[Marxism] Marshall Sahlins resignation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 25 15:34:14 MST 2013

On 2/25/13 5:18 PM, Daniel Koechlin wrote:
> Is this the same Marshall Sahlins that wrote Stone Age Economics?


It would be a mistake to view Blackfoot society as idyllic. There were 
terrible hardships when the weather was severe and hunting was poor. 
Starvation could ensue. Woman's work was hard also and much of the day 
was spent in finishing rawhide, a highly valued but tough job. When the 
colonizers decided that the Blackfoot would be better off as farmers or 
ranchers, they found that no amount of logic could persuade the Indian. 
Instead it took violence to change the Indian's mind. What explains the 
devotion to hunting?

The best explanation is that all the goods of life could be procured in 
a successful hunt. After a bison was transformed into food, shelter and 
clothing, there was very little else that had to be done. Time could be 
spent at leisure. This, of course, is the approach to life that is 
strictly forbidden under capitalism, where work-and-spend is the order 
of the day. The very best explanation of the ethos of the hunting 
societies is given by Marshall Sahlins in the first chapter of "Stone 
Age Economics," titled "The Original Affluent Society":

"The hunter, one is tempted to say, is 'uneconomic man.' At least as 
concerns nonsubsistence goods, he is the reverse of that standard 
caricature immortalized in any General Principles of Economics, page 
one. His wants are scarce and his means (in relation) plentiful. 
Consequently he is 'comparatively free of material pressures,' has 'no 
sense of possession,' shows 'an undeveloped sense of property,' is 
'completely indifferent to any material pressures,' manifests a 'lack of 
interest' in developing his technological equipment.

"In this relation of hunters to worldly goods there is a neat and 
important point. From the internal perspective of the economy, it seems 
wrong to say that wants are 'restricted,' desires 'restrained,' or even 
that the notion of wealth is 'limited.' Such phrasings imply in advance 
an Economic Man and a struggle of the hunter against his own worse 
nature, which is finally then subdued by a cultural vow of poverty. The 
words imply the renunciation of an acquisitiveness that in reality was 
never developed, a suppression of desires that were never broached. 
Economic Man is a bourgeois construction-as Marcel Mauss said, 'not 
behind us, but before, like the moral man.' It is not that hunters and 
gatherers have curbed their materialistic 'impulses'; they simply never 
made an institution of them. 'Moreover if it is a great blessing to be 
free from a great evil, our [Montagnais] Savages are happy; for the two 
tyrants who provide hell and torture for many of our Europeans, do not 
reign in their great forests,--I mean ambition and avarice . . . as they 
are contented with a mere living, not one of them gives himself to the 
Devil to acquire wealth.'

"We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they 
don't have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as 
free. 'Their extremely limited material possessions relieve them of all 
cares with regard to daily necessities and permit them to enjoy life.'"

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