5 Common Objections to Primitivism, and Why They’re Wrong

by Jason Godesky

1. Isn’t it hypocritical of primitivists to use modern technology? If they want to live primitively so badly, why don’t they just run off into the woods already and do it?

Not all primitivists are against technology in and of itself; only some. Many primitivists hold a view that technology is ambiguous. Technology is found among all “primitive” peoples to one extent or another, so obviously there is some sustainable level of techology. There is great disagreement among primitivists as to where that level is, but all agree that it isn’t our current level. Yes, we would like to see a lower level of technology, but since we have no problem with technology itself, why would we abstain from the use of our current, unsustainable technologies while they remain? One does not need to believe that a hammer is the greatest achievement of mankind, a miracle that ennobles us above all other animals and justifies our dominion over the earth, in order to use it to drive in a nail, after all. Neither does a computer. One can value science highly and still not believe that it is the sole or highest arbiter of truth; these are not mutually exclusive. And one can use the internet to spread the message that “the internet” and the infrastructure that supports it, is not going to last.

So, the charge of hypocrisy only holds up if we extend the beliefs of some primitivists to all primitivists, or to primitivism itself. What of the second question–why don’t primitivists run off into the woods already?

There are two issues here; the first is education. We were all raised within civilization, which has a vested interest in ensuring its children have as little independent survival value as possible. The civilized cultural system has adapted well–it reinforces itself memetically in precisely those areas where individuals are closest to self-sufficiency, creating a feeling of dependence even where little actual dependence exists. Regardless, most primitivists no more possess the skills of survival than your average suburbanite–skills every six year old “primitive” would have. Most primitivists are working to remedy that situation, but in the same way that you wouldn’t tell a !Kung man with dreams of brokering stock to just go to Wall Street already, but to learn a thing or two about the stock market first, so we are learning the skills we will need before hanging our lives on such skills. “Running off into the woods already” is a goal, ultimately, but one we must work towards, not one we can simply pick up and go with. If it were that easy, well, you wouldn’t be reading this, I can tell you that.

Secondly, there is the issue of lands and laws. Civilization has precluded “running off into the woods” as an option fairly well. Hunting regulations pose serious encumberments, to say nothing of the fact that some meager income must be maintained to pay for hunting and fishing licenses, as well as taxes on land. Ultimately, such a “micro-collapse” is impossible so long as civilization still exists–the pressing needs of ever-increasing complexity will lead to our re-absorption, by force if necessary. There is the essential problem; if civilization were willing to coexist with us, we would be happy to return the favor. But ultimately, civilization is incapable of letting anything but itself exist. We’re happy to live alongside anyone who’s willing to live alongside us–but civilization is not. “Running off into the woods,” so long as civilization remans, merely ensures our eventual, violent destruction at civilizaton’s hands.

2. We have a stable, abundant supply of food. Primitivists want us to spend our lives desperate as to where our next meal is coming from.

Why, then, is it only agriculturalists who starve? In fact, civilization’s food supply has always been shaky and meager. It is only recently that industrialized nations have increased production sufficiently to reap the benefits of “affluent malnutrition.” That’s the key to the success of modern life. We still eat things that are terribly maladapted to our physiology, but we eat them in prodigious quantities, aloowing us to stay alive (if constantly sickly and degenerative) for the normal huma lifespan of about 70 years, surpassing the average lifespan of medieval European nobility, but still slightly shy of our Mesolithic ancestors.

As the elite of the world system, the industrialized world is able to enjoy this standard of livng because the non-industrialized world suffers chronic malnutrition and starvation. By contrast, foragers are transhumant omnivores–as well as being some of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. Foragers make their home among the islands of Tierra del Fuego, the frozen wastes of the Arctic, the Kalahari desert, and the thick jungles of the Congo–among areas so remote and desolate no crop would ever grow. To starve out foragers would require the end of nearly all multicellular life on this planet in the kind of mass extinction never before seen. By contrast, to starve out a bunch of farmers requires a slightly dry summer.

The idea that agriculture provides an abundant, stable food supply is demonstrably false. It is a myth. Agriculturalists rely on a small number of domesticable species–and those species tend to be closely related to one another, as well. It’s the fallacy of “putting all of your eggs in one basket.” By comparison, foragers rely not only on a much larger number of species, but a much wider diversity of species, as well. So, in fact, primitivists are advocating that we give up a higly unreliable and meager supply of fodd, for a supply that is genuinely stable and abundant.

3. Primitivism would mean a drastic reduction in quality of life–no more medicne, no more art or music. Instead, you get euthanasia, astronomical infant mortality, and a life expectancy of about 30.

The “euthanasia” charge comes from the Inuit, who were once slandered as leaving their elderly to die on ice floes. In fact, it was a rare custom, but a form of voluntary self-sacrifice that elders sometimes engaged in for the good of their bands, despite the pleading protestations of the rest of the band. The Inuit are full of such exceptions that prove the rule, because even for a forager, the arctic is a harsh and unforgiving place.

The infant mortality has simply been completely misrepresented, though. Yes, infant mortality among foragers is high–but not for the reasons such a statement would seem to imply. It is not because of disease or malnutrition–quite the opposite, as these things are fairly peculiar to civilized societies. Rather, just as we argue whether life begins at conception or at birth, foragers believe that life does not begin until, usually, the age of two. Foragers look at infanticide much the same way we do abortion. Among the !Kung, a pregnant woman goes into labor, and walks off into the bush (I’m told that childbirth is significantly less an ordeal among those who are not malnourished–affluently or otherwise). Maybe she comes back with a child; maybe she doesn’t. Either way, no questions are asked. So, our calculations of forager lifespans are quite unfair–if we’re going to include their infanticide, then we must include our own abortions. To do otherwise would simply be ethnocentric. In fact, when we do that, we see that forager lifespans are as long as, and sometimes longer, than our own.

The charge on medicine is common, but utterly anthropocentric. In the anthropology of medicine, one refers to “ethnomedicine”–whatever a given culture considers to be “medicine.” Given the overlap of food-as-medicine, this can be as arbitrary as how a culture divides up the color spectrum. Western biomedicine is our ethnomedicine. Every culture believes that their ethnomedicine is the only valuable one, and all others are naught but silly superstition. This is simply ethnocentrism. At the root of the claim that primitivism precludes medicine is precisely this ethnocentrism. In fact, when we look at the actual efficacy of the various ethnomedicines in the world, there’s very little variation. Most ethnomedicines are quite effective, just like ours; most have one or more area where they fail utterly (ours tries to ignore placebo rather than use it; shamanism is the opposite, but has no conept of surgery, etc.), and all end up being roughly interchangeable if one is only concerned with efficacy. So, by no means does primitivism require the end of medicine–it merely means a radically different, but equally effective, form of medicine. In fact, if we attempt a syncretic type of medicine that seeks to combine the best of several ethnomedicines, we may actually come up with one of the first medical systems that actually is more effective.

Finally, the charge that primitivism would mean the end of art and music is patently false. Art, music and the rest were universal among primitive peoples for 30,000 years before civilization even began. They have had these things for four times as long as civilization has even existed. The cave art as Lasceaux is easily comparable to Michelangelo, and the Pygmy tribes of the Congo sing songs with a polyphonic complexity that Europe did not match until the 14th century. One can only claim that primitive peoples have no art or music if we ethnocentrically define “art” and “music” to mean, “it only counts if a white guy did it.” In Savages & Civilization, Jack Weatherford makes the case that the scientific, artistic, musical and philosophical achievements of civilization were all inspired by our contact with savages. Primitivists believe that, if it is at all possible to call any culture “superior,” then it must be that of the primitives–those who inspired all of our greatest achievements, and suffer none of our worst flaws.

4. Primitivists are misanthropic.

This charge requires a unique definition of “misanthropic,” but it is usually attached to the next objection, below. To make this statement, the speaker first conflates humanity and civilization with some mythology about civilization being mankind’s natural destiny, rather than the momentary abberation it truly is. In fact, domesticated Homo sapiens exists in a pitiful state of captivity, bound to a moribund existence to which she is entirely maladapted. Humans in the wild experience a level of freedom and fullness of life that is incomprehensible to their domesticated brethren, just as Plato’s protagonist could not explain the outside world to those poor wretches chained to the wall in the allegory of the cave. The goal of primitivism is rewilding, that is, to return as many domesticated Homo sapiens to that happy, natural state as possible.

To the primitivist, it is, in fact, the progressivist who is misanthropic. It is the progressivist who claims that the natural state of humanity is to labor for the benefit of others and to be subject to despots–at best, kind-hearted and duly-elected despots, but despots all the same. It is the progressivist who thinks that humanity is not sufficient in itself, but must be ennobled by Science and Reason, redeemed from his fallen state of primitive fear and violence by Technology. The progressivist sees nothing but misery in our past, a savage in our soul that must be denied and sublimated, and for our future, a cold, aloof godhood, an apotheosis by nanotechnology, and the alienation of dominion over the earth that precludes ever being part of it. The progressivist takes a very dim view of the human being indeed: her passions must be denied, her nature is savage and must be sublimated, her natural state is a never-ending Hobbesian nightmare.

The primitivist knows all of this is so many fairy tales. We know that primitive societies live in no such nightmare, but are, in fact, as Marshal Sahlins put it, “the original affluent society.” We know that we are not the forgotten children of evolution, the only species of all the earth left without an easy adaptation to the world. We know that human nature is neither demonic, nor angelic. We do not see humanity as something fallen that must be fixed–whether by faith in some number of gods (whether many, one, or none at all), or by Reason, or by Technology. We believe that being human is a wonderful thing. We can also see that the progressivist agenda has shackled humanity, that civilization dehumanizes us and strips us of all those things that are so good about our species.

It was for this abiding faith in humanity and our conviction that humanity is most emphatically not broken, and neither is it in need of us to “fix” it, that I chose the name “Anthropik” for our tribe. The term “humanist” might have done just as well, had it not been adopted (rather inappropriately, to my mind) by a particular camp of progressivists, but as it is, it plays well against the term “misanthropy.” Progressivists are misanthropic; it is primitivists who are anthropic.

5. Primitivists are genocidal maniacs whose planned “utopia” requires them to orchestrate the mass murder of 99% of the human population!

I’ve saved the best for last. This is the single most common, and the single most powerful attack launched against primitivists by the progressivist camp.

It is undeniably true that the world’s population cannot be sustained without modern civilization. Of course, it is abundantly clear that modern civilization is not sustainable, either. Given those two facts, then some kind of massive die-off is inevitable. It might be through genocide, but since primitvists are a fringe of a fringe (and will always be so) it’s unlikely to come from us. There are many other parties with a much greater interest in genocide for its own sake, who are far closer to power than we will ever be. Ultimately, genocide might be the kindest method, just as it is kind to deliver a coup de grace to a dying animal. The alternative is to waste away by hunger or disease. But ultimately, genocide on such a scale would be nigh impossible, and though die-off is guaranteed, it is almost as guaranteed not to come by way of genocide.

Rather, collapse is more likely to occur as it always has. The diminishing returns of complexity lead to the breakdown of civilization, until some minor turbulence that might have been easily overcome in a former time, instead ends our civilization–the way an AIDS victim dies not of AIDS, but of some minor disease a healthy person would have easily shrugged off. Perhaps Peak Oil, perhaps global warming, whatever the proximate cause, our ability to produce food will be cut off. Starvation will lead to food riots, until, in the end, the survivors will turn to cannibalism. The cities will be killing fields, but those who can look at the wilderness and call it home, those who can find their food without having someone grow it for them–those who are rewilded–will have access to vast resources that no others will even think to exploit.

This is the way evolution has always worked. The “oxygen holocaust” was caused by the abundance of microbes that breathed carbon dioxide, and exhaled oxygen. Eventually, they changed the very composition of the atmosphere, and began to choke and die in the toxic environment. But those microbes that were adapted and could actually breathe the toxic oxygen emerged and proliferated, striking a balance with their forebears, the carbon dioxide breathing microbes, and beginning the oxygen cycle that regulates our atmosphere today. So, too, the collapse will permanently end civilization, and with it the dehumanizing domestication and captivity of Homo sapiens, leaving only rewilded humans to inherit the earth.

The fanciful genocide scenario is embraced by some primitivists, but this is quite patently madness–and unspeakably wicked. As I said, for those who die, dying quickly of a gunshot may be preferable to dying slowly of hunger and disease, or living to see their cities torn apart by warring gangs of cannibals. However, there is an evolutionary elegance to the collapse that such an alternative violates. Every individual on earth will have a choice. They will be free to choose to remain part of their culture to the bitter end, and die with it; or, they wll have the choice to embrace a new culture, embrace their own humanity, and survive into a new world. An act of active genocide violates that. The one who perpetrates such an act elevates himself to the status of a god (as the progressivists would do, only without their silly, illogical, anthropocentric qualms distinguishing between humans and all other life on the planet), to dictate who should live and who should die. This is why I believe Ted Kazcinski is evil: besides the complete counter-effectiveness of his campaign of terror, he committed the ultimate sin, the sin of civilization itself. He placed himself in the role of a god, dictating life and death.

Most will choose to die; we cannot change that. It would be just as wrong to force them to choose life as it was for Kaczinski to force others to die. What we can do is try as hard as we can to make sure everyone understands that it truly is a choice they face.

When hearing this defense, many progressivists will claim that our willingness to “allow” such a thing to happen is characterized as monstrous. First, the hubris dripping from such a statement is absurd; we do not “allow” such things to happen any more than we “allow” the sun to shine or the rain to fall. By comparison, a progressivist tries to dream up ways to control the weather, while a primitivist makes an umbrella or some sun screen. There is the difference between us; progressivists aspire to such divine control, where primitivists accede and accept that they are part of the world, not gods of it.

But, addressing the point of such an absurd statement–the idea that we have some moral obligation to try to stop collapse–consider a sickly child. Consider my brother. It is my earliest memory. The doctors insisted it was not meningitis, even though it matched all the symptoms–after all, how could it be? He had just a few days before had a large number of meningitis pathogens injected into his body, and, having been vaccinated, it couldn’t possibly be. That would mean that science and medcine had failed.

My mother told me not to watch, but I peeked, and the image was seared into my brain forever. My tiny brother’s body, screaming in agony, pinned down by my father and a doctor, as another took a needle nearly as long as my little brother’s entire body, and slipped it into his spine.

I cannot imagine my brother’s pain–or my father’s holding him down for such a thing. But he did the right thing–the hard thing. My brother very nearly died that night, but because my father could see that avoiding that passing agony would mean death, he survived. There was great pain, but once that pain passed, there was life.

That is very much the situation the human race is in now. Had our civilization collapsed in the Bronze Age, it would have killed millions and caused ecological devastation throughout the Mediterranean. It was avoided, and instead we had wars, empires, the decimation of the New World, and we have ushered in the single greatest mass extinction in the planet’s history. Now, we stand on the same precipice. Collapse now would involve the deaths of billions, and we can look back and see that it would have been better if our civilization had not survived the Bronze Age. But it did, for all the same pressures that push us forward now. If by some miracle we do find another deus ex machina, then we will only make it still worse–the deaths of trillions, and the very real poossibility of the extinction of our species, and all multicellular life on earth,

The cost of collapse is terrible. It should have been paid by our ancesors, and damn them for not paying it! The cost would have been so much less. Instead, the debt has fallen on us, and it is almost more than we can bear. Yet bear it–and pay it–we must. If we do, then humanity will be free once again. If we don’t, then our children will pay it, and then the cost will be too much to bear–they will damn us as we damn our ancestors’ weakness, for because of our weakness, there will be no bright, shining hope once the debt is paid. For them, the debt will be so great that it must be paid with the extinction of our entire species.

Note: Our continuing series of “Exceptions that Prove the Rule” also address several common objections to primitivism, citing what are often considered “counter-examples”:

  1. The Iroquois
  2. The Kwakiutl
  3. Paleolithic Royalty?
  4. The Inuit

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Elsewhere Godesky claims that there is need of a 99.87% reduction of human population to reach sustainable levels–that is to say, the population that might be sustained on a forager lifestyle. He doesn’t only believe that green revolution agriculture is flawed, but rather that all agriculture is flawed–that is to say, unsustainable. I see no reason to believe this, which is my major point of contention with Godesky’s entire project: if the ‘collapse’ of agricultural society is not causally necessary, if sustainable agriculture is a possibility, then anyone who foresees a systemic crisis and, instead of applying their efforts to mitigating its effects, embraces it as a painful, but inevitable, corrective is negligent, to put it in flowery language. […]

    Pingback by Fragments, or: » Blog Archive » “Food Race” — 14 October 2006 @ 7:20 PM

  2. […] 5 Common Objections to Primitivism, and Why They’re Wrong - an anarcho-primitivist response to common criticisms […]

    Pingback by Idlehacker - » Anarcho-primitivism — 4 November 2007 @ 6:08 AM

  3. […] Det finns en essä som behandlar just missförstånden runt rörelsen: http://anthropik.com/2005/10/5-common-objections-to-primitivism-and-why-theyre-wrong/ […]

    Pingback by FIMBULVINTER - anarko-primitivism på svenska :: SvD:s ledarsida och svarsmail :: November :: 2007 — 30 November 2007 @ 4:15 PM

  4. […] the internet is actually a hotbed of anarchist thought. Even the primitivists are blogging and blogging away. Fuck, you can even find 69,200 websites referencing John Zerzan on the internet, including, […]

    Pingback by The Only Anarchist With a Blog? — 9 February 2008 @ 8:45 PM


Comments

  1. I think they “miss the point” more than they are “wrong.” May want to consider changing the title on that.

    I think it’d be a good idea to have a FAQ, complete with links to the relevant articles and so on. I think this makes a good beginning, but I can come up with a number of other frequently asked questions that would be helpful to assimilate into a larger list.

    As I see it, this site is one of the main contributions to anarcho-primitivism, and is easily the most frequently updated. Taking a larger role in defining what anarcho-primitivism means is not out of line. However, in order to more effectively do this, you will need to cover the various lines of primitivist theory, such as Zerzan’s critique of symbolic thought and so on.

    I think we could be very progressive, and attempt to define the term as it is most useful and applicable. I think there are a range of primitivists just as there are a range of every other kind of anarchist. As an example, I think Zerzan’s line of primitivism is not particularly helpful given the current state of affairs. As a pure ideal, it does well — but I believe fails to actually provide an effective model and/or theoretical framework for the transition, as I think we are seeking to do.

    Not sure how these thoughts all fit in, but take them for whatever they’re worth.

    Comment by Devin — 26 October 2005 @ 3:26 PM

  2. Brilliant Jason, truly brilliant. There’s nothing more to say but that.

    Comment by Miranda — 26 October 2005 @ 3:38 PM

  3. “Isn’t it hypocritical of primitivists to use modern technology?”

    That’s like saying it’s hypocracy for an Iraqi freedom fighter to use a captured US Jeep in their fight against the Americans. “Oh, first you were trying to blow up their vehicles — now you’re using them? Hypocrite!”

    The ideal scenario is when ALL of civilization’s resources are used against it.

    Comment by Anonymous — 26 October 2005 @ 4:08 PM

  4. By the way, do you have any sources on the mesolithic life span? I’ve never found any good sources of data, and I’ve looked. Also, I have never found [b]anything[/b] on pre-Columbus Native American lifespan.

    Comment by Anonymous — 26 October 2005 @ 4:10 PM

  5. Anonymous,

    Not that I have the source for it (hey Jason! You got any sources), but I recall reading that several of the colonizers wrote that the max age for an Elder was 150 years old. Of course, that’s max age rather than average age.

    On a side note, I always like reading about the Taoist “Immortals”, animists who discovered a way to extend their lives indefinitely. Practically speaking, though, none of them lived forever; they simply chose their time of death. One of them in the 1920s was reputed to be over 300 years old.

    I’m skeptical about such things but fascinated by it, not so much by the idea of immortality (I have no desire to live forever!) but more by the idea that one could chose the time of one’s death.

    Comment by Bill Maxwell — 26 October 2005 @ 4:15 PM

  6. It is morbid to believe that 99% of humans will die only if it is not morbid to believe that 100% of humans should live.

    - Chuck

    Comment by Chuck — 26 October 2005 @ 4:39 PM

  7. Thanks for this post, Jason – it addresses what I think are the most pressing anti-Primitivism arguements – medicine, life expectancy and infant mortality. All the others are, as you neatly demonstrated, void. However, I still don’t find what you have written on the aforementioned topics completely convincing, so here goes:

    Infant mortality:
    Your explaination here of our ethnocentric classification personhood is an excellent point – as long as we continue having abortions rather than using contraception, of course.

    Life expectancy: How likely was it that a “person? (ie somebody over age 2) could realistically expect to live beyond 70 in the mesolithic? Or even now, in the woods? Where is the evidence for this? Additionally, doesn’t the increasing life expectancy of civilised populations mean that sooner or later, even 90 will be regarded as a sub-normal lifespan?

    Euthanasia: With respect to knocking off our elders, Sahlins talks about hunter-gatherer material culture being constrained by “diminishing returns at the margins of portability?. This obviously applies to people as well. I suspect that quite a lot of old people allowed themselves to be left alone in the woods once they became too immobile. Still, a lot of people might prefer 15 years in a nursing home to four days starving in a forest, waiting for the wolves. Either way: this is not just an Inuit thing.

    (In our society, of course, we are more concerned with diminishing returns at the margins of economic productivity, which is probably why, just as our civilisation becomes increasingly dominated by the retired, we hear more and more talk of the ethics and religious implications of euthanasia. Marvin Harris would be pleased anyway.)

    Medicine: When it comes to medicine, Western medicine is, I think, pretty good, and getting better. I would go so far as to say that it is the best. I think it will continue to make people’s lives longer. Obviously its not always right, but it is continually being improved by new research – in fact Western medicine is to some extent the syncretic medicine that you mention, given that pharmaceutical companies are always nicking medicines from primitive cultures. The problems with western medicine are really a consequence of the society that it has to operate in:
    1. We have unhealthy lifestyles – medicine is often just trying to put right what the rest of our culture is doing wrong
    2. Illness is profitable. In a fully or partially private health system this spells trouble – people will get ill more and be ill longer. The market demands it.

    Anyway, to summarise: Western medicine is good and getting better. Assuming that you live healthily too, Western medicine will tend to allow you to live a longer, healthier life. I suppose what I’m saying is: The ideal way of life for me would be that of a hunter-gatherer with occasional access to advanced western-style medical care every now and then. And the internet of course!

    I am not making these critiscisms because I am anti-primitivist - on the contrary - I was just wondering if it would be possible to fill these last few gaps in the philosophy. What do you think?

    Clive

    Comment by Clive — 26 October 2005 @ 5:00 PM

  8. Note to self - buy snare wire, understand mushrooms, buy big knife

    Comment by Adrian — 26 October 2005 @ 5:54 PM

  9. What does it matter how good our medicine is when it is necessarily only available to the elite?

    Comment by Anonymous — 26 October 2005 @ 6:52 PM

  10. Forget mushrooms, their food value is not enough to warrant the risk of poisoning. Unless you don’t want them as food…

    Comment by Anonymous — 26 October 2005 @ 6:55 PM

  11. i think ran prieur had some article about how age is really just cultural. if you love your life, usually you live longer.

    Comment by posion oak — 26 October 2005 @ 7:40 PM

  12. re:

    What does it matter how good our medicine is when it is necessarily only available to the elite?

    a) Selfishly speaking, it matters because we are the elite

    b) It would be nice to be able to demonstrate that even the those who have ‘made it’ are missing out. That way we can hopefully enlighten those further down the socio-economic ladder that keeping up with the Joneses isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    Comment by Clive — 26 October 2005 @ 8:13 PM

  13. Here’s a scary thought: Imagine if western medicine was %100 effective but restricted to the top %1 of the elite. That would be far worse than primitive medicine that was available to all in the tribe.

    Comment by Anonymous — 26 October 2005 @ 11:12 PM

  14. “1. Isn’t it hypocritical of primitivists to use modern technology? If they want to live primitively so badly, why don’t they just run off into the woods already and do it?”

    Modern humans are so far removed from the skills required to live with the Earth that modern technology is a necessary aid in making the transition from modern to primitive. If methadone maintenance worked, I would say it was an apt analogy - but it IS the same idea. While spending the morning learning to make fire with primitive skills, it is helpful to have a fire already going using chain-sawed firewood and cooking lunch in a metal pot. As for running off and living in the woods, well, I believe that to be a selfish action when you consider how many people there are still left to teach the primitive skills to. There’s no rush to run away to wilderness anyway - and, the more primitive skills you learn the more of a feeling of true freedom you gain from the umbilical cord that connects you to modern society and modern technology. I ain’t braggin’, but I could go to wilderness butt nekkid with nothing and live better than the kings of france - and just knowing that is enough for me right now. I think I’ll stick around and see how things develop….
    ~Crazybaldman

    Comment by Crazybaldman — 26 October 2005 @ 11:17 PM

  15. “5. Primitivists are genocidal maniacs whose planned “utopia” requires them to orchestrate the mass murder of 99% of the human population!”

    Well, this is just silliness. 99% of the human population will do just fine consuming each other all by themselves and without any help from primitivists. Meanwhile, primitivists will be relaxing by the smokeless fire, staying invisible to the remaining human cannibals, and dining on fine gourmet wild edibles of varying descriptions expertly prepared using skills they learned (aided by modern technology) before all this collapse stuff happened.
    ~Crazybaldman

    Comment by Crazybaldman — 26 October 2005 @ 11:34 PM

  16. Clive,

    Civilized medicine needs to be better because civilized people are unhealthy. Tribal people are healthier, don’t get sick as often, etc. Let’s boil this down to common sense. We have two groups.

    Group A:
    Is exposed to many diseases. Eats unhealthy food, and excessive amounts of it. Gets little excercise, and many do not keep mentally active. There is little to no social structures offering emotional support. Works excessively long hours in stressful positions.

    Group B:
    Is rarely exposed to disease. Eats healthy food, and only in amounts desirable with occasional feasting. Excersices constantly and cannot help but be mentally active until death. Social structures offering support are innate to the life style and do not require any expenditure of energy to obtain. Works comparably few hours and are rarely stressed.

    Ok, who lives longer?

    Now, group A has massive medical infastructure that allows them to overcome many of their dissadvantages, but the must still suffer through many of the symptoms. And, sometimes even worse, they must still suffer through the treatment.

    Group B, has sufficent medical knowledge to more than adequately cover all common, and many of the less common, medical problems that crop up.

    Both groups have medicines, psychiatric knowledge, and have demonstrated surgical skill.

    Which group lives longer?

    Amazing that humans are the only animal that needs constant medical care to achieve it’s own life span.

    Comment by Benjamin Shender — 27 October 2005 @ 1:35 AM

  17. Only an elite subset of Group A has access to/means for civilized medicine infrastructure - infrastructure built on the backs of the exploited. Two “features” that aren’t typically found in ethnomedicine.

    Comment by JCamasto — 27 October 2005 @ 2:30 AM

  18. i think it might be worth distinguishing among primitive cultures. they’re not all wonderful. I am not at all an expert — i only took a couple of anthropology classes in college — but it seems to me that while the mbuti pygmis of africa had a phenomenal life, much better than ours (See Colin Tunbull’s “The Forest People”), the Yanomami of the Amazon are pretty brutal to eachother. They like to get stoned on some drug and beat the daylights out of eachother. Of course, we do the same thing but that’s my point. People and cultures are variable, and would carry a lot of their bad qualities, as well as the good, into any “primitive environment.” at least with civilization we have means of creating “minimun standards” of human rights, that get transmitted globally. Again, they’re violated all the time, often by our own country, but at least open and notorious chattel slavery is not acceptable any more, (as it was in certain primitive societies) and women are not considered property (in most “civilized” places). i think i would rather live in civilization with my cubicle and the rest of if, than be captured as a slave by another tribe of hunter-gatherers, who also capture my wife and kill my children to eliminate competition from their hunting grounds, etc. it seems to me that the ideal might be a shaker or amish lifestyle, with low technology, pacifism, political organization based on consensus, and respect for the environment, but that’s far beyond the primitive cultures that seem to be your ideal.

    Comment by Coffeenow — 27 October 2005 @ 10:42 AM

  19. sorry — that’s colin turnbull

    Comment by Coffeenow — 27 October 2005 @ 10:45 AM

  20. Devin,

    I think it’d be a good idea to have a FAQ, complete with links to the relevant articles and so on. I think this makes a good beginning, but I can come up with a number of other frequently asked questions that would be helpful to assimilate into a larger list.

    Good idea. Maybe in the Cyclopaedia?

    As I see it, this site is one of the main contributions to anarcho-primitivism, and is easily the most frequently updated. Taking a larger role in defining what anarcho-primitivism means is not out of line. However, in order to more effectively do this, you will need to cover the various lines of primitivist theory, such as Zerzan’s critique of symbolic thought and so on.

    You’re absolutely right, and this needs to be done, since no one’s really done a very good job to date really defining what primitivism is.

    Anonymous,

    By the way, do you have any sources on the mesolithic life span? I’ve never found any good sources of data, and I’ve looked. Also, I have never found anything on pre-Columbus Native American lifespan.

    I’ve seen many archaeological surveys that did the life expectancy at a given site in the Mesolithic, and it matches up fairly well with modern hunter gatherers. This paper [PDF] includes a really great table (1) of forager life expectancies. The expected age of death at 15 for the forager mean is listed as 54.1. Medieval kings tended to last about as long. It’s only very recently that we’ve seen the Industrialized world make any significant gain on that. So, throughout history, the elites have always lived to about the normal human life span of 55-60 years.

    (By the way, while digging up that paper, I also found this, which has papers proving that foragers were spared everything from heart disease to acne!)

    Clive,

    Infant mortality: Your explaination here of our ethnocentric classification personhood is an excellent point – as long as we continue having abortions rather than using contraception, of course.

    Depends on who you ask. You think contraception shouldn’t be counted as cutting a life short; foragers think infanticide shouldn’t be counted as cutting a life short. I know a Catholic or two who would disagree with both of us. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Does it matter?

    Life expectancy: How likely was it that a “person? (ie somebody over age 2) could realistically expect to live beyond 70 in the mesolithic? Or even now, in the woods? Where is the evidence for this? Additionally, doesn’t the increasing life expectancy of civilised populations mean that sooner or later, even 90 will be regarded as a sub-normal lifespan?

    In the article linked above, you’ll see that of contemporary foragers, the Hiwi fare worst of all–but even among them, 10% of the population lives past 70. The Ache have it best; for them, it looks more like 25-30% of the poopulation. Most Mesolithic archaeological sites will show similar figures.

    Now, in the woods, assuming we’re dealing with someone who knows what they’re doing, probably a slightly higher chance–most forests are far more abundant than the deserts and wastelands these foragers have been relegated to.

    As to the increasing life expectancy, it’s not increasing that way. It’s going up, but in such a way that suggests an asymptote is very near-by. In other words, under ideal conditions, a human will live to age X. We can improve conditions and thus approach “ideal,” in which case we will approach age X, but we’ll never surpass age X.

    Euthanasia: With respect to knocking off our elders, Sahlins talks about hunter-gatherer material culture being constrained by “diminishing returns at the margins of portability?. This obviously applies to people as well. I suspect that quite a lot of old people allowed themselves to be left alone in the woods once they became too immobile. Still, a lot of people might prefer 15 years in a nursing home to four days starving in a forest, waiting for the wolves. Either way: this is not just an Inuit thing.

    Could you supply a non-Inuit example? We have consistent evidence of the elderly and the crippled being cared for, both contemporaneously and archaeologically, so, sensible as it might be, there seems to be a certain dearth of evidence that this actually occured.

    Also, a lot of people might prefer four days starving in a forest waiting for the wolves to 15 years in a nursing home. I know I would. Regardless, assisted sucide doesn’t bother me, and so long as there’s no societal pressure for it (in fact, there was quite the opposite pressure not to), then I don’t have much of a problem with voluntary euthanasia, either.

    Medicine: When it comes to medicine, Western medicine is, I think, pretty good, and getting better. I would go so far as to say that it is the best.

    As well you should. Every society believes its own ethnomedicine to be superior to all others. All provide reasons for that, reasons that make perfect sense within their own etiology. Our ethnomedicine is rooted in Hippocratic naturalism, and the assumption that disease has to do with scientific, observable phenomenon. OF course, such a contention is reasonable, but can never, itself, be proven. Another popular theory is that disease is caused by the imbalance of bodily humors; another unprovable but reasonable assumption. The Ju/’Hoansi believe that disease is caused by the poisoned arrows of the spirits–a belief that seems strangely reminiscent of our own ideas about germs.

    Regardless, we can’t prove our axioms any more than they can. Naturaly, from our etiology, our medicine makes the most sense. If we were working from Ju/’Hoansi etiology, though, our medicine would be completely absurd. So, your confidence is as expected as t is irrelevant. What matters is the actual effectiveness. Of all those people who go to whatever counts in their society as a “medical practitioner,” how many find some kind of relief, and how many remain ill?

    Many, many anthropologists have gone out to do such studies, fully expecting to reveal how much superstitious poppycock their ethnomedicine was. But in every society, they came up with the same percentage, hovering around 75%. Then some brave soul did the same for our own culture–and found the exact same percentage.

    So, as much as we might expect our medicine to be superior, we have not one shred of evidence to back it up. Quite the contrary, we can see quite clearly that it isn’t true. We would expect it, but that’s just because of ethnocentrism, not because the claim has any relationship to truth.

    Obviously its not always right, but it is continually being improved by new research – in fact Western medicine is to some extent the syncretic medicine that you mention, given that pharmaceutical companies are always nicking medicines from primitive cultures.

    I wouldn’t go that far. Shamanism is far more willing to experiment with other methods than any of our doctors. There’s a huge controversy over whether or not Native Americans should be allowed to call their shamans into their hospital rooms. By contrast, shamans are the ultimate pragmatists, and routinely advise their patients to seek any and all possible remedies, including hospitalization. Most ethnomedicines are quite willing to learn from others–in fact, it is our own that is perhaps among the more stubborn in this regard.

    We have unhealthy lifestyles – medicine is often just trying to put right what the rest of our culture is doing wrong.

    Very true, as Ben highlighted, we need nearly constant medical treatment just to survive such an unhealthy way of life.

    Illness is profitable. In a fully or partially private health system this spells trouble – people will get ill more and be ill longer. The market demands it.

    Also very true.

    Anyway, to summarise: Western medicine is good and getting better.

    Indeed it is! Just like every other ethnomedicine. Don’t take this as a criticism of Western medicine. Saying that it is no better or worse than any other ethnomedicine can only be seen as an “attack” on it if you’ve taken up the indefensible position that it’s supposed to be superior.

    I suppose what I’m saying is: The ideal way of life for me would be that of a hunter-gatherer with occasional access to advanced western-style medical care every now and then.

    Do you want the level of health that Western-style medical care provides, or is it the HMO’s and the white coats themselves that you’re after? Because that level of health can be had from any ethnomedicine, but Western medicine specifically is only possible in an industrialized society, and even then (as others have pointed out) only for the elite.

    Thanks for setting up the targets, though, Clive–such constructive criticism is always appreciated!

    Crazy bald man,

    You just outlined my ideal scenario!

    Coffee Now,

    i think it might be worth distinguishing among primitive cultures. they’re not all wonderful.

    I never said any of them were wonderful. Many have practices I find downright disgusting. I don’t care what the Aborigines do, I am not slitting the underside of my penis down to the urethra just so the scarring will make it resemble an emu’s! However, they have obviously mastered something our society can’t seem to do: live sustainably. IF we want to avoid extinction, that may be a useful skill to acquire, and I think they might be the best ones to teach us, don’t you?

    …the Yanomami of the Amazon are pretty brutal to each other.

    Indeed they were. This is what makes me so suspicious of horticulture. The Yanamamo were horticulturalists; the Pygmies, foragers. You’ll see I almost exclusively refer to foragers and foraging for precisely this purpose. Steve thinks horticulture can be used–I’m not so sure.

    think i would rather live in civilization with my cubicle and the rest of if, than be captured as a slave by another tribe of hunter-gatherers, who also capture my wife and kill my children to eliminate competition from their hunting grounds, etc.

    You know of examples of this among foragers? Please share. I know many examples among horticulturalists, but none among foragers.

    it seems to me that the ideal might be a shaker or amish lifestyle, with low technology, pacifism, political organization based on consensus, and respect for the environment, but that’s far beyond the primitive cultures that seem to be your ideal.

    There’s no “respect for the environment” in that lifestyle, and certainly no sustainability. It was such societies that turned the Mediterranean into a treeless, rocky wasteland by the end of the Bronze Age. That’s merely consuming the whole earth in millennia, rather than centuries.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 27 October 2005 @ 11:00 AM

  21. In response to CoffeeNow:

    It is nearly impossible for a hunter gatherer tribe to make anyone a slave. Slaves require constant supervision, the supervisors will have to be specialists employed full time. Specialists require surplus which the hunter-gatherer tribe will not have.
    Without supervision, there is nothing stopping a captured man from running away and joining another band somewhere. Anyways, why would a primitive tribe even need slaves?
    The minimum standards you speak about are only possible by expending ever increasing amounts of energy to maintain the growth of ever more complex system of government. When the energy flow decreases, so will the standards. Except, ofcourse, the system is too complex to power down without significant overshoot in the down direction, i.e. collapse

    Comment by Anonymous — 27 October 2005 @ 11:06 AM

  22. jason: your distinction between horticulturalist and foragers seems valid. i certainly have no information about foragers taking slaves or whatnot (of course i have little information about any of these issues — i’m just curious about the subject and appreciate this well-constructed site.)

    minor point — i’m not sure i would rather be *eaten alive by wolves* rather than live in a nursing home and watch the price is right and have a nurse give me sponge baths, and have my grandkids visit me. maybe it would be worth it in order to live a sustainable life, but at the time it would definitely suck.

    Comment by Coffeenow — 27 October 2005 @ 11:32 AM

  23. minor point — i’m not sure i would rather be *eaten alive by wolves* rather than live in a nursing home and watch the price is right and have a nurse give me sponge baths, and have my grandkids visit me. maybe it would be worth it in order to live a sustainable life, but at the time it would definitely suck.

    Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. The idea of lviing in a nursing home terrifies me. On the other hand, I’ve already left instructions for my sky burial. That’s why it’s so important that such measures be voluntary–which they always were.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 27 October 2005 @ 11:47 AM

  24. As Poison Oak stated, Ran Prieur had a neat idea that perhaps lifespan is cultural; that if you are in a culture that routinely lives to the age of 120, you will. If people in your culture routinely live to 50, you will. All this could be based on local food and resource availability.

    - Chuck

    Comment by Chuck — 27 October 2005 @ 1:21 PM

  25. Is a sky burial legal in the USA?

    Comment by Peter — 27 October 2005 @ 2:04 PM

  26. Probably not, but by the time I’m dead, that will likely cease to be a concern. :)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 27 October 2005 @ 2:06 PM

  27. You are the only person I have ever known who can write faster than I can read. I’m falling behind due to other obligations.

    Comment by Peter — 27 October 2005 @ 2:12 PM

  28. I’m not sure if I’ve just been complimented, or insulted. :) I choose to believe the latter.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 27 October 2005 @ 2:18 PM

  29. Just for the record, if you want to know about hunter-gatherers who took slaves, check out many of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, particularly the Haida and Tlingit.

    Comment by Mark — 27 October 2005 @ 2:20 PM

  30. Ahhhhh, yes, quite right–how could I have forgotten them? But they are, well, an exception that proves the rule. (Damn, I need to write that article!)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 27 October 2005 @ 2:26 PM

  31. re: slaves, the local Tongva (who were horticulturalists / foragers) took slaves only when there was a serious ‘war’ (i.e. one village or the other would have to be destroyed). The rule on slaves was you kept them around but if they got away no one followed them. They were free.

    Kind of makes me think of your walking away from oppression, Jason.

    Comment by Bill Maxwell — 27 October 2005 @ 2:58 PM

  32. OK, here’s what I think now:

    Hunter-gatherers (HGs) have less disease than civilised peoples (lower population densities etc.) and better nutrition (varied diet). They are also much fitter. This all means that HG medicine doesn’t have to be very good in the first place, since there are fewer health problems to sort out.

    But, by your figures, we can say that HGs, on average, live to 50, whereas civilised peoples now live to an average of 75. Now, here’s the complicated bit:
    There are two explainations for this age discrepancy

    1. Civilised medicine is so good that it allows us to live to 75 despite our very unhealthy way of life.

    2. HGs die of (violent) causes that no medicine can help against (shark, bear, coconut). Even with access to western medicine, HGs would still be have an average lifespan of 50 because NO medicine can help in these incidences. Civilised peoples are less exposed to these dangers due to their sedentary way of life (plus the elimination of sharks, bears and coconuts from their immediate environments)

    Both of these explainations may be true to a greater or lesser extent.

    Anyway, in my defence (because it’s just so galling to be accused of ethnocentricism!) my high opinion of Western medicine was just me being illogical, rather than ethnocentric – I was assuming that the long lifespans of civilised peoples could only be due to their superior medicine (Explaination 1). In fact, it could be that the 25 year discrepancy in average age of death is more due to the fact that hunter-gatherers live lives that are more physically dangerous than ours, and as a result, get killed in violent and messy ways that no medical system on earth would be able to help against (Explaination 2).

    Howzat?

    Comment by Clive — 27 October 2005 @ 7:24 PM

  33. Actually, modern life spans have less to do with our medicine, than our sanitation. (Of course, it was such sanitation that made a plague of polio, too….) Foragers tend to live toward 60 (note that the ones in the table are all living in the freakin’ desert), rather than 50, but now we’re past 70. This is largely because our standards of hygiene have vastly reduced the incidence of infection in cuts, scrapes, bruises, etc.

    Giuli told me about a Native American tribe that was almost as obsessed with cleanliness as modern America, but I forget who they were. It would be interesting to compare their life expectancy….

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 27 October 2005 @ 7:36 PM

  34. Also note that we are basically borrowing our lifespans from the oppression of others and from the natural world.

    The practices of industrialization have been fueled by people in 3rd world countries and by extreme environmental damage. We support our brand of medicine by practices of imperialism and ecological destruction.

    Even if we do have longer lives now — is it really worth it?

    Comment by Devin — 27 October 2005 @ 8:15 PM

  35. The First Lesson
    Title: The Sacred Order Of Survival.
    It is important for all wannabe primitivists to understand the ‘Sacred Order of Survival’ for without it, survival on planet Earth is impossible - or at least very difficult.

    It is as follows:
    1) Shelter
    2) Water
    3) Fire
    4) Food

    This is elemental Watson. What kills you first is exposure - hence the need for shelter. The next threat is dehydration - hence the need for the sacred water of life. Fire provides warmth, tool making possibilities, and cooking options - and so, fire is next. You can live about 40 days without food, so food is last. If you are sheltered, quenched, and warm, you are well on your way to a life at least equal to that of the kings of france. Capture a rabbit and a few tubers, berries, and leafy greens and you’re in business!
    ~Crazy

    Comment by Crazybaldman — 27 October 2005 @ 9:55 PM

  36. Devin said what I would have…

    —-

    I’ll add:

    Our 70 year lifespan cannot be the average for all civilized people. All 6 billion of us?

    CrazyB: Thank you for the [i]Fantastic Four[/i]. Last night, I was thinking right along the same path… yet muddled thought kept me from recalling the proper order. You answered my telepathic query…

    Comment by JCamasto — 28 October 2005 @ 2:32 AM

  37. Anyway, in my defence (because it’s just so galling to be accused of ethnocentricism!) my high opinion of Western medicine was just me being illogical, rather than ethnocentric – I was assuming that the long lifespans of civilised peoples could only be due to their superior medicine (Explaination 1).

    Ethnocentrism is not a bad thing at all, in and of itself. It can actually be quite advantageous in a tribal (or football :) )setting. It is also a basic characteristic of humans, so we shouldn’t abhor it. The problem comes when you superimpose a hierarchical system on it, creating an imbalance of resources and power.

    So don’t be ashamed of your ethnocentrism. It proves you’re human!

    Roxy

    Comment by Raku — 28 October 2005 @ 9:27 AM

  38. >>
    # Anonymous says:
    October 26th, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    Forget mushrooms, their food value is not enough to warrant the risk of poisoning. Unless you don’t want them as food…
    >>

    Well, I beg to differ. There are cultures where mushroom picking became very popular and has a long tradition. For instance the Czechs are probably the world’s craziest people about mushrooms, consuming several thousands tons of them every year (in pop. just about 10mil!). And they don’t need it as they run agricultural surplus in a fertile land..

    You can have delicious meals from mushrooms like soups, creamy souce, even beefy “schnitzels” and can jars for winter etc. The trick is to pick up only the stuff you know and stick to some basic safety rules during cooking..

    In addition, some parts of Scandinavia and Russia follow the suit. Interestingly enough this is a very rare sight in the north america if you are not a first generation immigrant etc. Also the access to forest in Europe is usually based on free entry condition as opposed to the restricted U.S. park system. Moreover in Scandinavia it’s a constitunional law for some centuries to ban ‘trespass & no entry’ attempts by individuals, the whole nature belongs to everybody..

    Comment by Mesuge — 30 October 2005 @ 8:12 PM

  39. All very true. But then again, while you can avoid being poisoned by wild edible plants by Knowing What You’re Doing™ and Not Being Stupid™, it’s very common for experts in edible mushrooms to die from misidentifying a poisonous mushroom.

    I know for myself, it’s just not worth it–not with so much delicious plant and animal matter in the world. The Tribe of Anthropik will probably wind up with a food taboo against mushrooms.

    Then again, your mileage may vary. I just don’t trust ‘em. Treacherous fungi…

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 October 2005 @ 8:17 PM

  40. I think this is very much region/experience specific. On certain conditions, proper humidity, rain, sun etc.. You might expect a lot of mushrooms of certain kind during given season of the year. It’s almost like wild apple tree versus some rare spice. You can be 99.98% sure that the apple won’t do you any harm but you might waiver at the spice. I know I can pick up a few kinds of mushrooms at 99.98% safety. Obviosuly, in case I’ll experiment and want explore more from the fungui world this ratio might drop substantially..

    In any case, it’s worth watching and learning from wild mammals on their mushroom picking trail they don’t get it wrong!

    Comment by Mesuge — 30 October 2005 @ 8:53 PM

  41. The constant flow of insightful essays on this site is overwhelming. Thanks for that.

    Comment by bml — 30 October 2005 @ 8:54 PM

  42. bml–thanks!

    Mesuge–that’s exactly it. With a mushroom, you’re never quite sure. With plants, unless you’re being an idiot about it, there’s never any doubt.

    Also, watching and learning from animals is terrible advice. Different animals are different species from humans; there are things that are good for us that are poisonous for them, and things that are poisonous for us that are good for them. Mimicking the animals is a good way to wind up dead.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 October 2005 @ 9:03 PM

  43. Well, I’m not an expert but I know for sure that in my location, squirl, deer, and bear eat/hoard only the very same nonpoisoneous/safe kinds of mashrooms I’ve been eating in quanity since my childhood. Birds are completly off these guys are often after the “toxic stuff”..

    Comment by Mesuge — 30 October 2005 @ 9:41 PM

  44. As mammals, those are all much closer–and much more likely to be a good guide. But even they can eat many things that are toxic to humans. Sure, you might be able to pick up some new things from them, if you’re lucky enough to pick the ones we share in common. But it’s a game of Russian roulette. This is only a good idea if you want to gamble with your life.

    Feelin’ lucky?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 October 2005 @ 10:14 PM

  45. I think we have probably hit a culture barrier of some sort here. I’m eating common strands of mushrooms all my life, safely. It’s an abundant source of food known to people for thousands of years. I don’t experiment with the more rare stuff because it is indeed not safe as I leave it for the fungi pros, the withces or the crazy guys carrying 300page mushroom guide into the woods! You apparently don’t share with me the same cultural experience so you are still refering to mushrooms as generally dangerouis food which is not at least in this North Atlantic USEurope latitude..
    :@ )

    Comment by Mesuge — 31 October 2005 @ 6:31 AM

  46. Hey, if you know some ’shrooms and stick to those, it’s probably safe (though I understand even there, there’s some look-a-likes that even “the crazy guys carrying 300 page mushroom guides into the woods” mistake). But it is one of the more dangerous food supplies. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying it’s the single riskiest food source a forager could find.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 October 2005 @ 8:41 AM

  47. I really like how noone ever commented on patented nonsense. I mean this “argument for primitivizm”:

    This is the way evolution has always worked. The “oxygen holocaust” was caused by the abundance of microbes that breathed carbon dioxide, and exhaled oxygen. Eventually, they changed the very composition of the atmosphere, and began to choke and die in the toxic environment. But those microbes that were adapted and could actually breathe the toxic oxygen emerged and proliferated, striking a balance with their forebears, the carbon dioxide breathing microbes, and beginning the oxygen cycle that regulates our atmosphere today.

    Okaay. Now. Some species created oxygen^H^H^H^Hcivilization (blue-green algae^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hhumans). Ooxygen^H^H^H^HCivilization destroyed huge number of species, changed thermal balnce of planet and so on. Obviously die-off will occur. Even species who created this disaster will not be spared. Who will live in the end ? Answer is clear: species who’ll adapt to changes i.e. “supercivilized humans” (perhaps just 0.001% of peak numbers). The ones who’ll adapt to changes and will be able to use oxygen^H^H^H^Hcivilization in sustainable way. Right ? Wrong:

    So, too, the collapse will permanently end civilization, and with it the dehumanizing domestication and captivity of Homo sapiens, leaving only rewilded humans to inherit the earth.

    Sorry guys. The sample does not add up. It’s quite clear that you first produced conclusion and then started to collect facts supporting this conclusion - but this time you found the wrong fact. “Oxygen holocaust” is argument against primitivizm…

    P.S. If our current try to create “supermetazoa” will fail then it will just mean that humans will be logged as “yet another failed experiment”. Like trilobites. Eventually some other species will manage to create complex society (supermetazoa where each “cell” is thinking organism) without overshot/collapse tendency. Or may be it’s impossible: bacteriums are immortal while humans and metazoa in general suffer eventual collapse so perhaps “supermetazoa” should suffer from this cycle as well. But anyway: the fact that all complex societies collapse does not mean that civilizations will ever stop this cycle and become extinct. After all single plants or animals (including humans!) are also subject to similar cycle of growth/collapse - yet they exist for billions of years in never-ending cycles of growth/collapse!

    Comment by Vorfeed Canal — 4 November 2005 @ 11:00 PM

  48. Hey Vorfeed –

    I’d like to respond to your contention that there is something wrong with the metaphor, but I don’t see WHY you are calling it flawed. Would you like to raise a specific flaw in, or argument against, Jason’s original contention?

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 5 November 2005 @ 10:54 AM

  49. Janene,

    I think the analogy is clear.
    The anaerobic microorganisms couldn’t cope with the oxygen-producing varieties.
    The hunter-gatherer tribes got out-competed by the first cultural aberration that came along. It only took 10000 years. Civilization cannot be stopped by uncivilized humans, but it destroys uncivilized humans and their way of life as it ultimately will destroy itself. If it destroys itself in a way that significantly changes the climate and makes mammalian warm-blooded adaptation a liability, there go the rest of the mammals.
    Thats why, I take Jason’s contention that the hunter-gatherer way is a way proven by million years of practice sceptically. Hunter-gatherers have absolutely no immunity against civilization and they are unlikely to get it in the future. Even if all current civilization and all its memes and artifacts disappear completely from the face of the earth, it’ll only take another minor climate disruption to seduce some hunter-gatherers back to agriculture.

    Comment by _Gi — 5 November 2005 @ 4:22 PM

  50. Any system that puts all of its resources into wiping out others will be very good at wiping out others. But that’s unsustainable, because you need to put some of your resources into existing. That’s civilization’s strategy, so yes, it is very good at wiping out sustainable cultures, because it’s unsustainable.

    Hunter-gatherers are sustainable over the long term. The only thing that can stop them is something that’s willing to destroy itself, so long as it destroys them, too. That’s what civilization does.

    Of course, part of that is also that civilization does, in fact, destroy itself. So the only ones who will survive it are, well, those who jump ship and become hunter-gatherers. So ultimately, even putting everything it has into destroying hunter-gatherers and killing itself in the process, it still fails to wipe out hunter-gatherers. It merely ensures a new generation of hunter-gatherers will succeed it.

    It takes a lot more than a minor climate disruption to allow agriculture. It takes a very precise climate, in a very precise geography, to allow it to happen. Those conditions might arise again in, say, 50 million years. You might have areas where civilization can even get up to the level of, say, Mohenjo-daro, before they collapse. But certainly not more than that.

    Let me put it this way. Which would you deem “more successful,” a wealthy, self-contented woman with a nice house and a loving family, or the unstable teenager who kills her and a few dozen others at a bus stop before killing himself? The logic that considers civilization more adaptive or more successful than hunter-gatherers must also deem the suicide bomber to be the pinnacle of evolution.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 5 November 2005 @ 4:36 PM

  51. Hey –

    Yeah, what Jason said.

    No, seriously… the oxygen holocaust is actually a uniquely apt analogy. Oxygen breathers existed for a long damn time before the oxygen holocaust… they could have, potentially, evolved simultaneously with the aenerobes. However, because of the dearth of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, it would have appeared that there was no way that could compete with aenerobes.

    You could have even said ‘hey, the oxygen supply is unstable, so the oxygen breathers will ALWAYS lose to the aenerobes”. Of course, looking back, we now know that living systems create and maintain atmospheres in unstable states as a characteristic of living systems. So if someone had said that they would have been wrong.

    The relationship of H-G cultures and civilization is no different (except for the stable state issue). They were here before (in this case, for certain), they maintained sustainable lifestyles, civilization came along and has done everything it can — directly and indirectly — to destroy them. Yet after ten thousand years a few still remain, and the people within civilization are finding themselves on thier last legs with only that one model to look to for inspiration. As Jason says, civilization guarantees that non-civilization will continue, so long as humans continue.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 5 November 2005 @ 7:30 PM

  52. Beside likelihood of climate change, what other effects will civilization have on the surviving populations? Let us consider the possible ecological impact of the crash.
    Ecologically, civilization not only destroyed many species, but also mixed species from all over the globe into various ecosystems where they did not evolve and enhanced populations of species in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with humans.
    Domesticated species of animals will meet the same fate as domesticated humans, the remnants of their crashing populations will rewild. Will parasites like rats reduce in population alongside the destruction of cities?
    What role will our nuclear technology play in the crash? Will the warheads rot harmlessly away? Will the nuclear power plants be shut down safely, or will they create Chernobyl-sized radiation spots around them?
    Will the cities burn in the crash? If many of them burn to quickly, how much the soot released into the atmospere will affect the available radiation from the Sun?
    Will the remaining chemical stores be dangerous when they leach into the environment after the crash?
    Will genetically engineered species spread their engineered genes? How wide? How toxic would they be to the ecosystems?
    How many remaining forests will be cut for fuel by the desperate people trying to survive in the cold? How many animals in the forests will be hunted for food before populations crash? How many trees will be killed by hungry people trying to eat inner bark and collect sap?
    How much the sea level rise will affect the coastal ecosystems?

    How many people will choose tribal life-style? Will they be numerous enough to have genetic diversity?
    Will they be rare enough to have enough land to forage?
    How much will you miss civilization’s little comforts like hot shower every day and tooth paste?
    What will it take to survive the culture shock of the crash?

    Comment by _Gi — 5 November 2005 @ 8:22 PM

  53. Hey –

    All valid questions… but totally irrelevant to whether band-level society is the most practical and adaptive way for humans to live… rather I would say those questions relate to whether we have already caused too much damage to survive, ourselves.

    Maybe we cannot. I choose to assume that we can.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 5 November 2005 @ 8:40 PM

  54. what about the “bourgeois = roots of primtivism” that many oppenents of primitivism talk of?

    Comment by posion oak — 5 November 2005 @ 9:33 PM

  55. to poison oak:

    I find it interesting that so many primitivists are folks who have had the absolute best in life and had the world handed to them on a silver platter. If I hadn’t wanted to, I wouldn’t have had to work a day in my life. A friend of mine commented that there are a great many primitivists who are white males from upper-middle class (or wealthier) backgrounds, with well educated families.

    This could be interpreted as, “Look at these ungrateful yuppie scum! They sit around all day and dream up ridiculous idealist theories, because they don’t know what it’s like in the real world.”

    I interpret it a different way: it should be a huge warning sign for everybody that those who have the “best” are rejecting it.

    - Chuck

    Comment by Chuck — 6 November 2005 @ 5:26 PM

  56. in fact, there are many lower class people who hunter and gather foods…we should all learn to create self sustaining communties. to ease off our dependence.

    Comment by posion oak — 6 November 2005 @ 5:41 PM

  57. I enjoy a lot of the essays on this site, but the air of inevitability and end-times romanticism weakens your point.

    Maybe some winter camping or exposure to some of the more anarchic parts of the planet might renew your interest in indoor plumbing, regular meals, central heating, and the rule of law.

    There are serious problems with income distribution, medical care, environmental damage, and energy in the US. Maybe some of them could be solved … instead of waiting for the end.

    Whatever you do, don’t put advertisements for gold bullion, bulk food storage, or weapons on your web site. That’s bad mojo.

    Comment by Devin Murphy — 19 January 2006 @ 6:20 PM

  58. …but the air of inevitability and end-times romanticism weakens your point.

    What some call inevitability, I call consequences. Collapse wasn’t inevitable until we began living off of agriculture. Once you make that choice, collapse is the consequence–collapse is inevitable. Jump out of a plane without a parachute, and falling is inevitable, too. It’s the consequence of jumping out of the plane. Actions have consequences, but sometimes the action and the consequence are greatly separated. It is too late to invoke our free will to get out of collapse now–just as it is too late for our jumper to contemplate free will two seconds before he splatters on the pavement.

    As for romanticism, primitive cultures are utopian only by comparison to our own. I tend to think that life is supposed to be good. If life is bad, then you’re doing something wrong. I don’t find it unusual to conisder that humans living as humans are adapted to live should lead a good life; why wouldn’t they? And if we’re talking about the removal of the very “something wrong” we’ve been up to, why wouldn’t we expect our lives to improve for it? It’s much easier to swim downstream than up. To me, it’s less a matter of right or wrong, than a matter of whether you accept who you are and run with it, or constantly try to fight it and suppress it.

    Maybe some winter camping or exposure to some of the more anarchic parts of the planet might renew your interest in indoor plumbing, regular meals, central heating, and the rule of law.

    Actually, the more camping we do, the more I resent having to come back to indoor plumbing, central heating, and the rule of law. Though, while I’ve had to skip eating for days at a time for lack of funds in the cities, I’ve never missed a meal in the forest, so I tend to associate “regular meals” more with winter camping and exposure to the more anarchic parts of the planet, than the city with its grocery stores.

    There are serious problems with income distribution, medical care, environmental damage, and energy in the US. Maybe some of them could be solved … instead of waiting for the end.

    Of those, only the environmental damage is a serious threat of collapse, and that is ultimately a consequence of 6.5 billion people living in a civilized fashion. Civilization cannot solve that problem, because it is the very existence of civilization that creates the problem.

    Whatever you do, don’t put advertisements for gold bullion, bulk food storage, or weapons on your web site. That’s bad mojo.

    Ha ha, well, the ads come from Yahoo, so I have no say really on what comes up on them. Half the time it’s mortgage stuff. :)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 20 January 2006 @ 11:43 AM

  59. I agree with most of whats been said. However, once civilisation collapses, i reckon a lot of people would choose hunter gatherer over death. Thus there would be far too many hunter/gatherers post collapse -resorces would be exhausted and 99.999% who chose to be ‘truly free’ would starve within a year.

    Also, whilst a hunter gatherer lifestyle may be much healthier, if you have asthma, glasses, or any non-environment ailment, your quality of life will be appauling.

    Comment by Slothboy — 2 March 2006 @ 5:29 PM

  60. The thing about competition comes up way too often. It deserves its own article.

    I believe there are traditional remedies for asthma, too. As for glasses … did you know that primitive hunter-gatherers do eye surgery? It takes obsidian to get an edge sharp enough, but they do it.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 2 March 2006 @ 5:42 PM

  61. Really, thats amazing. why dont modern doctors do eye surgery with propper scalpels etc (as opposed to super-expensive lazers). Must be better than wearing & cleaning unconfortable glasses/contact lenses all your life. Whats their success rate like?

    Comment by Slothboy — 2 March 2006 @ 6:50 PM

  62. Corrective vision surgery is a fairly varied field.

    A refractive correction (which is what LASIK is for) can not be done with a blade. The success rate is better than 98%, but varies as low as 93% for a major correction on a person with large pupils.

    Modern eye doctors used obsidian as well for a long time. The reason was that we could not yet get steal sharp enough, this limitation was overcome.

    There are many forms of eye problems. Glaucoma, Cataracts, etc do not require a laser to correct. But a refractive error does. Essentially they use the laser to restructure the inner cornia. A blade won’t do that. And no a fire isn’t going to cut it either, I asked. The best way to deal with that primitively would be prevention. Don’t eat bread or milk. And get plenty of varied use of your eyes (not all close or all far) and avoid eye strain. Eye strain comes from reading with too little light, looking at a single bright spot when it’s otherwise dark, monitors, etc.

    Comment by Benjamin Shender — 2 March 2006 @ 7:01 PM

  63. Concerning going primitive with poor eyesight. I am terribly nearsighted. I can read 3 pt. type at 8 inches (newspapers are usually printed in 8 pt.), but a person’t face starts getting blurry at 4 feet and by 12 feet I can barely make out their features (20/180 in one eye 20/210 in the other). I do however find that my distance vision improves when I spend a lot of time outside without my glasses on. I know I miss a lot of details, but I have reason to believe that if I had to function in a natural setting without my glasses, things would improve for me. And I can still find the plants I’m looking for even now.
    Asthma is caused mostly by environmental factors. Living out in nature instead of enclosed in all the toxic vapors of modern life will greatly reduce asthma attacks for many sufferers. For those who still need it, smoking a mixture of dried mullein and dried coltsfoot is supposed to be effective. I know that the mullein helps dilate the bronchial tubes as I have used it [warning, the smoke is very acrid]. I’m still learning to find and identify coltsfoot.
    Ummm, I’m having difficulty imagining what non-environment ailments slothboy might be referring to, so I guess I can’t address them.
    But, I have no reason to believe that my quality of life will be appalling living as a H/G. Seems to me that it’d be hard to find a quality of life more appalling than having to get 60 hours worth of work done in 40 hours and be so exhausted I cannot even have time to enjoy with my family. I recently escaped that and am doing everything I can to keep from returning to that situation even if Jason’s very educated prediction of the timing of collapse proves to be inaccurate.

    Comment by ChandraShakti — 6 March 2006 @ 1:54 PM

  64. In the survival programs I teach, when the question come ups about wild mushrooms as survival food, I tell my students its not worth the risk. Not Worth the Risk!!!

    However I am a bonafide mushroom freak! Just the thought of fresh Chanterelles, or a steak of venison smothered in Elfin Saddle sauce makes my mouth water with delight!

    Our wild fungi are fascinating!…even the ones we can’t eat. From medicines, to dying wool, to chowing down, Wild mushrooms…what would life be without them.:(

    If your interested in finding more information about nutritional values of the little critters, this is a site I recommend- http://www.world-of-fungi.org/

    Comment by Fernman — 12 March 2006 @ 11:13 PM

  65. Sorry about the typo’s, this typing stuff is a new technology for me…see more of my typo’s at my website (lifesongadventures.com)

    Comment by Fernman — 12 March 2006 @ 11:27 PM

  66. Jason & Co. -

    I love the site. Incredibly informative and thought provoking!

    One thought that occurred to me as I read the discussion between those choosing to die in collapse versus those choosing to follow the HG path, was that I don’t think that collapse will be too rapid. I think, like the Depression (only drastically worse) it will come in stages over a period of years. With that in mind, I recall Jason’s “Catholic” essay on this site, and the notion of the Hebrews wandering 40 years in the desert to “forget” Egypt came to mind.

    Just another notch in the “God WANTS people to be uncivilized” belt.

    Comment by Aethelstane — 13 March 2006 @ 9:45 PM

  67. The difference between a slow collapse and a quick one is the difference between a maintenance crisis, and a catabolic collapse. We’re facing a catabolic collapse, where the process is self-reinforcing and accelerates as it goes along. See “Timeline of Collapse” for more discussion on the timeframe we’re talking about.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 13 March 2006 @ 10:06 PM

  68. Jason do you have some links, or citations, to back up this 99% number?

    requires them to orchestrate the mass murder of 99% of the human population!

    Comment by ov — 21 April 2006 @ 12:54 PM

  69. Today, the earth has 6.5 billion humans. In 1960, it was three billion. We didn’t make our first billion until … 1800? The forager populaton was measured in millions, rather than billions. So, removing agriculture as a means of sustaining a population means dropping a population from some number of billions, to some number of millions. 1% of 6.5 billion is 65,000,000, which is still a little high compared to some of the numbers I’ve seen for the earth’s forager carrying capacity.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 21 April 2006 @ 1:50 PM

  70. I already heard that from your brother Mike. I was asking for a link or a citation. I want to know your source.

    Comment by ov — 21 April 2006 @ 7:59 PM

  71. Well, that’s kind of like asking for citations that the sky is blue, or grass is green … nobody writes about any of this, because it’s all so obvious. My sources are in the hundreds; I couldn’t possibly list them all here. These basic facts are repeated over and over and over and over again. So, I’ll simply restate the claims as links to just one of the many, many sources available for each.

    1.) The current population is about six billion.
    2.) “Before agriculture, the population of the earth was unlikely to have exceeded five or ten million people.”
    3.) Human population is a function of food supply.

    Therefore, sans agriculture, world population would drop from 6 billion to 10 million–that is, a 99.83% mortality rate.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 11:37 AM

  72. Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 11:40 AM

  73. The US Census Bureau also has some similar numbers.

    Comment by Mike Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 11:50 AM

  74. Doesn’t look very well supported to me. I’d say that your hatred for people that grow food, requires you to endorse this hunter gatherer model, and along with it a refutation of any other means for supporting less than minimal populations.

    So you don’t have any data, or sources, for the carrying capacity of the planet. A few anthropological opinions on how things used to be, extrapolated into a mandate for the future is the best you got. Excuse me if I want a little more info than that before I accept that over 99% of the population needs to be eliminated.

    Comment by ov — 24 April 2006 @ 12:11 PM

  75. ….

    Huh?

    “Have any sources?”

    “Only enough to fill a small library…”

    “Phht, that doesn’t look very well supported to me!”

    Oooookay.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 12:15 PM

  76. Well, to be fair, all of those sources are just what the Academy™ wants you to think. It’s not like there’s as much evidence for this as there is for, say, the matriarchy hypothesis.

    Comment by Mike Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 12:18 PM

  77. More than 65mill, can survive sustainabliy via horitculture, primitive type farming w/ animals etc.

    Foraging may be a great adaptible manner to get some basic calories & nutrition, but its very likely that the (1%) will survive soley on this method.

    Very few papers on this sort of thing, although I did read one a few years back that suggested 600million, as an estimate of population the earth could sustain without the “magic” of oil.

    Comment by Bubba — 24 April 2006 @ 12:19 PM

  78. I’m not doubting your historical numbers for population. I am questioning your assumption that these numbers reflect the carrying capacity of the planet. Provide that missing link and I could be forced to eat some humble pie.

    If you want to talk about manufactured consent within academia google “critical pedagogy” and then start a topic. The vast majority of this is on the K-12 era but it continues up into all levels of education. Bottom line is that a person isn’t given a doctorate until they have been indoctrinated.

    Comment by ov — 24 April 2006 @ 12:36 PM

  79. I believe there are traditional remedies for asthma, too. As for glasses … did you know that primitive hunter-gatherers do eye surgery? It takes obsidian to get an edge sharp enough, but they do it.

    where can i read more about this?

    Comment by Scott — 24 April 2006 @ 1:30 PM

  80. especially for eyesight

    Comment by Scott — 24 April 2006 @ 1:30 PM

  81. More than 65mill, can survive sustainabliy via horitculture, primitive type farming w/ animals etc.

    The most optimistic case was made by Charles C. Mann’s 1491, in which he suggested that Native Americans had turned nearly the whole of both continents into massively productive, permacultural paradises (which seems a tad “noble savage” to me), and came up with a population figure of up to 200 million.

    There’s currently 300 million just in the United States; across all of the Americas, that number goes up to 885 million. If we had an ecology that was viable for permaculture on such a scale, and if the most exuberant figures are correct (and the extremes rarely are), and if, if, if … then we’re still talking about a 77.4% mortality rate.

    Fact of the matter is, this is a classic case of overshoot. We need to make our peace with that, and the implications of it, or we’re simply deluding ourselves.

    Foraging may be a great adaptible manner to get some basic calories & nutrition, but its very likely that the (1%) will survive soley on this method.

    Purity has no place in the life of someone who’s trying to survive. You do what works, and that usually means a mixture somewhere on a continuum from full-scale horticulture, to hunting and gathering. The !Kung and the Pygmies aren’t pure, why should we try to be?

    I’m not doubting your historical numbers for population. I am questioning your assumption that these numbers reflect the carrying capacity of the planet. Provide that missing link and I could be forced to eat some humble pie.

    Ah, I see. Well, can you think of some proven mechanism that population in the past would’ve been held at a point significantly lower than it was ecologically capable of sustaining? That would revolutionize biology on a fairly fundamental level.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 1:32 PM

  82. Well, can you think of some proven mechanism that population in the past would’ve been held at a point significantly lower than it was ecologically capable of sustaining?

    Can you prove that ecology, rather than the hunter gatherer lifestyle, was the limiting factor to growth?

    Comment by ov — 24 April 2006 @ 1:40 PM

  83. Can you prove that ecology, rather than the hunter gatherer lifestyle, was the limiting factor to growth?

    I’m taking as a premise here what I argued in thesis #29: that agriculture will not be possible for much longer. Agriculture is a process whereby we create a disaster, in order to favor the regrowth of disaster-adapted crops (wheat, rice, etc.) which we can easily harvest and control. However, this process of continual devastation, even in its most benign, “organic” forms, results in more permanent losses: salinization, desertification, erosion and soil loss. We began implementing the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s precisely because we had destroyed so much of the world’s arable land. The “Dust Bowl” was evidence that the Great Plains had become a desert, just as the Fertile Crescent had been made a desert before it, or the expansion of the Sahara over the past several thousand years. Petroleum-based fertilizers allow farming to continue now even in areas like southern California and the American southwest where it always was a desert. When that resource ceases to be a factor, we won’t be thrown back to the arable land we had prior to the Green Revolution–we’ll find that most of the land we had farmed then was “killed” by precisely all that farming we had done before, and that is no longer an option, either. In other words, there is extremely little land left in the world which can still be farmed without oil.

    Moreover, we face the prospect of significant climate change. In reality, the Holocene should have ended millennia ago–except for the atmospheric effects of agriculture, which balanced out the earth’s natural cooling trend, and unnaturally extended the current interglacial. Any interruption in agricultural intensity will end the Holocene forever. Whether global warming heats the earth to a new, hotter equilibrium, or cools it into a new ice age, farming has never been an easy thing. Very few plants are domesticable. Those that are, tend to be very specifically adapted to a very narrow niche (it’s usually precisely that trait that makes them domesticable in the first place). Why did agriculture occur so many times, independently, as the Holocene began, but at no time earlier than that? Agriculture is a creature of the Holocene–it is possible only in a Holocene climate. And that climate is ending. In the near term, the consequences of 10,000 years of agriculture leave us with little land that can be farmed now without the aid of fossil fuels; in the long term, the climate that allowed for agriculture is ending, one way or the other. In other words, agriculture will soon become impossible, and the window of opportunity will not open again until geological time has passed.

    That means we’ll need to find food by some means other than agriculture; and that means hunting and gathering, the ridiculously huge umbrella term invented by farmers for “everything that isn’t farming.” Human population is a function of food supply, and every population rises to the highest level that its ecology will support. When the ecology supported agriculture, the population rose to the levels agriculture would support, independently, all across the world, wherever it became possible. The ecology will not support agriculture much longer. So, distinguishing between the lifestyle and the ecology is spurious; the lifestyle is a response to the ecology. We adapt whatever lifestyle allows us to get the most out of the ecology, always.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 1:55 PM

  84. I’m not doubting your historical numbers for population. I am questioning your assumption that these numbers reflect the carrying capacity of the planet. Provide that missing link and I could be forced to eat some humble pie.

    Carrying capacity is always an estimate based on historical numbers. Humans existed for six million years before agriculture. If, in all that time, the population never broke 10 million, then that’s pretty strong evidence that the carrying capacity for non-agricultural humans isn’t more than 10 million.

    Bottom line is that a person isn’t given a doctorate until they have been indoctrinated.

    Riiight…

    Because it’s not like doctors ever disagree with each other. Oh wait. THAT’S ALL THEY EVER DO!

    Damn those colleges. How dare they indoctrinate students with their “facts” and their “critical thinking skills?”

    Comment by Mike Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 1:56 PM

  85. One of the most comprehensive examinations of pre-Columbian population of N. America is Henry Dobyns’ bookTheir Number Become Thinned. There have been some new data since, but Dobyns showed that there were probably 18 million people in N. America, with margin for error bringing it up to 36 million, doubtfully. Before him, estimates were at 1-5 million, held low for political reasons by Alfred Kroeber, grand old man of American anthropology and Ursula K. LeGuin’s father. Central America may have been denser (better human habitat) and S. America maybe as dense. So getting to 200 million for the hemisphere is quite a stretch. Native Americans, of course, used a mix of foraging and horticulture, with some agriculture (early explorers reported cornfields in Pennsylvania of hundreds of acres, see Day GM. 1953. The Indian as an Ecological Factor in the Northeastern Forest. Ecology, 34:329-346), so those numbers are higher than a non-agriculture people could support. Extrapolate N. America’s 18 million to the whole planet, or even Mann’s 200 million for the hemisphere, and you don’t get much above a billion, tops, supportable without agriculture

    Can you prove that ecology, rather than the hunter gatherer lifestyle, was the limiting factor to growth?

    That gets into some tricky semantics. Most animals engage in what looks an awful lot like “hunter-gatherer lifestyle” (it sure ain’t agriculture!) so it would be very difficult to distinguish between trophic level population limitation (that is, ecology) and limitations due to foraging for food. “Lifestyle” is why there are more grazers than carnivores. It’s telling, though, that until we started converting major portions of the ecosystem into humans, via agriculture, population didn’t incrase much.

    I think Jason has asked the more interesting and useful question: is there any case of population being held below carrying capacity before agriculture?

    Comment by Toby Hemenway — 24 April 2006 @ 2:27 PM

  86. I can certainly believe a figure of 18 million … and the knowledge gained at such a heavy cost over the past 10,000 years may raise our carrying capacity significantly, worldwide. I’d even accept numbers as high as, say, 60 million, globally. That would still be a 99% mortality rate from where we are now. That said, a lot of that 18 mllion in North America (assuming it’s correct, and I believe it’s still on the optimistic side, but at least plausible) came from agriculture in Mesoamerica, and horticultural techniques elsewhere that may or may not be viable without a Holocene climate. I don’t see much of a future for the Mesoamerican Triad, for instance, which supported the majority of that 18 million.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 2:36 PM

  87. Yes, if you eliminate agriculture, global carrying capacity for humans surely plummets to the tens of milions. The final number depends on the line between foraging and horticulture.

    Mesoamerican Triad? Oh, yeah, the 3 sisters, corn/beans/squash. I’m curious as to what your ideas of a non-Holocene climate are. I agree that an Ice Age, for which we are long overdue, would shrink the area for agriculture immensely. But a return to pre-Pleistocene climate, which for most of the Tertiary was warmer and wetter than we are now, would just let us grow avocadoes everywhere. Yum. So do we get a little warmer, or an Ice Age, or do we get bounced out of the Pleistocene altogether? (Let’s face it, we’re still in the Pleistocene; calling it the Holocene just because we arrived is hubris.) Only the Ice Age spells doom for ag crops, if I see it aright.

    Are you familiar with Hanaker and Weaver’s ideas that glaciation is how the Earth remineralizes itself? During interstadials, plants deplete most of the soil’s minerals and allow them to be moved to the sea via topsoil loss, and they sequester CO2 until it gets cold enough for an Ice Age (the anti-greenhouse effect). Glaciers then drop mineral-rich deposits over the non-equatorial zones and resupply minerals for new soil and plants, and the cycle begins again. Intriguing idea. Maybe we’ll get wiped out to the band level through an Ice Age, and develop farming again until the next set of glaciers, over and over.

    Comment by Toby Hemenway — 24 April 2006 @ 3:02 PM

  88. A warmer earth would definitely be subject to cultivation, but as you point out–the crops being cultivated would have to change. Warmer, wetter climes are well-adapted to a whole host of plants, but not the specific, disaster-adapted plants we rely on now. The reason we rely on these crops so heavily is because they are so easily harvested. The ERoEI is enormous. Other crops simply don’t have that kind of return. So, even if we’re talking about a warmer, wetter post-Holocene (which I think is quite likely), we’re still talking about a much reduced capacity for agriculture. The crops we can grow will tend to be less efficient for driving a large-scale society. We’re still talking about a massive scaling down.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 3:21 PM

  89. Also at issue with the ’scaling down’ will be in what forms it takes.

    Many possible forms of change can take place, from environmental issues, food shortage, wars, plagues, lack of potable water etc.

    Also even if this 1% number is perhaps accurate, things are likely to scale down in stages, not some overnight event. So when people envision this type of prediction/estimate, they may be getting even more fearful, if they believe this will happen overnight (for example within a year) rather than over 10years or more, perhaps 50?

    The heavily reliant countries such as the US, that ’scaling down’ is where it can get pretty scary…especially with today’s modern weapons.

    Enjoy the day~

    Comment by Bubba — 24 April 2006 @ 3:54 PM

  90. I’m not sure how viable the idea of a “soft landing” is, though, since the process of catabolic collapse builds on itself. Even a benign movement like co-housing, organic farming, or alternative energy could be enough to initiate a feedback loop that would take us from our current state to at least the iron age–not overnight, but over the course of only a few decades, which isn’t much better.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 4:12 PM

  91. I don’t really believe a “soft” landing is possible at this point, perhaps a softer landing…in that all hell won’t break loose, with mass starvation & insane violence, within a few year time frame.

    It’s likely to go through some fairly abrupt, dramatic changes, before the complete catabolic collapse occurs.
    Although, if things don’t change soon, the landing will be much harder/quicker.

    I think the “larger they are they harder the fall” concept, will relate to civilization–and in particular nation state’s that run on an Oil-economy. Many parts of the world are in perpetual 3rd world status already, with food not easy to come by, totolatarian govt’s doing ethnic cleansing etc. etc.

    Basically, I’m expecting things to continue to edge towards the precipice, with mostly whining & psychological stress being the (non-action) used by most. People need to hit the Action stage, we can’t wallow in the pre-contemplation, or even the contemplation stage of change for much longer…

    Comment by Bubba — 24 April 2006 @ 4:52 PM

  92. I’m operating under the understanding that even a relatively small shortfall can make “all hell break loose.” The Great Depression still had economic growth–the overall economy was growing, but merely at 75% of its capacity. That 25% shortfall in growth rate was the Great Depression. Imagine a growth rate of 0% … or worse, even slightly negative. What happens then?

    Even a slight shortfall can trigger a series of events whereby the bellum omnium contra omnes erupts, as the process of collapse accelerates itself towards its ultimate conclusion, unfolding over the course of only a few decades. This is precisely why the process is so often so incredibly quick.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 5:02 PM

  93. bellum omnium contra omnes

    Despite 12 years of Catholic school, I have no idea waht this means.

    Comment by Peter — 24 April 2006 @ 5:51 PM

  94. Check out the book Change We Must by Nana Veary. In it she describes witnessing a kahuna la’au lapa’au remove cataracts from a someones eye using a sharpened sliver of bamboo. He first squeezed the juice of the popolo berry (a nontoxic Hawaiian relative of belladonna) into the eye. The book is also full of great insight into Hawaiian culture, and is without a doubt the best book I’ve ever read. It’s a quick read too.

    Comment by limukala — 24 April 2006 @ 7:00 PM

  95. “bellum omnium contra omnes
    Despite 12 years of Catholic school, I have no idea waht this means.”

    Well my Latin knowledge is nonexistent, but my English vocabulary is huge, I’d hazard a guess that it means ‘a war of all against all’. (bellum - war [from antebellum - before the war], contra - against, omni - everything) Am I correct in my deduction Jason?

    Comment by ChandraShakti — 24 April 2006 @ 10:26 PM

  96. That’s it. It’s Hobbes, hence the Latin.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 April 2006 @ 10:47 PM

  97. whoa, I’m not trying to blockquote anymore. I don’t know how I did it, but the segment I tried to quote dissapeared, and my reply got blockquoted.

    I was responding to this: “I believe there are traditional remedies for asthma, too. As for glasses … did you know that primitive hunter-gatherers do eye surgery? It takes obsidian to get an edge sharp enough, but they do it.

    where can i read more about this?”

    Comment by limukala — 24 April 2006 @ 11:44 PM

  98. The Great Depression still had economic growth–the overall economy was growing, but merely at 75% of its capacity.

    Where are you getting this from? According to Wikipedia, GNP hit a low point in 1932, but that’s measured in dollars, not in more useful units.

    Comment by William Carrington — 25 April 2006 @ 4:25 AM

  99. Econ lecture by Jerome Wells at the University of Pittsburgh, years ago when I was in his “Economic Theory” class.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 April 2006 @ 9:21 AM

  100. A quick googling brings up stats that US GNP declined 9.4% in 1930, 8.5% in 1931, and 13.4% in 1932. That’s at http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-taxgrowth.htm but they don’t say where they got their numbers.

    Industrial production fell more than 30% in 1930; GNP was $104 billion in 1929, and dropped to $74 billion in 1933. http://www.eh.net/encyclopedia/article/parker.depression

    This confirms my understanding that the economy (US and Europe) shrank in the Depression. It wasn’t a growth slowdown or running at somewhat less than full capacity, it was net shrinkage. Over 25% of the economy disappeared in 4 years. That’s brutal. So we have, indeed, faced a rapidly shrinking economy before. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t result in catabolic collapse, either. (I’m aware that we face larger problems now.)

    I had also heard that the Depression didn’t really end until massive spending on WWII started, but the same chart says that GNP turned positive by 1934; 14.5% growth in 1936. So it wasn’t the war that ended the Depression.

    Comment by Toby Hemenway — 25 April 2006 @ 12:05 PM

  101. GNP’s a different thing than total economic growth, but this is all stuff that I only hazily half-remember and pretty far from my field of specialty, so I’m not really up to defending it any more than that.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 April 2006 @ 12:08 PM

  102. Shrinkage is another nice term, unless you just got out of some icey water!

    Have has everyone noticed how quickly the terminology issue has spread accross many blogs?

    Apparently we need political correct type language to represent, the catabolic collapse–so as not to offend or overly frighten folks with words such as “collapse”, “Die off (little less ambigious)”.

    None of us can now for certain, how things will pan out exactly, the system is far too complex, and varied from country to country, weather patterns, ecology etc. The basic premise though, is major problems with food production & distribution in the years to come, very likely within the next 6years!

    We may very well have WWIII or something like it, but this time Industrialization will not be able to increase (US amped up production, but also was an oil rich nation in the 40’s+) the economies output.
    More likely it will be yet another hand tipping the whole civilization experiment to the breaking point.

    Since I want to focus more on the Action stage of change rather than Contemplation—How about everyone starts storing snickers bars! They are yummy, and will give you some quick carbs & protein when things get tough, they store easy for quite a long time…and did I mention how yummy they are!?

    Comment by Bubba — 25 April 2006 @ 12:19 PM

  103. Economic growth is usually measured by comparing the change in GDP (called GNP before 1980) per capita over some interval. So if GNP in 1933 was much lower than in 1929, that is negative growth, or contraction (or shrinkage, for Bubba and other Seinfeld fans). GDP is defined as consumption + investment + government spending + (exports − imports). It’s not a perfect measure, but we know that all of those went down considerably during the Depression. By every measure I can find, there was contraction in the size of the economy and in resources used. I don’t see how you can avoid the conclusion that there was no economic growth in the Depression.

    We can look at other measures: Index of Industrial Production, where 1935-39 =100, in 1929 was 109 and in 1933 was 69. So a big drop, 35% or so, in the amount of stuff produced by industry.

    Exports, in 2005 dollars: 1929: $5.24 billion, 1933: $1.67 billion, so a 2/3 drop.

    These numbers come from US Dept of Commerce, and are repeated in Wikipedia under http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression

    My thinking is that this kind of contraction is what we have to look forward to, but without coming out of it. What’s news to me is the size of the contraction we sustained. The1930s economy contracted by 30-50% in 4 years, more in some countries. So the economy and culture can take some huge kicks in the teeth and not lose critical functions. Whether it can sustain that over the long term (I was going to write “with no end in sight” but that was how the Depression, too, felt to people) remains to be seen.

    Comment by Toby Hemenway — 25 April 2006 @ 9:47 PM

  104. Critical functions may remain for awhile after the ‘depression’ begins to hit the modern world more fully.
    Yet will things such as health care etc. really be availble to most?

    If the 1930’s figure above, 30-50% is a pretty accurate generalization, within a 4 year time frame, then we are set for another such event…it may take a bit longer to get started b/c of some of the global complexity mechanism, but it will likely crash even faster. Also, if fear based upon no real viable alternative to our global oil economy can be presented to the masses (even if really just smoking mirrors, ethanol economy ring a bell), that will just drive another nail in civilization.

    The real question now is how long before Gasoline prices (and the 500k+ items directly effected by oil prices, for production/distribution) spike to the point where the economy can’t handle it?

    The data in the US is going to look scary at this rate. Since the economy is viewed often by stock market indicators, and corporate profits, regardless of the median income of the employees (maybe including those laid off eh?)

    In 2000 census, about 60% of the aggregate wealth of the united states was held by 10% of the population. Recent trends suggest that the top 10% is creeping toward the 90% mark. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it illustrates the trend–the pooling of wealth toward the top brackets. History shows that even fun systems like feudalism have a tipping point.

    The extreme wealthy/corporations better make sure as TSHTF they can keep the TV’s ON, Pyschotropic drugs cheap, as the US moves towards the 40% mark of legal drug use.

    Oh well, time to head to my job once again…Thanks for the data.

    Comment by Bubba — 26 April 2006 @ 7:00 AM

  105. Jason says

    Well, can you think of some proven mechanism that population in the past would’ve been held at a point significantly lower than it was ecologically capable of sustaining?

    This is probably as good an entry point into this as any. Not growing food and relying strictly on a hunter gatherer lifestyle would have kept the population lower than what it could have been if a sustainable horticulture was used.

    The question remains: what is the carrying capacity of the planet in a post petroleum world?

    Bubba says

    Very few papers on this sort of thing, although I did read one a few years back that suggested 600million, as an estimate of population the earth could sustain without the “magic” of oil.

    Incredible that such a critical number should have so little research. May I be so bold as to suggest that there is an agenda on not having data on this. I’d also wonder what the number would be if the majority of the population was devoted to farm labour, and if we didn’t have the collosal waste associated with war, colonialism, and finding new markets to keep expanding the economy.

    The Edo Period of Japan maintained a stable population of 30 million for two and a half centuries, until it came to an end with the encroachment of western civilization. That’s half of what Jason is claiming as the carrying capacity for the entire planet.

    It is quite clear that the carrying capacity is greater than what can be provided by a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The question remains: what is the carrying capacity in a post carbon world?

    Comment by ov — 3 May 2006 @ 1:36 AM

  106. The question remains: what is the carrying capacity of the planet in a post petroleum world?

    The same as the pre-petroleum world. Population is a function of food supply, and ultimately, energy. Without petroleum, we’re left with the same energy levels we had before petroleum. So, population will shrink to the same size. In fact, this time it will likely be even lower, since energy sources we had before petroleum–naturally arable soil, a Holocene climate, etc.–will no longer be around.

    I’d also wonder what the number would be if the majority of the population was devoted to farm labour, and if we didn’t have the collosal waste associated with war, colonialism, and finding new markets to keep expanding the economy.

    Lower. We switched to the Green Revolution because it became impossible to farm by other means. See Richard Manning’s Against the Grain for a very good discusson of that history. If we were still doing farming by human labor, rather than petroleum, we’d have a dwindling food supply already, because the soil’s already dead. We don’t grow corn in Iowa’s soil–we grow it in a few feet of oil we lay down on top of what’s already a desert underneath.

    That’s going to be one of the biggest problems in the post-petroleum world, because it means we’re not going back to 1960. 1960 isn’t there anymore; we bled it dry from 1492 to 1960. We can’t just go back to the agrarian world; the soil was killed off the first time we tried that. This time, we’re going all the way back to the stone age.

    The Edo Period of Japan maintained a stable population of 30 million for two and a half centuries, until it came to an end with the encroachment of western civilization. That’s half of what Jason is claiming as the carrying capacity for the entire planet.

    The Edo Period also began before the Edo Period had run its course. The very same agricultural practices used in the Edo Period are precisely what made it impossible for the Edo Period’s practices to be repeated. In the short term, the dead soil leaves no possibility for agriculture. In the long term, global climate change is ending the Holocene, and the small window in which agriculture is possible is about to be slammed shut. You can’t farm deserts, jungles or glaciers, no matter how many people push that plow.

    It is quite clear that the carrying capacity is greater than what can be provided by a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The question remains: what is the carrying capacity in a post carbon world?

    The hunter-gatherer carrying capacity, because nothing else is viable. At best, the horticultural carrying capacity. Agriculture cannot survive–it’s busy killing itself right now, as it was always destined to do. It was an unsustainable scheme from the very beginning, and there’s one thing all unsustainable schemes share in common: they’re never sustained.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 3 May 2006 @ 9:23 AM

  107. These post to some degree reflect many people’s striving for answers, adaptations to the problems at our doorstep. Brainstorming ideas has its value, I suppose the issue is that humans have tried many, many lifestyles throughout history. Few are sustainable, and very few scale–the “magic” of Oil has given people a False sense of fixing all human problems with technology.

    Tis a noble striving at some level, no reasonably empathetic person would wish for a mass die-off scenario. Especially since, life throws people curve-balls, and even with the best of preparations there is not guarantee that the adaptions will work, faced with desperate govt’s & desperate people…as TSHTF.

    Comment by Bubba — 3 May 2006 @ 9:34 AM

  108. May I be so bold as to suggest that there is an agenda on not having data on this.

    As history would suggest that you are indeed capable of being so bold, I’m going to go ahead and guess that you may.

    Comment by Mike Godesky — 3 May 2006 @ 11:11 AM

  109. An agenda is pretty far-fethced and paranoid. It’s just a hard thing to get funding for. We’re a fringe of a fringe for failing to appreciate the salvific omnipotence of Ingenuity and Technology. Technology will save us from our sins! Hallelujah! Can I get an “amen”? There have been studies of Mesolithic population levels, and that’s where we’re headed, but there hasn’t been much in the way of, “What would be the carrying capacity of the planet, sans petroleum?” because, to most people, it’s a silly question. You don’t need some paranoid conspiracy theory when a cultural blind spot is just as effective. As Daniel Quinn pointed out, it’s rarely knowledge that’s the problem–knowledge is relatively easy to come by. It’s curiosity that hinders us, because we never learn about the things we’re not curious about.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 3 May 2006 @ 11:16 AM

  110. Jason Godesky says

    The Edo Period also began before the Edo Period had run its course.

    Well, I defy you to provide an example of anything that run its course before it began. Thought is inextricably bound to language; if you can’t say what you mean, you can’t possibly mean what you say. ;-) Considering the labour intensive practices, combined with fertilizing using human night soil, they wouldn’t have been practicing agriculture as defined on this site. The main reason that they weren’t able to replicate this sustainability was the destruction of their social and cultural systems - at the top of the hierarchy were the Samari (6%), then farmers (80%), and at the bottom artisans/business (14%). Plus they had a non expansionist culture, with a high degree of efficiency in recycling and energy consumption. The villian here wasn’t agriculture, but rather western invasion.

    The hunter-gatherer carrying capacity, because nothing else is viable. At best, the horticultural carrying capacity.

    Contradict yourself within adjacent sentences. Nice of you to acknowledge that horticulture is an option. Too bad it involves people that grow food, eh.

    Carrying capacity is a meaningless number unless it is placed within the context of the political, cultural and economic system. Oh, and the means of food production also plays a part. The carrying capacity of an Edo system was much higher than for the western. We haven’t heard much about carrying capacity because it would negatively reflect on our western civiliztion.

    Comment by ov — 4 May 2006 @ 3:04 AM

  111. Well, I defy you to provide an example of anything that run its course before it began. Thought is inextricably bound to language; if you can’t say what you mean, you can’t possibly mean what you say.

    Except that is precisely what I meant. The techniques we used in our agrarian past were “one-time-only” deals: they used virgin soil in such a way that it could not be used in that way again for quite some time to come. The Edo Period used one of the most unsustainable types of agriculture: rice cultivation. Agricultural production rose, as did urbanization. While it has been mischaracterized as “sustainable,” this merely highlights the variability of the term. Sustainability can only be considered on some timeline. The Edo Period’s policies were mildly less self-destructive, but still unsustainable–merely on a longer timeline. In their case, that timeline was sufficiently long that they could be wiped out by other causes (foreign aggression) first, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the nature of those practices simply because they were wiped out before they had their chance to implode.

    More importantly, the Edo Period’s agricultural practices still relied on monocropped rice paddies which, even with a fallowing period, slowly drain that land of its capacity to sustain such cultivation (fallowing allows this to unfold over a longer timeline, nothing more). Today, after the centuries of Edo Period cultivation have taken their toll (to say nothing of the intervening Meiji and contemporary periods), the Edo Period’s practices cannot be reproduced. The soil was too damaged from the long ascent we’ve taken to get to the current state in the first place.

    This is why I phrased it in such a way–as you pointed out, this is always the case. This is a problem all over the world. The first solution we grabbed at to solve agriculture’s devastation was simply to grab more land. The Romans were quite explicit about the motivation for their military conquest: they wanted more land to farm. Notice that Christopher Columbus reported the New World in 1492, but it was only in the 1600s–a century later–that Europe became earnestly interested in it. Because it was then that resources in the Old World were fading; civilization would’ve ended there, had we not had a whole new continent to farm. It was around 1960, with three billion people on the planet, that we effectively finished off all the arable land available on the planet. That’s when we started a new strategy: using technology to increase how intensely we used that land. We introduced factory farming, GMO’s, fossil fuel fertilizers and pesticides in a program dubbed, “the Green Revolution.” It allowed us to double our population and more–there are now over 6 billion of us, just 40 years later. Civilization is a 10,000 year story of finding some new way to keep pushing production just in time, just before the old scheme completely fell apart. We did not move to new lands, or adopt new strategies, because they were better. Humans have never been motivated by that; we are motivated by necessity. We moved on to these new places and new techniques because the old lands died, and the old techniques no longer worked. We’ve been hopping upwards, from plank to plank, each time just in time as the old plank crumbled beneath us. Now, we’re very high up, the plank is crumbling once again, and there’s no other planks in sight. Trying to grab one of the old ones is folly–you’ll reach out, just to find that it’s not there anymore. If it were, we’d still be there.

    Contradict yourself within adjacent sentences. Nice of you to acknowledge that horticulture is an option. Too bad it involves people that grow food, eh.

    It depends on the area. I doubt horticulture will be viable everywhere. Some lucky pockets to be sure, and there, I’m sure it will be used. But for the most part, it’s simply not viable in the world we’ve created. There’s not a contradiction there, merely an acknowledgement that the earth is not uniform, and human societies will never be homogeneous.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 8:54 AM

  112. We could avoid the extinction of the human race but unfortunately it wouldn’t be economically viable.

    I apologize Jason, I thought you made a “typo” when you meant to say that the Edo period came to an end before it had a chance to run it’s course. But in true Voltaire’s Bastards form you were unable to admit even that little mistake.

    I would like to see you disprove the hypothesis that our population increase since the 18th century was driven predominately by the necessity for economic growth. The attempt would be a refreshing change from your circular assertions. With thirty thesis I would have thought that at least one of them would have addressed the economic factors.

    Comment by ov — 4 May 2006 @ 11:34 AM

  113. But in true Voltaire’s Bastards form you were unable to admit even that little mistake.

    Errr … it wasn’t a mistake, or a typo. The Edo Period began before the Edo Period was over–that’s exactly what I meant to say. The history of the Edo Period had an effect on the soil; it could only happen once. Get it? Sheesh! It wasn’t a mistake, you’re just not listening to what I’m saying!

    I would like to see you disprove the hypothesis that our population increase since the 18th century was driven predominately by the necessity for economic growth. The attempt would be a refreshing change from your circular assertions. With thirty thesis I would have thought that at least one of them would have addressed the economic factors.

    I don’t understand–ultimately, they were all about the economy. Not the minor, irrelevant vicissitudes of price, demand, supply, or this or that commodity, but the really important, fundamentals of our economy: food, population, and ultimately, the question of energy in all its forms. So, why would I “disprove the hypothesis that our population increase since the 18th century was driven predominately by the necessity for economic growth”? That seems like the very claim I make, in slightly different wording. If I could disprove it, I wouldn’t still hold that opinion.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 11:55 AM

  114. Everything begins before it has a chance to run it’s course. Not everything is allowed to run it’s course because the course could be prematurely ended by outside factors.

    Food, population and energy are not synonyms for economics. Come on Jason, be a mensch and address the issue head on.

    Comment by ov — 4 May 2006 @ 12:04 PM

  115. Everything begins before it has a chance to run it’s course. Not everything is allowed to run it’s course because the course could be prematurely ended by outside factors.

    Ah, I see the confusion. But I wasn’t talking about the Edo Period that might have been; I was talking about the Edo Period that was. Any one-time affair like that can only be done, well, once–you can never repeat your experience with a one-time-only scheme. That’s what makes it a one-time-only scheme.

    Food, population and energy are not synonyms for economics. Come on Jason, be a mensch and address the issue head on.

    Synonyms, no. But they are the foundations of economics. Taunting doesn’t make your suggestion any less absurd: I’ve always been a materialist, and I’ve always argued that these are driven by primarily economic factors. Pinning it to something as transitory as this or that commodity is facile, though; they are products of a much more basic economy of energy, which is the main theme running through all of the Thirty Theses.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 12:13 PM

  116. What economic system can exist, without food, energy, and population. Without the Food & Water, you won’t find many people making paper & coins. You have to have those basic things, before an economy can begin to be created. Thus, when Food & Water become precious commodities within the world/country, the economy begins to falter…since it’s much easier to have Faith in money’s “value” when it can cover your survival needs. No reason to go out a buy a sweater if you are starving & will die of dehydration soon.

    The economy still relies on the real world at some level, even if its become a strange abstraction. So I don’t see why the theses haven’t tackled economics, perhaps just not as a specific subset. But if you follow the line of reason, its pretty easy to figure out whats going to happen to the economy.

    Comment by Bubba — 4 May 2006 @ 12:13 PM

  117. Hey –

    A couple years ago, at an Ishcon Event, we listened to a presentation by Dr Alan Thornhill an evolutionary biologist and friend to Dan Quinn.

    One of the themese from his presentation that has always stuck with me is this: in our culture, particularily the modern American version, Economics is treated as the single overriding mechanism in the real world. However, in the REAL, real world, it must be the case that economics nests within the social-political system which is then nested with the external environment (ecology and resources).

    So now, when I see these comments about Jason ‘ignoring’ economics, this comes to mind. Jason has been addressing the REAL, real world, where infrastructure (external environment) creates/defines/limits/modifies social systems which then create/define/limit and modify economics. Its systems thinking, guys… and while some discussion of economics in particular might be interesting, or even useful, don’t make the mistake of accepting the nonsense our cultures propogates suggesting that economics trumps all…

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 4 May 2006 @ 12:25 PM

  118. Well, what does that word–”economics”–mean? Is it about the flow of money? But what is money, if not merely an abstraction of food? Any good or service has value because of the energy invested in it–energy invested in labor, in materials, and so forth. Food itself is merely a means of storing energy. What non-economists think of as “economics” is really only the most superficial aspect of the field. I’m much more concerned with energy economics, because energy is 100% of the economy.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 12:32 PM

  119. What non-economists think of as “economics” is really only the most superficial aspect of the field. I’m much more concerned with energy economics, because energy is 100% of the economy.

    This became abundantly obvious to me, nearly two decades ago - not studying business, or economics, or sociology, but engineering. In comparison, my biz school friends struck me as hopelessly superficial. And bought into a very limited model, with some very short-run “trends”…

    Comment by JCamasto — 4 May 2006 @ 12:59 PM

  120. A common definition of economics, found in dictionaries and textbooks, is “the allocation of scarce resources among competing interests.” It’s not about money, it’s about how resources are employed. And this is exactly what Jason is talking about. Agriculture is a method of allocating ecosystem resources, directing an ever-larger share of biodiversity toward humans, converting more of nature into people as population grows, and simplifying ecosystem functions until the ecosystem no longer exists. The only way agriculture can be sustainable in the long term is to place limits on consumption and population. And those limits will always be abandoned when people are hungry or labor is scarce.

    So you don’t need to explicitly use the word “economics” when you are talking about use of resources. Money, and all of economics, are just extremely crude and limited metrics for measuring and describing resource flow.

    Comment by Toby Hemenway — 4 May 2006 @ 1:38 PM

  121. Economics, quite simply, is the study of scarcity. That’s the first thing you learn in any introductory economics class. Economists only focus on money because that’s what we use to measure the value of scarce resources. But at its core, we’re talking about those resources like food.

    And ov, if I were proposing a massive academic conspiracy to cover up the existence of an ancient matriarchal society, I wouldn’t be complaining about anyone else’s lack of evidence.

    Comment by Mike Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 1:50 PM

  122. Speaking of economics, I would like to give an enthusiastic endorsement to David Korten’s new, hot-off-the presses book, “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.”

    David is well known for another book he published around 1995, “When Corporations Rule the World.”

    Long ago, I sat through quite a few econ classes and struggled hard to keep from falling asleep. None of the courses answered, or even addressed, the most interesting question of economic life, at least for me: why is it that in practically every society a few end up with most of the wealth.

    The Great Turning does a brilliant job of explaining this phenomenon in plain English that anyone can understand. (I suspect that this topic is taboo in most econ departments.)

    Here’s an excerpt from David’s earlier book:

    THE BETRAYAL OF ADAM SMITH
    by David C. Korten
    Excerpt from “When Corporations Rule the World”, 2nd Edition

    http://reactor-core.org/betrayal-of-adam-smith.html

    Comment by Peter — 4 May 2006 @ 3:32 PM

  123. …why is it that in practically every society a few end up with most of the wealth.

    Well, that’s not true. It’s actually in very, very few societies that happens. The problem is, those are the same societies that have a big problem with overpopulation, and they’re not very sustainable, either, so they’re the ones that get bigger and bigger and need to spread out and crush everyone around them–in other words, they’re the same societies that are compelled to always conquer more, or implode. Neither are they unrelated, but that doesn’t make it any less a bizarre and rare little trait.

    As for its lack of coverage, I doubt it has so much to do with taboo as the fact that I doubt many economists would find it terribly convincing. They tend to be quite impressed with the self-regulation of the market.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 3:39 PM

  124. Self-regulation.

    LOL!

    That one always gives me a laugh. (I know that you know this too.)

    Comment by Peter — 4 May 2006 @ 3:41 PM

  125. Well, ultimately, they’re right–supply will always balance demand, and there you’ll have your price. What they lack is the imagination to consider what that might entail.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 May 2006 @ 3:49 PM

  126. *scratching head* I’m trying to figure out if ov is thick or just so terribly frightened by the scenario that has been laid out on this site that s/he cannot even begin to contemplate the possibility that it might actually be anything but wild speculation.

    Comment by ChandraShakti — 4 May 2006 @ 11:39 PM

  127. While I agree with many of your arguments, I cannot join you in rejecting civilization. My reason is simple: the habitable lifespan of the Earth is finite. Eventually, some cosmic event (e.g., asteroid impact, nearby supernova, evolution of the sun off the main-sequence) will scour the planet of life. If mankind has not escaped into space by that time, the species will pass into oblivion, along with the entire planetary biosphere. According to the first of your Thirty Theses, such an outcome cannot ethically be permitted, as it would entail a complete and irreversible reduction of diversity. Because primitive cultures lack both the technical expertise and the expansionary impetus to make the leap into space, only civilization can serve as a vehicle for the long-term survival of Earth-based life.

    Comment by Robert — 19 June 2006 @ 1:24 PM

  128. My reason is simple: the habitable lifespan of the Earth is finite. Eventually, some cosmic event (e.g., asteroid impact, nearby supernova, evolution of the sun off the main-sequence) will scour the planet of life.

    You mean the way civilization is currently scouring the planet of life? You’re right, on a long enough timeline, the life expectancy for everything drops to zero. But if life is just about cheating death, then it’s a doomed enterprise anyway. Whether it’s the Big Crunch or the inevitable grind of entropy, hopping from planet to planet, consuming all life and then moving on like the evil alien invaders from Independence Day will ultimately fail. There has to be more to existence than just staying alive forever, or the whole project is doomed from the outset. I can’t see how you can justify civilization in that it might help us escape from a possibility that it itself creates.

    Because primitive cultures lack both the technical expertise and the expansionary impetus to make the leap into space, only civilization can serve as a vehicle for the long-term survival of Earth-based life.

    Because civilizations lack both the shamanic depth and the ritual expertise and the visionary impetus to make the leap into the spirit world, only primitive cultures can serve as a vehicle for the long-term survival of spirit-based life.

    Both statements are based on a promise that may never be fulfilled, but those promises are rooted in very different understandings of the universe. I don’t think civilization is capable of delivering the promise you suggest, and I’m not sure it would be a good thing even if it could; you may not think shamanic cultures can deliver on the promise I’ve suggested, and you may not be sure it would even be a good thing if it could. But there is a significant divergence: the promise I suggested still gives you room to exist. Yours demands my bloody and painful sacrifice to the gods of homogeneity and domination.

    As an important side note, I do not think that primitive life is incompatible with space flight. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and civilization fosters invention by making need a basic facet of life. Primitive societies don’t invent at nearly the same pace because they are “affluent societies.” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That said, I’m not sure if space flight would be possible without civilization, but it might be–in which case, you could have your space colonies to allow Homo sapiens escape the end of all life on earth, without actually causing the end of all life on earth in the process.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 19 June 2006 @ 1:37 PM

  129. Ah. You appear to be trapped by a false dilemma. Civilization has become a charicature of evil to you — rapine incarnate — so it must be abolished and replaced with its opposite: primitivism. Your logic is faulty. Civilization and primitivism are not the only options. A synthesis that incorporates the best of both modes of social organization would be preferable, but I’ve nowhere seen it entertained in your theses.

    Comment by Robert — 19 June 2006 @ 6:34 PM

  130. Appearances can be decieving. “Civilization” has nothing to do with technological achievement; it is defined by the strategy of answering everything with greater complexity, as discussed in thesis #13. As I wrote about in several recent posts, I do not expect the “future primitive” to be anything like the “past primitive.” The term “primitive” is an unfortunate one, but I use it because of its etymological root, meaning “first.” Or if you prefer, the Akan word Sankofa, going back to recover something lost. We must do that first. Primitive societies were never simple or unsophisticated, and they often had elegant and powerful technology. “A synthesis that incorporates the best of both modes of social organization” is precisely my goal, but what I’ve learned is that all the best aspects of civilization–advanced knowledge and technology, philosophy, art, music, etc.–are already major elements of all primitive cultures. The only thing civilization that has that’s unique to it alone is its need to constantly expand, and to subjugate everyone and everything around it. All the rest–science, art, technology, all of it–is the universal, shared heritage of the entire species, civilized and uncivilized alike.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 19 June 2006 @ 7:04 PM

  131. My apologies. The term primitivism is, for better or worse, a loaded one. The images it conjures are rarely salutary. There is much room for misunderstanding.

    Comment by Robert — 19 June 2006 @ 9:17 PM

  132. jason, you have mentioned the ‘primitive space flight’ idea before. i have no context for envisioning anything other than an industrial state’s space program. im am intrigued about what you were imagining, both in terms of the cultural context in which such a venture might evolve, and the physical specifics of such a spacecraft. what are you thinking? i am just hitting walls when i try to explore this myself.

    Comment by felix — 19 June 2006 @ 10:43 PM

  133. The term primitivism is, for better or worse, a loaded one. The images it conjures are rarely salutary. There is much room for misunderstanding.

    Absolutely–that’s why I’ve spent so much space defining my terms. But unfortunately, none of the alternatives are any less loaded. It was for precisely this reason that Quinn invented the terms “Taker” and “Leaver,” but I find that dichotomy to be rather broken, in fact. The fact of the matter is, English is a civilized language, and as such it has made it largely impossible to crticize civilization effectively. “Civilization” is often used a synonym for “goodness,” after all. So language is a definite barrier here, rather than an aid.

    jason, you have mentioned the ‘primitive space flight’ idea before. … what are you thinking?

    Obviously, I don’t have any plans for a functional primitive space flight program on hand, but I don’t see any way in which it would be impossible, the way a sustainable civilization is impossible. Metals will likely be too difficult to extract on the kind of scale necessary for a civilization, but you could probably pull up enough to build a spaceship. There’s the potential to brew fuels from plants even if fossil fuels are too remote to access.

    Fifth World hangliders

    The problems that will end civilization are problems of scale, but technology is a primitive invention, not a civilized one. Primitive societies tend to be more elegant with their technology. I don’t know the details, but Star Trek has at least inspired me enough to not discount the possibility. If it’s something that’s important to us, I think we’ll find a way. But I don’t think you can justify civilization in terms of a possible exodus should some catastrophe threaten the survival of life on earth, when civilization is a catastrophe that threatens the survival of life on earth.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 20 June 2006 @ 9:16 AM

  134. For further possibilities for primitive technology, seeHero of Alexandria.”

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 20 June 2006 @ 2:38 PM

  135. The Hyperion-Endymion tetralogy of Dan Simmons also plays with the distinction hierarchic-organic societies, and the requisite material cultures.

    Comment by Simon — 21 June 2006 @ 3:44 AM

  136. This place has become like a piece of gristle stuck in my teeth. I feel compelled to debate you. So here I go. Complexity is evident at every level of physical reality, from subatomic particles to superclusters of galaxies. Indeed, recent developments in cosmology suggest that the entire universe is a *disequilibrated* system in which complexity arises naturally as a consequence of cosmic inflation (see the “entropy gap”). And this is why I have trouble accepting the thrust of your theses, despite my agreement with certain of their observations. Civilization is just one of many complex systems extant in the universe. What makes it especially vicious? (This is a rhetorical question more than anything. I have my own ideas about civilization’s shortcomings, as well as how they might be remedied.) Conversely, what makes primitivism especially virtuous? If all attempts at organization are doomed to entropic decay (and this is increasingly doubtful, given the aforementioned cosmological discoveries), why stop with the abolition of civilization? Why not liberate trillions of cells from the losing proposition that is multicellular life and collapse all the way back to prokaryotes? Or atomic hydrogen? Or the raw vacuum? Where does one stop and why? As I see it, the more widely distributed life becomes, the harder it is to extinguish with a single calamity. *Life* must therefore grow or die. This is not a characteristic peculiar to civilization. Anything that opposes the spread of life is morbid — anti-life. If civilization is that vector which permits life to escape the earth, then it has been a necessary evil. One that should be modified or discarded as soon as possible, perhaps, but still not something to abandon wholesale for an idealized primitive state of (unattainable) equilibrium.

    P.S. - I read somewhere that you live in Pittsburgh. Decent city. I had an apartment in Shadyside while I was going to Pitt. You guys ever frequent the Phantom of the Attic?

    Comment by Robert — 22 June 2006 @ 2:55 AM

  137. Hey Robert –

    One common misunderstanding here is this term ‘complexity’.

    Unfortunately, there are two distinct [i]types[/i] of complexity that get discussed around here.

    First, is Tainter’s ‘Complexity’ refering to civilizational structures, energy throughput etc. In this case, we are talking about engineered complexity. Compare a traditional adobe building in the southwest with a modern ’standardized’ tract home. Now look at the amount of imbedded energy in each of those structures. Look at the number of ways that each of those structures could fail. And look at the ‘cost’ of maintaining each of those structures. The ‘modern’ building scores much more porrly than the traditional one on all three questions, correct? This is Tainter’s (and civilizations) ‘complexity’.

    Now, on the other side, we also talk about natural complexity. Ecosystem diversity, permaculture design, Gaea Theory (*dis-equillibrium* as you mentioned). With natural complexity, you can’t really look at ebedded energy: an oak tree standing alone in an empty field has the same embedded energy as an equal size oak tree in a diverse forest. But they are different just the same. The question in natural compelxity has to be *how redundant is the system* and *how much waste product does the system produce(/how many external resources does the system need)*. In natural systems, the more complexity, the MORe redundant, the LESS waste, the LESS external resources. So in many ways it is almost EXACTLY the opposite of engineered complexity.

    The goal, IMO, is to bolster the latter while forsaking the former… for the simple reason that the second *works* while the first… not so much.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 22 June 2006 @ 9:02 AM

  138. What makes it especially vicious? … Conversely, what makes primitivism especially virtuous?

    I think the cosmology you posit is fundamentally flawed, in that you seem to be suggesting that the universe exhibits a natural disposition towards complexity. As discussed in thesis #2 (or more fully by Gould in Full House, which I cite in thesis #2), this is an illusion. The universe does exhibit an inclination towards diversity, and complexity arises as a corollary of that, but it is diversity the universe shows its greatest interest in. The rise of complexity is merely a means to that end.

    “Virtue” does not enter into it. Complexity is not “evil.” Complexity yields certain benefits, and it comes at a certain cost. It is subject to diminishing returns, and this is why, for instance, you see an asymptote of biological complexity that life approaches, petering out with fewer and fewer species as you approach it. Civilization is a system that pursues greater complexity as its solution to every problem (see thesis #13); since complexity is subject to diminishing returns (see thesis #14), this is a doomed strategy. It won’t be too long before the cost of ever-expanding complexity is simply too great.

    “Primitivism” is a loaded term with as many definitions as there are primitivists. I use it due to its etymology, from the Latin for “first.” Primitivism is everything that isn’t civilization. If you’re ever willing to solve a problem by simplifying, rather than becoming more complex, you’re talking about a “primitive” strategy. Primitivism need not reject complexity wholesale; it need only acknowledge that simplicity and elegance may be just as viable as a problem-solving strategy. As such, primitivists lack a rigid dogma or unilateralism, which makes it much more adaptive. It is not a question of “good” or “evil,” but of “works” and “doesn’t work.”

    As I see it, the more widely distributed life becomes, the harder it is to extinguish with a single calamity. *Life* must therefore grow or die.

    Therein lies the very reason that civilization is objectionable: because it sacrifices essential diversity for the fringe effect of complexity, or in your terms, it restricts the distribution of life, and even tries to threaten the survival of life on earth. We’re in a mass extinction right now, and it’s because we’re civilized.

    If civilization is that vector which permits life to escape the earth, then it has been a necessary evil. One that should be modified or discarded as soon as possible, perhaps, but still not something to abandon wholesale for an idealized primitive state of (unattainable) equilibrium.

    I am not sure whether civilization can spread earth’s life to other planets, but if it can, it must only be in a civilized pattern: a pattern that promises to spread from world to world, consuming everything, leaving every planet in the universe dead in its wake. How can we justify a social structure that destroys all life and diversity as a systemic consequence, on the basis of fostering life and diversity?

    But I never suggested primitivism as a state of equilibrium, except as a dynamic equilibrium. I don’t think you can call it unattainable, when it’s defined the pattern of life on this planet not only for humans, but for all species, for the past billion years.

    Unfortunately, there are two distinct types of complexity that get discussed around here.

    I’m not so sure. I think biological complexity is largely subject to the same diminishing returns curve. Why are there no giants? In a word, diminishing returns. Complexity has its price, biologically; the energy consumption of the human brain can only be justified by omnivorism (Richard Manning discusses this in the first chapter of Against the Grain), and so on.

    But they are different just the same.

    I think again you can see the difference in terms of the same diminishing returns curve. Your oak in the forest grows on soil that’s also affected by many other types of plants, as opposed to the one in the empty plain. Ecosystems mature into old growth forests—and then stabilize. Succession doesn’t keep diversifying forever.

    Hmmm, this suggests a new idea to me: the conservation of complexity. If complexity is subject to diminishing returns, then perhaps there is a certain level of complexity that can never be created or destroyed, merely transferred from biological systems to social systems, or back again?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 9:33 AM

  139. You guys ever frequent the Phantom of the Attic?

    Beautiful place, innit?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 9:42 AM

  140. Hey –

    I’m not so sure. I think biological complexity is largely subject to the same diminishing returns curve. Why are there no giants? In a word, diminishing returns. Complexity has its price, biologically; the energy consumption of the human brain can only be justified by omnivorism (Richard Manning discusses this in the first chapter of Against the Grain), and so on.

    Yes and no.

    I have always addended to Gould’s ‘Drunkard’s Walk’ the idea that there is not only a wall of minimal complexity, but also, somewhere out there, a cliff-edge of maximum complexity. Because within a given organism there is a cost associated with each additional investment in complexity. So at that point I think we are in total agreement.

    What I am not so sure of is ‘fractal’ complexity. Did you ever read that thread on Chaos Theory? You should… although I wandered around a little before I finally got it all together…

    I think again you can see the difference in terms of the same diminishing returns curve. Your oak in the forest grows on soil that’s also affected by many other types of plants, as opposed to the one in the empty plain. Ecosystems mature into old growth forests—and then stabilize. Succession doesn’t keep diversifying forever.

    Exactly. And why is that? Because an old growth forest is defined by non-linear equations. And non linear equations can fluctuate widely without becoming unstable. Yet they have FAR MORE complexity than any linear equation can hope to express. More importantly, systems running on non-linear equations tend to be self supporting… there is little cost or waste involved in maintaining the system. In fact, an influx of excessive energy is one of the things that can ‘break’ them. (Lightening in the forest). Yet what happens? All that occurs is a catalyst for the whole system to spontaeously start to recreate itself until dynamic equillibrium is once again reached. (perhpas with a new shape and temperment… but comparable nonetheless.)

    I really think that engineered complexity and natural (fractal/chaotic) complexity are opposite ends of a spectrum with simplier structures defining the middle. It seems anti-intuitive… but not if you rank each system based on energy throughput (of the whole system as opposed to constituent parts)

    Hmmm, this suggests a new idea to me: the conservation of complexity. If complexity is subject to diminishing returns, then perhaps there is a certain level of complexity that can never be created or destroyed, merely transferred from biological systems to social systems, or back again?

    Huh? Try that one again…

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 22 June 2006 @ 11:07 AM

  141. Well, in order to create more complex social systems, we diminish biological complexity, and as social systems become simpler, biological systems are able to restore their complexity. I’d say the optimal balance is probably somewhere around the horticulturalist, where both social and biological complexity appears to be maximized. This idea is still firmly intuition; I haven’t fleshed out any support for it yet, but it’s an interesting idea.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 11:49 AM

  142. Janene:

    It seems, then, that Tainter is in fact describing a sunk cost fallacy. Collapse occurs when a society continues to invest in a saturated infrastructure — because it is familiar, because vested interests wish to preserve an advantage, etc. — instead of developing an alternative that better meets existing needs. For example, the solution to traffic congestion has conventionally been to expand existing roadways. But one can only build so much road before the entire country is paved. The solution is not to abandon all long-distance transportation, however. What is needed is a decentralized transportation network that is independent of a fixed infrastructure (i.e., roads). That transportation method used to be horses. Today, it could be personal VTOL aircraft or GEVs. Unfortunately, the freedom of mobility such a method would entail is something that civilization, with its ingrained hierarchical control mechanisms, cannot abide. The core problem, then, is *hierarchy*. How people are organized is more important than the number of people so organized.

    Jason:

    Again, we’re running into problems of definition. Please see the article at samvak.tripod.com/complex.html for a discussion (not my own, but far more articulate than I can manage at the moment) of what I mean when I use the terms complexity and complex systems. Also, see samvak.tripod.com/nature.html and samvak.tripod.com/anthropy.html for treatments of the (meta)physical assumptions that inform my position.

    ****

    I disagree that civilization would, after achieving economical spaceflight, immediately metastatize throughout the galaxy. My reasoning is thus: civilization, with its ingrained hierarchies, is dependent on sedentary populations. People can only be commanded and controlled if they are confined. The constraints can be physical (geographical barriers, militarized borders, etc.) or psychological (stifling ideologies), but what is important is the fixedness of the civilized state. Space, being unbounded, offers too many avenues for escape. A civilization that left its homeworld would fly apart in a historically brief period of time for lack of confinement. See Iain M. Banks’ notes on the Culture milieu at http://www.cs.bris.ac.uk/~stefan/culture.html for why this would be the case.

    Comment by Robert — 22 June 2006 @ 12:33 PM

  143. Hey –

    okay…hmmm…there is a causality there, but I’m not sure it is the one that you are thinking…

    Our engineered complexity functions by breaking organic, non-linear systems into simplier linear systems. As such, I wouldn’t think that there is any conservation of complexity, but rather, we are back to diminishing returns/limits to energy. For every increase in complexity WE create, there is a reduction in energy efficiency and therefore a limit to further complexity increases. Furthermore, in order to create those increases we need to harvest the resource/energy/biomass etc from the non-linear systems around us. (Further hampering efficiency and resource availability)

    But with organic systems, that simple relationship does not apply. Its the very definition of non-linear systems, that you cannot assume a direct relationship like this.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 22 June 2006 @ 12:37 PM

  144. Hey Robert –

    Yes, hierarchy is one of the primary systemic problems with civilization.

    But if you stop there, then you miss the systemic nature of the beast.

    Agriculture requires and creates hierarchy and large populations. Large populations require and sustain agriculture. Hierarchy creates and sustains agriculture and large populations… and those are only three elements in the total package. If you single one of the key systemic properties from the whole system you CANNOT really get at the root of the issues. All you get is symptoms.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 22 June 2006 @ 12:42 PM

  145. Janene:

    Then the solution that does not lead to megadeath is to achieve a method of food production that can support the existing billions of the world without resort to environmentally-destructive agricultural methods. My money is on nanotechnology. (What is the Tribe’s objection to MNT, by the way? The technology itself would be a tool like any other, one that would tend to erode hierarchies by breaking down monopolistic controls.) If “artificial” tools and methods are too inflexible to solve our problems, create a technology that is essentially organic.

    Comment by Robert — 22 June 2006 @ 12:57 PM

  146. Regarding my reference to the sunk cost fallacy, here is a website that does a good job at explaining how this can lead to civilizational collapse: http://www.darkage.fsnet.co.uk/HistorySociety.htm.

    Comment by Robert — 22 June 2006 @ 1:09 PM

  147. The core problem, then, is *hierarchy*. How people are organized is more important than the number of people so organized.

    Civilization is hierarchy—that’s like saying that it’s not war that’s problematic, but all the killing. Large numbers of people can only be organized by hierarchies, due to the limitations of things like Dunbar’s number. We need hierarchical complexity to make large populations manageable.

    The links you provide, Robert, are not only known to me, I’ve used them in my own arguments, and they largely echo my own sentiments. Not only did I read Wolfram’s New Kind of Science, I even had the opportunity to attend a lecture of his. It’s very much my opinion that complexity arises from simplicity, but I think the article errs when it thinks that the distinction between simplicity and complexity is arbitrary. Symbols are arbitrary, but symbols are not things. A line can be subdivided endlessly, but each line is a coherent system unto itself. By the same token, a polygon cannot be divided in such arbitrary ways as a circle or a line; it is made up of lines. Therein, I think, is the essential nature of complexity: not how many arbitrary symbols you can divide a thing into, but how many self-contained, individually viable systems it is composed of.

    The other links you’ve provided echo other sentiments I’ve often expressed. “Nature” is definitely a Romantic concept that serves to bolster the illusion that we are somehow divorced from it, but at the same time, I think there is value in being able to refer to the non-human communities that make up the ecological systems we are enmeshed in. I disagree with the author’s assesment of Homo sapiens as a “negentropic agent,” as well as his assessment that the earth tends towards complexity. Again, this is something I discussed in thesis #2 at length, so I see no need to repeat that argument here, except to say that the earth’s trend towards “complexity” is illusory and myopic.

    That does not change the fact that complexity is subject to diminishing returns, and too much complexity costs more than it yields. Yes, sunk costs factor heavily in the formation and continuation of civilization; you’ll see this frequently discussed by archaeologists and anthropologists in the origins of agriculture and hierarchy.

    My reasoning is thus: civilization, with its ingrained hierarchies, is dependent on sedentary populations. People can only be commanded and controlled if they are confined. The constraints can be physical (geographical barriers, militarized borders, etc.) or psychological (stifling ideologies), but what is important is the fixedness of the civilized state. Space, being unbounded, offers too many avenues for escape.

    Just because space might be unbounded does not mean our ability to travel through it would be. We would be confined in stages, gaining the technology to push our confines outward only as necessity demands it (if classical economists were correct, and supply and demand were the only forces in the universe). If civilization is to continue with the exponential growth it is currently predicated on and must maintain to avoid collapse, space travel only buys us a few more generations even in the “best case scenario” where we wipe out all life in the entire universe. If the current population requires 40% of the earth’s primary productivity, then the next generation will need 80%. If that generation needs a whole planet, the next will need two; then four; then eight. After three generations, we already need all the planets in our solar system. The generation after that will need two solar systems. By ten generations out, we already need 128 solar systems to perpetuate civilization.

    Then the solution that does not lead to megadeath is to achieve a method of food production that can support the existing billions of the world without resort to environmentally-destructive agricultural methods.

    Yes; given magic, the enterprise might be viable.

    My money is on nanotechnology. (What is the Tribe’s objection to MNT, by the way? The technology itself would be a tool like any other, one that would tend to erode hierarchies by breaking down monopolistic controls.)

    On the grounds that I know people working on nanotechnology, I’ve had a peek into its feasability, and based on that, I’m expecting fairy dust to be a much more realistic solution than nanotechnology. There are some very real barriers to nanotech research right now, and I don’t have much faith that we’ll be able to overcome them.

    If “artificial” tools and methods are too inflexible to solve our problems, create a technology that is essentially organic.

    You assume such a thing exists. I do not think it does.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 1:36 PM

  148. Hey Robert –

    Then the solution that does not lead to megadeath is to achieve a method of food production that can support the existing billions of the world without resort to environmentally-destructive agricultural methods.

    No. I guess I didn’t include enough levels of the system for you.

    Food production as staple precludes the ability of ‘feeding everyone’. Because each year that you produce enough food for your population, you guarantee that the next years population will increase.

    Again, we are back to linear/non-linear systems. Agriculture creates a positive feedback loop whereby population can always increase(linear equations). By contrast, ‘natural’ systems are always negative feedback loops whereby population is always pushed toward the ‘middle’ of the average carrying capacity (non-linear equations).

    Have you read the thirty theses, yet? All of these topics have been dealt with at length there, both in the theses themselves and in extended commentary following.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 22 June 2006 @ 1:51 PM

  149. Robert wrote:

    If “artificial” tools and methods are too inflexible to solve our problems, create a technology that is essentially organic.

    Jason replied:

    You assume such a thing exists. I do not think it does.

    I say:

    Sure, the organic tool exists that can solve our problems, and it doesn’t even need to be invented. The human brain is an organic tool, that will provide the new methods that will “save” us.

    I am with Jason on nanotech. To me, it is a frightening prospect. The idea that externally controlled machines can enter my physical body and “rewire” it, as it were, scares the shit out of me (damnit, a little poop just came out). I am of the paranoid mindset, and in my opinion it wouldn’t be very long before the elites of the this world begin to use nanotech to rewire our thought processes to make us “more efficient” slaves, ala Brave New World. Right after they make themselves “superhuman”.

    Besides, if they use nanotech to cure cancer,heart disease, and strokes, that would boost the population’s lifespan enourmously, and would require even further investment in complexity, specifically in agriculture, which would in turn bring about collapse even faster.

    Comment by Rory — 22 June 2006 @ 2:05 PM

  150. It’d all be a lot scarier if it weren’t so speculative. At the moment, there’s no reason to think that real nanotech, the kind you’re talking about, is anything but a pseudo-scientific fantasy.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 2:35 PM

  151. We have working examples of molecular automata already: they’re called organisms. The -tech component of bio- and nanotech merely makes these (largely preexisting) structures directly manipulable.

    ****

    “Yes; given magic, the enterprise might be viable.” I assume you are familiar with Clarke’s Laws.

    Comment by Robert — 22 June 2006 @ 2:48 PM

  152. The -tech component of bio- and nanotech merely makes these (largely preexisting) structures directly manipulable.

    If only it were that simple! Yes, we have some limited nanotech already, but nowhere near the types you’re thinking of. See this exchange between Drs. Smalley and Drexler.

    I assume you are familiar with Clarke’s Laws.

    “Laws” being used here in a very loose sense. Clarke is a science fiction writer. Every scheme I’ve ever heard to create a “sustainable civilization” has some premise of the form, “if this basic, physical law were not true, then…” It’s become to primitivism what a division by zero is for mathematics.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 3:02 PM

  153. Clarke is a mathmetician and physicist who became a science fiction writer. Does the fact that he is an author of speculative fiction diminish his other credentials?

    Also, Smalley’s argument that MNT will have to emulate enzymatic reactions, will require water as a solvent, and will therefore be limited in its versatility, is unsound. From the Foresight Institute (a biased source, I know, but can that bias extend to the cited materials?):

    “As first noted by A. Zaks and A.M. Klibanov in Science (1984, 224:1249-51), and as discussed in the 1994 Annual Review article mentioned above, even among enzymes that ordinarily work in water, many can also function in anhydrous organic solvents. Indeed, some enzymes (eg, lipase, alcohol dehydrogenase) can operate on substrates in the vapor phase, with no liquid at all. As Prof. Klibanov states in R&D Innovator (1993 2:#32), ‘…using an enzyme in organic solvents eliminates several obstacles that limit its usefulness in water. For example, most compounds that interest organic chemists and chemical engineers are insoluble in water, and water often promotes unwanted side reactions….Consequently, once it was established that enzymes can work in organic solvents with little or no water, R&D in the area surged.’”

    Comment by Robert — 22 June 2006 @ 3:43 PM

  154. Clarke is a mathmetician and physicist who became a science fiction writer. Does the fact that he is an author of speculative fiction diminish his other credentials?

    No, but the fact that the “laws” in question were developed as pure speculation with no evidence whatsoever certainly makes them difficult to use in any serious context.

    a biased source, I know, but can that bias extend to the cited materials?

    Actually, yes—there’s a lot of people who really want to believe in the possibility of nanotech. Smalley has his biases, too.

    The kicker for me is the fact that we’re at peak energy right now. Developing radically new things with diminishing energy is not something that seems terribly viable, particularly when there are still serious questions as to whether or not it’s even a physically plausible enterprise.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 June 2006 @ 4:03 PM

  155. I haven’t read all the comments for this one yet, but I tend to think it would be physically impossible for the planet to sustain a trillion people even with an unlimited energy source such as Zero-Point Energy. At some point well before a trillion, well before even 100 billion, the sheer numbers alone would likely generate an ecological and ec0nomic collapse, in my evaluation.

    Comment by Jashee Denford — 10 September 2006 @ 11:17 AM

  156. Whoops, that was me just above at 11:17. Forgot to change my screen-name from a “joke-post” on another article. :-)

    Comment by Thomas Rondy — 10 September 2006 @ 11:19 AM

  157. Now how on Earth does a sheltered little fundie kid know all those big words? :P

    Comment by Giulianna Lamanna — 10 September 2006 @ 4:04 PM

  158. Facinating article, I enjoyed it quiet a bit.

    Thank you Jason.
    I agree with most of what you said. But there were a few mistakes.
    1) Firstly, I would like to tell you that the world’s population will most likely never exceed 10 billion. (UN predictes it will crest at 9 billion in 2050)
    2)Secondly, you said “As the elite of the world system, the industrialized world is able to enjoy this standard of livng because the non-industrialized world suffers chronic malnutrition and starvation.” This is false. Poverty in third world nations is NOT a result of first world nations prosperity. Extreme poverty is the result of agriculture and poor governance. If third world nations practiced strict family planning, reduced their population a hundred times then tourism and charity alone would be enough to create sufficient prosperity.
    Another simpler way to end poverty would be to abandon agriculture and go back to hunting-gathering. But then you would have the problem of civilization invading, enslaving and exterminating the society.
    3)Lastly, the next great mass death in our world will most likely be the result of either avian flu or natural climatic cooling (the glacial cycle, “Ice Age”) not toxic wastes or genocide.

    A perfect world for me would be one where I can live as a hunter-gatherer and have access to advanced science that could give me a way to live as long as possible (or maybe forever).

    Comment by David Gealikman — 23 November 2006 @ 1:19 AM

  159. Hi, David. Welcome to the Network. I can see you’re new here, since most of your points have already been addressed elsewhere.

    (1) The UN estimate is based on the projection, based on current trends, that Third World propserity will continue to increase. This neglects the dependence of First World prosperity on externalized costs to the Third World, and thus, the necessary decreases to First World prosperity that must accompany continued Third World prosperity. In other words, the UN estimate is based on shallow, and thus flawed, premises.

    (2) You’ve got the proximate causes there, but you’ve failed to dig deeper. Why is there such “agriculture and poor governance” in the Third World? Why does the average Rwandan farmer, for example, grow coffee and cotton for export to the United States, rather than food for his family? Where does this “poor governance” come from? The World Bank and the IMF are the neocolonial structures by which the First World maintains the Third World as de facto colonies, while granting them de juris “independence.” The means by which the First World gains its prosperity from the Third has recently been illustrated by cinematic examples in movies like The Constant Gardener (pharmaceuticals) and Lord of War (weapons). The “poor governance” of the Third World are the “client kings,” in traditional Roman style, of the West. The documentary The Corporation goes into even greater detail about how fundamental such “externalized costs” are to First World prosperity. Put bluntly, we can’t afford the American way of life. No one can. So for every First Worlder, there’s several Third Worlders who bear the rest of the cost.

    (3) I don’t think disease is really capable of any kind of significant mass death; immunities develop, “herd effects” take over, and so on. We’ve detailed the various proximate causes of collapse in the Thirty Theses; ecological problems top the list, not due to “toxic wastes,” and certainly not to genocide, but due to climate change and mass extinction. There are other problems as well, however, and ultimately, the most likely cause will simply be hunger.

    A perfect world for me would be one where I can live as a hunter-gatherer and have access to advanced science that could give me a way to live as long as possible (or maybe forever).

    Read the Thirty Theses; you may be surprised to learn that the most science can offer for longevity is just about what a forager can expect as a matter of course.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 November 2006 @ 3:50 PM

  160. I enjoyed the Article and appreciate that the 5th issue was addressed, but it lays heavy on the conscience.

    My complaints of A-P:
    1. A-P offers hopelessness, save a fraction of smug ‘fringe of a fringe’sts.

    2. A-P denies responsibility for civilization. It was here before any of us were born, no of us are responsible for it. And so none/all of us deserve to die under it’s collapse, none/all of us deserve to rise from it’s rubble. The Human race is all for one and one for all.

    3. A-P is fraudulent. When you deny the ‘all for one’ mentality, you effectively strip the anarchy from the bones of anarcho-primitivism.

    4. A-P is naive. Do any of you really think you can hide from the whole of humanity, in the midst of an unprecedented global extinction crisis, by foraging in woods, exploiting the last sources of natural food on the planet, behind smokeless fires and think that no one will notice? Do you really think that everyone else is that dumb or that you’re that much smarter?! Let us atleast be this honest with ourselves. It is more likely that every A-P would be eaten alive by “warring cannibal gangs” and that the surviving members, the strong vicious wild-type, will go on to father the seeds of the race, perhaps down the same path of eventual “progress”.

    Comment by Martyrus — 11 December 2006 @ 11:16 PM

    1. Anything other than primitivism offers hopelessness, wherein the essentially dehumanizing nature of civilization is an inescapable condition that can never be changed—we are doomed to mass society forever, and the way we live will forever be contrary to our nature. Primitivism is the only approach that offers any hope at all: only primitivism offers the possibility that we’ll get to live as human beings one day.
    2. Actually, primitivism takes responsibility for civilization—we are to blame for it. Permaculture, animism, etc., these things offer a possibility to right our wrongs. But before you can start dressing the wounds you’ve inflicted, you first need to stop inflicting them.
    3. Your third point seems like empty rhetoric to me. What does that mean? When you deny the “all for one” mentality, you effectively strip away a corrosive and harmful ideology that has driven well-meaning people to destroy the world.
    4. Historical examples show otherwise. This is not an elitist movement. Historical examples of collapse show that the overwhelming majority choose to die rather than imagine any other way of life. The Greenland Vikings starved in desperation, without ever considering fishing (previous discussion). People don’t starve for lack of food, but lack of imagination. In all previous collapses, that “naive” view is exactly what happened. Populations contract in crisis; our cultural construction is that the city offers safety; the wilderness is a marginal life. If things become tight, you move deeper into the city, away from the wilderness. This is precisely what has happened in collapse after collapse, and in each one, those who move into the cities come to terrible ends, and it’s left to those who dare to imagine a different way of life to move in the opposite direction of everyone else, out into the wilderness where no one else even thinks to go in the first place. Our problem will be too few people taking that route, not too many. We will soon have a problem of underpopulation, because the bottle-neck is not physical resources, but imagination. It’s not a matter of dumber or smarter at all, and thinking of it in those terms is precisely the kind of old thinking that gets so many people killed in collapse. It’s not because we’re smarter—it’s because we’re willing to imagine a fundamentally different way of life. Ultimately, it’s a choice, and the naked truth of it is that when it comes right down to it, the vast majority of us would rather die than try something as scary as imagning a different way of life.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 12 December 2006 @ 11:00 AM

  161. 1.Civilization isn’t dehumanizing, it’s just people tired of being governed by nature, people willing to govern their own nature instead. To take control of their own lives and their futures. It is god-like, but we need not fear gods. And it’s not a sin to aspire towards control of ourselves. The state is what’s dehumanizing. People can be civilized and yet still not partake in the dehumanization agenda associated with the State. A dehumanizing environment & anarchy cannot exist simulteanously. Transhumanism offers hope through scientific & technological advancements in which to sustain mass society. Mass society may not have been what we’ve best adapted ourselves to as a species, but how could we? Never before have we been evolved enough to exploit natural resources so successfully. Never have we been confronted with population sizes this large. Now is an unique time in our species history in which our adaptation must come from our intellect, rather than a physical impetus(although over-population could be said to qualify), inorder to survive in this relatively new intellectualized environment. All animals evolve when & where necessary for survival. To not evolve would mean genectic stagnation and certain exctintion in a world that is constantly changing. Why live in a world where there can only be as many men as there are monkeys when we could all still be able to survive suffiently working together? Why not start living as human beings today? It’s being a human being when you’d rather die than live in a world that not everyone can live in with you side by side.

    3.It’s not empty rhetoric since it has meaning. It’s an expression that encapsulates the popular feeling that “Anarchists are those who believe that all people are imbued with a sort of commonality, common sense, that would allow for people to, in the absence of the federal governments (rulership), come together in agreement to form a peaceful and functional existence.” A-P is arguing that the only functional existance in which this is possible is one in which only a fraction of us can enjoy - so it’s not anarchy, becuase it’s not anarchy for all. What good is anarchy if it only favors some, but condemns the rest? How can there be world peace (peace for all), when A-P declares war in the name of peace for only some & nothing short of death for the rest?

    I’m arguing that if not everyone can be granted the same oppurtunities to enjoy it then no one should. Simliar to being apart of a master race, if not all are welcome then I wouldn’t want to be apart of it, because to do so would be endorsing that I’m somehow more worthy of living than another otherwise equal human being. Primitivism is a lifestyle based on the fact that the planet is limited in natural resources, though the anarchist lifestyle is not to conform to these inherent unequalness of nature, for to do so would be to admit that we’re unequal, but to create & innovate improved solutions that can sustain our thriving species as equals and as a whole. How is anarchy a “corrosive and harmful ideology” and yet A-P still boldly adorn “Anarcho-” in it’s name? It’s because Primitivism has little to do with anarchy, A-P just piggybacks the term for greater appeal. Primitivism speaks nothing for the lives of those 99% that must die inorder for primitivism to exist. Elitism has been defined as “A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status.” Under this, A-P amounts to nothing more than elitism & ethnocentrism.

    4.If A-P is outspokenly against the products of civilization such as recorded history then you need not cite it. People don’t simply live in cities because nature gets rough, but because we are social animals. If collapase is truely inevitable then it can’t be helped, but if it isn’t and there’s still a chance that mass society can obtain subsistence reasonably then A-P is world leader in the blockading of that initiative, possibility, & hope for the present & future of humankind. Lack of imagination does get people killed. If we can’t imagine a world in which we can all live as one then what world is worth imagining? Surely not the exclusive, privileged, & eco-fascist world of “Anarcho”-Primitivism.

    Comment by Martyrus — 14 December 2006 @ 8:55 PM

  162. 1.Civilization isn’t dehumanizing, it’s just people tired of being governed by nature, people willing to govern their own nature instead. To take control of their own lives and their futures. It is god-like, but we need not fear gods. And it’s not a sin to aspire towards control of ourselves. The state is what’s dehumanizing. People can be civilized and yet still not partake in the dehumanization agenda associated with the State.

    I think we are running into the limits of language here, with terms like “civilisation”, “sin”, “our future”, “control”, “state” and “nature” meaning different things to different people. They need to be defined and explained to allow understanding to form. You apparently associate different concepts with those terms than is common parlance at Anthropik. Jason needed 30 theses and many more blog entries to explain his view of the world, Ran Prieur (just to pick out one name) thinks differently and uses different expressions, etc. etc.

    Right now, my feeling is that you are on to something, yet the way you write about it initially left me somewhat bewildered. I think that arguing about essentially undefined (perhaps undefineable?) terms like “anarcho-primitivism” confuses matters more than clarifying them, especially as this particular phrase is infrequently used at Anthropik. (I get hits from 16 blog entries over a course of 18 months, Feb. 2005–Aug. 2006)

    You may be thinking of a concept which Ran recently described by the term “core-civilised”, at the other end of a spectrum from “core-primitive”, between which lie “edge-civilised” and “edge-primitive” people. A fascinating idea.

    A dehumanizing environment & anarchy cannot exist simulteanously. Transhumanism offers hope through scientific & technological advancements in which to sustain mass society.

    It may offer hope, yet the humanism we are dealing with right now, with its view of human beings as seperate from nature, a paradigm of growth as equal to advancement and improvement, with science and technology hitting diminishing marginal returns, apparently approaches its end, and rapidly at that.

    A paradigm shift is needed. Humans may be able to make it, and there are ideas which could guide our way through it, but right now we are stuck with and confined by the old, yet unable to give birth to the new. To me, this is the point Jason was making from the onset! If all else fails, going primitive will save the human species. Not every single human, of course. That would be paradox, anyway: Requiring the old paradigms to die, but keeping the proponents of the old alive? In a complex world where living beings are the actors of paradigms, every one of them, old and young, would have to abandon their old ways and simultaneously enter the new mindset. I know that I would not be up to it, my personal rate of change could be measured in years, and I’m still young and flexible.

    You make it sound as if collapse were the end of the world. It is not, as long as you accept that death cannot be seperated from life. And death need not be something to be dreaded while alive. Maybe we can re-enter the world of the Now-Time, maybe fear of something as natural as death itself is nothing more than a symptom of dehumanizing civilisation?

    Mass society may not have been what we’ve best adapted ourselves to as a species, but how could we? Never before have we been evolved enough to exploit natural resources so successfully. Never have we been confronted with population sizes this large.

    Not true. An average yeast population has more individual members, and follows the same rapid mortality curve after reaching Peak Energy or Peak Resources. Yeah, I know, “are humans smarter than yeast?”, as the tagline of one author over at The Oil Drum asks. Successful exploitation of resources above their rate of replenishment shows that humans do not, at least in this respect, live smarter.

    Now is an unique time in our species history in which our adaptation must come from our intellect, rather than a physical impetus(although over-population could be said to qualify), inorder to survive in this relatively new intellectualized environment. All animals evolve when & where necessary for survival. To not evolve would mean genectic stagnation and certain exctintion in a world that is constantly changing.

    Does intellect exist independently of physical foundations? Would you agree that climate change, species extinction, poison in the food chain, resources depletion, an emerging rhizome structure which can be called “global guerillas” when resorting to violence, diminishing marginal returns on societal complexity itself and, last but not least, a falling energy supply in tandem with a highly energy-intensive mode of subsistence (agriculture) could all lead to a significant physical impetus?

    In your first paragraph, you wrote that

    [civilisation is] just people tired of being governed by nature, people willing to govern their own nature instead. To take control of their own lives and their futures. It is god-like, but we need not fear gods. And it’s not a sin to aspire towards control of ourselves.

    Should evolution not apply to humans, to avoid genetic stagnation and certain extinction in a world that is constantly changing? By your own statement, civilisation set out to invalidate the forces of evolution and take life into its own hands.

    Please show me where I missed your point, as I am sure I have. And tell me where to look for guidance on how to adapt intellectually to the problems listed above, while at the same time helping all my acquaintances to adapt and maintaining my and their physical existence. Some of them are not exactly open to the idea that it is time to change intellectually. Also, as far as I know, intelligence is an inherited property, nothing a person can really influence.

    Why live in a world where there can only be as many men as there are monkeys when we could all still be able to survive suffiently working together?

    While leaving sufficient space and resources for the monkeys as well, or is that not a prerequisite?

    A-P is arguing that the only functional existance in which this is possible is one in which only a fraction of us can enjoy - so it’s not anarchy, becuase it’s not anarchy for all. What good is anarchy if it only favors some, but condemns the rest? How can there be world peace (peace for all), when A-P declares war in the name of peace for only some & nothing short of death for the rest?
    I’m arguing that if not everyone can be granted the same oppurtunities to enjoy it then no one should.

    What if we dropped the labels “primitivism” and “anarcho-primitivism” for a moment, along with everything they may or may not condemn and promise?

    I agree that is one of the biggest dilemmas that not every human being living today can live according to their ontogeny, as equal among equals, but is this something primitivism can be blamed for? What if, in a number of years, a few hundred thousand humans who had never heard of this specific ideology find that they have survived? They will never have been promised a better life by following a prescribed set of guidelines, headed by words like “anarchy” or “primitivism”, they will simply live in a way which works for them. That billions and billions of humans died before will not change the fact that they have survived. They may deeply feel and remember the pain, but will they go so far as to kill themselves because they are not worthy to have survived?

    Conversely, in the same situation, would it be a moral obligation for any self-confessed anarcho-primitivist to commit suicide as they have have been granted an unfair opportunity?

    Simliar to being apart of a master race, if not all are welcome then I wouldn’t want to be apart of it, because to do so would be endorsing that I’m somehow more worthy of living than another otherwise equal human being. Primitivism is a lifestyle based on the fact that the planet is limited in natural resources, though the anarchist lifestyle is not to conform to these inherent unequalness of nature, for to do so would be to admit that we’re unequal, but to create & innovate improved solutions that can sustain our thriving species as equals and as a whole. How is anarchy a “corrosive and harmful ideology” and yet A-P still boldly adorn “Anarcho-” in it’s name? It’s because Primitivism has little to do with anarchy, A-P just piggybacks the term for greater appeal.

    You have a point there. I sense a clash of two tribes: One which identifies with the principle of equality associated with anarchy, trying to clearly seperate itself from another, the primitive tribe, which does not believe that the abstract concept of equality can live up to the realities of primitive life. Calling the other ideology “corrosive”, “piggybacking”, or worse, just belongs to that type of game. Now what? Both are right and wrong at the same time. The tribe with more energy and better skills could crush the other, equality or a healthy world be damned.

    If collapase is truely inevitable then it can’t be helped, but if it isn’t and there’s still a chance that mass society can obtain subsistence reasonably then A-P is world leader in the blockading of that initiative, possibility, & hope for the present & future of humankind.

    I think you are immensely overestimating the powers of a fringe ideology. Or when was the last time prominent anarcho-primitivists appeared at WOLF News, spreading their elitist propaganda? Did I miss a new general trend? Do you hope to stem a beginning tide? There are other, much more powerful tribes at work right now to do much more harm. (Maybe this is merely a function of energy supply as well? Maybe it is completely irrelevant which tribe rules at any given time, as any ideology has to be flawed, being the works of imperfect humans?)

    Within the present paradigm, collapse does indeed seem inevitable, following the story of the Greek tragedy, and the story of rebirth from the ashes of a lost world told in Judao-Christianism — our cultural heritage. I’m all for reframing reality to a comedy, the life of clowns, aware of their dark, creeping shadow, yet liberated by love and laughter and the recognition of their own imperfection.

    I hope that switching to horticulture, shaped as a societal structure inspired by Jeff Vail’s hamlet topology, might just work out. But for that to become a reality, every human needs to tell and hear the right stories, stories where growth in numbers is no longer linked to improvement, where life is no longer seen as a zero-sum endeavour, where not death, but what dies within us while we live is considered the greatest loss of life .

    Primitivism may be guilty of being unable to deliver the good life for most members of an overshot population. Civilisation as we know it certainly is. Living primitively is a time-tested and sustainable way of life, civ is not. This is what it all boils down to in the end, regardless of how we name it.

    I regard this as a liberating thought, the exact opposite of blocking my hope for a better future, or draining my resolve to effect changes. My death is certain, your death is certain, and hope drives humans through the darkest of nights, the hottest of hells, the most dire straits. In the end, we will live with what we have got, and do what we must. Human beings will live to see the sun rising and feel the rain falling, for millennia to come.

    Lack of imagination does get people killed. If we can’t imagine a world in which we can all live as one then what world is worth imagining? Surely not the exclusive, privileged, & eco-fascist world of “Anarcho”-Primitivism.

    How to respond to a rhetoric climax like this one? With muted admiration for the diversity of life, resting comfortably in the knowledge that it is not up to us to decide which way of life is better.

    Comment by Michael Kt. — 15 December 2006 @ 6:07 AM

  163. The stance of A-P as strictly forewarning civilization of it’s potential collapse and offering it’s version of Survivalism as a solution to the aftermath is not what I was familiar with. I was under the impression that A-P was specifically anti-civ., against perpetuating the idea that mass society can sustain itself and that mass society was evil in itself and so should not be supported. I think that was the root of my complaints. Don’t hesitate to mention a failing on my part to address anything you may have asked.

    1.I don’t know any of Ran’s “core/edge” ideas. Feel free to elaborate.
    2.I agree that if all else fails, going primitive will save the human species, but that right now we should be working together to insure that indeed all else (transhumanism, secular humanism) does not fail. And that the human species, life, does not need to exist for it’s own sake. This may be a significant difference between our views though.
    3.In a sense yes, collapse is the end of the world, the end of my world, because the world is only the people it is comprised of today. And when those people, when I, perish so shall the world (& era) I believe I belong to.
    4.I niether fear nor dread death, but instead feel a grand sense of worth & solidarity in knowing that I get to share an experiance that every living thing before me has experianced.
    5.I’m sceptical, but overall I find the yeast comparison interesting & hopeful.
    6.I don’t think intellect exists independently of physical foundations, assuming Epiphenomenalism is applicable, but by intellect I meant reason and thinking abstractly. Both of which are the product of a physical brain. I don’t deny the significance of the physical world, but I’m aimming to make the world closer to it’s ideal of equality & peace for all.
    7.Civilization, perhaps not consciously, has set out to subvert the forces of nature (Might makes right) so that any further evolutionary stages are more favorable to the survival of our species.
    8.My point was that humans are evolved enough to control their own evolution now. And so should take upon themselves to administer the intellect we’ve all been endowed with through evolution. To shape our world to our heart’s content regardless of if it’s never been done before.
    9.I’m not much of a guide, and have not begun to exhaustively consider the mechanics of how to go about transitioning from a ‘free for all’ society to a ‘one for all’ society. I’ve only begun to question whether or not this is the best of all possible worlds. I currently operate under the views of “Anarchism without adjectives”, and apperently Transhumanism so I would recommend there as a starting point for guidance if anywhere else.
    10. I’ve always thought that intelligence has been empirically demonstrated to be a learned trait, but am not dismissing the possiblity that it could be exclusively inherited.
    11. I don’t think it’s a matter of prerequisites. I think as a human being I have a priority to my individual needs, and then on to my immediate family (human species), and then only finally do I have the freedom to help others (animal & alien species). I am not above the idea of co-existing with other species peacefully, provided myself & the human species are all accounted for first. If I was any other gregarious insect, animal, or alien species than human then I believe I’d feel the same compulsion. I differentiate this from blatant Speciesism as it reflects “an indiscriminate obligation to one’s percieved social group.”
    12. Yes, Primitivism can be blamed for perpetuating inequality when they advocate that ‘might makes right.’ The idea behind every social contract is to mutually agree against the notion of “every man for themself”, against competition, in exchange for critical co-operation in difficult times. People must be united in crisis’ if we’re to all come out of it alive, not divided amongst ourselves in a desperate free for all. You can’t build a stable foundation for society if every time a natural disaster occurs someone shouts “every man for themself” and everyone turns against each other at the moment they need each other the most. What good is contributing to society if it’s just going to turn on you when things get rough? This is what A-P is doing when it advocates individual survival over the whole or when it prefers abandoning civilization over aiding it.* *This is the result of the belief that not helping others when you can is wrong, granted the chance to successfully help is still present.
    13. I don’t know if it would be appropriate to continue living as a survivor, esp. if you were responsible for the deaths of the others. That, as a moral dilemma, would be entirely dependant on the subjective views of the survivor(s).
    14. Primitivism will collapse upon itself if built on inequality.
    15. Anarcho-primitivism is world leader, not because it is the only (allegedly) anti-civ. ideology, but because it is the most seductive of the others;
    16. Imperfect humans creating an imperfect ideology is consistent. So if given the choice, as a human, between two imperfect ideologies, why not choose the one that helps the most people? (assuming one’s individual needs are met, though I don’t necessarily expect everyone to prioritize the same.)
    17. 99% half-satisfied humans & 1% unsatisfied humans is better than 1% satisfied humans and 99% dead humans.
    18. The sunrise is not as glorius and the rainfall is not as wonderful when you participate in tyranny. The tyranny of inequality.
    19. I am convinced that humanity will survive collapse regardless of any formal knowledge of primitivism, and that it doesn’t matter whether any of us survive collapse anyway, but what does matter is preventing collapse from originally occuring if it’s still possible.
    20. It’s not the goal of the human race to merely stay alive for survival sake, but to also enjoy a high quality life characteristic of peace, equality, & happiness for all.

    Comment by Martyrus — 17 December 2006 @ 7:55 PM

  164. Martyrus, concerning your point 11… Look, humanity just cannot survive without establishing a harmonious relationship with other species, with animals, plants, fungi, bacteria etc. with whom it shares this planet. If you worry about taking care of every single human being even at the expense of the ecosystem (the land, other species, etc.) in which you exist, in which you are embedded, then in the long run, humans won’t be able to survive at all (or at any rate, you’ll reduce the planet’s carrying capacity for our species, meaning that, in the long run, fewer humans will be able to live on this planet). It’s not a matter of humans vs. other species. It’s at most a matter of present generation of humans vs. future generations of humans (& both present and future generations of other species). If you wage a war on the land, the land might or might not lose, but you certainly won’t win.

    BTW, you might want to read some work by Daniel Quinn. In one of the books of the Ishmael trilogy (’My Ishmael’, I think it was - does anyone remember?), he talks about competition with members of one’s own species vs. competition with members of other species. He argues that competition among members of any one species tends to be stronger than among members of other species, contrary to what most people seem to assume.

    Comment by Hasha — 17 December 2006 @ 11:18 PM

  165. Err… The last sentence in my previous post was supposed to be:

    “He argues that competition among members of any one species tends to be stronger than the competition among members of different species, contrary to what most people seem to assume.”

    Comment by Hasha — 17 December 2006 @ 11:22 PM

  166. Martyrus,

    [quote]7.Civilization, perhaps not consciously, has set out to subvert the forces of nature (Might makes right) so that any further evolutionary stages are more favorable to the survival of our species.[/quote]

    No, it’s the other way ’round. Subversion of natural forces stands in the way of further evolutionary stages (by which, I don’t mean “progress”, I mean speciation).

    [quote]8.My point was that humans are evolved enough to control their own evolution now. And so should take upon themselves to administer the intellect we’ve all been endowed with through evolution. To shape our world to our heart’s content regardless of if it’s never been done before.[/quote]

    We are not, in fact, able to control our own evolution. And if you’ve been paying any kind of attention at all to what we’ve done to the world you should know that modern approaches have no ability to successfully “shape our world to our heart’s content”.

    [quote]11. I don’t think it’s a matter of prerequisites. I think as a human being I have a priority to my individual needs, and then on to my immediate family (human species), and then only finally do I have the freedom to help others (animal & alien species). I am not above the idea of co-existing with other species peacefully, provided myself & the human species are all accounted for first. If I was any other gregarious insect, animal, or alien species than human then I believe I’d feel the same compulsion. I differentiate this from blatant Speciesism as it reflects “an indiscriminate obligation to one’s percieved social group.”[/quote]

    No, that’s not even remotely true. And I probably shouldn’t even respond to it. In fact, the only thing I am going to do is suggest that Regionalism is just as valid a way to have “an indiscrimate obligation to one’s percieved social group.” There is no particular reason my “percieved social group” can’t/shouldn’t include non-human life.

    [quote]19. I am convinced that humanity will survive collapse regardless of any formal knowledge of primitivism, and that it doesn’t matter whether any of us survive collapse anyway, but what does matter is preventing collapse from originally occuring if it’s still possible.[/quote]

    It’s not. My own guess is that Collapse (with a capitol ‘C’) has been underway for nearly a century. It’s not going to be stopped. This pretty much leaves the question of “Should we stop it?” meaningless. I suppose, you could keep debating it though. If you really want to.

    [quote]20. It’s not the goal of the human race to merely stay alive for survival sake, but to also enjoy a high quality life characteristic of peace, equality, & happiness for all. [/quote]

    I think you’re suffering from Hobbesian mythology. Please finish reading the essential writings and peruse the rest of the site. This has been hashed out quite a bit.

    Comment by jhereg — 18 December 2006 @ 9:55 AM

  167. Just to let you all know, I’m not oblivious to all this, I just don’t have time to write up the substantive response this deserves, and probably will not until after Christmas.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 December 2006 @ 10:16 AM

  168. Hasha,
    I accept that humanity may not be able to survive if a “harmonious” relationship is not established since I find the negative to be true that other species may not survive is they don’t establish a harmonious relationship with humans. I generally don’t feel that I can argue (with specists or pro-humans) for animal rights without first explicitly establishing human’s rights, but I know that they are still one in the same since I believe humans are animals too and that we’re all living beings at the least.

    I’ve been recommended “Ishmael” once before am now doubly looking forward to reading it.

    =================

    jhereg,
    Any evolutionary stages that require the use or threat of force are undesirable. Transhumanism offers several proactive methods (nanotchnology, eugenics, etc.) for which to influence our own evolution. Whether or not these methods are favorable is irrelevent as we are still only trying to illustrate the fact that it is possible for humans to control their own evolution.

    I’m not suggesting that one can’t identify with a non-human group. I’m saying that regardless of what you claim your “percieved social group” as, you are then individually responsible/obligated for helping a group of which you are a part of.

    If you consider the question “Should we stop billions of people from dying tragically?” meaningless then by all means feel free to discontinue debate.

    What’s so insufferable about “Hobbesian mythology”? The only thing I could find online about it ended up with an interesting argument for Anarcho-capitalism. I’ll look into the rest of the site.

    Comment by Martyrus — 18 December 2006 @ 5:48 PM

  169. [quote]Transhumanism offers several proactive methods (nanotchnology, eugenics, etc.) for which to influence our own evolution.[/quote]

    That’s not evolution. And it’s highly questionable to boot, both in practice and in ethics (especially for someone who loves to talk about mass equality!).

    [quote]I’m not suggesting that one can’t identify with a non-human group. I’m saying that regardless of what you claim your “percieved social group” as, you are then individually responsible/obligated for helping a group of which you are a part of.[/quote]

    Yes, the group. Not necessarily individual(s). Don’t misunderstand me, I intend to provide and protect as many people as I can, but I do have limits. I try to recognize them, not ignore them.

    [quote]If you consider the question “Should we stop billions of people from dying tragically?” meaningless then by all means feel free to discontinue debate.[/quote]

    If one lacks the ability to act, I think that, yes, the question loses some meaning.

    [quote]What’s so insufferable about “Hobbesian mythology”? [/quote]

    It’s not that it’s insufferable so much as it is false. It implies that members of uncivilized cultures lead lives that are ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. Actually, it’s really not so much an implication as a direct statement. Yet that fails to consider that the quality of life generally is much greater for said people. The only insufferable part is in accepting such a false premise as a starting point upon which to make further, equally flawed premises.

    Comment by jhereg — 18 December 2006 @ 11:15 PM

  170. Martyrus,

    ‘Human rights’ and ‘animal rights’ (although I personally don’t so much like the term ‘rights’ but that’s pretty irrelevant for this discussion) are two faces of the same coin. You can have neither or both. It is to be expected that a culture that produces the Holocaust will produce factory farms as well; it is also to be expected that a culture that produces factory farms will also produce the Holocaust. Both have to do with (among other things) treating living beings as objects. You can focus on ‘human rights’ or on ‘animal rights’. But without going to the root of the problem, any results that you can hope to get will be cosmetic at best (a bit better ventilation in the sweat shops; slightly bigger cages for the chickens). And if you go to the root of either problem… I’ll bet that you’ll find that it’s the same for both ‘human rights’ and ‘animal rights’.

    Comment by Hasha — 20 December 2006 @ 11:49 AM

  171. just to address the lifespan thing again…

    We currently live in a society where we are divorced from the cycle of birth and death. We don’t kill our own food, we don’t live closely with several generations, we are insulated by heating and air conditioning from the seasons. The only deaths we are likely to experience are those of elderly relatives, and those are traumatic events, spaced widely apart in our lives, that we are expected to feel very badly about. Our social conditioning is to feel a horror at death that is, on the face of it, ridiculous. Everyone dies, why be horrified at it?

    In earlier cultures, this fear of death isn’t as present. You are brought up to be closer to a larger number of people, some of whom are old and die during your childhood. You are expected to kill your food, and the sight of a dead body doesn’t scare you or weird you out. You become conditioned to the fact that everyone dies, and you will too. You learn that the manner of your death is more important that its timing. Voluntary euthanasia when your time is up becomes a life-affirming decision.

    I see the antithesis of this every day in our modern culture. People are afraid of death, and go to extraordinary lengths to defer it. Our safety culture demands that we do nothing dangerous or anything that might degrade our health. Every activity is scrutinised, not for its possible gains in terms of fulfilment and achievement, but for its possible detrimental effects to our health and lifespan. This is blatantly ridiculous.

    You can avoid cigarette smoke, red meat, alcohol, salt, all those ‘bad things’ for your entire life…and YOU WILL STILL DIE. However, you also never really lived.

    Grab life by the balls, do things that are dangerous. Live before you die, and die knowing that you have lived. Face your death head-on and be unafraid.

    When you can’t keep up with the tribe any more, give your favourite spear to your best friend, kiss your children one last time, and walk into the woods to face the wolves with a grin on your face :)

    Marcus
    (sorry for anonymous post, the icons are a tad confusing)

    Comment by Anonymous — 15 January 2007 @ 7:18 AM

  172. I have serious doubts about your theses(I cringe when the word “necessary”s used in reference to human behavior, but nevermind), but I admire the seriousness of your approach.

    My Comment: How can hunter-gatherer societies be considered more “sustainable” when they have been regularly wiped out or absorbed by civilized societies? Clearly, civilized societies have proven teh most sustainable vis a vis the most challenging factor of all: other humans.

    Comment by fried2styles — 18 January 2007 @ 4:46 AM

  173. Is the figure of 99% based how many people there were in prehistoric times?

    For two contradictory resons, its a vague statistic to use:

    1. We have already destroyed most of our original food sources and habitats, eg. wild yams in australia are mostly gone.
    Our ecosytems can’t sustain as many people as before civilisation.

    2. We have learned many things during civilisation (not neccessarily because of civilisation) and developed traditions such as permaculture and forrest gardening that can sustain many MORE people than we could before and repair ecosystems faster than they could without us, without neccesarily using technology or traditional farming methods at all.

    Surely some people will die in the collapse (and are already) but the constant repetition of these vague, morbid figures seems too controlled and cold. I refuse them.

    Comment by chaoshugger — 30 October 2007 @ 11:40 PM

  174. “We believe that being human is a wonderful thing. We can also see that the progressivist agenda has shackled humanity, that civilization dehumanizes us and strips us of all those things that are so good about our species.”

    Perhaps you would like to cite these positive qualities of being humans? progressvists do not dehumanize humans. They see humans as they are: flawed. But possessing flaws doesn’t make humans evil NO. that is a hasty conclusion and a sweeping generalization.

    Perhaps you should study the progressivists arguments a little more before you negate them.

    Comment by Anonymous — 21 January 2009 @ 10:08 AM

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