When milk bottles were first introduced, Blue-tits learned how to take the tops off pretty quickly. But the truly impressive aspect of their door step robberies was that they managed to communicate the secret to one another faster than Blue-tits can fly.
How did they do it?
Whatever the answer, Blue-tits are not the only species to have this knack of manifesting collective change without crib notes or peeking over one another’s shoulder.
Give or take a few centuries, humans all over the world changed the structures of their societies without confering nicely or resorting to the pointy end of something more persuasive.
We invented kings and queens.
The characteristics of this new type of leader differed markedly from those that preceeded them. They may look like chiefs with their rides pimped but there are important differences that have an impact on culture and consciousness difficult to get your head around.
”This was not simply a quantative extension of a ranking system, it was a truly qualitative change by which society had entered a new realm.” P V Kirch
These new leaders emerged simultaneously in cultures that had no bearing or influence upon one another which suggests that something greater was at work than big hairy blokes with extra pointy beards wanting a crown.
Whether you take the Egyptian Pharaohs, or the ancient kingdoms of West Africa, early European lineages or the far-flung Aztec and Chinese emperors from whom they were entirely isolated, there are aspects of this new fangled system of resplendent dudes in metal hats so common to all that you’d think they’d copied each other’s homework.
All agreed, there was to be a fundamental change in how humans got on together with ramifications for Collective Consciousness we can scarcely suspect.
or is that scaredly?
Superficially, kings meant centralised power, more rigid hierarchies, increased divisions of labour and more highly organised economies. But the most important difference, the most impactful on their subjects, was a shift in the value of human life and the rules about who you can kill without calling it murder…
so you’ll be pleased to know that Kings are only recent inventions.
”The way of life we now take for granted and on the foundations of which we have built civilizations, occupies but one percent of the time of the big-brain’s preoccupation.” R. Ardrey.
We tend to think of kings as something that belongs to history and by which we are no longer affected. In fact it’s the other way around. The institution is very recent and pervades the very viscera of modern life.
Far from being ousted by revolutions or the democratic aspirations of suitably frightened subjects, kings adapted as only the very youthful can. They went underground, as our serf like devotions to the rich and famous, as the farce of rule by deep state oligarchs, as the proliferation of corruption and being above the law whose daily tabloid shenanigins, violent exploits and eternal wars are just the kind of court intrigue you’d expect from period drama.
There are a number of important differences between chiefs and kings, with consequences for those grovelling nearest, but there is one that stands alone in its impact upon us because it affects our perception of what it means to be human.
Not only is the king a political ruler, he is also the high priest and most significant for those within reach, an incarnation of State-Your-Prefered-Deity-Here. Again, you might imagine this to be some amusing footnote of history, a witty anecdote from The Golden Bough and yet its widely accepted by considerable swathes of people in our time that might has right. The powerful are ordained by and represent God. In everyday life this trickles down and manifests in the wider populace as the feeling that, by virtue of your allegiance, you too are special and/or entitled to be exempt and above the law.
‘I like to be offensive”, said a Charlottesville supremacist. After all, what is the point of being above the law if you don’t demonstrate it once in a while? In fact what other way is there to make the point?
The archives of Ethography are rich in examples of how animals of all kinds obey a natural law which distinguishes between neighbour and stranger. This is so that the aggression necessary for survival within a species does not spill over into communal violence. Snakes won’t use their fangs when they fight. The anxiety of the young male baboon to join a new troop is not just for acceptance but for protection. Herring gulls will erupt into a frenzy of squawking and tear up great lumps of grass when anger boils over, without ever resorting to their rapier sharp beaks.
People are the same..
”All known societies make a distinction between murder, the killing of member’s of one’s own group – and the killing of outsiders.” G. Gorer.
In other words the Principle of Relatedness is more fundamental in its distinction of friend from foe than the inevitablity of violent outcome.
”It is the effect of natural arangments, not the inoffensiveness of natural disposition that minimizes violent behaviour in a natural world.” Ardrey
Latent violence is there, but it’s subject to the natural law that distinguishes friend from foe. In a society run by leaders who are not ordained by the gods, nor believed to be so special that they may not touch the ground, everyone in the community is protected from each other by this natural law. Contact with those who fall outside this protection can be made safer by rituals of politeness, exchange, intermarriage and stylised etiquette..
We shake hands, give gifts, let you have the seat furthest from the lavvy…
For folk who have been chosen by God and doing His Will, this natural law works against the majority because the king is removed from the community by a host of taboos which means that everybody, subjects and strangers alike, are now Other, unprotected by the rule which says that even an angry wolf will instinctively muzzle his bite if a pup merely shows him its belly.
No-one is safe.
In 19th C Buganda, not saying thankyou properly, with just the right amount of dust poured on your head, could get you killed. Oh, and also if you were vaguely related, or caused his Maj’ to touch the ground..or if you were unlucky enough to see him eating…. or caught his eye…
and so life is suddenly very precarious…
security and belonging eroded..
defences kicking in.
The rats start to turn on each other.
The advent of King-ship spills contained aggression into explosive violence. Not just between the king and anybody that looks at him funny but between the subjects themselves who are now also objects just a shade higher in worth than a non-believer and scrabbling to secure their positions.
If just deserts are your thing it doesn’t end well for the king. He is inflated and so must die. Tradition has it that he comes to a very bad end. In Dahomey, if he’s lucky, he just gets murdered for the crown. If he’s not so lucky he has to be chopped up in bits, sometimes having to do the job himself, while he can, before being ritually consumed by the next incumbent.
Sometimes the king’s violent demise is ritualised at the end of fixed terms. Scandanavian kings ruled for twelve years after which they were put to death or a substitute found to die in their place, for just the right kind of sacrifice might appease the gods… sacrifices in their ones and twos all decked out in costumed finery, but then… maybe it would cover all the angles if they were also made in their uniformed millions.
Parts 2, 3, and 4 to follow.