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Mon

18

Jan

2010

Hunter-Gatherers: Noble Savage or Savage Nobles
Monday, 18 January 2010 06:22
by Robert Palmer

Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his early writing contended that man is essentially good, a "noble savage" when in the "state of nature" (the state of all the other animals, and the condition man was in before the creation of civilization and society), and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as "artificial" and "corrupt" and that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man.

Put another way, in the beginning civilized humans were hunters and gatherers, when we started wearing clothes made out of cotton, using deodorant, living in houses and using toilet paper we became savages.

The only difference between civilized "savages" and 20th century man is we used our opposing dumb to conquer Mother Earth.

The indigenous populations knew Nature was not "wild' and hostile but was a benevolent friend. Then, by a twist of organized religious dogma, many began to think humans are the greatest and most important part of creation and they saw Nature as "fallen' and sinful. Since the end of the "dark age" man has attempted to divorce himself from Nature to the detriment of all creation.


A comet was responsible for the Pleistocene extinctionsnot the Clovis hunter

[Note: The following is either summarized or taken directly from "The Woolly Mammoth and the Noble Savage", by Louis Proyect]

The characterization of the indigenous populations as being just as wasteful as a modern corporation is a popular notion among progressives and evolutionary psychologists.

The American Indians, according to this theory, are responsible for driving the bison off cliffs, killing the woolly mammoth and a number of other Pleistocene megafauna.

Paul S. Martin, geosciences professor emeritus, began writing about Pleistocene extinctions and Clovis people's sole responsibility for the "blitzkrieg" in 1967. (The Clovis were "paleo-Indians" named after the archaeological site in New Mexico where a characteristic spear point was discovered.)

Jared Diamond, wrote "The Third Chimpanze", where he embraced the Pleistocene overkill scenario with enthusiasm: Primitive man was nothing more than a marauding ape in Stanley Kubrick's "2001" who discovered that a bone can be used as a club. [1]

In chapter 17, "The Golden Age that Never Was", Diamond begins by scoffing at Rousseau's noble savage and proceeds to demonstrate that the Maori was able to "exterminate" the moa, a flightless bird, that like the mammoth did not understand that man was their enemy.

Diamond writes, "Like the naïve animals of the Galapagos Islands today, moas were probably tame enough for a hunter to walk up to one and club it." It should be pointed out that probably is a word evolutionary psychologists often use when trying to describe events that took place centuries ago. In the absence of hard evidence (how else can it be otherwise), speculation reigns supreme.

In the next chapter Diamond turns his attention to the New World:

Among the startling discoveries about Clovis people is the speed of their spread and the rapid transformation of Clovis culture. Around 11,000 years ago Clovis points are abruptly replaced by a smaller, more finely made model now known as Folsom points (after a site near Folsom, New Mexico, where they were first identified). The Folsom points are often found associated with bones of an extinct wide-horned bison, never with the mammoths preferred by Clovis hunters"

Despite Diamond's characteristically triumphalist tone, scientists are by no means unanimous that the first hunters to emerge from the ice-free corridor at Edmonton thrived and multiplied, because they found an abundance of tame, easy-to-hunt big mammals. PBS recently aired a show that put forward a new theory, namely that a comet was responsible for the Pleistocene extinctionsnot Clovis hunter. [2]


Skeptics have noted there's no sign that early hunters preyed on giant ground sloths, short-faced bears, or the massive, armadillo-like glyptodonts or any evidence according to Donald Grayson and David Meltzer ("Overchill") to lay blame for a continent's worth of lost megafauna at the foot of the first Americans.

Some of the most compelling political rebuttal to Jared Diamond, comes from Vine Deloria Jr., the American Indian scholar who died in 2005. His "Red Earth, White Lies" is a scholarly and polemical rebuttal of the "overkill" hypothesis:

Clovis-point locations by the common agreement of scholars date to around 12,000 years ago. This enabled "scholars" to argue that "the Indians did it" by linking a few sites which had bones of extinct megafauna and were also dated at that time.

However, this thesis is really applicable only to the herbivores because almost every advocate of the idea cites those locations where mammoth bones are associated with evidence of human activity.

We never hear about the giant rhinoceros, beaver, or armadillo, nor do the scholars refer to carnivore extinction except by indirection, assuming that the extinction of herbivores doomed meat-eating predators.

Can we imagine hungry saber-toothed tigers and other carnivores unable to feed upon the smaller species of deer, moose, and bison when they discovered that the mega-animals had been destroyed?

When the Europeans came to North America the land was filled to overflowing with all manner of edible grazing game. The bison are conservatively estimated at a population of nearly 60 million creatures at the time of discovery.

Since no species could evolve in 12,000 years, we must assume that the game animals we see today were here in their present form at the time when Martin suggests the Paleo-Indians were ruthlessly slaughtering the mammoth and mastodon.

So there are two problems with the Pleistocene overkill scenario.

1. Why did the megacarnivores not pounce upon the smaller, weaker herbivores and maintain themselves in grand style?

2. Why did the Paleo-Indian hunters not begin with smaller-sized animals, which would have been easier to kill, less dangerous to be around, and which themselves might be relegated to the fringes of the good grazing places by the larger and certainly more dangerous megaherbivores?

Paul S. Martin made a feeble effort to answer the second question by admitting that "we must beg the question of just how and why prehistoric man obliterated his prey.

We may speculate but we cannot determine how moose, elk, and caribou managed to survive while horse, ground sloth, and mastodon did not." He begged people not to ask him for specifics about the second question and was not even aware of the complexity of the first question.

As is so often the case with indigenous peoples and the scientific community, no matter the best of intentions of the latter, differences over Pleistocene extinctions, Kennewick Man, supposed Anasazi cannibalism, etc. became a political battleground.

Jared Diamond like many of his co-thinkers, has an unhealthy need to establish primitive man as primitive in the sense of "savage" and is not concerned if it denigrates the reputation of native peoples, his interest in these matters is highly ideological.

When Friedrich Engelsreferred to hunting and gathering societies as "primitive", it was in the technical sense only. Of course, the words "savage" and "barbarian" had unfortunate connotations no matter the intentions of people such as Engels.

In seeking to destroy the myth of Rousseau's "noble savage", Diamond resorts to the teachings of Thomas Hobbes in "Leviathan":

It may seem strange to some man, that has not well weighed these things; that Nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade, and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this Inference, made from the Passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by Experience. Let him therefore consider with himselfe, when taking a journey, he armes himselfe, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his dores; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there bee Lawes, and publike Officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall bee done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow Citizens, when he locks his dores; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse mans nature in it. The Desires, and other Passions of man, are in themselves no Sin. No more are the Actions, that proceed from those Passions, till they know a Law that forbids them; which till Lawes be made they cannot know: nor can any Law be made, till they have agreed upon the Person that shall make it.

The world of the evolutionary psychologist is dark, evil, and grubby both in the earliest stages of history and in the contemporary world.

Indeed, the best thing that can be said about our evolution is that we have drawn on the power of the state to control our worst instincts.

As Jared Diamond says in his New Yorker article,

the Papuan New Guineans practically got down on their hands and knees to thank the colonizers who finally were able to bring peace and stability to the highlands where tribal wars had left so many dead.

So bad was the fighting that Diamond was led to conclude that primitive peoples were more genocidal than the Nazis, if not by absolute numbers killed then by percentage.

Of course, given his tendency to make things up, we have no confidence in his assertions. [End of excerpt from "The Woolly Mammoth and the Noble Savage", by Louis Proyect]

Conclusion

Louis Proyect's conclusion on the Pleistocene extinctions and how to transcend the noble savage versus Hobbesian jungle dichotomy reflects his socialist ideology:

"Put simply, a hunting and gathering society had little need to kill animals except to satisfy such needs as food, clothing and shelter--all of which a bison could supply.

On the other hand, capitalism sees all flora and fauna as input to the commodity production process. Today vast trawlers scour the ocean to turn the last bluefin tuna into the last sushi special.

Meanwhile, American Indians struggle to defend their right to fish for Salmon and whales as part of their traditional way of life. Some ecologists can't distinguish between the trawler and the Makah motorboat, but that would not be the first time in history that an Indian gets a raw deal."

His classic Marx "use values" assumes "the American Indians had no ecological insights or beliefs.

However, American Indians held a special knowledge of the land and its inhabitants and believed they were only a small part of the whole circle of life and that each part of creation played a significant role in the contentment and survival of the other.

They accepted the divine idea that all things were equal and no animal, including man, held dominion over other parts of creation.

American Indians, also known as the People of the Land, traditionally and historically believed, humans were created to be caretakers of the garden -- Mother Earth. They held all things of creation sacred and respected Nature.

Never take more than we need;

Thank Creator for what we have or what we will receive;

Use all of what we have;

Give away what we do not need.

They weren't environmentalists they were communist Pagans.

Footnotes:

[1] Jared Diamond's Factual Collapse: New Yorker Mag's Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue. Tribal Members Angry, Want Justice, by Rhonda Roland Shearer with Michael Kigl, Kritoe Keleba, Jeffrey Elapa

[2] You can watch the show at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/clovis/ as well as review some different points of view in the debate, including those that directly challenge Martin.



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