Although Andrew's post and the review itself inspired me to write this post, this post is not a response to the review or to Sex at Dawn. I haven't read the book and I'm not familiar enough with the relevant literature to critique the book or assess the strength of the review. Since I've been studying the Masai, however, I have a few thoughts to share about this non-monogamous culture.
First, I owe an apology to the authors of Sex at Dawn because when I had initially written this post last night I included some unnecessarily snarky remarks that could easily be construed as dismissive of or disparaging towards the book, and I gave the post a title that could at best be described as a headline grasping for attention at the expense of treating the authors and the book with charity and decency. I intend my re-posting this with a new title and introduction to constitute a formal apology in that respect.
In any case, I think when we consider challenges to monogamy we have to acknowledge that just as a cultural standard of monogamy requires the imposition of certain sanctions and the inculcation with certain ideas, polygamy and polyamory come with analogous but different requirements.
Some may see the prospect of a polyamorous cultural standard as one that would encourage carefree relations between men and women, a minimum of jealousy, and a broader network of support for children as they become children of the society at large rather than of a nuclear family. I won't claim that the Masai represent all non-monogamous societies, and I won't claim that it is impossible for non-monogamous arrangements to produce this type of result, but I will at least say that to describe the Masai in this way would certainly be a fantasy. Non-monogamous culture at least in this case doesn't come without its price.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word dogma comes from the Greek dogmatos, literally meaning "that which one thinks is true." This dictionary further states that it derives from dokein, meaning "to seem good" or "to think," a root which also gave rise to the English word decent.
Basil the Great, a fourth-century bishop of Caesarea (modern-day Turkey) who is widely venerated as a saint by liturgical Christians and who some historians controversially credit with inventing the hospital, wrote a treatise toward the end of that century entitled On the Holy Spirit. Therein, he defined dogma as that which is "observed in silence," and stated that the Church had such dogmas because the early fathers had "learned their lesson well" that "reverence for the mysteries is best encouraged by silence." He contrasted this word with kerygma, which he defined as those things that are "proclaimed to the world."
Nevertheless, Wikipedia, that veritable fountain of etymological wisdom, tells us that a dogma is "the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or by extension by some other group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers." The article notes further that "the term 'dogmatic' can be used disparagingly to refer to any belief that is held stubbornly, including political and scientific beliefs."
I would like to state at the outset that I have no problem with people who ponder the hidden mysteries of their diet by observing them in silence.
Likewise, I think it is fine to think about diet, or for dietary things to seem good. What really becomes a problem, however, is when one adopts the rigidity, inflexibility, and stubbornness that characterizes the modern concept of dogmatism.
In this installment, we see a historical example where a contingent of women organizing a fertility ceremony stood up to the men in the counsel of elders and ultimately made them recant their initial decision to cancel the ceremony because of an open case of repayment for a murder. The event shows that, although there is a sex-based authority structure in Masai society, the women are far from powerless.
I also describe the Masai fertility ritual itself, which is seen as a symbolic and in a sense very real, perhaps mystical, process of insemination. It involves anointment with ox fat, which is tied to fertility and childbearing in Masai customs.
Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.
It was a great honor and privilege to be invited to speak at the first annual Ancestral Health Symposium at UCLA this weekend, and it was a wonderful experience to meet so many new friends, re-meet so many old ones I am rarely able to see because of geographical distance, and finally meet in person people I've long considered good friends despite theretofore never having formally initiated the friendship with a physical hug or handshake.
I also feel an enormous debt of gratitude to Aaron Blaisdell, Brent Pottenger, and everyone else involved in putting on the conference for their hard work, appreciation of everyone's talents, and support.
The conference was a true success, and here are a few highlights.
Those of us living in the United States have enshrined in our founding documents the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, a concept that has older roots in European philosophers such as John Locke. These documents, of course, provide not the slightest bit of instruction about how to embark upon this pursuit, wisely leaving this conundrum to the individual and the communities to which he or she belongs.
There are two ways to pursue happiness. One is external and one is internal. They do not necessarily lie in conflict with each other, but I believe one of them deserves preeminence if the other is to succeed.