To Dance or Dine?

Fueled by an early morning bike ride to Folly Beach and swim in purportedly shark-infested waters, I took advantage of a day off of work, endeavoring to delve into my studies of how we got to this point, and how to go better from here forward.

The question of the transition to capitalism (“the market system” in the words of Adam Smith) in the mid-2nd millennium has stirred my interest. I understand that certain technological advances coincided with and allowed for this change in the modes of production. How to explain the extreme exploitation to which the capitalist masters subjected their employees? What about the violence of colonists whose conquering of the New World also paved the way for the market system to thrive? Perhaps studying what preceded this system might shed some light…

A Marxist history book provided little insight, preoccupied as the author (George Novack) was with patting himself on the back for his “scientific” teleological outlook on the evolution of human social forms. The mantra I’ve heard from self-described Marxists, that human society is marching ever forward toward “higher” and “greater” forms of organization, seems to beg having its unspoken assumptions explained. “Higher” according to what rubric? I assume the measure of society’s value to be care for our fellow woman and man — but this assumption is far from self-evident, and deserves exploration.

[An example of one of the outcomes of the shocking, self-gratifying teleology I describe  (teleology = belief that some occurrence has a built-in purpose) is Novack defends slavery by saying it was “historically necessary” to build toward the greater productivity of society. I don’t understand how anyone who intends to advocate for social justice can defend slavery. It does seem a dangerous precedent to defend such institutions as “necessary” in service of your “higher purpose,” whose explication seems to include the logical fallacy that just because humanity’s lot has in some ways improved, does not mean continuing to improve is in any way necessary.]

As I began to seek a more thorough investigation into the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe, I took a trip down memory lane — not of history, but of history classes in my primary schooling. An attempt to read a book on a History of Trade in the 2nd Millennium referenced such figures and peoples as Charlemagne and the Franks, who I was clueless about. Excavating their history required a look into the Middle Ages, which quickly harkened back to the Iron, Bronze, and Stone Age. In the end, I was brought back to the question of the advent of agriculture — which, according to some accounts, signifies the beginning of exploitation due to the advent of material surplus.

I checked out a book about the Origins of European Dance (Elizabeth Barber) which explains the quite curious fact that almost all Neolithic pottery shards depict dancing. This characteristic shows up around the same time as agriculture (7th m. BCE) and changes in the Near East with the rise of city-states to depict feasting.

I’m trying to conclude this Chattaqua and don’t know if I can tie it up nicely. It’s curious to have been brought to consider the question of the origins of human exploitation, which are responsible today for the Climate Crisis and the humanitarian crisis of global poverty, by way of dance. What might the dances of agricultural and pastoral people tell us about the values of cooperation and mutual care held among them, as opposed to greed? Where was man’s original sin? How can we get back to the Garden?


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