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OUR OBSESSION OVER FOOD IS RIDICULOUS

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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.

It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.

Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).

On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.

And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”

Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.

The Noble Savage Myth

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The term “noble savage”, referring to the so-called “natural man” who has not been corrupted by civilization, first appeared in The Conquest of Granada by the English playwright, John Dryden (1631 – 1700). Since then it has been a popular theme in books, television, and movies with stories like Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and Avatar espousing noble-savage philosophies.

The Genevan philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) believed there to be a distinction between human nature and society. Taking his inspiration from John Locke’s (1632 – 1704) philosophy of innate goodness, Rousseau believed human beings were inherently peaceful and that concepts like sin and wickedness and bore no consequence to the natural man. Rather it was society that had perverted mankind’s natural sense of ‘amour de soi’ (a form of positive self-love which Rousseau saw as a combination of reason and the natural instinct for self-preservation) had been corrupted by societal forces. Rosseau wrote in the 18th century:

“Nothing can be more gentle than he in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the pernicious good sense of civilized man.”

While Rousseau was not the first philosopher to posit that society may have a corrupting influence (the French philosopher, Montaigne (1533 – 1592) described the lives of Native Americans as being so idyllic that he claimed they did not have words for lying, cheating, avarice, or envy, and that they did not need to work), it has been his influence that has been the most damaging. The first attempt to politicise Rousseauan philosophy, the French Revolution, ended not with paradise on earth, but with the mass executions that characterised the reign of terror.  The social movements that have followed Rousseauan ideals have worked on the notion that it is society, not the individual, that is to blame for social problems. No aspect of human nature is responsible for evil, that is the result of a bad home, a bad neighbourhood, prejudice, poverty, and so forth. Human emotions are ultimately benevolent; evil and brutality are the results of social stressors on the individual. It is this philosophy that has been the driving force behind virtually all social programs.

The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679), saw life in a state of nature as one of perpetual civil war. According to Hobbes, life in a state of nature was “nasty, brutish, and short” (this, rather amusingly, has been used to describe the careers of some football managers). Since concepts like morality and justice have no place in a state of nature, the natural man has no concept of them. In Leviathan, written in 1651, Hobbes asked the reader to imagine what their lives would be like if they lived outside the protection of the state. Without law and order there are no checks and balances on an individual’s behaviour. Human beings, therefore, must be kept in check by an authority that has the ability to punish wickedness. Kings and governments have a responsibility to teach their citizens to be just, to not deprive others of their property, including their lives, through theft, fraud, murder, rape, and so forth. Hobbes believed the only way people could protect themselves from the trials and tribulations of life would be to transfer authority to a Government and a King.

The “noble savage” idea is a myth, pure and simple. It is merely a means for shifting responsibility away from the individual towards society. It is time for people to put this ridiculous belief in the one place it belongs: the waste-paper bin.