October - November 2006

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October 3-4 The Urban Hunt: a summer spent killing -- and eating -- Seattle's small game. Patricia comments:

Whether we are talking about meat, or eggs, or milk, or even fruits and leaves, we are taking for ourselves something from another creature, the very real elements of that creature's own life force. There's a poem called Animals are passing from our lives, not about the extinction of any species, but the disconnect we suffer in our modern lives, between the body of the dead and the dinner on the table. It's no wonder we have so little respect for the planet as a whole, when we are so far removed...

Industrialized intellectuals often call nature "red in tooth and claw," as if it's better to be red in hidden steel blades and cement floors of slaughterhouses, so we can eat with the cowardice of disconnection. Everything dies and is eaten. The difference between respectful eating and abusive eating is not in what you eat, or the gruesomeness of the kill. It's in your food's quality of life before you eat it, and in the effect of your eating on the ecosystem. Sharks have survived 80 million years by maintaining the ecosystem on which they depend, something humans have forgotten.

October 5-9. Fascinating article about an evil psychologist who helps corporations mind-control humans. He claims to be targeting the "reptilian brain," but there are many ways to manipulate humans, some that use the "reptilian" part of the brain and some that don't. He chose the word "reptilian" because he knew it would resonate with people and get him more attention and money. David Icke uses the same trick!

It often seems that humans have been designed as vessels for possession, but that's no excuse. Our possessors have 100% moral responsibility to not push our buttons, and we have 100% responsibility to find and deactivate our buttons. It's tempting, if you know how to control people, to use your power for good, but we can do good on a deeper level by learning to resist mind control and helping others learn.

October 9. Aja reports from Laos:

It's amazing what happens as soon as you cross a border from "civilization" to the jungle. The country uses hardly any electricity. We have yet to see a town with street lights. 75% of Laos is covered in forest, and 75% of that is old growth. There are 39 ethnic groups in Laos that all speak different languages. Most of them have never been converted to any major religion and practice different kinds of animism. Only 25% of Lao roads are paved, which means the the vast majority of the population has no access to areas beyond their village in the rainy season.

The lack of electric lighting really slows things down. I've never been a "morning person," but now by 8pm I'm starting to look forward to a good night's rest. I'm up at first light with the chickens and the rest of the country. My partner and I have both started waking up around midnight and getting up for a little drink or to go outside and look at the stars. We've read that most humans throughout history have had "first sleep" and "second sleep" but we were amazed at how quickly and naturally these patterns establish themselves without the totally unneccessary block of electric lighting.

It's very quiet here and people are soft-spoken. There's hardly any refined food or sugar available in the diet. In most places the villages are self sufficient for food and housing and clothing. Most of their vegetables come from the forest and aren't cultivated, though they do farm rice and keep chickens, pigs and a few water buffalo. These live in the dirt streets and under the houses that are all built on stilts to keep out the rats and occasional water.

The average Lao income is 300 American dollars a year, but you would not believe how wealthy the people are. Almost without exception people are in robust health like we hardly see in the west or the rest of Asia. They have unbelievable muscle tone, beautiful straight white teeth, and glowing complexions.

October 10. I think American Indians have made a strategic mistake in claiming rights to the land based on having been here first. Not only is it threatened by new data about who was here when, but it's ecologically empty. I suggest a different rule: The rightful occupants of any piece of land are the people most qualified to maintain and improve the ecology of that piece of land. The problem is, there is not yet any way to enforce that rightful occupation. If tribe A builds up their landbase, and tribe B depletes their landbase to build a large hungry selfish population, tribe B has both the power and the motivation to conquer tribe A. Happy Columbus day!

October 13-14. At the end of this article about Earth without people, it says "If another intelligent species ever evolves... it may well have no inkling that we were ever here." But at the beginning it says, "Humans are undoubtedly the most dominant species the Earth has ever known."

How do we know? If future dominant species won't know about us, we might not know about past dominant species. Or more likely, since humans are so weedy, and the article has no serious idea of how we could vanish, and we know we're able to build complex societies, we are really talking about past and future human societies.

Suppose the orthodox primitivists are right, and civilization can only start in rare conditions, and industrial collapse will take us all the way to another stone age, where we'll stay for a million years. Then suppose the conditions are right again and we build another highly complex society. Here's another earth without humans page focusing on how long it takes stuff to break down, and it looks like almost everything is gone in 200,000 years.

So how do we know it hasn't happened before? Well, if it had, there would be artifacts of anatomically modern tool-making humans in rock strata millions of years old. But there are! In The Book of the Damned, chapter 9, Charles Fort writes of worked objects found sealed in coal and quartz. Michael Cremo's Forbidden Archaeology has hundreds of pages of evidence. Cremo's motives are suspect but his data is good. Much of it comes from 19th century archaeology that was at least as rigorous as new archaeology. But respectable scientists see an arrowhead or a statue in ten million year old rock and say there must have been some mistake because that's impossible. Because they care more about credibility than honesty, they do science backwards, going from theory to evidence. If we accept the evidence, it undermines the neo-Darwinian story of human origins and our own desire to think we're the first civilization.

So where did humans come from? Cremo's latest book, Human Devolution, argues that we came from "the realm of pure consciousness," and that other hominids evolved from us! In The Book of the Damned, chapter 7, Charles Fort argues that rains of frogs and fishes were not sucked up in whirlwinds, but got here in some way we cannot presently explain. Then why not humans? Maybe some occult entity really did put us here. I don't know!

I don't want anyone to become a true believer in Michael Cremo's theories. On a deeper level, what I'm trying to do with the fortean posts is what Fort himself was trying to do: influence readers toward intellectual habits of acceptance and not belief, or being scouts and not cartographers.

October 17. Dumb prediction that rich and poor will evolve into two subspecies. The scientist mentions that when technology saves lives it multiplies weak genes, but then he totally fails to run with it. It's the rich who would turn into the weak subspecies, while the poor, with their harder lives, would grow stronger (genetically not individually). The same thing happens on other levels that come into play much faster than genes. Americans are the stupidest people in the world only two generations after becoming the richest people in the world. This has happened with every empire in history, like clockwork every few hundred years: top gets weak, bottom gets strong, bottom overthrows top. It's happening now. And because the higher classes have been made stupid by machines that think for them, they never see it coming, and dream of their little bubble lasting 100,000 years.

Also, the thing about humans getting more childlike faces, with weaker jaws and bigger brains, is probably true, except for one thing: it's not evolution-as-progress, but an evolutionary dead end. It may have already happened ten thousand years ago in the Boskop people. Loren Eiseley wrote a great chapter about it, Man of the Future. Aaron mentions Weston Price's discovery that forager-hunters have much better teeth and jaws than we do. Maybe the Boskop people, like us, were suffering malnourishment. "It'd be funny if the basis for our supposed superiority was in fact a kind of defect caused by our lifestyle!" And Patricia comments:

Maybe all this war and pestilence and collapse business is the will of the whole human unconscious to 1) thin the herd, and 2) shake things up genetically -- no more "races" for a bit, mix it all back together again and a have a couple generations of total mutts, then we can let geography and lack of tech/travel isolate us into groups and let some new diversity grow out of us?

October 24. The Fall, great post on Village Blog quoting an anthropologist who witnessed the fully integrated mental state of a forager-hunter tribe, and then witnessed it breaking down in a single week into the fragmented, disconnected mental state that we all take for granted. (See below.)

Is it possible for you and me to get that integration back? Probably not. But notice, also, that you and I are not in the same mental state as newly-broken humans -- rude, squabbling, slipping easily into depression and addiction. I mean, a lot of people still are. But some of us, after many generations, have become masters of the fallen state, able to keep our balance in a disconnected world and go places that integrated humans can't go.

October 27. Excellent short book, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology by David Graeber (PDF). I agree with Matthew that "he is cutting through the rigid conceptual lines that primitivism tries to draw, opening up other possibilities." For example, from page 56:

It is becoming increasingly clear that most of human history was characterized by continual social change. Rather than timeless groups living for thousands of years in their ancestral territories, new groups were being created, and old ones dissolving, all the time. Many of what we have come to think of as tribes, or nations, or ethnic groups were originally collective projects...

Still, Graeber doesn't get primitivism. What he sees as its core -- that pre-agricultural people were ideal and fundamentally different from us -- I see as a sugar coating for a deep intellectual journey: to use the perspective of nature-based societies to get outside the box of modernity, to understand that what we call "civilization" has been a disastrous "collective project".

October 30. The Thirteenth Tipping Point, an overlong, over-hopeful article that gets totally brilliant halfway through when she starts talking about cockroach democracy and game theory. Some researchers took a simulated game in which cheaters benefit in the short term, and added population dynamics:

After 100,000 generations, the results were surprising. Rather than succumbing to the cheaters, the cooperators overwhelmed them.

This is because cooperators flourish in smaller groups where their high investments begin to pay off... They reproduce at higher rates, gain a toehold in a group, eventually come to dominate it, then launch their offspring to spread their altruism to other groups.

Cockroaches have been on earth about 300 million years and dolphins about 50 million years -- what amounts to millions of rounds of play. During those eons they have evolved what ethologists call "obligate cooperation": an evolutionarily stable strategy that reflects the individual's inescapable dependence on the group.

Then the author argues that humans will do the same thing, and I agree! Of course it's absurd that we'll do it in five years and miraculously stop global warming, but we're very smart -- maybe we'll do it in as little as a million years. I think it's going to get easier in the near future, when the Earth no longer has the resource base to feed explosions of cheaters.

November 1. Alicia (dead link) wonders:

Maybe we aren't really civilized enough. Maybe this whole argument about the merits of civilization vs. primitiveness are just us finally coming around in our cultural evolution to the point where we have almost mastered civilization, but we have to integrate it in a way that lets us control it, instead of it controlling us.

And Jack quotes a reader who says:

As biological systems move toward the edge of chaos, extinction and evolution increase. At this point I don't have any doubts that the human race is approaching the edge of chaos. My goal is to try and work for evolution of the human race. Ultimately, isn't civilization all about evolution?

Sure, but maybe not human evolution. It's been great for bacteria and rats, who are leaping forward through human attempts to kill them. A dramatic shift from simple to complex marine ecosystems occurred 250 million years ago at mass extinction. We might just be the tool to prune the biosphere down to its roots so it can try something different. If humans are evolving, it's only in the sense of learning from mistakes -- prehistory was our childhood and the last few thousand years have been our teenage drug addiction.

The drug is oil, topsoil, trees, metal, any resource that can be exploited. And the addiction is what we call "growth" or "progress" or, when we're really confused, "evolution." The addiction is the feeling, "not good enough, more, MORE, better, BETTER!" This is a great time for learning, because so many people are getting their wish and seeing its emptiness. The collapse will be a great time for learning because we'll see where a culture of increase leads.

I agree with Alicia that it would be wonderful to master a level of social and technological complexity above the stone age. But I don't think we're anywhere near that mastery. What that mastery will feel like is having an open liquor cabinet right next to you, and hardly ever thinking about it, and only taking a little drink now and then. What it will look like is humans all over the world keeping population, resource consumption, and technological complexity in a stable state, moving gently around a point of equilibrium, until the sun burns out, while the forests grow.

November 3. Mind-blowing physics/math article, Does time come together like an island of boats floating on the open seas? It's mostly about loop quantum gravity, a theory in which "the very essence of time and space must emerge from the relationships among multitudes of elements." There's also some great stuff about math:

Suppose the universe correlates with some patch of math. That patch cannot be complete and will inevitably bleed into additional math that is even stranger than the starting patch... So, inherent in any reality correlated to math, there is an unstoppable passage into ever-increasing levels of weirdness.

Science is finally catching up to Charles Fort!

November 4. Shut off the chatter in your head and look with your heart at this photo (original link dead). Then later, if you must, you can put words around it. My words are that the human and the chimp are both in cages, and neither can get the other one out. That's what makes the photo so powerful and sad. It's about the connection that two people can share even in the most hellish and tragic situation. You can still reach out and hold hands for a moment.

November 6. About tomorrow's election: There's a habit on the fringe of imagining that whatever happens, it's all part of the evil plan. That's just lazy thinking. It might even be the resurgence of the ancient worship of dark gods -- if evil is omnipotent, we are freed of all power and responsibility except complaining. I think we're smart enough to make reasonable guesses at much more complicated truths: that there are a lot of hidden powers out there, with interests that sometimes contradict and sometimes overlap, and they're all making it up as they go along... and we are among those powers! As Thaddeus Golas said, "There's nobody here but us chickens."

November 8. Insightful piece by Mike Ruppert in Venezuela (scroll down halfway). Everybody talks about fleeing fascist America, but here's a guy who actually did it, telling you to make your stand at home:

Start building your lifeboats where you are now. I can see that the lessons I have learned here are important whether you are thinking of moving from city to countryside, state to state, or nation to nation. Whatever shortcomings you may think exist where you live are far outnumbered by the advantages you have where you are a part of an existing ecosystem that you know and which knows you.

November 10. Long article from January where they asked a bunch of smart people, What is your dangerous idea? There's some evil stuff and some brilliant stuff. Last year they asked What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it? And for the second year in a row, my favorite answer is from Rudy Rucker. This year he gives a mathematic/scientific argument for panpsychism, or as it's known in other circles, animism.

November 13. Here's an edited-down version of an email I got from Thomas, who has learned about tribal culture from his grandparents who actually lived in a tribe:

The difference between tribal and civilized is human ownership. In true tribal life, human beings are owned by their family and by extension a land base. It is the earth itself that actually accounts for everyone and mediates, leaving behind those who can live with its rules.

No one can interact with any individual without going through their owner. No individual stands alone -- we are all ambassadors. Tribal life is a very serious life of negotiation and watching your step and conduct. People only meet on social basis, NEVER utility basis as we do in civilized life. There is no on-going project that all must partake in other than each one fulfilling their individual ambitions to become people of the land.

Freedom from true social protocol is what civilization has always strived to protect. With it, every single individual can be objectified fully and forced into any type of despicable labor. It is the blueprint for how to remain unequal entities whose worth is judged solely on utility to the the state.

I am usually stumped because I want to tell people what is wrong with civilization without them trying to form a group with me, without them turning to me as some authority. It is so hard for people who do not know social barriers and are so used to being belittled and dependent to finally become their own heroes.

The "social vs utility" bit just about knocked me off my chair. In a tribe, purely utilitarian relationships are forbidden! The economic is a subset of the social, and in a land-based tribe, the fundamental social relationship is between the people and the land. But in civilization, the social and the economic are carefully separated. It's uncool to accept money from your family -- you're supposed to "earn" it through a utilitarian deal with strangers. We don't want to chat with the person behind the counter -- we just want our coffee. We love people we don't depend on, and we depend on people we don't love, or even know.

This is what enables a large-scale domination system! Tribes can be repressive, abusive, even ecologically destructive, but they can't be big, or grow past a certain size, because everyone has to know everyone for them to work. And for a tribe to be mean, everyone in it has to be mean. But you can build a global hell-world out of nice people with just one trick: the purely utilitarian relationship. It's the basic chemical bond of Empire. And we can dissolve Empire, one cell at a time, by befriending the people we exchange money with, and building gift economies with our friends and families.

November 16. A couple weeks ago I linked to this Village Blog post, The Fall, about an anthropologist who witnessed the sudden breakdown of integrated tribal consciousness. But there's much more! The anthropologist is E Richard Sorenson, and here's a link to his full essay, Preconquest Consciousness.

It's all there: a description of the consciousness of the best tribal people and the conditions that make that consciousness possible, a clear distinction between the "noble savage" and the "savage savage," an explanation and a personal observation of how the one falls into the other, a good story of how empire culture got started, examples of preconquest consciousness in a variety of economies -- even threatening to resurge from within civilization -- and speculation that we can get back to it, or integrate something like it into advanced society.

The key seems to be the attention given to infants. There's already a movement in that direction, and a book, called The Continuum Concept. Aaron has written on Village Blog about trying to raise his own kids that way, and about the difficulty of mediating between a preconquest young person and a postconquest outside world.

Are we going exactly back to preconquest consciousness after the crash? Or can that consciousness evolve? In the past, it had two huge weaknesses, that it required very low population density, and that it was extremely fragile. I like to think we have an opportunity right now to build what internet culture would call "preconquest 2.0" -- a new version that works on more complex hardware and has more stability.

November 20. Here's a comment on tribal living from Tim, who's on a quick break from a wilderness survival intensive where he and his friends survived most of November on raspberry leaves:

If there is a person in a group who can't shake anxiety and depression, is not pulling their weight fully, they are trying to heal and work through stuff, cynical enough to erode group morale, and that person is exiled from the group to keep the clan alive... without every option being taken before the exile I see paranoia and insecurities creeping in, others start thinking and fearing, "What if I am next?" To me it's almost crazy shit how tight people have to be when living that close.

November 25-26. I've been digesting the Sorenson essay, and now I'm seeing a whole different framework for civilized vs primitive. Sorenson's "preconquest consciousness," or "noble savage," is what I want to call core primitive. In the most remote places, you really do find Eden -- humans with barely a trace of negative emotion. But the core primitive is fragile. Just a little disturbance will break it down into Sorenson's "savage savage." This happens at the edges of the primitive regions, where primitive culture is thrown into turmoil by destabilizing factors, so I call it edge primitive. And because these are the kind of primitives that civilized people usually deal with, we are tempted to think they're all like that.

But it's the same with civilization! Primitivists point to the edges, the interface of conquest, Columbus hacking up Arawak children, young people being forced to sit in soul-crushing classrooms. But when you get through the edge civilized, to the core civilized, you find people like us, peaceful, cooperative, with fun and interesting and relatively easy lives.

Of course the core civilized is a long way from perfect, while the core primitive is only a very short way from perfect. But we've had a million years to work on the core primitive, and the core civilized is still in the testing stage. Will comments:

Isn't core-civilized only possible with edge-civilized people doing the dirty work of exploitation of resources to allow for the complex culture to exist in the first place? How can that be stable?

Indeed, that's true in this brief age, but we shouldn't judge any society or organism by how it behaves in the colonization stage. When primitive humans first entered Australia, they killed some species, and later they found balance. When slightly less primitive humans entered the technical realms of abstract language and agriculture and metalworking and extreme specialization, they caused the greatest mass extinction in sixty million years. But future societies will have to be stable because there will be no more resources to drive increase. The question is, in the new context of forced stability, what kinds of societies can we have, given all that we've learned?

November 28. I've been thinking about language. A lot of our debates about "civilization" and such are really semantic misunderstandings. It occurs to me that the words "growth" and "progress" and "complexity" and "civilization" and "evolution" are all secretly the same word, with the same function: to confuse us by blurring together two completely different things. One of those things could be called adaptation or experimentation or exploration or adjustment or learning. And the other thing is just ever-increasing numbers. Adaptation is not only sustainable, it's inescapable. And a pattern of increasing numbers is not only unsustainable -- it's dangerously unstable.

We're confused because in the last age of history, adaptation and increasing numbers have gone together. Techies are afraid to stop the numbers increasing because they think that will make us stagnant. Primitivists think when the numbers stop increasing, we'll go back to how we were before the explosion. Maybe. But I think the increasing numbers are just a wave that our adaptation has been surfing, and when that wave crashes, we're likely to find ourselves on new shores, or in new oceans.

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