NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Primitive Societies Can Be Violent

August 3, 1999

Based on faulty or incomplete observations, some anthropologists have long promoted the view that primitive human cultures are nonviolent -- while modern, Western societies foster violence. The popular media has also followed such views, in such movies as 1980's "The Gods Must Be Crazy."

However, compared to the United States, some traditional societies are more violent. For example,

  • The U.S. murder rate rose from 4.5 homicides per 100,000 residents in 1957-58 to 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980.
  • Although the Kung, or bushmen, of the Kalahari Desert have few murders, when the murder rate is extrapolated to a larger population, it turned out to be 29.3 per 100,000 -- or nearly three times higher than the U.S. average.
  • The Gebusi tribe of New Guinea shuns displays of anger or violence, yet their average of 3.07 murders per year translates into 568 murders per 100,000 population.

Researcher Sissela Bok suggests that the Gebusi's "stress on avoiding violence...makes it more difficult for them to cope with the threat of killing once it arises."

Source: Joshua Wolf Shenk, "Guns and Roses," Nation, June 14, 1999.


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