The instinct to seek out and hunt down prey still strong

STEPHEN OLIVER
Last updated 08:19 27/08/2012

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Stephen Oliver

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A great national characteristic borne out of necessity is our ability to survive at ground level. Most of us work several jobs if we can manage it. It is never easy. And cash in hand has always been one of the great unwritten edicts in an unwritten “Charter of Survival” that we all have at one time or another magically tabled in our dreams to a higher authority of our own imagining, or one imposed upon us by social convention.

Presbyterianism says, “An honest day's work for an honest day's pay.” Catholicism says, “Be thankful for your lot and do not complain.” Both moribund rationales out of touch with day-to-day reality.

Be happy with your lot, say the clerics. Why should one, I ask, if there are alternatives. Yet what is accessible to one is not to another, and so forth. If one can observe, weigh the odds, and articulate a balanced point of departure then one has a fighting chance. There are all sorts of arguments put forward as to why some of us do not succeed. But we are not talking about antiquated family value systems, the mainstay of certain peoples, ethnicities and cultures, tantamount to turning a blind eye to petty and/or recidivist criminal activity that might result in damage to property and loss of life.

If family is regarded as paramount and a mainstay to the survival of that family and by implication the extended family or clan, such value systems have evolved through decades and maybe survived cultural upheavals such as mass migrations. The grass is always greener on the other side - I suppose the same could be said of muggings, assaults, rape, murder and intimidation, too, the downside of the migratory equation.

There is no Garden of Eden - no Shangri-La. There never was. Idealism does not work when it comes down to who has access to resources and how the dissemination of wealth and equality is applied. When social mores are questioned and critical mass is reached between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, that is when the tipping point is reached. History is fraught with such episodes. Revolution, reaction and counter-reaction. The shifting of the power base until that power base in turn is usurped and thus the tidal ebb and flow continues. Life is cyclical not linear.

Idealism is borne out of ideas construed into value systems for the common good. Adjustments between one cultural group's value-system and another where one is phase-locked into an antique hierarchy of inflexible cultural archetypes that belong to a pre-industrial agrarian culture of hunter gatherers, in opposition to a technocratic society, means that one will inevitably absorb the other. This process is one of conflict by necessity. Compromises are made where necessary, but once a primitive (so called) society engages with a technologically advanced one an assimilation process takes place that involves primary mutations of cultural value to ethnic groups belonging to hunter-gatherer societies. Once the application of an antique value system is removed from its natural environment then those values become atrophied, thus the practical application of such values is severely depleted and lost.

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We observe this playing out across Europe. This process operated long before we introduced arbitrary borders. The same game is being played out now as it has always been. Some win. Some lose. Some are absorbed by one group into another. Some cultural identities vanish. Eventually, cultural distinctions will become nothing more than DNA signatures.

This in an age of Nano-statistics and analysis, with every tool available to count and assess. We labour under the illusion of acceleration in our lives, not only in our technological advances, but in what we see as the rapidity of change for its own sake. Time appears to speed up. Cultural exchange becomes a series of crosscurrents in the sheer confusion and dynamism of that change. Hunter-gatherer societies can never return to an original Edenic state of comparative equilibrium that existed before interception by an Iron Age culture. One cannot go back to the wilderness, the jungles and the atolls because those environments have been severely depleted and cannot sustain such a culture en masse or rather can but only in microcosm. But then, that is impossible, too, given that the dependency on basic commodities for survival has shifted.

We have heard it all before. How one invading people quells and subjugates another. Some adapt and preserve vestiges of the original culture while others do not. We all at one stage lived in round houses and thatched huts. We all at one time hunted down our quarry. That instinct remains strong. Though there are conflicting cultural viewpoints as to what defines “quarry” or “prey”.

Stephen Oliver is the author of 16 volumes of poetry. He resides in the King Country, and is a writer and voice artist.

- Waikato Times

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