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Jamie Micheli

Hi Chris

I spoke with a friend of mine the other day who made an off-handed comment about how our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in perpetual fear and we don’t (i.e., modern life in a developed country). I thought about that statement for awhile. I have heard bits and pieces of similar arguments before, but never so crystalized into one coherently bad observation. I thought of your book, Civilized to Death, and shared with him some points you mentioned regarding the anxiety suffered by millions today. It was a good conversation that I feel informed him. However, the thought that so many people people believe that our HG ancestors were constantly in fight or flight syndrome due to lurking Sabre-Tooth Cats potentially attacking them every moment of their fear-filled lives bothered me.

Out of curiosity I googled “Hunter-gatherers fear” and read the first article that came up. It was a Slate article. Here is the first line, “In the developed world, we live in the most peaceful, healthful time in history.” Stephen Pinker would be proud, ala Enlightenment Now. To be fair, the article is from 2012, so maybe the author has read your book since then. It references the book The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan. Ironically, even though I have some issues with Sagan and his take on science being a cure-all for our problems, he is very respectful of our HG ancestors and did not imply they live in fear anymore than anyone else (at least from what I remember of the book).

I also find that people have a concept of our HG ancestors as being fearful due to a lack of not knowing the scientific explanation for how the natural world operates. Many people think they “made up” explanations because they needed to be comforted. However, I think they had an explanation that worked for them. Was it scientifically correct? Many times it was not. But it did not make the explanation any less credible to them. It was simply their current understanding.

With all of this said, I guess I have several questions. (1) Why do so many people continue to believe and/or promote the narrative that our HG ancestors were in constant hide and seek mode from predators, while not realizing the fears we live with every day (housing, retirement, adequate medical care, depression, raising children, getting an education, WW3, etc.)? (2) Can you discuss the worldview of our HG ancestors and why so many people come up with theories to try and explain why they “needed” explanations for things they observed?

At this point I am rambling. I have included a link to the article I referenced below. Keep up the great work. Thank you.