Ed Driscoll

The Return Of The Son Of The Re-Primitive

Last month we linked to a Mark Steyn article on what he and Robert D. Kaplan dubbed “re-primitivized man“:

Writing about the collapse of nations such as Somalia, the Atlantic Monthly’s Robert D. Kaplan referred to the “citizens” of such “states” as “re-primitivized man.” When lifelong Torontonians are hot for decapitation, when Yorkshiremen born and bred and into fish ‘n’ chips and cricket and lousy English pop music self-detonate on the London Tube, it would seem that the phenomenon of “re-primitivized man” has been successfully exported around the planet. It’s reverse globalization: The pathologies of the remotest backwaters now have franchise outlets in every Western city. You don’t have to be a loser Ontario welfare recipient like Steven Chand, the 25-year-old Muslim convert named in the thwarted prime ministerial beheading. Omar Sheikh, the man behind the beheading of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, was an English “public” (i.e., private) schoolboy and graduate of the London School of Economics.

In his latest Macleans column, Steyn writes that were deluding ourselves as a culture if we fall into the postmodern myth that primitive man was actually as tranquil as many of our multicultural betters wish to believe:

Lawrence Keeley [a University of Illinois professor of anthropology] calculates that 87 per cent of primitive societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65 per cent of them were fighting continuously. “Had the same casualty rate been suffered by the population of the twentieth century,” writes Wade, “its war deaths would have totaled two billion people.” Two billion! In other words, we’re the aberration: after 50,000 years of continuous human slaughter, you, me, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Harper, Rummy, Condi, we’re the nancy-boy peacenik crowd. “The common impression that primitive peoples, by comparison, were peaceful and their occasional fighting of no serious consequence is incorrect. Warfare between pre-state societies was incessant, merciless, and conducted with the general purpose, often achieved, of annihilating the opponent.”

Why then, against all the evidence, do we venerate the primitive? And to the point of pretending a bunch of torturing marauders devised the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution. We do it for the same reason we indulge behaviour like that at Caledonia, Ont. We want to believe that the yard, the cul-de-sac, the morning commute, the mall are merely the bland veneer of our lives, and that underneath we are still that noble primitive living in harmony with the great spirits of the forest and the mountain. The reality is that “civilization” — Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian — worked very hard to stamp out the primitive within us, and for good reason.

Curious, isn’t it, that even as technology increasingly empowers the individual, vast tracts of the left wish for the return of the primitive?