Sunday, February 28, 2021

Temporary Power and Status

 According to David Wengrow, an anthropologist I have mentioned before, status and power were not always conferred permanently in prehistoric civilisations, and this is true in many places.  Related to my recent posts about transhumance and other forms of mobility, people could have varying status in the group throughout the course of the year.  In times when rituals were observed, there might be priestly classes who enjoyed high status at those times - a few weeks or few months - but then returned to another status when the event was over. These rituals often took place in cities, which may or may not have been occupied full-time. Or also, among mobile foragers as they made their yearly cycle throughout the territory, an individual might be a leader in one activity but just one of the worker bees in another.  He is also picking up signs that the status of women might vary throughout the year and is pursuing that in research.  There are signs of this in many places, from Peruvian to Kurdistani sites. It occurred to me that an explanation of the variable status for women might occur whenever brides are exchanged. There would not be an infinite number of other tribes where relations were good enough to engage in that kind of reciprocity, there would be only a few.  Therefore, when the tribe returned back to an area year after year those women might have more knowledge of the terrain and resources.  They might also have some ability to complain to the tribe they came from, resulting in difficulty and bad feeling. Or such things taken together might coalesce, even unconsciously, into a sense that they were more powerful as they came back to "their own area" and be in a better position to intervene with gods or spirits.

It is all part of the recent trend in anthropology to reject simple and linear explanations for tribal behaviors.  Groups do not go in a neat line from hunter-gatherer to forager and then agriculturalist. Not only are the lines fairly arbitrary between those categories, but groups about-face and return to foraging after a try at agriculture.  Or an agricultural group might fail altogether because of raiding or disease or famine and be replaced by foragers.  Or a quarter of them might head out and join some foragers before the collapse. Or those who had done more foraging-style acquisition in the division of labor of the agriculturalists might be more likely to survive. The archaeological records are showing back-and-forth adaptations much more often than the neat progressions we have been putting in textbooks for a century.

I read anotherr article by Wengrow expressing irritation that another anthropologist had made a discovery as far back as 2004 that seems very interesting but seems to be ignored: the ancient mounds from Peru to the Mississippi were built according to a common standard of measurement and proportion

Professor Wengrow seems to be making a habit of upending things.


james said...

Mounds built to a common standard of measure? I should look at the original sometime.

Proportion is another matter. If you try to get too ambitious with the steepness of your mound you learn about slump the hard way. (Monk's Mound in Cahokia is a good example) You can get around some of that if you use rammed earth technology, but I'm not aware that AmerIndians did.

Texan99 said...

"[T]he narrower the basis for people's thinking and understanding, the more easily a little bit of contrary information will cause them to suffer from intellectual vertigo."

I'm still chewing away at the Texas energy disaster. I detect in myself a strong disinclination to believe any evidence suggesting that free markets don't maximize both energy cost-effectiveness and reliability. In fact, we struggle to keep our average costs down, and we didn't even prevent a supply crisis. Am I just unwilling to process contrary information? No doubt. On the one hand, I believe people respond to incentives, including reward for risk, and if you try to pretend they don't, then less good stuff gets manufactured and made available to the public (that's me). If that seems too risky and unfair, imagine how many people would bother playing poker if at the end of the evening they had to dump their chips back into the pot so they could be equally distributed. On the other hand, even a poker game host might insist that everyone dump their winnings back into the pot if the game were interrupted by the building's collapse in an earthquake, or everyone suddenly passed out from Mickies in their drinks. Free markets do depend on assumptions that can be upended in emergencies.

I see that the first electrical utility company, a co-op, has filed for bankruptcy in Houston. Its court filings mention that the total bill for power for last week was as great as the bill for all power on the Texas grid for the last four years. The volume of power for one week this year equaled the total power generated and used in 2020 between Jan. 15 and Mar. 1--a lower percentage for comparison, but then a little scarcity can cause a big swing in prices.

Texans, especially legislators, continue to act as though ERCOT cut the power off to be mean. They want heads to roll, but they have no idea whose heads to target. It's a massive food fight.

Texan99 said...

Pardon me for turning every discussion lately into one about ERCOT. It's obviously monopolizing my attention.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah, even speculation on the status of women in primitive societies couldn't sway you.