What does it mean to be “primitive”? Really, that is a rhetorical question because the only answer is that it depends on your point of view. Probably nobody thinks their ways are primitive. If your lifestyle is functional then it is simply the way you live. You may lead a low-tech lifestyle in a cabin in the woods and look upon people living in high-rise urban environments as unenlightened and out of touch. To them you may seem primitive. To you, they may seem devolved.

Research into ancient civilizations is generating a lot of buzz as older and older societies become discovered to have more and more advanced understanding of astronomy and mathematics. Cultures preceding the year 14,000 are responsible for creating some of the most difficult to build and high minded cultural monuments the world has ever known. It is quickly becoming clear that hunter-gatherers who should be thought of as “primitive” were anything but.

It is time to reframe our definition of “primitive” and maybe use different words to describe that concept. Perhaps just describing the differences in cultures is enough without placing value judgements on how those differences compare to others. For example, the high tech Puebloan culture of the American Southwest was extensive in its social development and the infrastructure it was able to create. But in the end it became top heavy and unsustainable. When faced with uncontrollable outside forces (possibly climate change and/or strong adversarial culture groups from the North) the center could not hold, and its people disbanded into smaller groups that regressed to more of their hunter-gatherer roots.

Hunter-gatherer cultures may lack numbers and infrastructure, but the lifestyle is almost indestructible. Eat what’s available or learn how to find it. Move when you need to and learn when to go. If you are satisfied and comfortable with a subsistence lifestyle in which you know how to thrive, there is little that can be taken from you. You can be at peace. You know how to live in harmony with your world. You exist in a state of all-ness that those disconnected from the earth go to church to obtain. In short, you live a life that integrates the body and soul in a way that would seem almost mythical to a person working a factory assembly line for a subsistence wage.

When looked at from this perspective “primitivism” can be seen as a choice, as indeed it was for hunter-gather cultures of the Mojave Desert who shared trade networks with the more “advanced” Puebloans to the East.

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