War and primitive societies
Lawrence Keeley calculates that 87 per cent of primitive societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65 per cent of them were fighting continuously. "Had the same casualty rate been suffered by the population of the twentieth century," writes Wade, "its war deaths would have totaled two billion people." Two billion! In other words, we're the aberration: after 50,000 years of continuous human slaughter, you, me, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Harper, Rummy, Condi, we're the nancy-boy peacenik crowd. "The common impression that primitive peoples, by comparison, were peaceful and their occasional fighting of no serious consequence is incorrect. Warfare between pre-state societies was incessant, merciless, and conducted with the general purpose, often achieved, of annihilating the opponent."
Why then, against all the evidence, do we venerate the primitive? And to the point of pretending a bunch of torturing marauders devised the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution. We do it for the same reason we indulge behaviour like that at Caledonia, Ont. We want to believe that the yard, the cul-de-sac, the morning commute, the mall are merely the bland veneer of our lives, and that underneath we are still that noble primitive living in harmony with the great spirits of the forest and the mountain. The reality is that "civilization" -- Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian -- worked very hard to stamp out the primitive within us, and for good reason.
I was interested to read Wade's book after a month in which men raised in suburban Ontario were charged with a terrorist plot that included plans to behead the Prime Minister, and the actual heads of three decapitated police officers were found in the Tijuana River. The Mexican drug gangs weren't Muslim last time I checked, but evidently decapitation isn't just for jihadists anymore: if you want to get ahead, get a head. A couple of years back, I came across a column in The East African by Charles Onyango-Obbo musing on the return of cannibalism to the Dark Continent. Ugandan-backed rebels in the Congo (four million dead but, as they haven't found a way to pin it on Bush, nobody cares) had been making victims' relatives eat the body parts of their loved ones. You'll recall that, when Samuel Doe was toppled as Liberia's leader, he was served a last meal of his own ears. His killers kept his genitals for themselves, under the belief that if you eat a man's penis you acquire his powers. One swallow doesn't make a summer, of course, but I wonder sometimes if we're not heading toward a long night of re-primitivization.
The fraud of primitive authenticity
War Before Civilization
BOOKS OF THE TIMES;Even in Eden, It Seems, War Was Hell
Enduring myth of 'noble savage' vs. a species at continuous war?
Stop the War, and Maybe I Won't Eat You