Thesis #27: Collapse increases quality of life.

by Jason Godesky

We have seen what disastrous effect civilization has had on our quality of life (see thesis #25), but the alternative–collapse–seems little better. However superior the Paleolithic way of life might have been, it is long gone, and there does not seem to be any way back. For the past ten millennia, that sentiment has been true. But, as we have seen, we are now nearing the limits to our growth, and we are past the point of diminishing returns for our investments in further complexity (see thesis #15). Collapse is now inevitable (see thesis #26)–it is already underway. Collapse is an economizing process (see thesis #20) that begins when the alternative–continuing civilization–is no longer tolerable. We stand on the brink of collapse. That is a statement that would terrify most people, but it shouldn’t: collapse increases our quality of life.

Our views of collapse are filtered through the lens of literary tragedy. The fall of Rome is our archetype, and it is viewed through the eyes of the aristocracy who lamented the loss of their power, and those who yearned to join the aristocracy in that power. After the sack of Rome, St. Jerome famously opined, “In the one city, the whole world dies.” Or take for another example the famous Old English poem, “The Ruin”:

The city buildings fell apart, the works
Of giants crumble. Tumbled are the towers
Ruined the roofs, and broken the barred gate,
Frost in the plaster, all the ceilings gape,
Torn and collapsed and eaten up by age.
And grit holds in its grip, the hard embrace
Of earth, the dead-departed master-builders,
Until a hundred generations now
Of people have passed by.

Why would an Anglo-Saxon, a barbaran, pine so for the ruins of the Roman occupation–an occupation that the Britons themselves routinely rose up against? The motivations of the barbarians who overran the Roman Empire was not hatred of Rome–far from it. The barbarians wanted to become Roman themselves. The allure of Romanitas spread around the world. The “barbarian invasions” were primarily matters of foederati–mercenaries–hired by Rome. The Senate then saw fit not to pay them–after all, they were only barbarians. Alaric led one of the ensuing rebellions when he sacked Rome in 410 CE, leading St. Jerome to make his famed lament. For the powerful, the loss of empire was the loss of power and privelage. For those far removed from its reality, Romanitas lingered as the aura of gods who could achieve such wonders, and the Empire was a mythological “golden age.”

But what of those masses who had to endure the actual empire itself? In “The Old Cause,” Joseph Stromberg neatly summarizes Tainter’s analysis of the Roman Empire.

Of the collapses which he describes, Tainter’s discussion of the Western Roman Empire is the most interesting, perhaps because it is the best-documented. The Roman Empire was initially successful because stolen goods from each conquest financed the next one. The broad logistical limits of the process were reached by the time of Augustus. Thereafter, territorial changes were minimal. Without further loot (a sort of primitive accumulation of statist capital), Roman rulers had to defend vast territories out of current revenues drawn from a contracting economy. In general, the Roman state crippled and ruined the developed east (Greece, Egypt) so as to hold onto the less productive west. Making citizens of all free men in the Empire (212 AD), in order to tax them, acknowledged the decline.

Faced with rising costs and declining revenues, emperors debased the coinage while trying desperately to extract taxes out of a demoralized people. But by the third century, taxes were eating up citizens’ capital and savings. In the following two centuries, further imperial inroads brought about “a drop in actual output.” Later emperors, from Diocletian onwards, undermined society’s capacity to pay at all. Some of these things, too, will sound familiar.

Collapse loomed, but collapse had definite advantages, as shown by its aftermath. The Germanic kings who replaced the empire in the west were better at defending their (smaller) territories against invaders and could do so more cheaply than the overextended empire. In North Africa, the Vandals (victims of a bad press) lowered taxes and economic well-being grew, until Justinian brought back Roman rule and, with it, imperial taxes. “Investment” in this lower level of political “complexity” paid for itself, so to speak, by being less costly (pp. 88-89). Collapse is not all bad: a disaster for the state apparatus may not be one for people as a whole. Devolution of power to smaller geographical units is “a rational, economizing process that may well benefit much of the population.”

Our fear of collapse is an irrational one; one that is projected onto us by our leaders, who truly do have something to fear. This is the same class of elites that are the drivers and architects of all the problems we have so far discussed (see thesis #10). Now that we can see that civilization did not give us medicine (see thesis #22), or knowledge (see thesis #23), or art (see thesis #24)–but it does give us illness (see thesis #21), makes our lives difficult, dangerous and unhealthy (see thesis #9), destroys the way of life to which we are most adapted (see thesis #7), and submits us to the unnecessary evil of hierarchy (see thesis #11)–the true nature of civilization should now be plain to see: it is the means by which elites maintain their power and privelage, at the cost of everyone else.

Collapse undoes civilization. As Tainter highlights, such incredibly high levels of complexity as we have today are a bizarre abberation in the history of our species. Collapse returns us to the normal state of affairs–a state of affairs humans are well-adapted to. The benefits of living a well-adapted life are things we, in our maladaptive civlization, usually dismiss as utopian daydreaming. Lower stress, less work, better food, more liesure, more art and music, less violence, more security, less disease, more health–such is the human birthright intended for Esau the Hunter, and stolen by our forebear, Jacob the Farmer. Our plight is not normal; it is what happens when an animal lives contrary to its nature. It is an intractably stressful position, and adaptations must be made to allow such an unnatural state to continue. Coercion and control by authorities must be accepted, to take the place of a natural adaptation to the situation which we lack. More work must be exerted to tasks we have no natural ability for. Much of our energy must be expended simply keeping us alive on a diet we can scarcely digest (and is still mostly toxic to us), while never exercising the faculties that two million years of evolution has led our bodies to expect just over the course of another liesurely day. Today, in the United States–the most complex society our species has ever developed–the number one killer, by far, is stress.

The result of collapse is a reversal of all the quality of life issues that civilization raises. Rather than being the exclusive domain of Western countries, people everywhere will enjoy the normal human lifespan. The epidemic diseases released by civilization are now released for good. Eventually, they will burn themselves out, but not for some time. Yet even this does not justify our efforts to sustain civilization; since we have passed our point of diminishing returns, the likelihood of developing a cure without the kind of massive paradigm shift a collapse entails becomes increasingly small. Moreover, collapse would also end the far-ranging travel and dense population centers such epidemics thrive on.

Living and working as humans are adapted to all have distinct advantages, as well. Though there is no doubt a great deal of exaggeration in Zerzan’s “Future Primitive,” (for instance, the example of the Dogon has been fairly effectively debunked), the proponderance of evidence is too great to dismiss entirely.

The Andaman Islanders, west of Thailand, have no leaders, no idea of symbolic representation, and no domesticated animals. There is also an absence of aggression, violence, and disease; wounds heal surprisingly quickly, and their sight and hearing are particularly acute. They are said to have declined since European intrusion in the mid-19th century, but exhibit other such remarkable physical traits as a natural immunity to malaria, skin with sufficient elasticity to rule out post-childbirth stretch marks and the wrinkling we associate with ageing, and an `unbelievable’ strength of teeth: Cipriani reported seeing children of 10 to 15 years crush nails with them. He also testified to the Andamese practice of collecting honey with no protective clothing at all; “yet they are never stung, and watching them one felt in the presence of some age-old mystery, lost by the civilized world.”

DeVries has cited a wide range of contrasts by which the superior health of gatherer-hunters can be established, including an absence of degenerative diseases and mental disabilities, and childbirth without difficulty or pain. He also points out that this begins to erode from the moment of contact with civilization.

Relatedly, there is a great deal of evidence not only for physical and emotional vigor among primitives but also concerning their heightened sensory abilities. Darwin described people at the southernmost tip of South America who went about almost naked in frigid conditions, while Peasley observed Aborigines who were renowned for their ability to live through bitterly cold desert nights “without any form of clothing.” Levi-Strauss was astounded to learn of a particular [South American] tribe which was able to “see the planet Venus in full daylight,” a feat comparable to that of the North African Dogon who consider Sirius B the most important star; somehow aware, without instruments, of a star that can only be found with the most powerful of telescopes. In this vein, Boyden recounted the Bushman ability to see four of the moons of Jupiter with the naked eye.

“In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” the proverb says. If these all seem like miraculous super-powers, they should not. We often marvel that all animals are faster and stronger than we; have we truly been so neglected by evolution? Is it not more reasonable to conclude that our faculties are equal to those of any other animal–if only we were to use them in such a manner as evolution has fitted them for us? The “amazing” abilities of foragers should not amaze us; rather, we should marvel at how much we have lost to live such a maladaptive life, and in trade for so little.

Most importantly, civilization reduces human life to a cog in an enormous machine, a large-scale, complex, industrial society far beyond the human brain’s capacity to understand on a human level. Instead, it can only be understood by analogy to a machine–and the human himself becomes mechanical. In a small scale, simple society, where individuals can know each other, they can be appreciated as individuals. We can form close groups that still respect our autonomy. Egalitarianism and rule by concensus becomes possible. In our present state, we are, ourselves, domesticated–and as with all the other animals we have afflicted with that fate, we domesticates are but a shadow of our proud, wild ancestors. Yet, beneath it all, we remain wild; and wild we shall be again. As Richard Heinberg said in “The Primitivist Critique of Civilization:

Many primal peoples tend to view us as pitiful creatures, too–though powerful and dangerous because of our technology and sheer numbers. They regard civilization as a sort of social disease. We civilized people appear to act as though we were addicted to a powerful drug–a drug that comes in the forms of money, factory-made goods, oil, and electricity. We are helpless without this drug, so we have come to see any threat to its supply as a threat to our very existence. Therefore we are easily manipulated–by desire (for more) or fear (that what we have will be taken away)–and powerful commercial and political interests have learned to orchestrate our desires and fears in order to achieve their own purposes of profit and control. If told that the production of our drug involves slavery, stealing, and murder, or the ecological equivalents, we try to ignore the news so as not to have to face an intolerable double bind.

The collapse will mean a sharp cut-off of that supply, and as we shall see in the next thesis, it will not come easily. The process of collapse itself will be the most terrible thing any animal has ever endured, as ten thousand years of damage are all paid back at once. But for those of us who are able to end our dependence on that “drug” gradually, rather than catastrophically, a whole new world awaits.

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] The Hobbesian myth that life “in the state of nature” is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short” is one that simply cannot stand in the face of anthropological evidence. As we have seen again and again, while wild humans certainly do not live in the perfect, idealistic utopias of Rousseauian fantasy, their ways of life do enjoy the benefit of being the pattern of life to which two million years of evolution have adapted the human animal. A rational person would positively expect their quality of life to be much improved over civilization’s.1, 2 But of course, it is not an ideal utopia, either. We might best explore this topic by learning from an animal that we’re especially close to, one that has shaped us and molded us into who we are: Canis lupus, the gray wolf. […]

    Pingback by Wolves & Dogs (The Anthropik Network) — 13 November 2006 @ 4:21 PM

  2. […] collapse is rarely good for human beings; collapse is, after all, an economizing process that improves quality of life. The mixture of brutal dictatorships alongside the best hopes for continuing civilization is no […]

    Pingback by The Anthropik Network » The Shape of Collapse, #4: Latin America — 31 July 2007 @ 3:17 PM


Comments

  1. This reminds me of a quote:

    I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Ettiene de La Boetie, 1564

    Comment by Peter — 13 January 2006 @ 8:20 PM

  2. The reason why some people are scared is because they don’t know if they are ready and can do what is necessary to live in the wilderness. The same reason the Anthropik Tribe hasn’t jumped right into to the woods. Bradford Angier says we can’t starve because we can live off insects if we don’t manage to hunt or gather anything else. I don’t know though. Insectivores are so small. But whales can be supported by plankton so maybe it’s possible. Some of us might also be killed by the collapse cannibals. Some might die of hypothermia. I got another book about wilderness living. Hopefully, that will increase my chances. Survivors will probably need a survival knife and a bow and arrow I’d think if they can’t make one yet (I don’t and I can’t). I might die though. I’ll just try to be glad for what I had though.

    The elite leaders will no doubt survive. Many even have their own private island like Leonardo Dicaprio. He has his own island and on his website there are the peak oil links. That probably was a reason for him to get it. Not to build some environmentally sustainable resort. To escape the collapse like he escaped civilization in the move “The Beach” only to have its troubles cause strife in his community because he went back to it and told others about it. The island is the floating wooden door for Gazelle and Toby and him to fit on. Elites will be disproportionate in their survival rate just like they are at everything else. No poetic justice. Aren’t a lot of them related to elites of the past? Illuminati? I’m not bitter though. I guess the prisoner’s dillema that you mentioned makes me think they are not just evil or whatever. Someone would have taken their place if they weren’t doing what they were doing. I guess they survived in the civilization. They are descendants of hunter/gatherers too. The small group could have maybe could have gotten together and decided some saner things. Maybe not though. Anyway, it’s this that probably stops them from blowing up the world when faced with collapse.

    I never thought what primitives thought of us. Interesting. Interesting about Rome too. Collapse is just death of a bunch of individuals. Sociologically and mentally it’s the worst.

    Yup, people do ignore the bad news. They all know it in the back of their heads. They delude themselves that we are living in these modern times where there isn’t pillaging and slavery. There are actual outright slaves for some things we buy.

    I’m reminded of the song “Nothing’s Ever Promised Tomorrow Today.” Mass media mass production effect on me. Zerzan talked more about that. You definitely come at this from a whole different angle. I read a lot of his essays a couple years ago.

    Comment by planetwarming — 15 January 2006 @ 1:01 AM

  3. I have just found your site. I have sat here today and read many of the articles. I will continue to read more.

    I am not a highly educated person and could never write a thesis such as you peeps have done. I however identify and instictively know that you are right in what you say. I guess I am the “new primitive” you allude to in your articles as I have removed myself from the civilised world slowly. I have to still be part of it but I have removed the “need” of it as I know that it will go very soon. I have known this since I was young (dont know why?).

    Brilliant work and I look forward to reading all these articles and sharing them. You are able to say what I feel in my bones.

    Glen.

    Comment by Holotropik — 15 January 2006 @ 1:28 AM

  4. I must admit that I saw Bush’s re-election as a helpful acceleration toward collapse, one of the few things he’s done well. The future is dark and cloudy, with a multitude of possible outcomes arising from the current paradigm’s ashes, some of which might prove comfortable. I hope to construct such an outcome for my local community and region; I really like our prospects. The best comfort is knowing the Empire will die and produce the greatest liberating act of all time–provided that in its death it fails to destroy more than itself.

    Comment by karlof1 — 15 January 2006 @ 5:33 AM

  5. karlof1 said:”The best comfort is knowing the Empire will die and produce the greatest liberating act of all time…”

    You are too much of an optimist for me. I’m reminded of the final 20 minutes in horror/sci-fi movies. After a big fight, the hero thinks he’s finally killed the monster, relaxes to catch his breath, and let’s his guard down. Then suddenly the monster appears standing behind him. They go at it again and repeat the cycle. I’ve seen some movies where it’s repeated 3 times.

    While the monster dies eventually in the movies, I’m not so sure that it will die in real life. It will probably just morph into smaller regional versions which can exist on lower levels of energy.

    Comment by Peter — 15 January 2006 @ 2:41 PM

  6. You need to stop watching “B” movies, they rot your brain. For good science fiction try the following authors:

    Issac Asimov
    Robert Heinlein
    Arthur Clarck
    Anne McCaffery
    Mercedes Lackey
    Larry Niven
    Jerry Purnell

    BTW, the collabritive work between Niven and Pournell is the best either have offered. To the point where some just call them “Niven Pournell” like it was one person.

    If you can’t bare to sit through a whole book, at least upgrade to better movies. (This is meant in jest, please do not be offended.) You know, the kind where having your head chopped off means you’re dead.

    Comment by Benjamin Shender — 16 January 2006 @ 3:58 AM

  7. Peter,

    Your comment relates directly to the part of my statement you left unquoted that addresses uncertainty. Consider the tyranny of language–Gramsci’s Cultural Hegemony: free throw vs. foul shot and the remaining jargon current in describing the wonderful game of basketball (which is admitedly a very small example) helping to promote the acceptance of militarism–even police violence.

    Yes, it’s quite likely regionalized tyrannies will be established and revolted against, but their establishment can be prevented by communities that plan for such eventualities. But as I said above, how events will evolve in a micro-sense cannot be fortold. The only certain event is that the imperial edifice as a whole will collapse–likely in slow-motion. As I’ve told many students: The Depression didn’t just suddenly happen; In the USA, it started in 1921 with the farmers on a regionalized basis and took ten years to manifest itself. That situation is somewhat already repeating and gaining momentum here in the Imperial core, although the circumstances are different.

    Comment by karlof1 — 16 January 2006 @ 6:02 AM

  8. You are too much of an optimist for me. I’m reminded of the final 20 minutes in horror/sci-fi movies. After a big fight, the hero thinks he’s finally killed the monster, relaxes to catch his breath, and let’s his guard down. Then suddenly the monster appears standing behind him. They go at it again and repeat the cycle. I’ve seen some movies where it’s repeated 3 times.

    This week, I’ll fnally write thesis #29: “It will be impossible to rebuild civilization,” but for now, let me leave you with this quote from Sir Fred Hoyle’s Of Men and Galaxies:

    It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 16 January 2006 @ 12:11 PM

  9. I agree that most likely the only metal working will be scavenged from our ruins, and fossil fuels will be completely non-existant, but I’m not sure if that totally precludes civilization. Smaller scale authoriatarian cultures could make enough weapones and food from our remnants to dominate people for a while (at least in some places)

    More to the point though, there is always the possibiility of whole new avenues of technology that we just haven’t even thought of. There are a lot of legends about various cultures that have developed very advanced technology in the distant past that was qualitatively different than ours even though probably just as advanced. Now these could all be legends (atlantis, mu/lemuria etc) with no real historical basis, but I think they could just as well be valid cultural memories. Oh, and everyone of them crashed catastrophically.

    I think it might be safer to say “it will be impossible to build our style of civilization,” or “our technology.”

    Comment by limukala — 16 January 2006 @ 12:41 PM

  10. I agree that most likely the only metal working will be scavenged from our ruins, and fossil fuels will be completely non-existant, but I’m not sure if that totally precludes civilization. Smaller scale authoriatarian cultures could make enough weapones and food from our remnants to dominate people for a while (at least in some places)

    Sure. Capped, technologically, at the Neolithic. As Tainter points out, complexity grows as a set, so a technological cap also caps complexity as a whole. That comes with scale limitations. That’s why Neolithic kingdoms tended to be so small.

    So, in a few locations–annually flooding river valleys with a very specific climate–it will be possible to build a small kingdom that may last for a few centuries. I’m OK with that.

    More to the point though, there is always the possibiility of whole new avenues of technology that we just haven’t even thought of. There are a lot of legends about various cultures that have developed very advanced technology in the distant past that was qualitatively different than ours even though probably just as advanced. Now these could all be legends (atlantis, mu/lemuria etc) with no real historical basis, but I think they could just as well be valid cultural memories. Oh, and everyone of them crashed catastrophically.

    Or quipu lines or the like. Very awesome stuff. But ultimately, expansion comes down to pounds per square inch. I’m assuming that every material that exists on earth in economically significant quantities is already on the table, and probably won’t be changing that much. All the ones that allow a society to break the Neolithic cap are no longer accessible, except with an industrial infrastructure already in place.

    The incredible similarities among civilizations the world over, without any contact with each other, suggests to me that there really aren’t that many ways to achieve that level of complexity.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 16 January 2006 @ 1:03 PM

  11. So Jason, when will the book come out? Any guesstimates?

    Comment by Peter — 16 January 2006 @ 2:48 PM

  12. Editing starts in February … publishing online … can I say mid-2006?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 16 January 2006 @ 3:22 PM

  13. Sorry…what do you mean by publishing online? eBook? Or as freely accessible web-pages?

    Comment by Peter — 16 January 2006 @ 5:30 PM

  14. I’m thinking of doing it publish-on-demand.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 16 January 2006 @ 6:26 PM

  15. Give or take, there have been 12 major civilisations collapse before ours. You could say that the common thread is the collapse, or just as easily say that the thread is the continued impetus of our species to build anew, climb the ladder again, try once more.
    it sounds as if many view our impending collapse through a “soft focus” lens. Like a hollywood movie - no gritty details. No one has bad teeth or sores,and the sunsets are always spectacular.There is a reason that the epoch following the collapse of Rome is called the Dark Ages- it was horrific. And given that most recent watershed event, humans chose not to remain hunters and gathers but to crawl forward as soon as possible and begin to build and climb again. Nor will the future humans ever chose to willing remain as primitives, but certainly will strive to rebuild and push forward again. The hard thing for us as humans to grasp when we contemplate the myriad evils of our vast civilisation is that we are right where we are supposed to be now. We are fulfilling our biological imperative, or if you prefer our DNA encoding. We are so close…. space travel, controling our own evolution, long life without disease, all are almost within our reach. If we fail then Hoyle notwithstanding, DNA will put forward another contender, and have another go of it. Given enough time our Earth will cough up more high grade ores from the mantle. Given enough time all the carbon we released into the atmosphere will be sequestered in plants or plankton and even one day tens of millions of years hence there will be oil again. Not that it will matter for us, our little drama will long since be played out. For me I enjoy regular respite in primitive camping, often for extended periods. But live that way for the rest our lives? How cosmically sad. Being a cynic I am betting on collapse but praying for civilisation. Our time grows very short, but we still have a punchers chance.

    PS Civilisations allow for the creation of ruling elites, and not ruling elites creating civilisations.

    Comment by notaprimitive — 18 January 2006 @ 12:56 AM

  16. Hey –

    Ummm… it was called the Dark Ages because of the lack of information WE have about it… the decrease in documentation, histories, scientific advancement… but scholars are now quite often quoted as saying that ‘The Dark Ages’ is really a misnomer… there was plenty going on and we learn more every day…

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 18 January 2006 @ 9:18 AM

  17. You could say that the common thread is the collapse, or just as easily say that the thread is the continued impetus of our species to build anew, climb the ladder again, try once more.

    You could say that–if you also ignored what a recent abberation complex societies are. They’re little more than blips in our history–and, as shown in the foregoing theses, unsustainable blips that, by their very nature, must collapse.

    The “slow climb back up” is colored by the Western imagination of collapse that is so heavily informed by the Roman collapse–which was a maintenance crisis, not a catabolic collapse. We’re facing a catabolic collapse, and in those–such as Easter Island, the Hohokam and the Anasazi, and others–there was no “slow climb back up,” because the preceding civilization had stripped all the necessary materials. That’s something Rome didn’t do. You’ll also note that Rome’s successors flourished most in those places that had been Rome’s periphery–those places where Roman civilization had tread most lightly were those places most able to come back.

    it sounds as if many view our impending collapse through a “soft focus” lens. Like a hollywood movie - no gritty details.

    Given how much I’ve written about how horrific the whole thing will be for those who choose to die, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. War, plague, cannibalism–it will be absolutely grisly as billions of people tear each other apart.

    But, I do believe that there is a way to escape all of that, if we choose to do so. We need not trust our possible survival in a grisly contest with billions of others. We could choose to become foragers, and escape the entire, awful thing.

    …following the collapse of Rome is called the Dark Ages- it was horrific.

    Firstly, again, we’re facing a catabolic collapse, not a maintenance crisis. Our comparison is not the Dark Ages, but the Pueblo. Secondly, having once been one of the top 25 researchers in the world on post-Roman Britain, edited a peer-reviewed journal and presented at academic conferences on the subject–the “Dark Ages” is a term most historians shy away from because of its wholly inaccurate value judgments. Quality of life in “the Dark Ages” was not nearly so awful as the poor Roman aristocrats who lost their wealth and power made it out to be. For most people, daily life barely changed at all. See Kenneth Dark’s Civitas to Kingdom for the case for continuity in Britain.

    And given that most recent watershed event, humans chose not to remain hunters and gathers but to crawl forward as soon as possible and begin to build and climb again.

    Because that option was available to them, because the fall of Rome was a maintenance crisis, not a catabolic collapse. Our situation is less like Rome, and more like Chaco Canyon.

    Nor will the future humans ever chose to willing remain as primitives, but certainly will strive to rebuild and push forward again.

    Why not? Once forced to try it, they’ll find–like all other primitives–that it is a far superior life. No one ever adopted agriculture because it was a better life; it was always forced on them, whether by circumstance or conquest. History tells of primitive people after primitive people resisting civilization to their last ounce of strength, and ultimately choosing death rather than submit to such a horrible way of life.

    The hard thing for us as humans to grasp when we contemplate the myriad evils of our vast civilisation is that we are right where we are supposed to be now. We are fulfilling our biological imperative, or if you prefer our DNA encoding. We are so close…. space travel, controling our own evolution, long life without disease, all are almost within our reach.

    All of that is a mirage. It’s not achievable. We’re at the limits–this is pretty much as far as any technological progress could ever get, before it begins to fall in under its own weight. You’ve fallen for it, friend–all of those are lies and false promises to keep you going along with a system that was doomed from the very beginning.

    If we fail then Hoyle notwithstanding, DNA will put forward another contender, and have another go of it. Given enough time our Earth will cough up more high grade ores from the mantle.

    After the passage of geological time, yes, perhaps. And once again, it will be a system doomed from the very beginning.

    But live that way for the rest our lives? How cosmically sad.

    Why is that? Can you provide any answer to that, that offers anything more than ethnocentrism at best, or blatant racism at worst? It would be the first such answer I’ve ever heard.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 January 2006 @ 10:35 AM

  18. “Why is that? Can you provide any answer to that, that offers anything more than ethnocentrism at best, or blatant racism at worst? It would be the first such answer I’ve ever heard.”

    I believe it is not ethnocentric or racist, but maybe anthropocentric and I make no apologies for that. If anything is missing to unite the freedoms and benefits of primitivism with civilisation then it is a fierce species loyalty which we sadly lack. More than anything this wil be our undoing. But we are close to understanding how to modify that, lacking not the technology but the vision and will.I guess the best reason why, is that one way to describe our universe is the tension of two diametrically opposed forces- entropy and life. Entropy causing the unwinding, simplification, running down of systems, and life appears to be the only force opposing, creating complexity and winding the spring so to speak.

    “All of that is a mirage. It’s not achievable. We’re at the limits–this is pretty much as far as any technological progress could ever get, before it begins to fall in under its own weight. You’ve fallen for it, friend–all of those are lies and false promises to keep you going along with a system that was doomed from the very beginning.”

    I agree that we are likely at the limits, and there is no way to avoid a very bad end for probably billions of people. But to say this is the fate of all technology and civilisations is too much of a leap. Because it has always been thus , it will always be thus? That arguement cannot be supported on the weight of our available evidence. We dont know how far our science and our species can go, only that our particular civilisation squandered tremendous opportunities along the way.

    “Why not? Once forced to try it, they’ll find–like all other primitives–that it is a far superior life.”

    Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Likely some will and some won’t. But in order to say that it is a superior life for oneself one would have to experience both. The primitive can’t do that but the civilized person can, and I haven’t see many people truly walking away and living as primitives. You variously said that people would have to be forced to become primitives , as primitives were once forced to civilize. This is an excellent point as it illustrates why we probably won’t seize on any of our many opportunities on our spiral downward. Humans are tremendously resistant to change…whatever social organization ( or lack of ) that they find themselves in. This resistance has nothing to do with the particular merits of their system

    “Because that option was available to them, because the fall of Rome was a maintenance crisis, not a catabolic collapse. Our situation is less like Rome, and more like Chaco Canyon.”

    Greer and Diamond notwithstanding, who the hell really knows why Rome fell. Many factors have been identified with impressive arguements marshalled, but all we as scientists can accurately say is it fell. We don’t agree even on when. Maintenance collapse? yeah maybe. But if Justinian doesn’t experience the Plague coterminous with crop failures due to ( probably volcanic) weather then maybe he completes his restoration of the western empire and the story reads differently. Certainly the Minoan’s collapse as a result of catastrophic volcanism gives us no predictive value as to the fate of civilisations in general

    “Quality of life in “the Dark Ages” was not nearly so awful as the poor Roman aristocrats who lost their wealth and power made it out to be.”

    Maybe yes, maybe no. Except that Europe still had a low level of civilisation. People still weren’t happy primitives but instead were dependant on the local strongman, and increasingly as time wore on, in terror of a stupid and bloody theocracy. If your quality of life is unaffected by the burning of 99% of the written records of accumulated knowledge, then yes maybe they weren’t so bad. People still ate, had babies and died

    I suspect that we won’t agree, seeing this through different lenses, but I enjoy the precision of your arguements. When the “big one” comes as we both believe it will, then if it won’t disrupt your newly primitive lifestyle,or disrupt me trying to preserve my books then you should stop by and we can have a drink around the fire, and toast all we could have been

    Comment by notaprimitive — 18 January 2006 @ 4:26 PM

  19. believe it is not ethnocentric or racist, but maybe anthropocentric and I make no apologies for that. If anything is missing to unite the freedoms and benefits of primitivism with civilisation then it is a fierce species loyalty which we sadly lack. More than anything this wil be our undoing.

    You have me mistaken, then. I was the first of our tribe, and thus had the honor of naming it. I named it “Anthropik” precisely for my fierce loyalty to our species. I am proud to be a human being, and an unapologetic anthropocentrist.

    But, you’re not talking about anything inherent to human life. You’re talking about the natural human state, and calling it “cosmically sad.” You’re implying that humans are not valuable in themselves; it is only our technology that justifies our wretched existence. As a fiercely loyal human, I don’t take kindly to such insults made towards my species and their natural, evolutionary niche.

    Entropy causing the unwinding, simplification, running down of systems, and life appears to be the only force opposing, creating complexity and winding the spring so to speak.

    Life does not create complexity, but diversity, as I explained in thesis #2, and as Steven Gould explained in Full House.

    But to say this is the fate of all technology and civilisations is too much of a leap. Because it has always been thus , it will always be thus? That arguement cannot be supported on the weight of our available evidence. We dont know how far our science and our species can go, only that our particular civilisation squandered tremendous opportunities along the way.

    It’s a matter of the marginal return curve, and the amount of energy available on earth. The amount of energy available on earth is finite, and it sets a maximum height for the marginal return curve’s peak. We’re very close to that maximum height right now. That’s why it will always be thus–not because it’s always been, but because the earth is finite.

    Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Likely some will and some won’t.

    To date, it’s pretty much 100%. I would expect that to hold, within a +/- 5% margin of error.

    This resistance has nothing to do with the particular merits of their system

    Quite true, but you were saying some people would want to rebuild civilization in the future because they like it so much. No civilization ever got started like that; it was always a matter of necessity, never a matter of preference.

    Greer and Diamond notwithstanding, who the hell really knows why Rome fell. Many factors have been identified with impressive arguements marshalled, but all we as scientists can accurately say is it fell. We don’t agree even on when.

    There used to be a lot of argument on that. That pretty much died out after 1988. Today, Tainter’s is the concensus view on collapse. The arguments have shifted to which factor was more or less important as a proximate cause, but pretty much everyone accepts Tainter’s model as their starting point. The arguments today are working out the details of it.

    But if Justinian doesn’t experience the Plague coterminous with crop failures due to ( probably volcanic) weather then maybe he completes his restoration of the western empire and the story reads differently.

    If it hadn’t been that plague, and those crop failures, it would have been something else. The pace of problems is always pretty steady. Civilizations, like all societies, must adapt to those problems. Before the point of diminishing returns, Rome handled plagues and crop failures handily. After, they brought the empire to its knees. We’re not talking about whether problems arise–they always do. We’re talking about a society’s ability to deal with problems, and that’s what makes the difference.

    Maybe yes, maybe no.

    Definitely yes, if you give archaeological evidence any credit whatsoever.

    Except that Europe still had a low level of civilisation. People still weren’t happy primitives but instead were dependant on the local strongman, and increasingly as time wore on, in terror of a stupid and bloody theocracy. If your quality of life is unaffected by the burning of 99% of the written records of accumulated knowledge, then yes maybe they weren’t so bad. People still ate, had babies and died.

    And before that, under a “high level of civilization” (whatever that means), people weren’t happy civilized folk but were instead dependent on the local strongman (Roman patron), and increasingly as time wore on, in terror of a stupid and bloody empire. If your quality of life is unaffected by a bunch of flowery poetry that only the strongmen get to hear anyway, then yes, maybe they weren’t so bad. People still ate, had babies and died.

    …then if it won’t disrupt your newly primitive lifestyle,or disrupt me trying to preserve my books then you should stop by and we can have a drink around the fire, and toast all we could have been

    I’ll take you up on that, though I fear you may misunderstand me. I’ve asserted in previous theses that foragers have as much ability to retain and gather new information as we do, and that art, music, knowledge, philosophy and all those other pursuits are not only part of primitive life, but can be found in greater abundance. What you won’t find are the things that define civilization–hierarchy and exploitation.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 January 2006 @ 4:56 PM

  20. nice
    improve ur infomations

    Comment by prasad — 23 February 2006 @ 7:48 AM

  21. Having been working my way through Jason’s theses in order, I find it irritating when people attack his later theses without having read the earlier ones. These were numbered and written in order so that one can get a good foundation on the whole structure on his arguement. So, Please people, read them in order before taking swipes.

    Comment by ChandraShakti — 25 February 2006 @ 8:50 PM

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