Furthest Right

Debunking The Noble Savage Myth: Hunter-Gathers Were Not Pacifists Or Egalitarians

The Left lies effectively because they use an echo effect. The big papers say the same things, so do the hip blogs and lifestyle magazines, and then when you type in an internet search, all of the results say that same thing because it is popular and therefore it is assumed that this is what you want.

This causes your average person to take a casual look at any topic, see nothing but Leftist propaganda, and assume not only that it is all true, but that to parrot it would make them look enlightened and wise. This happens because Leftist propaganda is based on ironism, or life not being as it appears by common sense to be.

That enables Leftists to have secrets that you do not know. You think the world is logical; well, try again! They have some “revolutionary” new theory about how down is up and up is down, and since you do not know it, you are less than they are.

Such is the case with Leftist propaganda about hunter-gatherers, who the Left insists were both peaceful and egalitarian. These notions comprise part of the “noble savage” myth which states that whatever the first world did to succeed is actually bad because primitive peoples were more “enlightened” than us.

The noble savage myth stabs back at the obvious reality, which is that primitive cultures are in fact savage and unpleasant, and that we in the West rose above that through principles of civilization, duty, and pursuit of actions that complemented what we saw as a natural order and human hierarchy innate to existence.

For this reason, as soon as they could find someone to claim what they wanted to hear, Leftists of all stripes went to work out there repeating the lies and shouting down anyone who noticed otherwise. Witness the germ of the propaganda:

During the twentieth century, anthropologists discovered and studied dozens of different hunter-gatherer societies, in various remote parts of the world, who had been nearly untouched by modern influences. Wherever they were found–in Africa, Asia, South America, or elsewhere; in deserts or in jungles–these societies had many characteristics in common. The people lived in small bands, of about 20 to 50 persons (including children) per band, who moved from camp to camp within a relatively circumscribed area to follow the available game and edible vegetation. The people had friends and relatives in neighboring bands and maintained peaceful relationships with neighboring bands. Warfare was unknown to most of these societies, and where it was known it was the result of interactions with warlike groups of people who were not hunter-gatherers. In each of these societies, the dominant cultural ethos was one that emphasized individual autonomy, non-directive childrearing methods, nonviolence, sharing, cooperation, and consensual decision-making. Their core value, which underlay all of the rest, was that of the equality of individuals.

We citizens of a modern democracy claim to believe in equality, but our sense of equality is not even close that of hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer version of equality meant that each person was equally entitled to food, regardless of his or her ability to find or capture it; so food was shared. It meant that nobody had more wealth than anyone else; so all material goods were shared. It meant that nobody had the right to tell others what to do; so each person made his or her own decisions. It meant that even parents didn’t have the right to order their children around; hence the non-directive childrearing methods that I have discussed in previous posts. It meant that group decisions had to be made by consensus; hence no boss, “big man,” or chief.

If just one anthropologist had reported all this, we might assume that he or she was a starry-eyed romantic who was seeing things that weren’t really there, or was a liar. But many anthropologists, of all political stripes, regarding many different hunter-gatherer cultures, have told the same general story.

…When you read about “warlike primitive tribes,” or about indigenous people who held slaves, or about tribal cultures with gross inequalities between men and women, you are not reading about band hunter-gatherers.

There at the very end you can see the sleight-of-hand: we go from talking about all hunter-gatherers to talking about a specific variety, “band hunter-gatherers,” so that the Leftist talking can extrapolate from one subtype to the whole group.

That is like saying that all white people like deep dish pizza because white people in Chicago like it. He follows this with a lengthy explanation of how hunter-gatherers were not like those primitive Amazon tribes who actually cultivate food, because as soon you engage in agriculture, you are no longer fully egalitarian.

We hear that riff a lot, too. Hunter-gatherers are peaceful but the people who bothered to create civilization, they were the baddies because… they were unequal. Now we are following up an assumption — that all hunter-gatherers are band hunter-gatherers, and that those are peaceful and egalitarian — with another, which is that inequality is the cause of violence.

This is “science,” remember, where you can make all sorts of wide-eyed assumptions that would never be accepted in a halfway decent humanities program because your fellow “scientists” do not understand critical thinking and probably lack the brains to do it. They are ignorant of philosophy, literature, and other disciplines that require not only balancing multiple variables, but dealing with a great amount of ambiguity, which apparently is too much for their tiny little brains. This is why STEM departments churn out robots and English departments graduate a few people of clear thought each year, in addition to the memorization drones that blight every level of education.

That “inequality means violence, so equality means peace” riff comes straight out of the 1960s playbook. People love the idea of pacifism, especially women, because they just want to be accepted for being human, and to stop struggling to do what is right instead of simply participating. It is an understandable desire, but also bad thinking.

Coming on the heels of the previous Leftist nonsense which decided that not only were hunter-gatherers peaceful, but that they were early socialists, now you can read about how poverty kept them from experiencing inequality:

The researchers believe sexual segregation and male dominance in most cultures appeared following the advent of agriculture, as more resources became available.

“There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged,” Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London.

“Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organisation, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans,” he said. “It’s an important one that hasn’t really been highlighted before.”

…Only when more resources became available, did sexual inequality emerge according to their hypothesis published in Science. This may quite be the case, if we’re to judge from how these sort of people live. Women are involved both in collecting honey and hunting, albeit not as much as men, but at the end of the day, despite there’s a division of labor, the calories each sex brings to the table is fairly equal.

Not only were they socialists, but feminists, too! If you were not aware before that you were reading propaganda, there are enough red flags in this article to make even the most credulous Soviet pause and look covertly over his shoulder. As the old joke goes, in the USSR, you may not be interested in government… but government is interested in you!

Brushing that aside, we can look at their thesis: when people are impoverished, food is divided equally and women contribute as well as men. As with all types of middle class nitwittery, there is a bigotry against wealth among the audience for this piece, and so the authors played up to it.

Yet we should consider what it means for a group to be impoverished. If they are impoverished, they do not have enough for non-contributors, so “share equally” means “share among the contributors” because the group is on perpetual desperation rations. They are all dependent on each other not through cooperation, but because of the fact that their efforts to gain calories are failing. There are no artists, thinkers, composers, or intellectuals being subsidized by the egalitarian hunter-gatherer non-state here. There are only people grabbing whatever they can and dividing up the meager hoard roughly equally because the tribe is so close to starving that they need as many able bodies out there as possible hunting and gathering.

What this means is that the tribe had the same approach before wealth as they do after it. When there is little food, everyone gets a tiny bit, but when there is more food, those who contribute more, get more. Why? Mainly because when there is not much food, people are actually near death, so if you need ’em you feed ’em.

Now that we have use logical analysis to point out where these Leftist assumptions are wrong, let us look at the science of how hunter-gatherers were neither egalitarian nor peaceful which somehow just slipped the minds of all those Leftists busily typing their fawning articles in praise of impoverished socialism:

The hunter-gatherers of East Africa and the Kalahari were unrepresentative in the sense that before the advent and spread of agriculture, hunter-gatherers inhabited not only marginal land that agricultural and pastoralist societies were unable to use and did not want, as they do today, but also mainly lived in the world’s most fertile environments.

…However, after the initial spate of enthusiasm for the peaceful children of the earth, their chief researcher, the Rousseauan Richard Lee,[3, 4] discovered that before the imposition of state authority, these people had more than four times the 1990 homicide rate in the United States, which was by far the highest in the developed world. Similarly, in titles such as Never in Anger, the Inuit of mid-Arctic Canada, one of the sparsest populations on earth, were celebrated as being peaceful.[5] However, it was later revealed that their rate of violent mortality was ten times higher than the United States’ 1990 rate.[6]:145,7

…The tribal-zone theory’s brief moment ended in 1996 with the publication of Lawrence Keeley’s War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage.[27] Other wide-ranging studies of the evidence[28-32] arrived at remarkably similar conclusions. They all found that there was widespread violence and warfare among both hunter-gatherers and prestate horticulturalists, which resulted in rates of violent death as high as 25% of adult males and 15% of the adult population. Pinker has drawn wide public attention to these finds.[33]

there was widespread violence and warfare among both hunter-gatherers and prestate horticulturalists, which resulted in rates of violent death as high as 25% of adult males and 15% of the adult population

A similar reversal was almost simultaneously taking place with respect to animal violence. Konrad Lorenz’s claim in the 1960s[34] that fighting between animals of the same species is mostly “ritualistic” and mainly involves display has been refuted by field studies that have found high rates of intraspecific killing throughout nature. This is also true of our closest cousins, the chimpanzees, among which intragroup killing, as well as in intergroup fighting and killing to the point of group extermination have been documented.[35-40]

Now we have left ironism behind: things are as common sense would dictate, especially since there is a contiguous pattern demonstrated in animal societies. Primitive tribes were constantly at war, and this did not change when they adopted agriculture and became wealthy, nor were they egalitarian, mainly because they were constantly killing each other, possibly to remove free riders.

The Leftist mythos tells us that when everyone was equally starving, they all worked together in perfect harmony and had no sense of “individualism” or “ego” that made some want to rise above others and have more. They had empathy and that is why they all decided to starve together.

A more sensible retelling looks at modern human behavior: a bunch of slackers gathered together and decided to ostracize or kill anyone who raised the standard above doing a minimal amount of labor. Farming and organized hunts take more effort, so the slacker solution was to scrape up whatever they could and share it so that the group was unified against anyone who might implement social order, organization, agriculture, and — uh oh — hierarchy.

Interestingly, the more effective hunter-gatherer groups were not egalitarian at all:

Kodiak’s Alutiiq and their neighbors, the Eastern Aleutian (Fox) islanders as well as several Northwest Coast “tribes,” such as the Tlingit, shared characteristics such as intertribal warfare, prestige economies including long distance trade in prestige valuables, institutionalized social inequality (social ranking), and slavery. Like these other neighboring groups, Kodiak’s inhabitants subsisted on a mix of fish, sea mammals, shellfish, birds, and plant products. In the traditional terminology of anthropologists, they were hunter-gatherers, but not typical of hunter-gatherers as they have been best known to ethnographers of the 20th century. These were relatively complex hunter-gatherers.

In other words, if you want an effective civilization, you are going to need social ranking and some way to punish the useless people (namely, by enslaving them). The main difference between “complex hunter-gatherers” and “band hunter-gatherers” is that the former were more intelligent and more effective, while the latter languished in poverty.

If we are to be clear in our terminology, we might refer to complex hunter-gatherers — who refused to adopt agriculture even when they traded with other tribes who used it — as simply successful hunter-gatherers. The core of this success was the inequality caused by direct competition:

Herbert Maschner of Idaho State University argues equally forcefully that warfare and other forms of direct competition on lead to inequality; warfare was endemic, for example, on the Northwest Coast.

Unlike “noble savage” theories, this fits with what we know is true of humans today. When people have nothing, they punish anyone who rises above so that the rest of the group is not challenged to excel. When they reverse this process, and reward those who rise above, they gain complex societies and wealth.

In other words, the Leftists have it backwards: wealth is not the cause of inequality; inequality is the cause of wealth.

For a simple example, imagine a tribe where one man is a better hunter than the rest. When he leads the hunting party, they bring back twice as much meat. If they do not reward him, he will simply slumber in contentment with the rest, since he will be punished for wanting more. If they do reward him, everyone eats better, but a natural and inevitable hierarchy will emerge.

Have some more Leftist insanity from someone who argues that social stratification leads us to treat others as objects:

At the same time the stronger sense of ego created a fundamental lack of empathy between human beings. They became more ‘walled off’ to one another, and as a result it became much more difficult for them to empathise with others and to ‘feel with’ them. The individual’s own ego-generated needs and desires began to take precedence over the well-being of others. Other human beings become mere objects, which the individual feels he is entitled to actually use to help satisfy his desires. As a result the brutal oppression and exploitation which is always a feature of stratified societies became possible. The nobles and landowners of feudal societies were so ‘walled off’ within their own psyche – and consequently had such limited ‘fellow-feeling’ – that they did not consider their serfs or peasants to be human beings.

Let us turn this around: the competent see the incompetent as a threat because the incompetent, being unaware of their incompetence, will seize power if given a chance and revert society to band hunter-gatherer levels of poverty, disorganization, and filth.

In this view, hierarchy arose not from the ego, but from practical concerns about competence. The ego may have followed that, but generally, those of less ability seem more egotistical, so that too could be wrong. And the grim fact is that with specialization of labor, people are “using” each other anyway.

When we view this question from the right side around, we see that hunter-gatherers were forced to select a hierarchy based on ability in hunting and war, and may in fact have been more hierarchical because higher population pressure than agrarian societies:

Constant warfare was necessary to keep population density down to one person per square mile. Farmers can live at 100 times that density. Hunter-gatherers may have been so lithe and healthy because the weak were dead. The invention of agriculture and the advent of settled society merely swapped high mortality for high morbidity, allowing people some relief from chronic warfare so they could at least grind out an existence, rather than being ground out of existence altogether.

All of this suggests that, as usual, Leftists have inverted the debate over hunter-gatherers. First they made certain ideas taboo, and then removed them in order to keep an ideological mythos — Rousseauian “noble savages” — from imploding from its own inner contradictions.

That creates a false narrative of hunter-gatherers as early Communists, feminists, and pacifists, when in fact the exact opposite was true. Even more, the Left may have poisoned so much of the narrative that we do not see the likely possibility that “band hunter-gatherers” were a later invention, produced in response to agriculture:

Ethnographically described foragers may be a biased sample that only continued to exist because they occupied marginal habitats less coveted by agricultural people.3 In addition, many foragers have been greatly influenced by their association with more powerful agricultural societies.4 It has even been suggested that Holocene foragers represent a new niche that appeared only with the climatic changes and faunal depletion at the end of the last major glaciation.5

In other words, “band hunter-gatherers” were those driven out of agriculture society by an inability to compete, and their “egalitarianism” may actually reflect a lack of motivation to do more than the minimum. Their ways are far from peaceful, and their nonexistent social order guarantees constant instability.

Our ancestors most likely were “complex hunter-gatherers” who had strong social hierarchy based on ability, allowed the weak to perish, and went after larger animals instead of bush meat, which fit with their higher IQs and general ability, and this was the group that transitioned to farming.

Or, the Left gets it exactly one hundred and eighty degrees wrong, again.

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