Egalitarianism – The Way Life Should Be (Or at least was, for a very long time)

Photo taken by Dominick Tyler from Survival International's website.

Photo  of a couple of Bushmen taken by Dominick Tyler from Survival International’s website.

During my time as an anthropology student, I learned about a concept called ‘egalitarianism.’ I’d heard this word before but didn’t really know what it meant until I read something called “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari” written by the anthropologist Richard Lee. Lee lived with a band of hunter-gatherers who inhabit the Kalahari Desert which is located in what is now the country of Botswana in Africa known as the !Kung Bushmen. For years he studied their culture and way of life. He wanted to express his thanks to the Bushmen he had been living with, so he decided to purchase a large, plump ox to give to them as a Christmas present. He thought they would be very grateful for the gift and would enjoy it during the holiday celebration. However, the response he received from the Bushmen he’d grown close to was not what he expected. They made fun of the ox and called it ‘skin and bones’ and claimed that it wouldn’t provide much food and that he was foolish to buy it. No matter which person he talked to about it, they all laughed at him and his supposedly old and scrawny ox. Naturally, Lee was very confused by this reaction to what he thought was a nice gesture. Eventually, he was able to discuss this with a member of the band who had been born in another community before marrying into the Bushmen community. He was informed that giving such a great gift was considered boasting or bragging. The act was essentially saying “I am great and powerful enough to buy this magnificent ox and just give it away to you. See how awesome I am?”

In egalitarian societies like that of the !Kung Bushmen, this type of bragging behavior is considered very rude and inappropriate. To understand why that is, you need to know what egalitarianism is. Egalitarianism is a social structure in which everyone is equal, meaning everyone has equal say in all matters, and all food and goods are equally distributed throughout the community. Egalitarian societies could be considered ‘status-less’ or you could say that everyone is simply of the same status. There are no chiefs or lords or leaders of any kind.

In order to sustain this social equality, certain social checks and balances are necessarily enacted. The reaction Lee received from the Bushmen is an example of one such mechanism. Boasting and bragging inflates one’s ego and leads to arrogance, and eventually may lead to that person thinking they’re superior to others and are therefore entitled to more power (more food, goods, greater say in communal matters, etc.). Supposedly, too much arrogance leads to the person viewing the others as servants and may bring about murder. This type of act is clearly counter to the social equality typified by egalitarian societies.

Therefore, in order to cool their arrogance, it is necessary to make fun of the hunter and the animal they hunted. The hunter accepts their ridicule and agrees with them, adding that it was a waste of time to track and hunt such a meager animal. Along these same lines, when a hunter returns from a hunt, they are expected to just hang out by their fire and not speak to anyone. Later, someone may approach them and ask, ‘What did you see today?’ Although they were quite successful and managed to take a large animal, he responds to the query with apparent disinterest, ‘Ah, I’m no good for hunting. I saw nothing at all.. just a little tiny one.’

Here’s a direct quote from the original article of a dialogue between Lee and a Bushmen named Tomazo that I feel encapsulates this idea:

Lee:”Why insult a man after he has gone to all that trouble to track and kill an animal when he is going to share the meat with you so that your children will have something to eat?”
Tomazo: “Arrogance,” was his cryptic answer.
“Arrogance?”
“Yes, when a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”

Kuwe Belesa, Metsiamenong, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. © Dominick Tyler

Kuwe Belesa, Metsiamenong, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. © Dominick Tyler

You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this weird ‘everyone’s equal’ Utopian-type of society that very few people of this world still practice. The reason I’m bothering to write about this is because egalitarianism is actually the norm for our species (see the sources 6,7,8 from Wiki’s page on egalitarianism). For the vast majority of our existence (roughly 99% of our time on this Earth) in our current form (sometimes referred to as ‘anatomically modern humans’), we lived in small bands of egalitarian societies. The beauty of this equality-based system is that it’s quite sustainable; we were able to go a long, long time living like this before other social systems emerged (like tribes, chiefdom’s, states, etc.) where social stratification and much greater levels of division of labor came about. It was an inherently passive and relatively peaceful way of living. Since it worked so well, we just kept doing it for a very long time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Well, if you’re reading this you’re almost definitely not part of an egalitarian society. In fact, the most complex social stratification occurs in state level societies that Americans and most of the world exists within. That means there’s large power gaps between people of different statuses, rather than everyone being of the same status. Such a power-gap can be problematic. For a somewhat extreme example, someone with enough money or power can conceivably enslave or murder someone with less power at their convenience. That might seem a bit of an extreme example these days, but slavery and other forms of discrimination are largely believed to be a result of the divergence from egalitarianism. A homeless person and a wealthy CEO illustrate another example of the high complexity of social stratification we have reached. In egalitarian societies, each person is considered important, no matter how skilled or unskilled they might be. The sick, wounded, and elderly are cared for by the rest of the band, not ignored and neglected. Since everyone in egalitarian societies is treated equally, the priority of the individuals is focused on the success of the group, rather than the individual.

I feel that is a fundamental flaw of the social structures most people exist within today, especially capitalistic societies. In those types of societies, the emphasis is placed on the success of the individual instead of the community as it is in egalitarian societies (which, again, was the type of social structure we’ve existed within for most of our time on Earth). Striving for one’s own success (monetary or otherwise) over the community’s encourages arrogance and social inequality. Like the Bushmen said, “once a young man kills much meat (i.e. profits monetarily) he begins to think of himself as a chief or big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors.” At the very least, that can result in something as simple as someone bossing someone else around, and at it’s worst that can mean slavery, persecution, genocide, or the objectification of human life.

It’s difficult to imagine that the aforementioned horrible atrocities against humanity could stem from something as simple as bragging or boasting about an accomplishment, but it seems that could quite possibly be the case. I guess the takeaway from this could be this: Next time you’re about to tell someone about how much money you’ve made, how far you ran, how big an animal you killed, how big a rock you just lifted, how fast your car is, or any other way that you think you just made yourself more awesome than your peers, think twice. Quite probably, the people you’re bragging to care a lot less about what you’re saying than they let on. Now, I’m not saying not to take pride in your accomplishments. By all means, please do! Just keep those thoughts to yourself and don’t let them fool you into thinking you’re better than others. After all, humility is what allowed all of our ancestors to live peacefully together for so long, and made it possible for you to be here reading this post right now. So stay humble, my friends. For humanity’s sake. 🙂

Photo of an elder Bushmen taken by Dominick Tyler from Survival International's website.

Photo of an elder Bushmen taken by Dominick Tyler from Survival International’s website.

P.S. to learn more about the Bushmen or see cool pictures follow those links.

Bringing Home the Bacon

My good friend Matt helped me make a video the other day where I incorporate an atlatl a.k.a. spear-thrower into a MovNat combo. He filmed and edited the whole thing with the exception of the music which I selected. I think he did a great job 🙂 The video quality is a million times better than my others because he has a good camera which he graciously used to make this, so feel free to change the quality to ‘720p’ if you want.

You’ve probably already watched the video if you’re reading this so if you’re wondering what the heck I’m doing I’ll give you the run-down. Basically I’m simulating hunting with an atlatl. I start at the edge of a field, climb into a tree to get a better vantage point until I ‘see’ a ‘boar’, then climb down from the tree (making way more noise/motion than I should but since I wasn’t actually hunting anything I let it slide), pick up my atlatl and dart, stalk toward the ‘boar’ until I get within range, throw the dart at the ‘boar’ (in this case a log), run over to the ‘boar’ (log), simulate performing a killing blow, and finally shoulder the ‘boar’ and walk back to my dwelling (or repeat this a few times for a solid workout).  It took me a bit to climb up and down the tree because there was a lot of foliage and apparently there was a vine growing up and on it, too..

If this interests you then I encourage you to check out the Maine Primitive Skills School’s website and YouTube channel (where the atlatl was made and where I’m currently enrolled in an apprenticeship) and MovNat’s website and YouTube channel.  We’re going to be running some Movement classes at the MPSS in the near future which will incoporate MovNat, Yoga, and other natural movement skills and methods so stay tuned!

The song is called Killer’s Waltz and it’s by Thievery Corporation; a super-awesome group of musicians.

Beach MovNat

I made a little video of my MovNat combo this morning. As you can see from the video, I started by climbing up a rock face, jumped down and rolled upon hitting the ground into a decently fast sprint. I then ran into the water where I shallow-dove and swam a bit out and then back in (there were a lot of large rocks which I almost tripped over coming out of the water.. MovNat mistake: always check your workout area prior to moving to avoid dangerous obstacles). Next I ran up the beach to a rock which I picked up and chest-carried it while balancing on a log with a couple split squats thrown in. After that I dead lifted the log and side-shuffled it a few feet out and then back a couple times. Following that I bear-crawled and crab-walked down to the rock face before standing up and climbing it again to repeat the combo. I did that a few times until I felt satisfied.

Afterwards I sat on the empty beach for a few minutes to rest and just appreciate being able to play around in such a cool little place. One thing I’ve been learning lately, especially during my time at the Maine Primitive Skills School, is that it’s important to express gratitude when it’s appropriate to do so; that just makes the whole experience more fulfilling and usually helps to solidify the memories a bit deeper so that lessons can be more effectively retained.

I haven’t been doing combo workouts much lately since I’ve been too busy with my apprenticeship up at the Primitive School, but I happened to be home for the weekend since my little cousin’s wedding was on Saturday. That was actually the first wedding I remember going to (apparently I went to one when I was like 4?). It was awesome seeing my cousin and her new husband get married; they’re definitely quite in love and I’m super happy for them 🙂 Love is something I’ve often felt is largely missing from my life, with the exception of that which I receive from my amazing friends and family of course 😉 But seeing such powerful loving energy from my cousin and her hubby first hand really hit home the fact that I’ve largely been missing that in my life.. It’s undoubtedly partly my fault since I’m mostly really bad at showing affection, though that may have to do with my upbringing since my family hasn’t been the most affectionate (hugs were a rarity for sure). Well, my dad wasn’t against giving hugs and telling me and my bro he loved us, but my mom was raised from a rather… proper family where such behavior wasn’t really encouraged to say the least.. BUT ALAS, I’m optimistic and know that my time will come! Not necessarily marriage per se, but who knows what the Universe has in store? I’m continually surprised and impressed by its unfolding 🙂

Anywayyy tomorrow there’s a “Neanderthal Gymnastics” class and I’m not entirely sure what that will entail, but it sounds right up my alley 🙂 And Wednesday a Native Awareness 5 day class is starting which I’m stoked for. I’ve already taken it once and it blew my mind. I can’t wait to go through that stuff again and hopefully experience some new things, too. I’ll try to post regularly for this class so that people can have an understanding of what it’s about. Suffice it to say that’s it’s awesome and enlightening for now, though. 🙂

Tarzan MovNat

I threw together this video this morning of me moving on and around a couple of large fallen trees in the woods. I hadn’t attempted this ‘route’ or whatever you want to call it prior to shooting this morning, so there’s a couple points where I pause to think about which way I want to go but I fast-forwarded a bit to keep the pace steady. I think this is one of my favorite MovNat videos so far, especially combined with the rad music by Gramatik who I finally became acquainted with this weekend at Camp Bisco. I’m still floating on cloud 9 after such a fun weekend, and you can kind of see that in me during this video, especially right after the blooper 🙂

Making this video and watching it after strongly reminded me of the Disney movie Tarzan which I used to be slightly obsessed with when I was a wee lad… It’s interesting how your childhood dreams can manifest into your adult reality sometimes.

In the beginning…

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I was listening to Bonobo’s newest album ‘North Borders’ as I started to write this, so I thought ya’ll might want to listen to it as you read, too. I made a set of three of my favorite songs from the album on SoundCloud, so just click the play button and enjoy 🙂

Last Wednesday I began my apprenticeship at the Maine Primitive Skills School and a new chapter of the story of my life.  I arrived in the early afternoon around 1 p.m. and was greeted by a few of the other apprentices who were in the midst of having lunch.  Jay, (or Dirty Jay, as he’s called) one of the apprentices, was kind enough to give me a tour of the grounds and tell me a bit about the school.  He took me around the trails within the roughly 23 acres of land owned my Mike (who runs the school) and showed me the various living quarters and activity areas.  Right now I believe there is one tipi, a yurt, the recently erected “Earth Lodge” (I think the design was based off a Cree shelter but don’t quote me on that), a shelter called something Yeti something-or-other, and a couple other shelters which I haven’t explored too closely yet.  Since all the cool shelters were currently occupied by other apprentices, I chose to just sleep in my tent like some of the other apprentices do.  There’s also some bunk-beds above the main classroom for folks to sleep in if they don’t want to sleep outdoors, but after sleeping indoors for so long I was hankering to catch some Z’s under the stars.

After putting my food in the fridge I joined everyone in the outdoor classroom area.  People had been preparing carefully selected recently felled balsam fir trees to use as poles for a new tipi for Angie, an apprentice from England.  We were joined by Grandfather Ray after lunch.  I’m not entirely clear on his background, but he’s an older feller in his 70’s who I believe was either raised or was just extensively instructed by some elders of one of the tribal nations in Maine.  I guess he’s been practicing primitive skills for pretty much his whole life or close to it.  We sat in a circle while he shared some of his wisdom with us.  I don’t entirely remember all that he said, but I remember it had to do with focus, community goals and ambitions and other things.  While listening to him I got a sense that he has a lot of wisdom to share not only pertaining to primitive skills but life in general.  I have a tendency when interacting with people to pay attention not so much to the words coming out of their mouth but rather their body language and physical expression, especially when I don’t know them well (needless to say this makes learning through verbal instruction a bit of a slow process for me sometimes..).  I got the sense that he is a very happy feller with a profound respect and love for Mother Nature.  Laughter came very easily for him and the way he patted the ground when referencing Mother Nature was very cool, I thought.  I wasn’t sure quite what to make of everything at first, but looking back now I think listening to him was a great introduction to this whole experience.  “The universe tends to unfold as it should…”

After that I helped some of the others prepare the tipi poles by stripping the bark and branches off them.  Angie and Goatie-Jay were preparing dinner so I helped them out by washing the dirty dishes in the sink.  Mostly I was just chatting and getting to know the other apprentices at this point.  Dinner that night was veggie shepherd’s pie which I politely declined in favor of a paleo meal I made myself.  I was hesitant to decline at first since I didn’t want to be rude, but they were very understanding since it’s not uncommon to accommodate odd dietary habits here I was told.

After dinner we had a “Check-In” which basically consists of everyone taking turns sharing where they’re at with the various skills we were learning and what direction we wanted to go with them this week.  It was approaching probably around 10 by the time my turn to speak came around, so I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic but I introduced myself and shared a bit about where I was coming from, namely my passion for movement and MovNat, but also my love for music and nature.  We each made a list of the skills we wanted to concentrate on that week on the chalk board and then collectively chose those which appeared most frequently as the skills we would focus on.  I get the feeling this doesn’t necessarily happen for every class, but since this was the “Advanced Skills” class there was a bit more flexibility with what was on the itinerary.

We awoke early the next morning (I got up around 7 I think) and after people had time to have breakfast and coffee/tea we formed a circle in in open patch of grass next to the garden.  There we went through a series of movements involving all of the body’s joints as a way of sort of waking up the body and mind – I don’t remember what movement style the movements came from unfortunately.  Basically we moved each joint through it’s full range of motion — great stuff.

After that we played a really cool “Scout Game” where we split up into groups of 3 or 4 and went off into different parts of the woods.  I was grouped together with the other two “movement guys” – Mike (the apprentice, not the Mike who runs the school) and Goatie-Jay.  They’re both passionate about movement like me and I’m not entirely clear on their backgrounds in that regard, but I think that Goatie-Jay has done Brazilian jui-jitsu quite a bit.  The idea of the game was to move through the woods without touching the forest floor by only stepping on logs, rocks, roots, etc.  We then took turns playing follow-the-leader adhering to the aforementioned rule.  The idea was to move slowly and stealthily in attempt to sneak up on the other groups.  I was super happy that we were doing this because it has a lot of MovNatty elements – crawling on logs, jumping to rocks/logs/stumps, stepping over/under branches, weaving around obstacles, clinging to small trees and transferring to others nearby, etc.; really fun stuff!  It was a bit of a blending of yoga, MovNat, and meditation I thought because of the slow, mindful nature of the game and the careful attention to body, breath, and environment that was necessary.  After we each took a turn leading and following each other Mike (the head of the school) blew his conch shell (yeah, that’s how he communicates to everyone from afar, usually to summon people together) indicating that we were to try to find the other groups while remaining undetected ourselves.  I think my group did a really good job being stealthy while adhering to the game’s rule, but unfortunately Star, one of the apprentice’s dogs, was following us around the whole time and surprisingly she wasn’t too concerned with being quiet so the other groups easily knew where we were.  That wasn’t a big deal, though; it was still a lot of fun trying to sneak up on the other groups.  After that we met up in the classroom and took turns sharing our thoughts about the game after writing them down in our personal journals.

(Updated 6/17/2012)

Alright.  Well, blogging about my experience at MPSS this summer/year won’t be as thorough and consistent as I first thought it might.  Whenever there’s a class going on I basically have no free time besides cooking/eating and the occasional naps.  I’ll do my best to cover the parts that I remember well enough and I feel are worth mentioning.

Being that the Advanced Skills course was two weeks ago now, I’m going to just go over the highlights of it which I still remember.  Let’s see… for a few afternoons we spent making our own bows from various types of trees.  People mostly used White Ash because it’s easier to work with, but doesn’t make a bow that lasts quite as long as some other trees.  Medium sized ash trees had been cut in half length-wise and then split in half again.  I took my quarter and trimmed it down to my arm-span length and then proceeded to use a hatchet to slim it down to about 1.5 inches thick.  That was my first time really using a hatchet so I had to focus a lot on holding it correctly and striking it appropriately.  Needless to say I didn’t have the best form and my forearms were toastacles after working at it for a little while.  On the plus side it’s a great forearm workout..  I made some good progress on my bow but I still have quite a lot of time to put into it before it’s complete.  My goal is to have it done by the end of the summer or before.  I’m definitely pumped at the prospect of having a legitimate bow which I made in my possession, though!

On top of that we had a Drum Stalk around dusk one night which was incredible!  It was raining pretty steadily during it, which made is especially cool.  We were lead down a path on the school property and placed about 10-20 feet apart from one another.  We then put on blindfolds and waited for the sound of a drum-beat in the distance.  I then stepped off the trail and made my way into the forest toward the sound of the drum.  I was barefoot so I sort of stalked my way through the brush feeling my way with my feet, but also using my hands to feel for trees and branches.  I was pretty calm for most of it, but there was one point where I reached a particularly thick patch of balsam firs which I couldn’t really get through which was a bit frustrating at first, but then I took a second to calm down and found a way around them.    It was really cool having to rely predominately on my sense of touch and sound to traverse through the woods without being able to see.   I didn’t have much trouble entering a state of flow where it felt like I was almost swimming between the bushes in trees, pushing them aside as I went and weaving around and under them as necessary.  When I was getting near the drum it felt like I was right on top of it, but continued to walk closer and closer until I received a tap on my shoulder by the drummer.  I took off my bandanna and a big smile came upon my face as I saw Mike with his drum.  He pointed down the trail indicating I should go “journal” my experience, so I ran back to the classroom and wrote down what I wanted to.  We then shared our experiences together afterwords.  It was a very cool experience for sure.

*** I figured I’d break this and probably other posts about my apprenticeship into segments so that people don’t fall asleep reading gigantic ones all at once, and also because I can only sit still to write on this thing for so long.. In other words, I’ll be editing this post with the rest of my experience during my first course at the MPSS — Stay tuned! ***

Morning Food Porn

I decided to snap a few pictures while making my breakfast this morning.

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First I threw about a golf ball sized lump of pastured duck fat into a hot pan.

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Then I whipped up 4 free-range eggs in a bowl.

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Once the fat was fully melted I poured the eggs in and stirred it around until they were fully cooked.

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Next I put the scrambled eggs on a plate and thew some salt and cinnamon on them. Call me weird, but I think cinnamon on eggs is delicious.

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Then I tossed about a golf ball sized lump of grass-fed ghee (clarified butter) into the pan.

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Afterwards I tossed a hefty portion of organic baby kale into the pan with the ghee and stirred it around until the kale cooked down.

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I added some (no suggar added, just tomatoes and a few other veggies) tomato sauce to the eggs and cut off a chunk of braunschweiger for good measure.  Quick, simple, nutritious, filling, and delicious.

 

MovNat Combo “Shuffle Job”

For your viewing pleasure and (hopefully) movement inspiration I made another video of a combo workout I did in my backyard this afternoon. It’s a combo I saw over at http://www.breakingmuscle.com in Erwan Le Corre’s (the founder of MovNat) 4-week MovNat program he did a while back. Obviously, he deserves all the credit for masterminding this combo and for that matter MovNat, so kudos, Erwan!

I wanted to share this mainly because it requires very little planning and minimal equipment. All you need is a 2×4 about 10 feet long or so, a smaller 2×4 or a flat and relatively small rock like I had, and an appropriately sized rock to hold. If you’re attempting this without much MovNat experience I definitely recommend trying it without a rock first, and then start with a light rock until you feel comfortable with a bigger one. Ideally, it would be best to go through the entire 4-week program over at http://www.breakingmuscle.com since the fourth week combos aren’t supposed to be attempted before mastering each skill individually from the previous weeks.

The full 4-week program can be found here: http://breakingmuscle.com/author/erwan-le-corre