What draws people to anarcho-primitivism

The truth about the life of the primitive. A Critique of Anarcho-Primitivism


1 The truth about the life of the primitive. A Critique of Anarcho-Primitivism 1. As the industrial revolution progressed, modern society created for its own use a myth of self-satisfaction, the myth of progress: Since the time of our most distant ancestors, history has been tirelessly on the way to a better and brighter one Future and every new technological proposal was welcomed with joy: cattle breeding, agriculture, the wheel, urban planning, the invention of writing and money, the sailing boats, the compass, gunpowder, the printed newspapers, the steam engine and finally human realization, which crowns everything: the industrial, modern society! Before industrialization, practically everyone was condemned to a miserable life of incessant, deadly drudgery, poor nutrition, illness, and premature death. Isn't it extremely fortunate that we live in today's modern times, where we have a lot of free time and innumerable technological means at our disposal, which make our life easy? I believe that there are unconsidered, honest and well-informed people today who still believe in this myth. To lose faith in progress, it is enough to observe the state of degradation of our environment, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the worrying growth of mental illness and anxiety related to psychological stress, the spiritual emptiness of a society that is mainly deviated from Computer games etc. feeds ... the list is long. The myth of progress may not be dead yet, but it is dying. Another myth is increasingly taking over a place, a myth that is spread above all by the anarcho-primitivists and that is also echoed in other movements. If you believe this myth, no one had to work before civilization; it was enough to pluck his food from the trees, put it in his mouth, and scatter the rest of the day. There was no difference between men and women, neither disease nor competition, neither racism, nor sexism or homophobia; People lived in harmony with animals and everything was love, sharing and cooperation

2 This is of course a caricature of what the anarcho-primitivists themselves believe. Most of them, I hope at least, are not that unrelated to reality. After all, they are quite far from reality and it is high time someone debunked their myth. Because that is the aim of this article, I will speak very little of the positive aspects of primitive societies. I would therefore like to emphasize that you can find really positive aspects in these societies. In other words, the anarcho-primitivist myth is not 100% a myth. It undoubtedly contains some real elements. 2. Let's start with the theory of primitive abundance. The anarcho-primitivists believe that our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, only had to work 2 to 3, or 2 to 4 ... hours a day on average. The numbers vary, but the maximum does not exceed 4 hours a day or 28 hours a week (on average) 1. Those who come up with such numbers generally do not represent exactly what they mean by work, but the reader is tries to assume that this term encompasses all activities necessary to meet the practical requirements of a life as a hunter-gatherer. It is telling that the anarcho-primitivists very often neglect a source, but the information seems to come mainly from two essays, one by Marshall Sahlins (The Original Affluent Society 2), the other by Bob Black (Primitive Affluence 3) . Sahlins has stated that for the Bushmen in the Dobe region of South Africa the work week was approximately 15 hours 4. He based this statement on the work of Richard B. Lee. Unfortunately, I cannot consult this work by Lee directly, but I have a copy of an article by Elizabeth Cashdan in which she summarizes Lee's findings much more strictly and comprehensively than Sahlins did.5 Cashadan categorically contradicts Sahlins: According to her, Lee came to Conclusion that the Bushmen he studied worked more than 40 hours a week 6 1 Example: What is Green Anarchy ?, the Black and Green Network, Green Anarchy, No. 9, Sep. 2002, p Hunter-gatherer generally does not exceed three hours). 2 Sahlins, pages Bob Black Primitive Affluence: see list of cited literature 4 Sahlins, page 21 5 Cashdan, Hunters and Gatherers: Economic Bahviors in Bands 6 ibidem, page 23

3 In a part of his essay which the anarcho-primitivists preferred to ignore, Bob Black admits a work week of 40 hours and provides an explanation for the contradiction mentioned: Sahlins only relied on the first part of the work of Lee, only taking into account time spent hunting and collecting. However, once all kinds of necessary work were taken into account, the workweek was found to more than double.7 The portion of work not counted by Sahlins and the anarcho-primitivists was probably the more arduous part of the Bushmen's workweek, because it was mainly devoted to food preparation and the search for firewood 8. I speak from my own solid experience of wild foods: the preparation of such foods for consumption is often a real headache. It really is a lot nicer to gather nuts, uproot and hunt game than cracking nuts, cleaning roots, peeling game to get at the meat, or looking for firewood to cook with. The anarcho-primitivists also make the mistake of assuming that Lee's discoveries could be carried over to hunter-gatherers in general. It is not even certain that the conclusions Lee draws hold true for the entire year of Bushman hunting and gathering. Cashdan is exploring the possibility that Lee's investigation took place at a time of the year when the Bushmen were the least busy 9, and mentions two more hunter-gatherer peoples who spend much more time hunting and gathering than Lee's Bushmen 10 , and notes that Lee may have really underestimated women's working hours, since he did not factor in child-rearing time. 11. I know of no other accurate study of hunter-gatherer working hours, but it is certain that some under they worked much more than 40 hours a week like the Bushmen from Lee. Gontran de Poncins noted that the Eskimos he lived with over the years had no actual leisure time and worked hard 15 hours a day simply to find food and stay alive 12. Of course, he doesn't mean they have everyone Day 15 7 Bob Black, pages Cashdan, page 23 8 Cashdan, pages ibidem S ibidem pages ibidem, S Pincins, pages 111 and 126

Worked 4 hours, his calculation clearly shows that the work of his Eskimos was particularly hard. Among the Mbuti pygmies, Paul Schebesta's main theme, the excursions into the forest to collect on the days when they did not go to their neighbors' gardens to get food in the form of fruits and vegetables lasted between 5 and 6 hours. In addition to collecting, the women had additional work to do, which was quite considerable. Every afternoon, for example, a woman had to go into the woods and panting and hunched over, she brought a huge load of firewood into the camp to be fired. The women worked much more than the men, but Schebesta's report clearly shows that they worked much more than just the 3 to 4 hours of the anarcho-primitivists per day 13. Colin Turnbull studied the mbuti pygmies who worked with them Hunting nets. Thanks to this advantage, the Mbuti only had to work 20 hours a week. For them, the production of nets is almost a full-time job ... to which the men and women devote themselves when they have free time and the opportunity to do so. 14. The Siriono, who lived in a tropical forest in Bolivia, were not real hunters -Collectors, because they planted a limited amount at certain times of the year. However, they lived mainly from hunting and collecting 15. According to the ethnologist Holmberg, the men of the Siriono hunted on average every other day 16. They started with the dawn of the day and generally came back to their camp between 4 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon 17. That does on average more than 11 hours of hunting, in three and a half days that results in at least 38 hours of hunting per week. Since the men also worked 18 on days when they were not out hunting, the average working week lasted well over 40 hours a year. A small part of that time was devoted to tillage 19. In reality, Holmberg estimated that the Siriono devoted about half of their activity to hunting and gathering 20; H. grosso modo 56 hours a week just for that. If you add the other work activities, you get well over 60 hours a week. 13 Schebesta, Volume 2, Part 1, Pages 9, 17 20, 89, 93 96, 119, (men who make tools during leisure time), 170, panel X (photographs of women with an enormous load of wood on their backs) 14 Turnbull, Change and Adaption, p. 18, Forest People, S Holmberg, pages 48 51, 63, 67, 76 77, 82 83, 223, ibidem, pages ibidem pages ibidem, pages 63, 76, ibidem, S ibidem p 222

5 With the Siriono, the woman has less free time than the man and raising children leaves her little free time to relax 21. Holmberg's book contains numerous details about the hard working conditions of the Siriono 22. In his book The original Affluent Society there Sahlins, in addition to the results obtained with the Lee Bushmen, has other examples of hunter-gatherer peoples said to have worked little; In these cases, however, he does not give any precise details about their working hours or only speaks of the time devoted to hunting and gathering. If the Lee Bushmen are taken as an example, the evaluation of labor time is well below half of the total actual labor time. 23. For two groups of Australian Aborigines, Sahlins provides a numerical evaluation of the time spent hunting, planting, preparing and preparing food Repair of weapons is dedicated. In the first group, the mean time spent on these activities for each employee is approximately 26.5 hours; in the second about 36 hours. So this calculation did not take into account all types of work; Nothing is said about the time spent looking after the children, collecting wood, moving the camp, or manufacturing tools other than weapons. If all the time devoted to this work were included, the working time of the second group would surely exceed 40 hours. On the other hand, the working hours of the first group do not correspond to those of a normal group of hunter-gatherers, since they have no children to support. And on top of that, Sahlins himself doubts the conclusions he makes from these observations.24 And even if one were to find examples here and there of tribes of hunters and gatherers whose work did not exceed 3 hours a day, so would that has little impact on our survey, because we are not interested in the exceptional cases, but in the normal working hours of hunters and gatherers. Whatever the working hours of the gatherers and hunters, a large part of their work was very physically rigorous. The Siriono men usually walked 15 miles a day when they were out hunting; But that could also be 64 kilometers 25. A 21 ibidem S ibidem, pages 87, 107, 157, 213, 220, 246,, 254, Cashdan, page Sahlins, pages 15 17, The natural surroundings of the Siriono were not really pathless, because they created paths by regularly using the same routes (Holmberg, p. 105). These paths were far from good

6 Covering such a distance in a wild area without good roads requires more effort than on a well-maintained road. While walking or running in the swamps and jungles, the naked hunter is exposed to thorns, spines and harmful insects ... While the search for food is not always successful, it can be tiring and painful, whether it be hunting or fishing or collecting at all. 26 The men often let go of their anger towards others while hunting ... Even if they do not kill, they return home too tired to feel angry. 27 Even collecting wild fruits could be dangerous 28 and was an important job for the Siriono The Siriono ate little wild roots 31, but it is known that many hunter-gatherers counted on the roots to feed themselves. But finding edible roots in the wild cannot be compared to eating carrots from the soft garden soil. Most of the time, the ground is hard or covered in tough vegetation that you have to pull up to get to the roots. I would like to take some anarcho-primitivists up into the mountains, show them where these edible roots grow and ask them to dig them up to make their meal. Before they dug up enough yams or cama tubers to cook a proper meal, they would have blisters on their hands and suggest that primitive people didn't need to work to live. The work of the hunter-gatherer was also often monotonous. This is the case, for example, when the roots you are looking for are small, like many of those that the Northwest American Indians looked for, such as the bitter roots and yams and cama tubers that I mentioned. Picking berries is monotonous if you spend a lot of time on it. Or: try tanning the skin of a fallow deer. The fur of a fallow deer that has not been treated becomes dry-kept trails in our national parks; they were hardly visible (p. 51), never open (p. 105) and in fact not to be followed by an uninitiated person (p. 106) 26 Holmberg, page ibidem, page ibidem, pages 65, ibidem, Se Die Mühseligkeit der Jagd und der Getting food from the Siriono was nothing unusual compared to other hunters. An example: The Bushmen had the trail of the wildebeest in the middle of the prickly vegetation in the dry. How hard the life of the Eskimos was can be assessed by reading the work of Poncins, Kabloona. Read the accounts of Wooden Leg, a Cheyenne Indian, about his hunting expeditions (exhaustion, snow blindness, frozen feet). Marquis, pages Holmberg, page 65

7 and stiff. If you twist it, it breaks like cardboard. Animal fur has to be tanned so that it can be used as a garment or blanket. If you want to keep your hair on your skin to make an item of clothing for the winter, the process only consists of three stages. First of all, you must very carefully remove the slightest meat residue from the skin. Above all, the fat has to go, because otherwise it starts to stink. Then the skin needs to be made supple. At the end you have to smoke them. Unsmoked skin dries out and becomes stiff and hard, whereupon it has to be completely worked over again so that it becomes supple. Softening is the most time-consuming work. For many hours you have to knead the skin between your hands or pull it back and forth over a pin embedded in a piece of wood. This work is really very monotonous. I speak from personal experience. With regard to hunters and gatherers, the argument is sometimes put forward that in the recent past they had to survive in a hostile environment because the most hospitable soils were occupied by culture-inducing peoples. It is thus assumed that the prehistoric hunters and gatherers would have had to work much less on the fertile soils than the hunters and gatherers of more recent eras, who had to be content with deserts and other inhospitable zones 32. It is possible that this will remain true but one hypothesis and I remain skeptical. Today I'm a bit out of practice, but once I had a good knowledge of the edible plants of the eastern United States, which is one of the most fertile regions in the world. I would be surprised if someone could live there and raise a family without spending at least 40 hours a week on hunting and gathering. The said region offers a great variety of edible plants; but making a living from it is not as easy as you imagine. Take the nuts as an example. The black, white (butternut) and hickory nuts are very nutritious and often found in abundance. The Indians used to gather large numbers of them, and if they find some good trees in October, you can gather enough nuts to feed on for a day in an hour or less.Fantastic, isn't it? 32 This argument is made, for example, by Haviland, p. 167. 33 Fernand and Kinsey, 149

8 Yes, that seems pretty handy as long as you've never tried opening a black walnut. Perhaps an Arnold Schwarzenegger can open a black nut with a traditional nutcracker if it doesn't break first. But a person of normal strength will never be able to do that. First you need to smash the nut with a hammer. The fragmented nut, however, has partitions that are no less hard. So you have to keep hitting and laboriously picking out the little bits. The white nuts are very similar to the black nuts (not to be confused with the walnuts!); the hickory nuts are less hard, but also have very hard partitions; they are also generally smaller. The Indians solved this problem by grinding the nuts with a mortar and then boiling the mixture and allowing it to cool. The fragments of the shell sank to the bottom and the edible parts floated on top. This method was certainly more efficient than picking the soft flesh out of each battered nut, but you can imagine that it still required considerable labor. The Indians of the eastern United States ate other wild foods that required more or less laborious preparation to make them edible 35. It is unlikely that they would have resorted to such food resources if readily available food was available in sufficient quantities would have. Euell Gibbons, an expert on wild edible plants, has set an example of survival in the eastern United States 36. It is difficult to say whether his experience teaches us anything about the hours of work of primitive peoples, for he has made no estimate how much time it took to collect. In any case, he and his staff were only looking for food that they then prepared; they had no hides to tan, sew their own clothes, make tools and implements, or set up an abri. They had no children to support; they completed their meals with high calorie foods that they bought in the store: frying oil, sugar and more. At least once they used a car to get from one place to another. But let us assume to test the argument that in the fertile regions the edible wild plants were really so abundant that it was possible to have a year with, say, three. Gibbons, Page Fernand and Kinsey give examples of passim 36 Gibbons, in the chapter The Proof of the Puddingg

Survive 9 hours of work a day. With such overflowing resources, the hunter-gatherers would not have been forced to keep moving in search of food. They would probably have settled down, amassing goods and developing a hierarchical social organization. In doing so, however, they would have lost precisely those certain qualities which the anarcho-primitivists value so much in nomadic hunters and gatherers. Even the anarcho-primitivists do not deny that the Northwest Indians were sedentary hunter-gatherers who accumulated goods and knew well-developed social hierarchies.37 Obviously, similar societies of hunter-gatherers must have existed wherever there was an abundance of natural resources that allowed, e.g. The anarcho-primitivists find themselves in a clinch with this: where natural resources were sufficiently rich to reduce labor, there is a greater likelihood that social hierarchies will develop that they do loathe. But I'm not trying to prove that primitive man was less happy with his busy life than modern man. In my opinion, just the opposite is true. It is likely that at least certain nomadic hunter-gatherers had more free time than the middle American employees. It's true that Richard Lee's strict 40-hour workweek is pretty much the same as the classic workweek in the United States. Modern Americans, however, are burdened with numerous tasks outside of their working hours. When I worked 40 hours myself, my time was always very busy; I had to go to the store, the bank, do the laundry, fill out income forms, take the car to the garage, get my hair cut, go to the dentist ... there was always something to do. Many people I currently have correspondence with also complain that they are always busy. With the Bushmen, on the other hand, the man was in control of his time outside of his work; he could use his free time at will. The reproductive women of the Bushmen certainly had much less free time because, like women of all societies, they were busy monitoring infants. 37 Coon, p. 36,, 228, 230, Cashdan, p. 22. Coon, p., 390; also p. 253

10 But the concept of leisure is modern; the importance that the most anarcho-primitive attach to it reveals how much they cling to the values ​​of civilization which they are so determined to reject. The length of working hours is not what matters. Many writers have debated what is wrong with work in modern society and I see no reason to come back to it. What matters is that apart from monotony in the work of modern people there is nothing that concerns the work of nomadic hunter-gatherers. The work of the hunter-gatherer bears witness to both physical exertion and the necessary skill 39. The work of the hunter-gatherer has a very specific purpose; this purpose is not abstract, distant, or artificial: it is concrete, very real, and directly related to the individual. He works to meet his own physical needs, those of his family and those around him. In addition, the nomadic hunter-gatherer is a free worker: he is not exploited, is not subordinate to any employer, nobody gives him orders 40; he organizes his own working day, be it for himself or as a member of a fairly small group, so that each individual can participate significantly in the decisions to be made 41. Modern workers tend to be generally psychologically stressed; on the other hand, it is fair to assume that the work of the primitive peoples brought little stress with it 42. The work of the gatherer-hunter was often monotonous, but, in my opinion, brought the primitive peoples little trouble. Boredom, I believe, is more the product of our civilization and the consequence of the psychological stress inherent in our way of life. That's my very personal opinion, I agree; I cannot prove this claim. Discussing this took us too far from the subject of this article 39. Regarding dexterity, read e.g. Poncins, pp. 14-15, 160; Schebesta, Volume II, Part 1, page 7; Holmbuerg, pp. 275; Coon, pp. 14, 49, 75. This is an over-simplification in the sense that imperative authority and command were not absent from hunter-gatherer societies; on the other hand, the level of personal autonomy in these societies was higher, as evidenced by the works cited for reference in this article. See, for example, Forest People by Turmbull, p. 83 or Poncins, p. The nomadic hunter-gatherers generally lived in groups of 30 to 130 individuals, including children and infants, and often divided into smaller groups. Coon, S Cashdan, p. 21. The Siriono often hunted alone or in pairs; a group of hunters consisted of a maximum of six or seven people. Holmberg, p. 51. The ivy pygmies hunted in groups of two or four people. Coon, S By the way, I will come back to the question of stress. One les z. B. Poncins, S, 273, 292. Schebesta, Volume II, Part 1, page 18. He writes: The economic activity of the hunter and gatherer knows neither haste, rush, nor exaggerated concern about the daily food. +

11 away. I just want to emphasize here that my opinion is essentially based on my own experience outside the technical-industrial system. How the hunter-gatherers viewed their own work is difficult to say, since ethnologists and those interested in primitive peoples (at least as far as I have read their reports) generally did not seem to have asked themselves such questions. But what Holmberg writes about the Siriono in the following deserves to be emphasized: They are rather related to work (taba taba), which includes unpopular tasks such as building a house, gathering wood for a fire, removing bushes, plowing plants and fields indifferent. On the other hand, there are activities that are more pleasant, such as hunting (gwata gwata) or picking (deka deka), which are less work than pleasure. 43 This despite the fact that hunting and gathering among the Siriono, as we have seen, takes an extraordinarily long time, tiring, difficult and physically very strict 43 Holmberg, p. 101