TED Conversations

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

We of the industrialised countries have a tremendous amount to gain from the tribal peoples of the world, concerning problems of our era.

I spent some time visiting the Turkanas and Digos of Kenya recently -
my experiences have been primarily in Africa
I realised 2 things -

firstly, that our knowledge of ancient societies, and our level of contact with them, are extremely small -
and when they occasionally happen, it is with great cultural bias and a presumption of superiority by the visitor (NGOs, government representatives, corporate staff, churches ..)
secondly, that many of the core topics of today in the industrialised world (environment, conflict and human social connection) are
- in some cases - managed far more successfully by these
ancient societies -

but there are of course many nuances and downsides in this story -
it is not black and white

I propose that we should have friendly, equal interaction with these peoples in a careful way that does not disrupt their lives -
as a way of pursuing our own search for what is right and what we want
in the West

and we should absolutely not allow these societies to disappear
a little a time - we should rather protect them from threats to their way of life, and get to know them better

Pinkers rapid dismissal of the 'myth' of social harmony in tribal societies
is merely a symptom of the fact that 'we' barely know 'them' at all,
and have extremely little reliable information -
for myself, and for 2 of your TED speakers, it is easy to distinguish
between those who have had close contact with tribal peoples,
and those who have not, like Pinker

it is true that for any normal person, a real personal contact with them
is not easy to arrange - there is travel, there is finding a personal introduction, and survival in areas without shops or hotels

I maintain that nothing has ever been more worth the effort -
and that there is no substitute for the real thing -
films, books and talks cannot convey the experience

The nearest I can come is that it changes you permanently,
and as Pinker says "everything you thought before was wrong"

+5
Share:
progress indicator
  • thumb
    Jan 1 2013: I know it sounds ridiculous but I think that one of the greatest lessons that we can learn from these tribes is contentment. We need to get to a point where we are content, where we no longer need to expand or else we will eventually run out of space to expand to and that is when we will run out of resources (as we are now) and destroy ourselves in our restlessness

    I know it sounds ridiculous but more is not always better
    • thumb
      Jan 1 2013: Does not sound ridiculous to me Joshua....sounds very reasonable, responsible, insightful, and true:>)
    • Jan 3 2013: That scenario will likely lead us to space colonization and development. If we were content, we wouldn't have developed computers or technology as we know it. Think about it, what drives you? Contentment is probably a bad thing for a species.
      • thumb
        Jan 3 2013: Matt,
        I agree that one may get SO content that s/he may not feel motivated. However, I do not find contentment to be a "bad" thing. When I feel content, I usually feel more calm, creative, ready willing and able to explore more. I think as we evolve as thinking, feeling, human beings, we will always be creating:>)

        It appears that Joshua is talking about expansion in relationship to using resources?
        • Jan 4 2013: Well two things, contentment is a state of being, because no one is ever content all of the time. This hypothetical talk is giving a nod to ignore that very idea, that we need to work towards our human potential or transcendence. We are not discussing whether or not we will be content from one moment to the next, but that we will be content.
          There is no measure of content because you either are or you aren't. I'd be willing to bet that you're talking about something else, closely relate able but who can ever agree on these damn definitions anyway, there's always some subjective quality to anything in the english language.

          Or we're talking about something metaphorical and idealistic, in which case this whole thing is silly, whether or not its fun to talk about, but we're back to being 12 again.

          In any case, those history majors might agree with me, our desire to discover the unknown, which is arguably the basis for all that we are, is the very thing about our nature that has driven us create, to improve and to destroy. Just looking at the natural order for things as evidence for a precursor to some peoples romantic utopian future, content creatures get eaten or fail to adapt. I've always said I'm all for it, but, it's not realistic. Someday, Isaac, someday...
      • thumb
        Jan 4 2013: I am content all the time Matt:>)
        There are many levels of contentment:>)
        Contentment, according to definition and my experience means: "satisfied".

        And this is the quality I observe in tribal/ancient cultures of our world, which I LOVE connecting with:>)
        • Jan 4 2013: Different definitions :D

          I am happy for you if you're content all of the time andddddddddddd a little envious you super woman you!
      • thumb
        Jan 4 2013: LOL! Nothing "super" about it in my humble perception. I believe contentment is a choice, and much more enjoyable than the alternative:>)

        As I said, it is what I connect with and admire about people living in remote places with very little materialistically.
      • thumb
        Jan 5 2013: Is "technological" progress really a good thing if it only solves problems created by other technologies? Consider the state of the earth and humanity pre-agricultural revolution. Today, some people tax themselves tremendously with the rat race of life, hoping to work and work and work (hard) so that someday they can live a calm, balanced, tranquil life. You know, retire to some secluded, rural nook of the world. Today, people struggle to stay healthy and pay top-dollar for "organic" food. They go camping and hunting and fishing to "escape." To escape what? Why is our society built in a way that encourages "escape"? Again, consider pre-agricultural revolution humanity. People built and ate what they could. Men and women lived in communities with nature, built off their own labor. They woke up, hunted, ate, and at night, were merry. What is 'worse' about this life? It is an endless fishing trip, an endless hunting trip, an endless vacation.

        And this way of life is not irrelevant. People still live this way around the world. They did before we were here and if we continue on our course and destroy ourselves, they'll be here when we're gone.
        • Jan 5 2013: Very romantic but ultimately untrue. That society you speak of evolved from or ultimately became this one. Human nature isn't changed when the population is tiny. People wanted more, we always have. Field studies of primates show much of the same behavior and they haven't quite grasped technology like early man did. What is better about this life? A false sense of happiness because you don't know anything?

          Don't romanticize ancient history would be my advice, you've led a privileged life and knowing that is enough but problems are quantitatively comparable. We don't know how much their life sucked, or how great it was, there simply is no written record of those times.
        • thumb
          Jan 6 2013: LA Hall and Matt,
          You both make some valid points.
          LA,
          You say that people "tax themselves...hoping to work...so that someday they can live a calm, balanced tranquil life". You also insightfully mention the idea of "escape". It sounds like you are suggesting that often times, in western cultures, people do not live in the present moment? But rather, they are seeking something outside (escape), or peace and calm in the future?

          Matt,
          You say the "society you speak of evolved from" that other "romantic" (peaceful, calm) society? And the reason we evolved as we did was because we wanted more?

          I agree with everything you guys write. Do you suppose it is helpful to seek and experience balance? Can we learn from each other? Western culture is probably NOT going to stop developing technologically. Could it be that there is a possibility that we can use advanced technology to help support poorer people and poorer countries, and at the same time learn more about how THEY often experience more peace and contentment? Could this be the balance we work toward in our global society?
        • Jan 6 2013: To be as vague as possible, yes unfortunately! I don't feel qualified to be entirely specific about it up front. But...Suppose there was one boy in said society that was more curious than anyone else, he wanted to know what was beyond the borders. What was beyond the great sea. Perhaps he runs into another clan, one not so peaceful because they've had neighbors competing for their food sources. Perhaps said peaceful tribe grew to a size where it was in direct competition with another tribe for limited food sources. There's a drought, there's disease, famine, etc. I don't want to get all waxy with more of the same stuff but I hope these scenarios don't seem so far-fetched. As far as I know, we have no idea what really creates the outliers and the unique minds of any population.

          As a veteran and world traveler myself I completely believe in people experiencing other cultures and other activities well out of their usual. For me, I've been all over the world in cities big and small and I see much of the same thing, people live in bubbles, the bigger the city the bigger the bubble apparently. I see this problem with romanticizing ancient history or tribal life and I just can't sympathize with it. I do however, after reading the OP's comment near the top about finding home, completely understand how that feels. In my first trip to Bavaria I was overcome with the same strange feeling and have never had anything near to it in over a decade of exploring.
          As a mental health professional I have come to believe that we can absolutely fix humanity with technology, namely medicine and psychology. If our society could get through industrialization and what became of that horrid mess is this, we're not all together lost and confused. We should be fine if we remain thoughtful and critical.
  • thumb
    Jan 10 2013: i would like to present a challenge to all the thinkers...I feel the terms with which we describe cultures who are the original inhabitant of lands and their peoples is diminishing our ability to read the wealth of their value for our own growth...words like primitve, uneducated,uncivilized,anarchists,jungle inhabitants,aboriginal,tribal...ect,ect.. does.this nomenclature completely remove the rich knowledge they prove is thousands of years of sustainability. Do you feel like me the words always imply reduced cognitive ability, less depth in child parent connections,diminished enjoyment of their surroundings,more suffering,death,illness.?..Are there better words to describe them
    • thumb
      Jan 14 2013: Hi Carolyn,
      Good question. I agree with you that the words we use send a message, as well as reinforce an idea in our own minds. Perhaps how we use the words is as important as the words we use, and in what context?

      There ARE people living in "primitive" circumstances..."original; primary; of or relating to the earliest age or period; early ancestral; self taught; simple culture, natural...."

      The question may be...do we look down on these people, or recognize the gifts they have for us?

      There ARE "uneducated" people in our world...those who have not had much formal education. I am one of those:>) Do we look down on them/us, or respect them/us for what we may have learned without formal education?

      I could go through your list of words, and I think the important thing is to remember to be open to people, be aware of the words we use and HOW we use them?

      For me, it does NOT reduce ANYTHING because I try to genuinely see, and hear people for who and what they are, and what they have to teach me. I believe that we are all teachers and students in the life experience, so I am open to that possibility with all people, regardless of their background.

      I am not fond of some of the words you present...uncivilized, anarchist, jungle inhabitants, and I do not use those words to describe anyone.

      I do not mind the words primitive, uneducated, aboriginal or tribal, because in my perception, those words may accurately describe some people (including myself), and I do not feel it is disrespectful to use them.
      Comments?
    • Jan 26 2013: For the lack of a better word , let's call it 'preliterate'. And all our literacy, science and all the rest of it is nothing more than epistemological cartoons and value nothing if we can't raise our mind to this preliterate state of consciousness. In some sense our civilisation is a biblical 'fall', but there is no meaning of the fall without a rise.
      "... they prove is thousands of years of sustainability."
      Some one said that they had nothing and ' nothing ' is the only thing worth having, it lasts.
      But we can't go back , it's never the option. Don't you think that something 'new old' is emerging ? Archaic revival ? I wouldn't call it a culture and it has no chance to become a structure ( it's a structure antidote ), it's a kind of a 'postliterate ' thinking/ feeling/attitude ... awakening , maybe ?
      Here are links to illustrate my point :
      http://www.ted.com/talks/wade_davis_on_the_worldwide_web_of_belief_and_ritual.html
      http://www.ted.com/talks/wade_davis_on_endangered_cultures.html
      Hope you'll enjoy these talks !
  • thumb
    Jan 3 2013: Pual, I think the problem is deeper then just what we have been told, in the heart of your narrative there is a lack of humanity; in the words of mother Teresa: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. I Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." The human society as a whole is a single oraganism capable of florishing to the highest potential of life in every demsion. There is no WE US, versers THEY OR THEM. The otherness we created in each other has to go. WE are the ones we have been waiting for, Ob.
    In Oct 6 1963 a few years before I was born H.I.M. Haile Selassie address to the Unted Nations and this is what he said That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. Alhought alot has happen yet still the same?
    • thumb
      Jan 3 2013: "There is no WE US, versers THEY OR THEM. The otherness we created in each other has to go. WE are the ones we have been waiting for."

      Beautifully said.
  • thumb
    Jan 28 2013: I am sure of one thing; nothing short of a sustainable, balanced lifestyle will ever endure on this small home of ours. Something else that I am not so sure of; that any of these "civilized" nations are capable of living harmoniously within the confines of our atmosphere, they suffer a disease, known predominately to caucasions of european descent, of possession, which seems to be incurable through their own efforts of accumulation. It will necessarily require a return to traditional social structures of indigenous peoples from the world over. Technology is a predator. Turning back to the earth, and first living unobtrusively within our natural means is our best chance, of not only surviving, but thriving.
    I understand how foreign and fanatical this sounds to most, I found it unthinkable many years ago myself. Today, it has become my primary desire for this planet we call home. I look at many things differently today, you see, I am a survivor, I have overcome the disease of possession and I wish for everyone to be free from the fear of tomorrow. I healed by learning, living, and eventually loving the mindset of our ancestors. A mindset that existed prior to the establishment of organized religion, institutionalized education, and a government that owned the authority above the sovereign individual.
    Hopi, Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, Mayan, Tibetan, and many other prophecies ranging from five hundred to many thousands of years old and passed down through the generations foretold of the day when the earth's populations would seek the knowledge kept safe in the hearts of their elders. The knowledge of our proper place on this planet and proper relationships to one another, to the other living creations we share our home with, as well.
    I am grateful to be alive these days as I think we are witnessing this transformation of hearts and minds that will return us to the environment fashioned by the hand that fashioned us.
  • Jan 26 2013: Thank you for sharing your veiwpoints on this very interesting topic. It seems that Africa is much different than south-east Asia. The tribal people here are more self-oriented and in many ways self-destructive.

    As an American it was very difficult for me not to interfere in the local "ways of life." When I visit the local hospitals, I see that the main emergency is breathing problems. I can clearly see that this is due to the overabundance of smoking cigarettes and also because the people cook in their houses over an open fire with windows and doors closed to keep out the dogs.

    Another situation is the use of polluted water. It is the national custom to throw trash and everything on the ground where the waterways become contaminated and drainage becomes blocked leading to flooding. Being a person who "knows better," I am confused by the term "Local Wisdom." The World Health Organization has studied these things and has offered simple solutions to increase health and the mortality rate of children. Hundreds of millions of dollars every year are given to help reduce poverty.

    Yes, the world does need to understand that poverty is relative. $200 per year in one country might be the same as $200,000 in another. So to say that we must take people out of poverty, we need to be aware of their situation first. They may have no money, but they may be healthy and have a place to live.

    I agree that we should not push our customs on other peoples, but what should we do about unheathly situations? What about areas of oppression? Should we educate people about corruption and the benefits of law and order?

    In Papua, Indonesia, the gold mine is run by an industrialized nation while the natives still wear traditional grass skirts and coconut shells over their "privates." There are hostilities continuously between the local tribes. The fights are usually over land or pigs or women. Many times they just schedule wars that last for a couple days and then they stop and go home.
  • Jan 9 2013: I see that people have raised the question of whether we can be in contact with such peoples
    at all without harming them -
    from my experience this is the truest observation and concern - our record on this speaks for itself
    It is calamitous

    I believe, under certain conditions, we can however - and I'd like to exchange more on that

    For us more fundamentally in this thread, what is it, as Carolyn and others ask, that we have to gain ?
    As per the initial idea here ?

    I suggest that anyone who spent time with tribal or ancient societies would learn things
    that they could bring back to the West or industrialised world

    we speak a lot of core human values and shared values, and universal qualities of human life -
    that is those of us with an engaged spirit in our world -
    but we know our societies are overcomplicated and overwhelmed with complication,
    and distant from the basic elements of life, and the natural forces that underly our lives

    we are in a never-ending race, where we are particles moving, or being moved,
    in a direction we do not even know, and may largely disagree with -
    submerged in complication, detail and stress and pressure, we have perhaps
    forgotten what we are aiming for

    I believe tribal communities, and all old closely connected communities that are
    not inhumanly complicated and hurried, and are in a physical relationship with their
    environment remind us of where we all come from, and of the basics, the universals

    It takes us out of and beyond the technical, the intellectual and the competitive rush,
    and back into a sane, peaceful, connected version of ourselves -

    I think only the old civilisations can do this -
    and make us of the high-tech societies remember what really matters,
    and who we really are
    • thumb
      Jan 14 2013: Paul,
      One thing I have learned, is that we are all more the same than different. Some of the things Carolyn mentions are cognitive ability, depth in child parent connections, enjoyment of surroundings, suffering, death, illness...

      The people I have interacted with in remote areas of our world, in my perception, have equal cognitive ability (in fact, sometimes more than in suposedly "civilized" cultures), they are similar in parenting skills and I think/feel many times, better with child/parent connections. I think the closeness and simplicity of their life styles contributes to some of these connections. Most of the people I have encountered in remote areas seem to be MORE aware of their surroundings and appreciate what they have (although very little materialistically) MORE than people in more advanced cultures.

      As you say Paul, we share many core human values, and universal qualities of the human life experience. We share all the same emotions. Those in western cultures are often stressed by the "never-ending race", and yet people continue to "submerge" themselves into complication. Yes, I believe some folks have forgotten what they are aiming for.
  • Jan 8 2013: I think more exposure to those that choose to remain isolated would be more harmful to them; however interaction with their ways of life may be refreshing for those buried in the industial/social netowrking aspects of the current society. Sometimes people need to get back to the basics and find a genuine appreciation for many of the things we take for granted.
    • thumb
      Jan 14 2013: Calvin,
      I totally agree that it is helpful to "get back to the basics and find a genuine appreciation for many of the things we take for granted".

      I also agree that some folks are "buried" in the industrial/social networking aspects of some societies.

      So, if/when people are "buried" in a certain belief system, they may bring that belief system with them into the isotated cultures? This is what I observe sometimes in our world. Rather than going into remote areas and genuinely trying to interact with the people in THEIR lifestyle, people visit with the intent of spreading their own life style? So, they may actually be creating a barrier to learning from others?

      I totally agree that interaction in a simpler lifestyle may be "refreshing" for some folks, and in doing that, it may be necessary to let go of our own comfort zone?
  • Dec 30 2012: Yes, in my view, Pinker's thesis about tribal peoples is based on selective (and often questionable) data. And, yes, we should be extremely wary of using terms like 'ancient'. I go into all this in a book, 'Tribal peoples for tomorrow's world', which is intended as a sort of 'beginner's guide'. If anyone wants an ebook copy, let me know.
  • Dec 30 2012: The natives have always known how to live in harmony with nature and the world. The tribal people in Africa, and other lands such as N America, Australia... all still have the knowledge we need. I was watching a documentary on the Native Americans and found that in their own prophecies they talked of a time when all shall come and learn from them as to how to live and co-exist with nature. Though they say this is going to happen after World War 3.

    My say is that since we are on Ted, we might as well create the groups we need and start working on fixing the environment, why wait for a disaster to first occur?

    We can also learn a lot from the African tribes as they do possess the knowledge of curing diseases, there was a particular kind of cancer (can't remember which one) that was cured by a Kenyan tribal chief. The same goes for the nodding disease that was present in Uganda whereby one of their own locals was able to heal them.

    I personally had many mental problems and was healed with the ancient knowledge of spirituality and faith healing whereby my own OCD, depression, anger, agitation... were all healed by a healer who was in a trance and the angels had possessed him. All this was for free, other wise it would have cost me over a $1000 by now. This itself was part of ancient healing.

    In my spirituality there was a person healed of aids too, so all cures do exist its just that we don't know of them as we have corrupted everything and want people to consume tablets on a daily basis so that we make more money. We can combine all forms of healing from all different cultures and also the modern kinds, especially to do with surgery... and physical healing too and we would be very advanced.
  • Dec 29 2012: Tribal societies have a lot to learn from industrialised ones; industrialised societies have a lot to learn from tribal ones.
    It is easy for the societies with the fancy gadgets and the glamourous pop culture to 'pity' tribal societies; in most cases it takes a journey to the tribal societies to realise what Jesus has already made clear in Luke 12:15 "Take heed, and beware of covetousness:for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."
    So, happiness is a choice; and there is much more to life than the fiction presented by Ads, Tv show and magazines.

    But tribal societies should learn about the industrial societies, and accept change when neccessary; because wisdom is wisdom, the application of knowledge is for certain needs.
    Not knowledge just for the sake of it.
    • thumb
      Dec 31 2012: Hello Feyisayo,
      I have developed a mental exercise, often when sorting out a family problem, I take away the props of our western, industrialized construct, and I divide my family members into my vision of a desert camp construct, what I imagine Abraham lived like. This model has served me well over the years. There is nothing new under the sun.
      I envy societies that are not fully industrialized, and can, theoretically pick and chose what they want to take from the Western civilization.
      I also am dismayed at how older cultures still maintain their traditions, while we in the west, seemed to have consumed, even our scanty 200 years of history, except as museum displays.
      Your venue is intriguing. Thank you for bringing it to fruition.
      • thumb
        Jan 22 2013: Hi Marianne, can you elaborate on your technique? So you 'divide my family members into my vision of a desert camp construct". I am intrigued. How does this help?
  • Dec 28 2012: A very interesting study that is related to this is that of the city of Pre Conquest Mexico city (I can't spell it off hand). They had a deep sense of internal harmony, in which every man woman and child knew their place in society and there was very little crime, low corruption (it was brutally and publicly punished), and the city could feed itself, they 'made' land by planting mats made of reeds and corn stalks and anchored them to the lake bed with willows and used them to feed the city, this may not seem like much but a city of 200k+ being self reliant isn't common today. What they traded was mostly goods cacoa beans, feathers, gold, silver, shells, etc. and not much food. I think it is interesting that so many forget the tragically lost cities like this, that could have been an inspiration for the world.
  • thumb
    Jan 28 2013: I believe your premise is false, they have a lot to learn from us. Tribal societies are evolutionary backwaters, they are over specialized and unable to adapt.

    Their knowledge in specific areas may be greater but no tribal society could grow to the extent of modern societies, their structure cannot work beyond a certain limit.

    That doesn't make them any less valuable, indeed there could be a good argument made for a different civlization model based on tribal sizes but with greater communication and autonomy (think a fractal society).

    The difficulty is this, tribal societies and the modern world typically have different desires and objectives. Fear holds both parties back from truly open engagement. If anything bothsides need to learn one lesson. Be selfless.
    • thumb
      Jan 28 2013: Evolutionarily backwards? Unable to adapt? You say that no tribal society could grow to the extent of modern societies. That's fine. Why is growth the cure for what ails society? Why is growth to be desired? Cancers grow, but nobody suggests we should have more cancer.

      Why again do tribes have a lot to learn from modern societies? Not seeing it.
  • Jan 28 2013: Context is content. There may be a lingering romanticism of the "noble savage" or whatever the current politically correct term may be. Our responsibility is to give each individual the opportunity to live their lives in the way they best see fit. I suspect that would mean that given the opportunity these isolated communities would largely evaporate in a fairly short time. While this may be regrettable, the only other alternative is to willfully impose ignorance and isolation on people without their informed consent in order to serve our romantic ideals. Their lives work for them because, in comparison to the modern world, they have very few choices to make on a day-to-day basis. However, if they wish to be left alone, and I'm not sure who makes that determination or on what basis, then they should be left alone. The fact that you are changed for the better by their isolation does not mean that they are.
    • thumb
      Jan 28 2013: I don't mean to contradict, but what the author, Paul, is pointing to is the wisdom that exists within these societies. He's pointing to the fact that these societies have saner ideas on what it means to live a meaningful life. To dismiss his content as 'lingering romanticism' is to not understand what he's getting at.
      • Jan 28 2013: I welcome contradiction and am open to being completely persuaded to another point of view. However, i failed to see any explanation of what those "saner ideas" are or what a "meaningful life" is or how they might be adapted to a modern society. I believe I understand what he's implying, but I don't see any evidence to support it and I'm not willing to sacrifice these peoples identities for what I will continue to see as romanticism until some practical benefits are identified. The only concrete benefit he identified was that it made him feel better. i don't think that's enough. We admired the "sanity" and "meaningfulness" of the Native Americans to the point of extinction..
        • thumb
          Jan 28 2013: A couple of examples. Author Jared Diamond in his book The World Until Yesterday discusses the tribes of New Guinea, which have much saner ideas about how to take care of the elderly -- a big problem in modern culture. Or, the Native Americans who believed in a spiritual connection between themselves an the buffalo, which gave them an incredible respect for the environment -- another big problem of today. Or Malcolm Gladwell's citizens of Roseto who lived in a community with little heart disease and little crime, as a result of their culture -- another problem of today.

          I think what Paul is saying is that there is something we can learn from these cultures if only we take the time to understand them. I also think there's a bias we have toward our modern society that paints all others in an inferior light when, perhaps, we're the ones with inferior social structures. Just a thought.
  • Jan 27 2013: If tribal communities have so much to offer, why don't they have indoor plumbing?

    Sure, human life is valuable, and stagnant cultures can certainly be interesting, but if we want to solve the problems concerning our era, we are best served by looking within our own civilization. Our society produces real healthcare, advanced agriculture techniques, efficient communication mediums, education, durable housing, roads, bridges, mass transit, and the list goes on and on.
    • thumb
      Jan 27 2013: and let me add that those communities can't wait to lay a hand of these technologies. the other day i was lending on kiva to a farmer in kenya to buy a "zero grazing unit". i had to look up on google what the hack is zero grazing. kenyan farmers don't give a damn to traditions when it comes to food production. they just want more output, and they use what they can.

      this, until a white man comes along and says "we should absolutely not allow these societies to disappear".
  • Jan 27 2013: have you ever heard of the cubic personality? this is an idea developed by mr enrique moreno garcia, author of a book called "the two americas" where he easiily explains the difference between anglosaxons and latinos, why the mex american border divis two worlds which do not understand each other, he is a language expert , knows koine greek, latin, and ten more languages, among them a few nahuatl, which is the language mexica indians speak. he has been professor for the university of florida, guadalajara and washington, but he writes mostly in spanish... he is a very bright intelectual.
  • Jan 26 2013: What a rich and fascinating set of responses -
    I admit I rarely talk with those around me in Chichester England about the tribal peoples,
    it seems as if people can't easily see the connection with their lives and knowledge,
    as if the 'gear shift' were too large to 'enter the world' of the peoples I am talking about

    And yet here, a wealth of imaginative and informed reaction

    After all of this exchange, I think want I want to point to most as the reason for this thread is ;
    a sanity, a healthfulness, a human connection and life at a healthy human scale -
    some quality of their lives that makes sense, is real, is warm, strong, appealing and calm

    of course I acknowledge the points made here -
    that we should not romanticise, project utopian fantasies, create ethnic theme parks and so on
    nor should we think we can 'be like them' or abolish high technology

    to me they are more like a pointer to what we are missing, what we are looking for,
    what we have forgotten about ourselves - a core part of our lives that we are losing

    and my feeling is that we can not 'study' them and abstract concepts from them like scientists,
    which is how we tend to approach all questions and problems

    but we can be permeated by their influence ...
    and so far the only way I know to do that is to go and be with them,
    in their life as they lead it

    this whole thread is my attempt to find another way to move that humanising, healthful influence -
    to my great surprise, it has brought forth a great many personal and meaningful responses
    (in such cultures, everything is personal and meaningful !)

    If you have more to add, please bring it on !
    Like further responses, or ideas about where we can take it from here
    • Jan 28 2013: "to go and be with them" is to fundamentally change who they are and what their expectations are of the next outsider who arrives. You are polluting their experience while I am unclear of the advantages you take away other than a vague nostalgia for a simpler time which ignores the harsh realities of that simplicity. What is it specifically that "permeates" you? What specifically is it about a stone age culture that is transferable to a 21st C. culture? If we are going to exploit these cultures, which is what you're suggesting, however you phrase it, then what is the greater value that we take away from it? Everything is personal and meaningful in our culture, too. These primitive cultures are irrelevant to us which does not mean that they have no value to those in them. I think it might be more useful to seek out examples of what's "missing" or "what we're looking for" or "what we're losing" within the society that you actually live in.
  • Jan 26 2013: I agree with you.
    However, I do think it important to note that humans are not yet civilized and there is a great error in speaking as though some are, or are more civilized than peoples of the past.
    It seems to me these "civilized countries", which have people in them, and who "seem the most civilized" are the ones who have done the most plundering of other countries, lands, peoples and their resources.
    I don't see real "civilized people" as ones living and behaving that way, especially when they espouse that they do and that they are.

    What we mistakenly label or call "civilized" is not actual civilization. It is people "acting that way" when they really aren't.
    I really think this is a much more accurate description of who we are.

    And lo and behold, we still refuse to address the causes and get rid of them.
    That is dangerous, evil stubbornness and it certainly isn't civilized.
    Calling oneself civilized is like the insane Moral Majority in the Un-united States, calling themselves moral when they ain't even close. Nor are they anywhere near sanity.

    Look around you at the world. It ain't civilized...................................yet.

    If a mass murderer were caught tomorrow, after serial killing thousands of people, over a long period of time, and it were found out that she had done a lot of good things for others too, would you be inclined to forgive, forget or just wipe the slate clean because of the good she had done in the past? And let her go?

    Well, that's what patriotic American'ts do with America. "We've done a lot of good in the world, blah, blah, blah," and using that to ignore and try and forget all the atrocities America has perpetrated and continues to perpetrate.
    And that civilization, and other rich, Western cultures are considered, "civilized"?

    And it ain't, "compared to what?" Is there really such a thing as a civilized monster?

    No. There is only a monster that "acts that way", be it persons, countries or cultures.
  • Jan 22 2013: The world population is now over 6 billion and is
    increasing by 90 million a year. Human numbers
    are expected to grow to between 8 and 11 billion
    before levelling off later in the 21st century. Population growth has levelled off in the highly
    developed countries over the past few decades;
    but these industrialised states are now supporting
    the maximum numbers that can be sustained in
    the short term, and the citizens consume around
    30 times as much energy and resources as those of the Third World. For example, the 120 million
    Japanese have a greater damaging impact on
    world resources than the whole of the population
    of India and China put together.
  • Jan 22 2013: World Conservation Problems
  • thumb
    Jan 14 2013: ok...I used unattrative words of course to present my case....I think introducing new words would be even more modern...as our first assessment of these societies is the one that you will find is most common(not for you and the small groups who are similar) the better new words could be...enviornmental cultures,right brain culture, wholistic based system cultures....the reasons why the words would be better off changing is to give a clue as to what they have to offer...primitive,native,uneducated...has negative concepts..that in the bigger picture diminishes the overall value of their lifestyle...Not everyone is as near embracing as yourself...we renamed a lot of the things to be kinder...why not revamp a very real source of perceptions given by groups outside of our economic turmoil with a name that suggests their structure
  • Jan 8 2013: I don't think "communication... with these peoples... without [disrupting] their lives" is possible. They are geographically and culturally secluded (as they have been for thousands of years), and interaction with them would intrinsically involve a disruption in their ways of life. That being said, I'd love to learn more about these cultures, and I'd love for them to learn more about our culture(s) as well.
  • thumb
    Jan 6 2013: There have been many and differing kinds of efforts to get the cultural insights of one group communicated to another. I especially appreciate the sense, the sense of wisdom that isolated traditional cultures have to offer humanity at large.
    • thumb
      Jan 6 2013: So Mark,
      Do you think it is better to try to communicate and connect different groups of people? Or do you think/feel it is the isolation that preserves the wisdom of these cultures?

      I LOVE connecting with isolated groups, being among them, and I always felt that we were sharing something with each other.....
      • thumb
        Jan 9 2013: I like the sensitivity in your question and the consideration for shared human values. I agree that there is a need to be wary of the possibility of corrupting anything vulnerable and valuable. As with all resources, the cultural resources of isolated peoples should be respected and protected.

        I think we especially in the industrialized west have isolated cranial self from our other selves: heart, gut, sensory body, kinesthetic body, empathic being, communal being, right hemisphere persona.

        Isolation might very well be a fragile state.
        • thumb
          Jan 14 2013: Mark,
          I always enjoy the sensitivity in your insightful comments....thank you for that gift:>)

          I agree that isolation can be a very fragile state, which people have sometimes taken advantage of. I also agree that some in the industrial west isolate themselves, even in the midst of (or maybe because of?) a very complicated lifestyle.

          If we interact with people in isolated places, with the intent to learn from them, it may be more likely that we will help protect and preserve their culture and wisdom? I believe this to be true.

          Part of an experience, while staying in the rain forest in Costa Rica years ago, was history lessons. Costa Rica has no military, low crime rate, high educational standards, more affluent than other central Am. countries, etc. I asked why? How did this country develop this way, while the countries around them have always been in chaos?

          We were told by our Costa Rican teacher, that way back when missionaries were moving into central america, the person who was most active in Costa Rica, encouraged the people to retain their own culture. Yes, he was trying to convert them, AND also encouraging them to embrace their natural culture. While missionaries in other parts of central america were trying to convert the people by advising them to discard their own culture.

          Our Costa Rican teacher said she believes that the Costa Rican people know themselves and their culture, still embrace parts of their original culture, have more self confidence and self esteem. Makes sense doesn't it???
  • Jan 4 2013: I agree Scott ,and I believe that we are in dire need of inspiration.I look at so called"primitive "cultures with great envy and sadness.Mankind has lost direction,and today desiring perky breasts and the latest gadgets has replaced the collective responsibility for the well being of both the young and old of the community.
    Perhaps they have it right and should look at us with pity,a generation plagued by Intellectual superority complexes and lack of direction or faith.
  • Jan 4 2013: sorry if someone mentioned it, but Jared Diamont (?sp) (Guns Germs and Steel author) has a book out on this very topic. he was on the podcast On Point with Tom Ashbrook this week. may add another layer to this discussion
  • thumb
    Jan 3 2013: paul,can you be specific as to what is unique in the construct of these societies which you value so much.Seeing as we cant decide what to do to our society next,because we are unable to agree,or envision a life with less cars,guns or gadgets...what is it that these people engage in that you find precious. Is it the way they prepare food,spend time with each other,doing what if not t.v. or computer...Is it their medical practices,house building,clothing making,roof thatching,crop planting,dealing with waste products,how they treat nature,each other. It would greatly benefit me if i HEARD NEW IDEAS,SO MAYBE i CAN INSERT them into my life. I already do drum circles,meditative dance,chanting,give away tons of my stuff to others,help anyone I can,and no modern medicine,and am eating no pre made foods,and eat mostly vegetables......Any good ideas are welcome
    • Jan 5 2013: let me try Carolyn, by telling a little of the story
      I arrived there near sunset -
      the village was 3 huts, 2 or 3 women and some small children, relatives of the Chief's daughter Rose,
      who I had met in a town - she had taken me there, and was the only English speaker

      as is customary, woven straw mats were brought out for us all to sit, and the sun was setting
      there was no other sound than Rose and the women talking, catching up on news
      and no light except the strong glow of starlight - so calm, so simple

      I lay on my back, watching the stars and hearing the soothing trickle of conversation -
      small shapes appeared in the half-light on the corners of my mat,
      as the children lay down, half-snoozing and half listening to the women talk

      I will never be able to explain this, but in that moment, way out in a remote desert tribal region
      where I knew no-one yet, and understood not one word, I felt as if I was Home

      In the many following days and further visits, life felt so spacious and without hurry -
      it felt reasonable, sane, human. alive and healthy

      Life there is materially simple to an extreme degree
      you sleep outside on a straw mat, people appear to visit you and talk,
      and visiting each other every day is just the normal way for them -
      'alone' does not really exist

      there is a sanitising effect of living such a simple and physical life
      in a natural environment - and the quality of time itself changes
      I usually find that time as we know it stops

      I don't want to fall into the trap of romanticising the place or people -
      they are a human and flawed as anyone else

      but the effect on a Westerner like myself is profound -
      and when you come back to our culture, for a while you are perceiving
      your own culture from the outside - which you may never have done before
      you get a glimpse of what all the people of the old cultures are seeing when they look at us
      • Jan 8 2013: what you experienced was harmony within a tribe. harmony between tribes, which is what pinker was talking about, is a myth.
  • thumb
    Jan 3 2013: Colleen, we live in a beautiful spot. I go to school in Burlington. It's so vast and untamed up there. Great stuff. Anyway, to listen and understand body language FULLY, yes I agree you've got to be attentive with all five senses (spare taste, perhaps), but what I was saying is that perhaps the trend in industrialized nations -- nations where there's increasingly more and more people around us who we talk with less and less -- is that we pick up on each other's subtleties much better now. What some of us call awkwardness, the elephant in the room, may be a misunderstood, highly attuned sense of human body language and its meanings.
    • thumb
      Jan 4 2013: LA Hall,
      I was born in Burlington, and lived there for many years....now live further north:>)

      I don't understand what you mean by..."awkwardness, the elephant in the room, may be a misunderstood, highly attuned sense of human body language and its meanings."
  • thumb
    Jan 3 2013: I think you have made a number of important points, if anyone would like to take this further into the realm of action, please feel free to start here: http://www.wesolver.org/wiki/Cultural_Wisdom

    In addition to preserving cultural wisdom, I believe that native peoples should take (and be supported by the rest of us) the responsibilities and rights related to protecting the lands the live and depend on.

    http://www.wesolver.org/wiki/Native_Peoples_Land_Stewardship

    This would help us all.