Saturday, April 23, 2016

Four Castes

In trying to figure out how alien societies could develop, organize, change, or function, it is possible to look at human societies and look for the common elements, and then ask why those common elements emerged, perhaps independently, many times and in many places. There may be something which pertains to societies in general, non-human ones, which will inform us a bit about alien civilizations.

Consider the agricultural grand transition. When humans developed tool use initially, it involved hunting tools, which provided an impetus for evolution to move in that direction, which it did, delivering larger brains and more capable bodies over a period of a few million years. Then something happened, which does not seem to be recorded very exactly in anthropological records. Large herbivores were hunted. Perhaps it was the software side of development that provided this change, such as learning the techniques by which groups of hunters could take down a beast many times their total weight. This change would have provided a new resource, nutritionally and for products made from animal parts, leading to the usual Malthusian response: larger population. The change may have been the development of larger clans with more hunters, or techniques pertinent to each kind of large herbivore, or techniques for finding them, or lying in wait, or some combination of these changes and more. It is like the second hunting transition, or the second part of the hunting grand transition.

This access to a new resource comes with the usual pitfalls: scarcity emerges, either sporadically or all-at-once across the board. Those clans which had developed some animal husbandry would have survived, while those without it, perhaps not. Crops would accompany this transition. But something else accompanies it as well. A transition to occupations. Scarcity does more than cause hunger and suffering, it promotes alternative solutions to it, which may have involved war, raiding and looting, ambush or other activities involving struggles between one clan and another. It this became common, the hunters would become warriors as well. Since inter-clan struggles may have a more devastating effect that hunting, the warrior part of their occupation would be stressed, even though it occupied much less time.

In the simpler hunting days, teams that went out to hunt had to be led, not by the strongest or the fleetest, but by the most astute at finding animals. Without the benefit of logical thinking, which comes far, far in the future, intuition, and specifically, thinking like an animal is what would distinguish the hunting leader. It is not a far step to think of the communication of that knowledge in terms of the essence of the animal, its spirit, and from that point, nature gods. In the later hunting days, when husbandry and crops were being developed as alternative resources, there is more planning to be done, and the same process might ensue. The leader might try to think like the rain, or think like the seasons, and again develop the image of nature gods. What this is leading to is the development of a profession which is distinct from the warrior-hunter, the shaman, or spirit-teller.

Crops also lead to the development of the worker caste, more specifically, the agricultural worker, and as more technology emerges, workers in other fields such as textiles and pottery. In each of these three castes, knowledge is gathered, and transmitted from one generation to another, in the giant switch from instinctual knowledge to learned knowledge.

Population growth would lead to contact between clans, and in those instances where war or other violent interactions did not take place, some trade would arise. Trading might involve long travel, something that no other caste did. It might involve transport, and the development of transport technology, such as beasts of burden or means of more easily carrying weight for long distances. A fourth caste arises.

Nomadism is on the decline, if crops are actually cultivated. Even before it disappears, the question of governance arises. A small clan can simply make decisions in common, but as it grows larger, this becomes unwieldy, and perhaps becomes restricted to only major decisions, such as on whether to abandon camp and move on or not. Smaller decisions might be made by someone in particular, but who? A shaman, a warrior, a worker, or a trader?

In times of peace, it would likely be the shaman, and in times of war or frequent conflict, the warrior. Someone at the top of the hierarchy of shamans would make decisions, unless it was the leader of the warrior caste who had saved the clan from extinction or slavery, and then he would be the decision-maker for his lifetime. This has been what has been observed in human cultures, but there are times when the workers make the decisions. This typically happens when there is scarcity, and the wisdom of the shamans has been proven to be false and misleading, and the community is hungry and lacking in direction. The clan might split, either along caste lines with the rejected shaman group being ostracized. Similar situations might arise in clans which were defeated and their locations looted and destroyed.

There is a hidden meaning in this. Clans, and presumably alien clans at that stage of development, would preserve their organization, governance, way of life and caste structure except in extreme situations. This means that the adoption of new technology might be delayed until some unpleasant situation arises, and they are forced to make some choices. Technology is probably the provenance of the worker classes, who may know of alternatives, but do not do them when the existing situation is satisfactory, and probably even during periods where there is some shortages, but nothing extreme. Changes in technology might be introduced by the trader classes, who observe something different in the locales of the other clans they visit. In these early days, technology change is extremely slow because technology does not develop in the ruling classes, who have no interest in change but in continuing to provide satisfactory execution of the existing functions.

This provides a basis for understanding why there was such a long time for change to happen and to spread over the whole civilization. It is also something which might inspire some thought as to the resistance to change for other, later technology.

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