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Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, In the Deserts of the Old World Paperback – May 20, 2011
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Unfortunately, this is very difficult information to communicate. Not because it is intellectually difficult, but because the information is saturated with emotional landmines. It is important directly because it is so effective at 'pushing anyone's buttons'; the truth is locked away behind a universal hypersensitivity to this material. A straight-ahead strategy of treating this material objectively cannot work-- I've tried-- because our subjective emotional experience always gets in the way.
And that, of course, is one of the themes of the book.
DeMeo goes from the micro to the macro, dictated by the breath of this concept. We have to understand that the human being has a very sophisticated reason for our emotions and emotional functions: by taking in continuous information of the outside world and releasing it emotionally, we are able to remain minutely responsive to all inputs and make wise, integrated and creative decisions throughout our lives. This mechanism of emotional release was coined the term 'discharge' by Wilhelm Reich, who studied it extensively in the 1920s and 30s, building on the work of his mentor, Sigmund Freud. It refers to crying, laughing, sighing, shivering, yawning, and other feeling-expressions. The calm, hopeful, potent peace we feel after a long cry is an example of discharge at work.
But as Reich discovered, and as DeMeo exhaustively maps, our society has very thoroughly built mechanisms for suppressing the emotional discharge of its members into the very fabric of our culture, following cultural and historic trends which have existed for at least 5000 years. So the subject is how we all have been acculturated by very common mainstream childraising practices to undermine our own abilities to think clearly and rationally, and to be happy; how -and why- society has imbedded into itself this all-encompassing inhibition of our emotions.
Reich knew that we are all very confused about our emotions; in a society where completely natural emotional expression is essentially taboo, we all are forced to hide our emotional selves inside armor that we have all built to protect ourselves. DeMeo's purpose is to restore a holistic society in which our emotional armoring is not necessary. But its a nearly impossible order; our armor is primed to become defensive at the very mention of our emotionally inhibiting practices.
That said, the strategy DeMeo uses is totally wrong; rather than gently walking us through an exposition of how the emotional baby we've been burying in the closet really holds our most profound truths, he rubs our noses in a long and grisly academic proof that the more sexually violent and misogynistic a society is, the more dysfunctional. He does this by painstakingly charting twenty sexually abusive practices as they've spread culturally in migration routes across the globe over a span of five or six thousand years. No one I've talked to who has read this book has gotten all the way through it; its brutal!
I think the core of this material is emotional, not academic, and requires a personal, not factual approach. By the time DeMeo has completed his brilliant proof, no one is alive to appreciate it, not even his supporters. Which is a shame, because this might be the most important set of ideas at large in the world at this time.
Its a book still waiting to be written.
What caused the morphing? More on that below. First, though, a word on DeMeo's research. This is not any old "armchair science" book. DeMeo backs up his theories - ten years in the making -- with some of the most solid and extensive interdisciplinary data I've ever seen. To present this data for our perusal took over 400 pages, in a large-scale format, of scores of maps, charts, diagrams, figures, tables, drawings, photographs, footnotes and appendices as well as ample data-driven text.
The majority of DeMeo's data are sterling. For example, working with class-A anthropological data (from the Human Relations Area Files, etc.) and meshing those with class-A geological data (from the Budyko-Lettau Dryness Ratio), DeMeo shows that (1) around 4000 BCE a broad ribbon of land across Africa, the Middle East and Asia began dying; 2) People living in this land became the most patriarchal on the planet; and, 3) the further one wanders from this ribbon of land, the less patriarchal people are. DeMeo calls this land "Saharasia." It's an area that covers hundreds of thousands of square miles on our planet.
DeMeo offers a fascinating analysis of how the hideous change from matrist to patrist occurred. He bases his arguments on current studies of starving peoples. The behavioral changes in starving groups are enormous and appalling. Starving people become consumed with eating and lose interest in all other pleasures, including sex. The old and young are abandoned to die. Brothers steal food from sisters, and in some cases parents eat their own children. For children who survive, bad diet leads to laundry lists of psychological and physical abnormalities down the road. The culture breaks down. Life bumps into chaos.
Although this starvation syndrome began in Saharasia ca 4000 BCE, it continued for generation after generation. Most of the crazed groups caught in the desertification process died out. In the few that survived (and why they survived is explained below), mentally-ill behaviors became institutionalized. Mental illness became their way of life; the loss of interest in pleasure; the glorification of the strong; the strong stealing from the weak - all these and more would have become fossilized into a new and actively promoted way of life - a set of behaviors "learned, shared, patterned and transmitted from generation to generation," as my anthropology texts used to define culture. It is at this point, when mental-illness becomes codified, that one witnesses the birth of the patriarchy.
DeMeo contends that the first response to desertification was for the agricultural matrists to abandon their land and become nomadic, riding horseback over rough terrain, frantically searching for food and water. In order to keep babies alive, loving matrist mothers would bind (swaddle) them tightly in cloth. Babies spent all day tied to their mother's backs, unable to move heads, hands, legs or feet. For the successful new patrist groups this swaddling became something glorified. One effect was severe skull deformation in both infants and adults.
DeMeo thinks that infant swaddling and head binding produces a deep-set rage in adults, especially toward mothers, women, and female deity. Hence one possible source of the misogyny and abandonment of female deity that became hallmarks of patriarchal cultures.
"The heads of ... children ... are pressed so tightly by means of a peculiar kind of ligature, that little by little the heads assume the shape of sugar-loaves. The pressure is so great that the noses of the children ... are constantly bleeding.... The child cries and turns black, and when the mother presses on its forehead, a white slimy fluid comes out its nose and ears...." (p. 112).
Fortunately, skull deformation has died out over the past several hundred years (p. 112). Swaddling, however, has not. Even today groups across, and on the edges of Saharasia retain this awful practice in, for example, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China.
Although I don't agree with every theory in his book, I think DeMeo's basic premise - that ancient, widespread, continental desertification drove humans from their natural, healthy state into one of codified mental illness -- is a premise he proves almost beyond a shadow of a doubt.
And knowing that, once upon a time we actually *did* live in "The Garden of Eden," means there's hope we can get back there again.
~ Jeri Studebaker, author of Switching to Goddess: Humanity's Ticket to the Future
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