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

26th October 2005, 12:18 pm by Jason Godesky
Posted in Primitivism

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. Sungir
  4. The Inuit

58 Responses to “5 Common Objections to Primitivism, and Why They’re Wrong”

  1. Devin says:

    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.

  2. Miranda says:

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

  3. Anonymous says:

    "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.

  4. Anonymous says:

    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.

  5. Bill Maxwell says:

    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.

  6. Chuck says:

    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

  7. Clive says:

    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

  8. Adrian says:

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

  9. Anonymous says:

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

  10. Anonymous says:

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

  11. posion oak says:

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

  12. Clive says:

    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.

  13. Anonymous says:

    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.

  14. Crazybaldman says:

    "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

  15. Crazybaldman says:

    "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

  16. Benjamin Shender says:

    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.

  17. JCamasto says:

    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.

  18. Coffeenow says:

    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.

  19. Coffeenow says:

    sorry -- that's colin turnbull

  20. Jason Godesky says:

    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.

  21. Anonymous says:

    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

  22. Coffeenow says:

    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.

  23. Jason Godesky says:

    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.

  24. Chuck says:

    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

  25. Peter says:

    Is a sky burial legal in the USA?

  26. Jason Godesky says:

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

  27. Peter says:

    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.

  28. Jason Godesky says:

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

  29. Mark says:

    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.

  30. Jason Godesky says:

    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!)

  31. Bill Maxwell says:

    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.

  32. Clive says:

    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?

  33. Jason Godesky says:

    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....

  34. Devin says:

    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?

  35. Crazybaldman says:

    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

  36. JCamasto says:

    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 Fantastic Four. 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...

  37. Raku says:

    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

  38. Mesuge says:

    >>
    # 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..

  39. Jason Godesky says:

    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...

  40. Mesuge says:

    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!

  41. bml says:

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

  42. Jason Godesky says:

    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.

  43. Mesuge says:

    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"..

  44. Jason Godesky says:

    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?

  45. Mesuge says:

    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..
    :@ )

  46. Jason Godesky says:

    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.

  47. Vorfeed Canal says:

    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!

  48. Janene says:

    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

  49. _Gi says:

    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.

  50. Jason Godesky says:

    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.

  51. Janene says:

    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

  52. _Gi says:

    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?

  53. Janene says:

    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

  54. posion oak says:

    what about the "bourgeois = roots of primtivism" that many oppenents of primitivism talk of?

  55. Chuck says:

    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

  56. posion oak says:

    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.

  57. Devin Murphy says:

    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.

  58. Jason Godesky says:

    ...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. :)

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