Let us tackle this as it is important for the future of mankind. First there is no such thing as a primitive culture. What we do have is what can be described as the Natural Community modified by imposed adjustments of various levels of success. That Natural Community is alive and well even in the urban environment in the form of Virtual Communities limited by the human brain and human time.
So let us now define or better describe that Natural community. This is supported by extensive anthropology work among resource rich non literate societies. Thus more of the mathematics and needs need to be better described in terms of statistical distributions. If someone has done all this, i am not aware of such work. This is the result of my own review of some of the literature and identifying patterns.
A Natural Community consists of: 150 individuals plus or minus 30 individuals. If an active family is five individuals, then that suggests that we can have thirty heads of households plus or minus six individuals. That works out to about six members acting as prime leadership with each heading up another group of six with lots of room for variation and political niceties.
What we need to understand is that around 180 individual, the community becomes unstable politically and will calve. Under 120 individuals it is also under pressure to add manpower to reach the 150 sweet spot. Better yet much of all this is driven biologically by the normal limitations of our brains.
All this spills over into the world of virtual communities. We just do not notice it.
The important take home though is that this is the size in which an economy founded on generosity is both large enough to really work and small enough to maintain internal discipline. The second take home for my readers is that properly capitalizing this structure allows us to end poverty on a global scale by establishing a sufficient natural market bid for all human labor. It entails properly internally monetizing such communities now possible.
The Myth of Primitive Communism
Generosity Is an Investment in Human Capital
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Here’s what they learned the hard way: generosity today can be a way of saving for tomorrow.
They were survivors of a plane crash on a desert island. They knew they’d be trapped there for months and that the only food would be the large but elusive fish in the sea.
When one of my students managed to catch a fish, he ate as much as he could, then stored the rest for himself under some rocks near the beach.
Other students, less successful as fishermen, starved to death promptly.
I like to play this little starvation game to disabuse my students of their romantic notions about communist noble savages in the African wilderness.
Soon, the initially successful fisherman found himself alone on the island. With no refrigeration, the food he’d stashed rotted away. And when he ventured out fishing again, he was unlucky and got stung by a deadly jellyfish.
With no one left to take care of him, he, too, perished.
Every year, I play this game with my students. We use a big square of desks to represent our island, pennies to represent fast-decaying fish fillets, and dice to randomize the fishers’ success or failure. (If a student decides not to fish, he has no chance to catch food but also no chance of encountering the dreaded jellyfish.)
We play this game while studying the famous Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers. Until the colonial encroachments of the 20th century, most Ju/’hoansi lived in small, nomadic groups in the Kalahari desert, the men hunting with bows and arrows and the women collecting nuts, berries, and roots with digging sticks and carrier sashes.
Every year, in the discussions that follow our brief reading on this culture, my students remark with amazement that whenever a Ju/’hoan man or woman finds food, he or she shares it widely with the community.
This behavior seems to be an important part of why Richard B. Lee, the most prominent anthropologist in the study of the Ju/’hoansi, describes them as “primitive communists” in the Marxian sense. And many of my students each year seem to get the idea that the Ju/’hoansi share their food so freely with each other because they are in some way more charitable, more natural, or otherwise more moral than us.
Sometimes, a student remarks, “That’s like socialism, right?”
So I like to play this little starvation game to disabuse my students of their romantic notions about communist noble savages in the African wilderness.
What, I ask, would happen if a bunch of greedy, selfish people like us found themselves in the same economic situation the Ju/’hoansi face?
The Economic Constraints of Foraging Life
Nomadic foragers like the Ju/’hoansi have unreliable “incomes” in terms of the food they find from day to day and week to week.
They are often masterful trackers and foragers. But, no matter how competent you are, when you pursue a giraffe on foot with a bow and arrow, sometimes the giraffe gets away.
Furthermore, it’s difficult for nomadic foragers to store food or other forms of material wealth. In fact, the Ju/’hoansi are even less inclined to store food than many other nomadic foragers. Perhaps this is because, while they can dry meat to last a couple of months, they also know a sudden rainstorm could ruin their savings. And because they travel repeatedly over the year to new water holes and food sources, as Lee says, “it would be sheer folly to amass more goods than can be carried along when the group moves.”
So if one were to ask a Ju/’hoan man in the morning what he’s going to eat that night, he could honestly respond, “I don’t know; I haven’t caught it yet.”
Cultural Heritage and Human Survival
Every year, in the game with my students, one of two things happens:
- Successful fishermen imitate the Ju/’hoansi. They give away their excess food freely, starting with their friends or closest neighbors at the game table.
- The students starve to death en masse.
They tend to finish the game realizing that, even if you were the greediest, most selfish nomadic forager in the world, your best move would still be to share food with your neighbors.
Since nomadic foragers have a difficult time storing physical capital, especially food, their response all around the world, in culture after culture, is to promptly turn it into human capital by giving it to friends, relatives, and neighbors.
Like my students, Ju/’hoansi men and women are tempted to hoard their own wealth. Indeed, Ju/’hoansi elders often lament that they have given generously all their lives and would now like to keep just a little for themselves.
But the Ju/’hoansi also have a massive corpus of gift-exchange rituals, conversational habits, and even stock jokes that they use to bolster their own patience and to bring hoarders peacefully into line. These behaviors represent the heritage of thousands of years of spontaneous-order cultural development under economic conditions in which short-run greed is tantamount to stupidity.
What makes the Ju/’hoansi seem selfless, or communistic, or morally superior to us is their age-old cultural adaptation to the fact that, for each individual in their situation, the best strategy to save for the future is to share widely in the present.
Culture and Markets
In the very different economic and technological circumstances of the industrialized West, we have our own roundabout methods by which our selfish desires lead to social prosperity. In markets, each of us can still provide best for his or her own future by helping others — especially strangers — for the right price.
Would this same system work for hunter-gatherers?
Even if you were the greediest, most selfish nomadic forager in the world, your best move would still be to share food with your neighbors.
If a group of 19th-century Ju/’hoansi equipped with digging sticks and bows and arrows had tried the ethics of the modern market for themselves, many might have starved to death before they recognized their error and began to recreate a culture more appropriate to their own ecology and technology.
But what works for the Ju/'hoansi would be devastating for us. If we today, in a market society made up largely of strangers, attempted to practice the ethics of profligate sharing and meek humility — or even worse, to enforce such ethics on noncompliant others through government policies — we would drive our whole society into chaos and penury.
The Ju/’hoansi's strategy works only for people in the Ju/’hoansi's situation.
Our own great wealth and our own social order are built on savings and investment — and on using our resources to benefit strangers through market exchange.