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“Modernism may be seen as an attempt to reconstruct the world in the absence of GOD”. This quote by Bryan Appleyard gives us the essence of modernity in a very simplistic manner. The term ‘GOD’ in the quote is not only literal in sense but also symbolizes traditionality of societies. Modernity in itself is a very enormous paradigm and is spread across different disciplines or domains. A society can be economically modern but culturally traditional. So in this sense we can say that whether a society/tribe is modern or not is not binary in nature. We have to take in account different aspects of modernity and of the society/tribe to conclude upon whether a society/tribe is modern or not. In its economic sense modernity has been described as a capitalist or an industrialist economy.
Comparing these aspects of modernity to the characteristics of Bushmen as portrayed in the movie is simply unjustifiable. Bushmen don’t have an economy, so one cannot say that Bushmen are not modern keeping this parameter in mind. Just like the economic sense, we cannot compare modernity and Bushmen in the political sense too as Bushmen do not have a state or any institution whatsoever. A key principle of modernity is Individualism. The final ascendancy of an individual over the tribe is unthinkable in the context of Bushmen. A glimpse of individualism was shown in the movie with the coming of the coca cola bottle but soon it went away as the collective decision of the tribe was to throw the bottle away.
One can argue that Bushmen would have been considered modern if they had accepted the coca cola bottle, as the bottle gave rise to individualism, was seen as a new technology to perform everyday tasks and mechanized their work. Who knows if the bottle had stayed with them for some more time, they would have created institutions to supervise the activities which Giddens described as surveillance capacities. The coca cola bottle can also be seen as a source of wealth. It was an asset for which everyone was fighting. The coca cola bottle as a source of wealth and as an asset created RISK in the tribe and RISK according Giddens is an integral part of modernity.
Bushmen collectively decided to throw the bottle away and thus can be regarded as risk averse or one may call it modernity averse with respect to the discussion made above. Another key principle regarding modernity is expansion and globalization. Bushmen are completely isolated and some of them are even unaware of the fact that there is civilization beyond the desert. A very nice example of their ignorance of civilization beyond the desert is given in the movie where a Bushmen mistakes a white man for GOD. This too shows the extent of them not being modern. Modern personality is another parameter to judge whether Bushmen are modern or not. Readiness for new experience and openness to innovation and change is a fundamental trait of the modern personality.
In contrast to our earlier observations, Bushmen are modern in this respect. They first welcomed the coca cola bottle and then adopted mechanized ways of doing everyday tasks with the bottle. A Bushmen also learnt driving a car which also shows a trait of the modern personality. The cultural aspect of modernity tells us a different story altogether. At the heart of the cultural aspect lies secularization, diminishing importance of magical and religious beliefs and the central role of science. The title ‘The gods must be crazy’ itself shows Bushmen’s obsession with god.
According to them GOD must be crazy to send an evil thing to them.
The movie portrays them as someone who is unaware of scientific laws as a Bushmen continuously tries to throw the coca cola bottle in the air expecting the god to receive it defying the law of gravity. Both these things are in contrast with cultural modernity. Modernity also has been constantly linked with the degradation of environment. In my opinion, Bushmen are the closest to nature of all mankind so they can be considered not modern. Concepts like distanciation, disembedding and reflexivity which give dynamism to modernity according to Giddens are very hard to trace out in the context of Bushmen throughout the movie. The fact that the Bushmen family is compact defines the absence of trust as every activity can be directly monitored. This absence of trust shows the absence of distanciation. Both forms of disembedding – symbolic token (bushmen throws the money away) and expert system also absent, so yes Bushmen are not modern in this sense too.
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