Encountering the Primal Mind and Culture: Four Contemporary Responses

What are the primary ways that contemporary people can and do respond to their encounters with the primal mind and culture? Let me suggest four basic relational options:

One approach is simply to ignore the Primal Mind and Culture and to be indifferent toward it. There are those who are so deeply and unconsciously embedded in their own modern cultural milieu that they have no curiosity about primal Peoples who once walked this earth or about those primal Peoples who still inhabit it today. As the saying goes, “They don’t know and they don’t care.”

A second approach is to respond to the Primal Mind and Culture with a range of negative emotions and antagonistic thoughts. They have decided for whatever reasons that primal Peoples of the world have been and remain savages – ignorant, superstitious, wild, dangerous, irrational, evil and perverse, and that modern, secular, rational, scientific, technological, “educated” and “civilized” people should know better than to have any silly romantic ideas about how primitive people once lived.

A third approach is to respond to the encounter with an idealization of the primal mind and culture, and even perhaps to recover the primal way of life as an alternative to modern “civilization” that many believe is heading toward inevitable self-destruction. Some people today attempt to combine the primal and the modern in their clothing styles and home decor, describing themselves as “primitive-chic.”

A fourth approach is to respond dialectically, that is, to weigh both the successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons of primal life, thought and culture. This approach involves realizing we can learn the lessons of the past, both positive and negative, but we cannot return to the past. It is long gone. But there may be aspects of the primal way of seeing the world and living within it that we moderns (along with post-moderns and trans-moderns) could still learn to apply to our contemporary world.

These four relational options are also in play as people encounter each period, epoch, age and era of human history. We can be indifferent and avoidant toward that which is alien and foreign to our experience. We can be hostile and reactive. We can be fixated and enchanted. And we can by dialectically engaged in both sympathetic appreciation and analytical critique. How we respond to the challenge of encounters with “the Other” will reveal our own embedded cast of mind and habitual response to that which takes us outside our familiar comfort zone.

How do you respond to the challenge of encountering the primal mind and culture? What do you see as its strengths and weaknesses? To what extent are the primal mind and the modern mind so different that they resist integration? To what extent can we build a bridge between them while respecting their real differences?

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