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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"


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  • Dec 28 2012: You pick a curious adjective, ancient. I assume you have not invented a time machine. Is it possible that the remains of your own bias is showing? Perhaps we should just stay with tribal.

    The current path of civilization is leading to its self destruction, so it is entirely possible that these tribal societies are more sustainable and, in the evolutionary sense, more advanced. We had better learn all we can, from these and any other societies willing to share their wisdom. For us, wisdom is no longer optional.
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      Dec 29 2012: Yes! You are right.
      "We should just stay with tribal."
      Or, we go self-extinction quickly by exhausting all the resources/environment of the only planet we can live.
      We will be killed by pursuing INVALID (ineffective, bad, harmful) happiness soon.
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      Dec 29 2012: Hi Barry,
      I don't perceive the use of the word "ancient" to be bias. I speak of ancient cultures such as Greece, Nepal, Thailand, Mexico, Central and So. America, Egypt, etc. Although these places may be industrialized to a certain extent in the cities, when we get out into the mountain villages for example, many times, the people are living simply, as they did long ago, and I find it very appealing. I sincerely hope that using the word "ancient culture" is not offensive to people that I admire a great deal.

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