Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Printable Version

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Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Mon, 18 Dec 2017 20:33:16 +0000

An essay written by a student in Evolutionary Anthropology at UC Davis.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Fri, 22 Dec 2017 05:38:24 +0000

His conclusions don't follow from his cherry picked counter-examples. Nobody is 'romanticizing' H-Gs.

We could return to H-G lifeways. They just wouldn't be the same kind of H-G lifeways.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Fri, 22 Dec 2017 23:23:09 +0000

I see the 'how' involving two potential scenarios: 1. voluntary 2. catastrophic

The voluntary would be through a gradual withdrawal from civilization, refusal of authoritarian relations, cessation of economic and technological growth, leading to the slow dismantling of infrastructure. Some people would flee the cities and towns and head to what's left of remote wilderness. Most people would remain in cities and transform or rewild them. High rise office buildings could be turned into vertical farms. Abandoned empty shopping malls could be used as community meeting spaces. Deer, bear, moose, cows, pigs, geese, ducks, rabbits, etc. would be encouraged to roam the streets where they could be hunted. There would be an eclectic combination of vertical farms, permaculture, hunting, fishing, and hydroponics. Similarly, heat sources would come from existing solar, wind, hydro, and from burning wood and building materials (taken from dismantling projects). By discouraging pregnancies and childbirth through social stigma, population would gradually decline to the point where there would be more room, more animals to hunt, and more opportunity to leave the decaying cities altogether. But this would all be a very slow process, probably taking several hundred years.

The involuntary route would be to keep on the trajectory we are on right now, where it's only a matter of time before some catastrophic absolute limit is reached and ecological systems rapidly collapse. This would be quickly followed by a massive die back in the human population, reducing it to a few survival groups roaming the countryside looking for food and what remains of any animal life. Either that, or some kind of nuclear holocaust, where the die back is more or less instantaneous. With a nuclear holocaust, the effects would be less uniform across the globe, since the destruction would be localized to the general areas where the bombs actually struck. It's likely some countries wouldn't be affected at all, and relatively large geographic areas would still remain habitable.

There could even be some elements of both scenarios playing out. But it's hard to predict at this point. Either way, hunting and gathering would be different from the traditional notion of hunting and gathering for obvious reasons. First and foremost, it would take place in a different ecological context. Post civilization is going to be a much different world from pre-civilizational one. There will be all kinds of technological artefacts lying around that are not going to simply disappear, and people will still put those to some use. Most buildings and structures will still be standing (except perhaps in a nuclear blast). There has just been too much build up of these things over the past 5,000 years to think that we will be doing our hunting and gathering in some kind of pure pristine wilderness. Just think of all the garbage and waste alone. Thus in either case, any hunting and gathering going on won't be recognizable as the same kind of anthropologically 'pure,' pre-civilized version we've come to know. It will be a weird mix of gardening, husbandry, hunting, trapping, scavenging and collecting -- all within a different landscape still littered with the technological remnants of the previous accumulated 5,000 years worth of civilization. There might even still be some kind of cash economy in some places, and certainly lots of trading and possibly raiding, depending on local scarcity.

A Future Primitive will look different from a Past Primitive. The longer we wait to make it happen, the more different it will be.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Sun, 24 Dec 2017 17:09:53 +0000

Of course, what else would it be.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:10:52 +0000

The problem is nobody can stop doing what they do everyday to reproduce capital, on an individual level. Only collective action can do that. As for conflict, we cannot avoid it, that's impossible. There will always be conflict, as that is the nature of living organisms.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Mon, 25 Dec 2017 04:18:27 +0000

(Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:51:35 +0000, 10:51 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Why not, how not? Shouldn't we try?

Please name me one person who has managed to stop reproducing capital in their daily life and lives outside the capitalist world economy. Even the most remote hunter gatherers haven't been able to do this.

(Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:51:35 +0000, 10:51 PM)Zhachev Wrote: I have to disagree here. Collective action has failed as well historically.

Anarchist collective action has rarely been tried historically, and when it has, it's been crushed, not failed of its own. That has to do with strategic and coordination problems, lack of manpower, etc., not collective action per se.

(Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:51:35 +0000, 10:51 PM)Zhachev Wrote: And when do individual actions and choices even become officially *collective*?

When it's more than three people who are actually taking on and fighting the system. The more the merrier, of course.

(Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:51:35 +0000, 10:51 PM)Zhachev Wrote: We can also collectively do bad things (as the Bolsheviks did when they hijacked the revolution and essentially doomed the global workers movement forever afaic).

I agree. So we need to be vigilant against hijacking, not abandon collective action. I'm actually not interested in a worker's movement, since I'm not interested in work.

(Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:51:35 +0000, 10:51 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Ok. This may be true. But we don't need any conflict besides the type that ends the system. There can't be coercive force applied on any level by anyone one or in-group.

Again, that's an impossible standard. Every social animal experiences conflict within a group. Much better to learn how to deal with conflict.

(Sun, 24 Dec 2017 22:51:35 +0000, 10:51 PM)Zhachev Wrote: To finish this post, what are we asking? How to end the system? I can give many scenarios, all hypothetical. Are we asking if the system can end without humans making it end? I can also think of some scenarios, the ecological crises for example.

Do we want to spend our efforts attempting to facilitate some massive collapse?

Or why not just leave these forums, come together and begin living the H-G lifestyles you mention now?

Because even H-Gs are being encapsulated by capitalism. There is no escape, there is no 'outside' of capitalism anymore. There is no where to hide, or drop out to. I see the question as one of eroding the system from within, of being like a parasite that eventually kills its host. Instead of trying to escape the system, we should use it against itself, and transform it into what we want. 'Collapse' implies something relatively abrupt and painful. I'd prefer to avoid collapse if possible.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Tue, 26 Dec 2017 03:11:02 +0000

(Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:07:58 +0000, 03:07 PM)Zhachev Wrote: I admit, it's hard to do. But at least some of "the most remote" H-Gs are not reproducing capital. The so-called north "Sentinelese" people are an example. No evidence of agricultural practices or controlled use of fire has been observed. It's between 15-500 people and they've completely resisted the State through geographic advantages and sticks and stones.

That's just one example. There may be others?

Agriculture and fire are not capitalist practices, so completely irrelevant. It's true there are a few tribes left (both H-G and horticultural) who have not been integrated into the world economy, but since they live in remote areas and are on the fringes of civilization, I fail to see how they could serve as a model for individuals within Western societies trying to stop capitalist reproduction since a) they never had capitalist reproduction in the first place b) they are resisting collectively, not as isolated individuals.

What do you think we could learn from these few examples?

(Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:07:58 +0000, 03:07 PM)Zhachev Wrote: This is comical! If I started listing the ways and times Anarchism has fucked up and completely "failed on it's own", without being crushed, I'd be here writing all day.

We're talking about full on collective direct action against capitalist reproduction and the state. How many examples of this in history are there? How did the Spanish Revolutionary anarchists, for instance, fail on their own?

(Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:07:58 +0000, 03:07 PM)Zhachev Wrote: What does "actually" taking on and fighting the system mean? Mailing bombs to people?

Fighting the system  (often in the form of a government, since governments regulate the system) as a whole. Directly confronting those little Eichmans who run the system. It certainly doesn't mean things like protesting, or breaking bank windows.

Quote:Again, that's an impossible standard. Every social animal experiences conflict within a group. Much better to learn how to deal with conflict.

(Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:07:58 +0000, 03:07 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Yes, how do we deal with it? Are abuse and violence legit tactics?

How do you deal with conflict within your own family?

Quote:I see the question as one of eroding the system from within, of being like a parasite that eventually kills its host. Instead of trying to escape the system, we should use it against itself, and transform it into what we want.

(Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:07:58 +0000, 03:07 PM)Zhachev Wrote: This sounds borderline Kautskyian even though I'm sure it wasn't intended to. Could you elaborate?

You've never heard of this before? We are already doing this to some extent. We use computers, money, rules, laws, to fight back in whatever various ways we can ...against politicians, landlords, corporations, bosses, cops, etc.  We use the tools of the system to organize and resist. We could also be doing things like e.g. getting onto juries to annul them. Infiltrating the police by becoming one of them in order to thwart plans and release classified info.  We could be infiltrating a lot of institutions to disrupt them. Unfortunately most anarchists don't think very strategically.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Tue, 26 Dec 2017 18:54:50 +0000

But when you take any other job and become a capitalist drone, what's the difference?

When cops become 'anarchists' in order to infiltrate and disrupt, it's quite an effective tool, and cops don't have any moral or other qualms with it.

I'm interested in winning and changing things. To do this we need to do whatever works.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - Odin - Thu, 28 Dec 2017 00:28:12 +0000

Entryism 'never works', except when cops do Anarchists only participated in government after they joined the communists in defeat. At the beginning of the Spanish revolution months earlier, they were not in government.

You are already participating in a game you want to stop. Attempting to stay morally pure, pristine, and unsullied, all the while marginalizing ourselves in our own micro-ghettos, has never worked. There is no 'outside the system'. You are on the internet, you pay rent, you use money, you support corporations, you mostly obey the laws, etc. Stop kidding yourself.

We are in a war, where only one side is fighting. There is no effective opposition.

RE: Romanticizing Hunter Gatherers? - alexander - Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:46:47 +0000

So much to unpack in this thread. (Not a complaint! I hope to see more threads like this, generating so much interesting discussion.)

The article
I'll begin with the article. Harpending & Wandsnider, Howell, Silberbauer, Konner & Shostak, talk about the !Kung being hungry. Fair enough, but aren't they talking about them being hungry in the 1960s -'80s? What does this actually say about pre-civilised life? The amount of work they have to do seems to be more easily transported back in time, as preparing e.g. roots, seeds, and so on, is presumably no more time-consuming today than it was many thousand years ago; whereas the scarcity of natural resources is a much more complex issue. I will grant them this however: the !Kung lifestyle is precarious, and at the hands of Mother Earth. But so are we. And it is certainly not clear to me that it is somehow a worse state of affairs that people in a geographic region may succumb to draughts, than that we face the potential collapse of the entire biosphere, and people succumbing to draughts—which is the reality of the present.

Longevity figures—as I understand it, these have been under scrutiny from other ethnographist who point out that they neglect the required nuance: I) When eliminating childhood mortality, you get twice as high life expectancy, and II) "childhood mortality" doesn't mean what it sounds like, as it mostly means children being left in the woods, or killed, because they were either unwanted, or impractical. Unfortunately, I have only seen second-hand sources for II, so if anyone has first-hand sources—either supporting or rejecting it—please do share.

Traveler's diarrhoea—given the high life expectancy of h-g (once adjusted as discussed above), I don't know how serious this is. It seems like baseless conjecture to me. Also, are we, again, talking about modern h-g, not pre-civ?

Egalitarianism—looks cherry-picked. But two can play that game. Viz., the people who ascribe high egalitarianism to h-g may be cherry-picking. From what I've read and kept up with of anthropology, it does seem likely to me that I) h-g were overall more egalitarian, but that II) h-g were much more diverse than is commonly espoused, including by this article.

Reproductive success—males being preferred here seems plausible in pre-civ h-g, due to their exacerbated desirability because of physical ability. But this thing about marriage and so on seems wholly irrelevant to pre-civ.

War, homocide, and so on—more things wholly irrelevant to pre-civ.

The author calls the article a deep-dive into ethnography, but it ends up meandering into progressivist-apologia. I won't investigate the progressivist claims in detail (if anyone does, please share), but claims about poverty declining is unfortunately well-known to be mere statistics fibbing.

Saying that anthropologists are simply "being too nice" is the same rubbish Kaczynski came up with in his critique of an-prim.

Summing up: lots of cherry-picking that's extrapolated to universal truth (which just isn't a valid way of doing anthropology), lots of things wholly unrelated to pre-civ; largely unconvincing as a whole. Reads like liberal apologia. Kaczynski's critique of an-prim is much better, though with many problems of its own (which I won't get into here). I concede that I suspect h-g aren't clones, and that they weren't all living affluent wonderful lives—but I would've conceded that before reading this article as well.

Voluntary return to h-g
I disagree that we can voluntarily return to h-g, due to global dimming. I reproduced the footnote from Desert in another thread, but I'll do so here too:

Industrial pollution has increased aerosol particles in the atmosphere which are thought to reflect sunlight back into space and seed clouds. If one could somehow turn off global industry tomorrow, this dimming effect would disappear and surface temperatures could rise significantly, almost immediately. This could push feedback mechanisms into place, with massive increases in greenhouse gases being emitted by non-human managed systems. Lovelock says for this reason he thinks we are living in a “fool’s climate” — damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Here I have outlined a very simple (and therefore flawed) picture of a very complex process. For a better stating of the theory, see Meinrat Andreae et al. ‘Strong present-day aerosol cooling implies a hot future’, in, [i]Nature, 30 June 2005. For a more approachable (if simplistic and partially out of date) intro to global dimming watch BBC’s 2005 ‘Global Dimming’ documentary, ( The masking affect is now widely accepted but its extent is still unknown. For instance in a 2008 study by the Met Office Hadley Centre models showed either a modest or severe increase in heating following a sudden removal of haze. Either way “It is very likely that present-day aerosol cooling is suppressing a major portion of current greenhouse warming.” — Peter Stott et al., ‘Observed climate change constrains the likelihood of extreme future global warming’, in, Tellus B, 60: pp. 76–81, 2008. Among the advocates of purposeful geo-engineering the idea of increasing global dimming by dumping sulphates into the stratosphere seems to be gaining support, oh joy.. It’s worth underlining that by the time you read this much of the science will have been superseded/advanced.[/i]

I have not been persuaded that this can be "fixed". So I do not think a voluntary h-g exists. Odin says it would take several hundred years. We don't have several hundred years c.f. climate change.

Involuntary return
I don't think we will see full-on h-g. There's too much debt. The nuclear fallout alone is gonna make uninformed nomadic lifestyles too dangerous. Odin alludes to this. It seems much more likely we'll have a mix, or something in-between, the awful post-apocalyptic nightmare trope of pop culture, and small, primarily sedentary, hubs that rely on mutual aid to get by.

The reproduction of daily life and collectivism
It may not come as a surprise, but I think that Perlman was 100% right.

This No True Anarchist thing that anarchists love to pull, where they say that "oh, no, anarchism works very well, it's just that it eventually gets destroyed like in Ukraine/Spain, but that's not a problem with anarchism, that's everyone else being a buzz kill!", is on par with "no no no Leninism isn't True Socialism." Yes, I understand where you're coming from, but to say that the failure of the Spanish revolution wasn't the failure of anarchism is obtuse. How is it not a failure of anarchism to not be able to effectively take root, and weather the storm? Anarchism has been an abject failure. And this is the reason I would disagree with h-g that a return of the primitive, in the sense of "let's be nomadic h-g", would be a bad idea even if feasible, because what happened the last time we were nomadic h-g? We ended up in this big mess that we're in. And I don't want that.

It seems to me that Krishnamurti was right to assert that «the Communist revolutions have completely, totally failed, because those revolutions were reactionary revolutions; they were a reaction against what is. The Communist revolution was the reaction to Capitalism […] and when you react, it produces the same pattern in a different form.» And he was also correct when he elucidated on the precise nature of their error: «they think by changing the structure you are going to change the human being. This has been the Communist problem, this has been the eternal problem: that is change the environment then you change man. They have tried that in ten different ways and they haven't done it, succeeded in changing man. On the contrary man conquers the environment as such.» Krishnamurti also pointed out that you are the world; so if you want to change the world -- actually change the world -- change yourself.

Tolstoy put it well: «The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order and in the assertion that, without Authority there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that anarchy can be instituted by a violent revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power and by there being more and more people who will be ashamed of applying this power.» Tolstoy powerfully concludes his essay on the failure of anarchism thus: «[I]n our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.»