Humans are a communal species that have banded together and cared for their sick, disabled, and elderly since before we were ever modern man. Resources were shared even as skills specialized.
Capitalism isn’t natural. A community should not have members dying of starvation or exposure while there is an abundance of resources. That isn’t how it works. That isn’t how it’s supposed to work.
shanidar 1 is a neanderthal who, at a pretty young age, was hit in the head hard enough to blind him. this also led to that side of his brain shutting down and withering his right arm, and possibly crippling his entire right side. not only that but his skeleton also shows that at some point, he broke a bone in his foot and, in addition to the other factors, resulted in a noticeable limp. there are some sources which say he likely had degenerative diseases. (arthritis was really common in neanderthals)
going off of widespread ideas of “”primitive”” (no longer the word used in anthropology/academia to describe early-modern humans) societies, shanidar probably died really young, deliberately abandoned or killed. i mean, he was severely crippled, blind, etc., he couldn’t contribute anything, he would have been a “”burden to society””, right?
except he lived to be between 40 and 50 years old. (about ~80 in human years)
this means that his social group had to have taken care of him for a minimum of two or three decades without his ‘contributing’ anything significant to the group. this discovery (and Shanidar III’s) was huge because it basically proves that early humans had a concept of hospice. early modern humans cared for the sick and the elderly, greatly extending their lifespan, simply because they cared.
tl;dr: the concept of someone needing to be ‘’useful’’ or ‘’’productive’’’ in society in order to be valued and cared for is a very modern concept and our quasi-predecessors would be ashamed
Also, Shanidar I was buried with flowers. They cared about him after he was dead, too.
I want to contribute as a biologist and stress that this doesn’t pose an argument against natural selection. The human success was never exclusively based in our bodies, it is very much, if not most, based in our intelligence and social structure that makes us compassionate and working together. No other animal on earth is able to coordinate groups as large as modern human cities, entire countries even. That’s millions of people and it’s an awesome skill!
What made Shanidar a gift to society despite his disabilities might easily have been his mind, noone says he was useless. Not a single old man and woman was useless to a tribe of Neanderthals, there always was a lot of work they could do and were utterly needed to do and Shanidar? Maybe he learned and became a wise man? Maybe he spent his time preparing food? I bet he did not sit on his ass like we make old people do nowadays, because back then every hand was needed.
Whoops you stepped on my pet peeve. I’m just gonna adapt something I’ve already written on the subject.
No question that people have been caring for each other through sickness and disability since before the dawn of civilization. No doubt plain caring about your family, your clan, the people around you, played heavily into it. Also, tribal peoples are not stupid, and would be able to recognize that many injuries are temporary, and that many disabilities don’t make it impossible for people to contribute altogether–especially since “contribution” can span a variety of activities that go beyond the bare work of survival, including acting as a repository of knowledge and experience. And even to those who will never be able to contribute in these other ways, tribal societies are not necessarily Hobbesian nightmares–there is, as you might imagine, a lot of variation between groups.
But let’s take a look at the data, shall we?
Outright killing the old in tribal societies was/is relatively rare, but still common enough to be shocking to anyone in modern society. Abandonment, neglect and other forms of death-hastening were/are far more common, perhaps the norm rather than the exception:
source, p 63
Ability to care for oneself and contribute and the availability of resources seem to be the most common deciding factors. To wit:
Ironically given all the blame imputed on capitalism, property rights are a fairly strong predictor of good treatment of the elderly precisely because they give the elderly control over resources–see the following couple of pages of the above source.
Infanticide in tribal societies has also been extensively recorded.
source (pdf), p 112
And, relevant to this discussion:
same as above, pp108-9
It’s harder to find resources on the anthropology of disability outside infancy and old age. I can only present the general impression that anthropologists are pushing hard this whole perspective about cultural construction of disability and anecdotal evidence about care being provided, which is fine as far as it goes, but which is not far in determining trends in the treament of people with disabilities in tribal societies. What I did not find was an assumption that care was given across the board. In this example, for instance, whether someone is cared for or abandoned is predicated on how impairing a condition is in the context of the group’s way of life:
But even in the absence of solid quantitative conclusions, given what we know about the treatment of infants and the elderly, I would be very surprised if average standards of care (in terms of resource and effort allocation, even setting aside technological advancements) for the disabled among tribal societies were better than those of contemporary industrial society. In fact, by today’s standards, we would probably find their callousness shocking.
more anecdotally, i know a doctor who runs an ngo that treats natives deep in the amazon. he told me about how, in one tribe he visited, old people who can no longer fend for themselves are treated basically like dogs, fed at others’ mercy, and not infrequently starve to death.
with this noble savage bullshit.
Also, the number of people who die of starvation in the U.S. or any developed capitalist country is negligible.
The number of people who die because they (or their parents / caregivers) are not able to obtain food is zero, or close enough to zero that it’s impossible to measure. The people who do end up starving are those with eating disorders like anorexia, as well as children and others who can’t take care of themselves who are maliciously abused.
Of course, a larger number of people have bad diets and suffer from nutritional deficiencies (or… surpluses) that contribute to their deaths, but today one can eat far healthier on a poverty budget than in the early 20th century, when Southerners routinely died of pellagra because all they could afford to eat was cornmeal.
Furthermore, the elderly have gone from being the poorest age cohort to the richest, with the average 80-year-old household having twice the wealth of a 50-year-old (and of course many times more than those younger).
Now, of course, you can make the argument that the reason starvation isn’t common in the U.S. is the welfare system, and that the elderly became the richest group because of Social Security, Medicare, and other programs instituted to help them when they were the poorest in society. And that if we had full, consistent capitalism, then death of the old and the disabled would be rampant. I’m not going to get into that.
But insofar as this is a critique of actually existing mostly-capitalist mixed economies (a category that certainly includes the Scandinavian states), it’s misplaced.
I will say, for sure, that it brings me an incredible peace of mind to know that if I lose my job tomorrow and never get a job again, I can go every day of my life from today until my death in ~60 years and never worry about starvation or homelessness. Embarrassment, yes, and loneliness, and sorrow and ruin – all the things that come when you live solidly at a guaranteed level 3 of Marslow’s hierarchy, but not starvation or exposure.