Hunters and Gatherers

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 25, 2022

Despite my own attempts, through the jungles of information on Google, I’ve been unable to track down the originator of the term “hunter-gatherer,” as used to describe a lifestyle. But it appears to have been an invention of that branch of modern science which studies human origins and may fall under the rubric of Paleo-Anthropology.

That being said – and I suppose I had to say it just to get this article started – what interests me more than the ways of our distant ancestors – and even of some of our contemporaries, such as certain Pygmy tribes, whose social organizations are still considered “primitive” – are the sometimes combined forms of hunting and gathering which our modern culture has developed.

The institution known as the “Super-Market” is one of these with whose milieu I personally am most familiar.

Of course, there’ve always been markets, where people with things to sell got together with people looking to buy such things. And at one remove from that kind of trading place, we’ve had the development of “stock markets,” in which what are traded are not goods themselves, but certificates representing the producers of those items.

But when and how did markets become “Super”? There seems to be no clear single answer. In 1903, George Bernard Shaw wrote a play called Man and Superman, which appears to be the first use of super-anything in English. (It was borrowed from the German ‘Übermensch’ of Friedrich Nietzsche.)

Before the early 20th Century, even in America, shopping for groceries was usually a matter of dealing across a counter with someone who would bring you what you wanted from one of the shelves behind him or from a stockroom. Then came the dramatic new idea of “self-service,” along with the concept of the “market-wagon.” 

So in the 1930s – the same decade in which the comic-strip superhero “Superman” first appeared – the term “Supermarket” began to be used. Soon there were chains of such establishments. And, although they’ve been one-upped by even more grandiose places for shopping, under such designations as “hyper-markets,” the plain old supermarket is still the standard, at least in my neck of the woods.

And those woods are still the preferred venue for regular hunting and gathering, with traditional rows of aisles lined with shelves, which we gatherers do our best to empty during the day, only to find they’ve been miraculously replenished overnight.

But the hunting is itself a separate operation. The supermarket is not all aisles, and there are different sections for fresh fruits and vegetables, for refrigerated, frozen, or newly baked items. To make it a little more challenging, your quarry is not guaranteed to still be where you last saw it. And in any case, the items you seek may be widely separated. That is where the gathering comes in – and that is why having a “basket on wheels” has become so integral to the shopping experience.

But there are, of course, other kinds of hunting and gathering, particularly the pursuit known as “collecting” which in our culture is now so engrained that many items are characterized not for their aesthetic appeal, but for their “collectability.” What makes a thing collectable is not its intrinsic value, but simply the fact that there are a substantial number of people – sometimes designated “hobbyists” – who, for their own amusement, collect that type of item. There are hundreds of such categories, some of the most common being stamps, coins, and autographs. With regard to products bearing my own name and my own original words, considering how many there are, and how widely distributed, I am surprised how few collectors they seem to have attracted. But it may be that such abundance is itself a deterrent to collectors, who want to feel that what they have gathered is in some sense special.

The one truly collectable type of item I have produced are my own originals, which, for some reason I am unwilling to part with, and keep them all – yes, all 10,000 – in a bank vault.

I am, however, willing to write my autograph on anything with my name already printed on it – and consider it of so little value that I never charge a fee. This distinguishes me from the British Royal Family, who have made it a policy never to give autographs at all – ever since a nephew of Queen Victoria received a refusal for asking her for money – and sold her letter for more than he had asked for.  


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