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Anthropology Overview Essay, Research Paper

“The primitive world was able to achieve a harmony, unstable at times, between the needs of the individual and the requirements of community. The problem of order, responsibility and integrity were solved with the problem of bread.”

-Thomas Belmonte

The Broken Fountain, Belmonte’s book on urban Naples is a prime example of a society struggling to defeat the problem of “bread”. “Bread” being used here as a metaphor for the necessities of life. A society requires its members to maintain order, resposibility and integrity to achieve a harmonious social life. Belmonte found that the people of urban Naples could not maintain order due to the ever lasting struggle for “bread”. But does a lack of “bread” affect the behavior of the members of its society?

Going by the information in Belmonte’s ethnography, one could argue that a lack of “bread” can drive a society of people to a life of immorality and disoranization. The people of the urban Naples struggled for work and food. There was no work inside their section of town so the people had to travel across water to find work. Even if they were to find a quick job, it would still not be enough to properly support a family. One of the

people Belmonte studied has to resort to garbage picking for any used parts he could sell or restore for money. But still that was not enough. Habitually the people of urban Naples would turn to theift and other immoral acts just to get by. The people were completely dishonest with eachother that one could never be held accountable for any piece of truth. They would rob, cheat and even kill just for “bread”.

The homes in urban Naples were filled will domestic voilence. It was normal for a man to abuse his wife, for he was usually the main supporter of the family. There was no divorce there because they just could not afford it. There was no way that a family, could have been supported in Naples, with only on parent. That is why the hubands and wives would stay to gether. But somewhere behind all of the stress and violence, the members in the family still could find a moment or two to love each other. That love for eachother was one of the olny few positive aspects of their lives.

In my opinion, this example of a poor community shows no respects of maintaining order, responsibility or integrity. Due to the lack of “bread”, this social group has altered their moral beliefs, which has aroused a level of almost complete anarchy in their section of town. The problem of oranizing the individuals in a society was not solved in urban Naples. This is evident in their chaotic lifestyles and pragmatic outlook. A term of social solidarity must be met for there to be a harmonious social life. The problem with the urban Naples people is that they have not accepted an altruistic

solution to their problems. The lack of “bread” seems to shy an individual away from sharing, especially when they have nothing to even share.

In other societies such as the Kalahari Kung the problem of “bread” is solved with their social conditions of mechanical solidarity. Boiling Energy, Richard Katz’s socialogical analysis on the Kung society shows us a different approach to the distibution of the essentail elements of life. In both societies food is scarce, but does a limitation on the food supply truly affect the behavior of the members in its community?

Katz shows us that the lack of “bread” doesn’t necessisarily have to turn a society to anarchy. His ethnography of the Kung people shows us that it is possible for a small society to work harmoniously together and overcome the problem of “bread”. The people of the Kalahari Desert are egalitarians whose lifestyle encourages the social conditions of mechanical solidarity. The Kung have survived on the infertile land of the Kalahari for many years. They have endured for so long because the have a well respected system of hunting, gathering and sharing. Their altruistic views allow them to accept the fact that they all need eachother to survive in the arid desert. Cooperation and order in Kung society is vital to their survival.

The Kung have developed a system of division of labor, to make life easier for all members of the society. Their system is based primarily on sex. Hunting is done by the physically fit men of the Kung, and the gathering of plants and other vegitation is done primarily by the women. Due to the lack of technology, hunting is a rather difficult task

in a vast desert. Therefore plantlife makes up nearly seventy percent of the Kung people’s diet. But when a kill of any animal is made, the Kung have no problem sharing it with the rest of their people. For they know that if it were not them who made the kill, they themselves would want a fair portion of the much praised meat. Even the women in Kung society are held accountable for sharing their collected goods too. There is a balance that must be met, that is why the Kung have endured this long

In both societies we have studied, we have seen evidence of a lack of food. This situation has been managed differently in both of the societies. The Kung divide the labor up amongst their group and support each other. In urban Napoles, the people fight over the scraps that are thrown to them by the higher society. Yet somehow throughout all of the stress and anguish the people of urban Napoles endure, they still somewhere find a time to love one another. Love is the most beautiful thing that any human can share, so is that human nature?

Belmonte suggests that human nature is a biosocial potential for altruism and harmonious communal life. This is what separates us from the rest of the species on earth. He is saying that humans have the potential to leave behind the competition for survival, for the good of all beings. That humans can work together to allow the survival of all that blesses our society. This is much like how our constitution says that all men are created equal and that we all desrve the right to life, liberty and freedom. This is

insinuating that we don’t need to hoard away and compete, there is room for everyone to survive. Well, this is all good in theory, but what happens when the social conditions are changed.

The creators of the Survivor Show cunducted an experiment to discover how human nature can be modified by changing the environment, social conditions and by lowering people to their primative state. Their theory was that average Americans human nature could be altered by changing their social conditions to that of isolation on a deserted island and deprivation of the basic comforts of the modern world. The players were to survive on a deserted island, and who ever lasted the longest would win a cash prize of one million dollars. The players would vote each other off the island until it was narrowed down to two people, then the audience would decided who would win the money.

Through the players of the Survivor game, the creators learned that human nature can be modified by changing social condition. This was evident in the players thoughts,

feelings and behaviors that we saw on the show. The players were split up into two tribes, that were to compete in various tests of skill, knowledge and strength. The losing tribe would have to vote a member off the island each time they lost a competition. We saw that the players in each tribe worked together to avoid banishment. The only catch was, that it was imposible to ultimatly avoid banishment. So, in order to avoid being

voted off, we saw the players making aliances with eachother. The aliances helped them work together and allocate responsibility and power. But ultimately every one of them would be banished except for the one true survivor, who would win one million dollars.

In my opinion, I do not necessarily feel that this was a good way to break humans down to their bare minimums and see what their human nature is. I belive this because no matter what happened to the people on the island, they would still be able to go home in due time. The cash prize was also a factor that effected the way each player survived. The million dollars gave the people on the island an insentive to sacrifice their morals, values and ethics to “act” out the part of the “true” survivor. In the Kalahari Desert and in urban Napoles, there is no “acting” and no cash prize at the end of the “game”. These people actually work to survive, and ultimatly avoid death. The players of the Survivor game knew that the game was a false reality and would be over soon. For the Kung and urban people, survival is an evergoing process. They are not pampered with the knowledge of advanced technology that we see in our modern culture. For these reasons I do not feel that the castaways in the Survivor game were actually lowered down to a “primative” state.

So is Belmonte’s veiw on human nature acurate? Well I can not exactly answer that question. All that I can say is that human nature seems to be effected by an individuals social condition. The people of the arid, stifling and infertile Kalahari desert

have organized themselves together to ensure survival of the entire community. On the other hand the people of urban Napoles have developed a lifestyle of curroption to fit the needs of their life. “Bread”, being a metaphor for the essential elements of survival, definatly effects a societies inhabilities to function as a whole. The lack of bread can drive people to curroption in despirate times. This is evident in urban Napoles. The lack of bread in the Kalahari desert has brought their socie

ty together to struggle as a whole rather that individual competition. The key here is to overcome eachothers differences in a society and work together to create a harmonious social life.

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