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"Nasty, brutish and short" indeed
September 1, 2007 5:03 PM   Subscribe


 
Is there a "Fred Flintstone wannabe" option?
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on September 1, 2007


Isn't 'poseur hipster' a superfluous expression?
posted by rolypolyman at 5:23 PM on September 1, 2007 [5 favorites]


If you have to ask, definitely phd. Especially when they got to the PBR.
posted by Eekacat at 5:25 PM on September 1, 2007


Isn't 'poseur hipster douchebag' triply redundant?
posted by pineapple at 5:25 PM on September 1, 2007 [7 favorites]


This guy's brilliant. Can't even forage up a shirt and a pair of pants in the city.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:27 PM on September 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


If you have to ask it's douchebag.
posted by carfilhiot at 5:32 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


How come he needs to use a sharpie to write on his cardboard?
posted by furtive at 5:34 PM on September 1, 2007


I hope he's going to singlehandedly bring back the loincloth.

We need more loincloths, people!

Seriously, though, how is he posting on his blog? Does he have some kind of Gilligan's Islandesque Cocnut-powered Mac made with Hemp or something?
posted by Avenger at 5:44 PM on September 1, 2007


Seriously, though, how is he posting on his blog?
There was an article about him in Ready Made which I can't seem to find on line, but in it, they mentioned that he was sleeping in a teepee (tepee? tipi?) in his friend's back yard.

So I guess he has very patient friends. With wifi.
posted by dersins at 5:48 PM on September 1, 2007


Well, he's no Thoreau, that's for certain.

But if he convinces even one spoiled city dweller that they need to have at least a modicum of survival skills, good on him.

As long as he's not, say, defrauding folks or doing horrible things to people, that is.
posted by batmonkey at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2007


Douchebag attention whore.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:06 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Keep Portland Weird"!
posted by mrnutty at 6:06 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Urban Scout - Web site + courage of convictions = Alexander Supertramp.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:09 PM on September 1, 2007


he sounds not so much like a poseur *hipster* douchbag as more of a poseur Eustace Conway wannabe.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:09 PM on September 1, 2007


Oh, and Alexander Supertramp = Christopher McCandless

But hey, they're making a movie about the jackass...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:10 PM on September 1, 2007


Oh, you'll also notice that Urban Scout's girlfriend apparently keeps a razor handy to shave her legs.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:16 PM on September 1, 2007


It's funny how widespread blogging and Internet advocacy is with the rewilding crowd. And with funny, I kinda mean hypocritic. You can't have both, you know.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:47 PM on September 1, 2007


I have to say right off, I don’t much feel like blogging today. ...

Well, then, don't.

Cursory glance says douchebag, though perhaps a sincere one. There used to be a back-to-the-earth movement around here, called the Zendik Farm, and they would hang around on street corners, selling their horrible literature, and berating us members of the "Death Culture." I used to love sparring with them, though they were mostly an unarmed opponent. ("Dude -- you're wearing Levis and Nikes, and you're telling me I have a consumer problem?" .... "Well, uh, we uh, do what we can...") They were sincere douchebags, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:49 PM on September 1, 2007


Having not read a word of the site, I don't know about poseur or hipster. But one look at the face and it's a lead pipe cinch that guy is a douchebag.
posted by DU at 7:01 PM on September 1, 2007


I crawled through several levels of hyper-linked buzzwords, to reach idealogical dreck. Is there anything human, like, perhaps, a story here? Doing my best to suspend judgment, until grokking is.
posted by paulsc at 7:10 PM on September 1, 2007


Great-big-Giant-orange-bulb-thing-at-the-bottom-like-your-grandmother-used-to-use-before-we-found-out-it-was-actually-worse-for-the-vagina-than-doing-nothing-at-all DOUCHEBAG!
posted by Wonderwoman at 7:46 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


He walks the streets of Portland wearing a loincloth, his skin marked by mud camouflage.

Why the FUCK would you need mud camouflage in a city? Especially if you wear a bright red bandana on your wrist?

Poseur? Hell yes!
posted by c13 at 8:53 PM on September 1, 2007


anyone can do that shit in portland - i wanna see him do it in detroit
posted by pyramid termite at 9:03 PM on September 1, 2007 [6 favorites]


I know him tangentially through the troupe of like-minded folks around town. It's not my cup of tea, but as best I can tell the Urban Scout business is sincere, earnest and well-meaning, and much of the douchebaggery is owned-up to. It's an experiment, after all.

Oh, and in chasing down links for this, I note that Penny Scout might agree with the hive mind. Gossip among yourselves.
posted by mumkin at 9:18 PM on September 1, 2007


I thought hipster, douchebag and poseur were all synonyms
posted by 517 at 9:20 PM on September 1, 2007


Devil's Rancher -here they are.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:28 PM on September 1, 2007


Oh, you'll also notice that Urban Scout's girlfriend apparently keeps a razor handy to shave her legs.

I keep a #5 plane handy to shave the back of my left arm. While I'm not sure how long this guy would last in the real wilderness (or that I would do any better) I think he's probably competent to rub a piece of metal on a wet rock.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:35 PM on September 1, 2007


"I believe that Civilization will collapse in my lifetime."
And there's never been a generation where there wasn't someone else with the same idea.
posted by 2sheets at 9:39 PM on September 1, 2007


I keep a #5 plane handy to shave the back of my left arm.

Um.

Really?

Why?

I think he's probably competent to rub a piece of metal on a wet rock.

Judging by his blog and his myspace page, I would tend to disagree with that assertion.
posted by dersins at 9:59 PM on September 1, 2007


Um.

Really?

Why?


Makes it easier to plane. Leaves a better finish.

I think he's probably competent to rub a piece of metal on a wet rock.

If you're going to rub a piece of metal on a rock to shave, why not rub a regular knife or a straight razor? Is that too close to the evil civilization?
posted by c13 at 10:04 PM on September 1, 2007


Mefite jefgodesky gets a shout out from Penny Scout.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:53 PM on September 1, 2007


Yeah, but when the apocalypse comes, you're all going to come crawling back apologizing and asking him to teach you how to make signs with Sharpies.
posted by salvia at 11:23 PM on September 1, 2007


or poseur hipster douchebag?

I dunno about that but someone should make him view his choice of background colours on a Dell notebook screen. I didn't know green could make your eyes water like that.
posted by Zinger at 11:58 PM on September 1, 2007


Cursory glance says douchebag, though perhaps a sincere one. There used to be a back-to-the-earth movement around here, called the Zendik Farm, and they would hang around on street corners, selling their horrible literature, and berating us members of the "Death Culture." I used to love sparring with them, though they were mostly an unarmed opponent. ("Dude -- you're wearing Levis and Nikes, and you're telling me I have a consumer problem?" .... "Well, uh, we uh, do what we can...") They were sincere douchebags, too.

I'm not sure if this is derailing or not, but I've always wondered how to logically convince someone of something when they're being completely inconsistent and irrational. I mean, sure, sincerity is great! And then you point out something that's wrong with their argument, or something that they're doing that goes against what they're telling you, or the fact that it's totally over the top and unsustainable, or whatever, and they kind of go "yeah, well, you're a poop head" and continue doing whatever they're doing.

I guess education would help. Presenting alternatives to them. Pointing out what they could do that would help things in general as opposed to what they are really doing which is probably more like masturbation.

Oh well.
posted by blacklite at 12:14 AM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was waiting for the part where he says Ishmael is his inspiration. I didn't have to wait long.
posted by tylermoody at 12:26 AM on September 2, 2007


I've always wondered how to logically convince someone of something when they're being completely inconsistent and irrational.

Many have tried.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:31 AM on September 2, 2007


You know, I'm pretty sure that we'd all have been spared this blog if he'd ever been a Boy Scout.
posted by lekvar at 12:56 AM on September 2, 2007


Looks like someone taking the piss
posted by zog at 3:31 AM on September 2, 2007


Oh, you'll also notice that Urban Scout's girlfriend apparently keeps a razor handy to shave her legs.

But if she's ever in need of vaginal irrigation, all she has to do is attach a hose to her boyfriend and she's good to go.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:45 AM on September 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


What would suck would be that this is just web posuering douchery, but then civilization would indeed collapse.

And the antics of this goofball and his mates actually was something they lorded over the rest of us soft, weak tyros of the new a-poc-key-clipse reality.

Then I'd really be hating.

O what small joy I receive from adding 'douchery' to my laptop's dictionary.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 8:07 AM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


if you want to prepare for a post-apocalyptic landscape look at Baghdad... 'Scout'd be better off joining a church, a well-armed church. plenty of those is the pacific nw.
posted by geos at 8:49 AM on September 2, 2007


Yabba Dabba douchebag!
posted by Wonderwoman at 9:04 AM on September 2, 2007


Urban Scout's awesome. No, he's no more the absolutist, purist ideologue that people try to paint him as than I am, so keeping a razor or even a laptop on wifi is no more hypocritical than getting a vaccine. Noting that a situation is bad doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Never stops the hypocrisy argument from piping up, of course, but even if you agree with us that civilization is a bad thing, that doesn't mean we don't have to deal with it.

He's done a lot to spread some awareness about sustainability, primitive skills, and some of the ecological problems we're facing, and I have to admit, he does it with style. I go for the copious academic arguments, but Scout makes it look cool. If you're asking if he's a "poseur hipster douchebag," the joke's on you.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:07 PM on September 2, 2007


but Scout makes it look cool

You may want to rethink your definition of "look cool."
posted by dersins at 5:18 PM on September 2, 2007


He's done a lot to spread some awareness about sustainability, primitive skills, and some of the ecological problems we're facing, and I have to admit, he does it with style.

Oh please! Sustainability? Primitive Skills? Newsflash: primitive skills are PRIMITIVE. Anyone can learn them in a very short amount of time if they need to. Don't believe me? Talk to pretty much any war refugee.
Making a camp fire in your friend's back yard to cook a run-over squirrel you picked up on the side of the road is not rocket science. Neither is searching through piles of trash. Most of the people in the world are doing that, or something close to that every god damned day. But apparently it takes a high school diploma to realize the fact that there aren't enough of dead squirrels to support a large population of the "Urban Scouts", or that in order for them to feel all cool and righteous about living out of a garbage can, there has to be a city full of people who make and buy things that are later thrown away. And that if/when civilization collapses, roadkill and trash disappear as well, so all those mad urban scouting skilz will become useless. Not that they weren't to begin with. Why the fuck do you need to make fire by rubbing sticks? How long do you think it will take for all the other methods of making fire to disappear from the city? And for the love of sweet jesus, why would you need to know how to build a shelter out of sticks IN THE CITY? There aren't enough buildings around? The only reason you would need to wear a mud camouflage is to hide from normal people so they don't call the ambulance to come and haul your ass to an insane asylum.
The real skills needed during the collapse, like how to get water and sewers running again so you don't drown in your own shit, how to rig up an emergency electrical grid, how to treat diseases and keep public order actually require hard work to learn, which is not nearly as cool as living in your friend's back yard, running a blog and impressing white suburban hippie wanna-be's.

And jefgodesky, civilization is not some alien space ship that landed in the middle of the village and fucked things up for poor innocent us. It's you, your parents, loved ones, your children and your friends. If you think it's bad and are waiting for it to collapse, do us all a favor and get off the bus. If all you're good for is removing roadkill, road crews are entirely sufficient. Last thing we need is more parasites.
posted by c13 at 7:53 PM on September 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


No, he's no more the absolutist, purist ideologue that people try to paint him as than I am, so keeping a razor or even a laptop on wifi is no more hypocritical than getting a vaccine.

hypocrite isn't how i'd describe him - pretentious fuckwit would be more like it

unless someone's out there in the wilderness, proving they can survive with nature based tools, it's all pretentious bullshit
posted by pyramid termite at 8:14 PM on September 2, 2007


Oh please! Sustainability? Primitive Skills? Newsflash: primitive skills are PRIMITIVE. Anyone can learn them in a very short amount of time if they need to. Don't believe me? Talk to pretty much any war refugee.

War refugees don't know primitive skills, that's why they're in such dire straits. If they had primitive skills, they'd be able to provide for their needs and wouldn't need the UN and foreign aid. Primitive skills take about a decade to learn in a functioning, primitive society. For us, trying to learn it later in life and only part-time, it can take even longer. Figuring out everything else that goes into a functioning primitive society is an even taller order.

And that's the consensus view of everyone who's ever tried learning primitive skills, which seems an awful lot more relevant to me than people who don't actually know primitive skills.

But apparently it takes a high school diploma to realize the fact that there aren't enough of dead squirrels to support a large population of the "Urban Scouts", or that in order for them to feel all cool and righteous about living out of a garbage can, there has to be a city full of people who make and buy things that are later thrown away. And that if/when civilization collapses, roadkill and trash disappear as well, so all those mad urban scouting skilz will become useless.

Wow, talk about missing the point. Can primitive living support 6.5 billion people? No. But then again, neither can permaculture, horticulture, or even the good-old "organic agriculture" that turned Iraq's old-growth cedar forest into the modern desert wasteland, gave us the word "meander" from the impact of erosion on the Meander River in Greece, and turned the Great Plains into the Dust Bowl. The only thing that can support 6.5 billion people is industrial agriculture, and that's completely unsustainable. So this constant repetition of how primitive living can't support 6.5 billion people needs to be finally put aside. Nothing can support 6.5 billion people. Primitive living is the only long-term sustainable mode of society humans have ever had; everything else destroys its own basis, some faster than others, but none of them are sustainable. That means that we're going to have to return to primitive living--one way or another. It can be forced on us when our unsustainable society tears itself apart, so that only those living primitively (or ready to live primitively) survive, or we can try to make the descent as gradual and painless as possible.

Urban Scout is helping make that descent more gradual by introducing people to primitive skills. You're ... well, doing the opposite. Scout's methods are satirical and ironic, but the skills he's going over in the context of urban refuse doesn't change in any fundamental way when it's a rabbit in the woods instead of a squirrel from a park. When the urban context is gone, frankly, that's when the skills he's teaching become most important.

The real skills needed during the collapse, like how to get water and sewers running again so you don't drown in your own shit, how to rig up an emergency electrical grid, how to treat diseases and keep public order actually require hard work to learn, which is not nearly as cool as living in your friend's back yard, running a blog and impressing white suburban hippie wanna-be's.

Those are some of the most useless skills you could possibly have. Wasting your time on that is why collapse is so likely to hit the First World so hard, precisely because there are so many people who think like that. What good does getting an emergency electrical grid up do you when the major grid is never going to be restored? Sewers and public order only matter if you're going to try to keep plugging away at a system that never worked and has finally given out.

And jefgodesky, civilization is not some alien space ship that landed in the middle of the village and fucked things up for poor innocent us. It's you, your parents, loved ones, your children and your friends.

No, those are people. Civilization is not people. Civilization is a system. It's a system that tells people what to do, but it's not a collection of people.

If you think it's bad and are waiting for it to collapse, do us all a favor and get off the bus.

That's actually very much what we'd like to do, but you haven't made that terribly easy. You know the #1 reason that indigenous people are imprisoned? Poaching. A government comes in and claims to control the land they've lived on for millennia, passes game laws, and begins arresting native people for practicing the same hunting patterns they've followed, in their terms, since the beginning of time. Camping laws, zoning laws, hunting laws, fishing laws ... you've claimed every square inch of the planet and passed laws that make it all but impossible to pursue any other way of life. Socrates' argument about implicit consent because you never left made a lot more sense in his day, when there were still othe places to go. Repeating an old argument when its premises are no longer true doesn't really work.

hypocrite isn't how i'd describe him - pretentious fuckwit would be more like it

Well, everyone has their opinion. Upthread there were plenty of people calling him a hypocrite, though, and that only works if you project views onto him rather than consider his actual views. "Pretentious fuckwit" can hold, since it's much more meaningless. That just tells us you don't like him.

unless someone's out there in the wilderness, proving they can survive with nature based tools, it's all pretentious bullshit

That sounds idiotic to me, like saying that someone who wants to live on the other side of the river has no business getting wet, but hey, at least it's just your opinion.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:55 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


That sounds idiotic to me

really? imagine how it would sound to the average bushman

you're pretentious - you want to go back to some kind of idealized, romanticized primitive "sustainable" existence and haven't got the first idea of how to do it, or how to survive doing it

but hey, at least it's just your opinion

survival as a hunter gatherer is not a matter of opinion - you can either do it or you can't
posted by pyramid termite at 9:40 PM on September 2, 2007


really? imagine how it would sound to the average bushman

Probably also idiotic. They grow up in a society learning how to live like that. They've encountered us enough to know that the smartest and sanest of us are illiterate psychopaths, so I don't imagine they'd expect us to be able to pick it up without ever learning it first, either.

you're pretentious - you want to go back to some kind of idealized, romanticized primitive "sustainable" existence and haven't got the first idea of how to do it, or how to survive doing it

Maybe I'm pretentious, maybe I'm not, but that just plain isn't true. My views of hunter-gatherer life is based on ethnography; I'm actually at odds with idealized, romanticized views fairly often. Putting "sustainable" in quotes like that with reference to the only way of life to prove its long-term sustainability is just plain silly. And as for the encompassing claim that I haven't the first idea of how to do it or how to survive doing it is simply ridiculous, considering I've been explicit about the plan I'm following, I'm still on track with it, and not only have I survived it thus far, but it's hard to see what future points would put me in particular danger, either. Is it the fishing trips you don't expect me to survive? Basic camping? The backcountry camping after that?

survival as a hunter gatherer is not a matter of opinion - you can either do it or you can't

That is true, in the trivial sense. The interesting question is how you get from can't to can.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:49 PM on September 2, 2007


That is true, in the trivial sense. The interesting question is how you get from can't to can.

three months straight with no tools a native american in the pre-columbian world would have used ought to prove it nicely ... get back to me when you do that and i'll stop calling you pretentious
posted by pyramid termite at 10:00 PM on September 2, 2007


Oh, look-- he noticed us.

You need at least 50 haters. That way you know you’re doing shit right, makin’ waves and getting yourself out there. More Haters means More badassness on your part.”

You know who else had more than 50 haters?
posted by dersins at 11:00 PM on September 2, 2007


Those are some of the most useless skills you could possibly have. Wasting your time on that is why collapse is so likely to hit the First World so hard, precisely because there are so many people who think like that.

Dude, you're an idiot. Don't mean to be insulting, but you just are. Much like your buddy the scout. The vast majority of people like you are middle class single white and healthy. The only people you really have to look after are yourselves, and if you fuck up, there is always someone to fix your ass up. That's why you can afford to fuck off and behave like 8 year olds. (I think for most of us camping in the backyard got old at that point). Wait till you get a family of your own.
Looking at the pictures, the Urban Scout lives in an industrially made tent in his friend's backyard, and can afford to fly half way across the country to bone the pretty Penny Scout, who picks him up at the airport in a car. What happened to sustainability and the can-do attitude? Why couldn't he walk or do what all the other bums do and hop on a freight train? Can't waste time when booty calls, eh?
These masters of primitive sills didn't even realize that modern cars have heatshields around the exhaust manifold and you have to take them off if you going to cook food in the engine bay, like you've heard you could do on the internet. You also need a big engine.
Now then, what is going go happen when the scout, in all his infinite primitive wisdom, bones the Penny chick in the wrong hole at the wrong time and she becomes pregnant? Let's say it's ectopic pregnancy. Is he going to do the surgery himself or just let her die? What if it's a normal pregnancy and they end up with a child? Are they going to keep it in a tent?.
posted by c13 at 4:52 AM on September 3, 2007


I don’t have the $5 it takes to sign up for that shit,

even the woman who goes through my apartment's dumpster weekly for plastic bags and such could cough up $5

it's not the $5 he lacks, but the 2 balls

hater? - again, he's being a pretentious fuckwit - he hasn't done anything important enough for anyone to hate him
posted by pyramid termite at 7:14 AM on September 3, 2007


You need at least 50 haters. That way you know you’re doing shit right, makin’ waves and getting yourself out there. More Haters means More badassness on your part.”

Hey youall, watch this! 50 people told me not to stick fingers into a socket. What the hell do they know, it's gonna be so badass.
posted by c13 at 8:53 AM on September 3, 2007


three months straight with no tools a native american in the pre-columbian world would have used ought to prove it nicely ... get back to me when you do that and i'll stop calling you pretentious

Well, that is my goal. I'm not sure what's pretentious about working towards a goal you haven't reached yet, but then again, I also don't really care that you call me pretentious, either.

Wait till you get a family of your own.

Check. What now, daddy?

Looking at the pictures, the Urban Scout lives in an industrially made tent in his friend's backyard, and can afford to fly half way across the country to bone the pretty Penny Scout, who picks him up at the airport in a car. What happened to sustainability and the can-do attitude? Why couldn't he walk or do what all the other bums do and hop on a freight train? Can't waste time when booty calls, eh?

Holy hell, that's way out of line. How would you like to read a paragraph like that about two of your friends on a "booty call"? There are actual people involved here. A modicum of basic human decency seems called for.

But that's the kind of purist foolishness that gets projected onto anyone who suggests it might be a good idea to not destroy the living community that keeps us alive. Fact of the matter is, we live in civilization. We don't have tribes. Cars and airplanes are sometimes the only options we really have. Call it hypocrisy if you have to, but it doesn't contradict anything we've ever actually said, just what you've projected onto us. We're concerned with always taking one more step, not some puritanical dream that's simply impossible in the world we live in.

even the woman who goes through my apartment's dumpster weekly for plastic bags and such could cough up $5

it's not the $5 he lacks, but the 2 balls


No, the masochism.

hater? - again, he's being a pretentious fuckwit - he hasn't done anything important enough for anyone to hate him

And yet, here we are, so you've really got to ask what that says about, well, you, no?
posted by jefgodesky at 8:57 AM on September 3, 2007


Scrub would like to add:

Just a quick word of support for our (mostly loved, but apparently from some quarters hated) Scout. His article on skinning & butchering his roadkill squirrel a couple months back gave me the prodding and example I needed to get me past the mental block of not knowing where to begin with my own dead rodents. I passed up several opportunities over the last year for making full use of our furry neighbors’ deaths, but the first chance I got after reading Scout’s article, I made myself do it (”Hell, the way Scout details and describes it makes it look pretty straight forward!”)

So, I applaud Scout for his shining example and inspiration–I feel pretty confident plenty of other people out there learn from his activities both offline and online.

By the way, I wanted to post this to metafilter, but I don’t value giving them feedback enough to shell out $5 for it, so I’m just posting it here.


Having already paid my $5, I thought Scrub's experience might add a bit to this discussion. Sure, it's fairly evident that pretty much no one here bothered to read even the most basic things Scout has written about why he does what he does, before telling us all the nasty reasons you've felt free to attach to him, but Scrub's experience is pretty typical. Scout's theatrics are pretty comical in themselves, but they've inspired and instructed many people to push themselves a little further. And the orgy of cynical, ill-informed hatred here? Has anyone pushed themselves a little further, or tried something new thanks to that? No? The hell you say!

As fun as MetaFilter can be as a way to waste time, Scout does something important. So, haters' orgy aside, still looks to me like Urban Scout 1, MetaFilter 0.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:23 AM on September 3, 2007


Scout does something important

He lives in a tent in his friend's back yard, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, and occasionally skinning and eating a piece of roadkill.

Sometimes he poses for pictures wearing adorable little American Apparel shorts, a camo t-shirt, and hightop converse.

You may want to re-evaluate your definition of "important."
posted by dersins at 9:48 AM on September 3, 2007


You may want to re-evaluate your definition of "important."

I really have to ask at this point, do you somehow just honestly not get it, or does it take hard work, dedication and commitment to not getting it?
posted by jefgodesky at 10:21 AM on September 3, 2007


I have to say, I'm really enjoying the unintentional irony of this thread. Pointing to something that was meant to be a joke and saying, "Ha-ha! This idiot takes himself so seriously, he doesn't even know how stupid he looks!" is kind of like pointing to a clown and laughing, "You idiot, you look so dumb! I can't believe you're out in public like that!"
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 10:28 AM on September 3, 2007


I'm not sure what's pretentious about working towards a goal you haven't reached yet

the pretentious part comes when one writes as if it's already been achieved or such achievement is inevitable or desirable

you don't know any of that yet and THAT'S what makes it pretentious

And yet, here we are, so you've really got to ask what that says about, well, you, no?

except that you're here too, and whatever you say about me because of that, you have to say about yourself

I really have to ask at this point, do you somehow just honestly not get it, or does it take hard work, dedication and commitment to not getting it?

i asked my local crows what they thought of all this and they said that they prefer to have the roadkill for themselves

they don't get it either, i guess
posted by pyramid termite at 10:41 AM on September 3, 2007


come to think of it, the people in calhoun county don't get it either - that's why, whenever there's a deer/car collision, the deer inevitably gets scooped off the road - if the owner of the car doesn't do it by reporting it to the police and paying for the license, then mysterious other people are sure to do it

it's been that way for decades

that's another reason why urban scout seems pretentious to me - he's doing stuff that people have done in MY neck of the woods for ages and acting like it's something new

let me know when he gets up to the level of harvesting deer roadkill like the pros in calhoun county do - if he can push himself that much further, that is
posted by pyramid termite at 10:54 AM on September 3, 2007


the pretentious part comes when one writes as if it's already been achieved or such achievement is inevitable or desirable

you don't know any of that yet and THAT'S what makes it pretentious


First of all, since when has jefgodesky written "as if it's already been achieved"? In everything he's written, he's been very upfront about how he's still on the road to learning these skills.

Second of all, if it's pretentious to write as if "such achievement is inevitable or desirable," I guess it's pretentious to talk about how you're planning to do some spring cleaning. Because who ever said that spring cleaning was desirable? Or that it's inevitable that you'll be able to clean your house?
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2007


Pointing to something that was meant to be a joke

So he is a poseur-hipster douchebag, then? I mean, either he's sincere or he isn't.

If it's a joke, then he's not sincere about it.

Which would pretty much make him the definition of poseur.
posted by dersins at 11:03 AM on September 3, 2007


If it's a joke, then he's not sincere about it.

Which would pretty much make him the definition of poseur.


You may find this hard to believe, dersins, but some people have a sense of humor about themselves, and are capable of poking fun at not just themselves, but their own deeply-held beliefs. Strange, I know, but there are people like that out there.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 11:06 AM on September 3, 2007


the pretentious part comes when one writes as if it's already been achieved or such achievement is inevitable or desirable

If you can manage to look just past what our particular culture has been doing for the slightest sliver of human existence, you'll note that this is pretty much how all humans lived until very recently, and even up to a few hundred years ago was still the way most humans lived. Even as late as Columbus' arrival, it looks like the Americas may have had a bigger population than Eurasia.

As far as inevitable or desirable, that just takes a few moments' observation.

you don't know any of that yet and THAT'S what makes it pretentious

I make the case for why it will happen that way. What's pretentious about making an argument?

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

except that you're here too, and whatever you say about me because of that, you have to say about yourself

Wha, huh? Have you been paying attention? To recap: Urban Scout's a friend of mine. I think he's quite worthy of a thread here, but I don't think he deserves the hate you've dumped on him. I think he's well worth the attention. You're saying he's not, and that he doesn't deserve even your hate, and yet there were 42 comments about how awful he is before I even saw this thread. So for me to stick up for a friend that I think deserves recognition doesn't really say nearly the same thing as your participation in a thread about someone that you've deemed, "a pretentious fuckwit - he hasn't done anything important enough for anyone to hate him." Get it?

they don't get it either, i guess

Oh, it sounds like they got it, all right. There's a reason that crow's the trickster of the Pacific northwest, and it's certainly showing there.

that's another reason why urban scout seems pretentious to me - he's doing stuff that people have done in MY neck of the woods for ages and acting like it's something new

When did he say it was something new? Actually, he's been saying it's something very, very old. He's just introducing it to people who've never done it before, and that's something very worthwhile.

Let me guess, we shouldn't teach kids about history, either, because other people already know that, too. Is that pretentious, too?

let me know when he gets up to the level of harvesting deer roadkill like the pros in calhoun county do - if he can push himself that much further, that is

Actually, he did that just recently.

First of all, since when has jefgodesky written "as if it's already been achieved"? In everything he's written, he's been very upfront about how he's still on the road to learning these skills.

Oh, when I've achieved it. Well no, I'm nowhere close. Never said otherwise. But you've got to start somewhere, and however bad you might be, I've probably got you beat, so if I can do it, really, anyone can.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:14 AM on September 3, 2007


anyamatopoeia and jefgodesky,

I didn't much cotton to your lifestyle when it was brought up in previous threads, so thinking it might just be me, I read your site through and found some other literature. I think your approach needs work.

If it's possible for you to travel to say, Brazil, and learn from real tribespeople how to live a "primitive lifestyle", why not do it? It'd certainly earn you more respect than a project like this. The generations of experience these tribespeople have is not easily reproduced by the sort of experimentation shown here, which I really found denigrating to actual tribal cultures who possess tested knowledge. It's like you're muddling through trying to write Shakespeare based on a book of literary criticism and a film clip of a Cockney. You can write something, but there are better methods to achieve the same result. How could you do better than to learn from a people who truly rely on these skills, firsthand? If it's truly your passion, you're doing yourself a disservice to not at least try the approach.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:34 AM on September 3, 2007


But how would they get Pabst Blue Ribbon and tiny American Apparel shorts in the Brazilian jungle?
posted by dersins at 11:51 AM on September 3, 2007


Holy hell, that's way out of line. How would you like to read a paragraph like that about two of your friends on a "booty call"? There are actual people involved here. A modicum of basic human decency seems called for.

Oh, I'm sorry. It wasn't a booty call it was "survival training".

Actually, he's been saying it's something very, very old. He's just introducing it to people who've never done it before, and that's something very worthwhile.

Most normal kids have done most of the things he's posting about on his site by the time they were 12. Camping in parent's back yard? Check. Going camping and building a lean-to? Check. Eating squirrels or pigeons? Check, except we've actually hunted ours. Building campfires? Check again. Getting covered in mud? Check. But then most of us grow up.
What's pathetic about you guys is that you've had such sheltered childhoods that you're experiencing things like that just now and you treating them like some revelation you must carry to unwashed masses. You don't realize that everybody else has already been through this stage and moved on to more mature things. Boy Scouts have been camping, making fire with sticks and skinning rabbits since 1910 and even the hippies are getting old. You are at least 100 years behind the curve. What's next? You all will discover a canoe and come tell us about a cool way the ancient Indians got across a lake, and that now you've got some post-apocalyptic paddling skills?
So if you've finally learned how to put up a tent by the age of 20, I say good on you. Welcome to the outside, there are plenty of things to do and learn around here. But please get off the soap box before you fall and hurt yourself.
posted by c13 at 11:51 AM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Think about how this looks to an observer when you seek to defend yourself. You're doing this independently, autodidactally. Even if you had this in mind for decades, your relative experience level is still lower than say, a veteran Army Ranger, and far lower than an actual tribe. You could learn a lot more from either source than you could hashing out the the political theory underlying your choices. I couldn't find the longest you've ever been camping, and I say this completely unsarcastically, but why not do it year round? Telecommuting is here, and you could do worse than shoot for an intermediate state. Or perhaps go to work in a profession that puts you closer to the wilderness. Why not?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:55 AM on September 3, 2007


Autodidactically, even.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:57 AM on September 3, 2007


If you can manage to look just past what our particular culture has been doing for the slightest sliver of human existence, you'll note that this is pretty much how all humans lived until very recently,

but you and scout haven't lived that way yet - which is why it's pretentious of you to hold it up to us as the ultimate destiny of mankind, especially when you haven't proved that it IS the ultimate destiny, that you would survive under that destiny, or that you would enjoy it

As far as inevitable or desirable, that just takes a few moments' observation.

how come you haven't been able to convince most of your listeners then?

I think he's quite worthy of a thread here, but I don't think he deserves the hate you've dumped on him.

i haven't dumped any hate on him - i've simply called him a pretentious fuckwit

you're being awfully sensitive, aren't you?

So for me to stick up for a friend that I think deserves recognition doesn't really say nearly the same thing

and i'm sticking up for the idea that civilization is a worthy thing for man to have accomplished - an idea you hold in contempt

so we're both sticking up for something - and we're both arguing on the internet - and you don't have a personal hotline to the goddess of nobility, m'kay?

Actually, he did that just recently.

"How I Painlessly Lost My Road Kill Deer Virginity"

he even writes like a pretentious fuckwit - or he's got one of the most disgusting fetishes i've ever heard of

But how would they get Pabst Blue Ribbon and tiny American Apparel shorts in the Brazilian jungle?

their mothers would airmail them, along with chocolate chip cookies

You are at least 100 years behind the curve. What's next? You all will discover a canoe and come tell us about a cool way the ancient Indians got across a lake, and that now you've got some post-apocalyptic paddling skills?

wait till urban and penny scout discover sex - they'll be sure to tell us ALL how wonderful that is and how we can do it, too

*cues suzi quatro*

"primitive man makes primitive love"
posted by pyramid termite at 2:06 PM on September 3, 2007


but seriously, here's the real problem -

you have nothing to offer us

nothing

you can't promise us survival - hell, you haven't even learned the skills yourself yet - you can't promise us that we're going to enjoy surviving that

you're not delivering one damn thing to us that the eventual survivors of a collapsed, never to rise again civilization aren't going to figure out for themselves without your help or even ever having heard of you

that's right - EVEN IF YOU'RE RIGHT, you STILL have nothing to offer us - EVEN IF YOU'RE RIGHT, all you have for us is the dead end of a hunter-gatherer humanity that will never become anything else and will eventually pass into nothingness

if it doesn't happen, then you're just going to look stupid - if it does happen, you're not going to do anything useful about it anyway, including guaranteeing your personal survival
posted by pyramid termite at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


How will Urban Scout berate us with his sanctimonius advice if the Apocalypse wipes out the internets?
posted by fandango_matt at 3:18 PM on September 3, 2007


Here in Berkeley, we also have mud-covered folks who rant incoherently, hold up Sharpie-marker signs, live outdoors and eat roadkill and garbage. But we just call them Homeless People.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:22 PM on September 3, 2007


The serious part of me asks -- given that we live in the system we do, is spending this time training for the post-collapse world really the best use of time and resources? The shit happening to the natural world really is happening now. Most of us have some measure of power and influence over "civilization" and what it does. Pretending to live in the fantasy post-apocalypse world when someone could be actively trying to minimize real damage occurring now is abdicating that power. It's like someone spending time preparing their soul for heaven rather than doing good works now.

But hell, I can't rail too hard on 21-year-olds having fun and being entrepreneurs. Hell, I'd like to learn to make beef jerky, so why not get myself an agent and do photo shoots in the process?
posted by salvia at 3:41 PM on September 3, 2007


How will Urban Scout berate us with his sanctimonius advice if the Apocalypse wipes out the internets?

Smoke signals. Out of his ass.
He's been practicing.
posted by c13 at 3:42 PM on September 3, 2007


If it's possible for you to travel to say, Brazil, and learn from real tribespeople how to live a "primitive lifestyle", why not do it?

We've been learning quite a bit from quite a few real tribal cultures. Of course, none of them are exactly taking applications, either. You're born into a tribe; it's a family. We don't get to just join one. So we've got to form our own, reconcile to the land we live in, and figure out what works here.

The generations of experience these tribespeople have is not easily reproduced by the sort of experimentation shown here, which I really found denigrating to actual tribal cultures who possess tested knowledge.

No, it's not, but that's all we've got. You have to start somewhere.

How could you do better than to learn from a people who truly rely on these skills, firsthand? If it's truly your passion, you're doing yourself a disservice to not at least try the approach.

If they were taking applications, I'd be on the next flight out. But a tribe doesn't work that way. It's not that easy. Sure, they might welcome us as guests, but they'll eventually want us gone. They're not going to give us their equivalent of a full education, either, and what they'll show us will be highly adapted to a land we won't be living in. That's a very valuable thing. That's why I have a degree in anthropology. But it won't get you all the way.

But how would they get Pabst Blue Ribbon and tiny American Apparel shorts in the Brazilian jungle?

I'll tell you what: give us a place where we can actually hunt and gather and live freely, and you can keep your Pabst Blue Ribbon and your American Apparel shorts. But so long as you're forcing us at gunpoint to participate in this clusterfuck economy, little taunts like that will remain completely infantile.

Oh, I'm sorry. It wasn't a booty call it was "survival training".

It's two flesh-and-blood, human people in a frickin' relationship, and you hiding behind online anonymity to be a complete dick.

Boy Scouts have been camping, making fire with sticks and skinning rabbits since 1910 and even the hippies are getting old

I dropped out of Boy Scouts quite young, but Urban Scout is also an Eagle Scout. He wrote to me to say, "I don't know what century they live in, but the Boy Scouts doesn't teach shit anymore. I did not learn any survival skills, even after taking the wilderness survival merit badge."

Even if you had this in mind for decades, your relative experience level is still lower than say, a veteran Army Ranger, and far lower than an actual tribe.

Actually, having talked to some Army Rangers, their level of primitive skills is abysmally low. Of course, they just want to stay alive long enough to get rescued, and if that's the name of the game, they probably do better than me. But if it's about living out there, I think I'm already ahead of them, frankly.

But it is far lower than an actual tribe, absolutely. That's a deficit we need to do our best to close, because it's unlikely we'll ever entirely overcome it.

You could learn a lot more from either source than you could hashing out the the political theory underlying your choices. I couldn't find the longest you've ever been camping, and I say this completely unsarcastically, but why not do it year round? Telecommuting is here, and you could do worse than shoot for an intermediate state. Or perhaps go to work in a profession that puts you closer to the wilderness. Why not?

That's frankly something we've been working towards. That's one step down the road, still a few steps down, but one of the things we'll hit along the way. I don't write about the theory of all this to help myself, I write it because it seems to help others. What I've been doing so far, I've considered too basic to bother posting much about. Plenty of others do it better. We've come up with a few unique takes, and we post those along the way, but I write mostly about theory because I know how far back I'm working from.

Longest we've gone camping yet is a week, and we managed to forage half of our food. We want to keep pushing that a little further each time. We're always trying to take one more step. And yeah, one day, we're going to make it yearlong, and telecommute to make enough money to pay for the licenses and taxes we'll still need to pay, which hopefully will one day be the only things we need to pay for. But we didn't grow up in a tribal society, so you can hardly expect these things to happen at the drop of a hat. Rewilding takes time. Whether you're able to do it tomorrow is not nearly as important as whether or not you're going to push yourself a little harder tomorrow than you did today.

but you and scout haven't lived that way yet - which is why it's pretentious of you to hold it up to us as the ultimate destiny of mankind, especially when you haven't proved that it IS the ultimate destiny, that you would survive under that destiny, or that you would enjoy it

Well, we know that nothing else works, so I'd say that speaks pretty clearly to it as the "ultimate destiny of mankind" (though it's such a varied way of life I can't see using such a singular term), and the people who have lived it survive well enough and happily enough. What glimpses we've had of it have been really great, some of the best moments of our lives. But that still doesn't make sense as a rationale for how we're "pretentious" ... we have an idea of how we'd like our lives to be, and we're working towards that. How pretentious!

how come you haven't been able to convince most of your listeners then?

I've actually convinced a good number of those who've taken the time to actually listen. There's really just a few, overwrought zealots like yourself who have all the rationality of a fundamentalist Christian preaching to a room full of atheist Jews working for Planned Parenthood. For people like that, it's not a matter of evidence, it's a matter of faith. You can't convince people like that of anything.

i haven't dumped any hate on him - i've simply called him a pretentious fuckwit

you're being awfully sensitive, aren't you?


Perhaps we're working on differing definitions of "hate," then.

and i'm sticking up for the idea that civilization is a worthy thing for man to have accomplished - an idea you hold in contempt

so we're both sticking up for something - and we're both arguing on the internet - and you don't have a personal hotline to the goddess of nobility, m'kay?


That ... hot damn, are you able to hold conversations with people in real life? I swear, you have the memory of a goldfish. See, YOU are the one saying he isn't worth your hate. But you keep taking the energy to post about how he's a "pretentious fuckwit." So while this means that your time is so worhtless that it can be spent commenting on someone you don't believe is even worthy of contempt, it does not follow that someone like me who thinks he is worthy of the attention is similiarly worhtless, because I don't think the attention is unworthy. See how that works? I know it takes a few seconds of concentration, so I hope I didn't lose you along the way to something shiny.

that's right - EVEN IF YOU'RE RIGHT, you STILL have nothing to offer us - EVEN IF YOU'RE RIGHT, all you have for us is the dead end of a hunter-gatherer humanity that will never become anything else and will eventually pass into nothingness

That about sums it up.

3 million years of human evolution? Nothing. The basic human condition? Meaningless. They didn't build skyscrapers and turn the world into a desert; all they did was make the Great Plains and the Amazon rainforest, living happily and sustainably with each other as part of a thriving ecology. What a dead end.

That's right, pyramid termite. If the only things you value are the relentless slavery and destruction that civilization has brought us, the enormous monuments to vicious tyrants, the endless toil just to survive, the constant plagues and wars and famines, if that's all humanity is good for, if that's the only thing that matters, if a good and happy life, well-lived, is the nothingness of a dead end, then yes, I have nothing to offer you. And anyone that perverse to value power over life, I hope they all rot with their grand edifices and monuments, basking in all the love and warmth they can offer.

The serious part of me asks -- given that we live in the system we do, is spending this time training for the post-collapse world really the best use of time and resources? The shit happening to the natural world really is happening now. Most of us have some measure of power and influence over "civilization" and what it does. Pretending to live in the fantasy post-apocalypse world when someone could be actively trying to minimize real damage occurring now is abdicating that power. It's like someone spending time preparing their soul for heaven rather than doing good works now.

Not if you really understand the situation. It's not like civilization just became unsustainable recently. It's a 10,000 year history of desertification and expansion as a desperate race to stay ahead of its own consequences. That's not something you can just go and fix with some hybrid cars and some florescent light bulbs. Civilization was a flash in the pan; we're going back to what works, the only question about it is whether we'll make that transition consciously and relatively painlessly, or whether it will be forced on us by catastrophe, and then it will happen violently.

The way humans react to problems, my money's on catastrophe. I'd like to be proven wrong, though, and that's where people like Urban Scout come in. If you want to avoid catastrophic die-off, Urban Scout is one of the people doing the most to actually avoid that. None of Al Gore's solutions, or even Leo DiCaprio's come even close to addressing the problems we face. The more people who start rewilding now, starting to hunt, gather, and do some permaculture, the closer we'll come to avoiding catastrophic die-off. Urban Scout's doing that. Who else here is doing that?
posted by jefgodesky at 4:58 PM on September 3, 2007


Well, we know that nothing else works

no, "we" don't, because you haven't proved it

3 million years of human evolution? Nothing. The basic human condition? Meaningless. They didn't build skyscrapers and turn the world into a desert; all they did was make the Great Plains and the Amazon rainforest, living happily and sustainably with each other as part of a thriving ecology. What a dead end.

pay attention - i wasn't talking about 3 million years of human evolution, the basic human condition, or any of that - i was talking about YOU

If the only things you value are the relentless slavery and destruction that civilization has brought us, the enormous monuments to vicious tyrants, the endless toil just to survive, the constant plagues and wars and famines, if that's all humanity is good for, if that's the only thing that matters, if a good and happy life, well-lived, is the nothingness of a dead end, then yes, I have nothing to offer you.

well, there is the entertainment value of watching you rant insensibly about that bad old civilization that not only did all that, but produced you, too

that's a preposterous summation of human history 101 and you flunk

I swear, you have the memory of a goldfish.

once you've gulped down one brine shrimp, you've gulped down all of them

So while this means that your time is so worhtless that it can be spent commenting on someone you don't believe is even worthy of contempt, it does not follow that someone like me who thinks he is worthy of the attention is similiarly worhtless, because I don't think the attention is unworthy. See how that works?

it works as well as a brine shrimp riding a bicycle - or you riding your hobby horse

but i repeat myself ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on September 3, 2007


Jef, I'm not talking about compact fluorescents. I'm talking about suing the (US) federal government to save the salmon that I'd like to eat when civilization collapses (or if it doesn't). We have power now, as people with legal rights within this "civilization," that animals and future generations don't have. I want the salmon to not be extinct. Learning to catch and smoke them can come later.

After the collapse, (depending on which collapse narrative if any comes true), I'll happily devote all my time to leaching tannins out of acorns and whatnot. (I'm hoping I'll be able to live off scavenged oreo cookies while I get that figured out.) In the meantime, it appears to me that there are more useful things to do, environmentally-speaking.

permaculture...Who else here is doing that?
There are definitely some Mefi permaculturists. Did you read the recent AskMe thread on growing vegetables?
posted by salvia at 5:38 PM on September 3, 2007


posted by jefgodesky The more people who start rewilding now, starting to hunt, gather, and do some permaculture, the closer we'll come to avoiding catastrophic die-off. Urban Scout's doing that. Who else here is doing that?

I don't quite understand how donning a loincloth, covering yourself with mud, and living in someone's backyard while mooching free rides to pick up roadkill and writing sanctimonius rants in a blog will save us from ourselves. Real change happens when you shift the attitudes of the public and vote to implement policies that will support your world-view of an ecological utopia. Urban Scout is just an obnoxious and paranoid asshole who believes the only way to survive the imminent end of the world is by living like a caveman with WiFi, as opposed to voting and working to enact the changes which might prevent the apocalypse he thinks is nigh.

I'm interested to know when, if, and for whom and what Urban Scout voted, and I wonder if he'll doing this in ten years, because by then I'm sure he'll be carrying his belongings in a shopping cart and holding a sign that says "THE END IS NEAR!" Godspeed, you crazy freak.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:42 PM on September 3, 2007


I wonder if he'll doing this in ten years, because by then I'm sure he'll be carrying his belongings in a shopping cart and holding a sign that says "THE END IS NEAR!"

no, he'll be doing advertisements for gander mountain and free lance consulting for companies and governments that want to reach the "urban frontier" market niche

maybe he'll get a comic strip and be the mark trail of the 21st century

all the guy needs is a manager
posted by pyramid termite at 5:52 PM on September 3, 2007


I'm sympathetic to the possibility that what you're describing may happen, but again I have to question your conclusions. My grandfather went "camping" in Siberia for months with almost no training, stuck in what amounted to a lean-to, digging ditches. His near-starvation rations soon ran short, so he collected wild mushrooms and berries. He treated his own wounds and worked backbreaking hours.
If he were alive and in his youth, he'd survive in the future you're talking about.
You and Urban Scout would do better than me, but I'd be dead more or less instantly. If it really does happen in your lifetime as severe as you predict, the people who would survive would be the toughest of survivalists, whether backwoods folk in the US, or miners in Siberia, or the tribals themselves. How long have you or Urban Scout gone without food or water?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:54 PM on September 3, 2007


If I truly believed civilization was going to collapse in our lifetimes (as Urban Scout does) and wanted to minimize suffering in the transition, my personal #1 priority would be to work to get the pollution (mercury and PBDEs) out of San Francisco Bay so people could eat fish from there. (Making matching hand-tanned leather short-shorts would be low on my priority list.)

all the guy needs is a manger
Penny Scout has an agent already, he could get a name from her.
posted by salvia at 5:57 PM on September 3, 2007


Not that I'm trying to say his publicity-seeking is a bad thing. John Muir was a genius at marketing and publicity.
posted by salvia at 6:09 PM on September 3, 2007


no, "we" don't, because you haven't proved it

Me, all by lonesome? No. But it's been proven quite well, for anybody who has an interest in evidence. Rather than put it all out one more time, I'll just link to the last time I proved it.

pay attention - i wasn't talking about 3 million years of human evolution, the basic human condition, or any of that - i was talking about YOU

What the hell do I have to do with anything?

that's a preposterous summation of human history 101 and you flunk

Sure, civilizations produce the occasional bit of good things. Tools, technology, science, art, music. The things that every human culture produces, and so civilizations, as a subset of human cultures, do, too. Not the best technology, philosophy, art or music, but good samples all around, nonetheless. Those things have as much to do with defining civilization as mammary glands have to do with defining humans. But I was talking about the things that define civilizations as something other than all the other kinds of human cultures: cities, agriculture, concentration of wealth, poverty, disease, malnutrition, slavery, war, etc. That's a perfectly justifiable summation of human history 101. A lot of people don't know that, mind you; the flunkies who think civilization has something to do with art or technology. But you wouldn't be one of them, now would you?

I'm talking about suing the (US) federal government to save the salmon that I'd like to eat when civilization collapses (or if it doesn't). We have power now, as people with legal rights within this "civilization," that animals and future generations don't have. I want the salmon to not be extinct. Learning to catch and smoke them can come later.

Think about that for a minute, though. Who are the people who want salmon to go extinct? Nobody. Nobody wants them to go extinct, we just have a system that doesn't really care if they do or not, because it acts as if the survival of salmon is something that doesn't really concern the humans who need salmon to survive. One manifestation of that system is the whole complex of laws, with concepts like "ownership" and "property rights," that divides the world into persons, and properties. Where does keeping the salmon alive fit into that equation? Suing the government to keep salmon alive isn't going to change a thing, even if you could mount the support necessary to overcome the massive monetary interests involved. It's not like we're working here with a basically good system with just a few flaws; this is a fundamentally broken system that has been destroying every ecosystem it's come into contact with since the moment it started. It can no more be made sustainable than you can make fire cold. Anything gained inside that system isn't just momentary, it's pyrhhic, because even if it does spare the salmon, it stills strengthens the system as a whole to carve out even more destruction everywhere else.

When you're confronted with that, a lawsuit does more harm than good. It's not just the salmon you need to protect, but every ecosystem and every species on the planet. You can't expect civilization to commit suicide just because you ask it nicely. It can only be abandoned.

After the collapse, (depending on which collapse narrative if any comes true), I'll happily devote all my time to leaching tannins out of acorns and whatnot. (I'm hoping I'll be able to live off scavenged oreo cookies while I get that figured out.) In the meantime, it appears to me that there are more useful things to do, environmentally-speaking.

It appears to me that everything else is self-defeating.

There are definitely some Mefi permaculturists. Did you read the recent AskMe thread on growing vegetables?

I don't keep a close track on AskMe, but I'm glad to hear that. We need more of that, a lot more, and Urban Scout's helping that along.

I don't quite understand how donning a loincloth, covering yourself with mud, and living in someone's backyard while mooching free rides to pick up roadkill and writing sanctimonius rants in a blog will save us from ourselves.

Only if it inspires you to start rewilding yourself. He's on his way, and along that way, his posts and style have helped others. He has a very different style from mine, that's for sure, but there are also plenty of people who respond to that style. It takes a sense of humor that pretty much no one here shares, obviously, but as someone who does get it, this whole thread really does read like someone who just didn't get the joke. So let me affirm for that non-MeFite population that does get it, that the sanctimonious posing you're all riled up against is a joke. An earnest, Trickster-style joke that's done pretty well for capturing the attention of a good number of people, and for that, Urban Scout has done an immeasurable amount of good.

Real change happens when you shift the attitudes of the public and vote to implement policies that will support your world-view of an ecological utopia.

It would be rude to laugh hysterically, but ... when was the last time the world actually changed, in any significant way, from any policy being implemented? "Implementing policy" has got to be the most useless way to waste your time instead of actually doing something that's ever been invented. Real change never happens as a matter of policy; it always happens when you're able to reach enough people (or, more often, when the changing circumstances reach them first). And for that, Urban Scout's done a world of good.

I'm interested to know when, if, and for whom and what Urban Scout voted...

Wow. You actually, honestly believe that voting makes a difference?

I can't really make a counter-argument, I'm just stunned to find a specimen in the wild. I thought you'd all gone extinct decades ago. I still go through the motions, but I don't think I've ever actually believed it amounted to anything but a hollow legitimizing ritual.

If he were alive and in his youth, he'd survive in the future you're talking about.

Sure, and there's always examples like that. And even more times when it goes the other way. You can always jump off a sinking ship and hope you can learn to swim that moment, but wouldn't you be better off if you already know how to swim? The future could be very bleak indeed for those who keep their faith in civilization and try to the end to make it work. I figure most people who survive will have never heard the word "primitivism," simply because it's such a fringe of a fringe. But those who have will likely have an edge up on those who haven't. The idea of abandoning civilization will occur more readily to them, and they may have some idea of where to start. It's about increasing your odds, and ultimately, the odds of the whole human race. I don't want to see us go extinct, and this is the best way I know of to help that, and to help save as many lives--human and otherwise--as possible along the way.

If it really does happen in your lifetime as severe as you predict, the people who would survive would be the toughest of survivalists, whether backwoods folk in the US, or miners in Siberia, or the tribals themselves.

I doubt it. The hard-bitten survivialists have a mentality that's nearly suicidial in the long-term: they don't realize the value of community. They very often rely heavily on industrial artifacts: guns or canned foods, for instance. However big your cache may be, it will eventually run out, and then what will you do? Primitive people the world over say the biggest asset they have is each other. I don't expect very many hard-bitten survivalists to make it at all, because even with all their skills and training, they've always focused on staying alive long enough to get rescued, they've never bothered learning about how to make a living.

How long have you or Urban Scout gone without food or water?

That's kind of the attitude I'm talking about, the attitude that thinks that question is relevant. The question isn't how long you can go without water, but how your society can ensure that you have clean, healthy drinking water throughout the year.

If I truly believed civilization was going to collapse in our lifetimes (as Urban Scout does) and wanted to minimize suffering in the transition, my personal #1 priority would be to work to get the pollution (mercury and PBDEs) out of San Francisco Bay so people could eat fish from there. (Making matching hand-tanned leather short-shorts would be low on my priority list.)

Yeah, but how? I've been involved with Friends of Allegheny Wilderness, to ensure there's some ecologically viable core of forest left. There's a lot of problems up there, and I've been experimenting with some mycoremediation to try to help, but there's a lot of permanent damage that's probably been done, too. Yes, we'll be inheriting a vastly impoverished world, but at least it's still alive. For the moment.

Penny Scout has an agent already, he could get a name from her.

Where the hell did you hear that load? Oh, don't tell me you got that from this little parody? You don't actually believe she has an actual publicist, do you? I have to ask only because, like I said, nobody here has gotten the joke, and it's frankly a little embarrassing....
posted by jefgodesky at 7:36 PM on September 3, 2007


posted by jefgodesky when was the last time the world actually changed, in any significant way, from any policy being implemented? "Implementing policy" has got to be the most useless way to waste your time instead of actually doing something that's ever been invented. Real change never happens as a matter of policy; it always happens when you're able to reach enough people (or, more often, when the changing circumstances reach them first).

I'd say the EPA and the Civil Rights movement reflect postive changes in society--I don't quite understand what exactly it is that you're protesting, but the fact you're using a computer powered by electricity and probably using a toilet and washing your hands with water that drains into a municipal sewer leads me to believe you're nothing more than a sanctimonius twit who has no idea what affecting real change in the world entails while you sanctimoniusly preach the virtues of your Fred Flintstone life on your blog and message boards. But hey, rock on with your Cro-Magnon skills and drop us a line from your WiFi cave if you have one, and if I happen to see you at intersections with your hand-lettered Sharpie sign, I'll smile and wave because I know you're just trying to educate us heathens, on our way to our clean and well-lit homes to sleep in beds made of money.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:06 PM on September 3, 2007


It would be rude to laugh hysterically, but ... when was the last time the world actually changed, in any significant way, from any policy being implemented?

Just how fucking old are you? A few random examples from the top of my head, in no particular magnitude or order: childhood vaccination, the Crusades, CFC emission standards, building codes, Communism, public health policies, Holocaust, fractional reserve system, public education, Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, Kyoto Treaty (we'll have to see how this one works out), Potsdam Agreement, Abolition of Slavery, Women's Suffrage, Civil Rights, commercial aviation, the interstate system, Colonialism, the very god damned Internet you're on...
All these things didn't just happen out of nowhere, they were a result of some specific policy. If you and Urban Scout actually took time to do you homework instead of fucking off in the back yard, you would've realized that it's not so much rude to laugh hysterically at this notion, as it is plain embarrassing. You're making it obvious that you have no clue of how the world works, your place in it, your origins and your destination -- something that is much more vital for survival than knowing how to start a fire with sticks when a regular lighter is available, or which trash can has the yummiest bits.
When you or the Urban Scout actually INVENT something, a technique, or maybe even some original thought, something that hasn't been proposed, tried and discarded a thousand times before you got a chance to read about it on the internet, people will be much more receptive. Until then, don't be surprised at the ridicule, it is a perfectly normal consequence of leaving the confines of the lunatic ward.
posted by c13 at 8:26 PM on September 3, 2007


Me, all by lonesome? No. But it's been proven quite well

no, it hasn't - i've already torn apart enough of your theses to show them up for the illogical net.kookery they are

those who are curious can look up your posting history for our last couple of longish debates

i've caught you cherry picking the evidence, slanting things to make your points look good, redefining things for your benefit, disregarding contrary evidence as biased against hunter gatherer societies, and insisting that you've "proven" the coming collapse of civilization past the point of no return before it's even happened

i'd call you intellectually dishonest, but unfortunately, you actually believe you are indulging in rational thought when you delude yourself like this

What the hell do I have to do with anything?

nothing - i believe that was my point

A lot of people don't know that, mind you; the flunkies who think civilization has something to do with art or technology. But you wouldn't be one of them, now would you?

as opposed to what? a hopeless malcontent who realizes that he's doomed to mediocrity if he follows the crowd and so decides that he's going to crow loudly that the whole business is doomed, just so he can tell himself that he's wiser than the rest in some way?

except, of course, i've run across your kind before, 27 years ago, hunched around campfires at neo-pagan gatherings insisting that the great mother will take care of her own as the rest of the human race gets flushed

how painful it must have been for them to at some point realize that they were going to live mundane lives of non-apocolyptic events

The hard-bitten survivialists have a mentality that's nearly suicidial in the long-term: they don't realize the value of community.

which is why they live in rural areas where everyone knows all their neighbors, right?

a person who questions our civilization so much shouldn't be so prone to accept its unthinking stereotypes
posted by pyramid termite at 8:58 PM on September 3, 2007


They're talking about us over yonder in Urban Scout's blog.

Jason Godesky Says:
September 3rd, 2007 at 9:28 am

Hey, no problem. There are a few decent, open-minded folks over [at MetaFilter], but for the most part, it’s the Leftist equivalent of a fundamentalist church. Unfortunately, they get a lot of traffic, so every time primitive skills or civilization comes up, there’s a slew of people who get just blatant misinformation from this ill-informed and closed-minded assholes, so I slough through the trenches so the innocent passer-by at least has a fighting chance. It’s awful, thankless work, but somebody’s got to do it.

posted by fandango_matt at 10:33 PM on September 3, 2007


# Jason Godesky Says:
September 2nd, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Don’t let it get to you. MeFites are haters’ haters. My own commenting history at MetaFilter is basically a record of just about every argument the site’s ever had about civilization, and you can see how it goes down. With a few notable exceptions, not only have they never questioned the value of civilization themselves, but they have a rabid, irrationally ferocious response to anyone else doing so, either. Not only do they trot out the same, tired arguments that were completely vapid centuries ago, but they keep on repeating them, over and over and over again, sometimes immediately after I just posted the counter-argument that shows why it’s wrong. I swear, even when I was a good faithful Catholic boy, listening to old ladies chanting the Rosary, I never heard mantras intoned so religiously to ward off the evil eye. And the delicious irony is, they think of us as the irrational ones!

posted by fandango_matt at 10:44 PM on September 3, 2007


It’s awful, thankless work, but somebody’s got to do it.

Heh.. no, they are not poseurs at all...
But I guess it's all the better they stay there.
posted by c13 at 11:03 PM on September 3, 2007


The fantasy about eating salmon after the apocalypse is about the most insane thing I've ever seen committed to Metafilter.
posted by Kirklander at 11:10 PM on September 3, 2007


The fantasy about eating salmon after the apocalypse is about the most insane thing I've ever seen committed to Metafilter.

It's not my fantasy. It's an "if you believe in the apocalypse, this would be important" going-along-with-their fantasy. In case I didn't make that clear above.
posted by salvia at 11:44 PM on September 3, 2007


Apparently the chief reason Penny broke up with Urban Scout is because he has the odor of a man who does not believe in bathing.

He shaves, though. I find that highly amusing--isn't an unkempt beard like a membership card for Rewilding Men?
posted by fandango_matt at 12:06 AM on September 4, 2007


I'd say the EPA and the Civil Rights movement reflect postive changes in society...

Compared to immediately before them, when all we had was the crisis? I suppose. But considering that civilization created the problem and then did a piss poor job of fixing it, I don't consider that a startling victory.

...but the fact you're using a computer powered by electricity and probably using a toilet and washing your hands with water that drains into a municipal sewer leads me to believe you're nothing more than a sanctimonius twit who has no idea...

Et cetera ad nauseum. So you poison every freely available source of water, and then cry foul when someone uses the only sources you've left? I suppose that's the kind of logic you'd expect from someone who thinks that the EPA makes up for civilization's non-stop rampage.

All these things didn't just happen out of nowhere, they were a result of some specific policy.

In a trivial sense, maybe. What, you think Germany went from "we love Jews" to the Holocaust thanks to a policy? Policies along the way reflected changing public sentiment. You might as well make the case that people wearing shorts makes it summer.

You're making it obvious that you have no clue of how the world works, your place in it, your origins and your destination...

Funny, I was just thinking the same of your naive faith in policies as anything more than a stick in the mud. They might reflect changing sentiments along the way, but ultimately, no policy has ever changed anything.

When you or the Urban Scout actually INVENT something...

Ah, the fascination with invention. Neophilia and technophilia, what infantile disorders. Our underlying narrative that the world does't work and we need to invent everything is very much the root of the problem. The world was doing just fine before we decided it needed us to fix it.

no, it hasn't - i've already torn apart enough of your theses to show them up for the illogical net.kookery they are

Yeah, except it hasn't. Not once. Oh, sure, there's been no end of debunked hysteria and fallacious arguments thrown up against them, but nothing that stands more than a few moments' critical analysis.

i've caught you cherry picking the evidence, slanting things to make your points look good, redefining things for your benefit, disregarding contrary evidence as biased against hunter gatherer societies, and insisting that you've "proven" the coming collapse of civilization past the point of no return before it's even happened

Except you haven't. You keep claiming you have, but you haven't. Not once. Ever. No matter how many times you say otherwise, and my posting history clearly shows that. Of course, not to you, since you cherry pick evidence, slant things to make your points look good, redefine things for your benefit, disregard contrary evidence as biased, and insist you've "proven" me wrong.

i'd call you intellectually dishonest, but unfortunately, you actually believe you are indulging in rational thought when you delude yourself like this

Likewise!

nothing - i believe that was my point

Then, why are you talking about what I've done? Can't you maintain a line of argument for more than a few minutes? Sheesh.

which is why they live in rural areas where everyone knows all their neighbors, right?

That's a far cry from a functioning, much less sustainable, community. When you ask your average survivalist what it takes to survive, community never comes up, which is why they don't spend much time trying to create functioning communities.

fandango_matt, not sure what you think quoting me proves. Most people here are the Leftist equivalent of fundamentalist Christians. You're probably one of the best examples of it. And you're right, I despise being in threads like this, but somebody's got to make sure the innocent passer-by has a chance amidst all of this misinformation.

Heh.. no, they are not poseurs at all...

That's posing? Well hell's bells, Betsy, I guess we have some radically different definitions of that word, huh?

The fantasy about eating salmon after the apocalypse is about the most insane thing I've ever seen committed to Metafilter.

Why? What else are you going to be eating?

Apparently the chief reason Penny broke up with Urban Scout is because he has the odor of a man who does not believe in bathing.

Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

(I'm giving you the benefit of the dobut and assuming that under normal circumstances, you'd be a normal human being)

But Scout, like me, believes very much in bathing.

He shaves, though. I find that highly amusing--isn't an unkempt beard like a membership card for Rewilding Men?

No. Or at least, it shouldn't be. Hell, the Haudenosaunee plucked each individual hair off their chest with clam shells. With all that extreme time, real primitive men spent a good amount of time and energy on looking pretty, being well-groomed, and smelling nice. If you read some of the early accounts of Europeans meeting Indians, they're mostly impressed at how they're so much cleaner and better looking than the Europeans--all of them.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:30 AM on September 4, 2007


Except you haven't. You keep claiming you have, but you haven't. Not once. Ever. No matter how many times you say otherwise, and my posting history clearly shows that. Of course, not to you, since you cherry pick evidence, slant things to make your points look good, redefine things for your benefit, disregard contrary evidence as biased, and insist you've "proven" me wrong.

"i know you are but what am i?" - nice work, pee wee - you can't even work up a coherent rebuttal of my description of our past arguments without stealing my words to do it

here's the bottom line - civilization hasn't ended yet - until it does your case is NOT PROVEN - period

and by the way, you really shouldn't accuse people of infantilism when you're the one who's insisting that we should all turn the clock back 10,000 + years

Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

bad idea + obsession + audience = true believing net.kook

if i had a time machine and took you to a 3 million a.d. earth with a functioning civilization, you'd still insist that it was all going to fall apart in 100 years, never to rise again

there isn't any evidence at all that could convince you otherwise
posted by pyramid termite at 7:12 AM on September 4, 2007


"i know you are but what am i?" - nice work, pee wee - you can't even work up a coherent rebuttal of my description of our past arguments without stealing my words to do it

I could, but that would miss the point: that you're delusional, and you keep assigning to me precisely what you've been doing. I hate to engage in this kind of psychobabble, but it really is classic projection.

here's the bottom line - civilization hasn't ended yet - until it does your case is NOT PROVEN - period

That's some of the most ridiculous thinking I've ever heard. If you're in a plane with both wings sheared off, plummeting towards the earth, and somebody tells you to grab a parachute, are you going to tell him, "Here's the bottom line - we haven't crashed yet - until we do your case is NOT PROVEN - period."

It doesn't take a great deal of intellectual effort to note when a plane is crashing, any more than it takes a great deal of intellect to puzzle out that any society that destroys its own ecological foundation won't long survive. That such a system will collapse is about the only thing that can be reliably said about it.

and by the way, you really shouldn't accuse people of infantilism when you're the one who's insisting that we should all turn the clock back 10,000 + years

Why? 10,000 years is a very short time in the evolutionary scheme of things, particularly when we've spent the entirety of that 10,000 years expanding west, precisely because that's where you'll find land that we haven't turned into a lifeless desert yet. This whole business of "turning back the clock" is an incredible example of double-talk. You grab a hot stove and it burns, do you say, "No, I can't turn back the clock to when I didn't have my hand on a hot stove, I have to keep it here no matter how much it hurts GRAAWHH!!!"? That would make you an idiot.

I suppose if you're that wrapped up in the mythology of constant progress, then (and only then) does this notion of "turning back the clock" make any sense whatsoever. But as soon as you note that we don't always progress--sometimes we get worse, and sometimes we just do things differently--then the whole notion becomes complete balderdash. Of course you're not turning back the clock. The clock keeps going. It will still be Wednesday tomorrow, whether you buy irradiated, sickly meat from a grocery store, or hunt down some high-quality wild game and cook it. The question is what kind of future do we want. Do we want a future that works, a future that's sustainable and healthy for both humans and the ecologies we live in? Or do we want to keep on going destroying the ecological foundations for our existence until we drive ourselves into extinction? That's the choice. Hasn't a thing to do with clocks.

if i had a time machine and took you to a 3 million a.d. earth with a functioning civilization, you'd still insist that it was all going to fall apart in 100 years, never to rise again

Not necessarily. I'd have to take a look at how they managed to overcome all the intrinsic problems of civilization. My guess is, in order to survive to 3 million A.D., this "functioning civilization" would have to first and foremost give up everything that makes a culture a civilization. But I'd have to see an actual example, not just a pointless sci-fi fantasy.

there isn't any evidence at all that could convince you otherwise

There is, actually. Again with the projection. See, I didn't grow up with this point of view. I came to it because the evidence is overwhelming. So if the evidence points in a different direction, I'll go that way instead. I've made plenty of public and embarrassing conversions before, when the evidence was convincing. Unfortunately, your fantasies about a civilization millions of years in the future is not something I consider particularly compelling as evidence.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2007


Okay, perhaps one last crack at explaining myself.

That's kind of the attitude I'm talking about, the attitude that thinks that question is relevant. The question isn't how long you can go without water, but how your society can ensure that you have clean, healthy drinking water throughout the year.

I see. Many tribal societies were never able to assure that, and unless you've developed a way to preserve clean water I don't know of, no amount of simple planning will solve the problem. But that's not really your point. You earnestly believe you can actually help prepare for a massive, multigenerational collapse by taking camping trips and every so often butchering a deer? "Rewilding takes time"...okay, let me try to explain this way.

Say someone wants to join the Old Order Amish. It's not an easy task. You have to learn the theology, be accepted into the culture, and speak a whole new language. This person, in preparation, buys books and films about the Amish and studies them really thoroughly. But the Old Order Amish no longer seek converts. Rather than joining another, more inclusive group, this person starts their own Amish Church. But he's not Amish yet himself, and he knows this, so he decides to set up a weblog where others can follow along. His close friends join him. He publishes lengthy defenses of Amish religion and culture, but continues his workaday job. He knows a little Pennsylvania Dutch, but not enough to speak the language, and hand sews outfits based on pictures in his books. He sees no reason to visit Amish Country, because he believes his Church will grow on its own when people read his blog. Very occasionally, he raises a 3/4 scale barn with his friends, and blogs about a full-scale barn. Meanwhile, practicing Amish continue on never hearing of him, and in the interim one or two other people have actually joined the Amish independently of him.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2007


Then he films himself prancing around the city in an Amish outfit trying to convince everybody that the only way to survive the coming apocalypse is to join his church.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2007


That's some of the most ridiculous thinking I've ever heard.

what? - that someone should actually demand real proof from you? - that at the end of the day, or the civilization, we actually demand to see results?

extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof

If you're in a plane

we're not

the movies in your head are not proof of anything

(room reserved for more weak ass quotations from the wit and wisdom of pee wee herman)

Again with the projection.

your limited understanding of psychology and your puerile attempts to use it to win an argument are the kind of sophomoric "proof" you've offered us in your other arguments

reading through a couple of pop psychology books and memorizing some terms does not qualify you to diagnose others on the internet, and it's a measurement of your weak thinking and your lack of objective judgment that you actually believe it does

But I'd have to see an actual example, not just a pointless sci-fi fantasy.

and a post collapse hunter gathering society isn't a "pointless sci-fi fantasy"?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:14 AM on September 4, 2007


Then he films himself prancing around the city in an Amish outfit trying to convince everybody that the only way to survive the coming apocalypse is to join his church.

no, he's more like the guy on a plane who's running around saying that we're all going to crash until the other passengers tie him up and gag him as an extreme annoyance

BEFORE the plane takes off
posted by pyramid termite at 8:18 AM on September 4, 2007


whether you buy irradiated, sickly meat from a grocery store, or hunt down some high-quality wild game and cook it.

Picking up a run over, slightly decomposed squirrel on the side of the road is NOT hunting a high-quality wild game! You're getting further and further away from sanity.
posted by c13 at 8:44 AM on September 4, 2007


Picking up a run over, slightly decomposed squirrel on the side of the road is NOT hunting a high-quality wild game!

When did he ever say it was?
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2007


Many tribal societies were never able to assure that...

Could you name one? I don't know of any. Seems to me that any culture that couldn't ensure its water supply would be gone in, well, a few days.

...and unless you've developed a way to preserve clean water I don't know of, no amount of simple planning will solve the problem.

There are plenty of ways to make water reasonably clean; boiling being the simplest. A descent sand filter, followed by boiling, is good for most water sources, so if you can combine that with a basic knowledge of where the good springs are, you're pretty much set in most areas.

You earnestly believe you can actually help prepare for a massive, multigenerational collapse by taking camping trips and every so often butchering a deer?

No, I earnestly believe that's where it starts.

He sees no reason to visit Amish Country, because he believes his Church will grow on its own when people read his blog.

Not quite. We're not really looking for people to join us right now; that'll happen on its own as time goes by, not because of our blog. I don't see a reason to go to the Amazon, because so few tribes remain even there who are still permitted to live sustainably. They're compelled to live like us by laws passed, often precisely to make their way of life impossible. But even if they did decide to show me the "old ways," for lack of a better term, it's still highly adapted to their own land. That's something your analogy doesn't really capture: Old Order Amish is Old Order Amish wherever you go. Hunting and gathering is always rooted in a particular ecology. In short, the only things they can really teach me are the general things, and I already have the general things. The only things that would still apply in the places I have to live, and the things that are so general that you can get them in a good ethnography. Anything more specific than that no longer applies to where I live. See what I'm saying?

what? - that someone should actually demand real proof from you? - that at the end of the day, or the civilization, we actually demand to see results?

You're not demanding real proof, you're suggesting that even if no other possibility exists, it's unproven until it actually happens. That's absurd.

extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof

"New, untested form of society turns out to not work so great." What's so extraordinary about that claim? Seems pretty common sense to me.

your limited understanding of psychology and your puerile attempts to use it to win an argument are the kind of sophomoric "proof" you've offered us in your other arguments

I did say it makes me a little queasy to have to point out the psychobabble, but in this case, it's true. The things you notice about others tend to be the things you secretly dislike about yourself. Considering that your Totally Awesome Proof that I'm wrong usually comes down to little more than snarking, and then you turn around and talk about my "puerile ... sophmoric ... arguments" is certainly telling.

reading through a couple of pop psychology books and memorizing some terms does not qualify you to diagnose others on the internet, and it's a measurement of your weak thinking and your lack of objective judgment that you actually believe it does

That's hardly a diagnosis. You won't find "projection" in the DSM IV. As for trying to diagnose somebody over the internet, though, perhaps we should take a quick look over some of the things you've diagnosed me for, hmmm?

and a post collapse hunter gathering society isn't a "pointless sci-fi fantasy"?

We know of hunter-gatherer societies. We know of hunter-gatherer societies that emerged after the collapse of civilizations. And we know that civilization is unsustainable, and the only possible alternative for it is collapse. Hunting and gathering is the only proven, sustainable form of human society. So no, it's not a pointless sci-fi fantasy; it's simple deduction. When you eliminate every other possibility, whatever remains is the truth. In this case, it isn't even unlikely, it's the standard mode of human existence throughout history. Look at human population graphed against time, and it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is a flash in the pan.

And that's before you even take a look at the ecological history of civilization. Manning's Against the Grain provides an excellent synopsis of this: we've been expanding for 10,000 years in a desperate race to stay ahead of the consequences of our past. In 1960, we ran out of arable land to expand into, and since then, we've been using the Green Revolution to expand instead. What next? When we run out of petroleum (and there's plenty to suggest peak oil is about now), how will we continue expanding? If you have to expand to stay alive, that's not a system that can work in a finite universe.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2007


You're not demanding real proof, you're suggesting that even if no other possibility exists

i'm saying that other possibilities do exist - your claim that they don't hasn't been proved yet

Considering that your Totally Awesome Proof that I'm wrong usually comes down to little more than snarking

no, i've made it quite clear in our previous conversations that you haven't proved your case

people can look this up for themselves, you know

and then you turn around and talk about my "puerile ... sophmoric ... arguments" is certainly telling.

"i know you are but what am i?" - at least next time use cut and paste so you can be sure of spelling all the words right

but all you're really doing is stamping your feet and yelling "i'm right", so expect nothing but snark if you continue - rational arguments are wasted on you

example -

Hunting and gathering is the only proven, sustainable form of human society.

except that it wasn't sustained - people stopped sustaining it, didn't they?

why? - they thought a new way would be better

so it's not sustainable, as people will eventually change it and you have no way of preventing that

i've pointed this out before - but it never gets through to you

(room for "but next time, it'll be impossible to rebuild, because, because I SAY IT IS" reserved)

If you have to expand to stay alive, that's not a system that can work in a finite universe.

1 it's not been proven that we have to expand to stay alive - it's quite possible that a steady state civilization could work

2 it's a matter of debate whether we live in a finite universe

but of course, you'll just tell me i'm wrong because civilization MUST collapse

now, i think i'll just join fandango matt and c13 - i'm going to make lots of seashells by sowing up leaves full of acorns and berries and calling it "roadkill helper"
posted by pyramid termite at 9:28 AM on September 4, 2007


i'm saying that other possibilities do exist - your claim that they don't hasn't been proved yet

I think it has been. What possibility has not yet been proven impossible? Agriculture is fundamentally unworkable, and always has been. Permaculture/horticulture could work, but they don't allow for cities, and hence, no civilization. What else is there?

no, i've made it quite clear in our previous conversations that you haven't proved your case

people can look this up for themselves, you know


They can indeed, and they'll see that your Totally Awesome Proof that I'm wrong usually comes down to little more than snarking. You've tried to make it clear that I haven't proven my case, but badly. You repeat the same arguments I've already rebutted, or go to ridiculous non sequiturs, but you've never presented any clear, logical rebuttal to anything I've ever said.

but all you're really doing is stamping your feet and yelling "i'm right", so expect nothing but snark if you continue - rational arguments are wasted on you

Holy shit, I'm the one stamping my feet and yelling "I'm right"? Rational arguments might be wasted on me, but how would you know? I can't find a single rational argument you've ever made against me.

except that it wasn't sustained - people stopped sustaining it, didn't they?

why? - they thought a new way would be better


That's not true, which I already previously proved, even when you stamped your feet and said "nuh uh." Agriculture did not spread peacefully as people adopted it as a better idea. It spread violently, as it conquered its neighbors who fought to the bitter end, preferring death to civilization. Considering that this pattern continued, without exception, well into the historical record, you would think that would be clear. Archaeologically, we see clear evidence of violent conquest from the Middle East into Europe, evidenced by arrow heads, skeletal evidence, genetics and demographics.

If you think of a society as analogous to an individual organism, sustainability isn't a question of immortality, but whether or not a person is killing themselves. Are you degrading the basis of your existence? In effect, are you committing suicide, whether slowly or quickly? That's a very different question than whether somebody's going to walk up to you and shoot you in the face. That hunter-gatherer societies were violently conqurered in a pattern of genocidal expansion by a voraciously unsustainable culture says nothing about their sustainability, any more than shooting a vegetarian athlete says that all those green, leafy vegetables and the vigorous exercise did him in.

so it's not sustainable, as people will eventually change it and you have no way of preventing that

Hunter-gatherers didn't accept agriculture; they were conquered. Naturally, cultural changes occur, and when and where the conditions allow for it, sure, civilizations arise. Fortunately, civilization occurs only from a very specific constellation of biological, ecological, and climatological factors which will not converge again for at least a few million years. Will civilization return then? I don't know; really, it's impossible to say, because that far into the future, we won't even be Homo sapiens anymore, so it's impossible to predict how we'll react when that possibility emerges again.

i've pointed this out before - but it never gets through to you

It gets through, it's just a trivial point. Consider this: a mutation, a quirk, can create a cell in your body that doesn't recognize itself as part of your body. So it grows without limit, creating a tumor. Civilization emerged from a very particular set of circumstances, to create a system that doesn't recognize itself as part of an encompassing ecological system, so it grows without limit. Now, by your logic, there's no point in trying to move beyond civilization, because the possibility still exists that another one might form later (even though, as we both know, not for millions of years, on a timeline where the point becomes meaningless)? Even if the possibility existed immediately, it would still be worthwhile, for all the same reasons that you wouldn't hesitate to remove a tumor just because a person still has a chance of developing another one later on. That a problem might recur in the future is no reason not to try to solve the problem you're faced with now.

(room for "but next time, it'll be impossible to rebuild, because, because I SAY IT IS" reserved)

That's never been my argument. In the near term, you don't have the soil quality. That's not what I say, that's what the UN says. There's very little naturally arable farmland left; nearly everything requires petrochemicals to grow anything. Without the several feet of imported nitrogen fertilizer on top of it, most of the Great Plains, for instance, is already a desert. This is well known.

In the long term (as in, several centuries), soil regenerates. But in that time scale, we'll see not just the end of the Holocene interglacial, but the encompassing Pleistocene, thanks to global warming. This, too, is well known. Agriculture is uniquely adapted to the Holocene climate, and the world global warming is most likely to leave us, in nearly every scenario, will be ill-suited to agriculture. Permaculture might work, but not agriculture. Permaculture can give you very complex. village-level societies, but it can't give you cities or kings or armies, so it's not civilization.

So that means we're now looking at geological time before the opportunity for a succeeding civilization opens up. One day, the earth will recover, and another ice age will come, and one day, that ice age will likely have an interglacial like the Holocene or the Eemian, and if there are still humans then, and if they're still anything like us, and if they're living in the right geographical area, and if they have access to enough of the very specific, closely related, and tiny set of domesticable plants and animals, then in that case, you have a good chance of seeing another civilization arising.

So, you tell me: why should we stop trying to stop the civilization threatening us with the extinction of the human race today, based on the possibility of another one arising millions of years from now?

And if you'd like, the follow-up question: where in any of that did I premise a word on "because I said so"?

1 it's not been proven that we have to expand to stay alive - it's quite possible that a steady state civilization could work

Oy vey. OK, back to basics, I suppose.

(1) Agriculture destroys its landbase. If you don't expand into new fields, the old fields die, the crops stop growing, and your civilization collapses. The unsustainability of agriculture requires constant expansion.

(2) The possibility for expansion creates a Prisoner's Dilemma. To escape it requires a cartel: getting everybody to agree to not expand, even though they could. Cartels always fail, becasue the reward for the first person to cheat eventually wins out. So no cartel can last forever (and usually, not even for very long).

So on both the ecological and sociological levles, civilization requires expansion. No workable proposal for a steady-state civilization has ever been made.

2 it's a matter of debate whether we live in a finite universe

Not really. "Universe" here need not mean the whole cosmos. For the moment, the only relevant level is the earth. Whether we're actually capable of moving beyond the earth is also a matter of debate, but even so, we will always be bound within a finite universe. The energy on Jupiter is quite irrelevant, since we can't get there. Jupiter is not inside the universe of relevant matter here.

but of course, you'll just tell me i'm wrong because civilization MUST collapse

Only because neither of your points are actually true.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:18 AM on September 4, 2007


Agriculture is fundamentally unworkable, and always has been.

i live within a couple of miles of farmers who disagree with that statement

there's no point in arguing with someone who makes obviously wrong statements like this

Hunter-gatherers didn't accept agriculture; they were conquered.

who were the first agriculturalists conquered by, then?

you have no proof of this, you only say it because it fits your ideology

So, you tell me: why should we stop trying to stop the civilization threatening us with the extinction of the human race today, based on the possibility of another one arising millions of years from now?

what gives you the idea you think you can?

scratch a hippie, find a fascist who thinks he can bring modern civilization to a screeching halt

and don't deny it - you have just melagomaniacally claimed that you want to stop civilization

you're fucking crazy

"Universe" here need not mean the whole cosmos.

yes, actually, it does need to mean that, because that is the commonly accepted definition

i just heard a car go by, a squeak and an acorn rolling around - do you want me to mail you supper?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:12 AM on September 4, 2007


I'm just going to ignore the 50 posts of Unkas vs Captain Rationality over here and say I find it interesting that this dude, who is interested in some things I'm interested in (although I have other interests as well, THANKS CIVILIZATION that my only interest doesn't have to be how to boil a squirrel's guts or what dying of typhus looks like from the inside) can have an aesthetic that I don't really care for and still say and do some interesting things. I like that. That's one of the things I like about how multifaceted life is, I dig THIS, but I don't dig THAT, woo neat.

I will say that if dude is the kind of hipster who at least tries to do something (even in a half-baked, "lifestylish" way) I'll take his brand of hipsterism over the New York brand of cheap coke, leg warmers and driving up rent prices in Brooklyn. Also funny is funny even if it's unintentional, dude lives in a teepee in a backyard and wears a loin-cloth and he's breaking up with his girlfriend, good stuff.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:19 AM on September 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


i live within a couple of miles of farmers who disagree with that statement

I have no doubt, but that's hardly evidence. We need to talk about numbers: erosion, salinity, and so forth, not what a farmer thinks about the way he makes a living. The very fact that modern farmers struggle now on land their grandfathers farmed easily should tell you something.

who were the first agriculturalists conquered by, then?

Ah-ha, I see where you're heading now. Sure, there was a place where it all started, but even they didn't become farmers because it was such a better way to live. They were forced into it out of desperation (at least, that's the consensus view).

you have no proof of this, you only say it because it fits your ideology

I've actually got extensive proof of this, which I already made mention of. It's a little much to just list here, but Richard Manning keeps some good endnotes in Against the Grain. You might also look for "demic diffusion" for the genetic evidence of how agriculture spread through violent conquest.

and don't deny it - you have just melagomaniacally claimed that you want to stop civilization

Why would I deny it? Yes, I want to bring exploitation, war, poverty, disease and ecological catastrophe to a halt. You're obviously a big fan of exploitation, war, povery, disease and ecological catastrophe. I'm not.

yes, actually, it does need to mean that, because that is the commonly accepted definition

Even the American Heritage Dictionary disagrees with you.

1. All matter and energy, including the earth, the galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.
2. The earth together with all its inhabitants and created things.
a. The human race.
b. The sphere or realm in which something exists or takes place.
3. Logic. See universe of discourse.
4. Statistics. See population (sense 5).

See definitions 2-4, though I was referring to #3, specifically. The cosmos is simply the ultimate universe, in which all other universes exist.

i just heard a car go by, a squeak and an acorn rolling around - do you want me to mail you supper?

That's all right, we've got plenty here. It'd go bad on the trip.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:39 AM on September 4, 2007


They were forced into it out of desperation (at least, that's the consensus view).

If you can get a concensus out of a bunch of anthropologists on a blanket statement like than then you are doing something!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:44 AM on September 4, 2007


Well, it isn't a unanimous consensus, anthropologists being the way anthropologists are, but I think that much at least is more or less agreed upon. It's not much of a blanket statement, though; dig much deeper than that, and you'll find a few dozen different pet theories about the causes and nature of said desperation.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:49 AM on September 4, 2007


posted by jefgodesky Compared to immediately before [the EPA] when all we had was the crisis? I suppose. But considering that civilization created the problem and then did a piss poor job of fixing it, I don't consider that a startling victory.

Way to miss the point, Cro-Magnon Man. Apparently your logic, reading, and comprehension have also undergone rewilding. You asked, "when was the last time the world actually changed, in any significant way, from any policy being implemented?" I gave you two, but don't let that stop you from posting another 5000-word rebuttal of irrelevant points.

posted by jefgodesky
Et cetera ad nauseum. So you poison every freely available source of water, and then cry foul when someone uses the only sources you've left? I suppose that's the kind of logic you'd expect from someone who thinks that the EPA makes up for civilization's non-stop rampage.


Since this movement of yours aims to reduce the impact of humans on the planet to a bare minimum, then you shouldn't be using the benefits of civilization (like running water, sewers, electricity) since--according to you--they contribute to the decay and apocalypse you believe is imminent. But if we accept your preposterous premise and people revert to a tribal and prehistoric way of life, I'm interested to know how you propose to solve the problems of obtaining fresh water and disposing of sewage and dealing with disease like cholera.

I think it's telling that Scout shaves; no doubt he's using a run-of-the-mill razor that, once it's dull, is tossed in the garbage. Because he certainly wouldn't be using an electric razor. I also noticed that Scout stores his roadkill in an electric refrigerator. If he was serious, he'd smoke it and salt it and eat it even after it turns rancid. Tsk, tsk. Bad Scout.

If you and he were really serious about this movement of yours, you'd move to any one of the hell-holes on this planet where people are forced to live in the conditions and use the skills you think are the wave of the future, and offer your place here to someone there. The difference between you and them is they probably wouldn't start a blog to sanctimoniusly preach the virtues of living like cavemen because they'd be too grateful to have clean running water and a flushing toilet.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2007


Since I've never heard of these pet theories before in my studies of anthropology, perhaps you'd like to share some? Also, I'd like to ask, why if hunting/gathering is unsustainable and leads to population desperation would it be an answer to our problems in this time of desperation? Also, wouldn't it seem that if agriculture, based on your earlier theorizing, "conquered" hunting/gathering, then it is therefore better at supplying the needs of human groups? Finally, and this is my last question at this point, what explains the number of hunter/gatherer groups that do remain on earth despite the conquest by early agriculture and subsequent conquests by pasturalism, row cropping, urbanism, modernism, post-modernism, etc.?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:06 PM on September 4, 2007


Oh, I'm not trying to be snarky, I just never heard such theories and I wondered what you are reading?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:32 PM on September 4, 2007


I have a longer reply to some of this stuff started on my computer at home, so I'll join back in after work, assuming anyone else is still interested, but my quick question for jefgodesky is -- Could we pass policies that WOULD make agriculture sustainable and prevented erosion, salinization, and desertification? I mean, jefgodesky, you mention permaculture, so apparently you do not fundamentally oppose cultivation. There's not much deforestation happening in the US now in the name of agriculture (Napa and Sonoma County vinyards being a notable exception). So, what if we got a huge upwelling of support across the country and started a new national vision for sustainable agriculture, maybe in conjunction with the current Farm Bill (did that pass yet?).

Here we go, into my imaginary world, to see whether you think this would be (would have been, actually) a useful goal. A few years' back, let's say, an amazing political coalition sprung up. It included the "Peak Oil" planners, the climate change advocates, organic agriculture people, labor unions, Farm Bureaus, national security people (reduced oil imports), etc. Inspired by Cuba's transition to a post-oil food system, as they call it, this group wrote a bill designed to "minimize the crash."
-- Over 40 years, the bill would phase out internal combustion farm machinery, pesticides and herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and genetic engineering. Irrigation and tilling would be strictly regulated.
-- Immediately, huge research subsidies would go to research and development of dryland agriculture, harvestable perennial polycultures that mimic the prairie itself, "compost tea" microbial infusions and other ways to boost soil health, safe composting of all organic waste, greywater reuse, and shade farming.
-- Food trading between regions would be controlled and minimized, so each region of the country had an incentive to diversify and protect its agricultural capacity.
-- Within urbanized areas, there will be massive rooftop / schoolyard / vertical gardening and composting programs instituted. Pigeon, squirrel, rat, opposum, raccoon, feral cat, and deer hunting would be encourage, though regulated. Creeks would be daylighted and once fish populations have rebounded, fishing would be encouraged. Provisions are included that if these measures do not supply enough food, cities should remove asphalt to create more tillable land, until ultimately, the greater metropolitan areas could feed themselves.

What do you think, jefgodesky? Would that policy be worth pursuing? It doesn't involve the collapse of civilization nor individual abandonment of civilization nor the abandonment of idea of "progress" nor the replacement of a central state by voluntary self-regulating collectives. I'm sincerely just curious here.
posted by salvia at 2:44 PM on September 4, 2007


Way to miss the point, Cro-Magnon Man. Apparently your logic, reading, and comprehension have also undergone rewilding. You asked, "when was the last time the world actually changed, in any significant way, from any policy being implemented?" I gave you two, but don't let that stop you from posting another 5000-word rebuttal of irrelevant points.

Uh huh. So the example of how a policy made the world a better place is a place that barely began to address the unintended consequences of all the other policies.

You're right. I beg your forgiveness. Obviously from that, there can be no denying that policies work so, so well.

Since this movement of yours aims to reduce the impact of humans on the planet to a bare minimum, then you shouldn't be using the benefits of civilization (like running water, sewers, electricity) since--according to you--they contribute to the decay and apocalypse you believe is imminent.

Talking about human impact on the earth is the kind of nonsense you get from civilized people. You're an animal, you're going to have an impact on the planet. Primitive people have an impact on the planet. They made the Great Plains and the Amazon rain forest; that's a hell of an impact. The question isn't whether you have an impact, but what your impact is. Do you degrade your ecology, or do you enrich it?

But the rest of your case is precisely the kind of absolutism that neither I nor Scout have ever espoused. We'd be better off if civilization had never happened, and we need to move beyond civilization as quickly as possible, for the sake of humans and for the rest of the world. But it's not as if civilization has a monopoly on technology, art, philosophy, or any of that stuff. There's nothing inherently bad about running water.

There's also the fact that since we believe that the collapse of civilization would help most of the world, including most humans, that we could make a case that using running water and the internet is a good thing on precisely those grounds.

But if we accept your preposterous premise and people revert to a tribal and prehistoric way of life, I'm interested to know how you propose to solve the problems of obtaining fresh water and disposing of sewage and dealing with disease like cholera.

*smacks head against blunt surface*

Hint #1: Cholera first developed in cities. Ever wonder why?

See thesis #21 and thesis #23.

In short, cholera's only a problem for people who live in cities, and the most basic sanitation practices (like not shitting where you live) takes care of 99.999% of the problem you're talking about. That's why these problems only occur in cities. You might as well ask how we intend to get through rush hour traffic, while you're at it.

As for fresh water, that's relatively easy for a hunter-gatherer. That's why the Bushmen in the Kalahari live there, where so few others can. A few local springs, or at least a working knowledge of the appropriate local plants, some basic sand filters and boiling, and you're pretty much set as far as drinking water goes.

I think it's telling that Scout shaves; no doubt he's using a run-of-the-mill razor that, once it's dull, is tossed in the garbage. Because he certainly wouldn't be using an electric razor. I also noticed that Scout stores his roadkill in an electric refrigerator. If he was serious, he'd smoke it and salt it and eat it even after it turns rancid. Tsk, tsk. Bad Scout.

You know that Haudenosaunee men shaved, too, right? Where do you think the word for that "Mohawk" hairstyle came from? But Urban Scout's pretty explicit that he's not fully rewilded. It's kind of right there in the name.

"You're such a hypocrite for acting precisely the way you advocate!"

If you and he were really serious about this movement of yours, you'd move to any one of the hell-holes on this planet where people are forced to live in the conditions and use the skills you think are the wave of the future, and offer your place here to someone there.

That would seem like an abandonment of everything I've ever advocated...

Oh, that's right, you never bothered to actually read any of what I or Scout have written, you're just throwing up your straw men for us. Almost forgot.

Since I've never heard of these pet theories before in my studies of anthropology, perhaps you'd like to share some?

See the Thirty Theses. Anthropologically, we owe a good deal to Harris, Sahlins and Lee.

Also, I'd like to ask, why if hunting/gathering is unsustainable and leads to population desperation would it be an answer to our problems in this time of desperation?

Hunting and gathering is most emphatically not unsustainable. It's the only long-term, sustainable society we've ever had. The desperation that led to the agricultural revolution resulted from a very unique constellation of factors, including massive climate change. In nearly all situations, hunting and gathering is a much more robust and certain strategy than anything else. The Younger Dryas was very unique. If you think of it in terms of agriculture in response to desperation, it doesn't make much sense; agriculture leads to malnutrition, rampant disease, and ultimately represents an investment of food you could otherwise eat. What happened with the Younger Dryas wasn't just that a very specific locale became desperate, it was the precise nature of the desperation. Crucial, I think, is the quick shifts from catastrophe to abundance. Agriculture, and the emergence of hierarchy, both have very few advantages, but they can help distribute goods in times of huge swings from disaster to abundance. In the abundant years, you store away, and then you have food in the catastrophic years. Had it simply been unrelenting catastrophe, agriculture would have offered no advantage.

The problems we face could hardly be more different. We're looking at the collapse of the soil and climate conditions agriculture requires. Even if we were facing the same kind of dramatic shifts from catastrophe to abundance, agriculture still wouldn't be a viable solution, because the soil and climate conditions it requires no longer exist (largely as a result of agriculture).

There's a lot of literature on this, but I recommend Richard Manning's Against the Grain as a very readable, concise summation of the latest research into the history and ecology of agriculture. It certainly doesn't paint a very rosy picture.

Also, wouldn't it seem that if agriculture, based on your earlier theorizing, "conquered" hunting/gathering, then it is therefore better at supplying the needs of human groups?

That doesn't follow. It proves that agricultural societies are better at waging war and annihilating their neighbors, but how does that translate into supplying the needs of human groups?

Finally, and this is my last question at this point, what explains the number of hunter/gatherer groups that do remain on earth despite the conquest by early agriculture and subsequent conquests by pasturalism, row cropping, urbanism, modernism, post-modernism, etc.?

Look at where such groups still survive: the Arctic, the Kalahari, rain forests around the world. They live only in the most marginal ecologies, where no other way of life is even possible. Europeans have been trying to farm the rain forest for centuries, and it's never worked. The soil is like cement; all the nutrients are in the lush vegetation. That's why swidden horticulture works so well there; it puts the nutrients back on the ground. Food producers have conquered every piece of land they could make use of, and wiped out the original hunter-gatherers who lived there. Hunter-gatherers still survive, in precisely those places where no other way of life works.

This is an important point: hunting and gathering works everywhere where humans have ever lived. In a subset of that, horticulture and permaculture work, and in a subset of that, agriculture works. Each one is less reliable and requires more work than the last.

Oh, I'm not trying to be snarky, I just never heard such theories and I wondered what you are reading?

Harris, Sahlins and Lee are excellent places to start. There's Peter Farb, both Diamonds (Jared & Stanley, no relation), and Colin Turnbull, off the top of my head.

Could we pass policies that WOULD make agriculture sustainable and prevented erosion, salinization, and desertification? I mean, jefgodesky, you mention permaculture, so apparently you do not fundamentally oppose cultivation.

No.

Agriculture is cultivation by means of catastrophe. There are means of cultivation that could work, but none of them are agriculture. They never involve tilling, row-cropping, or, in a word, farming. Permaculture and horticulture are things that any layman looking at them would recognize as gardens. When Europeans came to the Amazon, they trod through a magnificent, cultivated food forest, and talked about how the primitives had no concept of agriculture.

So, if the only way to reform something is to first make it no longer that thing, then I don't think you can reform it: you have to abandon it.

And here's the sticking point about sustainable cultivation: none of it scales like permaculture does. It all relies on ecological context, like the permacultural notion of "edge." You can't just mow down a few more acres of that. You can't feed cities with permacultural gardens. Permaculture feeds villages, not cities.

A policy to undertake that kind of cultivation would undermine itself. Following the policy would make the governmental body issuing it obsolete, by returning the focus of society to the local level.

What do you think, jefgodesky? Would that policy be worth pursuing? It doesn't involve the collapse of civilization nor individual abandonment of civilization nor the abandonment of idea of "progress" nor the replacement of a central state by voluntary self-regulating collectives. I'm sincerely just curious here.

Sincerely following that plan would entail the collapse of civilization, though. What point is there to a federal government when you implement that? Note that Havana, as impressive as it is, still supplies only 30% of its own food. That's 70% shy of sustainable.

What you outline sounds like a great Powerdown plan, but you should be realistic about what it really entails. That is a plan to try to dismantle civilization in a controlled fashion.

So, can you expect civilization to politely commit suicide? I don't think you can. That seems like a hopelessly unrealistic approach to me. Now, the more civilization is dismantled in a controlled fashion, rather than waiting for it to violently implode, the better off we'll all be. But I think it's far more effective to approach that from the vantage point of encouraging people to live more sustainably, to start some permaculture, for those who can to hunt and gather more, in short, to rewild.

Seems to me that your policy and Urban Scout's theatrics both push us towards the same end, it's just that your policies ask politicians politely to please abdicate all of their wealth and power, while Scout's theatrics have actively moved us towards that end.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:59 PM on September 4, 2007


I disagree with many of your statements about permaculture, and I've read both Bill Mollison books and I spent 2 months living at Earthaven Ecovillage studying "permaculture and ecovillage design." Perhaps they practiced a modified permaculture, but there was tilling. I also don't know what you mean about "permaculture feeds villages and not cities." They'd say permaculture creates natural abundance.
posted by salvia at 8:17 PM on September 4, 2007


and don't deny it - you have just megalomaniacally claimed that you want to stop civilization

Why would I deny it?

because it makes you sound like a lunatic

i'm done - i am now convinced that you are not rational on this subject and never will be
posted by pyramid termite at 8:26 PM on September 4, 2007


To me, saying civilization is doomed and thinking that learning primitive skills relates to the actual major problems, seems like some plantation son in the antebellum US south saying "Dad, you know slavery is cruel and unsustainable! That’s why I’m learning to pick the cotton myself,” holding out half a bale and delicately tossing in another cotton tuft. That kid's future held huge social upheaval -- the Civil War, Sherman and the scorched earth, Jim Crow laws. Him learning to pick a bale of cotton or two would not minimize the slaves' suffering at that time, nor hasten the end of slavery, nor make it possible for the plantation to shift smoothly into the post-slavery economy. It would have been a sideline based on an oversimplistic analysis. That’s my take on the neo-primitive movement. I’m sympathetic to some of the arguments, but I think proactive engagement with what is, instead of ideological escapism, would get better results.
posted by salvia at 8:33 PM on September 4, 2007


Though the analogy is inflammatory, sorry.
posted by salvia at 8:37 PM on September 4, 2007


I've read Mollison and Holmgren, too, and while they have a lot to offer, I don't necessarily think their ideas always add up. Yes, they do say it creates "natural abundance," and that's largely true, but when you get down to specifics, we're talking about things like edge and the ecological productivity of two ecologies interacting. That's the part of permaculture that actually is sustainable, but it doesn't scale up, because increasing edge is so much more complex than simply cultivating more land. That's why permaculture feeds villages, not cities. When you crunch the numbers, you just can't get the absolute calorie density needed to feed a city. Even Holmgren admits that much (he argues that permaculture could support an even larger population than we have now, but he also adds that such a population couldn't live in cities as they do now; they'd have to be much more dispersed, what an anthropologist would recognize as villages).

They do have permaculture with tilling, but that part of permaculture isn't actually sustainable. A lot of so-called "sustainable" methods aren't, and permaculture isn't entirely immune. Most of permaculture is sustainable. Tilling isn't. I've actually seen a lot of permaculture guides and classes that say outright that permaculture is a no-till system, but I know others that do suggest tilling. The whole point of tilling, though, is to emulate an ecological catastrophe, and that degrades the soil over time, through salinization and erosion. That's how the cedar forest in Iraq became the modern desert, and how the Great Plains became the Dust Bow. That's the basic problem with agriculture, right there. Perpetuating that problem, regardless of the name applied to it, isn't going to help. Actually, that's something Bill Mollison agrees on. In "Introduction to Permaculture," he writes:
For every head of population —whether you are an American or an East Indian— if you are a grain eater, it now costs about 12 tons of soil per person per year for us to eat grain. All this loss is a result of tillage. As long as you are tilling, you are losing. At the rate at which we are losing soils, we don't see that we will have agricultural soils within a decade.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:39 PM on September 4, 2007


Salvia, the I can forgive the inflammatory nature, but I fail to see how it relates. Wouldn't ideological escapism be indulging in the very same processes and systems that created this problem, pretending that they're helping, simply because it fits our ideology of what makes effective change? Wouldn't proactive engagement mean actively developing new, sustainable ways of living? I agree that proactive engagement is a much better approach than ideological escapism, we just seem to have completely opposite notions of what counts as proactive engagement, and what counts as ideological escapism. What you consider ideological escapism is precisely what I consider proactive engagement, and what I consider ideological escapism is precisely what you consider proactive engagement.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:48 PM on September 4, 2007


posted by jefgodesky So the example of how a policy made the world a better place is a place that barely began to address the unintended consequences of all the other policies. You're right. I beg your forgiveness. Obviously from that, there can be no denying that policies work so, so well.

I'll take that as your way of conceding that yes, there are indeed ways in which society has improved through the implementation of policy, despite your absurd assertion to the contrary. Thanks for acknowledging that the chief rationale for your argument falls flat. Incidentally, the ADA and Title 24 are two more examples of how public policy has been changed to improve society--perhaps you could explain how these (and the Civil Rights movement, from my earlier post, which you never addressed) are not improvements to society?

posted by jefgodesky cholera's only a problem for people who live in cities

Wow, you're really an idiot.

posted by jefgodesky Now, the more civilization is dismantled in a controlled fashion, rather than waiting for it to violently implode, the better off we'll all be. But I think it's far more effective to approach that from the vantage point of encouraging people to live more sustainably, to start some permaculture, for those who can to hunt and gather more, in short, to rewild.

Here's what I'd like you to do: could you explain to us what you envision for the cities and towns in your utopia? How will the elderly and the disabled obtain fresh water and food? How will they dispose of sewage? I'm honestly curious.

posted by jefgodesky Seems to me that your policy and Urban Scout's theatrics both push us towards the same end, it's just that your policies ask politicians politely to please abdicate all of their wealth and power, while Scout's theatrics have actively moved us towards that end.

I doubt it. Voting and working in my community actually produces results, whereas yours and Scout's are just adolescent theatrics that are the result of contradictory conclusions drawn from poorly-considered leaps of logic and your own hopeless befuddlement and ignorance of science and history, none of which produce any sort of change except convincing people that you've smoked quite a bit of cheap Oregon weed. But don't let that stop you from spending your weekends covering yourselves in mud and eating squirrels while you parade about town in your loincloth and Converse high-tops. The world needs clowns and village idiots, and I always encourage the kind of behavior to which the rest of us can point and laugh, especially when we know you're just a couple of bored rich kids looking to rationalize your weekend reenactments of Ishmael and Lord Of The Flies as some sort of retarded back-to-the-land ethos. Rock on, Piggy!
posted by fandango_matt at 8:57 PM on September 4, 2007


The permaculture notion of edge includes vertical gradients and edges created by planting strategies (trees create a shaded area), and it is why cities are such great places for permaculture. Anyway, "edge" is where nature is most diverse, but not necessarily where it is most productive in terms of, say, calories. But back to what I consider the main question --

Why not work for policies that you admit are a good "Powerdown" approach? I don't think it counts as the ending of civilization because it says nothing to forbid people living in groups of certain sizes, and because I am hopeful people would find a way to meet the policy requirements without dismantling civilization. Why give up without trying? Even if a few pieces were adopted, that would help, right? Why give up without trying? I suspect politicians could find a way to still keep their power. Federal sources have funded the Land Institute and a lot of other good research.

Seems to me that your policy and Urban Scout's theatrics both push us towards the same end, it's just that your policies ask politicians politely to please abdicate all of their wealth and power, while Scout's theatrics have actively moved us towards that end.

Can you please explain the link between people learning rewilding skills and people "abandoning civilization?" What's the full scenario there? And how is it possible in a context you point out where there is no land to "abandon" it to? If all it took for peaceful transition was for a group of a certain size to have a desire to do this, then why did the indian tribes end up in their situations rather than themselves triggering this shift? I admit I don't know much about your theory of social change, which is why I'm asking.
posted by salvia at 8:59 PM on September 4, 2007


I'll take that as your way of conceding that yes, there are indeed ways in which society has improved through the implementation of policy, despite your absurd assertion to the contrary.

I'm sure you will.

Wow, you're really an idiot.

Great comeback! Of course, that's pretty basic epidemiology. You don't see a lot of cholera among hunter-gatherers, especially being a zoonotic that came from animal domestication (chickens, precisely). The high-point for cholera came in the cities, after the Industrial Revolution, before the big sanitation movements around the turn of the last century. And the reason, naturally, is sewage.

Well, try thinking about that for two seconds. A very low population density, some basic sanitation (i.e., don't bend over and take a dump right in the middle of camp, or in the middle of the stream everybody drinks from), and your incidence of cholera drops to nothing. The problem is when you have such high population densities as you did in the Industrial Revolution era city, basic sanitation takes huge, expensive systems that hadn't been created yet.

Or, you could just remove the source of the problem and not live in such high densities in the first place.

It's not like this is anything controversial; this is really epidemiology 101 stuff, here.

Here's what I'd like you to do: could you explain to us what you envision for the cities and towns in your utopia?

Cities and towns are fundamentally unsustainable. They're very much the heart of the problem. Best case scenario: community permaculture gardens proliferate, leading to more independent neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods become, effectively, horticultural villages, and in time, drift away from each other. Worst case scenario, we simply wait until the ecological impact of cities leads to complete meltdown, and the only people who survive from the cities are those that have already started carving them into horticultural villages.

How will the elderly and the disabled obtain fresh water and food?

I pointed this out last time, but look at Shanidar Cave. We have this misconception that primitive societies don't take care of the sick, the elderly, the disabled, or so on. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whoever once lived inside the Shanidar 1 skeleton obviously was extremely disabled, and was just as obviously cared for. In fact, the only societies where you find the sick and elderly cast aside are all civilizations. Even we tend mostly to stick them in hospitals and nursing homes and forget about them. Asking what will happen to people dependent on others isn't an argument against primitive societies, it's an indictment of our own. We do much less to provide for such people than tribal societies do. A tribe is, first and foremost, a family. They take care of each other; that's the whole basis of primitive life. There's no goal of perpetual growth, so the "good life" is simply to live together, happily and heathily, by helping one another. Sounds sappy as all get out, but the fact of the matter is that when you can't hoard much in the way of material possessions, your best savings account is a bunch of happy, healthy people who will have your back when things don't go your way.

How will they dispose of sewage?

This is a really weird fascination. Take a look at a functioning primitive society. First of all, they don't have a lot of people, so it's not that big of a problem. In fact, there's so little that it's kind of hard to even call it "sewage." But even so, they still have some taboos about it, the same way you'd get some looks if you pulled down your pants and dropped a nice, big log on your boss's desk. You don't go inside the camp anymore than you'd go on your own carpet, and you don't go in the stream you use for drinking. You go out a bit, find yourself a nice bush, and put down some fertilizer. Really, with the low levels we're talking about, those steps alone really eliminate any real problem you'd normally see. Sewage is such a problem for us only because we live so densely, and any benign problem can become enormous when you multiply it a few million times.

The permaculture notion of edge includes vertical gradients and edges created by planting strategies (trees create a shaded area), and it is why cities are such great places for permaculture.

Well, that's true, up to a point. Cities are great for permaculture because it's probably the most ecological productivity you'll get out of a city. But you're still going to get more productivity from rural permaculture, where you can use existing ecologies, like forests and prairies.

Why not work for policies that you admit are a good "Powerdown" approach?

I do. I'm just not holding my breath. That's not where I put the majority of my effort, because I don't think Powerdown could ever possibly happen that way. If I'm wrong, great, but you've got to go with what's most effective, and I fail to see how effectively you can ask a system to dismantle itself.

Derrick Jensen put it very well: if your experience is that your food comes from a supermarket, and your water comes from a tap, then you will defend to the death that supermarket and that plumbing, because that's what you owe your life to. If your experience is that your food comes from a forest, and your water comes from a stream, then you will defend to the death that forest and that stream, because that's what you owe your life to.

How can you possibly expect your average person to support measures to eliminate the systems that they experience, every day, as the things that keep them alive, in order to preserve forests and streams that seem to have nothing to do with them, save perhaps a nice recreational area or a scenic backdrop? If you don't change people's experience of where their life comes from, then no amount of campaigning will do; and if you can change that experience, then no amount of campaigning is necessary.

Along the way, sure, give me a candidate with that platform and I'll vote for him. Right now, I like Obama because he's the only one with even a semblance of an idea about peak oil. But I'm not going to waste my time on that anymore than I will on perpetual motion machines or fairy dust, because none of them are very likely.

The good news is this: the first step of getting your policy implemented is going to be convincing people that it's a good thing, and by getting more people to experience the rest of the world as something more immediate than wallpaper, isn't Scout driving the support you'll need?

I don't think it counts as the ending of civilization because it says nothing to forbid people living in groups of certain sizes, and because I am hopeful people would find a way to meet the policy requirements without dismantling civilization.

It doesn't have to explicitly forbid it; there's no way those standards could be met without making civilization obsolete.

Why give up without trying? Even if a few pieces were adopted, that would help, right? Why give up without trying?

It's the end that matters most. Prove to me that your method is more effective, and I'll be on board. At the moment, I'm completely unconvinced. Do you often put a great deal of effort into one way of achieving a goal that you're convinced will not work, when there's another way of achieving it instead that you're convinced will work quite effectively? That's what you're asking of me. Both achieve the goal, but I'm only convinced that one of them will actually work. The question isn't about "giving up," it's about why I should believe that your method will be effective, or why I should believe that mine won't.

I suspect politicians could find a way to still keep their power. Federal sources have funded the Land Institute and a lot of other good research.

Yes, but that would just mean that the solution is not yet complete. It's much more fundamental than that. If we're still thinking in terms of power and policies and governments when it's all said and done, then we haven't actually solved the problems. Those are key symptoms of the driving forces of our unsustainability: domestication, agriculture, and complexity.

Can you please explain the link between people learning rewilding skills and people "abandoning civilization?" What's the full scenario there?

Civilization only works by holding people hostage. You can only get your basic needs through civilization, by complying with it. If you give people the means to obtain their needs without civilization, then they no longer need civilization. Derrick Jensen likes to point to the mulberry bushes on his land, and ask how many berries you think he buys at the grocery store. We comply with civilization because we are held hostage. Rewilding releases you from that. You can still engage civilization if you want to, but if you had a choice between going to work for 8 hours a day, or taking a 2 hour hike in the woods every so often, and you had food just as healthy and just as varied (though in reality, the 2 hour hike gives you more varied and healthier food, but let's say it's equal for now), which one would you choose? It's very hard to keep rewilded people civilized, because you have so little left to threaten them with.

And how is it possible in a context you point out where there is no land to "abandon" it to?

There is some. Not a lot, but if those who can, do, then that's less pressure, allowing for population to drop more gradually, for more land to open up, so still more people can. Do this long enough, and you can have a nice, easy deflation over time.

I'm not sure how likely that is, though. Catastrophic die-off seems far more likely. In that case, people who rewild have simply stacked the odds in their favor. I'd like to see a gradual deflation; rewilding offers the best chance of that. I fear it may be too late for that, though, and in that case, rewilding offers the best chance of survival.

f all it took for peaceful transition was for a group of a certain size to have a desire to do this, then why did the indian tribes end up in their situations rather than themselves triggering this shift?

That's not all it takes. When civilization is in its anabolic growth curve, it's essentially unstoppable. Civilization cannot tolerate any other form of life. Look at what happened in the New World: the chief driver of ideas about freedom and liberty was the example of the Haudenosaunee. European colonies could not be quite as brutal as the homeland, because colonists could always go "to Croatan." Once those Indian foils were wiped out, we were free to turn "freedom" into a slogan, rather than a principle.

The window of opportunity to step beyond civilization only opens when civilization shifts from anabolic growth, into collapse. Then, the map starts to open. It's a narrow window of opportunity, and it hasn't quite opened yet, so it's important to be ready when that opportunity does open up. It does take more than just desire; timing is a critical factor here.

I admit I don't know much about your theory of social change, which is why I'm asking.

I see social change as working basically as an ecological relationship. Every major social change has occurred because the underlying ecological relationship has changed. The United States was the second-to-last Western country to abolish slavery, because industrialism made it cheaper to hire wage-earners than to keep slaves. The abolition of slavery simply reflected a changed reality. The U.S. Civil War was primarily a show-down between two rival bioregions, where the ecology was changing at different rates, but it was still changing. Which is why I have such disdain for policies. Policies change when politicians gain power, and they gain power only because they are given power by those who agree with them, but the masses needed to put those people in power only emerge as a result of the changing ecology.

In short, classic cultural materialism. See Marvin Harris. Our own sacred cows are not immune.

In this case, civilization's basic pattern has been to expand into new pockets where it could find more energy, after it used up all the energy where it used to be. This used to be a matter of territorial expansion. Since the 1960s, the Green Revolution has opened up a pocket for chemical/energy expansion. But there's no more pockets to expand into, in any direction, and that means that the constant expansion will have to end. That's not something that civilization can survive, as a system predicated on constant expansion. The ecology is changing: relocalized, bioregional, sustainable, human scale society will be the only alternative. Policies may well end up reflecting this changing reality, once it's upon us, but that's reactive, not pro-active. A pro-active response would be to begin moving towards that new ecology by creating relocalized, bioregional, sustainable, human scale societies now, while we still have a choice, rather than waiting for it to be forced on us catastrophically.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:01 AM on September 5, 2007


Cities and towns are fundamentally unsustainable.

It's impossible to hold discussions with folks that hold beliefs that are so fundamentally at odds with reality. That's why I love this community -- the chance to meet real live oddballs.

We've been living in cities and towns for thousands of years, across virtually all of the planet's geography, with every kind of economic model. Just take London for example. By far not the oldest city in the world, but continuously occupied since at least AD 43, according to Wikipedia, and one of the most economically successful cities in the modern world.

Fundamentally unsustainable? Bitch, please.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:44 PM on September 5, 2007


Ah, yes, the long history of cities. Let's take a look at that, yes?

When cities, and the agriculture that allowed them to exist, began in the Middle East, the Fertile Crescent was not a cruel joke. In fact, we know now that at that time, Iraq was covered in an old growth cedar forest so thick that the sunlight never touched the ground (as shown by pollen remains of shade-intolerant plant species). The very first civilized myth is that of Gilgamesh setting out to destroy that forest to make way for cities. In time, the old growth cedar forest was decimated (the celebrated "cedars of Lebanon" are the only remaining remnant), and the land was completely killed by a few thousand years of agriculture. The blasted wastelands we see on the nightly news in Iraq are man-made, the legacy of the Agricultural Revolution.

From then, the race was on to keep agricultural expansion ahead of its own consequences, and it was not a peaceful expansion. As farming killed off the soil, farmers moved westwards, providing the westward drive of Western civilization's history. The West has always been the place of potential and new beginnings, because that's where you'll find the soil we haven't killed yet. It was already 2,300 years ago that Plato wrote about the impact of such "sustainable" methods in southern Europe:
What now remains of the formerly rich land is like the skeleton of a sick man. ... Formerly, many of the mountains were arable. The plains that were full of rich soil are now marshes. Hills that were once covered with forests and produced abundant pasture now produce only food for bees. Once the land was enriched by yearly rains, which were not lost, as they are now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea. The soil was deep, it absorbed and kept the water in loamy soil, and the water that soaked into the hills fed springs and running streams everywhere. Now the abandoned shrines at spots where formerly there were springs attest that our description of the land is true.
In "The Oil We Eat," Manning comments on this passage:
Plato's lament is rooted in wheat agriculture, which depleted his country's soil and subsequently caused the series of declines that pushed centers of civilization to Rome, Turkey, and western Europe. By the fifth century, though, wheat's strategy of depleting and moving on ran up against the Atlantic Ocean. Fenced-in wheat agriculture is like rice agriculture. It balances its equations with famine. In the millennium between 500 and 1500, Britain suffered a major "corrective" famine about every ten years; there were seventy-five in France during the same period.
By 500 BCE, Greek coastal cities had become landlocked due to deforestation, leading to soil erosion, filling in bays and the mouths of rivers; Plato wrote, "All the richer and softer parts have fallen away and the mere skelton of the land remains." The Meander River became so silted that its course changed, weaving back and forth, giving us our word "meandering." Greece suffered from massive soil erosion that degraded agricultural quality over the few centuries of the city-states.

Even as early as the Roman Empire, enormous birth rates were needed just to keep society afloat in the face of such catastrophic mortality. As Peter Brown wrote in The Body & Society:
Citizens of the Roman Empire at its height, in the second century A.D., were born into the world with an average life expectancy of less than twenty-five years. Death fell savagely on the young. Those who survived childhood remained at risk. Only four out of every hundred men, and fewer women, lived beyond the age of fifty. It was a population "grazed thin by death." In such a situation, only the privileged or the eccentric few could enjoy the freedom to do what they pleased with their sexual drives. Unexacting in so many ways in sexual matters, the ancient city expected its citizens to expend a requisite proportion of their energy begetting and rearing legitimate children to replace the dead. Whether through conscious legislation, such as that of Emperor Augustus, which penalized bachelors and rewarded families for producing children, or simply through the unquestioned weight of habit, young men and women were discreetly mobilized to use their bodies for reproduction. The pressure on the young women was inexorable. For the population of the Roman Empire to remain even stationary, it appears that each woman would have had to have produced an average of five children. Young girls were recruited early for their task. The median age of Roman girls at marriage may have been as low as fourteen. In North Africa, nearly 95 percent of the women recorded on gravestones had been married, over half of those before the age of twenty-three.
In the Middle Ages, the human toll of agriculture's ecological devastation was even more oppressively bleak. In his article for the Atlantic Monthly, "1491," (same title as his book) Charles C. Mann writes:
France—"by any standards a privileged country," according to its great historian, Fernand Braudel—experienced seven nationwide famines in the fifteenth century and thirteen in the sixteenth. Disease was hunger's constant companion. During epidemics in London the dead were heaped onto carts "like common dung" (the simile is Daniel Defoe's) and trundled through the streets. The infant death rate in London orphanages, according to one contemporary source, was 88 percent. Governments were harsh, the rule of law arbitrary. The gibbets poking up in the background of so many old paintings were, Braudel observed, "merely a realistic detail."
With the colonization of the Americas, the sharp contrast of agriculture's toll could be seen in the comparative heights of Europeans vs. Americans, as a reflection of the soil. Richard Manning, again from "The Oil We Eat":
The new lands had an even greater effect on the colonists themselves. Thomas Jefferson, after enduring a lecture on the rustic nature by his hosts at a dinner party in Paris, pointed out that all of the Americans present were a good head taller than all of the French. Indeed, colonists in all of the neo-Europes enjoyed greater stature and longevity, as well as a lower infant-mortality rate—all indicators of the better nutrition afforded by the onetime spend down of the accumulated capital of virgin soil.
Such evidence makes it painfully clear how civilization has worked at destroying its own ecological foundations. That you think that the survival of a center like London, or even ancient Eboracum that became modern York (yes, I'm well aware of when—and how—London got its start), changes that, then that doesn't make me a "real live oddball," it simply means you suffer from a distinct lack of perspective. Even the full 10,000 year span of agriculture is an astonishingly short period of time for such a dramatic failure, and you're crowing about a mere two millennia? Bitch, please.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:38 PM on September 5, 2007


(as shown by pollen remains of shade-intolerant plant species)

That should be shade-tolerant plant species.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:39 PM on September 5, 2007


Interesting--so we'd revert to tribes, then? Could you describe how we'll handle the following community issues:

Choosing leaders
National defense
Enforcing laws
Handling emergencies (fire, police, medical, rescue)
Money/currency
Deciding how money is spent in our communities

I'm honestly curious to know how you propose to fund, maintain, staff, and regulate these fundamental components of society in your new utopia. Please help us understand.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:17 PM on September 5, 2007


enormous birth rates were needed just to keep society afloat in the face of such catastrophic mortality

And yet somehow, we managed to get better, to the point where most of the poorest among the modern city-dwellers now live better than medieval royalty, and more and more people move into cities with each passing generation...

Fundamentally unsustainable. Dude, just stop. History is not on your side. Science is not on your side. Social science is not on your side. You may as well be telling us all that gravity doesn't exist.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:23 PM on September 5, 2007


posted by jefgodesky Cities and towns are fundamentally unsustainable.

In addition to explaining how your new paradigm will handle the fundamental components of society I mentioned, could you expand on this a bit more?

If cities and towns are fundamentally unsustainable, why have they survived, grown, improved, and adapted over hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years? Why didn't they collapse a long time ago?

Please explain.
posted by fandango_matt at 6:04 PM on September 5, 2007


How can you possibly expect your average person to support measures to eliminate the systems that they experience, every day, as the things that keep them alive, in order to preserve forests and streams that seem to have nothing to do with them, save perhaps a nice recreational area or a scenic backdrop? If you don't change people's experience of where their life comes from, then no amount of campaigning will do; and if you can change that experience, then no amount of campaigning is necessary.

I am 100% onboard with the whole bioregionalist Bookchin thing.

Still, I cannot believe you're not working full-time to protect things that one would eat after the collapse and ensure their edibility. ("Insane" as this idea sounds to some, I do think it's a good idea to me to preserve one of the most endangered US West Coast fish species, one that used to be a major food source, no matter what the future holds.)

If you really, really believed the rhetoric, wouldn't you feel a desperate imperative to preserve whatever you possibly could before "the collapse," for your own survival? You shot me down earlier with a bunch of rhetoric about it being a "pyhrric victory" and "suing the government never did anything," but the fact remains -- some endangered species are around and recovering, while others have gone extinct -- and that difference is due to actual actions by individual people. Yes, "civilization" continues to threaten them, but that is why we need to pass the job of protecting them off onto the next generation of idealists. The thing that most infuriates me about the Collapsers is that they encourage the most idealistic among us to give up without trying. God, what if all those people took their permaculture ideals and got masters degrees and infiltrated government agencies with million dollar budgets?

So, there is the group working for a long-range groundswell of support for the salmon, there is the group trying to keep their populations from hitting bottom in the meantime, and then there are the rewilders, learning to spearfish while cheering on the extinction of salmon populations because it will accelerate the collapse.
posted by salvia at 7:13 PM on September 5, 2007


Choosing leaders

In the case of both hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists, we're talking about egalitarian cultures. They don't have leaders. Even informal leadership is dismantled with a startling communal genius. Richard Lee's classic 1969 article, "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari," is an excellent example of one method by which they manage to do that, and should really help provide a good example of the general principles on how that could work.

National defense

National defense only makes sense when you first accept the idea of a nation. Perhaps our most fundamental problem is one of scale: the scale of the nation is very much at the heart of the problem. A return to tribalism means a return to a human scale society. You're not talking about defending your country in that case, but defending your family. The nature of warfare changes so much in a tribal society that it begins to stretch the meaning of the word "war" to things that seem very counter-intuitive. This is, of course, a huge issue, and one I don't think we can really address here in the depth it deserves.

Enforcing laws

We're also talking largely about lawless societies. Consider the nature of a law, compared to a small, consensus-driven society, where everyone knows everyone else and you sit down and talk about what needs to be done to make something right, when somebody does something wrong. A law is a proclamation: "X is wrong." Sure, we try to address the circumstances, but you can't get around the fundamental point that laws exist as an expediency. They compromise actual justice or address of real grievances, in exchange for expediency. There's really nothing else we can do; with denser populations, interactions increase exponentially, and at least some of those are going to violate social norms. You can't address each wrong with careful consensus and deliberation, there's just too many. So you pass laws. It's a necessary compromise, once you go beyond a human scale society. But with a return to tribalism, you're also making laws obsolete. You don't need to enforce them, because they cease to be relevant.

Handling emergencies (fire, police, medical, rescue)

Fires are much less destructive when all of your belongings are easily replaced. If you could build a new home in a day, a fire wouldn't hold nearly the same threat for you that it does now, would it?

Police, I think I already addressed.

Medical is one that comes up a lot. Suffice to say, that your average hunter-gatherer or horticulturalist is an expert herbalist, and there's not an ethnomedical system yet found that couldn't take care of its illnesses, injuries and emergenies just fine.

Money/currency

That becomes completely irrelevant. Currency only makes sense when you can hoard food, and no sustainable system lends itself towards that possibility. That capacity in itself is a cause of unsustainability, because it promotes constant growth and intensification.

Deciding how money is spent in our communities

Could hardly be more irrelevant.

I'm honestly curious to know how you propose to fund, maintain, staff, and regulate these fundamental components of society in your new utopia. Please help us understand.

I'm honestly curious why you would think such things would even matter to a tribal society.

And yet somehow, we managed to get better, to the point where most of the poorest among the modern city-dwellers now live better than medieval royalty, and more and more people move into cities with each passing generation...

This wasn't a gradual transformation. The concept of our ever-constant progress is the philosophical consequence of Columbus, what William Catton called the "Age of Exuberance" in Overshoot.
Discovery of the New World gave European man a markedly changed relationship to the resource base for civilized life. When Columbus set sail, there were roughly 24 acres of Europe per European. Life was a struggle to make the most of insufficient and unreliable resources. After Columbus stumbled upon the lands of an unsuspected hemisphere, and after monarchs and entrepreneurs began to make those lands available for European settlement and exploitation, a total of 120 acres of land per person was available in the expanded European habitat—five times the pre-Columbian figure!Changelessness had always been the premise of Old World social systems. This sudden and impressive surplus of carrying capacity shattered that premise. In a habitat that now seemed limitless, life could be lived abundantly. The new premise of limitlessness spawned new beliefs, new human relationships, and new behavior. Learning was advanced, and a growing fraction of the population became literate. There was a sufficient per capita increment of leisure to permit more exercise of ingenuity than ever before. Technology progressed, and technological advancement came to be the common meaning of the word "progress."But the aura of limitless opportunity had another effect: further acceleration of population growth. To go into some details not shown explicitly in Table 1, between 1650 and 1850, a mere two centuries, the world’s human population doubled. There had never before been such a huge increase in so short a time. It doubled again by 1930, in only eighty years. And the next doubling was to take only about forty-five years! As people and their resource-using implements became more numerous, the gap between carrying capacity and the resource-use load was inevitably closed, American land per American citizen shrank to a mere 11 acres—less than half the space available in Europe for each European just prior to Columbus’s revolutionizing voyage. Meanwhile, per capita resource appetites had grown tremendously. The Age of Exuberance was necessarily temporary; it undermined its own foundations.Most of the people who were fortunate enough to live in that age misconstrued their good fortune. Characteristics of their world and their lives, due to a “limitlessness” that had to be of limited duration, were imagined to be permanent. The people of the Age of Exuberance looked back on the dismal lives of their forebears and pitied them for their “unrealistic” notions about the world, themselves, and the way human beings were meant to live. Instead of recognizing that reality itself had actually changed—and would eventually change again—they congratulated themselves for outgrowing the "superstitions" of ancestors who had seen a different world so differently. While they rejected the old premise of changelessness, they failed to see that their own belief in the permanence of limitlessness was also an overbelief, a superstition.
The advantages you're talking about came in several waves. First, the Renaissance, which followed to no small extent from the wealth of new, American colonies flowing into Europe. You already mentioned London, so I'm sure you know how it flourished, coming back from the brink of collapse, thanks to the influx of American trade. I'm sure you also, then, know how that changed the situation in London vis a vis the relative cost of humans vs. coal. With so many merchants in London, for the first time in history, human labor wasn't cheap. It used to be that the systemic overpopulation that agriculture created made it cheaper to simply use more slaves or serfs than to burn precious fuel, but with the combination of the booming trade in places like London, and the cheapness of Newcastle coal, you had a situation where fuel was cheap, and human life was costly. That's what created the Industrial Revolution, not some sudden burst of genius in the midst of centuries of ignorance. The Industrial Revolution happened, because the influx of American wealth into Europe made it profitable to invent things for the first time. That presented the second wave, as we began to subsidize our lifestyle with fossil fuels.

In 1900, the average lifespan in the U.S. was still just 49. Most of the improvements you're talking about are extremely recent, and have precious little to do with our stunning human intellect. We've achieved this lifestyle because we're essentially running through the savings account. The earth gets a certain budget of solar energy each year, but with fossil fuels, we've been able to burn through ancient sunlight at a rate that we could never match sustainably.

Neither wave was ever sustainable. The first wave was simply consuming a new, virgin continent; the second wave is simply consuming the last hours of ancient sunlight. Like every previous expansion—from the Middle East into southern Europe, or from southern Europe into northern Europe—the gains were always temporary, relying on using up the new domain before moving on to use up another.

Do you honestly believe that this strategy can last?

Fundamentally unsustainable. Dude, just stop. History is not on your side. Science is not on your side. Social science is not on your side. You may as well be telling us all that gravity doesn't exist.

It takes a superficial understanding of history, science and social science indeed to make such a statement. I would think that had you even cursorily read my previous post, you would see that. But I can see that you suffer from an all-too-common lack of perspective. So caught up in the progressivist mythology that you honestly believe that a few hundred years can count as a "long time." It's only been 10,000 years. Even the dodo bird lasted longer than that, and you can't say that the dodo was exactly evolution's greatest work.

If cities and towns are fundamentally unsustainable, why have they survived, grown, improved, and adapted over hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years? Why didn't they collapse a long time ago?

"Thousands of years" is a fairly short time, actually. And, the fact is, most cities have collapsed. Really ancient cities are fairly rare. Who lives in Çatalhöyük these days? Jericho is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world, but there were already many cities come and gone by the time it was founded. And since we're on London, what about London's near-abandonment in the post-Roman era? Or the near-collapse of London again in the timber crisis of the 1600s? London had two brushes with collapse, so while it's an excellent example of one of those rare, ancient cities you will still find existing, it also exemplifies why they are so rare. So I think we can set aside this notion that cities routinely get better and bigger and thrive for thousands of years. Some cities have made it through millennia, but only narrowly, even when they're as young as London. That alone illustrates the precarious nature of the city.

As for the very recent expansion of urbanism, I believe I already addressed that, concerning fossil fuels and the "Age of Exuberance." So let's take a look at the more basic question here: how can they be unsustainable, when they're still here?

Let's set aside the question of perspective, and just accept now for the sake of argument that 2,000 years actually is a reasonable amount of time to assess an evolutionary development. Now, if you want to know if a patient is getting better or worse, or doing just fine, and you observe him for two minutes, would it prove that he's doing just fine if he doesn't die on the operating room table there inside of those two minutes? Obviously not. You'll want to take a look at his vitals, and compare how they look at the beginning, versus how they look after those two minutes. Likewise, whether or not a particular city happens to collapse inside of a given 2,000 year window isn't very revealing; we need to look at the ecology beforehand, and what that ecology looks like after 2,000 years of city life. If the ecological basis of the city is unchanged or improved, then we're looking at a sustainable system. If, however, the ecological basis of the city has been eroded, we're obviously looking at an unsustainable system. Even if it hasn't led to the city's collapse yet, does anyone really believe that you could go on degrading that foundation without causing it to collapse?

So, what do we see when we compare London from 43 CE to the present? At its height in the second century CE, Roman London had a population of 60,000. At that time, the Empire counted 65 million people in its population. Calculating farmland is trickier, so let's make our calculations easier (and stack the deck against me), and assume that all of it was being put to use, all 5,000,000 square kilometers. So each Roman needed an average of 0.077 square kilometers to support themselves. So at its height, we can overestimate London's ecological footprint to 4,615.3 square kilometers.

Modern London has a population of 7.5 million, though this is a bit of a sleight of hand; 7.5 million live within the borders of the city. Considered as an ecological phenomenon rather than a political fiction, we should really consider London's metropolitan area, which swells the population to 12-14 million. The average modern Londoner has an ecological footprint of 6.63 gha [Source], and though that really should be multiplied by the cropland equivalence factor of 2.21 [source], let's stack the deck against me again and just leave it as it is. So, with 12-14 million Londoners living with a footprint of 6.63 gha, that means that modern London's ecological footprint is 795,600-928,200 square kilometers.

So, taking the most forgiving numbers possibly, the ecological toll of London has increased somewhere between 172 and 201 times.

We now know one part of the equation: how London's ecological toll has changed over its lifetime. There's one other part of the equation: how London's ecological basis has changed over its lifetime. If London's ecological foundation has improved even more quickly than its toll has increased, then we're still dealing with a sustainable system. But if it has not increased that quickly, then we are most definitely dealing with an unsustainable system. And if its ecological basis has actually been diminished, then we are most definitely dealing with an unsustainable system.

Not only has London's ecological foundation been diminished, it has been diminished drastically. If we look at Roman London, then we see that the city was supported by its immediate hinterland. Today, that hinterland does not even exist anymore: it has been completely paved over and engulfed by London's growth. Today's London is fed by food imported from all over the world. I've already linked to Richard Manning's well-known article, "The Oil We Eat," upthread. It does an excellent job of exploring the impact of fossil fuels on that system: from the Green Revolution techniques used to grow the food, to the fossil fuels necessary to feed it.

The recent growth of cities is hardly a sign of their sustainability. It is a classic example of overshoot, as William Catton argued in his aforementioned book of the same name. Such cycles occur in nature frequently.
Detritus ecosystems are not uncommon. When nutrients from decaying autumn leaves on land are carried by runoff from melting snows into a pond, their consumption by algae in the pond may be checked until springtime by the low winter temperatures that keep the algae from growing. When warm weather arrives, the inflow of nutrients may already be largely complete for the year. The algal population, unable to plan ahead, explodes in the halcyon days of spring in an irruption or bloom that soon exhausts the finite legacy of sustenance materials. This algal Age of Exuberance lasts only a few weeks. Long before the seasonal cycle can bring in more detritus, there is a massive die-off of these innocently incautious and exuberant organisms. Their "age of overpopulation" is very brief, and its sequel is swift and inescapable.
Fossil fuels are practically the definition of a detritus ecosystem, and our response has followed the classic overshoot curve of any other organism. The boom of the modern city in the age of cheap energy does not speak to its sustainability, but rather, to how closely it has followed the boom cycle of ecological overshoot. But the second part of that sequence is die-off, once the detritus ecosystem is finally consumed.

Could London feed itself, all 12-14 million people, requiring 795,600-928,200 square kilometers, without fossil fuel energy to do most of the work? The entire United Kingdom only has 244,820 square kilometers; it would need 3.2 - 3.8 times its current landmass to keep that up. These are classic signs of an ecology in overshoot. We would have no debate if we saw this pattern in algae or reindeer; this is contentious only because it's happening to us.

Still, I cannot believe you're not working full-time to protect things that one would eat after the collapse and ensure their edibility. ("Insane" as this idea sounds to some, I do think it's a good idea to me to preserve one of the most endangered US West Coast fish species, one that used to be a major food source, no matter what the future holds.)

I am. I'm working full-time to do just that, in the most effective manner I know.

If you really, really believed the rhetoric, wouldn't you feel a desperate imperative to preserve whatever you possibly could before "the collapse," for your own survival?

I do. That's why I have so little patience for more of the same "solutions" that didn't work last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. I feel the situation is much too desperate to waste time on methods that have proven their ineffectiveness time and again.

You shot me down earlier with a bunch of rhetoric about it being a "pyhrric victory" and "suing the government never did anything," but the fact remains -- some endangered species are around and recovering, while others have gone extinct -- and that difference is due to actual actions by individual people.

If you save 1 species at the expense of 200 (the estimated number of species that go extinct every day), would you call that a great victory? I would not. All we've saved are the cute and cuddly ones, or the symbolic ones like the bald eagle. But we've done so at the cost of any effective measure against the systemic destruction of the biosphere. I do not count this as a victory, but as a failure.

Yes, "civilization" continues to threaten them, but that is why we need to pass the job of protecting them off onto the next generation of idealists. The thing that most infuriates me about the Collapsers is that they encourage the most idealistic among us to give up without trying. God, what if all those people took their permaculture ideals and got masters degrees and infiltrated government agencies with million dollar budgets?

Nothing.

It's not about good people. Good people don't change anything. I live in Pennsylvania, a state founded by Quakers with high ideals who honestly wanted to deal fairly with the native population. In 1965, the completion of the Kinzua Dam broke the U.S.'s longest-standing treaty and removed the Cornplanter Seneca, Pennsylvania's last Indian reservation, to New York. Good intentions account for nothing when you face a systemic problem. Good people find themselves powerless to make any real change. Ray Anderson is truly a visionary in my book, but what have the changes at Interface really saved? Nothing.

The problems we face are systemic. The focus on individual responsibility is, in my mind, pure misdirection. We're trained to think like that because it doesn't rock the boat, because it channels our efforts into safely ineffective routes, and ensures that nothing will actually change.

So, there is the group working for a long-range groundswell of support for the salmon, there is the group trying to keep their populations from hitting bottom in the meantime, and then there are the rewilders, learning to spearfish while cheering on the extinction of salmon populations because it will accelerate the collapse.

No rewilder cheers on the extinction of salmon. And, in fact, rewilders have worked closely with both of those organizations in the past. Urban Scout, specifically, has worked with both Salmon Nation and Friends of the River, I believe.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2007


No rewilder cheers on the extinction of salmon. And, in fact, rewilders have worked closely with both of those organizations in the past. Urban Scout, specifically, has worked with both Salmon Nation and Friends of the River, I believe.

It should also be mentioned that Derrick Jensen, who is one of the biggest names in this movement, is constantly talking about—and working against—the extinction of the salmon.

Bioregionalism is a crucial issue in rewilding, and so rewilders get involved with local environmental issues very often. After all, this is the land you're trying to form a relationship with; it's essential that you try to protect it from any further harm, and heal it.

jefgodesky and I, for instance, work with the Friends of Allegheny Wilderness here in Pennsylvania whenever possible. And yes, that includes sending irate letters to various local authorities and voting against anti-forest politicians. We do all that, but we don't believe this strategy is some kind of magic pill that'll save the world. It probably won't do anything. It's just all we can do, aside from hoping that there will be something left of the forest after the crash.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 8:32 PM on September 5, 2007


Anyamatopoeia, but jefgodesky claims that the loss of the salmon would save 200 others every single day. He says:

"Anything gained inside that system isn't just momentary, it's pyrhhic, because even if it does spare the salmon, it stills strengthens the system as a whole to carve out even more destruction everywhere else."

So, he would cheer the loss of the salmon because it would weaken the system as a whole.
posted by salvia at 9:06 PM on September 5, 2007


Whole lotta brain damage in here.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:10 PM on September 5, 2007


Err, that doesn't really follow. I didn't say that the loss of the salmon would save 200 other species. I said that abandoning civilization will spare 200 species every day, which would include the salmon, while strengthening the system to save one species would have the side effect of strengthening the same system that's driving 200 species a day into extinction.

Ultimately, it's a question of whether you address the ultimate, root causes of our problems, or just try to hop from symptom to symptom, trying to keep up. Maybe you do get the occasional victory, like the bald eagle. Maybe the salmon could be next. But when you try to approach it through the system that's causing such destruction, you will always empower it to cause far more destruction than you're stopping.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:15 PM on September 5, 2007


Whole lotta brain damage in here.

it's diet
posted by pyramid termite at 9:51 PM on September 5, 2007


So, you would cheer the loss of the salmon because it would weaken the system as a whole, right?
posted by salvia at 10:54 PM on September 5, 2007


Oh, wait, I just realized you're a software engineer by day? And people trying to save endangered species are the ones strengthening the system?? Okay, I'm totally done with this debate.
posted by salvia at 10:58 PM on September 5, 2007


Okay, let's sum this up: Your vision of utopia is for people to form tribes and live in tent cities with no running water or sewage, no laws, no police, the only doctors are herbalists, and no leaders because it's an egalitarian society. I'm just curious--how would you handle the following emergencies?

Outbreak of tuberculosis
Serial rapists and murderers
Wildfire burns down entire tent city
Attack of acute appendicitis
Invasion by neighboring country
Broken neck
3rd-degree burns over 50% of victim's body
One tribe decides to be the new leaders and executes anyone who opposes their rule

How would you handle these? I'm just wondering.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:09 AM on September 6, 2007


So, you would cheer the loss of the salmon because it would weaken the system as a whole, right?

No, not at all. The system is constantly driving species into extinction. There's much better ways to weaken it: like not participating in it.

Oh, wait, I just realized you're a software engineer by day? And people trying to save endangered species are the ones strengthening the system?? Okay, I'm totally done with this debate.

Why do you think I'm trying to rewild? Civilization holds me hostage as much as anyone else. I need to work to get money to buy food, water and shelter like everyone else. That's why I'm trying to rewild: so that I can meet my needs in a way that isn't so destructive. Curtis White wrote an excellent two-part series in Orion, "The Idols of Environmentalism" and "The Ecology of Work," which starkly illustrates how it is our participation in this economy itself that causes so much destruction, whether it's my day job programming software, or whatever it is you do to pay for your internet connection and feed yourself.

That's precisely what makes rewilding so important. Without rewilding, everything we do causes more harm. Only by rewilding can we get out of that system. Am I able to run off into the woods right now? No, I'd just die out there as I am now. But I'm learning the skills I need to change that, so I can stop causing the harm that my lifestyle causes now.

Can you say the same thing? Are you also working to stop causing that harm?

Your vision of utopia is for people to form tribes and live in tent cities with no running water or sewage, no laws, no police, the only doctors are herbalists, and no leaders because it's an egalitarian society.

"Tent city" isn't right—primitive shelters range from adobe houses to longhouses to wigwams to teepees to yurts, and generally feature an ingenious economy of space, energy and circulation. But I don't think you can really call any of those "tents."

Herbalism accounts for a good deal of a lot of tribal medicine, but they also have surgery (Mesolithic surgeons were conducting successful brain surgery), and shamanism, which we've learned in recent years uses biofeedback in some really incredible ways to promote and reinforce your own body's healing processes. Plus, where Western biomedicine address disease solely, these systems also address sickness and illness, which is generally disregarded in our own system.

Of course, perhaps the biggest difference is that when you don't live as we do, most medical problems disappear, because most of our medical problems—including the origin and transmission of epidemic disease—is a result of living a maladaptive lifestyle.

Outbreak of tuberculosis

First, it seems noteworthy to point out that tuberculosis may be a zoonotic which first afflicted humans only following the domestication of cows. There's some debate here, but that fits the general pattern of most of our epidemic diseases: they began thanks to civilization, and specifically, animal domestication. It's a bit of a "Pandora's Box" problem, of course, so that doesn't change anything about the future, but since the value of civilization is very much at question here, I think that's an important note to make.

Note that tuberculosis bacteria are widespread, but rarely become active TB. Coinfection with HIV is one of the leading causes when that does happen. In short, the best way to prevent an outbreak of tuberculosis is to have a strong immune system. We have systematically weakened our immune systems by constant exposure to all manner of toxins in our air, our water and our food. Even before the industrial era, the lectins and neurotoxins in grain severely compromised agrarian immune systems. Eating a healthy, human diet and living a healthy, human lifestyle already eliminates nearly all cases of TB.

Serial rapists and murderers

This doesn't really happen in tribal societies. You get "murderers," because without police or army, every member of the tribe basically takes up those responsibilities, so many have killed members of neighboring tribes, but that's no more a problem for them than returning veterans are for us. And serial rapists just don't emerge out of tribal societies. I don't know of a single example of that even arising.

But let's say such a thing does happen; after all, we're not talking about people born and raised in a tribal society, so they'll be bringing their baggage along with them. It's not as if tribes lack for means of dealing with troublemakers. The tribe reaches a consensus, based on the specific circumstances of the case. Serial rapists and murderers would probably face exile or execution, I'd imagine, but it would have a great deal to do with the circumstances involved, and what the members of the tribe thought of it.

Wildfire burns down entire tent city

This is a big concern for cities, because the way we build houses they're basically big tinderboxes. Primitive dwellings are not. But if, somehow, this actually did happen, we're also talking about simple dwellings. The next day, the tribe will rebuild all of their dwellings. And that's really all it would take.

Attack of acute appendicitis

Surgery, obviously. Primitive societies are not without surgery. Of course, it's also worth noting that acute appendicitis owes a great deal to diet, and when you eat a normal, healthy human diet, incidence of appendicitis drops to almost nothing.

Invasion by neighboring country

That would presume that we organized some Primitivist Party, won an election, and passed a bunch of laws to create a primitive society, leaving civilized countries on our borders. That would be insane. As Joseph Tainter pointed out in Collapse of Complex Socieites, collapse is an all-or-nothing affair, because if one country decides to collapse all on its own, it simply becomes territory to be absorbed by its neighbors.

Of course, peer polities have collapsed before, but they collapse as a system. We're not talking about just one country; we're talking about the collapse of the whole, globalized economy. So if the United States has collaped, so have all its neighboring countries. I don't see much need to fear invasions from entities that no longer exist. I don't fear the invasion of the Roman Empire, or the Mexica Triple Alliance, either.

Broken neck

Bury him? I don't know too many people that survive a broken neck, do you?

3rd-degree burns over 50% of victim's body

How does our civilization handle plasma exhaust burns? It doesn't, because nobody gets plasma exhaust burns, because we don't have anything that produces plasma exhaust.

Third degrees burns over 50% of someone's body comes from somebody caught in a fire. That presumes (1) that your dwellings are prone to fire, and (2) that they are so complex that escaping them in the event of such a fire is difficult. Neither are true of primitive dwellings. In all cases where primitive peoples encounter fire, it's something fairly easy to stay away from.

One tribe decides to be the new leaders and executes anyone who opposes their rule

That's a great decision, but do you really think that will is all that's involved? You need the means to do so, and tribal societies don't. People who become too aggressive lead simply to group fission. Basically, you need agriculture, food that you can control, and a standing army at your command, before you can really do that, no matter how much you want to.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:53 AM on September 6, 2007


Goddamn man you need some help.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:55 AM on September 6, 2007


Oh, wait, I just realized you're a software engineer by day?

that explains it, then - he's a nerd autodidact who thinks because he can run code through a computer that he can run, or describe or explain ANYTHING - because it's ALL logical and he can CODE, man and that qualifies him to comment on anything because he's LOGICAL

people like him are a dime a dozen on the net - look at the 9/11 "truth" movement for examples - they start with a few questionable, sometimes ludicrous, assumptions and then pound them right into the ground with impeccable logic that still can't hide the fact that their initial assumptions are crap

How would you handle these?

they never happen in hunter/gathering societies - it's not LOGICAL, man, because it's civilization that causes all that, not human nature - or if they do happen, it's alright, because it's natural
posted by pyramid termite at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2007


In all cases where primitive peoples encounter fire, it's something fairly easy to stay away from.

because forest and grassland fires can't happen without civilization starting them

what crap
posted by pyramid termite at 7:10 AM on September 6, 2007


pyramid termite: Yes, he's a software engineer. He's also got a bachelor's degree in anthropology and has been studying these issues for the past decade. But all of that has nothing to do with the quality of his arguments. How about, instead of conveniently leaving the thread with the excuse that he's hopelessly irrational as soon as he starts seriously debating, then racing back into the thread every so often to make little snarks unrelated to the subject matter, you actually try countering his claims with something other than sarcastic ad hominems?
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 7:11 AM on September 6, 2007


In all cases where primitive peoples encounter fire, it's something fairly easy to stay away from.

because forest and grassland fires can't happen without civilization starting them


Actually, these fires are very important to the health of the ecology, and our forest service's attempts to stop them altogether have only made them larger and more destructive when they do occur. However, tribes have the benefit of being mobile—when a forest fire sweeps through, they move. They don't have huge, elaborate houses that keep them in one place. They can just abandon their village and it'll take them about a day to set up a new one some miles away.

Remember the tsunami that hit south Asia in 2005? Guess who survived it unscathed? You know why? Because they got out of the freaking way, just like tribal societies do all over the world when things like fires, floods, hurricanes, etc., happen.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 7:20 AM on September 6, 2007


Native Americans on the eastern US coast practiced regular controlled forest fires to promote the long term health and usability of the forests. People are meant to be responsible stewards of the land, not fearful savages who shun all development.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:24 AM on September 6, 2007


How about, instead of conveniently leaving the thread with the excuse that he's hopelessly irrational as soon as he starts seriously debating, then racing back into the thread every so often to make little snarks unrelated to the subject matter, you actually try countering his claims with something other than sarcastic ad hominems?

i have in the past - for thousands of words - you know this, too, so quit lying and saying i haven't

he is utterly unable to admit that his assumptions are poor and his data is jealously selected, even when confronted with it

therefore, he gets snark

However, tribes have the benefit of being mobile

except that forest fires can move faster than a human being - this is established fact - and yet you ignore it to pretend that a primitive person or tribe could never, ever get caught in a forest fire

this kind of argument is what earns you the ad hominems - it's obvious that you have a romanticised vision of hunter gatherers and any fact, no matter how minor, or seemingly irrelevent will be argued against if it doesn't fit your preconceived notions

therefore you argue that primitive people can't get caught in forest fires because it damages your world view - never mind that it would hardly invalidate your main argument to admit that it could be a problem, that oh my god the primitive lifestyle could have drawbacks, you're not going to admit it because it's messy and inconvenient and you're not practicing science here but some kind of overly fussy conceptual art - you don't realize that, of course, but i do

there's no loose ends or ambiguity in your view, no uncertainty - no, forest fires aren't going to burn up tribespeople because it would be conceptually icky if they did

many of your arguments stem from the same motivations - and just like arguing with the 9/11 nuts or creationists, one will never convince you of anything that hurts your worldview because you're not willing to be convinced

back to snarking
posted by pyramid termite at 7:46 AM on September 6, 2007


Native Americans on the eastern US coast practiced regular controlled forest fires to promote the long term health and usability of the forests. People are meant to be responsible stewards of the land, not fearful savages who shun all development.

"Stewards"? No. That kind of hubris is precisely what got us here. People are meant to be part of the land, like everything else. Native Americans not just on the eastern U.S. coast, but across the Americas, used controlled fires to promote long term health and ecological diversity. They created the Great Plains and the Amazon rainforest. The idea of "fearful savages who shun all development" is one of those incredible civilized straw men that comes up no matter how many times you whack it down. Nobody said anything like that. It's not a question of whether you have an impact; you're an animal, you're going to have an impact. But in the same span of time that the first farmers turned Iraq's old growth cedar forest into a blasted wasteland, the "primitives" along the Amazon had made a thriving, tropical paradise. When the farmers are done making their impact, they leave a desert. When the primitives are done making their impact, they leave a healthier, stronger ecology. After thousands of years of eating salmon along the Northwest coast, the hunter-gatherer tribes had left more salmon there than when they started. That's what it means to be part of the land, not its masters or its guardians or its stewards, just part of it. It means that the impact you have is positive, rather than negative. That's the divide, not whether you have an impact, but what your impact is.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2007


Ok, this is nowhere land.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:59 AM on September 6, 2007


Native Americans on the eastern US coast practiced regular controlled forest fires to promote the long term health and usability of the forests.

That's an excellent point; horticultural societies have absolutely done that throughout history. However, I think pyramid termite was referring to accidental forest fires, set by lightning. Tribal peoples know better than to try to put out a forest fire, as they know full well that occasional fires are necessary for healthy forests. So... they leave, and come back later. When you have few possessions, and no possessions that you can't easily remake in a day or two, it's really quite easy to do that.

People are meant to be responsible stewards of the land, not fearful savages who shun all development.

That's not such an excellent point. Firstly, I'd argue that humans were not "meant" for anything, but that's a philosophical point. We've lived in societies where people shaped the ecology in positive ways (your example of the use of fire, or Jason's example of the Amazon rainforest), societies where people shaped the ecology in negative ways (our own culture being an extreme example), and societies that lived very simply, making few changes (the Bushmen of the Kalahari, for instance). Any subsistence strategy from hunting and gathering to horticulture will generally be neutral-to-good, ecologically, and therefore viable in the long term. Any subsistence strategy that relies on harming the ecology on which the society is based is not viable in the long term. It's got nothing to do with what we were "meant" to be; it just has to do with how long you want your society to survive.

Second of all, what's with the "fearful savages" comment? I'd call our own culture's blustering attempts at controlling nature pretty damn fearful. Tribal societies know that nature is not out to get us and doesn't need to be "tamed"; simply go to higher ground when there's a flood, then come back when it's dry. Makes a hell of a lot more sense than building a complex town on a delta, then cutting down all the trees in the surrounding hills, then acting all shocked when you find that this leads to flooding and mudslides.

As for "development," development is not all good or all bad. It just depends what kind of development we're talking about. Once again, tribal peoples are pragmatic: if something works, they'll use it. If it doesn't work, they'll abandon it. The problem is, our culture seems to believe that all "development" is good and is an end in itself, rather than a broad category of things you can sometimes use to help make life easier.

Of course, that's my response to what I think you meant by "development." I take that to mean technology, buildings, etc. If you just mean suburban sprawl, then... yeah, that sounds worth shunning.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 8:02 AM on September 6, 2007


i have in the past - for thousands of words - you know this, too, so quit lying and saying i haven't

It's not lying, you haven't. You've written thousands of words, sure, but they've never amounted to a rational argument. You could make a rational argument in a few dozen words, too (not that I'm personally any master of that fine art), but word count != argument.

he is utterly unable to admit that his assumptions are poor and his data is jealously selected, even when confronted with it

I could admit it, if it were shown to be the case. You made some desperate grasps at that point in the past, but never anything very convincing.

except that forest fires can move faster than a human being - this is established fact - and yet you ignore it to pretend that a primitive person or tribe could never, ever get caught in a forest fire

You can also see forest fires from miles and miles away. I honestly can't imagine how you could have even the barest modicum of awareness and get caught in a forest fire, unless you were trying to defend some fixed piece of property. Every case of someone caught in a forest fire that I've ever heard of came down to just that. And when you ask primitive peoples about it, they're pretty nonchalant; you see it's on fire from miles and miles away, and you move. You ask them how they manage to not get caught in it, and they laugh at you. The usual follow-up is something along the lines of, who would be stupid enough to get caught in it?

this kind of argument is what earns you the ad hominems - it's obvious that you have a romanticised vision of hunter gatherers and any fact, no matter how minor, or seemingly irrelevent will be argued against if it doesn't fit your preconceived notions

Think about what you're suggesting for a moment. A forest fire is clearly observable from miles and miles away. It changes the sky. You can see it, usually, at least hours, if not days before it reaches you. Very rarely do forest fires move faster than people; usually, they move at a slow crawl. Now, you're saying we have a "romanticized" view of hunter-gatherers to suggest that at some point in the hours or even days beforehand, they might look up, notice something bad from that direction, and might have the brain power to figure out that walking away from that might be a good thing? I'm not so sure that's our "romanticized" view nearly so much as you assuming them to be severely brain damaged. And it would have to be every last one, or you'd have that one person who'd notice it and start moving everyone else along, possibly by waving something shiny, in that case.

therefore you argue that primitive people can't get caught in forest fires because it damages your world view - never mind that it would hardly invalidate your main argument to admit that it could be a problem, that oh my god the primitive lifestyle could have drawbacks, you're not going to admit it because it's messy and inconvenient and you're not practicing science here but some kind of overly fussy conceptual art - you don't realize that, of course, but i do

Oh, there are problems with primitive life, sure. I've admitted that freely. Tribalism also means a very localized, what some would call "parochial" attitude, and there's no doubt that that has drawbacks to balance its advantages. There are plenty of other problems. But the real problems of primitive life are rarely the problems that civilized folk expect them to be. Like, noticing a forest fire and moving away from it. That's not very hard. Food, shelter, water, and health are not major problems. They're not problem-free by any means, but the things we usually imagine would be problems, aren't. But don't try to paint us as if we ignore those problems, just because everything you rattle off like a mantra doesn't apply. That just means you don't know much about primitive cultures.

there's no loose ends or ambiguity in your view, no uncertainty - no, forest fires aren't going to burn up tribespeople because it would be conceptually icky if they did

No, because they'd need to be unbelievably stupid. There's a good deal of loose ends and ambiguity, issues we write about regularly on Anthropik, but they don't involve much in the way of basic survival. Problems, absolutely. The problems you're suggesting? Not so much. The funny part is, you're not even getting past the issues already addressed directly in the ethnographic record. I'm sure you feel like you're being exhaustive and we're just side-stepping everything, but you're really dealing with so much basic, basic stuff. There's plenty of problems, these just aren't them.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:10 AM on September 6, 2007


i have in the past - for thousands of words - you know this, too, so quit lying and saying i haven't

Well, no, in every debate I've seen you and Jason in here, you've behaved exactly like this. You certainly claim—over and over again—to be putting up counter-arguments. And maybe you even write one or two sentences per post that responds to one of Jason's arguments. (Never, of course, with any references or citations.) But almost without exception, you just hurl names at him.

except that forest fires can move faster than a human being - this is established fact - and yet you ignore it to pretend that a primitive person or tribe could never, ever get caught in a forest fire

I never said that a primitive person or tribe could never, ever get caught in a forest fire. It's certainly possible for one or a few primitive people to get caught in one. I've just never heard of it happening to a whole tribe. See, they're capable of knowing that a natural disaster is happening before it hits the literal ground they're standing on. They can receive messages from tribes closer to the event, who tell them that there's a fire. They can see the animals all going in a certain direction. Hell, while the fire is still many miles away, they can smell the smoke. It's not like they're hanging out and all of a sudden, the fire is bearing down on their village. They know in advance that something like this is going to happen, from paying attention to their surroundings. Again, I point to the tsunami.

therefore you argue that primitive people can't get caught in forest fires because it damages your world view - never mind that it would hardly invalidate your main argument to admit that it could be a problem, that oh my god the primitive lifestyle could have drawbacks, you're not going to admit it because it's messy and inconvenient and you're not practicing science here but some kind of overly fussy conceptual art - you don't realize that, of course, but i do

Um... yeah. There are definite drawbacks to primitive life, but vulnerability to natural disasters is definitely not one of them. In any case, thank you for telling me what I am actually doing. Now that you've established that we're conceptual artists, having never met us nor seen what we do in real life, perhaps you will treat us like any conceptual artists whose work you don't enjoy and ignore us. Unless you make a regular practice of standing outside art museums, hurling rotten eggs at your least favorite artists.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 8:14 AM on September 6, 2007


Think about what you're suggesting for a moment.

i'm suggesting that people tarry, they make mistakes, they become incapcitated and yeah, they get caught in forest fires once in awhile - shit happens

this all started when fandango matt started talking about someone who had 3rd degree burns over 50% of his body

your response, essentially, was that it couldn't happen

that's still your response ... and it's taking you a couple of thousand words to formulate it

and that is why i can't take you seriously anymore

it's why a lot of people, not just me, don't take you seriously ... you are literally incapable of conceiving a situation where a tribal person could get burned over 50% of his body, even when it is simple to do so, even when it doesn't seriously hurt your thesis to do so

just as any alternative explanation of the data you cite is dismissed, or any lack of data is filled in with your preferred scenario, you're going to continue to insist that a tribal member isn't going to be caught in a forest fire

that is not reasonable - and this is the kind of thinking you indulge in much of the time

There are definite drawbacks to primitive life, but vulnerability to natural disasters is definitely not one of them.

earthquakes and tornados never happen to tribal people, do they? ... neither do droughts or heat waves

this is sheer magical thinking

Now that you've established that we're conceptual artists, having never met us nor seen what we do in real life,

1) you're bad conceptual artists
2) people get burned in forest fires in real life, so you must be living somewhere else
posted by pyramid termite at 8:42 AM on September 6, 2007


Uh, jefgodesky? I did not ask you if these situations could happen. I asked you how you would treat/solve them. Could you answer the questions, please? Thanks.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2007


jefgodesky is the only oddball I've ever seen that flatly says 10,000 years ... aka, the entire history of modern man, from caves to modern cities ... as "not a long time." And then goes on to claim that in pointing to history, we're not operating with sufficient perspective.

It's impossible to have a fruitful discussion until. He. Puts. Down. The. Bong.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:46 AM on September 6, 2007


You should see the Rewilding forum of which Urban Scout is the moderator. Its participants seem to be hybrids of militant Earth Firsters and panicky Y2K conspiracy theorists.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:06 AM on September 6, 2007


i'm suggesting that people tarry, they make mistakes, they become incapcitated and yeah, they get caught in forest fires once in awhile - shit happens

Once in a while? Well, I suppose. The same way a little kid might get trapped down a well, perhaps. But it's not as if this is any kind of regular problem. If (when?) it happens, it's exceptional, because, for all the reasons aforementioned, it's pretty easy to stay out of the way.

your response, essentially, was that it couldn't happen

Any society has those freaky problems it can't really handle. Ours has problems like that, too. "Black swans," security analysts call them. How often do people fly planes into huge skyscrapers? It's exceedingly rare, so when it happens, there's not much you can do to stop it.

Now, in our society, somebody with third degree burns over 50% of their body is, sadly, not all that uncommon. For many reasons. Those reasons don't exist in primitive societies. Is it possible for someone in a primitive society to get burned like that? Sure. But it's a "black swan." It's something much, much more rare than it is in our society, for the reasons mentioned.

So, do you want to know how primitive societies deal with a "black swan"? Well, ultimately, just as we do: the best they can. With somebody with those kinds of burns, there are a number of herbal treatments for burns, and I imagine those would be applied quickly. They don't lack for medicine, so while such a person would probably not fare quite as well as they would in our society where such burns are common, so we have a lot of experience working with them, he'd still have a decent chance of pulling through.

that's still your response ... and it's taking you a couple of thousand words to formulate it

Well, I suppose there might be some miscommunication there. It seemed the question was more about how to treat this common problem, not about how a primitive society would deal with an extremely rare problem when it does happen to come up. If we're looking at a case of third degree burns on 50% of a person's body as the tribal analogue of 9/11, then I can see your point. If we're talking as if this happens with any regularity, then no, that's just a refusal to understand why people who live differently would have different problems.

you are literally incapable of conceiving a situation where a tribal person could get burned over 50% of his body, even when it is simple to do so, even when it doesn't seriously hurt your thesis to do so

No, I'm not. But I also understand that it doesn't happen very often. No society is prepared for everything. Every society has things it encounters often, and has developed ways of addressing those. And then there are those things that a society almost never encounters. Every society reacts to those in the same way: as best they can. They never handle them particularly well, because they lack experience with them. The flip-side, of course, is that they're so rare that that doesn't matter very much.

just as any alternative explanation of the data you cite is dismissed, or any lack of data is filled in with your preferred scenario, you're going to continue to insist that a tribal member isn't going to be caught in a forest fire

Oops.

earthquakes and tornados never happen to tribal people, do they? ... neither do droughts or heat waves

this is sheer magical thinking


Nobody ever said that. You never address what we actually say, you always throw up these straw men instead. Did you read the article Anya pointed to? It described how the Andamnan islanders (hunter-gatherers) knew the tsunami was coming, and retreated to higher ground. They were fine.

Natural disasters happen all the time, to primitive people, too. The difference is that they handle them in such a way that they cease to be a major concern. The Andamnan islanders know when a tsunami is coming, and how to deal with it. Earthquakes happen, but most of the damage from earthquakes for us comes from ruptured gas lines and falling objects. That's not a concern for primitive people—how many hunter-gatherers live in skyscrapers, or have gas lines to be ruptured? Tornadoes rarely cause fatalities; they mostly cause property damage.

As for droughts and heat waves, those mean much less to nomadic omnivores than to people who pin their entire diet to a few, closely-related and fairly fickle species. When Richard Lee studied the Bushman in the Kalahari in the 1970s, his estimate of 2 hours of work per day was actually inflated, because he was there during one of the worst droughts in living memory. Their Bantu neighbors were dying in droves from dehydration and starvation. The Bushmen were upset that they had to work so hard, as much as 2 hours a day. Yes, they were upset, because it meant they had to work harder for their food. But the same drought that was killing food producers still left them with much less work to do than even us in the First World.

Sure, these things happen to primitive peoples, but it's how you deal with such things that makes it a catastrophe or not. Primitive cultures deal with those things very well, so they're not big problems for them.

2) people get burned in forest fires in real life, so you must be living somewhere else

The only ones I know of get burned because they don't want to leave their houses.

jefgodesky is the only oddball I've ever seen that flatly says 10,000 years ... aka, the entire history of modern man, from caves to modern cities ... as "not a long time." And then goes on to claim that in pointing to history, we're not operating with sufficient perspective.

You need to get out more, then. Every mainstream historian, archaeologist or anthropologist will tell you the exact same thing. For instance (and this is a fairly common comparison you'll find in any number of mainstream works), Jared Diamond, at the end of "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race," writes:
Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 PM we adopted agriculture.
Or, take Joseph Tainter, author of the most-cited work on social collapse, The Collapse of Complex Societies, where he writes:
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.
If you define "the entire history of modern man" so tautologically, then I'm sure you'll get the answer you're looking for, but since archaeologists have already used the term "anatomically modern humans," as well as "behaviorally modern humans," and both exist in spans of time that dwarf the past 10,000 years to 25% or less of even those spans, it seems that it's not my perspective that's lacking, but yours—oddball.

But your point made me realize that a fuller discussion may be in order. Tell me, does this sound like the story of a sustainable society to you?

You should see the Rewilding forum of which Urban Scout is the moderator. Its participants seem to be hybrids of militant Earth Firsters and panicky Y2K conspiracy theorists.

I'm sure we seem just like that to you.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:47 AM on September 6, 2007


Uh, jefgodesky? I did not ask you if these situations could happen. I asked you how you would treat/solve them. Could you answer the questions, please? Thanks.

How I would treat a problem that doesn't happen?

Well, I guess you've got me there. I've got no solution to problems that never arise. I was really counting on the fact that they become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution, to tell you the truth.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:49 AM on September 6, 2007


posted by jefgodesky I've got no solution to problems that never arise.

Interesting--what makes you think the problems I mentioned will never occur in your brave new world? These problems exist right now, and you've offered no explanation of why they won't be exponentially worse in your anarchist utopia.

Let's just take three of them--a broken neck, tuberculosis, and acute appendicitis--these are medical emergencies that happen every day. I'm not asking you IF this could occur, I'm asking you HOW TO TREAT AND CURE it. Can you do that for us? (Saying "It won't/can't happen" is not an answer.)

posted by jefgodesky I was really counting on the fact that they become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution, to tell you the truth.

I'm not sure how your herbalists plan to accomplish eradicating all disease and medical emergencies in your shangri-la of yurts and longhouses, but I'm all ears.
posted by fandango_matt at 12:18 PM on September 6, 2007


Edited:

Let's just take three of them--three patients: one with a broken neck, one with tuberculosis, and an third with a burst appendix--these are medical emergencies that happen every day. I'm not asking you IF these could occur, I'm asking you HOW TO TREAT AND CURE them. Can you do that for us? (Saying "It won't/can't happen" is not an answer.)
posted by fandango_matt at 12:21 PM on September 6, 2007


fandango_matt, curing people's broken necks just strengthens the system. ;)
posted by salvia at 12:28 PM on September 6, 2007


Interesting--what makes you think the problems I mentioned will never occur in your brave new world? These problems exist right now, and you've offered no explanation of why they won't be exponentially worse in your anarchist utopia.

*bangs head against blunt surface*

That's WHY my initial response was to outline all the reasons why these problems you're talking about are consequences of the way we live now. That's why these problems exist right now. I have offered explanations of why they won't exist, much less be exponentially worse, in a tribal society—because when you don't live in a civilized way, you don't have to deal with the consequences of living in a civilized way.

Let's just take three of them--a broken neck, tuberculosis, and acute appendicitis--these are medical emergencies that happen every day. I'm not asking you IF this could occur, I'm asking you HOW TO TREAT AND CURE it. Can you do that for us? (Saying "It won't/can't happen" is not an answer.)

Broken neck: Burial. A broken neck means you're dead, in any society, as far as I know. We also can't treat brain death, or most cases of stabbing in the heart, for the same reasons.

Tuberculosis: Quarantine.

Acute appendicitis: Surgery; remove the appendix.

(Actually, I already answered for all three of those, if you read them.)

Now, how does our civilizaton deal with bubonic plague? Brain death? (Saying "It won't/can't happen" is not an answer.)

(And I've made it much easier on you, by the way—much higher incidence of bubonic plague in the U.S. than tuberculosis among hunter-gatherers)

I'm not sure how your herbalists plan to accomplish eradicating all disease and medical emergencies in your shangri-la of yurts and longhouses, but I'm all ears.

I never said that. In fact, what I said is that changing our lifestyle eliminates most of the causes of disease. Poor, maladaptive diet and improper body use leads to severely compromised immune systems. We systematically subject ourselves to all kinds of toxins and pathogens. Nearly all epidemic diseases are zoonotics, and can only spread with cities to create the necessary population density. Add on the "diseases of civilization," like heart disease from chronic stress, and you've already eliminated nearly all medical problems just by living differently. Which is precisely what you'd expect; the kind of constant disease we face is not evolutionarily stable. This is a clear biological sign of a species in a maladaptive environment. So you'd expect that putting that species back into an adaptive context would immediately alleviate most of its problems.

Sure, there's still diseases. The common cold, for instance. But at that point, you're definitely talking about things well within the realm of herbal treatment.

Let's just take three of them--three patients: one with a broken neck, one with tuberculosis, and an third with a burst appendix--these are medical emergencies that happen every day. I'm not asking you IF these could occur, I'm asking you HOW TO TREAT AND CURE them. Can you do that for us? (Saying "It won't/can't happen" is not an answer.)

They're emergencies that happen every day because of the way we live. Tuberculosis becomes active because everyone's immune system is so compromised, and acute appendicitis is largely a result of a bad diet. So your queston is fundamentally absurd.

But OK, you've apparently pressed a tribal shaman into service at your local hospital, to try to treat a bunch of strangers who live very differently from him. That's kind of wierd, and completely beside the point since I'm talking about the consequences of a particular way of life, but hey, you asked.

So the first patient comes in with TB, something that pretty much never happens in the shaman's tribe because no one there has this kind of compromised immune system. Diagnosis: Quarantine to keep it from spreading.

Second patient comes in. Broken neck. He was wheeled in on a gurney, because he broke his neck. He's already dead. Astonishingly, the shaman can't raise the dead, so there's not much to do there.

Third patient comes in with acute appendicitis. Again, something he's only ever heard about; since everyone in his tribe eats a hunter-gatherer diet, none of them have ever had this problem. But the shaman preps him for surgery and takes out his appendix.

Then the shaman goes home, bewildered as to what the hell just happened to him, and tells his fellow tribespeople of all the crazy bad stuff that happens when you try to eat grains all the time like some kind of bird, and constantly poison yourself, and live crammed together in cities like some kind of perverse beehive, and they all laugh at how stupid the savages are and go to sleep.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:41 PM on September 6, 2007


Agreeing to disagree here is really the only way to go. It's not like any of you shits are going to change anything.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:42 PM on September 6, 2007


posted by jefgodesky I was really counting on the fact that [medical emergencies and disease] become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution

posted by jefgodesky I never said [medical emergencies and disease become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution]
posted by fandango_matt at 12:50 PM on September 6, 2007


Wait, wait, wait, jefgodesky! You said we'd all be living as tribes, in yurts and longhouses! Where will we have emergency rooms and hospitals, and by whom will they be staffed?
posted by fandango_matt at 12:53 PM on September 6, 2007


Burhanistan, I agree to disagree with you. Oh wait, that means I'm agreeing! So, I agree to agree with you. Which I guess means I disagree with your plan. Oh no... ;)
posted by salvia at 1:20 PM on September 6, 2007


salvia: now you understand the futility of the argument in any of these tribalist threads.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:22 PM on September 6, 2007


We can discuss it further over some oreos and spam after the impending collapse, if we're not fleeing forest fires.
posted by salvia at 1:25 PM on September 6, 2007


I think I can provide a quick summary of the world Jason Godesky envisions.

For unspecific reasons Joason Godesky declines to mention, civilization as we know it will suddenly collapse. At this point we'll all form tribes and live in an anarchist agrarian city of yurts and longhouses, and the few medical problems we have will be cured by herbalists and the occasional shaman, although Jason Godesky hasn't explained how a city shaman will be chosen or appointed if there are no leaders.

Since civilization has suddenly collapsed, Godesky claims, war, disease, crime, medical emergencies, and natural disasters will no longer exist, so we won't need any of the infrastructure or services to prevent, cure, or protect us from these emergencies. However, if someone is in need of urgent medical attention, the victim and the city shaman will be quickly transported (Jason Godesky declines to explain how this will be accomplished if we're all living in the wild without cars) to the nearest hospital emergency room to be treated with modern medicine and drugs, although Jason Godesky hasn't explained where these hospitals will exist if we're all living in yurts and longhouses, or how they will supplied, funded, and staffed by qualified doctors if civilization has suddenly collapsed.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:49 PM on September 6, 2007


Quit picking on the tard.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:50 PM on September 6, 2007


posted by jefgodesky I was really counting on the fact that [medical emergencies and disease] become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution

posted by jefgodesky I never said [medical emergencies and disease become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution]


Nice sleight of hand--except that's not what I said. What I said was:

I was really counting on the fact that they [the specific problems you mentioned: tuberculosis and appendicitis] become impossible to really eliminate the need for a solution, to tell you the truth.

And then:

I never said that [herbalists plan to accomplish eradicating all disease and medical emergencies in your shangri-la of yurts and longhouses]

Now, you're saying that "herbalists plan to accomplish eradicating all disease and medical emergencies in your shangri-la of yurts and longhouses" is the same as "the specific problems you mentioned: tuberculosis and appendicitis." So what you just said is that appendicitis and tuberculosis are the sum total of all diseases and medical emergencies?

Are were you just engaging in some really cheap, twisted logic?

Where will we have emergency rooms and hospitals, and by whom will they be staffed?

Could you show me a primitive society with hospitals or emergency rooms? They don't need hospitals or emergency rooms. There won't be any, because they won't be needed anymore.

For unspecific reasons Joason Godesky declines to mention, civilization as we know it will suddenly collapse

Declines to mention? More like detailed at length.

At this point we'll all form tribes and live in an anarchist agrarian city of yurts and longhouses...

Wow, no, not even close. Cities and agrarianism are the heart of the problem. They're unsustainable. There won't be cities or agriculture.

...and the few medical problems we have will be cured by herbalists and the occasional shaman, although Jason Godesky hasn't explained how a city shaman will be chosen or appointed if there are no leaders.

Again, no cities. Shamans aren't chosen by anyone; they're just the ones who know what they're doing. This isn't a formal designation, this is a role they play in their society.

Since civilization has suddenly collapsed, Godesky claims, war, disease, crime, medical emergencies, and natural disasters will no longer exist....

Except I never actually claimed that.

However, if someone is in need of urgent medical attention, the victim and the city shaman will be quickly transported (Jason Godesky declines to explain how this will be accomplished if we're all living in the wild without cars) to the nearest hospital emergency room to be treated with modern medicine and drugs, although Jason Godesky hasn't explained where these hospitals will exist if we're all living in yurts and longhouses, or how they will supplied, funded, and staffed by qualified doctors if civilization has suddenly collapsed.

The problem here is you keep inserting "city" everywhere. There's no cities. That's precisely what's unsustainable. There's also no hospitals or emergency rooms. You'll be living in a village or camp with the rest of your tribe. The shaman wll live feet away from you. If you're really unlucky, you'll be away from home, or the shaman or herbalist will be, and somebody will have to run to get him/her, but since we're talking about a sustainable society where everything's on foot, you probably don't have too long to wait.

That scenario's completely insane, on any number of levels. You keep trying to insert sustainable patterns like tribalism into unsustainable phenomena like cities, of all things. Of course it's going to sound absurd if you cherry-pick through what I said, ignore half of it, and take the other half out of context.

Quit picking on the tard.

From what you've written, Burhanistan, the main argument you have for my "retardation" is that I fail to recognize the higher, nobler status of Homo sapiens over all other life. Now mind you, that's certainly a point on which I'm comfortable seperating the intelligent from the somewhat-less-so, but I really don't think that particular dividing line would go well for you.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2007


Hmmm, but what will they do about skin cancer in the future? Since all the people working on environmental policy have now been convinced that their actions are useless, when some industry tries to repeal the Montreal Protocol, no one is going to even bother trying to stop them. The (once stabilizing) ozone hole will get insanely out of control.

On the bright side, the collapse will be much more ensured then. On the down side, all the post-collapse people will have to live in caves and no life will exist on the surface of the earth (except for that which evolves to deal with much higher radiation).
posted by salvia at 2:36 PM on September 6, 2007


jefgodesky: Sorry, but virtually everything you have to say about all of this is conjectural fantasy and you should be thankful that anyone takes you seriously enough to try to debate you.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:42 PM on September 6, 2007


Broken neck: Burial. A broken neck means you're dead, in any society, as far as I know.

I suppose you've never seen a quadriplegic?

In your world, your reaction to an injured Christopher Reeve is to shrug your shoulders and say, "Bummer, dude"?

In your world, the guys from Murderball (broken necks, all of them) just get cast out into the wilderness?

Really, you can stop any time now. I'll keep coming back to see how deep you've dug this hole of unreality. But really ... stop.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:51 PM on September 6, 2007


Allow me to pull together my actual views, rather than simply fandango matt's disingenuous straw man.

Civilization has never been sustainable, but it's kept on going so long as it had new things to conquer. Now it's run out of new things to conquer, so it faces collapse. That means a return to the normal mode of human existence, mostly as hunter-gatherers, though there certainly may be a future for horticultural villages as well.

This is not the great tragedy we've been taught. Most of the major problems we face--war, poverty, and even most diseases--are results of our current lifestyle. Change your lifestyle, and most of these things cease to be problems, or at least major problems. Sure, bad things still happen: there's still floods and hurricanes and tornadoes, but you can still handle them much more easily as a hunter-gatherer than you can living the way we do now. You'll still have medicine, art, science, technology, philosophy, etc. It's different, sure, but inferior? No, not in the least. Ultimately, though, it's the only proven, sustainable way of life humans have ever followed, and with the conclusion of this brief experiment happening so quickly, we'll probably find that we're even better off living the way humans evolved to live. That's certainly the experience of hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists still alive today.

I have no idea where fandango matt's pulling this "city" business from.

Well, that's not true ... I think I've got a pretty good idea of where he's pulling it from....

Since all the people working on environmental policy have now been convinced that their actions are useless, when some industry tries to repeal the Montreal Protocol, no one is going to even bother trying to stop them. The (once stabilizing) ozone hole will get insanely out of control.

Regulating against a corporation is a band-aid. The whole system is geared for growth. This is why they find loopholes and other ways around it. But if you're talking about a rewilded population, then who are those corporations selling to?

On the bright side, the collapse will be much more ensured then. On the down side, all the post-collapse people will have to live in caves and no life will exist on the surface of the earth (except for that which evolves to deal with much higher radiation).

Well, certainly if civilization goes on for another century or more. The longer civilization goes on, the closer we come to that. The more people spend their efforts trying to "regulate" away the effects of corporations they're still dependent on, rather than making themselves independent of them, the closer we'll come to that. But I doubt the system will last that long no matter how hard you try.

Sorry, but virtually everything you have to say about all of this is conjectural fantasy and you should be thankful that anyone takes you seriously enough to try to debate you.

Burhanistan, the only thing that's radical or controversial about what I'm saying is that I'm saying it all at once. Each point I've made is quite solidly accepted, in its own little niche. The controversial part is putting it all together, getting past the normal disciplinary boundaries, and taking a look at what it adds up to.

I'm not feeling particularly honored at how you humor me, considering that my "conjectural fantasy" echoes some of the most respected scholars of our time.

I suppose you've never seen a quadriplegic?

In your world, your reaction to an injured Christopher Reeve is to shrug your shoulders and say, "Bummer, dude"?


Ah, OK. Not quite what I had in mind when you said "broken neck."

In that case, there's not much we can do in terms of recovery, either. The aforementioned Shanidar 1 skeleton wasn't quite that bad, but he was close. Yes, there are primitive quadriplegics. They're taken care of, what else would you expect?

Really, you can stop any time now. I'll keep coming back to see how deep you've dug this hole of unreality. But really ... stop.

Ohmigod dood, all of this actual evidense is just TOO CRAZY MAN!! It doesn't fit in with my preconceived notions, so J00 R T3H CR4ZY!!!1!!eleven!

Your absurd notion that civilization's history somehow proves that it's sustainable has already been pretty thoroughly shot down. Its history does make its sustainability pretty clear, but not the way you're arguing. So all you've got is how "crazy" I am to follow the implications of the evidence we've both seen now, just because it conflicts with your previously held ideas.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:06 PM on September 6, 2007


I knew a guy who took a bit of LSD back in college and went around telling everyone how they were stuck with preconceptions. The problem was that even if people are stuck in their mental ruts, it doesn't mean that he was any better off for knowing that. And his habit of telling people was just the same rut.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:08 PM on September 6, 2007


But really, all this tribalism nonsense is something akin to a messiah complex wrapped in white man's guilt.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:11 PM on September 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Would you care to elaborate on your reasons, or am I supposed to kneel humbly at your feet and drink in your baldly-asserted wisdom as if it came from the lips of Wisdom herself?
posted by jefgodesky at 3:24 PM on September 6, 2007


The latter, thanks.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:25 PM on September 6, 2007


I hate to admit, but I've never been terribly good at that. Whenever me and Wisdom go out, I always just end up asking a bunch of stupid questions.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:31 PM on September 6, 2007


You have to laugh at the tautological tapestries Jason Godesky continues to weave. Here's Jason's logic in a nutshell:

Emergencies will always exist.
Currently, we have facilities and services to handle emergencies. These emergencies are caused by the way we currently live.
If we abandon the way currently live, these emergencies will no longer exist.
Therefore, we will not need facilities and services to handle emergencies.
Even though,
Emergencies will always exist...
posted by fandango_matt at 3:31 PM on September 6, 2007


Regulating against a corporation is a band-aid. The whole system is geared for growth. This is why they find loopholes and other ways around it. But if you're talking about a rewilded population, then who are those corporations selling to?

But the choices are not a) have corporations and a growth-oriented civilization and an ozone hole, b) have a rewilded population. At the moment, we live in a world where there are a ton of companies that use chemicals, and a ton of people who use fridges, etc. Given that, our actual choices -- the choices we affect through our actions -- are a) let the corporations run wild until "civilization" "collapses" while we learn various skills that may aid us in a "post-collapse environment," b) fight to protect what we care about.

I would argue that although my choice (b) delays "the collapse," it may completely avert destruction of that particular aspect of the ecosystem. Such that, even if the absolute worst-case collapse comes upon us, we'll have more extant resources to work with. I would argue that real-world choice (a), which seems to be what you're advocating, makes it more likely that the absolute worst-case scenario collapse happens.

I'd further argue that what you call collapse, I'd call change, and that if we're lucky, it won't look much like post-apocalypse novels at all. I think people call things "collapse" out of a failure of imagination -- all we can see from here is "omg, the world can't go on like this," so we just... imagine it stopping. There are a lot more hopeful scenarios for how we get from here to there. My "Powerdown" farm bill is one (and one I came up with in about 120 seconds). But how do we get that bill passed? It's not easy. It'd take a ton of work. At the current rate, maybe getting that work done would take 200 years (far too long). But what if we sped that up by being more proactive, less defeatist, less oppositional, more hopeful, and getting more people involved?

I do think the crisis is coming upon us (though maybe that's silly -- every generation thought they were in world-changing crisis). But with climate change, there are going to be external factors bringing environmental issues to the forefront of people's attention. So, now is a time of great opportunity to get people to accept ideas about new ways of doing things. That's precisely why we need a lot of idealistic and informed ecosystem-loving people with skills and knowledge, in positions of power.

On a personal level, I actually feel upset that you'd insult the idea of working for policy change. That is the day-in, day-out work of a lot of people I know, including myself. We go camping and take our tiny steps toward having self-sustaining permaculture gardens on the weekends, just like you, but during the work week, we also figure "hell, gotta earn money somehow, how about by trying to protect this particular inch of ground, this particular little insect?" I'm not saying we're saving the world, but from time to time, this or that small thing does get protected for another 20 years, this or that government agency with a million dollar budget does change how it does business. It's a lot of work and progress is slow, but you're barely helping with any of it. It will help you in the end (should one come, and also if one doesn't) and yet you disdain it. No, it hasn't saved the world yet, but there are concrete things that have been saved, or at least they are not lost yet. So, until what you do day in and day out full-time is even more useful and ecosystem-helping than working for environmental causes through the slow (maybe impossible) process of policy change, I think you should at least be polite about that work.
posted by salvia at 3:32 PM on September 6, 2007


Actually, all this tribalism nonsense is just the result of young rich white kids with degrees in anthropology who have smoked way too much Oregonian weed.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:38 PM on September 6, 2007


The ironic thing to me is that the quickest way to make this proposed vision of the future fall apart is to grant them all of their points save the conclusion. Because their own arguments actually work against them.

Compared to millions of years of hunter/gatherer tribes, civilization is just a 10,000 year flash in the pan. Fine. Granted. Most of the tribes were converted to civilization by force. Fine. Granted. Untainted by the evils of civilization, tribalism was stable and sustainable for millions of years. Fine. Tribalism rocks. Civilization is doomed to crash any day now. Fine. Don't let the door hit you on the...

But...

(You knew there'd be a "but")

But... Hunter/gatherer tribalism was only stable and sustainable in the complete absence of alternatives. Once we began experimenting with technology and agriculture, it took only 10,000 years to undo most of the previous 3 million years. And that's going forward (from ignorance to... whatever you want to label our current level of knowing).

So, unless there's some amazing comet or virus or bomb that can selectively erase all knowledge of technology and agricultural advancement, but not kill the rewilders or their knowledge-base, the new new world will start with all possible responses on the table. And I guaranfreakin-t you that the entire remaining human population isn't going to spontaneously agree to forgo all available advantages in the competition for survival.

And that's what survival is - competition. For resources. For the right to live.

And if there's one thing that jefgodesky has managed to prove through sheer force of will and repetition, it's that Hunter/gatherer tribalism is powerless against the competition. Being egalitarian, they won't be able to compel anyone to accept their ideas. With only small populations and few if any stored provisions, they will be helpless against large agro/techno tribes who will happily enslave them for fun and profit. Only it won't take 10,000 years this time. Probably 10,000 hours would do it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:17 PM on September 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ah, but that's before tribalism was sexy. ;) They have blogs now.

That was on preview. I was going to make this slight correction to what I wrote above:
"although whether or not my choice (b) delays 'the collapse.'" The way I wrote it before used their definition of "collapse" and momentarily conceded the idea that delay would be bad. But all those elements (does policy delay something? is delay bad?) depend on what definition of collapse you're working with.
posted by salvia at 4:21 PM on September 6, 2007


Okay, Jason, I'll give you one last chance. Putting aside your absurd assertions, let's assume civilization has "collapsed."

New York City has a population of almost 8.2 million people. Now, according to YOUR proposals, 8.2 million people would form a tribe and live in yurts and longhouses, medical emergencies and care would be handled by herbalists and a shaman, and they'd live in complete anarchy.

Please explain, for ALL 8.2 MILLION people in New York City:

-How they will obtain fresh water
-How they will obtain food
-How they will obtain medical care for injuries, emergencies, disease, and ongoing treatment
-How they will dispose of waste and sewage
-How they will enforce laws and deal with crime

Simply saying, "This is why cities are unsustainable" is not an answer. Long explanations of why they won't have emergencies or crime is not an answer. Please answer the questions, if you can. Thank you.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:22 PM on September 6, 2007


fandango_matt - I've been reading jefgodesky through a few of these threads, and so far as I can tell he is not suggesting that 8.2 MILLION New York City denizens are going to survive the collapse to form tribes. I'm not sure he's even counting on 8.2 MILLION people world-wide surviving the collapse. In fact, their vision for the future pretty much requires a massive die-off, either immediately, or through ignorance and fighting in the aftermath.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:29 PM on September 6, 2007


fandango_matt, the truth is, a lot of them will die. The Collapsers acknowledge that. That's what they mean when they use words like "easing" the collapse. They talk explicitly about how there's going to be a lot of suffering (by which they mean death) and that things like teaching gardening skills will reduce that.

Most Collapsers' nirvana kicks in when the population is at 10% of what it is today, if I remember right (which I might not, I'm not quite sure what to google to check).
posted by salvia at 4:32 PM on September 6, 2007


"What size world population would allow the creation of a sustainable economy? We at NPG [Negative Population Growth] believe that it is in the range of 1.5 to 2 billion." So, according to them it's more like 20% of what it is now.
posted by salvia at 4:38 PM on September 6, 2007


Jason Godesky is quite possibly the biggest lunatic I've encountered this year, aside from 9/11 conspiracy nutjobs. I didn't realize it at the time, but I met a few of these wingnuts about a year ago--they were going on and on about "sustainability" but it was clear they had absolutely no idea what it actually meant. We finally had them evicted when the "worm farm compost pile" they were keeping in the vacant lot became infested with maggots and rats. Fuckin' hippies.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:41 PM on September 6, 2007


I don't think he's a lunatic at all. I think he has a compelling interest in something that he's now trying to turn into a lifestyle. I also think he has some real blind spots in his views of human nature that won't serve him well. But who doesn't?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:53 PM on September 6, 2007


posted by jefgodesky Whenever me and Wisdom go out, I always just end up asking a bunch of stupid questions.

I guess that explains why you and Wisdom don't hang out together.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:03 PM on September 6, 2007


Your absurd notion that civilization's history somehow proves that it's sustainable has already been pretty thoroughly shot down.

Yeah, not so much. But thanks for playing.

I really, really wish I could check back with you in 100 years, because I predict a) you'll be still alive, thanks to modern medicine, b) you'll be living comfortably in a well-managed city and c) you'll be a grandparent several times over, with happy, healthy, wise children that will themselves live happily (in cities!) to ripe old ages. And maybe, just maybe, you'll look back on your years as a wild-ass Internet kook and chuckle at your own foolishness.

I bid you well.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:31 PM on September 6, 2007


Whenever me and Wisdom go out, I always just end up asking a bunch of stupid questions.

that may well be why you end up with nothing but stupid answers

But really, all this tribalism nonsense is something akin to a messiah complex wrapped in white man's guilt.

burhanistan wins

So, unless there's some amazing comet or virus or bomb that can selectively erase all knowledge of technology and agricultural advancement, but not kill the rewilders or their knowledge-base, the new new world will start with all possible responses on the table.

i've made that argument - he doesn't buy it

With only small populations and few if any stored provisions, they will be helpless against large agro/techno tribes who will happily enslave them for fun and profit.

the reason that agriculture spreads is not intergroup fighting, as he believes - it's intergroup fucking and adoption of neighboring groups' ways

he can point to all the remains of killed people he wants, but he can't tell us WHY those people were killed or what the conflict was - for all he knows, it could have been over a woman, or a piece of game or, in the case of arrows, even an accidental shooting

no one knows - but that won't stop him from filling in the blanks with his own preferred scenario that it was farmers killing off all the hunter gatherers

because, you see, it's impossible that a hunter gatherer could see another lifestyle and want to follow it - or marry off his daughters into it

i've pointed that out to him, too, but he just waves it away with the same magic wand that makes tribal members fireproof
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 PM on September 6, 2007


because, you see, it's impossible that a hunter gatherer could see another lifestyle and want to follow it - or marry off his daughters into it

Heh. Totally reminds of Quest for Fire, where the primitive hunter-gatherer tribe runs into the advanced agricultural tribe, and the advanced tribe hottie falls for the strongest hunter and brings with her the secrets to fire, weapons and beer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:56 PM on September 6, 2007


This thread had really made me think.

And I've had a revelation.

You know, after the Collapse, when we all revert to gatherer-hunter lifestyles, there won't be trainwrecks.
posted by dersins at 7:57 AM on September 7, 2007


You have to laugh at the tautological tapestries Fandango Matt continues to weave. Apparently, appendicitis and tuberculosis are the only medical emergencies, so if those go away because people eat proper diets and don't have compromised immune systems, I'm claiming that all medical emergencies will disappear.

But the choices are not a) have corporations and a growth-oriented civilization and an ozone hole, b) have a rewilded population. At the moment, we live in a world where there are a ton of companies that use chemicals, and a ton of people who use fridges, etc. Given that, our actual choices -- the choices we affect through our actions -- are a) let the corporations run wild until "civilization" "collapses" while we learn various skills that may aid us in a "post-collapse environment," b) fight to protect what we care about.

That's ridiculous. How much has all that "fighting" effected so far? Ever wonder why? So you pass a law or win a lawsuit, but you still rely on those corporations to keep you alive. You need them. Without their rampaging over the earth, you cannot survive. So you smack them on the wrist. That's fine, because with every meal you eat, every drink of water, you empower them. Your very existence requires them. Which is why all that "fighting" has amounted to nothing. That's why it failed last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. So long as you need the 200 species to go extinct every day in order to keep surviving as you do, you're not going to effect any kind of change.

If you can make yourself independent of that system, though, if you can live without requiring the extinction of 200 species a day, then you might be able to accomplish something. Of course, in that case, you won't need lawsuits or regulations. Corporations exist because of all the people who need them. If nobody needs them anymore, then how can they continue to exist? If nobody buys the food in the supermarket or the things in WalMart, where will they get the resources to continue dumping in rivers and clearing habitat for suburban developments?

That's why changing the way we live is the only way to effect any actual change, and I mean changing the way we live in a lot more fundamental ways than hybrid cars or fluorescent light bulbs.

I would argue that although my choice (b) delays "the collapse," it may completely avert destruction of that particular aspect of the ecosystem. Such that, even if the absolute worst-case collapse comes upon us, we'll have more extant resources to work with. I would argue that real-world choice (a), which seems to be what you're advocating, makes it more likely that the absolute worst-case scenario collapse happens.

I would say your choice does not stop any destruction whatsoever, it just pacifies people into thinking they've made a difference while still participating fully in the devastation of the planet. I would say my choice slows the destruction in a real way, by taking away the resources that drive it forward, and taken far enough, could even slow it to a stop. Unfortunately, we're a fringe of a fringe, so it seems more likely that more people will follow your example, and continue accelerating the destruction of the planet. In that case, my choice is also the best backup plan available, because it also puts us in the best position to survive when you finally do succeed in ramming cvilization into the ground.

I'd further argue that what you call collapse, I'd call change, and that if we're lucky, it won't look much like post-apocalypse novels at all.

Change is fine, if imprecise. And I don't imagine it would look much like a post-apocalypse novel, either.

I think people call things "collapse" out of a failure of imagination...

Collapse is a particular kind of change, a sudden loss of an established order of complexity. The attachment of all the romanticized notions that many people bring to the table is uncalled for, certainly.

...all we can see from here is "omg, the world can't go on like this," so we just... imagine it stopping. There are a lot more hopeful scenarios for how we get from here to there.

Do you think I propose this in some glum, "the sky is falling" manner? Things that ca't go on, don't. But humanity was doing all right in its evolution. The end of civilization isn't the end of knowledge or art or music or philosophy; it's the end of governments, and wars, and disease and poverty. It's a return to the normal human condition, living in tribes, where your greatest wealth is the people around you, what Sahlins called "the original affluent society." There certainly are some very hopeful scenarios for how we get from here to there; frankly, with civilization out of the way, it's hard to imagine a scenario that's not very hopeful.

My "Powerdown" farm bill is one (and one I came up with in about 120 seconds). But how do we get that bill passed? It's not easy. It'd take a ton of work. At the current rate, maybe getting that work done would take 200 years (far too long). But what if we sped that up by being more proactive, less defeatist, less oppositional, more hopeful, and getting more people involved?

Go for it! If there's a way I can support you, I will. But I also have to focus on the direction that has the most chance of success. If you succeed, that's great. But I doubt you will. People don't change their minds because of a good argument; they change their minds when circumstances are forced upon them. That's been true throughout history. But you know what? The more people rewild, the more people experience the living world as the necessary foundation of human life and not just pretty wallpaper, the more support you'll have. And, my guess is, I'll be drumming up more support for you than all the campaigning you could do in a lifetime, by helping people experience the living world as the foundation of their own survival.

I do think the crisis is coming upon us (though maybe that's silly -- every generation thought they were in world-changing crisis).

That's hardly a logical counter-argument, no matter how many times it's repeated. Firstly, it isn't true; apocalypticism is largely a result of Christianity, so it's only about 2,000 years old, and primarily limited to Western Europe for most of that time. Even during that sliver of history, very few generations thought they were living n the end times, with major flare-ups at the end of the Roman Empire, around 1000 CE, during the Black Death, and most recently, the American Fundamentalist movement, from say, 1850 or so. You can find some other examples, sure, but they tend to be fairly isolated. So no, it's not true that every generation thought they lived at the end of the world. In fact, the hunter-gatherer cultures that make up that overwhelming majority of human history (over 99.9% of it) believed that they were living the same way of life they'd lived since the beginning of time, and that it would go on forever. "The end of the world" didn't even mean anything to them.

Secondly, and more importantly, analysis of real data—climate change, peak oil, mass extinction, overpopulation, habitat loss and so on—is a far cry from the exegesis of Bronze Age poetry. There's a very small number of basic narratives available to us; they're hard-wired into our brains. What counts is the quality of the evidence, not the mental framework. So no, it's not valid to dismiss the evidence based on the simple fact that we have the same neurological structures as Christian fundamentalists. By the same token, the narrative generally given by the other side—that at the last moment, X will come to save us, where X is usually some great new technology, or less commonly, some great new political movement—is also found in religious traditions, where it has been equally disappointing. No, it's not eschatological; it's messianic.

So no, I don't think it's silly at all. You can just see the evidence for what it is.

So, now is a time of great opportunity to get people to accept ideas about new ways of doing things. That's precisely why we need a lot of idealistic and informed ecosystem-loving people with skills and knowledge, in positions of power.

The existence of positions of power is one of the clearest symptoms of the problem. This is a great opportunity, and that's why it's crucial not to waste it by getting the very people most receptive to change to become complacent and simply kick back and participate in creating further destruction.

On a personal level, I actually feel upset that you'd insult the idea of working for policy change. That is the day-in, day-out work of a lot of people I know, including myself.

I caught that, and on the personal level of it feeling insulting, I apologize. By the same token, of course, you've also been fairly insulting towards me, and have quite explicitly condemned the idea of working to change the way we live, which is the day-in, day-out work of a lot of people I know, including myself and Urban Scout.

It sounds like we don't have much difference in goals, but we differ in what we expect to be most effective in achieving those goals. I probably won't convince you any more than you will me, and y'know, maybe that's a good thing. Perhaps a diversity of approaches are exactly what we need. Maybe I should be thankful you're doing what you do, and maybe you should be thankful I'm doing what I do, because if either of us turns out to be wrong, the other's ready with the backup plan.

Does that sound reasonable?

Actually, all this tribalism nonsense is just the result of young rich white kids with degrees in anthropology who have smoked way too much Oregonian weed.

Actually, I've never smoked weed. I know I'm weird in that regard, but it's just something I've never been into. I've been high a few times in my life (once from paint fumes because the printshop's ventilation was clogged and we didn't know it; another because I spent too long in a closed room with some friends who did like to smoke), and I never liked the sensation, so I've never pursued it. That's just me.

But... Hunter/gatherer tribalism was only stable and sustainable in the complete absence of alternatives. Once we began experimenting with technology and agriculture, it took only 10,000 years to undo most of the previous 3 million years. And that's going forward (from ignorance to... whatever you want to label our current level of knowing).

That argument really doesn't work. The first problem is "technology and agriculture." Implicit in your argument is the misconception that hunter-gatherers don't have technology. Not true at all. They invented technology. They did tend towards elegant technology, but that gets us to the argument about the diminishing marginal returns on complexity that Joseph Tainter introduced in Collapse of Complex Societies.

Now, as for the argument about how agriculture took over, would you similarly argue that algae blooms represent a clear triumph, going forward from ignorance into a glorious new future? Hardly. "Ignorance" is a mark of hunter-gatherer life only in the most racist, Eurocentric screeds. Sure, agriculture wiped out everything around it, the same way that an algae bloom springs up. That doesn't make it a good idea, since in both cases, you're talking about something that's fundamentally unsustainable. So you wipe out all the sustainable societies right before imploding yourself—what does that gain you? How is that a good thing?

So, unless there's some amazing comet or virus or bomb that can selectively erase all knowledge of technology and agricultural advancement, but not kill the rewilders or their knowledge-base, the new new world will start with all possible responses on the table. And I guaranfreakin-t you that the entire remaining human population isn't going to spontaneously agree to forgo all available advantages in the competition for survival.

Naturally. But look at the state of the world we've left. We're at the point now where, to maintain our civilization, we need an industrial infrastructure in place. The soil's natural arability has been wiped out, thanks to farming. We can only grow food with petrochemical fertilizers, and what fossil fuels are left are so deep that it takes fossil fuels to get them. So if there's any interruption, we'll need to wait for geological time to pass before the opportunity for civilization will arise again.

I'm quite certain, like you, that people will do whatever they can to survive. And I'm sure many people will try farming. But look at the soil quality that's left. The minerals are gone, it's heavily eroded, and there's huge amounts of lead in it that will take hundreds of thousands of years to clean out. In a few centuries, the soil might regenerate enough to farm again, but in that time you're also looking at the end of the Holocene, the unique climatological conditions that made agriculture viable. Once that happens, it will be millions of years, at the earliest, before civilization becomes possible again. Like any case of overshoot, it requires a very specific confluence of conditions.

And that's what survival is - competition. For resources. For the right to live.

Darwin certainly overemphasized that point. More recently, biologists have seen again and again that "nature red in tooth and claw" has more to do with cultural projection than observed reality. In reality, resources aren't clumped together, they're dispersed, so competition is rare. Very often, as with humans, the best strategy is to cooperate.

And if there's one thing that jefgodesky has managed to prove through sheer force of will and repetition, it's that Hunter/gatherer tribalism is powerless against the competition. Being egalitarian, they won't be able to compel anyone to accept their ideas. With only small populations and few if any stored provisions, they will be helpless against large agro/techno tribes who will happily enslave them for fun and profit. Only it won't take 10,000 years this time. Probably 10,000 hours would do it.

Well, it is true that hunter-gatherers are adapted to living, not waging war. So if you put them up against a society that's adapted to waging war, yes, they'll lose. But our society isn't very well-adapted to living. So, we wipe out every other kind of society right before falling apart ourselves. This isn't an uncommon pattern in nature, as I said; it's classic overshoot, and it always ends the same way.

New York City has a population of almost 8.2 million people. Now, according to YOUR proposals, 8.2 million people would form a tribe and live in yurts and longhouses, medical emergencies and care would be handled by herbalists and a shaman, and they'd live in complete anarchy.

What? Uh, no. As I wrote above:

Can primitive living support 6.5 billion people? No. But then again, neither can permaculture, horticulture, or even the good-old "organic agriculture" that turned Iraq's old-growth cedar forest into the modern desert wasteland, gave us the word "meander" from the impact of erosion on the Meander River in Greece, and turned the Great Plains into the Dust Bowl. The only thing that can support 6.5 billion people is industrial agriculture, and that's completely unsustainable. So this constant repetition of how primitive living can't support 6.5 billion people needs to be finally put aside. Nothing can support 6.5 billion people. Primitive living is the only long-term sustainable mode of society humans have ever had; everything else destroys its own basis, some faster than others, but none of them are sustainable. That means that we're going to have to return to primitive living--one way or another. It can be forced on us when our unsustainable society tears itself apart, so that only those living primitively (or ready to live primitively) survive, or we can try to make the descent as gradual and painless as possible.

So my proposal isn't that New York City's 8.5 million people would become one, big, happy tribe. My proposal is that the population will come down—whether by gradual shifting to more and more rewilding, or by letting things go on until it violently collapses and 99% of New York City's population dies (I'm personally hoping it's the former, though I fear the latter; the responses in this thread providing an excellent example of why I fear the latter is unavoidable at this point). Whether we choose to do it ourselves in a gradual, relatively painless matter, or it happens to us in a catastrophic manner because we refuse to do it ourselves, there's no avoiding the fact that our population will be greatly reduced.

So, we're not talking about one tribe of 8.5 million, like your absurdist straw man posits; we're talking about hundreds of bands of 10-30 people each, or possibly horticultural villages of about 100 people, with a total population in the thousands, at most. No, tribalism won't work for 6.5 billion people. Nothing will.

How they will obtain fresh water

There is no sustainable way for all 8.5 million people currently living in New York City to get fresh water. The current system is unsustainable, and sustainable systems all require much lower population, as I've already explained, at length, several times now. For sustainable societies, however, fresh water is fairly easy to obtain. NYC benefits greatly from the meltwater from the Catskills and Adirondacks. Those produce fresh water streams and springs that sustainable societies could easily use. Since we've created so much contamination, though, some safety measures might be necessary. After filtering water (you can actually make a fairly good filter by tying off the end of one pant leg, filling it with sand, and pouring the water through) and boiling it, you have drinking water made reasonably safe from most major contaminants.

How they will obtain food

There is no sustainable way for all 8.5 million people currently living in New York City to get food. The current system is unsustainable, and sustainable systems all require much lower population, as I've already explained, at length, several times now. For sustainable societies, however, there's a spectrum from horticulture/permaculture to hunting and gathering. Every hunter-gatherer society engages in some amount of cultivation (seedballs, selective gathering, controlled fire, etc.), while every horticultural society requires some amount of hunting and gathering to supplement its diet. So we're really talking about emphasis.

Horticulture is a very different kind of cultivation from agriculture. What modern activists call "permaculture" largely reinvents the wheel that's been used by horticultural tribes for millennia. Where agriculture cultivates plants by emulating catastrophe, horticulture encourages succession, emphasizes ecological edge, and tries to create as much diversity in successional stages as possible. Both have big impacts: agriculture turned the old growth cedar forest into a desert, while horticulture created the Amazon rain forest. Horticulture has huge effects; you could even call it terraforming. But where agriculture's effect is to decimate its landbase, horticulture enriches its landbase. Where farmers eventually have to move on because they kill off the land, the longer you practice horticulture in a place, the richer the land will become.

Hunting and gathering is much lower impact, and it's also much more robust. Hunter-gatherers succeed in ecologies so barren that nothing else works. It supports even less population density than horticulture, but requires even less work, and still provides for some surprising amounts of cultural complexity.

How they will obtain medical care for injuries, emergencies, disease, and ongoing treatment

There is no sustainable way for all 8.5 million people currently living in New York City to receive medical treatment The current system is unsustainable, and sustainable systems all require much lower population, as I've already explained, at length, several times now. For sustainable societies, however, we have yet to discover an ethnomedical system that couldn't address all the problems you've mentioned quite adequately. One side of the equation is that by living in an adaptive context, most of the injuries, emergences, diseases and ongoing treatments required in our maladaptive context become irrelevant. We've already seen several examples. Of course, even in an adaptive context, there are other injuries, emergencies, diseases, and ongoing treatments that will still be necessary. No primitive society is without an extensive ethnomedical system. They have extremely effective herbal treatments, they are capable of many basic surgical procedures (including basic brain surgery, as far back as the Mesolithic), and shamanism allows for very effective activation of neurological feedback loops that stimulate the body's own healing processes; basically, they "hack" your immune system to boost its effectiveness, generally experienced as trance and ritual (See Winkleman's work on this subject). This provides not just treatment of disease, where Western biomedicine excels, but also illness and sickness, which Western biomedicine rather systematically neglects. The overall conclusion from reduced incidence of disease and injury, with effective ethnomedical systems, is that health outside of civilization is at least as easy to maintain, if not easier, than inside of it. Mark Nathan Cohen's Health and the Rise of Civilization provides much more information on this.

How they will dispose of waste and sewage

There is no sustainable way for all 8.5 million people currently living in New York City to dispose of waste and sewage. The current system is unsustainable, and sustainable systems all require much lower population, as I've already explained, at length, several times now. For sustainable societies, however, this becomes much less of a problem. Disposing of the waste of 20 people is trivial, a completely different problem than disposing of the waste for 8.5 million. At that scale, you really just have to observe some basic etiquette: don't go in the settlement, or in your water source. Beyond that, it's really only a problem for mass society.

How they will enforce laws and deal with crime

There is no sustainable way for all 8.5 million people currently living in New York City to enforce laws or deal with crime. The current system is unsustainable, and sustainable systems all require much lower population, as I've already explained, at length, several times now. For sustainable societies, however, laws are not necessary. You can deal with cases on a one-to-one basis, relying on consensus and personal relationships to decide what to do when someone does something wrong.

Simply saying, "This is why cities are unsustainable" is not an answer. Long explanations of why they won't have emergencies or crime is not an answer. Please answer the questions, if you can. Thank you.

The questions are based on false premises. I've never proposed cities; in fact, what I said, quoted above, was that cities are precisely what's going away. How would you implement all of these for a city of 8.5 million in a tribal fashion? Simple: you can't. Follow-up question: How would you answer all of those questions, sustainably, using anything else? Simple: you can't. There's no way to provide for 8.5 million people living in one place like that. Tribalism can't provide for that kind of population, and neither can civilization or anything else.

fandango_matt, the truth is, a lot of them will die. The Collapsers acknowledge that. That's what they mean when they use words like "easing" the collapse. They talk explicitly about how there's going to be a lot of suffering (by which they mean death) and that things like teaching gardening skills will reduce that.

There is a flicker of a chance: not much of a chance, but a chance. If rewilding really took off, you could see dropping birth rates until people died, largely of natural causes, faster than they were replaced. You could see a fairly painless population reduction. But really, I think, only if rewilding became bigger than Brangelina, and on a timescale of something like, last week. Short of that, I doubt that's possible. I'm not sure if die-off is something that can be avoided at this point, or if we've already done too much to avoid that consequence of our actions, but I'll keep plugging away to try to make that happen as much as I can. What else can I do?

Most Collapsers' nirvana kicks in when the population is at 10% of what it is today, if I remember right (which I might not, I'm not quite sure what to google to check).

It's hard to say what the final numbers might look like. But this is a classic case of overshoot, and you usually end up with a reduced population ever compared to the original carrying capacity, because the overshoot degraded the environment and lowered the carrying capacity. But at least 10% is probably about right. It might even be more.

"What size world population would allow the creation of a sustainable economy? We at NPG [Negative Population Growth] believe that it is in the range of 1.5 to 2 billion." So, according to them it's more like 20% of what it is now.

William Catton says 1 billion, and others put it even lower than that. As I said, it's hard to say what the final numbers might look like. All we can say with any real certainty is that it's much, much less than where we are now.

I don't think he's a lunatic at all. I think he has a compelling interest in something that he's now trying to turn into a lifestyle. I also think he has some real blind spots in his views of human nature that won't serve him well. But who doesn't?

Thanks. I'm open to discussing what those blind spots might be sometime, especially if you're interested in discussing anthropological and ethnographic evidence about them. But this might not be the best venue, given the vitriol already in this thread. My own blog deals with this fairly exclusively, so we'd love to have a discussion like that over there.

i've made that argument - he doesn't buy it

I certainly agree they'll try, but have you ever planted wheat seeds in dead sand? Farming takes more than just will: it takes soil and climate, and lots of other things that are no longer available.

the reason that agriculture spreads is not intergroup fighting, as he believes - it's intergroup fucking and adoption of neighboring groups' ways

And the evidence for this is...?

This is what Richard Manning worte in Against the Grain:
The same group of anthropologists concluded that this culture’s [Linearbanderkeramik or LBK] sweep through Europe took no more than three hundred years, a blitzkrieg by the standards of the day. And it is appropriate to employ the war metaphor here, in that the record suggests, contrary to conventional ideas about rational and peaceful cultural diffusion, that there was almost no intermixing among the wheat farmers and the salmon-eating, cave-painting Cro-Magnon already resident.

The curious part of this is that there was probably not an inherent ecological reason for conflict. That is, the LBK people didn’t blanket the region, at least not at first, but tended to cluster in villages where loess soils were concentrated, leaving the river-valley bottoms and mountains untouched. That would have left a viable niche for hunter-gatherers. A coexistence with mutually beneficial trade could have developed between the two cultures, but the record says it didn’t. There is almost no record of Cro-Magnon artifacts in LBK villages and vice versa. Cro-Magnon sites seem to cease being occupied at about the time of LBK arrival. In fact, the record seems to show that the Cro-Magnons maintained a sort of buffer zone between themselves and the newcomers, leaving even in advance of the advancing farmers.

The exception to the absence of artifacts from one culture in settlements of the other is evidence that the two sides swapped spear points, probably not as trade goods. “All these artifacts are weapons,” note Price, Gebauer, and Keeley, “and there is no reason to believe that they were exchanged in a nonviolent manner. … The evidence from the western extension of the LBK leaves little room for any other conclusion but that the LBK-Mesolithic interactions were at best chilly and at worst hostile.”
Genetically, the demic diffusion model has gained ground, reinforcing the archaeological evidence (see "Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe" by Pinhasi, Fort and Ammerman, "Genetic evidence for the spread of agriculture in Europe by demic diffusion" by Sokal, Oden and Wilson, "Y genetic data support the Neolithic demic diffusion model," by Chikhi, Nichols, Barbujani and Beaumont, and/or "Clines of nuclear DNA markers suggest a largely Neolithic ancestry of the European gene pool" by Chikhi, Destro-Bisol, Bertorelle, Pascali and Barbujani).

There's some of the evidence supporting my position. Would you like to present some actual evidence for your assertion?

he can point to all the remains of killed people he wants, but he can't tell us WHY those people were killed or what the conflict was - for all he knows, it could have been over a woman, or a piece of game or, in the case of arrows, even an accidental shooting

no one knows - but that won't stop him from filling in the blanks with his own preferred scenario that it was farmers killing off all the hunter gatherers


That is ridiculous. Have you ever even read an archaeological report before? This is a very clear pattern, with very clear archaeological and genetic evidence. Where LBK lived, Cro-Magnon didn't. The only evidence of trade is LBK arrow points in Cro-Magnon rib cages. There's no evidence of genetic mixing, only of genocidal destruction and complete replacement.

because, you see, it's impossible that a hunter gatherer could see another lifestyle and want to follow it - or marry off his daughters into it

And I'm the ideologue? This is the most clear, straightforward evidence you could possibly ask for, and yet you're desperately trying to twist it to fit your ideological view. Face it, the evidence is abundantly clear: the first farmers invaded Europe. Agriculture did not spread peacefully, it spread through genocide. We know this pattern holds true in historical times, why is it so shocking to think it might go earlier than that?
posted by jefgodesky at 11:02 AM on September 7, 2007


You know, if I manage to write a 600-word comment here, it will take the total word count of this thread to over 50,000.

That's fucking preposterous, especially for a 200-comment thread.

Good thing I'm too lazy to write that much.
posted by dersins at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2007


"Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe"

describes a time period much greater than 300 years

please read your references before you cite them

by the way - if you look at our previous conversations, i've refuted this specific point before, based on your careless interpretation of the time frame in this same study

i'm not going through the same crap again and again
posted by pyramid termite at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2007


That's fucking preposterous, especially for a 200-comment thread.

Can't cut it both ways. Which one is it? Am I talking crazy with a bunch of unsubstantiated nonsesne, or am I taking up too much space citing evidence? Which one is it?

describes a time period much greater than 300 years

Yeah, because the 300 year blitzkrieg shown in the archaeological record is too quick to show up in the genetic record, so you need a bigger window. 300 years is a rounding error for genetic data.

please read your references before you cite them

I did. Did you read it? Did you understand all the big words? It seems you didn't.

by the way - if you look at our previous conversations, i've refuted this specific point before, based on your careless interpretation of the time frame in this same study

Except you didn't refute it. You made up some nonsense about how it could have been peaceful, quiet exchange, from intermarrying and the spread of the idea. That has a name: "cultural diffusion." As opposed to demic diffusion. It leaves a specific, recognizable pattern of archaeological and genetic evidence. We have no shortage of examples of actual cultural diffusion; after all, it happens all the time. If you understood the papers I've cited, you would already know that. And you would know that what we see with the spread of agriculture is not that pattern—it's the pattern of demic diffusion. That's the word for, "kill everyone and conquer their land." That leaves a different, but equally distinct, pattern of archaeological and genetic evidence, which is much more rare than normal cultural diffusion, but if you're looking at the spread of agriculture, that's the pattern we find.

Can I imagine agriculture spreading peacefully? Absolutely. In fact, that was my initial assumption. That was the initial assumption of most archaeologists and anthropologists, too. Even after I read about Dicksons Mounds and the drawbacks of agriculture, I still presumed it spread peacefully, through normal cultural diffusion. But then I read the evidence about LBK and demic diffusion. Confronted with evidence that challenged my assumptions, I changed my mind, because I'm not an ideological zealot. Had I been an ideological zealot, I would have made desperate attempts to twist the evidence to fit my preconceived notions, even when they clearly contradict my preconceived notions. Then I would say that I'd already refuted the evidence, by pointing to the desperate twisting of the evidence that the evidence specifically makes impossible. But that's what I would've done if I were an ideological zealot. I'm not, so I just changed my mind and accepted the conclusion the evidence pointed to instead.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:42 AM on September 7, 2007


Implicit in your argument is the misconception that hunter-gatherers don't have technology.

Not at all. My library is full of books on "primitive" technology. It's a hobby of mine, too. The point I was implying is that the genie is already out of the bottle. Not everyone who survives will do so by drawing their lines in the historical sand at the same exact point in the timeline that you do. And frankly, in a battle between The Society for Creative Anachronisms vs. Civil War reenactors, I'd have to pick the Civil War Reenactors every time. (Not really - joke intended for clovis point-making purposes only.) Actually, I'd put my money on the survivalists, long term. They frequently have the same basic survival skills you do, but lots more hardware, and no qualms about using it. (FYI - I am not a survivalist in that sense of the term. I'm just intellectually interested in the subject and think it's always good to have the skills and knowledge to be self-sufficient.)

Sure, agriculture wiped out everything around it, the same way that an algae bloom springs up. That doesn't make it a good idea, since in both cases, you're talking about something that's fundamentally unsustainable. So you wipe out all the sustainable societies right before imploding yourself—what does that gain you? How is that a good thing?

I'm not saying it's a good thing. I'm saying it is, however, according to your own analysis, inevitable. Which argues against your proposition that hunter/gatherer tribalism will naturally out as the long-term viable end-game. If agriculture as traditionally practiced will always supplant hunter/gatherer tribalism, doesn't it make more sense to look for a way to subvert agricultural practices into a more sustainable model? Advancing current agricultural practices to successfully adopt permaculture values would probably do more to ensure future hunter/gatherer viability than actually promoting hunter/gatherer values now.

I'm quite certain, like you, that people will do whatever they can to survive. And I'm sure many people will try farming. But look at the soil quality that's left. The minerals are gone, it's heavily eroded, and there's huge amounts of lead in it that will take hundreds of thousands of years to clean out. In a few centuries, the soil might regenerate enough to farm again, but in that time you're also looking at the end of the Holocene, the unique climatological conditions that made agriculture viable. Once that happens, it will be millions of years, at the earliest, before civilization becomes possible again. Like any case of overshoot, it requires a very specific confluence of conditions.

Again, I think you're underestimating man's venal nature. Post collapse, by your own estimates, there will be only a billion of us, or even far fewer. There's plenty of forestland left to cut down to make way for new farmland on perfectly good soil. You know all that stuff you're planning on gathering? You know all those things you're planning on hunting? They also require that the soil be viable. In other words - unless you're only planning on living in deserts and arctic plains, the same land you're expecting to sustain you will be coveted by future farmer wannabes. And we've already established who probably gets the land in that scenario.

Very often, as with humans, the best strategy is to cooperate.

I agree that it's often the best strategy. It has also repeatedly been demonstrated to be a poor outcome to bet on.

My own blog deals with this fairly exclusively, so we'd love to have a discussion like that over there.

I keep meaning to drop by. If nothing else, you probably have some resources I'll be interested in (and maybe vice versa). I'll try to use this discussion to prompt me to come explore.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:01 PM on September 7, 2007


This is not real shamanism. Shamen don't reject anything.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2007


Am I talking crazy with a bunch of unsubstantiated nonsesne, or am I taking up too much space citing evidence? Which one is it?

false dilemma - it can actually be both

but here's your number one fallacy - you come up with one hypothesis that fits the data you have and automatically after that, no other plausible hypothesis will be considered and any data that doesn't fit will be rejected

you've done it with the fate of civilization - you've also done it with the history of agriculture even to the point where elementary school math and geography are ignored

fact - europe is bigger than 300 km
fact - your first study cites a rate of 0.8 to 1.3 km expansion a year
fact - 300 years is not enough time for what you and richard manning claim at this rate

and fudging it with a + & - 300 year error is not enough to account for the discrepency

and you would know that what we see with the spread of agriculture is not that pattern—it's the pattern of demic diffusion. That's the word for, "kill everyone and conquer their land."

there are other opinions on this, you know

The fifth group is much younger in Europe (6,000 to 10,000 years ago) and has clear affinities to Near Eastern mtDNA. Sykes and his colleagues accept this as the genetic echo of the spread of agriculture, but note that it is fairly weak. They conclude that, far from being overwhelmed by incoming farmers, the indigenous hunter-gatherer population remained intact and learned how to farm.

(my emphasis)

you're overstating your case and there are other plausible explanations than yours for the data we have

You made up some nonsense about how it could have been peaceful, quiet exchange, from intermarrying and the spread of the idea.

seems like i'm not the only one who's doing that - actual scientists with actual degrees just like yours are saying the same thing

you know what the real problem is? ... you want simple answers to complex questions

life and science don't work that way
posted by pyramid termite at 8:36 PM on September 7, 2007


The point I was implying is that the genie is already out of the bottle. Not everyone who survives will do so by drawing their lines in the historical sand at the same exact point in the timeline that you do.

Ah, OK, now I see what you mean. But I come back again to the point that it takes more than will. I'm sure that people will try all of those things. But the soil isn't there for it anymore. They'll try tilling and spreading their seed, and then nothing will grow because the soil was killed off a century ago (which is why we started using all those petrochemicals in the first place), and they'll starve. I don't think the world's going to end up living primitively by choice; most people who end up living that way will try everything else first, I'm sure. But if nothing else works, you'll either be dead, or living primitively.

You mentioned the survivalists and their hardware, which is really the very reason I don't expect them to do so well. You run out of ammo, your knife will eventually wear out. None of that hardware lasts forever. And because they've concentrated so much on that, and their attitude towards the rest of the world is so counter-productive, they're going to have a hard time transitioning to something that will work long-term when that happens.

I'm saying it is, however, according to your own analysis, inevitable. Which argues against your proposition that hunter/gatherer tribalism will naturally out as the long-term viable end-game.

Well, I don't think that's a very strong argument. It's true, as far as that goes. By comparison, look at the reindeer on St. Matthew's Island. Sure, drop a reindeer herd on an island like that, and they'll always follow that overshoot curve. But how often do you find a herd of reindeer in that situation? Given the correct constellation of biological, ecological, climatological, and geographical factors, and you'll probably always have agriculture spring up, but how often do you encounter that situation? The next one won't occur for millions of years. Just like you wouldn't say that reindeer overshoot disproves the long-term viability of reindeer under normal conditions, I don't think you can really say that agriculture disproves the long-term viability of primitive life.

But it sounds like the disconnect is a little more basic. You seem to be coming from the point of view that agriculture is fundamentally about a piece of knowledge, and once learned, it cannot be unlearned. My assumption is that agriculture is principally an ecological phenomenon, and when the ecological parameters that allow for it disappear, it, too, disappears. The way I think of it, what people want or try has very little to do with it.

If agriculture as traditionally practiced will always supplant hunter/gatherer tribalism, doesn't it make more sense to look for a way to subvert agricultural practices into a more sustainable model?

If agriculture were basically sustainable, and we were just doing it wrong, that might be a good idea. But agriculture is intrinsically unsustainable. That's not to say that all cultivation is, but agriculture—tilling, what your average person would recognize as farming—always involves the emulation of natural catastrophe, and that is always unsustainable. It's about keeping succession from happening. That can't be made into something sustainable. Now, maybe you could parlay people's attachment to agriculture to lead them to adopt something that has nothing to do with agriculture, like permaculture. Permaculture can sound vaguely like agriculture when you begin, even though the end product is something no one would recognize as a farm. But when the first step in making something sustainable is to make it no longer that thing, I don't think "reform" is the word so much as "abandon."

Advancing current agricultural practices to successfully adopt permaculture values would probably do more to ensure future hunter/gatherer viability than actually promoting hunter/gatherer values now.

Permaculture (or what anthropologists call horticulture) and primitive skills are very intimately linked. I think anything that promotes one, automatically promotes the other.

There's plenty of forestland left to cut down to make way for new farmland on perfectly good soil. You know all that stuff you're planning on gathering? You know all those things you're planning on hunting? They also require that the soil be viable.

Well, no, not quite. Land that's been killed off by agriculture is still very good for other plants. We tend to call them "weeds," precisely because they do so well in the soils agriculture leaves behind. If you go back to that car running in the garage example, as toxic as that atmosphere becomes for humans, it would still be perfect for plants which need those gases. Soil that can no longer grow cereal grains can still grow lots of other plants.

Which brings us to those forests, which have generally been left as forests for very good reasons. They make terrible farmland, or clearing them has devastating consequences for their enveloping watersheds. Will people try cutting them down? I'm sure. But just like elsewhere, those farms aren't going to grow anything. They're going to find out why their ancestors, with a decent knowledge of soils and agriculture, decided it wasn't worth tearing down those forests in the first place.

Perhaps an example is in order, the place we're rewilding to, the Allegheny National Forest. It was sparsely populated right into the locomotive age, when it was completely deforested. But it's never been farmed very much. The plateau soils are very poor for agriculture, even though they're good for the forest, and the growing season for domesticated crops is quite short, though it's quite long enough for many other species, including Three Sisters guild planting, as the Seneca used there before the settlers came in. If people start carving into that forest hoping to plant farms, they're unlikely to see a good harvest. Already, I see the farms up there failing because the price of fertilizer is rising too high.

In other words - unless you're only planning on living in deserts and arctic plains, the same land you're expecting to sustain you will be coveted by future farmer wannabes. And we've already established who probably gets the land in that scenario.

While I disagree on the probability of that scenario for the reasons stated above, it's worth noting that if things actually do go that far, hunting and gathering will be the only viable strategy left.

This is not real shamanism. Shamen don't reject anything.

Maybe in the New Age hooey sense, but I'm talking about actual, indigenous animists. Granted, the word "shaman" is problematic, but I think there's a real, widespread phenomenon there. Such shamans are pragmatic, but to say that they "don't reject anything" is nonsense.

but here's your number one fallacy - you come up with one hypothesis that fits the data you have and automatically after that, no other plausible hypothesis will be considered and any data that doesn't fit will be rejected

Except that's not what happened. There could well be other hypotheses, but simply repeating the same hypothesis that's already been disproven by the evidence, without introducing any new evidence in its favor, is not how to do it. I've shown why your hypothesis doesn't hold given the evidence. You haven't produced any contrary evidence, you've just kept repeating it and insisting that it's true.

fact - europe is bigger than 300 km
fact - your first study cites a rate of 0.8 to 1.3 km expansion a year
fact - 300 years is not enough time for what you and richard manning claim at this rate

and fudging it with a + & - 300 year error is not enough to account for the discrepency


I didn't say +/- 300 year window, I said that 300 years is a rounding error in genetic studies.

You've obviously never studied archaeology or history before, so I'll put this bluntly: archaeological and genetic evidence rarely match up with any kind of precision. Certainly not in dates, but they rarely match up in general outline, either. Personally (and I probably get this attitude at least in part from one of my physical anthropology professors, Dr. Michael Schwartz at the University of Pittsburgh—if you knew anything about human evolution, that name would be very familiar), I think the recent fascination with genetic evidence is a bit of a scientific fad, and it's probably not nearly as important as we currently think. Too many things involved with genetic evidence to make it murky and ambiguous. But even so, a discrepency of even several centuries from one study to another, particularly from one studying genetic evidence to one studying archaeological evidence, is hardly surprising. Whether it was 300 years or 3,000, the evidence clearly indicates demic diffusion, which is the main point here. If you're really trying to suggest that slight differences in details like how long that demic diffusion took amount to a real case against it, you should look into becoming a climate change skeptic; they deal in that kind of academic dishonesty, too.

there are other opinions on this, you know

Now you're dealing in evidence. But here we're getting into the murkiness and ambiguity of genetic evidence. mtDNA is spread through the matrilineal line, and as we've seen, there's plenty of contradictory genetic evidence. Besides, Sykes is still at odds with the archaeological evidence. So you have a case with just mtDNA, which is hard to say what it really means, versus a clear, unified opinion from genetic and archaeological evidence combined. Personally, I think the only reason Sykes' results are circulated so widely is because it tells us what we want to hear, because from an objective standpoint, the strength of the argument doesn't seem like very much. (It should be noted, too, that Cavalli-Sforza and Sykes had a bit of a pre-existing grudge match over Sykes' The Seven Daughters of Eve) If you read the Chikhi, et al paper linked above, you'll note that it already rebuts Sykes' study.

Of course, if you just want to point out that there is a debate on this, you're correct: there is. But to suggest that that alone indicates that my statement is wrong would be a logical fallacy: argument from authority. We have the evidence, provided by both sides of the debate. There's nothing barring us from discussing that evidence, is there?

you're overstating your case and there are other plausible explanations than yours for the data we have

I'm not. The demic diffusion model is well-established, with significant evidence to suggest it. The competing theories have significant problems, in my opinion. If you want to get down to details and discuss those problems in depth, I'd be happy to. It would be much more useful than the hand-waving you've been up to otherwise.

seems like i'm not the only one who's doing that - actual scientists with actual degrees just like yours are saying the same thing

Sykes is a bit obsessed with his genetic evidence. The fact that he has nothing in the archaeological record to corroborate his ambiguous evidence is telling. The latest studies, published since Sykes, have rebutted his findings. You're working from pop science, and a few years late, to boot.

you know what the real problem is? ... you want simple answers to complex questions

life and science don't work that way


I don't care if the answers are simple or complex. I actually expected them to be much more complex than they've turned out to be, but I've since learned why that expectation ended up so wrong. Look at the rest of the world; most things work, and when they don't, there's usually one basic flaw that results in a wide range of maladaptive behavior, because simple factors give rise to complex consequences. Yes, our civilization has many, complex problems. That doesn't mean that there isn't a simple reason for them. In fact, it rather suggests that a fairly simple reason should exist.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:07 PM on September 7, 2007


It's all in your head, in your preconceived notions that life is somehow flowing out of phase with your ideals.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 PM on September 7, 2007


Roughly 200 species went extinct today. That's not in my head.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:18 PM on September 7, 2007


Roughly 200 species went extinct today. That's not in my head.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:18 PM on September 7, 2007


It was a general statement. But you are in your head, too, j. Careful not to go too far up in there.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:21 PM on September 7, 2007


Good grief. Jason, you've got a good grasp of the history of civilizations, but you're overlooking a critical flaw in your theory, which is the difference between theory and practice. Even if your scenario about a mass die-off occured, too many unintended consequences exist--not to mention the unpleasant realities of human psychology, behavior, and social science--for your wildly speculative fantasies of people from the 21st century peacefully forming a neo-paleolithic village of teepees to actually happen.

There is just simply no way a group of people--particularly city-dwelling Americans--from the 21st century are going to abandon all their expertise and knowledge of science and medicine in favor of letting a shaman practice medicine while agreeing to live amongst each other without leadership and laws--human beings simply do not behave this way, especially when they're under duress in the aftermath of a catastrophe. You need look no further than Hurricane Katrina for examples of how humans behave in the wake of a catastrophe. It's desperate, violent, and ugly, and it does not in any way map tp your theories. Sorry, but neither history nor science is on your side when we're talking reality.

Just think about it for a minute. If you had a compound fracture right now, you'd go immediately to the emergency room for stitches and a cast--you would not seek out an herbalist, set it yourself, and sew yourself up with twine. For you think anyone else would be comfortable doing so is laughable, and disingenuous, because you're smarter than that.

And that is probably the most sickening part of your endless postulating about your fantasies for the collapse of civilization and your unabashed glee at living in an anarchistic agrarian utopia of yurts and longhouses among the remaining ten or twenty percent of people who survive the apocalypse you think is imminent. Your attitude distinctly reminds me of other paranoid, apocalyptic cults and movements--all of them have a commonality in believing the world is about to end, they want to isolate themselves from society, but they'll be the ones saved and left to rule because they'll have (God/Allah/Jim Jones/rewilding skills/etc.) on their side.

The fact you're planning and hoping for mass death and the destruction of civilization instead of actively working toward changing the world we have now to avoid those catastrophies speaks volumes about your attitudes toward humanity--which isn't surprising, given your similarities to the other species likely to survive the apocalypse: maggots, cockroaches, and rats. Enjoy your roadkill.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:44 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


I didn't say +/- 300 year window, I said that 300 years is a rounding error in genetic studies.

"The same group of anthropologists concluded that this culture’s [Linearbanderkeramik or LBK] sweep through Europe took no more than three hundred years"

this is where i got the 300 years from - your quote

You've obviously never studied archaeology or history before

i don't have to take that from a man who can't remember from one post to the next what he's actually written

the 300 years is not my figure, it's yours, it's not a rounding error, it is a statement of how long the process worked and it directly contradicts the first study you have cited

quit bullshitting us and admit that there's a contradiction here

so I'll put this bluntly: archaeological and genetic evidence rarely match up with any kind of precision.

that's because neither one are that comprehensive

Too many things involved with genetic evidence to make it murky and ambiguous.

ditto archeology

Whether it was 300 years or 3,000, the evidence clearly indicates demic diffusion, which is the main point here. If you're really trying to suggest that slight differences in details like how long that demic diffusion took amount to a real case against it

2,700 years is 1/4 of settled humanity's history and not a "slight difference"

Of course, if you just want to point out that there is a debate on this, you're correct: there is. But to suggest that that alone indicates that my statement is wrong would be a logical fallacy: argument from authority.

and therefore to suggest that your statement is right is also a logical fallacy, isn't it?

here's a logical fallacy -

I've shown why your hypothesis doesn't hold given the evidence. You haven't produced any contrary evidence, you've just kept repeating it and insisting that it's true.

in other words you are saying it is absolutely impossible that tribes of hunter gatherers and neighboring farmers couldn't have met socially or interbred, that some kind of barrier automatically prevented ALL of them from doing so through thousands of years and that NONE of the tribes would have ever adopted their neighbors' ways

is that the same magic barrier that keeps the tribal members fireproof that does this?

are you also saying that unless i have copies of love letters and photographs of these neighbors fucking, that what i propose is absolutely impossible and unlikely?

are you saying that the archeological record is so complete, covering EVERY community, or at least a proportionally valid statistical sampling of those communities, that the banal, everyday possibility of people moving over a few miles to interbreed with one another has been absolutely discarded?

listen to what you're actually asking me for proof here of - that people within a given number of miles of each other might interbreed and have children

that's not a reasonable thing to deny - that's like denying they picked their noses because you don't have archeological evidence of boogers

in fact, you've fallen prone to the logical fallacy known as binary thinking - that there are only TWO possibilities for a question - farming could have spread by BOTH means - it's not a one or the other situation

(and for those wondering we HAVE debated this before)

Sykes is a bit obsessed with his genetic evidence.

you really shouldn't be calling other people obsessed

The latest studies, published since Sykes, have rebutted his findings.

no, they rebut a certain interpretation of his findings - even the paper you cite above is not inconsistent with a scenario in which small groups of hunter gatherers join with much larger groups of farmers

also there's the conclusions you've jumped to about this - first that demic diffusion means "conquering"

there's several problems with this - 1) what you like to call the civilization caused diseases could have decimated the hunter gatherers long before a conflict got started in earnest - there's plenty of evidence in the history of the new world for that

2) not all of europe was agriculturalized - in fact, many areas in france and other areas were still being cleared in medieval times

3) room - europe's a big place, which brings up the question of motivation - why would the agricultural people eliminate the hunter gatherers when it would take them thousands of years to populate the continent - and not even all of that with agricultural settlements?

Roughly 200 species went extinct today. That's not in my head.

and for the most part, not in the part of the world you live in

Good grief. Jason, you've got a good grasp of the history of civilizations, but you're overlooking a critical flaw in your theory, which is the difference between theory and practice.

exactly - and he's prone to ignoring practice in favor of theory

Enjoy your roadkill.

when the gasoline runs out, so does the roadkill - so much for his sustainable lifestyle
posted by pyramid termite at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2007


You mentioned the survivalists and their hardware, which is really the very reason I don't expect them to do so well. You run out of ammo, your knife will eventually wear out. None of that hardware lasts forever. And because they've concentrated so much on that, and their attitude towards the rest of the world is so counter-productive, they're going to have a hard time transitioning to something that will work long-term when that happens.

I spend a fair amount of time scavenging information among the survivalists, and I can tell you with confidence that running out of ammo and dulling their knives is not going to be a problem. These people can make more. Easily. Scavenging, knife-making, and re-loading (as well as primitive skills) are all matters of pride among many survivalists. Many of these people are already living off the grid, and are quite self-sufficient even when it comes to keeping complex machinery running. No matter which end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario you pick, there will be plenty of 21st century detritus left over for the enterprising survivors to work with. In fact, short of global thermonuclear war (in which case none of us are likely to make it), the bigger the collapse, the more material will be available to recycle. I think you underestimate their skills and planning. They're starting from the same basic assumptions you are about the inevitable collapse of civilization, and have planned quite well for long-term survival. Only they haven't artificially limited their survival strategies to only one solution out of ideological allegiance, and will have the advantage of adaptability on their side to go with their hardware and basic survival skills. Plus - and I can't stress this enough - some of them are batshitinsane. Which may or may not turn out to be a useful survival trait, but will at the least make them formidable foes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:31 AM on September 8, 2007


jefgodesky responded:
"Serial rapists and murderers

This doesn't really happen in tribal societies. You get "murderers," because without police or army, every member of the tribe basically takes up those responsibilities, so many have killed members of neighboring tribes, but that's no more a problem for them than returning veterans are for us. And serial rapists just don't emerge out of tribal societies. I don't know of a single example of that even arising."


Yes, this does happen in tribal societies.

Do a little more actual anthropological research before throwing out such ridiculous posits as if they were fact, kiddo.
posted by batmonkey at 1:44 PM on September 10, 2007


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