Hunting-Gathering Would Kill Just About All of Us but Law Alone Can’t Stop It
Conflict still exists between modern farmers and traditional gatherer-hunters.1 In one place, someone “stole fruit” and was shot dead. Someone else said he didn’t even recognize that the fruit-stealer was a human being, until he got closer. Someone from the fruit-taker’s tribe later justified living nomadically in the jungle without houses and intended that it continue. A local law enforcement officer told a reporter that the law against taking someone’s property, including fruit growing on trees, would continue to be enforced, because someone planted the tree that produced the fruit.2
Many like-minded conflicts continue around the world. Some are with hunter-gatherers. More are likely instead with horticulturalists and agriculturalists who use traditional methods that in particular occupy too much land to sustain the modern population or that may be compact enough but who otherwise remove so much land, perhaps by declaring it sacred and therefore largely unusable by humans, that the land per average person is too scarce to support today’s global population. Tradition itself is not the problem; but tradition that contradicts our survival is a problem. Preserving land as sacred or under some other rubric is not the problem, but making so much of it unavailable so that many of us are unable to survive is a problem.
Focusing here, for clarity, on gatherer-hunters, one estimate pegged the modern number at around ten million. Another is that five million lived “in the past few hundred years”. Given that the world population today is around seven and a half billion, over 99 percent are anything but hunter-gatherers. Even at that rate, there may still be too many hunter-gatherers to be compatible with the survival of all of us. If the gatherer-hunter traditionalists want all of us to emulate their choices, we need to examine how gathering-hunting as the lifelong sole source of food would impact all of us, and how rapidly.
Hunter-gatherers depend on all nonhuman life — plants, nonhuman animals, bacteria, all of it — sustaining itself without human help and despite humans killing some of it. In this system, life can reproduce itself enough to make up for what humans kill. Humans have to adjust themselves, maybe by following animals as they travel through the seasons so the people can always hunt the animals. Hunting-gathering has supported the global human population for millennia until recently, and, for some people, can continue to.
But there’s a cost, and the cost has crept to terrible heights in a way we don’t think about. We think about keeping today’s status quo and a little about why, enough for general agreement; but we don’t think about the most fundamental reason for keeping it, which we’d agree on and which puts hunting-gathering on an almost-impossible footing.
For life without human inputs to sustain us, we need a lot of land. One estimate says “7 to 500 square miles . . . of land per capita”. Another said between one and 25 square miles of land per individual human being.3 Richer land can be more compact per person but we can’t all live only where land is rich. We could try, but then there’d be less land to live on and therefore the total land would be lived on by fewer of us. So, we’ll have to make do with marginal land, too. We haven’t counted ocean area, probably because it’s difficult to catch enough edible sealife using tools and methods consistent with sustainability of life and gathering-hunting. Gathering-hunting probably blocks heavy industrial manufacturing anywhere. And we don’t know how to support ourselves down on the seabed without carrying too much stuff down from the land to be economically viable. But even that’s not much of a loophole. If we lived on every square inch of underwater seabed and if we breathed from oxygen tanks, we still couldn’t make it by gathering-hunting. We still need a lot of space on Earth to support anyone.
I doubt anyone knows how much seabed there is and will tell us, since a lot of it is not flat and hasn’t been publicly mapped and I doubt any of the world’s navies will tell us what they know from their war preparations. But we have a good idea of the surface area of Earth including ocean surface. This figure probably adds nothing for mountainsides and other features and it’s probably based on the Earth being a mathematically perfect sphere when it probably should be reduced because the planet is somewhat flatter at the poles, but it’s a good starting point: nearly 197 million square miles.4
We can easily look up how much land exists.5 If we count everything that’s not submerged by ocean, even counting mountainsides, deserts, Antarctica, cities, waste dumps, abandoned railroads, and everything below sea level that’s not underwater, we still don’t have enough land to support everyone on gathering and hunting alone.
Imagine that we all converted to hunting-gathering worldwide tomorrow morning and stayed with it. These are estimates: Out of every 35 people alive today, 34 would have to die.
Without water, we die in a few days. Without food, we die in about a month.6 In about a month, we’d have more than seven billion human corpses dead from starvation and thirst. For those of us who survive, near each of us roughly 34 rotting carcasses would be collecting insects, vultures, worms, and germs ready to infect those of us who are still breathing. No time to bury that many of them. Probably not enough shovels. The stench would be overwhelming. And you’d know some of them, you’d recognize their faces, some elderly, some still babies, a few you hated, most you didn’t know but they’re still human, now just cadavers, many of them wretchedly twisted cadavers.
This doesn’t even count murder. If you think you’ll survive but only if you’re fit and smart and most other people will die in a month or so and until they die they’ll consume resources (mainly food and water) that you need, and law enforcement is almost nonexistent, killing weaklings a few weeks before they’d die anyway looks like a smart move for your survival. But let’s keep it simple and assume that somehow no one murders anyone.
Suppose some of us think that we’re too many people anyway so it doesn’t matter.Ask around. Get a second opinion. Some people think we need many more people, and they push to make babies, even forcing women to become pregnant. Some other people think we don’t all need to make babies, and are happy to let other people make enough babies. If we can support more babies into adulthood, all those new people offer new brains and new muscles and our whole societies can do more. The first nations to put people into orbit in outer space had very large populations who were well-educated and had lots of financial capital. They were not limited to feeding themselves but could also build rockets that worked very well. This is not limited to large nations. All nations can cooperate and probably all do on some matters, albeit not on everything.
Our potential accomplishments are stunning. Medically, we might extend life to the genetic limit of 115 years per person, and find ways to sustain older people through economics, social engagement, and politics, such as employment and communications. The arts would likely become yet more varied than they are now. Scholarship, including science, even including theology, would grow, both in specialization and in breadth of knowledge, and more of us would read it. Disasters on Earth could be anticipated by traveling to other planets and beyond, opening new light-years to explore.
We could argue against all modern technological development, that medicines of just one century ago are good enough, that cave paintings are meaningful and beautiful, that when people right down here are hungry space travel is an unaffordable waste, and that village elders have already been smart enough to keep tribes alive for thousands of years and will continue to. There’s much to be said for each of those arguments, many people support those arguments, some people have acted on them by actively destroying a few instances of modernism (as when the Luddites did it to preserve employment), and larger numbers of leaders have limited young people’s education to old content so (they might hope) modernity would gain little foothold.
However, overall, majorities disagree. Society won’t shut down most of the products of modernity. This kind of modernity requires enough people to be around to lay the groundwork and create what we now have and now demand.
More pragmatically, more immediately existentially, if two nations are afraid of each other and each worries about a possible military take-over by the other, one growing its population more than the other will usually give the one an advantage the other eventually may not be able to defeat.
People demand more people. A growth argument is compelling to many people.
Even a stable population is acceptable to many people. A pro-stabilization organization used to call itself Zero Population Growth but discovered people thought it meant a call for “zero people”. Support dwindled to so low that the group changed its name to a less controversial choice.
Almost no one, however, asks for even half the world population to take their last gasps. Even the organization called Negative Population Growth advocates for two children per family, implying that turning 97 percent of us into corpses in a month would be far too extremist even for that group. Genocidalists focus on certain groups they believe should be dead and are not against some others surviving, regardless of population numbers. Slavers want most potential slaves to be alive, so they wouldn’t agree with getting that many deaths. One of the worst national-scale modern intentional mass-death situations that comes to mind was of approximately a fifth of the national population (Cambodia/Kampuchea), thus was not of 97% and took several years, not a month or two. Colonizers may have killed higher proportions of native people in the Western hemisphere, we’ve only recently calculated the population size preceding the first colonizers’ arrival, but, however high the killing numbers, those being killed and their survivors were not consenting. I don’t know of anyone advocating for any policy that would result in sudden mass deaths of a majority worldwide.
If anyone did advocate for this, the first question may be, which population should disappear? “You mean my family? I love my kids. No, no. Oh, you meant the nasty horribles who live across the border? Actually, I’d rather burn their houses down, that’s more efficient, but the army would shoot me, and those idiots will keep having babies even if I tell them not to.” Okay, this is hypothetical, but thoughts like that would come to many people’s minds, globally.
Or we could condemn people because those are the individuals who are less deserving of living. This could be seen as survival of the fittest. If an earthquake leaves thousands barely alive and likely to die, those are survivors, but we could refuse to do anything for the survivors. Sick people who are burdening society and with little chance of recovery might look like good candidates; we could just stop treatment and give them TVs to watch, or no TVs because what difference would it make? The worst criminals, those already sentenced to multiple life terms or effective life in prison (one fellow was sentenced to 13 life sentences and also to 455 years) and who don’t have outside families advocating for their release might also look like good candidates; we could reverse-commute their sentences to capital punishment (this would require a change in law but if we feel strongly enough an amendment can be arranged).
But we’re moving away from those views. We’re not closing any lifesaving disaster-relief agencies, we struggle to treat the sickest even at societal (taxpayer) expense, we release a few prisoners early and we debate about more, and we have not enacted a reverse-commutation law. So any effort to explicitly reduce our population requires not just agreeing to do so but reversing our present-day expansionist preferences. I doubt even one nation would agree, and there are roughly a couple of hundred of them.
Let’s be practical. There’s no chance 97 percent of the world’s human beings will go along with dying in a few weeks. If you could convince them to start hunting-gathering tomorrow, they’d quickly change their minds and restart farming.
Maybe this wasn’t an issue when conquerors from Europe sailed across oceans and introduced diseases and stabbed natives. The conquerors were far fewer than the native people they defeated. Maybe the numbers that would come from growth led by Europeans were not significant, while the decimation of indigenous peoples was highly significant in a negative way. The natives suffered negative population growth through no known intention on their part. Yet one case has been made that Chinese visitors came to what is now the Americas before Christopher Columbus did7 and apparently they either stayed to live with local predecessors or stayed in isolated locales until they went home, without killing millions of the indigenous. So an empirical case can be made that the Europeans were not only cruel but gratuitously cruel and should not have been.
Regardless, subsequent generations have taken advantage of the opportunities the conquerors created. Today, the world’s population has soared to around seven and a half billion people, partly because we found ways to live in places in which we’d have died before and partly because over time we’ve studied, learned, and shared how to do things in new ways. Now, hunting-gathering would mean death to 34 out of every 35 of us and we won’t go along with that. That’s a massacre in a month, at a scale and size we’ve historically almost never come close to.
If classifying most of us as privileged is to suggest that those of us who are privileged by using more efficient economic systems should tread lightly and accept the rights of hunter-gatherers to hunt and gather as their sole means of economic survival if they so wish, that favors the death of nearly everyone, and that’s politically unrealistic. Some minorities need protection, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of society, such as when people in religious minorities are also problem-solvers who should have access to secular high-level education and subsequent employment and entrepreneurship for many professions and creative fields. But other minorities should be wiped out, such as murderers, rapists, and arsonists, all of those being practitioners of nonconsensual choices that harm individual and society. Society has to consider which minorities warrant protection, to what degrees, and in what ways, and that will vary by time and community.
If gathering-hunting is posited as a form of political resistance in itself, akin to nonviolent resistance for Black civil rights in the U.S. South and later the passive recreational use of marijuana leading to law reform now underway, consider that the former went faster (it’s not finished but an African-American was elected into the Presidency twice) and that the former included much more work in educating the public about why the goals were important and in building coalitions of supporters. Gathering-hunting advocates should study the political environment to try to identify weaknesses in the opposition and see if they find enough openings to make a difference. I doubt they’ll find much.
Granted, hunting-gathering has its appeal. It takes less time than capitalist or socialist self-sufficiency, 15 hours a week instead of 40, maybe because gatherer-hunters are less ambitious, maybe because gathering-hunting depends on denying more ambitious plans. If you can pluck anything anywhere, property protection gets in the way and must be nearly zero (you can own a tool in your hand but not an acre too far to see). Without much treated as property, the laws and institutions needed to preserve property rights are not needed. Society is simpler. Conflict among hunter-gatherers is less. If I catch a rabbit and you wanted to catch it, you can catch another, so you wouldn’t have a complaint anyone would care much about. Without much property protection, most modern development is too unruly and expensive to try. To build a factory when anyone can occupy and repurpose it because all property is for all people requires that the intended owner of the factory employ thuggery, guards without legal or societal authority to act as guards, in turn justifying countering with neutralization of the lawless guards in order to take and repurpose the factory. This won’t be exactly new. Nomads and farmers have been battling, probably lethally, likely for as long as agriculture has existed, eight thousand years and counting. The nomads wanted the right to cross and the farmers wanted the right to stop them at the fence and the nomads wanted the right to rip open the fences and the farmers wanted the right to stomp the nomads and the nomads wanted the right to throw the farmers into a river and so forth and so on.
Eventually, a decision resolved the conflict. The decision applied to one microversion of the conflict, but it was repeated in most places the world over. It wasn’t mainly by the gatherer-hunters or by the people applying other economic systems. It was mostly by the consumers who maybe didn’t care how they got what they could consume, but either wanted or didn’t want what they were consuming and what would be coming. And, it turned out, they largely wanted it. They wanted mostly what only later economic systems could deliver, those that recognized vast and complex property rights and obligations. And now, probably almost any parcel of land that we agree is habitable or economically useful is functionally owned by some person or some governmental unit.
Not that gathering-hunting has totally disappeared as an economic system for humans, nor must it. But the exceptions probably won’t please its practitioners.
It can survive where no one else wants to go. However, these days, those remaining places are few, isolated, and difficult to reach or live in. They’re likely to become fewer, such as if a valuable mineral is believed to be underground and miners are brought in to try to dig it up. Or maybe it’s got a nice view, a good place for second homes for affluent people who like pristine wilderness, vast sky, and ocean views. If a real estate developer’s money isn’t enough for the indigenes, maybe the national government will take the money, shove the natives aside at gunpoint, and hand the land to the developers who will pay taxes. I don’t think that once land is claimed and worked under a more modern economic system it is usually returned to hunter-gatherers’ use. It’s probably too expensive to buy back and the people who would buy it back likely couldn’t wait and moved on. Isolated real estate is getting scarcer.
It can survive where tourism brings enough capital that practitioners can be paid or subsidized because tourists want to stare wide-eyed or want to meet the people doing it. To the tourists, most of these people are odd. However, that turns the place into a zoo.8 Being invisible would defeat tourism, because few tourists would pay just to be told that gathering-hunting occurs. The tourists would want to see it being done or would want to talk with the people living it. So hunter-gatherers would have to be tour guides and apologists. It also risks viewers’ disgust and its consequences; if tourists don’t want to see natives eating bugs, the natives may have to stop being seen eating bugs. And even eating bugs in private may not be allowable if the result is that they don’t have to eat much in public and therefore don’t demonstrate hunting-gathering and don’t attract tourists to gawk open-jawed at their lifestyle and ask the same questions over and over out of stupidity.
It can survive where scholars want to study it and interact with it. Scholars tend to find that being more respectful than tourists are is helpful to their research. However, that would turn the site into a laboratory. Many people don’t like feeling part of someone else’s experiment. Even natural experiments may gradually lose their appeal as natives learn about them and the scholars’ judgments about the natives and the effects in larger societies.
And it can survive where an exception to allow is granted by people with the power to do so and to maintain the exception. Perhaps the likeliest reason for granting the exception is shame or guilt over the shoving aside of gatherer-hunters in the self-interest of those who shoved in order to advance some other economic system, shame or guilt in the latter people, but that probably has to be sought and maintained partly by gatherer-hunters and tends eventually to expire. For example, there’s not much embarrassment, to my knowledge, in modern non-Italian nations over the termination of the Roman Empire. At any rate, an exception granted so hunting-gathering can survive has to encompass, in total, only a relatively few hunter-gatherers and yet tends to be expensive. An example of a limitation might be for a group of people who, themselves and ancestors, have lived as gatherer-hunters for a long enough duration that it’s almost certain that no other people will qualify. Anyone doing this has to prepare for two arguments that numerous other people will raise, “if they can do it so can I” and “the rest of us don’t so how come those people are allowed?” In the U.S., an example is in treaty rights negotiated in colonial times with some Native American tribes. That it’s a treaty is a major issue within the domestic law of a nation where the given people are, but I don’t think any tribe of Native Americans recognized as a nation for purposes of treaties is recognized as a nation by any non-U.S. nation recognized in international relations such as members of the United Nations, and therefore the treaties between such tribes and the U.S. are entirely part of U.S. domestic law. Thus, more exceptions of this type are unlikely to be agreed to.
Enraging to many, doubtless. Many people in any economic system, including hunting-gathering, find any of those treatments uncomfortable enough that they’d refuse to partake. However, refusal would remove an economic justification for supporting or even allowing limited hunting-gathering. Societies can allow or forbid any economic system as long as they allow at least one and what’s allowed suffices for, at least, personal and familial survival. If deprivation by society forces the death of many members of any ethnic group, that’s genocide. It’s unclear whether genocide is unlawful under general international law but it likely is unlawful by treaty and domestic law.
Gathering-hunting is an easy target: if we had stayed only with that system, most people alive today would never have been born and most of our parents and grandparents would never have been born. And critical elements of it have been banned. Going almost anywhere may violate a law against trespass. Taking the products of agriculture or cattle-raising would generally be theft. Hunting without a license where one is demanded, such as to kill a deer to feed a tribe, is some kind of violation. Hunting out of season would also be some kind of violation. That someone needs food and may not survive much longer unless they eat is not enough to justify gathering and hunting; one needs to lack an alternative and a preference for or a tradition of gathering-hunting is not the same as having no alternative. One might be a traditional believer in hunting-gathering and still have a gift economy or capitalism as an alternative. So, once an alternative is in place, society can ban hunting-gathering altogether. Most of the developed societies and many developing ones have already done just that, by degrees, even if only implicitly.
The persistence of a tradition of hunting-gathering tells us that the laws against the practice are not entirely persuasive to the multigenerational full-time practitioners whose livelihoods depend on the practice. Yet to be more than noncompliant and try to get traditional ways restored in law presents a political challenge more difficult than most well-known political challenges.
People who would restore hunting-gathering have the virtually impossible political task of persuading almost everyone alive that they should die in a few months. Just asking for that would produce a shocking response, the restorationists would have almost no political capital left, and they would have gone to a lot of trouble trying but gaining nothing, or even losing ground, probably credibility, maybe rights, maybe territory, maybe sustenance, perhaps their own lives. In some nations, they’d have the freedom of expression to try; but in others that would be enough to be viewed as threats to people, maybe to national security, probably as insane and fit for confinement if the state decides to pay for custodial facilities. Any version of death is deeply unpopular among targets.
Not just death is unpopular. Gathering-hunting depends on the property concept being weak. Something in a human’s hand or on a human’s body is probably recognized as property; but a fruit hanging from a tree or an arrowhead lying on land is not. To agriculturalists and industrialists, those often are property, and often are valuable or expensive, measured by their replacement cost counted in work needed for replacement. People among whom the property concept is weak are people among whom movable property is of little value. This lowers resistance when people who consider a chattel very valuable take it from people who give it a low value. This taking leaves the people who value the property at low levels with less property and therefore less with which in the long term to sustain themselves through hunting-gathering, in turn reducing the number of people sustainable through gathering-hunting, squeezing gatherer-hunters to convert to some other economic system, possibly returning to hunting-gathering eventually and possibly never returning.
Other people also take property in ways we treat as highly criminal. They also intend to exercise putative rights of property ownership, such as by preventing anyone else from controlling the property. Mafias and nonfilers of tax returns are often among them. However, they’re unlike gatherer-hunters (allowing for a gray zone in between and allowing for agreement on what should not be anyone’s property, also with degrees) because gatherer-hunters reject most of the concept of property while the property-controllers very much embrace the whole concept of property, differing only on who should own an item in question and on the means of facilitating acquisition (e.g., murder) and because hunter-gatherers depend on nonhuman nature being bountiful while the property-controllers depend on humans besides their families being bountiful. The latter depend on humans having jewelry or cars to take and you don’t generally find cars or jewelry blossoming in nonhuman nature. Bank loot doesn’t grow on trees, but it does grow near people, so that’s where bank robbers go.
Hunter-gatherers don’t need to be near very many people. If you want to hunt a giraffe, you need to be near a giraffe, and zoos don’t let you chop up their giraffes, so you’d have to go where giraffes roam unprotected, and people are scarce there. On the other hand, a Mafia does need to be near people. They have the rare painting to be stolen or will buy the worthless overpriced investment stock. Both groups are largely opposed by most of the world, but both groups gain a minor amount of public sympathy, one because most of us agree with maintaining the sustainability of nature (nonhuman and human) and often fail to see how, say, turning most of a large natural forest into cut lumber isn’t going to harm our oxygen supply and the other because many people who are poor and some people who are in the economic middle class and are having difficulty making ends meet by following the rules and customs disagree that some people and other recognizable entities should be not just wealthy but exceptionally wealthy (e.g., decabillionaires). But that difference in opposition makes the base of support for those who take from those owning humanly developed property narrower (unless they redistribute like Robin Hood) than the base of support for gatherer-hunters who take from self-sustainable nonhuman nature.
Once upon a time, gathering-hunting was the norm; it was the only way of making a living for most of the time humanity existed (and is probably the only way used by most species from their inception through now). Now, almost no human uses it as more than an occasional pastime. Most deer hunters cook venison only during hunting season, not most of the year, and usually buy groceries or go to restaurants without buying deer meat. They hunt to protect property from deer or because it’s fun, not much for food. While many nonhuman animals are territorial, employ tools and presumably own them, recall the locations of food for later retrieval, and control the behaviors of select others of the same species, probably no nonhuman believes as extensively in property as do modern humans. We’ve come to be like this only in the last eight millennia or so, only about the latest four percent of the timeline of anatomically modern humans, but now we hold onto it for dear life and, given our population surge and as long as we want most of us to stay alive, dear life is exactly right and we have to hold on.
Conflict, therefore, ensues. Hunter-gatherers in one tiny corner; everyone else in the other three corners and the entire middle. The odds are not good for the gatherer-hunters, but those remaining are tenacious.
That’s not new and solutions have already been tested. At least, they’ve been tried. Physical force, war, deception, law, economics, politics, and theology have all been applied.
Laws alone, tried for centuries, have not totally dissuaded. Laws work in defining rights and duties of people in other economic systems because people largely embrace those systems and want laws to help them, even at some cost. But laws have had limited effect on hunter-gatherers who are far from other people, making enforcement difficult, and don’t see a more viable system at hand. That failure is largely because of adverse politics behind the laws. The laws are promulgated by majorities in which the gatherer-hunters are in a sliver of a minority, not just on one issue but on a whole panoply of issues. Hunting-gathering is usually solitary or small-group work and hunter-gatherers need to live near their raw food supplies (the rest of us can live near supermarkets), so hunter-gatherers tend to be isolated from other populations and therefore from political mainstreams. Isolated people tend to have less influence on mainstreams. So they lose in most mainstream decision-making and they lose on most issues. Even where they accidentally agree, being physically distant from the mainstreamers means they often won’t benefit from agreeing on an issue. Legal and political isolation means they often ignore the majority’s laws and live, from the mainstreamers’ viewpoint, as outlaws. Thus, mainstream law, while necessary, is insufficient.
More is needed to persuade hunter-gatherers to change to economic systems compatible with mainstream society. It’s not enough that law repels. The destination must also attract. Societal strategies have to invite and accept gatherer-hunters into economic systems that support denser populations.
Attraction has been tried in two major ways: of large groups and of small groups. The most infamous has been of large groups and it wasn’t voluntary even if those initially imposing it thought it was for natives’ good: forcefully and (the imposers hope) irreversibly replacing everything native except the natives themselves (keeping them alive being necessary for conversion), banishing modes of dress, diet, and health care, remaking religion and language wholesale, changing personal names (keys to identity for many people), restructuring families, separating young children from their parents, revising education, killing or imprisoning a few adult resisters to make a point, and moving the groups to new locations such as reservations, all of this mostly by force. This has been disastrous, leading to many failures including resistance that cause partial backfirings, but it is still imposed in parts of the world.
Attracting small groups, some of them individuals and families, when voluntary and dependent on the potential attractee appealing to be invited and applying to be accepted (without making those processes overly costly for any reason or more burdensome because the people are disdained for being hunter-gatherers), has been more successful, albeit slower. Education and opportunity to benefit, even to benefit on a large scale, from the economic system to which the hunter-gatherers are being exposed so that they leave hunting-gathering and do well in the economic system that is new to them, benefit in proportion to drive and merit (often spoken of although often denied in practice), not just well relative to other hunter-gatherers but well relative to other participants in the economic system being newly shared, can be persuasive attractants that in turn can persuade other people new to the system to try the new economic environment.
In attracting people from hunting-gathering into capitalism, it may be a show-stopper that capitalism is more difficult to navigate. In gathering-hunting, if you want a tomato, just take it and munch. In capitalism, you usually have to buy it, you usually have to have something with which to buy it, and you usually have to acquire enough over time to buy whatever you need for the rest of your life. That takes skills gatherer-hunters never needed and may lack. Education may seem simple until it turns out that gatherer-hunters are not blank slates who are like sponges in absorbing the long story of capitalism. Capitalism contradicts what hunter-gatherers already know and most of the major contradictions are not easily dismissed. That challenges the educators and therefore education, both theoretical and experiential, may take years, even decades, even generations.
If the number of full-time year-round hunter-gatherers still among us is under one fifth of one percent of the world’s population, we, as a global society, could afford to jail all of them. In the short term, that would work. They wouldn’t be bothering anyone’s property interests. But we could hardly give them life sentences and when they come out they’d likely go back to the system they trust and like. Prison administrators could teach new ways but if the prisoners don’t trust those systems they won’t use them once they have a choice. Over the long haul, instead of punishing, it likely would be more productive to use law very little and to attract gatherer-hunters into more compatible economic systems.