What exactly is the neotenization of society that began to become clear to me that night in the convertible next to Marcia riding Highway 75 through northern Georgia? There are human hubs perched within the social networking universe that connect to enough other human hubs that an idea can accelerate though them into the Internet night like a sports car at 5:00 a.m. In just that way, there are idea hubs that connect to and influence enough contiguous influential disciplines that understanding them illuminates the intellectual world like a sunrise at 5:01.

Neoteny is a biological principle that notes that changes in the rate and timing of maturation of individuals over time, generation to generation, influencing the evolutionary trajectory of a species when the characteristics of infants or features of early ontogeny are prolonged to appear later in ontogeny or in the adults of descendants. Draw the features of babies into older and older stages over time and you are neotenizing that ancestral chain. Pubertal timing is also an issue. For example, in humans, if you change the diet of children and encourage puberty to come later, you will often have adults with brains with more synapses and longer legs. The testosterone surges of puberty cut off brain growth.

Neoteny is central to biological evolution and integral to understanding human beings. Necessary to understanding the repercussions of this process is realizing that the moment when an individual’s maturation rate is determined, during a day six weeks before birth and based upon the mother’s testosterone level, is also the moment that decides that individual’s position in the way that society is structured based upon matrifocal or patrifocal social structures. High testosterone males mate with low testosterone females, and high testosterone females mate with low testosterone males. Understanding evolution without understanding social structure and its relationship to hormone levels and how hormone levels are determined is like trying to understand the joy of night driving with the top down by sitting in a parking lot eating cheeseburgers.

Biological evolution unfolds by working its way through that moment six weeks before birth, pushing and pulling individuals back and forth between hormonal extremes over generations, back and forth through social structures, back and forth through robust and gracile physical manifestations of maturational delay and acceleration patterns. In the same way, the evolutionary principle of neoteny also influences societal transformations, compelling society to evolve through a succession of stages propelled by the prolongation of earlier stages of societal ontogeny into older stages over time.

There is evidence to suggest we were highly matrifocal up to and past our leaving Africa. The diminution of brain size around 25,000 years ago suggests that a transition to a patrifocal orientation was underway. Patriarchy galloped out of Southern Russia 6,500 years ago and quickly converted old Europe, India and China. Right now, we are in the midst of a synthesis of matrifocal and patrifocal paradigms. From this position, we can observe surges of neoteny moving up through cultures as the neotenous characteristics of earlier stages of our societal ontogeny stream into and through contemporary society.

There are the physical features of our chimpanzee-like progenitors that have prolonged into the adult human of today, such as large brain, small jaw, big eyes, walking on hind legs, location of foramen magnum, etc., and there are the nonphysical features, such as propensity to play, creativity, alertness to that which is different, curiosity, etc. Note the most ancient cultures existing today, the young people in society, the poorest in society, the least empowered, the ethnic minorities, the political Left (representing the disempowered) and the artists. Features of these groups have been slowly, over thousands of years, been prolonging their way into societies controlled by ruling elites. This slow process over the last three hundred years has accelerated to the point that right now it’s become a convertible ambulance tearing through traffic, driven by ancient healers, carrying herbs and antibiotics in the trunk.

Aboriginals bring land-based spiritual integrity and an intuitive familiarity with the natural balance between independence and interdependence. Neoteny is characterized by close proximity to creative sources. Aboriginal cultures offer an understanding of this frame.

The young bring a form of deep curiosity and confidence that what they imagine can become true. The young are fearless. The young crave fun. Curiosity is a prime feature of neoteny, and imagination is most powerful when acculturation has not been fully engaged.

The poor and the most disempowered bring a dependency on the culture at large, and although at first glimpse this dependency seems like a deficit, from neoteny’s perspective, dependence provides a compulsion to be connected. This compulsion is mingled with intense creativity as the powerless generate art to express their relationship with the connection/disconnection polarity. As a result, they generate music, song, dance, fashion and unique athletic productions that speak for society as a whole.

Ethnic minorities often draw sustenance and inspiration from their former and present experience of poverty and a relatively close proximity to aboriginal or tribal institutions. These wellsprings of inspiration are characteristic of the sources of neoteny: creativity, sense-based spiritual revelation, deep respect for the physical and reverence for rhythm.

The political Left articulates the frustrations and the goals of neoteny’s children, helping to make it possible that the present-time orientation of the aboriginal, the young, the poor and the ethnic minorities be charted into a future that integrates their orientations, strengths and needs.

The artist or creator, along with the child, is neoteny’s mascot. To empower the creative is to bridge the essence of the child into society. Political empowerment is creative empowerment. Political repression is creative repression. To create is a political statement.

The nascent creativity characteristic of all these groups is now bursting into visibility, supercharged by the appearance of the web.

Observing it, encouraging it, we are part of it. We have a ways to go. First, let’s get the gasoline out of that convertible and find a way to fly through the night, leaving no carbon trail behind. All this creativity is converging just in time to solve the problem of how society will evolve fast and far enough to see the dawn.


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008 at 7:06 am and is filed under 10-The Web, Art, Neoteny, Sexual Selection, Social Structure, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Dan Guinan on October 1, 2008 5:25 pm

    “High testosterone males mate with low testosterone females, and high testosterone females mate with low testosterone males.”

    Have you got a mechanism for this?

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