Hunter-Gatherer Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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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”.