They are a people of the Amazon. Simple. Ancient by our standards. Of their own.
Reading, and later listening to Anthropologist and Linguist, Dan Everett, I considered some of this tribe’s cultural staples as possible guiding principles for my own life as this new year begins.
The Pirahã (pronounced Pee-da-HAN) tribe is an incredibly happy lot. The evidence from scholars and anthropologists is less the kind of academic journals filled with Evidential Probability (EP), Causal Inference, and more. No, they observed and measured how much time they spent smiling and laughing. Whether correlated or causal to their contentment, these features may just have a place for me.
They don’t count – No, I’m not saying they don’t matter. They, quite literally, don’t count. They have no sense of numeracy. As Mr. Everett points out, “They are cognitively capable of counting; they simply choose not to.” The closest they come to numbers are the linguistic notions of some, more, and many.
For Me: What if my days had less attention on numbers — how many of my goals were achieved, how many miles I rode on my bike, how many pounds I shed, how much my portfolio grew (or lost), how many Likes or Loves a post received, or any other how many or how much of that matters stuff?
The immediacy of Experience — They live in the present. Their language lacks mythology. They require empirical evidence to guide their conclusions. There is no focus on what happened before or what might happen later. They don’t speak in abstracts. They require evidence based on personal experience (yours or their own) for every claim made.
“After I had worked with them for over twenty-five years, one night a group of Pirahã men, sipping coffee with me in the evening, asked out of the blue, “Hey Dan, do Americans die?” I answered them in the affirmative and hoped that no one would seek empirical verification.” ― Daniel L. Everett, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
For Me: While I believe strongly in the power of story and history, and while I entirely believe in vision, dreaming, and planning, I do feel I should live MUCH MORE in the present. To be more aware of now. To concentrate on who and what is in front of me and what THAT person and what THAT moment means.
No Coercion and the Absence of Anger or Resentment — The Pirahã don’t have language or actions that suggest resentment or anger. Perhaps it is due to a complete lack of social hierarchy and that all members of the tribe are considered equal. If something negative happens, they fix it and move on. They don’t tell anyone else what to do. They live their own life.
For Me: I spent too much time over the last 5 years resenting what I felt (and still feel) was the most morally destructive, socially decaying era since the days prior to Equal Rights legislation. I have seethed with anger at a respiratory tract-infecting virus that has no discrimination in its attack and spread. As angry as I was, and remain, at this microbe, I resented the seeming ignorance of those who, instead of listening to the best information and science that might protect so many (including themselves), listened to conspiracy theorists or talking heads with a political agenda. Even worse, they listened to no one and just gambled on immortality and parroted the nescient, “My body; my right” dogma.
I didn’t like the sense of judgment I felt. It was unnatural for me. “Who am I to say what they must do?” It’s rhetorical: I’m nobody. But I still…felt.
What I can do is share my convictions and wonder if they matter. And I can listen to theirs and learn. I will remain vehemently committed to creating a safer population through vaccine advocacy; I will be a boisterous protagonist for social justice, reducing healthcare and economic disparities, and peace; I will continue to urge versus argue…debate versus “Damn it”…advocate over adversary…less professorial and more the knowledge-hungry plebe. I hope to channel my emotions into positive dialogue for change. I don’t want to coerce; I want to converse.
It is funny that as I seek to seriously reduce attention to time and what’s left and what was, and I am writing about it as a New Year post and fresh resolution for the next iteration of me. Chronological irony at its best.
Happy Time. May there be more…and many :).