The “first” attainment goals in H&P are:
- compare social structures and the conditions of natural surroundings from two ancient cultures, and discuss the ideas that typify these societies
- elaborate on and discuss how human beings in ancient cultures understood time, sought after meaning and transferred knowledge between generations
- reflect on how myths can influence the understanding of reality and stories, and discuss how myths attempt to provide answers to fundamental questions within ancient cultures
In the social sciences, social structure is the patterned social arrangements in society that are both emergent from and determinant of the actions of the individuals. On the macro scale, social structure is the system of socioeconomic stratification (e.g., the class structure), social institutions, or, other patterned relations between large social groups. On the meso scale, it is the structure of social network ties between individuals or organizations. On the micro scale, it can be the way norms shape the behavior of actors within the social system.
Social structure. (2015, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:12, July 21, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Social_structure&oldid=669605745
The key questions my students needs to understand here will therefore be:
- Who has the power in the given society?
- Who gave him the power?
- What kind of story is told about when he obtained the power?
- What is the relationship between power and religion in this society?
- What kind of economy does this society have?
- Who is rich and who is poor?
- What kinds of possibilities does an individual have in this society? What is the place of the individual given in this society?
It is vital to recognize the role of religion in the various societies students are to look closer at. Religion directed all aspects of the lives of the people living at the time we are studying. It helped humans understand the way nature and their societies were organized. Sometimes, cities fought against each other and the strife was fought between the people on the behalf of the humans living in the various cities. The tales about the activities of the gods were often written down as myths. Humans were but pawns in the great game that the gods played. They had to obey the gods orders. It was impossible for kings to decide upon some great affairs without the consent of the gods. And the kings made their power known to all the people. They ordered the building of vast structures like the Ziggurats and the pyramids. These edifices were of course symbols of the power of the kings, but they also was so much more. They were also symbols of the economic structure of the systems.
The first civilizations were founded along the banks of huge rivers like the euphrates and the Nile. Life here was filled with uncertainties. The water could break the dikes something that would directly cost lives. Sometimes the fields could be flooded. This meant the loss of income for one or many years. The relationship between the individual and nature was precarious. In addition, it is important to note that:
“[c]ontributing to this sense of insecurity was the belief that the gods had little love for humanity. they had created a “savage, ‘man’ shall be his name … [who] shall be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease.” Toward humans the gods behaved capriciously, maliciously and vindictively, and it was difficult to please them.”
Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, James R. Jacob, Margaret C. Jacob, Theodore H. Von Laue: Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, Volume 1: To 1789, Tenth Edition. Boston, 2013, p. 12f.
The gods nonetheless represented important ideals for humans to follow. The myths explained why life was filled with toil. Creation myths explained how time began and how it changed to become what it is like today. Myths explaiend how the stars became fixed to heaven, the trajectory of the Sun and why there are four seasons. What is perhaps most important when it comes to the significance of myths is what they tell us about how society is arranged, the cosmogony. This is a compound of the words kosmos (the world order) and genesis (creation).
(This is just my humble definition of the word. Wikipedia has one definition that is certainly more precise: The word comes from the Koine Greek κοσμογονία (from κόσμος “cosmos, the world”) and the root of γί(γ)νομαι / γέγονα (“come into a new state of being”).In astronomy, cosmogony refers to the study of the origin of particular astrophysical objects or systems, and is most commonly used in reference to the origin of the universe, the solar system, or the earth-moon system. Cosmogony. (2015, June 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:14, July 21, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cosmogony&oldid=666151784)
It is common to divide cosmogenic myths into six parts:
- Creation from nothing
- Creation from chaos
- Creation from a cosmic egg
- Creation from a previous generation of parents
- Creation through a series of unexpected events
- Creation through a diver that dives into the primordial waters and who picks up the world
What questions needs to be asked?
The obvious question to ask students here is: why did the people let this happen? Why did they no revolt? If they were angered with the “system” did they nonetheless subscribe to the way it was arranged? What were the alternatives? Is revolt a modern notion?
Another important question to reflect upon is of course: Why have politics and religion always been connected? Is there any natural relationship between those two? Why are humans led to believe in an “alternative” to reality?
Here, we have come back to the definition of a social structure and the way Marx sees it. It is important here to understand that there is, in fact, a relationship between those two. Also relevant in this context is it to introduce Durkheim and his definition of culture.