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September 20, 2017


Enjoyment without Possession


Not now

In a recent essay by John Lanchester (How Civilization Started, The New Yorker), I am reminded that for most of our modern human existence, we've lived as hunter-gatherers. This way of life was followed by the Neolithic Revolution (AKA: the Agricultural Revolution) where humans segued from hunting and gathering, to planting & cultivating.

With invention of cereal crops, states came into being because such grains, unlike other crops became taxable as they were "visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and rationable" (James Scott, Against the Grain). Taxable cereal grains also gave rise to writing ... not creative writing, but the writing of lists ... ledgers that recorded the happenings of grains, including divisions of labor, and those divisions leading to societal hierarchies.

Lanchester references a new book by James Suzman titled Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen. Suzman's research takes him to southwest Africa to study the Bushmen that still exist today ... a people that still hunts and gathers. And contrary to what we the "civilized" might think, these hunters and gatherers live a life fulfilled, with an '"unyielding confidence" that their environment will provide for their needs' (Lanchester). Hunters and gatherers live in the moment ... as they enjoy and share with others their abundance, without scrambling to hoard, tax, trade, and accumulate.

There is this thought in our current world that once we accumulate enough, life will be good and we will be happy. Lanchester points to an essay by John Maynard Keynes (The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren) that points to the problem when we place value on accumulating rather then enjoying:

ArrogantIt reminds me of Louis CK's funny explanation of why he doesn't save. Because he says saving is "arrogant." He'd rather spend what he has and enjoy life.

It also reminds me of the documentary, Minimalism, where I'm challenged to consider that to live a life fulfilled, all I need is less. I think that the pursuit to enjoy rather than possess takes a hunter-gatherer mindset where what I have now can be enjoyed now. Because tomorrow, there will be more to have and enjoy. And if we are no longer able to hunt and gather due to age or illness, to find ourselves in a world where those who HAVE decide not to lord it over others, but to share.

 

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