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The Civilized Savage and the Uncivilized Civilization
sp_BlogLink Read the original blog post
July 9, 2011
4:44 am
MFR
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somachristou,

"...that’s not Christianity – it’s a part of the Mosaic law given to Israel."

Marcionism lives on!

July 11, 2011
4:57 pm
daniel
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why do people insist that human on human violence is a bad thing? "civilization" has made us pretentious, weak humans. to go WITH nature and not against it is the only way to truly live. if someone comes at me with aggression, i will certainly return it, hopefully 10 fold. that's the way of things. back in the day if you didn't have the strength or even the sensibility to strike back, you didn't survive. it's a state of mind indicative of your ability to survive.

July 11, 2011
10:47 pm
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First-Eater
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Daniel:

I'm reasonably sure that conquest, slavery, genocide, and other forms of institutional violence are bad things.  

But I probably agree with you as far as individual-level violence: a small amount of well-placed personal violence can pre-empt a lot of bad behavior.  As it is, "civilization" reserves all punishment to the state, which can't possibly judge day-to-day behavior, so it basically enables people to be continually offensive jerks -- secure in the knowledge that their behavior is protected by the law, while anything that could possibly make them stop is "illegal".  

In my opinion it's not so much pretension as simple offensiveness.

JS

August 14, 2011
2:59 pm
Another Halocene Hum
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My takeaway from all this is that we're talking about economics. Any given set of inputs will create different incentives and a different outcome (gestalt).

Some criticisms: polygyny on an extreme scale was practiced after the introduction of agriculture--why, then, is monogamy preferred today?

Also, there have been relatively peaceful agrarian societies. My theory is that it again comes down to economics (not some intrinsic component of lifestyle), but what is your theory?

August 14, 2011
3:02 pm
Another Halocene Hum
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I wonder, J. Stanton.

Some research was done a few years ago attempting to quantify murder rates in medieval England up to the present, with an unexpected result: per capita murder rates have been dropping over the last 500 years, and cities seem to lead the charge while rural areas lag. Now, why would that be?

August 14, 2011
3:23 pm
Another Halocene Hum
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Female straying from a marriage was frowned upon because they needed to know who the father was. They didn’t have DNA tests back then. I know the modern trend is to mix and match adults with children and to lie to some children about where they come from, either by making the father disappear or by adopting out the kid (don’t even get me started on sperm banks and surrogates), but that’s not our species experience, and it’s somewhat of a human rights violation to boot. Incest has always been a taboo in human culture as far as we know, even if it has not always been defined in the same way. The whole point of sexual reproduction is to mix genes; how are you mixing genes if your family tree does not fork?

I enjoy your contributions on the MDA forums, Dana, but there are truly too many errors and omissions in this paragraph for me to let it pass without comment.

Female straying from a marriage was frowned upon because they needed to know who the father was.

Not remotely true w/r/t hunter-gatherer cultures in modern and near-modern times. Some had a clear idea of paternity and others did not. Some required fidelity of the male, or of the female, some of neither. I do not know of an agricultural society that did not have a clear notion of paternity. A knowledge of animal husbandry would preclude it. However, there are well-attested examples of HG societies which did not.

I know the modern trend is to mix and match adults with children

Extra-pair mating was probably MORE common before DNA tests! Research has indicated that in some communities with fairly homogeneous genetic backgrounds, extra-pair fertility could be 20-40% (the latter in fishing villages)!

Adoption of young is very common in the animal kingdom (even adoption of the young of another species), so why would this be unnatural for humans? In an environment of high maternal mortality it might be the norm.

either by making the father disappear

Young fathers have a habit of disappearing on their own as the culmination of (probably quite adaptive) risk-taking behavior.

it’s somewhat of a human rights violation to boot

Until very recently, family histories were of precious little utility in actually TREATING disease.

Although if I want to put on a Grok-hat and speculate, adoption in a close-knit HG community would probably entail adoption by a close relative who was aware of the family history and doubtless shared much of it.

Incest has always been a taboo in human culture as far as we know

The incest taboo is not cultural; it is instinctive. Close relatives, including parent/child or twins, have been known to experience extreme attraction to each other if they never knew each other. Meanwhile, even biologically unrelated children typically experience aversion to pairing with those they were raised with closely. (Although some sexual experimenting may be quite normal.)

Exogamy is, IIRC, a bit controversial in anthropology? I certainly don't know enough to make really declarative statements about that. However, I do know that endogamy is NOT as deleterious as once thought. (It can cause problems when taken to an extreme degree, however.)

The whole point of sexual reproduction is to mix genes; how are you mixing genes if your family tree does not fork?

Genes change because of DNA damage and copying errors. This affects sexually and asexually reproducing species alike. Sexual reproduction confers a very, very slight statistical advantage over asexual reproduction. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100121161238.htm

August 14, 2011
8:28 pm
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AHH:

You're asking a lot of questions that would require whole articles to answer, and are still under debate.

Re: turning social questions into economic questions, so long as we're talking about Austrian economics, sure.  People don't act to rationally maximize 'utility' (whatever that is).

Re: polygyny, that's a big one.  However, contributing factors are:

1) Relative male vs. female population in the available mating pool.  In a small tribe where lots of males die from war or dangerous subsistence strategies, a lack of polygyny would mean many women would die childless.  

2) Concentration of power.  In a highly stratified society, the rulers will often take multiple wives because they can (and because they have the resources to support them), while low-ranking males go mateless.

As far as peaceful agrarian societies, I think societies tend to become more peaceful over time in the absence of enemies to defend against.  Geographical isolation contributes to this.  But thre's a lot more to this question.

Why would cities have become more peaceful recently?  I have some speculations, but nothing I'm willing to stake a career on.  What do you think?

JS

August 16, 2011
8:37 am
Ryan James
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J.,

How do you feel about using organic toothpaste, or toothpaste in general for tooth brushing? I'm very curious although I've noticed that eating fatty ruminants has drastically freshened my breath throughout the day anyhow.

August 16, 2011
2:48 pm
Elliott
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I'm willing to admit that life was pretty good while it lasted for hunter-gatherers who survived to adulthood. That statement, however, includes two huge caveats: "survived to adulthood" and "while it lasted." Infant mortality was fantastically high in societies without modern medicines or other protections from the natural world, and infant and child starvation was also relatively common. Also, if you suffered any serious injury, you would probably either die directly from it or be unable to feed yourself and die of starvation later.

Furthermore, there were no "rich" and "poor" in hunter-gatherer societies because the rich were the only ones left. The poor had all starved to death a long time ago. Food was scarce, and harsh necessity kept populations small. Sure, food sharing could keep people alive if they suffered a temporary setback or if times were generally hard, but if someone didn't have the fundamental ability to provide for himself over the long term, he would starve sooner or later.

The problems you describe are real problems that have caused a great deal of suffering for a lot of people. As some other commenters have pointed out, though, these problems were caused by one thing: more people living in less space. The only comprehensive solution to these problems is fewer people. Odds are that, had we been born into a hunter-gatherer society, both Mr. Stanton and I, along with most of the people who've commented on this post, would be dead.

Most people don't like sitting on their butts all day working drone desk jobs until they go home and poison themselves with unhealthy, nutritionally bankrupt food. They'd rather do that than not be alive, though. "What about war, genocide, or crime?" one might ask. The brutal fact of the matter is that the young men killed in war at least survived long enough to become men, which they probably wouldn't have without civilization. Same goes for the rest. I'm not saying we should embrace the defects of civilization without trying to correct them, but there's a reason we don't all chase down our food and stab it with sticks anymore.

August 16, 2011
3:59 pm
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Ryan:

Anything that's mildly abrasive, doesn't mess up your tooth enamel, and doesn't feed your mouth bacteria (e.g. no sugar or carbohydrate) is fine AFAIK.  Some people use a mix of baking soda and coconut oil, but that's tough in cold climates.  Some people use neem powder.  Both have worked fine for me, as has regular toothpaste when I'm lazy.

I don't use fluoride toothpaste because I was given fluoride treatments at the dentist and see no need for it.

Elliott:

See my replies to eddie and GZK, above.  I'm not pushing the noble savage myth, and I'm not recommending that we return to a Pleistocene way of life.  

"Furthermore, there were no "rich" and "poor" in hunter-gatherer societies because the rich were the only ones left. The poor had all starved to death a long time ago."

Not true at all.  We know of no hunter-gatherer society in which one member has even three times the wealth of another, let alone millions of times the wealth, as in today's world.  The concepts of "rich" and "poor" have little meaning when your possessions must be carried with you, when land is defended by the tribe as a whole, and no one can confiscate years' worth of the accrued labor of another as they can in agricultural society.

"The problems you describe are real problems that have caused a great deal of suffering for a lot of people. As some other commenters have pointed out, though, these problems were caused by one thing: more people living in less space."

Also not true at all.  The suffering of agricultural society is caused by the fact that agriculture depends entirely on living off accrued labor, invested over an entire season in a very small and defined area of land.  Once you've harvested and stored your grain for the season, it's trivial for a group of armed thugs to confiscate it.  Either the barbarians get you, or…"We'll protect you from the barbarians…if you give us half.  Otherwise we burn your house, rape your wife anyway."  And that's basically the story of agriculture: palace economies make North Korea look like a block party, and the Earth had a fraction of its current population back then.  Also see my comment to Asclepius above.

JS

September 15, 2011
4:56 pm
PrimalNut
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Wow, I love this article.
This explains EXACTLY what I've been feeling my entire life.
I never understood as a teenager why I have to go to school/college and then work a job day in day out until I am old and die. Why do I have to be a slave to the Dollar? (or in my case it was the german Mark, now Euro).
Why isn't there an alternative to being a slave?
Now I live in the states, in a small town but still suburbs. I am happy for the most part since going Primal, but I just don't feel free!
How lucky are those small farmers that grow their own food (including animals)!?

September 16, 2011
10:31 am
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PrimalNut:

"Why isn't there an alternative?"

There is -- but most people would rather exchange their freedom for the security of a regular paycheck, instead of living entirely by their own productivity.

Of course, this is what hunting and foraging is...living by your strength and wits.  It is the perpetual condition of every animal -- except "humans since agriculture".

It is also true that the modern world discourages living by our strength and wits at every turn.  A fearful, dependent populace is more easily controlled, and therefore far more profitable, than a society of proud, independent thinkers and warriors.

JS

January 24, 2012
3:23 am
BPT
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I think you have overlooked a few key issues in the definition of civilisation. The fact that humans are intelligent and interested, curious and skilled in stuff other than the act of hunting and gathering. Before agriculture there were specialists who traded food for skill, arrow makers, leather workers, etc etc stuff thatwould not get done if they were all out for number one filling their stomachs. Agriculture was the first leverage where everyone could specialise in some way..even if it was just working for "da man". Just because they settled down "as opposed to hunting and gathering does not logically follow they are civilised..as demonstrated by the screed about war and slavery. Society faced different challenges by settling and the way they fixed these issues are still with us today...we have to have a way to fix the rape and pillage of the biosphere from the smallest level to a planet wide level....problems we may never have faced as hunters but that is irrelevent, the issue exists and at this current time no one has been able to raise it to a sufficient level of urgency...so can we now blame the planters of grain for global warming and environmental destruction ?

Living by our own wits and skill is all very well but will as of now not be sufficient to ensure survival.

January 24, 2012
8:19 pm
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BPT:

You'll have to clarify: which key issues are you speaking of?

Hunter-gatherers could specialize, but they couldn't do so at the
expense of general survival skills, which everyone had to maintain.  So
agriculture enabled a much greater degree of specialization -- though
this specialization has only generally been used to maintain a slave class.

JS

June 1, 2012
2:59 pm
CMHFFEMT
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Wow I don't know how I missed this article. I guess I just haven't been spending enough time here. My personal view though is that we are a bunch of monkey's fighting over bananas and sex. We are just in a self created zoo. The zoo has rules that give the resources that we work to hard for to the zoo keepers. Most of the monkeys don't know any better. One day thought the zookeepers will end up burning the damn zoo down.

June 3, 2012
5:58 pm
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CMHFFEMT:

I've written so many articles that it's easy to miss a few!  Fortunately, the index makes it easier to keep track.

As I said, I think the problem is that the social and political systems enforced by "civilization" (by which we mean agriculture) force us to regress into "monkeys fighting over bananas".  Forager societies are relentlessly egalitarian -- and if a conflict is not solvable, one party usually leaves the tribe and joins another.  

In contrast, in an agricultural society, those options are unavailable.  Individual land ownership means that we all have to pay rent to someone else and give our fealty to the ruling entity simply in order to exist on the Earth -- and since such systems claim every square inch of the Earth, opting out is not an option either.  We are forced to passively acquiesce, or to stand and fight.

JS

June 3, 2012
8:41 pm
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Cameron, Tx
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I choose fight! 🙂

Whoop!

June 4, 2012
2:28 pm
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First-Eater
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DT:

Learn from the gnolls: be a guerrilla, not a martyr.

JS

April 21, 2013
2:42 am
eddie watts
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interesting. basically it seems HG peoples were all socialists then.
they all worked togather to support all of them together.
please note i am not a socialist or pro-socialism.

maybe this is why so many people want socialism to work? because that is our evolved background, but of course it does not work due to dependants.
and of course back then someone born with certain "defects" would not survive to adulthood and become a burden on the rest, whereas we encourage their survival and (at least in UK) then the state supports them.

the main problem with capitalism in many ways is (in this context) that in a small tribe of say 30 some would be hunters and one would be the best (there will always be someone better at other people at something in groups. even if they'e all competent) that person would likely be looked up to and maybe even "lead" but not overly dominate. other hunters would still help support by providing food. (extend this to storage of food so it does not spoil, gathering, building of shelters even temporary, clothing etc everything a tribe would need)

however in a capitalist situation and the modern one too we'd take the very best at their job, those guys who are in the top say 80% would all be useful, those between 40-79% are not needed. we tend to get the very best who get very well paid, they then lead less useful people and teach them enough to do a simplified version of the job but get paid next to nothing.

in fact it all comes down to money: as soon as you can charge x amount for something it becomes problematic.
and i can pay someone else to do my fair share of the hunting or whatever purely because my parents are rich and so i am born rich.
i then never need to add value to the community.
you can argue (and many will) that i add value through the use of my money, but i would argue that is my parents continuing to add value, even after their deaths, my own addition may not exist at all.

it is however a tricky situation that we cannot resolve i feel.

April 21, 2013
2:57 am
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eddie:

Actually the "economics" of hunter-gatherers are not reducible to any modern political system, and they vary by tribe.  "The Old Way" (a book in my Recommended Reading list) goes into detail for the Kalahari Bushmen...the customs around food distribution differ radically from hunted meat to gathered tubers to gathered nuts.

The key is that in foraging societies, group size is always small enough that everyone knows exactly who is contributing what...so no matter what system they choose to abide by, it's always enforceable.  And, to my knowledge, money has never been part of it (though they'll use it in trade with outside societies).

Interestingly enough, the Nuer of Sudan (who were/are pastoralists) greatly limit purchase of cattle (the measure of wealth within the tribe) with currency, for the reasons you describe: external wealth became a massively distorting influence on their society.

JS

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