Book: “Prohibition and Sanctification – The Emergence of Cultures and Nations”
Author: Marvin Harris (Translated by Ahmed M. Ahmed),
Publisher: The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Doha, first edition, October 2020.
In Chapter Seven, The Origin of the Primitive State, Harris says, “In the emergence of the state was, in many respects, the world’s degeneration from freedom to slavery.” Pg (100) How did this happen?
In most village and group societies before the emergence of the state, the common man enjoyed economic and political freedoms that today only a privileged minority enjoy. Men would decide for themselves how much time, on a specific day, and what they would do, and women were also, despite their subjugation For men, they set their own daily schedules. With the rise of the state, all this has passed. For ordinary men, who seek to benefit from the bounties of nature, must seek permission from someone else, and pay taxes, tribute, or additional effort for it. Therefore, it seems that the best explanation for the emergence of the primitive state was that it was the result of the intensification of agricultural production.
In this chapter, Harris discusses the theory of the emergence of states, which was favored by anthropologists, who considered that the primitive state arose in “fertile areas surrounded by areas with very low agricultural capacity.” A primitive state in a particular region, until dependent states begin to emerge under various circumstances,” while another arises as a result of attempts to wrest control over strategic trade routes and the increasing amounts of goods that are transported and that usually accompanies the growth of states in any region.
Harris tried to trace the further consequences of the rise of the state, within the framework of different regional models, of intensification, attrition, and environmental crises. Chapter eight is devoted to “Pre-Columbian Central American states”, to the study of the history of Central America, where he studied the evolutionary context in the Teotihuacan Valley and the Valley of Mexico, during the thousand years. The period between the years 200 – 1200 AD, which Harris sees, included three clear stages of agricultural intensification, followed by three transformations in the method of production, which were as follows: the first, the intensification of slashing and burning cultivation on the hills; second, irrigation by canals fed by springs; Third, the establishment of the chinampa (an agricultural system of the ancient high field farming systems), each of which involved increasing start-up and building expenditures, but each principally afforded the livelihoods of larger populations and larger and more powerful nations.”
Harris adds, “In the course of these millennia, the population of the Valley of Mexico rose from a few tens of thousands to two million, while the sphere of political rule expanded, from one valley to two, to a subcontinent. According to the theory of forward and upward evolution, it was inevitable that The increase in agricultural production meant that the Aztecs, and their neighbors, enjoyed at an increasing pace the benefits of a high civilization, a phrase that anthropologists did not hesitate to apply to them. p. (135), but he thinks that it is not the appropriate phrase at all.
In most village and group societies before the emergence of the state, the common man enjoyed economic and political freedoms that today only a privileged minority enjoy. Men would decide for themselves how much time, on a specific day, and what they would do, and women were also, despite their subjugation For men, they set their own daily schedules.
Harris, in the beginning of chapter nine “The Kingdom of Cannibals” throws light on the Aztec peoples, and says that they were the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who regularly sacrificed human beings, just as the Spaniards and other European peoples also regularly broke human bones. The Mukhla’ah, the uprooting of arms and legs with ropes tied between horses, and the burning of women accused of witchcraft on a stake. But the sacrifice with the Aztecs was because their gods eat the human heart and drink human blood. The declared function of the Aztec priests was “to secure living human hearts and blood in order to avoid the wrath of the merciless gods.” Harris emphasized that human sacrifice was not the invention of the official religion of our Stone Age ancestors, as evidence shows that “human sacrifice historically predates the emergence of official religions.”
Harris opposes the view of the anthropologist Sherborne Cook, who held that “no purely religious motive, however strong, can sustain itself successfully for any fundamental length of time in the face of structural economic resistance.” Cook hypothesized that the war The Aztecs and their sacrifices were part of a system to control population growth. Harris argues that if the Aztecs had adopted a method of depopulation, they would have focused on the sacrifice of virgin girls, and Cook, according to him, fails to explain the necessity of slaughtering at the top of the pyramid, rather than on the battlefield.
Harris tried to answer an important question, which is why in Central America only the gods encouraged cannibalism? He saw that, according to Michael Harner, the answer lay in the well-defined depletions of the Mesoamerican ecosystem, after the Ice Age, in which he practically dropped animal flesh from the diet of the common people, and asks, Harris, was it to redistribute the meat, from the sacrificed victims , A role in improving protein components in the diet of the Aztec peoples, and was the number of sacrifices linked to a deficit in the agricultural cycle?
Harris argues that since the previous analysis is correct, we must take into account the reverse analysis, “that the availability of types of domestic animals played an important role in the prohibition of cannibalism, and thus in the development of religions of love and compassion, in the countries and empires of the ancient world. It may eventually become clear, Christianity was the blessing of the lamb in the manger rather than the blessing of the child who was born in it. p (154)
In chapter 10, The Lamb of Mercy, Harris thinks that cannibalism “has never had a place in feasts, which are distributed among the cultures immediately preceding the rise of states in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Europe”. Ritual offerings were made by humans, but they were rarely eaten.
Harris opposes the view of nineteenth century anthropologists, who held that the Aztecs remained cannibals because their morals were still steeped in primitiveness, while the countries of the ancient world prohibited human flesh, because their morals rose in the course of advanced civilization. Where, according to Harris, the prohibition of cannibalism and the refusal of human sacrifice in the ancient world had no effect on the rate at which the nations of the ancient world and its empires killed their citizens, “the heaps of corpses left to rot on the battlefields are not fewer than those cut up for Feast”. p. (168)
Harris points out, at the beginning of the eleventh chapter, “Forbidden Meat” that the ancient states and empires, with expansive political economies, faced a problem with the diminishing area of forests and uncultivated lands allocated to one individual, with the increase in the farming population, and from here it had to resort to one of the two options “Either a lot of plant food cultivation, or an increase in animal husbandry.” The empires chose the first over the second, on the grounds that domestic animals are worth more while they are alive than dead. Therefore, little by little meat was removed from the diet of the common people in these countries.
“Animal meat became, within a short period, a mere luxury, its consumption was restricted to occasions involving ritual sacrifice, and eventually, the consumption of the meat of most high-priced living creatures became definitively forbidden.” p (179)
It is likely that the pig was the first domestic animal to become an expensive and outlawed source of meat, and Harris attempted to explain this by the fact that “cultures tend to impose divine laws on the consumption of animal meat, when the public benefits are less than the costs associated with the use of certain organisms”. Pg. (180) explains that raising pigs entailed costs that posed a threat to the whole system of subsistence in the hot lands of the Middle East.
In the twelfth chapter “The Origin of the Sacred Cow”, Harris wondered, how did it happen that the omens of Neolithic India (Neolithic) with meat for all ended with the Hindu system depriving everyone of it? Harris argues that this shift from animal sacrifice to the Hindu ban on beef and oxen, came as a result, individual decisions, of millions of individual farmers who resisted the temptation to slaughter their domestic animals, because they were firmly convinced that the life of a cow or ox was a sacred matter “used in plowing and dairy And cheese, and Harris explains in this regard that “the vegetarianism of the Hindus was not a victory for the soul over matter, but for the forces of reproduction over production,” adding that this spiritual tendency that arose towards cows and bulls in was caused by the intensification of production in India, the depletion of natural resources and the increase in density population.
Harris points out that some reliable sources say that fanatical Hindu scholars distorted the texts of refraining from eating beef and refraining from slaughtering cows at a later date. But beef was most commonly consumed, during most of the first millennium BC (Neolithic).
At the beginning of Chapter Thirteen “The Water Trap”, Harris talks about the ancient empires, and how each developed its own integrated model of social life, as each empire was a world in its own right. For all their differences, these empires shared “aquatic societies” as the historian Karl Wittvogel called them; Each arose in valleys and plains irrigated by great rivers.
Harris shows, through this chapter, the relationship between water production and the emergence of authoritarian regimes in agricultural management. He explains that hydroponics, pre-industrial, frequently led to the emergence of bureaucratic authorities to manage agriculture, extreme in its tyranny; Because the expansion and intensification of hydroponics depended uniquely on huge building projects, they could, in the absence of machinery, be carried out only by an army of ant-like workers.
Harris argues, the unique ability of aquatic societies to repair themselves, despite frequent dynastic upheavals, and frequent invasion from occupiers, decade after decade, dynasties rose and were abolished, and farmers and peasants lived, as usual, above a degree of subsistence. For Harris, the persistence of these societies for thousands of years – longer than any international system in history – serves as a grim reminder that nothing inherited in human relations supports material and moral development.
Chapter Fourteen “The Origin of Capitalism” begins with a question: Why did capitalism and parliamentary democracy emerge in Europe before it appeared anywhere in the world? Harris argues that unlike the watery despots, the kings of Europe, who could not supply or cut off water to the fields, because of the constant rain, and that there was nothing in the productive process, had to organize armies of workers, which enabled the feudal aristocracy to Resist all attempts to establish purely national systems of government. And instead of the king turning into an “eastern” despot, he remained just “the first equal”.
The feudal lords always encouraged the growth of cities, and the development of artisans and merchants who could facilitate the transformation of the produce of the farmland into a number of commodities, which the farm could not secure. The feudal lords were not at all ideologically opposed to buying, selling and making a profit. What must be explained, then, is why it took cities and markets more than 500 years to begin to tear down the feudal system.
Some believe that the collapse of feudalism began with the growth of trade and industry in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and that the search for gains transformed all customary obligations towards feudalism into market, supply and demand relations. But as Harris explains, and according to Emmanuel Wallerstein, feudalism should not be thought of as a system contrary to trade. Feudal lords always encouraged the growth of cities, and the development of artisans and merchants who could facilitate the transformation of the produce of the farmland into a number of commodities, which the farm could not secure. The feudal lords were not at all ideologically opposed to buying, selling and making a profit. What must be explained, then, is why it took cities and markets more than 500 years to begin to tear down the feudal system.
All rapidly intensifying production systems faced a common dilemma: the increase in the amount of energy invested from production, per unit time, would burden the ecosystem’s potential in terms of regeneration and self-purification. To avoid the catastrophic consequences of insufficient efficiency, a shift to more efficient technologies had to be made. During the past 500 years, Western scientific technology has been competing with the most accelerated and extreme production systems in the history of our species, which is what he called, Harris, in Chapter Fifteen “The Industrial Bubble”.
Harris observed that the periods of greatest technological innovation were the periods with the highest population increase, the most expensive cost of living, and the greatest suffering among the poor. What prompted the economist, the English priest, Thomas Malthus, to declare his famous doctrine of the inevitability of poverty and want. Contrasted by Karl Marx, Malthus, and other economists whose apprehension became known as “the bleak science”, Marx asserted that the poverty and misery in which Europe’s workers and farmers had drowned were the result of the laws of the political economy of capitalism, and not the result of human existence in general. In Marx’s view, capitalists reaped their profits from the exploitation of labour. Under capitalism, wages were reduced to subsistence, regardless of whether the population was increasing or decreasing.
As for Harris, both Malthus and Marx—one restricted by the law of procreation, the other by the law of production—did not realize that the Industrial Revolution was creating an entirely new relationship between production and reproduction. In contrast to all previous major shifts in production methods, the Industrial Revolution, in the nineteenth century, was accompanied by a decline in the rate of population growth. What Harris called “the demographic transition”, and attributed its causes to the interrelationship of exceptional cultural events: the fuel revolution, the contraceptive revolution, and the labor revolution.p. (248).
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