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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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    • 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.

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