original affluent society

from marshall sahlins (1972) – stone age econ (ch 1) – so page numbers via that

[first number is book page.. 2nd in () is pdf page]

[essay also found here: https://www.uvm.edu/~jdericks/EE/Sahlins-Original_Affluent_Society.pdf]


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1 – The Original Affluent Society

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Is it so paradoxical to contend that hunters have affluent economies, their absolute poverty notwithstanding? Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world’s wealthiest peoples..t The apparent material status of the economy seems to be no clue to its accomplishments; something has to be said for the mode of economic organization

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They lived in a kind of material plenty because they adapted the tools of their living to materials which lay” in abundance around them and which were free for anyone to take.. t (wood, reeds, bone for weapons and implements, fibers for cordage, grass for shelters), or to materials which were at least sufficient for the needs of the population …

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With plenty of most materials at hand to replace artifacts as required, the tKung have not developed means of permanent storage and have not needed or wanted to encumber themselves with surpluses or duplicates . They do not even want to carry one of everything. They borrow what they do not own. With this ease, they have not hoarded, and the accumulation of objects has not become associated with status..t

testart storage law et al

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For most hunters, such affiuence without abundance in the nonsubsistence sphere need not be long debated. A more interesting question is why they are content with so few possessions-for it is with them a policy, a “matter of principle” as Gusinde says (1961, p. 2), and not a misfortune.
Want not, lack not.

On the other hand, movement is a condition of this success, more movement in some cases than others, but always enough to rapidly depreciate the satisfactions of property..t Of the hunter it is truly said that his wealth is a burden. In his condition of life, goods can become “grievously oppressive,” as Gusinde observes, and the more so the longer they are carried around. Certain food collecters do have canoes and a few have dog sleds, but most must carry themselves all the comforts they possess, and so only possess what they can comfortably carry themselves.

graeber and wengrow freedom law

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That wealth quickly becomes more of an encumbrance than a good thing is apparent even to the outsider.. t

Laurens van der Post was caught in the contradiction as he prepared to make farewells to his wild Bushmen friends:
This matter of presents gave us many an anxious moment. We were humiliated by the realization of how little there was we could give to the Bushmen. Almost everything seemed likely to make life more difficult for them by adding to the litter and weight of their daily round. They themselves had practically no possessions: a loin strap, a skin blanket and a leather satchel. There was nothing that they could not assemble in one minute, wrap up in their blankets and carry on their shoulders for a journey of a thousand miles. They had no sense of possession..t (1958,

imagine no possessions.. might say i’m a dreamer.. but i’m not the only one

portability is a decisive value in the local scheme of things. Small goods are in general better than big goods. In the final analysis “the relative ease of transportation of the article” will prevail, so far as determining its disposition, over its relative scarcity or labor cost. For the “ultimate value,” Warner writes, “is freedom of movement.” And to this “desire to be free from the burdens and responsibilities of objects which would interfere with the society’s itinerant existence,..t” Warner attributes the l’v,turngin’s “undeveloped sense of property,” and their “lack of interest in developing their technological equipment”

They do not know how to take care of their belongings. No one dreams of putting them in order, folding them, drying or cleaning them, hanging.. no one clings to his few goods and chattels which, as it is, are often and easily lost, but just as easily replaced …The less they own, the more comfortable they can travel, and what is ruined they occasionally replace. Hence, they are completely indifferent to any material possessions (Gusinde, 1961, pp. 86-87).

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Economic Man is a bourgeois construction-as Marcel Mauss said, “not behind us, but before, like the moral man.” It is not that hunters and gatherers have curbed their materialistic “impulses“; they simply never made an institution of them. “Moreover, if it is a great blessing to be free from a great evil, our [Montagnais] Savages are happy; for the two tyrants who provide hell and torture for many of our Europeans, do not reign in their great forests,-I mean ambition and avarice … as they are contented with a mere living, not one of them gives himself to the Devil to acquire wealth..tY (LeJeune, 1 897, p. 23 1).

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We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they don’t have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free. “Their extremely limited material possessions relieve them of all cares with regard to daily necessities and permit them to enjoy life”..t (Gusinde, 1961, p. 1).

When Herskovits was writing his Economic Anthropology (1958), it was common anthropological practice to take the Bushmen or the native Australians as “a classic illustration of a people whose economic resources are of the scantiest,” so precariously situated that “only the most intense application makes survival possible.” Today the “classic” understanding can be fairly reversed-on evidence largely from these two groups. A good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.. t

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The subsistence quest was highly intermittent. It would stop for the time being when the people had procured enough for the time being, which left them plenty of time to spare. . t

graeber stop at enough law

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perhaps they judge what they consider to be enough, and when that is collected they stop (McArthur, 1 960, p. 92).

Neither did the Arnhem Landers themselves consider the task of subsistence onerous. “They certainly did not approach it as an unpleasant job to be got over as soon as possible, nor as a necessary evil to be postponed as long as possible” .. In any case, the dietary intake of the Arnhem Land hunters was adequate-according to the standards of the National Research Council of America.

vs bs jobs from birth et al

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Much of the time spared by the Arnhem Land hunters was literally spare time, consumed in rest and sleep (see Tables 1.2 and 1.3). The main alternative to work, changing off with it in a complementary way, was sleep

art (by day/light) and sleep (by night/dark) as global re\set.. to fittingness (undisturbed ecosystem)

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When in camp all day they slept at odd times and always after lunch. The women, when out collecting in the forest, appeared to rest more frequently than the men. If in camp all day, they also slept at odd times, sometimes for long periods

The failure of Arnhem Landers to “build culture” is not strictly from want of time. It is from idle hands.
So much for the plight of hunters and gatherers in Arnhem Land. As for the Bushmen, economically likened to Australian hunters by Herskovits, two excellent recent reports by Richard Lee show their condition to be indeed the same (Lee, 1968; 1969). Lee’s research merits a special hearing not only because it concerns Bushmen, but specifically the Dobe section of/Kung Bushmen, adjacent to the Nyae Nyae about whose subsistence-in a context otherwise of “material plenty”-Mrs. Marshall expressed important reservations. The Dobe occupy an area of Botswana where !Kung Bushmen have been living for at least a hundred years, but have only just begun to suffer dislocation pressures.

schooling the world ness.. et al

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Despite a low annual rainfall (6 to 10 inches), Lee found in the Dobe area a “surprising abundance of vegetation.” Food resources were “both varied and abundant,” particularly the energy-rich mangetti nut-“so abundant that millions of the nuts rotted on the ground each year for want of picking”..

The Bushman figures imply that one man’s labor in hunting and gathering will support four or five people. Taken at face value, Bushman food collecting is more efficient than French farming in the period up to World War II, when more than 20 percent of the population were engaged in feeding the rest. Confessedly, the comparison is misleading, but not as misleading as it is astonishing. .. 65 percent of the people “worked 36 percent of the time, and 35 percent of the people did not work at all’” (Lee, 1969, p. 67).
For each adult worker, this comes to about two and one-half days labor per week. (“In other words, each productive individual supported herself or himself and dependents and still had 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 days available for other activities. “) A “day’s work” was about six hours; hence the Dobe work week is approximately 15 hours, or an average of 2 hours 9 minutes per day. Even lower than the Amhem Land ..All things considered, Bushmen subsistence labors are probably very close to those of native Australians

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Also like the Australians, the time Bushmen do not work in subsistence they pass in leisure or leisurely activity. One detects again that characteristic paleolithic rhythm of a day or two on, a day or two off-the latter passed desultorily in camp. Although food collecting is the primary productive activity, Lee writes, “the majority of the people’s time (four to five days per week) is spent in other pursuits, such as resting in camp or visiting other camps

“The conclusion can be drawn that the Bushmen do not lead a substandard existence on the edge of starvation as has been commonly supposed” (1969, p. 73).. t

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Woodburn offers this “very rough approximation” of subsistence-labor requirements: “Over the year as a whole probably an average of less than two hours a day is spent obtaining food” (Woodburn, 1968, p. 54).

Interesting that the Hadza, tutored by life and not by anthropology, reject the neolithic revolution in order to keep their leisure. Although surrounded by cultivators, they have until recently refused to take up agriculture themselves, “mainly on the grounds that this would involve too much hard work.” t9 In this they are like the Bushmen, who respond to the neolithic question with another: “Why should we plant, when there are so many mongomongo nuts in the world?” (Lee, 1968, p. 33). Woodburn moreover did fonn the impression, although as yet unsubstantiated, that Hadza actually expend less energy, and probably less time, in obtaining subsistence than do neighboring cultivators of East Africa

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They are never in a hurry. Quite different from us, who can never do anything without hurry and worry.. t … (Biard

norton productivity law et al

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the people’s expectations of greener pastures elsewhere are not usually disappointed. Consequently their wanderings, rather than anxious, take on all the qualities of a picnic outing on the Tham

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Generally no one need reckon with the danger of hunger, and everyone almost anywhere finds an abundance of what he needs. Why then should anyone worry about food for the futurel . . . Basically our Fuegians know that they need not fear for the future, hence they do not pile up supplies. Year in and year out they can look forward to the next day, free of care …. (Gusinde, 1961, pp. 336, 339).

Gusinde’s explanation is probably good as far as it goes, but probably incomplete. A more complex and subtle economic calculus seems in play-realized however by a social arithmetic exceedingly simple. The advantages of food storage should be considered against the diminishing returns to collection within the compass of a confined locale. An uncontrollable tendency to lower the local carrying capacity is for hunters au fond des choses : a basic condition of their production and main cause of their movement. The potential drawback of storage is exactly that it engages the contradiction between wealth and mobility. It would anchor the camp to an area soon depleted of natural food supplies. Thus immobilized by their accumulated stocks, the people may suffer by comparison with a little hunting and gathering elsewhere, where nature has, so to speak, done considerable storage of her own-of foods possibly more desirable in diversity as well as amount than men can put by.

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Constantly under pressure of want, and yet, by travelling, easily able to supply their (hunter gatherers) wants, their lives lack neither excitement or pleasure (Smyth, 1 878, vol. 1, p. 123).

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If the gross product is trimmed down in comparison with other economies, it is not the hunter’s productivity that is at fault, but his mobility.

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The terms are, cold-bloodedly: diminishing returns at the margin of portability, minimum necessary equipment, elimination of duplicates, and so forth-that is to say, infanticide, senilicide, sexual continence for the duration of the nursing period, etc., practices for which many food-collecting peoples are well known. The presumption that such devices are due to an inability to support more
people is probably true-if “support” is understood in the sense of carrying them rather than feeding them. The people eliminated, as
hunters sometimes sadly tell, are precisely those who cannot effectively transport themselves, who would hinder the movement of family and camp.

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the traditional formulas might be truer if reversed: the amount of work (per capita) increases with the evolution of culture, and the amount of leisure decreases.. t

When Condorcet attributed the hunter’s unprogressive condition to want of “the leisure in which he can indulge in thought and enrich his understanding with new combinations of ideas,” he also recognized that the economy was a “necessary cycle of extreme activity and total idleness.” Apparently what the hunter needed was the assured leisure of an aristocratic philosophe.

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Above all, what about the world today? One-third to one-half of humanity are said to go to bed hungry every night. In the Old Stone Age the fraction must have been much smaller. This is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution. Reverse another venerable formula: the amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture. This paradox is my whole point. Hunters and gatherers have by force of circumstances an objectively low standard of living. But taken as their objective, and given their adequate means of production, all the people’s material wants usually can be easily satisfied..t

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The evolution of economy has known, then, two contradictory movements: enriching but at the same time impoverishing, appropriating in relation to nature but expropriating in relation to man. The progressive aspect is, of course, technological. It has been celebrated in many ways: as an increase in the amount of need-serving goods and services, an increase in the amount of energy harnessed to the service of culture, an increase in productivity, an increase in division of labor, and increased freedom from environmental control. Taken in a certain sense, the last is especially useful for understanding the earliest stages of technical advance. Agriculture not only raised society above the distribution of natural food resources, it allowed neolithic communities to maintain high degrees of social order where the requirements of human existence were absent from the natural order. Enough food could be harvested in some seasons to sustain the people while no food would grow at all; the consequent stability of social life was critical for its material enlargement. Culture went on then from triumph to triumph, in a kind of progressive contravention of the biological law of the minimum, until it proved it could support human life in outer space-where even gravity and oxygen were naturally lacking. Other men were dying of hunger in the market places of Asia. . t It has been an evolution of structures as well as technologies, and in that respect like the mythical road where for every step the traveller advances his destination recedes by two. The structures have been political as well as economic, of power as well as property. They developed first within societies, increasingly now between societies. No doubt these structures have been functional, necessary organizations of the technical development, but within the communities they have thus helped to enrich they would discriminate in the distribution of wealth and differentiate in the style of life. The world’s most primitive people
have few possessions, but they are not poor.

Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization. It has grown with civilization, at once as an invidious distinction between classes and more importantly as a tributary relation-that can render agrarian peasants more susceptible to natural catastrophes than any winter camp of Alaskan Eskimo.. t

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If so, the “original” affluent society will have to be rethought again for its originality, and the evolutionary schemes once more revised. Still this much history can always be rescued from existing hunters: the “economic problem” is easily solvable by paleolithic techniques. But then, it was not until culture neared the height of its material achievements that it erected a shrine to the Unattainable: Infinite Needs.

not only infinite.. but non legit..

need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs

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2 – The Domestic Mode of Production: The Structure of Underproduction





stone age econ

affluence w/o abundance

david on marshall

marshall on culture