Evolution - l 7 2 EVOLUTION Such translation is only ever...

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Unformatted text preview: l 7 2 EVOLUTION Such translation is only ever partial, since it is rare to find words in the language of another culture that reflect the English sense precisely. Certain basic ideas do, however, recur as generally sharing some meaning with the English term. Thus, in a number of African Bantu, Amazonian, and Asian languages, some terms translatable as “bad” or “evil” also have a sense of “physically rotten, misshapen, ugly, and dirty” (Parkin 1985: 0-9). Continuing with this metaphysical perspective on evil, Ricoeur (1967: 25—46) regarded it as a pri- mordial kind of defilement or Staining of something that was once clean and pure. It connotes a feeling of incompleteness and O’Flaherty (1976: 2) drew attention to a view attributed to Max WEBER (1963) that premature DEA'I'I-l is perhaps the most evi- dent forrn of incompleteness (sec Parkin 1985: 7—8; Metealf1982: 254—7 on “bad deaths”, and Needham 1973 on physical imperfection as sinister). Given the premise in most monotheistic religions that a su- preme God should be strong or benevolent enough to prohibit the occurrence of evil death, it is regarded as a paramount evil that needs to be explained. Such explana- tions are called “theodicies.” A sec0nd set of terms found in the lan- guages of other cultures and connoting and roughly translatable as “evil,” turn on a sense of excess or over—abundance. The very term “evil” derives from the Teutonic ubiioz, the etymology of which reveals a primary sense of “exceeding due measure” or “overstepping the limits.” Many peoples in the world believe that too much knowl- edge is a very bad thing and may cause terrible destruction. This is reflected in the Biblical story where Adam’s discovery through Eve of nakedness, sexuality, and mortality could both destroy them and yet allow them to reproduce themselves: the line between abundance and overabun- dance is, then, culturally a precarious one to maintain. This suggests another associated sense of “evil,” namely that of ambivalent power: a benign force can, through its misuse, cause evil. Middleton (1960) showed how, among the Lugbara of Uganda, a mysti- cal power called ol'e cures and restores when used by acknowledged elders but is maleficent when illicitly used by juniors. Kiernan (1982) showed that ancestors may be seen as noxious, and thereby evil, when they punish affines, but as firm and caring, like parents, when they punish lineal de- scendants. The Lugbara fiarther describe as bad those persons whose bitter emotions involuntarily harm others, but consider it- redeemably evil those who deliberately hire magical specialists to kill good people, sug- gesting that the graded triad of concepts (good, bad, and evil) is found outside the West when human intentionality is called to account. Hindu and Buddhist theodicy is not, however, easily understood in terms of cur rent human intentionality. Since one‘s evil actions may derive from one‘s karma (itself the result of past deeds committed by transmigrating souls), evil effects can only be reduced by the person‘s good deeds in the present. Here, the distinction be- tween moral (humanly intentional) and metaphysical evil is difficult to sustain (Obeyesekere 1968). Similar conundrums exists with regard to questions of a God’s omnipotence and be- nevolence. Some Islamic Sufi movements argue that, since God controls all actions and thoughts, then even evil is created by him. A skeptical, contrary view questions whether God is really so powerful and car- ing, if he allows evil on the earth. If such questions are more typical of monotheistic societies, then under POLYTHEISM, evil is more likely to be seen as caused by human neglect of ancssroas and SPIRITS, by cosmic order caused by transgressions of sexual rules or other prohibitions, or by capricious forces beyond human control. DP further reading Beidelman 1981; Boyd 1975; G. Evans 1982; Ling 1962; Nietzsche 1917; Nugent 1983; Taussig 1980; M. Weber 1958 evolution, evolutionisrn, social (and cultural) The concept of social evolution is one of the most important in the history of the social sciences. In the nineteenth century the disciplines of sociol- ogy and anthropology were greatly devoted to studying the evolution of human soci- eties from their earliest and simplest forms tin-the present day. Social evolution is today "ml? one among many issues pursued sociologists and anthropologists, but it Mains an important concern nonetheless. As used by most social evolutionists, “so— Ida] evalution” refers to social changes that axhibit some sort of directionality or linear frequence. In addition, it is usually thought in involve transformations in the form or {iype of society or one of its subunits (quali— ‘l‘itive change), and not just changes in fiegree or extent (quantitative change). ,Theories of social evolution are thus theo- -ries that concentrate on identifying and l .uqilaining directional sequences of qualita— tive social change. Many scholars have claimed that an evolutionary theory as- :mlnes some sort of teleological unfolding llid-potentialities that are latent in social life, ;‘but this is not so. Many evolutionary theo- ries including mosr of the recent ones have not tested on this assumption. It has also " 'fi‘tquently been assumed that evolutionary l theories postulate a rigid sequence of stages j through which all societies must move, and .-tl1at evolutionary theories deny the possi- ‘ bility of regression, or even of long—term .-§teady states, in social life. But these, too, I are misconceptions. Most evolutionary theories propose flexible typologies that .give to history a certain open—ended qual— ity, and most likewise see social continuity and regression as important social phe- nomena that, like evolution, cry out for explanation. Historical development of evolutionary theories Evolutionary theories of human society . emerged with full force in the second half of the nineteenth century. There were many evolutionary social scientists during this time, but space permits discussion of only the most important: Herbert SPEN- CER, Lewis Henry MORGAN, Edward Burnett TY‘LJOR, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Spencer (1876) formulated a general law of evolution that asserted a tendency for all societies to change from a state of incoher— ent homogeneity to a state of coherent heterogeneity — that is, a tendency for phe- nomena to undergo increasing differentia- tion. Spencer identified four evolutionary types of human society: simple, compound, EVOLUTION l 73 doubly compound, and treny compound. These ranged from primitive societies that were politically headless to complex civili— zations. Spencer also developed another typology, the military—industrial typology. Military societies were characterized by the subordination of the individual to the social whole, whereas industrial societies are those in which individuals have much greater freedom. In general, Spencer saw an evolutionary movement from the former to the latter. Morgan developed a different concep— tion of social evolution, which was set forth in his Ancient society (187?). He traced out three major “ethnical periods” in human history. Savagery, Barbaristn, and Civiliza- tion. These are essentially stages of techno- logical development in which humans moved from primitive hunter—gatherers to societies based on complex agriculture and writing. Morgan also examined the evolution of government the family, and property. In his analysis of governmental institutions, to which he devoted great attention, he conceived of two main evolu- tionary plans of government: secretes con- sists of relatively democratic and egalitarian societies that are organized around kinship relations; cr'm'tas, by contrast, is character— ized by property and territory as the inte- grating principles of society. Social and economic inequalities are widespread, and the state has come into exi5tence. Tyler (1871) is famous for his use of “survivals” as a basis for demonstrating evolutionary sequences. These are aspects of culture that have been carried into stages of social evolution beyond the one in which they originated. For Tylor, they proved that contemporary stages of culture had evolved from earlier ones. Tyler’s evolu- tionism, much more than Spencer’s or Morgan’s, concentrated on the evolution of the mental and ideational aspects of social life, especially on religiou. The thinking of Marx and Engels ran in a very different direction from that of Spen— cer, Morgan, and Tylor. Man: and Engels concentrated on the evolution of MODES 0F PRODUCTION in world history. Modes of production were concatenations of forces of production (largely level of technological development) and relations of production 1 7 4 EVO LUTION (forms of ownership of the productive forces). In The Ger‘lflflfl ideology Marx and Engels (1947') identified four basic evolu- tionary stages, each of which is associated with certain relations of production: primi- tive communism, slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. After Marx’s death Engels developed his own, somewhat different, evolutionary ideas (Engels 1902). He de- veloped two dialectical laws of change, which he referred to as the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality and the Law of the Negation of the Nega- tion. These laws point to the Hegelian no- tion of the “inner contradictions” of a phenomenon as the engine of its movement from one historical stage to another. The “golden age” of social evolutionism had basically ended by the 18905, and after that time a sharp reaction against evolu- tionary theories emerged. In anthropology this reaction was led by Franz Boats and his students and disciples and lasted into the 19405 and 19503. The Boasian school objected to evolutionary theories on four basic counts: the use of an illegitimate methodological device, the COMPARATIVE METHOD; the development of rigid schemes of unilinear evolution in which all societies were assumed to progress in lockstep fash— ion through the same set of stages; in- adequate recognition of the process of DIFFUSION; and the illegitimate equation of evolution with progress (see Sanderson 1990). Nonetheless, by the 1930s the extreme HISTORICAL PARTICULARISM espoused by the Boasian school of anthro- pology began to be challenged, and an “evolutionary revival" was underway. The first to lead this revival was the archaeologist V. Gordon Childe (1936, 1951). Emphasizing the broad techno- logical changes characteristic of human prehistory, Childe identified two great technological revolutions that had occurred in several regions of the world. The Neolithic Revolution brought about the domestication of plants and animals. It gave humans the possibility of accumulat- ing economic surpluses, and thus paved the way for the second revolution, which Childe called the “urban revolution.” This involved the passage of human societies into a much more complex form character- ized by occupational specialization, cities, sharp class divisions, and the state. Begin- ning in the 1940s, Leslie WHITE (1943, 1959a) developed a version of social evolu- tionism similar to Childe’s. White insisted that evolutionary theories did not try to explain specific sequences of historical change, but rather focused on the overall movement of human culture as a whole. He formulated a law to explain this general evolution of culture, which stated that cul- ture evolved in proportion to the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year, or by an increase in the efficiency of putting this energy to work. In other words, technolog'» cal change is the driving force of the evolu- tion of culture. Julian STEWARD, the third important figure in the evolutionary revival, reacted against what he thought were the overly general and excessively simplified evolutionary conceptions of Childe and White, which he called “universal evolu— tion.” He proposed instead what he termed “multilinear evolution” (Steward 1955). Multilinear evolution concentrated less on the overall movement of history and more on the different lines along which social evolution moved. Steward granted that there were broad parallels in historical change, but he did not want these over- stated. There were still many different lines along which evolution radiated, and these could not be ignored. Since about 1960, there has been a new wave of important evolutionary work among American anthropologists, most of whom have been greatly influenced by the cvolutionism of Childe and White. Marshal] Sahlins (1958) wrote an impor- tant book on the evolution of social stratification that was inspired by the technological emphasis of Childe and White. He also contributed an important article (Sahlins 1960) that distinguished between general and specific evolution, the former being the overall movement of his- torical development, the latter the more specific radiation of culture and society along many lines. Elman Service (1962:“71) and Robert Carneiro (1970) have also made important contributions to the study of political evolution. Service advanced the typology of “band—tribe—chiefdom—state” to characterize political evolution, a typol- . _-widely employed in eth- larchaeological research. inn one stage to another -more hierarchical and ted political systems. is. a kind of functionalist political forms are said to _ their greater functional - cit-o, by contrast, pre- "theory to account for the n ms and states. He saw and warfare as contrib- pment of more complex .1._n_ areas that are envi- 'bed. As population ' increase, people have it ultimately become con- -u'ated by other groups. systems grow increas- and complex. Gerhard sociologist by training, duown theory of social largely an extension and ideas of Childe and w teithnological expan- Jmover of social evolu~ GYexpands, economies ' drive and economic and expand. These 1! ges ramify through- lead to major evolution— One of Lenski’s most : of this theory was to _ 1 stratification. £1977, 1979) has pre- __ _' .u conception of social than viewing technology a: force, he sees most 3; history resisting techno- tlse of the greater costs energy it requires. What ‘on is the tendency of ‘ inventual depictions in living as the result of ' and environmental must then work harder __ _ = 1y advance their they must intensify just to keep their stan- ‘ falling even lower. But _ yet further (and letions, and so the u - epletion pro- ard and upward. EVOLUTION l 7 5 The current situation is a mixed one. In recent years there has been a substantial reaction against general theories of histori- cal change, and many scholars now assume it is only possible to do limited kinds of theorizing about specific historical situa— tions and trajectories. All of this has meant a sharp decline in confidence in any type of evolutionary theory. Indeed, some social scientists have been severely critical of evolutionism (see Sanderson 1990: ch. 9). Nonetheless, many social scientists remain committed to evolutionary analyses and extensive research on social evolution con- tinues. This is especially true in anthropol- ogy and its subfield of ascnasoroov. Archaeology has long been evolutionary, and, although some archaeologists have turned against evolutionism, most probably remain within that camp. Key issues and debates in the study of social evolution Perhaps the central issue revolving around the concept of social evolution concerns the degree of directionality that is perceived to exist in human history. Traditional his~ torians have long argued that historical events are unique occurrences that must be explained on their own terms. History re- veals no general directional patterns, and therefore, from the historian’s perspective, social evolutionists assume the existence of something that does not, in fact, exist. In recent years a number of anthropologists and historically minded sociologists have taken a similar view, and thus they too have become very skeptical of evolutionary theories. The social evolutionist’s response to this is basically to claim what Childe (1951) argued many years ago: if we ignore many details and focus on long periods of prehis- tory, a number of general directional pat- terns may be perceived. Contemporary evolutionists would note as the most im— portant of these the Neolithic Revolution, which was associated with the emergence of settled village life based on agriculture and which occurred all over the world be- ginning around l0,000 years ago, and the rise of civilization and the state, which in— volved the creation of a radically new kind of society and which occurred all over the world beginning around 5,000 years ago. I? 6 EVOLUTION Social evolutionists would also go on to argue that the claim made by many cri- tics that evolutionary theories are always unilinear in nature is entirely unwarranted. The nineteenth-century evolutionists did hold a strongly (though not entirely) uni— linear view of history, but most contempo- rary evolutionists give explicit recognition to historical diversity and divergence. As Sahlins did years ago, they acknowledge that social evolution reveals both general and specific outcomes. In Marvin Harris‘s (1968) terminology, they acknowledge “parallel,” “convergent,” and “divergent” evolution. Societies not only follow parallel paths, but also converge from different starting points and diverge from similar starting points. The concept of ADAPTATION- is another essential element of evolutionary theories. However, various theories have differed in terms of how they have conceived the unit of adaptation — that is, iust what it is that does the adapting. This can be illustrated by way of a comparison of the evolutionary theories of Talcott Parsons (1966, 1971) and Marvin Harris. Parsons used the con— cept of adaptation in a thoroughly func- tionalist way. It is always an entire society (or one of its major subsystems) that is doing the adapting, and societies struggle to improve their level of adaptation. Social evolution is a process whereby societies undergo “adaptive ungrading,” or an im- provement in their level of functioning. In Harris‘s nonfunctionalist usage, on the other hand, it is individuals rather than entire social systems that do the adapting. Harris made the notion of adaptation a pri- marin heuristic one. He assumed that particular social arrangements arise from the efforts of individuals to satisfy their various needs and wants. The concept of adaptation is thus a starting point for social analysis, a basis for asking useful questions. Harris rejected Parsons’s notion of “adap- tivc upgrading.” New social arrangements are not necessarily adaptively superior to old ones. New arrangements represent re— sponses to changed circumstances, and are adaptive only in terms of those particular circumstances (rather than in some more general or absolute way). {A much more extended treatment of the adaptation concept is given in Sanderson 1990: 180— 90.) Like the concept of adaptation, the con- cept of progress has been seen as fun- damental to evolutionism, and this has frequently been a basis for the rejection of evolutionism by its critics. It is claimed that evolutionary theories generally assume im- provements in the human condition and in the effecdveness of societal functioning with social evolution. It must be admitted that this criticism has considerable merit. The nineteenth-century evolutionists are well known for their strong progressivist views, testing as they did on their highly ethnocentric beliefs. And, although pro- gressivist notions have been toned down and highly qualified in many contemporary versions of evolutionism, they persist none- theless. Childe and White saw in techno- logical expansion an overall improvement in the quality of the human condition, and Lenski has perpetuated this idea. Sahlins argued that general evolution leads to an increase in “all-round adaptability,” and Service saw the evolution of the state as marking a definite improvement in the political functioning of human societies. Parsons is an even stronger progressivist, believing that modern societies represent the culmination of the human achievement so far, and that the United States is the “new lead society of modernity.” Progressivism has clearly been the norm throughout the history of social evolutionism. Nonetheless, there is no inherent asso- ciation between evolutionary and progres- sivist views. It is entirely possible to be an evolutionist while reiecring the notion that human history has been an onwards- and—upwards process. Once again it is the (antiprogressivist) evolutionism of Marvin Harris that clearly demonstrates this. The driving engine of social evolution is the spi- ral of ecological depletion and intensifica- tion of production. Humans evolve new modes of living primarily because they are compelled to do so by falling standards of living. But the record of social evolution shows that each new mode of production is associated with a lower rather than a higher standard of living. Early agriculturalists (horticulturalists) were worse off in some ...
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