Nostalgia for the Savage Life

I often find myself wishing I were living the savage life. I use savage in the old sense to mean pre-civilized man. The savage had many advantages that modern man will likely never have, or even conceive of. For example, the ability to see the full night sky. Modern lighting has made this spectacle nearly invisible for moderners in comparison with what the savage experienced. I read somewhere that one needs to sail 500 miles out to sea in order to see the full night sky uninhibited by city lights on the horizon. Our light acts to veil the heavens, not unlike the walls of a prison. The connection that one must feel with all of creation when standing below the universe in full exposure is something I may but only wonder at the rest of my life. Not that I don’t appreciate modern lighting, but it robs me of untold beauty.

Reading Rousseau’s “Discourse on Inequity” I discovered another latent nostalgia for the savage life which I have only ever conceived in the way-back recess of my consciousness. He remarks that the modern man could easily defeat a savage due to his advanced technology: “Give a civilized man time to gather all his machines around him, and undoubtedly he will easily overcome a savage man.” But the moderner would be a fool to ever attempt a bare-knuckle brawl with a savage. And not just because the savage has honed his skill against the beasts of the wild, but because of something much more nuanced. Rousseau continues, “If you want to see an unequal fight, pit them against each other naked and disarmed, and you will soon realize the advantage of constantly having all of one’s forces at one’s disposal,” and I love this part especially, “of always being ready for any event, and of always carrying one’s entire self, as it were, with one” (italics added).

The savage carried his entire self with him. Jealousy consumes me! Of course, this is somewhat assumed by Rousseau, I mean, how many savages did he personally interview or study when making this claim (I’m guessing none), but it raises, for me, interesting questions. How much of our modern machines, our time saving devices, our time wasting devices, have influenced our ability to be present with our whole being – to carry our entire selves with ourselves? And can we ever get it back?

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