Hunter gatherer violence

October 2021 Forums General discussion Hunter gatherer violence

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  • #83422
    robbo203
    Participant

    This is a topic that has interested me much lately.   I would be interested in hearing the view of others on the subject

     

    Writers like Stephen Pinker, author of books such as "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" (2011) have argued that our paleolithic hunter gatherer ancestors were prone to high levels of violence and that it was only because of the invention of the state several thousand years ago that violence declined . According to Pinker the state had a "pacifying" influence on society resulting in a steady decline in per capita  violent deaths.  This view has been echoed by the likes of  Edward Wilson, Jared Diamond, Richard Wrangham, Francis Fukuyama and David Brooks.

     

    Against this are the views of people like Douglas Fry, Patrik Soderberg and R Brian Ferguson,  Ferguson has been particularly effective in demolishing the forensic  archaeologoical evidence for pre state war.  See for example his article here:

     

    http://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/sites/fasn/files/Pinker%27s%20List%20-%20Exaggerating%20Prehistoric%20War%20Mortality%20%282013%29.pdf

     

    The argument seems less clear when it comes to one-on-one violence.   Much of the evidence for such violence comes from data relating to contemporary HG groups and although, of course, there is great danger of retrojecting contemporary evidence  to explain what went on in the distant past, some of the figures cited are quite appalling, if true.  Given the fact that we lived in  HG societies for over 95 % of our time on this planet, this could have significant implications….

     

    Any thoughts?

    #109545
    robbo203
    Participant

    One other point – and this ties in with the claim that has been implied, if not openly expressed, on this forum, that there are no such things as individuals, only society  (which is as equally untenable as Margaret Thatcher's notorious claim that there is "no such thing as society only individuals and their families")  – the pattern of violence, such as it occurs in hunter gatherer societies, seems to be very much individually based. Group violence is rare and the argument that organised warfare is a comparatively recent phenomenon going back no more than 10,000 years ago is, I think, a very persuasive one Very interesting in this regard is this article by John Horgan http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/07/18/new-study-of-foragers-undermines-claim-that-war-has-deep-evolutionary-roots/ .  Note in particular this:Of the 21 societies examined by Fry and Soderberg, three had no observed killings of any kind, and 10 had no killings carried out by more than one perpetrator. In only six societies did ethnographers record killings that involved two or more perpetrators and two or more victims. However, a single society, the Tiwi of Australia, accounted for almost all of these group killings.Some other points of interest: 96 percent of the killers were male. No surprise there. But some readers may be surprised that only two out of 148 killings stemmed from a fight over “resources,” such as a hunting ground, water hole or fruit tree. Nine episodes of lethal aggression involved husbands killing wives; three involved “execution” of an individual in a group by other members of the group; seven involved execution of “outsiders,” such as colonizers or missionaries.Most of the killings stemmed from what Fry and Soderberg categorize as “miscellaneous personal disputes,” involving jealousy, theft, insults and so on. The most common specific cause of deadly violence—involving either single or multiple perpetrators–was revenge for a previous attack.This confirms the view that conflict was radically decentralised  in hunter gatherer societies and  tended to involve only those immediately affected.   It also overthrows the traditional view of hunter gatherers as lacking in individuality and being completely  subject to group think (note that "individuality" is not the same thing as "individualism", though – a mistake that is often made). In  fact, the radical decentralisation of  conflict may be one of the reasons why there was no warfare in traditional paleolithic hunter gather societies – conflict was simply not allowed to escalate or widen. That apart , the grounds for group conflict  (and the above data bears this out),  such as the struggle  over resources would simply not have arisen to any extent because of the ability of hunter gather bands to simply  move on whenever food resources declined within a given locality.  It is when nomadism is checked, as with the imposition of national boundaries or the confinement of HG groups within designated "reserves",  that the possibility of conflict arises. Which is why contemporary HG groups may well register higher levels of violence than was traditionally the case This is an important subject to discuss because it ties in with arguments about human nature – and by extension about the possibility of a stateless communist future society.  Pinker et al are arguing that the Hobbesian state was the decisive factor in the alleged mitigation of violence under a statist form of society. Insofar as the state is the instrument par excellance for the social regulation of class society,   what is really being debated here  is whether we need a class based society at all

    #109546
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    I've lost the reference, a book recently came across my desk looking at early warfare.  The conclusion (all I had time to look at) was that if you defien war as "socially sanctioned violence against another polity" (I think that was teh formula) then war has always been with us, including among hunter gatherers, however, if you don't take on that definition, and become stricter in your definition of war, then it hasn't been.

    #109547
    LBird
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    The conclusion (all I had time to look at) was that if you define war as "socially sanctioned violence against another polity" (I think that was teh formula) then war has always been with us, including among hunter gatherers, however, if you don't take on that definition, and become stricter in your definition of war, then it hasn't been.

    [my bold]So, one's definition (which will emerge from one's paradigm/ideology/perspective/metaphysics/research programme) will determine one's conclusion.Surprise, surprise.That is simply the scientific method.It applies as much to physics as to anthropology.What counts as a 'fact' is determined by one's theory. 'Facts' do not present themselves to us unbidden. The same applies to 'matter' or 'material conditions'.This subject (a very interesting one for all socialists, I would've thought) requires, for a proper, enlightening discussion, that we expose both the 'theories' of any authors that are referred to, and also our own 'theories'.For example, whether one's definition of 'individual' is biological (and so transcends history and society, and thus one can discuss 'individuals' and their own actions without reference to the place of that 'individual'), or whether one's definition of 'individual' is ideological (and so is embedded in history and society, and thus one can't discuss 'individuals' and their actions without reference to their time).I'll be explicit: my definition of 'individual' is ideological (I'm a Democratic Communist), so I will regard any talk by authors or posters about 'individuals' as contaminated by bourgeois ideology. I would only refer to 'social-individuals', and situation any action by a hunter-gatherer in a political context.I won't be drawing any ahistoric or asocial lessons about the actions of hunter-gatherers, as having any bearing upon the issues of our society.The searching for anwers to our socio-economic-political problems in the distant past is a fool's errand.This, though, is precisely what many authors do, because all anthropologists are ideologically-driven, and we must take care not to be fooled by their 'scientific' findings.They are scientific, of course, but that is not code for 'true'. Their science is not ours. Their 'theory and practice', upon the source material, will produce different results to our 'theory and practice' upon the very same source material.Source material does not simply talk to us, any more than rocks do.

    #109548
    robbo203
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    I've lost the reference, a book recently came across my desk looking at early warfare.  The conclusion (all I had time to look at) was that if you defien war as "socially sanctioned violence against another polity" (I think that was teh formula) then war has always been with us, including among hunter gatherers, however, if you don't take on that definition, and become stricter in your definition of war, then it hasn't been.

    YMSDid the book provide any evidence that there was "socially sanctioned violence against another polity" in the Paleolithic era and what was this evidence? The anthropologist , R. Brian Ferguson, considered to be the foremost expert on the early history of war, has pointed out:  "Many hominid remains once thought to establish the most ancient evidence of homicide or cannibalism were actually gnawed by predators or just suffered postmortem breakage" (R. Brian Ferguson , Jul/Aug 2003, "The Birth of War" , Natural History  , Vol. 112, Issue 6).  Ferguson himself has conducted an extensive global survey of archaeological records and has found no substantive  evidence of systematic violence in  prehistoric human societies. Its worth reading the link I supplied above in which Ferguson effectively demolishes Pinkers argument. Around  the time of the neolithic revolution you might possibly begin to see signs of systematic organised violence but this would have been chiefly among tribally based agriculturalist societies where territorial defence becomes an issue unlike with nomadic HGs.  If there was any evidence of HG violence around this time it would probably be the result of their interactions with these tribal agriculturalists.Even Keeley whose 1996 War before Civilisation which Pinker relied heavily upon admitted that HGs were significantly more peaceful than agriculturalists

    #109549
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    Robin,as I say, it was a flick through.  Certainly it was dealt with contemporary hunter gatherers (it was a collection of essays, and I just scanned the conclusion).  But, as I said, sometimes the definition is key "systematic" violence is different from "socially sanctioned violence".  Obviously, systems don't leave archaeological evidence (especially in warfare between two hunting bands, say), also, hunter gatherer warfare, from things I read, suggest ambush and slaughter would be preferred to a stand up fight.The problem is, we do, I believe, know that the principle of 'substitutability' comes fairly early in the expansion of communities beyond isolated family groups (i.e. you kill my nephew, so I consider it fair play to kill your cousin in revenge).  Also the doctrine of 'we were here first' would suggest that being prepared to chase of interlopers.So, while I wouldn't expect two large groups to confront each other, I wouldn't be surprised if groups of hunters went after strays and stragglers from nearby groups when they could.

    #109550
    robbo203
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    For example, whether one's definition of 'individual' is biological (and so transcends history and society, and thus one can discuss 'individuals' and their own actions without reference to the place of that 'individual'), or whether one's definition of 'individual' is ideological (and so is embedded in history and society, and thus one can't discuss 'individuals' and their actions without reference to their time).I'll be explicit: my definition of 'individual' is ideological (I'm a Democratic Communist), so I will regard any talk by authors or posters about 'individuals' as contaminated by bourgeois ideology. I would only refer to 'social-individuals', and situation any action by a hunter-gatherer in a political context.

     Of course individuals are embedded, and act, within a social context – no one is disputing that  – but it is nonsense to assert that merely  to talk about "individuals" as "being contaminated by bourgeois ideology".  You can't talk about society without acknowledging also the existence of individuals who compromise it – just as you can't talk about individuals without acknowledging the existence of the social  context  in which they are embedded.  Your "social-individuals" obscures the necessary reciprocal relationship that goes on here and amounts to a form of mystic holism from which effectively the very idea of "individuals" is expunged Contrary to the ideas of holists like Durkheim with his talk of "mechanical solidarity" and undifferentiated "group think",  traditional societies such as hunter gatherers were characterised by a high degree of individuality  (which is not the same as "individualism") leading to individuals breaking away from the group to set up another group as a form of conflict avoidance – the fissioning process endemic to HG groups.  In other words, they saw themselves as individuals who could be slighted and wronged and so able to respond accordingly – just as much as they saw themselves also as part of a group.  Thats is precisely why conflict within a HG societies tended to be radically decentralised and this in turn may be part of the reason why war as a systemic expression of group based conflict did not seem to have been evident in such societies – at least in the paleolithic era

    #109551
    LBird
    Participant

    Let's be frank.Anthropologists who are in favour of 'private property' in their society want to see this as based in 'human nature'. Thus, any forms of 'human nature' (such as 'violence' or 'conflict') which appear to be 'transhistoric', are 'discovered' as pointing to support for an ahistoric account of 'private property'.On the reverse side, anthropologists opposed to 'human nature' arguments will use definitions of 'violence' or 'conflict' which are themselves social and historic, and so these terms can't simply be transferred from 'the past' to 'now'.I'm simply saying that for any comrades who are reading, but are not aware of the ideological basis to all science, should try to discover the ideological foundations of Pinker, YMS, robbo, me, and any other authors later quoted, or any comrades who later contribute to the thread.

    robbo203 wrote:
    …they saw themselves as individuals who could be slighted and wronged and so able to respond accordingly…

    Comrades will note robbo's ideological stress upon 'individuals' being 'slighted or wronged' and responding 'accordingly'.I think this requires an examination of what counts as 'slights and wrongs', and why, and who determines, and what counts as 'accordingly', and why, and who detemines.For example, what evidence of a 'slight' exists in the 'material record'? Or is robbo making assumptions about 'individuals' in our society, and assuming that 'individuals' in other societies recognise and react to 'slights' in a similar way (based upon, say, 'human nature'?).If 'slighting and reactions' are ahistoric, why didn't slaves respond to slights from their masters, but overwhelmingly just accepted them? As too for unresponsive serfs and their lords?Can a 'hunter-gatherer' be slighted, as an individual? If they can, must they respond accordingly?

    #109552
    robbo203
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    Comrades will note robbo's ideological stress upon 'individuals' being 'slighted or wronged' and responding 'accordingly'.I think this requires an examination of what counts as 'slights and wrongs', and why, and who determines, and what counts as 'accordingly', and why, and who detemines.For example, what evidence of a 'slight' exists in the 'material record'? Or is robbo making assumptions about 'individuals' in our society, and assuming that 'individuals' in other societies recognise and react to 'slights' in a similar way (based upon, say, 'human nature'?).If 'slighting and reactions' are ahistoric, why didn't slaves respond to slights from their masters, but overwhelmingly just accepted them? As too for unresponsive serfs and their lords?Can a 'hunter-gatherer' be slighted, as an individual? If they can, must they respond accordingly?

    Look at the evidence I have already provided in the form of John Horton's article on Fry and Soderberg's research. In particular note : Most of the killings stemmed from what Fry and Soderberg categorize as “miscellaneous personal disputes,” involving jealousy, theft, insults and so on Why didn't slaves respond to the slights of their masters?  Because, taking precisely the historic approach which you refer to, I recognise that this is also a question of power – unless of course you want to take up the position that slaves did not feel slighted in which case, be my guest. The inability of slaves to do anything about their maltreatment and the likely consequences of trying to do something about it probably acted as a deterrent and would explain why slaves for the most part didn't do much "responding" to the slights of their masters.  Hunter gatherers, on the other hand, had the freedom to roam where they wished and to break away from the group whenever they wished.  They lived in egalitarian societies  in which no individual could  expect to slight another and get away with it.  So to answer your question –  of course, they could be slighted and by all account the slighting of one individuals by another seems to have been an a significant factor in what violence there was in that form of society if the anthropological evidence is to be believed.  Or does your mystic holism rule this out as being at all  possible?

    #109553
    LBird
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    Hunter gatherers, on the other hand, had the freedom to roam where they wished and to break away from the group whenever they wished.  They lived in egalitarian societies  in which no individual could  expect to slight another and get away with it.

    All this stuff about 'freedom to roam' and 'break away from the group' as individuals 'whenever they wished' seems very like bourgeois mythology, from my ideological perspective, robbo.And 'egalitarian societies' aren't necessarily 'free'. A member can be 'equal', but still be hidebound by social rules, mores, customs… from my ideological perspective, they still live within social structures, not least to feed, nurture and protect themselves, which are not 'individual' activities, but social ones.'Slights' and 'responses' are social, too. Members are also in subgroups, like families and kin, and 'slights and responses' would be 'group-based', rather than 'individual-based'.What counts as 'getting away with it'? If a tribal/kin elder tells a younger member to 'drop it' (because of reasons know to the elder, not the 'individual' slighted), then the 'individual' drops it, and the slighter could be seen (by us) to have 'gotten away with it'.

    robbo203 wrote:
    So to answer your question –  of course, they could be slighted and by all account the slighting of one individuals by another seems to have been an a significant factor in what violence there was in that form of society if the anthropological evidence is to be believed.

    Once again, this is just ideological belief, dressed up as 'fact' (your 'of course' denotes this).'Significant'? 'Evidence'? 'Belief'?From what perspective, robbo?Why won't you reveal your 'position of observation'? Or do you 'believe' that there is 'objective position' in the universe? Who tells you this? That 'individual position' is acceptable, and that 'individual actions' are 'significant factors'? What is 'violence'?

    #109554
    LBird
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    Or does your mystic holism rule this out as being at all  possible?

    You hide your ideology, yet pretend to know mine.I've openly said that I'm a Democratic Communist, but you can't accept that, and 'slight' me as a 'mystic holist', whatever that is.I think that your ideological individualism compels you to regard any 'social' limits upon 'individual free will' as 'holist'. The 'mysticism' is frankly just abuse, which you turn to whenever you can't (and won't) answer a question relevent to this discussion, about your ideology.Or perhaps your regard 'democracy' as the 'mysticism'?'Individuals' won't stand for 'democratic' social controls on their 'own' behaviour, will they, robbo? So, it becomes a 'myth'.

    #109555
    LBird
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    …I recognise that this is also a question of power …

    As usual for 'individualists', because you've done some reading, you genuflect to the question of 'power', and note it.But… for you, it plays no part in explaining power relationships within societies in particular historical contexts.You simply revert to asocial and ahistoric 'individuals', who suffer universal 'slights' and make universal 'responses'.You believe that you are an individual, and your activities and beliefs are entirely 'free', and that society should be composed of these 'free individuals'.This is bourgeois thinking, robbo.Unless you situate your 'individuals' in their society (ie. stop talking about 'individuals'), then you won't understand either hunter-gatherer society or our own.I'm a 'worker', by the way, not an 'individual', and power relationships are a part and parcel of my social existence, just as they are yours, and were for 'hunter-gatherers'.And as they are for anthropologists, and all scientists…

    #109556
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    I've not read it through, but in the search for freely available texts:http://radicalanthropologygroup.org/sites/default/files/pdf/class_text_125.pdf

    Quote:
    Hunter-gatherers are highly mobile, not just in the sense of whole bandsmoving from place to place but also in the sense of individuals and familiesmoving from band to band. Bands are not permanent structures with fixedmemberships. Everyone has friends and relatives in other bands who wouldwelcome them in. Because of this, and because they are not encumbered byproperty, individuals may move at a moment’s notice from one band to another.People move from band to band for marriage, but they also move to get awayfrom conflicts or simply because they are more attracted to the people or theprocedures that exist in another band. Disgruntled groups of people withinany band may also, at any time, leave the original band and start a new one.Thus, the decision to belong to any given band is always a person’s choice.The freedom of band members to leave sets the stage for the other playlike qualities of hunter-gatherer life.

    His source for this is Hunters and Gatherers, Volume 1: History, Evolution, and Social Change, ed. Tim Ingold, David Riches, and James Woodburn (1988) Happy, erm, hunting.

    #109557
    LBird
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    Happy, erm, hunting.

    And a happy, erm, avoiding difficult ideological questioning, to you, too, YMS!

    #109559
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    LBird wrote:
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    Happy, erm, hunting.

    And a happy, erm, avoiding difficult ideological questioning, to you, too, YMS!

    A little hypocritical given that you have left at least two threads on this subject with questions  that remain unanswered 

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