What we, anthropologists and urbanized people, call humanization and progress has a dark side. Only very recently, 10.000 years, we started living in cities while our ‘aboriginal’ (indigenous people’s) past lasted about 2,5 millions years. The ‘urbanizing era’ lasted only 15 seconds in 3600 seconds, if we take our humanization process lasting one hour. We, humans living urban lives, are more an anomaly than the norm seen from a ‘evolutionary’ angle. We, urbanites, are ‘modern’, ‘civilized’ and ‘developed’ in relation to who and what?. This conceptual mirage comes with a price. We have stretched our evolutionary elastics to the point of snapping.
To my knowledge the late Polish philosopher Wojciech Chudy (1947-2007) wrote most fitting lines on our human alienation: ‘…belonging to someone else, foreign; alius—other)—a process of a practical and social nature in which the products of human activity (e.g., ideas, products of work, institutions) become autonomous (are liable to reification and estrangement) with respect to us as creators. As a result, we lose control over their products and even become subordinate through our own products to rules of action that we perceive as being alien or opposed to our original intention’.
My view is that most contemporary man-made threats to our survival, like genocidal wars (worst form of collective destructive ethnocentrism) and environmental crises, may be understood from this very ancient kind of alienation.
The early environmentalist, anthropologist/biologist and system thinker Gregory Bateson, already in the eighties of the last century, had developed this view on alienation:
Our human predicament, dwelling away from our origins, seems to be a case of incongruence. Our out-of-sync condition has been labelled in numerous forms in the Western world: original sin, fall of man, paradise lost, condition humaine and indeed alienation.
I coined, with a wink of collective self-irony, as ‘our exodus from animal paradise‘
Let us follow-up Bateson’s ‘corrected evolutionary‘ statement on the evolutionary stretching of the gap between how cosmic and nature’s cycles, transitions and principles operate and how human systems think.
For me as a ‘systemic’ anthropologist, who co-educates transcultural/transgenerational family therapists in Amsterdam, The Netherlands for 10 years, the next question gets deep relevance:
How did human communities create and managed ‘survival/adaptive’ continuity over 100.000 generations if we take one generation lasting 20-25 years?
If we find answers to this question we touch the issue of ‘how to get from incongruence to congruence’. Do not ask me why but getting into incongruence in human systems, like families and corporations is much easier than the other way around.
Bateson started his systemic thinking on the issue of prevention/stopping of schismogenetic (incongruent/fragmenting) patterns in humans systems (indigenous peoples). In his PhD dissertation: ‘Naven’ (1935) on boys initiation ritual in the New Guinean Sepik river Iatmul people he tried to find answer. But at that moment and also in the rest of his career he couldn’t find satisfactory answers (Thomassen 2010).
When we combine the Batesonian system perspective with the ritual perspective of the anthropologist Victor Turner’s possible answers emerges on this question:
How did human communities (social systems) create/manage congruence, over 100.000 generations in enormous variation across the earth?
- Indigenous peoples, also naming themselves as First Nations, create/manage transgenerational biological/cultural continuity in their rituals.
- First nations, in effective transition rituals (rites of passage), synchronize their individuals, families and communities with how nature works.
This post is limited so I can’t go into details on these answers.
What can be formulated is the next pressing question:
What, cross-culturally-compared, are active ingredients in transition rituals of aboriginal peoples all over the world?
When these ingredients are performed with sufficient expertise in families, clinical settings and educational groups deep-safe, transitional, spaces emerge in which deep (non-cognitive, prelogical) communicative and transformative processes can take place.
In a Tiny Trilogy (three intertwined papers based on a decade clinical fieldwork in psychiatry among young men forthcoming end 2018) I offer my applicable answers to the questions above.
In the meantime ….below a number of anthropologists and systemthinkers who already hint at this epistemological breakthrough looking at several crises families, communities, state, church and corporate organizations are involved in.
Arnold Van Gennep 1909; Bateson 1972; Gregory Bateson 1979; Victor Turner 1969; Victor Turner 1974; Humberto Maturana 1996; Bradford Keeney 2005; Edith Turner 2012; Unni Wikan 2012; Sarah Blaffer Hrdy 2010; Frans de Waal 2010; Andreas Weber 2013, ………..