The Pigmies are a wonderful people. As a whole, they are brave, wise and generous. Their culture seems to be little changed for perhaps the last 60,000 years. What follows is a wonderful parable, with implications for us all.
Mbuti Pigmies hunt collectively. Some hunters put up nets and the rest of the group shouts and beats the ground to frighten animals into the nets. At the end of the hunt everyone shares in the bounty.
Sometime back, a “rugged individualist named Cephu” realized he could put his net in front of the other nets and keep the best animals for himself as long as he was not caught doing so.
Unfortunately for Cephu, he was caught and was brought before the whole group.
“At an impromptu trial, Cephu defended himself with arguments for individual initiative and personal responsibility. “He felt he deserved a better place in the line of nets,” Turnbull wrote. “After all, was he not an important man, a chief, in fact, of his own band?” But if that were the case, replied a respected member of the camp, Cephu should leave and never return. The Mbuti have no chiefs, they are a society of equals in which redistribution governs everyone’s livelihood. The rest of the camp sat in silent agreement.”
“Civilization” or “progress” is a cancer if by that path we lose our ties to the earth and to each other. There is no amount of personal wealth that can replace being loved in community. Ayn Rand based her call to selfishness and hoarding on evolution. She appealed to a “survival of the fittest” mindset. But, like most primates, human beings are social animals and must co-operate to live fully. We will not survive by turning into ruthless individuals. Or should I say that the stunted animal that survived through such selfishness would not be human.