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20220115 – Affluence without Abundance



Part One. Old Times
1. The Rewards of Hard Work
This chapter looks at the usual misconception about the life of hunter-gatherers as the struggle for survival and hard work. It rejects this view based on the author’s experiences as an anthropologist living with authentic hunter-gatherers. In reality, it is much more like a beautiful future imagined by Keynes when productivity is so high that people need to work just 15 hours per week to get all they need. In reality, 15 hours a week is all those hunter-gatherers need to hunt and gather enough resources from the environment to satisfy all their needs,  

2. The Mother Hill
This chapter touches on the Khoisan hunter-gatherer’s philosophy, their genetic relations to other populations, and their evolution and way of life, based not on growth and expansion but on sustainability or what one can call stagnant interactions with the environment. The chapter also noted that this way of life, while effective for human flourishing, fails to provide tools for defense when an encounter occurs with agriculturalists. The typical result is that agriculturalists’ higher productivity, numbers, and technology allow them to push hunter-gatherers away from their territory, enslave, or annihilate them. 

3. A Beachside Brawl
This chapter retells the story of European arrival to this area, the first encounters, and the specific story of da Gama and Dias.

4. The Settlers
This chapter expands this history to the present times. It includes discussion on the relations between farmers of European descent with locals, including lots of ugly interactions, exploitation, and forced labor. The situation somewhat improved after the independence of Namibia, but the old way of life was destroyed anyway.  

5. Living in the Moment
This chapter looks at the psychology of hunter-gatherers. It notes their different understanding of time when only present exists, albeit it changes cyclically. Consequently, they have no notion of delayed returns, investment, and multi-step production processes. Instead, their economics based on immediate returns and knowledge base contains details about the usefulness of the environment at any given period of natural cycles.  

6. Tsumkwe Road
This chapter narrates the first encounters of hunter-gatherers with anthropologists and the consequent constantly increasing intensity of the research. It also narrates the parallel development of interactions with the contemporary world, with the Tsumkwe road being a symbolic representation of these interactions

Part Two. The Provident Environment
7. The Hollow Tree
This chapter discusses the author’s experience of visiting the site starting in 1994. The author observed environmental changes caused by external forces: farmers that made this environment lose its ability to support hunter-gatherers. The chapter also discusses the difference between attitudes of hunter-gatherers and farmers, the former accepting natural settings and adjusting to them, while the latter changing the natural environment to fit their needs.

8. Strong Food
This chapter discusses attitudes to food, which hunter-gatherers divide into strong and weak food. For example, the strong food in the area with insufficient water contains more liquid. Also, the food obtained via hunting is considered strong and worth the higher time expenditure required by its acquisition. It also discusses the reasons for the absence of obesity among hunter-gatherers, and it is not from lack of food. It is rather a form of a combination of food consumption on an “as needed” basis and constant physical movement – per research, about 7-8 miles per day.

9. An Elephant Hunt
This chapter looks at another essential part of the local environment – elephants, poacher hunting, and countermeasures. The especially effective was allowing regulated hunt with the sale of licenses and organized tours that created lots of incentives for locals to protect elephants and maintain their population.

10. Pinnacle Point
This chapter looks at the archeological findings that demonstrated the uninterrupted habitation of people in the place where contemporary hunter-gatherers live. These findings also showed the stability of technology, which is, while sufficiently complex to meet human needs, nevertheless did not develop that much over time. The chapter explicitly discusses hunting technics and equipment, demonstrating that it was reasonably sufficient to assure that nearly half of calories came from meat. The chapter also points out that the stability of technology over the centuries has nothing to do with the cognitive abilities of these people. On the contrary, they quickly familiarized themselves with multiple artifacts of contemporary life and used them as needed. 

11. A Gift from God
This chapter discusses hunting and general attitude to animals and changing environment of the animal world. It also describes how the fire was used to preprocess food, making people much more efficient food consumers and freeing them from consuming low-quality food. It also concludes that hunter-gatherers’ meat consumption in everyday conditions was at the first world level.

12. Hunting and Empathy
This chapter discusses various hunting technics. But more interesting is that te critical cultural relationships are established between hunters and animals that allow maintenance of a sustainable way of life for all. It specifically stresses that these relationships are based on empathy and understanding of animals as companions and adversaries.

13. Insulting the Meat
This chapter discusses hunting-related relationships within groups directed at strict maintenance of egalitarian mores. Specifically, it looks at the typical behavior of the group’s diminishing level of hunter’s success. The value of acquired meat is insulted with the objective to prevent the hunter from being arrogant. Then the chapter proceeds to discuss the use of hierarchy and its role or, more precisely, lack thereof in relations between people. It also looks at so-called “demand sharing” that somewhat regulates whatever property could be identified and gift-giving procedures.     

Part Three. New Times
14. When Lions Become Dangerous; 15. Fear and Farming; 16. Cattle Country; 17. Crazy Gods; 18. The Promised Land

The last part of the book tells the sad story of the destruction of hunter-gatherers’ way of life by an encounter with the contemporary world that turned these “affluent without abundance” from well adjusted and generally happy egalitarians sustainably living off the environment into poor and often unhealthy people living off miserly welfare handouts and low paid unskilled jobs.   


In my view, this is not just a description of the disappearing lifestyle that humanity maintained for hundreds of thousand years, but also the foundation for the projection into the future when humans may return to somewhat similar arrangements, only based not on harmonious interaction with the naturally existing environment, but based on the newly developed environment with fully automated processes of production of goods and services. If something like that happens, humanity could once again move to a highly egalitarian arrangement of society that must be the most effective way to pursue happiness since it is very much in synch with the human evolutionary background. Obviously, the agriculture-based invention of property and hierarchy is not going away. Still, the new forms of the egalitarian society could be based on an extensive distribution of ownership of everything with violent hierarchical structures limited to maintaining effective and efficient resource allocation and individual rights.

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