5. Our review of the facts concerning gender relations in recent hunter-gatherers societies helps to reveal something of the psychology of the anarchoprimitivists and that of their cousins, the politically-correct anthropologists.
The anarchoprimitivists, and many politically-correct anthropologists, cite any evidence they can find that hunter-gatherers had gender equality, while systematically ignoring the abundant evidence of gender inequality found in eyewitness reports of hunter-gatherer cultures. For example, the anthropologist Haviland, in his textbook Cultural Anthropology, states that an “important characteristic of the food-foraging [hunther-gatherer] society is its egalitarianism.”
He acknowledges that the two sexes may have had different status in such societies, but claims that “status differences by themselves do not imply any necessary inequality”, and that in “traditional food-foraging societies, nothing necessitated special deference of women to men.If you check the pages listed in Haviland’s index for the entries “Bushmen”, “Ju/’hoansi” (another name for the Dobe Bushmen), “Eskimo”, “Inuit” (another name for Eskimos), “Mbuti”, “Tasma-nian”, “Australian”, and “Aborigine” (the Siriono are not listed in the index), you will find no mention of wife-beating, forced marriage, forced sexual intercourse, or any of the other indications of male dominance that I’ve cited above.
Haviland does not deny that these things occurred. He does not claim, for example, that Turnbull merely invented his stories of wife-beating among the Mbuti, or that such-andsuch evidence shows that Australian Aboriginal women were not subjected to involuntary sex before the arrival of Europeans. He simply ignores these issues, as if they didn’t exist. And it’s not that Haviland isn’t aware of the issues. For example, he quotes from A. P. Elkin’s book, The Australian Aborigines,an indication that he not only is familiar with the book but considers it a reliable source of information. Yet Elkin’s book, which I cited earlier, provides ample evidence of Australian Aboriginal men’s tyranny over their women— evidence that Haviland fails to mention. It’s pretty clear what is going on:
Equality of the sexes is a fundamental tenet of the mainstream ideology of modern society. As highlysocialized members of that society, politically-correct anthropologists believe in the principle of gender equality with something akin to religious conviction, and they feel a need to give us little moral lessons by holding up for our admiration examples of the gender equality that supposedly prevailed when the human race was in a pristine and unspoiled state. This portrayal of primitive cultures is driven by the anthropologists’ own need to reaffirm their faith, and has nothing to do with an honest search for truth.
To take another example, I’ve written to John Zerzan four times inviting him to back up his claims about gender equality among hunter-gatherers.The answers he gave me were vague and evasive.I would gladly publish here Zerzan’s letters to me on this subject so that the reader could judge them for himself. However, I wrote to Zerzan requesting permission to publish his letters, and he denied me that permission.With his letters he sent me photocopies of pages from a few books that contained vague, general statements ostensibly supporting his claims about gender equality; for instance, this statement by John E Pfeiffer, who is neither a specialist nor an eyewitness of primitive behavior, but a popularizer: “For reasons unknown sexism arrived with settling and farming, with the emergence of complex society.”
Zerzan also sent me a photocopy of a page from Bonvillain’s book containing the following statement: “In foraging band [hunter-gatherer] societies, the potential for gender equality is perhaps the greatest . . . ”But Zerzan did not include copies of the pages on which Bonvillain said that male dominance was evident in some hunter-gatherer societies such as that of the Eskimos, or the pages on which she gave information that cast gave doubt on her own claim of gender equality among the Dobe Bushmen, as I discussed above.
Zerzan himself acknowledged that the material he sent me was “obviously not definitive”, though he asserted that it was “completely representative in general.”
When I pressed him for further backing for his claims,he sent me a copy of his essay Future Primitive, from the book of the same name.In this essay he cites most of his sources by giving only the authors’ last names and their publications’ dates; the reader presumably is expected to look up further information in a table of references provided elsewhere in the book. Since Zerzan did not send me a copy of the table of references, I had no way of checking his sources. I pointed this out to him,but he still failed to send me a copy of his table of references. In any case, there is good reason to suspect that Zerzan was uncritical in selecting his sources. For example, he quotes the late Laurens van der Post;but in his book Teller of Many Tales, J. D. F. Jones, a former admirer of Laurens van der Post, has exposed the latter as a liar and a fraud.
Even if taken at face value, the information in Future Primitive gives us nothing solid on the subject of gender relations. Vague, general statements are of little use. As I pointed out earlier; Bonvillain and Turnbull made general assertions about gender equality among the Bushmen and the Mbuti respectively, and those assertions were contradicted by concrete facts that Bonvillain and Turnbull themselves reported in the same books. On subjects other than gender equality, some of the statements in Future Primitive are demonstrably false. To take a couple of examples:
i. Zerzan, relying on one “De Vries”, claims that among hunter-gatherers childbirth is ’without difficulty of pain.”Oh, really? Here’s Mrs. Thomas, writing from her personal experience among the Bushmen: “Bushmen women give birth alone . . . unless a girl is bearing her first child, in which case her mother may help her, or unless the birth is extremely difficult, in which case a woman may ask the help of her mother or another woman. A woman in labor may clench her teeth, may let her tears come or bite her hands until blood flows, but she may never cry out to show her agony.”
Since natural selection eliminates the weak and the defective among huntergatherers and since primitive women’s work keeps them in good physical condition, it is probably true that childbirth, on average, was not as difficult among hunter-gatherers as it is for modern women. For Mbuti women, according to Schebesta, delivery was usually easy (though this does not imply that it was free of pain). On the other hand, breech deliveries were much feared and usually ended fatally both for the mother and the for child.
ii. Relying on one “Duffy”, Zerzan claims that the Mbuti “look on any form of violence between one person and another with great abhorrence and distaste, and never represent it in their dancing or their playacting.” But Hutereau and Turnbull independently have provided eyewitness accounts according to which the Mbuti did indeed playact violence between human beings. More important, there was plenty of real-life violence among the Mbuti. Accounts of physical fights and beatings are scattered throughout Turnbull’s books,
The Forest People and Wayward Servants. To cite just one of the numerous examples, Turnbull mentions a woman who lost three teeth in fighting with another woman over a man.I’ve already mentioned Turn-bull’s statements about wife-beating among the Mbuti.
It’s worth noting that Zerzan apparently believes that our ancestors were capable of mental telepathy.But particularly revealing is Zerzan’ s quotation of “Shanks and Tilley”: “The point of archaeology is not merely to interpret the past but to change the manner in which the past is interpreted in the service of social reconstruction in the present.”
This is virtually open advocacy of the proposition that archaeologists should slant their findings for political purposes. What better evidence could there be of the massive politicization that has taken place in American anthropology over the last 35 or 40 years? In view of this politicization, anything in recent anthropological literature that portrays primitive peoples’ behavior as politically correct must be viewed with the utmost skepticism.
After citing to Zerzan some of the examples of gender inequality that I’ve discussed above, I questioned his honesty on the ground that he had “systematically excluded nearly all of the evidence that undercuts the idealized picture of huntergatherer societies” that he wanted to present. Zerzan answered that he “did not find many credible sources that contradicted his outlook.This statement strains credulity. Some of the examples that I cited to Zerzan (and have discussed above) were from books on which he himself had relied-those of Bonvillain and Turnbull. Yet he somehow managed to overlook all of the evidence in those books that contradicted his claims. Since Zerzan has read widely about hunter-gatherer societies, and the Australian Aborigines are among the best-known hunter-gatherers, I find it very difficult to believe that he has never come across any accounts of the Australians’ mistreatment of women. Yet he never mentions such accountsnot even for the purpose of refuting them.
One does not necessarily have to assume any conscious dishonesty on Zerzan’s part. As Nietzsche said, “The most common lie is the lie one tells to oneself; lying to others is relatively the exception.”In other words, self-deception often precedes deception of others. An important factor here may be one that is well knownto professional propagandists: people tend to block out — to fail to perceive or to remember — information that they find uncongenial168. Since information that discredits one’s ideology is highly uncongenial, it follows that people will tend to block out such information.
A young anarchoprimitivist with whom I’ve corresponded has provided me with an amazing example of this phenomenon. He wrote to me: “there is no question about the persistence [sic] of patriarchy in all other oceanic societies, but none seems apparent in the [Australian] Aborigines — According to A. P. Elkin’s The Australian Aborigines wives were not held in a restrictive marriage at all.” It was apparent that my anarchoprimitivist friend had read Elkin’s discussion of women’s position in Australian Aboriginal society. I’ve cited above some of the relevant pages of Elkin’s book, such as those on which he states that Australian Aboriginal women sometimes lived in terror of the compulsory sex to which they were subjected at some ceremonial times.
Any reasonably rational person who will take the trouble to read those pageswill find himself hard-pressed to explain how my anarchoprimitivist friend could have read that material and then claimed in all seriousness that no patriarchy seemed apparent in Australian Aboriginal society — unless my friend simply blocked out of his mind the information that he found ideologically unacceptable. My friend did not question the accuracy of Elkin I s information; in fact, he was relying on Elkin as an authority. He simply remained oblivious to the information that indicated patriarchy among the Australian Aborigines. But this time it should be sufficiently clear to the reader that what the anarchoprimitivists (and many anthropologists) are up to has nothing to do with a rational search for the truth about primitive cultures. Instead, they have been developing a myth.