Anyone who eats paleo has heard the same joke from co-workers, friends, and family. I call it Canned Caveman Joke #1. It goes like this.
John: [Uses a piece of modern technology]
Will Ferrell: "Wait, cavemen didn’t have [modern technology]!"
This surefire and versatile joke may be applied to an infinite number of situations. Observe: "Wait, cavemen didn’t have blogs!", "Wait, cavemen didn’t have plastic spatulas!", "Wait, cavemen didn’t have iPads!" Those are my favorites — where the technology in question didn’t even exist for most of modernity. Well, yeah, and until a few months ago no one had an iPad.
I’ve decided to come out of the cave, as it were. I don’t think badly of all aspects of modernity. (Wow, so liberating!) So I’ve decided to write a little list of things I love about civilization. If you’re a blogger in the paleosphere, blog your list.
Here’s the question. If you had to live as part of an actual hunter-gatherer tribe 10,000 to 40,000 years ago, what would you miss the most about the modern world? Culture and technology are likely to be popular answers, so get more specific. If you say music, tell us what bands. If you say the technology, tell us why UNIX stirs your soul. Make it personal. Try to find things that if given the choice between a perfectly healthy hunter-gatherer lifestyle without what you love about modernity and a "healthy" modern lifestyle based on the conventional wisdom, you’d choose modernity.
1. Literacy and books
My Amazon bills are enormous. I tend to intensely and exclusively read one genre every few years. My life in book genres, a la High Fidelity:
- Greek myths
- Fantasy (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, Raymond E. Feist, George R.R. Martin)
- Science Fiction (Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, various short stories)
- Economics, Politics, and Libertarianism (Hayek, Rand, Friedman, Bastiat, Lomborg, etc.)
- Evolution, Evolutionary Psychology, and Human Nature (Robert Wright, Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Judith Rich Harris, Matt Ridley, and Dawkins)
- Food and Health (Pollan, Taubes, and everyone in the paleosphere).
Many other authors don’t fit neatly into a genre or time period: Nassim Taleb, Neal Stephenson, Ray Kurzweil, Roald Dahl, plus a bunch of literary classics and the occasional popular pulp.
2. More freedom
We have a wider variety of possible lifestyles in the modern world. In a hunter-gatherer tribe, you would have relatively few options for your life, if only because certain things must be done to survive (e.g., hunt, have babies) and you couldn’t really strike off on your own. Constraints like these can sometimes be a good thing and I’m sure this would be a very satisfying existence — yet it is an existence that doesn’t push the boundaries of what is possible for an individual human or the human race. And even if freedom or the relentless pursuit of progress leads to worse outcomes in some cases, there is intrinsic value in being free and striving for greatness. It’s the human spirit.
3. Less likely to suffer a violent death
Many hunter-gatherer tribes evolved bad customs and cultures, and you could have ended up in a particularly superstitious or violent tribe. Whether that means initiation rituals that scarred the genitals of men or women, or staggeringly high rates of murder or violent death. It’s not as if every hunter-gatherer existence was like Avatar, plugging our pony tails into all other species. Nature red in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest. There is a ruthlessness to nature.
Man’s best friend. Bred over thousands of years to be pleasing to mankind, and we did a damn good job of it.
What’s on your list? Music, food cuisines, flying, the internet, or art? Stamp collecting, baseball, or the Wire? Cars, motorcycles, or skiing? Bach, Da Vinci, or Warhol? Christianity, Will Farrell, or the Godfather? Butter? Show us your civilized side.