Yours portly is back at school, which always gets me thinking about the future of our civilization. Children are the future, allegedly, and the Bible pretty much says that if you’re a bad teacher who leads kids astray, you’re going to Hell—yikes! In short, there’s a big responsibility to do the job well, and not to screw up the kids, since they’ll be running things in thirty or forty years or so.
Of course, our mode of living is quite different from the hunter-gatherers of yore—and those of today. Their lives are substantially different from our own, to the point they’d likely survive whatever catastrophic event might destroy the rest of us here in the “civilized” world.
Still, for all the problems that come with civilization, I rather like it. Air-conditioning and Hot Pockets are pretty nice luxuries, and I like knowing I can get a pizza in thirty minutes if I really want one. The only hunting I have to do is hunting for a coupon; the only gathering is picking my figs (and my neighbor mostly does that).
Nevertheless, we’d all do well to take a page from the hunter-gatherer’s playbook and appreciate the simple things in life—and maybe work a few less hours each day. Well, maybe.
With that, here is 25 August 2021’s “Rebuilding Civilization: The Hunter-Gatherer“:
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.
4 thoughts on “TBT: Rebuilding Civilization: The Hunter-Gatherer”
It’s about leverage isn’t? Hunter gatherers don’t enter into contracts with others. They don’t specialize labor. That someone else might be able to deliver them goods and services in exchange for something of theirs more efficiently does not interest them.
But they don’t really create wealth. It’s nearly impossible to create wealth when the relationship of effort to output is slopes no more upward than a straight line. It’s nearly impossible to create wealth without leverage. Find a big gold nugget? Great for you. Find a gold-mine?You’re going to need help.
But when great deleveragerings (made up word) occur, contracts become unenforceable, because… e.g. … that meteor just crashed into the planet… the miners stop coming work… the lives of the hunter/gatherer are changed less.
Always though, I think humans provided they are not extinguished will reform some measure of cooperative society. Hunter gatherers have to be able to do everything. That’s just too bloody difficult under normal circumstances. But during moments when shit is colliding into fan blades, it’s a big asset.
But always some degree of independence has value. No one can take it from you unless your dead … and then who cares anyway?
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Thanks for your insightful analysis, Steven. I do think humans are social creatures, and we are destined to build complex social bonds and hierarchies (although I suppose the hunter-gatherers have avoided doing so, or at least to a degree as complex as ours).
Thanks Tyler. 🙂
I don’t think you give yourself enough credit, regarding surviving an apocalypse. Have you been in the scouts or something like it? Do you know how to forage? Do you know what to forage for? How to build shelter? Light a fire for warmth or food? If you do, you’d be fine.
As kids in a poverty stricken neighbourhood, my brother and I were great at getting what we wanted. Yes, in intervening years, things have been more comfortable for us but you never forget the basics. As for a zombie apocalypse, that’s easy. Always a head shot! Like The Strangler’s once sang, nice and easy does it! 🙂
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My survival and foraging skills are lacking. Unlike your rough and tumble childhood, I grew up in the lap of lower-middle class luxury (which then moved to solidly middle class), but we had to scrimp and save, so I did learn how to stretch a dollar and to do things for myself.