Money, Power, and Respect (The Hunter-Gatherer Remix)

In high school, I can remember shutting the door to my room,  hiking up the volume on my clock radio, and dancing around my room with all inhibitions dropped as HOT 97 played my favorite Bad Boy tunes. It was 1998, and my then idol Lil’ Kim (Yes, I am now ashamed) had just come out with a song with a new group called The Lox that had a tight beat. The song was called “Money, Power, Respect,” and the cliche lyrics went like this:

(Chorus)
It’s the key to life.
Money, power, and respect.
Whatchu’ need in life.
Money, power, and respect.
When you eatin’ right.
Money, power, and respect.
Help you sleep at night.
You’ll see the light.
It’s the key to life.
Money, power, and respect.
Whatchu’ need in life.
Money, power, and respect.
When you eatin’ right.
Money, power, and respect.
Money, power, and respect.
Money, power, and respect.

I rocked out to this song HARD. Sure, the lyrics were predictable (money, power, and respect are the themes of 99.9% of mainstream rap songs). But cliches are born in truth and the song lyrically presented the equation to the generally agreed upon “keys to life.” As the song’s intro goes , “First you get the money, then you get the power, and then [people] will respect you.” That equation is pretty much the basis of our free market capitalist society, afterall. Its so ingrained in our culture that this striving almost seems innate to being human. But if we sang this song in a hunting and gathering based society, they would offer a refreshing alternative (REMIX).

Lets imagine ourselves as hunters and gatherers for a minute, living in a world without commercial exchange. No Whole Foods, no Safeway Valued Customers, no Shoprite PricePlus cards. Home Depot is out. Charles Schwab, Target, and Walmart are all out the picture. Our hands, the land, and each other are all we’ve got. Dinner is determined by our ability to find, kill, and cook it up. Ours lives are interdependent by definition (I sure am not hunting down that bear by myself!) Rather than living very segmented lives where individualism reigns supreme, we live in clans and have a responsibility to one another on which our lives depend.

Unlike the world we know where power is measured by how much you can accumulate for yourself, in hunter-gatherer societies power and respect are determined by how many people your efforts can support. There are practical reasons for this giving economy. First off, if you kill off a buffalo for dinner, for instance, its not like you can wrap up the leftovers and stuff them in the frig (thank God for Sears and doggie bags). But beyond this, giving away your gains to serve others often serves as informal insurance. In the event that there is a time when you are unable to catch/pick the food you need, your clan’s sharing practice ensures you are fed and strong enough to support the collective good in the future.  There is nothing lost in giving away your wealth. In fact, giving it away ensures that it will come back to you in times of need.  It is in sacrificing your wealth that you gain a position of honor and respect. In essence, your power is determined by how much you can give away.

Even in a world with Walmart, Target, and Sears, true power in many ways still lies in the ways you feed others by giving away your love and resources. ” In light of this, how powerful are you? Who is your generosity feeding or starving?



“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”- Jackie Robinson

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