Jared Diamond in row over claim tribal peoples live in ‘state of constant war’

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Respected author’s book condemned by Survival International as ‘completely wrong, both factually and morally’

A fierce dispute has erupted between Pulitzer prize-winning author Jared Diamond and campaign group Survival International over Diamond’s recently published and highly acclaimed comparison of western and tribal societies, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

The controversy threatens to expose a deep rift in modern anthropology, with each claiming the other has fallen into a delusion that threatens to undermine the chances for survival of the world’s remaining tribal societies.

On a book tour of the UK last week, Diamond, 75, was drawn into a dispute with the campaign group after its director, Stephen Corry, condemned Diamond’s book as “completely wrong – both factually and morally – and extremely dangerous” for portraying tribal societies as more violent than western ones.

Survival accuses Diamond of applying studies of 39 societies, of which 10 are in his realm of direct experience in New Guinea and neighbouring islands, to advance a thesis that tribal peoples across the world live in a state of near-constant warfare.

“It’s a profoundly damaging argument that tribal peoples are more violent than us,” said Survival’s Jonathan Mazower. “It simply isn’t true. If allowed to go unchallenged … it would do tremendous damage to the movement for tribal people’s rights. Diamond has constructed his argument using a small minority of anthropologists and using statistics in a way that is misleading and manipulative.”

In a lengthy and angry rebuttal on Saturday, Diamond confirmed his finding that “tribal warfare tends to be chronic, because there are not strong central governments that can enforce peace”. He accused Survival of falling into the thinking that views tribal people either as “primitive brutish barbarians” or as “noble savages, peaceful paragons of virtue living in harmony with their environment, and admirable compared to us, who are the real brutes”.

Written By: Edward Helmore
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

24 COMMENTS

  1. I have read Diamond’s work though not this one. I am inclined to agree with his position. There is a rosy view that tribal people lived relatively peaceful lives but there is evidence that goes against this view and which Andy Thompson also refers to in his lectures. Male bonded coalitionary violence has never been unusual, it is in Thompson’s view favoured by natural selection and observed among other primates and we see plenty of examples of it in modern times where we have reported incidents of groups of males attacking another solitary male often with lethal results.

    It sounds to me like Diamond’s detractors have a politically correct agenda.

  2. The idea that they are claiming he is “morally wrong,” is what tells me they are full of crap (is there a more scholarly way to say that?). Because you can argue the facts and come up with different conclusions, but once you introduce your brand of morality into it shows an extraordinary ignorance regarding cultures. Loving the idea of the noble savage doesn’t make it so.

  3. I don’t know how Mr Corry can say that there is no link between the proportion violent deaths in a society and being able to say how violent a society is. His whole piece stinks of a Politically Correct agenda. Unlike Mr. Corry, Dr Diamond and (Dr Pinker) has massive amounts of statistics and other empirical evidence to back up his assertions.

  4. This is a follow-up from a discussion that began on another thread, but which seemed less relevant there than it would have been if it was here. The discussion can be found via this link:

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/1/29/president-obama-please-call-for-a-second-giant-leap-for-mankind

    In reply to #25 by Alan4discussion:

    @Zeuglodon

    21 by Alan4discussion:

    Actually, some remote tribes are still fit to survive “in the wild” on a sustainable basis! Unfortunately they seem unfit to compete with the invasive voracious consumption of the exploitative larger grouped human populations who are encroaching on their lands.

    SF fans may recognise – ” You will be assimilated – resistance is futile”, or “Exterminate – exterminate”!

    Yes, but those supposedly sustainable tribes (supposedly because it may have been prehistoric tribal peoples that contributed to the death of most of the megafauna of the last Ice Age)

    “Improvement” is a comparative value judgement. The extinction of particular individual species may not be relevant to on-going sustainability. These are not the same as mass extinctions. or the destruction of whole ecosystems.

    The fact that it is a “value judgement” proves nothing. Comparing facts is a “value judgement”, in the sense that I have to value reason and evidence to make the comparison, and the facts relevant to the idiosyncrasies of human nature are what are relevant when comparing two or more different societies, especially if we’re going to decide on the ethics and welfare of its members. There may well be equivalently good ways of achieving the same result, but there are also ways in which one society can be worse than another. Your own criticism of capitalism depends on it.

    I concede that there is controversy over what exactly caused the megafaunal extinctions of the last Ice Age, as climate changes could just as easily have contributed in part or in entirety. While destructive, the hypothesis is indeed not the same as ecosystem destruction, though it technically was a mass extinction.

    also have the worst living standards on the planet.

    I think in many cases that is only in terms of western concepts of manufactured material goods. In terms of being happy and in tune with nature, many are much more relaxed.

    The fact that they are “Western concepts” is no point against them. You are committing the genetic fallacy – that the origin of an idea is the basis for judging its merit – and possibly the naturalistic fallacy – of assuming that being in-tune with nature is automatically a good thing.

    Comparisons of GNP and literacy rates, for example, are taken as indicative of the quality of education and economic infrastructure that keeps a society’s members in security and comfort. These and other measures are used to compare the welfare of people across societies, and are the basis for much of our criticism of places like the Middle Eastern countries, Turkey, Indonesia, and the US. The fact is that most tribal societies would score at the bottom of the table, and the result is what you’d expect: misogynism, inequality, terrible infant mortality rates, high incidence of violence and rape, and narrow knowledge about the world as a whole. I don’t see what in this is supposed to impress me, especially considering both you and I are highly opposed to the same flaws in civilized countries. This strikes me as a double standard.

    As for being happy, if you wish to make the case that a tribe that suffers a homicide rate worse than most notorious US cities is happy in anything other than ignorance, I’d very much like to see your working. That said, most tribes don’t get the opportunity to compare notes, so how do we know they wouldn’t be happier had they lived in, say, Australia or Canada rather than in Africa or Indonesia?

    They enjoy a higher murder and death rate than civilized nations,

    I would doubt that the odd tribal, family feud, or territorial dispute, generally kills more than periodic wars, genocides, political witch hunts, criminal gangs, or traffic accidents of “civilised nations”.

    You refer later on to absolute numbers. I’ll reply to this particular sentence then, but let’s just say that there are far more people in the West who never encounter these problems than there are tribespeople who never encounter their own.

    poorer health care, higher infant mortality, limited nutritional and lifestyle options,

    Higher infant mortality rates and a lack of health-care reduces lifespan and acts as natural selection, but this improves sustainability of the group. It probably does not impact long-term individual happiness much.

    Let’s not get confused over two issues here. The first issue is whether or not tribal societies are ecologically more sustainable in their behaviours than civilized nations. On this front, I will concede you have the stronger case, as the post-industrial workings of Western nations is responsible for the global warming trends. You know the case better than I do, so I accept your case here, and I apologize for arguing against it.

    The second issue is whether or not that makes tribal societies better in any sense than civilized nations. And here I think you’re taking the first issue as evidence for the second, thus committing the naturalistic fallacy. You seem to think that a society that complies with ecological rules is therefore the better society. But ecological rules can consist of periodic mass slaughter, both of native species and of other tribes, and of huge numbers of people dying or suffering at the hands of disease. I find it highly unconvincing that this can be accepted as a good thing, much less that it could be accepted over a proposed alternative of civilized birth control and more conscientious environmentalism as lobbied for by certain pressure groups.

    Moreover, you claim that such a situation “does not impact the happiness level much”. I fail to see why this can be considered a plus. It either suggests that such people live in such detestable circumstances that they have to get used to it to get by, or that you underestimate the grief and unhappiness that results. Anthropologists like Milner and Chagnon have documented cases of outright infanticide practised by tribal mothers, and the conclusion they come to is that mothers find it just as much a traumatizing and tragic experience as one would intuitively guess, but that it’s the crumminess of their surroundings that force them to make Sophie’s Choice.

    Unless you have counterevidence to offer, I think you should reconsider your statement, as it strikes me as an irrational claim to make.

    parochial cultures rather than multiculture, fewer leisure options,

    These are life-style judgements based on city values. The uncontacted tribes, generally have a far better life-style than those in the slums of urbanised third-world cities.

    Are you sure that this is a representative comparison? The worst of city life may well be lower than the average or best of tribal life, but that says nothing about how they’d compare point for point. And as for quality of life, I think at the very least that the violence and homicide rate alone stands in favour of western nations.

    In any case, I consider this another form of the argument over whether ignorance is bliss or not. Even if a tribesperson is happy with his life, how can he be sure he wouldn’t be happier in other circumstances?

    inferior technology,

    Again this is a urban city value judgement. Those in extensive unpolluted forests have their own technologies which make very effective use of the resources available to them.

    On the other hand, they’re denied many of the benefits that we take for granted. Their medicine alone is at the stage of medieval standards. Many environmentalist groups make the case that we should preserve the environment in case we lose any valuable medicinal plants and chemicals, so what the tribes can get, civilized people can add to their collection, with the added benefit of having a wider variety of sources for more medicines.

    I agree that not every technology is in the favour of civilized nations – we don’t have the elaborate and clever traps of many tribal hunters, for example – but that’s because a lot of those technologies developed in response to different environments. Guns, hunting dogs, farms, and possibly even GM and lab-grown foods have considerably more advantages than bows and arrows.

    Whether it was Franklin in the Arctic, or the “white man going to his grave” in early Africa or the Amazon, the locals could live off the land while foreigners could only starve and die when their imported supplies ran out or failed.

    Yes, but only because they had the advantage of living there for longer. It wasn’t a choice – they had to learn the tricks or die themselves. The advantages swung the other way when the newcomers began building cities and farmlands, and so by your own lights they’re being much more successful (if not exactly sustainable) than the natives.

    bigger risks of disease and premature death, higher rates of violence, gender and sex inequalities, racism, prejudice, superstition,

    In Africa, there is far more violence since modern weapons and colonialism were introduced than before.

    In The Better Angels of our Nature, Pinker makes the case that most of the violence in Africa was as a result of civil wars that followed when the colonialists withdrew. Now, I’m not saying the colonies were innocent, but what he finds is that A) the violence occurred in the absence of colonialists, and B) the guns were bought by people who had the motives in the first place. I sincerely hope you’re not trying to plug the preposterous idea that the natives knew nothing of fighting before the colonialists came along and poisoned them, because there’s no basis for such a claim. And the reason they buy guns is the same for why guns were invented – because people wanted to kill, and wanted the best technology for achieving that end. If the African revolutionary thugs go around massacring their fellow Africans, then by all rights blame the black market dealers who sold them the guns, but don’t forget to blame the thugs who wanted them enough to buy them in the first place.

    In South America the large early “civilisations” were much more violent than the small isolated jungle family groups in remote areas.

    Invoking absolute numbers in a straightforward comparison is statistically unsound because it says nothing about how representative either society is. In cases of violence, it matters greatly whether I find myself in a tribe of 50 in which 2 people will be killed, or a nation of 50 million in which 2 million will be killed. Insisting on absolute numbers is inconsistent, because the same argument could be used to prove that more people die from non-violent deaths and/or natural causes in nations than die from those same causes in tribes, and the numbers then support two contradictory conclusions.

    In any case, I was talking about higher rates of violence, and the evidence bears out my case. Keeley and other archaeologists and anthropologists have shown that, for rates of homicide and violence, tribal societies experience far higher rates than civilized nations do. To put this into perspective, a tribesman has a high chance of either being a murder victim or of knowing at least one relative by blood or by marriage who will be murdered, whereas a Westerner could go through his whole life without ever encountering a murder in his neighbourhood. More details are documented in The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker, and if this thread is anything to go by, then Jared Diamond has come to similar conclusions.

    Yes, the Holocaust, the purgings of Stalin, and the genocides and massacres organized by Mao and other dictators are unsurpassed for sheer scale and brutality, but they aren’t typical of the West, and that’s why using them to impugn civilization in general is misleading. We haven’t had a similar massacre for decades, and in the meantime we can’t ignore the billions of other people who had it better because of their civilizations.

    fewer home comforts, very little architectural innovation,

    In pristine jungle with tropical or Mediterranean climates, there is clean water, and no need for elaborate heating, or fancy architecture, Local materials provide ready housing materials. – shaped by traditional skills passed down in families with plenty of space to live.

    Yes, and no filtration or sewage treatment, no real option of leaving for temperate climes, no real protection against diseases like cholera or malaria, and no call for anything less than pragmatism because leisure time is virtually nil. You also forget how traditionalist these tribespeople can be, and the fact that many of their clever methods for surviving are not done for ecological concern, but because they selfishly want food and safety and have no other choice.

    I agree that we could learn a thing or two about making our homes eco-friendly from some tribal traditions, but there are also modern methods of achieving similar results, and the cultural catchment area is wider in our case.

    fewer opportunities to meet like-minded people, lack of democracy and free speech, and not much chance of improving their lot within the next millennium if left to their own devices.

    Actually they seem to be made up of family based groups of like-minded people,

    Being family does not mean being like-minded. Any real options are limited both by the constraints of their physical and cultural environment, and by the personalities of whoever happens to coexist with them. Besides, evolutionary theory still leaves plenty of room for serious family conflicts and inter-family conflicts to arise.

    Even under the supposition that they enjoy family ties and relationships better than my own, well, so do the bands of brothers found in the army, but this by itself isn’t a justification for accepting war or for elevating tribal communities above our own.

    in group sizes which do not need formal democracies or the corruption of large political groupings.

    So how do they make decisions? What if someone’s interests are trampled over? What happens if someone disagrees? You do realize that, for all this means, they could be living in a state of total anarchy and deep-seated superstition. The first civilized states were almost all authoritarian theocracies, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that this came from the supersititions of a tribe or tribes that gave it excessive priority among its chiefs and authorities. Civilization and any foibles it picked up had to emerge from a non-civilized state.

    As for “the corruption of large political groupings”, much as I agree that a government with selfish motives can bring about atrocious mass impoverishment and cruelty, it’s unfair to act like all government is corrupted. Politicians may slip money into their own pockets or bow to the wrong pressure group, but at least they don’t outright boast about how many people they’ve massacred or tortured any more. The EU and the UN, NATO, and the modern cultural zeitgeist wouldn’t accept it. Also, it does a disservice to the fact that governments have at least contributed in part to improving current laws and standards of living from how they were only a century or so ago, and environmentalist concerns are beginning to take hold.

    Many are happy as they are.

    Where are you getting your information from? How, for example, do you confirm that “many are happy as they are” when, for all that means, they may well not realize that there are better choices available, or that they tell outsiders they’re happy to save face? In any case, those same anthropologists from earlier report situations in which the tribespeople bemoan their fate – for instance, regretting the constant warfare, but insisting that their enemies are untrustworthy.

    I don’t mean that tribespeople live in a state of permanent misery, and I certainly don’t think they or our prehistoric ancestors were unhappy because they didn’t have iPods or Blu-Ray discs. That doesn’t mean they’re not missing out on other things, such as less violence and ignorance and more medical care and personal autonomy.

    By comparison, the main thing wrong with the supposedly imperialist culture is its selfish and ham-handed approach when dealing with natives.

    It is just the usual displacement of the natives, by an invasive species or tribe, as happens with animals and plants.

    That says nothing about whether it’s right or wrong. Again, you seem to be following the naturalistic fallacy, which is odd as you seem to be dead against such invasion in later parts of your comment.

    I’m not justifying imperialist attitudes here – frankly, I think there are better ways to improve the lot of outsiders than to conquer them -

    You seem to be reflecting the usual colonial attitude that the invaders know better than the natives how to manage the land and its ecology or “improve” standards of life.

    Well, if I must be accused of saying as much, then yes, I do concede that people from western civilizations – like the scientists in the relevant disciplines, for example – might know more about land-management and standards of living than a group of people living isolated in the rainforest. Equally so, I concede that this is neither justification for imposing said measures on them against their will, nor justification for excluding the possibility that they know many more things about those same topics than we do, and that we could learn from them. I’d sooner see a cooperative venture between both parties, and in no way do I believe that saying as much is tantamount to being pro-colonialist.

    For heavens’ sake, I’m not shouting “Rule, Britannia” or calling for the subjugation of native Africans. I think I have a bit more respect for their humanity than that. But neither am I buying into the notion that we’d all be better off living “in harmony with nature, like the tribespeople do”, especially after learning of many of the losses that a change from one to the other would entail. I’ve had a glimpse via natural selection and evolutionary psychology over what “living in harmony with nature” entails, and I think many civilized nations are in a position to do better than that.

    Higher levels of exploitation or more dependency on complex specialisation, transport etc. do not = “better” in terms of sustainability – which was the subject I raised.

    That’s fair enough. They don’t. But in making our practices sustainable, that also means they have to be ethical. The fact that the tribes fulfil the former requirement does not automatically prove that they fulfil the latter one.

    but the myth of the Noble Savage is just that: a myth. It’s not like western people don’t or can’t have sustainable practices as well.

    That has yet to be seen. SOME western people KNOW HOW to set up sustainable systems,

    This is what I meant. However, the Noble Savage myth is, roughly speaking, the romantic and idealized notion that humans in a state of nature have it better off than humans in a civilized state. That’s very different from what you’re claiming: that tribespeople enjoy a better standard of living or a more sustainable standard than western civilizations do.

    I would advise against explicitly supporting the Noble Savage myth. Quite apart from the fact that you’re usually on the side of Enlightenment and Science and Reason values, I think you might be in danger of arguing for a position you don’t actually hold. Having read Pinker’s books on the subject – specifically The Blank Slate and Better Angels – I’m inclined to treat the myth with skepticism, especially when it’s offered without any supporting evidence.

    but neither capitalist nor communist political cultures seem capable of actually operating them for any length of time before the destructive exploiters take over.

    This doesn’t seem right. I got the impression that we’d been exploiting the environment for centuries, long before we even realized the damage we were doing, and that the more recent trend of the past few decades was in incorporating more and more environmental concerns into our policies. It’s a slow process, to be sure, but like the trend of increasing atheism and accepters of evolutionary theory, real enough.

  5. ” both factually and morally “

    Quite telling.

    When you use phraseology such as this you have not only lost the argument, you have yet to begin a logical approach to an argument.

  6. Basically humans are co-operative animals. We tend to live socially because that is how we manage to survive until adulthood. Whether human nature has changed in the last 10,000 years I could not possibly say. I can say with certainty that human behaviour has changed. It had to change, to face the day to day struggle of survival.

    Now I am not an expert, but I do know that warfare and conflict are expensive in more ways than money can express. If we were all violent and aggressive and warlike, then there wouldn’t be much of humanity left to have this discussion with. We would have all killed each other off. That hasn’t happened, despite the many tragedies that capitalism has bestowed upon us, where rat eats rat.

  7. In reply to #8 by Mr DArcy:

    Basically humans are co-operative animals. We tend to live socially because that is how we manage to survive until adulthood. Whether human nature has changed in the last 10,000 years I could not possibly say. I can say with certainty that human behaviour has changed. It had to change, to face the day to day struggle of survival.

    Now I am not an expert, but I do know that warfare and conflict are expensive in more ways than money can express. If we were all violent and aggressive and warlike, then there wouldn’t be much of humanity left to have this discussion with. We would have all killed each other off. That hasn’t happened, despite the many tragedies that capitalism has bestowed upon us, where rat eats rat.

    Of course, no serious thinker would suggest that “we were all violent and warlike.” that would be just as silly as suggesting that human co-operation is universal. The fact that homo sapiens managed to survive the hunter-gatherer phase is hardly proof that tribal cultures were more co-operative than warlike.

    It’s a fallacy to assume that humans are either co-operative or violent and warlike. We are quite capable of being both. The key is to understand which sets of circumsatances tend to favor which types of behavior. The most recognizable pattern of human programming since antiquity seems to be “Be co-operative with, even selfless toward, members of your own group. Be aggressively suspicious of, defensive against, and even hostile toward those outside your group. If you can take resources from members of any outgroup to benefit members of your ingroup, this is worth a great deal of expenditure and risk, up to and including violence.”

    A part of Pinker’s thesis in The Better Angels… is that the history of social progress can be viewed as the gradual expansion in size of the groups which humans are capable of perceiving as within their own “tribe.” According to this view, which as far as I can tell is largely in agreement with Diamond’s, “tribal societies” would tend to be prone to violence of various kinds by virtue of the fact that the ratio of ingroup to outgroup would be very small indeed. The hint is right in the name “tribal.”

    The thesis may or may not be correct, but having looked at the formidible volume of data assembled by Dr. Pinker, I must say that it will take more than a simplistic argument like “we’d never have survived if we were more violent in antiquity” to counter it.

  8. This is an argument between Survival and a straw man, Jared Diamond isn’t really involved at all.
    The criticism seems to be at the idea that hunter-gatherers are a different kind of east from us, unevolved and inherently more violent.
    They are right of course – the idea that a couple of thousand years of parallel evolution makes us nice and them nasty is ridiculous and anyone making it deserves abuse.
    Jared Diamond starts off Guns Germs and Steel with a question a New Guinea hunter gather asks – why do the white men have all the cargo (goods). And he sets off to describe how environment, disease, exchange of ideas, culture and political entities create the inequalities between fundamentally equal peoples.

    Meanwhile the history of westerners visiting other societies with an agenda and finding what they were looking for is well established.

  9. In reply to #6 by Zeuglodon:

    This is expanding way beyond my orginal claim in to generalities which cannot be applied across the board.

    This is a follow-up from a discussion that began on another thread, but which seemed less relevant there than it would have been if it was here. The discussion can be found via this link:

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/1/29/president-obama-please-call-for-a-second-giant-leap-for-mankind

    In reply to #25 by Alan4discussion:

    @Zeuglodon

    21 by Alan4discussion:

    Actually, some remote tribes are still fit to survive “in the wild” on a sustainable basis! Unfortunately they seem unfit to compete with the invasive voracious consumption of the exploitative larger grouped human populations who are encroaching on their lands.

    SF fans may recognise – ” You will be assimilated – resistance is futile”, or “Exterminate – exterminate”!

    Yes, but those supposedly sustainable tribes (supposedly because it may have been prehistoric tribal peoples that contributed to the death of most of the megafauna of the last Ice Age)

    “Improvement” is a comparative value judgement. The extinction of particular individual species may not be relevant to on-going sustainability. These are not the same as mass extinctions. or the destruction of whole ecosystems.

    The fact that it is a “value judgement” proves nothing. Comparing facts is a “value judgement”, in the sense that I have to value reason and evidence to make the comparison, and the facts relevant to the idiosyncrasies of human nature are what are relevant when comparing two or more different societies, especially if we’re going to decide on the ethics and welfare of its members.

    That is my point. Comparisons should be like with like. Making value judgements of dissimilar systems confuses issues. My claim was that these cultures can endure as sustainable, when our modern complex cultures are vulnerable to breakdown if/when unsustainable consumption of resources fail.

    There may well be equivalently good ways of achieving the same result, but there are also ways in which one society can be worse than another.

    There may be but the overall picture covers an extended time period and a great deal of complexity which does not lend itself to simple comparisons.

    Your own criticism of capitalism depends on it.

    My criticisms were only of specific examples of capitalism.

    I concede that there is controversy over what exactly caused the megafaunal extinctions of the last Ice Age, as climate changes could just as easily have contributed in part or in entirety. While destructive, the hypothesis is indeed not the same as ecosystem destruction, though it technically was a mass extinction.

    The issue is their relevance to isolated cultures in the Amazon, the Himalayas, New Guinea or ancient Polynesia!

    also have the worst living standards on the planet.

    I think in many cases that is only in terms of western concepts of manufactured material goods. In terms of being happy and in tune with nature, many are much more relaxed.

    The fact that they are “Western concepts” is no point against them. You are committing the genetic fallacy – that the origin of an idea is the basis for judging its merit – and possibly the naturalistic fallacy – of assuming that being in-tune with nature is automatically a good thing.

    Not at all. I am pointing out that concepts of “wealth” in terms of abundance of manufactured luxury goods, does not necessarily equate to standards of life when work pressures and pollution are taken into account.

    Comparisons of GNP and literacy rates, for example, are taken as indicative of the quality of education and economic infrastructure that keeps a society’s members in security and comfort. These and other measures are used to compare the welfare of people across societies, and are the basis for much of our criticism of places like the Middle Eastern countries, Turkey, Indonesia, and the US.

    Subsistence living or hunter gatherers do not have a “GNP” or formal education system. Humans lived in small groups for millennia without these.

    The fact is that most tribal societies would score at the bottom of the table, and the result is what you’d expect: misogynism, inequality, terrible infant mortality rates, high incidence of violence and rape, and narrow knowledge about the world as a whole. I don’t see what in this is supposed to impress me, especially considering both you and I are highly opposed to the same flaws in civilized countries. This strikes me as a double standard.

    This is not comparing like with like. I raised the issue of long term sustainability, and it is very doubtful if the modern profligate consumption which props up these benefits in developed countries – often at the expense of third-world countries which are exploited to feed wealth to richer nations under unfair systems of trade is sustainable over centuries.

    As for being happy, if you wish to make the case that a tribe that suffers a homicide rate worse than most notorious US cities is happy in anything other than ignorance, I’d very much like to see your working.

    That claim is simply a very wide generalisation across a whole selection of diverse cultures, where comparison of like with like are difficult. I referred only to small family based isolated groups.

    That said, most tribes don’t get the opportunity to compare notes, so how do we know they wouldn’t be happier had they lived in, say, Australia or Canada rather than in Africa or Indonesia?

    We don’t know either way.

    They enjoy a higher murder and death rate than civilized nations,

    Murder is a concept related to local laws. If country or world scale wars involving armies are taken into account the killing by developed societies are huge.

    I would doubt that the odd tribal, family feud, or territorial dispute, generally kills more than periodic wars, genocides, political witch hunts, criminal gangs, or traffic accidents of “civilised nations”.

    You refer later on to absolute numbers. I’ll reply to this particular sentence then, but let’s just say that there are far more people in the West who never encounter these problems than there are tribespeople who never encounter their own.

    That was certainly not the case in Europe in 1917 or Europe and the Pacific/Japan in 1944.

    poorer health care, higher infant mortality, limited nutritional and lifestyle options,

    Higher infant mortality rates and a lack of health-care reduces lifespan and acts as natural selection, but this improves sustainability of the group. It probably does not impact long-term individual happiness much.

    Let’s not get confused over two issues here. The first issue is whether or not tribal societies are ecologically more sustainable in their behaviours than civilized nations. On this front, I will concede you have the stronger case, as the post-industrial workings of Western nations is responsible for the global warming trends. You know the case better than I do, so I accept your case here, and I apologize for arguing against it.

    That was the point of my original post. – Glad we can agree on that.

    The second issue is whether or not that makes tribal societies better in any sense than civilized nations.

    I think this is far too sweeping a generalisation. My point was that in a benign climate with plenty of space and natural resources – they can. – Not that they always do!

    And here I think you’re taking the first issue as evidence for the second, thus committing the naturalistic fallacy.

    Not really. Each group would have to be individually assessed.

    You seem to think that a society that complies with ecological rules is therefore the better society.

    Possibly, but not necessarily.

    But ecological rules can consist of periodic mass slaughter, both of native species and of other tribes, and of huge numbers of people dying or suffering at the hands of disease.

    This is certainly true, but I have seen little to suggest that it is more prevalent in small cultures than in large structured ones.

    I find it highly unconvincing that this can be accepted as a good thing, much less that it could be accepted over a proposed alternative of civilized birth control and more conscientious environmentalism as lobbied for by certain pressure groups.

    “Good” is again making a value judgement out of context. Those who have neither the will, the inclination nor the technology to destroy their environment, can live without fighting battles of “environmentalism” with irresponsible technologically armed environmental destroyers, who are rewarded and motivated as leaders within larger “civilisations”.

    Moreover, you claim that such a situation “does not impact the happiness level much”. I fail to see why this can be considered a plus.

    There have been quite a number of anthropological studies of which showed island and coastal peoples for example, who had quite a good life style before colonialism took their land and commercial fishing destroyed the richness of their food supply.

    It either suggests that such people live in such detestable circumstances that they have to get used to it to get by, or that you underestimate the grief and unhappiness that results. Anthropologists like Milner and Chagnon have documented cases of outright infanticide practised by tribal mothers, and the conclusion they come to is that mothers find it just as much a traumatizing and tragic experience as one would intuitively guess, but that it’s the crumminess of their surroundings that force them to make Sophie’s Choice.

    There are many forms of human suffering, but the contrasts with modern cities (and not just first world modern cities) is not comparing like with like.

    Unless you have counterevidence to offer, I think you should reconsider your statement, as it strikes me as an irrational claim to make.

    Not really. You cannot simply cherry-pick particular circumstances out of context.

    parochial cultures rather than multiculture, fewer leisure options,

    These are life-style judgements based on city values. The uncontacted tribes, generally have a far better life-style than those in the slums of urbanised third-world cities.

    Are you sure that this is a representative comparison? The worst of city life may well be lower than the average or best of tribal life, but that says nothing about how they’d compare point for point. And as for quality of life, I think at the very least that the violence and homicide rate alone stands in favour of western nations.

    Again this would be a cherry-picked comparison, or a sweeping generalisation. (Are these “Western Cities” in Mexico, Colombia, the US during prohibition, or Norway?)

    In any case, I consider this another form of the argument over whether ignorance is bliss or not. Even if a tribesperson is happy with his life, how can he be sure he wouldn’t be happier in other circumstances?

    This is pure speculation.

    inferior technology,

    Again this is a urban city value judgement. Those in extensive unpolluted forests have their own technologies which make very effective use of the resources available to them.

    On the other hand, they’re denied many of the benefits that we take for granted. Their medicine alone is at the stage of medieval standards.

    True, But contact with Europeans introduced diseases to South America which wiped out 90% of the population in many areas. Mining and illegal logging to feed western consumption is still bringing disease and destruction to the Amazon.

    Many environmentalist groups make the case that we should preserve the environment in case we lose any valuable medicinal plants and chemicals, so what the tribes can get, civilized people can add to their collection, with the added benefit of having a wider variety of sources for more medicines.

    The argument has merits, but should we need such arguments of self interest to respect foreign environments? It is Western (and Chinese and Japanese) money which is driving the destruction, and Western weapons which are supporting the politicians selling out their own people.

    I agree that not every technology is in the favour of civilized nations – we don’t have the elaborate and clever traps of many tribal hunters, for example – but that’s because a lot of those technologies developed in response to different environments. Guns, hunting dogs, farms, and possibly even GM and lab-grown foods have considerably more advantages than bows and arrows.

    It is these very weapons and technologies which are escalating violent conflicts, and destroying environments by over exploitation.

    Whether it was Franklin in the Arctic, or the “white man going to his grave” in early Africa or the Amazon, the locals could live off the land while foreigners could only starve and die when their imported supplies ran out or failed.

    Yes, but only because they had the advantage of living there for longer. It wasn’t a choice – they had to learn the tricks or die themselves. The advantages swung the other way when the newcomers began building cities and farmlands, and so by your own lights they’re being much more successful (if not exactly sustainable) than the natives.

    That depends on if you take a long or short term view! The jury is still out on that one.

    bigger risks of disease and premature death, higher rates of violence, gender and sex inequalities, racism, prejudice, superstition,

    These are cultural differences – not sustainability issues. The biggest risk of disease is introduction from foreign sources and overcrowding cause by politics and modern business.

    In Africa, there is far more violence since modern weapons and colonialism were introduced than before.

    In The Better Angels of our Nature, Pinker makes the case that most of the violence in Africa was as a result of civil wars that followed when the colonialists withdrew. Now, I’m not saying the colonies were innocent, but what he finds is that A) the violence occurred in the absence of colonialists, and B) the guns were bought by people who had the motives in the first place. I sincerely hope you’re not trying to plug the preposterous idea that the natives knew nothing of fighting before the colonialists came along and poisoned them, because there’s no basis for such a claim. And the reason they buy guns is the same for why guns were invented – because people wanted to kill, and wanted the best technology for achieving that end. If the African revolutionary thugs go around massacring their fellow Africans, then by all rights blame the black market dealers who sold them the guns, but don’t forget to blame the thugs who wanted them enough to buy them in the first place.

    The point was that in pre-colonial times the fights were with spears bows and sticks, without mechanised transport, so boundaries and disputes were settled with fewer casualties.

    In South America the large early “civilisations” were much more violent than the small isolated jungle family groups in remote areas.

    Invoking absolute numbers in a straightforward comparison is statistically unsound because it says nothing about how representative either society is. In cases of violence, it matters greatly whether I find myself in a tribe of 50 in which 2 people will be killed, or a nation of 50 million in which 2 million will be killed. Insisting on absolute numbers is inconsistent, because the same argument could be used to prove that more people die from non-violent deaths and/or natural causes in nations than die from those same causes in tribes, and the numbers then support two contradictory conclusions.

    Again it is important to compare like with like.

    In any case, I was talking about higher rates of violence, and the evidence bears out my case. Keeley and other archaeologists and anthropologists have shown that, for rates of homicide and violence, tribal societies experience far higher rates than civilized nations do. To put this into perspective, a tribesman has a high chance of either being a murder victim or of knowing at least one relative by blood or by marriage who will be murdered, whereas a Westerner could go through his whole life without ever encountering a murder in his neighbourhood. More details are documented in The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker, and if this thread is anything to go by, then Jared Diamond has come to similar conclusions.

    Yes, the Holocaust, the purgings of Stalin, and the genocides and massacres organized by Mao and other dictators are unsurpassed for sheer scale and brutality, but they aren’t typical of the West, and that’s why using them to impugn civilization in general is misleading. We haven’t had a similar massacre for decades, and in the meantime we can’t ignore the billions of other people who had it better because of their civilizations.

    Quite a lot of my relatives were killed in two world wars! Many others can say the same.

    fewer home comforts, very little architectural innovation,

    In pristine jungle with tropical or Mediterranean climates, there is clean water, and no need for elaborate heating, or fancy architecture, Local materials provide ready housing materials. – shaped by traditional skills passed down in families with plenty of space to live.

    Yes, and no filtration or sewage treatment, no real option of leaving for temperate climes, no real protection against diseases like cholera or malaria, and no call for anything less than pragmatism because leisure time is virtually nil.

    Many of these diseases and problems arise from overcrowding and long-range communications, and industrialisation in the first place. Water filtration and sewage problems arise from crowding.

    You also forget how traditionalist these tribespeople can be, and the fact that many of their clever methods for surviving are not done for ecological concern, but because they selfishly want food and safety and have no other choice.

    Many have traditions against over-hunting or over exploitation – learned over generations, – which is totally missing from smash and grab colonial capitalism.

    I agree that we could learn a thing or two about making our homes eco-friendly from some tribal traditions, but there are also modern methods of achieving similar results, and the cultural catchment area is wider in our case.

    So how do they make decisions? What if someone’s interests are trampled over?

    There are injustices in all societies., along with benefits from certain structures. Romanticising any one is unhelpful.

    What happens if someone disagrees? You do realize that, for all this means, they could be living in a state of total anarchy and deep-seated superstition. The first civilized states were almost all authoritarian theocracies, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that this came from the supersititions of a tribe or tribes that gave it excessive priority among its chiefs and authorities. Civilization and any foibles it picked up had to emerge from a non-civilized state.

    There are inequalities in all societies. – Greatest in large feudal or industrial ones.

    As for “the corruption of large political groupings”, much as I agree that a government with selfish motives can bring about atrocious mass impoverishment and cruelty, it’s unfair to act like all government is corrupted. Politicians may slip money into their own pockets or bow to the wrong pressure group, but at least they don’t outright boast about how many people they’ve massacred or tortured any more.

    Doing clandestine torture makes no difference to the victims. There is still plenty of brutality around.

    The EU and the UN, NATO, and the modern cultural zeitgeist wouldn’t accept it. Also, it does a disservice to the fact that governments have at least contributed in part to improving current laws and standards of living from how they were only a century or so ago, and environmentalist concerns are beginning to take hold.

    The jury is still out as to the effectiveness of these organisations. In many respects they are talking shops and centres of political manipulations.

    Many are happy as they are.

    Where are you getting your information from? How, for example, do you confirm that “many are happy as they are” when, for all that means, they may well not realize that there are better choices available,

    From recorded individual cases where they accept their life style and take a pride in it.

    I don’t mean that tribespeople live in a state of permanent misery, and I certainly don’t think they or our prehistoric ancestors were unhappy because they didn’t have iPods or Blu-Ray discs. That doesn’t mean they’re not missing out on other things, such as less violence and ignorance and more medical care and personal autonomy.

    By comparison, the main thing wrong with the supposedly imperialist culture is its selfish and ham-handed approach when dealing with natives.

    … and also with their own citizens.

    It is just the usual displacement of the natives, by an invasive species or tribe, as happens with animals and plants.

    That says nothing about whether it’s right or wrong. Again, you seem to be following the naturalistic fallacy, which is odd as you seem to be dead against such invasion in later parts of your comment.

    I was commenting on evolutionary sustainability.

    You seem to be reflecting the usual colonial attitude that the invaders know better than the natives how to manage the land and its ecology or “improve” standards of life.

    Well, if I must be accused of saying as much, then yes, I do concede that people from western civilizations – like the scientists in the relevant disciplines, for example – might know more about land-management and standards of living than a group of people living isolated in the rainforest.

    History suggests otherwise in many examples. The deforestation, derelict land, and inappropriate land use, is testimony.

    Equally so, I concede that this is neither justification for imposing said measures on them against their will, nor justification for excluding the possibility that they know many more things about those same topics than we do, and that we could learn from them. I’d sooner see a cooperative venture between both parties, and in no way do I believe that saying as much is tantamount to being pro-colonialist.

    History shows, that business deals between unequal parties rapidly move from co-operative to being exploitative.
    (That’s all I have time for at present)

  10. BanJoIvie,

    The key is to understand which sets of circumsatances tend to favor which types of behavior. The most recognizable pattern of human programming since antiquity seems to be “Be co-operative with, even selfless toward, members of your own group. Be aggressively suspicious of, defensive against, and even hostile toward those outside your group.

    Yes, and I’d like to point out that even within the tribe there is plenty of suspicion, hostility and coercion between it’s own members. Tribes have strict well defined pecking orders and these are maintained and challenged by antagonistic behavior back and forth between themselves. Status is established and the behavior of the members of the tribe is controlled by its ranking members. Of course if there is a threat from an outside tribe then all internal animosity is quickly put on the back burner and they rally to form a formidable defensive force. No doubt this is how offensive action is taken as well, although I didn’t have the occasion to observe it in my years of living in North Africa.

    On a daily basis one must be vigilant against all sorts of theft, insults, assault, and sexual assault which could come from within the tribe or if one is in the wrong place at the wrong time then also from outsiders. These threats are what lead to intertribal vengeance and retribution that can go on for many years. In these tribal societies, police are weak or nonexistent. There is no one to report a crime to who can be trusted to sort it out fairly and objectively. I think we all know what happens when Muslim women suffer a rape or sexual assault of any type. The consequences are always tragic and have a huge ripple effect through the whole tribe and the ripples extend out past the tribe and are felt strongly by those who live on the borders of their domain.

    When I live in a tribal setting I never really feel totally safe. A posture of mild vigilance is required. Maintenance of personal alliances is crucial.

    I’m with Jared Diamond on this one. Anyone who thinks that tribal living is anything like the “Noble Savage” model has never had to hold their own in one of these societies, this I know.

  11. In reply to #9 by BanJoIvie:

    In reply to #8 by Mr DArcy:

    The most recognizable pattern of human programming since antiquity seems to be “Be co-operative with, even selfless toward, members of your own group. Be aggressively suspicious of, defensive against, and even hostile toward those outside your group. If you can take resources from members of any outgroup to benefit members of your ingroup, this is worth a great deal of expenditure and risk, up to and including violence.”

    In crude summary: be nice to them and share resources if they have some of your genes. Attack and steal resources if they don’t have some of your genes.

    Michael

  12. I didn’t know of Jared Diamond’s new book until reading this article; just bought it, and haven’t yet read it. But I shall comment anyway, unencumbered by ignorance.

    I’ve lived half my long life as a hunter-gatherer. I have lived in quasi-tribal societies with my relatives on the Cherokee Rez, and on the Nisqually & Pine Ridge reservations, and in the U.S. Army. All of these, including the last, are not purely ‘tribal’, but examples of defeated societies partly assimilated. Pine Ridge, in particular, was (probably still is for all I know) violent in a personal way and not in any real organized warfare sense. I was at the 1972 Wounded Knee uprising, where bullets flew and lives ended. That was perhaps a war on one side and a mosquito slap on the other. The rate at which people kill one another on Pine Ridge seems higher than at any other place I’ve ever seen, but if it’s a war it’s a slow-moving one.

    My family is one of warriors. Half of us fought for a 4-year-old Queen in Scotland, and the other half in the pre-Columbian Cherokee / Iroquois wars. We fought on both (or rather all) sides of the American Revolution and the American Civil War. A few helped conquer northern Mexico. Grandpa didn’t come back from WWI, and Mom & Dad and all uncles served in WWII. Cousins killed & died in Korea. I sat out Vietnam in a mine tunnel in Colorado, and my son fired and had his ship fired upon a few times in the latest wars. The times between wars seem the anomalies in our tribal, civilized society.

    I take Steven Pinker at his word — that violence has abated as we’ve become a little less tribal and a little more civilized. This doesn’t mean that we should or can ignore our tribal underpinning. It would have been helpful, for example, if more in the US had recognized the re-invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the wounded animal responses that they were and maybe just gone into a corner and masturbated instead.

    I’d love to think it possible and practical for a simplified tribal society to exist without causing undue harm (maybe I’ll re-read Daniel Quinn’s “Beyond Civilization”). Tribes (or at least quasi-tribes) I’ve known have proven extraordinarily violent.

    }}}}

  13. Nature fetishists with Delusions of Eden.

    In the Before Time, there were Native peoples and Aborigine. Like elves, they were in commune with nature and never polluted or wasted any food. They were in touch with nature and, learning from nature, lived a peaceful and harmonious existence, finding balance with their surroundings… but then something sinister happened. There was a betrayal and we lost this accord. We fell from grace… maybe a talking snake had something to do with it.

  14. In reply to #12 by LaurieB:

    BanJoIvie,

    The key is to understand which sets of circumsatances tend to favor which types of behavior. The most recognizable pattern of human programming since antiquity seems to be “Be co-operative with, even selfless toward, members of your own group. Be aggressively suspicious of, defensive against, and even hostile toward those outside your group.

    Yes, and I’d like to point out that even within the tribe there is plenty of suspicion, hostility and coercion between it’s own members. Tribes have strict well defined pecking orders and these are maintained and challenged by antagonistic behavior back and forth between themselves. Status is established and the behavior of the members of the tribe is controlled by its ranking members. Of course if there is a threat from an outside tribe then all internal animosity is quickly put on the back burner and they rally to form a formidable defensive force. No doubt this is how offensive action is taken as well, although I didn’t have the occasion to observe it in my years of living in North Africa.

    On a daily basis one must be vigilant against all sorts of theft, insults, assault, and sexual assault which could come from within the tribe or if one is in the wrong place at the wrong time then also from outsiders. These threats are what lead to intertribal vengeance and retribution that can go on for many years. In these tribal societies, police are weak or nonexistent. There is no one to report a crime to who can be trusted to sort it out fairly and objectively. I think we all know what happens when Muslim women suffer a rape or sexual assault of any type. The consequences are always tragic and have a huge ripple effect through the whole tribe and the ripples extend out past the tribe and are felt strongly by those who live on the borders of their domain.

    When I live in a tribal setting I never really feel totally safe. A posture of mild vigilance is required. Maintenance of personal alliances is crucial.

    I’m with Jared Diamond on this one. Anyone who thinks that tribal living is anything like the “Noble Savage” model has never had to hold their own in one of these societies, this I know.

    Perfect description of Norris Green, Liverpool, England.

    Anvil.

  15. In reply to #1 by Vorlund:

    It sounds to me like Diamond’s detractors have a politically correct agenda.

    Your view is rather selective here. You don’t reject the notion that primitive societies are irredeemably brutish, as Diamond does. Why is that? He rejects both the idyllic Noble Savage and the Hobbesian notion that there is nothing of worth in such societies. By omitting the latter, you give the appearance of (wittingly or unwittingly) being constrained by your own political correctness, albeit for a different kind of politics.

    There is a little mileage in the notion that western societies are more effective and practiced at violence– one can ask how violence is employed. Is it valid to see it as a directed instrument that is used for oppression of those who act outside what is acceptable to the controllers of violence? Are there types of violence that are worse than others, morally speaking? For instance, some types of violence decrease the freedom of a society beyond the impact of the violent acts themselves.

    I should go back and read the extremely long posts above. This is an interesting topic, not amenable to knee-jerk solutions, I think.

    It seems to me there’s been considerable wishful thinking on the part of many involved in anthropology across the political spectrum.

  16. In reply to #19 by PERSON:

    In reply to #1 by Vorlund:

    It sounds to me like Diamond’s detractors have a politically correct agenda.

    Your view is rather selective here. You don’t reject the notion that primitive societies are irredeemably brutish, as Diamond does. Why is that?

    I didn’t reject it, I just didin’t mention it in the space of a few lines. Brevity has its merits and misunderstandings for those that want to see them.

  17. On February 4 2013 Jared Diamond was interviewed on BBC TV about his new book ‘The World Until Yesterday’. He would not agree to a Survival International representative being there to debate his points.

    During the interview, he addressed Stephen Corry’s critique, claiming that Survival’s policies rest on ‘falsehoods’, and that the universal conclusion is that violence almost always decreases when there’s European contact of ‘traditional’ societies.

    In fact, this is certainly not the ‘universal conclusion’. Diamond’s thesis rests on the work of a very small number of academics. Many others disagree.

    Diamond is not himself an expert on tribal peoples of New Guinea. Contrary to what many journalists have written in reviews, he hasn’t studied them and isn’t an anthropologist. Those who have, and are, have been severely critical of his data, largely cherry picked from very old sources. But their criticisms never reach a popular arena.

    Please visit http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8980 to see more of Mr Diamond’s claims, and Survival’s response to them.

  18. In reply to #13 by mmurray:

    In crude summary: be nice to them and share resources if they have some of your genes. Attack and steal resources if they don’t have some of your genes.

    AKA: Love thy neighbour. … but kill all the Amalekites to take their stuff.

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