Introduction





I have undertaken this project out of an intellectual fondness for the subject matter and a desire to bring these ideas to the attention of a wider audience. The study of hunter-gatherers is a fundamentally important one if one is to have any sort of accurate appraisal of the state of affairs of this planet. Most people, sadly, are woefully in the dark when it comes to basic anthropological concepts. In essence, most people are walking around with patent falsehoods having annexed their minds, and going on to reason erroneously within the shoddy framework. One cannot have an adequate picture of the world -- one that comprises true understanding -- without some basic appreciation of the anthropological consensus on hunting and gathering societies. The notion of automatic progress and the idea of the appropriateness of, and necessity for, the subjugation of the planet (resources and people) are founded on a basic lack of knowledge, a primary error, that this work hopes in some way to address. That civilized man is necessarily and by definition superior to all who have come before him is a bias that cannot stand in the mind of an educated individual. I hope in the pages that follow to provide a little bit of educational insight, so that we may separate truth from falsehood.

          What I intend when I discuss these things is not to romanticize hunter-gatherers or to suggest that we go 'back to the Paleolithic' but to state that things have not always been this way (things have only been this way for about the last one percent of hominins' existence), and that maybe things aren't necessarily supposed to be this way. I'm not sure I want to say that things don't have to be this way, because here we are, but on the other hand, this path we are on is not sustainable and if we're to be here much longer, we will be forced to make some major alterations to modern civilization. Perhaps some lessons are to be learned from the past, and perhaps not. We'll see.

          I must make one thing clear: I do not intend to convey even the slightest suggestion that we must "return to nature" or live in communes or make a pilgrimage to Walden Pond. We must do nothing of the sort. My intention, rather, is to point out that basic failures and inequality are not endemic to human societies nor necessarily the result some ill-defined notion of human nature; in point of fact, for most of the time humans have lived on this planet, it was not the case. Moreover, we now know that life before the agricultural revolution was not, as is still popularly believed, so nasty, or brutish, or short.

          What we left behind when we abandoned our evolutionary heritage to form chiefdoms, city-states, nations, and empires was a situation in which you had total equality and an equal right to life for everyone and, paradoxically, a profound respect for the individual and his or her merits.

          Hunter-gatherers were not and are not savages living in abject conditions. They are very successful -- some would argue, based on the data underlining work time and (ample) leisure, caloric return, freedom from authority, ease of dispute resolution, etc., more successful than your typical domesticated/civilized individual or family. Moreover, they are not a rung below us on the biological evolutionary ladder. Our differences are purely cultural; they are anatomically modern, identical to us. One may say that many wonderful things have come out of the evolution of civilization, and I would not disagree. There are very many negative consequences as well, obvious ones. I am optimistic about the future, and the way out is through. The solution to modern civilization will be created by modern civilization, not some return to simpler times, which would be impossible and not even desirable, really. But the anthropological perspective on this is very important to recognize and understand; an awful lot of people have a personal cosmology and philosophy that is rooted in basic errors which we have (fortuitously) been able to correct with modern scientific methods. It is not merely academic; it is the choice between delusion and truth.

          The study of hunter-gatherers is very awkward for many branches of science and even of the humanities to deal with, because it topples virtually all of their conclusions on human nature. Hunter-gatherers were not territorial, and they enjoyed social and economic equality -- egalitarianism. Moreover, hunting and gathering represents over ninety percent of human existence on Earth, going back over 100,000 years. Only in the last ten thousand years has their house of cards fallen. And it was precisely that: a house of cards. Perhaps hunter-gatherers were egalitarian because they had to be, and hunter-gatherer society represented a kind of equilibrium keeping the grosser elements of human nature in check. Maybe "the evil was there waiting" as Burroughs suggested. Population pressure came to bear in certain ecologically important locales, intensive agriculture had to be adopted (even though it was a much more difficult and less pleasant way to make a living than hunting-gathering) in order to feed populations that could no longer afford the old ways, stratification occurred as a matter of course, and then you have division of labor, taxes, wealth and status inequality, standing armies, and all the rest, and the ancient equilibrium, in a way very durable but also so tragically fragile, evaporated.





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