Committed relativists often regard anthropology as a great weapon in their arsenal. How can we think we know what is natural or normative when there has been so much diversity of human arrangements. Now, just from studying the history of civilized peoples, it would seem that there’s actually a lot more consensus than disagreement about the important stuff, including–yes–the ideas that the sexes have distinct roles and that the reproductive urge should be regulated by marriage. The relativist will counter with some example of people allegedly living a hedonistic, egalitarian utopian life. On examination, it always turns out that this people is a tiny race of ignorant, naked savages. (No, we don’t respect all cultures equally at Throne and Altar.)
The Social Pathologist notes and explains this greater diversity among the savage than among the civilized.
It’s my belief, and a cursory examination of history will confirm, that it is possible to have different type of societies (i.e equilibrium points) but only only within certain limits. The whole point about the “Tao of Life” is that there is more commonality amongst enduring societies than than there are differences.
I suppose the reason why there is limited range of equilibrium points within a human societal “system” is because the material from which human society is built, human nature, puts constraints on types of societal structures that can be maintained. Human capabilities with regard to jealousy, trust, fear, love, friendship, etc. are the limiting factors with regard to human interaction. Human nature is the material from which societal “engines” this in turn places limits on the type of enduring societies that are possible.
An example of this is with regard to sexuality. Most men naturally desire variety and it would be expected, that given this nature, societies would develop which would cater to this fact. Yet it’s pretty obvious that culturaly advanced polyamorous societies have failed to develop, since sexual activity occurs in the context of other parameters such as reproduction, love and investment. Any society that attempted to institute such a practice would be torn apart by feuds, lusts, jealousy etc. Likewise, Communism, a great idea in theory, fails because it ignores the fact the human nature responds to incentives.
Human nature, being what it is, therefore limits the type of advanced societies that can exist.
What we do tend to see is that amongst primitive peoples there does seem to be more latitude with respect to human nature and stable “society”, but as a society becomes bigger and culturally advances, the potential for alternative normative behaviors lessens.
As an Aristotelian, I believe that it’s the complete, perfected state of a substance that most clearly manifests that substance’s essence, its intelligible principle, rather than the immature states. If you want to understand human nature, look first at civilized man.
Filed under: Culture