Interpreting the Evolution of Social Structures in the Fertile Crescent

Civilization: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings – Volume I

In this section, I will look at the effects that the time and location of a specific social development have on a specific way of life.

As explained in Section I of this book, social realities are constructed by human beings. If we do not fully understand this, all attempts to acquire the knowledge and understanding needed to construct a meaningful life will only result in ignorance and meaninglessness. I repeat that our ignorance in the time of capitalist modernity is worse than it was at the onset of the major religions and that the fundamental reason for this is positivism.39

Adorno’s statement “Wrong life cannot be lived rightly” (Es gibt kein richtiges Leben im falschen), although used to express his dismay with the Jewish Holocaust, applies to life in modernity in general. What then, is the fundamental mistake that caused this wrong life? Adorno has linked the root of the problem to the period of Enlightenment and to Rationalism. However, he did not attempt to clarify the problem itself—the form of life that is wrong. Who is responsible for it? How has it been constructed? What is its relationship with the dominant social system? Similarly, Michel Foucault states that “Modernity is the death of man” but leaves it there, without investigating this critical subject further.40

It is not enough to just blame modernity. In the first place, can only life constructed by capitalist modernity be described as wrong? Was the life enforced by previous civilizations right? Were not the Sumerian priests and god-kings, the Egyptian god-kings, the Iranian Khosrows, Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Islamic sultans and European monarchs all responsible for constructing life on the wrong foundations? Were they not links in the chain around the neck of social development whereby the foundations of wrong life were strengthened? It is not sufficient to put the responsibility for the wrong life on modernity, its wars and genocidal order, without further investigating what it was caused by and how it can be rectified. Just as the root of the problem, its solution is profound.

Although we cannot understand a society solely through its culture—many elements need to be included in its definition—culture is at the basis of any society. But what do I mean by culture?

A culture, in a narrow sense, is the mentality, forms of thought and language of a particular society. In a broader sense, the material gains (the tools and devices used to satisfy the needs for production, storage and processing of food, for transportation, worshipping and beautifying, etc.) form part of its culture. The similarities and the differences between the mentalities and devices of different cultures determine to what degree their life styles correspond.

Generally speaking, the social realities constructed in the Fertile Crescent during the Neolithic are still in existence today. Both the mental and the material cultural elements—despite some quantitative and qualitative changes—are essentially still the same. In essence, the languages spoken today are the same in terms of their main structure. The mental effort is still divided between the fields of science, religion and art. Defensive and offensive wars existed then and are still waged today. The family structure continues to be the fundamental social institution. The differences are due to the growth of the state institution. The state has continuously expanded its field of operation against society. As it began to take possession of the mental and material cultural accumulation it has changed these constructs qualitatively and quantitatively. Contrary to belief, social developments have been achieved despite the state. I will continue to point out the consequences that the state formations (from the very beginning of the Sumerian priest-state to the nation-state of the capitalist modernity) had on society and what the real function was of the civilization that grew from these formations.

I believe that the role of Fernand Braudel’s concept of plural temporalities (different modes of periodization, different time scales) in social development has not been analyzed sufficiently. Especially Braudel’s notions of longue durée (a historical relation that allows an open and experimental approach to the theoretical reconstruction of long-term, large-scale world historical change) and structural time (that is, historical temporalities beyond direct human or social intervention) in relation to culture, civilization and society can make a strong contribution to our understanding of history. In the discussion that follows, I will attempt to apply these notions to the social development in the Fertile Crescent.

a. La longue durée

For the society of the Fertile Crescent, la longue durée implies the period starting with the end of the fourth ice age and ending when it can no longer continue its physical existence due to some natural or nuclear disaster.41 Cultures with Chinese and Semitic roots have taken their place within this longue durée society as two branches. Other smaller cultural branches also take their place within this main river as streams. It is important that the logic of the thesis is well understood: The constructed society is so strong, together with its mental and material cultural elements, that no internal social event can destroy it within this duration. I will thus refer to the society of the longue durée as the “fundamental cultural society.”

In my opinion, this interpretation of duration and society can contribute much to social science. Liberal sociologists, through the construction of a false metaphysics, wish to enforce their societal conception formulated as the end of history to be eternally valid.42 Marxist and other messianic approaches promise all an era of eternal prosperity, detached of time and location. The notion of long duration is much more scientific than all these social theories. It presents understandable arguments not only for concrete conditions but also for both the beginning and end of the social system. It neither congests history by treating it as a pile of events nor does it fragment history by emphasizing the periodic existence of isolated social forms. The meaning of life cannot be profoundly interpreted by examining either instantaneous events or social forms in isolation.

Within the scope of la longue durée, there is room for various fundamental institutions such as religion, state, art, law, economy and politics in the fundamental cultural society. These institutions continuously change both qualitatively and quantitatively. Some shrink dramatically and in return its counterparts grow. While some diminish, their function is continued either in other institutions or in the new ones. In more general terms, there is a dialectical creative relationship between all its constructs and institutions. The fact that there is a single main cultural society does not deprive it of strong partners and new internal formations.

In the light of these concepts, we can better understand the quarrel between the evolutionists and the creationists. The creationists are aware of the longue durée; in fact, they gain their real strength from this knowledge. We can explain the religious verses on the duration of god’s creation of the universe and its end in cultural terms. If we, however, interpret it sociologically, we see that the creationist perspective is aware of the sacred, supreme and glorious characteristics of constructed society. In fact, all three Holy Books of monotheistic religion, the Torah, Bible, and Koran, are attempts to explain the captivating and “sacred” life at the Fertile Crescent. Maybe the reason why the majority of humans belong to these religions lies in the quality of these interpretations. These books succeeded in turning into the fundamental belief of humanity the claim that the new cultural life—which has “miraculously” occurred—will continue eternally; an indication of just how influential this culture is.

Sociologists such as Émile Durkheim did not move beyond defining society as groups of human beings who are the sum of events and institutions. Class, state, economic, juridical, political, philosophical and religious narratives cannot surpass the mentality of events and institutions. However, these scientists never really question why these are not held to be as precious as the Holy Books. Their main weakness is that they have not understood the importance of the longue durée society. Humanity possesses a profound memory of its own story and will not abandon it so easily. The belief in the sacred religious books are not due to an abstract god and some rituals, but because humans can feel the meaning and traces of their own life story in these books. In fact, these books are the memory of living society. Thus, whether the events and notions in them are true or not is of secondary importance. Fernand Braudel draws our attention to a fundamental methodological and scientific mistake with his apt comment that “sociology and history make up one single intellectual adventure, not two different sides of the same cloth but the very stuff of the cloth itself.”43 Unless we meaningfully determine the relationship between duration and society, separate historical and sociological narratives will harm the societal realities and their meanings.

Hence, even though the evolutionists have a much better understanding of the events and processes involved, they will never free themselves of criticism because they do not understand the notion of duration. Societal memory is more important than the evolution of events and processes. The reason why the god is not abandoned lies with the power of social memory—society equates the concept of god to its past memory. In fact, positivism is a disease of modernity and as long as it stands in the way of society’s memory—and hence its metaphysics—it will not be free from criticism. And rightly so, because societies that have lost their memories are easily exploited, conquered and assimilated.

Although the positivists claim that they define society scientifically, this school of thought least understands how society evolves. By interpreting society as a history-less and vulgar materialistic pile, they pave the way for many dangerous social operations. The idea of social engineering is also related to positivism, as the positivists think they can shape society through external intervention. This is also the understanding of modernity’s officialdom, and thus it gives legitimacy to exploitative power and warfare.

b. Structural time

The concept of structural time can be applied to analyze the fundamental institutional transformations in social development. If we define the construction and collapse periods of fundamental structures in these terms, we may obtain a better understanding of social realities. Humanity has a history of oppression and exploitation, and differentiating between slave-owning, feudal, capitalist and socialist societies may be the subject of a meaningful discourse. In fact, relating structural time to these social forms has led to a considerable literature. However, because no meaningful connection between the long and short terms has been made, such discourse cannot be very productive and turns into repetitive clichés.

A meaningful analysis of Neolithic society can be made by investigating the interrelationship between the structural term and the fundamental cultural society term. Neolithic society has its own unique institutional structures, mentality and accumulation of material life that can be explained in terms of structural time, but it can also be explained through the concept long term because of its cultural influences that will exist until there is a physical destruction or collapse. Science, religion, arts, language, family, ethnicity and peoples as well as the different forms of mentality and diverse human groups—who go through various changes but will most probably always exist—constitute the fundamental cultural society, that is to say the long term. In addition, ecology must definitely be a subject of concern. It must be interrelated to the conclusions drawn from all the other branches of science. It can be examined as science of economic institutionalization. Democratic politics needs also to be continuously kept alive as a science and as an institution.

The fundamental institution of a structural term is the establishment and life of a state as well as those things that originated during its existence, such as hierarchy, classes and state borders as well as property, territory and homeland. Different forms of state, such as the priest-state, dynastic state, republic and nation-state, mark some of the important topics. Different types of religion also constitute an important subject. Propositions that distinguish societies based on their mode of production (Neolithic, slave-owning, feudal, capitalist, socialist), as well as the collapse of institutions, can also be regarded within the structural term.

c. Medium and short term

The medium- and short-term matters consist of qualitative and quantitative multiple events and notions.44 The subject matter of the short and medium term is all the cultural and structural changes and transformations of events. The medium term is involved with changes that take place within the same structural institution. Economic depressions, political regime changes, the establishment of various types of organizations (economical, social, political, and operational) are examples of such changes. The main topics of the short term are all the various social (and socialization) activities of the individual. The media is usually concerned with the short term events and notions. The daily events in each structural institution are also within the compass of the short term.

There really should be a branch of sociology that examines the influence of events. Since it will base itself upon events within the short term, it could be called the August Comte sociology. It may be suitable to call it “positive sociology” (without ignoring the fundamental criticism directed against positivism). Especially during chaotic periods, events gain significance and become a determining factor. I believe that only when the fundamental cultural sociology, structural sociology and positive sociology are united shall we achieve the integrality of sociology.

In addition, all universal events and formations, including social events, require a quantum or chaotic environment because they are the moments of creation. Although they have not been profoundly examined, they definitely do exist. Science is each day more concerned with the fundamental issue of how the “occurrences” of both “each instant” and “short intervals” sustain all long, medium and short-term formations. We should not neglect the “quantum moment” and the “chaos interval” as these can be seen as “moments of creation.” The possibility of freedom in the universe occurs at this “moment” and is thus itself related to the “moment of creation.” All structures in nature and society, whether in the case of their construction, sustenance or period of life—despite their different qualities—require “moments of creation.” There is thus a need to find a name for the sociology that is concerned with the issues of creation at the shortest possible term. I propose the name sociology of freedom for the sociology that deals with the moment of creation in social events. Moreover, I think it is a necessity to have sociology of freedom as a branch of sociology. It could also be viewed as the sociology of mentality because of the incredible flexibility of the human mind—due to socialization—and the creativity that has resulted from it. At the top of the list of subjects to examine should be thought and the desire for freedom. We should add that the development at the moment of creation is a development with a component of freedom—hence such a discipline could also be called sociology of creation. Since this shortest quantum moment and chaos interval encompass the entire social field, the sociology of freedom should be at the top of the list of all the sociology subjects that are in need of urgent development.

Let us then investigate the developments at the Fertile Crescent through this perspective. I will try to implement the method of sociological examination as I go along. However, it should be kept in mind that this examination is experimental and thus can have only experimental value.

In terms of social history, the sociology of freedom observes the most fecund chaos interval in the Fertile Crescent during the Neolithic revolution. The groups that used to sustain themselves through hunting and gathering now embarked on a quest to sustain themselves in settled life through farming. The old clan communities, hundreds of thousands of years old, are replaced with broader structures. This marks an enormous mental transition. Instead of the old clan mentality and the language structure, we see the transition to a broader mentality of people sharing a village and of ethnicity. The introduction of numerous nutriments, means of transport, weaving, grinding, architecture, religious and artistic matters necessitate new mental forms and a new order of nomenclature.

The new society is now based mostly on village life and the clan ties transform into ethnic ties. The new material structures could not have been sustained without a more meaningful mental framework. Although the totem (the identity of the old clan society) continues its existence, the symbol of the Neolithic society is the mother-goddess. In time, the size of the totems decrease and the size of the mother-goddess’ figures increase. This symbolizes the increasing role of woman. This is a higher level of religious realization and it results in the formation of a very rich conceptualization. Grammatically, the female suffix becomes dominant—a characteristic that can still be observed in many languages. An intensely sacred meaning is bestowed on the mother-goddess as well as on socialization.

The new society also means new notions and nomenclature. Since mental revolution requires creativity, we need to examine this in the sociology of freedom. Historians like V. Gordon Childe suggest that such a period has indeed been experienced.45 The occurrence of thousands of events means thousands of mental revolutions and names. History shows us that the majority of the terminologies and inventions that we utilize today were created in this period. Religion, arts, science, transportation, architecture, grain, fruits, animal husbandry, weaving, pottery, grinding, kitchens, feasts, family, hierarchy, administration, defense and assault, gifts, farming tools and many other concepts, tools and their related terms continue to exist as the fundamentals of society despite obvious changes. Examining the structure of the village and family of the Neolithic period shows that the most treasured moral values, the values that strengthened society, were societal morals such as respect, affection, neighborly relations and solidarity. These are much more precious than the capitalist modernity’s moral values. Society’s fundamental forms of mentality are the remnants of this period and they will never lose their value.

From the perspective of positive sociology, the events of that period are also quite rich. When compared with the clan society’s monotonous life of hunting, gathering and defense, the events and new notions that developed in the Fertile Crescent are manifold and very exciting. It can be deduced from the narratives of the Holy Books that the fundamental meaning carried over from those times in the minds of the people had later developed into the concept of paradise. This is the most prosperous moment of positive sociology and humanity is faced with an incredible development.

In terms of structural sociology, one could see at the Fertile Crescent the traces of all the institutional orders that resulted in societal development. The period from 6,000 to 4,000 BCE in particular was a period of institutionalization. Areas for villages and cities had been determined and settled, hierarchy was born, religion was institutionalized, sanctuaries appeared, ethnicity came into being, customs for interpersonal relations were established and administration on the basis of morality was at its peak. It appeared as if Neolithic society and its agricultural and village revolution came to stay. The social structures that form the backbone of structural sociology exhibited theses strong formation for the first time at the Fertile Crescent during the Neolithic. Much can be learned by examining these original institutions. In fact, studying these structures of the region—the initial institutionalized values of humanity—will enable us to draw sound conclusions about the establishment of structural sociology. Today’s structural sociology has a serious lack of meaning. If it is revised as a component of general sociology, it can become an effective, meaningful branch of sociology.

The language and culture whose foundation was laid at the Fertile Crescent is an original source and is a subject for fundamental cultural sociology. The society established in the region is a very long term society. As mentioned earlier, unless through some natural disaster human life deteriorates to a major degree, the social culture and civilization based in the Fertile Crescent has the capacity to continue to play a leading role. Although in terms of capacity it is not impossible for a civilization based on Chinese or Semitic culture to become a hegemonic power, practically it will be very difficult. There were very big Islamic and Mongolian originated assaults, yet the Indo-European culture (hence the Aryan language and culture which is the source culture) has never lost its hegemonic character.

Fundamental cultural sociology may be equated with general sociology. We may thus consider topics such as mental formats, family institution and the change and transition of the ethnic-national entities under general sociology. More importantly, the chaos and decay environments that are encountered and that are the base as well as the result of both the sociology of freedom and structural sociology, can also be examined under general sociology.

The second phase of society that arose at the Fertile Crescent began with the Sumerian Priest State, which is also the onset of “civilized society.” Civilized society is in fact based on the culture present at the Fertile Crescent, bu t with hierarchic and dynastic roots from elsewhere.46 The state was seen as the Leviathan in the Holy Books.

In the next section, I will examine the bloody, exploitative and at times genocidal march of this monster. I will also look at different forms of exploitation—whether they are under the rule of masked, unmasked, disguised or naked kings—as well as at the ways these kings have managed to legitimize themselves.

39 Positivism can be defined as any philosophical system that confines itself to the data of experience, that excludes a priori or metaphysical speculations and emphasizes the achievements of science. See Section I of this book for Öcalan’s critique of positivism.

40 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1970).

41 It is an encompassing concept that refers to the very slow movement of historical time. Indeed, it represents a temporal rhythm so slow and stable that it approximates physical geography. It forms at the interface of the natural physical world and human social activity—of physical space and human space. The longue durée provides the unifying element of human history. The theoretical assumption supporting Braudel’s concept is a human history formed through the “structures of the longue durée.” Humans make their history in space and in time. Thus, Braudel’s concept emphasizes the physical characteristics of the earth, geography, natural resources, material processes and culture as constitutive elements of human history.

42 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (1992).

43 Fernand Braudel, On History (1982).

44 The medium is called conjuncture or medium term socio-economic cycles by Braudel. See The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Braudel’s own great contribution saw time as a social—more than as a physical—phenomenon, whence the idea of a plurality of social times. The great trinity that Braudel constructed and used as the framework for his book on the Mediterranean was structure, conjoncture, événement: long-term, very slowly evolving structures; medium-term, fluctuating cyclical processes; and short-term, ephemeral, highly visible events.

45 V. Gordon Childe coined the term “Neolithic revolution” in 1923 to denote a period of important innovations like agriculture.

46 When the possibilities of class division combined with that of urbanization, any one of the dynastic and hierarchic groups in the area could have made the transition to being a “state” organization through mobilising the resources of the “strong man.” Not only Lower Mesopotamia, but also Upper and Middle Mesopotamia witnessed numerous such attempts. Although some of them have become permanent others have not due to the conditions of the time.

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