The bioethics of hunting and gathering societies

Gowdy, J.M.

Review of Social Economy 50(2): 130-148


ISSN/ISBN: 0034-6764
DOI: 10.1080/759368611
Document Number: 366098
Hunting and gathering societies are generally considered to represent the lowest form of human existence. These societies, when mentioned at all by economists, are held up as examples of the terrible fate awaiting those who waiver in the quest for technological advance and economic growth. By contrast, the article argues that the hunting and gathering way of life has represented, in many ways, the most successful lifestyle yet devised by humans. An awareness of the characteristics of hunting and gathering societies is important since: (1) it was a lifestyle that prevailed for some 99% of human existence; (2) such a lifestyle offers clues as to ways to make prevailing economies more environmentally benign; and (3) at the same time clues are offered as to ways to make more developed economies more socially equitable. Consideration is given to: life in hunting and gathering societies; hunter-gatherers and the environment; the social characteristics of hunter-gatherers; the neolithic 'great leap forward'; and the lessons that can be learned from hunter-gatherer societies. Modern times are increasingly characterized by despair. Modern society appears out of control and on the brink of disaster. Understanding how past societies solved the basic problem of living within environmental constraints with a maximum of human freedom may provide a key to ensuring the long-run survival of the earth's inhabitants today.

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