Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hunter-Gatherers in Morillo's Tri-Sectoral History: Part 2

Franz Marc, Blue and Yellow Cats, 1912
Painted Lions, Chauvet Cave, France,
ca. 30,000 years or 1000 generations ago


THE first part of this series recounted a bit of Stephen Morillo's description of current mainstream scientific perspectives on
  • when anatomically modern humans first appeared (about 200,000 years or 6500 generations ago);
  • the size of the hunter-gatherer bands in which they lived (about 80 or fewer heads per band); and 
  • when they developed a degree of self-consciousness and symbolic culture (about 70,000 years or 2300 generations ago). 
Several posts here have emphasized an overlap between Morillo's view of social life and Rudolf Steiner's.  The overlap, however, particularly with regard to more general worldview, should not be exaggerated.  Steiner describes the origin of the cosmos as spiritual: aspects of a vast living world of creative non-physical beings "condensed" over eons into worlds of matter, into which spiritual beings gradually incarnated, leading to biological and spiritual evolution on earth.  By contrast, Morillo, at the beginning of his book, seems to be in tune with the majority of scientists, and recounts the development of the cosmos and of life on earth as a purely physical process. Morillo presumably knows little or nothing of Steiner.

However, Morillo does later suggest some sort of doubt about a "purely material" account of things. During the earliest stages of the Cognitive-Linguistic Revolution (which he says occurred about 70,000 years ago when humans seem to have started burying their dead and developing symbolic and artistic culture), cultural and trading networks
carried more than just material artifacts, and even an exchange of artifacts was never "purely material," whatever that might mean to a species that now saw the world in symbolic and metaphorical terms. 
(Frameworks of World History, p.22, emphasis added)  Note that Morillo is not merely expressing doubt that ancient hunter-gatherers could have understood anything as "purely material."  He appears to doubt the meaning of the expression himself, insofar as he emphasizes a few pages later that we today also see the world in symbolic and metaphorical terms. (p.34)

In a 2011 essay, moreover, "The Entwives: Investigating the Spiritual Core of The Lord of the Rings," Morillo shows himself to be comfortable referring to "spirituality," which he describes as indicating "some combination of world view and emotional tone, the combination of which produces some sense of transcendent meaning." (p.114.)  He appears to have his own personal brand of spirituality. Whatever its lineaments, it does not include a belief in God. (p.112)

The main point here is that Morillo's doubt about the expression "purely material," and the fact that he grants as much causal significance to cultural life as to economic or political life, reflect an evolution of assumptions within the historical profession in recent decades, not identity between Morillo's and Steiner's views.

With that said, it remains the case that study of Morillo's book, Frameworks of World History, with its unique triple focus on the interaction of culture, economics, and politics throughout history, may help illuminate Steiner's ideas about social threefolding.

How, then, in Morillo’s view, did culture, economic life, and political life function and interact within pre-historic hunter-gatherer bands?

Pursuit of that theme, dear reader, will have to wait for Part 3 of this series.

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