Monday, 7 May 2012

And some people call them...PRIMITIVE

The other day I shared this picture on FB, which seemed to be slightly controversial with a friend of mine :P, who proceeded to list why this was misleading and untrue. I agree that  the picture was slightly oversimplified and idealistic, but i think it made some valid points and was a reminder that civilization and technology does not necessarily make us better off (and thus tribes/hunter gatherers are not 'backward' as the word 'primitive' implies).

Ok first, let's talk about stress. Do hunter gatherers constantly stress about where their next meal is coming from, and spend all their time hunting and foraging? I doubt it. Not all anyway. There seems to be evidence to suggest that  hunter-gatherer tribes in the past actually had an abundance of food, as do many tribes currently living their traditional ways. Food abundance was probably more common in the past - until overpopulation and exhaustion of resources led to agriculture ( it has been proposed that agriculture was borne out of desperation ). Granted, modern day hunter gatherers are suffering at the hands of fucking Monsanto and greedy westerners who are destroying their land. But the !Kung have been observed to only hunt for 3 hours a day and the rest of the day they talk, play, relax, etc. Three hour work days! Doesn't sound so stressful to me..
        Sure they may experience stress when they are actively hunting their food, but this is acute stress. They do not suffer from the chronic stress that is endemic in today's world where people constantly worry/stress about work, deadlines, traffic, their boss, their social drama, etc etc. They also don't suffer the physiological stress most westerners suffer from late nights (disruption of the circadian rhythm) and a diet full of sugar and processed carbs. So I would say that actually tribes-people have MUCH less stress than many westerners.

So what about the bombs, prisons, crime, war? Yes violence in hunter gatherer societies is common. Yes the homicide rate millions of years ago was much higher than it is now (and in fact that rate probably contributed to their low life expectancy, so anyone who says we shouln't eat a high fat meat rich diet as our ancestors died at a young age...there ya go! )). They didn't have full scale war though as human density was pretty low.  But who's to say that was better or worse than todays war/genocide? It may happen less now than it did then, but it still happens. Some evidence suggests violence was an integral part of our evolution, and perhaps violence is just part of the human condition. Something not even 'civilisation' can eradicate.

- Junk food? What?! Sure, if you take some hunter gatherers and give them a bunch of burgers and fries when they're hungry they will probably eat it, as they don't know about trans fats, preservatives, refined sugar, wheat flour etc. They simply do not have junk food available to them. In the paleolithic area it didn't exist. Therefore they are way healthier than most westerners by the fact they eat natural REAL food humans are designed to eat. Simples.

- External debt? Yeah, tribes live within their own small communities and as a result don't worry about external debt. Or money. Pretty straightforward.

- No pollution. No argument there. Tribespeople live in remote clean untouched areas of the world (well some do anyway). Thousands of years ago, the entire Earth was pollution free. Humans now have destroyed most of it. But I'm sure most would agree a beautiful green clean earth would be a nicer place to live than a smoky polluted chemical filled, grey one, no?

-And finally poverty. Yes, it's hard to define poverty. The argument was that hunter gatherer tribes live a much harder life than the poorest person in a city. As I have stated earlier, I don't agree this is always the case. Furthermore, it has been shown (and it makes sense) that if one has enough food to eat, a shelter, and a strong supportive community, material wealth does not increase happiness. So tribes who have this would be much better off than some homeless inner city drug addict. Also, ever heard of journalists going to remote places in Africa where the kids are the happiest they've ever seen despite having much much less than the average westerner? And look at the west;  depression among adolescents is the highest it's ever been. Hmm, something to think about no?

In summary, I believe that a traditional hunter gatherer lifestyle and a modern day western lifestyle both have their benefits and drawbacks. Sure I appreciate technology and the fact I am much less likely to be killed today than millions of years ago, as well as the fact if I got a nasty infection or I accidentally cut off my hand, I'm more likely to survive than die. But our bodies have not evolved as fast as civilization. Some modern tribes and our hunter gatherer ancestors enjoy(ed) fresh air, the outdoors, a healthy diet and less chronic stress. So yes, in some ways they are luckier than us. I try to live my life taking advantage of modern inventions (due to necessity or preference) while appreciating the need to enjoy nature, sleep well, take time to relax and enjoy things I like, and eat a "human appropriate" natural diet. Perhaps embracing the 'best of both worlds' instead of completely lambasting one or the other, would do many of us good..

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