How free (in terms of personal liberty) are / were primitive societies? (self.AskAnthropology)

{AskAnthropology}

104 ups - 31 downs = 73 votes

It strikes me from reading something like 'The Wealth of Nations' that pre-industrial Western society was incredibly restrictive for ordinary people. Going back further into history this also seems to be the case for Western and other civilisations, e.g. slavery, serfdom, mandatory military service etc.

So I'm wondering does this trend continue right back to the origins of human culture? The stereotype of primitive societies are that they are indeed free, but how free, in our modern sense, are they?

EDIT - There seems to be a book on the subject - "Freedom and Authority in Primitive Societies" by William Charles McCormack, but I have no access to it.

58 comments submitted at 13:22:21 on Feb 10, 2014 by greenonthescreen

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 351 Points
  • 00:41:40, 11 February

STAND BACK! WALL OF TEXT!

Despite the wording, this is a very fair question. The first thing I have to pick you up on is the term "primitive societies". It carries value judgements that you don't mean to imply and has not been used since the seventies. If you use it anywhere near an anthropologist they will probably garotte you! Just don't do it! I'm going to assume that you meant hunter-gather societies and say no more about it.

To start with, I feel obliged to mention the Rousseau. Rousseau asserted that in the 'state of nature' (whatever that was) man was born free and the governments and monarchies of many western societies served only to repress and condemn people to slavery. Rousseau was not an anthropologist, did not have any solid data about how people lived in the absence of 'the state' and, whats-more, primarily made reference to 'the state of nature' in the Social Contract in order to further his arguments about the corrupting power of despotic governance and implicit goodness of mankind.

Leaving Rousseau thankfully behind, lets get stuck into some nice, meaty examples about liberty and egality from the current ethnographic record. Of course, everything rests on your definition of liberty but I'm going to define it as 'the ability to live without others forcing you to do things that you do not want to do'. There is a school of anthropological thought that argues that people who live and lived in hunter gatherer societies do and did enjoy more liberties than the majority of individuals in "complex" societies. Knauft, a social anthropologist, has gone so far as to say that human liberties have followed a 'U-shaped curve' - hunter gatherers being quite egalitarian, agricultural civilizations being hierarchical and despotic, with some sort of golden era of liberty, egalitarianism and brotherhood appearing at the turn of the 20th century.

Although this smacks a little of social evolutionism, the evidence seems to be at least partially in Knauft's favor. In many hunter gatherer societies, including the Ache, the Hadza, the !Kung san, the Mbuti and Aka pygmies and numerous other groups who I am less acquainted with, individuals have no fixed home and move freely from place to place. Numerous authors including Woodburn (1982) and, more recently, Boehm (2009) have argued that freedom of mobility allows people to avoid being bossed around. If someone becomes too big for their boots and tries to impose their will on others, the would-be leaders may simply be abandoned. There are numerous examples of this happening among Hadza and it seems a generally sound hypothesis.

Secondly, many hunter-gatherer societies do not often store food, eating food immediately and sharing surplus. Testart, Woodburn, Hayden etc have argued that surplus enables all the things you mention (slavery, surfdom, military service) because surplus allows inequality of wealth, wealth allows richer people to pay others to do things for them and this, in turn, allows people to employ others to commit acts of violence on their behalf. The evidence for this theory is comparative, but compelling. Standing armies and slavery are unheard of in hunter-gatherer societies without storage, but in those societies who did have storage (both in the -mainly north american- archeaological and ethnographic record) there are plentiful examples of violence, warfare and, in the pacific Northwest, slavery. (See Testart, Hayden, Boehm and Woodburn).

To the three people who have made it this far, hello! Not long now...

Another phenomenon that has been linked to hunting and gathering is forced reciprocity and demand-sharing. In numerous hunter-gatherer societies, including many Australian groups, all extant African hunter-gatherers, and many south American groups, the hoarding of resources is strictly sanctioned (For an excellent review see Peterson). Individuals assert their right to others' food and food is often shared very generously. Allowing no one individual to assert ownership over vital resources can be seen as another form of liberty, especially from a marxy-socialisty standpoint. On the other-hand, from a neo-liberal standpoint this would probably constitute a gross denial of individual liberties....

So, from the ethnographic record, people in certain mobile forager societies do seem to be able to avoid many restrictions that others would place on them (including slavery and military service). There are some decent theoretical arguments that past mobile hunter-gatherer groups were similarly egalitarian. Of course there are many other types of egalitarianism and liberty that I have not mentioned. Gender egalitarianism, for example, may not always go hand in hand with a freedom from slavery and governmental oppression (See Flannigan). Furthermore, I don't know of any society where individuals have absolutely no obligations to other people (be they family, partners or friends). As Sahlins put it "Theoretically, an egalitarian society would be one in which every individual is of equal status" but in all societies people differ from each other in relation to "age, sex and personal characteristics". However, I hope I've given you something to think about. Anyway, I'm bored of this. I'm going for a Twix.

TL;DR There is good reason to believe that mobile hunter-gatherers were and are 'more free' in some important respects than many other historical societies. But, of course, where there are differences between people, there are inequalities.

Edit: Thankyou very much for the gold, whoever you are!

It is probably worth mentioning that 'freedom' is an almost entirely subjective concept. I chose to define and operationalize the term quite narrowly in order to advance my argument. Also, I am not trying to argue that life is/was 'better' in any sort of society compared to any other... 'better' is wholly in the eye of the beholder, there's no getting around that one.

It's a pleasure to see that I have inspired debate.

  • [-]
  • bialyorzel01
  • 17 Points
  • 03:29:03, 11 February

With regard to communalism, if you look at the archaeological record of Late Neolithic Greece, there is a distinct shift of centrality with regard to activities such as storage , food prep, eating, and goods production from the community to the household. At the same time we see the evolution of "elite" households that showed greater size and material wealth. All those activities mentioned gradually shifted indoors and the community seemed to begin being dominated by these "elite" households. Again at the same time, there's evidence that at least some agriculturalists shifted focus on cash crops like grapes and olives while continuing to manufacture goods such as pottery and textiles.

Of course this wasn't uniform but in general we see the emergence of a wealth disparity and an elite that likely used displayed and solidified their power through generosity.

For more information on this, see: Cline, Eric H., ed. The Oxford Handbook of The Bronze Age Aegean. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

  • [-]
  • the_LCD_No_No
  • 10 Points
  • 11:22:46, 12 February

Nice post, just subscribed to the subreddit because of it.

I've talk to people about this, some like to think about these societies as ideal because of the freedom they had, their relationship to the environment and their communalism. Some think they represent models to which modern societies should try to follow or imitate. I think that even though it sounds like a very nice concept, it would be hard to do this due to the amount of people currently living together. As someone that knows about this topic, do you think its possible to try to adapt some of these practices to modern times and maybe make our lives a bit better?

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 24 Points
  • 13:04:36, 12 February

> As someone that knows about this topic, do you think its possible to try to adapt some of these practices to modern times and maybe make our lives a bit better?

I think that our lives (in 'developed' countries) are actually pretty good with regards to safety, access to food, healthcare, individual liberties etc. We avoid many of the dangers of disease and injury were and are part of daily life for most of human history. And we get to watch Batman.

I also try, when I can, not to apply value-judgements to the phenomena I read about (though you'll see I've violated this advice in the previous paragraph). Being 'freer' does not, de facto, mean that life is better.

Finally, I would and have argued that many freedoms I have described are a direct consiquence of mobility and a lack of agriculture. We have populations so large that life would be absolutely unsustainable without intensive farming. I don't like to imagine what would happen if you took farms away. People do have the option to be more mobile, moving from place to place etc... but even if you could afford to do it with a roof over your head, think of what you'd have to sacrifice in terms of job security etc.

What I'd really like to get across is that no way of life is an ideal. Also, that it would be very difficult to go back to a foraging way of life even if we wanted to. I think I had a rant about it here (though, again, violated my own advice about not making value judgements).

  • [-]
  • Acatalepsia
  • 3 Points
  • 20:58:06, 12 February

Your posts are probably the most informally informative ones I have come across on the subject. I'm sure you are familiar with Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, and its main thesis. I was curious if you know any sources, (books or otherwise), that argue contrary to his thesis, without getting all hippy-dippy and non-empirical?

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 5 Points
  • 21:52:23, 12 February

I actually think Pinker is making some fair points. A lot of Pinker's detractors put up straw men and accuse Pinker of trying to portray life in the past as awful. He's not really saying this at all - his thesis is more that life in modern Western Societies is currently pretty free from violence and war. Which it often is.

The best argument I know to counter Pinkers thesis is that per capita stats may not be comparable in large and small populations. If per capita murder rates are relatively high in tiny societies, murder can be a much rarer event in absolute terms.

Sadly, I can't think of any good books which provide counter arguments off the top of my head. The better angels is quite recent and I haven't been following the debate as closely as I should.

  • [-]
  • Acatalepsia
  • 2 Points
  • 23:01:39, 12 February

No problem! The last route of argument you mentioned, (per capita vs. absolute violence) is my main beef with Pinker as well. I would imagine he thinks that a world in which 5 out of 100 people are murdered is worse than a world in which 1 million out of 100 million are murdered... but I'm skeptical. Still, his arguments are generally substantial, which is why I was curious about counter arguments.

Thanks.

  • [-]
  • dinsick500
  • 1 Points
  • 23:06:18, 12 February

I was born in the north of England, and therefore know many Scots. There are many stereo types of the mean Scot. Scotland is relatively unproductive and scarcity abounds. In pre-industrial times food scarcity was a serious issue, so sharing would be limited and often under strict familial control; hence clans with 'closed wallets'.

Later in life I went to live in Crete. There was abundance all year round and as I looked into its history, minoan and relative, I discovered that there was a least 1500 years without a recorded war! Sharing is easy and generosity part of the culture, it must have been one of the nicest times and places to be a human being. Such a contrast with the cold demanding north.

However there is historical evidence to show that there was a cultural flow from the eastern med. to the west coast of europe up to and including the celts of Ireland and the scottish western isles. On all continents on earth there has been the possibility of mobility through the full range of climate variability. A hunter-gatherer would be well adapted to changing conditions and, nature forbidding, be able to move if things became too unpleasant.

Post-industrial life is another matter. The modern human has lost touch with nature. Since the introduction of compulsory schooling in 1823. most nations have an industrially oriented education system which as led in a large part, to the sorry state we find ourselves today. my problem with Pinker is that his is only informed by this system and rarely thinks outside the box.

Lovely discussion going here, encouraged me to write more than my unusual pithy comment.

  • [-]
  • confused_monkey
  • 2 Points
  • 18:08:59, 12 February

Upvote for Batman!

  • [-]
  • Majromax
  • 8 Points
  • 14:29:06, 12 February

> In numerous hunter-gatherer societies, including many Australian groups, all extant African hunter-gatherers, and many south American groups, the hoarding of resources is strictly sanctioned (For an excellent review see Peterson). Individuals assert their right to others' food and food is often shared very generously.

Huh. This point strikes me as very familiar in a modern context.

In descriptions (maybe even here on reddit?) of why it's difficult for individuals to escape modern poverty traps, one feature that struck me was the reported inability to accumulate savings. When individuals receive a windfall, they're socially expected to share the wealth -- which is reinforced by the network of mutuality and favour exchange that keeps a poor community functioning. Escaping poverty also often means freeing oneself from those social relationships that (from the upwardly mobile person's point of view) turn from symbiotic to parasitic.

I don't think I have any conclusions to draw, even tentatively, but the parallels seem really interesting.

  • [-]
  • firedrops
  • 9 Points
  • 16:53:33, 12 February

You're absolutely right that these attitudes persist in societies that aren't hunter-gatherers. In Stains on my Name War in My Veins Williams has this great example from Guyana. A woman going to market has to carry her goods in a basket on her head but she is faced with a dilemma. If she puts a blanket over the goods her neighbors accuse her of hiding her wealth and trying to hoard. But if she leaves off the blanket her neighbors accuse her of bragging about what she has and trying to show off. People are so concerned about sharing resources that they will send their kids over as spies to see what their neighbors have. Then they'll casually show up a day later and ask for a cup of sugar or to borrow something. If denied, they'll publicly shame that neighbor because their child spy already told them what the neighbor had. People are constantly trying to balance this need to hoard in order to get ahead in a capitalist society yet prove to neighbors they aren't hoarding.

Taussig talks about this as well in a Mexican context in his book The Devil and Commodity Fetishism. The community there believes there is only so much luck, money, and resources to go around. If your neighbor is rich, lucky, or successful this must be at the expense of those around them. If you're curious, someone put the whole damn book online here though fair warning so much Marxism.

This leads to the problem of escaping poverty, which you bring up. Wilson called this "crab antics" because if you've ever been crabbing you might notice that the crabs in the bucket don't need monitoring. They never manage to escape because as soon as one reaches the edge the others pull it back down. (Crab Antics: The Social Anthropology of English-speaking Negro Societies of the Caribbean also introduces the classic Caribbean studies terms reputation and respectability as contrasting ways people get ahead in Caribbean societies, which I argue holds true in many low income and minority groups & might explain attitudes that seem counter productive.)

And this all plays out with some of the Haitian immigrants I've been working with for my dissertation. In Miami, Karen Richman has looked at how evangelical churches have used this to their advantage to gain converts. They preach that everything bad that has happened in Haiti (earthquake, cholera, poverty, AIDS, etc.) is due to Vodou, free masonry, and to a lesser extent Catholicism. This has led to some serious human rights concerns in Haiti due to religious violence. But in Miami the bigger concern for immigrants is how to establish themselves in their new country. As Richman says, these churches preach that Jesus saves not only your soul & the material future of Haiti but your pocketbook too. Because it would be sinful to send money back home to people who are only tipping the scales of souls towards the devil. Sending remittances is the worst thing you could do for your poverty stricken family from this religious perspective. Conversion then gives a psychological and religious space for hoarding resources instead of spreading them out to family members like they were raised to do.

  • [-]
  • totes_meta_bot
  • 16 Points
  • 09:10:20, 12 February

This thread has been linked to from elsewhere on reddit.

^I ^am ^a ^bot. ^Comments? ^Complaints? ^Send ^them ^to ^my ^inbox!

  • [-]
  • 13104598210
  • 3 Points
  • 14:25:59, 12 February

> Although this smacks a little of social evolutionism

This turn of phrase really intrigued me, because it reminds me of the accusations of cultural determinism or geographical determinism one hears in other academic disciplines.

Why would it seeming to be social evolutionism inherently negate the validity of the theory?

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 11 Points
  • 14:38:42, 12 February

This is a very large can of worms and I don't have time to give the referenced lengthy answer your question merits. However, in short, a few 19th century anthropologists and archaeologists saw societies as evolving from some sort of awful savagery into the grand and wonderful civilization you see around us today. This was a natural progression of barbarism to civilization and was to justify some pretty nasty things, both at the time of the British colonies and afterwards....

Geographical determinism also gets a hard rep from geographers for similar reasons. The environment was used to explain and justify the fact that some societies are less quote-unquote 'civilized'. A geographer would be able to explain the particulars of this debate better than I could.

During the huge academic debates/battles of the 70s, these discourses became (regrettably to my mind) very polarized. To some people, advancing a social evolutionist argument is the same as endorsing racism and oppression.

This is a shame because there is some evidence from Archaeology that sometimes human history did follow predictable trajectories - the only mistake here is confusing more 'complex' with 'better' or 'more civilized'. Though, of course, the predictive power of these theories is still quite limited. Because of the distaste for both social evolution and geological determinism as well as the history of these ideas I always try to be very careful when I address them. One can easily get oneself into a lot of hot water. Also, in this case, I felt that saying human history follows a u-shaped curve was the same as saying hunter-gatherers belong in the past - they don't and there are modern populations who still live by foraging.

I hope I've answered your question!

  • [-]
  • 13104598210
  • 2 Points
  • 19:03:50, 12 February

> To some people, advancing a social evolutionist argument is the same as endorsing racism and oppression.

Thank you--this is the general explanation as far as I've understood it as well, so it's nice to get some confirmation. I'm dissatisfied with this, however; it seems like the research is hobbled by a pre-existing taboo. Even if I agree with the spirit of the taboo, it's not terribly honest or objective. That's one of many reasons why I gave up a tenure-track professorship...

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 3 Points
  • 22:07:03, 12 February

Yes, I often think that research is hobbled by taboo. When empirical arguements become associated with moral judgements, decent research can become stymied. It can be awful.

On the flip side, many of these criticisms have a very important basis as long as they are handled sensibly and without too much banner waving.

  • [-]
  • Urizen23
  • 2 Points
  • 20:51:36, 12 February

>To some people, advancing a social evolutionist argument is the same as endorsing racism and oppression.

Wow, those people must DESPISE the Sid Meier's Civilization games...

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 2 Points
  • 21:50:29, 12 February

Yeah, but mainly because they get to the modern age and queen victoria kills them with tanks. Ten hours! Ten hours!

  • [-]
  • Urizen23
  • 2 Points
  • 22:17:07, 12 February

I like to purposely avoid one tech on a low-difficulty-setting game just to see how far I can get sometimes.

In IV, you can make it to the Industrial era without researching writing, but it's only one Industrial tech (Steel). I love imagining what the average person's life would be like:

>Come, little one; today begins your apprenticeship to Master Bessemer, for he wishes to be certain that his secrets will not die with him!

You can also get to Gunpowder without getting Ironworking or Metal Casting, which means your troops are using hand-forged bronze muskets.

  • [-]
  • SystemicPlural
  • 1 Points
  • 21:16:21, 12 February

It is possible to reconcile biological evolution with an increasing complexity in social structures by stepping back and considering both of them as processes that have developed due to a process called non equilibrium thermodynamics. This essentially explains how everything (lets call them systems, eg atoms, cells, animals) in the universe emerges and advances in complexity due their ability to produce a net increase in entropy over the amount if the system had not emerged.

Evolution is an organizing principle for lifeforms that increases entropy production and societal development uses a different organizing principle that also increases net entropy production.

This is very useful for explaining how social structures have shown a clear tendency to complexify, but also that the mechanism is different from evolution.

It is a counter intuitive theory because people think of entropy as a destructive force, when it is also the cause of increasing complexity in the universe.

For more info see Into the cool or Cosmic evolution.

^(You could also check out my website http://babblingbrook.net/page/theory/ which explains the theory in the context of developing a new socio-economic system using internet technologies.)

  • [-]
  • gh333
  • 9 Points
  • 06:39:01, 11 February

This is a great post.

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 14 Points
  • 19:34:47, 11 February

Hah! Thankyou!

  • [-]
  • orbat
  • 2 Points
  • 14:17:24, 12 February

Just ran into your post and wanted to say thanks. Extremely interesting stuff.

  • [-]
  • Over9000Island
  • 2 Points
  • 16:03:30, 12 February

"In some important respects" is an excellent foil for response, but I'm going to try for it anyway.

Aren't Hunter-Gatherer societies inhibited by necesity rather than coercion? They may not have the centralized structure of a government to be beholden to, but their often nomadic lifestyle and lack of infrastructure make affording for their immediate physical needs paramount in their lives.

  • [-]
  • brutay
  • 3 Points
  • 17:44:24, 12 February

>Aren't Hunter-Gatherer societies inhibited by necessity rather than coercion?

The central claim of the Christopher Boehm's book (Hierarchy in the Forest) that OP referenced is precisely the opposite. Boehm argues that hunter-gatherer societies are extremely aggressive coercers. In particular he relates the story of a fellow anthropologist who was studying the Utku tribe in Northern Canada. She had been "adopted" by an Utku family, but could not suppress her emotions in a way that was expected in Utku culture and she was consequently censured and castigated--purely out of an interest of maintaining cultural cohesion/tranquility. She was not being intentionally or physically disruptive, but her raw emotion was taboo, so the Utku tried to coerce her out of it.

According to Boehm, this sort of behavior is widespread. I remember another anecdote regarding a Native American tribe that rebuffed Boehm for his (perceived) aggressiveness (he gave a watermelon as a gift to an elder too early in a conversation, and this was interpreted as a kind of aggression). Consequently, the elder refused to meet with him on future occasions. These are "soft" forms of coercion, but there exist harder forms as well, going all the way up to execution (as punishment for adultery, for example).

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 5 Points
  • 16:09:24, 12 February

Yes. This is a valid argument. From speaking to the Hadza, many of those who have had the opportunity to take up farming or gone to school have returned to the bush because they prefer it. On the other hand, I mainly speak to individuals who do still forage, so my sample is quite biased. Furthermore, we do get asked for food an awful lot.

I know it's a cop-out, but I am unwilling proscribe certain lifestyles as better and worse. What I will say is that I find the idea of the ability to move freely from place to place quite appealing... though if I tried foraging I'd be dead within two weeks.

Sorry for flip-flopping!

  • [-]
  • Over9000Island
  • 4 Points
  • 16:20:27, 12 February

I don't think that it's flip-flopping I just think that it is a standard tradition, especially in the West, to idealize the lives of the "Noble Savage".

We see a people untainted by the ills of society, and so we put them up on a pedestal. Value judgements aside though, what needs to be acknowledged is that we all have freedom of a kind. We are liberated in a different sense, every society is born from a desire for a different kind of freedom.

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 3 Points
  • 16:30:04, 12 February

There are two western school of thought here. Rousseau (but originally Montaigne's!*) 'noble savage' and the obverse Fruedian 'roving horde', Morganian/Tylerian savage, Hobbesian stateless society.

Of course, these deputes usually just involve people reciting polemics at each other! It's good to see people endorse a more critical approach!

*On a completely unrelated tangent, Montaigne is fantastic. He invented the essay. Despite this disservice to humanity, he is probably one of the most readable essayists out there. If anyone is reading this, buy yourself a Montaigne essay compilation. They're just great!

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 4 Points
  • 16:07:25, 12 February

> I'm going to define it as 'the ability to live without others forcing you to do things that you do not want to do'.

That's one definition, but on the other hand:

> Secondly, many hunter-gatherer societies do not often store food, eating food immediately and sharing surplus.

In that case, you may not have others forcing you to do things, but you're forced to go look for food very soon because you have no food storage. You're free from other people forcing you to do things, but you're not free from the environmental pressures making you hunt or quickly die of starvation.

If you try to store some food so that for a week you are actually free to sit back and not go hunting for food, your food gets eaten:

> Another phenomenon that has been linked to hunting and gathering is forced reciprocity and demand-sharing. In numerous hunter-gatherer societies [...], the hoarding of resources is strictly sanctioned [...] Individuals assert their right to others' food and food is often shared very generously.

Coming up with a definition of liberty / freedom that everyone agrees with is very difficult, but for me, having to go looking for food every day massively restricts my freedom to spend my day the way I want to.

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 9 Points
  • 16:13:57, 12 February

Again, I think this is a very fair argument. What I will say is, from the current evidence, it appears that foragers enjoy a lot more leisure time than people who work 9-5 jobs.

This argument has, like everything else, been challenged from all sides and possible angles. From what I have read and the data I have seen, the evidence for leasure time among foragers does seem fairly sound.

On the other hand, I am asked for food an awful lot.

If you are interested in reading more about this, a good starting point is Sahlin's classic 'The original affluent society'. Putting this term into google scholar will draw up many of the debates. This article by Kaplan is a good one (though probably behind a paywall).

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 1 Points
  • 16:31:50, 12 February

> it appears that foragers enjoy a lot more leisure time than people who work 9-5 jobs.

Measured how? For example, I doubt a hunter gatherer could take a 1 week vacation, where that's easy for someone who works a 9-5 vacation, but in the average day they may have fewer hours of true work.

My guess would be that you could measure the march of progress based on how long a vacation someone might be able to take. To a certain extent, being able to step away from your "job" and do whatever you want for a few days or a few weeks can be seen as freedom, even if it means that you can't spend as many hours lying around in an average day.

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 7 Points
  • 16:35:44, 12 February

Measured by time spent not looking for or processing food, averaged over a year. Though your counter-arguments are not unfair. If you can get hold of it, have a through google scholar at the data. I don't have a strong vested interest in either side of this argument, but it is interesting.

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 5 Points
  • 17:11:13, 12 February

Interesting. Obviously though, a hunter gatherer and someone who works a 9-5 job are going to be preparing very different meals. I wonder if there's an argument to be made that shopping and preparing meals are leisure time for modern city dwellers.

Clearly eating fancy meals is something that is a leisure activity for many people. A hunter gatherer probably has almost no choice when it comes to food. They have to eat things that live or grow nearby, and they eat whatever it is they catch. A city dweller can walk into a supermarket and choose not only whatever animal they want, but the particular cut of meat they want from that animal. They can also choose the vegetables and fruits they want to go with it, even if those fruits and vegetables are out of season or grown in another climate entirely.

A modern city dweller might look at going to the supermarket as a chore, but if you took a hunter gatherer to a store and let them pick whatever they wanted, they might think of that as leisure time, a vacation, or even one of the most amazing moments of their lives.

Similarly, making a meal is often seen as a chore by a city dweller, but still they often choose to do something fancier than a hunter-gatherer might do, using a variety of tools, sauces, and cooking methods.

I remember hearing stories of hunter gatherer people who came across land that had previously not had humans, so the animals there hadn't evolved to be cautious of humans. At first I would expect that these people would gorge themselves, but I wonder if after a while they'd spend more time looking for food than they used to, not because it's hard to find, but because now they have so much choice that they can afford to say "hmm, I feel like eating ____ today, so even though there's easy food right here, I'm going to go looking for something really tasty".

Anyhow, thanks for responding, it's interesting to think about this sort of thing.

  • [-]
  • firedrops
  • 6 Points
  • 17:39:06, 12 February

> I wonder if there's an argument to be made that shopping and preparing meals are leisure time for modern city dwellers.

I think this is a good point. Things like the slow food movement suggests people do sometimes approach cooking as a hobby they indulge rather than a chore. But from Sahlin's perspective, the primary food getting activities would probably be our 9-5 jobs. The grocery stores already get the food for us & process quite a lot of it. We just have to go pick it up, pay, and do some minimal processing to cook it. And it is the labor required to get the money to pay that becomes our largest investment of time and effort that is equivalent to their time spent food gathering & processing.

> A modern city dweller might look at going to the supermarket as a chore, but if you took a hunter gatherer to a store and let them pick whatever they wanted, they might think of that as leisure time, a vacation, or even one of the most amazing moments of their lives.

In the 90s we had a Russian exchange student from Kostroma stay with us. Taking her to the grocery store turned out to be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming experience. There were just too many options, much of it was unfamiliar to her, and everything seemed so expensive. She did love the all you can eat buffets and the dollar store because there were no questions about price. But my point just being it might indeed be an amazing moment, but it might also be an unsettling one.

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 3 Points
  • 18:14:02, 12 February

You're right, initially, it would probably be overwhelming to someone who wasn't used to it. I was thinking more after the shock wears off, and if someone had a typical US grocery budget to spend, and had the freedom to spend as much time looking around the store as they wanted.

> But from Sahlin's perspective, the primary food getting activities would probably be our 9-5 jobs.

Ah ok, but then that's incomplete because people do their 9-5 jobs for more than just food. I'm sure there's no way to come up with a truly perfect estimate of the amount of our work that's dedicated to feeding us.

A typical city dweller will have a lot more things to spend their money on than food. One major expense will be shelter, something that is much cheaper for a hunter-gatherer.

I wonder if you could use strange situations like workers who were paid in company dollars and had to shop in company stores as a way to compare the two.

  • [-]
  • firedrops
  • 3 Points
  • 18:32:53, 12 February

Sahlins definitely ignores some of the "work" around the village or campsite such as repairing structures, making tools, constructing clothing, making traps & nets, etc. And subsequent research trying to calculate that stuff has had a hard time because people socialize at the same time. So is it accurate to consider mat weaving a chore when the weavers take their time leisurely weaving as they gossip, laugh, sing, and joke? But if you ignore it then you're also ignoring things like old New England apple peeling parties. They were very labor intensive b/c the apples had to all be processed at once (hence the need for a large group to help out) but they were also sites of entertainment, gossip, and singing. Sometimes leisure time and chores aren't so easily split up.

I'm not sure how well a company store case study would work since most of the work on them has been the ways company stores kept workers in permanent debt. You rarely made enough to pay back the store so you always had to borrow against future earnings to purchase basic necessities thereby making you a slave to the company store. Hence the famous folksong lyrics,

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store"

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 1 Points
  • 19:08:16, 12 February

> And subsequent research trying to calculate that stuff has had a hard time because people socialize at the same time.

Sounds like what I do at my job...

> But if you ignore it then you're also ignoring things like old New England apple peeling parties.

And working at a Wall Street firm or an Internet startup.

Btw, I love those lyrics, I could hear the bass right through the internets.

  • [-]
  • dinsick500
  • 1 Points
  • 23:15:41, 12 February

If you live freely, with family and or small community you are required, by nature, to work for four hours a day. With such an unstressful work load you don't need a holiday, you move about as the seasons dictate and with the spare time you can go about with shelter improvement and storage issues.

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 1 Points
  • 23:43:58, 12 February

> With such an unstressful work load you don't need a holiday

What are you basing that on? You're assuming that always being one day away from being hungry isn't stressful? That if you only work 4 hours a day, you never want a holiday?

  • [-]
  • dinsick500
  • 1 Points
  • 00:15:09, 13 February

The obvious stress is alleviated by the normality of the situation and social cohesion or family based necessity. You have to unthink the idea that this is a life choice situation, as nature dictates so follows the species. That was the preindustrial situation, today our freedom is limited by the number of alternative choices we have before us, usually connected to money.

Holidays would have been seasonal events that are still seen today, eg the arrival of spring, harvest season, the shortest and longest days. Summer for example still brings relief from the need to heat you home, the saved resource time can be put to leisure.

The modern holiday is short, official and characterized by people trying to escape from their stressful work routine.

  • [-]
  • immerc
  • 1 Points
  • 00:20:35, 13 February

You mean their unstressful work routine. People in the modern world don't have stress because their lives are even more normal and routine, they're not fighting for survival, and their days are completely predictable and safe from danger.

(in other words, your assumptions about what is stressful and what isn't are based on what exactly, wishful thinking?)

  • [-]
  • qmynd
  • 1 Points
  • 14:58:12, 12 February

How does he argue that the golden age of liberty occurs at the same time a large portion of the world is under European imperialist control?

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 2 Points
  • 15:01:46, 12 February

There were mobile forager populations around before any of these empires and are mobile forager populations around today.

I also hope I didn't say there was a golden age of liberty!

  • [-]
  • qmynd
  • 1 Points
  • 15:09:34, 12 February

No you said that kranuf guy said the golden age of liberty was at the turn of the 20th century

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 4 Points
  • 15:11:36, 12 February

Oh, right, sorry! Yeah - I think he meant liberty for the people in the societies that were doing most of the oppressing. But I was simplifying his argument out of necessity. Have a look at his paper if its not behind a pay-wall!

  • [-]
  • blilb
  • 1 Points
  • 16:36:58, 12 February

So, mobile hunter-gatherers were less oppressive to their tribe and shared food. Can you say anything about concomitant in-group sentiments, such as moral expectations, that might conflict with personal liberty? And since the OP mentioned Wealth of Nations, can you say something about the amount of collective labor-hours required to sustain the group? More time certainly qualifies as more freedom.

  • [-]
  • So-Krates
  • 1 Points
  • 18:25:54, 12 February

According to my cultural anthropology professor two years ago, hunter-gatherers also only work on average 4 hours a day, giving them much more free time than people of agricultural, or state societies (who have anywhere from 6-10 hour days). The "down time" I suppose, could also factor into your argument.

Edit: added stuff

  • [-]
  • Adamsmasher23
  • 1 Points
  • 20:19:07, 12 February

Have you read Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn? I'm curious as to how accurate it's perspective on freedom in hunter-gatherer cultures is.

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 1 Points
  • 20:26:26, 12 February

No, but a few people have said that to me. It's always looked just a little too fluffy for my tastes. It has been on my list of things I probably should read for quite a while, just so I can answer these questions.

  • [-]
  • MonkAndCanatella
  • 1 Points
  • 21:05:16, 12 February

can you speak to what changes in man's dealing with other humans when when they amass a surplus of food? It seems like a sharp divide to go from working together to share surplus to using surplus to make others perform your will. Perhaps the impetus to gather that surplus rather than share is the same that motivated them to use that to make others do their bidding.

  • [-]
  • aikifuku
  • 1 Points
  • 00:47:49, 13 February

Props for the post!

It seems that one could take issue with your definition of liberty as

> 'the ability to live without others forcing you to do things you do not want to do'

An alternate definition would not be so human centric in my mind. For instance, if you said true liberty was 'the ability to do anything you want' then I could see someone making an argument that modern societies are more free than hunter gatherer communities. As an example, I can travel thousands of miles in half a day. Hunter gatherer communities lack this liberty.

Genuinely interested in peoples take on this. Thanks a lot.

  • [-]
  • LeFlamel
  • 2 Points
  • 03:11:30, 13 February

We're had to sacrifice some personal independence for societal capacity? Two different flavors of "liberty" I guess

  • [-]
  • HippityLongEars
  • 1 Points
  • 13:04:15, 12 February

> in those societies who did have storage (both in the -mainly north american- archeaological and ethnographic record) there are plentiful examples of violence

Great post! Don't apologize for the length of good posts. :)

  • [-]
  • asdfman123
  • 1 Points
  • 16:35:26, 12 February

Obligatory link to Jared Diamond article about the pitfalls of agricultural societies:

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race

  • [-]
  • brutay
  • 1 Points
  • 17:30:15, 12 February

I would like to recommend you a book that speaks directly to this topic: Death from a Distance. It offers an unusually robust theoretical explanation for Knauft's U-shaped curve that is consistent with the hard-line evolutionary biologist/psychologist views regarding group-selection and altruism (e.g., Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins).

If you do end up reading it, I would be genuinely curious to know your thoughts on it. :)

  • [-]
  • duncanstibs
  • 1 Points
  • 22:14:01, 12 February

Well I thought his paper on egalitarianism and ranged weaponary was very interesting. I'd actually come to a similar conclusion myself and was a bit annoyed to find out that he'd already written an article about it.

However, I haven't read the book. I do wonder what my collegues think of it.

  • [-]
  • garshara
  • 1 Points
  • 15:54:28, 11 February

Thanks for being thorough