The family business

Ten thousand years ago, long before history was recorded, people in Western Europe were Hunter-Gatherers. We know this from archaeological sources; cave paintings are quite useful in this. In terms of psychological evolution, humanity is unlikely to have advanced much. Their society appears to be based on tribes of around 20 – 50 people. Desmond Morris in his book ‘The Human Sexes’, while stressing the balance in the sexes, claims that there are physical, emotional and psychological differences between men and women. He says that men seem to start with greater physical potential and are goal centred while women are multi-taskers, carers and communicators. These statements are of course of a general nature.

It appears that in tribal society, women would stay in the camp and forage for food in the forests. This would generally be of a vegetable nature. The men would go hunting and catch game. In England there was an abundance of deer in the forests. Catching and eating the game would be followed by a return to the camp. The women would naturally have a fluctuating weight due to the famine/feast nature of their existence. The women would probably be the centre of the society and the men peripheral. But you can imagine when they arrived with meat; the men could be quite popular. I suppose that they would be a fire, a party and a celebration. Some religious people would claim that they were monogamous. I guess some might have been, but I would doubt if there really is any way of knowing.

After a while the men would go off hunting again. One interesting thing about women in a large group, a mother can often pick out their child crying, but effectively there would have a large family group. Some evidence would suggest that in English culture, generally girls would choose to play with dolls and boys like to smash things up, fight and throw things. Now this may be a type of gender stereotyping, but if it is true, it could have a practical application. The girls would be helpful in childrearing and playing games is useful in learning to hunt and fight. In this day and age there is no need to be conforming to these types of stereotypes. Maybe people must fight to find freedom in their own life path, but for all of us whatever our background, we all must struggle to achieve in life.

There would have been exceptions of course. If a woman could not have babies, then she probably would have gone hunting. If a man got injured, he would stay in the camp and maybe develop different skills or tools. If you could not contribute then you may struggle to survive.

It seems that huntable game became less common when there was a change of climate and people started to develop agriculture. In Palestine and the middle-east, agriculture developed around 10,000 years ago. It also happened in China, the Andes and New Guinea. Grains were developed and farmed and animals were domesticated. To make this possible, there was a lot of hard work required. There was also a need for an almost constant supply of labour through childbirth. Men would break their backs in the fields and women would have the pain of birthing. In order to achieve this, society was changed. The tribes divided into families and there would be a formalisation by marriage. If both partners were fertile, the women could be constantly pregnant, breast-feeding and child rearing. In some cultures they would hardly be an able to get out of the house. The difficult fact is that the marriage survived partly because people hardly met the opposite sex, apart from in their own family. The man would greater exposure to the outside world and partly for this reason would have been in charge. Another uncomfortable fact is that society by making the man in charge reduced the incidence of gender wars. Logically this would maintain the steady stream of babies.

Quite frankly this society struggled for survival all over the agricultural world. Despite the high birth-rate, the population increased very slowly. Bad harvests and disease that often followed that could cut the population drastically. In England in the 13th Century, the Black Death cut the population by 30-50%. In places of agricultural fertility, the population might flourish and bring wealth through trade. The Nile brings water and nutrients to Egypt allowing successful farming, which is why it was the first of the ancient societies to flourish.

Some people have tried to interpret the meaning behind Stonehenge. There are those that say that it is a cry to whatever deity to return to world of hunter-gathering which people remembered with fondness. Life was hard and short for the first farmers. There would be little to entertain them in the evenings. Marriage was the building block of society in many cultures. It was the social, economic and political unit of power. Undermining the family could potentially destabilise the whole village.

There is very little social history written before the Enlightenment. One place we can look is in the Bible. The Genealogies, which only mention the boys, indicate a high birth rate. Family tribes were allocated different parts of the country. In villages of typically up to one thousand, people were generally closely related. All the kids got married at around 18 years old to their first cousins or someone else in the village. The only evidence for those that did not get married was for the holy men who dedicated their lives to spirituality. Like the crazy prophets who lived in the desert, who could not support a wife and would need their intellectual freedom. Intermarriage within families was beneficial because it kept the dowry money in the family and strengthened their political power. It was a marriage for life, which on average appeared to end in their mid-thirties, although there was a fair range of life lengths. I guess that life would continue in the same cycle over the centuries. Life would be the same; there would be very little innovation in technology, culture or philosophy. The only variation would come when the country would be invaded by the latest empire builders.

The Bible condemns prostitution as unfaithfulness. But picture the scene, a girl sets up as a prostitute. She is unfaithful to her husband, her clients are unfaithful and all the others are suspected. The wives might stray too; ultimately it could lead to the breakdown of the whole social fabric as all marriages are threatened. It was a close knit community and the instructions in the Bible are firstly meant specifically for that culture. The biblical interpretation method that I use puts the passage in a cultural context and learns what underlying principles are being promoted, and then you can apply them to your life and culture. Clearly culture in Western Europe is vastly different. In Bible times, basically there were farmers, some support tradesmen, priests and the king and his entourage. There was very little else. Now life is seriously less interconnected, diverse in cultures within a small area, and significantly more sophisticated in career, lifestyle and belief structure. This does not necessarily make the Bible irrelevant, but it does mean, for me, that base principles need to be extracted within the cultural context, if you wish to apply it to modern life.

In England, Scotland, Holland and other parts of Northern Europe from the 17th century, some historians talk of the agricultural revolution. This meant an increasingly efficient system of farming that transformed a basically subsistence level of farming to something that could become a business. Techniques like crop rotation, transformed the yields. The staple food in Europe was generally bread. People grew arable crops, then maybe turnips that accessed nutrients deeper in the soil, and then clover which replaced the nitrogen removed by the arable, the clover fed the livestock that naturally fertilised the soil. The increase in yields led to an increase in population, a surplus that was sold to the towns that could then increase in population.

The population of England in 1700 was about 5.5m, 9m in 1800 and 27m in 1900. The growth in towns enabled the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and encouraged the Atlantic trade, enabled by slavery, and cash crops in the US colonies and in the Caribbean. This and trade with places like India, was the source of British wealth. Industrialisation led to terrible conditions in the mill towns. In 1800, some claimed that the lot of the Manchester factory worker was even worse than that of the West Indian slaves. Fortunately slavery was abolished in the 1830’s and there was much improvement in the conditions for English workers towards the end of the 19th Century. Now the family was still the unit in society, but life expectancy was increasing and the leisure possibilities for even working class English people were becoming more diverse.

Women were still held under the patriarchal society, although the strict adherence to it was not as necessary, as people were not in such desperate straits. I can understand how it looked like men had it all their own way, but it was not always the case. The culture remained and was still to change. By the 1960’s in England, men would go to work with their mates; their lives would be similar to the hunters, but on a daily cycle rather than monthly. But for the women stuck at home life got progressively worse. When people lived in densely populated terraced housing, the house-wives would socialise in each other’s home and on the street. There probably would have been much gossiping and husband comparing. But once people were rehoused the situation started to deteriorate. People were moved away from their friends and neighbours, they would have modern, centrally heated and carpeted homes, but they would not know or even see anyone else. Washing machine, hoovers and all manner of labour saving devices would leave women with a lot of time on their hands. The kids would now all go to school; there were only three television channels and virtually nothing to do during the day. Housework could be completed rapidly leaving plenty of spare time with nothing to do. The only real hope was the glorious pirate radio stations. I seriously recommend the film, “The Boat that rocked” They might have a nip at the cooking sherry that could develop into gin and tonic. It is hardly surprising that they would feel depressed. So they may talk to the GP and he would give them a prescription. Amphetamines, for depression? Really? But then that was superseded by Valium, in my opinion the worst drug that has ever been invented. When the husband gets home tired, often the first thing they need to do is to sit down and chill for about half an hour, maybe with a beer. But the poor house-wife starved of human contact may well want to talk a lot or hand over the baby to look after and give herself a rest. I guess both partners could be jealous of the other. These developments in society have become more and more unnatural. Even farming was unnatural to a mind evolved through hunter-gathering.

Fortunately for women, the advent of the oral contraception in 1965 in England, gave them potential for emancipation. Controlling their biology meant more control of their lives. Marriage was not effectively compulsory and the opportunity for work was more available.

Men and women have a whole hierarchy of needs. The spiritual ones include love, communication, and entertainment, freedom of choice, interaction and lifestyle. While I believe these are a right, they cannot be just expected to give to kids on a plate. They have to be worked at, in the context of respecting other’s needs.

It occurs to me that in England, some women feel that it’s their turn. They feel that they have been exploited and subjugated. Justified by a history that is written by men. Well it certainly it is a valid argument. But I don’t completely accept it, and I don’t accept a matriarchal society imposed on me either. If women gain more power in society, then would it not be better to demonstrate more compassion to their former, alleged male oppressors, by showing love like the great emancipators did.

Society has changed enormously, and I have suggested that marriage and family were not always the norm, even if that was pre-history. In this sophisticated world, post social revolution, there appears to be an enormous amount of loneliness in England. Rather than sweep aside all male learning as flawed. Rather than hold on to bitterness and resentment on a gender basis. Why don’t people in England get together and work out a new way of running society, for mutual benefit. Power is not an entitlement, power is not a privilege, power is a responsibility. Running relationships as a tyranny is backward by men or women. Relying on hidden manipulative skills was necessary in the patriarchal society, but is counter-productive once in power. All people have different skills, sharing these in community, sharing lives in community; sharing power in community surely must help us all to achieve our needs. Emotional and spiritual needs come from healthy interaction with people, not with love substitutes many which are bad for your health.

I believe for true tolerance in society we need to forgive individuals and forgive people groups. For me people need to achieve their potential and be themselves, this is an individual experience. Be like this and share with others the things they want in us and the things they tolerate in us and take the parts of our lives they don’t like somewhere else. But forgiveness comes from both sides for relationships to survive. Eventually we all must find a way to communicate.

Maybe we could design new communities; after all we started as tribes anddesigned the patriarchal society. Some of us have to be isolated, but some of us are not prepared to sacrifice their freedom to be themselves. Maybe Thatcher was right, there is no such thing as society, if we have no forgiveness, truth, love and acceptance for others, for once I might have to agree with her.

Other lessons of history show that if there is a lack of coherent morality in society, then things can spiral rapidly out of control. The future can only be united not divided. If you don’t believe in anything, find something and learn how to coexist.

Conway-Laird (2017)


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