THE BLOG

Taking Life Lessons From Hunter-Gatherers

04/06/2014 12:16 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

Finishing university is a crazy mix of emotions; excitement, nostalgia, fear of the unknown, all in all it is quite daunting. Once the celebrations about completing education, which you've probably been in for the past almost two decades are over, you are rudely and abruptly hurtled into the 'real world'. Symptoms include:

  • The disheartening realization that you will never again experience the joyous feeling of seeing a large bank balance following an installment from student finance.
  • The irrationally depressed feeling following your student discount plea getting rejected for the first time since you were eligible for an NUS discount.
  • Stressing about how much time you have left with your loyal life-line that is a student over draft.
  • Basically just not being ready to accept that soon you will have to pay back all the student debt your degree has added up to.

In sum, as a very recent graduate I am expecting all my educational hard work to be rewarded with being the poorest I have ever been - should this really be what's waiting for graduates?

So to earn some money before going off on one last summer holiday before the real world adult life must kick in, I have got myself a job as a caller in a telethon campaign raising funds for Oxford Brookes University. Unsurprisingly, more often that not, I am met with a resounding 'no' to not only monthly donations but also one-off single gifts. This has been the case for everyone, not just myself and so I can't help but to blame the current economy and financial times rather than any fault in my own phoning skills.

The minimum wage for above 21's is £6.50 which means on average someone earning this makes just over £12,000 a year. With the inflation and high consumerism of today, this annual salary is shockingly low. This is especially true for those living in London and people paying huge university fees, for example, LSE's most expensive post-graduate course, ironically an MSc in Finance, climbs to a staggering £27,552 for a home/EU student per year with LSE's lowest fee being £11,112 for a year. In an age where education is strongly encouraged, how can people finance such endeavours when their annual earnings cannot cover it, not to mention having enough money left over to actually live on.

One cannot argue with the fact that economic growth has brought about vast changes in the way the 'Western' population live, but with such variances between the richest and poorest people in the world, can we really adopt the Galbraithean term and call ourselves the 'affluent society'? Are all our material wants satisfied? I know mine aren't, I could reel off a whole list of things I want, yet this doesn't necessarily mean I need them. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that due to the time we've grown up and are living in, our wants are great, if not infinite and we always want more and so we'll never have enough due to ideological and limited financial reasons.

This human instinct of desiring what we can't/don't have is true in most societies, but not all. Take hunter-gatherer societies for example. American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins hypothesized that hunter-gatherers are in fact 'the original affluent society'. This theory is based on the fact that hunter-gatherers practice an efficient culture of a refined mode of subsistence, desiring little and consequently being able to meet those desires. Surely then, these people are affluent and not us? Can we really say we live in a modern 'superior' way to them if our culture has left us wanting more, yet they are seemingly content? Hunter-gatherers therefore do not live in mixed or market economies like us, but rather live among plenty.

The stereotypical view of hunter-gatherers cast them as groups of people struggling to survive, constantly on the brink of starvation with no homes or material possessions. This however is simply not the case, even for present day hunter-gatherers. To save you from an anthropological essay about hunter-gatherer subsistence and culture I shall briefly contradict those incorrect, yet popularly thought assumptions. For nomadic groups, having material possessions is a burden, as owning many belongings hinders their movement, which, by the way is by choice. By being nomadic, hunter-gatherers are able to exploit the landscape for both plant and animal resources, maintain knowledge of the environment and maintain kin, trade or insurance ties with other nomadic clans.

Nomadic hunter-gatherers have no requirement for surplus food as they do not have home bases to store it. So along with no time needed for conserving and storing food nor wasting time obtaining material possessions they have plenty of time for leisure activities, something that is missed in the 9-5, five-day working week in our society. The Hadza group from Tanzania for example have until fairly recently refused to undertake in agricultural or wage labour as they saw this as too much work and preferred to carry on living in their sphere of cultural plenty with daily hours given to leisure, not work. In some cases where hunter-gatherers have undertaken in paid work, anthropologists have reported that the groups societal organisation and structure has changed and become less egalitarian. This correlates to our society where employment and financial capabilities are translatable into positions of authority and superiority and more often than not lead to gender inequality within the workplace.

So who is 'winning' in life, the 'Western' population who slave away and stress over working long hours earning money to live on yet not enough to subdue their endless material yearnings, or hunter-gatherers who choose leisure over work and still have more. So how can we take on these hunter-gatherer ways of life? Don't we all want less time at work and more time for leisure? What is it that they do so well that we could start to do which would then improve our own quality of life? At this stage in our 'westernisation' and 'modernisation' I think it is safe to say we're not all going to burn down our houses and become nomadic, but maybe we could all disconnect a bit from other material possessions like our phones or computers and social media, things that keep is in contact with people and 'in the know', things that we have become too reliant on.