What can the modern West learn from “primitive” cultures?

I re-read this post and so posted it as a Holiday message. To this I would echo Mbuti Pygmy Moke’s statement about god. We may not know what god is, but we know god is good, and we want god to be happy because people are singing. Happy Holidays!

We can learn: 1. Recognition that there is enough for all, if we share, 2. Peace, 3. Concern for the environment, 4. Egalitarianism, 5. Acceptance of others. 6. How to live in an information-based culture rather than a material-goods based culture.

1. Sharing:
Lorna Marshall, an anthropologist who worked many years amongst the !Kung in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, asked what happens if someone kills an animal and eats it without sharing. They respond that it could never happen. She says of their reaction when she pushed them to imagine such a situation:
“The idea of eating alone and not sharing is shocking to the !Kung. It makes them shriek with uneasy laughter. “Lions could do that,” they say, “not men.http://amzn.to/18dVCTu

Similarly, Turnbull writes about food sharing amongst the Mbuti Pygmies:
“In a small and tightly knit hunting band, survival can be achieved only by the closest co-operation and by an elaborate system of reciprocal obligations which insures that everyone has some share in the day’s catch. Some days one gets more than others, but nobody ever goes without. There is, as often as not, a great deal of squabbling over the division of the game, but that is expected and nobody tries to take what is not his due.” http://amzn.to/17zbZ9b

2.  Peace:
Kirk Endicott writes of the Batek – hunter/gathers of Malaysia
…the Batek abhor interpersonal violence and have generally fled from their enemies rather than fighting back. I once asked a Batek man why their ancestors had not shot the Malay slave-raiders, who plagued them until the 1920s with poisoned blowpipe darts. His shocked answer was: ‘Because it would kill them!’ (Endicott, K. L.1981. “The Conditions of Egalitarian Male-Female Relationships in Foraging Societies,” Canberra Anthropology4(2): 1-10)

Children are taught from a very young age about the value of sharing, there are no competitive games, and there is no value put on competition or on violence as a way of getting what one wants.

Amongst the Inuet hunter/gatherers of the High Arctic, violence is seen as childish, and any kind of confrontation is avoided. Children who fight are laughed at, teased, and ridiculed for such silly behavior. When adults lose their tempers with children or with each other they are also teased and perceived as childish.
(Briggs, J. L. 1994. “’Why Don’t You Kill Your Baby Brother?’ The Dynamics of Peace in Canadian Inuit Camps” in: The Anthropology of Peace and Nonviolence, L. E. Sponsel and T. Gregor, (eds) Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, p.155-181)

Not surprisingly, if you perceive that there is enough for everyone, and your social system is based on sharing, there is little reason to fight. People who have studied hunter/gatherers have discovered that hunter/gatherers don’t practice war and abhor violence. Chapter I – The Original Information Culture – Hunter/Gatherers (full text)and Chapter II – The Invention of Scarcity (full text)
3.  Concern for the environment:
Turnbull gives us the the Mbuti Pygmies’ world view
“”The forest is father and mother to us,”      Moke showed me this when he said, “Normally everything goes well in our world. But at night when we are sleeping, sometimes things go wrong, because we are not awake to stop them from going wrong. Army ants invade the camp; leopards may come in and steal a hunting dog or even a child. If we were awake these things would not happen. So when something big goes wrong, like illness or bad hunting or death, it must be because the forest is sleeping and not looking after its children. So what do we do? We wake it up. We wake it up by singing to it, and we do this because we want it to awaken happy. Then everything will be well and good.”” (see Turnbull above)

Hunter/gatherer groups believe they are children of the environment in which they live. Australian aborigines believe they are descended from their totem animals from the dream time. They reverence all the aspects of their surroundings because it is father and mother to them. As they move through the land they “sing up the land” because they are in a reciprocal relationship with the world. It creates them and they create the land. http://amzn.to/1aKodMg

4.  Egalitarianism:
Eleanor Leacock has pointed out that the measure of egalitarianism is actually autonomy, not similarity. Even in our culture, we don’t want to be the same as our neighbor; we want to have the same opportunity to make our own decisions for our own lives – we want autonomy. She writes:
Hunter/gatherer women and men make their decisions about their lives with great autonomy and even children have far more autonomy than we would think is proper. http://amzn.to/18dVCTu
Nisa was about 5 years old when her baby brother was born. One evening, Nisa snuck into bed with her mother, moved her baby brother away and nursed, for which she was punished so she decided to go to live with her Grandmother. She apparently made this decision on her own and throughout her childhood she moved away fairly frequently. http://amzn.to/1hOtVXm

Again Leacock quoting LeJune’s attitude toward gender when he encountered Native Americans in the 17th century:
Disputes and quarrels among spouses were virtually nonexistent, Le Jeune reported, since each sex carried out its own activities without “meddling” in those of the other… Noting that women had “great power,” he expressed his disapproval of the fact that men had no apparent inclination to make their wives “obey” them or to enjoin sexual fidelity upon them. He lectured the Indians on this failing, reporting in one instance, “I told him that he was the master, and that in France women do not rule their husbands. http://amzn.to/18dVCTu

5.  Acceptance of others
Respect for the autonomy of each person’s beliefs is also part of the view of god held by the Pygmies, as explained by Turnbull.
He told me how all Pygmies have different names for their god, but how they all know that it is really the same one. Just what it is of course, they don’t know, and that is why the name really does not matter very much. “How can we know?” he asked. “We can’t see him; perhaps only when we die will we know and then we can’t tell anyone. So how can we say what he is like or what his name is? But he must be good to give us so many things. He must be of the forest. So when we sing, we sing to the forest. (see Turnbull above)

6.  How to live in an information-based culture rather than a material-goods based culture
Hunter/gatherers live by what they know rather than what they own. They have been described as immediate gratification cultures – everything is there for the taking.
Information obeys different rules than material-goods do. If I have a material thing and you take it I no longer have it. On the other hand if I have a good story, or song, or idea and I give it to you I still have it and you have it too. In addition, you may actually add to the story, song, or idea and we will both have ‘more’. This validates a certain world view – the world view that to know is cool, to demonstrate that you know is to share. Chapter I – The Original Information Culture – Hunter/Gatherers (full text)and Chapter II – The Invention of Scarcity (full text)

From these two things: the way of life of hunter/gatherers and the world view that information validates we can generalize the characteristics of an information culture. People living in an information culture have no sense of scarcity. They regard getting a living as an enjoyable social activity. They share everything. Their attitude is that if there is food, there is no reason for anyone to go hungry. Even those who do little work are useful, so there is little concern about the “free rider” problem. To be ‘cool’, in an information culture, is to have good stories, songs, and dances rather than to have material wealth or power. People move because they want to know what is happening in other places, not because they need more material goods. They value exploration for its own sake. People perceive their world and their god(s) to be benign and an intimate part of their environment.

For more go to: Hunter/Gatherers to Digital Natives: and visit my author page on Amazon Elin Whitney-Smith the two most relevant publications are:
Push: Information Revolution Dynamics http://bit.ly/DynamicsInfoRev, and
Cain and Abel: Information and the Invention of WAR http://bit.ly/CainAndAbel

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