From the editors
The story with the biggest splash lately appeared on Smithsonian.com, “For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact,” about a Russian family who, faced with religious persecution, fled civilization in 1936 and lived in the Siberian wilderness for four decades. More than 200,000 readers “liked” the piece on Facebook, and it was tweeted some 9,000 times. Many readers marveled at the family’s ability to survive. “The ingenuity of people never ceases to amaze me,” Brian said in a comment. But others, like Joe, criticized the parents for depriving their children of “the chance to forge links outside their family group, marry or even have children of their own.” (Read the story at Smithsonian.com/russia.) An eerily similar theme was at the center of Joshua Hammer’s March cover story about the challenges faced by Amazonian peoples determined to remain isolated from the modern world. Yahoo’s news feed netted the story more than 2,000 responses in a single day. The overwhelming reaction: Leave the tribes alone. “They neither want nor need our ‘civilization,’” Cynthia W. remarked. Aleph Perez observes, “I spent several years in the Amazon and I can tell you these people are better off their way than ours. Much happier, less judgmental.”
A Solitary Existence
I believe the most important statement in this post is that they resist interference [“Lost Tribes of the Amazon”]. For countless cultures over all of recorded history people have tried to “help” indigenous peoples and succeeded in destroying most of what made them proud and happy to be who they are. Leave well enough alone!
Culture is not static for any group of people.
I wonder what surprises life holds in store for my children and grandchildren with all the uncontrolled genetic playing around that’s done just to see what happens [“Designer Genes,” about an artist who combined one of his genes with those of a petunia plant].
I like artists, and I like petunias, but not together in the genetic sense!
The Price of Civilization
No doubt atrocities were committed [“First Blood”], but on what scale and compared to what? Communist China? The Soviet Union? What do we really know about how the Indians treated each other? The truth is what we traditionally call “civilization” was a barbarous creation. The miracle and mystery is how we created a truly civilized society in the past couple hundred years—one based on liberty and justice.
Color Us Evolved
It’s funny that the researcher thinks in terms of evolutionary advantages being a cause of the difference, but then he only goes back as far as our hunter-gatherer period [“50 Shades of Gray Matter,” about gender differences in color vision]. As if at no other point in our evolution could we have needed that distinction. It may in fact have been a difference that simply made no difference, “piggybacking” as it were, as an unhelpful but non-hindering side effect of gender differentiation.