There exists today an incredibly warped conception in the minds of the modern civilian about what life was like for the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the pre-civilized world and those who still exist today. Much of this is descended from the cultural effect of those European men who first ‘contacted’ the peoples of the Americas and Africa.
When Europeans first began to encounter hunter-gatherers, they considered them savages, projecting onto them the images and archetypes from their classical mythology (Jahoda, 1998). As the theory of evolution began to take hold, many Victorian anthropologists speculated on the role hunting and gathering played in humanity’s steady, inevitable ascent from such backwards primitivism to the obvious evolutionary ideal of the Victorian gentleman. They wrote about the difficult, dangerous, and marginal lives that hunter-gatherers led.Hunter-gatherers have more leisure time. – Jason Godesky
I am not here in order to romanticize the hunter-gatherer way of life but to soberly delineate the condition of ‘primitive’ man and juxtapose the modern condition of the domesticated industrial civilian. The myth of the suffering, toiling, miserable brutish savage in the mind of the Western man is generally just that. Mythos. To begin, it is now widely believed, through the study of the modern nomad, that hunter-gatherers spent far less time ‘working’ than the modern man and had much more leisure time. I put ‘work’ into quotes because the word is not exactly apt for the nomad.
- ‘S. Diamond observed other free human beings who survived into our age, also in Africa. He could see that they did no work, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it in English. Instead, he said they made no distinction between work and play. Does Diamond mean that the activity of the free people can be seen as work one moment, as play another, depending on how the anthropologist feels? Does he mean they didn’t know if their activity was work or play? Does he mean we, you and I, Diamond’s armored contemporaries, cannot distinguish their work from their play? If the !Kung visited our offices and factories, they might think we’re playing. Why else would we be there? I think Diamond meant to say something more profound. A time-and-motion engineer watching a bear near a berry patch would not know when to punch his clock. Does the bear start working when he walks to the berry patch, when he picks the berry, when he opens his jaws? If the engineer has half a brain he might say the bear makes no distinction between work and play. If the engineer has an imagination he might say that the bear experiences joy from the moment the berries turn deep red, and that none of the bear’s motions are work.’ – Fredy Perlman: Against His-story, Against Leviathan! (1983)
There have been several studies regarding the amount of time hunter-gatherers spend in obtaining and preparing food. McCarthy and M. McArthur’s study with four different groups in Arnhem Land concluded that men spent 2-4 hours a day on the food quest, and some days didn’t go at all. In 1965, Richard Borshay Lee’s study of the !Kung Bushmen in the Dobe area of Botswana concluded similarly that the tribe worked around 6 hours a day for 2 and a half days a week. Many of these studies have been criticized for inadequate methods, and rightly so, these figures are mostly about men’s hunts and do not take into account the rest of the gathering and maintenance done by the rest of the tribe. However, it is still a consensus that hunter-gatherers had significantly more leisure time, and the work that they did do was varied and fulfilling, as opposed to the monotonous, alienated, specialized work that the industrial factory worker slaves away at. There also exists a notion that hunter-gatherers live in poverty due to our industrial conception of economy, comparing them directly with the amount of commodities and currency the modern man has. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Poverty is defined by wants and means, and considering the wants and means of the hunter-gatherers, they live in prosperity and abundance. Not only did the hunter-gatherer possess physical abundance, the psychological security and well-being of these peoples is such that few if any civilized peoples know. I have mentioned this in more detail in another blog post. A further fear of the pre-civilized man is life expectancy. Humans becoming civilized actually lowered life-expectancy up until recently in industrial times.
- To address specifically Kurzweil’s point about life-expectancy he mentions an expectancy of 35 years for preindustrial Swedish females and 33 for males. Let’s split the difference and make it 34 years overall. Assuming this figure is correct, it is misleading because it gives the impression that few people lived beyond their mid-30s. I’ve more than once read statements by demographers to the effect that the low lifeexpectancies of preindustrial times largely reflected the high rate of infant and early-childhood mortality. Once the vulnerable first few years were past, people’s lives were not so very much shorter than they are today. … information for which I can cite sources is consistent with what I’ve just said. According to Rousseau, in mid-18th-century France 50% of children died before reaching the age of eight. It’s worth noting that about 8% of a population of Kalahari Bushmen (hunter-gatherers) was said to consist of persons from 60 to more than 80 years old. … according to the 1970 census, 10% of the American population was then aged 65 or older. – Letters to David Skrbina by Theodore Kaczysnki
Of course, there was high infant mortality which caused the low average life expectancy. Mothers were not only acclimated to this fact logically, but through evolutionary mechanism to avoid unnecessarily disruptive stress. This mortality rate is a product of natural selection. Through this, genetics that were not suited to survival were selected against in the population, and there were far less ‘conditions’ that have widely proliferated in the population today, which are both induced from a civilized environment and through the disruption of natural selection. Hunter-gatherers live nearly as long as we do without access to ‘modern medicine’, showing that our way of life is the cause of most of our problems. Conditions exacerbated and proliferated by civilization are even further intensified by industrialization and increased hygiene, ironically enough. Auto-immune disease and food allergy is incredibly common and it is thought that modern hygiene is to blame, as children are not getting as many infections. Parasitic infections, in particular, are normally fought by the same mechanisms involved in combating allergies. With fewer parasites to fight, the immune system turns against things that should be harmless. Mortality from cancer has risen 10x since the 19th century. Rates of disease are incredibly high in civilized societies when compared to primitive ones, especially in urban areas. Ancient peoples did not have dental problems, despite the fact that they never brushed their teeth. We’ve already mentioned several times the epidemic of depression, anxiety, suicide, and myriad other mental health problems induced by the modern way of life. The civilized man is also the subject of various pandemic and endemic diseases for thousands of years as I’m sure the reader knows.
- We suffer from a range of modern ills that have traditionally been very rare: obesity, cancers, accidental death and injury, deliberate death through high-tech weapons (including handguns) and warfare, global plagues like AIDS. Automobile accidents kill over 40,000 Americans every year, and about 1.3 million people globally-that’s roughly 3,300 people killed every day . Nearly 44% of the American population is medicated. A recent study suggests that 28% of all teenagers suffer chronic headaches, with 40% of these occurring daily. Even the mundane daily computer use that many of us experience imposes its own risks: carpal tunnel syndrome, eyestrain, back and joint pain, headache, toxic chemicals on keyboards and monitors, and the general ill health that results from sedentary behavior. Modern foods are killing us: pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, radically new genetically-modified crops, too much sugar, too much fat, too much meat. Primitive humans rarely ate meat, but when they did it was typically freshly-killed, always wild game, and usually after putting in several exhausting hours of chase, on foot, with sticks or handmade spears. We moderns eat something like 3.5 pounds per week – a half-pound per day, every day-of domesticated, fat-laden, hormone-injected, antibiotic-laced, high-tech factory-farmed animal flesh. Little surprise that cancer and other ailments result. … Measurable levels of cancer-causing pesticides have been found in the drinking water of 347 towns and cities. Creation and use of toxic chemicals continues at a rate far faster than our capacity to learn how safe extended exposures to these substances are …. The US. Environmental Protection Agency was mandated to test existing pesticides-just one class of chemicals-for health risks by 1972, but the job still isn’t completed today, and regulators are falling further behind. – Kaczynski
Urbanization, especially in industrial society, has a significant impact on physical and mental health. The urbanite is subject to pollutant chemicals and crowded in a human hive (it is well known that crowding causes aggression). From a collective article on various impacts of urban life: ‘Research has shown that people who live in cities may suffer more psychological stress than people who live in rural areas. For a study published in Nature in 2011, Jens Pruessner and colleagues at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim found a 21% increase in anxiety disorders, a 39% increase in mood disorders and a doubled risk of schizophrenia in city dwellers. Urban living was linked to increased activity in the brain’s amygdala – the fear centre – and in the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, a key region for regulating fear and stress. Meanwhile, a 2011 study from Portugal found that people living near industrial “grey areas” reported less optimism. This may sound trivial, but optimism is associated with healthier behaviours (such as a willingness to exercise), lower levels of fat in the blood and mental resilience, or the ability to recover from stress.’
As a result of mass urbanization, populations are more atomized and separated from the natural world. There have been many, many studies that demonstrate the psychological benefits of exposure to nature. Anyone who goes hiking or lives away from urbania can testify to the calm, meditative state that one enters into when in the wild. Even seeing a picture of nature improves mental well being. There is a phenomenon of people being exposed to the view of nature actually aids in recovery from physical injury and illness.
- Patients with a view of trees were hospitalized shorter (7.96 days) than patients who had a view of the brick wall (8.7 days). Brick wall-view patients had more negative nurses notes (3.96 per patient, examples of negative notes–“upset and crying” or “needs much encouragement”; examples of good notes– “in good spirits” and “moving well”) than tree-view patients (1.13 per patient). Patients with nature window views received fewer analgesic doses 2-5 days after surgery. The tree-view patients more frequently received weaker pain medications like aspirin or acetaminophen while brick wall-view patients who needed stronger pain medications such as narcotics. … Tree-view patients tended to have lower scores for minor post-surgical complications. – Ulrich, R.S
However, nature is aggressively being encroached upon by civilization. The 2020 Global Living Planet Index recently published findings that global wildlife populations are suffering catastrophic collapse, with populations of vertebrate species declining 68% since 1970. Ecological destruction has direct effects on the health of humans, collapse such as the deaths of bees, parasites, spiders, marine life, et cetera, impacts the functioning of the global ecosystem and the ability for the human herd to sustain itself. Ecological devastation in general as a result of the technical civilization, apart technicizing man and turning him into a domesticated cog in the social machine, will likely take down the entire ecology of the earth if it is allowed to continue. We have discussed this in a previous post.
Stay safe – Normandie
2 thoughts on “Civilization is Unhealthy”
I’m so glad you mentioned how increased cleanliness is exasperating the potential for deeper illness. I’ve heard from herbalists who let their children’s sickness be treated by the intelligence of the body and afterwards the child almost always goes through a new developmental stage, whether that be walking, talking, increased mental intelligence, etc. microbes are essential, and a foundation for life on earth. I mean, our gut has more bacteria than we have cells in our body.
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