The Farmers Weren’t Crazy
by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ March 8, 2021
The greatest social and political problem we face is that change is no longer an option. Survival on this planet requires massive change. That is to survive.
Our longest historical period was living as a clan or tribe-based hunter-gatherers. This living mode survived up to the 20th century, although the changes around them influenced the condition in which the last hunter-gatherers existed until they hanged.
I’m not launching into a prehistory review, but understanding the growing problems in postmodern, climate disaster cultures is based on this incredible historical inertia. For most of our species, the new mode of living was a major change but evolved slowly. That was the change to agriculture in the neolithic and then five thousand years of progressive change to urban-centered civilization.
We still consider farmers to be backward and subject to humor and mockery in all existing cultures. That is no longer true of hunter-gatherers as they were mostly killed off by the end of the 19th century. We find hunter-gatherers fascinating now because they no longer stand in our way. They exist only tenuously in their original social form in the Amazon basin and as holdouts in Africa.
The film highlighted this transition; The Gods Must Be Crazy, filmed in Namibia and Botswana by a South African company and released as a comedy in 1982. The film stars Namibian San farmer Nǃxau ǂToma as Xi, a hunter-gatherer of the Kalahari Desert. While Nǃxau ǂToma was not a hunter-gatherer but a herder, he gained a large following in South American and Japan.
The movie is worth watching as it attempts to explain the distance between the disappearing San (Bushmen) culture of the Kalahari a modern culture. Having seen the original movie, I was reminded of it again when a Japanese documentary followed Nǃxau ǂToma on his trip to Tokyo. He went on to make several more films in Japan and Hong Kong.
The problem with farmers is the problem of necessary change dictated by the inevitable consequences of human evolution. By the 1980s, the hunter-gatherer's world view could only be dealt with as comedy based on the lack of shared understanding in human society. Country bumkins are similar, but there is a hard edge to the humor they are dealt with as fools.
This was the status of the native American population by the 19th century. They were dealt with as an embarrassment when not dealt with as a threat. Both conditions required them to be removed or converted. The strategy is that these were sophisticated and stable cultural groups but had been devasted and weakened by European disease from 1500. But we know the history of colonialism from the classical period to the conquest of American by Europeans.
The patterns repeat in human change unless we can break the instinctive attitudes. In 21st century America and the postmodern world, we see the final battle to remove a previous living mode that is no longer viable.
Growing up on a farm in Indiana that became a subdivision of suburban homes by 1964, I’m old enough to have lived through the formation of the growing cultural conflict that seems so dangerous now.
While I grew up with the cultural memory in America of the glorified conquest that removed the native nations and population, I lived through the end of the Homestead Act that had taken the land from its original peoples.
The term subdivision was the legal breakup of a farm into house lots for the new standard of living. My family has come from Germany in the 1850s and divided a quarter section of land made available by the Homestead Acts to turn the land into European post-feudal farms. I grew up at the end of that.
There is no coincidence in the historical timing of America's decline over the last fifty years, now generating another form of civil war. But the complexity of this is far beyond any of the past patterns of inevitable change. The patterns exist with the old model of living held by those reluctant to change, becoming holdouts by people unable to change.
The mid 19th to the late 20th-century explosion in population combined with exploited resources' wealth followed the traditional patterns. A majority of the population transitioned by choice seeing benefits and well-being as desirable. The holdouts were reduced to part-time farmers or reluctant suburbanites with their rural independence and social rigidity under growing threat.
None of this was planned, but plans are limited to tactical strategies by strong, temporary leaders in human civilization. We have gained planetary climate destruction as our inheritance.
The irony is that the holdouts are clinging to the causes of their postmodern dilemma. They wish to live in the farmer's old ways, not necessarily due to understanding life and its world but as a result of the romanticized assumptions about the power of the lifestyle to dominate others.
I lived with the late 20th century farmers that were no longer farmers but were tied to that lifestyle of independence, strength, and traditional religion. The transition was hard for them and our community. Many of my peers who tried to retain some semblance of that lifestyle moved steadily into postmodern neofascism as that reaction became a political tool building on victimization.
Originally they would never have supported a traditional Republican, but the intense propaganda post-Reagan playing on the threat of massive change turned them against their own beliefs of independence with sharing in the farming tradition. American culture's foundational racism was always a theme that could be relied on to explain the source of the threat.
We are seeing the normal process of human social evolution driven by external factors and unhindered by thought. But a growing part of the human population has come to realize that thought is all that we have to survive. Our age-old patterns and tribal assumptions trap us, but those will destroy us.
The extent of the distortion is clear as what is being claimed as traditional is not what once existed with its values but fear and reaction politicized for the benefit of those who must be threatened. They stand in the way of our planetary wellbeing and even survival.
The people that were still around when I grew up were farmers and descendants of farmers who did not feel threatened but believed in working hard and working together. Their religion was already well past its time but believing in things did not require denying people are accepting hatred as required. Some did that, but they were politely ignored. That was independence and freedom.