Riane Eisler in her Real Wealth of Nations describes the Scandinavian countries as featuring many of the characteristics of a matristic, or partnership, society vs. the way a domination or patrifocal society operates.  She uses four categories to describe the differences among the paradigms, what I would describe as matrifocal and patrifocal social structures.

A partnership society has a structure that is equitable and horizontal vs. a dominator society that is rigidly hierarchical.  Relations in a partnership society are characterized by mutual respect with little fear, while in a domination system fear, abuse and violence are common.  In a partnership society, the genders are equal, with an emphasis on caring and caregiving, while in a domination society the male gender is ranked over females.  Last, the mythologies differ, with partnership society stories and beliefs emphasizing caring relationships, while domination-based societies idealize violence and control.  Eisler sees structure, relations, gender and beliefs as integral to understanding the differences between these two kinds of societies.

Eisler goes into some detail describing the ways that Scandinavian societies manifest features of a partnership society in a modern economy.  The social net is wide and firm, offering health care, employment security, education, child care, old age care, etc.  Caregivers are respected.  Corporations are encouraged to support and nurture.  The environment is revered.  A thesis of this neoteny.org blog is that we are a species featuring neoteny living at a time when society is transforming following a neotenous trajectory.  I would suggest that the direction we are going as a world culture can be seen in the laws and policies of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Their physical features also seem to be a clue.

In previous entries, I’ve suggested we might be in the middle of a synthesis or integration between the two traditional, biologically informed social structures.  Observing the surge in conditions featuring maturational delay in males, maturational acceleration in females, I’ve wondered how these representatives of the older genotype will juxtapose with a highly hierarchical, Indo-European, dominator status quo.  Consider that Scandinavia may hold an answer.

The anthropologist Marvin Harris suggested that the blue-eyed, blond-haired Scandinavians may have come by those neotenous features in a quest for vitamin D and A.  They were prolonging the lactate-processing features of infants into adults, providing them an ability to derive more benefits from dairy in combination with lightening the skin to let in the benefits of sunlight, all of which hypothetically made healthier those able to make those adjustments over generations.  Perhaps other neotenous characteristics accompanied an ability to absorb vitamins in a northern climate, such as the features Scandinavian societies exhibit today.  In other words, their society manifests their biology.  Society recapitulates ontogeny.

What is particularly unique about these features of Scandinavians is that both males and females are featuring physical characteristics of neoteny.  Why certain features are exhibited and not others, I don’t understand.  For example, both sexes feature height.  Yet, there is not the flatter-faced neotenous aspect of Asian cultures.  It may just be that the allometry of height does not compel the classic flat face and smaller jaw associated with neoteny.  Still, both Scandinavian sexes seem to be exhibiting the gracile features we associate with the maturational delayed.

I’m not suggesting that in a thousand years the world’s populations will be filled with lanky, blond-haired, blue-eyed minions.  I am suggesting that we have an example of a society that has successfully neotenized, with its population exhibiting neotenous features in both sexes.  Evidently in Scandinavia the biological transformation took place very quickly.  Marvin Harris suggests in less than five thousand years.  What does this say about our prospects for creating egalitarian societies in the near future?  Do we consider encouraging the exhibition of physical neoteny in our societies to have a more peaceful world? Of course not.

Yet, perhaps this is happening already.  A society’s idealization of a perfect mate suggests the features selected for in a society.  A society’s idealization of a perfect mate suggests where a society is headed.  What do media tell us to look for in a spouse?  In the West, what does our idealized mate often look like?

Blond-haired, blue-eyed and tall.


This entry was posted on Monday, January 5th, 2009 at 8:19 am and is filed under Estrogen, Neoteny, Ontogeny, 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. Gigi on February 11, 2012 11:21 am

    Interesting. There are also people of Scandinavian descent with darker features. I like how you break down the structure of Scandinavian society to be a partnership reality amongst all citizens. I strongly agree with this reality. Hopefully, male-dominated, patriarchal based society will soon only exist in our history books; no less the survival of our planet and our species depends on it!!

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