Hunter-Gatherer Thoughts on Thanksgiving

I hope this is just as appropriate for non-United-Statesians as those celebrating Thanksgiving today.

Over the past year, I witnessed a lot more criticism of evolutionary psychology than expected. Most of it seems to amount to little more than the political and emotional gasps of a dying blank slate paradigm. One criticism that I did pay credence to is that the anthropological narrative used in evolutionary psychology (and pop-renditions in particular) might be in need of some improvement. The fundamental underpinnings of EP recognize the importance of getting the paleolithic (EEA) component of this right. Of course, opponents of EP simply assume a fatalistic pose and tell us to pack it all in and give up because it’s impossible. Sorry haters, I’m not giving up that easily.

I’m not going to analyze any perceived divergence from what I see in the anthropology and the ‘narrative’ (as some would use as an epithet) of evolutionary psychology today. What I’m reflecting on today, and I hope you’ll entertain yourself, is the humanity of these individual people that we tend to reduce to categorizations and statistics. I recently finished one book, and am about 80% through two others, that have added a depth to my relationship with the words, numbers, and charts I’m bombarded with daily. I’ve mentioned about all of these before to varying degrees, but today I’m thinking about them in a more personal frame rather than my usual use — debunking agrarian arguments.

My Life With the Eskimo by Vilhjalmur Stefansson – This name gets batted about the Paleo community all the time in the context of the Inuit diet — consisting almost completely of animal products. I actually started reading it because the 77Zero Expedition Kickstarter project I’ve alluded to follows some of the same route as his 1909-1912 expedition. My interest in the contents from multiple angles certainly influences my experience with it, but I’ve found it enthralling. I found myself cracking up out loud at times, and enthralled most of the rest of the time. I gotta admit, his account of coming in contact with a tribe that had never before seen white men left me a little verklempt (talk amongst yourselves). The book is a monster in terms of insight into the religion, language, tradition, and lifestyle of hunter-gatherer. It’s also packed with insight on the transition from HG life to sedentism. I found this ridiculously useful because of Stefansson’s treatment of the subject. He’s basically just reporting his interactions, with less of an agenda than earlier conquistador style explorers and the cultural relativist social scientists later in the 20th century. I’ll be reading as much of his other work as possible.  [FREE ePub version for Nook, Kindle, etc.]

Resilience, Reciprocity and Ecological Economics: Northwest Coast Sustainability by Robert Trosper, PhD – This provides a political and economic breakdown of the tribes native to the Pacific Northwest. As I’ve spent most of my life in Alaska, Washinton, and Oregon, this hit me on a more personal level in terms of relationship to ecological inputs.

Against the Grain by Richard Manning – To be honest, this book incited the range of negative emotions from frustration to anger to resentment to disgust. I’ve talked about it in other recent posts so I’ll leave it at that for now.

I’ve recently started looking into the pockets of hunter-gatherer life in the Scottish Highlands that existed to some degree until at least the 18th century as well. My Thanksgiving challenge to you is this: look into the hunter-gatherer history of your local area, and the area of your family’s recent heritage. There are hunter-gatherer examples in the history of almost everywhere, and I predict that you’ll develop a connection that’s more significant than “our ancestors ate animals, fruit, and vegetables”.

8 Comments
  1. jack 4 years ago

    Andrew,

    What exactly is your EP argument?

    You're an anarchist. I get that. You also seem to be an anarcho-Leftist as opposed to an anarcho-Rothbardian; ie you think that anarchism will result in the ideal *egalitarian* society as opposed to the Rothbardians that think that the competing protection version of anarcho-capitalism will result in the perfect free market. (Me, I'm an agrarian loving Classical Liberal.) So what is it you are arguing for? Mutualism? Distributionism? I see that you don't like landlords and rent. Going down that road huh? So what's your angle? Are you saying that human psychology as shaped by the Paleolithic period mandates some version of a stateless society? Are you trying to ground anarchism on EvPsych?

    Regardless, it doesn't matter. People have beat you down this path Andrew. How anarchism would work has been debated for at least two centuries. In the internet era, TONS of internet ink have been spilt over the subject. You have to answer the problem of the final arbiter, how competing protection agencies wouldn't end up as gang warfare, etc, etc, etc.. Good luck with all that.

    There is nothing new here in essence. All that you are doing is attempting to dress up anarchism with EvPsych theory. I like EvPsych just fine. It really helps for getting girls. But it does NOTHING to assist you in your arguing for your anarchist utopia. Lastly, there's a Leftist-like nihilism to all this. You Paleo-anarchists just love the thought of wiping out the last 10,000 years of human cultural evolution. And of course wiping out billions of people in the process which I'm sure you would find favorable. Lovely.

    Regards

    • Profile photo of Andrew
      Andrew 4 years ago

      "Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?" Oh, but by the way, "it doesn't matter. People have beat you down this path".

      "Everything has been said yet few have taken advantage of it. Since all our knowledge is essentially banal, it can only be of value to minds that are not." – Raoul Vaneigem

      i don't yet believe that all paths have been previously trodden. but even if they had, who cares? everyone hasn't heard them, and few have yet understood them to the point of being able to take advantage of them. perhaps if jefferson and paine had come after darwin (and after evolutionary psychology) we'd be closer to having a classical liberalism not mired in ethnocentric agrarian myopia. the insight available to us from applied evolutionary theory is faaaaaarrr from complete. thinking otherwise is a guarantee of a banal mind.

      drop the utopia shtick; rhetorical attempts at debunking by epithet bore me. it also doesn't interest me to provide a custom argument (on a random thanksgiving post) to a cynic who already has all the answers (including other people's arguments before they've made them). i'll get to a full post when i think my research is sufficiently complete. in the interim, i'd suggest brushing up on evolutionary psychology from somewhere besides VH-1.

  2. Danielle Meitiv 4 years ago

    Looking into pockets of H-G existence in my area and past: Sigh my ancestors were Eastern European Jews who paid homage to bread (literally) and lots of high carb foods. On the plus side they loved animal fat and meat as long as it was kosher/kashered and weren't allowed to own land in many places so they couldn't farm anyway! (How's THAT for finding the silver lining/ lemonade out of lemons?)

    I live the DC area so lots of seafood/shellfish-based hunting (gathering?) went on around here as well as some high-carb corn farming.

    I never thought of the recent Highlands as a pocket of H-G living – very interesting idea. Would love to hear more about your thoughts and any evidence you've gathered. A future post, perhaps?

    • Profile photo of Andrew
      Andrew 4 years ago

      someone was just asking me whether the biblical Abraham was a hunter-gatherer. i'm inclined to think not, but if you go back far enough, we all were. i saw a statistic recently that said 2/3 of the world's population still lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle during when jesus was being written about.

      • Danielle Meitiv 4 years ago

        The earliest stories in the bible (Abraham – Jacob) seem to describe people or types/archetypes who were likely pastorialists (like Bedouin?). There are a lot of references to cattle and wandering to look for water and grazing lands but little mention of sedentary farming. In fact there seem to be hints of conflicts between farmers and nomads and/or hunters – i.e. the sacrifices of Cain vs Abel and the foods brought and eaten by Jacob vs Esau.

        Not until the stories move to Egypt do you start to read about farming or large-scale agriculture (i.e. Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dreams). Of course, when the Israelites return to the land they're all about farming.

  3. Neal Matheson 4 years ago

    An interesting post, thank you. I am very interested in the Highland H-G thinking, I recommended Burt's 'Letters from the North of Scotland' on a different forum fantastic amounts of detail not often found in other places.
    Neal

    • Neal Matheson 4 years ago

      balls! I meant "thing" not "thinking". Time for bed.

    • Profile photo of Andrew
      Andrew 4 years ago

      thanks, Neal. that sounds familiar. i'll move it up the to-read list.

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