Nostalgia For The Longhouse

The evolutionary biologists and anthropologists reckon that we spent a million years or so as small groups of hunter-gatherers. Not isolated, for there was exchange of ideas, goods and sexual partners with other groups, but always in a community several score strong. Our brain seems to be wired to keep track of 120 known individuals around us. Such cultures often build longhouses, where for better or worse no one is ever alone, children are brought up by the whole community, and everyone spends half their time doing social maintenance.

A form of life where everyone is continually politicking probably means that the living is easy. One might wonder, therefore, whether the notion of the single-family house is connected with the living being hard; and then whether it is hard because of the ecological challenge or social arrangements. That is, might it be that individual dwellings are a consequence of economic exploitation (macroparasitism)?

Even after the invention, in whichever order they came, of the individual house and social stratification, most people continued to live in larger households, for the simple reason that they either had servants or were servants.

In their very different ways, both the monastery and the hippie commune are attempts to revive this primal pattern; the diametric opposite is surely to be found in our own time, probably the only age to romanticise and extol what is, given our evolutionary past, the profoundly unnatural pattern of one man, one woman and a couple of children isolated behind walls. All the modern yapping about the Family is probably nostalgia for the longhouse. That is, it is a futile attempt to make three or four individuals do duty for the hundred and twenty-odd with whom we are designed by evolution for daily interaction. It doesn’t work, of course; and the less it works, the louder the yapping.

Posted on April 7, 2009 at 10:33 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, The Avian Mammal

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments via RSS

  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on April 13, 2009 at 05:25
    Permalink

    Perhaps all the yappers yearning for the longhouse should consider that there was no privacy. No privacy means that if anyone is getting laid then everybody knows about it, in intricate detail.

    So it’s hardly surprising to find that we are such a neurotic species considering how much sex our forebears witnessed before they were emotionally and spiritually ready to learn the facts of life.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on April 14, 2009 at 17:26
    Permalink

    Or perhaps the other way round, Urban: perhaps we are so neurotic because we have NOT grown up next to people making the beast with two backs. Elements of the counterculture certainly thought so. I don’t have a definite position myself, I’d need to know more of the literature.

  3. Written by Ghost in the Machine
    on October 11, 2009 at 11:38
    Permalink

    “All the modern yapping about the Family is probably nostalgia for the longhouse. That is, it is a futile attempt to make three or four individuals do duty for the hundred and twenty-odd with whom we are designed by evolution for daily interaction. It doesn’t work, of course; and the less it works, the louder the yapping.”

    Not only the louder the yapping… It seems that modern man tries to recreate the Clan or the Tribe in so many artificial ways. The Gentleman may belong to some Club or Order, while even the Hooligan has a group to which he belongs. But whatever the attempts, they seem woefully incomplete, satisfying but a small portion of those needs satisfied by the Longhouse of bygone times.

    Strangely enough, it is in times of war and natural destruction many men and women (and children) have experienced something of the greater, extended intimacy of the Longhouse. Which explains why so many speak of such times with a positive nostalgia in their eyes, despite the horrors visited upon them.

  4. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on October 11, 2009 at 11:47
    Permalink

    Ah, you mean the Brits talking about the sense of solidarity in the Blitz…. I always wondered how many of them were referring to the fucking of strangers on the platforms of the Tube.

    The trouble is, if all of our needs are satisfied by the Longhouse, then anyone from outside must necessarily pose a threat, and be the diabolical Other.

Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leave a Reply