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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: 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.

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