RANDOM: Hunter-gatherers take over the world!

The Low Golden Willow (phoenix@ugcs.caltech.edu)
Thu, 13 Mar 1997 22:05:53 -0800 (PST)

I believe I've mentioned Jared Diamond's _Guns, Germs, and Steel_, and
that I found it to be a spiffy book. One of his provocative (although
not too important for his main point) asides was his belief that modern
hunter-gatherers are more intelligent than most modern "civilizeds" at
least in practice, and possibly genetically.

His case (somewhat vague, again it's just an aside for him, at least in
this book) is based on long observation of New Guinean peoples and the
favorable comparison he makes with your average urbanite. His
theoretical argument is necessity -- since everyone is approximately
responsible for their own survival, they have to be more competent and
knowledgeable about their environment. More importantly than simple
knowledge, he feels that they're more curious; they play with their
environment more, because that's what a hunter-gatherer does. "Ooh, new
plant, or rock; what is it good for?" Missionaries and colonialists no
doubt have smiled knowingly at the primitive playing childlike with
simple artifacts of civilization, like a lighter or paper clip; but I
suspect your average Western tourist would ignore most of the novelty
around themself, or else if confronted by it retreat and whimper.

His argument for genetically superior intelligence is that
hunter-gatherers -- at least some of them, others apparently can be
placidly dull, ignoring an unprecedented helicopter (whereas those he
favors "would be trying to charter it") -- have been living this way all
along, and been selected for greater intelligence and adaptability.
After all, hunter-gatherer conditions are apparently the conditions
under which we developed intelligence in the first place. Urban
Eurasians, on the other hand, have primarily been selected for the
ability to survive the diseases we get from our domesitc animals.

What noticeable change could have happened in the past 13,000 years is
open to question. Still, even without genetics, some hunter-gatherers
might retain the flexibility of their heritage while switfly picking up
modern culture. Which leads me to my main point: whether
hunter-gatherer peoples (those who have survived our diseases, achoo)
might not be the proper heirs of the human race. With a good technical
education, and their own flexibility and (I hope) lack of monotheistic
religious baggage, they might be the ones best suited *as a group* to
picking up transhuman mindsets. Cryonics and genetic engineering and
whatnot should, in Diamond's painting, just be more tools to play with
to them.

Just a thought.

-xx- Damien R. Sulivan X-)