Does our modern society indicative of a lowering of human freedom and a degradation of the environment or does our science charged culture represent an emancipation from primitive conflict and ignorance? …
From an article on researching authenticity and populism. The idea of the search for authenticity can lead down some strange paths, most notably the belief that discovering primitive or prehistoric roots will serve as a springboard to unlocking the future and shed light on a paradise lost, the sort of Shangri-La of James Hilton in Lost Horizon, a kind of Thanksgiving dinner with well behaved Greek gods, a touching encounter in the Garden of Eden. The reality may be much harsher though as popular culture narrative is less inclined towards the idealization of the unattainable other and the ecstasy of discovery that is so animating; the creation and love of an exotic other that we can construct an architecture of innocence around and project the values of innocence towards.
Innocence then, can be perceived as something we make, an intellectual and emotional construction, an idealization. Not something we are intrinsically born into. Theologically, it holds a birth into original sin, an inheritance of the eternal punishment of our forebears, however injust it may have been with respect to the severity of the crime, we still have to pay the piper. At least that is the pretense of the enveloping narrative and to believe otherwise is the sentimental cult of the child. Even if Adam and Eve are irrelevant, this quest for authenticity, to be at the cusp of the prime movers, to be an ocular witness at the moment the wheel was discovered or the chair was invented says much about the ways we manufacture innocence and a necessity to flee, to engage in escapism and to believe otherwise is to be swallowed entirely in the sentimental, not to say kitschy cult of the child.
So, its a story we tell about ourselves, not a story as a ready-made that we are born into. Or, to take the Freudian view, we can plausibly accept his his postulation that very young children, infants, are shown to have a well developed sense of sexual and violent fantasies and that that tender age are devoid of any filters that would tend to blunt or sublimate their expression. The theory being that innocence, childhood innocence is less a reality or realistic base of interpretation than a form of repression constructed by athletes.
And lest we curse all civilization and pine for the authenticity of the noble savage, Spengler provides a timely antidote in this article from the Asia Times:
Two billion war deaths would have occurred in the 20th century if modern societies suffered the same casualty rate as primitive peoples, according to anthropologist Lawrence H Keeley, who calculates that two-thirds of them were at war continuously, typically losing half of a percent of its population to war each year….
…This and other noteworthy prehistoric factoids can be found in Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn, a survey of genetic, linguistic and archeological research on early man. Primitive peoples, it appears, were nasty, brutish, and short, not at all the cuddly children of nature depicted by popular culture and post-colonial academic studies. The author writes on science for the New York Times and too often wades in where angels fear to tread.
That raises the question: Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, does popular culture portray prim
es as peace-loving folk living in harmony with nature, as opposed to rapacious and brutal civilization? Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which attributes civilization to mere geographical accident, made a best-seller out of a mendacious apology for the failure of primitive society. Wade reports research that refutes Diamond on a dozen counts, but his book never will reach the vast audience that takes comfort in Diamond’s pulp science….
…Why is it that the modern public revels in a demonstrably false portrait of primitive life? Hollywood grinds out stories of wise and worthy native Americans, African tribesmen, Brazilian rainforest people and Australian Aborigines, not because Hollywood studio executives hired the wrong sort of anthropologist, but because the public pays for them, the same public whose middle-brow contingent reads Jared Diamond.
Nonetheless the overwhelming consensus in popular culture holds that primitive peoples enjoy a quality – call it authenticity – that moderns lack, and that by rolling in their muck, some of this authenticity will stick to us. Colonial guilt at the extermination of tribal societies does not go very far as an explanation, for the Westerners who were close enough to primitives to exterminate them rarely regretted having done so. The hunger for authenticity surges up from a different spring….
…European civilization arose by stamping out the kind of authenticity that characterizes primitive peoples. It is a construct, not a “natural” development. One of the great puzzles of prehistory is the proliferation of languages. Linguists believe, for credible reasons too complex to review here, that present-day languages descend from a small number of early prototypes, and splintered into many thousands of variants. Wade says :
This variability is extremely puzzling given that a universal, unchanging language would seem to be the most useful form of communication. That language has evolved to be parochial, not universal, is surely no accident. Security would have been far more important to early human societies than ease of communication with outsiders. Given the incessant warfare between early human groups, a highly variable language would have served to exclude outsiders and to identify strangers the moment they opened their mouths….
…What brought about civilization, that is, large-scale communication and political organization? Conquest is too simple an explanation. We have from Latin five national languages and dozens of dialects, but no comparable development out of the Greek of the earlier Alexandrian empire. Latin and its offshoots dominated Europe because Latin was the language of the Church. The invaders who replenished the depopulated territories of the ruined Roman Empire, Goths, Vandals and Celts, learned in large measure dialects of Latin because Christianity made them into Europeans.
Even in Christianity’s darkest hours, when the Third Reich reduced the pope to a prisoner in the Vatican and the European peoples turned the full terror of Western technology upon one another, they managed to kill a small fraction of the numbers that routinely and normally fell in primitive warfare….
…Native Americans, Eskimos, New Guinea Highlanders as well as African tribes slaughtered one another with skill and vigor, frequently winning their first encounters with modern armed forces. “Even in the harshest possible environments [such as northwestern Alaska] where it was struggle enough just to keep alive, primitive societies still pursued the more overriding goal of killing one another,” Wade notes.
A quarter of the language groups in New Guinea, home to 1,200 of the world’s 6,000 languages, were exterminated by warfare during every preceding century, according to one estimate Wade cites. In primitive warfare “casualty rates were enormous, not the least because they did not take prisoners. That policy was compatible with their usual strategic goal: to exterminate the opponent’s society. Captured warriors were killed on the spot, except in the case of the Iroquois, who took captives home to torture them before death, and certain tribes in Colombia, who liked to fatten prisoners before eating them.”
However badly civilized peoples may have behaved, the 100 million or so killed by communism and the 50 million or so killed by National Socialism seem modest compared with the 2 billion or so who would have died if the casualty rates of primitive peoples had applied to the West. The verdict is not yet in, to be sure. One is reminded of the exchange between Wednesday Addams (played by the young Christina Ricci in the 1993 film Addams Family Values) and a girl at summer camp, who asks, “Why are you dressed like someone died?” to which Wednesday replies, “Wait!” Read More:http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/2006/07/populism-authenticity-and-other-lies.html
One of the topics undergoing such a pendulum swing of opinion concerns the American Indians. Were they Noble Savages, or were they simply savages? The truth, as usual, lies between the extremes, but in times past, Indians have been portrayed in history books and fiction as godless, inhumane barbarians who could not be trusted and who routinely massacred white women and children. During much of our lifetime, the pendulum has swung the other direction, and Indians have been depicted in books, movies and Disney cartoons as peace-loving hunters and fishermen who were at peace with themselves, each other, and the environment.4 The white man then came along and ruined everything by destroying the Indians’ ancient way of life and turning them into reluctant warriors who were forced to defend themselves from those stealing their ancestral lands and killing off the game.
This latter view of history is commonly held by many Indians themselves—in the words of Russell Means of the American Indian Movement: “Before the whites came, our conflicts were brief and almost bloodless, resembling far more a professional football game than the lethal annihilations of European conquest.”Many whites also feel guilt over the way they believe their ancestors treated the Indians.
Recent books capitalize on a new cycle of research that began a decade or so ago when archeologists and osteologists looked into Indian prehistory—the two thousand or so years before contact with Europeans. The results have been startling. Researchers discovered that prehistoric hunters/gatherers and indigenous peoples were violent and warlike. Most Indian villages, all over the continent, were surrounded by timber stockades, earthen palisades and berms, and other defensive fortifications. Indeed, the supposedly most peaceful of all Native Americans, the Anasazi of the southwest, did after all, often live in barely accessible cliff dwellings carved out of mountain sides. Why would they go to the trouble of hiding their homes and making them so indestructible if they had nothing to fear from each other?
Osteologists then began studying the bones. They found that an unusually high number of skeletons bore unmistakable signs of violence: embedded arrowheads, smashed skulls, evidence of scalping, decapitations, defensive wounds to hands and forearms indicating that individuals had tried to ward off blows, and even cannibalism…. ( Meilinger )