Biology and Culture
Posted: Posted January 19th, 2007 by fmra
I resurrected this paper to bring to light something that may not have been thought of when planning a culture for your conworld. For the Ksu of my world, I took great pains to find reasons why the culture evolved the way it did and found that the biology of primitive Ksu would have a great influence over the development of basic cultural structure. Notice, though, that there is still a great flexibility in how these biological contraints could produce a variety of cultural differences. In the following paper, I discuss very briefly only the skeleton of a culture. Though, for the paper I decided to concentrate on only one biological function, any number or combination could be used to base the beginnings of a cultural fabric on.
Sleep Circles: Fourierism, Guilds, and Ksu Society
What forms the foundations of a society? Is it the ideals of the people that somehow coalesce into the patterns of social life? Or is society a reaction to the environment? Many theories abound on the origin of culture. Some claim that intelligent life progressed on the social scale as a natural process of learning. Others, like Marvin Harris, attribute cultural development to more basal needs of hunger and reproduction and the attempts to satisfy them. What if society was based on the trust that your neighbor would wake you?
It could be said of any two cultures that there is one factor above all else that made a difference during the evolution of culture. The reason the Aztecs were cannibals whereas the Plains Indians were not could be attributed to the lack of large game in Central America after the Mesozoic Era. The reason the people of the Middle East are forbidden to eat pork, whereas the people of Europe are not can be found in the competition for food with domestic animals. What then would be the difference in cultures between a people who are at the top of the food chain, and a people who are not?
Sleep and the Environment:
The primitive Ksu faced many dangers on a daily basis, not the least of which was defending against predators. Early in their evolution, the Ksu formed a herding instinct to aid in their protection against falling prey to other creatures. During the day, the fear of predation was slim, since the size and power of a single Ksu was enough to drive off potential threats. But at night, biological factors played an important role in bringing together the individuals into a group.
Sleep and Biology
The Ksu differ from humans in that their senses are dominated by their sense of hearing and their sense of sight is poor in comparison. While they have a much more acute sense of hearing, they must fold up their “hearing-arms” close to their bodies at night to protect the delicate membranes, rendering them virtually deaf. During sleep, the Ksu don’t close their eyes; instead they remain open, scanning the environment unconsciously for movement. The limitation to this precaution is their field of vision. While their eyes are able to rotate to a much greater degree than humans, their neck must be turned to provide a full 360 degree visual field, and while they are sleeping the head muscles are incapacitated. It was in order to fill in these blind spots that the Ksu began sleeping in groups.
Fourierism: The Beginnings of a True Social Structure
As the primitive Ksu developed into sentience, the beginnings of society and culture were laid out. The closest human ideology to the Ksu’s culture would be Fourierism. Fourierism bears a strong resemblance to Socialism in all but two aspects. The first is that by definition, Fourierism is small scale. No nation could ever be fourieristic because the size limitations restrict it to small communities in which everyone is directly affected by the decisions of their neighbors locally. The second difference of Fourierism in respect to Socialism is the lack of a separate government body. Decisions are made for the community in Democracy-style votes. This social structure can be directly traced back to the need for security and the trust invested in one’s neighbor to wake you from your slumber when a predator was spotted.
Sleep and Resources
Until the invention of the condom in recent times, mankind has been plagued by unwanted births. We do not “suffer” the limitations to breeding that many other animals have. Human females do not go through an estrus cycle to limit reproduction. This uncontrolled procreation has many times led to food shortages and a general strain on the environment and its resources. Ksu females, on the other hand, do go through estrus, which limits procreation. This doesn’t necessarily fair much better in an environment that is low on resources to begin with. So, with such limited resources, how can everyone eat? Again, the communalism initiated by sleep customs ensures cooperation in securing food. It’s a feast or famine situation in which everyone must work to keep the entire community alive.
Sleep and the Definition of Family
What does it mean to be family? Are your closest friends considered family? Your coworkers? All of your blood relatives, or only those on your father’s side? The Ksu definition of a family depends on place of birth, or more correctly plant of birth. Communities grow up around the Sopa plants, which are needed to successfully reproduce offspring. These plants form the basis of the family structure as all children that come from a single plant are considered siblings. Since children are gestated and born separate from their mother and father and raised by the community, there are no parent-child bonds formed between the biological relatives. Family in general is defined by the entire community and specifically by the “plant-lines” from which all are born.
Guilds: In Whose House Will You Sleep?
As communal society matured and grew from small groups of 10-15 to larger groups of hundreds of people, the occupations of society stratified into guilds (something like castes). This structuring increases the efficiency in which resources could be harnessed and utilized, providing that the membership of each guild was truly qualified for that occupation. Children, from the time which their initial education ends to the time in which they are placed into a formal guild, are tested to see which talents they excel at and where their labors would pay the biggest return to the community. No system can guarantee that everyone will be happy with their place, this system included, but there is reward for work well done, as well as punishment for the less than satisfactory. The guild system provided efficient means of labor division, and also, as architecture improved to the point where the physical need to sleep in groups for safety diminished, the guilds provided another facet to the definition of family. The coworker based family.
Commensalism vs. Guild Interests
How can a socialist-type system, which purports the equality of everyone, coexist with a guild system that stratifies people in different groups? The simplest answer is the realistic answer: Everyone isn’t equal. At least not in all respects. Some people are talented in certain areas where others lack. It’s a simple truth of nature that not everyone is equally qualified for everything. But everyone need not be equally talented if they can command the same respect despite their field of work. The Ksu treat the doctor and his janitor with the same respect, as both their jobs are required to maintain a smooth running society.
Now, how can this still operate when guilds have historically proven to be machines for the creation of inequality in wealth and status in a society, as well as provided the birthplace of capitalism? The answer isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. If the power base has always lain with the community as a whole and station is permitted by this same group, then building personal wealth and power is difficult. The conspiracies, secrets, and Machiavellian machinations become more difficult still, if not impossible. One other factor also contributes to the restricting of power within the guild system, the potlatch.
A Full Belly and a Warm Place to Sleep
How does a society measure wealth and status? Is it the money in your bank account? Or is it the number of cows you own? What mechanism distributes social status to those deserving and provide the “carrot” to motivate? The Ksu mechanism for social climbing is the Potlatch. A potlatch society measures wealth, not in how much you have, but how much you give away to others. AHD defines potlatch like this:
A ceremonial feast … at which the host distributes gifts according to each guest's rank or status. Between rival groups the potlatch could involve extravagant or competitive giving …as a display of superior wealth.
Thus a guild's inherit ability to separate and stratify society for power is neutralized by the actual gaining of power and prestige. A rich man could hire a thousand thugs, but never gain from it. On the other side of the coin, if the guild strives too hard for power, it would be broken and out of business. This forces a balance to be achieved where the guild can still gain in influence with the community, but is restricted by its actual ability to accomplish and its generosity.
Sleep and the Law
As we’ve seen, the instincts to sleep in groups for protection have had a great influence on the building of a society. But instincts do not always rule when pitted against an intelligent mind. How then can common good be maintained when higher personal priorities may outweigh them? The fear of being alone in the dark hasn’t faded into fairytales by any means, and the laws use the threat of this fear to maintain order. The highest punishment that can be afforded by Ksu Law is not death, but something much more terrifying. A serious breach of law will have the offender exiled from the town and the safety of numbers. Alone in the wilderness, a lone Ksu is an easy target for predators of every color.
Sleep and the Psyche
The Sleep Circle guaranteed safety and peace of mind because it was a solution in which everyone watched and worked together. If one saw danger and was roused, he shook his neighbors awake and everyone stood to fight off the intruder together. If one man failed, then all had failed and doom was only a matter of time.
The Ksu, as mention previously, are deathly afraid of being alone in the dark. Interestingly, they fear neither being alone, nor the dark, as long as both are not present at the same time. Many Ksu work at night to keep the society chugging along, but they never leave sight or hearing range of another Ksu.
This psychological fear has shaped everything, from cultural habits, to the architecture of buildings, to the very course of progress. The human fear of the dark has lead to the invention of artificial light from electricity. For the Ksu, this fear eventually led to the discovery of runic light magic and its constant use to ensure safety (calm fear).
Conclusion: Loyalty, Trust, and The Common Good
Abstract ideals are easily described by mankind, but are rarely the basis for his actions. Humans find it hard to sacrifice the possibility of gain for the principles of ideals, unless their life is hung in the balance. Sometimes, not even this risk is enough to sway them. Of the many faces of mankind, only a few groups stand out as having the ability to maintain a society founded on the wispy notions of honesty, loyalty, trust, and other noble ideas. These people have always been the ones living closest to death’s blade, forced to cooperate or perish. Had the environment of Hlěpegra been kinder to the Ksu, or had they found clever ways to subdue their fear, they may have turned up the same selfish, greedy lot that mankind has. What began as simple solutions to their present situation evolved as they did and embedded itself in their race. With the advent of the Modern Ksu Era and the discovery of magic, the Ksu are entering an uncertain time in their evolution.
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