Thursday, March 03, 2005

Prehistoric Republ-Incans?

I don't normally read Stanford Magazine, but there was an article in a recent issue about an anthropological dig in Peru, run by Professor John Rick. Since I kinda (ahem) dig anthropology, I gave it a read. His team excavated a site called Chavin, whose inhabitants were early ancestors of the Incas. The focal point of the site is a temple with a set of mysterious chambers with no apparent practical function, but apparently designed to overwhelm visitors with sights and sounds, often using reflective coal and chambers to amplify the rush of subterranean streams. Rick theorizes that this was used to awe citizens into deep respect for (and therefore obedience of) the priesthood. Money quotes:
The significance of this goes beyond worship. Rick says it suggests a new model of human organization.

IMAGINE A SOCIETY in which there was no governing force over a village or settlement—no hierarchical management, no division of labor, and no assumption of privilege or power. That was what existed among Andean people—and much of the rest of the world—before Chavín de Huántar was built, Rick says. “We just assume because of the way our world works that leadership and authority are built into society. [Most of] the archaeological record shows no haves or have-nots.

“Chavín is a monument to the idea that certain people have greater access to power than others,” he adds. “If you want to create the idea of authority you have to develop the belief that people who are similar in appearance and ability are actually different. This requires convincing. You’re altering the basic idea of human organization. You have to create a different world.”
So, in other words, the priests used mirrors and echo chambers to create their own reality, and convince the gullible populace that they had magical powers and secret knowledge which qualified them to rule. Just imagine what they could have done if they had had Fox News.

It also begs the question, Does power and authority necessarily rest on deception? Is the need for a controlling authority just a big con game played by the powerful and the power-hungry? Or is the need for hierarchical control indisputable in a large and complex society, with the con game thus limited merely to the claims of those who insist that they are more qualified to rule than anyone else?

7 comments:

V said...

I saw a documentary on TLC some years ago (when they still showed educational programming, and not shows about home improvement or motorcycle repair), and it said that the ancient Peruvians had the most advanced aqueduct system in the world at that time. That fact is useless and completely irrelevant to your post, but it's always stuck with me.

Eli said...

Well, now you know why!

Once you've manipulated running water to brainwash people, aqueducts are a piece of cake!

cereal breath said...

A. puns make me angry and if i were a less civilized man i would challenge you to a duel.

B. don't you want to talk about t.v.?
i mean questioning the fundamental nature of authority tends to get a person in hot water with those who have investments in the authority business.
it's best if we talked about t.v.
wouldn't you agree?

Eli said...

A. puns make me angry and if i were a less civilized man i would challenge you to a duel.

Now you're just being zelly.

it's best if we talked about t.v.
wouldn't you agree?


I thought I was...

And I am so far below the radar that I would be *flattered* by hot water.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

sounds like medicine man tricks to impress and control people. domination by trickery or by force. we get both in the current milieu. nice post. good questions. it might require more than insistence to gain control.

dread pirate roberts

watertiger said...

I did tell you that I was an anthropology/archaeology major in college, didn't I?

Eli said...

Nope, no idea. I totally did not post this to try to impress you.

So, um...