Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Questions about Cavemen

When I was young, I read a magical book. This book told the story of a young boy who apprenticed to one of the last people in North America to be raised in the old, native ways. The book was The Tracker, by Tom Brown Jr, and, for good or ill, it set fire to my imagination and changed the course of my life. I spent much of my youth dreaming of foraging in the forests, free from the constrictions of my civilized life.

In college, my curiosity about hunting and gathering led me to spend long hours reading about Aborigines and bushmen and Amazonian tribes. In my idealism, I began to amass evidence for an argument that primitive living was not just a hobby or escape fantasy, but that it was the blueprint for satisfying human life--that our original human heritage was the key to living better lives today. I found much in the literature of anthropology to suggest that hunters and gatherers were healthier, happier, freer, more leisured, less lonely, and more egalitarian than almost any civilized cultures have ever been.

When I started writing this journal, I imagined that it would be a venue for persuasion, for stating the case that, yes, we should indeed look toward our most ancient cultures for guidance and direction. So many people continue to believe that our ancestors were brutish dullards that live short, nasty lives. Perhaps I could do my small part to correct those errors in the popular version of our history. And, for the most part, I do still believe that we have greatly underestimated the beauty of our common human past. I have read enough and experienced enough to sense something eminently satisfying. But I have also experienced a recent skepticism. I now suspect that the magical book that I read when I was young is full of tall tale and exaggeration. Some of the original anthropology papers on hunters written in the 70s have recieved valid criticism that I could ignore only at the cost of self-deception.

So, now, I am considering a new purpose for this journal. To what extent are my heroic images of cavemen true, and to what extent are they the reflections of my own desires? Maybe it would be a greater service to provide a venue to explore this question with openness and skepticism in equal measure. Whether my dreams are founded in reality or wishfulness, such an investigation can only bring me closer to the truth.