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