The Most Boring Culture On Earth

Kottke on the indigenous Baining people of Papua New Guinea, who when awake scarcely do anything but work, out of the belief that unstructured fun is a waste of time. One wonders if we are drifting in their direction:

The Baining eschew everything that they see as “natural” and value activities and products that come from “work,” which they view as the opposite of play. Work, to them, is effort expended to overcome or resist the natural. To behave naturally is to them tantamount to behaving as an animal. The Baining say, “We are human because we work.” The tasks that make them human, in their view, are those of turning natural products (plants, animals, and babies) into human products (crops, livestock, and civilized human beings).

They do not allow infants to crawl and explore on their own. When one tries to do so an adult picks it up and restrains it. Beyond infancy, children are encouraged or coerced to spend their days working and are often punished — sometimes by such harsh means as shoving the child’s hand into the fire — for playing. On those occasions when Fajans did get an adult to talk about his or her childhood, the narrative was typically about the challenge of embracing work and overcoming the shameful desire to play.

, , , ,

  • Monkey See Monkey Do

    “This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” – Alan Watts

  • apdee

    Boring, perhaps to you. Maybe even to me. But are they unhappy? If not, then does it matter that they don’t go dancing at Studio 54 on a Saturday night? If yes, then maybe, perverse as it is, they like being miserable. By that standard it’s not much different than any other culture.

    • http://twitter.com/mattstaggs Matt Staggs

      If they’re dancing at Studio 54 on Saturday night, then they’re not boring, they’re time travelers…and I want in. 

    • Andrew

      “Beyond infancy, children are encouraged or coerced to spend their days
      working and are often punished — sometimes by such harsh means as
      shoving the child’s hand into the fire — for playing.”

      If they’re not unhappy, then I have no idea what happiness is.

      Seems to me to be more of a cultural/psychological equivalent of Toxoplasma gondii, rabies, or a Cordyceps fungi taking over an entire culture.

  • http://twitter.com/alizardx A.Lizard

    Sounds like a corporate CEO dream labor pool. I’d like to see some study on the effects, I’d guess that intelligence, creativity, empathy are reduced and aggression drastically increased. I’m surprised the culture didn’t self-destruct millenia ago. 

  • Anarchy Pony

    Somehow, some way, the puritans must have gotten to them.

    • http://myindigolives.wordpress.com/ Ellie K

      Yes, I wondered about that too! The Puritans were similar to the Baining, if Kottke’s depiction is correct (which some one questioned below… I do too… I am so cynical about internet hoaxes lately, don’t believe anything unfamiliar until I check into it a bit for myself… tired of feeling gullible). 
      When I went to school, I recall learning that Puritan society faded out after a few  generations. Initially Puritans (Pilgrims?) were settlers, and were frugal in order to survive, as well as ideologically. Circumstances of daily life reinforced the culture. After several generations of “no play, all work, all savings” and reinvestment in the land and community, they built up a lot wealth! There was much less incentive to be spartan. That’s the other reason I am skeptical about Kotke and the Baining. Unless they lived in a very hostile environment, their hard work would pay off. Their culture of self-denial would be challenging to maintain, same as it was for the Puritans, don’t you think? There’s also something oddly familiar about that photo, I’m not sure why though.

  • Toy Soldier

    That’s scary. We in the Army of Toy Soldiers have put fun as our top priority!

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    wait until they get iPhones & TV
    their world will become less boring
    and more frieghtening

  • Haystack

    We can learn a lot from the traditions of cultures such as these. 

    I’m going to go back to alphabetizing my professional network contacts now. 

  • Tchoutoye

    I think this article should be taken with a grain of salt. According to Wikipedia the Baining hold firedance ceremonies to celebrate the birth of new children, which sounds like play to me.

  • Wanted

    Well seems like they are not very efficient at work, if they have to be forced.