The Return of the Apes
The upper classes claimed privileged relations with the supernatural, and rulers frequently were ascribed divine or semidivine status. Just as class had replaced both real and metaphorical kinship as a basis for organizing societies, so religious concepts replace kinship as a medium for social and political discourse.
Bruce G. Trigger
LAST TIME WE looked at the first major event in human history—our separation from other apes: the period in which we became human.
That division, the event which separated humans from our animal cousins, can be partially described, in modern categories, like this:
|Political System||Democracy and Freedom||Dictatorship and Coercion|
|Economic System||Socialism and Free Trade||Capitalism and Concentrated Wealth|
Ape culture had been a dictatorship, where the wealth and power was concentrated at the top, and those at the top coerced everyone further down the line into obedience to their whims.
Human culture broke free of that pattern.
We established a society of shared power and freedom and wealth, where people cared for each other, respected each other, and granted each other autonomy.
But that doesn't mean there weren't still freeloaders and bullies around.
We hadn't lost those characters who used to sit at the top of the hierarchy—we had merely created a species in ourselves which would not tolerate their behavior.
We had won a major battle in the class war, but we had not won the war itself.
So, for hundreds of thousands of years, the bullies from our ape past continued to exist among us, biding their time.
Then, about twelve thousand years ago the second great change—the second great turning of the tables in human history—came.
In a very short time most of us ceased to be hunter gatherers, living a free and democratic life, and became tangled in a new kind of culture—a culture surprisingly close to that of our cousin apes.
Exactly how this happened is not the point here, but what happened is:
- We found ourselves at the bottom of hierarchies, ruled over by various kings.
- We were taught false stories about the past and the present, stories about who and what we were, about supernatural beings who would punish us if we didn't obey our masters. These stories confused our worldview, and separated us from our knowledge of ourselves and our world.
- We lost our leisurely and pleasant hunter gathering lifestyle, and found ourselves slaving away: doing back breaking farm labor for long hours, building structures for other people (higher in the hierarchy) to use, forced to toil by violence, by economics, and by artful lies.
The upper class had resurrected itself, and enslaved us once again.
It had somehow discovered that the proper combination of violence, economics, and propaganda could turn back the clock and turn human beings into slaves again.
Only this time it went further.
Even the worst ape cultures never managed to make the powerless apes toil day in and day out for long hours to produce wealth and palaces and armies for those at the top.
Here's how the new system worked:
- Members of the lower class were kept poor—so that they were constantly worried about where their next meal would come from.
They were completely dependent, economically, on those above them in the hierarchy.
- They were also kept fearful of outside threats, through regular wars which served to guarantee their loyalty.
They were taught to fear those outside in order to bind them to their masters.
- The kingdom's religion served as a propaganda arm, convincing people that obedience to the king was the will of gods (Marduk, or Ba'al, or, later, Zeus or Jupiter or Athena), gods who never existed except as a tool to help shape the worldviews and bend the minds of the king's subjects.
They were fed a barrage of falsehoods in order to manipulate their behavior.
- Anyone who rebelled at this was branded as evil, both by the religion and the law of the land, and was appropriately punished.
They were taught a false morality, and fear of the masters, in order to keep them subservient.
- And the only middle class that was allowed consisted of those who served the masters.
The true, autonomous, middle class—the dignified, human state of our hunter gatherer ancestors—was eliminated.
There were other, more subtle, tactics at play as well, but that's the big picture.
We were back where we started, before we became humans—living in an ape society again.
But not quite.
Because we were no longer apes.
Next: The Resistance...