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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Review of The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan

This study of an alternative evolution for humankind is, of course, now almost history itself. But, and it’s an important ‘but’, many people are ignorant of the ideas expounded by Elaine Morgan and remain rooted in the now discredited version of evolution as propounded by the earlier male anthropologists. The andocentric tradition is here thoroughly examined, questioned and found seriously wanting. Not only does this old fashioned tradition leave questions unanswered, but it fails to even ask many of the questions essential to the understanding of how we became what we are.
Morgan, a mere woman in a man’s world, has the temerity to ask, and to answer, a good number of these previously ignored questions. In the process, convincingly removes the foundations for the male centred and inspired evolutionary route, positing a female led series of changes and supporting her hypothesis with well constructed and thoughtful arguments.
This book was variously trashed, belittled and ignored by the established authorities of the day. Having spent their academic lives propounding and upholding a tradition built on shifting sand, the male doyens of the science were loth to accept that a mere woman, not even an anthropologist, might have something worthwhile to bring to the debate. Science, of course, when considered by those with the closed minds of tradition, is every bit as dogmatic and prone to self-perpetuating lies, mistruths, folklore and myth as any organised religion. Only relatively recently have a number of anthropologists accepted that Morgan’s hypothesis may actually have some serious contribution to make about our understanding of how, why and when Homo Sapiens rose above his hominid cousins to become the outstandingly successful modern mammal he now is.
The Descent of Woman is a work of serious, considered ideas presented with some humour and a light touch (one of the reasons given by some academics for dismissing it out of hand). It is accessible and engaging as a book and the ideas proposed are founded in reason and built on rational thought.
I would love to see this book made mandatory for all students of anthropology and for those blind leaders of the more extreme religious cults. In time, with fresh minds, open minds, the new thinkers will hopefully overturn the blinkered and self-serving misinformation propagated by the closed-minded, prejudiced and occupationally neutered academics who have, for so long, preached a gospel of evolution based on a false appreciation of man and woman’s place in the rise of humankind from ape.
I urge all women and men to read Elaine Morgan’s seminal work: it will provide much food for thought, conjecture and, with luck, a more positive outcome for society’s attitude to women and their role and position within the human race.
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