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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 29 2012: Thank you for your input and responses so far

    I wish to add something, and also ask for your help
    I want to add this -
    for fully one year after my first visit to the Turkana, I felt many of my core assumptions
    being turned on their head - at the age of 44, as someone with a university degree, life experience etc
    it was tranformational - in a way that some say of meditation and yoga practices

    when I watch some of the inspired people of the West speak, on Ted or elsewhere,
    I realise we are in search not just of quantitative adjustments to our way of life -
    but for new paradigms that contain human wholeness, justice - a beneficial, sustainable way to live

    and some say, or imply, that we are so far from that reality that a kind of broad-reaching, shared creative
    project of development is our pathway towards something better -
    and also that, for the first time in history, this may actually be possible due to communications technologies
    some say in fact, it has already begun - a democratisation of knowledge

    where I ask for a little help is on this point -
    I can feel that my own view has been changed by my tribal friends -
    and I saw the same of 2 Ted speakers - one working in East Africa, one in the USA with the Sioux

    here are some pointers, perhaps you can help me develop them -

    firstly, I saw a place where nobody is hurried or agitated - I invite you to look around yourselves
    and see what degree of agitated hurry you perceive - this I believe is more important than we realise

    secondly - I discovered there that I was in the middle of a drought and a famine -
    when I left, the family insisted - and would not take no for an answer -
    that I take one of the 4 or 5 healthy goats (the remaining 20 were almost dead of hunger)
    in a situation where their own children sometimes die of hunger/thirst related causes

    thirdly - most astonishingly - after years of travelling Africa, I found the poorest people
    to be the most peaceful and happy I had ever met on earth

    Thoughts ?
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      Dec 29 2012: I share your thoughts and observations Paul, and have also noticed that some of the poorest people, are the most peaceful and content. Your story about the goat reminds me of an experience....

      While sitting on the banks of the Nile in Egypt one morning, I noticed a lovely young woman watching us. We made eye contact, smiled and nodded and she continued to watch me and my companions. We made eye contact again, smiled, nodded a few times. Finally, she motioned for me to follow her, and she led me into her village, into her mud and thatch roofed house with dirt floor.

      There was a tiny fire going in the middle of the room and two older people (I learned were the parents) sitting on stools by the fire. Two small children were cuddled up with a cow on the floor. They had brought the cow inside because it was chilly that night, and the cow provided warmth. There was one empty stool by the fire, which they offered to me, and they gave me a cup of tea. They invited me into their home and generously, happily, lovingly shared with me everything they had.
      • Dec 30 2012: Colleen, I have also had such experiences in Egypt, and all over Africa -
        perhaps these stories are the only way to communicate to people what
        Africa is really about

        but here is a specific remark I propose to all looking at this subject -
        What do we mean exactly by poverty ?
        first-hand experiences like mine and Colleen's above are widespread in Africa -
        and it feels to us like great wealth and a thing of beauty -
        something we will spend most of our money to go and be a part of as outside visitors
        Africa is overflowing with human wealth

        if a family is housed, eating and in a harmonious environment -
        then we must think very carefully about the word 'poor'
        and wonder if it does not apply more to some Western societies

        we certainly must dispense forthwith with GDP and per capita income measures -
        which some Ted speakers refer to as if they were reliable
        many tribal cultures do not use or own money at all

        and higher income countries in Africa often suffer far higher levels of
        real poverty suffering
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          Dec 30 2012: I also have had many similar experiences in various parts of our world Paul, and I agree that it is a thing of beauty and richness. While the people we speak of may not have many material possessions, I ALWAYS feel richer for the interactions with them. I believe western societies are indeed "poor" when we consider what is really important.

          I'd like to share another story told to me by a Canadian couple I met while traveling in Mexico. They were traveling in a rural area and got hungry, so they decided to stop at the next village to get something to eat. When they came to the village, they saw a BBQ, with tables and chairs set up and people eating, so they asked for something to eat...thinking it was a resturant. The locals welcomed them and gave them food. When they tried to pay for the food, the owner/cook refused to take any money because he said it was his daughter's wedding celebration, and he was happy they were celebrating with the family:>) As my new Canadian friend was sharing the story, he asked...why don't we do that in our culture? Why are we so afraid to invite people into our lives?

          I believe our world is "overflowing with human wealth", and when we recognize that people are people EVERYWHERE, we might, as a global society, be able to get beyond the barriers that prevent us from connecting?

          Western societies are rich in material goods, and maybe poor regarding connecting with people in other parts of our world?

          I don't think many people in western cultures know that even if people in other parts of our world use money, they sometimes make an average of $2.00 a day for hard labor....$200.00 a year...very little. So, your question about what is "poor"...what is "poverty" is very relevant. I sometimes think that in the USA, many people don't even know what poverty really is.

          Think of the abundance in the US, and realize that many people in our world don't even have basic needs ....water, food, shelter

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