South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: The simplest society.
Date: June 8, 1995 14:15

12:47 Babawaki-cho 7-2, Shugakuin; Kyoto, Kansai-Japan :: 8 JUN 95

An observation of Australian Aborigines from James Cook's journals:

They appear to be in reality far more happier than we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in Tranquility which is not disturb'd by the inequality of Condition; the Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not Magnificent Houses, Household-stuff etc., they live in warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholesome Air, so that they have very little need of clothing. . . . In short they seem'd to set no Value upon anything we gave them. . . .

An observation of Native Americans in California from the pen of explorer Thomas Jefferies:

As they covet only the necessaries of life, with which nature has abundantly provided them, they scarce so much as think of its superfluities . . . the Indians are the happiest of all mortals . . . they neither know, nor desire to know, those false enjoyments which we purchase with so much pains, and with the loss of that which is solid and real. And their most admirable quality is that truly philosophical way of thinking, which makes them condemn all the parades of wealth and magnificence.

Thoughts on these observations by Robert Lawlor, author of Voices of the First Day-Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime:

Based on these descriptions, we need not search for paradise in Elysian fields or nirvana; we need not construct extraterrestrial visitations, buried civilizations technologically superior to ours, lost continents or space travel. To locate the Golden Age we need only understand the essential aspects of the old primary hunting and gathering way of life, of which there is no better example than the traditional Australian Aborigines.

My own reactions:

The economic modality of a society is not the determinant of its happiness. The source and technique of food gathering are not the aspect that sets Aboriginal culture so firmly apart from western society. If Donald Trump became a hunter/gatherer tomorrow, he would scarcely be spiritually transformed. Further, an Aboriginal adopting technologies such as rifles, steel knives or even agriculture in no way compromises the essence of their spiritual happiness. Rather the significant cultural aspect is the relationship between an individual human being and other individuals, their community, the earth, the water, the air and other life. In the happiest societies none of these relationships holds significant precedence over the others, nor does the individual themselves merit significance outside the connections to Earth, spirit and life.

The happiest societies avoid conditions and social techniques that promote struggle and conflict. Meanwhile these societies foster activities conducive to achievement and expression. In the West we perceive struggle and conflict to be necessary adjuncts of achievement and expression. More insidiously, we believe struggle and conflict to be conditions of living.

The happiest societies are satisfied with the simplest necessities that nature provides equally for all. In the West we climb the social ladder and move up the corporate hierarchy; we can never be certain of our happiness so long as someone else is perceived to have more-more wealth, more material belongings, more status, more power. We often fail to understand that these individuals endowed with 'more' are no happier than we and hardly deserve our envy.

Essentially, Buddha espouses the simplest characteristics of happiness, as did Christ and Muhammad. The organised religions we created in the wake of these prophets maintain their teachings with varying degrees of success. However, none of these paths emphasises the conception of Earth-bound spirituality, of connection to Earth, animals and plants, that is the centre-point of the cultures created by hunter/gatherers, pastoral nomads and small-scale agriculturists.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

An even more important contribution [of the indigenous New World] may be the early colonial leaders' recognition of fundamental democratic principles in the caucuses, tribal gatherings, and organization of Native American society. Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and other leaders built the American federal system on these principles. The ideal of the free and autonomous individual citizen, developed by romantic philosophers such as Rousseau, arose after Europeans made contact with the Indian nations and brought back eyewitness accounts of the independence and freedom of tribal people. Recently, it has been documented that the perfect, homogenous socialist state that Marx and Engels envisioned was initially inspired by the genuinely egalitarian organisation observed among hunter-gatherer tribes.
  graphical element Robert Lawlor
Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime