A Review of Jared Diamond's 'The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?'

Jared Diamond's 'The World Until Yesterday

(First published in the Times Higher Education Supplement)

The world has been waiting for this book. Others have attempted to persuade us that tribal people can teach us how to live. Most, however, have failed to convince, presenting us with yet another version of the Noble Savage myth. Jared Diamond is no romantic. He writes with conviction and erudition. It is probably no exaggeration to describe him as the most authoritative polymath of our age - the man who, in his 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, explained the true reasons for the West's ultimate dominance over the globe and in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), warned that this same civilisation may now be digging its own grave. In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond turns his massive erudition to an equally necessary project. The fact that Western civilisation conquered all does not necessarily make it sustainable or prove that we have superior ideas about bringing up children, keeping healthy or living well.

Long before psychologists advised us to breastfeed and maintain close physical contact with our children, our hunter-gatherer ancestors were doing it. Diamond reminds us that extant hunter-gatherers everywhere express horror at the idea of corporal punishment of children. Young people are not the private property of their parents: rather, they are free to move from dwelling to dwelling, finding love as they choose from a wide range of potential carers of different ages. Diamond is wholly convincing when he celebrates the emotionally secure, self-reliant, good-humoured and creative human beings produced by such collectivist methods of childcare. Why, he asks, don't we in the West straightforwardly embrace these tried-and-tested methods of preserving the mental health of future generations?

As Diamond is well aware, life in a city sets limits on collective parenting: the freedoms enjoyed by forest-dwellers are simply not open to us. Nevertheless, solid scientific evidence of the value of grandparents and extended families cannot do any harm. And he never skates over the difficult issues. In harsh environments where mobility is a matter of life and death, it is understandable why old people who are unable to keep up may be encouraged to let nature take its course.

Another issue concerns law and order. Compared with Western industrialised societies, the per capita death rate from violence in stateless societies does tend to be high. In New Guinea, for example, a prime reason for the rapid acceptance of colonial rule was relief on the part of everyone who could henceforth sleep soundly at night, free from the fear of nocturnal raids arising from a seemingly never-ending cycle of blood vengeance.

At his most passionate when lamenting the current collapse of linguistic diversity, Diamond details the disappearance of minority languages at the rate of one every nine days. We hear much anguished discussion about the accelerating disappearance of birds and frogs as our Coca-Cola civilisation spreads over the world, but much less attention has been paid to the disappearance of our languages. Looming over us today is the tragedy of the impending loss of most of our cultural heritage. Diamond is scathing in his criticism of those opinionated progressives - particularly English speakers - who see no reason why their own language should not be the only one left. He invites us to reverse roles here. While Shakespeare can be translated into Mandarin, we English speakers would regard it as a loss to humanity if Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy were available only in Mandarin translation. In his usual authoritative way, Diamond concludes his discussion of language loss by surveying the many proven cognitive benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism, reminding us that for a whole community to be monolingual is in evolutionary terms unusual - a historically recent aberration.

As an anthropologist, my main criticism of Diamond's book is the way it conflates Neolithic with pre-Neolithic cultural models. Understandably, his thinking is shaped overwhelmingly by his long-term fieldwork in New Guinea. The societies he is familiar with traditionally engaged in gardening and farming, with all the territorialism, male dominance and warfare that that mode of life typically implies. No book can cover everything, and Diamond apologises for leaving gender relations and sexual inequalities unexplored. Unfortunately, this leaves the reader to infer that territorialism, warfare and male dominance are inevitable features of the human condition. To be fair, Diamond is familiar with the literature on hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and makes an effort to incorporate this evidence. But to discuss hunter-gatherers while ignoring gender is to leave out the central organising principle of their lives - the one that makes everything else work. If it is true that we lived by hunting and gathering for at least 90 per cent of our evolutionary history, this really is of central importance. If all humans have an evolved psychological nature - and Diamond insists that we do - then it was shaped during tens of millennia as social and sexual egalitarians, not hierarchically organised defenders of land, women and property.

Excellent when he sticks to science, Diamond is less convincing when he turns to politics. Here is an example: "Large populations can't function without leaders who make the decisions, executives who carry out the decisions, and bureaucrats who administer the decisions and laws. Alas for all of you readers who are anarchists and dream of living without any state government, those are the reasons why your dream is unrealistic... " As I read these lines, I had the funny feeling they were directly aimed at me! It would be interesting to research the extent to which anthropologists' political beliefs correlate with those of the people they study. My closest professional colleagues study African hunter-gatherers; all of us have witnessed and participated in emphatically egalitarian social, economic and gender relationships. As a result, we have all become "anarchist" in the sense Diamond intends. We have had an excellent education - by people who make anarchy work. I should add that anyone familiar with hunter-gatherer systems of extended kinship would be surprised at Diamond's description of them as "small-scale": unlike truncated Western notions of kinship and family life, these extraordinary systems have the power to embrace and integrate entire continents.

We live today in an age of mobile phones and the internet - peaceful forms of technology to which hunter-gatherers instantly relate. I fail to see why territories, borders, armies and bureaucrats - the political legacy of the Neolithic - should be needed any longer. Earth has been carved up between competing, violent states for 5,000 years, bringing us - as Diamond warned in Collapse - to the brink of environmental catastrophe and the greatest collapse in all history. Time, surely, to go beyond piecemeal improvements and instead radically rethink all aspects of what we like to call "civilisation".

Political differences aside, this is a book to be celebrated. Diamond has opened the door to "reverse anthropology" - the kind that learns from the people it studies and applies those lessons to itself. "Development" is a good thing but it works both ways. In countless respects, we in the West are in dire need of development. We've a long way to go, but this book is a great start.

Chris Knight is professor of anthropology, University of Comenius, Slovakia. He is author of 'Noam Chomsky: Politics or Science?' (2010) and co-editor, with Dan Dor and Jerome Lewis, of The Social Origins of Language (in press).

For more on the relevance of hunter-gatherers to 21st Century revolution see: http://libcom.org/tags/hunter-gatherers

Posted By

Lyceum
Jan 7 2013 20:22

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  • My closest professional colleagues study African hunter-gatherers; all of us have witnessed and participated in emphatically egalitarian social, economic and gender relationships. As a result, we have all become "anarchist" in the sense Diamond intends.'

    Chris Knight

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Comments

ptar
Jan 17 2013 20:10

For those interested, other fascinating articles on hunter-gatherers include the following:

John Gowdy, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Hunters and Gatherers

James Woodburn, 'Egalitarian Societies'.

Doron Shultziner, ‘The Causes and Scope of Political Egalitarianism during the Last Glacial‘.

Michael Gurven, ‘Longevity Amongst Hunter-Gatherers‘.

Douglas Fry Beyond War (which provides strong evidence that nomadic hunter-gatherers do not engage in warfare).

knotwho
Jan 30 2013 22:30

I just now saw this posted on Facebook by some radical folks: Savaging Primitives: Why Jared Diamond’s ‘The World Until Yesterday’ Is Completely Wrong

I haven't read it yet myself, but the Chris Knight review makes it sound like an intriguing book.

batswill
Jan 31 2013 07:21

I don't think there's anything to learn from these hierarchical gender-biased sexist and aggressive societies. I read Jared's other book, G, G and S, which was interesting as a history of H/G migrations and foodstuffs, but by glorifying these cultures in a romantic noble savage manner is typical of malcontents who do not know how to appreciate technology and the modern revolutionary desire.

jolasmo
Jan 31 2013 11:35
batswill wrote:
I don't think there's anything to learn from these hierarchical gender-biased sexist and aggressive societies. I read Jared's other book, G, G and S, which was interesting as a history of H/G migrations and foodstuffs, but by glorifying these cultures in a romantic noble savage manner is typical of malcontents who do not know how to appreciate technology and the modern revolutionary desire.

Have you read the book? Have you even read the above review?

~J.

batswill
Jan 31 2013 13:58

I read 'Guns, Germs and Steel' and was blown away by it, I sped read the review and agreed with Chris Knight,,,although I'm a bit perplexed by the term 'reverse anthropology', and interpreted it as a watered down type of Primitivism. My comment was based from my own data compiled in the field as an amateur anthropologist, studying their institutions and social relationships. After many years I came to the sobering and startling conclusion that Shaman resemble manipulative power-hungry dictators. and that human nature, beneath whatever the cultural adornments, is the same all over the world.

batswill
Feb 2 2013 08:49

This extract is an example of the rhetoric that one has to endure from people who have never lived amongst H/G. Before colonization the term 'dysfunction' did not exist, there was nothing at the time to be compared with it to create the idea of not 'being properly responsible'. Within the mythology of the H/G society the idea of dysfunction was interpreted as heresy, a non-observance of religious taboos, or sins. Criminality as in any culture was a designed mechanism of control.
It may be romantic in the H/G society to share the welfare of one's offspring, but in the capitalist ghetto, as we are put to the grindstone of basic survival economics and the subsequent substance abuse that this system taxes us for as an anaesthetic for the torture we accept because there is no escape,,,,,and having seen how H/G child mortality rates are 4 times the western level, ,,,gasp, so you utopian fools first require the death of 4 billion people for your ideal society?

" Young people are not the private property of their parents: rather, they are free to move from dwelling to dwelling, finding love as they choose from a wide range of potential carers of different ages. Diamond is wholly convincing when he celebrates the emotionally secure, self-reliant, good-humoured and creative human beings produced by such collectivist methods of childcare. Why, he asks, don't we in the West straightforwardly embrace these tried-and-tested methods of preserving the mental health of future generations?"

Sure young people are not property, but do we really want our children to be cloned shallow brats who have never endured any dishumour or evil manipulation by despots? They must raille against their parents if they are fascists! They must be warriors and cynical to survive in this rat race. I've seen the greatest people arise out of the most dysfunctional environments, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and this is the only thing that I could learn from H/G society, but also that one must escape it by all means, alot like that old song 'Tobacco Road' , blow the place up and move on.

batswill
Feb 2 2013 08:52

Yes

taxirank
Feb 2 2013 11:15

A possibly radical Australian Indigenous perspective relevant to discussion of 'hunter-gatherer' (this appeared in the Australian National Indigenous Times last last year).

A short excursion into the ludicrous, though generally accepted, idea that things are better now than they have ever been.

According to the World Health Organisation:

“Depression is the leading cause of disability as measured by YLDs (Years Lived with Disability) and the 4th leading contributor to the global burden of disease in 2000. By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach 2nd place in the ranking of DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years) calculated for all ages, both sexes. Today, depression is already the 2nd cause of DALYs in the age category 15-44 years for both sexes combined. Depression occurs in persons of all genders, ages, and backgrounds” (WHO, 2012).

After being shipwrecked in 1857 fourteen year old French cabin boy, Narcisse Pelletier, was taken in by the Uutaalnganu people of Cape York, Australia and spent the next seventeen years living with them. The area these people lived in had not yet been colonised by Europeans. He was eventually ‘taken back’, against his will, by the captain of an English pearling vessel and returned to France; where Constant Merland interviewed him and wrote up his story. Pelletier never seemed to re-adjust successfully to life in France, and died of ‘nervous exhaustion’ at the age of fifty (Anderson, 2009). In 1876, Merland wrote of Cape York:

“Neuroses are unknown there and no one has ever seen a person who was mentally disturbed” (Merland, 2009).

It is no longer sufficient to attempt to engage in a discourse about the culture of pre-colonised Australia without offering a significant critique of the way history has been written and how we live our lives today. It is no longer tenable to accept the notion of human history as one of human progress.

The original, pre-colonised Australians are generally perceived, in the Western perspective, as being ‘nomadic’ and ‘stuck’ at the hunter-gatherer, or ‘stone age’, phase – which is seen as a precursor to the sedentary (non-nomadic) agricultural or farming stage of human history. That is, ‘hunter-gatherers' are considered to exist at a lower level of ‘human progress’ or social development than those who practised farming techniques. This perspective of human progress is basically shared by all dominant social theorists, from Darwinists to Marxists, as well as the general population. It is very difficult for anyone to avoid talking about hunter-gatherers as ‘primitive’.

Harry Lourandos, a leading Australian anthropologist recently said, “The concept of ‘hunter-gatherer’ – the original human society – seems to be deeply embedded in the Western psyche, its culture and literature. It lies at the core of Darwinian and Marxist models of human society – the bases for the natural and social sciences” (David, Barker, & McNiven, 2006).

Importantly, he says, this concept of Hunter-Gatherer, “is a colonial artefact serving to control Indigenous people and the ways to view them now and in the past” (David et al., 2006).

So, the term Hunter-Gatherer is pejorative, it implies ‘backwardness’. Language is very important in creating and sustaining images and world-views. Even those good writers who question the ‘benefits’ of ‘civilisation’ and praise the virtues of an intimate relationship with the land can fall into the trap of describing the hunter-gatherer existence in terms which make it seem primitive and savage. Terms and phrases such as ‘subsistence’, ‘survival’ (Banning & Quinn, No date) and ‘each season dictates’ (Bottoms, 2008) imply to us that these hunter-gatherers lived precariously on the land, that their life was hard, and consumed by the search for food. The same writers, however, also acknowledge that many accounts of hunter-gatherer lifestyle indicate that food was plentiful and easily procured, leaving extensive time for other cultural activities (Bottoms, 1999, 2008; Gammage, 2011).

It is relevant to mention also that these Western perspectives underpin, for example, the new Australian schools Curriculum. Although the Curriculum documents are carefully worded there are some uses of language which favour a particular view of history. For example, the History documentation speaks in terms of ‘early contact history with the British’, ‘colonisation’, ‘settlement’ and ‘movement’ of people; the concept of ‘invasion’ is only referred to once, in the context of the discussion of contested terms, in an elaboration of a Year Nine Historical Skills component. We have to bear in mind that this is despite the legal rejection of the concept of Terra Nullius, although not of European sovereignty, in regard to Australian land prior to European occupancy (Mabo, 1992). In the Year 7 documents the ‘ancient period’ is defined as being ‘approximately 60,000 BC (BCE) – c.650 AD (CE). It was a period defined by the development of cultural practices and organised societies’. ‘Development of organised societies’ is a telling phrase; and how will the modern Australian culture which existed in 1788 be portrayed or referred to? In another part of the documents we find a triumphalism in the sub-heading: ‘Making of a Nation’ (ACARA, 2012). Language often forces us to think in certain ways.

As we have seen, the term hunter-gatherer implies primitiveness and backwardness. Recent research of early colonist accounts of the landscape of Australia, however, may force a general re-assessment of the relationship of Aboriginal Australians to the land prior to colonisation. The historian Bill Gammage (Gammage, 2011) indicates, through painstaking research and sensitivity, that until colonisation the Australian landscape was managed to a far greater extent than has previously been acknowledged. Gammage has found evidence that much of the landscape resembled parkland, that undergrowth was removed from forests, that a very long-term (generational) strategy of fire management controlled rainforests, insect and animal populations (Gammage, 2011).

The term hunter-gatherer describes a stage of human progression, and it comes before ‘farmer’. But if the entirety of the Australian landscape was managed by Aboriginal Australians to ensure that ‘abundance was normal’ and that there was plenty of time for recreation and leisure (Gammage, 2011), how does that affect our viewpoint? There was no ‘pristine wilderness’ in pre-colonial Australia (Gammage, 2011) and the people did not forage precariously for food, they managed their environment so intelligently that they could create landscapes for pure pleasure. Maybe, in reference to pre-colonial Australia at least, it is time to abandon the term ‘hunter-gatherer’ altogether?

This perspective begins to undermine the notion of human progress. Maybe, in order to connect properly with the country, culture and history of Australia we need to reverse our whole notion of progress?

If one dares to reverse the accepted view of human history, which is generally seen as a beneficial progression to where we are now, then ones view of the past is also radically altered.

Reversing our view of human history? It is, in fact, what many spokespeople for pre-colonial societies have been suggesting, consciously or not, for many years.

This is how one does it: first, one must accept, and this is not radical, that our current world society is based on a money economy. It is designed not to reproduce a human community but to reproduce wealth. The humans who are produced - and more humans have been produced under this economic system than any other - are produced as a by-product of the system. Humans play a part in this society similar to any other resource or commodity.

So, if we can accept that our society is driven by the need to create wealth rather than the need to develop the perspectives and traditions which ensure a rich and fulfilling community of humans, then we are forced to reconsider pre-colonial, or, indeed, pre-civilisation societies.

It is our contention, therefore, that up to 1876 in the Cairns region, for example, which was properly and systematically invaded by colonists in 1876, there existed human communities which represented a highpoint in human culture and history.

The colonists who took over this region were driven by the expansionist imperatives of the economy of England. They did it because they no longer had an attachment to concepts of human community; they had become the servants of money. They represented a low point in human history and culture.

The colonists, in our perspective, are simple and brutal functions of money and profit; as intelligent as a jack-hammer or an assembly line. Although, of course, many were haunted by doubts about how and why they were so swiftly eradicating other human beings.

These brutal and simplistic colonists set out into the lands around Cairns, fencing the place off, taking traditional campgrounds, and confronting societies, developed over thousands of years, which were designed to enhance the protection and happiness of the human community which they served.

Societies which developed human qualities were suddenly face to face with a society which considered all things on the planet as a source of money and wealth.

So, around Cairns we just have to think back 135 years or so to get back to the time when humanity existed in a societal highpoint - judged in terms related to the concept, or goal, of a successful, smoothly functioning and individually fulfilling human community. We are reminded here of the statistics quoted above from the World Health Organisation.

In other areas of the world, for example, Europe, the journey back is much longer. But the same result is achieved. At some point in the past, in Europe, historians and archaeologists and anthropologists describe societies which valued the human over money, which valued human community over the production of wealth for the few.

Thus, in our perspective, we see the history of human progress and development as being better seen as a history in reverse. We are now living at the lowest point in human progress, despite all our technological marvels.

Many will baulk at our dismissive view of the technological marvels that encompass our world. But we would argue that these marvels have had a price, and the price has been human. And we would prefer that they disappeared if it meant we could return to living as human beings rather than as functions of the economy (resources or commodities).

This reversed perspective instantly forces us to rethink the embedded views we all have about hunter-gatherers, or mediaeval serfs, or any humans that lived in societies prior to the current global one.

In this reversed perspective we are forced to see pre-civilisation communities as more intelligent than the society we live in today, which turns human beings into machines (labour power) or commodities or resources. We lose that all-pervasive notion that hunter-gatherers were ‘simple’ or ‘backward’ in comparison to us. In fact, we should lose the term hunter-gatherer altogether!

The original Australians, through a network of collaborative societies which connected every place, managed an entire continent in a way that showed deep understanding of the land and the importance of ensuring human life was rich and diverse.

W. Brim et al

References
ACARA. (2012). The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/
Anderson, S. (2009). Pelletier : the forgotten castaway of Cape York. Melbourne, Vic.: Melbourne Books.
Banning, R., & Quinn, M. (No date). Djabugay Ngirrma Gulu: Djabugay Language Here. Not stated: Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council.
Bottoms, T. (1999). Djabugay Country: An Aboriginal History of Tropical North Queensland. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin.
Bottoms, T. (2008). Bama Country: The Indigenous Rainforest People of tropical North Queensland. QLD: Fishtail Solutions.
David, B., Barker, B., & McNiven, I. (2006). The social archaeology of Australian indigenous societies. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Gammage, B. (2011). The Biggest Estate on Earth. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Mabo. (1992). Australian Year Book, 1995, from http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/1301.0Feature%2...
Merland, C. (2009). Dix-Sept Ans Chez Les Sauvages. Les Adventures de Narcisse Pelletier. 1876. In S. Anderson (Ed.), Pelletier: The Forgotten Castaway of Cape York. Melbourne: Melbourne books.
WHO. (2012). Depression. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/definition/en/

batswill
Feb 3 2013 03:38

Great essay, I'll never use the H/G term again, I'm going to re-assess my attitude also. The Constant Merland story would make a great movie, thanks.

taxirank
Feb 3 2013 04:14

Hi Batswill,
I wasn't actually replying to your posts on this subject by posting (although I can now see why you might think that), I was merely adding something to the OP which I thought was relevant.
I am glad you liked the essay though.

batswill
Feb 4 2013 14:17

That's ok taxirank It was excellent and educational, it's like I'm continually decolonizing my preconceptions, that's a very good thing if you can read something and it changes your attitude for the better. Good stuff matey.

Entdinglichung
Feb 8 2013 08:48

http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8958

Quote:
Leaders across West Papua have demanded controversial author Jared Diamond apologizes for describing them in his new book as warlike, and strengthening the idea that indigenous people are ‘backwards’.

The West Papuan leaders attack Diamond’s central arguments that ’most small-scale societies (…) become trapped in cycles of violence and warfare’ and that ‘New Guineans appreciated the benefits of the state-guaranteed peace that they had been unable to achieve for themselves without state government.’

Mr Diamond makes no mention of the brutality and oppression suffered by the people of West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian occupation since 1963, which has led to the killing of at least 100,000 Papuan tribal people at the hands of the Indonesian military.

Benny Wenda, a Papuan tribal leader, said to Survival, ‘What he (Jared Diamond) has written about my people is misleading (…) he is not writing about what the Indonesian military are doing (…) I saw my people being murdered by Indonesian soldiers and my own Auntie was raped in front of my eyes. Indonesia told the world that this was ’tribal war’ – they tried to pretend that it was us that was violent and not them – this book is doing the same. He should apologize.’

Markus Haluk, a senior member of the Papuan Customary Council, added, ‘The total of Dani victims from the Indonesian atrocities over the 50 year period is far greater than those from tribal war of the Dani people over hundreds of thousands of years.’

Matius Murib, Director of the Baptist Voice of Papua, condemned Diamond’s assertion that tribal peoples live in a ‘world until yesterday’. He said, ‘This book spreads prejudices about Papuan people (…) that indigenous Papuans still display a way of life from hundreds of years ago. This is not true and strengthens the idea that indigenous people are ’backwards’, ‘live in the past’ or are ‘stone age.’

Reverend Socratez Yoman, Head of the West Papuan Baptist Church, has also demanded an apology from Mr Diamond to the Papuan people.

Dominikus Surabut, currently jailed for treason for peacefully declaring West Papuan independence, described the relationship of indigenous West Papuans and the Indonesian state as political apartheid. In a statement smuggled out of his jail cell, he said, ‘This is the very nature and character of colonial occupation of indigenous peoples, where they are treated as second class citizens whose oppression is justified by painting them as backwards, archaic, warring tribes – just as suggested by Jared Diamond in his book about tribal people.’

Survival International and TAPOL received the messages of outrage following condemnation of the book by Survival last week. The book has since been the subject of heated debate during Mr Diamond’s visit to the UK.

Tim Finnegan
Feb 8 2013 09:28
batswill wrote:
I don't think there's anything to learn from these hierarchical gender-biased sexist and aggressive societies.

That's a hell of a generalisation.

batswill
Feb 8 2013 11:04
Tim Finnegan wrote:
batswill wrote:
I don't think there's anything to learn from these hierarchical gender-biased sexist and aggressive societies.

That's a hell of a generalisation.

I agree, I do think broadly, too diluted often by being spread out, however, if you had read my latter response to taxirank's enlightening essay--

"That's ok taxirank It was excellent and educational, it's like I'm continually decolonizing my preconceptions, that's a very good thing if you can read something and it changes your attitude for the better. Good stuff matey."

--you would realise that most human beings are incapable of evolving out of their innate biological emotional state, and I basically began by throwing in a generalisation to begin a debate. I was applying that comment as much to modern society as to ancient societies dating back 10,000 yrs to keep it within the time span of Diamond's work.
It was an interesting point that the historical event of Pelletier's experiences and his subsequent death from nervous exhaustion (emotional exhaustion?) indicate a uniform human nature experiencing political and cultural pressures and control systems. Pelletier HAD de-colonised, but he had been relocated, back with the colonists, the aliens. It's an interesting digression which highlights the effects of cultural hegemony.

batswill
Feb 8 2013 11:15

PS ,, I'm still holding firm on the idea that emotional tyranny is and has always been present in all societies dating back to the earliest known ones,,,let's just say there is a uniformity in oppression but it has been expressed into morally acceptable cultural values at various times.

batswill
Feb 8 2013 11:30

u

Entdinglichung wrote:
http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8958

Quote:
Leaders across West Papua have demanded controversial author Jared Diamond apologizes for describing them in his new book as warlike, and strengthening the idea that indigenous people are ‘backwards’.

The West Papuan leaders attack Diamond’s central arguments that ’most small-scale societies (…) become trapped in cycles of violence and warfare’ and that ‘New Guineans appreciated the benefits of the state-guaranteed peace that they had been unable to achieve for themselves without state government.’

Mr Diamond makes no mention of the brutality and oppression suffered by the people of West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian occupation since 1963, which has led to the killing of at least 100,000 Papuan tribal people at the hands of the Indonesian military.

Benny Wenda, a Papuan tribal leader, said to Survival, ‘What he (Jared Diamond) has written about my people is misleading (…) he is not writing about what the Indonesian military are doing (…) I saw my people being murdered by Indonesian soldiers and my own Auntie was raped in front of my eyes. Indonesia told the world that this was ’tribal war’ – they tried to pretend that it was us that was violent and not them – this book is doing the same. He should apologize.’

Markus Haluk, a senior member of the Papuan Customary Council, added, ‘The total of Dani victims from the Indonesian atrocities over the 50 year period is far greater than those from tribal war of the Dani people over hundreds of thousands of years.’

Matius Murib, Director of the Baptist Voice of Papua, condemned Diamond’s assertion that tribal peoples live in a ‘world until yesterday’. He said, ‘This book spreads prejudices about Papuan people (…) that indigenous Papuans still display a way of life from hundreds of years ago. This is not true and strengthens the idea that indigenous people are ’backwards’, ‘live in the past’ or are ‘stone age.’

Reverend Socratez Yoman, Head of the West Papuan Baptist Church, has also demanded an apology from Mr Diamond to the Papuan people.

Dominikus Surabut, currently jailed for treason for peacefully declaring West Papuan independence, described the relationship of indigenous West Papuans and the Indonesian state as political apartheid. In a statement smuggled out of his jail cell, he said, ‘This is the very nature and character of colonial occupation of indigenous peoples, where they are treated as second class citizens whose oppression is justified by painting them as backwards, archaic, warring tribes – just as suggested by Jared Diamond in his book about tribal people.’

Survival International and TAPOL received the messages of outrage following condemnation of the book by Survival last week. The book has since been the subject of heated debate during Mr Diamond’s visit to the UK.

Well it's only to be expected that Diamond would cop it from the paternalistic christians don't you think? They have these people under their wing and in their fold, their own identity power, as is the colonialist methodology, comes from being masters and defenders of lost souls. Lost souls is a christian euphemism for inferior, and sure enough, their rhetoric and hypocrisy shines out gloriously from behind the alter of modern western sacrifice and guilt.
Have I gone too far?

Spikymike
Feb 8 2013 13:08

taxirank make some good points in the quoted text but just on the matter of language and it's use it is the case that there is a long tradition, and some more recent interest, amongst many marxists and anarchists in the relevance of 'hunter-gather' societies in terms of our critique of capitalism and the potential for a future human community on a world scale, in which reference (if at all) to such societies as 'primitive' is only in terms of 'technology' judged in retrospect and in no way a reference to their human or cultural significance generally considered superior to our own today.

taxirank
Feb 8 2013 13:17

No, batswill, you have not gone too far here... Jared Diamond and the PNGers quoted are both highly suspect - they fulfill particular establishment functions.

taxirank
Feb 8 2013 13:36

Plus, we have to remember that being against war and warlike states is a fundamental element of being 'civilised' and Christian. The benefit of civilisation is social peace, that is what they tell us, but only a fool would believe that. We all presume that any degree of feuding and warlike forays are terrible. But maybe such an existence is better than living a slow and cossetted death in present society?

Tim Finnegan
Feb 8 2013 13:59
Tim Finnegan
Feb 8 2013 14:06
batswill wrote:
Tim Finnegan wrote:
batswill wrote:
I don't think there's anything to learn from these hierarchical gender-biased sexist and aggressive societies.

That's a hell of a generalisation.

I agree, I do think broadly, too diluted often by being spread out, however, if you had read my latter response to taxirank's enlightening essay--

"That's ok taxirank It was excellent and educational, it's like I'm continually decolonizing my preconceptions, that's a very good thing if you can read something and it changes your attitude for the better. Good stuff matey."

--you would realise that most human beings are incapable of evolving out of their innate biological emotional state, and I basically began by throwing in a generalisation to begin a debate. I was applying that comment as much to modern society as to ancient societies dating back 10,000 yrs to keep it within the time span of Diamond's work.
It was an interesting point that the historical event of Pelletier's experiences and his subsequent death from nervous exhaustion (emotional exhaustion?) indicate a uniform human nature experiencing political and cultural pressures and control systems. Pelletier HAD de-colonised, but he had been relocated, back with the colonists, the aliens. It's an interesting digression which highlights the effects of cultural hegemony.

There's nothing much resembling a coherent train of thought, here, as far as I can see. How do you jump from biological determinism to postcolonialism in the space of a paragraph? It reads like you're just pulling academic buzz-words out of a hat.

batswill
Feb 8 2013 22:09
Tim Finnegan wrote:
batswill wrote:
Tim Finnegan wrote:
batswill wrote:
I don't think there's anything to learn from these hierarchical gender-biased sexist and aggressive societies.

That's a hell of a generalisation.

I agree, I do think broadly, too diluted often by being spread out, however, if you had read my latter response to taxirank's enlightening essay--

"That's ok taxirank It was excellent and educational, it's like I'm continually decolonizing my preconceptions, that's a very good thing if you can read something and it changes your attitude for the better. Good stuff matey."

--you would realise that most human beings are incapable of evolving out of their innate biological emotional state, and I basically began by throwing in a generalisation to begin a debate. I was applying that comment as much to modern society as to ancient societies dating back 10,000 yrs to keep it within the time span of Diamond's work.
It was an interesting point that the historical event of Pelletier's experiences and his subsequent death from nervous exhaustion (emotional exhaustion?) indicate a uniform human nature experiencing political and cultural pressures and control systems. Pelletier HAD de-colonised, but he had been relocated, back with the colonists, the aliens. It's an interesting digression which highlights the effects of cultural hegemony.

There's nothing much resembling a coherent train of thought, here, as far as I can see. How do you jump from biological determinism to postcolonialism in the space of a paragraph? It reads like you're just pulling academic buzz-words out of a hat.

Maybe you should abstract more like taxirank, replace petty logic with an informed opinion, wrong or right, it's only a rave. I can jump between doctrines because I'm not rational but instead study an intuitive metaphysical state of being, which would be a way of describing pre-civilization's perceptions of nature, maybe the unified clan wandering the environment with no particular code or moral system, like wandering poets, just going on gut reaction and emotion, like animals. Are we so different behind the modern veneer of technology, as Spikymike indicated? I think Marx envisioned a unified global community without war.
Is empirical science the only thing keeping the culture industry running? I simply look at the night sky and ask myself, if I knew nothing and had no a priori assumption, how would I interpret the stars and the moon and sun? It would be just as relevant for me to say that the sun was a god and that the stars were spirits of my ancestors than for me with an a posteriori knowledge to say the sun and stars are balls of burning hydrogen gas and that I am an atheists, etc...So I tolerate both views, if someone wishes to be an individualist anarchist or a devil-fearing religionist that is not my concern because I believe beneath these cultural identities, even the anarchist one lol, there lies an intuitive goodness and creativity, which is neutral and waiting for its living chance to procreate, that's the determinist bit, that's what every being strives for in a pure unadulterated violent natural world. Every attempt in history to control, restrict or educate people along an ideological path has failed. Steven Pinker may say that there is less violence and less death for humans in the modern world because psychological processes change and evolve for the better, which is absurd, because the gross species extinction rate has gone exponential. I'm not an academic, but I sure as hell recognise academic rhetoric and buzz words. What about the Ipod hegemony? wink

batswill
Feb 8 2013 15:19

Maybe if the anthropoligists firstly de-colonised their methodology.

batswill
Feb 8 2013 21:55
taxirank wrote:
Plus, we have to remember that being against war and warlike states is a fundamental element of being 'civilised' and Christian. The benefit of civilisation is social peace, that is what they tell us, but only a fool would believe that. We all presume that any degree of feuding and warlike forays are terrible. But maybe such an existence is better than living a slow and cossetted death in present society?

I would have replied earlier but had to deal with some dogma, but yes, violence is a necessary requirement within society (I have a plethora of scars to prove it). Many indigenous societies are so evolved that they have ritualised the actual violent event in anticipation of the consequences of all-out unhindered aggression. These are the subtle refinements that are lost in the modern theatre of dispute, modern diplomacy is a shallow substitute to ancient values of empathy for other beings.

batswill
Feb 8 2013 22:01

PS Meaning one can give some offensive people a few stitches in the head rather than imprisoning them, or gasp! napalming them! But capital has its ruthless incompassionate agenda.

jolasmo
Feb 9 2013 00:42

That book certainly looks interesting. I'm a big fan of Guns, Germs and Steel and it's certainly an interesting topic. I thought both this review and the more critical one linked to by knowto were actually quite good, but there has been a fuck of a lot of guff on this thread nonetheless.

Obviously, as anarchists, we should be wary of Jared Diamond when he says "primitive" societies are incurably violent and warlike, and that states exist fundamentally to keep the peace. I'm nowhere near informed enough to judge the statistics one way or another, but contrasting indigenous tribal conflicts with the horrific industrial scale slaughter of "modern" warfare obviously isn't really comparing like with like anyway.

But while we should be skeptical of academic claims of the "barbarity" of indigenous peoples (and by illogical extension pre-state societies in general) I think we should be equally skeptical of radicals who claim that indigenous people and pre-state societies are and were essentially superior to modern industrial societies in virtually every way. While I'm in no way arguing that industrial societies are innately superior or anything, they do have certain advantages, and I'm generally pretty unconvinced by arguments to the contrary, including those made on this thread. It's true that the received view of human history has been willfully and structurally distorted to suit certain agendas and to fit in with capitalist social norms and worldviews. But this being the case, to simply "reverse the accepted view of human history" by no means guarantees a more accurate picture. We need a more critical appraisal than simply inverting the ideology of the rich.

~J.

batswill
Feb 9 2013 01:03

Jolasmo, what do think about the modern system of imprisonment and confinement? In a way a society's quality of freedom could be judged by its method of punishment and the %/ capita of offenders, not that there should even be a condition of having to legislate and create a criminal class, who infact may, and have been confused as political prisoners. Culture designs its own code of illegalities, and taken to its extreme, capital punishment is for those without capital. Using a word like barbarity is out of context in this thread, because it is not barbaric to beat someone spontaneously and then free them compared to locking them into a cell for 5 years.

batswill
Feb 9 2013 01:19

PS Did yu see that movie Harry Brown, I mean, someone has to stand up eventually, I did because I'm an anarchist.

taxirank
Feb 9 2013 02:14

Hi Jolasmo,

I think your position in regard to the discussion here is elaborated when you say this:

“While I'm in no way arguing that industrial societies are innately superior or anything, they do have certain advantages, and I'm generally pretty unconvinced by arguments to the contrary, including those made on this thread.”

This sentence is huge. There are connections here with the whole basis of the Marxist concept that Industrialisation is a necessary pre-cursor to Communism. And your statement that industrial societies “do have certain advantages” is not only an assertion you make without evidence or justification, it also betrays little or no conception of the experience of alienation. To say that industrial societies have certain advantages (over what exactly?) is to position oneself clearly in support of the notion of progress which has come through Christianity, the Enlightenment, Hegel, Darwin and Marx. It is this continuity that should be investigated and questioned – not blindly adhered to. Otherwise we continue to do the job of our oppressors.

The notion of ‘reversing the perspective’ is, as you suggest, merely another myth in our post-post-modern world (who were the idiots who thought of reversing perspectives? Jolasmo had the edge on them years ago!) … but the usefulness of it is that it destabilises accepted notions, which you, naturally, of course, seem to want to defend.

Tarwater
Feb 9 2013 08:59

Taxirank said

Quote:
And your statement that industrial societies “do have certain advantages” is not only an assertion you make without evidence or justification, it also betrays little or no conception of the experience of alienation. To say that industrial societies have certain advantages (over what exactly?) is to position oneself clearly in support of the notion of progress which has come through Christianity, the Enlightenment, Hegel, Darwin and Marx. It is this continuity that should be investigated and questioned – not blindly adhered to. Otherwise we continue to do the job of our oppressors.

He probably meant glasses, for example, which I wear and appreciate. I am really sick of people derailing interesting discussion by reading false liberalism into peoples posts in order to make a lame "more-revolutionary-than-thou" point. Who are you preaching to? If you don't understand whether someone is trying to uphold the dominant ideology or not, ask, don't impugn their motives in order to score rhetorical points. Especially if you are a new poster who only seems to have registered 2 weeks ago to start controversy. Some of us come here to wade through arguments and make our own opinion or argue our ideas. If you have already formed your opinion, why be dishonest? Just say that you are partisan and have only come to derail things. If you were confident in your opinions you wouldn't have to ascribe nonsense to the people that don't agree with you, you could just make your point, which I was sympathetic to before your dishonesty.