The phrase that opens this post is one that has been around for some time. Claude Levi-Strauss used it as the title to what has since become his most famous, and possibly most important, book. Even in 1962, when the book came out, one could use such a phrase without irony and be accepted as a scholar. These days, the imputation of a “savage mentality” is likely to be met with considerable resistance, and general antipathy (at least from those with a more liberal political orientation.) “Savage” is a pejorative term, and its application (especially in matters of thought and mentality) was almost always applied to aboriginal peoples whom colonial invaders (almost always of European descent) wished to demean, degrade, and – rather savagely – exploit. Such attitudes have been quite rightfully (even righteously, in the non-pejorative sense of that word) denounced for many decades now.
Nevertheless, I submit that there really is such a thing as a savage mind, where such a mentality is understood as an antithesis to that of a civilized mind. It is an example of the genetic fallacy to reject the term because it has been seriously abused in the past. This is not a comparison between persons in pre-scientific, non-technological, &/or aboriginal societies and our own, “gloriously” developed Western cultures. Rather, I submit that the distinguishing characteristic of savagery is its rejection of community in various forms and to varying degrees. Continue reading