The Edmond Sun

Opinion

November 28, 2008

Noble Savage myth covers up truth

The late Joseph Campbell maintained that civilizations are not based on science, but on myth. “Aspiration,” Campbell explained, “is the motivator, builder and transformer of civilization.” Our technological society has been built on Francis Bacon’s myth of the New Atlantis.

Competing with Bacon’s vision of a scientific society based on intelligence, knowledge and innovation, is an older, more persistent fable: the Noble Savage. The Noble Savage is not a person, but an idea. It is cultural primitivism, the belief of people living in complex and evolved societies that the simple and primitive life is better. The Noble Savage is the myth that man can live in harmony with nature, that technology is destructive and that we would all be happier in a more primitive state.

Before Christ lived, the Noble Savage was known to the Hebrews as the Garden of Eden. The Greeks called it the lost Golden Age. In all the ages of the world, otherwise intelligent and learned persons have fallen swoon to the strange appeal of cultural primitivism. In the 16th century, French writer Michel de Montaigne described Americans Indians as so morally pure they had no words in their languages for lying, treachery, avarice and envy. And Montaigne portrayed the primitive life as so idyllic that American Indians did not have to work, but could spend the whole day dancing.

In 1755, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that what appeared to be human progress was in fact decay. The best condition for human beings to live in, according to Rousseau, was the “pure state of nature” in which savages existed. When men lived as hunters and gatherers, they were “free, healthy, honest and happy.” The downfall of man occurred when people started to live in cities, acquire private property and practice agriculture and metallurgy. The acquisition of private property resulted in inequality, aroused the vice of envy and led to perpetual conflict and unceasing warfare.

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Poll

If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
Undecided
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