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What !Kung Kids Learn.

Most !Kung* childhood games involve little or no competition. Children play beside one another, sharing activities, but group rules are rarely established. Each child attempts, through repetition, to become more accomplished, not to defeat or outshine someone else.

It is likely that the small number of children playing together and the lack of others the same age against whom to judge themselves encourage this attitude. But !Kung adults also actively avoid competition and the ranking of individuals into hierarchies.

In fact, the cultural constraint against drawing sharp differentiations among people leads the !Kung to shun such determinations as winner, prettiest, and most successful, or even best dancer, hunter, healer, musician, or bead-maker.

People are aware, of course, of the often impressive talents of others around them, and they derive great benefit from those talents; but it is considered extremely bad manners to call attention to them.(1)


  • Where traditional societies have complementarity, we have competition.
  • Where they strive for stability, we seek dynamism.

The news that the economy has not grown in the last quarter casts a pall over the breakfast tables of the modern world. Even those who do not understand the technical significance of the news, even those who hastily switch it off and turn to sports, know that such news is bad news. If a downturn continues for long, people will lose their jobs and may eventually end up on the streets.

In an interview David Maybury-Lewis has been asked:

"There seems to be built into modern society the notion that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose."

D.M-L. "When you talk about winners and losers it's difficult to see how a big gap could be opened up between absolute winners in a society like that of the Xavante and absolute losers, even supposing they thought in those terms. There's no way one Xavante can make 18 million dollars in one year while another Xavante is sleeping in the street.

It's not possible in their system, but it is possible in ours. That possibility is a fact of life.

What we do about it is not a fact of life - it's a choice.

Other industrial societies (other than the United States, I mean), don't have these phenomenal differentials and they are often as successful as industrial societies. It was pointed out just recently that the differentials between the salaries of CEOs and workers in Japan are nowhere near as great as they are in the United States.

I'm not quite sure what conclusion you draw from that. The conclusion I draw from it is that these astronomical salaries are not an indispensable feature of the industrial world, and they are not even indicative of very successful capital?ist systems." (2)


* Also called San, old name is bushmen.

(1) Majorie Shostak, Nisa - The Life and Words of a !Kungwoman
(2) David Maybury-Lewis, Millennium




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