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April 28, 2005

Notes: How Adulthood Evolved - A Speculative History

[NOTE: This document was added to the blog on May 22, 2005]

These are notes I took in my little notepad today while on a 5-mile, 2 hr 25 min walk. [Plus a few notes at the end that I made while typing up this document.]

  • I don't want a historical montage of examples; I'm looking for a direct legal lineage.

  • ** If my premise is adults = org then I need to look not only at the history of law, but also at the evolution of government itself.

  • The Middle Ages may be a period without a "state" government -- only local law. Common Law may be particularly relevant here.

  • For artificial age lines, I want to find instances of specific numbers throughout history: 14, 16, 18, 21, 25, 30, 35...

  • ** Two kinds of adultism: modern and pre-modern. Modern is interwoven with the existence of the state and a legally based status system. Pre-modern still deals with community rules.

  • The overthrow of the elderly may only be as recent as the New Deal. It will require research in the field of aging.

  • I recognize that my history is Eurocentric. This is because I am an English-speaker, and because I want this work to be useful to youth here.

  • Canon law / biblical law may be a thread of maintaining the artificial age lines' lineage during the Dark Ages.

  • I am looking for rules that have been written down that govern the relationship between youth and adults.

  • ** Youth / Adults is an abstraction from the father / son relationship. It is inherently about a relationship between government and the adults; youth / sons are property -- if patriarchy breaks down, then the government needs an alternate way to identify adults... Persons who are free, not owned.

  • **For most of history, being owned by someone has been the norm. The governmental recognition of "free men" to include blacks, women, has been relatively recent.

  • **** Slavery is the norm. Slave-like statuses of command / obey, non-voting, right to murder -- are the status of most humans, going back to the earliest camps. We see the term "free men" in Hammurabi. It's fallen out of use, but the principle remains active.

  • **** Let us presume tow sorts of societies: (1) Those that are isolated, geographically cut off, thus homogenous; and (2) those which are in contact with outside groups, thus inherently in conflict, internally diverse. The first will be ruled by elders -- a gerontocracy rather than adultism per se. This resonates with village life, where there are elders as judges, but no need for a strong autocratic mayor. City-states on the other hand, are almost by definition in conflict with other city-states, which facilitates the rise to power of warlords.

    [A similar dynamic may exist in tribal societies where war-leaders assume power, toppling gerontocracy, instituting a form of adultism... If so, ** I would expect "rites of passage" to be more common in warring tribes -- the transition marks one's readiness to no longer be protected (and used) like the women, but instead killers who join the adult soldiers. Rites of passage for girls may be derivative of those for boys -- signifying readiness to be a wife -- but existing only because rites exist for the men (much like hazings -- intended to cull out the weak, since struggles will be life-or-death).]

    ...Warlords succeed by controlling their soldiers -- organizing them. It's a mindset that leads to military coups and assuming control of society in general. After the conflict is over, the principles of inheritance kick in -- the king giving the world to his son. Recall that property is inherently an extension of oneself. Thus, the son being the property of the king -- who has been groomed and indoctrinated -- the king feels he lives on -- regardless of religious beliefs. In advanced society, overt war may be replaced with commerce between nations -- wherein stealing resources from neighboring nations / tribes is replaced with trades.

  • [Potential title: Intergenerational Justice]

  • Now that I've speculated about tribal life, let's go back even farther. Tribes are originally nomadic extended families. So long as there is little property, merely food to hunt and gather, there is a relative lack of conflict -- there are no material goods to argue over! Which is not a utopian peace... So long as there are feelings, there are hurt feelings. Being scorned by a lover you want, an older brother who toys with a younger and hurts him, a lusty male raping a female. Such conflicts probably lead to splits in the extended family and new tribes forming.

  • Jealousy for attention -- attention and affection being a commodity -- are a likely origin of (sexual) possessiveness. Being with a mate because you favor them may look like monogamy, but lacks conscious exclusiveness. [Premise: age taboo, heterosexuality (vs. bisexuality), monogamy -- are inventions too.]

  • Incest is a modern taboo, but I doubt the taboo exists in tribes that aren't in conflict -- that have not been stratified by the soldier / warrior class. The incest issue (and monogamy) bear on the issue of marriage. Gerda Lerner has hypothesized that marriage originates in capturing female (sex) slaves -- women as booty, which has a dehumanizing effect upon the whole society and is probably the antecedent of patriarchy and enslaving blacks, or Hittites, or whatever.

  • ** So, I am revisioning my notion that gerontocracy (respect of elders) was simply replaced by adultism. Yes, there are modern instances of the overthrow of the old by the middle-agers (retirement age) -- but there are antecedents of this in tribal societies at war, where the middle-age soldiers seize control. Gerontocracy is most likely to appear in homogenous, isolated communities without elaborate governments.
  • Enslavement of youth may be a function of how much the slave-owning mentality permeates a society.

  • [RE] ** U.S. military service is 18-25. The last U.S. amendment was inspired by Vietnam -- dropping the voting age from 21 to 18. That means that 18 is probably related to the "age of military" in the Common Laws of England. Having a minimum draft age probably has to do with kings respecting the property rights of their subjects -- not taking their sons. [This might be an interesting segue to discussing Feudal lords' right to "first night" with a woman being married!]

  • [RE] The varying ages of consent, military, discretion, and majority may have to do with the theories of stages of psychological development from the Middle Ages -- which are likely to derive from bible interpretations! I can see myself needing to read up on the canonization of the bible.

  • Age relations deal with two levels of ownership:
    1. father-son (women being a whole other category of animal)
    2. king-subject (free man)

  • [RE] The essay Kristian recommended on state-making as organized crime is probably going to be useful.

  • I'm increasingly seeing more historical themes to pursue:
    • rise of the organized state
    • lineage of written law
    • origins of marriage and child custody
    • origins of communal affirmation of child obedience to parents
    • origins of parental responsibilities
    • consequences of tribal isolation vs. war
    • origins of slavery / free men
    • state oversight of custody disputes (between men?)
    • scenarios that encourage gerontocracy

  • Just as parental responsibilities have increased, so have state responsibilities to the subjects -- moving on a continuum from kings (elected by god) toward socialist democracies (capitalism being rule by merchants vs. laborers / consumers).

  • It has been thousands of years since the primary meaning of adulthood was ability to procreate. You are able at 12 or 14 -- but the current adult organization attempts to prevent us from doing so.

  • Adulthood came to mean something else -- the owner of property, slaves, and slave-like familial women and youth. Adulthood, then only had meaning for a minority of men -- those with hope of being "free men". This is in a period where slaver and slave-like states is the norm for humanity; only the king is free -- all others are more or less ruled from above.

  • The state has evolved, and while youth are still primarily the property of adults, membership in the organization is heavily mediated from above. No longer simply mediating in disputes, the single-ruler system has moved toward being a service provision apparatus (except in times of war) -- largely driven by the interests of merchants. Thus, adulthood has become a state-level public status, rather than an inter- and intra- familial "contract" [...for having been born. See Blackstone.] "Free men's" membership has been expanded -- but the vestiges of slavery and slave-like statuses persist.

  • I should insert another stage: when adulthood was primarily defined by / made meaningful by the rite of passage -- being inducted into a tiny organization of soldiers, essentially a hazing prior to going into life-or-death battles with other tribes / animals. [Is the hunt for animals what shapes our treatment of other tribes as animals??] This is the "ritualistic" stage in the evolution of adulthood.

  • The evolution of adulthood (like the evolution of the state) is motivated by the organization of society to meet the demands of war.
  • Gerontocracy, then, is a parallel phenomena to adulthood. It is most likely to emerge in peaceful, isolated societies.

  • At the theological level, gerontocracy is ultimately propped up by ancestor worship. Adultism, however, is bolstered by a war-like father. God is the father of nation, government the super-adults who oversee average parents. In the autocratic state, authority is invested in the ruler directly by the god -- like the Egyptian king whose lineage goes back to god himself. The autocrat, with god-like power, is invested with the actual power of god. In an organized state, motivated by war / commerce -- whichever keeps resources flowing -- god is going to be rule-oriented -- just like the authorities, whose job is to mediate disputes. A sun-god ruler enjoys absolute power. A bureaucratic government has a god that is a judge of right and wrong.

  • Am I moving into the anthropology of adulthood, rather than pure history? And where's the line between that and sociology?

    I. Premise: Modern adulthood is a membership organization
    II. Speculative: The stages of adulthood's evolution
    A. Societies without adulthood [or "pre-adult, in peaceful tribal society"]
    (Note, early anthropologists saw tribes as child-like -- perhaps in part due to lack of owning youth)
    B. Ritualistic adulthood in warring tribal society
    C. Children among the slave-holdings of free men
    (warlord-governed societies)
    D. Adulthood as a status in the advanced service-providing government

    III. Involved discussion of each stage

  • A few principles:
    1. the organized state emerged due to war
    2. age stratification was motivated by war
    3. people as property has existed since tribal war began taking captives
    4. slavery transforms a whole society, slave-ness bleeds into other relationships
    5. historically, free men have been the exception
    6. slavery is an outgrowth of war
    7. marriage is an outgrowth of slavery

  • Love is an invention of romanticism: "I love my child, and it is obligated to love me back" originated then.

  • Prior to romanticization, the contractual view of youth held sway: "obey me and you will inherit." Sentimentalization obscured the bargain.

  • Rome believed "I made you, I own you." Blackstone commented that we owe something to those we've borne.

  • I wonder if romantic love sprang from urbanization -- you shop around for love, rather than marrying whatever farm girl lives within 20 miles. Romancing then is advertising for a desirable mate in a competitive market.

  • Inheritance is an interesting phenomenon to try to explain.

  • It's interesting to think that government has shifted from being the instrument of a single ruler's power to being a vehicle shared by a government of many co-rulers, an organization whose purpose is to provide services. ...Being a member of adulthood, your only semi-metaphorical membership card gets you a bunch of privileges, services from the club.

  • Perhaps the pinnacle of the third form of adulthood was Rome -- the warlord of the city-state having evolved into the emperor. Or maybe Rome had achieved the fourth variety of adulthood? Maybe the government was a service-providing structure -- I don't know enough about the history of Rome to really say. Perhaps during the Dark Ages, adulthood back-tracked, going back to the ritualistic phase -- but transformed by peaceful isolation into less meaningful rituals, possibly even moving laterally into gerontocracy. The only difference between the city-states and the empire, as contexts for adulthood, is probably the extent to which the government provides services, versus merely mediating in disputes over child custody, paternity, etc.

  • My four stages in the evolution of adulthood can be linked to stages of social organization:
    1. nomadic extended family
    2. tribal organization, with role-differentiation for combat
    3. city-states overseen by warlord kings
    4. nation-states / empires which provide services to some citizens

    ...What's notably missing here is any mention of agrarian societies. What sorts of governmental structures are common when a people is primarily made up of farmers, rather than hunters? Is a key distinguishing factor, in terms of types of adulthood, whether or not a people has some sort of organized military? Is militarism the origin of sexism, adultism, and all other slave-like statuses, after all?

  • Rather than focusing on the military, perhaps my demon should be property-ownership. If you're willing to fight and kill, then you're also willing to take human captives, which then become slaves. On the other hand, if you work the land, then territory is the primary form of property... Which may shift father-son issues somewhat away from obedience, and more towards inheritance.

  • When a community's survival is dependent upon having enough laborers, it's understandable why they procreate. Slaves are desirable if there's a high death rate, or if you need farm hands. But if you're a merchant, or can't support more mouths, then you move to infanticide. You make a child, it belongs to you. You steal a child from another tribe, it belongs to you...

  • Within the nomadic extended family, adulthood need not exist. A four year old can carry and tend a newborn; a four-year old can lend their hands in the fields. Everyone with hands can help. In terms of hunting, even fairly small children can hunt small game -- it's only big game that requires a full-on hunting party. Women may stay at home due to pregnancy or wet-nursing, but the gender-divide need not be strong. There may be long-term mating due to favoratism, but it need not be monogamy in the sense of conscientious exclusion. The exclusion of other partners of the same age isn't necessarily there, nor is there necessarily an age taboo. "Sexual games" and all-out incestuous sexuality may be present. Biologically pregnancy, development of breasts, pubic hair, and menstruation may be markers of adulthood -- but still, these things need not be invested with much pomp and ritual. ["Becoming a man", is probably a somewhat more symbolic transition.] In nomadic extended families, there is surely recognition of infancy, youth, adulthood, and old age -- but there need not be the dissociation from one's social inferiors that we see in more stratified societies. Control is practical -- those who are competent lead -- rather than there being a system of command / obey relationships, where power for it's own sake has taken on significance. The extended nomadic family, then, represents the most natural manifestation of adulthood -- where transitions are organic rather than artificial, and may go without any sort of ritual or change in social or legal status. Adulthood is (could be) purely functional, without layers of symbolism, status, prestige, privilege. [Perhaps, again, because there's not much for the adults to bother with hoarding.]

  • Adults can hoard and control resources such as: land, command of labor, symbolic money, goods such as a house. No wonder why being severed from the filial relationship has typically been seen as a terrible thing... The sort of independence that Youth Lib is interested in today only makes sense in the context of a democratic socialist society, which provides services to its members, distributed according to the will of the society's leaders.

  • ...How important is it for youth to understand their place in history with regards to the new benefits? --Not just with regards to the lingering vestiges of slave-status? Within the family, we can easily talk about dismantling the command-obey relationship. In the greater society (as well as in the family), we have the more difficult task of discussing how to distribute wealth and share control of it. Asking adults to share their wealth and power with those they have created -- not easy!

Posted by Sven at April 28, 2005 12:00 PM