The much anticipated post is finally done... I apologize for the delay as I had to work very strenuous hours recently.
There are 2 videos suggested viewing for my position, they are not required but I think you would all enjoy them and they would be invaluable in terms of an explanation.
You have to download something called "veoh player" but rest assured it isn't spyware or anything but actually a very decent way of watching movies instantly online for free. The download is quick, please consider it.http://quicksilverscreen.com/watch?video=48934
- the Surihttp://quicksilverscreen.com/watch?video=50938
- the MatisWhat is violence?
Violence is generically described as some sort of physical conflict. As is obvious physical conflict exists in this world everywhere. Every society necessarily experiences physical conflict, be it from a violent lightning strike, a violent bar fight, a violent murder, or a violent ceremony or ritual. So before be begin I will try to establish a standard for the type of violence we wish to discuss in this thread (among other things)
Football games are violent, but are they "bad"? What's really only bad is something that upsets people. Based on that we should only consider violence that is not purposeful. Too add to that definition we should only use violence in which one person harms another, and that it is not a mutually agreed upon desired event.
This would absolve football players of being ashamed of their violent ways. Football games generate entertainment for the masses, revenue for the economy, and sport for the players. It's important to note that violence is also one of the major ways by which humans selectively breed strength into the species.
That being established, let's begin.
Before we go passing all sorts of judgments about tribe societies (hunter gather traditional societies), we should endeavor to understand what their lives are like. For this I will use 2 different examples of tribe societies, each with drastically different ways of life. The first tribe, the Matis, is a very peaceful and relatively prosperous tribe, the other, and much more violent by contrast, is the Suri tribe.
The Matis live in the Amazon jungle in Brazil near the border of Peru. Their lands are heavily protected from outside access and it is near impossible to get a permit. They were first contacted in the 1970's and since then have suffered many epidemics of western diseases. Their population has dwindled to just under 100, and they are now dependent of FUNAI, the Brazilian national foundation for Indians. The only real outside influences in their societies consist of dogs for hunting, knives, and the occasional outboard motor. Aside from that the Matis hunt and gather everything they need to survive directly from the jungle. Their area is almost pristine rain forest which gives them a very wide and easily accessible variety of food. A group of hunters might go out one day a week and come back with enough meat ( usually boars, monkeys and jungle foul) to last the entire village a week.
There's not much work needing done except for hunting. As in most tribe societies, if someone needs a house (hut) built, everyone in the village will pitch in and it will be done in under a day. They do not war with any tribe nor are hostile. They lead successful bush lives conflicted with their dependence on protection from outside influence, as well as medical care. Though there are under 100 Matis, I think analyzing their culture will serve as an adequate ideal for a quality of life that currently exceeds our own.
The Matis do not use corporeal punishment on their children aside from the only real violence which takes place in their society...
They like to give their kids a good whipping...
O.K when I say that I am being a bit sarcastic. What they do is cut a skinny whip like stick and give their children a slap on the back. It makes a loud crack and is more or less similar to the experience of getting a needle.
A couple tribe members dress up in sort of scary jungle outfits with red painted masks (called mirowen spirits) and they come into town with a bunch of whips every once in awhile and the kids get a good scaring out of it. Don't get me wrong the children genuinely don't like the experience so as per the definition of "bad violence" this whip crack represents the pinnacle of violence in their entire society. Their reasons for doing this are ritualistic, spiritual and pragmatic. They believe it stimulates an energy called "sho" which cures laziness and increases hunting skill. They also whip pregnant women against their will (for their unborn children).
Like I said before the Matis never strike their children. To my knowledge they rarely even argue. By whipping children they provide control and structure; a desentisation to pain. The children are only afraid, never hurt, and as I said they perform the ritual to motivate them. You could compare it to spanking, but it's done only on occasion for no general reason. It's more of a social control mechanism, no more apparent than a vaccination.
There are very few violent aspects of Matis life, aside from the mirowen spirits there are various hunting rituals which are basically the most extreme "violence" in the entire culture, though it is not done against anyone's will. The first ritual is whipping (surprise). The hunters get whipped abit harder than the children but it is bearable and does not leave a scar. They believe that it motivates increases alertness and hunting skill. They say if you see a leopard in the bush you will not tremble if you've been whipped earlier.
The second ritual is a bit more painful... They drip the juice of a certain root into their eyes, which burns. They claim this helps them see better and run better while hunting. Though I'm not sure of the effectiveness, there very well could be an increase in visual capabilities. In any case it is not something horrible or damaging.
Something I found incredibly interesting about the Matis hunters is that they perform a dance not unlike the lord of the flies fire circle dance
, except it is abit less violent.
All the hunters young and old participate in traditional hunting attire in a large hut. Aside from doing this to increase odds, it strengthens the bond between hunters who rely on each other as a team, as well as desensitizing and educating the hunters to the "violence" of the hunt. It's sort of a role play game, comparable to any public education system which merely trains us to be ready for the reality of life.
As for the brutality of hunting goes, there is no contest between the brutality and suffering in the lives of wild versus reared animals. In hunting for survival, as many animals do, yes you are ending the life of a fellow animal and there is no way for me to rebuke that except that it is better than keeping it in it's cage for it's entire life and then slaughtering it on a kill line.
It's the kind of sacrifices like the quality of life of our food versus the efficiency with which we can produce food in order to raise the quality (and or number) of our own lives which causes me to believe technology isn't always an answer. We trade their pain and suffering for ours, which is important to note about modern societies.
The next of the Matis hunting rituals is frog poison. The skin is lightly and quickly burned and a small piece of skin removed and then they insert poison from a tree frog directly into the blood stream. It takes hours but you become very nauseous and eventually your system "evacuates itself". After the poison is washed off the feeling quickly dissipates and the feeling afterwards is described as remarkably pleasant and energetic. They do this as a means to purify and energize. They believe this greatly increases the skill of a hunter.
What is described above is the absolute worst the Matis have to offer. They have no wars or rivalries, being that there is under 100 of them it's a safe bet that they have few or no criminals. Their main concerns currently are health and education. It's the fault of modernity for bringing modern diseases like malaria, diarrhea, happiest which has caused their recent decline.
Traditionally they had a plant remedy for every ailment (most commonly headaches), but after their contact with the outside world many of their shamans died and they lost a great deal of traditional knowledge. You can imagine the feeling of vulnerability they must have. The outboard motor allows the youth to visit nearby modern towns where they are influenced heavily. Instead of practicing hunting the boys play soccer. They even have dances with modern music and dancing...
One Matis remembers when they didn't know how to dance like naowa's (noawa means outsider) but now he says that the youth always copy outsiders.
He says that they were happier before they were contacted, but now that they've seen our world, they can never go back. It's not just because of their medical dependency, they want modern things. They desire houses, medical centers, education, all the great things we seem to be offering.
The English speaking Matis translator often goes to the city, he desires to be a teacher and bring education back to his tribe (where there are no teachers). Intriguingly he says he does not go outside in the towns. He says "there is too much violence and people doing drugs". His desires is to have a house and "all the good things that outsiders have" and for his family to live well.
If we could give the Matis houses, education and medical centers that would be great, but it would come at the cost of the forest that currently supports them. One Matis said "I don't want to go to the town. There is nowhere to plant food, and there is no monkey or tapir to eat. In the city you have to buy things, I don't want to do that. It's better to stay in the jungle". This particular testimony came from a woman of about 40 (give or take 20 years), and it is not shared by the entire tribe. Where once they were content they now desire what we have shown them. One of the driving mechanisms in human brains is that we want what we see, or that is, we measure our success by what we see.
We could argue that living in a centrally heated home with a police force, expensive health care and 2 jobs is better than living in a hut in the jungle and gathering your own food, but I would take the wisdom of the 40 year old Matis over the would be wisdom of my opponent any day (no offense
Despite the entirety of the struggles and negative aspects of Matis life described above, the Matis are a very loving and open minded people. In the documentary provided above a white Englishman joined one of their families for a month to see what it is like to be a Matis. The father of the family gave him his own hammock to sleep in and he was instantly treated like family.
And interesting comparison into our own lives can be made concerning the division of food. In the Matis society the heads of the family are given equal shares and then those shares are divided up amongst family members. You can eat all of what you are given but if you've had enough you can give a nod which signals the rest f the tribe to take a portion if they desire. And they all do this, everybody sharing, in a very communal way. Contrasted that with our own society I can't count the number of awkward moments I've had with people when I start eye-balling the biggest piece of steak.
In all every Matis leads a very relaxing life, certainly more relaxing than our own. Most tribe societies work 3 or 4 hours a day to satisfy all their needs, and the Matis are no exception. The Matis live free of violence except for what is defined above, and whatever position you might take on the violence of the Matis would pale in comparison to the violence displayed in modern society. An adult Matis is more care free than a 7 year old kid trying to learn to read in our public school systems. They must have been incredibly happy before we contacted them, though we've given them knives dogs and guns (they still use more blow darts with poison than guns, especially for monkey), we've also given them a destroyed sense of pride. Their shamans were powerless to fight off the plague of diseases modernity brought with them, and now being dependent on outside care they must have the lowest sense of success or accomplishment they have known in centuries. Yet despite all this, you are more likely to see a smile on the face of a Matis child than on the face of a rich American child. Chances are the rich American child doesn't see his parents and has so much stuff that he becomes spoiled, ironically bitter in a room full of sweets.
It's not the fact that thousands of modern and non modern societies have been violent that I'm debating, it's that the Matis live happier lives than we do now. It's that the environmentally harmonious life of the Matis is far superior to our own large scale modern societies. In comparison and in physical reality, our civilization stinks. The Matis are more innocent with life now than we could ever make them. If given the option to enter into our society (at the bottom of course) many Matis would probably take the deal, but every one of them would regret it.
The typical ideal being established well with the Matis, we can now move on to the Suri.
Suri territory occupies a small corner of Ethiopia, and unlike the Matis, they are well contacted and very numerous.
The first thing to know about the Suri concerning violence is that due to a nearby war (Sudan) they have been flooded with AK-47's. The film crew in the documentary above was protected non-stop by numerous armed guards.
That aside the most dominant and violent aspect of Suri culture is their stickfights. A stickfight can happen at any time thruought the year when each village goes out in large numbers for organized stickfights in a sport like setting. Each contestant brings a sharpened stick and various armor and opponents from opposing villages will pair off at will and begin fighting.
"Violent" doesn't do Suri stickfighting justice. Basically it's anything goes, except that you never strike a man that is on the ground, or that is not fighting. They even use something similar to a referee. In stickfights you can loose eyes, teeth, get gashes on your legs or even a fatal gash in the stomach, but in theory is no different than the extreme sports we play in modern society.
stickfighting strengthens bonds in the village and prepares them for their lifestyle, but the real reasons behind stickfighting are simple: fame, glory and women. Mostly women. The sticks are actually sharpened to resemble the corona of a penis. The winners of the fights are highly praised and like modern sports they keep bitterly accurate scores. There is a sideline where women flirt with resting fighters. Some women even make and sell beer.
Peak stickfight season is after the rainey season when there is lots of food, time and energy. Though the Suri exist in a yearly deadly struggle (as I will elaborate below), they are still able to find happiness and entertainment in stickfighting, you might compare it to going to a baseball game after a hard or even dangerous day of work.
As per the bad violence definition stickfighting doesn't really qualify, being comparable to many of our own dangerous sports. In that the Suri and our own society are on even steads.
The next most violent thing about Suri life is their annual war with a neighbouring tribe called the Bume. This is no innocent war, it is brutal and deadly competition for vital land needed for cattle grazing. Given that, I would be forced to agree with Cyrenes assertion that since so many men die as a result war, our society is less violent, and perhaps better, except for the fact that this war only takes place because of guns.
The bume got guns before the Suri and then invaded a portion of their land, the Suri then also got guns and they now fight a high tension war every year.
In this case it would be better for the Suri if technology didn't exist. Guns have upset the balance between 2 different groups of people and has forever changed the Suri way of life. Guns are now a part of their culture. Shots are fired in the air at stickfights by disgruntled fighters, disturbing the whole process. Armed guards are required for protection. Most well off families have a gun to fend off possible cattle thieves. In reality they have no use for guns, it would be better if they nor the bume had any.
The Suri treat cattle as currency, cows are of incredible importance. Despite drinking their blood without harming them, they actually treat their cows better than any modern farmer. They light fires to keep them warm and give them plenty of water, food and exercise. They just fall short of being as pampered as Hindu cows. (except for the blood part)
The Suri society is very democratic, though they do have spiritual leaders who are highly respected (and protected) they have a strong concept of fairness. There is no police force, naturally it's martial law. People have been known to steal other peoples cattle, which is comparable in our own society to stealing money, though it is much less heard of.
When I think about it, I have stolen more things for no good reason than I can count. Have you? Though the suri do occasionally fight amongst themselves, they are too busy defending themselves from the bume. Perhaps because of this the Suri are a much more cohesive society. People are very respectful.
One aspect of Suri culture which is particularly violent is that the women have their lower incisors removed and a lip plate inserted (yes the famous lip disk). The origin of lip disc is uncertain, one theory says that it was started to discourage slavery. One function it has which is a strong theme in their society is tolerance to pain, a reality in living an uncertain life.
Though they don't know the origin of lip disks, they do have a use. The size of a woman's lip disc determines how many cattle she is worth to the family that the male purchases her from.
No it's not some form of arranged or forced marriage, people choose their own partners and if both are willing, the male must prove his worth by offering cattle. (as much as 60 cattle)
This is a sensible social mechanism to control population growth that is not sustained as only well situated men could afford a family.
But not all women allow their lips to be cut however. One woman interviewed claimed she simply didn't want to do it. "It makes you dribble" she said. When asked if that meant she wouldn't get any cattle she replied, "If a man likes me he'll give cattle, otherwise he can find another girl".
The Suri are a very proud people. Their attitudes are very down to earth, much more so than our own. Despite struggling for survival in terms of a modern war where there once was balance the Suri still are able to lead ambitious and enjoyable lives. What differences is there between the lives of the Suri and our own? If anything can only think of ways in which our own society is worse than theirs.
Our society that brought guns into their world, throwing what was once a violent, yet harmonious society into a trend of brutal violence. Our society has systematically begun consuming the worlds resources, destroying one by one ancient ways of life. Ways of life which were in a state of equilibrium, even if it meant war with their neighbours, there was a balance of power. They were much healthier living off natural diets and still live with much greater ease than we do in our own societies.
In bush societies the people fight for their survival, and they achieve that and are happy. In ours, survival is pretty much guaranteed, except or the high odds that you will die of a terminal illness, die of an accident, get murdered, or go to jail, you don't have to do anything at all per se in order to survive. Shelters will give you food and a place to sleep. Wee take survival for granted and are discontent, we have sought ways to increase our pleasure and have been partially successful.
Why wouldn't a Suri want to play world of warcraft? Of course he would.
More pleasure means more happiness right?
Well in order to get modern stuff, he would have to sell his land and forest to logging companies. After they destroy his home they would leave him with maybe 10,00$ if he is the luckiest Suri or Matis alive. Then he would have to move into the city, as nobody would build a house in the middle of nowhere, he would have to rent or buy a house and maybe have enough left for a computer, he would have to get the worst job in town in order to pay for his power bill and then find out that there is no way for him to get internet in his entire country. 3 weeks later he gets sick and misses work. He loses his apartment and is kicked out. ?He has no money and begins the long long walk home to Suri country with a computer strapped to his back and his trusty ak-47.
Where did society peek? Where did the wave break and people slowly begin to suffer more and more? I say it's when that one jerk society decided that since it was more powerful, should be allowed to flourish at the expense of all others. The fact that our society eats others for breakfast is uncontested. When think of "our society" I think of the word mob. Look at the way discrimination against blacks has become innate in stereotypical American logic (no offense). We shove our suffering out of sight, except for those cute cancer patients who get used by corporations in public relations charity funds (no offense). The poor of our nation are kept stupid with expensive education and are kept unhealthy with expensive healthcare (no offense). Heaven forbid we should reform our government once in awhile. We've got political parties comparable to fraternities which hold a quadra annual propaganda race where they see how many lies they can tell about themselves and others in order to sway as many votes of the population they have assured are stupid through an extreme regiment of social control and oppression. .5 percent of the population control 50% of the wealth. That's an aristocracy. In our society there is no way to be independent, we are born into social contracts. In order to survive we must get jobs to pay for overly expensive houses and food made by other exploited nations. The middle and lower classes are not unlike slaves. Forced to work, the alternative being a homeless vagabond.
The American army has lost 4000 troops in the Iraq war so far, and those numbers are pretty good considering the size of their army and of their population. The odds of you dying for the Iraq are are slim and I guess therefore it is less violent, but how many people died on the opposing side? One hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? How many were women and children?
In our society we keep violence and suffering out of sight and out of mind. If you're reading this you're rich enough to have the internet and probably haven't experienced what it's like to be at the bottom of society. If you think being middle class is dissatisfying, try being the bottom of the barrel.
In the Matis society they live an easy life with absolutely no problems except for the ones we've given them, they are easily more content with life in general than us, basically more everything. They are a wonderful people. The Suri live violent and unpredictable lives but despite that also have less problems than our own society. Everyone is treated equally and instead of money being power, money is just money (cows).
Asking the question of which is better bush societies our our own ones is a difficult one to answer. Yes and no is mine. Yes there are bush tribes that live happier and perfectly balanced lives in the jungle than we can manage with any and all of our technology, but there are also very brutal and violent cultures in which life is difficult.
If the question is where did society peak we need not consider the worst, only the best. In my mind the best example I can think of is an economically balanced society where all of its members are content with life.
Which society is that? You be the judge.
Whatever makes you happy.