There is remarkably little evidence of depression-based suicide among tribal societies. Among the American Indians, for example, suicide was understood to apply in very narrow circumstances: in old age to avoid burdening the tribe; in the ritual paroxysms of grief following the death of a spouse; in a hopeless but heroic battle with an enemy; and in an attempt to avoid the agony of torture.In many of the better-studied North American tribes, Junger writes, the suicide rate was zero. This stands in stark contrast to any modern societies where the suicide rate is as high as 25 cases per 100,000 people. In the United States, white middle-aged men currently have the highest rate at nearly 30 suicides per 100,000.
A wealthy person who has never had to rely on help and resources from his community is leading a privileged life that falls way outside more than a million years of human experience. Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide. This might be a fair trade for a generally wealthy society, but a trade it is.
Adversity being a teacher of the true way is not necessarily to be avoided.
|Image courtesy Farm Family Archives|
Christopher Boehm published an analysis of 154 foraging societies that were deemed to be representative of our ancestral past. One of the most common traits was the absence of wealth disparities between individuals. Another was the absence of arbitrary authority.
“Social life is always egalitarian, in that there is always a low tolerance among a group’s mature males for one of their number dominating, bossing or denigrating the others,” Boehm observed.
The human conscience evolved in the middle to late Pleistocene as the result of the hunting of large game. This required cooperative, band level sharing of meat. Because tribal foragers are highly mobile and can easily shift between different communities, authority is almost impossible to impose on the unwilling. And even without that option, males who try to take control of the group or of the food supply are often countered by coalitions of other males.
This is clearly an ancient and adaptive behavior that tends to keep groups together and equitably cared for.
In his survey of ancestral type societies, Boehm found that, in addition to murder and theft, one of the most commonly punished infractions was failure to share. Freeloading on the hard work of others and bullying were also high on the list. Punishments included public ridicule, shunning and, finally, assassination of the culprit by the entire group.
All told, combined public and private fraud costs every household in the United States around $5000 per year, or roughly the equivalent of working four months at a minimum wage job. A hunter-gatherer community that lost four months worth of food would face a serious threat to its survival, and its retribution against the people who caused that hardship would be immediate and probably very violent.
Westerners live in a complex society and opportunities for scamming small amounts of money off the bottom are almost endless and very hard to catch. (see Shameless). But scamming large amounts of money off the top seems even harder to catch. Fraud by American Defense contractors is estimated at around 100 billion dollars per year and they are relatively well-behaved compared to the financial industry.
The real issue here, if you look at the Koch Brothers’ agenda, is: look at what many of the extreme right-wing people believe. Obamacare is just the tip of the iceberg. These people want to abolish the concept of the minimum wage, they want to privatize the Veteran’s Administration, they want to privatize Social Security, end Medicare as we know it, massive cuts in Medicaid, wipe out the EPA; you don’t have an Environmental Protection Agency anymore, Department of Energy gone, Department of Education gone. That is the agenda.
The most alarming rhetoric comes out of the mouths of liberals and conservatives and it is a dangerous waste of time because they’re both right. The perennial conservative concern about high taxes supporting a non-working underclass has entirely legitimate roots in our evolutionary past and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
Early hominids lived a precarious existence where freeloaders were a direct threat to survival and so they developed an exceedingly acute sense of whether they were being taken advantage of by members of their own group. But by the same token, one of the hallmarks of early human society was the emergence of a culture of compassion. They cared for the ill, the elderly, the wounded, and the unlucky. In today’s terms, that is a common liberal concern that also has to be taken into account.
Those two driving forces have co-existed for hundreds of thousands of years in human society and have been duly codified in this country as a two party system. The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs, and more broadly over liberal and conservative thought, will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.
Ask someone why she stays in a job she hates, and as often as not the answer is, “For the health insurance.” In other words, we stay in jobs that leave us feeling dead in order to gain the assurance of staying alive. When we choose health insurance over passion, we are choosing survival over life. — Charles Eisenstein
Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredible stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost, are deluding themselves.