The fuss over Survival International’s “uncontacted tribes” (see my earlier piece) hasn’t ceased — the Huffington Post and others continue to spread the original news largely uncritically. (William at the excellent Integral Options Cafe shared that news, but has now kindly amended his post in response to my own comment regarding it.)
Now Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology has stepped in to clarify things in much greater detail than I could possibly have done. His ‘The last free people on the planet’ is a very well balanced and informative summary which, while it raises the question of what it means to be “free” and especially “last,” renders the issue much more understandable.
There’s a part of me that hopes this will be the last word on the topic. But of course that’s the problem — it shouldn’t be the last of anything. Freedom, including freedom “from civilization” (as technological societies like to characterize themselves), should remain an option for as long as there remain people on the planet.
In his 2008 Seed article, Downey had summarized the matter well:
“The crucial issue raised by these photos of a remote group isolated from our society is not whether, in an age of worldwide connectivity, surveillance satellites, and explosive population growth, we might still have undiscovered neighbors on a shrinking globe — we don’t. In fact, one of [Brazilian Indian Affairs spokesperson] Meirelles’s friends first noticed the clearing where the tribe was found while browsing Google Earth.
“In truth, our reactions to and perceptions of these people reveal far more about us than about them. We easily believe that a band of hostile Indians confronting an airplane from a clearing do so out of ignorance and fear. But the likely truth is harder to face: The tribe might have threatened the observers precisely because they had encountered some of the worst aspects of our culture before, and suffered grievously. These images of a people courageously standing against us are not symbols of their ignorance, but of ours.”