The Myth of Primitive Communism

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Ganado, Apr 13, 2016.

  1. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    I like this because it talks about communism/socialism in the context of a capitalist market and why it doesnt work on a large scale.
    It also illustrates why having a few good people to team up with is important.

    The Myth of Primitive Communism

    By Mike Reid from Social Bulldozer link Apr 6, 2016
    All my students starved to death. Again.

    Here’s what they learned the hard way: generosity today can be a way of saving for tomorrow.

    They were survivors of a plane crash on a desert island. They knew they’d be trapped there for months and that the only food would be the large but elusive fish in the sea.

    When one of my students managed to catch a fish, he ate as much as he could, then stored the rest for himself under some rocks near the beach.

    Other students, less successful as fishermen, starved to death promptly.

    Soon, the initially successful fisherman found himself alone on the island. With no refrigeration, the food he’d stashed rotted away. And when he ventured out fishing again, he was unlucky and got stung by a deadly jellyfish.

    With no one left to take care of him, he, too, perished.

    Every year, I play this game with my students. We use a big square of desks to represent our island, pennies to represent fast-decaying fish fillets, and dice to randomize the fishers’ success or failure. (If a student decides not to fish, he has no chance to catch food but also no chance of encountering the dreaded jellyfish.)

    “Primitive Communists”

    We play this game while studying the famous Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers. Until the colonial encroachments of the 20th century, most Ju/’hoansi lived in small, nomadic groups in the Kalahari desert, the men hunting with bows and arrows and the women collecting nuts, berries, and roots with digging sticks and carrier sashes.

    Every year, in the discussions that follow our brief reading on this culture, my students remark with amazement that whenever a Ju/’hoan man or woman finds food, he or she shares it widely with the community.

    This behavior seems to be an important part of why Richard B. Lee, the most prominent anthropologist in the study of the Ju/’hoansi, describes them as “primitive communists” in the Marxian sense. And many of my students each year seem to get the idea that the Ju/’hoansi share their food so freely with each other because they are in some way more charitable, more natural, or otherwise more moral than us.

    Sometimes, a student remarks, “That’s like socialism, right?”

    So I like to play this little starvation game to disabuse my students of their romantic notions about communist noble savages in the African wilderness.

    What, I ask, would happen if a bunch of greedy, selfish people like us found themselves in the same economic situation the Ju/’hoansi face?

    The Economic Constraints of Foraging Life

    Nomadic foragers like the Ju/’hoansi have unreliable “incomes” in terms of the food they find from day to day and week to week.

    They are often masterful trackers and foragers. But, no matter how competent you are, when you pursue a giraffe on foot with a bow and arrow, sometimes the giraffe gets away.

    Furthermore, it’s difficult for nomadic foragers to store food or other forms of material wealth. In fact, the Ju/’hoansi are even less inclined to store food than many other nomadic foragers. Perhaps this is because, while they can dry meat to last a couple of months, they also know a sudden rainstorm could ruin their savings. And because they travel repeatedly over the year to new water holes and food sources, as Lee says, “it would be sheer folly to amass more goods than can be carried along when the group moves.”

    So if one were to ask a Ju/’hoan man in the morning what he’s going to eat that night, he could honestly respond, “I don’t know; I haven’t caught it yet.”

    Cultural Heritage and Human Survival

    Every year, in the game with my students, one of two things happens:

    1. Successful fishermen imitate the Ju/’hoansi. They give away their excess food freely, starting with their friends or closest neighbors at the game table.
    2. The students starve to death en masse.
    My students tend to go into this game with an idealistic view of the Ju/’hoansi as selfless, altruistic people.

    They tend to finish the game realizing that, even if you were the greediest, most selfish nomadic forager in the world, your best move would still be to share food with your neighbors.

    Since nomadic foragers have a difficult time storing physical capital, especially food, their response all around the world, in culture after culture, is to promptly turn it into human capital by giving it to friends, relatives, and neighbors.

    Like my students, Ju/’hoansi men and women are tempted to hoard their own wealth. Indeed, Ju/’hoansi elders often lament that they have given generously all their lives and would now like to keep just a little for themselves.

    But the Ju/’hoansi also have a massive corpus of gift-exchange rituals, conversational habits, and even stock jokes that they use to bolster their own patience and to bring hoarders peacefully into line. These behaviors represent the heritage of thousands of years of spontaneous-order cultural development under economic conditions in which short-run greed is tantamount to stupidity.

    What makes the Ju/’hoansi seem selfless, or communistic, or morally superior to us is their age-old cultural adaptation to the fact that, for each individual in their situation, the best strategy to save for the future is to share widely in the present.

    Culture and Markets

    In the very different economic and technological circumstances of the industrialized West, we have our own roundabout methods by which our selfish desires lead to social prosperity. In markets, each of us can still provide best for his or her own future by helping others — especially strangers — for the right price.

    Would this same system work for hunter-gatherers?

    If a group of 19th-century Ju/’hoansi equipped with digging sticks and bows and arrows had tried the ethics of the modern market for themselves, many might have starved to death before they recognized their error and began to recreate a culture more appropriate to their own ecology and technology.

    But what works for the Ju/’hoansi would be devastating for us. If we today, in a market society made up largely of strangers, attempted to practice the ethics of profligate sharing and meek humility — or even worse, to enforce such ethics on noncompliant others through government policies — we would drive our whole society into chaos and penury.

    The Ju/’hoansi’s strategy works only for people in the Ju/’hoansi’s situation.

    Our own great wealth and our own social order are built on savings and investment — and on using our resources to benefit strangers through market exchange.
  2. TailorMadeHell

    TailorMadeHell Lurking Shadow Creature

    Though how many sat on their butts and waited for the other tribe members to feed them for free? Lot of idiots in the world don't want to work to feed themselves. They want someone to cater to them.
    Altoidfishfins likes this.
  3. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    Only works in a "Turnabout's fair play" society.

    This can be anyplace anytime, it just depends on the "climate" you happen to exist in at any given time.
  4. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Quite a few I would suppose......they would have been the contemporary equivalents of





    They created the magical rituals that assured the hunters/collectors of their food gathering success....of course they oversaw the rituals involved in food distribution, making sure, for next to no effort on their part, that they got the choicest pieces....after all....who would want to upset the dude who has direct communication with the sky spirits?
  5. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    lol not quite where I thought this discussion was going.

    Did you read where he talked about why it won't work in a larger society and even in a small tribe there are people who need to be policed in a friendly way? The tribesmen don't make enemies of their neighbors but they do police them.
    arleigh, GrayGhost and chelloveck like this.
  6. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Seriously, that is a fair question, and I am sure that, as in any human society that there are some who'll try and game the system to their advantage over the interests of the collective.

    The mistake that some make who are not familiar with the disciplines of sociology and cultural anthropology is to assume that the food itself is the currency of exchange. The actual currency of exchange is the complexities of mutual obligation within a tribal group. The distribution of resources is just the visible expression of how those mutual obligations are satisfied or denied.

    If one is not meeting their expected obligations, then there are a number of societal sanctions against that kind of anti social behaviour....which might include being kicked out of the tribe; where an individual's prospects of survival are much more tenuous than if within the tribe and pulling their fair share of the weight. There is no entity external to the primitive tribe that issues the indolent with green stamps. That kind of "sit down" dependency usually began with bibles and missionaries.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016
  7. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    I read that to mean: It won't work if you let the Democrats take control and let the other low lifes do nothing and feed off the working folk.
    Altoidfishfins likes this.
  8. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    To be Ostracized in a hunter gather group is to be sentenced to a slow death.
  9. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Indeed they do....the lazy and the selfish of the tribe, who don't live up to their obligations may not necessarily starve to death, or be beaten up, However, they can expect that others will treat them with contempt, and that their status within the tribe will be at the lowest stratum. They may not attract a suitable wife / husband or may be punished socially in other ways. I doubt that life as an omega male would be a bowl of cherries.
    GrayGhost likes this.
  10. Kingfish

    Kingfish Self Reliant

    It would become communism if the fish were redistributed under force of law. Someone would assume the position of power and demand that these men would fish and they would turnover most of the fish to the collective. DEMOCRATIC socialism (if there is such a thing) you would vote for you oppressor . Capitalists would catch the fish and sell it to the others for coconuts or other goods. I would choose a free society where the best fisherman would grow his business hiring others to clean the fish. He would take his profits and build boats that increased his catch. Soon everyone would have a job and be earning the food that keeps them alive. With a little luck they would be strong enough to soon travel to other Islands and trade their fish for sugar and the cycle grows.
  11. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    It also starts other businesses, boat builders. Net makers, lure builders, fish cleaners, float makers, weavers for line, fertilizer makers for the remains, plant nurseries, and markets.
    Altoidfishfins likes this.
  12. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    You are assuming that the best fisherman is also a competent businessman.....plenty of very competent artisans have proven to be woeful businessmen.
  13. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    That's what a business partner is for, to complement your weak spots.
    GrayGhost likes this.
  14. GrayGhost

    GrayGhost Monkey+++

    Interesting read, @Ganado.

    This takes my thoughts to a bit of a different place though.

    I think people living the prepper/survivalist lifestyle tend to be closed off or isolated from the general population...mostly for OPSEC i think, and for good reason. Said lifestyle also involves stockpiling items for future use, which is wise.

    The situation could very well end up being this:
    * The defecation has just hit the rotating oscillator.
    * You're holed up, preps stored.
    * You've isolated yourself from most everyone around you to conserve said preps for you and yours.
    * It's now no longer viable to stay where you gotta beat feet.
    * Preps don't last forever.

    The above reading and my random thoughts have lead me to ask :
    Would it be wise to adopt a tribe mentality, so to speak, and forge friendships/alliances with other like-minded individuals in your AoO? Is there not strength in numbers, or are you better off going it alone?

    Just a thought...
    chelloveck and Ganado like this.
  15. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    @GrayGhost my thoughts exactly and a few monkeys on here have discussed that extensively in other places. I was just posting an outside link for why tribalism only works in small numbers. I think social dynamics change as more people get involved.

    What really interests me about this is that we as human beings seem to only be able to form an maintain a limited amount of connections with other people. Then we devolved into politics and name calling (just my opinion)
    chelloveck and GrayGhost like this.
  16. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Oh my God commune-ists....ohno
    AD1 and GrayGhost like this.
  17. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    Research on optimized crew size of many occupations is a standard of some companies as well as the Mil.

    Tribes of old seemed about right at 100, women kids, old folks and warriors.

    It depends on available territory, game etc.

    Hunter-gatherer populations show humans are hardwired for density
    August 17, 2011


    This post originally appeared on Scientific American’s Guest Blog.

    High density living seems like a particularly modern phenomenon. After all, the first subway didn’t run until 1863 and the first skyscraper wasn’t built until 1885. While cities have existed for thousands of years—some with population densities that rival today’s major metropolises—most of humanity has lived at relatively low densities until recently, close to the land and the resources it provided. Before farming, nearly everyone was directly involved in the day-to-day hunting and gathering of food, which required living at even lower densities. It would seem as though our current proclivity for high density living runs counter to our biological underpinnings, that density has been thrust upon us by the demands of modern life.

    [​IMG]It’s easy to arrive at that conclusion, in part because density is a hot topic these days. More than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities—a fact repeated so often it’s almost a litany. But reciting that phrase doesn’t reveal the subtle effects implied by the drastic demographic shift. People migrating from the countryside face untold challenges wrought by density. Cities are complex places, fraught with crime, diseases, and pollution. Yet cities are also places of great dynamism, creativity, and productivity. Clearly, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks or else cities would have dissolved back into the landscape.

    The benefits of living close to other people are evident even to hunter-gatherers. Though their societies have changed over the millennia, studying characteristics of present-day hunter-gatherers can let us peer into the past. That’s what was done by three anthropologists—Marcus Hamilton, Bruce Milne, and Robert Walker—and one ecologist—Jim Brown. In the process, they seem to have discovered a fundamental law that drives human agglomeration. Though their survey of 339 present-day hunter-gatherer societies doesn’t explicitly mention cities, it does show that as populations grow, people tend to live closer together—much closer together. For every doubling of population, the home ranges of hunter-gatherer groups increased by only 70 percent.

    The way home ranges scale with population follows a mathematical relationship known as a power law. Graphs of power laws bend like a graceful limbo dancer—sharply at the base and more gradually thereafter—toward one axis or another, depending on the nature of the relationship. They only straighten when plotted against logarithmic axes—the kind that step from 1 to 10 to 100 and so on. One variable, known as the scaling exponent, is responsible for these attributes.


    Fig. 1 Hunter-gatherer home ranges scale to the three-fourths power. Above are representations of three populations and the size of their home range according to this relationship.

    To see how scaling exponents apply in the case of hunter-gatherer territories, let’s look at the range of possible values and what each would mean in terms of density. If the exponent were equal to one, then home ranges would scale linearly with population size—10 people would occupy 10 square miles and 100 people would occupy 100 square miles. If the exponent were 1.2, then a group of 100 would occupy 250 square miles. And if the exponent were 0.75, a group of 100 people will only occupy 32 square miles. This last one is what Hamilton and his co-authors found.

    Their result is the average of 339 societies, and there’s a bit of heterogeneity within that statistic. Not every group has a perfectly “average” way of hunting and gathering. Some hunt more, some gather more. Some find food on land, others in the water. Where and how hunter-gatherers get their food has a large impact on how densely they live, causing the density exponent to deviate slightly or greatly from three-quarters. For instance, groups which derive more than 40 percent of their food from hunting require larger territories because prey is not always evenly distributed or easily found. Their home ranges scale to the nine-tenths power, indicating sparser living. Gatherers require less space—their home ranges’ scale at the 0.64 power—largely due to plants’ sedentary lifestyles.

    Hunter-gatherer societies which draw food from the water lived more compactly, too. The home range of aquatic foragers was consistently smaller across the range of population sizes—their exponent was 0.78 versus terrestrial foragers’ 0.79. Hamilton and his colleagues suspect this is because food from rivers, lakes, and ocean shores is more abundant and predictable than comparable terrestrial ecosystems.

    But no matter what types of food are consumed, the overall trend remains the same. Every additional person requires less land than the previous one. That’s an important statement. Not only does it say we’re hardwired for density, it also says a group becomes 15 percent more efficient at extracting resources from the land every time their population doubles. Each successive doubling in turn frees up 15 percent more resources to be directed towards something other than hunting and gathering. In other words, complex societies didn’t just evolve as a way to cope with high-density—they evolved in part because of high density.

    Update: The figure in this post originally reported 10.8 sq km for a group of 50 people. It should have been 18.8 sq km. The figure has been updated.


    Hamilton, M., Milne, B., Walker, R., & Brown, J. (2007). Nonlinear scaling of space use in human hunter-gatherers Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104 (11), 4765-4769 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0611197104

    Photo by Gruban.

    Related posts:

    The curious relationship between place names and population density

    Density in the pre-Columbian United States: A look at Cahokia
  18. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    nice article @HK_User !
    now I wonder what the maximum density is before it trends to ghetto [LMAO]
  19. GrayGhost

    GrayGhost Monkey+++

    I'm of the same opinion, @Ganado.
  20. GrayGhost

    GrayGhost Monkey+++

    Thanks for the laugh, buddy!
    chelloveck and kellory like this.
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