15

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What social factors of our ancestors are we missing?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created August 27, 2010 at 7:48 AM

Pieter d's 'What can we do more besides diet?' question got me thinking. He scoped out social, psychological factors from that question. But I thought it warranted one of its own.

I don't believe in complete Paleo re-enactment, but what social factors did our ancestors have that we could be missing out on? Two that spring to my mind are the close living and support of wider family members (grandparents, siblings, etc) which I think the absence of puts more pressure on families now, and also the possible lack of male bonding from hunting, fighting, etc (may be stereotyping some hunter gatherer tribes a bit there).

What else could we be missing out on compared to our ancestors?

64242a1130eb51f4852f78beed38b3d5

(1343)

on January 11, 2011
at 04:30 PM

Pretty sure the grokling took a boot upside the ass if he botched a hunt. It's important to have options and never forget public embarrassment is huge motivator. All those rites of passage couldn't have been all successes. You know that geeky little grok male who never got invited to the parties and who failed to kill the biggest brontosaurus on his 16th birthday?

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on January 04, 2011
at 10:17 PM

Very thoughtful answer - thanks

6fa48935d439390e223b9a053a62c981

(1676)

on December 31, 2010
at 01:38 PM

Amen, queen of the stone age

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:56 AM

Pretty sure Grok would not have hit a child because the child is unlikely to gave done anything stupid enough (they're not naturally suicidal!). And the child would not have allowed itself to be left behind. Mother (or grandmother, big sister, etc) would have been out there gathering and she may have slowed down a bit to allow the younger child to keep up but he would have been there. And she would never ever have run after a toddler like you see so many parents doing now - besides it would mostly have been big kids who looked after little kids.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:23 AM

If you are interested in child-rearing please read The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. A couple may have had more children than we do but the age gaps between them would have been much larger. Also they would have lived in very small close-knit communities so the children would have been part of a mixed age group of cousins, second cousins, etc. and they would have been cared for by older children, grandparents, aunts, etc.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:17 AM

Love this book. I would add close bonding with the newborn (sleeping, breastfeeding, constant carrying) which then leads in to mixed age play groups where older children 'look after' younger ones and all children observe the adults and join in when they are ready. No pressure, no tests, no being the centre of attention just an expectation that the child will want to do as the adults do in their own time.

B22e5946e28a1845a6006737e59edfc6

(2437)

on December 31, 2010
at 08:48 AM

Did he? Where did you read this? I've never seen this in any book Ive read on Hunter-Gatherer tribes. Which tribe does/did this?

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on August 29, 2010
at 03:22 AM

Morgan - education is absolutely primal, even if the term itself is modern. Cro Magnon had the knowledge of thousands plant species, were phenomenal observers of animals, their social organization, habits, health and disease. All this tremendous amounts of primal bio/science was passed on to the next generation. They also had very advanced logical thinking, were able to analyze cause and effect etc. - it was all taught to the young ones.

78ecfc8268ec58cdc189301f4b071088

(1670)

on August 29, 2010
at 02:31 AM

My apologies, I'm about to be annoying: Ummm, even if these are worthy goals that might improve societal life in your eyes -- the question is all about social factors our ANCESTORS had, while your list is thoroughly modern. "education" is a very modern concept; it's not obvious that our ancestors were particular volunteers; etc... sorry to be negative :(

Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

(4089)

on August 28, 2010
at 03:37 PM

Beat me to it. Based on CHTTP, you can make a pretty strong argument that industrial society has done for the human psyche what the industrial food production system has done to the human waistline.

F8fa4b0809d3b74fcf0361c0d53b60c1

(911)

on August 28, 2010
at 04:47 AM

@CT - Must be all that extra testosterone from eating so much saturated fat...

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on August 28, 2010
at 03:43 AM

Interesting to note, research suggests that criminal tendencies might actually be strongly diet and hormone related.

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on August 27, 2010
at 07:36 PM

I'm definitely ordering the last book. I've been wondering about the number of children in a family unit - I have a feeling it would have been very high until a few generations ago in our society. Growing up with just one or two siblings must have a massive impact on a child compared to five, six or more. This whole line of thinking is fascinating.

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on August 27, 2010
at 06:46 PM

I mistook Melissa's question to be an offer...

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on August 27, 2010
at 06:34 PM

CT, who said something about sex with your wife???

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on August 27, 2010
at 06:29 PM

Thanks Melissa, but not sure my wife would be happy with that :-) @Pieter - Sorry!

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on August 27, 2010
at 05:09 PM

CT, thanks for stealing my follow up question! ;-) No, great question!

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on August 27, 2010
at 01:59 PM

Lots of sex????

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9 Answers

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13
6fa48935d439390e223b9a053a62c981

(1676)

on August 27, 2010
at 08:20 PM

I would recommend Paul Shepard's Coming Home to the Pleistocene. [Pleistocene is essentially synonymous with paleolithic here.] His life's work was examing what makes us human. From the dust jacket: "Throughout his long and distinguished career, Paul Shepard returned repeatedly to his guiding theme, the central tenet of his thought: that our essential human nature is a product of our genetic heritage, formed through thousands of years of evolution during the Pleistocene epoch, and that the current subversion of that Pleistocene heritage lies at the heart of today's ecological and social ills." And: "In addition, the book explicitly addresses the fundamental question raised by Paul Shepard's work: What can we do to recreate a life more in tune with our genetic roots? In this book, Paul Shepard presents concrete suggestions for fostering the kinds of ecological settings and cultural practices that are optimal for human health and well-being."

Much of what he proposes will not be embraced by those who reject the evolutionary biology mindset, and so will never be practical to implement society-wide, but it is food for thought. I can't do a book review, but some highlights:

  • all age access to butchering scenes
  • formal celebration of life-stage passages (initiation, coming of age rites, etc.)
  • extended family
  • prestige based on demonstrated integrity
  • little or no heritable rank
  • decentralized power
  • dietary omnivory (he died in 1996, pre-paleodiet, but that's what he meant)
  • participatory rather than audience-focused music
  • extensive foot travel
  • immediate access to the wild, wilderness, solitude
  • participation in hunting and gathering
  • freedom--to come and go, to choose skills, to marry or not, etc.

Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

(4089)

on August 28, 2010
at 03:37 PM

Beat me to it. Based on CHTTP, you can make a pretty strong argument that industrial society has done for the human psyche what the industrial food production system has done to the human waistline.

6fa48935d439390e223b9a053a62c981

(1676)

on December 31, 2010
at 01:38 PM

Amen, queen of the stone age

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:17 AM

Love this book. I would add close bonding with the newborn (sleeping, breastfeeding, constant carrying) which then leads in to mixed age play groups where older children 'look after' younger ones and all children observe the adults and join in when they are ready. No pressure, no tests, no being the centre of attention just an expectation that the child will want to do as the adults do in their own time.

5
A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

on August 27, 2010
at 09:57 PM

From what I've read both about Cro-Magnon people and research on modern social problems, we miss small group interactions. We are overwhelmed with simply too big masses of people. We are "programmed" to feel good in max 100 persons groups, to feel good. I remember the research on Bonobo apes, which was seen as very similar to human issues, that when their living space was overcrowded their social interactions suffered - violence, abandoning the young and various other unhealthy behaviors were noticed.

We live in overcrowded towns and cities, bombarded each day with information about more people, we have hundreds of "friends" online, trying to remember and know them all, we are proud to have big friend groups and interact with thousands of people over the years.

It is seen as one of the sources of anxiety, depression and social phobias. We do best in small groups, where all the members know and care for each other, bonding through common difficulties, life events, death and births.

Other issue, which is actually not that "old" - but for the past hundreds of years we have lost the contact with natural birth and death. People used to see, witness and care for the just born and the just deceased. All socializing was educational, all play was educational, all actions were emotionally binding. There was no sending a child to a stranger to learn the basic social rules, survival knowledge, knowledge about animals and plants. it was passed from one generation to another, naturally.

ETA: Just another aspect of the social interactions we have now. There are still cultures and communities that live with a different style, but especially in America it's very strong conflict. I am talking about the cult of individual achievement. The emphasis on an idea, that all depends on you, you are responsible, you have to do everything. One person is seen as the winner, as if s/he didn't come up on the backs of others. On the other hand in other cultures, especially more traditional, the emphasis is on the group, teamwork, team achievement. The success is common, no need for individual rat race. Of course the flip side is the danger of canceling any right to individuality and being forced to give up own wants/dreams for the sake of the needs of a group.

3
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on September 07, 2013
at 12:44 AM

If you read about hunter gatherers you will be amazed about how much the (psycho)social contexts differ. And this past-present mismatch is probably more difficult to change than the dietary one. You alone are responsible for what you eat (normally), but you need a lot of people to change the social context.

some, 'easy' and fun recommended reading (although some maybe taken with a little grain of salt):

The Old Way by Elisabeth Marshall Thomas (on the Bushmen of the Kalahari)(Also by same author: the Harmless People)

The Forest People by Colin M Turnbull (on the Congo forest Bambuti pygmies)

Another one, talking about childhood and parenting, although quite academically:

Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on August 27, 2010
at 07:36 PM

I'm definitely ordering the last book. I've been wondering about the number of children in a family unit - I have a feeling it would have been very high until a few generations ago in our society. Growing up with just one or two siblings must have a massive impact on a child compared to five, six or more. This whole line of thinking is fascinating.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:23 AM

If you are interested in child-rearing please read The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. A couple may have had more children than we do but the age gaps between them would have been much larger. Also they would have lived in very small close-knit communities so the children would have been part of a mixed age group of cousins, second cousins, etc. and they would have been cared for by older children, grandparents, aunts, etc.

2
Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

on August 28, 2010
at 03:41 PM

Time spent outdoors in natural surroundings.

Hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods.

Sitting around fires.

Making your own tools with your hands.

Living in small kin groups.

Seriously, I think that anybody wanting to call themselves Paleo should at least get out and try to catch a fish and eat it, or better yet, take up hunting. It's an object lesson in what you are.

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on August 28, 2010
at 03:57 AM

I think most successful tribes had respected 'jobs' for all the commonly occuring personality types, like shaman, hunter, planner, leader, fighter, clown, etc. I am basing this mostly off of what I know of native American culture, but would guess that similar happened in other tribes. Each person's nature was respected and valued. It was not often that someone would get stuck doing a job for which his/her nature was not well suited.

Children learned naturally by doing, not sitting in chairs staring at scribblings and listening to the teacher drone on. Children naturally learned what was essential and also gravitated naturally towards learning more about what they were interested in. They learned because they wanted to learn. They did not learn because someone nagged them into it, although peer pressure probably had a strong roll.

Outlets were in position for common stress inducing situations and age appropriate strivings. Many tribes have challenges for young men wishing to prove their manhood. It was an outlet for all that testosterone. In today's culture, you see the authorities telling young kids to simply not do any of which they feel a natural drive, and so you see the kids sneaking around, drag racing, illicit sex, etc, to get their thrills. A successful culture has allowed outlets for such drives instead of simply ordering kids to suppress them.

Other outlets where rituals and shamanic cleansings and drug travels. Such things were controlled and overseen by the shaman and as such, were not easily overused. Most ancient drugs were also less pleasant and were considered more of an ordeal and a learning experience, than a simple minded method of fun. These experiences took preparation and were not thought of lightly.

Tribes that did not develop balanced traditions that allowed humans to be more happy and satisfied were probably at a considerable disadvantage and more likely to die out.

1
C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:49 AM

I think child-rearing is the big one. Now we have no idea what to do when our kids are born but sex, childbirth, breastfeeding would have been witnessed by a child as they grew up so it would all come naturally to them in time. Also once the child left the mother (of their own volition not because they reached a certain age) as they started to crawl and toddle they would have been part of a larger group of children of all ages only returning to the mother to suckle when they needed it which would have gradually lessened. A mother would not 'wean' a child, the child would just suckle less and less until it was only an occasional comfort thing. I think that the pace of maturity would have been set by the child rather than by society or the parents. Parents would just get on with their day to day lives and the children would join in as much as they wanted or were able to. I think we do our children a great deal of damage when we 'abandon' them to a cot, pram and bottle when they really need constant contact and then make them the centre of our attention as they grow up. Children are not genetically programmed to be the centre of attention but to be observers, followers and copiers of adults. They should be part of our lives not the other way round. Anyone interested in this should check out http://www.naturalnurturing.org.uk/

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on January 04, 2011
at 10:17 PM

Very thoughtful answer - thanks

1
Eea6a68f5a7190d13c60e1c72417a581

(1376)

on December 31, 2010
at 03:05 AM

Dancing, drumming and singing. Intimate knowledge of local flora, fauna and weather patterns. Storytelling instead of screens. Seasonal migration to follow local hunting and fruiting cycles. I could go on and on.

1
4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

on August 27, 2010
at 05:06 PM

I'm with Melissa, sex is a big one, not just quantity.

Also, the community upbringing of children. My personal opinion is that this had led to, a lack of respect for others, broken moral compass, missing social skills. The list goes on... Don't get me started on lazy parents

Education. Our current system is lacking due to lack of community involvement.

Crime. Back to respect as well as you're less likely to steal cheat or abuse your extended family.

The Volunteer attitude. It's severely lacking around here.

Getting even should only be done with those that have been nice to you.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on August 28, 2010
at 03:43 AM

Interesting to note, research suggests that criminal tendencies might actually be strongly diet and hormone related.

78ecfc8268ec58cdc189301f4b071088

(1670)

on August 29, 2010
at 02:31 AM

My apologies, I'm about to be annoying: Ummm, even if these are worthy goals that might improve societal life in your eyes -- the question is all about social factors our ANCESTORS had, while your list is thoroughly modern. "education" is a very modern concept; it's not obvious that our ancestors were particular volunteers; etc... sorry to be negative :(

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on August 29, 2010
at 03:22 AM

Morgan - education is absolutely primal, even if the term itself is modern. Cro Magnon had the knowledge of thousands plant species, were phenomenal observers of animals, their social organization, habits, health and disease. All this tremendous amounts of primal bio/science was passed on to the next generation. They also had very advanced logical thinking, were able to analyze cause and effect etc. - it was all taught to the young ones.

0
64242a1130eb51f4852f78beed38b3d5

(1343)

on December 31, 2010
at 04:38 AM

Whooping your kids ass in public for being stupid. Grok did that. Grok also probably left kids behind, sometimes you should.

B22e5946e28a1845a6006737e59edfc6

(2437)

on December 31, 2010
at 08:48 AM

Did he? Where did you read this? I've never seen this in any book Ive read on Hunter-Gatherer tribes. Which tribe does/did this?

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on December 31, 2010
at 09:56 AM

Pretty sure Grok would not have hit a child because the child is unlikely to gave done anything stupid enough (they're not naturally suicidal!). And the child would not have allowed itself to be left behind. Mother (or grandmother, big sister, etc) would have been out there gathering and she may have slowed down a bit to allow the younger child to keep up but he would have been there. And she would never ever have run after a toddler like you see so many parents doing now - besides it would mostly have been big kids who looked after little kids.

64242a1130eb51f4852f78beed38b3d5

(1343)

on January 11, 2011
at 04:30 PM

Pretty sure the grokling took a boot upside the ass if he botched a hunt. It's important to have options and never forget public embarrassment is huge motivator. All those rites of passage couldn't have been all successes. You know that geeky little grok male who never got invited to the parties and who failed to kill the biggest brontosaurus on his 16th birthday?

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