The Forest People by Colin Turnbull

 Feeding my interest in the whole hunter-gatherer, ancestral roots, naturalism thing, I read this book to get a better, more intimate look at the culture of uncivilized people living in modern times, but as this book would soon inform me, it is rare for any group of humans, no matter how remote, to be completely free of civilization’s corruption.  At what point were these pygmies adulterated?  And they were also victimized by neighboring tribes who became civilized or at least left their forest roots to live on farms.  At the same time, I don’t think we should overly romanticize our uncivilized heritage as much as civilization tends to over-romanticize civilization.  Fact is, whenever things got tough, humans regressed to a more reptilian order where they may have even resorted to cannibalism.  Civilized people are not above cannibalism keep that in mind.  The Irish resorted to it during the Great Famine, and I can imagine, during any modern famine, there was cannibalism.  I think we can take the best from both pre-civilized culture and civilized culture, just as the Japanese have taken the best from Western culture and discarded things that didn’t end up so popular like Norwegian death metal. 

 What we do know, however, is that farming culture and then industrial culture is a much more concerted scam with a much greater number and ratio of humans living in much worse conditions than if they had all lived in the forest off the land.  Even worse, these humans have all been brainwashed to believe that their lives are better on farms or in factories than out in the forest.  Our culture is filled with warnings and admonitions not to enter the eerie, dangerous, dark, mysterious, scary forest even to this day with the Blair Witch Project.  There is no doubt that the myth of the evil witch was a concerted war against Paganism and the female spiritual leaders of Pagans.  Certainly, there may have been pre-civilized tribes that treated women badly or discarded the weak to fend for themselves or occasionally ate rival tribe members, but chances are, they did not do as well against the tribes that lived more harmoniously and peacefully.  In fact, there was probably a great variety and diversity of cultures in a big competition of natural selection to select for the most social, organized, and symbiotic cultures.  It is simply an unfortunate twist of fate that after hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps millions, of primates continually improving their social skills to arrive on top, we wind up with a farming and then industrial culture that has absolutely no use for those social skills.  It is perhaps, one of the greatest tragedies and ironies of history.  My only hope is that, it is a big, ugly speed bump in an otherwise general progression toward ultimately the most peaceful, social, benevolent, kind, inclusive, and symbiotic creature ever that triumphs over all the reptiles.  In our competition with other primate groups, many of them may have been individually stronger than us.  Compared to modern apes, we are total weaklings.  But it may have been our weak stature that actually compelled us to work together more and smarter, so in essence, our apparent physical weakness turns out to be our strength, what led us to triumph over our stronger yet less social and less intelligent primate competition.

 I had to skim most of this rather long book, unfortunately, keeping an eye out for important clues as to the important differences and similarities of this tribe and our modern society.  They certainly had their petty differences, gossip and all, grievances, that stuff has probably been with us forever.  Just as with forest fires, I believe low level conflict is a necessity to avoid greater, catastrophic conflict.  In fact, we probably get dopamine or endorphin highs from arguing sometimes.  I believe a lot of Internet trolls get just this when they post inflammatory remarks or get all wound up over an offensive post.  At the same time, there were also instances of cruelty.  They said they would spear and kill any man who falls asleep during a certain ceremony.  Or they would incessantly kick around their hunting dog or simply slowly kill an animal to make its flesh taste better.  Of course, you can’t be sure if this is behavior adulterated by the cruelty of civilized interlopers or not.  I always had the impression that North American Indians revered the animals they hunted and killed and would be highly respectful toward them.  But then again, I’ve seen documentaries of Eskimo kids mercilessly kicking their dogs.  We do have an inherent cruel streak in us.  Of course farming and industry and civilization didn’t invent cruelty.  They took something we already had inside us and magnified it a billion times.  However, the difference with civilized and pre-civilized people is the Milgram Shock Experiment.  Most of our cruelty is performed not for sadistic reasons but rather to obey authority.  I’m sure most prison guards and concentration camp guards were not sick sociopaths but rather relatively normal people who felt trapped under authority and performed evil in order to avoid the repercussions  of defying or questioning authority.

 I skimmed a lot of this book, but fortunately slowed down to find the best parts which really showcased the differences between the forest pygmies and “civilization” or even the “negro” villagers who lived near them.  The first one showed how they dealt with problems.  In civilization, we have prisons.  There is no prison in primitive cultures.  There is a gradual process of dealing with sins or problems that escalate in severity.  Most problems can be simply handled with arguments and getting allies, friends and family, on your side.  If it gets out of hand, an elder who seems neutral and has relatives on both sides, enters and mediates or simply tells both parties that they are making too much noise to quiet them down, and everything is settled.  It’s interesting to note that it is a greater crime to protest too vociferously than the actual crime most times.  In a sense, you’re showing no respect or trust in the system to work and also showing insecurity with the process and your own position.  The worst crimes are being thrown out of the group to struggle and often die alone in the forest, but if you are popular and useful, you can come back quietly.  There is an important ceremony, and if you fall asleep, they say they will kill you.  Not sure if that is an exaggeration, but keep in mind, primitive culture is not all perfect and sensible.  The roots of evil and all the political bullshit we find in civilized culture comes from primitive culture, just twisted and exaggerated. 

 One of the important contrasts was how pygmies and negro villagers treated girls who hit puberty and menstruate.  The villagers considered it an evil omen and the girl becomes a burden and must get married and become the responsibility of the husband’s family who basically buys her, and hence, the idea that she is property.  The pygmies consider the girl in a more positive way and instead of isolating her, teaches and preps her for married life.  It is obvious here that civilization has given women the short end of the stick. 

 We have two basic operating systems, fear and desire.  It seems civilization only operates with fear.  Everything is about fear.  Rituals are created to eliminate the evil spirits and evil this and evil that and omen this and that.  When you create a hierarchical system, those on top must use fear to ensure that everyone else does not overthrow them.  But fear alone darkens the soul and transforms us into cowards who resort to violence and anger to deal with the incessant threats and fears.  Humans cannot tolerate incessant fear and stress.  They need social comforting, but in a hierarchical system, people are a greater source of more fear and stress than a source of comfort.  So humans resort to artificial comforters like drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, distracting entertainment, etc.  On top of this, we forget that giving gives us a small endorphin bump, and if we are stressed, giving can also comfort us.  Unfortunately, our rulers have also taken that away from us and convinced us that they will provide for everyone via government, that all we have to do is focus on our own needs and fears and ignore the needs and fears of others.  This turns us into professional takers where we get a much smaller endorphin bump from receiving than giving.  In fact, spending an entire life focused on taking destroys our soul and what it means to be human.

 Modern civilization is worse in that it takes away our desires and then sells it back to us, inflated and contrived.  Humanity, I believe, is the greatest tragedy in the universe.  Take the most socialized beings the universe has ever created, beings so socialized that they cannot exist without social contact from birth, that most all their behavior is learned and rely on social contact.  Then completely take all that away.  Isolate them in their own homes and make them fear everything and everyone.  Then tell them that they are born selfish and evil, that the only way to make social contacts is to remain isolated, study and then work hard, respect and value only those above you, and then one day, when you have enough wealth, only then will you get the social contact you desire, the respect, esteem of everyone and most importantly, those on top and the most beautiful and successful people in society.  It’s all a scam. 

 What truly makes one wealthy and successful are the people in their lives.  Those on top rely on wealth to get people to respect and tolerate them.  They don’t have to work on their fundamental social skills, and hence, they lack any humor, charisma, charm, etiquette, graces, trust, accountability, morality, and responsibility.  Why should they do all that when they simply have money.  Meanwhile, those who lack money must amplify their humor, charisma, charm, ethics, etc. to try to get people to like them, most of whom will never like them, because they are not wealthy and beautiful.  So whom should you befriend in order to become better at making friends?  People with money will teach you nothing except to betray your friends and colleagues and be ruthless and selfish.  Meanwhile, those without money will teach you how to make funny jokes, break the ice, make others feel valued, be respectful, be discrete, have great conversational skills, etc. 

 One of the most telling stories is of how villagers like to perform a ritual of toughening up boys to prepare them for adulthood.  The pygmies believe that it is excessive, that boys get toughened up by the struggles and trials of living in the forest and hunting for their own food.  But the point of the ritual in the village and rituals similar to this in civilization is trauma.  Many modern societies still have these trauma rituals in the form of mandatory military service, fraternities, sororities, endless clubs where a brutal initiation is used.  It induces Stockholm Syndrome where the victims, in desperation, start to ingratiate themselves to their tormentors.  They also suffer PTSD, and their minds dissociate and float off involuntarily throughout the rest of their lives making them especially vulnerable to psychological manipulation and self-destructive behavior.  Of course, in the right hands, PTSD can make you more compassionate, creative, and resilient, but I have yet to hear of any systematic cultural program that does this.  Instead, you are left on your own to deal with PTSD often by self-medicating with alcohol, illegal drugs, or you get medicated by Big Pharma. 

 I once wondered why I loved to philosophize and whether it was all a distraction from the lack of the things I wanted and need in life, social connections.  I wondered if philosophizing was a crutch.  But I think that it has led me to unshackle myself from the lies and scams of modern civilization, that the reason we find it so hard to make social connections is because we have been brainwashed into believing the lies that we cannot make social connections and be happy unless we have money and the only way to have money is to obey and serve our rulers unconditionally.  I would think that unshackling myself from these lies, that not only pursuing social contacts with the most beautiful, successful, wealthiest people, will ultimately give me a much better shot at making the social connections that will lead to my happiness.  But having philosophized so much, I’ll still use it as a distraction and it will still intrigue me as to what other possible lies or mysteries remain out there.  And fact is, my goal is not unraveling everything and knowing everything which is impossible with the primate brain I have.  It is merely a process, and every time I uncover something new, it gives me a small endorphin bump.

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