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General Interest

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH PRIMITIVE ISOLATED TRIBES?

You see the videos of loin-clothed men shooting arrows at airplanes. You read about the loss of natural habitat for isolated primitive tribes moaning about them like they were Siberian Tigers or something other than human beings. You hear about such people being devastated by diseases that bother almost nobody else these days. They live and function somehow in the most dense and impenetrable reaches of our planet, like theirs is a desirable lifestyle, the natural state of man and they should be left alone. Scientists especially bemoan the fact that society has corrupted their pristine ways. And then they go about studying these people like they were lab rats. Maybe these scientists should go drop dead or study pyramids.

Sounds pretty fishy to me. If it were me living in the jungle picking berries and hunting wild boar with a primitive bow and arrow, I have to think I’d want a piece of that modern society action. You know, a refrigerator, a car, a house made out of something that lasts more than a few seasons, a nice bed, that sort of thing. Maybe a little penicillin for Junior when the chanting and smelly poultices of the witch doctor don’t help the poor kid. That’s probably a better solution to the problems of the various indigenous primitives than all those National Geographic specials and visits from wide-eyed missionaries.

How would you like to be living side by side with the modern world of computers, health care, air travel, air conditioning, education, communication, Beatles music and pizza and you’re stuck in the Stone Age beating flint into arrowheads, chasing deer around the forest and hoping you don’t get bitten by a poisonous snake today? Wouldn’t you feel there’s something wrong with this picture? Do we let these people live out their lives as primitive curiosities for our own amusement? They are certainly not any kind of example of man’s natural state or else we’d all be running around trying to wear out some giant dangerous beast before we can stab it with our pointy sticks while trying desperately not get clawed or gored too badly. Humans build civilizations, make roads, read and write, practice medicine, travel, do our best to improve our lot in life. That’s our natural state, subduing nature as best we can.

These are just people who got left behind. These things happen. Look at the Islamic world, that very large portion of humanity slipping slowly into the rear-view mirror of the rest of the world as they cling to antiquated notions that didn’t make much sense in the first place. Even the Amish are more progressive than that. But at least they have the opportunity to make those choices in full knowledge of what the world has to offer, as dumb as those choices seem. They can’t say they were unaware of options other than enslaving their women, inventing absolutely nothing and longing for religious tyranny. Not so for the isolated primitives, who many governments treat with a “hands off” policy that pretty much dooms them to forty-year life spans in leaky straw huts watching their children die of the flu. Why?

Doesn’t every government have the responsibility to see to it that their citizens have every opportunity to make the most of their lives? Is the existence of isolated primitives “noble and romantic.” To who? Not to them, I bet. Getting rickets and beri-beri on a regular basis and cowering in fear at the sight of a stethoscope hardly qualify as noble traits or a romantic existence. Do they strike some primeval chord in the rest of humanity? Not in this human, who thoroughly enjoys his amenities and wouldn’t mind terribly if I had a few more, thank you very much.

While modern society is very far from perfect, it’s got to beat the hell out of squatting on a stump eating dried lizard until the monsoons stop. And even when the rains do stop, there you are in the middle of nowhere without a news stand or a supermarket in sight, no word on what’s going on in the rest of the world, no idea what the score of last night’s Yankee game was and no prospects of any other kind of life but incessant toil in between bouts with malaria. We’re not doing these people any favors by putting their misery and backwardness on some sort of pedestal to our own dubious fantasies.

All the studies and TV specials about them don’t reveal any special insight into life that they possess, or that they are any more or less murderous than the rest of humanity, or more or less happy or wise or skilled. They have the same human natures we all do, for better or worse. All that “one-ness with nature” hogwash is ridiculous, a longing for a time that never was. All of humanity’s history is marked by mighty efforts to climb out of the same sort of miserable existence that we praise these people for pursuing. Open the doors and let them in already. Screw the fact that they will be traumatized by our modern world. Who isn’t from time to time?

They are not cave men, they are humans with identical brains as ours and can adapt to anything just like everybody else did. If they like, they can always go back to the loin cloths and the flint arrows. Some people do retreat from the world, like monks and survivalists, but that’s their call to do so after having seen the world and found it wanting. When you have been isolated not only by circumstances but also by the conscious decision of the rest of the world to preserve you as a lab rat or a romantic ideal, well, what is that but racism and paternalism? Let’s lift the quarantine on these poor souls and let them in already.

Let scientists study bugs or chimps or something to pass their time and help our brothers and sisters. While we should certainly respect the culture of others, why let that stop us from offering that culture and the people in it the best our world has to offer? Studying that culture while rigorously enforcing their continued primitiveness as a sort of human laboratory control is an unforgivable conceit and an abominable policy towards our fellow man. We’ll never know if we don’t reach out. Primitive, shmimitive. They’re just like you an me and let’s not pretend otherwise just to give some guy with a PhD a job. Hitler’s so-called scientists had similar notions about human medical experiments on “lesser beings” and how does our current social experimentation treatment of these people differ radically from their approach? And who knows? The next Mozart, Gandhi or Einstein might be out there somewhere just waiting for the chance to make all our lives better.

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