Friday, April 27, 2007

The Song and Dance of the "Extreme Social Hominid": Homo Sapiens' Way - part 1

Imagine if we could go back to those first tentative baby steps of humanities earliest social awakening. There, sparsely scattered throughout the rolling hills of an immense savanah, tiny groups of our ancestral hominid lineage first began to look across the vastness with a novel curiosity forged and steeled by the relentless need to survive.

Mysteries and dangers abounded everywhere. A thin line separated death from a full stomach and these lonely hominids desparately struggled to discern the difference. The need to garner some kind of meaning out of their surroundings was of extreme urgency. Anywhere along the way, this small spark of humanity could have been snuffed out. A severe drought or a great fire at just the wrong moment in time might have forever silenced this upstart mammal to anononimity lost among the cracking and folding of a changing world.

Here with that incessant compulsion to grasp from the world anything useful, anything edible, he found some solace. Together with his close kin he had some small chance to be, to breath. Associations, patterns, and meanings came of these elemental needs. As the eons passed, man stumbled on a way.

Here deeply intertwined within the reflexive autonomic responses and primordial instincts, there began to stir something else. It was a more nuanced yet spectacularly successful means of survival involving complex interactive cooperation and comunication with siblings, cousins, friends, and eventually other more extended groups. Though not particularly a new system as the world of life goes, these early hominid groups put their own spin on these cooperative efforts.

Some 125,000 years ago at first little by little, then later in earnest the "extreme social hominid" slowly coalesced simple grunts and cries to song and meandering steps and gesticulations to dance and gradually became human. The eons moved inoxerably on, as they will, and these humans survived.

On and on, from these humble beginings, ever more complex and nuanced forms of cooperative effort gave way to increasingly elaborate social and cultural constructs. It is important to remember that all of these advances pale in comparision to that far off moment in time, that epiphany, when a small primate raised its hungry gaze across some dry savanah, and as wonder and hunger overcame fear, took that first fateful step.

Among the early cooperative tools our ancestors appeared to use, song and dance seem to be a link from our deep, deep past to who we are today. The very make up and structure of our brains seems to be adapted for this way of being. If you extend this further, the seeds of belief, religiosity, and societal potential may have origins somewhere in this maze of tribal Pleistocene interactions. The glimmerings of a hominid species overtaking the world could be glimpsed through the powerful cohesive bonding song and dance created.

Let us take a moment to consider these two tools so profoundly ingrained into our way of being. Though song and dance are among our most ancient social tools, likely predating even the 30,000 year old cave paintings of southern Europe, they remain prescient and fresh as ever today. They have stayed with us; they are us.

Admittedly, while it is ultimately futile to tease the song and dance forms of cooperative effort completely apart from a more profound societal whole including language, writing, and art; our humble attempt does serve to focus on the unique perspectives of each.

More on the next post.

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