Skip

The New Tribal Revolution
July 14, 2007 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Is Neo-tribalism [rand.org, PDF, 297 KB] humanity's future? An ideology influenced by the Ishmael series by Daniel Quinn and that predicts the collapse of society and the necessity of ”walking away”, it's growing globally with neo-tribes already established. The Anthropik Tribe's goal is to ultimately form a "functional hunter-gatherer tribe in the future". Anthropik is part of The Appalachian Confederation, a /neo-tribal league/tribe of tribes/rhizome/ with it's own council, annual festival and plans for an army. Also, check out this movie about modern tribalism.
posted by Foci for Analysis (166 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I doubt it.
posted by delmoi at 4:58 PM on July 14, 2007


Arrgh, sorry for the errors.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:03 PM on July 14, 2007


jefgodesky-licious.
posted by papakwanz at 5:05 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


the concept of "tribe" is almost entirely a construct of the 'colonial' experience as both a response to alien cultures and an attempt to keep them alien.

this is like saying: "Is Humanity humanity's future?"

Answer: yes, people will continue to associate in the ways they have for all recorded history.

perhaps the real idea is that capital will finally recolonize the european societies and in order to distance the ruling class from the various and sundry ruled will consider their 'otherness' to be a product of the neo-tribal identity.

also, I hate hippies.
posted by geos at 5:06 PM on July 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


Even if one accepts that humans evolved to live in tribes (whatever precisely that means), how does it follow that tribes (however conceived) are necessary for, or even conducive to, human happiness?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:08 PM on July 14, 2007


Will there be jetpacks?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:10 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a pre-'clave.
posted by oflinkey at 5:18 PM on July 14, 2007


When I was a young, impressionable boy who'd just read Islands In The Net, I snarkily told my parents that I wanted to be a post-industrial neo-tribal anarchist when I grew up.

I guess it's jumped the shark, now?
posted by verb at 5:23 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Neo-tribal? Does that mean we all have to get those black armband tattoos and large gauge piercings and stuff?
posted by jonmc at 5:26 PM on July 14, 2007


What oflinkey said. I read "neo-tribalism" and immediately thought of phyles.
posted by pax digita at 5:29 PM on July 14, 2007


The 'war on terror' is essentially a war on scattered tribal societies living in failed states.

Every society fights wars on its frontiers. If you are living in a society with a very small geographic boundary (ie, a tribe), that means there's a very small space where you'll be safe. You'll be constantly protecting your land from bandits and from bigger, stronger, tribes.
posted by empath at 5:37 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thank goodness that Daniel Quinn fans are gathering together. It makes extermination easier.
posted by Dr. Twist at 5:39 PM on July 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oh, and as much as the Burners want to think that Burning Man is this miraculous law-free semi-autonomous zone, it's not. It's only possible to exist as it does because it's in the middle of a huge hegemonic imperial power that tolerates its existence. Try throwing Burning Man in the Sudan, and see what happens.
posted by empath at 5:41 PM on July 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


Heh. Neo Tribal. Heh heh heh.

This is ultimately the mentality that was followed for the latter two films in the Matrix Trilogy. It sucked then too.

One could look at the first movie and think that the Machines represented a nontribal society and the rebels breaking out of the Matrix were seeking a more neo-tribal lifestyle. One could go there. Heh. "One." Heh heh heh.

However, then you'd have two lackluster films that featured way too many characters each clawing at the screen for attention and muddying up the whole thing. Woah.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:47 PM on July 14, 2007


I find it funny that when you read about neo-tribalism or after-the-peak-oil-apocalypse ninniness, one thing that seems to be missing is religion as an effective organizer of community.

If the meteor hits, it won't be the hippies, neo-tribalists or the Michigan militia that survive. It'll be the Amish, the Jews and the Mormons.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:53 PM on July 14, 2007 [7 favorites]


Tribalism is all that is worst in humanity -- parochialism, demonization of the other, simian skullsplitting.

It might well be the future, but that wouldn't be a good thing.

Dude. There were waaay too many links in your post (something like 15).

Oh, shut the hell up. Links are what Metafilter is for, bonehead.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:53 PM on July 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


It'll be the Amish, the Jews and the Mormons.

Battle Of The Beards, Hats and Underwear, huh?
posted by jonmc at 5:54 PM on July 14, 2007 [6 favorites]


"In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."
posted by quin at 5:55 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Neo-tribal? Does that mean we all have to get those black armband tattoos and large gauge piercings and stuff?

I think the tattoos are mandatory, as well as dreads. And hand drums, too.

From my grey-haired perspective, I remember a lot of this variety of talk back in 1971, though back then it was called the "back to the land" movement. It did involve fantastically cool cedar-shaked houses with salvaged stained glass windows (the good stuff) as well as hepatitis from badly situated outhouses and children neglected under the guise of "letting them be free" (the bad stuff).

We're already living in tribes, if the human tendency to constantly align ourselves with one group and distance ourselves from another can be considered "tribal". This works on just about any level, sadly, and we'll always seize on ever smaller differences in order to establish an us-and-them. The difference between a Burning Man-going American and a young accountant living in the 'burbs is negligible to your average African, and it really should be to us, too.
posted by jokeefe at 5:56 PM on July 14, 2007


"In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."

"And look! There's a woman dying in childbirth, and somebody else dying of an untreated infection! Not to mention Bud, who passed away last year after that impacted molar went septic... boy, did that take a long time, days of agony. Interesting that the average lifespan is heading south again to the mid-forties, where it used to be before medicine and things like surgery and antibiotics and stuff."

The noble savage fantasy is what it always was-- a pastoral construct devised by those who have no contact with the actual conditions of living in a hunter-gatherer society. [/crotchety]
posted by jokeefe at 6:03 PM on July 14, 2007 [18 favorites]


empath: Yeah, never mind Sudan, Try doing Burning Man for more than a week. Burning Man is the product of 40,000 people saving up a year of their regular capitalist income to fund it.

It's a fun party, and I'm sure there are some social or political lessons to be learned, but it's not any kind of model for a new society or anything.
posted by aubilenon at 6:07 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not to mention Bud, who passed away last year after that impacted molar went septic.

Tyler Durden laughs at sepsis.
posted by felix betachat at 6:11 PM on July 14, 2007


I think the tattoos are mandatory, as well as dreads. And hand drums, too.

I'll dread my pubes, but please no hand drums. Unless the ghost of Ray Barretto appears.
posted by jonmc at 6:15 PM on July 14, 2007


"...the Burners want to think that Burning Man is this miraculous law-free semi-autonomous zone..."

Agreed that the Burning Man sociological experiments only exist because of their being under controlled conditions, inside a tolerant oligarchy that doesn't feel threatened by it, like Brainiac holding the bottle city of Kandor for his own amusement. However, one can learn quite a few things by observing how the BM thing develops every year, and how it's changed over the years.

I wish someone had been round to calculate population numbers for each year and how it compares to various definitions of 'society,' 'community,' 'tribe,' 'city,' etc. At what point does a group of people become a city? Must there be permanent structures for a city to be a city? Or does it merely take a certain number of people in the same place at the same time? What is that number? 100? 1000? 5000? At what point would something like Burning Man become the very thing from which people go there to get away from?
posted by ZachsMind at 6:17 PM on July 14, 2007


Psst...Burning Man is a limited liability company.

This whole neo-tribalism thing seems to me to be in the same ballpark as the idea that the Rapture is going to happen. Any...year...now...
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:26 PM on July 14, 2007


Oh, and as much as the Burners want to think that Burning Man is this miraculous law-free semi-autonomous zone, it's not. It's only possible to exist as it does because it's in the middle of a huge hegemonic imperial power that tolerates its existence. Try throwing Burning Man in the Sudan, and see what happens.

There are goofy Burners to be sure, but none of the Burners I know has ever held the illusion that the festival is some kind of sovereign nation.
posted by treepour at 6:27 PM on July 14, 2007


This seems like a good time to bring up this study which I was pointed to by this amusing theory about the human primate.

Mind you, for the most part it is a speculation and joke, but it also makes way too much sense when you do enough psychoactive drugs.

"Try psychoactive drugs." -EBN
posted by daq at 6:30 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Burning Man is Spring Break for geeks and harmless enough.
posted by jonmc at 6:31 PM on July 14, 2007


simian skullsplitting

YOU SHUT YOUR FILTHY HOLE, YOU!!!

There is nothing wrong with Simian Skullsplitting. I knew Simian Skullspitting. I worked with Simian Skullspitting. You, sir, are no Simian Skullspitting.

Interesting that the average lifespan is heading south again to the mid-forties, where it used to be before medicine and things like surgery and antibiotics and stuff.

Don't you know that in pre-history we lived near Utopian lives to great old age. Like over a hundred or something. And we had advanced herbal medicines that could cure anything. Oh.And there was no patriarchy. Or money. Or meat eating.

But this was pre-history. So nobody KNOWS about it.

But me.
posted by tkchrist at 6:34 PM on July 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


Don't you know that in pre-history we lived near Utopian lives to great old age. Like over a hundred or something. And we had advanced herbal medicines that could cure anything. Oh.And there was no patriarchy. Or money. Or meat eating.

Indeed. It was a gay old time.
posted by jonmc at 6:38 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm a bit new to anthropology so perhaps this is regularly addressed but right at the top of the link to the wikipedia article it says:

"Neo-Tribalism is the ideology that human beings have evolved to live in a tribal, as opposed to a modern, society, and thus cannot achieve genuine happiness until some semblance of tribal lifestyles has been re-created or re-embraced."

Why would we assume that even if humans did evolve to live in a tribal society that it makes them happy? It seems to me all species have evolved to do things that specifically don't make them happy but furthers their genes. Furthermore, have studies been done in modern tribes that indicate that they are in fact happy? Lastly, what is 'genuine' happiness as opposed to non-genuine happiness in this sense? I understand it when someone smiles but they're just faking it to be polite, but this seems to refer to happiness as a lifestyle. Is the happiness I feel over achievement or various positive rewarding experiences not genuine because it's fleeting?
posted by kigpig at 6:58 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Don't you know that in pre-history we lived near Utopian lives to great old age. Like over a hundred or something. And we had advanced herbal medicines that could cure anything. Oh.And there was no patriarchy. Or money. Or meat eating.

Of course, theres no actual evidence of that ever being the case, which means, of course, that it must have happened that way.

I vaguely recall reading this very same thread before.
posted by Avenger at 7:03 PM on July 14, 2007


I think the tattoos are mandatory, as well as dreads. And hand drums, too.

LOLPEOPLEWHODON'TBELONGTOTHECULTOFPROGRESS
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:03 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anthropik is part of The Appalachian Confederation, a /neo-tribal league/tribe of tribes/rhizome/

Ah, well. I went to see if there were any tribes closer to my present location so I could go play anthropoligist or something, but according to the web page, Anthropic is in fact the only member tribe of the Appalachian Confederation. Not much of a confederation then, is it? In the future, I shall be known as the Tribe of Sfenders.
posted by sfenders at 7:06 PM on July 14, 2007


Why would we assume that even if humans did evolve to live in a tribal society that it makes them happy?

What's got you confused is that the version of "evolution" talked about there is about on par with the version of "evolution" as understood by creationists, which is to say, it's idiotic. If the premise is that thoroughly misunderstood, you can safely dismiss any "conclusions."
posted by OmieWise at 7:07 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


In the future, I shall be known as the Tribe of Sfenders.

Do you have a casino?
posted by jonmc at 7:11 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


LOLPEOPLEWHODON'TBELONGTOTHECULTOFPROGRESS

In my experience, when I've seen this LOL... used, people tailor the language specifically to point out the unfair ridicule laid upon a group or simply name off the group as they see themselves. Interestingly you chose the word progress. Interesting to me because I think, though can't say I know for sure, that most of the people fitting the stereotype criticized would consider themselves 'progressives' and would take being called 'anti cult of progress' as a smear from conservatives. In fairness though, I was heading off to the neo-hippie bar around here tonight where such people are oft found and if the situation arises I'm going to test the theory to see if they actually consider themselves against a cult of progress but for progress as a concept, see progress as a word with negative connotation or simply see their lifestyle as pro-progress. And if I discover I was way off I'll be sure to report back with a nice drunken apology.
posted by kigpig at 7:30 PM on July 14, 2007


I vaguely recall reading this very same thread before.

This one?
posted by jason's_planet at 7:37 PM on July 14, 2007


The "cult of progress"? Inasmuch as "progress" can be understood to have brought us the vote, the eight-hour day, the five-day week, workplace safety regulations, the FDA, jury by a trial of peers, etc., then count me in. I'm a big fan of civilization, me. I'm a big fan of Burning Man, too, and Glastonbury, and Bonnaroo, and other diversions that involve en masse celebration. I just don't mistake them for a political movement.
posted by jokeefe at 7:41 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
-- Walter Benjamin
posted by treepour at 7:46 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


y'all don't get it, do you. tribes haven't gone away at all. every city, state and nation is a collection of tribes. it's just how we work.

oh. and burning man as a social experiment? don't make me laugh.
posted by merelyglib at 8:28 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Of course, theres no actual evidence of that ever being the case, which means, of course, that it must have happened that way.

The logic of the Diabolicals, AKA an example of the "sick interpretation" that Umberto Eco talks about.

Or maybe we should call it rhizomatic knowledge, where all bits of information demonstrate all other bits of information and no bit of information is more important than another, including nodes that are bereft of information. Like a body without organs, where the organ being reference is the brain.
posted by Falconetti at 8:37 PM on July 14, 2007


This one?

oh, god ... if he shows up this time, it's someone else's turn to debate him

it's a pure waste of time and i won't do it again
posted by pyramid termite at 8:40 PM on July 14, 2007


Verb,
I was saying the same thing. Little did I know how cliche it would be a few years later.
posted by wuwei at 9:21 PM on July 14, 2007


Fuck Zerzan.

The collapse of civilization does not lead to a utopia of anarchist tribes, it leads to a lot of very scared, very unsettled people who no longer have the infrastructure or ability to feed and clothe themselves. The collapse of civilization is a misguided fantasy which involves a humanitarian crisis larger than any known in human history. You get tribes, yeah, but you get violent tribes, people who band together in a futile attempt to not starve to death in the near future, in a world with a human population well over its food production capacity. You get brutal warlords, you get increased disease, you get a horrible nightmare. After a couple generations, you settle into something like feudalism, as certain groups consolidate power, and the rest of them go along with it because they don't have any other options.

You don't get anarchism. You get lawlessness.

The only hope for anarchy, the only hope, is through technology which empowers, which lets us try new modes of existence and experience. The whole of humanity will never exist in a single utopia, but we can move forward and spread out into the galaxy, and let people try for their own visions, disconnected from the rest.

The fetishization of an unmitigated disaster is entirely similar to the religious right's excitement over unrest in the mideast as signs of jesus' imminent return. Dale Carrico terms this sort of discourse disasterbation, and it fits so well.

This sort of thing pisses me off like no other ideology. It's wrongheaded, requires a large amount of evil to get to the point where it can go ahead and fail to work properly, and is a perversion of a kind of politics that I might otherwise be able to get behind. I like the ideas floating around in anti-authoritarian left, but you get nowhere, nowhere, by rejecting technology and civilization. Once we're out in the galaxy, once you can have your tragedy without it affecting earth, without it affecting the bulk of humanity, sure, go nuts. Build your utopia, and it'll fall or it'll stand. Don't ask the rest of us to live or die by it.

And maybe you're right. Maybe there is a collapse coming, but the welcoming of this is perverse. Even if you think there's a good life to be had post-collapse, you should still work against it on basic humanitarian grounds. There'll be plenty of time for nutjob ideas to get played out on smaller stages, but if we fall now, you get death and feudalism. You old school tribalism, not new.

So suck it up. Work against disaster, be a good person, and in a few hundred years maybe go to another solar system and try to build an anarcho-primitivist utopia where it's not going to require the death of billions first. Good luck to you. Me, I'd rather try something radically new than a romanticized version of a very old idea.
posted by Arturus at 9:38 PM on July 14, 2007 [12 favorites]


oh, god ... if he shows up this time, it's someone else's turn to debate him

it's a pure waste of time and i won't do it again
posted by pyramid termite at 11:40 PM on July 14


I'm always down for a bit of the old ultraviolence, as it were.

But since the last time I've been doing a bit of reading, including Greer himself, and I have to say I have little respect for a theory that manufactures new terms for itself, like "catabolic collapse", when it fails so utterly to understand basic terms like "capital". In fact this whole movement is predicated on tossing around economic terms without the slightest understanding of that discipline. You'll see the phrase "diminishing returns", for example the anthropik link Thesis #29 uses the nonsensical phrase "beyond the point of diminishing returns". Returns diminish after the "point" of diminishing returns. Then they diminish to zero. What's beyond that?

If you don't bother to read that article (and I don't blame you) the theory is this - all production generates waste. It's shocking to see that the second law of thermodynamics still holds, even in whatever discipline this paper was entered.

Here's the story, barring a cataclysmic event - asteroid, zombie infestation, return of cthulhu, etc., the system will never collapse. It will change, but that's a point against the collapse argument, because it is always changing. The early 1900's were very different than the enlightenment, which was different from the renaissance, etc.

There's a lot of peak oil talk over there, and their proof of immenent oil collapse is that the price of oil is rising. But the rising price is part of the system, and anticipated by it. Every first year econ student knows that if supply contracts or demand increases, prices increase. That's the mechanism by which we will move off of oil onto something else, oil will be too damn expensive. That's doesn't mean the dark ages are coming.

It's my opinion that his neo-tribal movement is nothing more than a Gen-X response to the consumer society of the boomers. It's a guilt over a life of excess choices and consumption coupled with an subtext of resentment over being denied any role whatsoever in fashioning those choices or controlling the means of production.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:39 PM on July 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Why would we assume that even if humans did evolve to live in a tribal society that it makes them happy?

Not that it's a scientific perspective, but from what I've seen and read, living in a hunter gather culture does seem like it would be a really good time, at least if you are a male. It's basically camping trips, hunting and sitting around the fire shooting the shit, not to mention you get to go kill somebody from the next clan over if he looks at your girl wrong and pretty much get fuck whoever you want. So I would think it would be a pretty good time to live in a tribe if you were a young male. Of course that doesn't make it an ethical or reasonable one.
posted by afu at 9:43 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


This one?

Yeah, thats the one.

"We don't need medicine because we'll actually be healthier without it.

Oh, also, 99% of all humanity will need to be exterminated. But hey, look at the brightside: we're going to eat berries, nuts and have story time every night!"
posted by Avenger at 10:25 PM on July 14, 2007


yeah, avenger, and if we get too hungry, we can just eat the people over the next hill
posted by pyramid termite at 10:30 PM on July 14, 2007


Actually, jeffgodesky is usually this movement's greatest warrior on MeFi. I'm surprised he hasn't already commented here; I guess he must be asleep. Fireworks tomorrow when he arrives, hopefully.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:33 PM on July 14, 2007


oh, and "You old school tribalism, not new." should be "You get old school tribalism, not new."
posted by Arturus at 10:41 PM on July 14, 2007


I think humans started out as pack animals like wolves, got turned into herd animals by agriculture, and are now evolving into three subspecies: one of Rulers with godlike control technology, one of "Borgs," and one of fat slaves they both eat (that of course will also eat people). The Rulers will eat the choice cuts of people, the Borg will eat coarser meat processed into jerky or wafers, and the slaves will subsist on gooey gristle with offal as an occasional treat. A cannibal society can endure for millenia. (Vitamin pills may be necessary until humans are mutated to produce their own C.)

"Biodiesel" and plant-based plastics will be very big but fruits and veggies will be rare. ("Strawberries!") What animals, birds and fish are left will be regarded as vermin nobody will bother to consider as a food source.

Tribalism my ass. Think One Big Factory.
posted by davy at 10:48 PM on July 14, 2007


Does a cannibal society sound Malthusian or Quinnian? I think cannibalism solves both with its circularity.
posted by davy at 10:55 PM on July 14, 2007


It's weird the animosity this has garnered.
Not just plain dislike of the topic, but actual honest-to-goodness outright hostility. Very odd.
posted by nightchrome at 11:02 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Not that it's a scientific perspective, but from what I've seen and read, living in a hunter gather culture does seem like it would be a really good time, at least if you are a male. It's basically camping trips, hunting and sitting around the fire shooting the shit, not to mention you get to go kill somebody from the next clan over if he looks at your girl wrong and pretty much get fuck whoever you want. So I would think it would be a pretty good time to live in a tribe if you were a young male.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Native custom was for all girls to marry as soon as they entered puberty (menarche). They would be married to older men-- sometimes thirty or forty years older-- chosen by their parents. A wife (or three or four) was the prize you got for age and status.

The young men? They got to go on war raids and various other things in order to deal with their rebellious and socially destabilizing energy and the resentment grown from sexual frustration (I'm assuming, though I don't know enough to say for sure, that there was a certain amount of situational homosexuality going on). So I wouldn't imagine that being a young man in a hunter gatherer society would be all fun and games: you would have to deal with being socially powerless because you were young not, as in our culture, socially powerful because you are not old.

And I agree with some of what Arturus said (space travel? what?). When societies collapse, you get New Orleans after Katrina, except for years. You don't get happy eco-topias.

Also, "jury by a trial of peers"? Oy. *slaps forehead*
posted by jokeefe at 11:05 PM on July 14, 2007


Oh, when I said humans are 'evolving' of course I don't mean evolution as a natural process: we mooted that with fire, language and metals. I should have said "turning into, by social and technological means." I also think the transistor made the cyborg inevitable.

And jokeefe, your opposition "you would have to deal with being socially powerless because you were young not, as in our culture, socially powerful because you are not old" is way off: the young are among those the powerful types sell things (and concepts) to, the young are not powerful except as a marketing aggregate, and by the time you have much say over what gets produced for and marketed to whom you're no longer young. What social power do these urban hiphop nitwits with their falling-down pants and untied workboots have?
posted by davy at 11:20 PM on July 14, 2007


(Sorry, I'm tired and sipping whiskey; if I'm coherent enough to offend anybody I apologize.)
posted by davy at 11:21 PM on July 14, 2007


Not that it's a scientific perspective, but from what I've seen and read, living in a hunter gather culture does seem like it would be a really good time, at least if you are a male. It's basically camping trips, hunting and sitting around the fire shooting the shit, not to mention you get to go kill somebody from the next clan over if he looks at your girl wrong and pretty much get fuck whoever you want. So I would think it would be a pretty good time to live in a tribe if you were a young male. Of course that doesn't make it an ethical or reasonable one.

How does getting to kill someone make you happy? Even ignoring that it also means getting to be killed.
posted by kigpig at 11:46 PM on July 14, 2007


If you want to go neo-tribal, just shoot yourself in the head now, because you're going to die. Make it quick and easy instead of long and miserable.

The planet cannot sustain 6 billion people with only subsistence farming. Not even close. If we make the transition, a lot of people are going to die of famine right away as the green revolution is rejected. Furthermore, a lot more are going to die soon as medical science shuts down - medicine requires modern industry and educational systems to function, and when they go down, so does it. Old-style 'medicine men' don't accomplish a hundredth of what the most dead-spirited, profit-driven doctor can do now. The planet's population is way, way above its non-technological carrying capacity - it will readjust itself, brutally, if technology goes away.

I can't imagine more than 1% of the population surviving this period of disease, famine, violence, and chaos. Odds are very good you'll be in the 99%, particularly if you're a first-worlder, since you probably have poor health and skills compared to, say, an Ethiopian.

Furthermore, unless you get everyone on the planet to start at the same time, you're going to be either slaughtered or enslaved by those who don't. Even North Korea's starving military could take over the world if everyone else on the planet reverted to sub-firearm weapons. Some people just won't make the change - unless you're willing to nuke them when you do, they'll slaughter you either as soon as they can or when their regime changes and they want to. If you truly believe that industrialized society will destroy the environment, when their environment and oil wealth fail they'll move in and take your land far more surely than the English did the Native Americans - after all, they just had horses and muskets, not AKs and helicopters.

Finally, education and science cannot be preserved without technology. Losing books and computers has obvious repercussions, of course, but also, neo-tribalists cannot specialize. Everyone has to subsistence farm or hunt and gather. No one will be able to devote the massive amount of time necessary to learning a modern scientific field. Science will also degenerate very quickly without the ability to conduct experiments, which requires technology.

The fact is, neo-tribalism is fundamentally incompatible with technological society, unless the technological society is stable - and even then, the vast majority of their adherents will die soon and in misery. It is a really, really poor idea. I'd rather risk the whole species on the possibility of developing new technology and keeping the everyone alive than accept the death of 99%, and consign the survivors and descendants to an endless dark age.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:33 AM on July 15, 2007


nightcrome: It's weird the animosity this has garnered.
Not just plain dislike of the topic, but actual honest-to-goodness outright hostility. Very odd.


It may seem odd, but it really isn't. Here's why: for the past 500 years or so, Western civilization (although by no means only Western Civ.) has been attempting to pull itself out of the aptly named Dark Ages and into a more humane, equitable existence. Orignally called the Enlightenment, we modern day liberals find ourselves as the grandchildren, so to speak, of that vast, sweeping social, political and yes, scientific movement.

You can make a strong case that science is the most important (and useful) product of the Enlightenment, followed closely by liberal democracy. Naturally, there have been lots of nasty little genocides and World Wars along the way, but as in all things, Enlightenment is a process with its own set of enemies and has suffered a great deal of setbacks along the way.

Once in a while, though, people come along and say, "Hey, maybe that whole Enlightenment thing is a bad idea. Maybe we should establish a World Caliphate instead. Or maybe a Christian States of America. Or maybe we should just let the whole planet starve to death and live like groovy tribesmen or something."
posted by Avenger at 1:42 AM on July 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


....sorry, my post got cut off....

...anyway, this is what offends us so much. This impulse to return humanity to some kind of utopian state that never actually existed. Not that the Enlightenment hasn't had its share of utopianism, but rather that our goal isn't perfection, but food for all, bondage for none and knowledge for all who seek it.

There are people out there who are opposed to those goals. People who think that we're better off starving, or under slavery, or thinking that the world is 6,000 years old. I, for one, count myself as the intractable enemy of those miserable quislings, and always will.

Get where I'm coming from?
posted by Avenger at 1:49 AM on July 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


davy: A cannibal society can endure for millenia. (Vitamin pills may be necessary until humans are mutated to produce their own C.)

No, it can't, at least not a society where most food is dead people. All energy that enters the system has to derive from somewhere - right now that energy is solar, deriving from plants. If you cut out that energy source, energy in the system will be lost to inefficiency until none is remaining - since I doubt the energy contained in a dead human is even .01% of what went into growing them, this will happen exceedingly quickly.

Basically, you can have a society where most people are eaten, but never a self-contained society in which people are most of the food. That idea was probably the stupidest thing in the original matrix movie.

Also, I have my doubts as to whether you could even sustain a society where most people were eaten - if you look at the history of kuru it looks like that leads to prion-based disease epidemics.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:09 AM on July 15, 2007


So, even if I wouldn't call myself a primitivist or neo-tribalist or what-have-you, there are a couple of things that make me much more sympathetic to them than, it seems, almost everyone who's posted in this thread thus far. One is that my politics are a very deep shade of green indeed. I am not an environmentalist of the sort that is concerned with the issue only as far as it relates to the interest of humanity and no further- I am an environmentalist of the quasi-religious nature-has-intrinsic-value sort.

The other, which tends to follow from the above, is that I'm a pessimist. I find the arguments of those who claim that the wonders of technology and the market will allow us to overcome our need for oil and maintain our current way of life much less convincing than the arguments of those who claim that peak oil, among other things, will at the very least cause some serious problems in the future. It doesn't help that most of the time, the wondrous futures predicted by starry-eyed techno-optimists leave me cold, at best. Leaving aside what libertarian transhumanists think is an attractive future, of course I would most like to see a free and peaceful world in which we get to have all our modern comforts alongside a thriving ecosystem and we'll all get there painlessly. I will support whatever might bring such a future about. I would also like it if this well-known bit of sappiness was a true and literal account of what happens after death. Not only am I not sure if the resources even exist to make it possible (the high-tech green utopia, that is, not the Rainbow Bridge), the world is just not going in that direction these days.

These positions, in combination, have led me to read a fair amount of primitivist/neo-tribalist/green anarchist stuff, and I think they probably paint an excessively rosy picture of the life, but I also think they make a much stronger argument than they are being given credit for here, and also not the same argument people seem to think they're making.

On the prospect of the collapse of society- there is no question that it would/will be an unspeakable horror, and actually looking forward to it is reprehensible. That is very different, however, from simply coming to the conclusion that it's going to happen and preparing accordingly. One may not agree that it's a certainty- I wouldn't quite say that myself, though I think it's one of the more likely outcomes- but if one believes that it's the most likely future, the primitivist/neo-tribal approach is a fairly logical response to it. At the very least, a society that had a bit more general familiarity with the kind of skills that the lifestyle demands would probably be better prepared for a collapse.

The claim that primitivists seek to bring about the death of 99% of the human population in order to impose their ideal on humanity is just a ridiculous strawman, though a widely believed one. Even the fuck-the-Man-anarchy-r00lz-d00d types aren't advocating that, though it's fair to say that they haven't fully thought out the implications of what they advocate. Outside of that crowd, the primitivist argument isn't a claim that we should all start living this way now- it's more "after the collapse, this lifestyle will be the most sustainable one, and it's actually a much less miserable one than it's commonly believed to be. " As such, the more moderate sort of primitivist is actually hoping to increase the number of people who survive, along with the quality of their lives, by spreading the word of what they believe will be the best way to live post-collapse. It isn't difficult to find arguments of all kinds against that position, but it's very far from the genocidal, misanthropic ideology it's imagined to be.

(I was going to argue the space travel thing, but this post is long enough. I think I may make a related FPP, though...)
posted by a louis wain cat at 2:20 AM on July 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


(never mind. it would have been this, and it turns out it would have been a double.)
posted by a louis wain cat at 2:40 AM on July 15, 2007


I don't know. I read 'Ishmael' and I'm pretty sure the general idea was 'let's shut down society NOW and start living primitively.' Admittedly, I don't remember it all that well.

I don't claim that primitivists want to kill 99% of people, just that following their philosophy will. I think they have an overly optimistic view of the world based on a misunderstanding of science, ecology, and human nature, and expect more people to survive.

I also don't consider primitivism to be a philosophy of 'Well, I don't want society to collapse, but if it does, well, let's try to survive and live like this afterwards.' That's survivalism. Primitivism is more like 'let's abandon society and live like primitive hunter-gatherers' which I believe will end as I detailed above.

Perhaps this philosophy has been tainted for me by reading Ishmael, which might be the PETA of primitivism, but I just haven't been impressed by what I've seen of it so far. Most of it seems to be based on ridiculously pessimistic views of modern technology and science and stupidly optimistic views of tribal life. A lot of the proponents seem to have severe 'noble savage' complexes and subscribe to ludicrous philosophies like cultural and scientific relativism.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:41 AM on July 15, 2007


I don't claim that primitivists want to kill 99% of people, just that following their philosophy will.

There's that "ridiculous strawman". It's ridiculous no matter which side of the argument it originated on. If everyone on earth were to attempt to devote themselves to this ideal, some crazy things would happen, although the philosophy would no doubt be greatly modified in the process. But first, that's not going to happen, and second, I'm not even sure how many of the people who want to attempt primitive tribalist living would advocate it. No doubt some of them do, but that part of their thinking is entirely irrelevant to civilization as it exists, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The worst they can do to global civilization is partially detach themselves from it, possibly depriving it of some part of whatever contribution they would've made in practicing a more conventional lifestyle. We can tolerate that, and no need to begrudge them any success they might somehow find. The Amish seem to be doing okay still, and it'll be good to have them around when civilization does eventually collapse.

jonmc: Do you have a casino?

I have a deck of cards! And for a small admission fee you can observe and even participate in some of my ancient tribal rituals such as chopping firewood and working in the garden.
posted by sfenders at 4:46 AM on July 15, 2007


*Burns heretics*
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:19 AM on July 15, 2007


Just goes to show you how much people love their crap. I'm pretty sure, as jokeefe's comments in this thread have so aptly shown, humanity will choose extinction over the loss of air conditioning.

You can make a strong case that science is the most important (and useful) product of the Enlightenment, followed closely by liberal democracy.

Man, that's the best thing I've read in a good long while.
posted by nixerman at 5:23 AM on July 15, 2007


Testify, Brother Avenger! (in a suitably secular context)

Wasn't this done to death about 450 years ago?
Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. ... In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
posted by athenian at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2007


Their membership list shows three people, and they're debating on whether they need an army or not?
posted by Flunkie at 9:21 AM on July 15, 2007


Flunkie, they're all set.
posted by zippy at 10:24 AM on July 15, 2007


I don't care much how it happens after I'm dead, nor would I want to long survive such a thing (being an effete and spoiled first-worlder), but I think the demise of 99% of the world's population would be a good thing.

Whether one can order a society around cannibalism in the long run matters little, so long as lots of people are eaten.

(Of course I'm not wholly serious, but don't it sound all transgressive and shit?)
posted by davy at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2007


sfenders: The worst they can do to global civilization is partially detach themselves from it, possibly depriving it of some part of whatever contribution they would've made in practicing a more conventional lifestyle. We can tolerate that, and no need to begrudge them any success they might somehow find. The Amish seem to be doing okay still, and it'll be good to have them around when civilization does eventually collapse.

One could have said the same thing about communism.

I'm not so much worried about external damage from the tribalists as I am that they're all going to die themselves. That being said, if enough people join their philosophy, it could become dangerous - as I said, tribal societies and modern ones cannot live side by side. If large and modern societies decide to go tribal, it's possible they'll try to wipe everyone else out first. So danger from them is not inconceivable.

As far as the Amish go, they're nearly as far from tribalists as you are. They stopped being non-technological a long time ago, slowly transitioning from that state into a bunch of lunatic electricity-phobes. They're quite happy to benefit from modern technology that doesn't contain the devil's electrons, such as hydraulic machinery and advanced materials, and they'll go for modern medicine if they need to.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2007


food for all, bondage for none and knowledge for all who seek it.

That is beautifully put.

I'm pretty sure, as jokeefe's comments in this thread have so aptly shown, humanity will choose extinction over the loss of air conditioning.

WTF? I don't even have air conditioning, man. Or a car. Or anything in two bedroom co-operative apartment more valuable than my laptop. My son rides his bike everywhere; I take the bus. We have a recycling station set up in the building; we donate money every year to other housing co-operatives being built in Africa. Etcetera.

What I dislike are intellectually shallow arguments about how great things were back in the old days. They weren't. The idea that agriculture was the beginning of the fall? We started farming to keep from starving to death when relying on the weather gods didn't protect us from years of drought and famine wasn't working as well as we hoped. To claim, as is done in one of the FPP links, that agriculture is a symptom of the corruption of humankind betrays the magical and totally predictable mythology underlying the fantasy. Eden never existed. It's the unawareness that this fantasy is a huge part of what's driving this movement that irritates me. You know, like people who don't vaccinate their children for ideological reasons-- human memory is short, I guess.
posted by jokeefe at 11:50 AM on July 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


There's so many ways this is in good running for the dumbest idea ever: 1. Medicine. There are large companies investing billions of dollars in creation of the most advanced drugs that can't be designed in tribal setting. 2. the Internet. You can't possibly maintain the infrastructure needed for the Internet in a tribal setting. 3. Cars. You can not maintain a network of roads and manufacturing facilities needed to create thousands of precision-tooled assembly parts to create a modern vehicle. 4. Green revolution. Farming with high yields needs engineered crops that in turn depend on susutained effort in lab research - you are talking about tens of thousands of scientists, decades of genetic research and experiments. 5. Space exploration. Even if you look at something simple like going to the moon and taking 1 pebble from the surface and bringing it back, it will take tens of thousands of highly educated people with enormous invesment in infrastructure and research. If you take a 4th or 5th country in the world in terms of GDP, it'd almost ruin them to do this. Now think about getting to Alpha Centauri. 6. Home building. Think carefully about the complexity of creating a modern home, with plumbing, electricity, laundry machine, drying machine, computer system, toaster, bread maker, mixer, light fixtures, heater, fan, conditioner, alarm system, lawn sprinkler, fire sprinklers, cd player, amplifier, speakers, paper shredder. 7. Printing. Can you make anything remotely close to a printing press in a village setting? Good luck using a quill to transcribe full works of Dickens and Kenneth Grahame for your kids to read. How about Harry Potter, Don Quixote, Lolita and Mein Kampf? All of that will be lost forever, as well as millions of other books. 8. Advertising. Can you imagine the scale of industrial development needed to maintain advertising industry? Video editing, film crews, actors, 3D modeling software, printing presses, all gone. 9. Arms industry. Ever met a jaguar on the prowl? There will be no winchesters and ak-47s. Bow made of composite materials, maybe, but it will take your years to master the production and develop sufficient skills in hunting. Mortars, artillery, cruisers, armored personnel carriers? None of that will be possible. The US lost 3,500+ men in Iraq war so far. This number would be 50 times higher or more if we did not have advantage of advanced weapon systems. All of that would not be possible, either. The war with Japan was cut short by controversial use of two nuclear weapons. If that did not happen, *both* US and Japan would lose hundreds of thousands of people, ending almost certainly with the same US victory, now much costlier. Now consider for a second the complexities of creation of a nuclear weapon. Iran, which has billions of dollars in oil revenues and had nuclear development as it's #1 goal, could not, so far, create a single nuclear pay load. Can a tribe of a hundred or so ignorant tattoed fools with naked asses pull this off?
posted by rainy at 11:50 AM on July 15, 2007


Whoops. I really garbled a sentence in the middle there. Time for a pot of tea, I think.
posted by jokeefe at 12:00 PM on July 15, 2007


I have to admit it's an attractive fantasy. Tempting to indulge. The whole post apocalyptic tribal thing.

I come from a Mormon, outdoors man, western, eviro-nut, and military family background. I suppose, according to the fantasy, I possess all the superficial skills and resources necessary to survive The End Times. I have tools and emergency supplies. I've killed for food. I hunt and fish. I've worked on ranches and farms. I know some decent field medicine. I can rub two sticks together. I can fight. I can shoot. Hell. I can throw a knife.

But I understand the reality of lawless living without civilization. I can't manufacture good toilet paper. No matter how tough I am if my glasses break I'm due for a sure swift ironic ending like Burgess Meridith in the Twilight Zone the first time I walk out into the night. Dysentery is no fun at all. I've had it. And, without sewage and water treatment, you'd have to LIVE with it.

No matter how prepared YOUR anarcho-progressive "tribe" there will always be somebody stronger, better armed, and more psychotic than you willing to slit your throat for that last square of TP and plot of arable land.

Nah. NOT for me.

I like lattes. I like air travel. I like take out Thai Food. I like birth control. I like internet porn.

Despite it's problems Civilization is working out well for a middle aged white man born in the latter half of the twentieth century in North America. Fuck this Road Warrior shit.

That said there is a bill due. If human history is any guide we are due for a big civilization correction and population contraction. I think it is inevitable. But it won't END civilization. Like people said above it will merely change it.

In fact it will BE civilization that SAVES us.
posted by tkchrist at 1:11 PM on July 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


As far as the Amish go, they're nearly as far from tribalists as you are.

I mentioned them just to illustrate that not every effort at intentionally building socially isolated communities around bizarre belief systems is a threat to civilization as we know it. Any neo-tribalist movement that may or may not exist can co-exist with everyone else just fine, up to a point, and we're a very long way from reaching that point. Anyway, most of these neo-tribalists also seem just as far from the sort of tribalists you're talking about.

Until one tribe or another starts showing the slightest sign of being actually capable of building an army and wielding effective political power, they're pretty far down the list of things that threaten civilization, somewhere below the dire threat posed by the Amish.
posted by sfenders at 1:30 PM on July 15, 2007


somewhere below the dire threat posed by the Amish.

I dunno. Those fuckers can put up a barn in like three hours. They could build an armada of large mechanical wooden badgers and blitzkrieg across Pennsylvania in a weekend.
posted by tkchrist at 1:38 PM on July 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I got my hopes up, but this neoprimitive hunter-gatherer style of tribe doesn't really tickle my fancy. What I'd really like to see are the global tribes from The Diamond Age.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 1:51 PM on July 15, 2007


Mechanization plus electricity equals Soviet power.
posted by davy at 2:50 PM on July 15, 2007


Whether we go tribal or not is going to depend entirely on one thing, IMO: our energy consumption.

If we have the energy resources to sustain our current Western mode of life, we will continue to live it. If not, I can see tribalism readily returning.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:55 PM on July 15, 2007


From the "army" link:
Moreover, I do not foresee a "post-apocalyptic" war between tribes and civilization's survivors. Those survivors, like the survivors of Chaco Canyon, will learn to live in sustainable ways, or die trying. In the interrim, I do not believe they will "come after" foragers, for the same reasons that the Greenland Vikings that Jared Diamond discusses in Collapse did not "go after" the Inuit. We will be relying on resources they fail to see as food. So, I do not see much threat of military conflict in the primitivist approach to the current crisis.
Maybe not a war, per se. But lots of little skirmishes and massacres and overall Bad Shit. It would not be pretty. It would not be fun.

It doesn't matter if the clueless survivors can't appreciate the resources you recognize. Here you fail to understand just how ugly and evil people can be when they're up against the wall and their loved ones are dying around them. In those circumstances, you would become a resource that they could use as food.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:09 PM on July 15, 2007


We'll probably evolve to a more coherent and peaceful version of the city state model of pre-Sargon days. One can hope...
posted by Burhanistan at 3:11 PM on July 15, 2007


Considering how many people move to cities precisely to get away from the joys of small-town tribalism? I don't see universal tribalism as a generic future, no.

If the word "tribalism" embraces the multitudes of emerging subcultures (sci-fi, goth, punk, rave, geek, capitalist, skateboard, et. al.), then maybe multi-tribalism is the future.

All of which depends on how we engineer (or fail to) the massive relocations necessitated by the end of oil and the pervasive surveillance (which no tribe could survive).
posted by Twang at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2007


Tribes are just another flavor of organism. Humans are their cells. The size and complexity of the organism is a function of our available resources and our ability to communicate with our fellow cells.
posted by mullingitover at 4:17 PM on July 15, 2007


Here you fail to understand just how ugly and evil people can be when they're up against the wall and their loved ones are dying around them.

I believe that's not post-apocalyptic. Tribalism will not arise peacefully, but it will arise. It's the only way to survive without spending all one's energy collecting energy.

Indeed, it all comes down to energy.

I would be very interested to know how much sun energy we can potentially capture, using intelligently-derived guesstimates in our figures. That will represent something approximating our absolute ability to sustain our population.

The excess beyond basic food requirements represents our ability to improve our situation. With excess energy we have the ability to construct shelter (which in turn reduces our food needs; or increases our ability to devote energy to non-energy-gathering tasks.)

I warrant it takes an unsustainable level of energy to maintain our Western living style.

In fact, hell's bells, I'll bet that's what Dubai is all about: putting the super-wealthy high-energy-consuming people right where all the oil is and where they can protect it. Makes one hell of a lot of sense. Might even save us from greenhouse gas emissions: ultra-high density of ultra-greedy consumers of energy == economies of scale in ultra-efficient, ultra-scrubbed power conversion.

At any rate, certainly this particular incarnation of Western lifestyle is at an end.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:18 PM on July 15, 2007


What's more likely than tribalism, though, is a continuing shift to urban living. Cities are where it's at: with a city -- and especially the new super-cities that are inevitably required to replace the ones destroyed in the floods (almost all our big population centres are at sea level!) -- you have economies of scale. Wasted energy per capita is markedly reduced, for starters.

Gonna be hella costly. Gonna require a lot of new thinking.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:26 PM on July 15, 2007


That said there is a bill due. If human history is any guide we are due for a big civilization correction and population contraction. I think it is inevitable.

There's no bill coming due, because there isn't anything for it to come from.

Birth rates in the developed world are at the level of replacement, and countries in Europe, it's below replacement. The only reason the population isn't going t of all to zero in 50 years is immigration, but as the rest of the world develops, the population will level off. Over the long term the population will achieve some equilibrium.

The big "correction" as you call it may have already come and gone. Maybe AIDS was supposed to wipe everyone out, or Ebola, or the Hanta virus. But science was ahead of the plague.

And the notion that tribes would survive it all is laughable. Suppose a member of the tribe gets AIDS, or one of these other diseases that is impossible to diagnose accurately without a test? How long does a tribe survive AIDS without medicine even to treat the symptoms?
posted by Pastabagel at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2007


Pastabagel don't fixate on "a" cause.

Somebody above nailed it: an energy crisis will be the big catalyst. It won't destroy civilization but it will force population contraction.

Modern agriculture is productive because it is profitable and efficient. And it is those things ONLY because of cheap oil. Cheap energy. Cheap distribution. And of course the by products of the petro production that create cheap fertilizer. There is no way the world can sustain feeding six billion souls on anything more than $120 a barrel oil. No way. how many people can we feed until we find a new way to energize food production? I dunno. But not close to six billion. I know that.

So that means over a fairly short time, historically speaking, lots of people are gonna die... and not be born, which in the third world (based in human labor hours) is the same thing. The transition is going to messy. And unlike the fantasy predictions by the neotribal guys the people who will pay the most will be the third worlders. The worlds poor will die by the millions.

Your right though. Tribes won't rise to replace failing civilization. Hopefully a slightly smaller more nimble civilization will.
posted by tkchrist at 6:13 PM on July 15, 2007


In the interrim, I do not believe they will "come after" foragers, for the same reasons that the Greenland Vikings that Jared Diamond discusses in Collapse did not "go after" the Inuit.

this is the kind of sloppiness that drives me up the wall with him ... he doesn't KNOW that there weren't conflicts ... in fact, seeing as the norse called the inuit "skraelings", i think there's a good chance there were

(in fact, diamond himself says that conflict may have been a factor, so his summation is misleading)

so, what's his definition of "go after"? ... if by that he means, "the norse didn't try to eliminate the inuit from every bit of land on greenland", well, yeah, and why would they? ... in fact, that would be impossible given the climate and the land

if by "go after" he means "chase away from the areas they lived", well, they may well have

we don't know what the ending of the norse colony in greenland was due to ... bad resource management leading to starvation may have been it, or maybe they got whacked by the inuit ... or maybe it was plague

We will be relying on resources they fail to see as food.

translation - "our enemies will be too dumb to know a meal when they see one, even when they see us eating it"

good luck with THAT ridiculous assumption
posted by pyramid termite at 6:17 PM on July 15, 2007


I do not believe the ultra-wealthy will be feasting on anything less than the finest steaks any time soon. Meanwhile, the lower class will be dining on jellyfish, mice, and algae paste. Just like they already do in some parts of the world.

The future is already here. We are going to have megacities like Singapore, where the economy of scale supports a high energy lifestyle of technology and entertainment; mega favelas outside those citie like those outside Rio and Mexico Cities; and peasant underclasses that work in factories and factory farms as in China.

The mega-wealthy, the lost, and the working poor. The middle class is mostly history.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:39 PM on July 15, 2007


Sorry about the space travel derail, that's my particular cup of nuttiness, and it worked it's way in because I wasn't exactly working rationally while writing that.
posted by Arturus at 6:58 PM on July 15, 2007


seeing as the norse called the inuit "skraelings"

Just to make pyramid termite's point clearer, "skraelings" roughly translates as "wretches".

Diamond also discusses how the Greenland Norse's first encounters with the Inuit were characterized by feckless slaughter on the part of the Vikings. An interesting written account of the Greenland Sagas which discusses the role the Inuit played in the latter days can be found in the works of Ralph "the Wiggum" Clancyson, a literal fucking Viking.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:02 PM on July 15, 2007


I don't think I could ever be a tribalist. I'm an "inside person". if the Apocalypse came, in whatever form, I'd rather be underground...preferably in a secure facility...like a vault, at least until my water chip stopped working.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:47 PM on July 15, 2007


Quinn's pretty clear, on his website anyway, that his "living tribally" is a way of making a living, and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with being part of a hunter/gatherer society. He provides examples of modern-day tribal businesses that exist for the members' needs and not profit. Tattoos, piercings and drum circle appearances not required.

Quinn refuses to provide solutions to the dilemmas he outlines; for some reason, this seems to aid the misunderstanding of people who think he's saying something he isn't. He seems to spend a lot of time in ishmael.org's Q&A section correcting people who assume he advocates vegetarianism or terrorism, for example.

His new book, however, is a really concise intro to his thinking, and highly recommended to people who haven't given him a try yet.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 7:17 AM on July 16, 2007


Actually, jeffgodesky is usually this movement's greatest warrior on MeFi. I'm surprised he hasn't already commented here; I guess he must be asleep. Fireworks tomorrow when he arrives, hopefully.

Actually, I was out getting in some "dirt time," as trackers call it. It's summer now, so I spend most weekends out there working on my primitive skills now. So imagine my surprise to come home to all this.

As Mark Twain wrote, "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." It was just the day before this post was made that my wife was saying to me, frustrated, that she couldn't understand how people could state such blatantly untrue things about human societies from such an obvious lack of knowledge or investigation. No one goes about presuming they know all about quantum physics without ever having studied it, she said, so why do so many people think they know about human societies without ever studying anthropology? I mentioned that since we all live in a particular human society, we all think we have some great familiarity with the subject. But of course, we only have any real experience with one human society, and so without that anthropological background, we easily mistake our one culture's idiosyncracies for universal elements of human society. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, or, "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so."

I like that quote because it immediately addresses nearly all of the comments made in this thread. If you stop reading right here, that's the take-home message. What follows is just a demonstration of why that message applies.

I don't see any new objections in this thread, just the same ones that get trotted out every time. They're so common that I addressed several of them directly in the Thirty Theses, like thesis #21 ("Civilization makes us sick."), thesis #22 ("Civilization has no monopoly on medicine.") or thesis #25 ("Civilization reduces quality of life."). I wrote the Thirty Theses specifically to avoid having these same discussions endlessly, yet I continually find the same statements baldly asserted, without any evidence to support them except for the fact that they are the recieved wisdom and "common sense" of our society. They are the popular myths that our civilization offers up to justify itself. But are they true just because they are popularly believed? Again, "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so."

As you might expect, this will have to be a fairly long comment. Don't mistake this for evangelizing, though. I didn't post this thread, but I find myself the subject of intense scrutiny here regardless. I would hate for the passer-by to find the usual misinformation here unanswered and assume from that that it must be correct, so I would like the opposing view to appear here. I don't expect to make any "converts" here, but I intend to at least provide sufficient material here to show that the primitivist stance has enough of an intellectual backing to be respectable, even if you don't agree with it. And if you are exasperated from arguing with me, know that I'm equally exasperated at refuting the same points time and again. The simple reiteration of commonly-held myths will never suffice for evidence; if you hope to convince me, I'll need to see evidence to back up your claims, and refutations of my own. Arguments I've already refuted are not convincing.

So, without further ado--

the concept of "tribe" is almost entirely a construct of the 'colonial' experience as both a response to alien cultures and an attempt to keep them alien.

It can be, but it isn't necessarily. There is a distinct social structure of a "band," and of a "tribe." Quinn's usage is somewhat sloppy, as it subsumes both levels of society. As a shorthand, I generally find it acceptable.

this is like saying: "Is Humanity humanity's future?"

No, it's not. The tribe--here referring to both bands and tribes--is a small-scale, egaliatarian form of society. This is quite distinct from chiefdom or state level societies, which are ranked, hierarchical or class societies.

Even if one accepts that humans evolved to live in tribes (whatever precisely that means), how does it follow that tribes (however conceived) are necessary for, or even conducive to, human happiness?

Because happiness is an evolved motivating response. The things that make you happy are the things that favor your evolutionary success. That's all happiness is. Having evolved in tribes, the tribal setting is essential for human happiness. We have an evolutionary expectation that we will be in a society where everyone knows us, and where we are appreciated as a human being. When we don't recieve that, we feel isolated. We have an evolutionary expectation that when times are hard, they'll be hard for everyone, and when times are good, we'll all share the benefit. When that doesn't happen, we're distinctly unhappy. We have an evolutionary expectation that we'll be treated equally, and that we'll all have an equal voice in what happens to the community. When that doesn't happen, we feel oppressed.

Humans are adaptable creatures, and we can over time become habituated to some extreme cases of systemic misery and accept that as "normal." And the best achievements of civilization have consistently been those moments when it has been least civilized, and most approximated the tribal ideal: democracy, social justice, and so forth. But it's important to recognize that these are failures of civilization, where civilization has compromised with the natural human inclination towards tribalism, because pure civilization is impossible. It's too dehumanizing. In every civilization, tribal elements have been necessary to make the situation bearable.

Every society fights wars on its frontiers. If you are living in a society with a very small geographic boundary (ie, a tribe), that means there's a very small space where you'll be safe. You'll be constantly protecting your land from bandits and from bigger, stronger, tribes.

That's certainly a valid theory, so perhaps we should test it against the actual data on tribal warfare? The question of warfare among tribes is an intricate one. Current thinking has swung to the side of the "bloody savages," largely thanks to the work of Lawrence Keeley (War Before Civilization). I've addressed the problems I see in Keeley's work many times before, so I hope you won't mind if I cut and paste rather than type the same argument out again:

Lawrence Keeley's War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage really represents the first work in this trend, and continues to provide the foundation for the later work of LeBlanc, Walker and Knauft. Much of Keeley's evidence centers around archaeological evidence of fortified villages around the world. Of course, that merely proves that food producers engaged in warfare; Keeley's farther-reaching assertion that warfare is endemic to human nature goes far beyond the evidence he provides of horticultural warfare, and his work has been heavily criticized on this point. Though we have cave paintings back into the Upper Paleolithic 40,000 years ago, it is only about 10,000 years ago, with the invention of the bow, that we see the first cave paintings of groups fighting. We don't see paintings of people fighting with clubs or even atlatls, but we instead see them fighting first with bows and arrows. Some paintings even portray still-recognizable tactical techniques like flankings and envelopments. It is also at this time that the first skeletal evidence of warfare emerges, with bones showing evidence of violent death, arrow-heads in skeletal remains, and so forth. This is quite late in our history as a species, and once again correlates to the rise of food production.

Keeley tries to expand his case by looking at evidence of violence among modern hunter-gatherers, most notably the Plains Indians. "Keeley finds brutish behavior everywhere and at all times, including among the American Indian. If the number of casualties produced by wars among the Plains Indians was proportional to the population of European nations during the World Wars, then the casualty rates would have been more like 2 billion rather than the tens of millions that obtained."[Source] Though anthropologists have learned that modern hunter-gatherers are not "living fossils" that necessarily preserve pre-civilized behaviors when such comparisons illustrate the basic economics of hunter-gatherer life and the pressures it places on sharing and social bonds, Keeley presents modern hunter-gatherers as precisely that when he needs evidence of prehistoric warfare. The Plains Indians are a particularly ironic choice, given the evidence Peter Farb gathers in Man's Rise to Civilization, As Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State. There, Farb shows that the Plains Indians we know did not exist prior to European contact. They descended from refugees from other Native groups destroyed by the various European epidemics that wiped out 90% or more of North America's population in the years after 1492, with a new culture assembled around two important European introductions: the re-introduction of the horse as wild herds profligated and filled up the Americas, and guns traded from French fur trappers. The Plains Indians had a post-apocalyptic culture.

Given the trauma of what was essentially the end of the world for Native groups, a surge in violence would be expected. 90% or more of the American population died from epidemic disease. Groups were displaced, and a massive rearrangement of tribal territories racked across the continent like billiard balls long in advance of European settlers. When "the Pilgrims" came to Plymouth, they were aided in setting up their new colony by a Patuxet native named Tisquantum (better known to Europeans as "Squanto"). He was the primary contact for the Europeans on behalf of the Wampanoag Confederacy because he already knew English: he was captured by George Weymouth in 1605, worked for nine years in London, and returned to the New World with John Smith (of "Pocahantas" fame) in 1613, but was dropped off on the wrong part of the continent and kidnapped by Thomas Hunt, but escaped to London. He finally made it back home in 1619, to discover that his home village had been wiped out, probably by smallpox. When "the Pilgrims" arrived, they set up their colony on the ruins of Tisquantum's home town. Tisquantum's twisted tale illustrates the enormity of European impact on Native lives long before what we would normally consider the first point of European contact. By the time Europeans came, most places they arrived were already shattered. The archaeological record bears out a significant increase in violence in this post-apocalyptic era.[Source]

Keeley cites evidence that the wars of the Plains Indians were, per capita, as costly as the two world wars. He further cites evidence that the !Kung homicide rate rivals that of the inner city. Knauft points out that such violence comes from the changing nature of Bushmen life as their old way of life is shattered and they are settled into a new, sedentary lifestyle.[Source] Kent further points out that Keeley's statistic is taken out of context.[Source] In addition to these criticisms, I would draw attention to the double standard applied to violence in our own civilization, versus how it is applied to "primitive" societies.

Keeley makes the argument that, because horticultural and forager peoples have such low population density, a single homicide could be a war. Of course, Keeley ignores the systematic violence of civilization: he lumps together all occasions of violence in "primitive" societies, and compares them to our own wars, or our own homicide rates, but never the combination. Neither does he take into consideration the toll of our violence professionals: the violence done by police, or incarceration (1 in 37 adults in the United States), or the essential violence of the market and tax system we're forced into by civilization's violence professionals. In civilization's pursuit of a peaceful society, the "Monopoly of Force" has succeeded only in making every aspect of society violent. When we consider fully that the violence Keeley cites is that of an essentially post-apocalyptic society, and that he is comparing it to only a small portion of our own violence, it becomes clear that contrary to Keeley's case, civilization has vastly increased violence. It has made violence ubiquitous, and it has changed the fundamental nature of it.

Foragers were not perfectly peaceful, but they also limited violence and aggression, just like all other animals. Tennyson may have described nature as "red in tooth and claw," and that view certainly permeated Darwin's understanding of nature when he came up with his theory of evolution, but we have since learned that natural selection typically operates on a far less lethal basis. A slightly higher birth rate is all that's required for one variety to out-compete another on the long term; examples of outright starvation and violence exaggerate to make a point. Rather, when we observe violence in the animal kingdom, we see that animals try to avoid it wherever they can. After all, on average, any animal has only a 50% chance of surviving a fight to the death. Lethal force is not an evolutionarily stable strategy; such hyper-aggressive animals destroy themselves on a fairly short timeline. Successful animals have learned to limit aggression and violence.
Probably the most spectacular examples of ritualization involve ritualized aggression; as E.O. Wilson formulated the key question: "Why do animals prefer pacifism and bluff to escalated fighting?". The answer is that agonistic behavior is potentially advantageous but also carries very high costs (in terms of the individual's inclusive fitness): possible injury and even death, 'aggressive neglect', etc. (see especially Cronin and Van der Dennen for detailed analysis). For each species, Wilson observes, there exists some optimal level of aggressiveness above which individual fitness is lowered. [Source]
Foragers, too, have succeeded in the long term, and like other animals, they have done so only because they have succeeded in limiting violence. Forager groups constantly tested their boundaries with one another in skirmishes. In extremely marginal ecologies, like the Arctic, foragers are even extremely violent, with long-lasting blood feuds. But, as Raymond Kelly discusses in Warless Societies & the Origins of War, marginal societies tend not to have the resources to go to war, and affluent societies (like most foragers) have no reason to go to war. So, like agriculture (see thesis #10), warfare develops not from strict scarcity or abundance, but the nerve-wracking, extreme fluctuations between them, with periods of scarcity priming a population's fears, and following abundance providing them the resources to act on those fears.

No society can ever be fully devoid of violence, but those that aspire to such a goal only become more violent by denying its place in the world. Primitive societies did engage in violence, and without a permanent class of professional killers, it fell to primitive peoples themselves to execute what violence became necessary. Perhaps that is in part why such societies also did so much to limit violence. Contemporary charges against primitive warriors rely on observations of a "post-apocalyptic" society decimated by European contact, ignoring the evidence that violence in these societies has been increased significantly because of the overwhelming impact of European contact. What we do see, however, is ample evidence of means to limit violence—emphasis placed on bravery and intimidation to avoid violence from breaking out, ritual approaches aimed at reconciling enemies, and alternative forms of contesting differences, such as song duels or counting coup. To properly compare the effectiveness of such approaches to our own, we need to take an honest accounting of violence in our own society—wars, murder, violent crime, incarceration, police brutality, and the full impact of our professional violence class. We need to look also to the ubiquitous violence inherent in our social system: the threat of violence that lies behind paying your rent, obtaining your food, and every other aspect of civilized existence. Primitive societies were not devoid of violence, but they did limit it, and it was a much rarer thing. Among them, violence was something that happened. For us, it's a way of life.

If the meteor hits, it won't be the hippies, neo-tribalists or the Michigan militia that survive. It'll be the Amish, the Jews and the Mormons.

I've actually made that argument. You'll also find a great deal on Anthropik about animism. True animism isn't a question of occult spirits haunting the world, the way superstitious Christian missionaries misinterpreted it. It's a matter of not reining in your natural empathy, and relating to the world around you precisely as it first appears to your senses: as living persons. We recognize one another as persons solely by the exercise of empathy. If you extend that same empathy to a bird, or a plant, or even a rock, you'll quickly notice it relating to you just like another human person. David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous was a major work in this regard, relating animism as it's actually practiced to phenomoenology in general, and the work of Merleau-Ponty in particular. Graham Harvey's Animism: Respecting the Living World is essentially a survey of what he calls "New Animism," to seperate it from the superstitious ideas about animism propogated by, say, E.B. Tylor.

Tribalism is all that is worst in humanity -- parochialism, demonization of the other, simian skullsplitting.

That can be what tribalism leads to in a mass society, but for two million years, those same impulses created deeply-related and intimate communities that lived in a sustainable manner. Not only did they not destroy the land they lived in, they actively made it better. It limited violence, provided egalitarianism and justice, and provided the things that people deeply, truly need. Divorced from the tribal context, the same motivations that made tribalism work so well have gone haywire, and lead to "parochialism, demonization of the other, simian skullsplitting." That's a fish out of water--a square peg in a round hole. If the same motivation and psychology leads to stable, sustainable peace in one context, and parochial, "simian skullsplitting" in another, is it the motivation that's flawed, or the context? Should you change human nature, or stop trying to shove a square peg into a round hole?

From my grey-haired perspective, I remember a lot of this variety of talk back in 1971, though back then it was called the "back to the land" movement. It did involve fantastically cool cedar-shaked houses with salvaged stained glass windows (the good stuff) as well as hepatitis from badly situated outhouses and children neglected under the guise of "letting them be free" (the bad stuff).

The "back to the land" movement was very, very different. That was an ideological utopia. Ours is based on actual observation of the only proven workable form of human society. Moreover, that was agrarian; this is hunter-gatherer. The way you make your living changes everything about how you live. That is no minor difference, that's all the difference in the world.

We're already living in tribes, if the human tendency to constantly align ourselves with one group and distance ourselves from another can be considered "tribal". This works on just about any level, sadly, and we'll always seize on ever smaller differences in order to establish an us-and-them. The difference between a Burning Man-going American and a young accountant living in the 'burbs is negligible to your average African, and it really should be to us, too.

This is somewhat true. We're tribal creatures, so we can never get away from our tribalism. The difference is, in a tribal society, that's adaptive. It creates a healthy, sustainable culture. Taken out of context, it becomes maladaptive, like a fish out of water. Square peg, round hole.

"And look! There's a woman dying in childbirth, and somebody else dying of an untreated infection! Not to mention Bud, who passed away last year after that impacted molar went septic... boy, did that take a long time, days of agony. Interesting that the average lifespan is heading south again to the mid-forties, where it used to be before medicine and things like surgery and antibiotics and stuff."

You seem to have mistaken "hunter-gatherer" for "agrarian." Foragers don't have the problems with women dying in childbirth that agrarian societies do; a healthy diet and lots of walking with a natural human gait make childbirth much easier. Sedentism, regular menstruation, and a cereal-grain diet that humans are ill-adapted to make agrarian mothers prone to death in childbirth.

Neither do they die from untreated infections the way people do in agrarian societies; many herbs are quite effective at treating infections. In my own area, common plantain is better at treating cuts than any over the counter medicine I could buy.

Also, impacted molars and other dental problems only show up in the archaeological record with any kind of regularity after the Agricultural Revolution, because the human mouth isn't very adapted to eating grains. Teeth wear down and develop cavities. Most agrarian societies leave skeletons of people dead of old age in their 30's and 40's, and they've lost most of their teeth. Hunter-gatherers generally live into their 60's, 70's or 80's, and still have perfectly healthy teeth. Even if they were, again, foragers have quite effective remedies for things like that, at least as effective as what we have (and what we have usually amounts to isolated the "active ingredient" of traditional herbs--an isolation that's frequently led to unexpected complications).

As for lifespan, the Agricultural Revolution introduced what's called the "Neolithic Mortality Crisis." Lifespans dropped from 60's, 70's and 80's, down to the 30's. Over time, they started to climb back up. Stature also plummeted. Britons re-achieved the heights of their hunter-gatherer ancestors only in the past century; Greeks and Turks still haven't. Just a century ago, average lifespan in the U.S. was 49. Today, for civilized folks in the Kalahari, it's still in the 30's. Their forager neighbors still live into their 60's, 70's and 80's.

So everything you describe is a feature of agrarian society, not hunter-gatherer society.

The noble savage fantasy is what it always was-- a pastoral construct devised by those who have no contact with the actual conditions of living in a hunter-gatherer society.

Actually, the "noble savage fantasy" is what it always was--a strawman propped up by racists to defuse anyone from an honest look at primitive societies. I wrote a fairly long article on the "Noble Savage" myth titled, "The Savages Are Truly Noble," that went through the aspects of the myth, and found that (1) those deouncing the myth are typically much more wrong than the myth itself, and (2) the real myth has been that anyone ever believed it. It's a straw man with a rich tradition of white supremacy.

At what point does a group of people become a city? Must there be permanent structures for a city to be a city? Or does it merely take a certain number of people in the same place at the same time?

These are not unanswered questions. Yes, a city must have some degree of permanence; festivals are not cities until they start putting up long-term buildings. Anthropologically, the criteria for a city is generally 5,000 people, but I think William Catton and Derrick Jensen's definition is a little clearer: a permanent settlement large enough to require the importation of resources.

This whole neo-tribalism thing seems to me to be in the same ballpark as the idea that the Rapture is going to happen. Any...year...now...

Perhaps an examination of the evidence would change that opinion. We're not scrutinizing bronze age prophecies to conclude that civilization is unsustainable. Complexity is subject to diminishing returns. That is not a controversial statement; Joseph Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies remains the authoritative examination of social collapse, and it examines the root causes in terms of the diminishing returns on complexity. The question is not whether the barbarians sacked Rome or a drought destroyed the Maya, but how civilizations that had previously repulsed larger barbarian hordes and handled bigger droughts failed to provide for the very instances where social complexity is supposed to work best. In our own day, the question is why we can't rebuild New Orleans, when we built Galveston a hundred years ago. The answer remains the same: diminishing returns on complexity.

The foundations of civilization are unsustainable--that means they can't be sustained. Once that's understood, the question is not if civilization will collapse, but when.

This seems like a good time to bring up this study which I was pointed to by this amusing theory about the human primate.

"The Monkeysphere" is a tongue-in-cheek examination of Dunbar's number, which correlates primate group size to neocortex volume. Follow the line to human brain size, and you get 150. Robin Dunbar highlighted the incidence of 150 as a group size throughout history, and it appears to also cap sustainable horticultural village size. Tribal organizations can knit together a few communities of 150 each, but beyond that, tribalism breaks down, and the first hierarchical social organizations form. Dunbar's number is very important; it shows us that there are neurological capacities involved that explain why mass society fails so spectacularly for the human animal.

Don't you know that in pre-history we lived near Utopian lives to great old age. Like over a hundred or something.

No, just about as long as your average First Worlder now. The difference was that everyone lived that long, not just the priveleged elite.

And we had advanced herbal medicines that could cure anything.

No, just the things that we actually encountered. No medicine is perfect, but no culture has yet to develop any medical approach that's clearly more effective than any other. That includes ours. (Of course, every culture believes that their particular ethnomedicine is the only effective one, and the argument is always couched in terms of their own understanding of health).

Oh.And there was no patriarchy. Or money.

Well, no, there wasn't. Why would there be?

Or meat eating.

There was LOTS of meat eating. Meat made up the majority of the menu for most foragers.

But this was pre-history. So nobody KNOWS about it.

Lots of people know about it. Anybody who's bothered to study basic anthropology knows about it. These aren't secrets, or even difficult to find, it just takes some curiosity to go learn it.

Of course, theres no actual evidence of that ever being the case, which means, of course, that it must have happened that way.

There's plenty of evidence that that was the case. We have archaeological evidence, and ethnographic evidence from extant foragers. The evidence is there, if you bother to look at it. The problem is, few people do. We think we know that these things are all true, because that's our culture's mythology. It's not even worth investigating; how could it be otherwise? "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so."

I went to see if there were any tribes closer to my present location so I could go play anthropoligist or something, but according to the web page, Anthropic is in fact the only member tribe of the Appalachian Confederation. Not much of a confederation then, is it? In the future, I shall be known as the Tribe of Sfenders.

No, it's not much of a confederation yet. We quickly discovered that there just isn't enough people out in front to make this relevant yet. So it's more a plan for the future. This isn't too unexpected; for now, it's just a bunch of theory, so who would care? I wouldn't expect a lot of involvement at least until we're actually out there providing a living example. For now, while we're still en route, there's no reason for someone to want to join us. So the Tribe of Anthropik will no doubt remain small enoungh to remain more theoretical than real, as will the Appalachian Confederation.

What's got you confused is that the version of "evolution" talked about there is about on par with the version of "evolution" as understood by creationists, which is to say, it's idiotic. If the premise is that thoroughly misunderstood, you can safely dismiss any "conclusions."

So you're saying that happiness is not an evolved response? Where did it come from, then? My understanding of evolution is a change in allele frequency over time, due to differing selective pressures. Which part of that is the idiotic part?

Interesting to me because I think, though can't say I know for sure, that most of the people fitting the stereotype criticized would consider themselves 'progressives' and would take being called 'anti cult of progress' as a smear from conservatives.

Not at all. As primitivists, we believe that much of what we've called "progress" has not been, and that our society's slavish devotion to continual "progress" has been one of the chief causes of our problems. A contstantly growing economy, for instance, lies at the root of our unsustainability. Primitivists contend that we have not "progressed" since the Agricultural Revolution, and that change, technology, or any other innovation can be either good or bad. In my own formulation, we've deemed as "progress" a commitment to ever more complex modes of society, so because complexity is subject to diminishing returns, this approach to "progress" is fundamentally self-destructive. A healthy approach to complexity would be just as quick to reduce complexity as to increase it.

The "cult of progress"? Inasmuch as "progress" can be understood to have brought us the vote, the eight-hour day, the five-day week, workplace safety regulations, the FDA, jury by a trial of peers, etc., then count me in.

It also brought you slavery, child labor, politics, war as we know it, epidemic disease, drastically reduced lifespan, the work week and work day, the workplace, contaminated and systemically unhealthy food, poisoned air, food and soil, the Third World, and global warming. "Progress" tries to solve a problem, then creates five new problems with the solution, and the solutions are always imperfect. We used to have clean, safe, abundant food, free for the taking. Then we "progressed" and invented agriculture, which gave us scarce, dirty, unhealthy food. So we eventually invented the FDA to try to police that. So we get poisoned less often. But we still get poisoned. And then there are the bureaucratic problems that the FDA itself spawned.

I'm a big fan of civilization, me.

Do you actually understand what that means? Art, medicine, philosophy, religion, music, technology, all these things are far, far older than civilization. They're common to all human societies, civilized or not. They have absolutely nothing to do with civilization. Civilization doesn't even make them better or give you more of them.

The things that define civilization are things like unsustainability, systemic overpopulation, concentration of wealth and power into a small elite, epidemic disease and systemic malnutrition. Those are the things that lie at the real core of what civilization is. The art, medicine, technology and so on, yes, civilization has those, because civilizations are cultures and all cultures have those. But to say you're a fan of civilization, that doesn't mean you're a fan of the art and the technology and so forth. That means you're a fan of the ecological destruction, systemic injustice, and widespread misery and mortality.

The collapse of civilization does not lead to a utopia of anarchist tribes, it leads to a lot of very scared, very unsettled people who no longer have the infrastructure or ability to feed and clothe themselves.

History says otherwise. Actual collapses have led to improved quality of life for most people. The only real losers are the elites (who, naturally, write the histories and thus shape the popular imagination of things like "the Dark Ages"). To quote the aformentioned work by Joseph Tainter:
The notion that collapse is a catastrophe is rampant, not only among the public, but also throughout the scholarly professions that study it. Archaeology is as clearly implicated in this as is any other field. As a profession we have tended disproportionately to investigate urban and administrative centers, where the richest archaeological remains are commonly found. When with collapse these centers are abandoned or reduced in scale, their loss is catastrophic for our data base, our museum collections, even for our ability to secure financial backing. (Dark ages are rarely as attractive to philanthropists or funding institutions.) Archaeologists, though, are not solely at fault. Classicists and historians who rely on literary sources are also biased against the dark ages, for in such times their data bases largely disappear. ...

Complex societies, it must be emphasized again, are recent in human history. Collapse then is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity. The notion that collapse is uniformly a catastrophe is contradicted, moreover, by the present theory. To the extent that collapse is due to declining marginal returns on investment in complexity, it is an economizing process. It occurs when it becomes necessary to restore the marginal return on organizational investment to a more favorable level. To a population that is receiving little return on the cost of supporting complexity, the loss of that complexity brings economic, and perhaps administrative, gains.
In "The Old Cause," Joseph Stromberg provides an example of this up-ending of conventional wisdom:
Collapse loomed, but collapse had definite advantages, as shown by its aftermath. The Germanic kings who replaced the empire in the west were better at defending their (smaller) territories against invaders and could do so more cheaply than the overextended empire. In North Africa, the Vandals (victims of a bad press) lowered taxes and economic well-being grew, until Justinian brought back Roman rule and, with it, imperial taxes. "Investment" in this lower level of political "complexity" paid for itself, so to speak, by being less costly. Collapse is not all bad: a disaster for the state apparatus may not be one for people as a whole. Devolution of power to smaller geographical units is "a rational, economizing process that may well benefit much of the population."
The romanticized image of collapse marked by starvation and violence is not borne about by history or the archaeological record. For most people, collapse simply meant the old government was replaced with a smaller and less expensive one. In other places, where civilization had eliminated the resources needed for another round of civilization, there was no recovery, and these are much more anologous to our current situation. When the Hohokam, Anasazi and other ancient Pueblo civilizations collapsed, they did not leave resources for a new civilization. Instead, the Hopi and other southwest cultures emerged from that collapse, surviving on account of having developed sustainable, horticultural techniques and communities built around them. Collapse in those cases acted as a selective pressure on memetic variation; the majority who remained committed to their civilization died with it, and the minority mutation that had developed around a sustainable base survived to become the new dominant variety.
You get tribes, yeah, but you get violent tribes, people who band together in a futile attempt to not starve to death in the near future, in a world with a human population well over its food production capacity.
That's extraordinarily unlikely, and once again, unprecedented historically. The number of people who left the Hohokam, Anasazi, etc. to form horticultural communities was far smaller than the carrying capacity. In other cases of ecological overshoot, population drops decidedly below the natural carrying capacity, and then rebounds back up to it. This is what you see in historical instances of collapse, as well. In the aftermath of collapse, resources are quite plentiful, because the bottleneck is the imagination to try something different, not the resources to provide for it. The tribes that emerged from the collapse of the southwest civilizations were not particularly violent, nor were they constantly fighting to avoid starvation.
You get brutal warlords, you get increased disease, you get a horrible nightmare. After a couple generations, you settle into something like feudalism, as certain groups consolidate power, and the rest of them go along with it because they don't have any other options.
Again, this does not square with the historical experience of past collapses. If such a thing were to happen, it would be unprecedented in fact, if not in imagination. Not to say I haven't heard such bizarre fantasies before; in fact, I addressed them directly in an article titled, "The Hyperbole of St. Jerome."

The only hope for anarchy, the only hope, is through technology which empowers, which lets us try new modes of existence and experience.

Now this is an unjustifiable fantasy if ever there was one. Technology has always been a very mixed blessing, and while I'd say that some technologies have been good, they have just as often created new problems even bigger than the ones they solved. Moreover, this basic approach to technology--the great savior in which we place our faith--is what drives us to keep investing in complexity far beyond the point of diminishing returns, when it has become utterly foolish to do so.

The fetishization of an unmitigated disaster is entirely similar to the religious right's excitement over unrest in the mideast as signs of jesus' imminent return. Dale Carrico terms this sort of discourse disasterbation, and it fits so well.

There are many similarities. But there are also distinct dissimilarities. An analysis of marginal return curves is a very different process than the exegesis of bronze age prophecies. We're talking about ecology and energy, not prophecy or gods. Of course, on some level, we have all always known that our civilziation is unsustainable. That's precisely why we've told and retold so many apocalyptic myths. The question is not the frame--there's only a small number of high-level frames available. You yourself are using another frame often used by religionists: the Messiah, or the Savior. Your attitude towards technology is the same as an orthodox Jew who does good in order to hasten the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Age; likewise, you tell us we must never lose our faith in Technology and Progress, for only Technology can light our way and redeem our souls. It's a valid point that your frame is the same, but how much does that mean? Ultimately, what matters is the validity of the evidence you've assembled, not whether it resembles previous patterns that have failed.

Once we're out in the galaxy, once you can have your tragedy without it affecting earth, without it affecting the bulk of humanity, sure, go nuts. Build your utopia, and it'll fall or it'll stand. Don't ask the rest of us to live or die by it.

Primitivism isn't going to destroy civilization. Civilization is self-destructive. Primitivism just offers a way to survive it, maybe even to mitigate the collapse. But spreading into space as we are would be monstrously evil, by my estimation. Br. Albert Bartlett's video, "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" is excellent in this regard.

Consider a petri dish with a particular population of bacteria at 11:00 AM. It doubles every minute, and it's filled the petri dish at noon. When is the petri dish half-full?

11:59.

At 11:59, half the petri dish is still empty, but the population doubles every minute. Most people will guess 11:30, which simply illustrates the fact that humans have no intuitive grasp of the exponential growth we must now deal with. It sends our grasp of the situation, and its ehtical dimensions, haywire. Square peg, round hole.

So, let's say we give the bacteria a means of expanding to other petri dishes. How long before they fill a whole other petri dish?

12:01.

At 12:02, they'll need four petri dishes, and at 12:03, eight, and at 12:04, sixteen, and just five minutes after noon, that bacteria will require 32 petri dishes.

We're now at the point where we take up 40% of the earth's primary productivitiy. This is the fundamental cause of the current mass extinction: nearly half the earth's energy and resources are tied up in just one species and our handful of closely-related domesticates. It was in 1960 that we reached the point where we'd farmed all the arable land (forcing us to turn to the Green Revolution for further growth), and three billion people. That's a doubling period of 40 years. So unless civilization ends, in another 40 years, we'll need nearly all of the earth's resources.

If we then go to space, we'll need two earths by 2080. We'll need four by 2120, eight by 2160, sixteen by 2200, and thirty-two by 2240.

This is the great, grand hope civilization can offer us: "They're like locusts. They travel from planet to planet, their whole civilization. After they've consumed every natural resource they move on."

Fortunately, this is all pure fantasy. The resources simply aren't there. Not just our fossil fuels, but our technological innovation has peaked.

Even if you think there's a good life to be had post-collapse, you should still work against it on basic humanitarian grounds.

How do you work against it? The best route is to mitigate it--to try to make it as gradual as possible. Permaculture, hunting and gathering, voluntary simplicity, and the fostering of small, relocalized, bioregional communities is the best chance there is to do that. It's unlikely to work, but it's the best chance we have. By happy coincidence, it's also the best chance to survive collapse in the (highly likely) event that such efforts fail.

But keeping people pushing forward with more and more complexity is precisely what you should do to make collapse bigger and more deadly. If you want to mitigate collapse and try to make our return to a human-scale, sustainable way of life as painless as possible, then you'll be doing exactly what we're doing: building tribes.

But since the last time I've been doing a bit of reading, including Greer himself, and I have to say I have little respect for a theory that manufactures new terms for itself, like "catabolic collapse", when it fails so utterly to understand basic terms like "capital".

I think Greer did a pretty good job of extending "capital" to its most basic dimensions. "Catabolic collapse" is a bad example, as that's a fairly good enumeration on a fault Greer found with Tainter's argument. In general, though, I've been a big proponent of not inventing new terms, like Daniel Quinn's "totalitarian agriculture," which is simply "agriculture." He was trying to differentiate from other forms of sustainable cultivation, but that's what anthropologists have long called "horticultural," and what modern activists have largely reinvented as "permaculture." I find this proliferation to be unnecessarily confusing and convoluted, and there's been plenty of arguments on Anthropik about the virutes of using the existing terms.

In fact this whole movement is predicated on tossing around economic terms without the slightest understanding of that discipline. You'll see the phrase "diminishing returns", for example the anthropik link Thesis #29 uses the nonsensical phrase "beyond the point of diminishing returns". Returns diminish after the "point" of diminishing returns. Then they diminish to zero. What's beyond that?

Begging your pardon, but I think you're misunderstanding what these terms mean. "Diminishing returns" doesn't mean there's no return, it just means that your return per unit of investment begins to fall. There may be less return for the same investment, or more investment to get the same return, but either way, the marginal return diminishes. The point of diminishing returns is the point at which marginal returns begin diminishing--the point at which further investment begins to get you less and less of a return. It's quite easy to invest beyond the point of diminishing returns. If 8 people working in a field will get you 8 bushels of corn, and 9 gets you 8.9, then 8 is the point of diminishing returns. If you put 10 people out there, and they gather 9.7 bushels, then you've invested past the point of diminishing returns. And if you decide that the only reasonable response to this shortfall is to send in 12 people tomorrow, then you've adopted civilization's defining approach to complexity. Long before you reach the point where diminishing returns fall to zero (the point at which another worker doesn't increase the number of bushels at all), you reach the point where people recognize this strategy isn't working, and scale back to something closer to 8 workers a day. That scaling back, when we're talking about social complexity, is collapse.

Here's the story, barring a cataclysmic event - asteroid, zombie infestation, return of cthulhu, etc., the system will never collapse. It will change, but that's a point against the collapse argument, because it is always changing. The early 1900's were very different than the enlightenment, which was different from the renaissance, etc.

Note: Greer is pretty ardently anti-primitivist. He writes often about why he doesn't like primitivism, and essentially banned me from commenting because I pointed out the flaws in his arguments.

Every first year econ student knows that if supply contracts or demand increases, prices increase. That's the mechanism by which we will move off of oil onto something else, oil will be too damn expensive. That's doesn't mean the dark ages are coming.

That's a distinct lack of imagination. While that's ultimately true, there are various ways in which demand can be reduced--like massive mortality. Collapse is an economizing process, that reduces the cost of society by adopting a much lower level of complexity. It's not an end of society: there's a society before, and a society after. But civilizations are a subset of societies, and when civilizations collapse, they throw off civilization and move to a much lower level of complexity.

It's my opinion that his neo-tribal movement is nothing more than a Gen-X response to the consumer society of the boomers. It's a guilt over a life of excess choices and consumption coupled with an subtext of resentment over being denied any role whatsoever in fashioning those choices or controlling the means of production.

That's no doubt fueling many people who come to it. I never felt much angst over that, personally. I was persuaded by the evidence, and had to overcome the fact that I liked the consumer society, and come to terms with the fact that it's completely unsustainable.

So I would think it would be a pretty good time to live in a tribe if you were a young male. Of course that doesn't make it an ethical or reasonable one.

It's pretty good for women, too, and older people. As far as ethical or reasonable, nobody ever said primitive societies were saintly or perfect, just that they work. Primitive societies aren't destroying the planet. They've gone on in relative peace for two million years. To date, they're the only tried-and-true form of human society proven to work. They have some things that are easy for us to look askance upon, but in the final analysis, they never destroyed the land they live off of, so I'm reminded of Matthew 7:4: "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?"

We don't need medicine because we'll actually be healthier without it.

I never said anything like that. I said we'd be healthier without civilization. Every society has its own kinds of medicine, so when you get ready of civilization you're not getting rid of medicine any more than you're getting rid of technology or art. But you are getting rid of most of the causes of disease.

Oh, also, 99% of all humanity will need to be exterminated.

I also never said anything like that. I said that unsustainable things (like civilization), cannot be sustained. I said that the best way to mitigate the collapse would be to make it as gradual as possible by shifting people gradually over to tribes, permaculture, hunting and gathering, and rewilding. But that probably won't work; even so, those same techniques will increase your own chances of survival and, to whatever extent you help share them, will help save the people around you. 99% of humanity will probably die as a consequence of civilization, but primitivism might be able to save them, if we could ever get that kind of universal support. But we're a fringe of a fringe, so the catastrophic die-off is more likely. But if you want to avoid it, this is how you'd do it.

yeah, avenger, and if we get too hungry, we can just eat the people over the next hill

You know that the vast majority of accounts of cannibalism were invented to smear natives prior to exterminating them, right? Primitive cultures tend not to engage in cannibalism, and those that do tend not to hunt people for food. In the few cases where it is practiced at all, it's a religious custom surrounding people who've already died from other causes. Cannibalism is never as simple as hunting people for food, even in the very rare places where it happens at all.

"Biodiesel" and plant-based plastics will be very big but fruits and veggies will be rare.

Not until you find some way around that pesky Law of Conservation of Energy. Biodiesel is great for individual use where you need energy in a particular form, but it doesn't scale up to society-wide uses. Agriculture is an energy sink. It takes more calories of work than it yields in food. Today, we cheat that with fossil fuels; before, we used domesticated animals as a means of using the energy in a rocky field gathered by grazing and stored in animal muscles to make up the difference.

Not just plain dislike of the topic, but actual honest-to-goodness outright hostility. Very odd.

Almost enough to make me think we're on to something when you hit a nerve like that, eh?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Native custom was for all girls to marry as soon as they entered puberty (menarche). They would be married to older men-- sometimes thirty or forty years older-- chosen by their parents. A wife (or three or four) was the prize you got for age and status.

The Pacific Northwest was an exceptional place. The way the salmon runs work, they made the Pacific Northwest much more like a typical agrarian society. They had a strictly ranked chiefdom-level society, too. But because their food surplus was geographically anchored, they couldn't expand, conquer their neighbors, and develop a full-blown state the way agrarian societies tend to. But yes, what you describe did happen among the hunter-gatherers of the Pacific Northwest; it's one of the several ways in which that exceptional pocket resembled agrarian societies. This is extremely rare among hunter-gatherers (confined to the Pacific Northwest, though I wouldn't be surprised to find evidence of it at Sungir for the same reason).

In such societies, sedentism and diet lead to regular ovulation, so women can be turned into baby-making machines. In such a situation, you see the rise of patriarchy and the pattern of young girls married to older men, as the capacity for more births translates into pressure for systemic overpopulation. Things go very differently in hunter-gatherer societies, where women don't ovulate so regularly. They still marry young, but to young men. Society is less complex, so it takes less time for a child to become fluent in society. By the time they reach puberty, they already know everything they need to be an adult, so social and biological indications of adulthood coincide, so the sexual and social frustration of being biologically mature and socially immature doesn't happen. Larger population is a double-edged sword for hunter-gatherers, so there's no pressure to overpopulate, and thus, no pressure on women to make babies. Patriarchy doesn't form. Women are valued, like men, for the talents they bring to the community, rather than for reproductive potential. That's the usual hunter-gatherer pattern. As I mentioned before, the Pacific Northwest was very exceptional.

So I wouldn't imagine that being a young man in a hunter gatherer society would be all fun and games: you would have to deal with being socially powerless because you were young not, as in our culture, socially powerful because you are not old.

This was not the case among most hunter-gatherers. Most hunter-gatherers were egalitarian; even an infant had an equal say. Elders were respected, but that didn't necessarily translate into greater influence; elders were often ignored (respectfully, perhaps, but ignored) if what they had to say didn't appeal or make sense.

When societies collapse, you get New Orleans after Katrina, except for years. You don't get happy eco-topias.

Funny you should mention that, because when Katrina hit, what happened in New Orleans? The violence was systemically over-rated by the media; what you got were tribes.

Oh, when I said humans are 'evolving' of course I don't mean evolution as a natural process: we mooted that with fire, language and metals.

How so? Did birds moot natural evolution with nests and songs? Beavers, with dams? It seems to me that fire, language and metals are adaptations like any other, subject to evolution.

If you want to go neo-tribal, just shoot yourself in the head now, because you're going to die. Make it quick and easy instead of long and miserable.

That's right, it's a long, miserable death, and that's why Homo sapiens died out almost immediately, because tribalism just plain doesn't work. That's why there are no humans around any more today.

The planet cannot sustain 6 billion people with only subsistence farming. Not even close.

This is one of the dumbest (and most common) counter-arguments against primitivism. No, hunting and gathering cannot support 6.5 billion people. Neither can permaculture. Neither can "organic farming." In fact, the only thing that can support 6.5 billion people is industrial agriculture. But industrial agriculture requires non-renewable fossil fuels. It's unsustainable, so that means in the end, even industrial agriculture can't support 6.5 billion people. So you're right, hunting and gathering can't support 6.5 billion people. Nothing can. That's what makes it an ecological overshoot.

That's the situation we're in. The population will be drastically reduced. There's no way to avoid that. At the most optimistic end, if I actually did have a chance of convincing you all here, we might be able to get more permaculture going, more primitive skills, more human-scale communities, and allow this to happen gradually, over time. We might be able to implement something along the lines of Richard Heinberg's notion of "Powerdown." It would be completely unprecedented, but it might be possible. We could let the population deflate over time from declining birth rates.

I don't think that's going to happen. I'm doing everything in my power to push us as close to that as we can get, but I don't think it's going to happen. Instead, when industrial agriculture does start to fail, and civilization's collapse proceeds like a snowball of one massive clusterfuck after another, it's far more likely that the people who remain reliant on civilization will die with it. If you've managed to seperate yourself from it, you might wind up like the southwest tribes and inherit the earth. In that case, the very same actions now will give you the best chance of surviving when civilization is gone.

More likely, it will be somewhere between the two. More primitivists will allow for a slightly more gradual collapse than might otherwise have followed. But we're a fringe of a fringe; realistically, we're not going to have a very big impact. We do what we can, but with so few of us, it will never be enough.

If we make the transition, a lot of people are going to die of famine right away as the green revolution is rejected.

The Green Revolution has put most of the world into a situation of collapse already. It's permaculture and hunting and gathering that offer the best hope of survival. Look at the trees in Nigeria: adopting a permacultural approach has reversed the expansion of the Sahel, not the Green Revolution.

Furthermore, a lot more are going to die soon as medical science shuts down - medicine requires modern industry and educational systems to function, and when they go down, so does it.

If it shuts down overnight and no one's bothered to learn any other form of medicine, that would be true. I don't see how that could happen. Right now, learning herbalism, simple surgery, and other ethnomedical practices will not just keep you healthier now, it will help prepare you for when Western biomedicine is no longer an option. Along with Western biomedicine would also fall the causes of most of our diseases and health ailments, so overall health would probably improve because Western biomedicine doesn't even begin to heal as much damage as civilization creates.

Old-style 'medicine men' don't accomplish a hundredth of what the most dead-spirited, profit-driven doctor can do now.

"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." There's not a single ethnomedicine that's ever been proven to be more effective than any other, though every culture believes their own to be the most effective. Fact remains that actual studies of ethnomedical effectiveness have not borne out this common myth. A patient who goes to a shaman versus a patient who goes to a doctor, both have about the same incidence of recovery on average.

The planet's population is way, way above its non-technological carrying capacity - it will readjust itself, brutally, if technology goes away.

It will readjust itself--and possibly brutally--whether technology goes away or not. Technology cannot stop collapse; in fact, our naked worship of technology is part of what makes collapse so inevitable.

I can't imagine more than 1% of the population surviving this period of disease, famine, violence, and chaos. Odds are very good you'll be in the 99%, particularly if you're a first-worlder, since you probably have poor health and skills compared to, say, an Ethiopian.

It probably will be something like 1%, but skills and health are not nearly as important as the imagination to try in the first place. Primitive skills are easy to learn, and you'll have the rest of your life to perfect them. It's that jump to go ahead and try in the first place that's the critical factor. That's always been the critical factor. In every collapse, the number of people who have tried to live beyond civilization have always been much smaller than what the land could support. Ecological overshoot usually results in greater die-off than is strictly necessary, because no animal is ever willing to change its way of life. Most would rather die, so they do.

Furthermore, unless you get everyone on the planet to start at the same time, you're going to be either slaughtered or enslaved by those who don't.

That doesn't make any sense. Starting now, you're simply eccentric. In the future, there's nothing to kill you for. You don't store food as a hunter-gatherer, and you're difficult to track down anyway. Everybody says this, but it's historically unprecedented.

Some people just won't make the change - unless you're willing to nuke them when you do, they'll slaughter you either as soon as they can or when their regime changes and they want to.

You can claim all the land you like, but you need to be able to enforce that claim for it to mean anything. For the North Korean army to bother me in northwest Pennsylvania, they'll need to have people and farms near me, but that's precisely what's running out. The soil has been decimated from thousands of years of farming. We farm on top of natural gas-based fertilizer now, becasue the soil underneath of it is dead. Nobody's going to give up civilization voluntarily; it's going to fall apart. That's what unsustainable systems do.

If you truly believe that industrialized society will destroy the environment, when their environment and oil wealth fail they'll move in and take your land far more surely than the English did the Native Americans - after all, they just had horses and muskets, not AKs and helicopters.

More importantly, they had fertile soil. But the soil isn't fertile anymore, because the English farmed it to get the energy to wipe out the Native Americans. And it wasn't battles that Native Americans lost nearly so much as habitat. Like all the other wild animals we've driven to extinction, native peoples were squeezed out as we converted every ecosystem we could into farmland. That battles were incidental, and often won by the natives. What they couldn't win against was an invasive species.

But how does that happen a second time? The soil was used up on the first march, so we turned to fossil fuels to make up the difference, and now they're running out. There is no replacement; this brief experiment has gone as far as it can, and now, like any unsustainable system, it's coming crashing back to earth.

Finally, education and science cannot be preserved without technology.

That statement just shows how little you know of native oral traditions.

Losing books and computers has obvious repercussions, of course, but also, neo-tribalists cannot specialize. Everyone has to subsistence farm or hunt and gather.

To be clear: subsistence farming is part of the problem. That's how we got here. Subsistence farmers turned the vast cedar forests of the Fertile Crescent into the blasted wasteland of Iraq and built the first cities 10,000 years before anyone knew about Seneca Rock Oil. Without fossil fuels, subsistence farming is not a part of our future: in the short term, the soils are gone, and in the long term, global climate change is closing the Holocene window in which that system was even remotely viable. It's permaculture and hunting and gathering that we're concerned with here.

But as far as specialization goes, there are two kinds of specialization here: exclusive specialization and specialization by emphasis. Now you're right, sustainable communities don't have exclusive specialization. You don't have the tribal fletcher who makes arrows all day, and you'd best not get on his bad side or no arrows for you. But because these modes of subsistence are demonstrably easier and leave much more liesure time, you get people who enjoy particular things. Everybody knows how to do everything, but there's still the guy who really likes making arrows, and he usually does it for everyone else. That difference is all the difference in the world, because now if he refuses to do your arrows for you, you can just do them yourself. It's not a specialization by exclusive knowledge or skill, but a specialization by interest, passion and talent. With so much more liesure time and a basic approach of what you love rather than making a living, you typically end up with much greater mastery. That's why the Agricultural Revolution is marked by such a dreadful drop in artistry and craft in the archaeological record.

Science will also degenerate very quickly without the ability to conduct experiments, which requires technology.

Science might, but not knowledge. Which is it that you value: knowledge, or specifically science? Myself, it's knowledge; whether it's scientific or not is much less important to me than whether or not it's true.

I'd rather risk the whole species on the possibility of developing new technology and keeping the everyone alive than accept the death of 99%, and consign the survivors and descendants to an endless dark age.

Except that's not the scenario at all. The question is, will you risk the whole species on guaranteed extinction, or try to mitigate the disastrous end of a bad idea in order to see a future with as much health, art and knowledge as the elites enjoy today, with greater quality of life and a fulfillment of our deep-seated human needs, but for everyone instead of just a small minority?

...anyway, this is what offends us so much. This impulse to return humanity to some kind of utopian state that never actually existed. Not that the Enlightenment hasn't had its share of utopianism, but rather that our goal isn't perfection, but food for all, bondage for none and knowledge for all who seek it.

And yet such a state once existed. We have the evidence. We've observed it and recorded it in ethnographies, and we have the archaeological evidence for it. Problem is, they weren't white. They didn't live in cities. They were "savages," so they don't count. This is what Daniel Quinn called "the Great Forgetting," this bizarre notion that the first two million years of human history somehow "don't count," only the most recent 0.16% of it, and even in that tiny sliver, only that minority of the human population that was farming and building cities and only very recently seized the numerical majority of the world's population.

It wasn't perfect, but it did provide food for all, bondage for none and knowledge for all who seek it. It fulfilled our deepest human needs. It didn't destroy the landbase it was built on. As Daniel Quinn put it so well, "Nothing evolution brings forth is perfect, it's just damnably hard to improve upon."

There are people out there who are opposed to those goals. People who think that we're better off starving, or under slavery, or thinking that the world is 6,000 years old. I, for one, count myself as the intractable enemy of those miserable quislings, and always will.

Get where I'm coming from?


Yup--complete ignorance. That's OK, it's not uncommon. As I mentioned before, most of us fancy ourselves experts in anthropology without so much as flipping through an introductory textbook. We all have those blind spots; another insightful thing Quinn offered, was that it isn't a lack of knoweldge that holds us back. It's easy to go find a piece of knoweldge you need. It's curiosity, because you can only seek out information on things you're curious about. I owe Quinn a debt for making me curious about other human cultures, which showed me just how much was there that I'd never suspected. Most of us have an astounding ignorance of what other human cultures have done and how they've operated, because we all imagine that our experience with our own society has told us everything there really is to know. We're not curious about it. It's the kind of subject where you can't appreciate how little you know until you've learned a little more.

Outside of that crowd, the primitivist argument isn't a claim that we should all start living this way now- it's more "after the collapse, this lifestyle will be the most sustainable one, and it's actually a much less miserable one than it's commonly believed to be. "

That is one argument, but I also make the argument quite strongly that the more of us that start moving towards that life now, the more we can mitigate collapse. Learn primitive skills, start a permaculture garden, start building a tribe. If those things started to catch on, "Powerdown" might even become a possibility. It's the best chance for survival, and the best chance of avoiding collapse at all.

As such, the more moderate sort of primitivist is actually hoping to increase the number of people who survive, along with the quality of their lives, by spreading the word of what they believe will be the best way to live post-collapse.

Yes.

I don't know. I read 'Ishmael' and I'm pretty sure the general idea was 'let's shut down society NOW and start living primitively.' Admittedly, I don't remember it all that well.

Obviously. Ishmael was very light on any actual recommendations. It offered an explanation of how we got here, not a plan for how to get out. That's what frustrated readers so much. In Beyond Civilization, Quinn did offer the "occupational tribe," which would be a unique way of subverting the small business to a tribal social model, and that's another front where we could help mitigate collapse, but I file that under "building tribes."

I don't claim that primitivists want to kill 99% of people, just that following their philosophy will.

Following our philosophy would lead to gradual population decline from dropping birth rates until we reached a sustainable carrying capacity. Following your philosophy will kill everyone who doesn't jump ship.

Perhaps this philosophy has been tainted for me by reading Ishmael, which might be the PETA of primitivism, but I just haven't been impressed by what I've seen of it so far. Most of it seems to be based on ridiculously pessimistic views of modern technology and science and stupidly optimistic views of tribal life. A lot of the proponents seem to have severe 'noble savage' complexes and subscribe to ludicrous philosophies like cultural and scientific relativism.

See "The Savages are Truly Noble." I would say that my views on technology and science are borne out by their history: they typically create even greater problems than those they solve, and moreover, they're subject to diminishing marginal returns. You can't just invent your way out of this forever; each new invention exacerbates the ultimate cause of collapse. As for our optimistic, "noble savage" views, those, too, are borne out by history: in this case, archaeology and ethnography. It's not us who are presenting a picture too optimistic; it's imperial apologists who created the racist image of the "savage" as the baseline against which you're judging this. It's the mode of society in which humans evolved; how could it possibly be as bad as our culture says it is? How could we be here today if it were?

Wasn't this done to death about 450 years ago?

Yup: "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." Leviathan was a thought experiment, utterly unsupported by any kind of actual evidence. The problem was that eventually, anthropologists went to see how primitive people actually lived, rather than just taking Hobbes' uninformed word for it, and they found out that Hobbes was completely wrong. In fact, if Hobbes had been right, there would be some serious trouble explaining how humans managed to live long enough to invent agriculture and cities and states to which they could surrender their autonomy. We would've killed ourselves off by then. Of course, that would also make us the most uniquely dysfunctional animals ever observed if Hobbes had been right. It turns out we're actually fairly typical animals: we co-evolved with a social system that isn't perfect, but works very well for us, and things get really screwy when we're removed from that context (like taking a fish out of water).

One could have said the same thing about communism.

Communism was out to save the world. We're mostly interested in trying not to get squashed by civilization.

That being said, if enough people join their philosophy, it could become dangerous - as I said, tribal societies and modern ones cannot live side by side.

Indeed. Civilization has never been able to tolerate any other society. Even when the people involved were trying to deal with their neighbors fairly, civilization is systemically compelled to exterminate everything other than itself. Civilization must grow or die, and if something else exists, then obliterating it is a chance to grow.

Of course, that's just another aspect of its unsustainability. As Jack Weatherford illustrated so well in Savages and Civilization, civilization stagnates without "the Other" to contend with. Uncivilized peoples vitalize civilization by the exchange, but civilization is driven to exterminate them nonetheless. Evetnually, civilization reaches a point where it chokes and stagnates on its own homogeneity.

As far as the Amish go, they're nearly as far from tribalists as you are. They stopped being non-technological a long time ago, slowly transitioning from that state into a bunch of lunatic electricity-phobes. They're quite happy to benefit from modern technology that doesn't contain the devil's electrons, such as hydraulic machinery and advanced materials, and they'll go for modern medicine if they need to.

We don't hate technology for its own sake. We don't think civilization has a healthy relationship with technology, and we don't want to be dependent on unsustainable technologies that cannot last for very long. We think this religious faith in technology's salvific power is deeply misplaced, and that technology can create as many problems as it solves, but there's plenty of good technology out there. All of our primitive skills involve technology; a bow drill, an atlatl, a wigwam, those are all technology.

What I dislike are intellectually shallow arguments about how great things were back in the old days. They weren't. The idea that agriculture was the beginning of the fall? We started farming to keep from starving to death when relying on the weather gods didn't protect us from years of drought and famine wasn't working as well as we hoped.

You know what I dislike? Intellectually shallow arguments about how bad things were back in the old days, based on recieved wisdom mindlessly repeated. "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." You're a good 30 years out of date on your thinking about the Agricultural Revolution. That was once a popular line of thinking, until they thought about it some more and realized that idea was really, really stupid. Agriculture starts with cereal grains, where the seed is the food. So each grain is a question of investment: eat it, or plant it. You don't invest when you have no money. Moreover, as Richard Manning explains so thoroughly in Against the Grain, famine began with agriculture. You really only get famine when you start farming. Think of it: your typical hunter-gatherer will eat more species before lunch than you will eat in your entire lifetime. Famine only happens when you're relying on a tiny handful of closely related species. Then, one bad summer can put you out. To put out hunter-gatherers, you need something apocalyptic. Hunter-gatherers do well in the Arctic and in the Kalahari Desert. In fact, the world's famine centers have historically always been its agricultural centers, as Manning traces meticulously. Hunter-gatherers sometimes go hungry, and sometimes they don't have their favorite foods, but "famine" is unheard of among them. Famine is something you only get when you start farming.

No, farming is something you pick up when you have plenty of food around, especially if you just came off one of those bad summers. It follows when you've already started living in sedentary villages, perhaps so you can grind an incresingly grain-based diet. That's when you start farming. Farming to avoid starvation would be like buying 1,000 shares of Microsoft stock so you can buy a cheeseburger.

To claim, as is done in one of the FPP links, that agriculture is a symptom of the corruption of humankind betrays the magical and totally predictable mythology underlying the fantasy.

No, it's the cause of the corruption of humankind. It put us in a dehumanizing setting where all of our natural instincts and reactions go haywire.

Eden never existed. It's the unawareness that this fantasy is a huge part of what's driving this movement that irritates me.

It's the unawareness of how other societies live that irritates me. I never said it was perfect, but it was far, far better. "Eden" is a bit romantic for my taste, but I can see how a story like Eden would emerge from a dim memory of what had been lost.

There's so many ways this is in good running for the dumbest idea ever: 1. Medicine. There are large companies investing billions of dollars in creation of the most advanced drugs that can't be designed in tribal setting.

Kind of have to in order to make drugs the way we do; medicine itself is subject to diminishing marginal returns, yet each innovation we make creates a new generation of more powerful pathogens.

2. the Internet. You can't possibly maintain the infrastructure needed for the Internet in a tribal setting.

Yes, but you've traded in real, tribal communities for ephemeral "internet communities." That's not an advancement, that's a loss. The Internet is better than before the Internet, when we just plain old didn't have real, tribal communities, and not even the dim shadow of them to replace it with, but that's not the trade-off we're faced with now.

3. Cars. You can not maintain a network of roads and manufacturing facilities needed to create thousands of precision-tooled assembly parts to create a modern vehicle.

That is true, but in a tribal society, you also don't need cars. Your life is much more local, tied in with a place that you have a relationship with.

4. Green revolution. Farming with high yields needs engineered crops that in turn depend on susutained effort in lab research - you are talking about tens of thousands of scientists, decades of genetic research and experiments.

The Green Revolution has also been an ecological nightmare. It's one of the bigger reasons why civilization is going to collapse sooner, rather than later. The end of the Green Revolution is one of the biggest points in favor of primitivism, to my mind.

5. Space exploration. Even if you look at something simple like going to the moon and taking 1 pebble from the surface and bringing it back, it will take tens of thousands of highly educated people with enormous invesment in infrastructure and research. If you take a 4th or 5th country in the world in terms of GDP, it'd almost ruin them to do this. Now think about getting to Alpha Centauri.

I don't know if primitive space travel is possible or not; it may be, but if it's not, so what? Space exploration isn't possible with civilization, either.

6. Home building. Think carefully about the complexity of creating a modern home, with plumbing, electricity, laundry machine, drying machine, computer system, toaster, bread maker, mixer, light fixtures, heater, fan, conditioner, alarm system, lawn sprinkler, fire sprinklers, cd player, amplifier, speakers, paper shredder.

Yes, primitive shelters are much simpler. They're also easier to heat and cool, and tend to be much more effective as shelters.

7. Printing. Can you make anything remotely close to a printing press in a village setting? Good luck using a quill to transcribe full works of Dickens and Kenneth Grahame for your kids to read. How about Harry Potter, Don Quixote, Lolita and Mein Kampf? All of that will be lost forever, as well as millions of other books.

That just indicates that you don't know much about the richness of oral tradition. Freeing those stories from the printed medium would allow them to take on a very different life, one that's much more adapted to deep-seated human needs.

8. Advertising. Can you imagine the scale of industrial development needed to maintain advertising industry? Video editing, film crews, actors, 3D modeling software, printing presses, all gone.

Ding dong, the witch is dead?

9. Arms industry. Ever met a jaguar on the prowl? There will be no winchesters and ak-47s. Bow made of composite materials, maybe, but it will take your years to master the production and develop sufficient skills in hunting. Mortars, artillery, cruisers, armored personnel carriers? None of that will be possible. The US lost 3,500+ men in Iraq war so far. This number would be 50 times higher or more if we did not have advantage of advanced weapon systems. All of that would not be possible, either. The war with Japan was cut short by controversial use of two nuclear weapons. If that did not happen, *both* US and Japan would lose hundreds of thousands of people, ending almost certainly with the same US victory, now much costlier. Now consider for a second the complexities of creation of a nuclear weapon. Iran, which has billions of dollars in oil revenues and had nuclear development as it's #1 goal, could not, so far, create a single nuclear pay load. Can a tribe of a hundred or so ignorant tattoed fools with naked asses pull this off?

No, which is why they don't wage wars on that scale. Are you telling me that an argument against tribalism is that we won't have any more Hiroshimas or Fallujahs?

I suppose, according to the fantasy, I possess all the superficial skills and resources necessary to survive The End Times. I have tools and emergency supplies. I've killed for food. I hunt and fish. I've worked on ranches and farms. I know some decent field medicine. I can rub two sticks together. I can fight. I can shoot. Hell. I can throw a knife.

Those are the basics. They help a lot. But the biggest question isn't skills, but society. Do you have the social skills to develop those kinds of relationships? Primitive technology tends to be simple and elegant. It's the "social technologies," the ways of relating to each other, where the real wealth of primitive life lies.

I can't manufacture good toilet paper.

You know there are other methods, yes? Once upon a time, toilet paper was reserved solely for the Chinese emperor; only the Son of Heaven warranted such luxury.

No matter how tough I am if my glasses break I'm due for a sure swift ironic ending like Burgess Meridith in the Twilight Zone the first time I walk out into the night.

Glasses, like casts, allow eye muscles to atrophy and gradually make your vision worse. Without them, your eyes learn to adjust. I'm not saying you'll ever be 20/20, but you could improve dramatically.

Besides, you can make glasses with primitive technology. Throwing sand on a hot fire is not something that requires a great deal of industrial technology. I used to know a primitive skills enthusiast who was working on precisely this.

Dysentery is no fun at all. I've had it. And, without sewage and water treatment, you'd have to LIVE with it.

Only if you're really dumb and don't filter and boil your water. Even a basic weekend workshop on primitive skills should go over some of the dozens of methods for cleaning your water.

No matter how prepared YOUR anarcho-progressive "tribe" there will always be somebody stronger, better armed, and more psychotic than you willing to slit your throat for that last square of TP and plot of arable land.

Why would I want TP or arable land?

I like birth control.

Plenty of reliable primitive methods of birth control.

Despite it's problems Civilization is working out well for a middle aged white man born in the latter half of the twentieth century in North America. Fuck this Road Warrior shit.

That must be why so many of them kill themselves, and why stress-related heart disease is their number one cause of death.

Until one tribe or another starts showing the slightest sign of being actually capable of building an army and wielding effective political power, they're pretty far down the list of things that threaten civilization, somewhere below the dire threat posed by the Amish.

If you read the article on the Rhizome Army, it's worthwhile to note that as effective as such a hypothetical future organization could be to defending a neo-tribal society, it would be systematically incapable of military aggression. If it tried to mount any kind of aggressive action, it would fall apart.

It doesn't matter if the clueless survivors can't appreciate the resources you recognize. Here you fail to understand just how ugly and evil people can be when they're up against the wall and their loved ones are dying around them. In those circumstances, you would become a resource that they could use as food.

I understand that desperation full well. But again, history does not bear out this fantasy. The Norse Greenlanders did not hunt the Inuit for food, and did not compete with them for fish. They didn't go to raid the fish that they didn't store.

What's more likely than tribalism, though, is a continuing shift to urban living. Cities are where it's at: with a city -- and especially the new super-cities that are inevitably required to replace the ones destroyed in the floods (almost all our big population centres are at sea level!) -- you have economies of scale. Wasted energy per capita is markedly reduced, for starters.

And how do you feed a city without agriculture?

Birth rates in the developed world are at the level of replacement, and countries in Europe, it's below replacement. The only reason the population isn't going t of all to zero in 50 years is immigration, but as the rest of the world develops, the population will level off. Over the long term the population will achieve some equilibrium.

This is a common fantasy, but no less fantastic. The quality of life in the First World is the product of Third World exploitation. We have a Third World to "foot the bill" for our lifestyle, paid in sweatshops, warlords, genocides and famines. There's such a great disparity that it can be closed somewhat still, but if the Third World ever begins to approach the quality of life enjoyed in the First, that will simply mean the collapse of the First World. They'll switch places, or more accurately, the neocolonial center will shift, and what's in the core now will become the new periphery.

The lower birth rates of the First World are correlated with education, but it's not causal. Both education and birth rates are caused by levels of complexity. They are related; more education means each child is more expensive, and thus worth less. The marginal return on having a child drops. In the First World, it's sentimental reasons that most overcome severe economic loss, which is why we're reproducing at replacement levels (and sometimes less than that). In Mali, a child is free labor. He will bring in much more wealth than he costs. The richest farmers in Mali are those with the most children.

Of course, what really matters is ecological footprint, and when you multiply the First World's population by our ecological footprint, it's the First World that's overpopulated.

Over the long term, population will continue to rise, because inequity is built into agriculture, and so long as that's the foundation of our society, we can shift the relationship from lord-serf to American banker-Mali farmer, or even turn North America into the Third World and make Nigeria the next imperial center, but that relationship will not change. Human population is a function of food supply.

The big "correction" as you call it may have already come and gone. Maybe AIDS was supposed to wipe everyone out, or Ebola, or the Hanta virus. But science was ahead of the plague.

If they were, they failed, and that means it's still coming. Agriculture is still unsustainable. Our population is still unsustainable. Civilization is still unsustainable. That means it won't be sustained. The question isn't whether or not complexity can solve these problems; that's why we invest in it. The problem is if it can keep it up as the crises keep getting bigger and more frequent, while each new bit of complexity costs more and is less effective than the last. Rome repelled many barbarian hordes before Alaric sacked it; the Maya handled many droughts before they collapsed. It's a rigged game: it just keeps escalating until you lose.

And the notion that tribes would survive it all is laughable. Suppose a member of the tribe gets AIDS, or one of these other diseases that is impossible to diagnose accurately without a test? How long does a tribe survive AIDS without medicine even to treat the symptoms?

How does a tribe get AIDS? Epidemic diseases take large populations in frequent contact with each other and close relationships with domesticated animals. Tribalism has none of thsoe things. The epidemiological angle is one of the stronger arguments in favor of tribalism; tribes quite effectively defuse the spread of epidemic disease.

But again, they do have quite effective medicine.

So that means over a fairly short time, historically speaking, lots of people are gonna die... and not be born, which in the third world (based in human labor hours) is the same thing. The transition is going to messy. And unlike the fantasy predictions by the neotribal guys the people who will pay the most will be the third worlders. The worlds poor will die by the millions.

"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." Most of the Third World has been in collapse for quite some time now, but they're propped up by the Western pillars of complexity, via organizations like the IMF or the World Bank, and more generally, neocolonialism. The Green Revolution never caught on in Africa; the main cause of African hunger is the flood of cheap American corn that forces them to plant coffee and cotton to sell to Americans instead of food for their families. I mentioned how permaculture is stopping the Sahel in Nigeria before. Most of the world's poor are already suffering the "bad" parts of collapse. Full collapse just means that those things will finally stop.

this is the kind of sloppiness that drives me up the wall with him ... he doesn't KNOW that there weren't conflicts ... in fact, seeing as the norse called the inuit "skraelings", i think there's a good chance there were

There's a big difference between contempt and violence. There's no evidence for it, at the very least. Wasn't it Avenger upthread who put in the snark about, "Of course, theres no actual evidence of that ever being the case, which means, of course, that it must have happened that way."? He was elaborating on a bit of misinformation that there's no evidence about how primitive people live (there's abundant evidence), but in this case you really are following that argument: there's no evidence that the Norse "went after" the Inuit, which means, of course, they must have.

I'd like to see some evidence of it before I presume they did. If nothing else, shouldn't we find some identifiably Inuit skeletons in the midden heaps along with the identifiably Norse skeletons?

if by "go after" he means "chase away from the areas they lived", well, they may well have

That's not what "go after" meant in the original quote. They meant "go after" in terms of "will hunt you down and kill you for your food (which you don't store so you don't have any to take), or to eat you." Chasing people off your land, yes, the Norse probably did chase the Inuit off their land. Did the Norse ever go hunting Inuit for food, or to raid them for their (non-existent) food stores? No evidence that they did.

translation - "our enemies will be too dumb to know a meal when they see one, even when they see us eating it"

good luck with THAT ridiculous assumption


Well, it's precisely what's happened in every previous instance of collapse. The Norse saw the Inuit eating fish, but they never ate any. Even the Donner party ate each other in the middle of a grove of pine trees, after being fed meals of pine nuts by the Paiute Indians who took pity on them a few months before. These are very deep-seated cultural assumptions. Every collapse has happened in full view of other alternatives where people were living just happily, but they were culturally blinded to that as a possibility.

Rather like how everyone here is discounting the possibility of a tribal lifestyle, despite the enormous ethnographic and archaeological evidence.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:11 PM on July 16, 2007 [31 favorites]


civilization have always been much smaller tha...

"Tha..." Tha? What? I'm dying to know!

Waaaait a minute here. Oh. My. God. They got him. The Cromags! They got Jeff!

Godesky you'd get more millage if you actually went out and LIVED like a hunter gatherer for let's say the next 20 years with nothing but what Iron Age tools you can carry. THEN report back.

Otherwise it's all bullshit.
posted by tkchrist at 1:22 PM on July 16, 2007


Oh, how about that? I guess there's a character limit. OK, continuing from last time...

I can't imagine more than 1% of the population surviving this period of disease, famine, violence, and chaos. Odds are very good you'll be in the 99%, particularly if you're a first-worlder, since you probably have poor health and skills compared to, say, an Ethiopian.

It probably will be something like 1%, but skills and health are not nearly as important as the imagination to try in the first place. Primitive skills are easy to learn, and you'll have the rest of your life to perfect them. It's that jump to go ahead and try in the first place that's the critical factor. That's always been the critical factor. In every collapse, the number of people who have tried to live beyond civilization have always been much smaller than what the land could support. Ecological overshoot usually results in greater die-off than is strictly necessary, because no animal is ever willing to change its way of life. Most would rather die, so they do.

Furthermore, unless you get everyone on the planet to start at the same time, you're going to be either slaughtered or enslaved by those who don't.

That doesn't make any sense. Starting now, you're simply eccentric. In the future, there's nothing to kill you for. You don't store food as a hunter-gatherer, and you're difficult to track down anyway. Everybody says this, but it's historically unprecedented.

Some people just won't make the change - unless you're willing to nuke them when you do, they'll slaughter you either as soon as they can or when their regime changes and they want to.

You can claim all the land you like, but you need to be able to enforce that claim for it to mean anything. For the North Korean army to bother me in northwest Pennsylvania, they'll need to have people and farms near me, but that's precisely what's running out. The soil has been decimated from thousands of years of farming. We farm on top of natural gas-based fertilizer now, becasue the soil underneath of it is dead. Nobody's going to give up civilization voluntarily; it's going to fall apart. That's what unsustainable systems do.

If you truly believe that industrialized society will destroy the environment, when their environment and oil wealth fail they'll move in and take your land far more surely than the English did the Native Americans - after all, they just had horses and muskets, not AKs and helicopters.

More importantly, they had fertile soil. But the soil isn't fertile anymore, because the English farmed it to get the energy to wipe out the Native Americans. And it wasn't battles that Native Americans lost nearly so much as habitat. Like all the other wild animals we've driven to extinction, native peoples were squeezed out as we converted every ecosystem we could into farmland. That battles were incidental, and often won by the natives. What they couldn't win against was an invasive species.

But how does that happen a second time? The soil was used up on the first march, so we turned to fossil fuels to make up the difference, and now they're running out. There is no replacement; this brief experiment has gone as far as it can, and now, like any unsustainable system, it's coming crashing back to earth.

Finally, education and science cannot be preserved without technology.

That statement just shows how little you know of native oral traditions.

Losing books and computers has obvious repercussions, of course, but also, neo-tribalists cannot specialize. Everyone has to subsistence farm or hunt and gather.

To be clear: subsistence farming is part of the problem. That's how we got here. Subsistence farmers turned the vast cedar forests of the Fertile Crescent into the blasted wasteland of Iraq and built the first cities 10,000 years before anyone knew about Seneca Rock Oil. Without fossil fuels, subsistence farming is not a part of our future: in the short term, the soils are gone, and in the long term, global climate change is closing the Holocene window in which that system was even remotely viable. It's permaculture and hunting and gathering that we're concerned with here.

But as far as specialization goes, there are two kinds of specialization here: exclusive specialization and specialization by emphasis. Now you're right, sustainable communities don't have exclusive specialization. You don't have the tribal fletcher who makes arrows all day, and you'd best not get on his bad side or no arrows for you. But because these modes of subsistence are demonstrably easier and leave much more liesure time, you get people who enjoy particular things. Everybody knows how to do everything, but there's still the guy who really likes making arrows, and he usually does it for everyone else. That difference is all the difference in the world, because now if he refuses to do your arrows for you, you can just do them yourself. It's not a specialization by exclusive knowledge or skill, but a specialization by interest, passion and talent. With so much more liesure time and a basic approach of what you love rather than making a living, you typically end up with much greater mastery. That's why the Agricultural Revolution is marked by such a dreadful drop in artistry and craft in the archaeological record.

Science will also degenerate very quickly without the ability to conduct experiments, which requires technology.

Science might, but not knowledge. Which is it that you value: knowledge, or specifically science? Myself, it's knowledge; whether it's scientific or not is much less important to me than whether or not it's true.

I'd rather risk the whole species on the possibility of developing new technology and keeping the everyone alive than accept the death of 99%, and consign the survivors and descendants to an endless dark age.

Except that's not the scenario at all. The question is, will you risk the whole species on guaranteed extinction, or try to mitigate the disastrous end of a bad idea in order to see a future with as much health, art and knowledge as the elites enjoy today, with greater quality of life and a fulfillment of our deep-seated human needs, but for everyone instead of just a small minority?

...anyway, this is what offends us so much. This impulse to return humanity to some kind of utopian state that never actually existed. Not that the Enlightenment hasn't had its share of utopianism, but rather that our goal isn't perfection, but food for all, bondage for none and knowledge for all who seek it.

And yet such a state once existed. We have the evidence. We've observed it and recorded it in ethnographies, and we have the archaeological evidence for it. Problem is, they weren't white. They didn't live in cities. They were "savages," so they don't count. This is what Daniel Quinn called "the Great Forgetting," this bizarre notion that the first two million years of human history somehow "don't count," only the most recent 0.16% of it, and even in that tiny sliver, only that minority of the human population that was farming and building cities and only very recently seized the numerical majority of the world's population.

It wasn't perfect, but it did provide food for all, bondage for none and knowledge for all who seek it. It fulfilled our deepest human needs. It didn't destroy the landbase it was built on. As Daniel Quinn put it so well, "Nothing evolution brings forth is perfect, it's just damnably hard to improve upon."

There are people out there who are opposed to those goals. People who think that we're better off starving, or under slavery, or thinking that the world is 6,000 years old. I, for one, count myself as the intractable enemy of those miserable quislings, and always will.

Get where I'm coming from?


Yup--complete ignorance. That's OK, it's not uncommon. As I mentioned before, most of us fancy ourselves experts in anthropology without so much as flipping through an introductory textbook. We all have those blind spots; another insightful thing Quinn offered, was that it isn't a lack of knoweldge that holds us back. It's easy to go find a piece of knoweldge you need. It's curiosity, because you can only seek out information on things you're curious about. I owe Quinn a debt for making me curious about other human cultures, which showed me just how much was there that I'd never suspected. Most of us have an astounding ignorance of what other human cultures have done and how they've operated, because we all imagine that our experience with our own society has told us everything there really is to know. We're not curious about it. It's the kind of subject where you can't appreciate how little you know until you've learned a little more.

Outside of that crowd, the primitivist argument isn't a claim that we should all start living this way now- it's more "after the collapse, this lifestyle will be the most sustainable one, and it's actually a much less miserable one than it's commonly believed to be. "

That is one argument, but I also make the argument quite strongly that the more of us that start moving towards that life now, the more we can mitigate collapse. Learn primitive skills, start a permaculture garden, start building a tribe. If those things started to catch on, "Powerdown" might even become a possibility. It's the best chance for survival, and the best chance of avoiding collapse at all.

As such, the more moderate sort of primitivist is actually hoping to increase the number of people who survive, along with the quality of their lives, by spreading the word of what they believe will be the best way to live post-collapse.

Yes.

I don't know. I read 'Ishmael' and I'm pretty sure the general idea was 'let's shut down society NOW and start living primitively.' Admittedly, I don't remember it all that well.

Obviously. Ishmael was very light on any actual recommendations. It offered an explanation of how we got here, not a plan for how to get out. That's what frustrated readers so much. In Beyond Civilization, Quinn did offer the "occupational tribe," which would be a unique way of subverting the small business to a tribal social model, and that's another front where we could help mitigate collapse, but I file that under "building tribes."

I don't claim that primitivists want to kill 99% of people, just that following their philosophy will.

Following our philosophy would lead to gradual population decline from dropping birth rates until we reached a sustainable carrying capacity. Following your philosophy will kill everyone who doesn't jump ship.

Perhaps this philosophy has been tainted for me by reading Ishmael, which might be the PETA of primitivism, but I just haven't been impressed by what I've seen of it so far. Most of it seems to be based on ridiculously pessimistic views of modern technology and science and stupidly optimistic views of tribal life. A lot of the proponents seem to have severe 'noble savage' complexes and subscribe to ludicrous philosophies like cultural and scientific relativism.

See "The Savages are Truly Noble." I would say that my views on technology and science are borne out by their history: they typically create even greater problems than those they solve, and moreover, they're subject to diminishing marginal returns. You can't just invent your way out of this forever; each new invention exacerbates the ultimate cause of collapse. As for our optimistic, "noble savage" views, those, too, are borne out by history: in this case, archaeology and ethnography. It's not us who are presenting a picture too optimistic; it's imperial apologists who created the racist image of the "savage" as the baseline against which you're judging this. It's the mode of society in which humans evolved; how could it possibly be as bad as our culture says it is? How could we be here today if it were?

Wasn't this done to death about 450 years ago?

Yup: "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." Leviathan was a thought experiment, utterly unsupported by any kind of actual evidence. The problem was that eventually, anthropologists went to see how primitive people actually lived, rather than just taking Hobbes' uninformed word for it, and they found out that Hobbes was completely wrong. In fact, if Hobbes had been right, there would be some serious trouble explaining how humans managed to live long enough to invent agriculture and cities and states to which they could surrender their autonomy. We would've killed ourselves off by then. Of course, that would also make us the most uniquely dysfunctional animals ever observed if Hobbes had been right. It turns out we're actually fairly typical animals: we co-evolved with a social system that isn't perfect, but works very well for us, and things get really screwy when we're removed from that context (like taking a fish out of water).

One could have said the same thing about communism.

Communism was out to save the world. We're mostly interested in trying not to get squashed by civilization.

That being said, if enough people join their philosophy, it could become dangerous - as I said, tribal societies and modern ones cannot live side by side.

Indeed. Civilization has never been able to tolerate any other society. Even when the people involved were trying to deal with their neighbors fairly, civilization is systemically compelled to exterminate everything other than itself. Civilization must grow or die, and if something else exists, then obliterating it is a chance to grow.

Of course, that's just another aspect of its unsustainability. As Jack Weatherford illustrated so well in Savages and Civilization, civilization stagnates without "the Other" to contend with. Uncivilized peoples vitalize civilization by the exchange, but civilization is driven to exterminate them nonetheless. Evetnually, civilization reaches a point where it chokes and stagnates on its own homogeneity.

As far as the Amish go, they're nearly as far from tribalists as you are. They stopped being non-technological a long time ago, slowly transitioning from that state into a bunch of lunatic electricity-phobes. They're quite happy to benefit from modern technology that doesn't contain the devil's electrons, such as hydraulic machinery and advanced materials, and they'll go for modern medicine if they need to.

We don't hate technology for its own sake. We don't think civilization has a healthy relationship with technology, and we don't want to be dependent on unsustainable technologies that cannot last for very long. We think this religious faith in technology's salvific power is deeply misplaced, and that technology can create as many problems as it solves, but there's plenty of good technology out there. All of our primitive skills involve technology; a bow drill, an atlatl, a wigwam, those are all technology.

What I dislike are intellectually shallow arguments about how great things were back in the old days. They weren't. The idea that agriculture was the beginning of the fall? We started farming to keep from starving to death when relying on the weather gods didn't protect us from years of drought and famine wasn't working as well as we hoped.

You know what I dislike? Intellectually shallow arguments about how bad things were back in the old days, based on recieved wisdom mindlessly repeated. "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." You're a good 30 years out of date on your thinking about the Agricultural Revolution. That was once a popular line of thinking, until they thought about it some more and realized that idea was really, really stupid. Agriculture starts with cereal grains, where the seed is the food. So each grain is a question of investment: eat it, or plant it. You don't invest when you have no money. Moreover, as Richard Manning explains so thoroughly in Against the Grain, famine began with agriculture. You really only get famine when you start farming. Think of it: your typical hunter-gatherer will eat more species before lunch than you will eat in your entire lifetime. Famine only happens when you're relying on a tiny handful of closely related species. Then, one bad summer can put you out. To put out hunter-gatherers, you need something apocalyptic. Hunter-gatherers do well in the Arctic and in the Kalahari Desert. In fact, the world's famine centers have historically always been its agricultural centers, as Manning traces meticulously. Hunter-gatherers sometimes go hungry, and sometimes they don't have their favorite foods, but "famine" is unheard of among them. Famine is something you only get when you start farming.

No, farming is something you pick up when you have plenty of food around, especially if you just came off one of those bad summers. It follows when you've already started living in sedentary villages, perhaps so you can grind an incresingly grain-based diet. That's when you start farming. Farming to avoid starvation would be like buying 1,000 shares of Microsoft stock so you can buy a cheeseburger.

To claim, as is done in one of the FPP links, that agriculture is a symptom of the corruption of humankind betrays the magical and totally predictable mythology underlying the fantasy.

No, it's the cause of the corruption of humankind. It put us in a dehumanizing setting where all of our natural instincts and reactions go haywire.

Eden never existed. It's the unawareness that this fantasy is a huge part of what's driving this movement that irritates me.

It's the unawareness of how other societies live that irritates me. I never said it was perfect, but it was far, far better. "Eden" is a bit romantic for my taste, but I can see how a story like Eden would emerge from a dim memory of what had been lost.

There's so many ways this is in good running for the dumbest idea ever: 1. Medicine. There are large companies investing billions of dollars in creation of the most advanced drugs that can't be designed in tribal setting.

Kind of have to in order to make drugs the way we do; medicine itself is subject to diminishing marginal returns, yet each innovation we make creates a new generation of more powerful pathogens.

2. the Internet. You can't possibly maintain the infrastructure needed for the Internet in a tribal setting.

Yes, but you've traded in real, tribal communities for ephemeral "internet communities." That's not an advancement, that's a loss. The Internet is better than before the Internet, when we just plain old didn't have real, tribal communities, and not even the dim shadow of them to replace it with, but that's not the trade-off we're faced with now.

3. Cars. You can not maintain a network of roads and manufacturing facilities needed to create thousands of precision-tooled assembly parts to create a modern vehicle.

That is true, but in a tribal society, you also don't need cars. Your life is much more local, tied in with a place that you have a relationship with.

4. Green revolution. Farming with high yields needs engineered crops that in turn depend on susutained effort in lab research - you are talking about tens of thousands of scientists, decades of genetic research and experiments.

The Green Revolution has also been an ecological nightmare. It's one of the bigger reasons why civilization is going to collapse sooner, rather than later. The end of the Green Revolution is one of the biggest points in favor of primitivism, to my mind.

5. Space exploration. Even if you look at something simple like going to the moon and taking 1 pebble from the surface and bringing it back, it will take tens of thousands of highly educated people with enormous invesment in infrastructure and research. If you take a 4th or 5th country in the world in terms of GDP, it'd almost ruin them to do this. Now think about getting to Alpha Centauri.

I don't know if primitive space travel is possible or not; it may be, but if it's not, so what? Space exploration isn't possible with civilization, either.

6. Home building. Think carefully about the complexity of creating a modern home, with plumbing, electricity, laundry machine, drying machine, computer system, toaster, bread maker, mixer, light fixtures, heater, fan, conditioner, alarm system, lawn sprinkler, fire sprinklers, cd player, amplifier, speakers, paper shredder.

Yes, primitive shelters are much simpler. They're also easier to heat and cool, and tend to be much more effective as shelters.

7. Printing. Can you make anything remotely close to a printing press in a village setting? Good luck using a quill to transcribe full works of Dickens and Kenneth Grahame for your kids to read. How about Harry Potter, Don Quixote, Lolita and Mein Kampf? All of that will be lost forever, as well as millions of other books.

That just indicates that you don't know much about the richness of oral tradition. Freeing those stories from the printed medium would allow them to take on a very different life, one that's much more adapted to deep-seated human needs.

8. Advertising. Can you imagine the scale of industrial development needed to maintain advertising industry? Video editing, film crews, actors, 3D modeling software, printing presses, all gone.

Ding dong, the witch is dead?

9. Arms industry. Ever met a jaguar on the prowl? There will be no winchesters and ak-47s. Bow made of composite materials, maybe, but it will take your years to master the production and develop sufficient skills in hunting. Mortars, artillery, cruisers, armored personnel carriers? None of that will be possible. The US lost 3,500+ men in Iraq war so far. This number would be 50 times higher or more if we did not have advantage of advanced weapon systems. All of that would not be possible, either. The war with Japan was cut short by controversial use of two nuclear weapons. If that did not happen, *both* US and Japan would lose hundreds of thousands of people, ending almost certainly with the same US victory, now much costlier. Now consider for a second the complexities of creation of a nuclear weapon. Iran, which has billions of dollars in oil revenues and had nuclear development as it's #1 goal, could not, so far, create a single nuclear pay load. Can a tribe of a hundred or so ignorant tattoed fools with naked asses pull this off?

No, which is why they don't wage wars on that scale. Are you telling me that an argument against tribalism is that we won't have any more Hiroshimas or Fallujahs?

I suppose, according to the fantasy, I possess all the superficial skills and resources necessary to survive The End Times. I have tools and emergency supplies. I've killed for food. I hunt and fish. I've worked on ranches and farms. I know some decent field medicine. I can rub two sticks together. I can fight. I can shoot. Hell. I can throw a knife.

Those are the basics. They help a lot. But the biggest question isn't skills, but society. Do you have the social skills to develop those kinds of relationships? Primitive technology tends to be simple and elegant. It's the "social technologies," the ways of relating to each other, where the real wealth of primitive life lies.

I can't manufacture good toilet paper.

You know there are other methods, yes? Once upon a time, toilet paper was reserved solely for the Chinese emperor; only the Son of Heaven warranted such luxury.

No matter how tough I am if my glasses break I'm due for a sure swift ironic ending like Burgess Meridith in the Twilight Zone the first time I walk out into the night.

Glasses, like casts, allow eye muscles to atrophy and gradually make your vision worse. Without them, your eyes learn to adjust. I'm not saying you'll ever be 20/20, but you could improve dramatically.

Besides, you can make glasses with primitive technology. Throwing sand on a hot fire is not something that requires a great deal of industrial technology. I used to know a primitive skills enthusiast who was working on precisely this.

Dysentery is no fun at all. I've had it. And, without sewage and water treatment, you'd have to LIVE with it.

Only if you're really dumb and don't filter and boil your water. Even a basic weekend workshop on primitive skills should go over some of the dozens of methods for cleaning your water.

No matter how prepared YOUR anarcho-progressive "tribe" there will always be somebody stronger, better armed, and more psychotic than you willing to slit your throat for that last square of TP and plot of arable land.

Why would I want TP or arable land?

I like birth control.

Plenty of reliable primitive methods of birth control.

Despite it's problems Civilization is working out well for a middle aged white man born in the latter half of the twentieth century in North America. Fuck this Road Warrior shit.

That must be why so many of them kill themselves, and why stress-related heart disease is their number one cause of death.

Until one tribe or another starts showing the slightest sign of being actually capable of building an army and wielding effective political power, they're pretty far down the list of things that threaten civilization, somewhere below the dire threat posed by the Amish.

If you read the article on the Rhizome Army, it's worthwhile to note that as effective as such a hypothetical future organization could be to defending a neo-tribal society, it would be systematically incapable of military aggression. If it tried to mount any kind of aggressive action, it would fall apart.

It doesn't matter if the clueless survivors can't appreciate the resources you recognize. Here you fail to understand just how ugly and evil people can be when they're up against the wall and their loved ones are dying around them. In those circumstances, you would become a resource that they could use as food.

I understand that desperation full well. But again, history does not bear out this fantasy. The Norse Greenlanders did not hunt the Inuit for food, and did not compete with them for fish. They didn't go to raid the fish that they didn't store.

What's more likely than tribalism, though, is a continuing shift to urban living. Cities are where it's at: with a city -- and especially the new super-cities that are inevitably required to replace the ones destroyed in the floods (almost all our big population centres are at sea level!) -- you have economies of scale. Wasted energy per capita is markedly reduced, for starters.

And how do you feed a city without agriculture?

Birth rates in the developed world are at the level of replacement, and countries in Europe, it's below replacement. The only reason the population isn't going t of all to zero in 50 years is immigration, but as the rest of the world develops, the population will level off. Over the long term the population will achieve some equilibrium.

This is a common fantasy, but no less fantastic. The quality of life in the First World is the product of Third World exploitation. We have a Third World to "foot the bill" for our lifestyle, paid in sweatshops, warlords, genocides and famines. There's such a great disparity that it can be closed somewhat still, but if the Third World ever begins to approach the quality of life enjoyed in the First, that will simply mean the collapse of the First World. They'll switch places, or more accurately, the neocolonial center will shift, and what's in the core now will become the new periphery.

The lower birth rates of the First World are correlated with education, but it's not causal. Both education and birth rates are caused by levels of complexity. They are related; more education means each child is more expensive, and thus worth less. The marginal return on having a child drops. In the First World, it's sentimental reasons that most overcome severe economic loss, which is why we're reproducing at replacement levels (and sometimes less than that). In Mali, a child is free labor. He will bring in much more wealth than he costs. The richest farmers in Mali are those with the most children.

Of course, what really matters is ecological footprint, and when you multiply the First World's population by our ecological footprint, it's the First World that's overpopulated.

Over the long term, population will continue to rise, because inequity is built into agriculture, and so long as that's the foundation of our society, we can shift the relationship from lord-serf to American banker-Mali farmer, or even turn North America into the Third World and make Nigeria the next imperial center, but that relationship will not change. Human population is a function of food supply.

The big "correction" as you call it may have already come and gone. Maybe AIDS was supposed to wipe everyone out, or Ebola, or the Hanta virus. But science was ahead of the plague.

If they were, they failed, and that means it's still coming. Agriculture is still unsustainable. Our population is still unsustainable. Civilization is still unsustainable. That means it won't be sustained. The question isn't whether or not complexity can solve these problems; that's why we invest in it. The problem is if it can keep it up as the crises keep getting bigger and more frequent, while each new bit of complexity costs more and is less effective than the last. Rome repelled many barbarian hordes before Alaric sacked it; the Maya handled many droughts before they collapsed. It's a rigged game: it just keeps escalating until you lose.

And the notion that tribes would survive it all is laughable. Suppose a member of the tribe gets AIDS, or one of these other diseases that is impossible to diagnose accurately without a test? How long does a tribe survive AIDS without medicine even to treat the symptoms?

How does a tribe get AIDS? Epidemic diseases take large populations in frequent contact with each other and close relationships with domesticated animals. Tribalism has none of thsoe things. The epidemiological angle is one of the stronger arguments in favor of tribalism; tribes quite effectively defuse the spread of epidemic disease.

But again, they do have quite effective medicine.

So that means over a fairly short time, historically speaking, lots of people are gonna die... and not be born, which in the third world (based in human labor hours) is the same thing. The transition is going to messy. And unlike the fantasy predictions by the neotribal guys the people who will pay the most will be the third worlders. The worlds poor will die by the millions.

"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." Most of the Third World has been in collapse for quite some time now, but they're propped up by the Western pillars of complexity, via organizations like the IMF or the World Bank, and more generally, neocolonialism. The Green Revolution never caught on in Africa; the main cause of African hunger is the flood of cheap American corn that forces them to plant coffee and cotton to sell to Americans instead of food for their families. I mentioned how permaculture is stopping the Sahel in Nigeria before. Most of the world's poor are already suffering the "bad" parts of collapse. Full collapse just means that those things will finally stop.

this is the kind of sloppiness that drives me up the wall with him ... he doesn't KNOW that there weren't conflicts ... in fact, seeing as the norse called the inuit "skraelings", i think there's a good chance there were

There's a big difference between contempt and violence. There's no evidence for it, at the very least. Wasn't it Avenger upthread who put in the snark about, "Of course, theres no actual evidence of that ever being the case, which means, of course, that it must have happened that way."? He was elaborating on a bit of misinformation that there's no evidence about how primitive people live (there's abundant evidence), but in this case you really are following that argument: there's no evidence that the Norse "went after" the Inuit, which means, of course, they must have.

I'd like to see some evidence of it before I presume they did. If nothing else, shouldn't we find some identifiably Inuit skeletons in the midden heaps along with the identifiably Norse skeletons?

if by "go after" he means "chase away from the areas they lived", well, they may well have

That's not what "go after" meant in the original quote. They meant "go after" in terms of "will hunt you down and kill you for your food (which you don't store so you don't have any to take), or to eat you." Chasing people off your land, yes, the Norse probably did chase the Inuit off their land. Did the Norse ever go hunting Inuit for food, or to raid them for their (non-existent) food stores? No evidence that they did.

translation - "our enemies will be too dumb to know a meal when they see one, even when they see us eating it"

good luck with THAT ridiculous assumption


Well, it's precisely what's happened in every previous instance of collapse. The Norse saw the Inuit eating fish, but they never ate any. Even the Donner party ate each other in the middle of a grove of pine trees, after being fed meals of pine nuts by the Paiute Indians who took pity on them a few months before. These are very deep-seated cultural assumptions. Every collapse has happened in full view of other alternatives where people were living just happily, but they were culturally blinded to that as a possibility.

Rather like how everyone here is discounting the possibility of a tribal lifestyle, despite the enormous ethnographic and archaeological evidence.

Godesky you'd get more millage if you actually went out and LIVED like a hunter gatherer for let's say the next 20 years with nothing but what Iron Age tools you can carry. THEN report back.

Otherwise it's all bullshit.


Even though it's really the only proven mode of human society, one that worked for the entire species for two million years. Yes, I know, it's all bullshit until a white American male does it. And I'm working on that. It takes some amount of knoweldge and skills, knoweldge and skills I'm working on now. In fact, much of the point of the Anthropik website is to share our experience, share what works, and let people learn from our mistakes. I don't expect a lot of people to take this too seriously until we're actually out there, living it.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:37 PM on July 16, 2007 [7 favorites]


Otherwise it's all bullshit.

But he really really wants it to be true. Doesn't that count for anything?
posted by OmieWise at 1:43 PM on July 16, 2007


Even though it's really the only proven mode of human society, one that worked for the entire species for two million years.

Your problem is "it's" not necessarily as YOU say. You're purely speculating on the details. You need to do it and I will listen.

I don't expect a lot of people to take this too seriously until we're actually out there, living it.

Uuuuh. You don't? 17,000 words later and you don't "expect" people to take you seriously?

Sorry, bud. I have some sympathy for your argument but you need to do it FIRST—then write about it. And not a weekend at a time. But LIVE it for a decade or two. Or it's all just talk. And don't give me excuses about preparing skills. You acquire the skills by doing it. You do that I will listen.

And that's my problem. Because this seems to be more an over intellectualized fetish than anything else.
posted by tkchrist at 1:48 PM on July 16, 2007


Your problem is "it's" not necessarily as YOU say. You're purely speculating on the details. You need to do it and I will listen.

Well, you might say I'm putting the facts together wrong, but you can't say it's speculation. You can say it's an incorrect analysis of anthropological and archaeological data, and then you'd want to point out where that flaw occurs, but it's most certainly not speculation. I'm not speculating on the details. Those are the observed details.

But I also understand that most people don't care how thoroughly proven it is--they're not going to buy it until we're out there living it. And I can respect that.

Sorry, bud. I have some sympathy for your argument but you need to do it FIRST—then write about it. And not a weekend at a time. But LIVE it for a decade or two. Or it's all just talk. And don't give me excuses about preparing skills. You acquire the skills by doing it. You do that I will listen.

It's not stalling, I'm en route. I'm learning the skills, I'm growing a permaculture garden, I'm creating a tribe. I may be very early on, but you can't say I haven't started. You acquire the skills by doing it, and we're doing it. This is how you do it.

I don't expect any huge population to come following us as early as we are right now. But for others who are already thinking we might be on to something, few as they are, we're documenting our experience as it happens, so others can see what works, learn from our mistakes, and we can start opening up the source code, as it were, with the rewilding equivalent of our nightly build. At this point, it's like peeking in on the early days of Linux and complaining why there isn't a GUI up yet. Patience; we're on our way, and until then, it's not really for you. It's for the ones who want to get started right now. What you've got here, now, is apologia for a theory, and the first entries in an ongoing log of how one small group handles rewilding.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:03 PM on July 16, 2007


I will have no part in any revolution that denies me my right to bondage.
posted by OldReliable at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2007


Beekeeper Derrick Jensen and his apoco-followers are really something. Their unintentionally hilarious listserv (ground rule: no arguing with "Derrick") consists largely of admirers bragging about how they're doing their part to "bring down civilization every day" by eating leafy greens or fantasizing about blowing up cell phone towers (to put a kink in the System and accelerate the Collapse, of course). On Sept. 11, Mr. Jensen mused, "Ah, so it begins," though it didn't.

Whoever made the Rapture comparison is astute. Like the Book of Revelations people, only with far worse writing, the tribal collapse dream includes a fascinating aspect of "we'll show you" wish-fulfillment. The order of things, imagine both groups, will be flipped on its head, so that people who feel mocked and left behind by modern society will become the elite.

The premise behind Left Behind is that all those modern people will be swallowed into a pit while the true believers are revealed to be correct. Likewise, the Bin Jensen fantasy is that after millions die in the collapse of the "unsustainable" Seattle and other metropolitan areas, the survivors will come running to the wilderness to learn how to plant gardens from the select few smart enough to have read Derrick Jensen books. "We were wrong," the investment bankers will say, begging: "Please, people in black hoodies, tell us how to grow our own carrots."

And the Jensen people will hold out their arms in infinite forgiveness.
posted by Kirklander at 3:19 PM on July 16, 2007


My money is on the Hobbits.
posted by Twang at 3:20 PM on July 16, 2007


There used to be this guy that haunted the old Usenet groups reporting to be living in a secret "tribe" in BC. They lived on their wits, sticking it to the man and living off of berries etc.

Supposedly he was hacking into somebodies modem to get on-line and powered his laptop with home-made solar chargers— he was here to act as the vanguard for the apocalypse he said. After the fall they were gonna be on top and we would beg them for help.

Always scant on the details. It was a riot to get him going. Eventually it turned out he lived in his moms basement. Bummer.
posted by tkchrist at 4:02 PM on July 16, 2007


I must admit that what really bothers me about jefgodesky is that he's enamored with a cult of death. He doesn't care about people, he has no plan to help the world or ease people into another form of life, he just wants everyone gone so he can get on with what seems to him to be a game. He tries to hide it by talking about the inevitability and desirability of it all, but his complete lack of courage in his convictions, evidenced by his failure to start living the utopian life he talks about right now, gives the lie to his smug assurances. Talking about "dirt time" is a perfect example of his hypocrisy: no one who actually has to track to live talks about "dirt time", and no one who actually thinks hunting and gathering is the best way to live leaves their "dirt time" to go post on the internet.

(And it isn't beside the point that HIV is almost certainly a disease acquired by hunters slaughtering monkeys.)
posted by OmieWise at 4:16 PM on July 16, 2007


I will have no part in any revolution that denies me my right to bondage.

I can bond you to a plow if you like.
posted by tkchrist at 4:44 PM on July 16, 2007


Whoever made the Rapture comparison is astute. Like the Book of Revelations people, only with far worse writing, the tribal collapse dream includes a fascinating aspect of "we'll show you" wish-fulfillment. The order of things, imagine both groups, will be flipped on its head, so that people who feel mocked and left behind by modern society will become the elite.

I'm sure there's an element of that, as there are is in most movements, but that's about as relevant to primitivism as the transhumanists who are in for it for the cyborg sex. In my own case, I've walked away from an order I do rather well in, in favor of a fairly alien world that I have very little experience with.

Likewise, the Bin Jensen fantasy is that after millions die in the collapse of the "unsustainable" Seattle and other metropolitan areas, the survivors will come running to the wilderness to learn how to plant gardens from the select few smart enough to have read Derrick Jensen books. "We were wrong," the investment bankers will say, begging: "Please, people in black hoodies, tell us how to grow our own carrots."

Derrick Jensen is distinctly anti-agriculture. There's no carrot-growing involved.

I must admit that what really bothers me about jefgodesky is that he's enamored with a cult of death.

This coming from the civilized folks who bring you 200 extinctions every day. There's a cult of death going around here, but it isn't primitivism....

He doesn't care about people, he has no plan to help the world or ease people into another form of life, he just wants everyone gone so he can get on with what seems to him to be a game.

Did you read anything of what I wrote? I've become a primitivism precisely because I do care about people--human people and every other kind of people, the whole living world. I care about the daily atrocity required to keep civilization going, and I care deeply about the crisis we've put ourselves into where a die-off is now inevitable. If there's a way to avoid it, primitivism offers it. I repeat myself:

How do you work against it? The best route is to mitigate it--to try to make it as gradual as possible. Permaculture, hunting and gathering, voluntary simplicity, and the fostering of small, relocalized, bioregional communities is the best chance there is to do that. It's unlikely to work, but it's the best chance we have. By happy coincidence, it's also the best chance to survive collapse in the (highly likely) event that such efforts fail.

But keeping people pushing forward with more and more complexity is precisely what you should do to make collapse bigger and more deadly. If you want to mitigate collapse and try to make our return to a human-scale, sustainable way of life as painless as possible, then you'll be doing exactly what we're doing: building tribes.

He tries to hide it by talking about the inevitability and desirability of it all, but his complete lack of courage in his convictions, evidenced by his failure to start living the utopian life he talks about right now, gives the lie to his smug assurances.

That doesn't make any sense at all. It takes time to learn primitive skills. If I were to go out right now I'd just wind up dead. I've never suggested otherwise; that's why I've stressed learning primitive skills now. Even more, I've also argued that making the jump before the social space opens up is simply suicide. I'm sorry, but this argument is simply inane.

Talking about "dirt time" is a perfect example of his hypocrisy: no one who actually has to track to live talks about "dirt time", and no one who actually thinks hunting and gathering is the best way to live leaves their "dirt time" to go post on the internet.

I didn't leave to go post on the internet. I'm not good enough to support myself yet, so I need a job, and having a job, I need to be back in the city Monday morning. That means I'm limited to weekends to get out to the land. When I get back, yeah, I check the web to see what's going on. But that's not why I came back.

So what should I be doing instead, oh wise guide? I don't have the skills. I didn't grow up in a forager society. In fact, I don't even have the tribe. What should I do? To prove my sincerity to my viewpoint that we need to learn the primitive skills necessary and create sustainable communities in the spaces that open up as civilization contracts, I should ... run off alone and unskilled into the heavily policed woods where there is not yet any space for other ways of life? How does it prove my sincerity to what I'm saying to violate almost everything I've been saying, just to satisfy your straw man caricature of it?

(And it isn't beside the point that HIV is almost certainly a disease acquired by hunters slaughtering monkeys.)

Though it would be more to the point that HIV wasn't just acquired by any old hunters, but by hunters from colonized, agricultural societies engaging in distinctly civilized pursuits to hunt monkeys for sale to rich, First World hedonists.
posted by jefgodesky at 5:13 PM on July 16, 2007


Holy shit. MetaThesises!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:15 PM on July 16, 2007


Holy shit. MetaThesises!

Just like that old time Marxism. There's even some historical inevitability!

Freedom for Tooting!
posted by athenian at 3:22 AM on July 17, 2007


Holy shit. MetaThesises!

Just like that old time Marxism. There's even some historical inevitability!

Freedom for Tooting!
posted by athenian at 3:25 AM on July 17, 2007


hunt monkeys for sale to rich, First World hedonists.

You don't know what you're talking about you nutjob, they were likely hunting them to slaughter for food.

"I can't wait till everyone is dead so me and my friends can live in paradise."
posted by OmieWise at 5:24 AM on July 17, 2007


You don't know what you're talking about you nutjob, they were likely hunting them to slaughter for food.

Are the BBC "nutjobs," too?

African hunters have been eating "bushmeat" for quite some time, but HIV emerged as the hunting was exploding because it was something that could be sold to rich, First World hedonists. Cheap American corn makes it cheaper to grow cash crops for First World consumption than food for your family, and that dependence has left Africa in one famine after another. The hunting of bushmeat become dangerous and unsustainable only once it become a way to get money to buy food. And that's also when HIV emerged, when bushmeat went from an occasional food source to a flourishing trade, and the methods used changed drastically.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:54 AM on July 17, 2007


Typical of you. Go back and read the article again. It doesn't even come close to supporting your point. Were you really interested in anything beyond your own overvalued idea you might admit that.
posted by OmieWise at 6:59 AM on July 17, 2007


As far as "nutjob" goes, let's do a side by side comparison...

The way of life I'm advocating created the Amazon Rain Forest. The way of life you live turned the vast cedar forests of the Middle East into deserts.

The way of life I'm advocating encourages greater biodiversity and greater cultural diversity. The way of life you live requires the extinction of 200 species every day, and has wiped out nearly every other culture on the planet.

The way of life I'm advocating allows for everyone to live long, healthy, happy lives. The way of life you live requires most people to live in abject poverty, and even your elites kill themselves or die of stress-related heart diseases.

The way of life I'm advocating is the only one that's ever worked out long-term for humanity. The way of life you live has been in a race to stay ahead of its own self-destructive consequences for 10,000 years, leaving deserts in its wake, and has now painted us into a corner of classic ecological overshoot, and all you can offer is an absurd little non sequitur about a "cult of death" for anyone who won't slaughter anything and everything that gets in the way.

Yeah, there's definitely a cult of death involved here, but I think you might be pointing in the wrong direction. There's a "nutjob" here, but I think that title really belongs to anyone who thinks this civilization is sane, or even not suicidal.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:01 AM on July 17, 2007


Typical of you. Go back and read the article again. It doesn't even come close to supporting your point. Were you really interested in anything beyond your own overvalued idea you might admit that.

Really?
A study of African hunters has shown that a virus similar to HIV has passed from apes to humans from bushmeat of the kind that is being sold illegally in the UK.
A leading scientist has told the File On 4 programme that the virus was probably passed on to tribesmen via body fluids when the animals were slaughtered and butchered. ...

"This is the area of the world where HIV came from, and this is most likely the mechanism by which HIV emerged into the human population," he said.
Sure does sound like we're talking about a bushmeat trade largely fueled by abject poverty from First World meddling. In fact, oh look:
Abject poverty forces such hunters to kill any animal, no matter how rare or unfit for human consumption, and transport it out of the country through black markets.
Yeah, that doesn't even come close to supporting my point. Well, except for the parts that say exactly what I'm sayng. Which make up the whole article. But other than that, you're absolutely right.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:05 AM on July 17, 2007


Well, first of all, findings in markets in London in 2004 are definitive of nothing. They demonstrate that there's a bush meat trade in London, but the article nowhere indicates that "First World hedonists" are responsible. The article doesn't say anything about who is eating the meat in London, but it does mention that many tons of bushmeat are eaten in Africa each year.

Second of all, HIV is not something that emerged in the 80s. The oldest recorded sample is from 1959, which would indicated that it was probably just post WW2. That doesn't prove anything one way or the other, but it does suggest that we need a bit more information before dismissing the rise of HIV as a consequence of First World Hedonists.

Third, while the newspaper article asserts, unsourced, that abject poverty leads to the hunting of bushmeat, the simple assertion does not make it so. It may well be that a First World hedonistic reporter can't imagine eating bush meat and so denigrates the practice of hunting it. It may also be that other portions of the article:
Posing as rich white loggers and accompanied by an undercover worker from the Last Great Ape project, File On 4 journalists travelled to Cameroon where pygmy hunters offered to kill gorillas, seen as the best meat.

All they wanted in return was the ammunition and the meat of the gorilla to eat.

The journalists were offered the skull, palms, and legs of the gorilla free of charge as long as they could provide the bullets to shoot the animal.
suggest that the hunting was not done for money but for food.

(My argument, of course, isn't that there is not abject poverty in Africa.)

Basically, what it boils down to is that there is no way to present disconfirming evidence of your beliefs because you value them beyond anything else. Things which might challenge your narrow explanations are immediately routed through those explanations so that you can claim that they actually offer support. Viz. evidence of trouble arising form the hunting of bush meat is actually, to you, only evidence of the further pernicious affects of the first world. You haven't reached conclusions, you operate on faith. That's what makes you a nutjob.
posted by OmieWise at 7:26 AM on July 17, 2007


Well, first of all, findings in markets in London in 2004 are definitive of nothing. They demonstrate that there's a bush meat trade in London, but the article nowhere indicates that "First World hedonists" are responsible. The article doesn't say anything about who is eating the meat in London, but it does mention that many tons of bushmeat are eaten in Africa each year.

And many more sold on the black market. It's well known that the sudden explosion of bushmeat is due to (1) abject poverty, and (2) demand in North America and western Europe for sale through the black market.

Second of all, HIV is not something that emerged in the 80s. The oldest recorded sample is from 1959, which would indicated that it was probably just post WW2. That doesn't prove anything one way or the other, but it does suggest that we need a bit more information before dismissing the rise of HIV as a consequence of First World Hedonists.

I didn't say it emerged in the 1980's, I said it emerged as Africans switched from subsistence farming to cash crop farming, which was part of the post-WW2 grants of independence.

Third, while the newspaper article asserts, unsourced, that abject poverty leads to the hunting of bushmeat, the simple assertion does not make it so. It may well be that a First World hedonistic reporter can't imagine eating bush meat and so denigrates the practice of hunting it.

That could be, based on this article, but it's assuming a general knowledge, on par with knowing that the Janjaweed militia is involved in the Darfur genocide. The economic drive to sell bushmeat is not controversial. Sharon Pailer's "The Necessity, Complexity and Diffi culty of Resolving
the Bushmeat Crisis in West-Central Africa" [PDF] is an excellent place to start if you really don't even know that much about the bushmeat crisis.

Basically, what it boils down to is that there is no way to present disconfirming evidence of your beliefs because you value them beyond anything else.

That's not true. I've changed my mind plenty of times in light of convincing evidence. Incomplete evidence, or evidence that ignores critical details (like your original point about HIV from African hunters, as if this proved that epidemics spread amongst hunter-gatherers when the critical factors that led to the origin and spread of HIV were all agricultural in nature, is an excellent example). Neither am I convinced by arguments that I feel I've already refuted (the fact that I was able to answer so much of the foregoing with links to previous things I've written about why those arguments were wrong should be more than sufficient to illustrate that the points are not new, nor are they convincing). That I'm not persuaded by faulty evidence and unconvincing arguments doesn't mean I hold my views beyond anything else. My whole worldview's been turned upside down several times now, because I was faced with convincing evidence. Don't mistake your inability to come up with convincing evidence for ideological stubbornness on my part.

Things which might challenge your narrow explanations are immediately routed through those explanations so that you can claim that they actually offer support.

It seems "immediate" only becaue you're offering the same tired old arguments I've rebutted a thousand times. The first few dozen times I did consider them and think about them, and found severe holes in them. Now when they're repeated, they don't get any stronger just for being repeated. The same holes are still there.

Viz. evidence of trouble arising form the hunting of bush meat is actually, to you, only evidence of the further pernicious affects of the first world.

Right, and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. The bushmeat crisis isn't a matter of hunter-gatherers, it's a matter of hunters from post-colonial agricultural societies motivated by First World market factors. That's well-known. Anyone who'd try to turn the bushmeat crisis into a problem with hunting and gathering is either being deliberately misleading or doesn't know the first thing about the bushmeat crisis.

You haven't reached conclusions, you operate on faith. That's what makes you a nutjob.

That would make me a nutjob, if it applied. But your response shows a distinct lack of understanding even of the topic you have chosen, peppered with severe, nearly hysterical, invective. In short, you haven't reached conclusions, you're operating on faith. What does that make you?
posted by jefgodesky at 7:40 AM on July 17, 2007


but in this case you really are following that argument: there's no evidence that the Norse "went after" the Inuit, which means, of course, they must have.

i said there was a "good chance" ... as usual, you read what you want to read and disregard anything that doesn't fit your argument

if nothing else, shouldn't we find some identifiably Inuit skeletons in the midden heaps along with the identifiably Norse skeletons?

that's assuming that 1) the inuit didn't take their bodies away to be placed somewhere else, 2) the inuit had casualties, 3) there was a fight in the location of the middens

but of course, your assumptions are ALWAYS right, aren't they?

Chasing people off your land, yes, the Norse probably did chase the Inuit off their land. Did the Norse ever go hunting Inuit for food, or to raid them for their (non-existent) food stores? No evidence that they did.

and there's no evidence they didn't ... but every time there is a lack of evidence on ANYTHING, you feel free to put your own ideas in the void and insist they are the truth

As for lifespan, the Agricultural Revolution introduced what's called the "Neolithic Mortality Crisis." Lifespans dropped from 60's, 70's and 80's, down to the 30's.

you have no statistical proof of this ... in fact, seeing as there weren't statistics back then and we have only discovered the remains of a small fraction of people, communities, etc alive back then, there never will be statistical proof of it

and yet, you'll keep stating it as if it's the absolute truth, because anything that benefits your argument will be presented as the truth, even if it's just speculation

the bottom line is that you don't adhere to the rules of evidence or of logical argumentation and compose overly long and convoluted arguments to hide it

character limit, indeed

bye, bye
posted by pyramid termite at 7:50 AM on July 17, 2007


It seems "immediate" only becaue you're offering the same tired old arguments I've rebutted a thousand times.

you keep claiming that ... but neither on your web site or here have you actually posted proof of it

"i win the argument because i've won it a thousand times" is not a sufficient argument
posted by pyramid termite at 7:52 AM on July 17, 2007


i said there was a "good chance" ... as usual, you read what you want to read and disregard anything that doesn't fit your argument

What? You said there was a good chance it happened, without any evidence that it ever happened. No evidence it did, so obviously there's a good chance. How does that differ from what you accused me of?

that's assuming that 1) the inuit didn't take their bodies away to be placed somewhere else, 2) the inuit had casualties, 3) there was a fight in the location of the middens

but of course, your assumptions are ALWAYS right, aren't they?


It doesn't assume any of those. If "go after" means "hunted them for food," then that means #2 is part and parcel of "go after." It doesn't require a fight on the midden, and #1 would violate the idea that they were hunted for food, because they'd then be treating the bodies as something other than just other food to be thrown on the midden (you do know what a midden is, right?).

If "go after" means "chase off your land," then you're talking about a very different "go after" than we were originally discussing. It was about desperate, hungry people attacking their neighbors for food--in this case, the neighbors being hunter-gatherers who don't store food. So, it would be hunting hunter-gatherers for meat.

and there's no evidence they didn't ... but every time there is a lack of evidence on ANYTHING, you feel free to put your own ideas in the void and insist they are the truth

Now that's just ludicrous. I'm not the one making the claim. Saying that the Norse went hunting Inuit for food is not an equally likely claim as they didn't. The claim is that they did, the burden on proof lies on that notion. This is the logic that gets you gravity gremlins because there's no evidence there's not gravity gremlins.

you have no statistical proof of this ... in fact, seeing as there weren't statistics back then and we have only discovered the remains of a small fraction of people, communities, etc alive back then, there never will be statistical proof of it

You don't study a lot of archaeology, do you? We've actually got samples plenty big enough to estimate average life expectancy fairly accurately. There is significant statistical proof of this. And no, this isn't fringe or controversial archaeology, either. This is very basic stuff.

and yet, you'll keep stating it as if it's the absolute truth, because anything that benefits your argument will be presented as the truth, even if it's just speculation

The Neolithic Mortality Crisis is about as much speculation as the theory of evolution. Hey, nobody was there, right, so it'll always be speculation, right? Same kind of sloppy thinking. We have plenty of skeletal remains, more than enough to draw an average. We know how long people lived before agriculture and after. Take a look at Dickson's Mounds. It's not a matter of whether it benefits my argument, it's a matter of being familiar with the basic relevant evidence.

the bottom line is that you don't adhere to the rules of evidence or of logical argumentation and compose overly long and convoluted arguments to hide it

This from the person who just told me that there's no evidence that the Norse didn't hunt Inuit, ergo it's a perfectly reasonable conclusion.

character limit, indeed

What, you think I was lying about the character limit? Damn, man, how deep does the paranoia go? Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and just because Hitler says "Good morning" doesn't necessarily mean it's night. Geez.

you keep claiming that ... but neither on your web site or here have you actually posted proof of it

"i win the argument because i've won it a thousand times" is not a sufficient argument


What? Ummm, OK, let's see.... Arturus wrote at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2007, "You get brutal warlords, you get increased disease, you get a horrible nightmare." That argument I'd already answered in "The Hyperbole of St. Jerome," which was published on August 29, 2006. At 12:38 on the same day, Arturus wrote about the comparison to Christian eschatology. I wrote "The Eschatology of the Left" on October 21, 2005. At 2:05 AM, jokeefe brought up the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. I wrote "Exceptions that Prove the Rule #2: The Kwakiutl" on January 27, 2006. In the same comment, jokeefe brought up Katrina; I wrote "The State of Nature in Katrina's Eye" on September 5, 2005. Many people wrote about the "Noble Savage"; I wrote "The Savages Are Truly Noble" May 10, 2007. And the most common arguments were about medicine; I wrote thesis #21 on January 2, 2006, and thesis #22 on Janauary 3, 2006. What's more, I linked to all of these in my original responses, and the dates were clearly marked on the articles.

I'm not sure what other proof you were looking for, because this was pretty clearly marked. That's pretty insane, though, pyramid termite.

But no, I'm not saying I win because I've won a thousand times. I'm just linking to the last time I rebutted that argument rather than typing it out again. If you can find a flaw in my argument, then point it out and we can go from there, but in the meantime, I'm not convinced by the repitition of the same argument I rebutted last time.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:41 AM on July 17, 2007


If "go after" means "hunted them for food," then that means #2 is part and parcel of "go after."

If "go after" means "chase off your land," then you're talking about a very different "go after" than we were originally discussing.

note how you're demanding that i define your phrase "go after" for you

I'm not the one making the claim. Saying that the Norse went hunting Inuit for food is not an equally likely claim as they didn't.

i never made that claim ... you're the only one who said ANYTHING about "the norse went hunting inuit for food"

You don't study a lot of archaeology, do you?

rhetorical questions are not statistical proof

this is how you argue - you build strawmen out of my arguments, deliberately distort my statements, attempt to put the burden of defining your phrases onto me and when asked for specific proof, make snooty statements about what i study without providing anything

and you do it at 5 times the length of the person you argue against

If you can find a flaw in my argument

you will continue to misstate my summation of the flaws, make up arguments i didn't make and refuse to provide proof when asked for it

all you had to say was that you don't know how much conflict the norse and inuit had or why they had it and you shouldn't have assumed so much about it with such inexact phrasing as "go after"

you couldn't do that, could you?

you'll never make it as a tribal primitivist - you like to argue too damn much

over and OUT
posted by pyramid termite at 9:03 AM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


The way of life I'm advocating encourages greater biodiversity and greater cultural diversity. The way of life you live requires the extinction of 200 species every day, and has wiped out nearly every other culture on the planet.

The way of life I'm advocating allows for everyone to live long, healthy, happy lives. The way of life you live requires most people to live in abject poverty, and even your elites kill themselves or die of stress-related heart diseases.


jef the problem I and others have with this theory/ideology is that it deliberately and knowingly ignores or defines away unpleasant fact and its worst aspects.

For example, you say "way of life I'm advocating allows for everyone to live long, healthy, happy lives", but in a previous thread we established that this is only true if you don't define people as alive if they are younger than two years old. Now, did you forget that? You know that most people reading your site think that "long life" = from birth, i.e. exiting mom's body to death. You know that is the assumption that most people have, and that you are operating from what you know is an unorthodox definition, and yet you don't clarify that point. Isn't that deceptive? Isn't it intellectually dishonest to use words and phrases that you have defined in uncommon ways without telling people of the uncommon definition? The burden is on you to be up front and explain why the new definition is acceptable. In other words, you could say "2+2=5, for large values of 2" and we will get the point. You cannot say "2+2=5" and keep your redefinition of 2 a secret, and expect to be taken seriously.

Secondly, you know full well that your "way of life" didn't create the amazon rain forest. It grew of its own accord in and was largely undisturbed as the human population remained very small compared to now. I suspect you are using a clever turn of phrase here, but it is misleading. IF 6 billion people lived tribally, I suspect we'd still be destroying forests and animal populations. Again, you are relying on the necessary assumption that the population contracts dramatically.

Also you are confusing causation with correlation. Assuming the 200 species extinct per day statistic is correct, where is the evidence that the current civilization is responsible for this? Species vanished from this earth long before humans were every here, so it stands to reason that other factors may affect extinction that are separate from human involvement?

You talk about poverty? How do you defined that term? One definition is "the state of having little or no money and few or no material possessions". Tribal societies live in poverty under this definition, particularly if there is no concept of personal property. Assuming you don't like that definition, poverty is also defined as income below waht is needed to pay for food and shelter, and in the US is defined as around $9800 a year, or 13% of the population.

Most people in the world who live in abject poverty now would not get richer if civilization collapsed. They'd live the same, or they'd die off. Again, population contraction. That's not a solution.

Finally, and this is an academic point, I searched your site, and I find not one single instance of a "cf." or a "but see" citation that isn't trivial. In the case of cf., you uses it twice for a book by Malcolm Gladwell, a pop-business book, and also for a reference to the Old Testament.

You don't discuss Bernstein (which illuminates how the world moved from the glacially paced renaissance to the modern hyperdeveloping twentieth century), Boorstin, Freud ("Civilization and its Discontents"). You don't discuss in depth any contrary positions. For such a sheer massive volume of writing, how is this possible?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:29 AM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


note how you're demanding that i define your phrase "go after" for you

Only because the only way your comments can be anything but insane is if you're using some new defiition of "go after" that we haven't discussed before.

this is how you argue - you build strawmen out of my arguments, deliberately distort my statements, attempt to put the burden of defining your phrases onto me and when asked for specific proof, make snooty statements about what i study without providing anything

Sorry, don't see it. Though the way you argue, as far as I've seen, is to make hysterical, insane arguments and then rant about how crazy I am at the top of your lungs.

Now that we've established our mutual lack of respect for one another's debate styles, perhaps we can return to the evidence?

and you do it at 5 times the length of the person you argue against

Only because I have 5 times the evidence to go through.

you will continue to misstate my summation of the flaws, make up arguments i didn't make and refuse to provide proof when asked for it

I'm the only one here who has provided proof. Up above, I pointed you to Dickson's Mounds. Let me spell that out for you: Armelagos, G. "Disease and Death at Dr. Dickson's Mounds." As that page-long list of reprints indicates, it's an extremely well-known, widely-cited and highly credible archaeological study that you shouldn't have any problem getting a hold of. Its main subject matter is the sudden and dramatic drop in health and life expectancy that accompanied the spread of agriculture.

all you had to say was that you don't know how much conflict the norse and inuit had or why they had it and you shouldn't have assumed so much about it with such inexact phrasing as "go after"

Uhh, no, not exactly. It's fairly well-known that they fought each other. It's also fairly well established that the Norse never went hunting the Inuit for food. It would take some extreme, nigh-Humean feats of skepticism to believe that they did. Even in that extreme case, it must have been extremely rare and isolated, because we have some fairly meticulous evidence of the Norse Greenland diet, and while it includes some humans, they're all clearly Norse humans, not Inuit. The original argument was that starving farmers would hunt would-be hunter-gatherers for food. I responded by pointing to historical cases of collapse, which provided the opportunity for such behavior, but no evidence that it actually happened. The phrase "go after" was not very inexact in the original context. But it's been pulled out of its original context, so what you mean by it, I don't know. If you want it to mean that the Norse chased the Inuit off their land or that they weren't the most peaceful neighbors, you'd be correct, but that would be a very different meaning than was used in the original context.

you'll never make it as a tribal primitivist - you like to argue too damn much

What's the matter with a good argument? In my tribe especially, diversity of opinion and a good argument are highly respected. A good argument needn't (in fact, shouldn't) involve any amount of animosity.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:30 AM on July 17, 2007


My new book title: "If you're in a primitive tribe, why are you posting on the Internet?"

More seriously, I admire (not snarking) people who can hold and defend strongly-held views against the vast majority, but they are an excellent example of why democracy is such a good idea.
posted by athenian at 10:44 AM on July 17, 2007


For example, you say "way of life I'm advocating allows for everyone to live long, healthy, happy lives", but in a previous thread we established that this is only true if you don't define people as alive if they are younger than two years old. Now, did you forget that?

And our usual life expectancies only hold if we don't define people as alive if they haven't been born yet. People in our own culture disagree with that. The "weighted" life expectancy brings our own life expectancy down into the 40's, just like hunter-gatherers. So it's a culturally loaded statistic. How can you say that your definition of when human life begins is the correct one, when you can't even get your whole culture to agree wth you on it? How can you then impose that on another culture with its own ideas of when human life begins?

Moreover, when you talk about hunter-gatherer life expectancies in their 40's, the image that conjures up--appealed to directly upthread--is that hunter-gatherers keel over from their ill health by the time they're 40, and we both know that's not what's going on at all. If you're not aborted, you make it to the same general age range as a modern American. What brings down the average is what amounts to a culturally different form of birth control, no different than the cultural differences between pro-choice and pro-life in our own culture. You can scream at the top of the lungs that such a distinction is completely irrelevant and it's murder, but you still won't be saying anything that pro-life folks haven't said of you, and if that kind of cultural difference exists inside of just our own culture, how can we justify imposing our culture's clearly arbitrary distinctions on a different culture?

You know that most people reading your site think that "long life" = from birth, i.e. exiting mom's body to death. You know that is the assumption that most people have, and that you are operating from what you know is an unorthodox definition, and yet you don't clarify that point. Isn't that deceptive?

Actually, I think it's the alternative that's deceptive. I think the weighted "pro-life American life expectancy" is deceptive. Americans don't die in their 40s from ill health. Neither do hunter-gatherers. They die in their 60s or 70s or 80s. 90s is considered old; 100 or more is considered ancient. That's true for us and for hunter-gatherers. But we don't consider aborted fetuses to be a part of that. We know they're alive, but they're not really "human" yet. Different cultures have different views of when humanity sets in, from conception to about two years old, depending on where you look. Counting in birth control, abortion or, in societies that see it that way, infanticide, is just an exercise in ethnocentrism, coming up with a deliberately misleading figure based on projecting your views onto someone who doesn't share them.

Isn't it intellectually dishonest to use words and phrases that you have defined in uncommon ways without telling people of the uncommon definition? The burden is on you to be up front and explain why the new definition is acceptable. In other words, you could say "2+2=5, for large values of 2" and we will get the point. You cannot say "2+2=5" and keep your redefinition of 2 a secret, and expect to be taken seriously.

I haven't kept it a secret, and neither is it any kind of redefinition. When people talk about life expectancy, they're talking about how old people get before they die from health problems or natural causes, or even violence. They're not talking about birth control, regardless of method. I'd say it's the alternative that's more akin to "2 + 2 = 5," because it presents a false image and obscures the fact that most of the value comes from projecting our culture's attitudes onto another. This controls for ethnocentrism, and gets to the real question involved in life expectancy: how long you can expect to live.

Secondly, you know full well that your "way of life" didn't create the amazon rain forest. It grew of its own accord in and was largely undisturbed as the human population remained very small compared to now.

Ah, not so! More recent evidence has shown that the Amazon was actually very much a man-made artifact of horticultural societies. Repeated use of fire was heavily involved. The Amazon was cultivated by horticultural tribes over the course of millennia. Charles Mann goes over much of this evidence in 1491

IF 6 billion people lived tribally, I suspect we'd still be destroying forests and animal populations. Again, you are relying on the necessary assumption that the population contracts dramatically.

I've said explicitly many times that there is no sustainable way of life that can support 6.5 billion people. It's not an assumption that the population will contract dramatically; the only thing that can support such a population is unsustainable. Population contraction isn't an assumption, it's a consequence.

Also you are confusing causation with correlation. Assuming the 200 species extinct per day statistic is correct, where is the evidence that the current civilization is responsible for this? Species vanished from this earth long before humans were every here, so it stands to reason that other factors may affect extinction that are separate from human involvement?

The background rate of extinction is dramatically lower than this. This is on par with previous mass extinctions, and the primary cause for all of them is habitat loss: due to farming, urban sprawl, deforestation, global warming, and a laundry list of human-caused factors. It's well known among biologists at least that there is a mass extinction occuring right now, and that it is the direct result of habitat loss due to the expansion of human civilization. The evidence is abundant; E.O. Wilson, for example, has written about it extensively. A single Google search for "mass extinction" should provide you with more than enough evidence. And no, given the evidence, it does not stand to reason that the current mass extinction is due to other factors. No giant meteor has recently carved out anything like the Yucatan Penninsula and blotted out the sun, the way the last mass extinction happened (which, incidentally, did not have nearly the extinction rate we're observing now). It's no more reasonable to attribute the current mass extinction to non-human causes than to attribute global warming to non-human causes. The globe has warmed in the past, too, but like mass extinction, it hasn't seen anything like the present spike, and we know the mechanisms by which this has happened.

You talk about poverty? How do you defined that term? One definition is "the state of having little or no money and few or no material possessions". Tribal societies live in poverty under this definition, particularly if there is no concept of personal property. Assuming you don't like that definition, poverty is also defined as income below waht is needed to pay for food and shelter, and in the US is defined as around $9800 a year, or 13% of the population.

In those terms, hunter-gatherers are indeed "poor." But isn't the deeper meaning of poverty a difficulty getting the necessities of life? Making a living in our culture is a question of money, so poverty is a question of money. But what about when making a living doesn't require money at all? How do you gauge poverty then? See Marshall Sahlins' classic essay, "The Original Affluent Society." There have been many responses to it over the years, but the ones I've read seem to severely miss the point.

Most people in the world who live in abject poverty now would not get richer if civilization collapsed. They'd live the same, or they'd die off. Again, population contraction. That's not a solution.

In terms of money, no, they would not get richer. But collapse would open up the space for other ways of life where wealth is not denominated in currency, systems in which they would be quite wealthy.

Finally, and this is an academic point, I searched your site, and I find not one single instance of a "cf." or a "but see" citation that isn't trivial. In the case of cf., you uses it twice for a book by Malcolm Gladwell, a pop-business book, and also for a reference to the Old Testament.

I generally use "Works Cited" at the end of my articles, with a notation of "(Author, Year)," in combination with footnote links to any websites I might cite. When discussing differing views, I tend not to use "cf." or "but see." That treatment would be too dismissive. I go into full detail of the view, and why I disagree.

You don't discuss Bernstein (which illuminates how the world moved from the glacially paced renaissance to the modern hyperdeveloping twentieth century), Boorstin, Freud ("Civilization and its Discontents"). You don't discuss in depth any contrary positions. For such a sheer massive volume of writing, how is this possible?

I've discussed many contrary positions, but not Bernstein, Boorstin or Freud specifically. I find their objections trivial. But if you like, I can add them to the list.

My new book title: "If you're in a primitive tribe, why are you posting on the Internet?"

See objection #1.

(Pyramid Termite, please note, that was written on October 26, 2005).
posted by jefgodesky at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2007


And our usual life expectancies only hold if we don't define people as alive if they haven't been born yet. People in our own culture disagree with that. The "weighted" life expectancy brings our own life expectancy down into the 40's, just like hunter-gatherers. So it's a culturally loaded statistic.

in other words, if you don't like the statistics, you'll redefine their meaning or claim they are "culturally loaded"

this is why it's impossible to refute you - not because you're "right" but because you won't stick to any meaning or collection of data or interpretation once you discover it's bad for your argument

there's no point in discussing it further
posted by pyramid termite at 11:27 AM on July 17, 2007


Then why don't you give me a good reason why your definition of when human life begins is the correct one, and not the pro-lifer's or the Bushman's? It's possible to refute me, I've been refuted before, I've changed my whole world view in light of new evidence. That's how I got here. I stick to the meanings and data that I find most convincing, so if you can find an argument why yours is the correct one beyond simple ethnocentric bald assertion, then we might be able to move this argument on to some portion that hasn't been done to death already. But I haven't been jumping about with different definitions as they suit me as you imply. I used the exact same argument in thesis #25, written January 11, 2006. It's been a year and a half since then, and while I've heard the life expectancy angle many times since then, no one's answered me why their definition is right and everyone else is wrong, except to just repeat that it is because it's theirs.

So, tell me why we should count forager birth control methods into their life expectancy, and why we should not count ours. If you were expecting me to just blindly accept what you say without any evidence to back it up, I'm sorry to disappoint. I change my mind frequently, whenever I'm presented with good evidence, but I do require good evidence, not just the rote recitation of faith.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:43 PM on July 17, 2007


Pastabagel: Assuming the 200 species extinct per day statistic is correct, where is the evidence that the current civilization is responsible for this?

That really ought to be common knowledge. Even if it weren't, if you grant that there's a mass extinction going on, I don't see how you could possibly be so lacking in common sense as to guess that the most likely cause, among the many you might be able to imagine, is anything other than the one species whose activities have had such a large effect on nearly every little corner of the biologically productive surface of the planet. And then so lacking in curiosity as to go look it up, before trying to score rhetorical points against someone who mentioned it without reference. It's not hard to find out about, Wikipedia has a few links to start with: Holocene extinction event.

jefgodesky: And our usual life expectancies only hold if we don't define people as alive if they haven't been born yet.

Wow, imagine that. Keep it simple dude, just quote life expectancy from 1 or 2 years of age when that's what you're talking about. Counting people not yet born (or not even conceived due to birth control) in your estimate of life expectancy does not help with the people realizing you're not completely out of your mind.

OmieWise: he's enamored with a cult of death.

That particular phrase seems outstandingly irrational. Is it that you feel personally insulted by the idea that global civilization in anything like its present form is not sustainable? There's plenty of room to disagree with that rather widely-shared premise without making dubiously uncharitable assumptions about the motivations of people who believe it.
posted by sfenders at 12:52 PM on July 17, 2007


That's true for us and for hunter-gatherers. But we don't consider aborted fetuses to be a part of that. We know they're alive, but they're not really "human" yet. Different cultures have different views of when humanity sets in, from conception to about two years old, depending on where you look.

Life expectancy measures how old people are when they die. "How old" is usually expressed in years. If someone is 77 when they die, everyone, and I mean absolutely every educated person on the planet earth, takes that to mean that the person entered the world from their mother's body 77 years prior. The fact that I have to argue in these terms is profoundly disturbing to me.

When people talk about life expectancy, they're talking about how old people get before they die from health problems or natural causes, or even violence. They're not talking about birth control, regardless of method.

That abortion debate is irrelevant - completely irrelevant. The discussion in that debate of when life begins is for purposes of defining when legal interests attach. No pro-lifer wants to redefine life to reset birthdays to the date of conception. You're thinking here is so muddled and mixed up it's difficult to focus an opposing argument. If people aren't alive until they are 2, then if they die 77 years after they exited the uterus, then their age should be recorded as 75, not 77.

Currently, we measure life expectancy by counting every single member of the species that completely exited their mother's uterus with a beating heart. If an infant dies a minute later, they are counted as having lived one minute. If that infant lives for another 50 years, they are also counted.

In your case, you are selecting after the fact who to count, for the sole purpose of boosting up the numbers. If you don't understand why people think this is is intellectual dishonesty, I don't know what to say.

I've discussed many contrary positions, but not Bernstein, Boorstin or Freud specifically. I find their objections trivial. But if you like, I can add them to the list.

You do that.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:53 PM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though. Have none of you done enough reading on the subject to be familiar with the phrase "life expectancy at age 1"?
posted by sfenders at 1:10 PM on July 17, 2007


Is it that you feel personally insulted by the idea that global civilization in anything like its present form is not sustainable? There's plenty of room to disagree with that rather widely-shared premise without making dubiously uncharitable assumptions about the motivations of people who believe it.

No, I actually agree that we have an unsustainable form of global civilization.

What I disagree with is that the proper response is to the issue is to contribute to the problem while waiting smugly for most people to die, which is I think the essence of jefgodesky's position. There's no progressive politics in it, he doesn't express a desire to help people or to make change for the better, he doesn't even express concern for the coming deaths of billions. It's all a game to him. In addition, he redefines the terms that delimit the civilization of which he is a part, and fails to account for it in any way. His attitude toward all objections to his utopia is that they simply will not exist. Disease, mental illness, infant mortality, freedom of choice...all of these things get defined away even though they define his life in every conceivable way. Meanwhile, even as he's telling everyone how great the killing fields are going to be, how they'll lead to a brand new day, he lacks the courage to give up the most basic parts of the world that he says we don't need anyway. No lack of internet for him, no attempts to mitigate harms for him, no hunting/gathering diet for him. Sure, he's got logorrhea, and yes, he's willing to advocate everything from not treating schizophrenics to killing toddlers, but don't ask him to sacrifice until everyone else is already dead.

I actually find him to be really disturbing. He's intellectually dishonest, selectively responds to criticism, displays the worst traits of relativism, appears to think that by disavowing the things he dislikes he can make them disappear, praises his own rationality while displaying hardly any at all, and speaks with authority of things that he's clearly only read about in (bad) books. His vision of utopia is like fascism with an external locus of control, where the rules are unbreakable and incontrovertible, and to be reveled in by all true believers, but those same people get to pretend that it's all beyond their choice and so they have no stake in the authoritarianism of it all. And it's all predicated on a longed-for die off of such massive proportions that it literally boggles the mind to consider. There's no talk of forestalling it, of changing things, of working for the greater good. It's a Millenialist version of human history with jefgodesky as God's chosen trumpet. It's disgusting.
posted by OmieWise at 1:31 PM on July 17, 2007


The "weighted" life expectancy brings our own life expectancy down into the 40's, just like hunter-gatherers.

Hmm, ..... so, according to Kaplan as quoted by J. Godesky, life expectancy at age 15 somewhere in the paleolithic was 54 years. Well below today's average. It does appear that the bizarre adjustments to life expectancy referred to here are part of a larger attempt at explaining away the fact that most likely, life expectancy by just about any measure is longer today than it was then.
posted by sfenders at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2007


Wow, imagine that. Keep it simple dude, just quote life expectancy from 1 or 2 years of age when that's what you're talking about. Counting people not yet born (or not even conceived due to birth control) in your estimate of life expectancy does not help with the people realizing you're not completely out of your mind.

I think it does illustrate that "when human life begins" is not the simple matter we generally take it for; it's culturally constructed. Lots of cultures have different ideas of when human life begins. Pro-life people have calculated aborted fetuses into the American life expectancy, and come up with figures near 40. By the same token, life expectancy estimates of hunter-gatherers that put them around 40 rely on infant mortality, largely due to common infanticide, because they don't see the children as fully human yet. How do these two exercises significantly differ?

Life expectancy measures how old people are when they die. "How old" is usually expressed in years. If someone is 77 when they die, everyone, and I mean absolutely every educated person on the planet earth, takes that to mean that the person entered the world from their mother's body 77 years prior. The fact that I have to argue in these terms is profoundly disturbing to me.

You have to argue in these terms because your assumption isn't true. 77 doesn't mean the person exited their mother's body 77 years prior. For Australian aborigines, it means they first kicked 77 years prior. For others, it means they said their first word 77 years prior. Not every culture sees exiting the utuerus as the defining moment.

Currently, we measure life expectancy by counting every single member of the species that completely exited their mother's uterus with a beating heart. If an infant dies a minute later, they are counted as having lived one minute. If that infant lives for another 50 years, they are also counted.

We do, our culture, because that's our view of when life begins. But I'm not selecting the age after the fact to boost the numbers. This is what the hunter-gatherers being studied say. We don't think it's fair to count aborted fetuses because we don't think they're human yet. And hunter-gatherers don't think it's fair to count infanticide for the same reason.

In your case, you are selecting after the fact who to count, for the sole purpose of boosting up the numbers. If you don't understand why people think this is is intellectual dishonesty, I don't know what to say.

No, I'm not. My objection that our definitions are ethnocentrically skewed aren't to bump up the numbers, it's to properly deal with the problems of translating across sometimes vastly different cultural beliefs. I didn't come up with this after the fact at all. In the thesis linked in my last comment, I dealt with the ethnocentric nature of the statistics before I ever got to the numbers. For instance, you naturally assumed that everyone on earth counts age the same way as you do. It's a natural assumption, since we're all ethnocentric and assume the way we do things is the way everybody does things. But they don't. So, how do you control for that? What makes your ethnocentrism right, and everybody else's wrong?

Seriously, though. Have none of you done enough reading on the subject to be familiar with the phrase "life expectancy at age 1"?

I am familiar with it. I wish I could find that for the Bushmen and other extant hunter-gatherers, but the best I've been able to get is 15.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2007


What I disagree with is that the proper response is to the issue is to contribute to the problem while waiting smugly for most people to die, which is I think the essence of jefgodesky's position.

Then you haven't been paying attention. The only solution is to try to make it a gradual decline rather than a violent collapse. I don't know if that's possible, but I do know that if it is possible, it will be because enough people started learning primitive skills and started permaculture garden and occupational tribes right now. I'm contributing to that. What are you doing?

There's no progressive politics in it, he doesn't express a desire to help people or to make change for the better, he doesn't even express concern for the coming deaths of billions. It's all a game to him.

You have no idea what you're talking about. Expressed concern? Hell, I've had my life turned inside out on that account. I haven't just expressed a desire to help people and make the change better, I'm out doing it. And you? Have you been helping spread primitive skils? Have you started a permaculture garden? Have you helped make any tribes? Have you done anything?

In addition, he redefines the terms that delimit the civilization of which he is a part, and fails to account for it in any way. His attitude toward all objections to his utopia is that they simply will not exist. Disease, mental illness, infant mortality, freedom of choice...all of these things get defined away even though they define his life in every conceivable way.

I haven't redefined a damn thing. Examining the complexities that everybody else glosses over is not "redefining."

Meanwhile, even as he's telling everyone how great the killing fields are going to be, how they'll lead to a brand new day, he lacks the courage to give up the most basic parts of the world that he says we don't need anyway. No lack of internet for him, no attempts to mitigate harms for him, no hunting/gathering diet for him. Sure, he's got logorrhea, and yes, he's willing to advocate everything from not treating schizophrenics to killing toddlers, but don't ask him to sacrifice until everyone else is already dead.

Wow are you ever a bastard. You want to tell me about sacrifice? You have no idea, you smug, self-righteous bastard.

You know what, I'm out doing it, all right? I wasn't raised in a tribal culture, and every square inch of this continent is claimed, policed and closed off for any other way of life. I've said plenty of times that to run off right now would be suicide. I've said to run off alone is suicide. I've said to run off unprepared is suicide. I'm learning the skills and building my tribe, so no, I'm not going to go "sacrifice" to satisfy your little straw man of me. I'm going to stick by the things I've actually said, and that puts me on the same path of preparation I'm already on.

I actually find him to be really disturbing. He's intellectually dishonest, selectively responds to criticism, displays the worst traits of relativism, appears to think that by disavowing the things he dislikes he can make them disappear, praises his own rationality while displaying hardly any at all, and speaks with authority of things that he's clearly only read about in (bad) books. His vision of utopia is like fascism with an external locus of control, where the rules are unbreakable and incontrovertible, and to be reveled in by all true believers, but those same people get to pretend that it's all beyond their choice and so they have no stake in the authoritarianism of it all. And it's all predicated on a longed-for die off of such massive proportions that it literally boggles the mind to consider. There's no talk of forestalling it, of changing things, of working for the greater good. It's a Millenialist version of human history with jefgodesky as God's chosen trumpet. It's disgusting.

Something's disgusting, all right. I'm entirely disgusted. I could say every last one of those things of you, and add to it that you're a smug, self-righteous bastard who feels perfectly content to judge anyone on absolutely zero knowledge. You obviously have no idea who I am, what I'm doing or even the points I've actually written about, because nowhere do they match your hysterical invective. But that won't stop you from spewing that kind of high-grade vitriol, will it? Disgusting.

Hmm, ..... so, according to Kaplan as quoted by J. Godesky, life expectancy at age 15 somewhere in the paleolithic was 54 years. Well below today's average. It does appear that the bizarre adjustments to life expectancy referred to here are part of a larger attempt at explaining away the fact that most likely, life expectancy by just about any measure is longer today than it was then.

Absolutely, life expectancy today is longer than it was in the Paleolithic. But that's true of modern-day hunter-gatherers and First World industrialists alike. As I wrote in the thesis you linked to:
Life expectancies in the Mesolithic were quite low. How do we reconcile these conflicting data? Caspari & Lee suggest an answer in "Older age becomes common late in human evolution," (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 2004, p. 10847-10848), where they note a trend of increasing longevity that goes back not to the origins of civilization, but to the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. If we work under this assumption--that modern, abstract behavior had led to increasing longevity--then the data makes much more sense. We see forager longevity extending through the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and into historical times prior to being wiped out by the advance of civilization. In those meager areas where they have not been wiped out yet, forager longevity continues to grow longer, even though the marginal nature of their ecosystem makes for a fairly harsh life.
In the industrial world, we've seen human longevity return over the past century to the forager norm, which has been increasing since the Upper Paleolithic. In previous era, feudal lords and aristocracies similarly enjoyed life spans that match this increasing norm. So yes, people did not live as long in the Mesolithic or Paleolithic. There's been a general trend of longer life since the Upper Paleolithic. That said, for agrarian societies, the spread of agriculture did mark a significant drop from that norm, from which agricultural societies are still recovering. The elites have typically recovered more or less fully, including modern elites in the most developed countries. The problem, unfortunately, is that the life expectancy that hunting and gathering offers everyone is only available to the elites of civilization.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:57 PM on July 17, 2007


Anthropik merch! Wear one when civilisation ends!

So, we were talking about self-righteousness?
posted by athenian at 2:10 PM on July 17, 2007


So, we were talking about self-righteousness?

What, you think land taxes and hunting/fishing licenses pay themselves? There are reasons why hunter-gatherers who try to live their traditional ways get thrown in jail as "poachers." What's self-righteous about trying to make enough money to not go to jail? If you get to the point where the only thing you need civilization for is to keep civilization off your back, I think you're doing OK.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:20 PM on July 17, 2007


NO ONE KNOWS HOW IT WILL WORK BECAUSE IT'S ALL CONJECTURAL BULLSHIT!!!!


Ahem, excuse me...sorry about that.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:54 PM on July 17, 2007


Older age becomes common late in human evolution

I don't see any obvious estimate in there of exactly how much older, which is presumably why you quoted the 54.1 years. Interesting to be reminded that over this amount of time, much of any difference could be genetic.

This does not look good:

"Until recently, average agricultural life expectancy tended to vary between 20 and 35 years, while even the Kalahari foragers likely enjoyed the same 54.1 years they do today. Today, life expectancy in the First World is in the low 70's; in the Third World, however, it is still often in the 30's."

That there was some big drop in life expectancy some time after the introduction of agriculture I don't have any reason to doubt, not that it strikes me as particularly relevant to deciding on the most suitable way of life available today. But that last bit does not leave me inclined to take your word for it, either. Just how much of the "third world" has life expectancy "in the 30's"? According to my hasty web search, it's hardly representative. More importantly, I am strongly suspecting that there is basically nowhere in the world today where life expectancy at age 15 is in the 30's. It's a dishonest comparison.
posted by sfenders at 3:04 PM on July 17, 2007


I don't see any obvious estimate in there of exactly how much older, which is presumably why you quoted the 54.1 years. Interesting to be reminded that over this amount of time, much of any difference could be genetic.

Actually, you mistook the 54.1 figure; as I wrote in the article, 54.1 was the expected age of death for the Ache, Hazda, Hiwi and !Kung, according to Kaplan, not the Mesolithic. But the point that Caspari & Lee make is that it isn't genetic, but cultural. However, it isn't distinctly civilized, either; it goes back to the Upper Paleolithic, and it's raised hunter-gatherer life expectancies as well as civilized elites'.

Just how much of the "third world" has life expectancy "in the 30's"?

According to NationMaster:

#215 Liberia: 40.39 years
#216 Lesotho: 39.97 years
#217 Zimbabwe: 39.5 years
#218 Zambia: 38.44 years
#219 Angola: 37.63 years
#220 Swaziland: 32.23 years

But you're right, that statement is sloppy and could use some ammendment.

It's a dishonest comparison.

Not dishonest, I've just had some trouble finding the really good data. If you've got life expectancy by country at age 15, I'd love to see it.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:33 PM on July 17, 2007


Oh, most importantly, Swaziland (32.23 years) and Tanzania (50.71 years) are home to the !Kung and the Hazda, respectively, who live to 54.1. So they outlive their civilized neighbors; for the !Kung, by almost a factor of two. I think this is relevant, because I suspect that the fact that only the most marginal hunter-gatherers still survive gives us severely skewed figures.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:37 PM on July 17, 2007


Wow, that's the most intemperate I've ever seen jefgodesky get in one of these threads.

I can't blame him at all, really, I have to say. I think Omiewise's portrayal of him here has been just grossly insulting and wrong. I don't know jefgodesky or anything, but I've read a fair amount of his stuff, and that portrayal really bears no resemblance to anything of his that I've read. I mean, my impression is that the whole reason he's posting stuff on the Internet is because he does want to help people, because he wants to share knowledge that he thinks will make it more likely for more people to survive the collapse. Think of it as being something like the Bodhisattva concept, if you like. And I really don't get the claim that the fact he hasn't immediately dropped everything to go try to be a full-time hunter gatherer this minute somehow proves he's evil and wrong. Aside from the fact that it's basically the same argument as the one that environmentalists are all hypocrites because we don't do, well, basically the same thing, in what way would ending up like this guy help the cause? One may disagree with his premises (taking the collapse as a certainty, primitivism as the best way to survive it) but I've seen nothing to make me think his motives are anything like the malign picture being painted here.

I think collapse is a near-certainty myself, and I also believe our civilization is responsible for an unprecedented mass extinction, global warming, environmental devastation beyond imagining. And the thing is, I want nothing more than for these things not to be the case. Still, everything I read leads me to the conclusion that they are. I don't think jefgodesky is any different in that regard. Of all the many insulting claims made about environmentalists, one of the most obnoxious ones for me has always been the one that claims we're all secretly hoping for all the horrors we predict so that we can be proven right or something. Do we always have to go beyond mere disagreement and assume that anyone with beliefs outside of the mainstream is motivated by cartoonishly malignant desires? Isn't this pretty much just another version of "these people hate us because they hate our freedom?"
posted by a louis wain cat at 3:43 PM on July 17, 2007


If you've got life expectancy by country at age 15, I'd love to see it.

Nope, but this site can give you the under five mortality rate and the life expectancy at birth, from which it should be possible to estimate the life expectancy at age 5.

Guessing that the average lifespan of those dead before 5 is 2 years, Angola would be somewhere around 50 years life expectancy at 5. That they've been at war for most of the past 30 years probably has something to do with that country being near the bottom of the list.
posted by sfenders at 3:59 PM on July 17, 2007


You guys. Chill.

I'm for it. You all should be for it.

Preparing for the apocalypse, that is.

You know. Learning to hunt. Grow food. Fight with a tomahawk. All that stuff. What harm is there?

For that matter if like 5% of the world's population wants to drop out and stop playing the game? That's a good thing.

It would be even better if 25% of the worlds population... even superficially... was to drop out. That would be a good thing.

This guy may be a bit kooky. But so what. Think of these tribal guys as our Plan D after Plans A, B, and C fail. We should be glad that we have an "Oh Shit" move to go to.
posted by tkchrist at 4:21 PM on July 17, 2007


Think of these tribal guys as our Plan D after Plans A, B, and C fail. We should be glad that we have an "Oh Shit" move to go to.

Maybe, but if things have gone that far afield, then wouldn't people be utilizing the remnants of industrialized society? Again, this is all conjecture and basically cosplay.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:31 PM on July 17, 2007


And I really don't get the claim that the fact he hasn't immediately dropped everything to go try to be a full-time hunter gatherer this minute somehow proves he's evil and wrong. Aside from the fact that it's basically the same argument as the one that environmentalists are all hypocrites because we don't do, well, basically the same thing

No, no it isn't the same thing at all. jefgodesky is a millenial utiopianist who self-righteously claims that not only is his version of events inevitable, it's optimum in every way. It's entirely appropriate to accuse someone who says that oral culture is as compelling as anything produced since of hypocrisy if he fails to practice what he preaches. My objection is precisely to the place where his all-consuming arguments meet the world of reality. He claims, again and again, that his way is the best way, not a good way, or one of several good ways, but the best way, in every way, and yet he fails to live by that.

My vitriol is in part fueled by my sense that he's full of the worst kind of prescriptive shit, and in part by rereading the last thread where this was hashed out, and his position was that the concerns of the real world today could be safely dismissed as either contributing to the problem they were meant to address (his attitude toward people, like myself, who try to provide relief to folks suffering from mental illnesses), or unworthy of serious consideration because they would no longer be problems in the utopia to come (which he continues to fail to live in).

Yes, my assessment is very harsh, and no, I don't expect everyone to agree with it. I see jefgodesky, though, as the worst kind of apologist for utopian thinking which dismisses the realities of lived life, even among people not in the first world. His view of himself is, understandably, very different. But that's part of what I object to.
posted by OmieWise at 6:37 PM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Then why don't you give me a good reason why your definition of when human life begins is the correct one, and not the pro-lifer's or the Bushman's?

i'm giving you what is the commonly accepted definition of life expectancy - how much time the average person can expect to live at birth

So, tell me why we should count forager birth control methods into their life expectancy, and why we should not count ours.

it's not birth control, it's population control ... it happens after birth ... if you're going to take theirs from age 2, say, then you have to take ours from age 2 ... otherwise, you're playing games with the data

more importantly, if you're to count abortion in life expectancy, then you'll have to count miscarriages, too, if you want to be scientifically accurate and consistent

there's just one problem ... you don't have the data to do that, do you?

therefore, i'm offering the only consistent and accurate test of life expectancy that's available - from birth

not that ONE site like dickson mounds is going to be representative of ALL hunter gathering and/or agricultural societies at ALL times in the entire world ... you don't have a scientifically representative poll of life expectancy from the archaeological record - you don't KNOW that the skeletons that have been found are a representative sample of a diverse and world wide population

there is, admittedly, some reason to believe that agricultural societies had a reduction in life expectancy ... was the reason diet? ... or was it the way some of those societies were organized?

the bottom line - you DON'T HAVE STATISTICS

there's one way to prove me wrong - post some

I think it does illustrate that "when human life begins" is not the simple matter we generally take it for; it's culturally constructed.

that's not a scientific argument, it's a postmodernist one and i call bullshit ... if you're not willing to use a definition that will work with the data available, then you have nothing left but construction

I am familiar with it. I wish I could find that for the Bushmen and other extant hunter-gatherers, but the best I've been able to get is 15.

and so you really don't have the statistics to prove your assertions, do you?

you've made a lot of other statements about other things ... why should i believe any of them when you can't provide me with the proper proof on this?

Wow are you ever a bastard. You want to tell me about sacrifice? You have no idea, you smug, self-righteous bastard.

that's a cultural construction, isn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:05 PM on July 17, 2007


by the way ... didn't some hunter/gatherer cultures practice abortion?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:10 PM on July 17, 2007


I'd like to offer a qualified apology to jefgodesky.

After thinking about it for quite a while last night, I realize that my comments crossed several lines of decorum. My view on your positions should be clear enough, and certainly it's based on having read thousands and thousands of your words, so I believe that it's specious to accuse me of dismissing them out of hand. However, as dangerous as I think the philosophy I read your views as espousing is, I should not have so completely equated that with your worth as a person. I have no doubt that you're a decent human being who is kind to those he loves and isn't hateful even to those he doesn't. Your life choices are yours to make.

In addition, as maddening as I find what I and others see as your unwillingness to actually debate the issues that you present, I've been impressed that you've managed for the most part to keep your tone even and measured throughout your presentations. I might wish for more genuine engagement from you, and I might wish that you were not so quick to dismiss the things which others quite rightly value, but those desires of mine do not excuse the kind of vitriol I displayed yesterday.
posted by OmieWise at 5:29 AM on July 18, 2007


a louis wain cat, thank you

That they've been at war for most of the past 30 years probably has something to do with that country being near the bottom of the list.

As I'm sure the pressure placed on eliminating hunter-gatherers has had something to do with their low numbers, as well.

tkchrist, that's a middle ground I can definitely get on with you. In fact, that's what I've been saying: if we're going to steer away from the worst collapse scenarios, it will require slowing down. You're never going to have everyone running off at once, but if it's 0.05% this year, and 0.1% next, and even more starting permaculture and learning about primitive skills, and maybe not even living that way entirely but just using it to take off a little of the pressure, well, that's the best chance of a gradual "Powerdown" we've got.

No, no it isn't the same thing at all. jefgodesky is a millenial utiopianist who self-righteously claims that not only is his version of events inevitable, it's optimum in every way.

Except that's not at all what I've said. I've countered the most common objections when I can't find any basis for them, but I never said it was optimum in every way. Just because most of the usual objections are B.S. and I said so doesn't mean it's optimum in every way. And my version of events are inevitable only because they're so vague in the details. I have no idea how the human population is going to drop, only that it is. That doesn't take any great amount of self-righteous assurance, just a recognition that the only ways out are unsustainable and perhaps a passing familiarity with ecological overshoot, sans the usual arrogance of why basic biological laws don't apply to humans.

It's entirely appropriate to accuse someone who says that oral culture is as compelling as anything produced since of hypocrisy if he fails to practice what he preaches.

Bad example; I've been developing our oral culture every way I know how, and exploring some new ways of doing it. I don't come from an oral culture, so yes, I still read, but I have been working on that.

He claims, again and again, that his way is the best way, not a good way, or one of several good ways, but the best way, in every way, and yet he fails to live by that.

I never said anything like that. I've said that my way is one of an infinite number of workable ways. What I have said is that the singularly homogeneous way that most of us live today doesn't work. But I've also pointed out that "primitive" societies are a vast umbrella that basically means, "everything but the one way we live."

Moreover, that's precisely the way I have been living. I've been living up to precisely what I've preached: learn the skills, form your tribes, start some permaculture, I'm doing all of that. I never told anybody to drop everything and run off into the woods. In fact, I've cautioned strongly against it. I've said time and again that rewilding is a long and difficult journey, but it's something you need to start right now. And I've done precisely that: I've started.

...the concerns of the real world today could be safely dismissed as either contributing to the problem they were meant to address (his attitude toward people, like myself, who try to provide relief to folks suffering from mental illnesses), or unworthy of serious consideration because they would no longer be problems in the utopia to come (which he continues to fail to live in).

I suspected as much. On the last count, problems that don't exist in a post-civilized world were being offered up as reasons why a post-civilized world can't work. They're important things to consider for the transition, but that wasn't the discussion we were in. They were being offered as why it would never work at all.

But I suspected this was largely due to what you no doubt felt was a direct, personal attack on you and your work. You misunderstood me, and I think to some extent deliberately. The work you do is valuable. At the same time, I'm sure you understand that all disease, but especially mental disease, has a significant cultural component, yes? And as you participate in this culture, you do play a role in that. So do I. So do all of us. That can't be changed. That isn't an attack, either; every last one of us bears the same amount of guilt in that regard, because we're all part of the culture. But acknowledging that effect is crucial. It doesn't mean you don't care about your patients, that you don't do the best you can for them or that the work you do isn't important. Absolutely not. But it does suggest that with a different cultural context, you might find most of your work already done for you, just by the fact that the condition is seen differently.

i'm giving you what is the commonly accepted definition of life expectancy - how much time the average person can expect to live at birth

Commonly accepted in this culture. Not in others. Not even in some segments of this culture. Why is that one right and the Bushmen's wrong? Simply saying that it's ours doesn't make it right.

it's not birth control, it's population control ... it happens after birth ... if you're going to take theirs from age 2, say, then you have to take ours from age 2 ... otherwise, you're playing games with the data

I agree. The Thirty Theses are a rough draft. I really do need to find our population data from age 2, but since we don't see that as a valid measure of life expectancy, that's hard to find. Really, it's hard to find it for hunter-gatherers, too: we just measure them up against our own standards as well.

therefore, i'm offering the only consistent and accurate test of life expectancy that's available - from birth

It's also so culturally biased as to be useless. So that just means that the data has to be collected somehow. "Somehow" is where I'm currently at with this.

not that ONE site like dickson mounds is going to be representative of ALL hunter gathering and/or agricultural societies at ALL times in the entire world ... you don't have a scientifically representative poll of life expectancy from the archaeological record - you don't KNOW that the skeletons that have been found are a representative sample of a diverse and world wide population

Errrrmmm ... you didn't read the paper, did you? Worldwide? No. But it does give us a very valuable continuum, and we've seen this same pattern in every other early agricultural site, which does give us a fairly representative worldwide sample.

there is, admittedly, some reason to believe that agricultural societies had a reduction in life expectancy ... was the reason diet? ... or was it the way some of those societies were organized?

Social organization follows from subsistence pattern, that much is basic anthro 101. The reduction came from systemic malnutrition and epidemic disease, the first evidence of epidemic disease in history. See also Jared Diamond's article from Discover magazine May 1987, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race."

the bottom line - you DON'T HAVE STATISTICS

there's one way to prove me wrong - post some


Contemporary life expectancy statistics are hard to find, though I took a crack at what I could get in thesis #25. As for the Neolithic Mortality Crisis, those are very easy to come by. The Armelagos paper I referenced above has plenty of statistics. I disagree with a great deal of Oded Galor and Omer Moav's interpretation in "Natural Selection and the Evolution of Life Expectancy," [PDF] but the statistics are good. Most intro to archaeology textbooks will furnish some good statistics on this, too.

and so you really don't have the statistics to prove your assertions, do you?

you've made a lot of other statements about other things ... why should i believe any of them when you can't provide me with the proper proof on this?


Thesis #25 does not lack for statistics. It doesn't have the optmal measurements, but it does have plenty of discussion about that very problem, and what we can conclude from the data we do have.

by the way ... didn't some hunter/gatherer cultures practice abortion?

Yes. And some practicie infanticide. Some consider the two the same thing. That's why the obvious, objective metric is actually extremely subjective, ethnocentric and slanted.

I'd like to offer a qualified apology to jefgodesky.

Apology accepted, and thank you. That couldn't have been easy. I presume we'll probably never see eye to eye, but a diversity of views is always a good thing, so long as everyone can keep a level head about it. I try to keep one of my own, and I slipped up on that score a little yesterday, so I apologize for that. I'm sorry if you don't feel I've engaged your objections thoroughly enough. I don't see where I've been dismissive, but that's obviously a difference of perspective where we're unlikely to agree.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:26 AM on July 18, 2007


Commonly accepted in this culture.

which is also the only culture in which you are going to have a debate based upon the scientific method and written records and data ... and the only culture you have available to communicate your ideas to us

Thesis #25 does not lack for statistics.

those aren't even close to being as comprehensive as you need them to be

It doesn't have the optmal measurements, but it does have plenty of discussion about that very problem, and what we can conclude from the data we do have.

you don't have that much data and any conclusions you draw from them are questionable

That's why the obvious, objective metric is actually extremely subjective, ethnocentric and slanted.

you don't have any others ... and remember, i insist that if you count abortions, you must count miscarriages, too

Determining the prevalence of miscarriage is difficult. Many miscarriages happen very early in the pregnancy, before a woman may know she is pregnant. Treatment of women with miscarriage at home means medical statistics on miscarriage miss many cases.

so it's impossible to say what the true prevalence is in our modern society ... and how would you know what it was in prehistory?

so we have no way of knowing what life expectancy from conception is

my objection to counting from 2 years old is simple - not all deaths before that age in a hunter/gatherer society are going to be from deliberate population control ... some will be from disease, accident, malnutrition, etc ... to classify these deaths as the equivalent of "birth control" is inaccurate and misleading

taking life expectancy from birth is no more subjective than the alternatives - from conception would miss miscarriages and result in unreasonably inaccurate data and from 2 years old results in some deaths not being accounted for that could be a result of the lifestyle lived

I disagree with a great deal of Oded Galor and Omer Moav's interpretation in "Natural Selection and the Evolution of Life Expectancy," [PDF] but the statistics are good.

and they argue against your case ... true, after cultures transitioned to agriculture, life expectancy dropped ... but as technology advanced, it rose again until it was better than before

but you don't present their statistics in thesis #25, even to attempt to refute them

so, you had some rough data but chose not to present it because it didn't fit with your thesis
posted by pyramid termite at 9:29 AM on July 18, 2007


I would pay money for a Peeping Thomist-jefgodesky no-holds-barred debate on the role of the Natural Language of the Body in neotribalist society.
posted by COBRA! at 9:40 AM on July 18, 2007


I presume we'll probably never see eye to eye, but a diversity of views is always a good thing, so long as everyone can keep a level head about it.

I agree. It isn't so hard to apologize, it's harder (and better) not to be a jerk in the first place. Some days I'm better at that than others.
posted by OmieWise at 9:48 AM on July 18, 2007


which is also the only culture in which you are going to have a debate based upon the scientific method and written records and data ... and the only culture you have available to communicate your ideas to us

But at issue here is the question of whether our culture's assumptions about itself are legitimate. To take our culture's assumptions about itself for granted would make the argument completely circular. This is the problem of ethnocentrism; we need to get beyond that if we're going to get anywhere. Nobody said that's easy, just that it's necessary.

those aren't even close to being as comprehensive as you need them to be

Admittedly, but the flaws are also already discussed, and there is some good information that can be pulled from them, even so. It's enough, for instance, to fairly easily dismiss the common charge that hunter-gatherers die young. On the contrary, while the evidence is not conclusive, it does appear fairly certain that hunter-gatherer life expectancy is not too different from that enjoyed by current First Worlders (which current First Worlders didn't even enjoy a century ago).

you don't have that much data and any conclusions you draw from them are questionable

Not really. In statistics, you can always account for poor data with a larger confidence interval. The poor data doesn't make it impossible to draw conclusions, it simply means that the conclusion must have a fairly significant confidence interval, which I've done.

you don't have any others ... and remember, i insist that if you count abortions, you must count miscarriages, too

I'm not counting abortions; that was merely to illustrate the cultural views involved. Actually, I'm taking it the other way, and suggesting we need to count life expectancy from, for example, age 2, or age 5.

my objection to counting from 2 years old is simple - not all deaths before that age in a hunter/gatherer society are going to be from deliberate population control ... some will be from disease, accident, malnutrition, etc ... to classify these deaths as the equivalent of "birth control" is inaccurate and misleading

Those are also fairly rare occurences, so it would be far more misleading to count them all against life expectancy.

taking life expectancy from birth is no more subjective than the alternatives

Yes, it would be more subjective. :)

and they argue against your case ... true, after cultures transitioned to agriculture, life expectancy dropped ... but as technology advanced, it rose again until it was better than before

As I said, I disagree with their interpretation. They neglect the fact that hunter-gatherer life expectancies continued to rise steadily, while agriculturalists' dropped. There's been a general long-term trend for longer lifespans since the Upper Paleolithic, and that's not something their theory takes account of.

but you don't present their statistics in thesis #25, even to attempt to refute them

so, you had some rough data but chose not to present it because it didn't fit with your thesis


Heh, no, nice try ... actually, I found it a few months after I'd written thesis #25. Hard to reference or refute something you haven't seen before, eh?
posted by jefgodesky at 9:52 AM on July 18, 2007


my objection to counting from 2 years old is simple - not all deaths before that age in a hunter/gatherer society are going to be from deliberate population control ...

That's not much of an objection. It makes a significant difference only if whatever is killing off the 1-year-olds doesn't also affect mortality in the rest of the population. Sure, maybe a society could have a disproportionate problem with infant care and otherwise good health, but in that case it might anyway be more informative to consider it separately.

and they argue against your case ... true, after cultures transitioned to agriculture, life expectancy dropped ... but as technology advanced, it rose again until it was better than before

The question of what might happen if someone were able to abandon agriculture and keep the best of the rest of that technology seems impossible to answer.
posted by sfenders at 10:00 AM on July 18, 2007


Not really. In statistics, you can always account for poor data with a larger confidence interval.

until you are speculating ... and that's really what you're doing here

Those are also fairly rare occurences, so it would be far more misleading to count them all against life expectancy.

they're not rare now in some places ... my understanding is they were even higher in older times

and no, claiming that this didn't happen in hunter gathering societies isn't going to cut it

Heh, no, nice try ... actually, I found it a few months after I'd written thesis #25. Hard to reference or refute something you haven't seen before, eh?

so you've written these theses on clay tablets and can't revise them?

seems to me that you need to ... seems to me that seeing as the paper was written in 2004 and your thesis in 2006 that you're not current on the data

that's a problem
posted by pyramid termite at 11:12 AM on July 18, 2007


But at issue here is the question of whether our culture's assumptions about itself are legitimate.

that's not the only issue ... the other issue is whether you're willing to present the data and the argument in a way that is falsifiable ... the way you're attempting to do it, it's not and therefore isn't science
posted by pyramid termite at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2007


until you are speculating ... and that's really what you're doing here

There's no speculation in it. When compared to their civilized neighbors coping with the same marginal environments, hunter-gatherers outlive them by significant margins. Even in the Kalahari and the Arctic, modern-day hunter-gatherers routinely reach ages that would be respectable even in the First World. To conclude from the evidence I've already assembled that hunter-gatherer life expectancy does not vary greatly from the contemporary First World's is not speculation.

they're not rare now in some places ... my understanding is they were even higher in older times

Among agrarians, yes, babies dying of a host of complications in their first few years is downright routine. However, such rates have not been observed among hunter-gatherers. They've noted very high infant mortality, but it's almost entirely infanticide.

and no, claiming that this didn't happen in hunter gathering societies isn't going to cut it

The very discussion is about how our cultures differ. That it didn't happen in hunter-gatherer societies is precisely my claim. That's what's been observed in the ethnographic record, and what the studies have born out.

so you've written these theses on clay tablets and can't revise them?

I don't go back and change what I've written, that would be dishonest. I am, however, working on a new version with new data.

that's not the only issue ... the other issue is whether you're willing to present the data and the argument in a way that is falsifiable ... the way you're attempting to do it, it's not and therefore isn't science

It's quite clearly falsifiable, it just takes more than the usual ethnocentric shrug. In fact, it's precisely some scientific rigor that I'm demanding: control for differing cultural views, control for differing ecological conditions and resources, and control for the fact that only the most marginal hunter-gatherer populations remain. Control for all that, and then let's talk about how life expectancy compares. But don't stack every skewed statistic in your favor and then tell me how much longer we live today, that's not going to cut it.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:23 PM on July 18, 2007


You don't have to live in a hut in the middle of nowhere to be a shaman.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:31 PM on July 18, 2007


Hey, jefgodesky, still here? If you are, I'd like to say you've done an excellent job defending your position, as far as it goes. I do have a problem, though. Your dream world would seemingly be my nightmare. Every single time I've come across material on the subject, it's "disabled individual leaves self to die for good of tribe" etc. I don't see any conceivable way I could ever survive long in a tribal setting, unless the fellow tribe members treated me as some sort of religious symbol or the like. I have a hard enough time living in a city, but in your world, I doubt I could have survived my birth.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:30 PM on July 19, 2007


Thanks, StrikeTheViol. I'm sure you've heard that, but take a look at Shanidar Cave:
The Shanidar Cave site is most famous for two of its skeletons, I and IV. Shanidar I was an elderly Neanderthal male known as Shanidar I, or ‘Nandy’ to its excavators. He was aged between 40-50 years, which was considerably old for a Neanderthal, equivalent to 80 years old today, displaying severe signs of deformity. He was one of four reasonably complete skeletons from the cave which displayed trauma-related abnormalities, which in his case would have been debilitating to the point of making day-to-day life painful. At some point in his life he had suffered a violent blow to the left side of his face, creating a crushing fracture to his left orbit which would have left Nandy partially or totally blind in one eye. He also suffered from a withered right arm which had been fractured in several places and healed, but which caused the loss of his lower arm and hand. This is thought to be either congenital, a result of childhood disease and trauma or due to an amputation later in his life. The arm had healed but the injury may have caused some paralysis down his right side, leading to deformities in his lower legs and foot and would have resulted in him walking with a pronounced, painful limp. All these injuries were acquired long before death, showing extensive healing and this has been used to infer that Neandertals looked after their sick and aged, denoting implicit group concern. Shanidar I is not the only Neanderthal at this site, or in the entire archaeological record which displays both trauma and healing.
Such behavior isn't limited to the Neanderthals, either. Yes, Inuit, living in the Arctic (where even we with all our clever technology have a hell of a time making it), have been known to put elders out on ice floes to die. But they didn't put them out as some cruel euthanasia. It was something that only the elder could volunteer for, and usually amidst no small amount of protest. Even then, it happened very rarely.

Tribes look after one another; it's what they do. Even if you suffer from severe physical limitations, there are so many ways to contribute that it's almost impossible not to. Social cohesion is so important, a good storyteller who can keep everyone working together well is worth his weight in gold. If nothing else, you can always watch the kids.

It's important to remember that a tribe is a family, and you're going to get turned out of a real tribe for not being useful about as quick as you'd be turned out of your family. Just ask ol' Shanidar I.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:57 PM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


srboisvert's comment had nothing to do with malaria, and everything to do with what we've been discussing here, so I decided rather than further derail the malaria thread, I'd answer it here....

That is a pretty fantastic claim. I'd assume dying from injury would be far more common. I'd like some sort of evidence before I buy that one.

Injury alone, you're probably right. Neanderthals in particular have bone fractures consistent with rodeo cowboys. But injury and disease? Certainly not. Epidemic disease is a major cause of mortality in civilized populations that has very little impact on hunter-gatherers. As Mark Nathan Cohen summed it up at the end of his book, Health & the Rise of Civilization:
Epidemiological theory further predicts the failure of most epidemic diseases ever to spread in small isolated populations or in groups of moderate size connected only by transportation on foot. Moreover, studies on the blood sera of contemporary isolated groups suggest that, although small size and isolation is not a complete guarantee against the transmission of such diseases in the vicinity, the spread from group to group is at best haphazard and irregular. The pattern suggests that contemporary isolates are at risk to epidemics once the diseases are maintained by civilized populations, but it seems to confirm predictions that such diseases would and could not have flourished and spread because they would not reliably have been transmitted in a world inhabited entirely by small and isolated groups in which there were no civilized reservoirs of diseases and all transportation of diseases could occur only at the speed of walking human beings.

In addition, overwhelming historical evidence suggests that the greatest rates of morbidity and death from infection are associated with the introduction of new diseases from one region of the world to another by processes associated with civilized transport of goods at speeds and over distances outside the range of movements common to hunting and gathering groups. Small-scale societies move people among groups and enjoy periodic aggregation and dispersal, but they do not move the distances associated with historic and modern religious pilgrimages or military campaigns, nor do they move at the speed associated with rapid modern forms of transportation. The increase in the transportation of people and exogenous diseases seems likely to have had far more profound effects on health than the small burden of traveler's diarrhea imposed by the small-scale movements of hunter-gatherers.
When was the last time you took your dog to the vet? Did they check its teeth? Cavities in the animal kingdom are not unheard of. The thing is, the animals can't tie a kerchief around their head to signal a toothache.

They're not unheard of, but they're hardly common. It's the result of a bizarrely maladapted diet. If you're eating a normal diet for your species, your mouth chemistry adapts and selects for not creating cavities. In the archaeological record, dental problems emerge at the same time as agriculture, because humans are not very well adapted to eating cereal grains. Taking your dog to the vet is another example of the same maladaptation; wolves are carnivores, and yet look at the ingredients list of your dog food. The primary ingredient is almost always corn.

Really? Because I have seen ballerinas with cellulite. I'd assume there pretty active.

OK; I can't say I've ever made any real study of cellulite patterns in hunter-gatherers. I know they don't really have much in the way of weight problems, and even the old men look pretty ripped, I say. It's just a matter of living a lifestyle to which the human body's adapted. That may include a good bit of cellulite, I don't really know. It certainly doesn't show, anyway.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2007


jefgodesky: I had a post upthread a ways, which was a good solid rant, and I'd like to apologize for the tone of how it went; you are, in reality, well reasoned and make a lot of interesting points. We have some pretty deep disagreements about how the future should and/or will go, but what I'm really curious about this: how do you keep it from starting all over again?

Assuming that civilization does collapse, and we are reduced to an oral record carried by scattered tribes, I don't see why, at some point down the line, someone won't try again. Assuming you even get a prohibition on farming put into general memetic circulation, some group is going to eventually forget or decide to try it anyway, and you get a civilization building up again.

This is, under your argument, undesirable. Is there any way to stop it or make it more unlikely? I don't see any.
posted by Arturus at 5:23 AM on July 21, 2007


Thanks, Arturus. As to your question, I'm a cultural materialist. Appeals to ideology aren't what moves society, by my view, but material realities. The argument I started in thesis #29 is a controversial one in primitivism, and I need to flesh it out more, but I think Sir Fred Hoyle adequately summed it up in Of Men and Galaxies, when he wrote, "It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only." His talk of "high intelligence" is unfortunately wrapped up in the Eurocentric chauvanism of his day, but the point stands: the resources necessary to create civilization have largely been consumed by civilization.

The most immediate of these is soil. Agriculture depletes soil; that's why it so often results in deserts, like the aforementioned cedar forests of Iraq. Richard Manning plots out this history nicely in Against the Grain, but the westward push of Western civilization has been driven by civilization's need to stay ahead of its own consequences. By 1960, all of the world's arable land was being farmed, and the old strategy of moving west failed. Since then, the Green Revolution has allowed civilization to continue by basing it entirely on fossil fuels. But beneath the six feet of natural gas-derived fertilizer, most of the world's farmland is already desert. Most of the Great Plains is no longer naturally fertile, but requires significant petrochemical input to keep it going. So in the near-term, there's the problem that the soil has been largely exhausted, and only rare pockets of viable agricultural land remain throughout most of the world.

In the long term, global climate change will end not just the Holocene interglacial, but the whole Pleistocene ice age. Agriculture arose when and where it did because it was a uniquely Holocene adaptation. Outside of that global climate context, it no longer makes sense. So in the longer term, climate change will make agriculture difficult, if not impossible, for quite some time to come.

Then there are the economic metals and fossil fuels which we have so thoroughly depleted. What is left is left precisely because it is the hardest to get to, requiring an industrial infrastructure to get to it. So our civilization has become somewhat tautological: it takes an industrial infrastructure to keep up an industrial infrastructure. In this situation, any interruption will eliminate the possibility of civilization for geological time.

In just the right climate, with just the right soil, you might see agriculture arise again, but it will be severely limited until the next ice age sets in, and then just the right interglacial (like our Holocene, or the Eemian), in just the right region with just the right combination of domesticable plants and animals. Even then, they'll be capped to the Neolithic in scale until geological time has passed, allowing for metals to be pushed closer to the surface and fossil fuel reserves to be renewed. So, in hundreds of millions of years, yes, civilization could come back. Of course, by then, we won't even be Homo sapiens anymore, and we'll need to account for significant continental drift. On those sorts of time scales, I think it's pointless to keep worrying, since things like "we'll no longer even be the same species" will frustrate any prediction we might be able to worry about.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2007


Pouring from the empty into the void.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 AM on July 21, 2007


« Older Nurses speak out: Grey's Anatomy sucks, Sonic...   |   Elvis Lives. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post