George Walford: Persistence

The greens tell us that the peoples living in close contact with nature act with restraint, treat their environment caringly and take no more than they need. The anthropologists present a different picture; as their knowledge of the early people has grown they have increasingly come to see them as careless destroyers; not deliberate vandals, but people intent upon satisfaction of their immediate wants, regardless of the effects upon the environment. Even with the limited powers available to them they managed, for example, to bring down the numbers of the larger animals in Europe to a point where they could no longer live on them, reducing themselves to reliance upon the more troublesome small creatures. [1] As society and civilisation have developed this tendency has been increasingly brought under control, but it has been repressed rather than eliminated, continuing to influence behaviour and sometimes bursting out in its original directness.

In England today there are still people treating the animal world as a source of livelihood from which all may take what they will to meet their individual needs, disregarding attempts to fence it off into spheres of private ownership. A reporter has recently recounted his experiences with a small group who take salmon illegally to supplement their wages, passing the catch to middlemen who make the big profits. [2] What they do may well be called subsistence fishing, a term not carzying the same implications of misbehaviour as poaching. One of this group distinguished between their own activities and those of the gangs who come from the cities and take larger quantities, but if the members of those live from the sale of their catch then they also are entitled to be called subsistence fishers.

There are, of course, differences between the early hunter-gatherers and these modern equivalents, but they lie in the social context rather than in the activities of the hunters or fishers themselves. These are the same, even down to some of the details (the local people hoik the fish out with a hook on a pole), showing that the two groups, separated by hundreds of thousands of years and the whole development of civilisation, none the less operate by the one ideology.

[1] Mithen S. J. “To Hunt or to Paint Animals and Art in the Upper Palaeolithic,” in MAN Vol 23 No.4 Dec 1988.
[2] [Missing in the original.]

from Ideological Commentary 44, March 1990.