Musings on the isolated Indians of the Brazilian Rainforest

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Last week, National Geographic released some high-resolution images of an “isolated tribe” in the Brazilian rain forest, which were fascinating and which got me thinking.

That some humans have remained untouched by civilisation and continue to live (more or less) as their neolithic ancestors did 20,000 years ago is remarkable. It is also a reminder of how inconceivably spacious our planet is. The area covered by the Amazon rain forest is so vast (about 1.4 billion acres) that these people have gone tens of thousands of years without knowing of the world at large and with the world hardly noticing them.

Human progress, to an extent entirely unimaginable to the members of this isolated tribe, has happened all around them without ever penetrating into the deepest depths of the Amazonian rain forest; without ever penetrating and expanding their minds.

And to think, many environmentalists in the leftist media panic that we’re ‘running out’ of space for people to live on or to bury waste in and then go about declaring that humanity is nearing some crisis. It’s nonsense. The world is much, much bigger than our minds conceive it to be.

Invariably, the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough space to build new houses or to manage waste, it’s that various laws created at the behest of special interest groups prevent land from being utilised at all or in certain ways. It is also that having to gain government permission to develop land makes the process more time-consuming and costly than it otherwise would be – and so fewer people do so. Anyway, I digress.

I can’t help but wonder how much these isolated tribes people know about the modern human world and whether they spend much or any time thinking about it. We know they have some degree of awareness at least. We know that they know aeroplanes and helicopters exist, but do they know these are man-made objects? Or do they believe they are magical or natural creatures? No one knows. According to National Geographic, some tribes have had contact with loggers and gold prospectors, but only the kind involving arrows and bullets.

Furthermore, these isolated tribes have acquired steel tools (e.g. machetes) apparently from raids on nearby contacted tribes and white settlements. So they are also aware that there are other tribal people out there who have superior technology. Surely they wonder how these tools were made or how these other tribes came to have them?

If I befriended an isolated tribe, learned to communicate with them and showed them the modern world through photos and videos, then how would they react to seeing cities, skyscrapers, supermarkets and cathedrals? How would it make them feel to know there are billions of people out there? Would it change their thinking forever or would it be beyond their comprehension? Would they never be the same again, in a good way, or would it just terrify them and be too much to cope with – psychologically. Then again, maybe they wouldn’t let me get physically close enough to them to ever find out.

Even if they wanted to become part of civilisation, would it be possible? After all, they most likely have no conception of private property and probably practice some form of primitive communism. With this in mind, probably the least alien and traumatising place to start them off would be the socialist dictatorship of North Korea. Which, when you think about it, speaks volumes about the supposed moral and material superiority of state socialism over freedom and capitalism.

Some people of an anti-capitalist mindset who romanticise primitivism might admire the way these tribes people live and perhaps even envy their lifestyles. They might look at them and conclude that these people are lucky not to have any of the anxiety, stress and pressure that modern life thrusts upon us civilised human beings.

It’s true that these people do not have to solve the philosophical problems that we modern humans have to, but that’s only because they have no choice but to spend most of their time and mental effort on solving the problem of survival – day after day after day. They don’t have to answer the question, for example, of what meaning their lives should have because the meaning of their lives is already decided by their circumstances. It is to survive.

Personally, I think it’s rather sad that due to unfortunate circumstances human progress has passed these people by, but I suppose it was inevitable given the size of the planet. The sheer physical distance between them and the rest of humanity has acted like a moat across which civilisation has not (yet) crossed.

This reminds us that for most of human history, one of the greatest obstacles to the spread of knowledge and human advancement has simply been distance. And for some, like our isolated Indians, even when much of the rest of the world is communicating knowledge at something near the speed of light, it still is.

It’s probably only a matter of time until some enterprise gains illegitimate control of the land by scratching the backs of some vote-chasing politicians. When this happens the tribe’s fate will be in the hands of the one institute in the civilised world which is uncivilised and yet all-powerful – the state.

How oddly appropriate it would be if ‘might is right’, which is a system of social order that belongs in the Stone Age but has somehow survived into the 21st century, should be the force that finally destroy a prehistoric tribe that has done the same. Appropriate but not surprising given that the state is by far the biggest and most powerful raiding tribe around.

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