Thursday, 19 January 2023

"It is easy to be sentimental, or romantic, about the beauties of primitive societies..."

"It is easy to be sentimental, or romantic, about the beauties of primitive societies; but it remains true that when people are offered a genuine opportunity for economic growth (for that is what [trade] is, they are generally glad to take it."
~ John Hicks, from his Theory of Economic History


MarkT said...

When comparing different cultures or even lifestyles in different locations, it’s common to notice the things that are better about the unfamiliar more than the things that are worse. Applies even to being a tourist in a foreign country. It can lead you over-valuing the unfamiliar, and under-valuing the familiar.

Tom Hunter said...

I strongly urge all your readers to take a look at a post at the Bassett Brash and Hide blog, 1997 talk by one Roger Sandall, a New Zealand-born Australian anthropologist with some incisive analysis of Tribal vs Modern societies and the recent nonsense of trying to combine the two, which, although that's just a variation on the old Rousseau shite, now had new theoretical cover:

One must ask: what has the enthusiastic promotion of Antipodean Cultural Autonomy for the last twenty years got to show for itself? Dot paintings are pretty, but they will only take us so far. A small well-paid élite with its own ideological priorities is not so pretty, and under the banner of "my culture, right or wrong (at your expense)" seems to be taking the majority of its constituency nowhere at all. In any case, the vital questions are surely these: Are Antipodean literacy rates higher? Can more Antipodeans do their own accounts? Is their health improved? How do they live, and are their houses better looked after than they were? Because those are the things which visiting inspectors from the United Nations are interested in -- not dot paintings or élite privileges

Boy that sounds familiar, as does this:

Primitive economics, with its pattern of reciprocities, its enmeshment in the wider social structure, its hostility to accumulation, its rigidly regulated rules of distribution, its come-one, come-all dispersal of domestic resources, is largely what he says it is. Primitive attitudes toward nature, which emotionally fuse the secular and the divine, are just that. All that's surprising is the attitude of the author towards this sort of thing. Marx at least regretted that large numbers of peasants were condemned to what he called "the idiocy of rural life". Sahlins, a modern American professor, unregretfully praises the idiocy of the palaeolithic. And unfortunately, no Voltaire among his colleagues rose up to say: "Well, all right then, go and live there!" Possibly because they were all too busy flying off to conferences which glorified the world before the wheel.

He points out that we can't escape having to cross The Big Ditch from tribal to modern.

But read the whole thing.