From a Reader:

An appreciation of Ardea Skybreak’s Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps:
Answers… and Pathways to Answers… To Burning Questions

January 22, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


Right now the depth and breadth of women’s oppression is very much on people’s minds. The outrage and anger being expressed by women is mainly very good and certainly long overdue. And it raises big questions. Why does this happen to women, in every sphere, time and time again, here and around the world? Is this just human nature, or rather the nature of men, or is there another explanation? Could this ever change? And if so, how?

In wrangling with these questions I went back to reread Ardea Skybreak’s book, Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps, An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, the Source of Women’s Oppression, and the Road to Emancipation. I found this book a very good place to dig into these questions, starting with what does it even mean to be human. In this book, Skybreak starts out with examining the theories of Elaine Morgan (The Descent of Woman) and then Nancy Makepeace Tanner (On Becoming Human) on how human beings evolved and how, in that context, the oppression of women arose. In the course of this, Ardea Skybreak goes deeply into her scientific understanding, based on evidence, of how and why human society developed the way it did. She goes on to appreciate the pioneering work Engels did on this topic.

I found much to learn from Skybreak’s method throughout the book. She recognizes that both Morgan and Tanner want to take on the reactionary mainstream “Tarzan” theory of the development of human society—strong men taking initiative and passive women being protected by them. And she unites with elements from both authors, which can be proved to be true, even from Morgan’s work, which she sees as deeply flawed. “Unlike Morgan, however, Tanner seems to understand that in order to deal serious blows to long-enshrined icons, one has to thoroughly and rigorously go after the truth” (p. 67)—a task which fundamentally Skybreak assesses as what Tanner is doing and on that basis upholds much of what Tanner puts forward.

Skybreak models a method that is very clear and firm on key points of epistemology and scientific method and from that basis sharply criticizes Morgan’s lack of evidence. She also points out where Tanner needs to go further up against sociobiology and in the process really analytically eviscerates sociobiology. She concludes: “[T]he Achilles’ heel of this reactionary school of thought is that it consistently takes as its starting point a notion for which there is no evidence, which is biologically extremely unlikely, and which, as a general explanation of human social behavior and as a basis for theories of ‘human nature,’ is completely erroneous: the assumption that complex human social behaviors can be tied to specific genetic programs.” (P. 19)

Just to give a taste of some of the big questions she digs into:

Women were naturally more involved in the bearing and raising of children than men. “But why would this natural division of labor which would benefit both sexes in itself be the source of incipient inequalities?” (P. 134)

What are the various different elements of the process by which we became “human”?

How were primitive societies organized, including the relative importance of gathering and hunting, and why does that matter?

Aren’t these things that, once you stop to think about, are the fascinating topics you would really like to know more about? And don’t we need to explore and know these if we are going to transform the whole world and emancipate humanity? Then there is the challenge, and invigoration, of walking through different theories and approaches outlined above with her guiding the way and learning from her method as you do.

Ardea Skybreak closes with these sentences:

The basis for the elimination of exploitation and oppression among human beings is now in sight, although this leap will require a total upheaval of prevailing economic and political relations and a thoroughgoing revolutionization in the realm of ideas. This leap would be as significant and defining to all future human life as that represented by the first emergence of the capacity to gather a surplus of food was to all human history up to this point. This time also, the female of the species would play a crucial, in fact essential, role in effecting the leap, but with the result this time being her complete emancipation along with that of humanity as a whole from all forms of oppression and social inequality. (p.151)

Unfortunately Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps is out of print, but it is available on Amazon. I would definitely recommend getting your hands on this book, and perhaps read and discuss it with a group of friends. It is very timely and an approach that is urgently needed to understand the sharp question of the oppression of women and all of humanity.




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