By Suma Varughese
The provocative title betrays the author's worldview instantly. Right now, the world seems divided into two starkly opposite camps: one which cannot get enough of the western civilisation with its implications of democracy, capitalism, materialism, and consumerism; and the other which points to it as the source of all evil, from environmental degradation and the break-up of families, to the rise in violence and crime, soaring stress levels and personal dysfunction.
Chellis glendinning, a psychologist, obviously belongs to the latter camp. Her book is a searing indictment of the wrong turn humanity took as far back as when it moved away from the hunter-gatherer mode of life in favour of farming and pastoralisation.
What's more, she finds a parallel between the many dysfunctions and traumas modern man labours under and the dreadful suffering he inflicts upon the earth.
They both come from the same source, she says, which is our lack of attunement with the earth and the natural way of life. We exist dislocated from our roots by the psychological, philosophical and technological constructions of our civilisation, and this alienation leads to our suffering: massive suffering for each and everyone of us, and mass suffering throughout our society.
Through meeting and studying about the still extant members of hunter-gatherer tribes among natives indians, or hidden in the jungles of brazil and africa, ms glendinning draws an enchanting portrait of their society. Psychologically open, secure in the nurturing and nourishing capabilities of the earth, their spiritual connection with life and nature is total, giving them a rare wisdom, joy of life and awareness of the oneness of life.
hunter-gatherers, she says, participate fully in their society and all of them are competent in any of the skills needed for survival. What a contrast to our own highly complex and fragmented society in which few of us can understand or know the processes that make it function.
They are also a democratic society in which all members have a say in decision-making. why? Because the groups are small, rarely exceeding more than 500 members. there is equality among the sexes. Women are equally engaged with foraging for food by gathering plants while men hunt for animals. Both sexes share comparable status and participate in community life.
nature-based cultures have much more leisure time than modern society grants. The average workday is just three hours and forty-five minutes. Even population is relatively stable because extended breast-feeding up to three or four years acts as a natural birth control measure. most of all, their society is ecologically sustainable. For being part of the earth, exploitation of her resources is unthinkable to them.
This apart, their main advantage over modern society is a sense of joy and deep fulfillment with life and themselves. Living in an integrated and holistic society, they are not torn asunder as we are by the many contradictions that govern our lives.
MS Glendinning traces in detail how this natural way of life fell away the moment man decided to settle down and farm. There arose a dichotomy between the land man cultivated and the rest of nature, now deemed wild. The essential unity of life so enjoyed by the earlier society and so beneficial to it was ripped apart. man separated himself from nature and thereby set the ground for exploitation. The concept of property came into being, and with that the concept of wealth and poverty. Exploitation of man by man came next. Women gradually became distanced from economic activity and their status dived.
MS Glendinning contends that the primal separation from nature, of which we are meant to be a part, has created such a level of trauma within us that it has given rise to a culture that further separates and distances us from it. This had led to the linear perspective and the entire stockpile of technological progress that takes us further away from all that is natural and Eart-based.
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