Author Topic: What we can learn from hunter-gatherers  (Read 1152 times)

FireLane

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What we can learn from hunter-gatherers
« on: December 23, 2020, 12:40:40 PM »
A lot of good stuff in this article from the Atlantic, reviewing James Suzman's book Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots:

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Several months ago, I got into a long discussion with a colleague about the origins of the “Sunday scaries,” the flood of anxiety that many of us feel as the weekend is winding down and the workweek approaches. He said that the culprit was clear, and pointed to late-stage capitalism’s corrosive blend of performance stress and job insecurity. But capitalism also exists Monday through Saturday, so why should Sunday be so uniquely anxiety-inducing?

According the book, time-use studies which track how people spend their day find that the happiest ones never feel either rushed or bored. They have enough meaningful activity to stay busy but not so much that it's overwhelming. Both overwork and boredom are destructive to happiness, and the worst case is both at once: feeling that you should be doing something, anything, but not having anything meaningful to do.

The hunter-gatherer tribes that still exist today, living the way our pre-technological ancestors did, seem to get this balance exactly right. They spend a few hours a day finding food or doing other necessary tasks, but they have plenty of downtime to rest, make music, tell stories and play games. Also, they don't fixate on the future. When they have enough, they stop working. They trust that their environment will provide.

They also don't compete with each other the way we do, and in fact, they try to shut down any suggestion that one member of the tribe might be better or more valuable than another. This was a very amusing paragraph:

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When a Ju/’hoan hunter returned with a big kill, the tribe perceived a danger that he might think his prowess elevated him above others. “We can’t accept this,” one tribesman said. “So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.” This practice became known among researchers as “insulting the hunter’s meat.”

It was not the only custom that aimed to discourage a destabilizing competition for status and avoid a concentration of power. The tribe also “insisted that the actual owner of the meat, the individual charged with its distribution, was not the hunter, but the person who owned the arrow that killed the animal,” Suzman writes. By rewarding the semi-random contributor of the arrow, the Ju/’hoansi kept their most talented hunters in check, in order to defend the group’s egalitarianism. A welcome result was that “the elderly, the short-sighted, the clubfooted and the lazy got a chance to be the centre of attention once in a while.”

Of course, competition and forethought are necessary to build a technologically advanced society like ours, but you can have too much of a good thing. When you plan for the future to the degree that it consumes the present, or when you make it your life's mission to outdo everyone else at all costs, you end up overstressed, overscheduled, anxious, and unable to enjoy life. A good lesson to learn!

TheGrimSqueaker

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Re: What we can learn from hunter-gatherers
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2020, 03:48:44 PM »
It's interesting that the two factors identified as contributors to anxiety and unhappiness, specifically boredom and time pressure, are two things that the corporate business system is designed to exacerbate.

Future business leaders are taught to break work down into tasks that are as mindless, repetitive, and easy as possible (thereby maximizing boredom). They are also taught to use whatever measures are necessary to increase throughput and productivity, to better maximize profits and to ensure work turnaround, without ever accumulating enough of a surplus of finished product that could allow the human production mechanism to relax. Such a surplus must be stored and cared for, and it violates the much-vaunted "just in time" principle that works so well under ideal staffing, infrastructure, weather, logistics, personnel availability, and non-pandemic conditions.

Bloop Bloop Reloaded

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Re: What we can learn from hunter-gatherers
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2020, 06:14:06 PM »
The hunter gatherer lifestyle does have much to commend it but it also makes the concept of FIRE rather impossible.

It's nice that we live in a society where if you are intelligent and mindful you can have the best of both worlds. Be financially independent form early on in your career so that you feel less pressure of the rat race and then retire early so you can fully pursue whatever makes you happiest.

Linea_Norway

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Re: What we can learn from hunter-gatherers
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2020, 09:36:48 AM »
I feel that I live this hunter gatherer lifestyle now, since I stopped working. My typical day includes a few hours outside, gathering plants or mushrooms, and cleaning/preserving afterwards. The rest of the time I do stuff at home when necessary, or I relax with a book or so. DH "hunts" fish when that is possible.
I am indeed much less stressed than I used to be. Apart from when I make too big plans of what I want to gather and cook at home. I generally feel happy and very seldom feel bored. DH is not much of a reader amd does more easily feel bored and can then become a stresser for me.

mozar

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Re: What we can learn from hunter-gatherers
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2020, 10:24:05 AM »
Quote
When a Ju/’hoan hunter returned with a big kill, the tribe perceived a danger that he might think his prowess elevated him above others. “We can’t accept this,” one tribesman said. “So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.” This practice became known among researchers as “insulting the hunter’s meat.”

It was not the only custom that aimed to discourage a destabilizing competition for status and avoid a concentration of power. The tribe also “insisted that the actual owner of the meat, the individual charged with its distribution, was not the hunter, but the person who owned the arrow that killed the animal,” Suzman writes. By rewarding the semi-random contributor of the arrow, the Ju/’hoansi kept their most talented hunters in check, in order to defend the group’s egalitarianism. A welcome result was that “the elderly, the short-sighted, the clubfooted and the lazy got a chance to be the centre of attention once in a while.”

Basically the wealthy should pay taxes. I approve!


SAR

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Re: What we can learn from hunter-gatherers
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2020, 01:41:31 PM »
Having a balance in life is important, and perhaps hunter-gatherers do have a better balance when things are going well.

But it's also true that a hunter gatherer lifestyle can be (and typically is) brutal. If you look at rates of homicidal violence in many of these groups, it makes mechanized warfare look tame.

The idea that humans are naturally peaceable egalitarians is a fantasy, promoted by those with the misfortune to get an expensive education in the social sciences or humanities. As for many of these things, the French are to blame.

The example provided of hunter gatherers keeping hunters in check and thereby maintaining "egalitarianism" is a wild misinterpretation of what is happening. It might look like egalitarianism if you are being naive, but it's really dominance competition. Those same egalitarian societies will murder their rivals if it appears they are doing a little too well. That individual is invariably a male, and despite the major costs to having your head chopped off for being a bit too uppity, they keep popping up and taking more of their share. Clearly the reproductive benefits to being a dominant male in such a society are real, otherwise we wouldn't see defection from the so-called egalitarian norm.

Indeed, more than 80% of hunter gatherer societies practice polygyny--single male, multiple female marriage. The very recipe for violence when you have multiple single young males. And in a society like that, people are going to be especially sensitive to anyone getting a little too far ahead, especially if they are young and male.

Having said all of that, I do think that there now exists a sufficient evolutionary mis-match between our ancestral and contemporary environments that it is highly likely that we are causing a lot of suffering, loneliness, and other maladies stemming from over work. We have taken our natural desires for social prestige and put them into a pressure-cooker.

The FIRE movement is a natural reaction to that system.