Spending Christmas in the Cave

Posted by Nigel Humphreys on December 10, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Most of us will spend this Christmas Day in a cave staring at wall paintings with on eye on a turning spit or soup cauldron, rising from our reed beds from time to never-ending time to throw another piece of forest on the fire. We will watch our children skin bones and hurl them at the dogs or each other, honing their impatience to grow up. And our elders will chew over their lives on toothless gums and growl and return the fire’s spit. They will crab like babies over the flinty floor on all fours, wrapped in hide. And some of us will venture out of the smut and sulphurous fumes into the valley air. We will stretch our limbs and fill our lungs. And we will avoid each other’s caves lest we intrude, lest we feel ourselves unwelcome strangers at another tribe’s fire, though how we would welcome a stranger into our lair this of all days! Is it ‘natural’ to be so solicitous of each other’s privacy? To wall ourselves up within the family ethic rather than that of the tribe.


Hobbs saw each man (or woman) as an archaic individual whose unrestrained passions and greed lead him to continually kill and destroy. Freud called this the instinctive Id but thank a god it no longer dominates once man has learnt to think for himself. At some pre-Neolithic stage men and women thought their way put of the tree and into the pack. Thanks to natural selection those who hunt in numbers survive longer to reproduce those who hunt in numbers. The pack has always imposed rules for its own efficacy, i.e. the necessary safety of its individual parts. One only has to study the demographics of a wolf pack; how the pack has learned to stalk and surround its prey and wear it down with threat. Companionship is inevitable. Nature has seen to that.


They say it takes two to tango and it certainly takes two to breed almost everywhere you care to look in the natural world. Even if mankind was single-sexed, and therefore parthenogenic, there would still be a grandparent/parent/child relationship. Like it or not,(and many don’t) relations are unavoidable, especially at Christmas. The ‘natural man’ is a social animal. If man’s natural inclinations are to be in the company of his fellows then the company is naturally created. Wolves didn’t at some point decide to hunt in packs though its practice seems logically expedient. Two sets of fangs striking from two different directions at once are better than one. We don’t need Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to tell us that, and neither did the wolf or hyena. But mankind has issues. He has evolved to make the decisions which nature makes for all other animals. It therefore can be difficult to separate those issues he has decided for himself from those which evolution has decided for him.


A community has coherent qualities so that its several parts harmonise. Back in the Christmas cave where the natives are getting restless after too much Irish elk the blood bond attends to this. This is nature’s doing. A family thing. But what about other tribal kin - those in the neighbouring caves we are so reluctant to disturb in their campfire peace? Are they not instruments in an orchestra, striving to play the same symphony? One orchestra, one society, one end. But who decided which symphony to play? Did that decision not also evolve naturally from the need to protect the family within the framework of a tribe even if we don’t go much on the choice of music? And not just any old tribe. The best tribe we can practically belong to, given accident of birth and resourcefulness. Go on ! Turn another’s spit for once!

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