The original affluent societies, in some anthropologists' view, are hunter-gatherer societies, of whom the !Kung (or San) and the Yanomamo are two modern examples. Anthropologists argue that hunter-gatherers are affluent because:

  • Hunter-gatherers spend relatively little time on subsistence, allowing them much time for leisure. The !Kung, who were followed around the Kalahari desert for months by Richard Lee as he clocked how long they spent at various tasks, work less than 40 hours a week at gathering and hunting food, making tools and implements, cooking, cleaning, and other necessary household tasks. They are able to feed and clothe themselves and their families in the style to which they are accustomed while working significantly less than westerners do.
  • They are accustomed to a much simpler lifestyle than westerners are. Living in a non-materialistic culture, their needs are extremely simple and easily met. The !Kung have very few material possessions, and they are able to make most of what they need from easily available materials. And the accumulation of material possessions, which we westerners are so good at, would be maladaptive to the nomadic lifestyle of most hunter-gatherers. They don't have a lot of stuff, they don't need a lot of stuff, they can't use a lot of stuff.

Finally, hunter-gatherers are called the original affluent society because hunting and gathering is humanity's most ancient form of livelihood.

Saying that hunter-gatherers are the original affluent society is really just saying that affluence is relative. One culture's affluence is another culture's poverty. Such a statement is an example of cultural relativism, which is one of the central tenets of anthropology.

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