The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The H-G lifestyle and you
Tom Smith

I'm on the side of the cavemen on this one.  I think the average hunter-gatherer is certainly happier than the average peasant farmer and probably happier than the average salary worker.  On a trip I took with my family unit to the Amazon, I was impressed by how happy and content, even to the point of arrogance, the local Indians were, or seemed to be, as colonial and all that as this sounds.  They spent most of their time fishing, and seemed to like to fish. A very large river ran through it.   I'm sure their life expectancy was less than ours, but they did not seem overly stressed.  By contrast life among the very poor, especially the poor children, of Lima, seemed to be a veritable hell on earth.  If I were behind the veil of ignorance and could choose hunter in a rich environment like the Amazon, or associate at a big law firm, I would go with the hunter gig.  OTOH there is this downside.

WELCOME Instapunditeers.  Here is some background if you're interested.  The original "Zen affluence" argument among H-G's appeared (as far as I know) in Marshall Sahlins's book Stone Age Economics.  It seems pretty crunchy-granola now and perhaps somewhat dated, but I think it has had a considerable influence on anthropologists.  A more recent book, very nicely written, of special interest to carnivores among you is The Hunting Apes.  I think everything by Craig Stanford is worth reading (based on my sample) and he writes unusually well for a scientist.  Here is the classic study of the fierce Yanomamo people.  They kill their enemies for fun, find mates via kidnapping and rape, and blow their minds with powerful hallucinogens. It's a heckovva life-style.  See also this book.  (On the other end of the planet, those darn Eskimos cannot be beat.  The Book of the Eskimos is fascinating and an absolute hoot, written pre-PC.  Little travel tip:  when visiting the Inuit or other iceland H-G's, bring your own food, or a very open mind.)  H-G's seem to spend as much of their time stoned as they can, and the rain forest is a veritable cornucopia of vines, leaves, berries and bark that will fry your squash.  If wandering through the forest with a blow-gun looking for monkeys to shoot while baked on plant-acid sounds like fun, have I got a jungle for you.  Substitute rifle, coon and moonshine, and you have a fair bit of the American Southland.  And just for the heck of it, let me provide this link to the magazine published by my best friend from grade school.  That's him with the dead water buffalo (or big mean bull-like thing anyway).  I don't mean to imply that modern, responsible hunters drink and shoot -- a very stupid idea, obviously.

http://rightcoast.typepad.com/rightcoast/2007/10/the-h-g-lifesty.html

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Comments

Could it be that the hunter/gatherers depend on on-one but themselves - are pretty much self-sufficient, but city-dwellers are dependent on their government (which in Peru, apparently takes but little interest in them - much like the Mexican government)?

Posted by: ZZMike | Oct 19, 2007 10:55:33 AM

The problem is trying to find a good gatherer.

Posted by: enemyofthepeople | Oct 19, 2007 12:20:08 PM

The problem is that hunter gatherers generally can't generate enough military power to protect their land from settled people who want it. Thus they tend to get pushed off into the most marginal land which is of virtually no use to anyone else.

Posted by: Kevin | Oct 19, 2007 6:58:03 PM

I suppose that's true, until you get a headache. Or a hook in your thumb that becomes infected. Or you want some quality time with your mate and she doesn't want to have another baby.

Whoops, gotta go. The pop tarts are ready and I'm about to start Halo 3. See you H-Gs later.

Posted by: Bill Peschel | Oct 19, 2007 7:12:51 PM

*Of course* they looked content, even arrogant. You don't want to look timid and nervous in a hunter-gatherer society. After all, since nobody's actually producing any food (or much of anything else, for that matter), every bite you or your descendants eat is taken out of the mouths of each of your fellow hunter-gatherers or *their* descendants--unless, that is, they can see through to taking you out before your next swallow.

Have a look at the research on violence in pre-agricultural societies--the odds can be as high as 60 percent that your death will be at the hands of another hunter-gatherer tired of having to share his hunting-and-gathering grounds with you (or interested in your spouse, of course). That's how they keep the population low enough that they can hunt and gather on the same territory for many generations and still look better than those Peruvian slum-dwellers you mentioned.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Oct 19, 2007 8:56:03 PM

"Of course they looked content, even arrogant. You don't want to look timid and nervous in a hunter-gatherer society. After all, since nobody's actually producing any food (or much of anything else, for that matter), every bite you or your descendants eat is taken out of the mouths of each of your fellow hunter-gatherers or "their" descendants--unless, that is, they can see through to taking you out before your next swallow."

And this would be different from being an associate in a big city law firm...How?

Posted by: Jay Currie | Oct 19, 2007 10:14:19 PM

While the general drift of this post has a lot of truth in it - I spend a lot of time in remote places becuse I do, after all, find myself happier there - your "veil of ignorance" qualifier is important. A lot of the spoiled people who wax poetic about the wonderful life of the H-G (oh, my bad, make that G-H, since the former is no longer politically correct) would be totally miserable even if they had the appropriate skills. (and they generally do not, and have no idea what living in such a way entails) It takes more than certain skills, it takes a mindset - and I think that mindset is responsible for much of the happiness you're talking about.

Posted by: Tim in PA | Oct 19, 2007 10:44:17 PM

I think that mindset is responsible for much of the happiness you're talking about

That and an IQ of about 80

Posted by: Moe | Oct 20, 2007 12:14:26 AM

Don't be absurd. If H-G were so pleasurable, you'd find that people spent their leisure time gardening, or going fishing or shooting.

Posted by: dearieme | Oct 20, 2007 8:26:40 AM

dearieme is being sarcastic.

Posted by: USD Law Student | Oct 20, 2007 5:24:10 PM