Monday, September 24, 2007
  A New Human?

The discovery in 2003 on the island of Flores of a very short female humanoid, nicknamed "Hobbit", has provoked a long-running and sometimes acrimonious debate among scientists: was she really one of a race of mini-humans or was she merely one of us, but with a brain-shrinking disease?

Now it appears that because she had wrists just like us, she was one of us, albeit with a very small brain.

"What we are beginning to realise is that our recent evolutionary history is much more diverse than we realised," said Matthew Tocheri of the Smithsonian Institution, lead author on the paper in Science that describes the wrist bone analysis. "It's a little shot to our over-inflated modern human egos."

And this statement seems to be proved true with every passing day here in the country of Homo floresiensis. She wasn't a 'normal' human being with a brain-shrinking disease called microcephaly or some form of dwarfism. (I'm tempted to say that she was an Indonesian, except that nationalism is a fairly modern concept in the scale of things.)

Undoubtably she was a hunter-gatherer, a member of the first 'affluent society'. In the tropics, there is food in abundance with seasonal fruits year round. Her needs were within her reach, waiting to be gathered.

There are parallels here with today's urban middle classes hunting and gathering in shopping malls, except herein lies the modern tragedy: man today slaves to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means. Yet, the original hunter-gathers didn't have to 'slave' their days away because their wants equated with their needs, which were sufficient unto the day. They therefore had time for leisure.

Compare this with the modern materialism of seeking 'more than is sufficient', and the need to buy leisure time. Wanting more than you need is buying into the greed factor fostered by the corporate world.

Consumption is a double tragedy: what begins in inadequacy will end in deprivation. Bringing together an international division of labour, the market makes available a dazzling array of products: all these Good Things within a man's reach - but never all within his grasp. Worse, in this game of consumer free choice, every acquisition is simultaneously a deprivation for every purchase of something is a foregoing of something else, in general only marginally less desirable, and in some particulars more desirable, that could have been had instead.

That sentence of "life at hard labour" was passed uniquely upon us. Scarcity is the judgment decreed by our economy. And it is precisely from this anxious vantage that we look back upon hunters. But if modern man, with all his technological advantages, still lacks the wherewithal, what chance has the naked savage with his puny bow and arrow? Having equipped the hunter with bourgeois impulses and palaeolithic tools, we judge his situation hopeless in advance.

Yet scarcity is not an intrinsic property of technical means. It is a relation between means and ends. We should entertain the empirical possibility that hunters are in business for their health, a finite objective, and that bow and arrow are adequate to that end.

It is from this paradigm that I, along with several friends within the Indonesian blogosphere, find myself at odds with a few who are trying to subvert our needs to express ourselves and to co-opt us into the pursuit of their wants. Considering that hyperspace is becoming the new social leveller, we find it somewhat perverse that efforts are being made to segment and control those of us who have found our level through our own efforts and experimentation.

I and many friends believe that true affluence is knowing when you are satisfied with what you've got and are willing to share any excess.

Jakartass, therefore, applauds initiatives which seek to provide practical models and services which incorporate these sentiments. Freecycle™Jakarta, a Yahoo group, is one such that I've linked to a couple of times before, mainly because I hoped that the idea would catch on. And this month I've received three mailings, an indication that maybe it is. The concept is simple: you have something you want to get rid of which maybe somebody wants.

Who knows, but surely there are some takers for the following:
1. An old Tamiya's model catalogue
2. An old-80% condition (it's still in good shape) 1960s Kodak Film delivery car pre-scale model made in United Kingdom
3. A keychain made from pewter from Thailand with muay thai fighter (kick boxer) as the picture on it
4. A 1980s Berlitz how to speak in Spanish-travel guide handbook

Another Yahoo group here is Komunitas Nebeng which offers a valuable service - a shared car pool for commuters. They seem to have an alternative site for Jakartans here.

In a city where one has to drive to a shopping mall in order to get any exercise, and where roads are clogged with SUVs which, if one can see through the darkened windows, have only one occupant complaining about traffic jams caused by new busway corridors, it is a pleasure to report their initiative. It's a simple one and I'm sure modelled on similar groups elsewhere. Transportless commuters are put in touch with drivers seeking passengers through a membership databank and share the costs of the journey.

Simple, basically self-governed, with minimal organisation except, possibly, in the beginning as the most appropriate 'business' model is developed. Eventually, assuming sufficient take up, this 'movement' assumes a life of its own, and the initiators can sit back, or move on to new venturers.
Much like the Indonesian blogosphere in fact. There are some 25,000 Jakarta blogs registered with Blogger alone.

Each is the unique voice of its creator who is hardly a 'hobbit' and surely those who manage to gather a readership are truly affluent.

New humans indeed.




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