the Lykov family, persistence hunting & religion

My grazing strategy for exploring the literary environment accessible to me, the topic of a future post, brought something to my table that I had read earlier, filed away as interesting, and forgotten again: a piece in the online Smithsonian Magazine about a Russian family of ‘old believers‘ who had fled communist persecution and lived for more than 40 years in a far-out corner in Siberia, 150 miles from the nearest human settlement, until being discovered in 1978 by a team of prospecting Soviet geologists.

Now, that story in itself is amazing, fascinating, reality better than fiction (so click on the link and read!). But it’s the ramblings that my mind took upon rereading this story that are the trigger for this post . Couldn’t find the perfect choice of sound for the rambling movement; each possibility is as fitting as the next.

Anyways, what I hadn’t picked up on in my first encounter is the persistence hunt reference in the Smithsonian article.

Yet the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine. It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry reached manhood, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders.

The born to run arguments are by now well-known amongst ultra and trailrunning aficionados, but actual persistence hunting evidence is thin to say the least. Evolutionary just so stories are usually entertaining but not often cross the line between possible and probable. The persistence hunting hypothesis hasn’t yet, but that doesn’t make Dmitry any less of an amazing character.

True, or not true, one way to look at it is to assume that any activity that seems to enable many (a large proportion of) people to experience flow easily, must be one that we are born to do. I guess running longer distances does qualify for that. By the same standard, music beats nearly all re us being born for it. Which particular kind, or even more specific, what particular tune, does it best is largely personal, but some tunes will do it for loads of us, irrespective of where we come from. They’ve got that uniquely catchy character, think gangnam style (recently exceeded 2 billion views on youtube…) and happy (have a look here to be awed by its meme power). Let me share a personal favourite, an oldie that manages to exert its magic even without the eye candy visuals of the above mentioned examples:

Back to the Lykovs, and the wanderings they took me on: Dmitry’s brother, was of different cloth: His eldest child, Savin, dealt with this [Karp, his father, holding grimly to his status as head of the family, though he was well into his 80s] by casting himself as the family’s unbending arbiter in matters of religion. “He was strong of faith, but a harsh man,” his own father said of him, and Karp seems to have worried about what would happen to his family after he died if Savin took control.

A remark that stuck as I am kinda fascinated at the moment by religion. Science just has no answer to the ultimate Why question(s), so anyone unable to live without them needs to look elsewhere. Consciousness seems to come with the possibility of, the seeking of, and the attribution of importance to the numinous experience, which makes our species dupes for religion, by which I mean the organized doctrinal kinda frames for that experience, and their social enforcement.

We’re born to experience the numinous, and the totalitarian temptation (Christopher Hitchins‘ phrase) that comes with it. The short characterization of Savin Lykov oozes the menace, the terror hidden in that temptation. I expect to share more about living life without illusion, but for the time being leave it to the great George Carlin. It’s admittedly very American, where the battle is/has to be fought fiercely, and admittedly very monotheism oriented, but the temptation is ubiquitous in reli-land, and his wise mockery applies universally. 


About roger henke

Still figuring out the story line that would satisfy myself here. Listening to what my family and friends evoke, what the words I absorb, the images that move me, the movements that still me, point to.
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