In Part II of his paper, Dr. Francoeur recasts his observations (Part I) in terms of a question based on the concept of "noogensis" -- a term coined by the paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin to describe the evolution of human consciousness, within which the first major transition would have come about when humans became sufficiently concentrated in certain localities that became the so-called "cradles of civilization", most of them arising at what others have called "the First Axial Period" in human history. Are we at the threshold of a new axial period? And if so, why? And what is the changing role of sexuality in this period? Is it a major cause of or is a result of this transition -- or is it both?
Part II: An Apocalypse, or Second Major Transition in Noogenesis?
These historical changes surround us all, sometimes rather too noisily. They contain both Daily Concerns and Deeper Questions. So let me ask one of those deeper questions. Is it possible that the changes we have seen, and will continue to see, are merely minor shifts and readjustments of an essentially stable system? In this view, little is genuinely new in television, birth control, the world wide web, Princess Diana's affair, or even international corporate mergers. On the other hand, it is possible that these changes represent a truly "radical" shift in the history and future of human life and society?
In the remainder of my talk, I will argue for the second view -- that we are in the midst of genuinely deep shifts in human society. Such things have occurred before. The agricultural revolution comes to mind immediately, as does the birth of the town and city. Abbreviating a long and complex history, we see that the birth of agriculture and urban centers five-thousand years ago -- the First Axial Period -- marked a pivotal revolution in the structure of societies, reflected in new patriarchal hierarchies in civil and religious life, as well as marriage and family, that have endured to the present century. Today these patriarchal hierarchies are being challenged everywhere, in the family, in politics, and religious institutions. The Second Axial Transition is well underway. The changes I described above, the changes our grandparents, parents, we and our children have experienced in this century are not only well under way, but are, barring a nuclear holocaust, irreversible. I suggest that the changes described above are just as radical as those symbolized in the earliest myth of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Holy Whore, the Priestess of Ishtar (Rojcewicz 1993; Rosten 1993) and documented by many archeologists, most notably the controversial Marija Gimbutas (1= 989) and futurist Riane Eisler (1988).
The First Axial Transition, from what historian Karl Jaspers (1953) calls the "Pre-axial Era" to the early Axial Period urban cultures, was centered in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, in Central America, the Niger River valley of Africa, the Indus River valley, and China's Yellow River valley. It took a couple of thousand years to flower into urban civilizations of ancient Sumer, Ur, Babylon, and Assyria. Our current Second Axial Transition is off to a very fast, exponential start that is taking us into a new orbit within a couple of generations.
The First Axial Transition was powered by analog alphabets and words inscribed on clay tablets. Our Second Axial Transition is being powered by the visual images of television, the computer's binary digital alphabet sent into cyberspace, and decoding the four-letter DNA language written in our genes.
Are we in the midst of a Second Axial Transition, similar in magnitude to the First Axial Transition five thousand years ago? Or can we continue "business as usual" in the brave new world described above?
The answer is No, and it's a clear No.
Remember female controlled birth control, which makes it impossible to return to a life style in which the wife is pregnant every second year. Remember that religious institutions, once unchallenged in their control over sexual morality, no longer have a privileged pulpit, but must now compete on television for audiences. What we see among the affluent, in the "developed world" is spreading through television itself, as hundreds of millions of women in the "developing world" see, literally see, a way to live that they desire for themselves.
But what about HIV/AIDS? The latest United Nations report tells us that HIV/AIDS now equals the greatest plagues in human history, the Black Death and the 1918 influenza epidemic. Two-thirds of the 30 million persons living with the HIV virus are in Sub-Saharan Africa where one in four adults is affected. How will this affect our views of sexual intimacy in the next century? Most likely, the outcome will be massive deaths. No mechanism is now in place worldwide that can deal with AIDS. So we have our next major dimension of collapse vs. cohesion. The issue of medical care will prove crucial. In the "developed countries," the issue is how to allocate medical care to a population that wants and can pay for some care, but not all. Triage is inevitable, and with it comes a demand for a decent way to die, not in the county old-folks' home, but with dignity and in peace.
For "developing countries," the issue is not terminal care for the elderly, but care for women, for children, and for men and women in the work force.That in turn requires more medical personal, more equipment, more pharmaceuticals, and social policies about payment. Basically, the only two choices are forms of socialized medicine or forms of privatized health insurance. But no country can choose one or the other in isolation: medical information comes to Mozambique from the outside, and so Mozambique is connected to the rest of the world. We are facing "international medicalization" -- and it too acts for cohesion of the world's nations, not their splintering apart. The spur to medicalization will be fear, plain old fear. Most nations, developed or developing, are experimenting with medicalization -- and no one knows the right answers. Yet. it will cost millions of lives before we do figure it out. But the more people die, the greater the fear and urgency.
Will the flood of environmental changes in our Axial Transition make it easier or harder for men and women to find financial and emotional security in a world that otherwise seems to be going berserk? One key factor in determining this outcome will be the still evolving relation-ship between the multicultural mega-corporations, individuals, and their families. A second factor will be the way we deal with our changing awareness of our sexuality. Life in a world of impersonal mega-corporations is very different from life on the rural frontier farm. A lot more is demanded of men and women in a prefigurative society with considerable gender role fluidity than in the Victorian age where limited alternatives left most people locked in clear, rigid gender roles and limited sexual expectations.
In the United States, gender role fluidity is associated with being straight or gay. In other countries, it is associated with women working, women being educated, women taking positions of greater power in political systems. We can see the world too easily through American eyes, and imagine that everyone is worked up about homosexuality or cross-dressers and transsexuals. After all, WE are. But that's because we have settled some more basic issues of day-to-day concern, like where the next meal is coming from. The major issues of gender in the world center on women's status not in bed, but in the world of politics and finance. As long as women have babies, and men don't, there will be irresistible forces behind women seeking access to the economic system. Individual women may trust to being sexy or seductive to obtain the wherewithal of life (this is David Buss's alleged "evolutionary" claim about women), but as a group, women will try to obtain direct access to finances. The reason is that they must do so; their own lives and the lives of their children depend on doing so. As a group, women cannot rely solely on men to get money. In some societies, this will mean that women will hold onto land for farming and horticulture, and hang on to it for dear life. In other societies, it will mean that women form women's cooperatives for making trade goods -- anything from baskets to clothing. In other societies, it will mean education for women, because education is the only way into the security that employment in the world corporations offers. In still other societies, it will mean changing the nature of the family, about which more below. But in all cases, women must enter the domains of men, because that is where the money is, not for luxury items, but for food, medical care, and child support.
A Cautious Prognosis for an Evolving, Converging World
Based on my study of sexual attitudes and behavior in 32 nations on six continents as compiled by 135 experts for The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (Francoeur 1997), I anticipate the following developments in the next century. No one can say for sure whether Euro-American moral-erotic issues are of cutting edge significance to the rest of the world. So my my projections are limited. My projections are also fragile because I must frame them within the dual dimension of the future of the family and marriage and the future of sexual-erotic feelings and behavior.
Families, especially outside the Euro-American world, are basically economic arrangements, or, more accurately, have powerful economic roles. This refocuses our attention not so much on women's (or men's) sexual feelings and disappointments, but on women's financial expectations and needs. The family, as an institution, is stable only as long as it functions economically -- otherwise, people quickly invent other forms of relationship that do function economically. To be sure, families are supported by a superstructure of religious and traditional belief -- supernatural sanctions and so on -- but those can change very quickly if money and food aren't coming in. So I see a gradient of concerns here -- some active in North America and Europe and others active elsewhere in the world.
For centuries, the family has been both an economic institution and a pair-bonded erotic unit, like two sides of the same coin. During most of our evolutionary history, these functions were identical, because we lived in hunter-gatherer systems. But in the modern world, economics and erotics have been sundered. All other things being equal, as economic stress increases, the erotic components of the family dwindle and become less significant, and as economic stresses decrease, the erotic component becomes more important.
Furthermore, the modern world has taken economic decision-making power away from the family, as an inevitable result of corporatization. But corporatization has not thereby made the economic problems of the family any easier -- the family still bears the brunt of economic necessity. For example, when land is taken up with cash-cropping, the family loses its family plot and the labor they once devoted to growing their own food. Yet they still must eat -- and so the economic issues grow more and more important at the day-in, day-out level.
Can marriage and the family -- however defined -- survive such a challenge? My argument basically says No. It will change towards becoming increasingly eroticized, together with various polyamourous supplements. But my argument also needs to incorporate the "intervening variable" of economic stress.
For example, one of the major issues confronting women moving into the corporate world outside of the U.S.is sexual harassment. For the corporation, the most functional solution is to deprive women of access to the corporation, thereby creating all-male economic enclaves. But, if women's economic status worsens -- as it must if they depend solely or primarily on men for money -- then women must, and will, try to enter the corporate world. The result is inevitable -- the assumption that such women are sexually available to the higher-echelon males. But even in a polygynous society, such alleged availability puts splinteringly great stress on the family -- the man who treats the women employees as his own private harem does not "respect the sanctity" of the family, in whatever way "respect" and "sanctity" may be defined in his culture. The women, we may assume, would be much happier to work in their homes and on the land, where they have networks of female relatives and friends, but they need to work in this damned job. That situation is not stable, not in Iran, Iraq, Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Japan, India, or Indonesia, in brief, for 75 percent of the world's population.
Once upon a time, maybe men could work on the land and make their craft things like farm tools and the women could raise the children and harvest the fruit and grain and milk the goats. But that world has vanished or is vanishing, thanks to industrialization, international development agencies, and corporatization.
So where are the major social changes described above taking us?
As a "prefigurative culture," a culture whose patriarchal myths and archetypes handed down from ancient times are no longer meaningful or supportive of the male-defined sexual codes of the Axial period, we are being forced to create new myths, new superstories to inspire us in coping with the changes that bombard us from all sides. The power of our traditional myths and archetypes has faded because Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein have pushed us out of the ancient fixed world view with its unchanging hierarchy of the Great Chain of Being into a world of process and evolution. Fears of the ever-accelerating, radical changes in our social environment have in this century made it possible to argue that we are self-destructing. A careful reading of the ecosystem, and my optimistic bias, suggest that we are in fact moving into a new global culture that will require a radically new awareness and consciousness of self and the individual facilitated by the instant communications of our electronic world. Our relationship with ourselves, with others, with society, and with the world that is our nurturing womb are all affected by this new ecosystem (Abraham 1994; Eisler 1988; Ehrenreich 1987; Francoeur 1973, 1996; Groff 1996; Jaspers 1953; LaChapelle 1988, Teilhard de Chardin, 1959, 1964, 1970).
1. Our new myths will have to deal with the fact that women have sexual rights and needs equal to the male. And that they are increasingly entering men's domains, the salaried work force, dealing with men on their own level, and regaining some of the power they enjoyed in the pre-axial era.
2. Our new myths, religious and civil, will have to deal with new challenges to the phallocentric, coital male model of sex and a growing shift to a holistic model, described by women, that emphasizes sensual pleasure, ecstasy, and transcendence as well as orgasm, with orgasm not limited to coital penetration (Ehrenreich 1987; Ogden 1994).
3. The value of pair-bonding, often long-term despite the availability of divorce and our increasing life expectancy, will continue to be important in our emotions and sexual codes. Will our pair-bonding be dominated by nuclear marital couples, by divorce and remarriage, by adults cohabiting, living alone together (LAT) and maintaining two households while in a long-term intimate relationship, or other dyadic arrangements? More likely, as blood kinships shrink in the nomadic life of the 1990s and beyond, their role in supporting a stable and dynamic society will be increasingly replaced by intentional families and intimate networks created by pair-bonding individuals who openly or quietly accept and include emotional and sexual intimacies within a fluid matrix or network of more or less intimate friendships that increasingly cut across the spectra of married and single, ages, and gender orientations. The monogamous pair-bonding expectation may remain for some generations as a fading but still powerful, guilt-producing myth, but that will not stop men and women from quietly exercising their polyamorous nature, especially in a world of increasing life expectancies, mobility, contraception, etc. The developed nations already have a rich mosaic of different lifestyles, and individuals choosing this or that style at different periods of their lives. The common response of the British people, Americans, and Frenchmen to media reports of Princess Diana's extramarital quests for love, President Clinton's alleged philanderings with a variety of young women, and the presence of the wife, daughter, and mistress and her daughter at the state funeral of President Mitterand suggests this more flexible view of marriage. "We understand. And we and the world love her." "More power to him. Besides, who cares; he's doing a good job." And as for Mitterand, "What's new? We French are realistic and mature when it comes to love and marriage." (Koch and Weis, 1998:3-5).
4. Sexual morality will increasingly be based on qualities like mutual responsibility, growth, love, joy, and transcendence developed in the relationships whatever the gender of the parties involved rather than on the nature of genital acts motivated by procreation and licensed by marriage. (Koch and Weiss 1998:18-29; Kosnick et al. 1977; United Presbyterian Church, 1970).
5. The sexual codes of the future are already breaking out of the clear gender dichotomy that has dominated our axial cultures. The rigidity of the male/female sexual dichotomy, in which physicians routinely performed surgery to assign the roughly 4 percent of babies born in the developed countries with hermaphrodite and pseudohermaphrodite status to either the male or female sex, is being challenged by the affected individuals and their advocates who increasingly demand to be left in their intersex status and accepted as such (Fausto-Sterling, 1993; Lebacqz 1997). Here Euro-American can learn some reality from the recognition of "third-gendered persons" have in many non-Euro-American cultures, the hijra in India, xanith and kaneeth in the Middle East, berdach among Native Americans, kathoey in Thailand, and mahu and shark women in Hawaii and Polynesia, among others.
6. More obvious in recent decades has been the social, legal, and religious recognition of the gender orientation spectrum or rainbow of flavors in homosexualities, heterosexualities, and bisexualities, including the civil rights and legal recognition of domestic partnerships and gay unions. Similarly, we are experiencing an increasing fluidity in our gender role behaviors, the near infinite varied spectrum of masculine, androgynous, and feminine, which exists in each of us, no matter where we find ourselves on the sexual orientation and gender identity scales. At the same time, recent research suggests ever more evidence will be uncovered for biological tendencies behind our gender identities, roles, and orientations originating in our genes, chromosomes, hormones, family pedigrees, and neural anatomy. This knowledge will in the end overthrow the male-female dichotomous thinking that has dominated Western culture from the days of Socrates and Plato.
7. One final prognosis, based on cultural
multiplicity. The face of any large country today has been shaped
by large and varied waves of immigration. The 1991 Canadian
census, for instance, describes the face of Canada as follows:
British (UK) = 28 percent
French or Quebecois = 23 percent
British and French = 4 percent
British, French and other = 14 percent
Other European = 15 percent
Asian = 6 percent
First Nation (aboriginal) =4 percent
Other = 6 percent.
Overall, close to a third of all Canadians reported ethnic origins other than French or British (Francoeur 1997: 226). This diversity holds true for the faces of most nations today. Yet, we are only beginning to recognize and appreciate the cultural multiplicity of our nations. And we know even less and appreciate even less the diversity of sexual attitudes and behaviors that are part of and enrich the many ethnic traditions that are the faces of our nations. So the new millennium will likely bring even greater diversity in our sexual attitudes and behavior.
At this point in human history, we have only faint hints of how our consciousness of our sexuality and our individuality, our experience of marriage and family, will change in the next decade or two. We can hope, and work to preserve the best of what has been achieved in the pre-axial and axial periods the benefits those cultures have brought us and incorporate these into our new world.
To sum up my exploration of sexuality in the twenty-first century let me quote two aphorisms from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. First, "Tout ce qui monte' converge." --Everything that rises [to higher levels of complexity in the process of evolution] converges [in a new level of consciousness]. And "Union differentiates" --The true union of individuals promotes diversity, not uniformity (Francoeur 1973).**
** Readers can find a detailed analysis of the evolutionary premises underlying this paper, as originally articulated by Teilhard de Chardin early in this century along with my critique of what I believe is his faulty and contradictory projection of a future virginal universe in R.T. Francoeur (1973). "Conflict, Cooperation, and the Collectivization of Man." In: G.O.Browning, J.L. Alioto, and S.M. Farber, eds. Teilhard de Chardin: In Quest of the Perfection of Man, Madison NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp.226-244.
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