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Gender, Hierarchy, Civilization & Collapse: A Few Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2020 by jtoddring


What did Sumeria ever do for us? Invented writing, our concepts of time, irrigation, cities, created the first literature…little stuff like that.

Sumeria predates ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Biblical times, though it was a completely forgotten civilization until very recently. The civilization spanned roughly 3,500 years, between 5,500 BCE & 1,750 BCE.

Remember, modern Western civilization is a mere 400 years old. Just a baby, by comparison.

The Sumerian civilization, mythology and writings inspired the book of Genesis and Homer, for example, and provided one of the primary the seedbeds for Western civilization, such as it is. Unfortunately they also invented or co-invented war, empire, conquest, ecological degradation, class division, hierarchy, plunder and inequality. Crappy stuff we’re still living with today. 

They did uphold gender equality, however. Mind you, this seems to indicate Eisler was wrong and Bookchin was right: hierarchy spreads as a corrosive social model that comes to infect everything, but it does not necessarily begin with gender. 

“Even so, the culture had been struggling to retain its autonomy ever since the Amorites had gained power in Babylon. A shift in cultural influence, evidenced in many respects but, notably, in the male-female ratio of the Mesopotamian pantheon, came with the rise to power of the Semitic Amorites in Babylon and, especially, during the reign of Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BCE) who completely reversed the Sumerian theological model in elevating a supreme male god, Marduk, over all others. Temples dedicated to goddesses were replaced by those for gods and, even though the goddesses’ temples were not destroyed, they were marginalized.

At this same time, women’s rights – which were traditionally on par with men’s – declined as did the great Sumerian cities. Overuse of the land and urban expansion, coupled with ongoing conflicts, are cited as the primary reasons for the fall of the cities. The correlation between the decline in the status of female deities and women’s rights has never been adequately explained – it is unknown which came first – but it is a telling detail in the decline of a culture which had always held women in high regard. By the time the Elamites invaded c. 1750 BCE, the Sumerian culture was already deteriorating and the [invading] Elamites simply finished the process.”

   – Joshua J. Mark, Ancient History Encyclopedia 

Hierarchy, inequality of class, empire, war, conquest, pillage and plunder, and ecological destruction: all of these things existed in Sumer alongside gender equality, it seems, and gender equality both in terms of cultural values, religion and mythology, and in practice. Therefore, we have to conclude that gender imbalance is a severe social, spiritual, and moral problem, but the evidence seems to indicate that it is not the root of all evils that it is sometimes presented to be.

That being said, when gender imbalance begins, society rapidly spirals into ever deeper problems, because the fundamental balance between agency and communion is destroyed; until the society finally collapses, or rediscovers a balance.

Sumeria was well on the way to collapse, regardless of external threats, exactly as with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Internal imbalance always brings internal decline, and finally, either an eventual renaissance and rebirth, or the collapse of the civilization.

“Sumerian was well established as the written language by the late 4th century BCE and Sumerian culture, religion, architecture, and other significant aspects of civilization were as well. The literature of the Sumerians would influence later writers, notably the scribes who wrote the Bible, as their tales of The Myth of Adapa, The Eridu Genesis, and The Atrahasis would inform the later biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden, Fall of Man, and the Great Flood. Enheduanna’s works would become the models for later liturgy, Mesopotamian animal fables would be popularized by Aesop, and The Epic of Gilgamesh would inspire works such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

The concept of the gods living in the city’s temple, as well as the shape and size of the Sumerian ziggurat, is thought to have influenced the Egyptian development of the pyramid and their beliefs about their own gods. The Sumerian concept of time, as well as their writing system, was also adopted by other civilizations. The Sumerian cylinder seal – an individual’s sign of personal identification – remained in use in Mesopotamia until c. 612 BCE and the fall of the Assyrian Empire. There was literally no area of civilization the Sumerians did not make some contribution to but, for all their strengths, their culture began to decline long before it fell.”

   – Joshua J. Mark

Their civilization began to decline long before it fell and actually collapsed. Then as now. History is repeating.

We must regain the balance, in multiple ways, or we too are headed for collapse.

“When I observe the ruts in a road, I am compelled to think, how much deeper the ruts in the mind.”

– Henry David Thoreau

But as Thoreau said, it is never too late to give up our bad habits, or our old ideas. Remember: “There is more day yet to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”


May 19, 2020


On a comic note, for comedic relief, note this. Trump must have been advising the Sumerians on wall construction. Something was clearly amiss. The futility is amusing, in any case. Decline and collapse was due to internal factors, not external threats. But it surely is a Homer Simpson moment to build a wall, and not even get the basic concept right!

“The Sumerian civilization collapsed c. 1750 BCE with the invasion of the region by the Elamites. Shulgi of Ur had erected a great wall in 2083 BCE to protect his people from just such an invasion but, as it was not anchored at either end, it could easily be walked around – which is precisely what the invaders did.”

Wow. Is that how historians will look at us in 4,000 years, presuming humans are alive on Earth by then? Ending our civilization with one big, “Doh!”

Oh, Marg….


Critical Reading:

Rianne Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade

Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom

Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom

Ronald Wright, A Short History Of Progress

Wade Davis, The Wayfinders

David Suzuki, Elders’ Wisdom

Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self

Allan Wallace, Choosing Reality

Noam Chomsky, Year 501

Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions

Henry David Thoreau, Walden and On Civil Disobedience

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

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