It may seem paradoxical to say that hunter gatherers were models of security. To us, they lived in a world utterly lacking in the most rudimentary elements of security. Imagine waking up tomorrow with no food in your home. All the food stores have disappeared. You are living in a pure wilderness, without any ready source of sustenance. You are facing your own death and the deaths of everyone in your family from starvation. This is the world the hunter-gathers faced every day!
Hunter-gatherers were nomads, possessing only the food they collected or hunted each day. Their societies lacked any form of food storage. And yet they survived, purely through their daily labor, ingenuity, even in the harshest climates on the planet.
Did the absence of food fill them with dread? Did their daily confrontation with starvation and death terrify them? Did their deep and persistent anxiety compel them to beseech the supernatural for good fortune? The answer is no. These societies had little apparent insecurity. They had no specific gods to whom they felt the need to turn to for protection. They trusted nature implicitly, confident that it would provide for them.
Hunter-gathers differed from us less in the shape of their bodies and the development of their intellect than in the way they related to the world around them. While they had every reason to live in fear – fear of wild animals, illness, starvation, fear of competing groups, fear of natural phenomenon like storms – the vast preponderance of evidence shows us that they trusted the world to provide for them and keep them safe.
Hunter-gathers did not invest faith or fear in an overarching life goal or all-powerful deity. In fact, there is little evidence supporting any notion of the sacred in their world.
Hunter-gathers regarded new human life as perfect in and of itself. In contrast, modern civilization sees children as flawed even at birth, requiring constant discipline and education in order to become fully functioning adults.
Obedience, a trait with little meaning to the hunter-gatherer, emerged as central to the establishment and maintenance of order in our world.
The decisive break that separated the hunter-gathers from sedentary farmers represents the collapse of the trust relationship between people and their world. It has never been regained.
Children became workers in training, needing discipline. They had to abandon their own unique natures and assume the responsibility of providing basic, unquestioning labor for their father and their rulers.
We are a product of our culture, but the soul of our hunting-gathering ancestors – the essence that enabled them to live in trust with life – still lives within us. Our task is to discover who we were prior to our invalidation – to find the way back to our authentic selves. We will never live the life of the hunter-gatherer (and I’m not sure we would want to), but we can regain their heart. After all, their blood continues to run through our veins.
I am asking you to inquire deeply into the truth of our being. If we can understand the roots of our self-negation, we can obtain a new vision of what we can be and what our civilization can create. Together we can reverse the damages of invalidation to ourselves and our social institutions.
Like the famous Frost poem, we have come to a place in the forest where a road less taken becomes visible. We can continue moving along the path of fear and insecurity, which is the easy choice, or we we can pause for a moment and consider the alternative. We can look beyond invalidation toward our true identity. We can take a fledgling step into the unknown world of our own authenticity.