Egret and crab

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Stick it, white man

Cahokia Mounds, Illinois
If you have an interest in cultural anthropology, there is a very interesting article at the New Yorker, Early civilizations had it all figured out by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. 

It is not an easy read but it is thought provoking. Could it be that we have been devolving in some way since we have forsaken our more primitive ways?

Societies were categorized by evolutionary stage on the basis of their mode of food production and economic organization, with full-fledged states taken to be the pinnacle of progress.

But it was also possible to think that the Neolithic Revolution was, all in all, a bad thing. In the late nineteen-sixties, ethnographers studying present-day hunter-gatherers in southern Africa argued that their “primitive” ways were not only freer and more egalitarian than the “later” stages of human development but also healthier and more fun.

Apparently some early indigenous cultures also did not take kindly to following other people's rules. Hmmm, I get it. And maybe we know much less about humanity's past than we think we do.

“Nowadays, most of us find it increasingly difficult even to picture what an alternative economic or social order would be like,” they write. “Our distant ancestors seem, by contrast, to have moved regularly back and forth between them. If something did go terribly wrong in human history—and given the current state of the world, it’s hard to deny something did—then perhaps it began to go wrong precisely when people started losing that freedom to imagine and enact other forms of social existence.”

This wasn’t a matter of sheer forgetfulness, they say. It was by design. At least some of the Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, they tell us, were bewildered and appalled by the strange European custom of giving and taking orders. Their judgments were widely circulated in the Europe of the early Enlightenment, where Indigenous people were often featured in dialogues meant to criticize the status quo. At the time, they were typically dismissed as the rhetorical sock-puppetry of canny European heretics. For how could “Natives” credibly engage with political constitutions or deliberate over consequential decisions?

“The Dawn of Everything” makes a persuasive case that what was passed off as Indigenous criticism of European political thinking was, in fact, Indigenous criticism of European political thinking. These Indigenous objections could be safely deflected only if they were seen as European ventriloquism, not ideas from another adult community with alternative values. 

Unfortunately there appears to be no going back.

If we accept that the rise of agriculture meant the rise of the state—of political élites and intricate structures of power—then all we can do is tinker around the edges. Even if we regard the Paleolithic era as a garden paradise, we know that our reëntry is forever barred. For one thing, the requirements of hunting and gathering could support only some trivial fraction of the earth’s current population. A life under government control now seems inescapable.

Damn.  Of course the primitive cultures were not homogeneous either, even neighboring cultures.

In a 1903 essay, the anthropologists Marcel Mauss and Henri Beuchat described the routine organizational reversals in Inuit communities. These groups spent their summers fishing and hunting in small cohorts under the possessive—and coercive—authority of a single male elder. Graeber and Wengrow describe how then, as the winter brought an influx of walruses and seals to the shore, “the Inuit gathered together to build great meeting houses of wood, whale rib and stone,” where “virtues of equality, altruism and collective life prevailed. Wealth was shared, and husbands and wives exchanged partners.”

In the Pacific Northwest, men of rank among the Kwakiutl held lavish, greasy potlatches and took war captives as slaves; their neighbors to the south of the Klamath River, the Yurok, prized restraint and self-denial, and committed themselves to modes of subsistence that rendered slavery, which they found morally repugnant, unnecessary.

Interesting piece. 


I'm trolling Breitbart. Please check out the comments on this article. Won't be hard to figure out who I am. Add a comment if you feel the inclination.


Michael Flynn says that America needs to be a land with only one religion under god. Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel says that he is with him.

Which is kind of funny since Mandel, the grandson of holocaust survivors, is not of the religion that Flynn thinks should be the only game in town.

And Mandel's opponent is making Mandel's Jewish religion a talking point in his campaign. Now, which of these guys is a bigger slimeball?

"In terms of antisemitism, all I did in an ad was pointed out that Josh is going around saying he's got the Bible in one hand and the constitution in the other. But he's Jewish,” Pukita said. “Everybody should know that though, right?"

Pukita was referring to a radio ad created by his campaign that criticized Mandel for courting evangelical Christians and frequently visiting churches on the campaign trail.

“Are we seriously supposed to believe the most Christian-values Senate candidate is Jewish?” a voice actor asks in Pukita’s radio ad. “I am so sick of these phony caricatures.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I'm awaiting delivery of "Origin Story" by Christenson (?) which I believe comes to some of the same conclusions...will let you know after I get into it. Shelley has been listening to it (and raving) on an audiobook...I prefer the hard copy.