First, I put off replying to this because I had no time. Then, I put it off to gather my thoughts. Then, I simply forgot about it. So, this comes a little late, but....
I just don't think it's about success or failure. I think it's more about realizing that there is more than one way to live a life. I think it's more about values and a person can carry those values anywhere they go.
In some sense, yes. But when you venture forth, saying, "I will go live primitively!" that statement carries a pretty clear fail/succeed proposition. Many people have ventured forth saying that, and none have succeeded. Sure, they expressed their values, and found things of great importance along the way, but as far as succeeding in fulfilling the claim they set out with, no, on that question they clearly failed.
I think the use of phrases like "ease and comfort" and words like "luxury" are problematic. A person has to already have a totally different value system and be very comfortable and solid in it to really feel like these words accurately describe the lifestyle we are talking about.
I could hardly disagree more. The idea that the ease, comfort and luxury of primitive living come from some branch of the enlightened mind unattached to the joys of this world--as Marshall Sahlins put it in "The Original Affluent Society," following "a Zen road to affluence"--springs at us as the misbegotten bastard from the ill-considered and troubled marriage of primitivism and asceticism. Do you need to have a totally different value system to think that a longer life, a varied diet, feasting and partying with a regularity that only Paris Hilton could keep pace with, dressing always in furs and living entirely by actions that must of us undertake for recreation counts as luxurious? Throughout our own civilization's history, we have called the class of people most able to emulate the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers elites, nobles and aristocrats. Lescarbot first coined the term "noble savage" in 1609 when he noticed how the Mikmaq enjoyed luxuries restricted only to the nobility in Europe. The lifestyle we talk about, as actually
lived (as opposed to as portrayed in our popular imagination), involved preening over hair and clothes, eating a rich and varied diet, living longer and healthier, and yes, ultimately, a life of luxury. It doesn't require any shift of values. It doesn't take any "Zen" perspective to worldly goods. Quite the opposite.
In both European and Chinese civilizations, asceticism has a long history as a kind of virtue, and though we may have our issues with the trappings
of Western civilization, on the deeper levels--the ones that really matter most--we still keep our domestication near and dear to our hearts, including the value of asceticism. That easily mixes with the Hobbesian image of life beyond civilization as "solitary, nasty, brutish and short." Why else do so many primitivists and primitive skills enthusiasts talk about solitary "abo-treks," or running off into the woods alone, despite the centrality
of social connectedness in all truly
wild societies? I've noticed a distinct vitriol in some of the response Giuli's gotten to the Fabulous Forager, and I strongly believe that it stems in no small part from this message threatening the masculinity of a lot of big, macho primitivists. The connection of asceticism to primitivism makes primitive skills and their mechanical execution manly and hardcore, and by extension, validates their self-image in the domesticated template of the hard-bitten, rugged outdoorsman, all alone in the wilderness. The suggestion that primitive living not only doesn't have to entail such hardship, but can actually mean a life of luxury, takes away the image of hardships that I think a lot of people use to validate themselves.
But that image comes from some deeply domesticated notions, indeed, from what we might even call the single most domesticated thing of all--the self-contained person, the Roman vir
, the impenetrable penetrator. The world as a collection of such objects, each defined by their characteristics, like "hard-bitten" and "rugged."
I have little interest in such things, myself. I want to rewild, and that means learning from wild cultures, not from domesticated misconceptions of wild cultures. Wild cultures describe themselves as living a luxurious life. It doesn't take a shift in values to perceive it, it just takes dealing with the ways they actually
live, rather than the ways we ascribe to them. Hadza men would spend whole days gambling. Some men never
hunted at all, they just gambled and told stories. Haudenosaunee men preened constantly over their luxurious hair and oiled their bodies, to an extent that would likely have gotten them called "dandies" in our society. Hunter-gatherers eat rich diets; your average hunter-gatherer eats more kinds of food in a single day than even a wealthy American today will eat in his entire lifetime. They wear furs, only use fine, hand-crafted tools, and want for nothing. It doesn't take a shift in values to appreciate the luxury in that.
When dealing with the day to day requirements of a "primitive" lifestyle those words would be highly subjective. Ease and comfort compared to what? Luxury? compared to what? Looking through the lens of a typical modern N. American lifestyle that is a pretty hard sell. The value system has got to change before that kind of language starts to look realistic.
Ease and comfort compared to the way your average Westerner lives now. Luxury compared to the same. Most of us camp, fish or hunt as a recreational activity. That constituted their only work, and only then when they felt like it. A few hours of hunting or fishing compared to 8-10 hours in a cubicle. Wearing genuine animal furs compared to button-down shirts and khakis. Feasting and partying a few times a week compared to maybe going to the movies on Saturday if you're really well off. Having the time for everyone to dote over their hair or the way they look, compared to just the pampered rich. What part of this do you think makes a hard sell? What part of this requires a change in value system to appreciate?
All that stuff you've been told growing up is only one way. That's only one idea of success. That's only one idea of prosperity.
Sure, that remains as true in our society as in any other, but you've gotten a lot deeper than the level I meant to deal with. On the most superficial level, without any reference to different values or perspectives, just from the conventional view of prosperity, hunting and gathering means a life of luxury, comfort and ease.