Letter: Give cave people some credit

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I usually enjoy Mountain Xpress cartoons, even when I don’t get the joke or know who the characters are. But Brent Brown’s well-meaning offering in the Jan. 30 issue [avl.mx/5od] got me thinking. Why do we always assume that cave people (who were still learning to use tools, or were even good with tools, and — better yet — possibly good with each other) were stupid? Why do we portray them as the lowest intelligences on the planet, when it took the intelligence they (not we) were born with and evolved with to get us smart ones where we are today?

I’ve read about communities in Africa still living primitively in the mid-1900s*, who had minimal tools, no livestock and no shelters (!), and who seemed as simple as you might think cave people were, despite millennia of generations past. These small bands of survivors were anything but stupid! Despite harsh conditions in the closing years of their way of life, they managed to live intelligently, cooperatively and wisely.

They were way ahead socially of where we seem to be today! They each knew their landscape, for example. They knew each other intimately and understood each other’s stories. They knew how to avoid fighting with each other and how to band together with other small groups when it seemed mutually beneficial. Otherwise, they stuck with their own bands, and they passed on to their modest number of children the information about how to thrive, when possible, in the desert, and how to survive, when necessary, without any help from politicians or missionaries.

What if the fact that cave men (or the Bushmen) weren’t glib or hip or intellectually developed (as we would describe it) or particularly celebratory doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand what being alive meant and how to have relationships, raise children and honor the forces that gave them life, sun, rain, food, companionship? What if we created a new model of “cave people” to pass on to our kids that didn’t demean them, and at least once in a while reminded us all that you had to have been a pretty smart, attentive and cooperative sort back then if you were to survive within the patterns of your species and environment? That’s a pattern we’re all going to benefit by emulating!

This cave man portrayal is just one of many absurd myths we would do ourselves service to dismantle. Just sayin’.

* I read about these people in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ books, The Harmless People and The Old Way.

— Arjuna da Silva
Black Mountain


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7 thoughts on “Letter: Give cave people some credit

  1. Jay Reese

    Awesome points. Many scholars share your views and point out that our transition to an agricultural society has had a negative impact on our humanity. War, subjugation of women and children, hierarchies, increased labor and environmental degradation are just a few of the problems created by our giving up a more natural and sustainable way of living. Ironically given our current trajectory those that survive may be forced to adopt the ways of the hunter gatherer.

    • Arjuna da Silva

      Nice to read your response, Jay. Nice to feel heard and in agreement. It seems we’d all benefit from approaching our lifestyles with a devolution plan.

      Many blessings!

    • Think

      They were a helluva lot smarter than anyone today. Proof? They didn’t crap in their own fishbowl. It’s no “evolution,” it’s called “de-evolution,” or regression. Read it and rationalize otherwise, like all the other dummies. Sad.

  2. cecil bothwell

    Studies of the !Kung people established that they work a whole lot less than we moderns do, and spend most of their time singing, telling stories and laughing. Perhaps we’ll get back to their four hour work day when the robots arrive.

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