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Aboriginals and Civilization

February 4, 2012

The Independent titles a article “What happens when an uncontacted tribe meets ‘civilisation’?” Putting the word ‘civilization’ in scare-quotes is the intellectual equivalent of vaccine-rejectionism. We have it so good, we’ve forgotten what the alternative was.

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Earlier this week, The Guardian had an article about Peruvian authorities trying to keep people away from an uncontacted tribe that seems to have been migrating.

I always think this is an impossible situation. On the one hand, tribal life is generally wretched. The idea that it’s worth preserving for its own sake is absurd. (Book recommendation: Mark A Ritchie’s Spirit of the Rainforest. You’ll never put ‘civilization’ in scare-quotes again.)

On the other hand, aboriginals have totally failed to adapt to modern society. Those few who weren’t simply wiped out by disease now live in poverty amidst a host of social pathologies.

So there’s very little hope that aboriginals will live well no matter what happens.

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Update: The Globe and Mail is running a series on The Trials of Nunavut.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2012 2:55 pm

    Yanomami are one of the more exceptionally bad primitive societies – they don’t all have such high rates of murdering and gang rape. My post on Violence and Steven Pinker goes over some related issues.

    Though I still agree that primitive life can’t compete with civilized life.

    • February 4, 2012 5:15 pm

      Glad you chimed in. I suspected that might be the case.

      I would have said the same about idealizing rural life, or certainly a sustenance-oriented agricultural society. When people wring their hands about the long hours and low wages in Chinese factories, they’re forgetting what the alternative was.

      But the Chinese can and will improve themselves. It would be monstrous of us to prevent them those opportunities. What’s sobering about this kind of action by the Peruvian government is the tacit acknowledgement that there’s nothing better for aboriginals.


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