Among the Intellectualoids

Paradise Regained

New York Times editors yearn for a self-sustaining existence.

By 5.16.06

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During the A.M. Rosenthal epoch of the New York Times, the editorials were written by serious, educated people -- mostly white, middle-class men -- who had transcended their adolescence, concurred in a set of Western values that had stood the test of time, knew what was important and who they were.

The Times has indeed changed. Its editorials seem to be written by ignorant, feckless people, barely out of their jeans and sandals and still in the sway of a social-political fantasy of paradise.

Ever since Adam and Eve got kicked out of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of sexual knowledge and for that reason cursed by God to earn "thy bread by the sweat of thy brow," some of mankind has engaged in a juvenile struggle to re-find Paradise, where one would never have to work, where it would be possible to sit all day in the neighborhood Starbucks fooling around online while sipping their lattes and answering their Hotmail. All play -- no work.

So it was that one of the little boobies they let write editorials for the Times now that Abe Rosenthal is gone decided to celebrate the world of the Nukak tribe last Saturday: "Perhaps you read yesterday's article about members of the Nukak tribe...who walked out of the Colombian jungle and renounced their ancestral ways....According to witnesses, they say they are happy about it....None of which explain the bittersweet feel this story leaves in the reader's [the editorial writer's] mind....We have no clearer idea what it would mean to live a subsistence life in the Colombian jungle than the Nukak have of living even on the fringes of the modern world. [Only, little booby, if you have no intelligent imagination or sense enough to get some anthropological information, so readily available on the Internet. See, presumably the difference between you, and them is that you are supposed to be educated]....it's hard to escape the feeling that their SELF-SUSTAINING EXISTENCE...WAS HOLDING SOMETHING OPEN FOR US, SOMETHING THAT HAS NOW BEEN LOST."

Ah, the romance of the "bittersweet" life of the "self-sustaining existence"! Paradise regained, eh? Breadfruit dropping from the trees; fresh, silvery, fish jumping out of the sea into the waiting pan; the beautiful, brown skinned Gauguin women in their colorful sarongs -- what a life awaits. Oh, yes, the "self-sustaining existence"!

We will tell you what it's like, editorial writer, if you don't have the smarts to get the information yourself.

Let's assume that you are a boy editorial writer and you wake up one morning in the Colombian rain forest as part of the Nukak tribe. You've gotten your wish. It's true that you don't have to worry about that $600,000 mortgage anymore. Your new home is whatever you can see before your eyes -- roots, vines, trees, lizards -- all mortgage-free. You won't have to worry about whether Social Security will last until you turn 65, because you won't turn 65. The elders of the tribe rarely get to be older than their forties -- extinguished by malaria, fatal accidents while racing through the jungle after tonight's dinner, and sometimes eaten by a family of crocodiles while fishing.

You don't have to worry about losing your job anymore. Everyone over the age of twelve in the tribe is employed. In fact in the Nukak tribe life is employment and employment is life. That is all you think about from sunrise until you lay your head on your leafy pillow. There are thirty or forty people in the tribe; more than half are women and children, so you and the ten or fifteen other guys have thirty-five mouths to feed two or three times a day, every day, day in, day out, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Except in Nukak land there are no weeks or years, only one same day after another. Sunrise, sunset. There's no Sports Monday, or Science Tuesday, or Dining Out Wednesday. And certainly no Sunday when you take a day off; or vacations. There is no leisure and thus no such thing as play, or veggeing out, or hanging out.

There is only hunting, mostly small monkeys, and also some chachalacas and toucans. In addition you will enjoy rodents, armadillos, frogs and the weevils of wasps and caterpillars prepared according to the time-honored recipes of the region.

But you can't just hunt. You have to have weapons with which to hunt. And you can't just order your blowgun from the L.L. Bean catalog, you've got to make it, and the darts that go into it and the curare that you put on the tips of the darts that paralyze the prey. All of that takes a lot of work and practice before you start bringing home the monkey.

So when you come home from a hard day's hunting you want a nice hot shower or bath, right? But no one's ever heard of soap or heating water. Why would you want to heat water, your tribal neighbors ask in amazement. So you go off to find a couple of roots to make a bed between and dream of the old days when you owned a $600,000 mortgage.

BUT WHAT IF OUR BOOBY editorial writer is a girl editor yearning for a conflict-free paradise. A world free of sexual harassment, a-----le men coming on to you, glass ceilings, biological clocks ticking. Relief.

So there you are girl editorial writer, a lady Nukak in the Colombian rain forest -- your bittersweet self-sustaining existence awaits you.

Now you are really a member of the sisterhood -- fifteen or twenty Nukak ladies who take care of a passel of children of all ages even as you are pregnant with your own. Because that is what you do in life from now on. Get pregnant, have babies, nurse babies, take care of children -- day in, day out. But just so that you do not feel unfulfilled you also have a career -- gathering.

What do you gather? Palm and many other fruits, honey from bees, vegetal fibers to make your hubby's loin cloth, and stuff like that. It's largely back-breaking work and even though there's no glass ceiling here there is no way that you will ever get to be a hunter. The guy Nukaks would laugh you out of the tribe. How could you run after monkeys while you nurse your infant or are pregnant? Maybe you're sent to the headman of the tribe and he sends you to the headshrinker who yells at you and tells you to go back to the women's part of the camp.

Also the men are not very good at small talk with women. They just want to...well, you know what. Just like the guys back at the NY Times. Which by this time is where you wish you were at and hadn't written that moronic editorial.

AND HERE ARE TWO OR three monographs about life with the Nukaks in case you boobies are still interested:

CABRERA, Gabriel; Carlos FRANKY y Dany MAHECHA 1999: Los Nukak: nomadas de la Amazonia colombiana; Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sf. Bogota D.C.- ISBN 958-8051-35-5

CARDENAS, Dairon y Gustavo POLITIS 2000: Territorios, movilidad, etnobotanica y manejo del bosque en los Nukak orientales. Instituto Amazonico de Investigaciones Cientificas SINCHI, Bogota D.C.- ISBN 958-695-035-2)

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About the Author

Yale Kramer is a psychiatrist and essayist for Horsefeathers, the blog that fights folly, ignorance, and cant.