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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 11:55 AM
Original message
NPR: For Early Man, It Wasn't Easier Being Green
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11...

For Early Man, It Wasn't Easier Being Green

by Christopher Joyce

August 23, 2009

Archaeologists who study early hunter-gatherer societies are discovering that even the simplest cultures altered their environments, whether they meant to or not.

For example, aboriginal people in Australia burned huge areas to change the landscape so they could hunt animals more easily. Perhaps the most famous example is the way mastodons and giant sloth and other ice-age animals were killed off by roving bands of hungry humans.

Torben Rick, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, says the notion of hunter-gatherers living in perfect harmony with their environment is going the way of the dodo (another animal extinguished by early humans). He says he's discovered that indigenous people even altered America's coastlines, thousands of years ago.



"The take-home point to some extent is that humans do things to make their life easier," Hames says. "It was really hard to make a living back then, so you know, you took advantage of the knowledge and skills you had in order to make the environment useful to you."

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Javaman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 11:10 AM
Response to Original message
1. Good thing they didn't have plastic back then. nt
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:57 PM
Response to Reply #1
6. Honestly, while plastic is a problem, I think it's far from our worst problem
It's just a tool.
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Javaman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 03:49 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Yeah, a tool that will be around way long after we are gone. nt
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 09:06 PM
Response to Reply #7
11. Evolution will decompose our plastic eventually.
There are already strains of algae that enjoy eating our plastic in the oceans.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 11:32 AM
Response to Original message
2. Our brains and overall genetics haven't changed much since then
Edited on Mon Aug-24-09 11:34 AM by GliderGuider
The main things that have changed are our numbers and our mythology. Now there are a whole lot of us, and our beliefs are now defended in terms of technology and economics. The numbers mean we need a lot more resources, and the technology (especially writing) has allowed us to build up an impressive efficiency in our nature-decimation activities.

I do think that H-G societies tended to be more egalitarian than today's, which would be a nice thing to get back to. Maybe when we're back down to a few hundred million things will change...
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iiibbb Donating Member (658 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 11:42 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. Egalitarian?
How on earth do you get that notion? The biggest and strongest ruled the roost. Warring tribes used to wipe out others.

Maybe they existed... certainly small communities can be tight knit... but that's a heck of an assumption.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 01:34 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Some info on egalitarianism in H-G societies
http://foragers.wikidot.com/egalitarianism

Its a complex subject, but I'll stand by my statement.
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iiibbb Donating Member (658 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 01:46 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. I see... academics have a tendency to expand word meanings...
They have several caveats right after they use the word.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 06:45 PM
Response to Reply #4
10. You are 100% correct.
Hunter gatherer societies are too interdependent to have rigid hierarchical structures. The claim that "the biggest snd strongest ruled the roost" is straight out of reich-wing social Darwinism.
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 09:11 PM
Response to Reply #10
12. Hierarchies had to form somehow.
You don't just go from not having them to having them. The shaman is the more likely source for these hierarchies, since in every known tribe they exploit the individuals by conjuring up mysticism and withholding information (if a shaman can cure a sickness with some herbs it is not in that shamans interest to share the herbs, and this is exactly what we see in modern tribes).

Also, one cannot overlook the power of the head hunters in modern tribes, they also have a class distinction whereby they have more power over others (such as having a choice for mates and the like). I would argue, however, that the shaman is the source for the main problems.

The only actually egalitarian tribe that I know of (and I have studied this extensively) are the Aka. The "egalitarianism" that acedemics write about in many other tribes is down to the fact that these groups are small and their specilization is minimal at best, so everyone is mostly equal.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 10:25 PM
Response to Reply #12
14. .
Edited on Wed Aug-26-09 10:29 PM by kristopher
You might want to dig a little deeper into the profile of what hunter-gatherer societies were like and how they functioned. They are, by nature small groups where specialization was highly prized. Both male and female rolls were critical and cooperation was the watchword. If someone chose to leave it left a big gap and forcing someone to stay with coercion was simply not an option given the rather open nature of living in nature as a hunter-gatherer.
The group size limit was a result of certain efficiencies associated with the number of skills needed. It generally worked out to where when groups grew to the point where this interdependence eventually diminished as duplicate labor within the group resulted in fewer compromises, the group splintering back towards the optimum size. As I recall that was between 25-75 people or so.

The Aka practice agriculture and animal husbandry. They aren't HGs.
Co-incidentally agriculture and animal husbandry are considered the key element to explain hierarchies.

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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 01:24 PM
Response to Reply #14
19. The Aka only started practicing agriculture in the past 150 years.
It's actually ironic in that sense, because before they had a high hunter class, but when the colonials killed off much of the big game, the hunter classes had to take a back seat.

http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/hewlett/Introaka.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aka_people#Lifestyle

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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 01:40 PM
Response to Reply #14
23. BTW, I'd be interested in reading about modern "HG tribes" that practice egalitarianism.
There may be one or two I don't know about, I'd be interested in reading about some you find virtious. Note that I will not like any tribes that practice infanticide, have gender classes, hunter classes, or mystic classes. And generally if the tribe is violent I will be less impressed by any so called claims of "egalitarianism" or "lacking hierarchies."
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 02:18 PM
Response to Reply #23
25. "You will not like"???
Look if you want to butt your head against the accepted product of all anthropological research I know of then be my guest; but I have no interest in reinventing the wheel or pointlessly rehashing whether the body of work regarding egalitarianism in HGs meets your personal standards of like-ability.

Let me review how your reasoning fails instead. Reviewing what you wrote before: "Hierarchies had to form somehow. You don't just go from not having them to having them. The shaman is the more likely source for these hierarchies, since in every known tribe they exploit the individuals by conjuring up mysticism and withholding information (if a shaman can cure a sickness with some herbs it is not in that shamans interest to share the herbs, and this is exactly what we see in modern tribes).

Also, one cannot overlook the power of the head hunters in modern tribes, they also have a class distinction whereby they have more power over others (such as having a choice for mates and the like). I would argue, however, that the shaman is the source for the main problems.

The only actually egalitarian tribe that I know of (and I have studied this extensively) are the Aka. The "egalitarianism" that acedemics write about in many other tribes is down to the fact that these groups are small and their specilization is minimal at best, so everyone is mostly equal."


So in a group of 50, it is in the interest of a healer/herbalist to withhold such assistance? How would that work? What would fear get the healer that gratitude and enlightened self interest fail to deliver? Who should be sacrificed; a hunter; a person skilled in fishing, someone good at constructing lodging; someone that tracks; someone that makes clothing; someone skilled at knapping?

Which member of the group is expendable and how does letting the person die enhance the prestige of the shaman - is failure the way you enhanced your career? Not even referring to the way you are sort of schizoid** in what egalitarian means and the way you seem to be rejecting established understanding, your illustration just doesn't make sense.

No, in spite of your claims to extensive study I don't think you've mastered the basic concepts involved in this discussion. I'm guessing that you didn't start with the basics but instead started with the Aka case study and interpreted what you read without the proper foundation. I'm not trying to be insulting but the contradiction in your last para quoted above** is hard to explain any other way. For example, is this something like the definition you are using? If not, that may be the source of your seeming confusion.
Google > "Define: egalitarian"
- a social relationship in which neither member of a social pair consistently wins when the two have social conflicts
pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/glossary

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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 03:25 PM
Response to Reply #25
26. So show me some tribes you know of.
I have no interest in reinventing the wheel or pointlessly rehashing whether the body of work regarding egalitarianism in HGs meets your personal standards of like-ability.

All it takes it one link. I state that the Aka is the best I can find. Show me better. It's simple. I stated some things that would disqualify any tribal linkage you could make, unless you knew of a tribe I did not. This is what upsets you.

So in a group of 50, it is in the interest of a healer/herbalist to withhold such assistance?

Who said anything about withholding assistance?

Which member of the group is expendable and how does letting the person die enhance the prestige of the shaman - is failure the way you enhanced your career?

Who said anything about letting someone die?

You seem to not appreciate how coercive relationships work. It starts with first creating the perception of need. A hunter who kills large game can give the perception of being "more needed" than someone else. But if the large game is removed, necessity says "well, we need to be more creative in how we hunt," and then women, in the case of the Aka, are "allowed" to hunt, too! There are of course others, the Aka are not the "only" tribes which have female hunters (the Matses come to mind).

Likewise, a shaman need only create the *perception* of being needed, even if many of their "remedies" are worthless psychoactive drugs. Many shamen create concepts such as witches and devils, and when they fail to actually create a real cure, you know what they have been known to do? They send their freaking people off to war a nearby clan because the clan "poisoned" them! No, really! Witches, demons, devils, and the like.

Not even referring to the way you are sort of schizoid** in what egalitarian means and the way you seem to be rejecting established understanding, your illustration just doesn't make sense.

I think you have taken "cure sickness" and "not sharing herbs" the wrong way. A shaman most certainly would happily do whatever it is that they could with the (arguably scientific) understanding that they have gleaned from the environment. They would try their best to actually, truely, heal someone who was sick. But they would not give out the ingredients, give out the various plants, give out the *knowledge* of healing, only to their successors, not to anyone else. *They* are the sole arbitrators of power here. This is why they are heavily relied upon.

However, we do see instances where tribes have shared knowledge, even when it comes to healing aspects (aloe vera-like plants are comonly shared, and certain chews are shared and commonly known). The shaman always takes it beyond mere science and understanding and utilizes mysticism.

No, in spite of your claims to extensive study I don't think you've mastered the basic concepts involved in this discussion.

If you want to get into this further I would be happy to, but your insults aren't necessary.

I'm guessing that you didn't start with the basics but instead started with the Aka case study and interpreted what you read without the proper foundation.

Nah, I started ith Zerzan-esque propaganda, then I actually *read* about the tribes they were upholding with such high regard. Then I searched, fervently, for a tribe that was as egalitarian as possible, and only found one. Now, I have challenged you to show me another, but you know that the premise on which it is based is damn difficult to get around.

The "proper foundation" I'm sure would be something entirely different from your point of view, but my point of view is egalitarianism, therefore I am highly interested in the extent to which it exists in tribes. What we have here by you is the basic argument that "retribution makes people play nice." But we know that's simply not the case, because exploitation can easily be justified by any manner of variables.

I'm not trying to be insulting but the contradiction in your last para quoted above** is hard to explain any other way.

There's no contridiction because you clearly didn't even want to try to see where I was coming from.

For example, is this something like the definition you are using? If not, that may be the source of your seeming confusion.

1 : a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs
2 : a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people

I think our definitions match, for the most part. Though it is pretty amazing that you chose to use your definition (in a discussion about egalitarianism in tribes). Your definition is active, mine is passive. You think it is egalitarian when two people have essentially a hold over one another (neither "wins"), whereas I chose a definition that closer advocates there being no "competition" to begin with.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 05:54 PM
Response to Reply #26
27. Zerzan-esque???
I prefer the work and perspective of Marvin Harris myself. You ascribe the theories involved in agriculture being the key element in development of complex, hierarchical cultures as a reflection of a fringe, PhD drop out. I see them as a product of work over decades by some of the finest anthropologists in the field. That appears to strongly support my point about the basics you are lacking.

Our definitions definitely do not match. Again, it is extremely informative that you fail to appreciate the distinction and the ramifications of the distinction. The definition I offered is preferred because it isn't oriented around a belief system that flails around trying to fit itself like an overlay on dis-similar cultures. Instead it is boils the essence of egalitarianism in action down to a measurable, identifiable act. This consequences of the difference in definitions aren't trivial, they are fundamental. All of the anthropological writings use a definition very similar to what I provided. That alone should convince you that your perspective is suspect.

You wrote, "I stated some things that would disqualify any tribal linkage you could make". Read that carefully: "I stated some things that would disqualify any tribal linkages you could make."
In other words, you've attempted to gerrymander a sub-definition to exclude what the actual definition does not. That too is the mark of someone that is fixated on manipulating the facts to make them fit their preconceptions rather than someone who adjusts their understanding as facts challenge their preconceptions. This tendency is itself a mark of someone that lacks the basics that inform their method of learning.

Life Without Chiefs By Marvin Harris

Can humans exist without some people ruling and others being ruled? To look at the modern world, you wouldnt think so. Democratic states may have done away with emperors and kings, but they have hardly dispensed with gross inequalities in wealth, rank, and power.

However, humanity hasnt always lived this way. For about 98 percent of our existence as a species (and for four million years before then), our ancestors lived in small, largely nomadic hunting-and-gathering bands containing about 30 to 50 people apiece. It was in this social context that human nature evolved. It has been only about ten thousand years since people began to settle down into villages, some of which eventually grew into cities. And it has been only in the last two thousand years that the majority of people in the world have not lived in hunting-and-gathering societies. This brief period of time is not nearly sufficient for noticeable evolution to have taken place. Thus, the few remaining foraging societies are the closest analogues we have to the natural state of humanity.

To judge from surviving examples of hunting-and-gathering bands and villages, our kind got along quite well for the greater part of prehistory without so much as a paramount chief. In fact, for tens of thousands of years, life went on without kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents, parliaments, congresses, cabinets, governors, and mayors--not to mention the police officers, sheriffs, marshals, generals, lawyers, bailiffs, judges, district attorneys, court clerks, patrol cars, paddy wagons, jails, and penitentiaries that help keep them in power. How in the world did our ancestors ever manage to leave home without them?

Small populations provide part of the answer. With 50 people per band or 150 per village, everybody knew everybody else intimately. People gave with the expectation of taking and took with the expectation of giving. Because chance played a great role in the capture of animals, collection of wild foodstuffs, and success of rudimentary forms of agriculture, the individuals who had the luck of the catch on one day needed a handout on the next. So the best way for them to provide for their inevitable rainy day was to be generous. As expressed by anthropologist Richard Gould, The greater the amount of risk, the greater the extent of sharing. Reciprocity is a small societys bank.

In reciprocal exchange, people do not specify how much or exactly what they expect to get back or when they expect to get it. That would besmirch the quality of that transaction and make it similar to mere barter or to buying and selling. The distinction lingers on in societies dominated by other forms of exchange, even capitalist ones. For we do carry out a give-and-take among close kin and friends that is informal, uncalculating, and imbued with a spirit of generosity. Teenagers do not pay cash for their meals at home or for the use of the family car, wives do not bill their husbands for cooking a meal, and friends give each other birthday gifts and Christmas presents. But much of this is marred by the expectation that our generosity will be acknowledged with expression of thanks.

Where reciprocity really prevails in daily life, etiquette requires that generosity be taken for granted. As Robert Dentan discovered during his fieldwork among the Semai of Central Malaysia, no one ever says thank you for the meat received from another hunter. Having struggled all day to lug the carcass of a pig home through the jungle heat, the hunter allows his prize to be cut up into exactly equal portions, which he then gives away to the entire group. Dentan explains that to express gratitude for the portion received indicates that you are the kind of ungenerous person who calculates how much you give and take: In this context, saying thank you is very rude, for it suggests, first, that one has calculated the amount of a gift and, second, that one did not expect the donor to be so generous. To call attention to ones generosity is to indicate that others are in debt to you and that you expect them to repay you. It is repugnant to egalitarian peoples even to suggest that they have been treated generously.

Canadian anthropologist Richard Lee tells how, through a revealing incident, he learned about this aspect of reciprocity. To please the !Kung, the bushmen of the Kalahari desert, he decided to buy a large ox and have it slaughtered as a present. After days of searching Bantu agricultural villages for the largest and fattest ox in the region, he acquired what appeared to be a perfect specimen. But his friends took him aside and assured him that he had been duped into buying an absolutely worthless animal. Of course, we will eat it, they said, but it wont fill us up--we will eat and go home to bed with stomachs rumbling. Yet, when Lees ox was slaughtered, it turned out to be covered with a thick layer of fat. Later, his friends explained why they had said his gift was valueless, even though they knew better than he what lay under the animals skin:

Yes, when a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We cant accept this, we refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.

Lee watched small groups of men and women returning home every evening with the animals and wild fruits and plants that they had killed or collected. They shared everything equally, even with campmates who had stayed behind and spent the day sleeping or taking care of their tools and weapons.

Not only do families pool that days production, but the entire camp--residents and visitors alike--shares equally in the total quantity of food available, Lee observed. The evening meal of any one family is made up of portions of food from each of the other families resident. There is a constant flow of nuts, berries, roots, and melons from one family fireplace to another, until each person has received an equitable portion. The following morning a different combination of foragers moves out of camp, and when they return late in the day, the distribution of foodstuffs is repeated.

In small, pre-state societies, it was in everybodys best interest to maintain each others freedom of access to the natural habitat. Suppose a !Kung with a lust for power were to get up and tell his campmates, From now on, all this land and everything on it belongs to me. Ill let you use it but only with my permission and on the condition that I get first choice of anything you capture, collect, or grow. His campmates, thinking that he had certainly gone crazy, would pack up their few belongings, take a long walk, make a new camp, and resume their usual life of egalitarian reciprocity. The man who would be king would be left by himself to exercise a useless sovereignty.

THE HEADMAN: LEADERSHIP, NOT POWER

To the extent that political leadership exists at all among band-and-village societies, it is exercised by individuals called headmen. These headmen, however, lack the power to compel others to obey their orders. How can a leader be powerful and still lead?

The political power of genuine rulers depends on their ability to expel or exterminate disobedient individuals and groups. When a headman gives a command, however, he has no certain physical means of punishing those who disobey. So, if he wants to stay in office, he gives few commands. Among the Eskimo, for instance, a group will follow an outstanding hunter and defer to his opinion with respect to choice of hunting spots. But in all other matters, the leaders opinion carries no more weight than any other mans. Similarly, among the !Kung, each band has its recognized leaders, most of whom are males. These men speak out more than others and are listened to with a bit more deference. But they have no formal authority and can only persuade, never command. When Lee asked the !Kung whether they had headmen--meaning powerful chiefs--they told him, Of course we have headmen! In fact, we are all headmen. Each one of us is headman over himself.

Headmanship can be a frustrating and irksome job. Among Indian groups such as the Mehinacu of Brazils Zingu National Park, headmen behave something like zealous scoutmasters on overnight cookouts. The first one up in the morning, the headman tries to rouse his companions by standing in the middle of the village plaza and shouting to them. If something needs to be done, it is the headman who starts doing it, and it is the headman who works harder than anyone else. He sets an example not only for hard work but also for generosity: After a fishing or hunting expedition, he gives away more of his catch than anyone else does. In trading with other groups, he must be careful not to keep the best items for himself.

In the evening, the headman stands in the center of the plaza and exhorts his people to be good. He calls upon them to control their sexual appetites, work hard in their gardens, and take frequent baths in the river. He tells them not to sleep during the day or bear grudges against each other.

COPING WITH FREELOADERS

During the reign of reciprocal exchange and egalitarian headmen, no individual, family, or group smaller than the band or village itself could control access to natural resources. Rivers, lakes, beaches, oceans, plants and animals, the soil and subsoil were all communal property.

Among the !Kung, a core of people born in a particular territory say that they own the water holes and hunting rights, but this has no effect on the people who happen to be visiting and living with them at any given time. Since !Kung from neighboring bands are related through marriage, they often visit each other for months at a time and have free use of whatever resources they need without having to ask permission. Though people from distant bands must make a request to use another bands territory, the owners seldom refuse them.

The absence of private possession in land and other vital resources means that a form of communism probably existed among prehistoric hunting and collecting bands and small villages. Perhaps I should emphasize that this did not rule out the existence of private property. People in simple band-and-village societies own personal effects such as weapons, clothing, containers, ornaments, and tools. But why should anyone want to steal such objects? People who have a bush camp and move about a lot have no use for extra possessions. And since the group is small enough that everybody knows everybody else, stolen items cannot be used anonymously. If you want something, better to ask for it openly, since by the rules of reciprocity such requests cannot be denied.

I dont want to create the impression that life within egalitarian band-and village societies unfolded entirely without disputes over possessions. As in every social group, nonconformists and malcontents tried to use the system for their own advantage. Inevitably there were freeloaders, individuals who consistently took more than they gave and lay back in their hammocks while others did the work. Despite the absence of a criminal justice system, such behavior eventually was punished. A widespread belief among band-and-village peoples attributes death and misfortune to the malevolent conspiracy of sorcerers. The task of identifying these evildoers falls to a groups shamans, who remain responsive to public opinion during their divinatory trances. Well-liked individuals who enjoy strong support from their families need not fear the shaman. But quarrelsome, stingy people who do not give as well as take had better watch out.

FROM HEADMAN TO BIG MAN

Reciprocity was not the only form of exchange practiced by egalitarian band-and-village peoples. Our kind long ago found other ways to give and take. Among them the form of exchange known as redistribution played a crucial role in creating distinctions of rank during the evolution of chiefdoms and states.

Redistribution occurs when people turn over food and other valuables to a prestigious figure, such as a headman, to be pooled, divided into separate portions, and given out again. The primordial form of redistribution was probably keyed to seasonal hunts and harvests, when more food than usual became available.

True to their calling, headmen-redistributors not only work harder than their followers but also give more generously and reserve smaller and less desirable portions for themselves than for anyone else. Initially, therefore, redistribution strictly reinforced the political and economic equality associated with reciprocal exchange. The redistributors were compensated purely with admiration and in proportion to their success in giving bigger feasts, in personally contributing more than anybody else, and in asking little or nothing for their effort, all of which initially seemed an innocent extension of the basic principle of reciprocity.

But how little our ancestors understood what they were getting themselves into! For if it is a good thing to have a headman give feasts, why not have several headmen give feasts? Or, better yet, why not let success in organizing and giving feasts be the measure of ones legitimacy as a headman? Soon, where conditions permit, there are several would-be headmen vying with each other to hold the most lavish feasts and redistribute the most food and other valuables. In this fashion there evolved the nemesis that Richard Lees !Kung informants had warned about: the youth who wants to be a big man.

A classic anthropological study of big men was carried out by Douglas Oliver among the Siuai, a village people who live on the South Pacific island of Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. In the Siuai language, big men were known as mumis. Every Siuai boys highest ambition was to become a mumi. He began by getting married, working hard, and restricting his own consumption of meats and coconuts. His wife and parents, impressed with the seriousness of his intentions, vowed to help him prepare for his first feast. Soon his circle of supporters widened and he began to construct a clubhouse in which his male followers could lounge about and guests could be entertained and fed. He gave a feast at the consecration of the clubhouse; if this was a success, the circle of people willing to work for him grew larger still, and he began to hear himself spoken of as a mumi. Larger and larger feasts meant that the mumis demands on his supporters became more irksome. Although they grumbled about how hard they had to work, they remained loyal as long as their mumi continued to maintain and increase his renown as a great provider.

Finally the time came for the new mumi to challenge the older ones. He did this at a muminai feast, where both sides kept a tally of all the pigs, coconut pies, and sago-almond puddings given away by the host mumi and his followers to the guest mumi and his followers. If the guests could not reciprocate with a feast as lavish as that of the challengers, their mumi suffered a great social humiliation, and his fall from mumihood was immediate.

At the end of a successful feast, the greatest of mumis still faced a lifetime of personal toil and dependence on the moods and inclinations of his followers. Mumihood did not confer the power to coerce others into doing ones bidding, nor did it elevate ones standard of living above anyone elses. In fact, because giving things away was the essence of mumihood, great mumis consumed less meat and other delicacies than ordinary men. Among the Kaoka, another Solomon Islands group, there is the saying, The giver of the feast takes the bones and the stale cakes; the meat and the fat go to the others. At one great feast attended by 1,100 people, the host mumi, whose name was Soni, gave away thirty-two pigs and a large quantity of sago-almond puddings. Soni himself and some of his closest followers went hungry. We shall eat Sonis renown, they said.

FROM BIG MAN TO CHIEF

The slide (or ascent?) toward social stratification gained momentum wherever extra food produced by the inspired diligence of redistributors could be stored while awaiting muminai feasts, potlatches, and other occasions of redistribution. The more concentrated and abundant the harvest and the less perishable the crop, the greater its potential for endowing the big man with power. Though others would possess some stored-up foods of their own, the redistributors stores would be the largest. In times of scarcity, people would come to him, expecting to be fed; in return, he could call upon those who had special skills to make cloth, pots, canoes, or a fine house for his own use. Eventually, the redistributor no longer needed to work in the fields to gain and surpass big-man status. Management of the harvest surpluses, a portion of which continued to be given to him for use in communal feasts and other communal projects (such as trading expeditions and warfare), was sufficient to validate his status. And, increasingly, people viewed this status as an office, a sacred trust, passed on from one generation to the next according to the rules of hereditary succession. His dominion was no longer a small, autonomous village but a large political community. The big man had become a chief.

Returning to the South Pacific and the Trobriand Islands, one can catch a glimpse of how these pieces of encroaching stratification fell into place. The Trobrianders had hereditary chiefs who held sway over more than a dozen villages containing several thousand people. Only chiefs could wear certain shell ornaments as the insignia of high rank, and it was forbidden for commoners to stand or sit in a position that put a chiefs head at a lower elevation. British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski tells of seeing all the people present in the village of Bwoytalu drop from their verandas as if blown down by a hurricane at the sound of a drawn-out cry warning that an important chief was approaching.

Yams were the Trobrianders staff of life; the chiefs validated their status by storing and redistributing copious quantities of them acquired through donations from their brothers-in-law at harvest time. Similar gifts were received by husbands who were commoners, but chiefs were polygymous and, having as many as a dozen wives, received many more yams than anyone else. Chiefs placed their yam supply on display racks specifically built for this purpose next to their houses. Commoners did the same, but a chiefs yam racks towered over all the others.

This same pattern recurs, with minor variations, on several continents. Striking parallels were seen, for example, twelve thousand miles away from the Trobrianders, among chiefdoms that flourished throughout the southeastern region of the United States--specifically among the Cherokee, former inhabitants of Tennessee, as described by the eighteenth-century naturalist William Bartram.

At the center of the principal Cherokee settlements stood a large circular house where a council of chiefs discussed issues involving their villages and where redistributive feasts were held. The council of chiefs had a paramount who was the principal figure in the Cherokee redistributive network. At the harvest time a large crib, identified as the chiefs granary, was erected in each field. To this, explained Bartram, each family carries and deposits a certain quantity according to his ability or inclination, or none at all if he so chooses. The chiefs granaries functioned as a public treasury in case of crop failure, a source of food for strangers or travelers, and as military store. Although every citizen enjoyed free access to the store, commoners had to acknowledge that it really belonged to the supreme chief, who had an exclusive right and abilityto distribute comfort and blessings to the necessitous.

Supported by voluntary donations, chiefs could now enjoy lifestyles that set them increasingly apart from their followers. They could build bigger and finer houses for themselves, eat and dress more sumptuously, and enjoy the sexual favors and personal services of several wives. Despite these harbingers, people in chiefdoms voluntarily invested unprecedented amounts of labor on behalf of communal projects. They dug moats, threw up defensive earthen embankments, and erected great log palisades around their villages. They heaped up small mountains of rubble and soil to form platforms and mounds on top of which they built temples and big houses for their chief. Working in teams and using nothing but levers and rollers, they moved rocks weighing fifty tons or more and set them in precise lines and perfect circles, forming sacred precincts for communal rituals marking the change of seasons.

If this seems remarkable, remember that donated labor created the megalithic alignments of Stonehenge and Carnac, put up the great statues on Easter Island, shaped the huge stone heads of the Olmec in Vera Cruz, dotted Polynesia with ritual precincts set on great stone platforms, and filled the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi valleys with hundreds of large mounds. Not until it was too late did people realize that their beautiful chiefs were about to keep the meat and fat for themselves while giving nothing but bones and stale cakes to their followers.

IN THE END

As we know, chiefdoms would eventually evolve into states, states into empires. From peaceful origins, humans created and mounted a wild beast that ate continents. Now that beast has taken us to the brink of global annihilation.

Will natures experiment with mind and culture end in nuclear war? No one knows the answer. But I believe it is essential that we understand our past before we can create the best possible future. Once we are clear about the roots of human nature, for example, we can refute, once and for all, the notion that it is a biological imperative for our kind to form hierarchical groups. An observer viewing human life shortly after cultural takeoff would easily have concluded that our species was destined to be irredeemably egalitarian except for distinctions of sex and age. That someday the world would be divided into aristocrats and commoners, masters and slaves, billionaires and homeless beggars would have seemed wholly contrary to human nature as evidenced in the affairs of every human society then on Earth.

Of course, we can no more reverse the course of thousands of years of cultural evolution than our egalitarian ancestors could have designed and built the space shuttle. Yet, in striving for the preservation of mind and culture on Earth, it is vital that we recognize the significance of cultural takeoff and the great difference between biological and cultural evolution. We must rid ourselves of the notion that we are an innately aggressive species for whom war is inevitable. We must reject as unscientific claims that there are superior and inferior races and that the hierarchical divisions within and between societies are the consequences of natural selection rather than of a long process of cultural evolution. We must struggle to gain control over cultural selection through objective studies of the human condition and the recurrent process of history. Not only a more just society, but our very survival as a species may depend on it.

http://74.125.113.132/search?q=cache:HIoXlp5kEEgJ:onlin...


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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 08:18 PM
Response to Reply #27
28. I don't disagree with Marvin Harris here.
Edited on Fri Aug-28-09 08:19 PM by joshcryer
X equals Y thus X is always Y is the basic argument.

"Agriculture led to authoritarianism, thus all agriculture leads to authoritarianism."

I most certainly do not dismiss the historical analysis, I only disagree that this is a necessary outcome.

The definition you use allows for any manner of authoritarian behaviors to be deemed as "egalitarian," as long as those behaviors are confined to small groups without higher levels of technology with an abundance of natural resources. Basically this is the fundamental issue with yuppies and the noble savage ideal, and common throughout the literature.

In other words, you've attempted to gerrymander a sub-definition to exclude what the actual definition does not.

Your definition, not the definition as commonly used in society. The definition you supposedly think is superior for anthropological human observation. On a website about primates. However, I think it's obvious that under my definition things like gender classes, hunter classes, and mystic classes would fall under the definition.

I made a fatal mistake in thinking you actually wanted to have a discussion here, given how dismissive you've been and how you've twisted things around to benefit your view (such as saying that I would think it was a beneficial relationship in a tribe for a shaman to just let people drop dead, for instance).
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Name removed Donating Member (0 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 08:31 PM
Response to Reply #28
29. Deleted sub-thread
Sub-thread removed by moderator. Click here to review the message board rules.
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-29-09 12:35 AM
Response to Reply #23
30. Egalitarianism = universalism?
It seems you have some universal definition of egalitarianism, based on individualism.

My notion of "egalitarianism" is quite different. I don't think that some communities, societies or cultures (self proclaimed holders of universal truth) should dictate others how to live their lives, but real beauty and richness is variety, each community having their kind of way of living and social organization. What is "universalistic" in my view of egalitarianism is that ideally relationships between communities should be based on golden rule: living and letting live, not doing to other communities what a community would not want get done to it, e.g. destroying the natural environment so that it becomes unlivable.
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-29-09 02:08 AM
Response to Reply #30
31. It's a rather simple definition.
For me it is simply social equality, equal access to resources, equal access to things of nature. I think one reason the world is falling apart environmentally is that we don't allow for this equal, fair, sharing of planetary resources. This is directly the result of exploitation.

The planet is fully capable of coexisting with us, we don't have to destroy it for our species to thrive at the level of luxuries we've come to take for granted. We must simply stop wasting its resources in ways that prevent the planet from recycling our waste in ecological time frames.

For instance, industrial geoagriculture is a wasteful, unequal process. Only a few large congolmerates feed the world. Around a few million people. They synthesize nitrate fertalizers from natural gas deposits. They drain large aquifers. Those at the bottom of the scale only receive the grain. They don't touch the aquifers, some of the best water you will ever drink comes from the great midwest aquifer, some of that water is quite ancient. Natural gas has few uses, except for maybe heating. But even that is best done with thermally efficient housing.

Waste and pollution is the cornerstone of inequality, imo.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-29-09 02:16 AM
Response to Reply #31
32. In other words
equality means loosing self-importance, humans not deeming themselves more important than other forms of life? And inequality in form of pollution means fatal sin (=error) of destroying the ecosystem also one's own life depends on?

Those are IMHO very good meanings to give to the words. :)
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-29-09 02:26 AM
Response to Reply #32
33. Humans just act with their own ingenuity.
I don't think that they consider themselves self-important so much. It's just that their intelligence has resulted in two things, first, the aggregation of technology and power, and second, the destruction of the individual.

We cannot destroy the ecosystem, we can only make the ecosystem inhospitable to ourselves. It's going to be around a long time after we are gone. But it does stand to reason that if we were wise creatures, and believed in egalitarianism, that we would indeed respect the environment in which we live. Simply on the basis of sharing things freely with one another.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-29-09 02:41 AM
Response to Reply #33
34. By self-important
I mean alianation from nature, organic life. Old story by Aesopus came to mind, feet and belly arguing about who is more important, feet think they are more important because they do the walking to where the food is and belly arguing that it is more important because it digests the food and gives feet strength to walk. Of course the lesson of the story is that feet and belly are organically codependent, and egotistic rivalry between organic parts of a system will lead to the collapse of the system.

Our languages and modes of thinking are ridden with self-important or alianated notions ("resources", "consumers" etc.). Technological evolution and the suicidal power that it gives has not been equalled by spiritual evolution of sense of responsibility. Rather it seems that the case has been that technological evolution has been paired with devolution of sense of responsibility.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-27-09 12:52 PM
Response to Reply #12
16. Your comments about shamans
Edited on Thu Aug-27-09 12:55 PM by GliderGuider
It seems to me that you are projecting your own feelings about priesthoods and religions onto shamans, rather than seeing the practice for what it truly is/was.

I've never seen any evidence that shamans used their position in an exploitative manner. In fact, if they had tried to do that, in most tribes they would have been summarily discouraged. Christopher Boehm's book Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior (which looks excellent from a quick scan on Google Books) addresses this question.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 04:03 AM
Response to Reply #16
18. Of course,
priesthoods and formal religions developed from shamanhoods - errors of shamans, if you like. So ancient shamans certainly are nor free from responsibility (indeed, shamanhood is all about responsibility) of creating hierarchies (greek for holy leaderships) in less holy forms. E.g. Finnish foundational myth, Kalevala, tells a story of one source of a shaman's error, old male shaman having a soft spot for young women... (who are the most likely candidates for creating agriculture together with fertility cults and all that followed...).

Zerzan makes interesting and challenging case "against the symbol", putting the blame on shamans. Of course, shamans or at least many of them do attempt to control nature through symbols - or at least seem to do so. Zerzan's case can be easily critizised, but even so, the challenge remains.

I have great respect for remaining "traditional" shamans and shamanistic societies and their ways of life, but I don't see returning to old ways and "holy leaderships" as the answer to this modern predicament. Maybe the point is that there is no The Answer but multitude of answers... until the questions stop.

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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 01:29 PM
Response to Reply #16
20. I've seen enough documentaries to understand the shamanistic relationship.
This is not "projecting" anything. As soon as unverifable, unreproducable claims are made by someone, they have a distinct advantage if people "buy it." This is unversially observed, with varying degrees of interpretation.

"Oh, well, the shaman is respected, but if someone tries to dominate, then they get killed off or shuned."

"Not if you believe that person has magical abilities or is providing food for the group."
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 01:36 PM
Response to Reply #16
22. Also, I'm particularly interested in the quote by a reader of that book:
"Readers may find of interest the struggle, rather than ease, with which egalitarianism appears among simple societies."

I'll have to check it out. It most certainly confirms my belief that HG societies were not egalitarian by any means (and before you accuse me of "not knowing enough" and such, I have studied them *extensively*; I have only found the Aka which meet my definition of egalitarian).
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-25-09 01:07 PM
Response to Reply #3
8. Variety of Multitude
It's better not to make huge generalizations of native tribes, especially in the silly "biggest and strongest ruled the roost" (basically a condescending racist/chauvinist projection). Siberian tribes still existing today, which I know better than other places, are not ruled by "biggest and strongest" alpha males but in their own words, "rely on their shamans for the survival of the tribe and its way of life".

The social organization of H-G tribes is a variety of multitude, not alianated from nature as nature prefers variety and change but organic differentiation - in comparison the civilization is a huge pyramid like hierarchical structure that seeks to universally homogenise all and everything by incorporating it into the pyramid-like power structure - which is hopelessly alianated from natured, not unlike a cancer tumor stops behaving organically in it's growth mania and if not stopped, will also destroy the larger organism of which it is dependent part.


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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 09:14 PM
Response to Reply #8
13. Yes, the above poster failed to recognize that information is power, not power.
You can be an excellent hunter, but if you don't know where the best sources of food are, then you are nothing.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 10:33 PM
Response to Reply #13
15. Someone who could not bring back food would not be "an excellent hunter"
Bringing back the food involves knowing where it is as well as how to kill it. If you idn't have that knowledge, you might be an excellent runner, and excellent spear-thrower or an excellent bow-shot, but nobody would call you "an excellent hunter". Then as now, knowledge and skill together made one successful. Either one without the other is like trying to walk on a single leg.
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 01:34 PM
Response to Reply #15
21. We are talking pure skill here.
You can hit a rabbit with an arrow from 100 paces without even batting an eye. If there are no rabbits then... well. My statement was simply obvious, I wasn't attempting to pretend to say anything more than that.

This happend with the Aka, btw. They had high class structures where the best hunters were highly respected. Guns came into the environment, animals became harder to find, and the hunter class dropped in status (incidentially, the "healer class" became most respected, then).

http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/hewlett/Introaka.html
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Arcana Donating Member (89 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-26-09 06:09 PM
Response to Original message
9. Causing other animals to become extinct is normal
It's part of the natural selection process. Though something that may be different in this case is how rapidly one species can wipe out the other in competition.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 03:34 AM
Response to Reply #9
17. What you see is what you get
"Social darwinists" see in nature only competition and rivalry, the "greedy geeny".

Others see cooperation and symbiosis, forest from the trees. Trees do compete for sun light "individually", but a mycorriza does not live symbiotically with just one tree but a whole forest, which it feeds water and nutrients to get maximum photosynthesis products (energy).
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-28-09 01:47 PM
Response to Reply #17
24. This is an intra-inter species relationship.
Species don't generally compete within their own groups, Mutual Aid is what takes place. Across species lines, however, competition is a driving force in most cases. This is where Social Darwinists get their critique, they see animals dominating and destroying other animals, and want to classify human behavior in the same way. So we have hierarchies when in most animal societies they are highly lacking (with the exception of some insect societies).
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