts to make sense of what at first seemed a swirling chaos in the worldquickly shifted to organization to combat that sense of chaos. The most likely method of making sense of something which at first seems puzzling is to relate it to something which is understandable, at least to the degree anything could be understood in those times. In this case, just as the women used the earth goddess as a means of countenancing sex and birthing and the former bounty of the land, so the hunter leaders used the human-as-example forms. Gods, like goddesses, were created as analogies to explain the unpredictability of the world: oversized invisible humanlike beings who controlled the weather, crop growth, and so forth, with the same degree of inconsistency which had been observed among fellow humans. As this, under the harsher conditions of the north, seemed to be a more correct view of things, the analogies quickly became considered as actual factin a much more formidable form than were the goddessesand were then used as means of controlling the members of the groups. Goddesses still were acknowledged, but they shared power with gods. Moreover, such aspects as the sexuality of the societies of the southern climes were not as developed in the north—sex was used largely for procreational purposes, and an excess of children created difficulty in distributing food supplies, as the herbs used for birth control were not as easily found up north.

Now, virtues, as expressed by the syndromes, required ethics to encompass those virtues. The ethical code of the northern hunter societies, as was to be expected, derived from the agonic taking syndrome. It was essentially the ethics of stealing, because the act of taking implies that something is taken, and also implies the zero-sum perspective of the world, wherein one's gain comes at another's expense—which is what all the other animals essentially have: eat or be eaten, take or be taken. It was, essentially, a justification for reverting to animal behavior. Even though these early humans, like all humans, had the capacity to think and abstract to at least some degree, the form of ethics became modeled, almost inevitably, after the only mode that was directly perceived by them, that of the animals around them. By the time these groups encountered trading, these societies had already formed a hard and fast code based on the agonic mode. Raiding others' territories successfully, as well as other aspects of the hunt, were displays of the virtue of "prowess;" to achieve this prowess, then, required "obedience" and "respecting hierarchy" for the group, as well as "loyalty." These comprise the basic virtues of the taking syndrome. It also explains why such extreme agonic societies, such as the latter dynasties of ancient Egypt, used animal characteristics as their gods—for these animals adhered to the code "effortlessly," as part of their nature, and this was considered a superior trait, something to be emulated. The same can be said of those early civilizations in the Americas, which were founded by patriarchal groups which had migrated across the straits. Thus no American civilizations were ever matriarchal, and even in the new continent's lush climes there arose such agonic societies as the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs, whose societies were authoritarian to a degree that rivaled even that of the ancient Egyptians.

When the game patterns again shifted, some of the northerners went south and came into contact with the cities and civilizations that, as noted, flourished there. They also came into contact with something else—a wholly different view of the female and her relationship to society.

To reiterate, the political/religious structuring of the matriarchal societies was that of the Mother Goddess with, as the word matriarchal means, the female as the prevailing sex and the male as a subservient one. While by the time of the patrilineal hunter society invasion this was more a nominal guideline than anything else, to the invaders, it was an absolutely intolerable situation. These patrilineal/patriarchal societies, as noted, subjugated females, often in a very denigrating way, having by this time completely excised any reference in their religions to goddesses. The two systems could not coexist. Those holding to the taking code could not permit sanction of a competing code, especially one which would negate their established power structures and upset their status quo. "Shun trading" was a defense against that alternate viewpoint of the matriarchal societies, even as it was later admitted, though reluctantly, that there was much wealth to be created and acquired through trading.

There was a problem, too, in understanding trading, by their standards—they viewed the world as a zero-sum matter, and thus, somehow, trading had to have been in some way a matter of stealing, from distant shores at least. They could not conceive of a sum-plus view. Thus trading became a sort of "necessary evil." The forms were followed, but with suspicion—as such, trading had to be controlled as much as possible while still being granted enough leeway to yield gains from it. This was morally done by disparaging it as much as possible, and then hobbling its activities by as many restrictions as could be devised. And to do that, trading had to be conquered—hence all the wars and episodes of conquest that dominated the fertile crescent at the dawn of history.

Which raises another question—if these matriarchal societies existed for thousands of years, building great cities of civilization into the fertile crescent, then spreading through trading across into the Mediterranean, establishing outposts all along the coastlines, and into the European interior, as far as the British Isles, how could such obviously superior societies, so advanced in so many ways, be overthrown by barbarians? It would seem that the sad but true answer may be that, after thousands of years of the trading syndrome, the "warrior" mentality, psychologically speaking, most likely deteriorated for lack of necessity—thus enabling the barbarians to gain the advantage when they first invaded.

The psychology of the two kinds of worldview, the trading and the taking, were and are quite different from each other. The taking syndrome was tribalistic; its members were raised to consider themselves as parts of groups, a valued quality when it comes to matters of organized theft. A group can overcome greater numbers of individuals because the hierarchical structure makes for greater cohesion of purpose. Moreover, there is a psychological aspect of "us" versus "them" which is not as pronounced among individuals as it is within a group, thus giving greater impetus to the achievement of goals of conquest, as opposed to the defensiveness of the individuals. This is especially so when, in their zeal to maintain the patriarchal social structure, the takers were willing to slaughter wholesale all but the prepubescent females as the quickest means of obtaining female subjugation and ending any matriarchal rule. The consequence of this is the institution of slavery, which was a human offshoot of the pastoral practice of domestication. (This is also why slavery has always existed as a way of life, from earliest historical times to only a hundred years ago or so—and still exists among the more virulent patriarchal groups of today.)

The trading syndrome reinforces individualism. Individuals qua individuals are not prone to yield and submit—they make poor slaves, always apt to insubordination. So, the simplest way to be rid of them is—to be rid of them. Hence, beside the females mentioned, there was also a wholesale slaughter of entire towns, and decimation of entire cultures throughout the ancient world (events recorded and even upheld as virtuous [!] in the Bible). Yet, by the same token, it had come to be perceived that without at least some of the inhabitants, the whole richness of the trading world would come down completely, leaving poverty for all in its wake.

Thus trading was permitted, but hobbled it as much as possible and considered a "necessary evil." All traces of the matriarchal social structures were removed, including the legends of the matriarchal gods, which were destroyed and rewritten with patriarchal gods in place of the original deities. This also led to the creation of a two-tiered system, with the "commoners" (the original inhabitants), and the conquering ones, who became known as the aristocracy. Males were elevated to positions of authority over trading (indeed, all such posts were eventually assumed by men). Slavery also created, for the conquerors, some leisure time, but it didn't amount to much since they in turn had to be almost constantly on war footing against other invaders out to do the same thing they had done: conquer.

Then there is the psychological influence of envy—perhaps the most potent influence behind the success of the patriarchal conquerings. As noted by William L. Davidson in defining it, "envy is aimed at persons, and implies dislike of one who possesses what the envious man himself covets or desires, and a wish to harm him... There is in it... a consciousness of inferiority to the person envied, and a chafing under this consciousness..." (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 1912). Envy appears to be a trait displayed in any group in which there is deviation from the established norm. It arises not only in those low in the scale of hierarchy, but in the leadership as well, who fear displacement by another who can command more attention. It, of course, stems from the agonic mentality, and in humans originated in the patriarchal societies of the northern hunter tribes.

Yet it has never been considered to be a virtue. Quite the contrary. Human societies have persistently sought, as far as possible, to suppress envy—it is an aspect of taking which even negates the viability of the taking syndrome, as envy destroys the very social relationship necessary for any society to survive in any human fashion. As an unofficial accord in the hunter societies, where life was often lived on the level of animals, it maintained the status quo. But, in a society with the trading syndrome, which is the uniquely human syndrome, envy cannot function—it can only destroy, reducing all back to the level of that pre-existing hunter state.

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