Thanks to Audre Myers of Nebraska Energy Observer I have a new commenter on the blog, 39 Pontiac Dream, a proper English gent of the old school (or so I gather). He very kindly shared some links with me from The Conservative Woman (or TWC as it is styled on its website), a site both Audre and Neo have recommended to me many times. One of those links was to an intriguing piece by Stuart Wavell, “The next civilisation.”
Our culture has an obsession with apocalyptic scenarios: massive plagues (a bit too relevant at the moment); zombie uprisings (always a popular one); massive meteor impacts (a bit retro—a favorite of the 1990s). Perhaps it’s a sign of a moribund and decadent culture that we fantasize about most of human life ending and starting the whole thing over from scratch.
When we indulge in these celluloid and literary fantasies, I suspect the inherent assumption is similar to those who want to restore absolute monarchies: we assume that we will survive the collapse, just as the would-be monarchists assume they will be king (or at least some important member of the nobility).
Chances are, most of us (yours portly included) would die quite quickly, either from the cataclysm itself, or from the bands of marauding raiders that would inevitably rise up in the wake of such a collapse. If those didn’t get us, it would be starvation, disease, or our own inability to assess danger that would do us in.
Wavell makes a similar point, with an interesting caveat: while those of us softened and doughy by the abundance of civilization would find ourselves in the pickle brine, the isolated, self-sufficient hunter-gatherers of the world—and they are still out there!—would be just fine, as they have been for millennia.
The piece gives a look into the life and mentality of the hunter-gatherer, a mentality that is quite different from that of us living in the gilded luxury of the modern world. The split all began, Wavell writes, with the plough, and “it all went downhill” after that, according to the hunter-gatherers.
The life of the hunting-gathering society is tough, but filled with a respect for Creation—and a surprising amount of leisure, especially compared to our workaholic lives. As Wavell writes:
No one is impartial enough to say which of the two lifestyles is best. Neither side would swap their lives for the other’s. But during the recent lockdowns, furloughed workers had a taste of hunter-gatherers’ leisurely existence. This consists of putting in on average four hours a day for hunting, gathering and cultivation, the rest of the time devoted to song and dance, eating, sex, stories and games.
During the glorious summer months I lived like a hunter-gatherer (minus the butchering of narwhal blubber for sustenance, as the Inuit do), putting in about four hours of work (and often less) each day on lessons, writing, or gardening, and otherwise relaxing (there wasn’t dancing or naughtiness, but plenty of song, stories, and games). I can attest that it’s pretty amazing operating on such a time frame. But living completely off the land at a subsistence level, hunting squirrels and rabbits to survive, would seem impossible to me—just as my indolent lifestyle would seem impossible to the hunter-gatherer.
Still, there is a certain quiet nobility to the hunter-gatherer that Wavell captures. The stories and legends of various tribes across vastly different biomes contain common threads: a respect for Nature, and a rejection of empty materialism:
A sobering tale for our times is recounted by Pygmies of the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As they tell it, the world once teemed with technically advanced humans who, after abusing nature, were virtually wiped out on three occasions by cataclysms. The Pygmies, the only survivors, thereupon renounced material riches and set about repopulating the planet.
Perhaps their time will come again.