Much of this misguided romanticism can be traced back to a single article, Richard Lee's 1966 paper on the !Kung, which said they spend only 12 to 19 hours a week gathering food and only 40 to 44 hours a week on all their chores. This led Marshall Sahlins to call hunter-gatherers the "original affluent society." You still Lee's paper cited all the time, but really it is badly out of date:
Anthropologists Henry Harpending and LuAnn Wandsnider wrote, “Lee’s studies of !Kung diet and caloric intake have generated a misleading belief among anthropologists and others that !Kung are well fed and under little or no nutritional stress.” They note that “1964 may have been an unusually productive year for bush food,” and compare it with work describing the severe effects of the 1973 environment, “…people were starving, and weight loss and widespread social disruption occurred.” In 1986, Nancy Howell wrote that “…the !Kung are very thin and complain often of hunger, at all times of the year.” In Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert, George B. Silberbauer states that, “Undoubtedly Bushmen do succumb in years of very serious drought,” and describes how 37 individuals of another San population, the G/wi, died of dehydration during the drought of 1939. And in a 1986 article entitled “Ethnographic Romanticism and the Idea of Human Nature,” Melvin Konner and; Marjorie Shostak summed it up well, stating that, “Data on morbidity and mortality, though not necessarily relevant to abundance, certainly made use of the term “affluent” seem inappropriate.The best numbers available suggest that life expectancy among the !Kung is about 36, which puts them around the average for pre-industrial societies. But they live in a desert with very low population density and little disease, and other hunter-gatherer societies have shorter lives: 27 among the Hiwi of Colombia and 21 among the Agta of the Philippine jungles. Some hunter-gatherers also have high rates of violence; over the course of the 20th century a man of the !Kung was much more likely to die from violence than a European, despite the World Wars. And, you know, they do so little work on their houses partly because they live in miserable huts that leak when it rains and provide little protection against dust storms.
I don't mean to say that civilization has been an unmitigated boon; obviously it has serious problems, from genocide to diabetes. But life among hunter-gatherers wasn't so great, either.
Yeah, I'll take comfortable shelter, life saving medicine, clean and abundant water, a widely varied diet, artificial light, advanced culture and entertainment, and the capacity - through science and technology - to preserve all of those things against the potential shocks and ravages of time and misfortune.
But hey, if other folks want to run off into the desert to try to make a living foraging and living in dirt hovels, let them. They won't last long, either giving up in shame or starving in stubborness, and then we won't have to listen to their romanticized appeals for an imagined idyllic past that never existed.
It's been decades since I was tempted to think civilization was a mistake and it'd be better to be a hunter-gatherer--but that story about the !Kung was such a lovely stick to beat the work ethic with! "Why should we work when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"
The question that people may be able to ask in the future is "Why should we work when there is so much automation in the world?"
Of course, actually getting to such a point will require people to be patient, prudent, and wise, willing to adapt to changing conditions and to abandon comfortable old traditions in order to embrace new unknowns, so... who knows if we'll ever get there?
However it turns out, I don't think humans will have much to say about it. The AI will decide for us.
Hard AI must not be allowed to come into existence. Soft AI will be far more than sufficient for our needs.
I'd rather live in a world where every single country had nuclear weapons than a world in which a single true AI was ever allowed to exist. Such a development could only end in tragedy. We're just not anywhere near ready enough as a species to tackle that issue. Maybe in a thousand years...
The Hyperion Cantos -- The Technocore.
The problem with modern H-G is taht they are usually pushed to the least productive environments, so it's hard to use them to argue whether our H-G ancestors had it better.
Even with ideal conditions, I still feel it's not much of a contest against things like modern medicine.
I very much value the fact that I have corrected eyesight; that I'm exceedingly unlikely to develop measles, mumps, rubela, smallpox, malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, polio, syphilis, tuburculosis, cholera, bubonic plague, ebola, et cetera; that exceedingly low modern infant and child mortality rates allowed to me to reach adulthood; and so on.
Even with the most ideal possible conditions, I wouldn't trade those things away just to work fewer hours in the week.
Hey, sure! I am not saying taht I would trade my current position with HG. I am simply stating that looking at !Kung and saying "maaaan they surely had hard time gettting food" does not necessarily reflect the realities of the HG before the advent of agriculture.
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