December 16, 2009 | Leave a Comment
Explorations of societies displaying matriarchal, or matrifocal, tendencies often struggle with a definition that will adjust to very different examples of the paradigm. Often, a woman’s exercise of authority within a culture can be profound but not obvious, as if there were an agreement that men look like they are in control. There are different areas where authority manifests such as home, work, market, social situations. Female authority may vary depending on the context. Shared authority can look very different in different societies.
What I am calling “The Orchestral Theory of Evolution” is a feminine theory of evolution insofar as both sexes share the ability to inform change and both foundation hormones have profound impact. “Feminine” suggests sharing and cooperation. In the context of evolutionary theory, a feminine paradigm is a cooperative paradigm with both a male and female command of process.
Nevertheless, from our Western perspective, provide a woman any control in a hierarchical context where men have traditionally called the shots, and the female anomaly often receives negative attention. Evolutionary theory traditionally focuses on the male. Some exceptions with a focus on the female have emerged over the last 40 years, mostly from female theorists, but so long as our primary paradigm is Darwin’s theory of natural selection supporting survival of traits emerging in a random context, the female cooperative-and-sharing paradigm is framed in a male, competitive milieu.
Part of what is wholly new in what I am presenting is a balanced female/male perspective. I place a heavy emphasis on the impact of those environmental and social structure influences that adjust levels of estrogen and testosterone, changing the rate and timing of an individual’s experience, ontogeny, societal change and species evolution. Whereas the changing of rates, influenced by changing levels of testosterone, generates archetypal transformations, the changing of timing, managed by adjusting levels of estrogen, controls testosterone-informed rates of change.
In other words, this is a theory of evolution that suggests that the feminine governs the masculine rather than the other way around.
Whether timing governs rate or rate governs timing is really a nonuseful distinction. They both influence each other, with biological and social systems offering feedback between the two that makes it difficult if not impossible to assign a beginning to any point within the system. Still, it feels fun to congregate power in the hands of the cooperative polarity.
This feminine theory of evolution seeks to show how the neoteny/acceleration paradigm informs change at four scales (biology, society, ontogeny, biography), parsing out how changes in the timing of processes influence the rate of change. For example, too little body fat and not enough estrogen at puberty will prolong puberty, with a number of repercussions. This work hypothesizes that varying levels of estrogen in infants inform testosterone surges, which influence left hemispheric synapse pruning, thus impacting cerebral lateralization and degrees of split consciousness or self awareness, encouraging conditions featuring exaggerated maturational delay and acceleration, such as autism. In other words, estrogen may manage the extreme maleness that Baron-Cohen suggests the autistic have too much of.
This work outlines the influence of estrogen on social structure. Understanding social structure is integral to understanding both biological evolution and social evolution.
I also explore the relationship between estrogen and the dynamics of sexual selection, which is closely related to social structure. Estrogen levels may be determining both the intensity of mate selection criteria (higher levels compelling a more determined choice) and the degree of focus on the young. Estrogen not only decides which male features get passed to the next generation but may determine the likelihood of progeny survival by influencing how much attention is directed toward those progeny.
Is there a direct relationship between robust female sexual selection, with a compulsion to judge male features, and a deep desire to care for the young? If estrogen levels inform one, are tendencies toward the other enhanced?
In a “feminine” theory of evolution, these are the kinds of questions I am asking. If heterochrony is the study of the rates and timing of maturation, with testosterone levels impacting rate and estrogen levels controlling timing, then those environmental or social structure adjustments that influence levels of testosterone and estrogen determine the speed, timing, features and direction of evolution. Following these rate-and-timing pathways sends this work in several related directions. One of the most interesting paths is the one where we need a woman to serve as guide.