Part III: Establishing a Paleolithic I.Q.
The Intelligence of Our Contemporary Ancestors
IT IS DIFFICULT to treat separately the underlying assumptions which are set forth at the beginning. They are so interrelated that to some extent one has to deal with them all at the same time. However, an attempt will be made to give a structure to this section by reviewing first what we know about the intelligence of primitive people viewed in the light of their backwardness or conservatism, and then by considering the relationship between intelligence and the willingness or the desire to be progressive in outlook.
There are reasons why people are backward, which have nothing to do with intelligence, and conversely, there are reasons why people may be highly progressive yet very lacking in wisdom. Those who have come to know primitive people intimately are the first to admit that some of their forms of social behaviour appear to us to be very foolish, but side by side with this apparent capacity for “foolishness” there is almost always found to exist a remarkable amount of very sound wisdom Curiously, the older members of such cultures may be exceedingly wise even when that culture is exceedingly primitive. And, as we shall see, these same older people are very likely to look upon the highly civilized man as both childish and ignorant. A. P. Elkin, (13) a medical man by training, spent some time with the Australian aborigines and was so impressed with the genuine wisdom of some of their witch doctors, a class of people who are usually thought of as complete charlatans, that he wrote a book about them with the odd title Aboriginal Men of High Degree, by which he meant that he was presenting a study of primitive men who had the equivalent of the highest degrees which our universities are able to offer.
13. Elkin, A. P., Aboriginal Men of High Degree, 1944 Queensland University, John M. Macrossan Memorial Lectures, published by Australasian Publications, 1946.
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Of course, technically speaking, these aboriginal M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s could have been no match for our own graduates, but in point of wisdom in dealing with sick people and in dealing with problems which were strictly sociological in nature, these most primitive people were very wise indeed. And it is interesting to read how completely frank these witch doctors were with Elkin, once he had gained their confidence, in admitting that very often the health or recovery of the patient depended as much upon the patient’s faith in the power of the “doctor” to heal as it did in his knowledge of what was wrong with him. Indeed, Elkin says that one of the best proofs of the effectiveness of their treatment and of their honesty lay in the fact that they always sent their own children, when they became ill, to another witch doctor — and not, except as a last resort, to one of the government doctors.
If primitive people have appeared at times to be inhumanly savage and beastly, it has virtually without exception been the direct result of provocation due to the inhumanity and beastliness of the more powerful White Man in his treatment of them. It can be stated almost as a rule that the more primitive a people is, and therefore by modern estimates the more nearly they are like our Paleolithic ancestors, the more ideally humane they have proved to be. Speaking of one tribe of Australian aborigines, (14) Thomson says that the Bindibu when they first had contact with the White Man were “friendly, fearless, poised, and happy.”
Some of the most tragic episodes in human history have accompanied the final stages of the contact between the “civilized” White Man and primitive people when, reduced to utter poverty and degradation, many of these once quite extended societies sang their swan song and disappeared forever. The ultimate extinction of the Tasmanians, as an example, is unbelievably sad and resulted from a final act of barbaric savagery on the part of white settlers in that unhappy island. It leads one to wonder whether even the Nazis were the most brutal of modern oppressors. It is described by Murdock (15) who observes that the colonists regarded the aborigines “not so much as human beings as wild beasts to be ruthlessly exterminated. Even more barbarous in their treatment of the natives were the bushrangers, convicts who had escaped into the bush where they lived a life of brigandage. These outlaws hunted the blacks for sport.” One
14. Bindibu: quoted by John Hillaby, reporting for Mr. Thomson in an article, “Journey into the Stone Age,” in The New Scientist, Feb. 25, 1965, pp.507-509.
15. Murdock, G. P., Our Primitive Contemporaries, Macmillan, 1951, pp.16ff.
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particular individual used to hunt the natives “in order to provide his dogs with meat.” Within a few years the population was reduced from around 5,000 to 203. Twelve years later, in 1847, only 40 remained. In 1876, with the death of the woman, Lawla Rokkh, the Tasmanian race became extinct. As Murdock concludes, “This, in brief, is one chapter in the history of the triumph of ‘civilization’ over ‘savagery’.”
All the studies made of these people show that although, physically speaking their civilization was simple in the extreme, being strictly at the early Paleolithic level, they attached great importance to family life and showed great fondness for their children. Morality, by our standards was high; and although the women were entirely naked, delicacy marked the association of the sexes, and great modesty was shown in the matter of self-exposure. Fidelity in marriage was strictly insisted upon and adultery extremely rare before the coming of the White Man. They believed in a life to come, which was thought to resemble this life except that it was divested of its evils. They were fond of decorating themselves with bright coloured flowers, and their songs, though pitched largely in a minor key, were soft, plaintive and melodious. They did not mutilate their bodies as some higher cultures have done, and the sick were treated with remedies that were evidently of considerable worth. And they had a keen sense of humour. Such, then, is the true picture which emerges of a people who lived at the very bottom of the cultural scale (viewed from the White Man’s point of view), and are by many people believed to be representative of a stage in the development of man which was not merely Paleolithic but even early Paleolithic.
This picture is by no means a solitary one. Indeed, it may safely be said that the “lower” in the scale such societies are found to be, the freer they are apt to be from the kind of barbarism which has been attributed to them. Whenever they have become cruel and savage, it has been under provocation. By nature and undisturbed, they are not savage. There are some authorities who hold that the Australian aborigines, perhaps the next people in the scale of “primitiveness,” are actually the world’s most outstanding sociologists in dealing with interpersonal relationships within their own community. (16)
Increasingly one reads of the passing of such cultures. In 1953, the last of the Australian Dieri died. (17) According to one authority,
16. Levi-Strauss, Claude, Race and History, The Race Question in Modern Science, UNESCO, Paris, 1952, p.27.
17. Dieri: Lee Bingham, “Vanishing Stone Age Men of Australia,” The Montrealer, Nov., 1953, p.44.
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the last of the pure-blood Easter Islanders died in 1914. (18) Less than a decade ago, there remained only seven people of the Tierra del Fuegians who, when Darwin visited them, numbered perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 people. (19)
The pathos that really lies behind such happenings is sharpened now and then by some strange circumstance. A case in point is mentioned by Humboldt who, in 1806, said that in Maypures there was an old parrot still living whose stream of chatter was no longer understood, for he was the only living creature left to perpetuate for a few more years some fragments of the language of the Atures who, being dead, yet continued to rebuke the world which had brought about their extinction. (20) So defenseless have such people been against the weapons and diseases and so-called civilizing influences of the White Man with his strong materialistic bent and his impatience with a system of values that does not favour his own acquisitiveness, that they were often treated with brutal indifference to their common humanness and were looked upon as undesirable animals. It is no wonder that they turned against their oppressors with the ferocity of desperation. Foreman’s eloquent account of what he called “the last trek of the Indians” as the white settlers displaced them in parts of North America, (21) is a record of how completely opposed the value systems of two cultures can be, and what are the inevitable consequences to the less well defended party in the conflict. Not unnaturally, ruthlessness on the part of the White Man led the natives to have recourse to similar forms of savagery — for which they were promptly condemned and judged as being less than human.
Thus it came about that to their seeming poverty of possessions was added a reputation for inhumanness, especially in the treatment of captives; and it is not altogether surprising that the more primitive of such people came to be viewed as backwater survivals of what Homo sapiens must at first have been before the humanizing influences of civilization turned him into “cultured man,” whatever that means. And that such primitive peoples never apparently exploited the territories they occupied in the way that the White Man succeeded in doing once he had dispossessed them, seemed only to demonstrate conclusively that they were incapable of so exploiting the land
18. Easter Islanders: Mrs. Scoresby Routledge, “The Mysterious Images of Easter Island,” in Wonders of the Past, vol.3, Putnam, London, 1924, p.803.
19. Moore, R., Evolution, Life Nature Library, Time Inc., New York, 1962.
20. Atures parrot: quoted by Hugh Miller, The Testimony of the Rocks, Ninno, Edinburgh, 1873, p.231.
21. Foreman, G., The Last Trek of the Indians, University of Chicago Press, 1946.
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because they lacked the mental capacity. Thus was strengthened the common view that very early man whose artifacts showed so many parallels could have been similarly little raised above the animals, both savage in temperament and of low intelligence.
But today, almost too late, it has come to be recognized that such primitive people — where a few still remain — are not mentally incompetent at all. One of the best illustrations of this in modern times is to be found in the continued existence and growing prosperity of the Eskimo, who have, by many writers, been hailed as the nearest possible living representatives of Paleolithic Man that survived into the historic period. The parallelisms between the cultures of the latter and Early Man are not surprising, in a way, since Early Man seems in many places to have lived in a cold hostile environment rather similar to the Arctic environment of the Eskimo. And they therefore created a very similar culture.
These similarities have been widely explored. Boyd Dawkins, (22) towards the end of the last century wrote extensively, especially in his Early Man in Britain, setting forth the similarities between Paleolithic cavemen and modern Eskimos. It is even stated that Paleolithic Man wore gloves very similar in design to those worn by the Eskimo. Many other writers since have reinforced these observations, especially with respect to the design of hunting weapons, harpoons, and such things. There are those who do not agree, however, for example, Frederica de Laguna, (23) who has written at some length on a comparison of Eskimo and Paleolithic art, which she feels are not truly parallel. Nevertheless, more recently the older view has been strongly reinforced, (24) although there is a tendency to equate them with the cultures of the Middle Stone Age rather than the Old Stone Age. Such European Mesolithic traits as pottery lamps, steep-sided conical based cooking pots, and barbed bone, fish and bird spears, occur in prehistoric Eskimo sites. Moreover, geometric designs in European Paleolithic and Mesolithic levels are comparable to bone and ivory designs found in early Eskimo sites. Even more recently, one series of articles designed for the general public by a well-known publisher has set forth pictorially (with the use of some imagination) how well the Eskimo way of life reflects the culture of very Early Man. Here,
22. Dawkins, W. Boyd, Early Man In Britain, Tertiary Period, Macmillan, 1880, pp.238-239.
23. de Laguna, Frederica, “A Comparison of Eskimo and Paleolithic Art,” American Journal of Archaeology, Part I in Oct.-Dec., 1932, pp.447-511, and Part II in Jan.-Mar., 1933, pp.77-107.
24. Krieger, A. D., “New World Culture History: Anglo-America” in Anthropology Today, edited by A. L. Kroeber, University of Chicago Press, 1953, p.246.
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therefore, is Paleolithic Man. What, then, do we know of the intellectual capacity of the Eskimo, by which we might assess the I.Q. of Early Man?
For many years people have written about the Eskimo because they occupy a part of the world which has always had a strange fascination for people. Many who have done duty in the Arctic have spoken of its beauty and its appeal, in spite of the intense cold and the dangers inherent in such an environment. In recent years more and more people of western cultural tradition have been stationed there, many of them being men with a high degree of technical competence. Such people have come increasingly to look upon the Eskimo as being extraordinarily adaptable, quick-witted, mechanically adept, and highly intelligent.
Dr. Erwin Ackerknecht, one of the best of modern authorities in this respect, has said: (25)
The Eskimo is one of the great triumphs of our species. He has succeeded in adapting himself to an environment which offers to man but the poorest chances of survival. . . .
His technical solutions of problems of the Arctic are so excellent that white settlers would have perished had they not adopted many elements of Eskimo technology.
Like most other human beings, the Eskimo had to concern himself with three basic physical needs: the provision of clothing, the building of a shelter, and the obtaining of food. Considering these very briefly, we may note, for example, that Frederick R. Wulsin, an authority on clothing problems in the cold, admitted candidly that there is “no doubt that Eskimo clothing is the most efficient yet devised for extremely cold weather.” (26) And in addressing a scientific symposium in Ottawa in 1955, Dr. O. Solandt stated categorically:
The White Man has not introduced a single item of environmental protection in the Arctic which was not already being used by the natives, and his substitute products are not yet as effective as the native ones. Only in his means of production has he the edge.
It seems that to the Eskimo must probably go the credit for developing what is, strictly speaking, the first “tailored clothing,” and in view of this, perhaps not unnaturally, the first thimbles. (27) We cannot be absolutely sure of this claim to priority because needles of
25. Ackerknecht, Erwin, “The Eskimo’s Fight Against Hunger and Cold,” Ciba Symposia, vol.10, July-Aug., 1948, p.894.
26. Wulsin, Frederick R., “Adaptations to Climate Among Non-European Peoples,” in The Physiology of Heat Regulation and the Science of Clothing, edited by L. H. Newburgh, Saunders, Philadelphia, 1949, p.26.
27. Thimbles: C. W. Jeffreys, A Picture Gallery of Canadian History, vol.1, Ryerson, Toronto, 1924, p.113.
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remarkably modern appearance have been found in some very ancient Paleolithic sites in Europe, a fact which only underscores the parallelisms between the two cultures.
With respect to the provision of shelter, the Eskimo igloo is familiar to almost everyone, but what is not at all familiar to most people is (1) the difficulty of building one, (2) the remarkable size which some of them attain, and (3) their effectiveness in terms of heat insulation. It might be thought that once the idea was conceived, the construction of such a house would be comparatively simple. Actually, it is remarkably difficult to construct a dome without any means of supporting the arch while in the process of completing it. As the wall rises, it converges upon itself. Each new block overhangs more and more until near the top they rest almost in a horizontal plane. The problem is to hold each block in place until the next one ties it in, and then to hold that one until it, too, is tied in place. Given enough hands, the process is not so difficult, but the Eskimos have overcome the problem so effectively that one individual can, if he has to, erect his own igloo single-handed without too much difficulty. The solution is to carry the rising layers of blocks in a spiral instead of in a series of horizontal levels. The starting block is pie-shaped. Thus as each block is added it not only rests on the lower level, but against the last block. One block would simply tend to fall in, and by experience, so do two or even three, when a new layer is started if the tiers are horizontally laid. But the Eskimo method overcomes the problem entirely. The solution is, of course, amazingly simple — once it is known. Most solutions are, when someone has discovered them for us. The problem is to visualize the solution before it exists. We tend to assume we would discover the way quite quickly — but experience shows that this is not true.
The size of some of these igloos is remarkable, often being of the order of eighteen feet in diameter with corresponding headroom, of course. By hanging skins on pegs built into the wall and by correctly designing the floor level so that the cold falls into a “pool” which is avoided by the occupants, and by covering the used areas of floor surface with furs, the Eskimo ends up with a roomy enough dwelling that soon becomes so warm as to require the occupants to strip most of their clothing off.
In obtaining food, the ingenuity of the Eskimo seems almost unlimited. Consider how he deals with one particular problem. Dr. Edward Weyer, in an article properly titled “The Ingenious Eskimo,” has this to say: (28)
28. Weyer, Edward, “The Ingenious Eskimo,” in Natural History, Natural History Museum, New York., May, 1939, pp.278-279.
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Take the Eskimo’s most annoying enemy, the wolf, which preys on the caribou and wild reindeer that he needs for food. Because of its sharp eyesight and keen intelligence, it is extremely difficult to approach in hunting. Yet the Eskimo kills it with nothing more formidable than a piece of flexible whalebone.
He sharpens the strip of whalebone at both ends and doubles it back on itself, tying it with sinew. Then he covers it with a lump of fat, allows it to freeze, and throws it out where the wolf will get it. Swallowed at a gulp, the frozen dainty melts in the wolf’s stomach and the sharp whalebone springs open, piercing the wolf internally and killing it. . .
Such ingenuity is deceiving in its very simplicity, yet this simplicity is characteristic of almost everything he does. He makes hunting devices of all kinds that are effective, inexpensive in time, easily repaired, and use only raw materials immediately available. His harpoon lines have floats of blown-up skins attached so that the speared animal is forced to come up to the surface if he dives. To prevent such aquatic animals from tearing off at high speed dragging the hunter and his kayak, he attaches baffles to the line which are like small parachutes that drag in the water. All he needs is a bone hoop, a skin diaphragm stretched over it, and some thongs. To locate the seal’s movement under the ice, he has devised a stethoscope which owes nothing to its modern western counterpart but works on the same principle. (29)
Recently, a native “telephone” was discovered in use made entirely from locally available materials, linking two igloos that were several hundred feet apart with a system of intercommunication, the effectiveness of which was demonstrated on the spot to a Hudson’s Bay agent, a Mr. D. B. Marsh. At the end of his report, Marsh makes this statement: (30)
The most amazing thing of all was that although doubtless they may have heard of them from their friends who from time to time visit Churchill, no one in that camp had ever seen a telephone.
Moreover, it is exceedingly unlikely that any of these friends who had seen the telephone would ever have seen the kind of arrangement this Eskimo had devised which, of course, used no batteries. As children, we used to make a similar kind of thing with string threaded through the bottom of a tin can, but they were never of much use; whereas in this case the Eskimo had used fur around the diaphragm to cushion it and the sound came through quite as well as it often does on country phones of modern design. The Eskimo has developed
29. Stethoscope: an illustration of such an instrument is given by A. Goldenweiser, ref.10, p.85.
30. Marsh, D. B., “Inventions Unlimited,” Dec., 1943; p.40, The Beaver, The Hudson’s Bay Co., Dec. 1943, p.40.
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another item for outdoor use which the White Man has likewise found indispensable in the Arctic, namely, snow goggles. I have in my possession a pair of these, of native manufacture, and it is doubtful if they are any less efficient in protecting the eyes against a very unpleasant ailment of snow blindness than the more sophisticated White Man’s product which was patterned after them. They also have this advantage that they never fog up in the cold, which manufactured goggles are very apt to do.
The Eskimos, unlike many other primitive people who somehow suffered rather than gained by contact with the White Man, have proven themselves well able to adapt to the mechanics of our civilization. They are adept in handling machinery, and not only quickly learn how to use sewing machines but also how to repair them. Similarly the repair of watches seems to present no problem to them.
When we are assured that Paleolithic Man made and used the same kind of weapons, clothed himself with the same kind of raw materials in an environment which must have been very similar at times, and hunted the same kinds of animals for a livelihood, it is difficult to believe that he was less intelligent. The slouching, half-brute creatures which adorn (?) the pages of books for popular consumption dealing with our earliest ancestors, might very well rise up in indignation against us for our gross misrepresentation of their intellectual capacity.
When we find that all those primitive people of recent or modern times who have been taken as representatives of man in his earliest stages of evolution are people who, upon better acquaintance, prove themselves to be intelligent, musical, creative within the limits of their environment, peaceable, fond of their children, and with a highly developed sense of morality and social responsibility within their own group, it is clear either that the choice of them as models of Early Man is entirely wrong, or Early Man had all the capacities of which modern men can boast.
It should be admitted that the older view of such primitive societies as supplying us with a picture of what Early Man was like, has fallen into disfavour as those societies have come to be better understood. It has turned out that the word “primitive” is no longer strictly appropriate. In the recent well known Life publication, The Epic of Man, (31) a chapter is devoted to a dramatization of the daily life of one tribe of Australian aborigines and one family of Caribou Eskimo. The chapter is entitled, “Stone Age Cultures of Today,”
31. By the Editors of Life Magazine, The Epic of Man, Time Inc., New York, 1961, pp.243f.
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and in the introductory paragraphs, it is stated that “these are people of the twentieth century who still hunt, eat, and obey codes and taboos just as all men did in the Stone Ages.” The section which deals with the Caribou Eskimo is accompanied by a number of photographs taken prior to the very recent contact of these people with the White Man’s civilization which occurred as late as 1949, and these photographs are then said to “stand as a record of patterns of living little changed from those evolved by Middle Stone Age Man, some 10,000 years ago.”
It is true that Middle Stone Age Man is, by many standards of assessment, recent. But some of the other primitive societies, such as the Tasmanians for example, have customarily been taken to reflect Old Stone Age man. The point of importance here is that no matter how primitive these living examples have been found to be in terms of the kind of artifacts which would survive the passage of time if buried in the ground and which would thus be taken by future archaeologists as a means of assessing their status as human beings, we know in point of fact that such people are essentially no different from ourselves. Their chief lack was, or is, a dearth of sources of power and tools to master their environment, and a sophisticated form of keeping written records. As we shall see, the absence of these things gives to their culture a primitive aspect which belies the true character of the people themselves.
Well established habits of thought die hard and the popular press, even when it pretends to being scientific, does little to dispel the view that the simplicity of their culture is due to their being, individually, very low in the evolutionary scale of Homo sapiens. Anthropologists themselves in their more serious moments repudiate this view entirely, yet when addressing the general public through the medium of the popular press they have a tendency to support the common view.
However, it may be worthwhile pointing out that although they do in fact repudiate the view that these people are truly representative of Paleolithic Man, they do so because they believe that such primitive societies no longer qualify as acceptable models. Upon closer acquaintance they have been found to be far too intelligent — which the earliest human beings, they say, cannot possibly have been. We thus find a curious twist in the development of anthropological theory which first of all seized upon them as undeniable proofs that early man was very primitive and lacking in intelligence, and then had to confess that the analogy was not sound because they turned out to have far too much intelligence. But the public has not been
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allowed yet to observe this little comedy of errors because, if a little muddled thinking is allowed, the analogy still has considerable heuristic value.
In such articles as that so beautifully illustrated in The Epic of Man, the reader is being invited to draw the conclusion for himself that these really are representatives of Stone Age types. What is seldom pointed out in this kind of article, as far as I have been able to determine, is that any one of the individuals thus portrayed is capable, if taken young enough and given the right opportunities and environment, of proving himself as educable and as intelligent and as forward-looking as ourselves. One is forced to conclude that if any one of their very ancient forbears in Europe and elsewhere of Paleolithic times, whose artifacts suggest they were living at the same kind of cultural level, had been set down in a modern industrial community and protected against the environment as we are protected and nurtured in childhood as we are nurtured and educated as we are educated, he would have been as intelligent and forward-looking as any of us moderns. We can say this with some measure of confidence because we now have a better understanding of the capabilities of native people who, in individual cases, have had these opportunities and have easily demonstrated their competence. Frithjof Schoon has recently said: (32)
The mental distance between a living so-called “primitive” and a “civilized” person is regarded as equivalent to thousands of years, but experience proves that this distance, where it exists, is equivalent to no more than a few days, for man is everywhere and always man.
Theodosius Dobzhansky a little while ago observed: (33)
The cranial capacity of the Neanderthal race of Homo sapiens was on the average equal to or even greater than that in modern man. Cranial capacity and brain size are, however, not reliable criteria of “intelligence” or intellectual abilities of any kind. The painters of the Altamira and Lascaux Caves may have been no less talented than Picasso.
As a matter of fact, for all we know, we may actually have in our possession some of their fossil remains — yet we reconstruct their cranial fragments to look appropriately primitive, if not brutal, and reward ourselves with congratulations upon our own cultural superiority. Yet most of us could scarcely draw a thing! Dobzhansky said, “It is indeed possible, though not proved, that even if we were
32. Schoon, Frithjof, Light on the Ancient Worlds, Perennial Books, London, 1965, pp.107-108.
33. Dobzhansky, Theodosius, “Changing Man,” Science, vol.156, 1967, p.410, 411.
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brought up to lead the life of our Paleolithic ancestors we would be less efficient in their environment than they were.” (34)
A few years ago it was reported that an Australian aborigine named Harold Blair, then 24 years of age, was writing his Ph.D. thesis on 15th and 16th century composers. It was stated that he spoke German, Italian, and English fluently. (35) At a time when the successful education of the children of such primitive people was a matter of great surprise, there were many such reports. The Hon. J. M. Creed, (36) writing in the well-known English journal, Nineteenth Century (it is now called Nineteenth Century and After) in 1905, gave a number of striking illustrations. Repeatedly the writer states that these Australian aborigine children not only held their own against white children but very frequently indeed showed themselves to be superior in intelligence. Similar reports appeared in the English journal Nature towards the end of the last century. (37) This is admitted every so often by various anthropologists. Robert Braidwood, in his useful little book Prehistoric Men has an intriguing series of illustrations in which flint weapons and tools are imposed over their modern counterparts in order to show how closely the ancient designs anticipated modern ones, or, in other words, how little we have really improved on their basic design, per se. (38)
We have to be careful how we judge lower cultures, especially when we have information only about the simplicity of their weapons and commodities. And since we do have plenty of evidence that their children can make first class scholars when given opportunity, we ought to bear this in mind when assessing the intelligence of early man. Kenneth Oakley recently pointed this out: (39)
We have no reason to infer that all Early Paleolithic Men had brains qualitatively inferior to those of the average man today. The simplicity of their culture can be accounted for by the extreme sparseness of the population and their lack of accumulated knowledge. A supposed hall-mark of the mind of Homo sapiens is the artistic impulse — but archaeological evidence suggests that this trait manifested itself almost at the dawn of tool making.
A corollary of the argument that Paleolithic Man was not essentially
34. Ibid., p.411.
35. Harold Blair: reported by Canada Press, in Toronto Evening Telegram, Mar. 17,1949.
36. Creed: quoted by E. L. Heermance, The Unfolding Universe, Pilgrim Press, New York, 1915, p.170.
37. See Nature, vol,40, 1889, p.634.
38. Braidwood, Robert J., Prehistoric Men, Popular Series, Anthropology #37, Chicago Natural History Museum, 1948.
39. Oakley, Kenneth, “The Evolution of Human Skill,” in A History of Technology, edited by Singer, Holmyard, and Hall, vol, Oxford, 1957, p.27.
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different in mental capacity from ourselves is, of course, that we are not ourselves essentially different from Paleolithic Man in mental capacity. Jacobs and Stern observed, “Available knowledge supports the conclusion that during the Pleistocene epoch following the appearance of fire and of cutting tools of stone, the mental potentialities . . . were equal, and have continued to be equal ever since.” (40) This is quite generally agreed upon today, at least to the extent that it is freely admitted that our children are not in any way mentally superior when they begin their education. Robert Briffault observed: (41)
It may be doubted whether the modern civilized individual differs greatly as regards inherited capacities from his ancestors of the Stone Age; the difference between savagedom and civilization is not organic but cultural. The increase in our knowledge of ancient types of man has, in some respects, accentuated rather than attenuated the abruptness of the transition from animality to humanity; the oldest human remains and the tools associated with them indicate a brain capacity which is not markedly, if at all, inferior to that of existing races.
Indeed, the anthropologist, William Howells, (42) considered that “there are no signs whatever to indicate that the Neanderthals were our inferiors in intelligence,” and he adds that this could in fact be “a statement which is more flattering to us than to them.”
Sir Alfred Zimmern, in one of the Oxford Pamphlets on World Affairs, after speaking briefly on how the barbarities of World War II were shattering our naive beliefs in automatic linear progress, said: (43)
We know today that these hopes were unwarranted. Acquired characters are not inherited, at least not in any form or degree which are relevant for sociologists and political scientists. For all practical purposes, the material of human nature, the stock of instincts and impulses, of qualities and attitude, with which our statesmen have to contend is the same as that with which not merely Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar but the tribal leaders of the Stone Age had to deal.
Every baby that is born . . . is a Stone Age baby. . . . It is the problem of primitive man in the modern world.
We are dealing here with early man, not with so-called ape-men or creatures who are hopefully presented as missing links between men and apes. We are comparing the intelligence of modern man with the intelligence of the earliest identifiable men. The point is important because we are not trying to prove anything more than that the earliest true men were quite as intelligent as ourselves, and
40. Jacobs, Melville and B. J. Stern, Outline of Anthropology, Barnes and Noble, New York 1947, p.29.
41. Briffault, Robert, “Evolution of Human Species,” in The Making of Man, edited by V. F. Calverton, Modern Library, New York, 1931, p.763.
42. Howells, W., Mankind So Far, Doubleday Doran, New York, 1945, p.166.
43. Zimmern, Sir Alfred, The Prospects of Civilization, Oxford Pamphlets on World Affairs, 1939, p.23.
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that the simplicity of their culture was not because they were nearer to the apes than modern man is but because of other circumstances which are entirely historical (i.e., in no sense biological), which we shall examine subsequently. Goldenweiser was speaking the simple truth when he wrote: (44)
Broadly speaking there is no such thing as a primitive mind; primitive man is potentially like modern man or any other kind of man. . . . Primitive mind is primitive because it is rooted in a primitive culture.
The truth of the matter is that the intelligence of a man expresses itself only so far as his cultural milieu will allow it to, and if for historical reasons this cultural environment is conservative rather than progressive, the individuals who are born into it will seldom have the opportunity to display their intellectual potential, and by the time they are mature, even the desire to think independently will have virtually disappeared. What are the factors, then, in a primitive society which render its spirit so intensely conservative, stifling initiative and leading first to stagnation and, then, all too frequently, to degeneration?
A small group of even the most intelligent people in a hostile environment and without any of the resources that we now take for granted may find itself, after having been pressured into this position from behind (a subject which is discussed at some length in another Doorway Paper), (45) placed in such a position that the margin of survival is so tenuous that only dependable and well-tried techniques of obtaining food, clothing, shelter, and warmth can afford to be countenanced. An experimental failure can mean the demise of the experimenter and his family, a real possibility in many situations, which discourages curiosity as it discourages the development of all arts which are not strictly practical in their aim. There is plenty of evidence that primitive people, in areas where the struggle to survive is intense, have tended to relinquish one by one certain less essential elements of their cultural heritage simply because the total life of the community had reached such a low ebb that there was neither the energy nor the will to sustain them. In a few extreme cases we have a situation in which the community is rather like a man inadequately protected against extreme cold. He stands shivering and restless at first until he finds a spot that offers some shelter, if not from the cold at least from the wind. Gradually he draws himself in, wraps himself about, as it were, with his own body in the desperate need to
44. Goldenweiser, A., ref.10, p.407.
45. “Primitive Cultures: Their Historical Origins”, Part II in Genesis and Early Man, vol.2 in The Doorway Papers Series.
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conserve heat. Movement of any kind becomes more and more of a threat to comfort and he therefore extends himself less and less. He finally reaches the ultimate position in which heat conservation in vital areas is maximum — and fearful of making the slightest move, he slowly freezes to death.
He may know, in the early stages of the ordeal, that he could do something else besides merely conserving heat. He may know quite well that if only he will break away and be active he can generate heat. But starting with little enough energy and soon having even less will, the idea of changing his position becomes less and less attractive and his refusal to act is soon justified on the ground that he would only be risking the present small comfort for an initial discomfort, the advantages of which cannot be guaranteed. So he moves as little as possible and seeks comfort and assurance by making no changes. That this comfort steadily diminishes is compensated for, in part, by the fact that as the life processes grow steadily feebler, so does the urge to do something about it becomes less. Ultimately, of course, he dies – -as primitive cultures die in like manner once the margin of survival has become small enough.
Now, while all this is true of primitive cultures within the historic period, it may not have been true, of course, of Paleolithic Man. Paleolithic Man was perhaps not always being pressured from behind, but he did share this in common with modern primitive cultures, that he had very small resources in terms of power and cultural heritage and was in the truest possible sense of the term pioneering in virtually every step he took. Any solutions that he found to the pressing problems of providing food, clothing, shelter, and warmth which were at least for the time being sufficient for his immediate needs, tended to be preserved unchanged as long as the margin of survival was small. Only after there came to be a measure of superfluity was there time to sit back and think of other ways of doing things. We have tremendous power resources at our finger tips, a fact which provides us with leisure to rethink. We have learned how to dominate our environment to a large extent. Grahame Clark, (46) in his book From Savagery to Civilization, has made some interesting calculations on the total power resources in the whole of Europe in Paleolithic times and concludes that it was probably less than the power available to us now in one single well designed gasoline engine.
This consciousness of power gives us a very different feeling towards the forces of Nature. Early Man, like primitive man, had no
46. Clark, Grahame, From Savagery to Civilization, Cobbett, London, 1946, p.28.
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such assurance, and this lack of assurance persisted well into the historical period of Egyptian and Babylonian times, and is reflected in earlier forms of religion. His view of reality led him to seek to enter into a contract with the powers of Nature whereby, if he fulfilled certain obligations and avoided certain “intrusions,” he expected Nature to do the same with him. To man in such a precarious position, the feeling of community with Nature is very close. She must not be offended in any way, or, for example, the caribou will not come back to provide food and raiment next winter, and the rains will not come to fertilize the seed planted hopefully in the parched desert, and so forth.
The simplicity of a culture bears upon the ingenuity of its solutions to the problems of getting food. Nature is sensitively balanced as we know only too well, and primitive people are aware of this, though they treat the word “sensitively” in its psychological sense. A rabbit, a bird, a fish, or a bear must be killed respectfully and cooked in the proper way. One does not cook certain forms of life together, simply because these forms of life are antagonistic in Nature. The Indians of North America were horrified at the first plows of iron used by the White Man. One should use wood which grows out of the earth, if one wishes to plow Mother Nature. Nor should a steel knife be used to cut fish, but only bone, because the fish are accustomed to having bone in their flesh. When killing certain types of animals, such as bears, one apologized, especially if bears were scarce, so that the spirit of the bear would go away peaceably and return again in due time. The Naskapi Indians always had a threefold Blessing for food before eating it: “Thank you Creator, for sending the Caribou; thank you Caribou, for being obedient and coming; and thank you Cook, for preparing it so well.”
This meant that one did not simply go out and kill animals. There was a wrong way and a right way, a dangerous way and a safe way. The safe and proper way must be taught to the rising generation. It usually involved a great deal of sound factual knowledge. The chains of cause and effect were more carefully noted than we are apt to suppose: but the interpretation was entirely different from ours. Yet it worked. When it was a matter of life and death, observation had to be precise and clear.
But another important consideration in this transfer of exact knowledge and skill is the fact that there were no written records of it. This inevitably made the older members of the community the only “knowing” or educated people. A young man could not short circuit experience by reference to a handbook that at times might
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make him more knowing than his teacher. He had to learn the correct way to kill and prepare a bear or a bird from an older man. And when learning is the preserve of the older members of the community, it is far more conservative, for only youth wants to change things all the time.
Besides, animals and people are related. One had to be careful not to kill a relative. The Australian aborigines believe that at one time animals and men were kind of animal-men creatures. Then one day they were separated. Some men parted from a kind of ostrich-man, some from a rabbit-man, some from a walla-walla-man, and so forth. Thus each tribe has a totem or brother animal that is taboo as food, since it is a relative. Once a year however, a ceremonial communion feast is held in which the men dress up like their totem animal, and eat the flesh of that particular animal ceremonially. This unites the tribe with its animal brothers, and momentarily restores the ancient days before the division existed. These feasts are very solemn occasions. All kinds of ritual are prescribed. The slightest error in recitation or dance step or body movement or “table manners” can be fatal, for the ostrich or the rabbit will be offended and will then warn all the other animals which are not taboo as food, and the plants too, of the unworthiness of the tribe to be permitted to continue its existence. So there is much to learn, and it is learned only by rote, not by understanding. And the movements, dances, and costumes are learned from the older men in secret and cannot be learned any other way.
The Australian is no exception in this, though better known because many of his traditional beliefs have survived into the present. But what is true of the aborigine in Australia is true of the Eskimo, the American Indian, and the African native. We distinguish between the supernatural and the natural with a kind of precision that is totally beyond the native. To him, there is no such division. The contract between man and the world about him was always a contract between persons, though he himself was a very minor party in this agreement.
Such guarantees for the safety of the community were carried out only by the older men who knew how. There were no short-cuts for precocious children, any more than we would send an inexperienced youth on a very grave mission to some powerful monarch. Nature was not considered as It, but as Thou, and the relations between men and Nature were personal, not impersonal. The forces of Nature were more like Wills than forces, just as the characteristics of things were Characters. One did not ask, “What happened?” One
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asked, “Who did it?” The kind of question determined the kind of search. Cause and effect were interpreted accordingly. Thus in the presence of any situation that demanded attention, the attitude of the individual was one of involvement. In exactly the same way that we cannot normally treat people as things (doctors are therefore reluctant to operate on their relatives), in this same way these people could not stand in the presence of Nature as a “thing.” The native lore of the American Indians has a real beauty to it — it is the beauty of long experience with life and it is not communicated quickly. Education in such a society is education in wisdom, as well as in knowledge — indeed, more than in knowledge.
Moreover, in such a personal view, the concept of experimenting to “find out” is akin to sacrilege. It seems to the native rude and improper to tamper with things just to see what would happen. Events are not analyzed intellectually, they are experienced individually. Emotional involvement concentrates all attention on the detailed present, and freedom for the objective association of ideas in the past is virtually denied. Man becomes entangled in the immediacy of his perceptions. This attitude is viewed as the proper one. It is analogous to “paying attention” and “being respectful.” Such a precept was taught as fundamental to survival to every youngster about to become a man. It formed the basis of his search for a vision to guide him in the choice of an emblem or guardian spirit. He had to find some special “power” in Nature with whom to establish specific relations as a kind of go-between or mediator.
The sense of weakness in the face of the Wills of Nature is very marked, and it even continued to a large extent in Europe until the Greeks challenged it. Among the Hebrews it was converted from “superstition” to reverence, and awe: but the idea of tampering with Nature was still quite abhorrent. The world continued to be confronted not with detachment, but as equally involved in the service and worship of God. Hence the strong element of animation in the Psalms. We may interpret this now as being one way of declaring the appropriateness of God’s every created thing. But to the Hebrew it was probably something more than this. Even in Babylonia and in Egypt, man in society accompanied the principal changes in nature with appropriate rituals, which were viewed not as merely symbolic but as “willed” counterparts, part and parcel of the cosmic events. Man shared in these events, just as the Hopi rainmaker shares in the making of rain. The same clearly is true of early China. The festivals are but later reflections of such ancient beliefs, though they have lost
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much of their meaning because of cultural changes induced by contacts with the West.
There is logic in much of what is done. The Hopi stamps his feet to wake up the earth so that it will be quite ready to receive the rain that heaven is about to give. Some things are more alive than others. Fire is particularly so. But then some animals are more alive than others, so it seems. When a man makes an image of an enemy and commits this to the flames, he is asking the fire to judge between him and his foe. If the fire burns the image furiously, the fire has given a clear decision in his own favour. It would not occur to a native to ask whether perhaps the wood of the image was particularly dry, and therefore burnt quickly on that account. The fire was asked to give a clear decision, and this decision was given. That settles the matter.
Frankfort summarized this view so manifest in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where, though culture was certainly not “primitive” in the accepted sense, the attitude towards nature persisted for a surprising length of time, thus showing how strong such feelings can be: (47)
The Universe did not, like ours, show a fundamental bipartition into animate and inanimate, living and dead, matter. Nor had it different levels of reality: anything that could be felt, experienced, or thought had thereby established its existence, was part of the cosmos. In the Mesopotamian Universe everything, whether living being, thing, or abstract concept — every stone, every tree, every notion — had a will and a character of its own.
World order, the regularity and system observable in the Universe, could accordingly be conceived of in only one fashion: an order of wills. The Universe as an organized whole was a Society, a State.
In this State man was very powerless. Even animals had more power at times; and of course earthquakes, thunder and lightning, mighty floods, and eclipses were over-powering in their willful destruction and terrifying aspects. Such forces are not to be played with.
Thus it was important to be able to discern Nature’s mood of the moment. One must always be on the lookout for evidences of enmity or disapproval in Nature. The slightest irregularity in events boded ill for the observer. It is no wonder, therefore, that the exception — not the rule — was the object of chief interest. Signs and omens, not laws, were the centre of attention. Education was intended to render this awareness more acute. Moreover if one can cajole or persuade Nature to be friendly or merciful towards onself, obviously one ought to be able to persuade Nature to be injurious to an enemy. So arises the use of both White and Black Magic, and the battle of
47. Frankfort, H. et al., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, University of Chicago Press, 1946, p.149.
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“lobbyists” in this giant republic begins. Education becomes not merely a matter of learning to preserve the cultural values and skills as such, but also of learning to preserve oneself in a rather hostile environment where conspiracy is rampant and where true safety lies in knowing either the right people (spirits) or the right formulae (i.e., rituals). The exactness of one’s response was all important. Errors could be fatal.
The more precarious the society, the more suspicious will it be of the exceptional or outstanding individual; and the less favoruable will it be to innovations either in word or deed on the part of one of its members. Such innovations can only have a secret and dangerous meaning. There is no room for the brilliant child or for the individualist in the clan.
All these considerations have a profound bearing on the problems of the education of the next generation and therefore the future evolution of the culture itself. In the first place, the whole emphasis would be upon the survival of the community as a whole, and not upon the encouragement of the individual as such. Conformity would be the watchword, preservation of existing knowledge the goal. In a situation where the old men hold the keys of knowledge, tradition and conservatism rule the day. Youth has no power to effect changes. Furthermore, the older men would be jealous of the younger man who proved exceptionally gifted. Since the method of injuring one’s enemies is by the use of magic in which the old men are skilled and the young are not, a young man dare not risk running foul of a superior. Discretion rules the day and serves very nicely to discourage ambition before it can feed upon itself and express itself overtly.
The main emphasis in all education of this sort is on memorization rather than on creative mental activity. The young are taught to learn, not to think. Since a creative mind must create or cease to be creative, any who might have had new insights and new ideas were soon rendered mentally docile and inactive for lack of encouragement.
But this leads naturally to a consideration of inventions. What happens when a man has a new idea — can he introduce it? The answer is, yes and no. He may introduce it if it does not conflict with an already existing pattern in the society. Too much is involved, too many ramifications, to permit much disturbance. It is analogous to the “disappearance” of the occasional invention of, say, a new carburetor that cuts down gas consumption by 75%. The oil companies cannot allow this, so it is said. However, the rejection of such an invention in our culture is a completely rationalized and objective one; in other cultures it may be an emotional one.
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Let us say that an invention appears which does not conflict with existing patterns, and is accepted. Then what happens? Can it be improved upon? Again, the answer is Yes and No. Yes, by the originator; No, by anyone else. To attempt to improve the invention is an insult to its inventor. It is analogous to adding a mustache to a friend’s photograph to improve his appearance. We just don’t do that kind of thing, even if we are sure it will improve his appearance and sure that he will never see it again.
In the same way that every symbol is wedded to the “thing” for which it stands and which called it forth, so every invention is wedded to the circumstance which called it into being. It cannot be used by transfer in some other application. It is just conceivable that wheels, for example, were first used for toys in the New World, and that for this reason they were never subsequently applied to larger vehicles. (48) It is however, true also that they had no draft animals. Yet wheeled platforms could have been used for the moving of stones, etc., especially in view of their road systems. At any rate, to divorce the invention from its inventor or its original application was not wise. This is not so strange really, for anyone in our society with an inventive mind will experience the same kind of feeling of identity with his invention and will tend to resent its modification unless the modification is initiated by himself. It seems like robbery otherwise. Thus even though the originator was dead, his spirit could be dangerously offended if his invention were in any way changed. So development, the evolution of civilization, was restrained by such beliefs. On the other hand, a stranger could introduce a new idea, and it might be welcomed — if it did not conflict with other elements in the culture. If the stranger then withdrew his invention could be safely modified. His spirit was no longer around to make such activity dangerous. But again, if a native of the culture radically modified the invention, it could then come to be identified as his invention and thenceforth its modification was taboo.
It was also important, in this exchange of ideas, that the right kind of person sponsor the innovation at the beginning. A king who favoured some device of no value whatever could “stick” his people with it for the rest of their cultural history. But an unpopular or despised member of a society who happened to be the first contact to introduce a new device would thereby cast a shadow over it so that it might never gain acceptance no matter how desirable it was intrinsically.
48. For a photograph of a wheeled toy, see P. Herrman, Conquest by Man, Harper, New York, 1954, fig.32; and for a short bibliography, see K. Macgowan, Early Man in the New World, Macmillan, 1950, p.2-6, ref. 2.
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This is not only true of new devices — it is equally true of new ideas. As Robert Lowie said: (49)
Training, accordingly, was not in the interests of expanding but of preserving knowledge: and if new observations ran palpably counter to the old they were not treasured but discarded. The conscious striving by trained workers to increase knowledge regardless of past convictions is unknown in primitive and early cultures.
In a primitive society the community largely takes precedence over the individual, and communities as such are not progressive. The individual provides the motive power for revision of the status quo. It was Lebzelter who formulated the principle that small communities are variant in physical type but homogeneous in culture, whereas large societies tend toward the opposite in each case — uniform in physical type but more variant in cultural patterns. (50) The variability of physical type is due to the existence of mutant genes which have a better chance of finding phenotypic expression homozygously in a small community. The cultural pattern is, however, uniform, because there is not sufficient room for a man with different tastes.
There is a parallel in modern society. The individual worker feels so powerless in the presence of a strong employer. Only by identifying himself with a union can he feel secure. A small culture with little total power in the face of Nature presents the same condition, and the individual within it has only one hope in the struggle, and that is to identify himself completely with the group which then acts as a “giant self.” The odd man, the individualistic thinker, is suspect, just like the man who refuses to join the union. Clive Bell put it well. The native who stops to think in such a society runs the risk of stopping altogether. (51) By the same token the little man cannot afford to arouse the suspicions of his union.
Now, under such circumstances, as early societies developed, there would be an increasing measure of control of the environment until some degree of personal liberty would be permissible. Yet so long as the feeling of kinship with an all powerful Cosmos existed, such individualism would be restricted. The ideal of an Egyptian “gentleman,” was a man who never disturbed things. The same has been true in Chinese society. It was true in England until new forces came into play which upset the old accepted patterns.
49. Lowie, Robert, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 2nd edition., Farrar, New York 1940, p.336.
50. Lebzelter, Viktor, quoted by Wilhelm Koppers, Primitive Man and His World Picture, Sheed and Ward, London, 1952, p.219, ref.252
51. Bell, Clive, Civilization, Penguin Books, 1938, pp.43, 44.
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Even the expression of emotion is discouraged, for it reveals the inner feelings to who knows what hostile invisible (or visible) forces. If one must express feelings, then they are to be shown violently, as a warning. This is the way primitive man thinks about such things.
Goldenweiser has spoken of the occasional new insight and its fate. (52) He said:
It is, of course, inevitable with man that deliberation and therefore awareness will here and there break into the course of the industrial process. But the spark of intellectual discernment flickers but for a moment, presently to go out again. What is passed on to the following generation is the objective result, not the intellectual insight. This is so because these pursuits, one and all, are direct and pragmatic. What is aimed at is achievement, not understanding.
He thus referred to such culture growth as being by involution rather than by evolution: (53)
This feature has often been commented on by observers of primitive life. The all pervading ceremonialism of the Todas, the interminable exchanges of presents attending Trobriand marriages, the minute apportionment of a hunting booty among the Central Australians (just such and such a piece to such and such a relative), the elaborateness of Maori or Marquesan Art (arts that overreach themselves), the ravages of taboo in Polynesia (taboo run amok) — all of these and many similar cultural traits exhibit development by involution.
So each society permits development by slight changes in the existing pattern but always within itself. An extra little kick of the foot in a ceremonial dance, a new gesture added (at first with much trepidation) in a traditional pantomime, a very slight change of angle in a pattern used for vase decoration. And so on. By these, men preserved some small measure of individualism.
But extraordinary limitations were placed on ritual modifications, simply because in the ritual the whole universe, including the society performing it, was personally involved as a single unit. The “crowd” character here asserted itself enormously. The individual had ceased to exist. Yet not entirely, for the group was drawn into one person and personally represented by the king or priest.
In all this, preservation is the watchword. Tradition is the wisdom of the ages. The old men were its repositories, and they kept their knowledge in secret societies to which no youngster was admitted.
This pattern of distrust for innovation survived even in Europe and England until remarkably recent times. The reception accorded a series of inventions which we take for granted now was at first uniformly hostile. Samuel Martin made a special study of this some
52. Goldenweiser, A., ref.10, p.411.
53. Ibid., p.414.
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years ago. (54) Among the products to which great resistance was offered he listed coal, printing, the ribbon loom, the stocking loom, table forks, the sawmill, the steam engine, tea, the spinning jenny, steamboats, railways, the use of gas, macadamized roads, and some other items that seem essential to us today, which were at first refused in almost every case on the grounds that they would upset the status quo of society.
We have a series of chains of cause and effect. No matter how intelligent early man may have been, when he faced Nature with very limited resources without the prophetic vision that such resources as we have would ever become available, he must have quickly learned (as primitive people show) to come to terms with Nature, not by dominating it but by identifying himself with it mystically. The sheer impotence of man thus situated when faced with the prodigious powers of Nature as well as the built-in wisdom of the animal world, must have been so driven home to him that he had no alternative but to adopt a very humble attitude, looking upon himself not as the lord of creation but as one of the feeblest and least wise of all creatures. As Childe put it: (55)
Man is now, and was apparently even at his first appearance in the Pleistocene, inadequately adapted for survival in any particular environment. His bodily equipment for coping with any special set of conditions is inferior to that of most animals. He has not, and probably never had, a furry coat like the polar bear’s for keeping the body’s heat under cold conditions. His body is not particularly well adapted for escape, self-defense, or hunting. He is not, for instance, exceptionally fleet of foot, and would be left behind in a race with a hare or an ostrich. He has no protective coloring like the tiger or the snow leopard, nor bodily armor like the tortoise or the crab. He has no wings to offer escape and give him an advantage in spying out and pouncing upon prey. He lacks the beak and talons of the hawk and its keenness of vision. For catching his prey and defending himself his muscular strength, teeth, and nails are incomparably inferior to those of the tiger.
If he had not possessed superior intelligence, it is very doubtful indeed whether man could ever have survived at all in such circumstances, especially in view of the very extended period of dependency that his children have upon him. Most animals can fend for themselves very quickly: but not so human beings. One might suppose that if he did have superior intelligence, he would quickly have revealed it by the invention of all kinds of devices compensating for his innate weaknesses, but, as we have seen, intelligence and the
54. Martin, Samuel, “Opposition to Great Inventions and Discoveries,” in the Exeter Hall Papers, London, 1854-55, pp.461-500.
55. Childe, V. G., Man Makes Himself, Watts, London, 1936, p.23.
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power to invent are unfortunately related only rather indirectly. Instead of new devices, early man like primitive people, developed, rather, a philosophy of life which in curious ways appears to have allowed survival in environments and circumstances which otherwise must have seemed to be entirely impossible. Whenever this philosophy, as exemplified in modern times in primitive cultures, was undermined by the White Man, the whole system of cultural survival — indeed, the very physical continuance of the people — was endangered. The result was usually fatal, a fact which in itself bears witness of a kind to the practical workability of such philosophies of life where they are preserved intact. The equilibrium between man and nature is very sensitively balanced. And it is well established that history bears testimony to the fact that when individual white men were bereft by circumstances of their own culture and thrown among such primitive people for a long enough period to enter into the spirit of their culture, they tended to adopt its set of values and its ways of survival. It is seldom if ever recorded that such adopted sons introduced any striking changes such as one might suppose their pretended intellectual superiority would inevitably lead them to do. It thus appears that intelligence is not to be equated with the power to innovate or advance a culture, and the tendency to assume that conservatism stems entirely from lack of intelligence while progressiveness is to be equated with it is entirely unwarranted.
At a certain cultural level conservatism is equated with survival, and so long as that level remains unchanged, conservatism is probably the most intelligent philosophy. The conservatism of Paleolithic Man may have been a result of the circumstances in which he found himself and a reflection of practical good sense.
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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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