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  • Sex, Equality and No Property: The Good Ol' Upper Paleolithic Era

    All this time, we thought conservatives were the ones pining for the past. Turns out we didn’t look back far enough in time. The stone age, when sex came easy and all were equal, may just have been the halcyon era of liberalism.

    Intelligent Life magazine, an offshoot of The Economist, asked a panel of writers “what was the best time and place to be alive?” Lucy Kellaway, an associate editor at the Financial Times, answered, America 10,000 to 20,000 years ago:

    Men and women in these hunter-gatherer tribes were the most equal they have ever been. Rich and poor were pretty equal too. With no property, there was no question of feeling hard done by when you failed to keep up with the Paleolithic Joneses…. people frittered away their time on three pleasures that the modern age does not encourage: chatting, playing with children and having sex with more than one person…. Hunter-gatherers were taller and healthier than the farmers who followed them. They had more varied diets and so weren’t at risk of famine. They also had great teeth.

    A bobo’s dream come true: Gender equality, social equality, polyamory, and gastronomical variety. Our Paleolithic ancestors sure had lots to smile about (with their great, shiny white teeth).

    Our author, if anything, is too modest. Equality back then extended well beyond sex and class. Everyone was equally likely to die by the age of 30. All women were equally likely to die, along with their infants, during childbirth. And men and women were equally likely to have their skulls fractured by marauding groups of simians. As Hobbes might have said, all lives were equally “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

    Absurd as this piece is, our author’s antiquarian musings highlight three of the most prominent aspects of the contemporary liberal mindset: an obsession with equality, animosity toward private property, and the celebration of unbridled sexuality. All three, it is worth noting, have been on display at the various Occupy Wall Street campgrounds (the latter, in a most ghastly way).

    That anyone would consider, whether in jest or in earnest, a return to such a miserable existence reveals the profound appeal that these ideas continue to exert. Equal poverty is preferable to unequal prosperity, and anything is preferable to the repressive patriarchal family.

    To her credit, Kellaway does note that “here and now” remains the best time to be alive. She also does acknowledge that there are “a few disadvantages to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle”: a higher likelihood of getting mauled by a wild animal and no television. Aside from that, the paleos had it pretty good.

    After the paleocons and the paleo diet, perhaps this will mark the rise of the paleolibs?

    Posted in Featured, First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    13 Responses to Sex, Equality and No Property: The Good Ol' Upper Paleolithic Era

    1. Dave says:

      Actually the "die by 30" dogma is wrong. People who lived to adulthood lived as long as we do now, there was simply a higher infant mortality rate that drives the "average" life expectancy down. Life was also by no means solitary. Tribal groups are very close nit…and in general tribal groups don;t treat one another in a brutish manner. Death in childbirth did happen but that too was actually a product of western medicines growing pains. It's only recently that we've started to do real science looking at prehistoric human life and ther are some excellent new books out there to read. Before very recently we as a culture just accepted that we were once beastly and miserable and have left those days behind because it seemed like a very nice idea that we've come so far. Alas if you stop and think the notion of us having been so brutish and miserable really makes almost no sense. Look around at the natural world..how many animals seem to be living deeply unhappy lives?

      • Grace Marie says:

        Hmmm. My niece's cat, torn limb from limb by a neighbor's dog in front of her once innocent eyes, was pretty unhappy in his final moments. Perhaps you could give title to these excellent new books you reference. Another thought – do fish have feelings? The 10-cents-per-feeder-fish my turtle gobbles up had pretty short lives, and the stronger-devours-the-weaker life-style sounds less than pleasent to me.

        • Lianne says:

          short life does not equal unhappiness. Besides you are getting caught up in the moments of horrific death, and then assuming that is representative of paleolithic life.

    2. ocvp says:

      @Dave: You are quite welcome to forgo your material goods and live in bliss in the forest if you choose to. For some reason i don't think you will, though.

    3. Denise says:

      Two points:
      1. There is no such thing as "pre-historic." (Think about it.)
      2.There is no such thing as doing "real science" that many years previous. It is non-observable and non-provable. It is conjecture and theory at best.

    4. Heidi Napier says:

      Actually, Dave is wrong. The average life expectancy was shortened by high infant mortality rate AND by high adult and young adult mortality rates. All of us adults know people who would have died as adults if not for modern medicine and technology (think ambulances and life flight). How does anyone know that tribal groups were close knit and benevolent?

      Looking around the natural world convinces me that life for wild animals is brutish. Watch a cat kill a mouse; it ain't pleasant for the mouse. Look at a wild fawn up close–often covered with ticks and fleas. Have you ever seen a dog or cat or human bitten by a rattlesnake? All very natural, but very unpleasant. How about all the natural diseases–plague, dysentary, malaria, cholera, typhoid fever, etc. These are all very natural and have been around a long time, but are all miserable for the patient. Wild animals suffer their own versions of these diseases.

      Don't kid yourself; we are MUCH better off now than we were in the Stone Age or even 100 years ago.

    5. A.D. Monday says:

      Dear Dave, Find your cave and happy hunting.

    6. Jack Hansen says:

      Very funny. 90% of our existence has been Hunter/Gatherer. It seems we still are driven by much of that mentality. I attribute war and poor personal, long-lasting relationships to this mentality but I never thought how today's liberal thinking would apply. Paleolibs: Very funny.

    7. John Walters says:

      Dave, you make some interesting observations that I must digest just a bit. To my knowledge even it tribal communities there has never been a time that women were as strong as men. Makes me wonder if this freewheeling sexual lifestyle is simply rape without anyone to report it too. Having said that, i would be most interested to know what "real scientific study" has been done on the bone record of these people to show that they were sexually promiscuous. Did each male partner leave a bite record in the female bones? Being of Cherokee descent, a tribal community by the way, I can tell you for certain that there are darn few men passing their wives around. I must also admit that i would be astounded to learn that there was actual evidence that these people lived to the same ages as we do. Even so, biblical characters seemed to live a really, really long time before the flood. Perhaps getting everything led to mold that has retarded our ability to achieve these same age milestones again. As for their teeth, now there is a record that we can study and probably agree on. There have been some actual scientific studies that have shown that natural and varied diets result in wonderful teeth structure. How wonderful that we can find common ground on at least one point.

    8. Bobbie says:

      hey what happened to my comment?

    9. MerNJ says:

      Funny, I was debating an OWS supporter who suggested I "evolve to a higher plain" – seems more like devolving to me.

    10. Ellen says:

      The problem with calling hunter-gatherer life "nasty, brutish, and short" is that hunter-gatherers themselves generally do not feel that way. First off, we know little to nothing of the realities of Stone Age life – hunter-gatherers today are not the same as hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago. But even if we assume that Stone Age humans lived very short lives, had very few possessions and no private property, and faced constant violence from other tribes, that does not mean they were miserable. They did not know about TV or hot showers. They did not expect to live in comfy homes with modern appliances. Pain, hardship and death, they simply accepted as part of life. It's what they were used to, and they made the best of it. In the modern age, we think we are gods who can eliminate all pain and suffering, and maybe even death. People living thousands of years ago – and people living in poor countries today – did not suffer under such delusions.

      Studies have shown that there is little relationship between wealth and happiness, or between poverty and misery. On the contrary, citizens of poor Third World nations are much more likely to report being happy than citizens of developed nations. Their lives are miserable by our standards, but not necessarily by theirs. Happiness is all in your outlook. The idea that a good life is living to 100, with few illnesses or injuries until you're 90, owning a big home, a fancy car, and tons of stuff, spending minimal time on work and lots of time on exotic vacations, etc. – this ideal is not only thoroughly pagan, but it dooms most of those who hold it to a lifetime of discontent, frustration and a sense of being cheated – because most people who dream of being rich will never get there. If they do get there, they often find it's not all it's cracked up to be.

      When you expect a life of dire poverty and poor health followed by an early death, you will not be disappointed if that's what you get. You're simply glad to be alive today. You look for little joys and humble pleasures. You rejoice in what you have. You find hope in religion. That's what being a Third World peasant is like. Very few people think their own lives are not worth living. That's usually a judgement imposed by third parties. People who claim that Stone Age life was hell are simply demonstrating their own arrogance and materialism. Their assertions say more about them than they do about the people who actually lived in neolithic tribes.

      So while I like my comfortable modern American life, I don't feel sorry for people who live with almost nothing. I think they stand a much better chance than I do of being rewarded beyond imagination in heaven.

    11. Alpheus says:

      I can't help but raise my eyebrows at Kellaway's claims. I'm more inclined to think that she's projecting her own values onto a society that we know little about.

      What evidence does she have, that these people had no property, or had promiscuous relationships? Most likely, her own imagination.

      While I agree with Ellen that these people were likely happy in their "misery", so called, and it's a fact that these people had rather rough lives, they also likely found that happiness in simple pleasures, like respect for each other's property, and the trade that occurs because of that; of loving relationships that likely lasted a lifetime; and of the joys of finding what you're good at, and focusing on that, even if you had limited choices at the time of what you can do.

      Studies exist that show that humans naturally gravitate to pair-bonding; and certainly, claiming property and territory comes naturally, and not just for humans. I doubt that these natural traits would have been different 20,000 or 30,000 years ago.

      That, and even if there were no property, nor fidelity, I doubt that the time would have been the paradise Kellaway tries to make it out to be!

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