Imagine — a song about the reality of hunter-gatherers

It’s surprising that John Lennon’s song Imagine, that asks you to imagine the unimaginable,has never stirred a lot of controversies, subversive and anti-establishment as it is. Honourable : it was banned in 2006 from a Church of England school for being anti-religious.

Reading “The Reality of Hunter-Gatherers” (2013) by James A. Heffernan I was reminded how much Lennon’s song reflects the reality of hunter-gatherers.

It is trivial to say hunter-gatherers have no concept of heaven and hell, but in a deeper sense, there is also no concept of reward or punishment for your earthly life. Bagshawe (1924–25) claimed that the Hadza had no religion at all. In fact, hunter-gatherer beliefs in the supernatural can hardly be called a religion.

There are no churches, preachers, leaders, or religious guardians, no idols or im-

ages of gods, no regular organized meetings, no religious morality, no

belief in an afterlife-theirs is nothing like the major religions.

Imagine there’s no countries .

The Hadza, on the other hand, have absolutely no concept of territoriality. Their range

is typically referred to as “Hadzaland” by anthropologists, suggesting some more or less orderly conceptualization of their territory, but the fact is that anyone at all can show up in Hadzaland and not be turned away for any reason.

Imagine no possessions

The Hadza have elaborate rules to ensure that food is equally shared; hoarding or unequal shares are unacceptable; there are sanctions against accumulating possessions.

No need for greed

The basic principle of our market economy-that humans are driven by greed and that more is always better than less-represents an insignificantly small percentage of all the tens of thousands of cultures that have existed in the last 100,000 years.

Not only did hgs not have to work around the clock for food, and not only were they well-fed, but they had ample leisure time to boot.

Nothing to kill or die for

Of course, hunter-gatherers aren’t saints either, violence and warfare does occur, as some anthropologists and Steven Pinker keep reminding us. However, we can safely assume that territoriality and possessions like livestock increased intergroup violence manyfold. Contemporary hunter-gatherers generally have very low levels of violence (

I would like to close this chapter with a quick note on warfare, which

is not an element of hg life (for the most part). Marlowe points out

that warfare is not nearly as important as the energetics of acquiring

food. If warfare were prevalent, one would expect hgs to prefer to live

in larger groups to defend themselves more effectively. Larger groups

would be more sustainable in richer habitats; however, we find that in

richer habitats group size is not larger, indicating that warfare is not

that influential

Imagine all the people sharing all the world

Among the Hadza, people identify strongly with their own areas, but place far more emphasis than the !Kung do on an individual’s rights to access resources anywhere and everywhere, both in one’s own locale and elsewhere.

So, instead of being a “visionary” song, Lennon might have simply invoked his instincts and intuition to write it. How? He was an evolutionary hunter-gatherer type. For more information on evolutionary types, check out my ebook:

Originally published at on February 13, 2021.