Magazine article USA TODAY

Perpetuating Primitive Politics

Magazine article USA TODAY

Perpetuating Primitive Politics

Article excerpt

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS has overwhelmed us, even those who might have been sympathizers. I am having trouble in discussions when I want to talk about the state of some group that cannot otherwise accurately be described as anything other than "primitive." It almost is to the stage of the "n ..." word to describe blacks (or even "blacks" to describe African-Americans). Certain parts of our vocabulary seem to be off-limits. This has been especially so among academic anthropologists and sociologists. There is a strong opposition to the labeling of societies and tribes as primitive-even though they are.

I want to resurrect this word. It carries important meaning and power that more politically correct words do not. Primitive conveys something about the state of humankind that is not reflected in the more civilized words that we use to try to say pretty much the same thing. So what is it anyway? Primitive is that which relates to nascent or the earliest stages of human development. It takes for granted an evolution in human behavior. If one group is underdeveloped and another is not, this assumes higher stages of behavior. Perhaps the higher stages are somehow better. They are more sophisticated, intricate, egalitarian, and fairer. Let us look at these questions in two parts, one about behavior and another about institutions. Since both relate to social organization, we are, of course, talking about politics.

Primitive conduct, in addition to being an earlier stage of behavior type, is that which is seen to be similar to that of other mammals instead of those behaviors that are viewed to be distinctly human. For example, some primate males challenge each other over who gets to have intercourse with the females. Moreover, there tends to be an accumulation of females, with one male inseminating many and the bested rivals hanging out on the fringes. Horses and some mammals in the wild reflect this same mating behavior--clearly primitive.

Yet, how different is that from 21st century males with multiple (and simultaneous) sexual relationships? We find these among political leaders in particular. Sultans, kings, presidents, prime ministers, heads of religious sects (and sometimes all male members), princes, and the uncrowned royalty of industry seem to fit the category of what we might call primitive--and there are many more aspirants.

Besides sexual control and determination of the gene pool, this atavistic behavior is the underpinning for male dominance of females. Although there are clear exceptions, in general it is males who get to choose. This translates into the American politics of the 19th century--males get to vote; females do not. This clearly was a more primitive time in the politics of democracy. Without debating how far we have advanced in the U.S., this issue is still being fought in the cities and towns of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and other countries in the Islamic world and elsewhere.

In a modern age, it is difficult to maintain that men have anything other than size and strength as an advantage over women. Yet, we continue to argue--openly or implicitly--that men should be leaders and women should not. …

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