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Dishonest ethnocentrism concerning primitive people
#1
We all know that the whole "everyone back then died at 15" shtick is bullshit. But what about "infant mortality?" I recall reading a paper about the dishonesty of using infant mortality rates in primitive people as an argument, when "infant mortality" is a very ethnocentric concept. Saying that uncivilised people had high infant mortality in general simply doesn't make sense unless we qualify what "infant mortality" entails.

In some countries, what we would call "infant mortality," would have the same status that "abortions" have in western countries where abortion isn't considered very controversial. Two typical scenarios would be 1) a woman, possibly with an entourage, goes into the bushes, delivers a baby, and then comes out of the bushes, sometimes with the baby, sometimes without the baby, and 2) a group of nomads has been low on food for a few months, and needs everyone contributing in gathering and hunting, so they kill a (somewhat) newborn baby to ease the burdens of the group. These things would be no more controversial than an abortion would be in Norway. Viz., it wouldn't be done lightly, and there would be a great deal of sadness, but it wouldn't be treated with the scorn that murder is treated to.

Now — to the problem. I don't recall what that paper was! And I can't seem to find any other papers about it. I talked to JZ about it, but he didn't seem to know either. Right now all I've found is Godesky talking about a similar thing in, but without citing any sources.


Quote:Among the !Kung, a pregnant woman goes into labor, and walks off into the bush (I’m told that childbirth is significantly less an ordeal among those who are not malnourished — affluently or otherwise). Maybe she comes back with a child; maybe she doesn’t. Either way, no questions are asked. So, our calculations of forager lifespans are quite unfair — if we’re going to include their infanticide, then we must include our own abortions. To do otherwise would simply be ethnocentric. In fact, when we do that, we see that forager lifespans are as long as, and sometimes longer, than our own.[0]

Does anyone know of other papers or articles about this? I'm also interested in other dishonest ethnocentrism, like IQ, "reasoning ability," &c.


[0]  https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/...ey-re-wron
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#2
(Mon, 17 Apr 2017 22:57:17 +0000, 10:57 PM)alexander Wrote:
Quote:Among the !Kung, a pregnant woman goes into labor, and walks off into the bush (I’m told that childbirth is significantly less an ordeal among those who are not malnourished — affluently or otherwise). Maybe she comes back with a child; maybe she doesn’t. Either way, no questions are asked. So, our calculations of forager lifespans are quite unfair — if we’re going to include their infanticide, then we must include our own abortions. To do otherwise would simply be ethnocentric. In fact, when we do that, we see that forager lifespans are as long as, and sometimes longer, than our own.[0]

If I remember correctly that quote "a pregnant woman goes into labor, and walks of into the bush. Maybe she comes back with a child, maybe she doesn't. Either way, no questions are asked." that quote, I'm pretty sure, is directly taken from Elizabeth Thomas' The Old Way, which was an account of her staying among the !Kung people. A very good book, I'd recommend it, as well as her other books The Harmless People and Warrior Herdsmen, and Colin Turnbull's The Forest People along the same lines.

In regards to infant mortality rates though, I'd like to bring up Papua New Guinea. The country has over 7 million people, yet 97% of its land area is still owned tribally and 87% or around 6 million live in rural areas.

According to the United Nations Population Fund as cited by Wikipedia;
"The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Papua New Guinea is 250. This is compared with 311.9 in 2008 and 476.3 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 69 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5's mortality is 37. In Papua New Guinea the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is 1 and the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women is 1 in 94."

So 6.9% or about 1 in 14 people die before they reach age five, and at its highest one in every 210 births ended in death of the mother.

Now, this is a far cry from the claims of anti-primitivists saying that infant mortality was so bad that mothers had to bear half a dozen children just to match replacement rates and childbirth being the most common death of women and such. Even if families had 5 children apiece, only one out of three loses a child before the age of 5. If the perfect replacement rate is taken to be 2, and this was the only externality, the replacement rate would only have to go up to 2.14 to compensate. That is less on the order of a pervasive struggle limiting their society and more on the order of everyone knows someone who lost a child sort of thing.

Regarding infanticide, I'd like to note that that probably makes up a good portion of that 37% of neonatal deaths.

One thing does really confuse me about Papua New Guinea though; in 1980 the population was 2.85 million. How far back do you have to go before you find a stable population that the island presumably had since the discovery of agriculture in the highlands of the island? Why has this population gone up so much and at rates comparable to modernised populations elsewhere when the populace there still lives in such traditional lifestyles? I feel like these statistics would have been even lower back then, and that they are as high as they are due to population pressure.
[url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papua_New_Guinea#cite_note-SOWMY-72][/url]
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#3
Very interesting. The Old Way is actually already on my book wish list (and so's the Turnbull book). Thanks for the info!

I suspect the "half a dozen children" myth comes from entirely civilised times with agriculture. Anyone know the infant mortality rates of early civilisation, farmers under feudalism, &c? It seems likely that agriculture is the big culprit. Longevity definitely suffered massive hits due to agriculture and civilisation.

Interesting case with Papa New Guinea — thanks for bringing it up.
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#4
(Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:07:23 +0000, 09:07 PM)alexander Wrote: I suspect the "half a dozen children" myth comes from entirely civilised times with agriculture. Anyone know the infant mortality rates of early civilisation, farmers under feudalism, &c? It seems likely that agriculture is the big culprit. Longevity definitely suffered massive hits due to agriculture and civilisation.

Just a quick search, but I couldn't find anything agreeing on a number. I searched for the 1400s to 1600s when I couldn't find any information on the dark ages that wasn't refering to plagues, and came across these numbers:
2/3rds to 4/5ths
1/2
1/3
8/9
1/5

Hmm, something seems wrong here, though I can't quite figure out what's going on.
I did find statistics of infant mortality from the 1950s across the world, and almost 1/4th of all the countries in the world at that time had 1/5th or more of their children die before age five, so I guess some of those late medieval ages numbers could be accurate.
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#5
This is a big subject, there are parts that can be deflated easily and parts that can be overly romanticized as well. The Old Way stories are common amongst the !Kung and Nisa goes into it at length as well. Nisa tells a story in there about one of her kids rejecting another, so she gave birth and left the child in the bush until the other kid said they wanted their sibling. It sounds kind of brutal from our perspectives, but it's a great way to move past years of potential issues between siblings. 

The numbers flush out pretty well in terms of longevity once you consider that as a child makes it to 1, 5 or 15 that their life expectance increases drastically. There's also a lot of cultural presumptions and understandings about the possibility of horrible things happening, such as losing a child (more likely to happen than infanticide amongst nomadic HGs). The role of community is important. 
I go into this at length in my essay 'Society Without Strangers' which is in Black and Green Review no 4. The primary focus on the essay is talking about violence, in particular the homicide rates amongst hunter-gatherers. Here's a little chunk relevant to this: 
Quote: So why are we drawn to community? What pulls us closer to each other?
      There are many possible answers to these kinds of questions. We tend to focus on biological ones: stripping away the emotion and wants of our social animality. There are truths to the biological explanations, but those approaches don’t really get at the heart of the matter.
      I believe we enjoy the solace that we offer each other. We find joy in the company, care and companionship that we have to offer each other. In healthy communities, we can air our frustrations, we can sing and dance them away: we can ritualize the conflicts that arise from the reality of life and death.
      We can rely on each other to help cope with the difficulties that can come with living.
      And there are many things about living that can be complicated. There are many reasons why we might end up snapping, much like the aardvark burrow dwelling !Kung man. Or like the 18.2% of Americans who suffer from mental disorders.[/url]
      One of those reasons is a high rate of infant mortality among nomadic forager societies.
      Stillbirths, miscarriages, and other sources of infant loss are suffered silently within Modernized societies. In terms of industrialized, First World nations, the United States is actually fairly high with an average of 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000. No doubt, the advancements of technology in terms of prolonging life play a huge role in this, but, like all things civilized, the U.S. stands out in terms of a massive gap in access to that kind of technological health care. Children of poor families are nearly five times more likely to lose a child within the first year compared to wealthy families.[url=#_edn2][ii]

      This is stark in contrast to the Batek where about 25% of infants died within their first two years. It is worth noting that during that same period, malaria was the prime killer and one that arose from contact with civilization.[iii]
      This kind of number is one that is hard to hear.
      That is due, in large part, to the fact that within civilized societies, we don’t speak about things like infant mortality. Statistically it is far less significant than in nomadic forager societies under active colonization, but 6.1 deaths per 1,000 births are not none. We carry these losses personally and, as a culture, refuse to acknowledge them.
      In refusing to acknowledge tragedy, we create trauma.
      It becomes easy to look at the society without strangers through the same kind of potential for punishment that we have been instilled with. Living without strangers shouldn’t be seen that way. Losing anonymity means that mourning and loss become communally understood, felt and accepted. We care for each other, empathize with each other, and help deal with bad things that can happen.
      We help with the bad things that do happen.
      And within nomadic forager societies, infant mortality is one of those things.
      As mentioned earlier, toddlers become children when they begin to have signs of autonomy: when they begin to interact with others within the community on their own. This is a coping mechanism. Once a nomadic forager child passes the test of the first couple years, their chances of living to old age increase greatly. “Young babies are,” within nomadic forager societies, “an extension of the mothers’ self, until they start to communicate and interact with others, independently.”
      There are cultural acknowledgements and beliefs to contextualize the potential for loss. The “Aka believe that dead young babies come back again reborn as other babies.” Seen as an extension of the mother, the loss of infants “registers with the community as a failed birth, rather than as the death of a person.”[iv]
      This recognition and acknowledgement of a potentially demolishing experience of losing a child doesn’t take away how infants and toddlers are treated. As stated earlier, they are loved, coddled, held close, and engaged with passionately by the community at large.
      The interests of the child to be are always upheld. It is part of the ecological awareness that comes with mobility that nomadic foragers will make decisions based on ensuring that children within the group are loved and never neglected. Infanticide, when it does occur amongst the !Kung, occurs “with the stated goal of enhancing the quality of care and survival of existing children and to avoid caring for seriously defective children, almost certain to fail.”[v]Among the Batek, infanticide only occurred in cases of babies born with severe physical deformities.[vi]
      It is equally unfair to talk about the rates of infant mortality within nomadic forager societies, which seemingly are far greater than those within countries like the United States, without acknowledging some caveats: of the recorded instances of pregnancy in the US in 2012, 15% ended in abortions.[vii]A fate that is arguably far less sufferable than being born unwanted by uncaring parents who feel the moral and social obligation to maintain the pregnancy.
      If you include those statistics and consider the rate of unwanted children within civilized societies, it’s hard to believe that we really have it better off.
      From the perspective of the nomadic forager, there is an acceptance that not all children who are born will live and they have adapted for it. It may be impossible to say how much the realities of contact and colonization have increased rates of infant mortality, but considering scum like Pinker have included the killing of children among foragers by colonizing agents such as loggers and miners, it’s impossible to think that both the direct killing and stress it carries haven’t increased that number.
      But the point remains, it is the understanding of what can happen and the readiness of the community to help heal, foster and move on, ushered with a cultural acceptance that the spirit of the child will likely return, that it wasn’t ready, all turn a potentially traumatizing situation, one that I think every living being wishes to avoid, into something that isn’t emotionally endemic.
      The processes of mourning and healing are made public. 
      These losses, unthinkable as they may be, are not settled in isolation.
     
The care of children is tantamount to the survival of the group.
      Alongside adultery, the primary cause of arguments among the Agta is “careless or irresponsible use of a bush knife or bow and arrow within a campsite where onlookers, particularly children might be injured.”[viii]Mothers have been known to even go to blows with other women for verbally reprimanding their children.[ix]
      Everything is out in the open. There are no personal problems that escape the empathy of the group. The community exists to nurture each other.
      In our own society, we bury that pain, that conflict. We ironically live in fear of what may happen to us as a result of external forces while we blind ourselves to the things that are likely to happen.
      Within the United States, the top ten leading causes of death have almost no reflection in the fear mongering politics of control. Almost all of those causes of death are preventable illness (cardiovascular, certain cancers, and diet related). “Accidents” are the fourth leading cause of death, which includes drug overdose, medical mistakes, and automotive collisions. But while suicide is barely trailing influenza and pneumonia, homicide (including terrorism) doesn’t make the list.[x]
      We return to the Others.
      We focus on the common enemy so we can foster an artificial sense of group identity as we stumble through the motions of a social animal living in a sore replacement for community.
      We suffer, alone. Together.



[/url][i]Victoria Bekiempis, ‘Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Suffer Mental Illness’. [i]Newsweek. 2/28/14. Accessed on September 26, 2016: http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-ameri...ear-230608

[url=#_ednref2][ii]Christopher Ingraham, ‘Our Infant Mortality Rate is a National Embarrassment’. Washington Post, 9/29/14. Accessed on September 26, 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk...rrassment/
[iii]Endicott and Endicott, 2008. Pg 114.
[iv]Bird-David, 2005. Pg 97.
[v]Konner, 2005. Pg 20.
[vi]Endicott and Endicott, 2008. Pg 114.
[vii]Percentage figured using the following data: ‘A Visual Guide: Abortion in America’ CNN
http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/27/health/abortion-in-america-charts-and-graphs-trnd/
2012 Abortions: 699,202 and ‘Births: Final Data for 2012’ National Vital Statistics Report
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_09.pdf. A total of 3,952,841 births were registered in the United States in 2012. 15.03% of total pregnancies (births plus abortions).
[viii]Peterson, 1978. Pg 10.
[ix]Kelly, 2000. Pg 37.
[x]Center for Disease Control, ‘Leading Causes of Death’. 2015. Accessed on September 26, 2016: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-...-death.htm
[/i][/i]

Also wrote an essay on infanticide about a decade ago, 'Sticks, Stones, and Nursing Homes'
https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/...aitor#toc7
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