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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 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.

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