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I posted this in the contemplatives  journal severl months ago.  After rereading it, I felt that it deserved wider distribution.  I was a little bit dismissive of it when I posted it; so I wanted to give everyone a second chance to look at  it.  Its not that new.  Since the 1950s a few social  scientists have been trying to convince us how much we have to learn from the First Peoples.

Primal Spirituality and the Onto/Phylo Fallacy, Steven Taylor

I am particularly impressed by what Taylor suggests about the ego, and how the absence of a strong ego would not have prevented hunters and gatherers from acquiring a strong sense of the "divine."  Our need for socialization, then "individuation, then transformation is only necessary because our egos are overdeveloped.  We are on ihe psychological equivalent of steroids, which alllows us to perform certain scientific and technical tasks very well, but leaves us spiritually undernourished  like the great home run hitter or linebacker who can't seem to stop beating up on his girl friends.  We need to get off our intellectual highs to have the humility to acquire what I believe every person in a gatherer-hunter society had with only a normal amount of effort.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
I wonder-- do you think that the concept of ego is relevant to first peoples?
Jul. 12th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
first peoples' egos
Maybe not. I think we have a self preservation tendency which allowed some first peoples to experience fear and cowardice and act on those feelings. This could just be animal instinct. I am impressed with how many American Indians, even with just a smidgeon of traditional culture will not introduce themselves by name until the have recited the appropriate lineages and tribal affiliations. For example: my friend "Frank" would say, via introduction: I am a grandson of (grandmother's name), I am Crow, I am Yellow Knife. My friends call me Frank. To me, this does not mean that they lacked individual freedom, individual personalities, or inability to think "outside the box."
(pehaps I should have said "personal" rather than "individual.") Cultural mechanisms were focused enough on a) the spirit world, and b) the community that it would have been somewhat grotesque to have a strong ego; though I'm sure there were young men who developed what I would call an ego. The Cheyenne (if I don't have the plains peoples confused with one another) had a virtual anarchy, but during the season of the buffalo hunt, a sort of embryonic government arose. The "buffalo police" had the responsibility for controlling individual behavior during the hunt so that young men searching for personal glory would not act foolishly and endanger the food supply of the entire community. That sounds enough like "ego" to suit me. But certainlly, strong egos would not be epidemic among first peoples as they are for us.
Jul. 13th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
Re: first peoples' egos
Hmmm. I didn't mean to suggest an utter lack of any sense of self or individuality, let alone lack of creativity-- more of a lack of fairly specific Freudian structures. Though as you point out placing oneself within a family, generational, and group context is commoner amongst first peoples than among 21st century White people....
Jul. 13th, 2009 01:06 pm (UTC)
UGH.... The whole concept of "primal peoples" vs. "modern humans" is the most disgustingly racist imaginable. There is no continuum of cultural development. Hunting & gathering economies are not less "developed" than our brilliantly dysfunctional one. There are still hunting & gathering societies today, that consciously and aggressively reject any contact with the dominant societies of their places. There are numerous groups in South America, where the terrain is too dense for the government to hunt them down. Damn, Bobby, you know this -- didn't you say you subscribe to Cultural Survival? Remember the whole campaign for the San Bushmen in Botswana? And the Andaman & Nicobar Islands of India? (I think those were CS).

They are not "primal peoples", as if they were static, museum cultures, either. They are living, developing cultures -- they just don't necessarily develop all in one predictable direction, toward our supposedly advanced state. It is a terribly ethnocentric view that sees our civilization as "developed" and others as "primitive", as if given enough time & the right conditions, they would necessarily develop to become more like us. It is a terribly destructive view, that not only justified past conquest and colonialism, it still justifies modern exploitation by force of natural resources in other peoples' territories. Like taking the diamonds from the Kalahari in exchange for "development" projects for the San, regardless of the fact that the taking destroys everything the San value and they don't WANT our "development", thank you very much -- we know better than they, because we are "modern" and they are "primitive". Ditto for the oil in the Ogoni land in Nigeria, the natural gas in Camisea (Peru), etc. ad nauseum. It was only 26 years ago that Nixon officially reversed the longstanding U.S. policy of forced assimilation and "termination" of American Indian nations. And your Mr. Taylor published this trash in 2003!

Sorry if this is a digression from what you intended to discuss in this post -- but if you want to talk about cultural influences on spirituality, of egoism and intellectualism, you can compare modern living cultures (including those that have managed to stay very different from our own), or stages in our own unique history.
Jul. 13th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Sure, I totally agree. And I meant no disrespect to hunter-gatherer peoples by posting Taylor's article. My focus was entirely on the spiritual implications of living without the encumberences of modern (or even post horticultural) society. Historians have written about "What we have lost" when we left agrarian society for industrial society.
I am more concerned over what we lest when we moved from simple horticulture to advanced horticulture.

"Development" for me, is not necessarily a positve term. I always enjoyed that Goethe made Faust (after his agreement with Mephestopholes) a "developer."

I also agree that hunter-gatherer cultures are not static. However they discover ways of life that persisted for hundreds of thousands of years (the consensus now seems to be 250,000, but it could have been much longer) Ours has existed a little less than 300 years and is in great danger of destroying itself. Certainly first peoples' cultures were more stable than ours.

I'm not sure that Taylor, despite his language, intended disrespect for first peoples. I had the entirely opposite impression. I'm going to have to reread the article more carefully to try to see what you saw in it.

First peoples chose to respect the earth and the spirits. We have chosen to use the earth and ignore the divine. I think we made the wrong choice.

Love and peace, Bob
Jul. 13th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
are hunter-gatherer cultures extinct.
O.K. I see one problem already, Taylor says gatherer-hunter societies existed "until recently" implying that they no longer exist. This is, as you affirm, wrong--or at least debatable. However, intrusion by other societies--or even the knowledge of other societies which could just walk in and destroy their way of life--requires adjustments which could ultimately threaten the core values.
Jul. 13th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Is it possible that it is the ideas of Ken Wilber you find offensive; ideas which Taylor is trying to subvert. I will fault Taylor, perhaps, for using the same tools (psychological and social science theory) that Wilber uses. I do agree that science tends to 1) overexplain the things it does explain, and 2) dismiss questions it cannot answer (questions about the soul and the spirit). I still find that this article has merit, at least for me, in reminding me of the power of the spirituality of first peoples.

Friday we watched "Gran Torino" about an aging, widowed Korean War veteran, Walt (Clint Eastwood) who is in physical and spiritual distress. The movie features a young Roman Catholic priest and an aging Hmong shaman (I think Shaman is the right word). It is the shaman who comes closest to diagnosing Walt's spiritual condition.
Jul. 13th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
It's the whole concept of "primal" peoples. That is to peg another culture as an unchanging relic of some ancient time. And to romanticize this illusory image of them. So-called "first peoples" may avoid some of our dysfunctions, but they also can easily be superstitious, closed-minded, and cling to some pretty nasty traditions. There really are cannibals out there, you know?

"I believe it is valid to see these peoples at the times when Europeans first had contact with them (and for a period afterwards), as a kind of window through which we can look back at the history of the whole human race. These were cultures which had been unchanged for thousands of years." Bullshit. Bullshit to extrapolate from a snapshot in time of a culture at the time of contact back into that culture's own millennial past, and double bullshit to extrapolate from it back into "the history of the whole human race." Phooey.

I agree that Europe's so-called "Enlightenment", with its exaltation of human reason and science, has not been kind to spirituality in our Eurocentric culture. The exaltation of anything human is not kind to spirituality -- except, I guess, maybe love and service to fellow humans.
Jul. 13th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
Cannibalism is associated with advanced horticultural societies--not with hunters, and not (so far as I know) with simple horticulture except in times of extreme want.. And hunters are not perfect either (any more than Abel was supposed to be perfect). But they have not, as Ali Shariati suggested, been corrupted by the institutions which replace insight with power. So far as I know, I am not descended from Noah. Therefore, I must be descended from people who lived as hunters and gatherers for over 250,000 years. Could they possibly teach me something about myself? Maybe.
Jul. 13th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
Wilber may be MORE offensive, but Taylor still offends me.
Jul. 13th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
I see your point, I'll have to think about it. One thing I do believe about "the history of the whole human race:" Until recently, we did not have states, we did not have ecclesiastical religions, and we did not have economic systems which could be considered "healthy" while people who were supposedly served by those institutions lived in misery. That is enough to convince me that hunters and gatherers, whether alive today, 500 years ago, 13,000 years ago or 250,000 years ago have enough in common which I lack to permit me to look at them as a category of cultures similar to one another and different from mine. Not identical, not unchanging, but stable enough to sustain human beings generation upon generation into the distant past and (hopefully) into the distant future.
Jul. 16th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
Interesting, makes a lot of sense especially the overdeveloped egos section, especially on the fact that I've seen some massive egos in my time. If only more people would step back down to earth instead of having to fall back down into it.
Jul. 16th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
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