Osama Bin Lowrider: Its All the Same Culture

Tonight's guest essay from Chuck Burr, brought back memories of a similar message, (after reading Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael" many years ago), that jettisoned me from my more=better individual trajectory. Quinn's books were among the first I read suggesting our current cultural norms were not the preordained destination for our species, and caused me to read far and wide about what was happening to our planet and the general intersection of more demand/ less supply. In a related vein, Chuck Burr's essay takes a very wide boundary view of our options as a culture encountering multiple resource limits but weighed down by huge existing fixed infrastructure. I don't agree with all of it, as we may have been 'Takers' all along just with lower tribal populations, but his essay raises some interesting and important issues. We're not going 'back', but it is possible to go forward on a parallel but different path. Tonight's Campfire questions are: How WOULD we just walk away from the existing social and built infrastructure? Is it desirable? Is it possible?
(Campfire Guidelines)

Osama BinLowRider - It's All the Same Culture

Our political discussions and media coverage are far too shallow to be useful. We must go deeper and much further back to understand the world today and learn how to get where we want to go.

Almost everyone misunderstands what culture is. Most think it is soda pop, pop stars, blue jeans, language, and TV. Some think it is capitalism, communism, or progressivism. Some see culture as Western culture or Eastern culture.

Look at the motorcycle picture. The motorcycles will fool you. All of the people above belong to the same culture as does a soccer mom in a Chicago suburb. Keep guessing. This makes a huge difference in how we understand what is happening today and where we are going.

The answer is, that we are all Takers. We all belong to the same culture, tea-to-tiler or Taliban, one culture. The Dali Lama or Duncan Donuts cop, one culture. Our Taker culture began 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution when they locked up the food, began the population–food race, invented war, started privatizing land, and ended the formerly one universal religion of animism. It was forgotten in just a few generation that there used to be probably 10,000 unique Leaver cultures before our now universal Taker culture—The Great Forgetting.

Some suggest that modern progressive exuberance has replaced Christianity as the modern culture or religion. The “here and now” and a better life for each generation from technology replacing faith in an “unseen unknown afterlife” culminating in a technological singularity that will save humanity.

They are right to identify exuberance, but today’s exuberance is the same that caused a tribe of agriculturalists between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to start overtaking their Leaver neighbors in an unending conquest that is now largely complete. The age of Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and Manifest Destiny are past examples of the same exuberance. The ultimate hubris was inventing one god in a human form. Today, all but one or two million Leavers, versus of 6.8 billion Takers, are left alive or are not yet assimilated.

It’s Pointless To Discuss Anything Else

Peak oil and financial collapse seem important because they immediately affect us and are within our lifetime scale. But, they are just noise along the way of our 10,000 year Taker cultural odyssey. Nothing will change for our children until our culture ends. It will be one rise and fall, migration and conquest, resource war after resource war on and on until our culture is completely replaced with a resilient diversity of many new cultures. Until then we are just building and operating the Taker prison for ourselves and our children. Only when our culture ends, will the earth be allowed to start healing itself. A change of leadership of the same culture is also a waste of time.

Here comes the important part of the essay: discussing anything else today except walking away from our culture is pointless. This has to do with the difference between programs and vision or story. When Columbus invaded Haiti, he brought with him the greatest virus of all, a new cultural story.
The story of Leaver cultures before the agricultural revolution was, “Humanity belongs to the earth.” The Taker cultural story is, “The earth belongs to man.” This has been the crux of the creation and perpetuation of our culture for the last 10,000 years. We have had technology since the digging stick, technology has nothing to do with culture. It is how you value humanity in relation to “our relations” or the earth and what you do with the technology that matters.

A program is doing more of the same. If the effort in Afghanistan is failing, send more troops. If test score are falling, spend more on a failed educational system. If the banks are failing, send them more money.

A program is like a stick in the river of our culture. Programs run contrary to the cultural story. Recycling is a program to combat our consumer economy. Smart grids are a program to combat our excessive use of cheap fossil fuel energy. Green building is a program to combat urban sprawl. Food aid is a program to combat the population–food race. Organic farming is a program to combat industrial totalitarian agriculture.

Programs are fruitless efforts to combat the symptoms of our cultural story that the world belongs to man. Until the story is reversed, all programs are a complete waste of time. If you truly want peace, social justice, and Ecotopia, you have to starting living under the remembered story that humanity belongs to the earth.

The Problem is Not Humanity

Humanity has lived on the earth for three or four million years. For millions of years we lived in harmony or symbiosis with the ecosystem. We had a stable population. A “give it to them as good as you get” it erratic retaliator strategy existed instead of war. Tribalism and animism were the universal human organizational structures and religion. Tribalism is the one and only evolutionarily proven human social organizational system. Tribalism is to humans what herds are for deer, pods are for whales, schools are for fish, and hives are for bees. The problem began 10,000 years ago when our culture was created.

You Cannot Invent a New Social Organizational System

Here is the rub. You just can’t invent a new social organizational system like a tribe. We have been trying to perfect a new social organizational system called civilization for 10,000 years. But, civilization continues to fail more each year for more people and species. If civilization was going to create world peace and plenty for all it would have done so already. It never can because a story based on one species taking everything it can gets its hands on will never work. We even treat members of our own species as poorly as we do all other species we exploit.

The Great Remembering

The only solution worth discussion is developing new cultures that live by the original story that humanity belongs to the earth. Going green is not enough. Driving a hybrid and having a backyard vegetable garden is not going to get you there. It’s deeper than that. I am beginning to think we are going to have to start depaving, give up our iPods, and start making music for ourselves. I am not sure how far this is going to have to go. But I do know that it has to go back to a level in which our population and method of consumption allows the earth to start rebuilding biodiversity and topsoil.

We will have to remember our relationship with the cultivars, how to give support to get support, how to live on local sunlight, and we might even have to remember animism. We have a long way to go. I am starting the journey for myself and my children.

Hierarchies have strong defenses for attacks from below. However, they have no defense from abandonment. The point is we have to create new cultures that borrow from what we can from the present that fits within the structure of the past. This is the only way we will make a difference. We have to become the change we want to see, find like minded friends, and start our own local tribes. We must develop a high enough level of group self reliance that will allow us to walk away. We need doers, not talkers, not surfers, and not bloggers. We need to be walking toward something better, not away from something we don’t like. Its time to start living your truth.

Original essay by Chuck Burr here

Daniel Quinn

Ernest Callenbach

Marija Gimbutas
The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe

Dan Piraro

About Depave

Some suggest that modern progressive exuberance has replaced Christianity as the modern culture or religion.
Capitalism, and the need to expand production to increase the ratio of user value and exchange value, to extract surplus value, arose only under Christianity, and many scholars have said capitalism needed the mass compartmentalization of Christianity, to be able to arise.
This is speculation. However, capitalism first arose in the Italian City states of the 15th Century, which had rediscovered Greek thought and technology, and combined it with Christian compartmentalism and extreme anthropocentric view toward reality.
However, we are all takers, it's just capitalism is the extreme form of this short term survival strategy.

There are probably infinite ways to define capitalism, but I would contend that the simple charging of interest on loans is capitalism -- getting money for doing nothing except tying up capital. And interest goes back further than Christianity.


We are talking about ownership of the means of production, not interest.
Profit is extracted through surplus value on labor.
But, I agree, as long as interest is involved, economies need to expand to pay that interest off.
That has been arranged in numerous ways.

"Profit is extracted through surplus value on labor."

Which means the person(s) receiving the profit have selfishly kept it for themselves and not distributed it back to the labor which produced it, or they charged too much for it in the first place. Either way, it is disgraceful behavior.

Lovely campfire post, BTW. Totally agree with it, but there are too many humans now to go backwards, and most of the damage to the planet has been done.

Actually, it is about the people doing the labor keeping the profit, not having someone take it from them. If you participated in the organization and creativity of the process, you are also part of the labor process. If you just abstractly own the means of production through a financial instrument, you are extracting wealth.

"Interest" is only another form of "profit"; both are equally illusory, just another iteration of a perpetual-motion machine. Until humans get the Second Law in their bones, there will be no change, just more rainbow-chasing.

The vast diversity and exuberance of life on Earth is nearly all down to the energy profligacy of the Sun (the small remainder due to Earth's own energy surplus, and that mostly in the distant past). THAT is the only real "profit" we have ever had, and can ever hope to have. Any culture without this realization, and its honoring, at its core is doomed, regardless of whatever other merit it may have.

Humans have lived, and "thrived" (or at least vastly increased our numbers), by usurping whatever pockets of current and past "profit" we have discovered, in the forms of cultivated biomass and fossil fuels. Our numbers are now so great, and the usurpations now so extensive, that The End has come into view, at least for those with eyes to see. It may, and probably will, take generations to unfold, but it has begun, and cannot now be stopped, even with all our cleverness.

But, in my view, that is a Good Thing, and our only real hope. Nothing short of a hard crash, with 95%+ population loss, will ever disabuse humans of the pathological notion that they can get something for nothing.

I share the philosophical thrust of this post. The last three or four sentences that tell us what we must do is all fine and dandy but it just leaves you hanging because that is the very problem we face. How do you just go out and get a group of friends and set up an alternative, departing from the existing paradigm and making it really be viable. It just seems like so much wishful thinking.


i think u ask The question.

How do you just go out and get a group of friends and set up an alternative, departing from the existing paradigm and making it really be viable. It just seems like so much wishful thinking.

1,2,3 at a time.
opportunities/relationships are going to increase as people get aware of how our system is going to crash.

i have had some of these recently, thankfully; as well as disappointments as some i thought of as part of our liferaft see us as being too radical- mostly preparing for a severe, hard crash.

more opportunities with folks will come; & then likely a flood of desperate folks. i'm thinking a core formed with a 'leaver' mindset/principles-as a goal- needs to be established by then.

i say a 'goal' since the transition period will require living both paradims as we are now.

great post. some quibbles, but would be distracting to go there.

re organization, i agree, & have stated such numerous times- never to my memory with a response.

'i think something like dunbar's number 150 or less is max with a high degree of wealth distribution built in. scares me how we might get there, but eventually this is the best 'human' solution for ecology[tragedy of the commons], communication, and wealth sharing.

our time as agrarian is miniscule compared to hunter-gather lifestyle. our primary adaptions genetically are set up within this mode & it fits the ecology of our earth. heaven help us getting there.'


Bravo bravo

I agree 100% and in fact I and my family are actively pursuing this course.

We are all reducing our possessions, our consumption, our frantic participation in commercialism, and amping up our cultivation of earth, animals, friends, relationships, music.

It sounds trite and simplistic even to my ears but truly life keeps getting better the more we put into this new way.

There is no way I can convince any of our extended family members to partake even though their lives are getting visibly worse with each new development. They simply can not conceive of purposfully"going backwards", the would rather let the system force it on them in a bad way. Victims.

Back to it.


I used to read a lot of Quinn and participate in related discussions and events.

purposfully"going backwards"

often came up in the discussions, but I found that terms like:

moving away tangentially
stepping onto a different path
going off in a different direction
and making a living in a new way

were very good for letting people be more creative in their ideas. There are some good things to rescue and include form the past, but that doesn't mean it needs to be a carbon copy of the olden days.

There are some good things to rescue and include form the past, but that doesn't mean it needs to be a carbon copy of the olden days.

Bravo for getting rid of carbon, including carbon copies. Oh, how that expression makes me feel so old.

This guy is scatter shooting pure hypotheticals. He invents his own unique definition of "culture" and says we all have to cram ourselves into it in order to get back to the garden. Nobody invented culture, however defined, and no overly intellectualized rant is going to change it. Culture just is and is always changing.

That's the deal. Take it or Leave it.

Quinn imagines a quaint fantasy world that never existed and never will. Real hunter-gatherer societies were engaged in constant tribal warefare that killed as much as 50% of all men. Women had no choice but to be continually raped and plop out children as fast as humanly possible. Average lifespan was some 20-30 years.

Other tribes were part of the outgroup, they were more often than not considered more like animals than fellow humans.

um, where do get those figures soylent? Is that what you were taught in school because it smells of john wayne to me.

AKbound, try reading Steve Pinkers book, "The Blank Slate." That summarizes the evidence and references the original sources on the violence of hunter gatherers.

I also recommend The Blank Slate highly.

Also check out Steven Pinker's lecture over on youtube, 'A Brief History of Violence'. I'm afraid it's true; we were horrible.


We're still horrible. And we're still wonderful.

And we have the opportunity to develop filters that reveal both truths.

"We were horrible" - sometimes, just like most other critters.

Morality, ethics and peace seem to be luxuries we can afford Only when we are fat and happy - regardless of the time period we live.

"Other tribes were part of the outgroup, they were more often than not considered more like animals than fellow humans."

Well, there it finally is. I think that this was alluded to in the post, but the bone was not directly pointed at it. I think that we must become humble animals again. One of the many myriad of life forms transiting this Earth.

"Real hunter-gatherer societies were engaged in constant tribal warefare that killed as much as 50% of all men. Women had no choice but to be continually raped and plop out children as fast as humanly possible. Average lifespan was some 20-30 years."

Well, resources have always been scarce at one time or another. Warfare seems like an eco-centric way to take population pressure off resources. Acquisition of women occurred to re-populate when conditions improved (boom and bust cycle.

As I have commented before, I think it can be argued that it was the need to protect women that helped trigger the jump from a hunter gatherer to a sedentary, agrarian existence. This is when the walled cities began in Mesopotamia. It has been all downhill from there.

Real hunter gatherers today--I am thinking for example of !Kung of the Kalahari--most certainly do NOT behave in the way you have just described, and I do not believe those in the past did either.

Your criticism seems an example of the "Taker" narrative: slander of sustainable peoples and all who are Other.

Sustainable people themselves do not do this.

The !Kung eke out a hard life in a land that nobody else wants.

It sounds like they make the most out of it, but even a simple synopsis of how they live hints that it is a much harsher life than you would be comfortable with.

Good radical essay. I'm a bit loopy this week for health reasons, but a few comments based on this day's headspace.

The point is we have to create new cultures that borrow from what we can from the present that fits within the structure of the past. This is the only way we will make a difference. We have to become the change we want to see, find like minded friends, and start our own local tribes. We must develop a high enough level of group self reliance that will allow us to walk away. We need doers, not talkers, not surfers, and not bloggers. We need to be walking toward something better, not away from something we don’t like. Its time to start living your truth.

Finding like-minded people and starting tribes is stimulating, and with the right friends even satisfying. I've done it in the service of earth goals in the past, may do it again. Yet to a strong degree, "walking toward new tribes/cultures" is a theme which is integral to our existing culture, perhaps most extant human cultures. It is how this culture got here in the first place, and there are de facto error-correction mechanisms in human society which tend to flatten out the differences between adjacent tribes.

Rather than new tribal offshoots for the future, I'd say we need to change what it means to be human now, in the sense of our contextual rationale for existence. (And I don't think this is necessarily a disagreement with the spirit of the essay).

Don't get me wrong, I respect those who are trying to have a zero carbon footprint and live their lives with a rational worldview married to the sacred in nature. But is it really enough, in this moment of planetary crisis? Is it what the living earth needs?

In my experience, unless shaped by implacable adversity, tribes tend to turn to shit once the dynamic personalities of the original founders are lost. There are obviously exceptions, but it takes a lot of ongoing psychological energy for non-isolated tribes to live adjacent to others and not assimilate their ways and rationalizations. Goal-oriented tribes tend to have a fairly short half-life unless the goal is immediate survival. And I think that immediate survival will ultimately be what forms the tribes and beliefs which survive, if any get a chance to.

To let oneself see humanity as an intelligent alien, or member of another species would currently see it is to experience a profound spiritual malaise verging on desperation. Yet it's a good first step in the mental divorce process.

So do we become the change we want to see? I don't think so. We cannot step directly into the moccasins of those humans who may inhabit the earth in 10,000 years, who - if they exist at all - will have evolved systems of knowledge based on what is available to them after being strained through a stochastic sieve, and will see the world in a way very different than we do.

Rather, I'd submit that it's our individual responsibility as polluting fire-demons in malignant population overshoot to come to a productive accord with the nausea, accept the rather preposterous reality of our existence, and utilize our fire-demon powers to make it possible for those future people, so many ways unlike us, to exist. To realize that the protein in our muscles is mostly from natural gas, and the energy in our food comes mainly from fossil fuels, and that we are not, and should not pretend to be, those future people in balance with the earth. We're individual members of a plague species, living NOW, who have to some degree started to become self-aware.

One doesn't halt a fire by walking away from it, and bombs don't defuse themselves. I would submit the wildly un-PC notion that each of us should do everything in our power to undo the ongoing and potential damage of thousands of other humans. To try steering any accessible aspects of the population/resource/energy/biodiversity/carrying capacity bottleneck which can be steered towards long-term livability. And that we should do it with a near-total lack of regard for our personal or cultural survival, much less our social status. Then, if we survive it, we should write our songs.

If there are surviving humans to have a culture in 10,000 years, it's nearly certain that their number and identity will have been selected by chaotic outcomes beyond our current planning even in principle. I strongly doubt that any tribes constituted in the near future will get through the meat-grinder in one piece.

The living fabric of our world is under attack, and metaphorically (and not just metaphorically) on fire. We vacillate between considering ourselves victims or bystandards at the blaze, when what are needed are firefighters infused with focused, disciplined berserker energy.

We need to be willing to die for a better far future, and to strategically insert ourselves into what will often be unpleasant situations in the meanwhile, all with no guarantee we'll succeed. To throw ourselves willingly into the chaos after mastering those arts and leverages which are currently available to us, and act from moment to moment with our eyes firmly on goals a million years in the future. To realize that we're destructive fire-demons sprung from a population of destructive fire-demons, unsustainable detritovores from birth, and not shrink from employing any powers we can in the service of life's future.

I think this means not dropping out and walking away, but engaging the crisis without fear, self-interest, or the hubris of personal purity and detachment. In the current preposterous context, walking away might be just one more kind of "taking". I'm not sure we have the right.

Your mileage may vary...

No need to tell me I'm nuts, I realize it. Cheers.

What he said!

Your commentary is always welcome greenish. But I disagree that I should be willing to die so that humans 10,000 years from now can survive. Why should I care what happens to the plague species? The only way for this to get resolved is for 90% of the people alive today to become dead soon. If there are humans on this planet in 10,000 years none of them will be my descendents. I'm trying to enjoy myself and let nature take its course.

We don't actually disagree. The person who posts as "greenish" is focused on the survival of nonhuman species and complexity, but the "greenish" persona adopts a more human attitude.

When it comes down to it, many of the same things which would be good for humans of the far future would be good for earthlife in general.

I too chose to leave no descendents, and acknowledge that the level of human biomass will, and should, decline. If there are humans around in 10,000 years, they probably won't be a plague species in the ridiculous sense they are now. (And if there aren't, I feel that what IS around still matters.)

That doesn't mean there's nothing worth dying for (or even more difficult, suffering for) now - we're in the middle of a mass extinction of nonhuman species, for instance, and altering the course of that is how I direct my energy. The way the mass extinction rolls out is not set in stone. I don't begrudge you any enjoyment of life, but the course and nature of life on earth for the next billion years will be vastly altered in the next hundred, the next fifty, the next ten. So over the last 35 years I haven't taken any vacations. I don't expect many others to do the same, though it'd be good to see. Best.

There won't be anything alive on earth in a billion years - the sun keeps getting hotter and it'll fry what's left long before that. The only chance earth-born life had to live past that was a technological civilization expanding out of the solar system. Unfortunately, we squandered the chance to do that on war and welfare programs and commuting to "work" in giant SUVs.

If you think 7 billion people are going to die quietly to save the earth, you're nuts. We'll burn every tree and eat everything too big to hide on the way down, and at the end of it whoever is left will still be farmers, because it will give them advantages over anyone who isn't. It will be a greatly impoverished world with far fewer people on it, but barring nuclear holocaust or bio warfare, it'll still be relatively full of people.


I envision grown men milking goats. Women gathering a few hen eggs. Children planting potatoes. Maybe folks even trading skins down on the riverbanks.

I may be nuts.

But I got chickens and goats on my mind nonetheless.

Big Ag will have to go. Period. Thats it. Else we will have zero anything.

Airdale -flint knapping anyone

Hey, got a few spare minutes - which won't happen much this week - so I'll indulge myself in answering:

There won't be anything alive on earth in a billion years - the sun keeps getting hotter and it'll fry what's left long before that.

I'm not sure they've nailed it down that far; I'd have guessed life would hang on a bit longer, but certainly there is currently the potential for a lot of earth life to happen in the next billion years, even if - for instance - the last 231 million of it are barren. Thus, when discussing orders of magnitude - which isn't done often enough in this context, to my way of thinking - it's legitimate to think about the next billion years of life on earth. If you're a pessimist, then hundreds of millions, which is still a reasonable piece of time in my book.

People bringing up the sun expanding and cooking the earth is a good example of the "nihilism heuristic". In terms of the problems faced by complex life on earth - including our precocious little selves - the sun expanding is pretty far down the list.

The only chance earth-born life had to live past that was a technological civilization expanding out of the solar system. Unfortunately, we squandered the chance to do that on war and welfare programs and commuting to "work" in giant SUVs.

I think that may be true.

If you think 7 billion people are going to die quietly to save the earth, you're nuts. We'll burn every tree and eat everything too big to hide on the way down, and at the end of it whoever is left will still be farmers, because it will give them advantages over anyone who isn't. It will be a greatly impoverished world with far fewer people on it, but barring nuclear holocaust or bio warfare, it'll still be relatively full of people.

I think the way it all rolls out may be steerable to some degree, and that it will be steered. Not always by "nice" people, but by events which foreclose some outcomes. It's a rigged game, but the only game in town.

And by my standards, the earth was full of people before humans evolved, and may be after they're gone.

The only way for this to get resolved is for 90% of the people alive today to become dead soon.

After you.

A partial solution is in the making...

Pandemic flu!

Going on the bird flu and SARS experiences, we're talking a thousand or so dead, tops.

Which is tragic for the people involved, but nothing on the world scale. 1.2 million people are killed each year in car accidents, which in the past few years has been five times the number killed in wars.

Don't rush out to buy assault rifles and spam just yet.

Well even the 1918 spanish influenza was about 5% lethal, so its not going to depopulate the earth. But SARS and the avian flu seemed over-hyped to me. This influenza might just be the real deal. Unlike in 1918 though there are contingencies and anti-viral medication. Still its all about the critical mass, when hospitals and basic services become overwhelmed. Hysteria doesn't help but I think there should be a healthy fear for a quickly contagious disease with a 1 in 20 chance of killing you.

Lots of thoughts, no answers. First, I completely agree that something should be done NOW. And it should be acute. Yet if this were to happen (i.e. if we were suddenly 1 billion versus ~7) what's to stop the cycle from repeating, especially because there are ample resources left? There is simply no guarantee that those left will be 'leavers', especially because a majority of humans living now are 'takers'. If we take the slow road and try to educate and change the masses to live simply and conscientiously, we run the risk of prolonging the inevitable and taking more species off the chart. In some ways, walking away may be the right answer, only because humans in their infinite wisdom like to mess with things and in so many micro examples I have in my head, sometimes backing off and NOT forcing something ends in a better result. But I don't think we're capable of that. What it seems to come down to, is the feeling of doing something...anything. Humans feel that they need a purpose and some control over their situation (and often others) and will make up an endgame to justify it, yet the best path leading to that optimal 'endgame' is completely unknown.

Yes, I posted thoughts, not answers above. That doesn't mean I think none exist, just that my thoughts run beyond the scope of this reply. Maybe I'll expand upon them in the future.

In fact, I don't expect humans to evolve into "leavers", though I hope they do and it isn't impossible.

I question the primary utility of attempting to teach complex ideas to "the masses".

You misunderstand exactly what I'm saying, and that's the fault of my post, which only deals with the basic rationale for action, not the sort of action.

It's true that one can't predict the outcome of chaotic systems (except probabilistically, which can be very useful to one who would alter the future). But by the same token there are simple truths: if all hummingbirds die in the next hundred years, there will be no hummingbirds or evolutionary successors in 100 million.

Ironically, part of me sometimes wishes I could convince myself that any level of control is illusory, and just enjoy a life of hedonism. But in my case it's simply untrue.

The "nihilism heuristic", for lack of a better term, is in this context a "taker" meme. Our actions affect the future in finite and quantifiable ways. Acting for the earth of a million years hence is simply an alien thought, not an invalid one.


This is why I rarely make comments...I don't articulate well, but I wonder if it's because I don't want my true beliefs known. Anyway, the 'thoughts/no answers' was directed at myself and for what I was posting, not at your comments.

I suspect that I don't disagree with your beliefs; I just used my reply to you to make an additional point which probably doesn't really apply to you. The idea of a "nihilism heuristic" in the human mind, to resolve problems beyond a certain level of tractability as impossible. It's a very useful tool for a sentient mind, but perhaps it should be revisited as we learn more about chaos, complexity and emergence.

all best!

I'll also note, pertaining to your initial post, that I agree that human nature won't likely change even if we are abruptly knocked down to a smaller population (swine flu, that's your cue), but I think that such a cascade of circumstance would probably reduce the level of complexity society was able to sustain, and thus the level of impact on the planet and size of subsequent population run-ups.

It could be argued that an abrupt decline of that sort in the short term - if it happened without ancillary destruction - might be the best of all situations for both human and nonhuman populations and life quality in the next million years. But considering the future to be "real" in that sense is frowned upon in current culture.

I question the primary utility of attempting to teach complex ideas to "the masses".

I don't. I'm not a fascist, so I believe that "the masses" are not complete morons.

But considering the essay above, we have to realise that there's a difference between complex and muddled.

Hmm. Not sure I stated that "the masses" are complete morons, or that I'm in fact a fascist. I've been a teacher and have spent decades in public outreach, research, and education.

That qualifies me reasonably to note that it is unlikely, in the short time which seems to be available, that our problems will be solved by a groundswell of clear thought brought about by the sudden learning of complex and disturbing concepts by Joe average. I find it unlikely, for instance, that a large percentage of the population will be suddenly inclined to learn thermodynamics, adopt the scientific method, understand limits to growth and the exponential function, and self-critique their own beliefs resulting in profound behavioral changes. Hence the qualifier "primary utility".

If that DOES happen, I'll be so delighted I'll piss into the air and run under it until falling into a happy coma. But while waiting for that happy day, I may work on a "plan b".

Now I WILL state that "the masses" are highly delusional. What does that make me?

Now I WILL state that "the masses" are highly delusional. What does that make me?

Greenish, a realist.

No, a cynic.

Or an elitist.

As someone observed recently, whenever people describe a heirarchy in the world, by an amazing coincidence they always turn out to be at its top.

Say, that's uncalled-for. I neither described a heirarchy nor my place in it, merely noted that most humans are deluded. All that really means is that I've been paying attention.

But I'm glad you've got the problems covered. Best of luck on the universal enlightenment project; tick tock.

If you claim that most people are "delusional", by implication you're saying you're not. "Me smart, you all stoopid." That's a heirarchy. Not a very sophisticated heirarchy, it ain't exactly the Chinese Imperial civil service system, but it's a heirarchy nonetheless.

I'm glad you've got the problems covered. Best of luck on the universal enlightenment project; tick tock.

It's circular reasoning.

"Most humans are deluded, you say they're not, therefore you think that you can enlighten the world."

But if humans aren't deluded then they don't need englightenment from me or anyone else. It's as though you'd said "most humans have HIV" and I said, "no, they don't," and you replied, "I'm glad you've got it covered, good look curing everyone."

Most humans have a fairly good grasp of the issues of public concern of the day. Figuring out what to do with that knowledge is a different thing.

In this, most humans - at least in the West - feel alone. "Why should I change when nobody else will?" is the cry of a person who thinks they're on their own. And that's really what our society is about, not "taking", but an alienated society.

That's the reason for the success of religious extremists, both malicious and relatively benign - they offer community, and support or force people through the changes they think are good.

You think everyone's stupid or crazy and needs guidance from your wise self. I think most people are alright, not brilliant, not stupid, occasionally crazy but usually sane, just muddling along in their lives - and they know when change is needed, but don't know where to start, and feel alone, and that whatever their efforts things will be futile.

Alienation and learned helplessness are different things to mass stupidity or insanity. Of course, if you just think people are alienated and feel helpless then you don't get to put yourself on top of a little heirarchy. Bummer, I know. But there it is.

The modern system of education is used mostly to replicate human tools in the use of human industry. Wisdom and awareness can be achieved through the study of science, thermodynamics, ecology and so forth, often side-stepped in the educational system. Magical thinking helps fill the voids and is dogmatically promoted throughout societies for religious or political purposes. Most people do not care to move beyond the comfort of their beliefs. If the most well-endowed educational system ever has failed to eradicate the most delusional notions, then what hope do we have of meeting the "real" challenges before us.

If you claim that most people are "delusional", by implication you're saying you're not. "Me smart, you all stoopid." That's a heirarchy. Not a very sophisticated heirarchy, it ain't exactly the Chinese Imperial civil service system, but it's a heirarchy nonetheless.

These replies aren't adding to the content here, so this is the last time I'll log onto this string.

First, I am deluded. Highly deluded. I've spent a lot of time getting to know my delusions and those of my species. In my opinion, I'm less deluded than average about the salient subjects I mentioned. You are too; if you don't realize that, add one delusion to your scorecard.

You consider yourself enough of an authority to say I'm a fascist, cynic, and elitist, so I guess by your stated logic you figure I'm low down in some moral heirarchy that you rank well in. Congrats on that.

It's as though you'd said "most humans have HIV" and I said, "no, they don't," and you replied, "I'm glad you've got it covered, good look curing everyone."

Yes, that was sarcasm, not logic, sorry if it wasn't evident. I don't actually think you have anything handled.

You think everyone's stupid or crazy and needs guidance from your wise self.

On the contrary, I said I doubted the utility. You took extreme umbrage at the statement.

Alienation and learned helplessness are different things to mass stupidity or insanity. Of course, if you just think people are alienated and feel helpless then you don't get to put yourself on top of a little heirarchy. Bummer, I know. But there it is.

Only you, in this conversation, have used the words stupid or insane, along with calling me a fascist, etc.

You're a silly person with silly issues and I'm not going to respond to you anymore. Have a nice day.


if all hummingbirds die in the next hundred years, there will be no hummingbirds or evolutionary successors in 100 million.

So where did the 'humming birds' come from in the first place? Nature abhors a vacuum... maybe there will be a humming human!
[Allow me to qualify that: dinosaurs didn't die out - they evolved into birds. Extinction in evolution is normal, in fact after every 'mass extinction' life moved forward with renewed vigour and developed orders of magnitude greater levels of complexity. After this current 'extinction' who knows what wonders might evolve a few million years down the line]

It is ironic that as a system planet earth finally evolves a mechanism in the form of rockets and space craft and nukes to stop asteroids and other unwanted collisions that cause mass extinctions, only to have the species that created them cause an extinction of comparable magnitude... or was it those pesky volcanoes? Such is life on earth...


Hi Sid.

I'd say that bringing up "extinction is normal" in this context is another examply of what I coined the "nihilism heuristic" above. It's an utter non-sequitur, since mass extinctions are NOT "normal" by any reasonable definition. Whether it's a rationalization or just a philosophical choice probably varies from person to person.

You don't know how much complexity existed in the Jurassic compared with today. Things don't automatically become "better" after a destructive perturbation. Yes, that's a value judgement, but it's not unreasonable for us to consider complexity of earthlife, and health of a planetary ecosystem, to be be desirable.

The earth is getting to be old, and in fact there isn't unlimited time. More interesting things will evolve from hummingbirds, dolphins and monkeys (and the intact ecosystems which are required to support them) than would from ants, salps, and jellyfish. It was no foregone conclusion that some dinosaurs would evolve into birds, it was the luck of the draw based on the evolutionary options still possible at the time. If all the dolphins disappear, then it's a full-on certainty that nothing will evolve from them. And the point is, the options evolution will have to draw from in the coming billion years are being determined now, and will be determined to a great extent in the next 50 to 100 years by the decisions made by individual humans. The evolutionary options are being grievously reduced.

I do think that diverting asteroids may have been the only thing humans were potentially "good for" if seen from the viewpoint of any other species. However, it was just a side-effect, like an elephant being able to sniff it's own butt, it wasn't directed evolution to deal with asteroids.


Word. Are you Derrick Jensen?

Nope. But I'd just as soon retain relative anonymity in this forum for now, and in human affairs in general except where counterindicated. Your friend in FF knows me. Best.

We throw around the word "civilization" as if we all somehow understand what it means.

Civilization is life lived in large groups, in cities and towns, with divisions of labor, and laws governing how we interact with each other (civility). Money is usually involved as it is the means whereby natural things (like food) are exchanged for cultural or artificial things like art or houses or bicycles.

The author of the post seems to be an extreme "primitivist" who somehow thinks we must completely walk away from civilization, technical or not, capitalist or not, and return to some primeval situation when there was no division of labor, no exchange of values, no development, no problem-solving, just some sort of mythical Garden of Eden when we plucked food from the land, ate, slept, and played music.

This is a total fantasy world that never existed, and never will exist. And thankfully so. Who wants to go back to this "imaginary paradise" of drudgery, back-breaking work, danger, and being at the mercy of a Nature that cares not a whit if we live or die, eat or starve. Who wants to go back to a time when life was nasty, short, and brutish (to use Hobbes' apt description)? Who wants to return to a dog-eat-dog, each person for themselves, do what you will when you will time prior to all civility, to all laws, to all organization of life? Who wants to reject all the great civilizers of history and pre-history? Who wants a time before art and music and laws and a reasonable expectation of breakfast?

The whole post is the rant of a sad mind. It has no merit and no attraction. It is, of course, one of the options that we have before us, but it is an option that deserves a thumbs down, absolutely and completely.


Please consider the possibility that your notions of hunter-gatherer life have been shaped by authorities promoting a different cultural system for reasons that benefit them.

For example, studies have found that prior to the widespread dissemination of communicable diseases by 'commerce', indigenous people routinely lived to their seventies and occassionally (just like now) into their nineties. The few surviving groups now work about four hours a day, often in a sociable setting (such as sitting in a circle cracking nuts). Excavated burials find some male skeletons taller than six feet; in Classic Mayan and Medieval European societies, even the aristocracy were not that tall. The invention of agriculture quickly led to unhealthy, limited diets for the majority and a surplus that was exploited by a small ruling class of Goldman Sachs alumni (just joking about the Goldman Sachs part, that's a recent development:)

May I suggest some contrarian reading? "Against Civilization" by John Zerzan is a good start...

Errol in Miami


Yes, I've read lots of the anti-civilization stuff.

None of it is attractive. I suppose it may be because I grew up in situations more-or-less like a primitive one and I can't see any reason for wanting to go back to that. My guess is that only armchair theorists who've never lived in a primitive situation would even dream of going back there. It's no Garden of Eden.

My guess is that only armchair theorists who've never lived in a primitive situation would even dream of going back there.

Exactly. I too have seen enough of the primitive to know i prefer a significant level of civility.

Your sense of self certainty borders on pathological Dayahka. Won't be letting you into our tribe unless we plan to eat you.

To paraphrase someone whose name I can't remember: I wouldn't want to be a member of any tribe that would want me as a member.

As for eating me, you're welcome. Good, strong legs; I'd avoid the internal stuff, however.

groucho marx, i'm fairly sure :)

Have you read "Ishmael" dayahka? The biggest point is that tribalism worked for well over 100,000 years while in just 10,000 years civ has managed to destroy, oops, "harvest" the planet. Civ has taught you everything you think. Not nature. Not reality. And there is no such thing as 'pre-history', just forgotten history. Life is not about happiness or contentment, its about living.

Many years ago I read War With the Newts published in 1936 by Karel Capek. I probably saw it recommended in a population or environment article but have also seen it interpreted in other ways. Is anyone familiar with this book?
--Capek also wrote RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots) which is said to have given us the word robot.

When considering how we would like to change society I would encourage everyone to read Frans de Waal, and I would make one point: To avoid inbreeding humans (being flexible) have 2 strategies.

  • Related women form the core of the group/village and young men leave to go to other groups. This works well for knowledge based societies, such as hunter/gatherer societies.
  • Related men form the core of the village and young women move (with varying degrees of willingness) to live with strangers. This arises when there are physical assets to protect, like farms.

The former is much nicer for women and also for most men. Our gradual return to this mode is one of the things that makes modern life less brutal.

I've noticed that feminists have raised few objections to TV shows like The Farmer Wants a Wife. The need for female outcrosses in rural areas is obvious. Maybe some of those city gals can take to farming. They also become instant paper millionaires when they walk the aisle.

The case when men leave and women stay back applies to fly-in-fly-out mining, deep sea fishing and most of the military. This may decline in future. I've noticed women who remain in rural communities tend to marry second cousins and step relations. They are uneducated but resilient which may be a more desirable trait in the future.

Of course the human tendencies that I mention were defined before civilization. They work oddly in our modern world with long distance travel and phone conversation. Still I think women living near their mothers and other female relatives is common in our world and that's worth preserving and emphasizing in a relocalized world. When I get to make the laws, only women will be allowed to own land.

When I get to make the laws, only women will be allowed to own land.

I would find such lawmaking to be threathening enough to motivate a war.
People should be treated as equal individuals and not as collective
entities that has to conform or be punished by unjust laws.

The equal rights fairy hereby grants your wish: free sanitary products, midwife support, birthing facilities and breastfeeding assitance. ;)

More seriously : three factoids :

a) Many old european stories (i'd love to know more about folk tales from asia, africa, americas) have a protagonist - young male - heading off to 'seek his fortune'. The sociological implications are that the daughter stayed home and inherited the farmstead; this may have been the societal norm across all europe for millennia.

b) according to Gimbutas, Archaeology in europe shows settlements over thousands of years in river valleys and fertile plains.
There's then an abrupt shift in the record around about ~2000BC to settlements on hills, enclosed and defensive.
Some theorise that migrations from the steppes (herding peoples) were pushing-neighbors-who-pushed-neighbors all the way from the plains north of the himalayas into europe. Apparently a combination of the gradually rising plains, as the indian subcontinent pushed up mountains, and the shifting patterns of cold winters, had the effect of making the 'highest grazing valley' unusable, abrubtly and permanently, every few centuries, creating a northward/eastward/westward population pressure of mobile herders.
This could have been the cause of the building of the chinese wall (goes the theory) but europe had no such central planning (the market was providing the solution).
Gimbutas reckons a euope-wide old stone age (10,000-year-old) culture was shattered around this time, and much sophistication of e.g. pottery production was permanently lost (she also believes this ancient culture was more woman-focused).

c) an old book on africa I read recently discusses some 7 systems of delineating cousins (from a marriage-taboo perspective).
It seems that those with the more-relaxed systems evolved quite divergently into many forms, apparently because people didn't travel quite as much to search for partners, and thereby neither encountered nor carried much physical or cultural product very far - in summary : marrying cousins so not mixing the paints up much.
In contrast, those societies with the most restrictive cousin-definitions had young people wandering far and wide, finding new cultivars, animals, tools, techniques, etc, and also resulting in somewhat-more-homogenous societies over larger areas.


And I thought inbreeding disappeard with the invention of the mass produced bicycle. ;-)

The proposed pure strategies seems to be connected to clane based societies. One very intresting cultural invention is to not base the various power structurs on clans. This gives more room for individual achivements and variations in behaviours such as not having to follow a rigid pattern due to ones sex. This gives a more dynamic and adaptive society where it also is possible to mix behavioural strategies.

How WOULD we just walk away from the existing social and built infrastructure? Is it desirable? Is it possible?

Fortunately, life is self organising, as the social and built infrastructure collapses we will be FORCED to move in new directions. I bet that word FORCED really annoys a few fire demons out there, implying situations over which they have absolutely no choice or control, reminiscent of modern democracy.

In the shorter term, one needs to just keep minimising ones use of such infrastructure, eg, I should go and see the doctor for some pills but I'll put it off and suffer a little just to not use that part of the infrastructure, don't go to big mall supermarkets ever these days because that involves using a car and the associated infrastructure, ride a pushbike to the local food market. Yes, I know that trucks deliver the food to the local market but I withdraw my support in the few little ways i can manage, and as more people do so the system will automatically change to reflect the new "consumer behaviour profile".

Eating "End of Days Style" as my wife calls not going to the shops and scrounging in the garden for a "square meal" is another good way to cut down dependance on infrastructure. Vote with your feet - walk away from the system at every opportunity, the gradual method of drug withdrawal, baby steps and death therapy.

The implied massive dieoff from infrastructure collapse may have already begun with H1N1 Flu in Mexico, is it a coincidince that a state on the edge of collapse manifests a potential pandemic. No, Life is just organising itself. Where did I see the number, 1 degree Celcius rise in global temperature equals 15% drop in food production?, store water and plan for emaciation now.

Where does current trend extrapolation take us in 10 years, getting out from our protective closet of denial. Total global systemic collapse before 2020 is my guess.

"Humanity belongs to the Earth", is 100% self-evident outside of the deluded egomaniacal world of modern man, bet that annoys a few fire demons as they try to justify their non-axiom "The Earth belongs to Humanity".

The Earth may have even evolved Humanity to actually put all that carbon "back into solution in the air and water" as a means of resetting it's carbon cycle, now we've performed our planetary organic function we will probably dissapear.

Or do we still favour the "We will make it to the stars and populate the universe" daydream: God help the Universe.

I enjoyed the stark binary nature of the terms "Takers" and "Leavers", could almost make a new religion from them. Being a long time hobby student of comparitive religion I've just realised, with some amusement, that I have no idea what animism actually is, so that will be something to brush up on.

Gail posted "The Sermon on the Mount" about a month ago, for me that had a large bearing on "Takers" and "Leavers" thinking. It says a lot about our lack of faith does it not.

Time to start walking, starting new freindships with folks of the "sustainable" orientation would be a good next step for me, now that my garden is complete. Being retired and reclusive is getting boring anyway.

EXTRAPOLATE is the only advice I could offer. Play the PC game Fallout 3 if your mathematics is a bit dodgy.

I only wrote all this bull to let you know you are appreciated and that I am still reading TOD. Hope I have annoyed a few fire demons, any day that a fire demon is annoyed is a good day in my reckoning, so the rest of my life should be full of sunshine, until H1N1 gets as far as Australia.

Probably a good time to get away from population centers.

Off my list:
Movies,shopping malls,church,restaurants,large gatherings.big stores.

Stay on the farm. Eat my own stuff,play my banjo, ferment my own wine,and start drinking chicory, at least until this runs its course.

No closer than 10 feet to anybody. Romantic entanglements are out.

I can do that.


Chuck writes:

Hierarchies have strong defenses for attacks from below. However, they have no defense from abandonment...We must develop a high enough level of group self reliance that will allow us to walk away.

This is wishful thinking. The mainstream culture has numerous defenses from abandonment, the most important being the taxation system. Why should we (I'm speaking as a representative of the mainstream) let you opt out of supporting the govt. when the rest of us have to? Everyone has unshirkable duties to the state, and that goes way back in time, long before fossil fuels appeared on the scene.

Tribalism is a failed form of social organization because it is militarily weak. The history of the US is a good case study, and there are thousands of other examples just like it going back to the Sumerians.

Sustainable "rhizome" societies are essentially groups of self-selected serfs, ripe pickings for taxation and threats by violence specialists from the "Taker" community.

The "Takers" destroyed and replaced the "Leavers" for very solid practical reasons, all of which are being glossed over here.


Any new solution has to be superior to the agricultural "taker" solution and it has to be superior at violence too, or it will get culled.

We can't go back, people. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle already failed. If agriculture is failing, then the only way is forward, not backwards. What would a new solution look like? Beats the hell out of me, but it won't be hunter-gatherers tanning buckskin around a campfire while eating wild berries.

I never took you for a Cornucopian. Go forward? To what pray tell?

So you don't know what a new solution would look like?

I eschew the hunter/gatherer for all the wildlife we would harvest is far far gone...way gone. Yes some large herds of deer exist for they trample thru my woods daily. They live off our Big Ag mostly. The scavengers exist. Some eating suburban pets. They have been crowded into little corners of woodlands filled with creeks running with sewage and scum. Others you will find rotting on the roadsides.

No I can raise hogs, I can raise OP corn and such. Don't need a campfire but I will and do burn wood.

Lest you forget this part of the world just experienced a massive ice storm that left me and others in winter without power for a month or longer. I changed almost nothing during that time. I cooked with wood and heated a bit with wood. I did have to tote a bit of water but I could have gotten it out of a pure spring near here as easily or easier.

I raise berries. Fruit too.

What does GreyZone do but holler about '''Beats the hell out of me.'''

So on the checkbox next to:
Has Plans...no checkmark..

When did the hunter/gatherer lifestyle fade and for what reasons if I may ask?

Was it the aborigines in Australia being pushed out of the coasts into the wastelands? Was it the Native Americans being forced out of their homelands?


Clearly you see a problem. You see no solution.
Then you will die off without a solution as I see it. Or are you waiting for that new paradigm they are busy cooking up in DC?

Airdale-I think some can go back, but surely not Greyzone. Those who go back may just have to tan buckskin. But some will survive. Those who plan. Those who do NOT give up.

Those that go back might be better at tanning long pork rather than buckskin.

JD above states:

"Tribalism is a failed form of social organization because it is militarily weak. The history of the US is a good case study, and there are thousands of other examples just like it going back to the Sumerians."

As to the US as an example?

The longest war fought by the USA was the Indian War/s. They lasted for 165 years. The foe was Native Americans.

Many military historians will state that the best light calvary they ever faced was the Comanche.

We eventually won only by force of huge numbers and advancing weapons. We also lied , cheated and stole and made treaties we paid no attention to.

So the Native American were tribes. Some of the most fierce warriors and best were the Shawnees. The Cherokees in fact fought with General Jackson and saved his ass. Yet when gold was discovered in their tribal lands then all of them were gathered up by force of arms and placed on a march that to this day has to define the American politicians and their ilk as the worst sort of human possible. Jackson was president and then ordered their movement to Oklahoma and opened their lands to settlement by whites.

Its a dark era in the history of the USA and should be remembered but sadly is not. Except for a few monuments in Hopkinsville ,Ky and a State Park near Cape Girardeau , Illinois.

So your statement that tribalism was weak is not correct based on the facts of history. Yes we did subdue them ..but remember it took 165 years. And did so by the most corrupt of means.

Its my observation that instead of real history being taught in our schools we are far too concerned with nonsense and such trash. Rewriting history as they go and deleting what they wish. My daughter has a degree in Instructional Technology(Masters). I have visited the schools where she teaches or taught. Its a laugh. Its sick. Its beyond repair.


165 years? Peanuts. Takers needed A LOT OF time to subjugate leavers in the old world - thousands of years at least - and you are saying 165 years is too long? Hmm... And there were never any reasons to believe native tribes can triumph - it was only question of time. Sure: lives were at stake. A lot of lives. But the outcome of war? Never. Note: the very fact that these "most corrupt of means" worked shows achiless hell of leavers - they don't act as a single whole.

And what other nation US were able to mostly eradicate? Sure, they beat Japan and German (great achievment), they demolished Iraq (not a big deal - they can not contain it), but to eradice (and thoroughly compartionalize remains of) huge nations... this takes time.

Very good points, Airdale.

If the native americans had more common language and had organized to combat the genocidal europeans, then things may have ended differently. Eventually however the "taker" mentality would have one out even if the natives won militarily. Its almost like a plague. But one-on-one natives were physically and environmentally superior to the european "colonists". They simply suffered a deficiency in technology, communication, transportation, industry and reinforcement. Albeit their hunting and tracking abilities could qualify as technology. Pioneers of guerilla warfare.

Sadly much of that know-how is lost. I would give a lot for someone to teach me those skills and way of life.. Books are insufficient.

"They don't got to burn the books - they just remove em"

People are in for such a shock. I wonder sometimes if I should feel pity or appreciate the forthcoming justice.

Has there ever been a stable society on this planet? One that didn't consume all it's resources and go raid next door when they ran out? I hear the Inuit were fairly peaceable; too many other things trying to kill you off to bother the neighbours. Of course they had a little cannibalism too, but only if there was nothing else in the fridge. How do we build something like that - that doesn't involve igloos?


I think you make a good point. A book I read recently, 'Guns germs and steel' by Jared Diamond, provides an excellent overview of how cultures evolved differently according to natural resources. How hunter-gatherer societies became agrarian as a consequence of natural crop types and availability of domesticable animals. And how all types of society, whether H-G, agrarian or industrial are prone to oscillations in population and have the potential for collapse if resource extraction is taken too far. Another of his books, 'Collapse' is on my reading list.

What we face today is maybe nothing more than an extreme oscillation, or collapse, in human population bought about by globalisation and consumption on the back of non-renewable FF's. Odum gives the best pictoral description I have seen for this when he describes (described) the huge, but temporary, extra input FF's have made to our ability to access enrgy (Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century).

It seems unlikely to me that the overall human population would collapse from either a H-G or agrarian position. Local oscillations and collapses, yes, but smoothed into maybe only a gentle variation taking the global population in total. Accessing non-renewable energy sources on a planetary scale changes that into the potential for global collapse.

The only long-term solution is to learn to live, in whatever society/culture is possible, without non-renewable energy sources. And it's questionable whether 7 billion people would be able to achieve that goal even if the collective will were there. Sadly, taking humanity as a whole and despite small pockets of resistence, we are still in the business of increasing our consumption of non-renewables.


Like to make a point, especially for all those that think that people living in Alaska and northern Canada all live in igloos.

From wikipedia

An igloo, translated sometimes as snowhouse, is the Inuit word for house or habitation, and is not restricted exclusively to snowhouses (in fact they are extremely rare, if not non-existent at the moment) but includes traditional tents, sod houses, homes constructed of driftwood and modern buildings.

Inuit, like all other tribal people, used whatever was available to construct housing and personal belongings. This includes wood and sod just like early european colonists. Cannibalism and infanticide rarely occured and only if conditions warranted it. Suicide was common, because they realized ethically that once they were no longer useful and just a drain, then they should "go hunting" (in the middle of winter).

All tribes faced the possibility of raiding tribal gangs but such tribes were rare also. Warfare between neighbouring tribes were usually brief skirmishes. Tribal warfare is a major gamble because every member is essential. Casualties are usually small in number and if one tribe did eradicate another then the surviving members (women, children, and elderly) would become part of the victorious tribe.

Hollywood effectively convinced most people that natives were simply "savages" The old westerns were obviously the worst. "Dances with wolves" was good but still it's fiction and focuses largely on conflict. Would people really want to watch a movie or read a novel about the peaceful existence of tribal life?


I would like to suggest Allan Eckarts very well researched historical novels.

The whole history of the colonization all the way to the opening of the west.

Very good literature. Very good.

Tecumseh was a favorite of his. "That Dark and Bloody River" is excellent. Very close to home for me.

Yet I live in the lands that were occupied unlike most of Ky which was not. The Choctaws and Chicksaws land. Who gave it up willingly to be purchased by Jackson who got it cheap after they decided on their own to move west of the Mississippi.

We call this area then 'The Purchase Area' and those east of us in the rest of Ky act like we do not exist. Yet we have the best water and soil, and rolling hills of beauty. They got the central area and the Smokies. We didn't steal ours either. Kentucky is different in that regard to the other areas where the battles were fought over the actual lands the Native American tribes lived on. Primarily the Shawnee. As well as the Cherokee. Others too but those are the big ones.

Airdale-part Cherokee and proud to be so

It all seems rather pointlessly abstract. Suppose I agree with everything in the essay. What should I now do? "Look for new structures -" No, what should I do?

See, with my ideas, I can tell you what to do. Reduce, reuse, recycle; or if you want something longer, try the nine-point list in the one tonne CO2e lifestyle. If you want more detail and numbers, you can become an apprentice housekeeper, with a five year plan to achieve it.

Perhaps Chuck Burr will tell me this is all futile. And that may be so, but it may not. But simply sitting around thinking abstract thoughts about 10,000 years of human history, and giving new meanings to old words like "culture" is definitely futile. I'll take possible failure over definite failure any day of the week.

Anything we do on an individual level is utterly futile unless somehow pointing the way can eventually create some sort of viral change in large masses of other individuals' behavior. Think of all the cultures that seem utterly unaware of our predicament as evidenced by fertility rates approaching 7 or mass, carbon intensive consumption like we have in the industrialized world. Even the vast majority of those aware of what is happening and what will probably happen either don't care about future beings or have reached the conclusion that all action is futile.

But we can refuse to part of the madness or at least reduce our contribution to the madness. But perhaps all we are left with is our sense of self righteousness.

In any event, our current political system is incapable of moving us in the right direction in the time required.

"Anything we do on an individual level is utterly futile unless somehow pointing the way can eventually create some sort of viral change in large masses of other individuals' behavior."

There is buried somewhere an old quote...something about the strong and the cowards and the weak.

If you don't do it individually then just WHO is 'somehow pointing the way'?

Our tax dollars at work,pointing the way. Yeah.

So dies the ideal of the rugged American. The individualist.
Now replaced by the whiner. The ones with the hands outstretched. Buried with the elbow still bent outwards with an open upraised palm.

But your right about the political system being incapable. It feeds on it own kill. You gotta get yours or they will take it as well.

Well one can trade epithets forever. Or one can go do something and forget about the rest. The rest will be still sipping highly flavored very expensive coffee-based drinks until the last Starbucks turns to rubbish.

Anything we do on an individual level is utterly futile unless somehow pointing the way can eventually create some sort of viral change in large masses of other individuals' behavior.

Yes and no.

First up, some things are just the right thing to do. I'm faithful to my woman, I refrain from lying and theft and assault, but I don't expect that as a result the world will become faithful, truthful, respecting of private property and gentle. It's just the right thing to do however many other people do it or not.

Likewise, not being wasteful, aiming for a life of frugal comfort which could be had by everyone on Earth in this generation and the next, that's the right thing to do, too.

Secondly, it's long been said that actions speak louder than words. Example has a great power, the power to make the radical seem ordinary. Bob and his boyfriend, Jenny Whitebread and her dark-skinned boyfriend, the Texan wind turbines - all these things seemed unthinkable just a generation or two ago. But someone had the balls to step on up and be the first. And when they did it, after everything finished gasping in surprise and horror they... well, they just got used to it.

That happens with lots of things, so I think it can happen with a lower-consumption, lower-waste, more equitable lifestyle, too. By just going ahead and living it I help the radical seem ordinary.

In any event, our current political system is incapable of moving us in the right direction in the time required.

No system ever supports change which would undermine it. We just go ahead and do what we think is right, and our elected leaders will follow along eventually.

Permaculture and transition towns are I think the best tools we have in stepping away from the abyss. That it does not magically and swiftly recreate the world of 10,000 years ago should not be used as an argument against them. While some eco-martyrs exist dreaming of die-off for the greater good, most sane people are concerned with their own survival first, and the long-term destiny of humanity second.

If someome has any better ideas that don't just come out sounding like an endorsement for die-off, I'd love to hear it. The time for "innovation" as Quinn puts it, has become quite short.

Quite so. While Quinn says we should return to the population levels and culture of 10,000 years ago, he offers no insight in how to do this, besides depaving. That the population is 1000 times too large is conveniently swept under the rug. While humanity may indeed return to that level (or lower) someday, how do we convince our leaders to begin the dieoff necessary to reach such a goal? Even a one child policy around the world would take several hundred years to achieve this.

So we must embark on a realistic mission to balance our taking with our leaving. The Transition Towns movement represents one of the best approaches to mitigating the resource decline shock we are about to experience with petroleum, fresh water, etc. They even have a 12 Step Program...

I think Quinn recognizes population. I seem to remember him saying that as long as there's more food there will be more people. So let's not produce more food and see what happens.

Errata: I was attempting to refer to Chuck Burr's lack of suggestions on how to achieve the optimum population level. Apologies to Quinn.

While some eco-martyrs exist dreaming of die-off for the greater good

Most dream of someone else dying for the greater good.

If you want to die for the greater good, you're a martyr. If you want someone else to die for the greater good, well that's genocidal fascism.

No thanks.

How could you not mention Prof. James Lovelock?
Gaia R us.
I am a walking colony. I am Gaia's brain and eyes. I am in the making.
I am an incomplete work.
A pity about the rest of you. Gaia's survival has a price.

I like the attempt to 'dig deeper' and try to answer questions about the very fundament of our social construct. Unfortunately I do not know enough about the Leavers to even try to participate in the discussion. Luckily there seem to be a few left:

Today, all but one or two million Leavers, versus of 6.8 billion Takers, are left alive or are not yet assimilated.

Who and where are these 1 or 2 million Leavers? (the San in Southern Africa? the Tuareg in Northern Africa (who are also matrilocal as the Minangkabau of Sumatra?) Are they as bloodthirsty and miserable as described in some of the discussion? how could we learn from them today? rolf_w

Ah, the old "neo-primitivist", "green anarchist" position is now stated so clearly and openly on the TOD boards.

I am glad. For awhile, it was disguised. If someone pointed out the ever stronger influence of the "neo-primitivist" philosophy on the Peak Oil movement, they were accused of being hysterical..."no, we have never said anything like that...." but as the modern techno culture refuses to break under the strain and instead continues to spread like a virus into every niche of humanity, the neo-primitivists are getting bolder, seeking anyone who will listen to them preach their message and infiltrating groups, the discussion boards and the media wherever possible.

This is the right of the neo-primitivists, but it goes without saying that they destroy the usefulness and credibility of any group they overtake, because they end all discussion of issues that concern any human born after some 4000BC plus. The above discussion is a great indication of this: If someone questions whether life was so great in the hunter gatherer societies, they can be instantly dismissed as having been educated by non-hunter gatherer societies!! Of course 99.8% of the human population was taught by post agricultural societies!! Thus, end of debate! Let's say it the way the author of the essay under discussion does:

"Here comes the important part of the essay: discussing anything else today except walking away from our culture is pointless."

And here we are, debating the undebatable! The discussion is over! We won (according to us!) you lost, take your ball and go home!

So I will not waste my time arguing with those who live in a world of faith in primitivist utopia (they are not new in the world by the way, this debate has gone on in the corners of the world for some 4000 years), but instead turn to a little detail that fascinates me:
Music. The author says,
"I am beginning to think we are going to have to start depaving, give up our iPods, and start making music for ourselves."

Thus, music seems to be about the only form of recreational activitiy allowed in this new "tribal" culture. But what kind of music will be allowed?

Remember that music can be a very dangerous thing. It starts out as a charming, comforting little chant or drumbeat, but before long ideas begin to creep in. Remembr Peter, Paul and Mary? Remember the crucial role that music played in the social revolution of the 1960's? But how can you control what ideas are allowed to creep into the music? Suppose that music begins to ask the same questions they did the first time around...questions about who is in power, why we cannot do better, live better, reach for the stars?

And if music is allowed, what about other arts? Painting, sculpture, heaven forbid, writing? Credit must be given to the great pioneer of the "back to nature", "noble savage" idea Jean Jacques Rousseau for understanding that the real danger was in the arts. The Soviet Union likewise understood the danger of writers, poets, artists and composers of music and attempted (without success) to control the arts. But what hope would a primitive tribe, deprived of the tools the artists can use (image, propaganda, variety and entertainment, an intuitive understanding of human psychology and an unstoppable creative impulse) of controlling the arts?

No, it cannot be allowed. If humans are to remain truly "primitive", they cannot be allowed to commit art. Music would have to be banned without exception, as would all other artistic activity. If not, the element of human power, will to power, liberty and achievement would creep back into the culture, and would spread by way of what seemed to be playful tunes and amusing pictures throughout the culture. A culture with arts to ask, to seek, to explore new possibilities could not long remain primitive.

The only way to contain the human impulse to change human destiny, to perfect the world, to CREATE is to stop all arts, all creative activity. To, in other words, create a non-human human.
"We had to destroy the village to save it." said the general in the Vietnam War. Thus, we must destroy humanity to save it.


Its destroying itself.


'stated so clearly and openly'?
this is a Campfire guest post that reminded me of Daniel Quinn. Interesting perspective and one worth discussing. Period. Roger you should know by now there is not one view or even one spectrum of views here.

I have asked 9 times for people to submit their own guest posts for this slot - please contribute such an essay counter to the 'neo-primitivist' and 'green-anarchist' and I'll front it next Saturday..

Maybe it would be good to add a disclaimer. Because to the external reader, it does look like it is “stated so clearly and openly”

Have I really thought deeply about what how I feel about the "primitive" vs. the "modern" culture?

When I was about 12 years old, I was a boy scout. My troop and I once went on a 4 day camping trip.

Our scoutmaster was a very perceptive guy, an intuitive teacher. After about two days in the woods with what gear and tents we had, he asked the troop "Are you guys having a good time?" We all agreed we were.

He then asked us to imagine something: "Imagine this is it." He said. "Imagine that all you will have for the rest of your life is what you have with you and what these woods can provide. Do you think you would like it, do you think you could do it?"

It was an astounding concept for a group of 11 and 12 year old boys to try to deal with. After some discussion, we agreed that some of the guys could indeed make it. Soon enough we all agreed it would be a horrific fate compared to the life we knew back in a small southern town (a not so wealthy town at that)

In the woods, there was some animals and plants that could be killed and eaten, some fish in the streams. But, no cows, so no beef. Maybe some wild boars, so maybe something like pork. No refined foods, no ice cream, no cheesecake? No movies again EVER, no automobiles, no motorcycles, no music except what we could make, and it could not be recorded, no books or paper unless we found a way to make it...no wine or beer unless we could find a way to ferment it, which would require the birth of some type of small scale industry.

It is said that Einstien was once asked what the horrors of a nuclear war would entail: He thought for a few moments and said "Alas, we won't be listening to Beethoven anymore." I would add, or Miles Davis, or Janis Joplin or Janis Ian or Crosby, Stills and Nash or Patty Griffin. We would see no more of Picasso or Henry Moore or Mark Rothko.

This discussion is about SO MUCH MORE than the gadgets. Nations have sent millions to fight and die for less. Far less.


The funny thing is that not only do we not want to be hunter gatherers, the vast majority of us won't be satisfied even with a life of leisure with a far higher standard of living than the global average. Anyone that could scrape together $200000 US has enough to live out their days in many pleasant tropical locales (or anyone with a small pension cheque). Very few men want that life, and even fewer women.

The interesting thing is that if you were born into a "primitive" society, you would not know about ice cream, cheese cake, or movies. You wouldn't miss any of that. I've never had 70 virgin wives or a Ferrari and I don't miss those things. I doubt they would make me content and I presume it would add to my stress. Yes, I've had the strange experience of desiring a soda after a few days of camping and I don't normally drink soda. Actually a soft bed I start missing the most. But its because I know those comforts. Many children living in poor countries have never worn shoes and are content barefoot.

Also a good read, Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel.
Since Nate is probably right in that we do *ALL* have the same culture, and it seems to be on a path to destroy our ecosystems it becomes essential to create a new paradigm.

However all past cultures have evolved without any planning, we are now faced with a situation where we can not wait for a new one to evolve if most of us are to survive. The question is can humanity design a completely new culture and civilization?

I agree that a great cultural change may be required, and that our relation with earth and ourselves is wrong. But we cannot simply get back to tribalism, not now... In order to go back to tribalism you require a very small population, using the resources of a large area.
With approximately 6,740,000,000 humans in a planet dry surface of 150,000,000 km2, you get 0.022255193 km2 per human. And this is considering deserts and barren places, the good land is 30% of this: it is impossible to "get back to tribalism".

Obviously the present system/culture cannot continue, it is not only resources but for biological reasons. Evolution dictates that any ecosystem is populated, and if no species exists to populate it, then one is developed. Consider now the biggest homogeneous and non-isolated ecosystem existing on earth for microbes: humanity.

Consider now the biggest homogeneous and non-isolated ecosystem existing on earth for microbes: humanity.

Interesting that even as we are discussing these issues the entire world is supposedly getting emergency preparations in place to face a potential global swine flu epidemic. Yes we are indeed living in interesting times (as in the Chines curse)

To me it feels as if we are but one or two black swans away from making any discussion about paradigm change completely moot.

Ok,,,I get it.

This is a Key Post that says essentially "TAKE NO PRISONERS"!

Meaning starting over , in some whatever way, and doing it right.

I would submit that in the past of this country ,the USA, there was a time and it lasted for quite a while , when things seemed to be DONE RIGHT.

I make a rather lengthy comment some weeks back and included some material I paraphrased from a book/s I read about this subject, as to how we(at least some of us) once lived.

The material I spoke of was pretty much the essence of what the Fox Fire series of books from around the 70s and perhaps some of the 80s.

It was started by a teacher named Wigginton in Georgia, IIRC, and entailed his students visiting the 'oldtimers' in that region who had not as yet passed away and gathering their very valuable information on how they once living in those older days and time.

This was information that was rapidly being lost. It covered several southern states most of which,but not all , were in the Appalachian Mts areas.

They were small communities which prospered and lived mostly sustainably for a long time and rather independently due to the lack of roads and highways and being passed over by the main culture and changes of capitalism and whatever was morphing into what we became later.

What did happen to change them was explained by one word. Capitalism.

The movements of the TAKERS. They took the land, they took the children, they took the resources, they took their culture away, they took their means and methods of living in a very beautiful environment and they began a process of destruction but CALLED it 'progress'.

LBJs program leaps to my mine. He visited there and seen a big political opportunity to shed money on them and gain political bullshit advantages. He made them wards of the state handout systems.
They were called 'happy pappys'. Once proud self-reliant folk and now turned into beggars for the federal handouts.

So if you want or wish to see how folks in this country conquered the wilderness and set up small functioning communities that were by and large self-sufficient then start reading the books of the Fox Fire Series.

They are still mostly in print and can be obtained usually on Amazon.

You will go back to the past before this huge movement of destruction and decay , named progress, started its engines of fate.

They are still roaring thru those mountains as I type. Still cutting the tops off mountains just to keep the Cappuccino cups full for the Yuppies and other of the worst ilk this country has ever produced.

Look at the faces of your ancestors in the book's photos and see the lines of hard work and a good life. They had little in the way of trinkets yet they lived and now are all dead. They tell us clearly how it once worked. They show us by written examples how. There are at least 12 books in the series. Its now part of the past but the work is still in existence.

It can work again. Not for everyone but for many. For those who desire it. Not those who just dream it. For those who have the desire to once more live with and close to nature. Not destroy it.

The author of this Key Campfire post has 'got' it,if I am reading it correctly. We have to do something then and just what is it? I suggest what we once had and lost. It can work on the plains of the prairies as well as in the Rocky Mts or the Smokies or even where I sit on my small patch of ground in Kentucky . A place I call home and try to hallow with my sweat equity.

Thanks for the article,

Whatever the unstated primitivist "it" might be, it might work for maybe as many as 1% of the current population. Not likely to happen peacefully. If it happened non-peacefully, then even the 1% might not survive the war - civil wars seem to be the nastiest kind - or they might not be able to live off the scorched earth left behind. No, whatever happens, it's going into some future, not into the past.

I love your posts Nate... but I really don't like Quinn.. sorry...

Now I have to admit that I have not read his books... but I have attended our local "leavers" meeting and I have heard presentations on Quinns ideas.. multiple times.

My main complaint is that Quinn and followers seem to have idealized "leavers" to the point of compromising reality.

Your comment about war for example... Takers invented war? Come on... Foraging / hunter gatherer peoples have both inner and inter tribal warfare. If its not about food, or territory then its about women. Plenty of animals have wars, think of primates or even insects.

Another Quinn fallacy I hear quite often is related to marriage. Usually it goes something like.. "leavers were polygamous, it was the takers that invented marriage". This can be demonstrated to be false with minimal effort.

The Quinn followers I know have the same thinking patterns as fundamentalist Christians... they just have a different bible.

I think of Jared Diamond as an excellent alternative to Quinn. Diamond's ideas / opinions seem to be based on research... Quinns ideas... not sure... I tend to think he pulled alot of them out of his ass.

I think the author's intent was 'large scale war', but your points are noted - I think Diamond is not accessible to average reader, which I was when I read Quinn, so many years ago.

Speaking of Diamond, this is a brilliant Lecture if you have the time.

I think Diamond is not accessible to average reader,

You're not serious are you?! Methinks perchance our definitions of "average reader" doth differ. Or dost thou place so low the bar as to make it nigh impossible to pass beneath it?

Get yourself a limbo girl
Give that chick a limbo whirl
There's a limbo moon above
You will fall in limbo love
Jack be limbo, Jack be quick
Jack go unda limbo stick
All around the limbo clock
Hey, let's do the limbo rock

Don't move that limbo bar
You'll be a limbo star
How low can you go

Chubby Checker
Limbo Rock

Trust me, as I gyrate to the limbo beat my back is scraping the ground.
Cheers :-)


while i dont know quinn's work in particular, I am on nodding terms with the genre.
I'm replying to your comment about prevalent polygamy that

This can be demonstrated to be false

I've seen this come up in feminist writings, telling of the instigation of monogamy by the church in europe to secure patrilinear succession; and certainly anthropological studies abound of societies and cultures unlike our own (western) where gender roles and norms are quite different to what we see on TV.

There's also an extremely interesting branch of human genetic research into the evolutionary pressures that must have been present to produce the present modern human sexual anatomy and highly complex and sophisticated biochemistry. In short, humans have evolved of evolutionarily significant timescales (tens of thousands of years) to reproduce in a very definately non-monogamous manner ; although this tells us nothing of the politics or sociology of past ages, it obliges us to wonder about the extent of variation in cultures of past times.

The only thing I can be completely sure of from all this is that there's no final authoritative answer as to what constitutes a natural condition of the human animal.
We are hard-wired for maximum flexibilty, can and have adapted to the most extraordinarily diverse environments, for hundreds of thousands of years, are sociable, comminicative, cooperative, sexual, agressive, and are evolved to digest cooked meat and make fire.
This we know.
Those hundreds of thousands of years of human existence are stuffed to bursting with all and any shape and form of existence imaginable or unimaginable.
Very little indeed can be "demonstrated to be false".

...and are evolved to digest cooked meat...

Out of curiosity, what evidence supports that we are adapted to digesting cooked meat as opposed to raw meat?

And for the nay-sayer vegetarians, I know there is plenty of evidence that we have evolved to being omnivorous with some genetic sub-types more toward carnivorous. Non-agrarian natives as strongest examples for that.

Out of curiosity, what evidence supports that we are adapted to digesting cooked meat as opposed to raw meat?

Our tooth structure, and relatively small gut length in relation to body size, compared to other omnivorous mammals?

What if that iss because of the social aspect. Tribal humans live in groups between 15 and 100 whereas many hunting species live solitary or in much smaller groups. more meat sharing.

When it comes to marriage, the idea that two people married for life is definitely a core principle of the judeo-christian-islamic "taker" mentality. Many societies regarded marriage as a informal partnership. That means it was flexible. Polygamy or sex outside marriage was common. Remember that we are animals and of course that means we have instincts which will always be an integral part of thoughts and actions. Those emotional causing instincts are different for everyone and I'm sure genetics play a part of that too. Every tribe was/is dynamic, with different societal structures and roles. Never black and white.

It may be true that many of Quinns followers have the same thinking patterns as arrogant, self-rightous christians. But that holds true with many of liberals, greenies, and hippies. Only a very small percentage (> 5 %) are independently open minded, rational sceptics.

i am excited
cause i dont know the future. I think its too esay to say civilization is bad or good nor the future after peak oil will end in a collapse of our society or there is no such a thing like peak oil. Niall Ferguson " There is no future. There are only futeres." It is to linear to say after peak oil the civilication will collapse or at this rate of growth china will become economically more powerful than the USA in may be 2030. Yes one of this events may will happen on the point of view who made this conclusion. But i think to say such conclusions its arrogent cause u conclude it by finite datas u have collected. So u say such a conclusion and i say u sell me your opinion, because it isnt reasonable, yes its because u get a advantage of it when i believe your opinion, material or immaterial. So we got here why we were able so manage it so get so much energy per unit that we could built up this civilization. And i guess we need a minimum level on energy per unit so kepp the system running. In my conlusion when we are stupid enough not to manage it, The system planet will get rid of the most of us, so fast u cant imagine it. I am curious which future it will be.

Reading "Ishmael" was a turning point in my life. I took away an understanding of the shift in attitude toward the earth that occurred with the advent of agriculture. From "I belong to the Earth" to "The Earth (this plot of land) belongs to ME". This view is at the root of our cultural crisis.

Along similar lines, I would highly recommend American Mania: When More Is Not Enough" by Peter C. Whybrow, M.D. Written in 2005, the book analyzes the neuological and behavioral underpinnings of American overconsumption.

Peter was originally on my thesis committee - but LA-VT proved non-doable. He is big proponent of lateral thinking..

Another book taking a similar approach on a related topic (political culture if you will) is "The Political Brain" by Drew Westen. This book is an invaluable guide based on the latest neurological research as to how the mind processes information. Anyone interested in politics needs to study this book!

The late Vance Packard was one of my favorite writers during the 60's. He was not popular with the advertising industry.

Incomplete list of his booke copied from Wiki:
1957 The Hidden Persuaders - on the advertising industry - the first of a popular series of books on sociology topics (ISBN 0-671-53149-2)
1959 The Status Seekers - describing American social stratification and behavior
1960 The Waste Makers - criticizes planned obsolescence describing the impact of American productivity, especially on the national character
1962 The Pyramid Climbers - describes the changing impact of American enterprise on managers, the structured lives of corporate executives and the conformity they need to advance in the hierarchy
1964 The Naked Society - on the threats to privacy posed by new technologies such as computerized filing, modern surveillance techniques and methods for influencing human behavior
1968 The Sexual Wilderness - on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and changes in male-female relationships
1972 A Nation of Strangers - about the attrition of communal structure through frequent geographical transfers of corporate executives
1977 The People Shapers - on the use of psychological & biological testing and experimentation to manipulate human behavior
1983 Our Endangered Children - discusses growing up in a changing world, warning that American preoccupation with money, power, status, and sex, ignored the needs of future generations
1989 Ultra Rich: How Much I

From a biological perspective, the invention, or rather slow development, of a particular human activity, namely cooking, is what changed everything - life, the soil, now the climate- on earth, and forever.

When discussing what sets Man apart from other living organisms it is traditional to invoke language - communication and information transmission skills. We now know however that many animals possess ‘rudimentary’ symbolic skills, and that we are dealing with shades, degrees, types, rather than a clear-cut distinction (great apes, dolphins, elephants, etc.) and that other kinds of communication exist (e.g. through chemical trances, I mean traces, that was a real typo.)

We are the only animals that break down, transform, recombine, alter, food stuff and nutrients from the environment, outside of our bodies, with tools that are bodily extensions, and by harnessing energy other than sunlight. - Can’t think of one counter example.

These procedures have permitted us to become Mega-Omnivores, eating a huge number of things calorific.

- Certainly, poisonous mushrooms are not worth de-toxifying, Westerners don’t enjoy chewing on insects, we recycle grass which we can’t digest through animals, and can’t drink oil, make canapés out of lignite, or chomp on maple trunks.

One result: soon we will be 7 billion. Others: desertification, soil erosion and changes, extinction of multiple species, changes in others (dogs, corn) etc.

My knowledge of the ancient history of cooking is quasi non-existent, I mean to change that.

Aurignacians in France (Paleolithic) went beyond roasting spitted meat and invented steaming. Neolithic pottery spurred cooking techniques. Or arose because the local chefs wanted super pots, who knows. Grand historical leap: agriculture and sedentary life led to more storing, transformation, processing of food. Thereby stimulating trade...

I bring up this aspect as it is neglected, and the focus is always on agriculture, the tools, seeds, water / soil management, domestication of work / food animals, yields, as well as social organization that supported the expansion. If one thinks about it, none of that could have taken place without pre-existing knowledge or at least strongly supported ideas about the transformation of raw materials to efficient, healthy, tasty, socially accepted, food on the platter, in the hand, in the pocket.

Cooking used to be, and still is in many ways, small technology, as it traditionally carried out right at the bottom - a tribe of 15, a communal kitchen of 50, a family of 4...

To conclude, we are Takers but Transformers first. Cooking (plus associated techniques, like drying)


Agriculture was not invented to lock up the food source or to deliberately create a "taker" culture. Agriculture was a response to the first population crisis, where hunter-gatherer hominids became too efficient at what they did. Population swelled (though minuscule by today's standards) and the available surface area was not capable of feeding all the humans present. Agriculture was a crisis solution to a crisis problem. More to the point, WE CANNOT GO BACK!

Anyone who thinks we can benignly return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is... well, let's just say such people are completely delusional. That's as polite as I can get for such thinking. There are only two ways out of the current box - extinction or discover a new paradigm. None of the old paradigms are going to work. This is why it is vital that nation states collapse - it opens the way for many local survival experiments to begin. Most of them will fail, people will die and that's just natural selection at work. If all of them fail then we, as a species, are done. But all it takes is for one of them to find a new path, a new way, a new culture, and we (as a species) get another chance.

Going backwards is not an option here. Stop thinking about it because it will not happen. Hunter-gatherers, in a post-collapse world, will largely be hunted to extinction by their hominid competitors who will retain temporary advantages over the shorter term due to agriculture. Whatever new paradigm that arises must be superior to the agricultural one or it too will be destroyed. Nature is ruthless like this. Succeed or die.

I have no idea what the next successful culture will look like and neither does anyone here. All we can do is hope that enough attempts occur that one of them has a chance of finding a viable path, otherwise it's goodnight, ladies and gentlemen. I sort of hope that the next "culture" has more affinity with the biosphere than the current one does but that's not really what's important. My preferences are just my preferences. But please, don't waste time thinking that a shamanistic return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle will solve anything. It won't. Instead it will just ensure more dead hunter-gatherers.

I agree with you here.. not only is agriculture something other than the writer claims the representation of complex society as some abhorrent post neolithic revolutionary concept is flawed as well. Tribal society was modified into larger groupings many times over in the post glacial period as a survival strategy.

As food for thought, I can present an opposite point of view.

30 years ago, as a child on the west coast of ireland, we read stories from our grandparent's generation of the simple life, of gathering gull-eggs from sea-cliffs, fishing off a sea rock with a simple line and hook (making line from plant fibres, carving hook from bone), snaring rabbits, taking eels from streams, gathering shellfish at low tide; many an autumn evening we would arrive home stuffed with blackberries picked at the roadside on the way home from school.
This lifestyle, unchanged in essence since the ice age, has just, in the last decade or two, slipped gently from living memory..

I propose you come with me on a camping trip out west, to the atlantic.
For shelter we cut sods of grass and build them up on frames of willow.
We can burn driftwood, and set simple traps for rabbit and fish.
Few berries are in season now, but there are edible fungi, tubers and bulbs, not to mention abundant shellfish.
We can get salt by scraping washed-up dries seaweed, and salt some meat for later, or smoke-dry it.
The hill sheep can be sheared for wool, which is straightforward to card and spin into wool, then knit into hats and jumpers.

You see where I'm going with this.

But of course it's utterly impracticable for us all to do it at the same time.

Some of us are getting ready for the changes - others are arguing the toss 'til they're blue in the face - denial, anger, bargaining, ...


"Anyone who thinks we can benignly return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle"

Not sure who you are refering to here. This is certainly not Quinn's position. His position is that there is an indefinitely large number of "lifestyles" that can work long term in a limited world, and there is one that can't--the one that identifies itself as at war with the world. Again, any number of non-hunter-gatherer lifestyles could be imagined/lived that do not set themselves as the enemy of the world.

I don't agree with everything Quinn says, but let's not totally misrepresent his positions here.

hmm about... "large number of "lifestyles" that can work long term in a limited world"

Well, there are suggestions that there was a human population bottleneck, sub-Saharan Africa numbers could have dropped at times as low as 2,000, for perhaps as long as 100,000 years, before numbers began to expand again in the Late Stone Age. So, the perfect nature-synch “leaver” lifestyle almost droved us to extinction. Although since then, it was working “just fine”. Although subject to a new Clima event or maybe, a new predator.

Good point about the bottleneck. I sometimes wonder if this experience planted a seed of doubt about trusting the world to take care of us that bloomed eventually into what Quinn terms Taker culture.

Of course, we are now in the process of likely extinguishing all complex life on earth, perhaps forever.

Extinction for any particular species is not an absolute tragedy, even if it is our own. A real tragedy is causing one of the very few mass extinction events that have happened since complex life evolved. And that was already underway before the effects of GW started kicking in. Essentially we are causing the sixth and seventh great extinction event in a very few years, like two dinosaur-extinguishing events on top of each other. And this on a very old and fragile planet facing a sun that will make all life impossible on the planet in a few hundred million years.

I think it is also critical to point out that agriculture was a response to massive *natural* climate change that hit human populations across the globe about 12, 000 years ago. A prolonged dry and cool period caused the hunter-gatherer populations to be greatly pressured, not just in the middle east but around the world. Agricultural systems sprang up as a result in about six major areas. Previously they carefully managed their ecosystems after causing massing ecological changes by eating the megafauna, so they weren't living in environments that were at all pristine.

So the notions of "taker" or "leaver" are pretty meaningless as defined. Every strategy for tackling the world will change the world to a sufficient extent that success will be limited eventually. The interesting thing about humans is our knack for changing our strategy without greatly changing our biology, allowing us to keep pushing forward. A "leaver" is someone whose taking is in equilibrium with the system, a "taker" is someone who is shifting the equilibrium toward their advantage (albeit temporarily). The un-named and apparently recommended catagory is presumably "loser". No living thing can chose to lose- its simple "tragedy of the commons/selfish gene" stuff.

The choice presented between "taker" and "leaver" (and "loser") is false. There is always another choice, and we wont know what to call it until we have already become it.

Epidemics like swine flu will knock the edges off but 6% deaths a pop every 50 years isnt going to be enough. Nature can always throw game changing microbes at us, but I wont be holding my breath. Don't forget the black death in time led to lots of non-linear consequences such as sparking the renaissance and laying the foundations for capitalism.

Humans still have plenty of options for changing their game plan in response to the upcoming pressures. Genetic modification (I don't think we will ever know enough for it to qualify as "engineering") is the genie in the bottle. Crisis may once again spark a bigger change than any of us alive now could even imagine living to observe.

As a creature of biology and evolution, the right answer is a moving target and in its specifics, unique to my situation. Quinn understood that there is no single answer and said so. The Quinn thinking had a profound effect on me (Diamond also), and contributed greatly to my abandoning a career devoted to making factories spew stuff faster at 24/7. I have never personally lived with paleolithic people, and I don't think Quinn did either, so inaccuracy or idealizing of their lifestyle is quite possible. I thought his strongest points were the need for new vision/mythologies to live by, the futility of "change the light bulbs" type programs to modify very deep rooted behavior, and framing the rules of natural life that we continually violate.
Our agricultural tribe has displaced (euphemism) the ones who knew how to live hunter/gatherer, so it is obvious we can't just spin around and go back there. This is a straw man and is not what Quinn suggests anyway. Our worthy ancestors precluded that choice for us, as we now preclude choices for our progeny (think easy copper, phosphorous, oil, etc).
We will have to grope our way forward, and for my part, I have chosen to walk away as much as I can from activities that are unsustainable, but without inordinately stressing those who rely on me for their daily food and security. We won't proceed to a better place as one single rapturous eco-village. We do need leaders who teach by doing.

As a footnote, I am looking for stage play adaptations of Ishmael aimed at grade school level. If anyone knows of such, I would be happy to hear from them.

"idealizing of their lifestyle is quite possible"

Let's keep in mind that the only 'lifestyle" that has been idealized and romanticized by many, many orders of magnitude more than any other in the history of life is the lifestyle of consumption. I don't have to remind you how many millions of ads the average kid has seen by the time she or he is 18. We are drenched nearly every secon in the idealization and the romanticization of the most destructive "lifestyle" ever visited on this, or likely any, planet.

So there is no neutral, calm perspective to judge other lifestyles by. Picture the most brutal medieval raper and pilager saying that any consideration of another way of life is romanticism and you get at pale glimmer of the situation here.

The premise of Ishmael was not that we need to return to being hunter-gatherers, per se, but that prior to the "Taker" culture, many "Leaver" cultures existed side-by-side without imposing their viewpoint as being the only right way to live.

Of course we cannot go back to being hunter-gatherers. We don't have enough wild places left to support that without a huge population crash.

I believe what is needed is a mental rather than a physical or location shift.

We have a built environment already - we need to make do with that and not expand any further. People seem to have the notion that they ought to move elsewhere and build new environments for themselves - i.e. "We're moving to the farm".

Seems to me the only thing this will accomplish is further expansion by the "Taker" mindset.

What needs to be done is to start accepting that there is more than one "right way", and to make the mental shift that allows us to let other species live, even if they are our competitors.

Nature by its diversity endorses the "more than one right way" view. By diversity I don't mean random mixtures, but rather an emergent property of complex systems far from equilibrium which are continously processing energy flows.

A lot of over-simpification here, both in the article and the comments. Not EVERY tribe was successful; neither was every society warlike. Not all of civilization's outcomes have been positive, or negative either. There is a tendency to paint the picture in a way that supports the artist's point of view - well of course, that is the whole point of the creative process.

The hardest state of mind to acheive is neutral objectivity. This is because of the great difficulty humans have in 'forgetting' what we already know. It is not a lack of new ideas that defeats us but the stubborn tenacity of the old ones that refuse to be set aside.

It is always an error to judge human motives without acknowledging the circumstances that gave rise to them. Simple geography explains a lot more human history than you would expect. Recomended reading - "Collapse" by Jared Diamond.



Thanks for the link to Diamond's talk

I think that simplification of people's lives and letting go of the 'buying the junk of the moment' culture would be most useful for sustainable living, and great for improved mental well being.

However, I and many others do NOT wish to return to some idealized nomadic hunter-gatherer situation.

I concur in spades that the loss of great (and even lesser known but still unique and worthy of contemplation) paintings, sculpture, and music would be an awful loss for humanity. And I am not some homespun snob who only would wish to keep the art and literature and culture that I happen to like...we should keep it all. We can just see how certain folks, in the name of constrained resources and some BS 'return to (their definition of) decency would quickly advocate a good ole fashion book burning and taking the sledge hammer to nude statues that offend them.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I don't want anyone pre-selecting what is OK for me to behold, even if these actions are wrapped in some comfy blanket of a return to noble primitivism.

I would add to the list of things I would defend to be science knowledge. The day we stop receiving images and data from the other planets in our solar system and from the other bodies and structures in the cosmos, as well as from the depths of the ocean, that will be the day that our fire dies. We can have a reduced, then steady-state population level, without becoming pastoral naval-gazers.

If you want to do this, go sell your assets, buy some land in communal status, and live such as the Amish do. Perhaps your example would draw others, and more such communes would spring up. Has anyone though about joining a native American tribe and converting to their ways and using that as a way to return to simple, natural living? I'm not sure they would be amenable, they might first view such a movement as a final push by the white devils to invade and destroy their cultures. Perhaps visit their lands and learn from them...visit the Amish and learn from them...them strike out and try your luck. Just abandon your fantasies of making everyone else come with.

And as far as this flu thing goes...I can see that it is feeding the imagination of some of the more fervent doomers...

Perhaps the Amish will be the first place the scavengers pillage.

I understand they are non-violent.

To go to a Native American tribe and adapt their ways?
Well can you deal Blackjack then?


"some idealized nomadic hunter-gatherer situation"

Very little such idealization in Quinn. Massive amounts of idealization of consumer lifestyles, idealization we are bombarded with nearly every minute of our waking lives from infancy.

"pastoral naval[sic]-gazers"

Wow, a phrase just rife with prejudices (and misspelling, presumably). Have you tried taking some time to focus your mind on your navel or hara? Perhaps if you did you would find a place where you could see your own swirling thoughts struggling to justify their own pitiful existence.

Kudos for the recommendation of Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach, but I should point out that as much Ecotopia lived in harmony with the planet, it was still a complex, technological society.

Excellent post, and excellent discussion. As expected, there are very divergent opinions here, but the discussion generated shows that this topic should be out in the open. You can call it primitivist or green anarchist or whatever (as one reader above commented), but it's certainly worth addressing.

For what it's worth, reading Quinn's "Ishmael" (interestingly, as a required reading in a capstone history course at the US Air Force Academy) was a definite turning point in my own intellectual journey. Most of what I've written since--from my book to my blog to my writings on this site--is an ongoing effort to integrate (and partially move beyond or disagree with ) Quinn's writing.

Primarily, I've been trying to reconcile my belief that Quinn has identified our most fundamental challenge, but that it is one that we simply can't (or at least won't) solve. What do we do? I certainly don't claim to have the answer, but my essay The Problem of Growth, here on TOD, was one of my more recent efforts to address the same fundamentals raised by Quinn.

As noted above, either you believe in limits or you don't. To the extent that we face limits to growth, we can only push our civilizational problems off onto later generations until we address the problem of growth itself. To that extent, I agree wholeheartedly with the guest-author, and with Quinn. I do think Quinn is overly limiting when it comes to discussing how to actually address the problem of growth, and it is certainly worth discussing symptoms of growth themselves, but we need to remember that they are symptoms. We need to remember that Peak Oil is a symptom, and that we cannot address this symptom in isolation and expect to "cure" the underlying cause...

Finally, one anthropological note: there's a lot of discussion above about violence inherent in human pre-history. People would be well served by learning about the anthropological taxonomy of civilizational forms: tribe; big-man group; chiefdom; proto-state; state. Everything beyond "tribe" represents the introduction of increasing hierarchy into the political order. While there are countless examples of violence, they are almost exclusively confined to those forms more complex than the tribe (the vast majority of civilizations with decent ethnological chronicles had already "advanced" beyond the tribal form). And be cautious not to confuse what is referred to as a "tribe" in popular culture with the anthropological taxonomy.

Did Chuck write the ending of Battlestar Galactica?

That was a good ending. Most people probably thought it was anti-climactic but I thought it was great. Makes me wonder if we were the first dominant species on this planet. Yep, the wheel of time.

I dont like book burning or collective suicides and thus I did not like the babylon 5 ending, the scenery were lovely but the implications extremely bad.

It would even had been less bad if it had ended with the complete disaster
during the sease fire when evil deeds led to very bad consequences. If you
fuck up and repeadetly fail to do something about it you all die is a better
message then if you fuck up you can walk into a beutiful sunset. (And then
die of exposure)

But the BG series did do intresting things with religion and moral concepts
and walked the audience thru different sides of armed conflict and questioned
what it is to be human with the machines sometimes becomming more humane then
the humans. Unfortunately it felt like the manuscript degraded near the end
and I lost the feeling for the characters.

We're almost certainly the first technological species on the planet. Evidence of, at least, open-pit mining, would have survived many millions of years. And some of the major petroleum deposits date back up to, what, 150 million years? Those would have been exploited for sure.

I think Hoyle had it right - the planet gets one shot at a technological civilization, and that's us. Well, maybe in a hundred million years someone can try again, but it doesn't seem likely.

"Hierarchies have strong defenses for attacks from below. However, they have no defense from abandonment. The point is we have to create new cultures that borrow from what we can from the present that fits within the structure of the past. This is the only way we will make a difference. We have to become the change we want to see, find like minded friends, and start our own local tribes. We must develop a high enough level of group self reliance that will allow us to walk away. We need doers, not talkers, not surfers, and not bloggers. We need to be walking toward something better, not away from something we don’t like. Its time to start living your truth."

Excellent advice ... except that we cannot "create" a culture. Culture is emergent, rooted in how we live our lives, and only marginally under our control. If we commit wholeheartedly and in every aspect, root, stock, and twig, to living, as Burr says, "on local sunlight," a sustainable culture will emerge.

As regards like-minded friends and local tribes, a certain critical mass is, well, critical. Individuals or families, even large families, are not going to survive. It will take on the order of 150 persons, absolutely no fewer than 100, to survive on even a subsistence level. (H. sapiens [a misnomer: It seems to me we are still H. habilis, just clever, nowhere near wise] survived as a species in groups, despite what the neo-Darwinists want you to believe, and that's how we will survive in the future.) And I'm talking strict subsistence here - food, shelter, clothing - with none of the "amenities" we've become so fond of. (Lots of the back-to-the-landers of the '60s and '70s found this out, and suddenly discovered that a law practice or an MBA didn't look so bad after all.)

It's also critical that, in the words of Wendell Berry, we "divorce ourselves completely" from the dominant culture. To the extent that we depend on that culture for anything, to that extent we will share its values and its fate. I am as fond of many of the "amenities" as the next person; but I have learned, through my own bitter experience and the experience of many others, that it just doesn't work any other way.

My hopes for humanity, such as they are, now lie mostly with whatever few hunter-gatherers still live undisturbed, and with whatever few others who have made and will make the transition to "living on local sunlight." If you fancy yourself one of the latter, get moving now. Good luck, and godspeed.

"Going green is not enough. Driving a hybrid and having a backyard vegetable garden is not going to get you there."


"I am beginning to think we are going to have to start depaving, give up our iPods, and start making music for ourselves."

This doesn't seem very deep.

"However, they have no defense from abandonment. "

Dropout is common.there's skid row and . . ?

"But I do know that it has to go back to a level in which our population"

this is the crux , there is no other way of supporting 7 billion ppl sans ff.Organic farming ,permaculture,green every thing .electro cars, new cultural memes and all the other proposed solutions to the problems created by our earlier solutions are great but are only viable with a much smaller pop. so first order of biz is to depopulate 80% or so of humanity(suppose the oligarchs think down these lines?swine flu) and who has the courage for that?
One my fav quotes i picked up at TOD is"collapse is the solution"
AFTER collapse is the time for new ways paradigms .there is nothing to do but wait. after the dust settles and if your unlucky enough to be among the survivors then you can go about designing the the greater society eco sensitive ,permaculture and all the rest.
as you stated you need to go back thousands of years to understand the present.do you think you can avert what has been on its way for thousands of years?
"can't stop whats comin, the world aint waitin on you, that's vanity "

Chuck's essay is oddly authoritarian in tone, even totalitarian, or dare i use the now meaningless adjective in an admittedly rhetorical way ... fascist? due to recent (in the last five minutes) bouts of hyperbole wafting through the room (which probably came from the same room in which Chuck was writing this essay), i want to say: dudes, i'm down with quinn and primitivism and green anarchy and whatever, but what's with the Khmer Rouge-style beating-over-the-head with Dangerous and Unruly Nostalgia for Monolithic Past Realities here?

Our Taker culture began 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution when they locked up the food, began the population–food race, invented war, started privatizing land, and ended the formerly one universal religion of animism.
Nothing will change for our children until our culture ends.
Discussing anything else today except walking away from our culture is pointless.
The problem began 10,000 years ago when our culture was created.
The only solution worth discussion is developing new cultures that live by the original story that humanity belongs to the earth.
We need doers, not talkers, not surfers, and not bloggers.
We need to implement a peasant utopia according to my strict specifications and kill all the intellectuals, easily recognizable by their glasses [ok, I made that up, as well as the emphases above, to make a point]

i understand and appreciate the sense of urgency, and the desire to somehow induce people to start taking Life seriously, BUT this type of hysterical exclusion of possibilities is counter-productive - as can be seen in the comments. those already familiar and on board with Quinn-type radicalism were amenable; those not, were typically not. totally understandable, both sides. this essay was not one capable of changing minds or inspiring (except by accident, or through the conversation it engendered, if other brighter minds happened to have read it). why? apart from lack of nuance, poetry, and historical accuracy - i think it fails to open up space for free exploration of possibilities. there were a lot of only, only, only's, and no, no, no's. what about asking sincere questions? (if Chuck had included yours, Nate, in the essay, it would have been radically different ...) what about sketching artistic visions of future possibilities, in the hopes that other artists are inspired, and can collaborate? we need to develop a genre of talking about The Crisis that is productive, rather than violent and empty.

to move beyond aesthetics for a moment - Chuck's definition of culture is lacking. he seems to think culture consists in a trans-national mythological survival meta-strategy: taking. that's like calling terrorism an ideology; terrorism is a method, and there are many ideologies for which terror, the method, has been used. taking (in Quinn's mythological sense) is a method. not everyone is a Taker for the same Monolithic Reason; for example, maybe someone had a traumatic childhood in Haiti, and now loves the excesses of New York, because he's escaping childhood trauma ... it makes him feel safe ...

i'm with those who purport a sort of computational metaphor for culture. ecosystem + body = hardware; culture = software. culture is the set of algorithms - stored in the "memory" of arts, religions, traditions, methods, habits, techniques, languages (in short, all that which can be transmitted from one generation to the next) - whose purpose it is to allow the hardware to make a go of it in Life.

so how about questions like: How can we reprogram ourselves? How can we reprogram others? What is the basis for radical software updates in the human mind (sometimes called "conversion" or "paradigm shifts") - and is there a way to make this phenomenon more pervasive? is there an upper limit on this? i praise all the educators, and the artists, and the educator-artists, and the writers, and yes, even the bloggers that Chuck hates & thinks we should dispose of ... for they are exploring questions like these, and making paradigm-shift possible. i praise all those like Airdale who are creating real-world examples of countercultural sustainability. this, too, is art and education, the stuff of reprogramming ...

and as far as concrete actions ...Chuck recommends depaving and getting rid of iPods. what about if we started a fad, and used social esteem to good effect, and made it viral, and spread it across the internet, that your coolness and authenticity as a human being is represented by how many plants you can plant ... we're talking just going absolutely overboard and excessively planting, like there's no tomorrow ... that would solve many current problems, as well as currently unanticipated ones (how do I know?)

i haven't eaten much today, forgive the low blood sugar-induced incoherence, and the rampant hypocrisy for being just as Totally Certain as Chuck ...

And to throw in my one greenish cent @ Nate's awesome questions:

How WOULD we just walk away from the existing social and built infrastructure? Is it desirable? Is it possible?

All of history is contiguous; we can't walk completely away from anything; we're always dragging along what has come before, like toilet paper stuck to the heel ...

But that's well and good. We have an infinite treasure in our History Bag; let's decide what lovely things to remember from history, and which things to forget.

More concretely: We can walk away from the existing social infrastructure by taking responsibility for our own development as human beings, actively searching for and loving other human beings, being artists who explore "the possibilities of being" rather than accept the world as given & mediated by others, by experimenting, by embracing failure, by non-participation in group activities that we don't want to participate in, by reading books, by determining our own values, etc. Typical counterculture / social criticism / philosophy-type stuff. All this still works, and is great. We can walk away from the built infrastructure by building owner-built/non-mortgage natural homes, catching rainwater, using local currencies, growing own food, getting to know, or becoming herbalists, living somewhere we want to stay (not needing highways or planes), etc.

Can we make a clean break? No - nor would we want to. Total separation from the Here and the Now is sociopathic and delusional, IMO. Gradual and contiguous, but serious, earnest, and radical, change is best.

As others have said, there is no "back" to go to; that is a non-solution. We may, God forbid, actually have to take responsibility for our past, and for ourselves, and redeem our history, by bringing it forward in the best way possible, and then to create our future.

As someone said, "We are responsible for our own experience."

It sounds to me like this guy Burr thinks we need to have a cultural revolution, as in Mao's Cultural Revolution. Well, we all know how that one turned out.

......you can count me out.

wow -that is not how I read this at all.

1)Mao's revolution was from top down - communist party telling everyone below what to do (melt all their pans and pots etc). The above essay suggests starting from ground up.

2)The thrust of the essay, as least to me, was not a recommendation to move backward, but asking the question of how do we account for built infrastructure/sunk cost that may be dragging us in the wrong direction.

The opening statement "political dicusssions... media coverage ..far too shallow" should be engraved in stone above the doors of every newspaper every where. I rarely find an article in print or online that really pursues any issue to it's logical conclusions or FAIRLY presents the point of view of more then one or maybe two of the many many different groups of people involved in big issues.The free marketers and globalizers cheerleaders are extraordinarily good at convincing us that moving our industries overseas is good for us,and even better at dismissing the misery of the people who lose their jobs as a result with a few blithe remarks about retraining and n ew opportunities.
We let them get away with this because the vast majority of us ae either too lacking in critical thinking skills and factual information or else too busy too be bothered with really thinking things all the way thru.We have lost tens of thousands of jobs in my area over the last few years that paid livable and sometimes very good wages- jobs that were held in many cases by people severely lacking in the skills needed to obtain a new job paying anywhere near as well.There is not news of course,the shallow media covered it very well.
We have not seen probably 10 percent as much coverage of some of the results.A functionally barely literate young man who can get an industrial job(driving a forklift,etc) that pays well enough to support a family will support a family in most cases.When such jobs disappear,he is much more likely to abandon his family,or turn to "dealing" a little on the side to make ends meet, or both.The positive feedbacks kick in, and as the tax base declines the need for social services grows dramatically.The bueracracies put in place to deal with the problems are virtually always going to pursue programs much better designed to perpetuate the bureaucracy than to solve the problem because of course survival is THE imperative.The result is more positive feedback once again as the voting booth power of the people either on the public payroll or dependent upon a govt subsidy contonues to grow.
The sort of folks who read the Oil Drum are likely to be aware of such feedback loops and thier consequences,of course, and could undoubtedly describe hundreds more.My point is that the typical person on the street has given almost no thought to my example,or to any that you may care to name.I could extend my example a little farther to help comment on the irony of the fact that the feedbacks have grown to the point that quite a few of the free trade/globalists,not to mentionthe ordinary citizen, have lost their shirts over the last year or so.There used to be a voter referred to as a "Reagen Democrat", but I fear that the destuction of his economic environment has driven his spieces to the brink of extinction.

The post regarding Diamond being inaccessable to the average reader is right on if by average reader you mean about 80 or 90 percent of the population.Does anyone remember the story about the professor in Vermont(?)who couldn't understand how Mondale could have lost,since every body he knew voted for him?
We have economists telling us how to run the world who apparently have never completed a course in the basic physical sciences at the college level.I know dozens of well educated(well they have degrees from accredited in institutions anyway)people. Most of them don't know diddly about biology, chemistry,goelogy,etc.Diamond is an incredibly good scientist and a VERY good writer, and makes his arguments well.I expect that he will be remembered in a century (assuming we're still around)as one of the most important writers of his time.
The PROBLEM with his accessibility to even this so called educated reader is that even though the reader may be able to follow the reasoning he will not take it seriously, because he hears and sees too many conflicting arguments.Lacking the basic knowledge of the physical sciences necessary to come to an informed judgement,he waffles and generally comes down on the side of cornucopians/globalists/bankers etc because they flood the information market with their message-which is not by the way necessarily a bad or false message in many respects.They wouldn't be able to dominate the world in the current fashion otherwise.I'm glad folks in the third world can have schools and refrigerators as a result of globalization bringing growth to their local economies, for instance.
Now as far as the average man on the street is concerned,he never reads a serious book any way.I doubt that much more than 40 percent of our population could even read Diamond's work without the assistance of a dictionary and a tutor.I am incidentally a former teacher of agriculture and well acquainted with the realities of our schools.
The only firm conclusion I can draw from my thinking along these lines is that whatever programs are put in place as the economy and the environment continue to unravel are more likely to be decided upon based on how well they work as sound bites than how well they will really work.

Humanity has lived on the earth for three or four million years. For millions of years we lived in harmony or symbiosis with the ecosystem.

In a word, bullcrap.

For two or three million years, our ancestors lived in tiny groups on the brink of extinction, and indeed many of the groups related to our ancestors in fact went extinct. All of these groups were "takers", but some of them didn't figure out how to "take" well enough to survive. All of these groups tried their best to increase their numbers as much as possible. None of them ever said to themselves "we should take less, and not increase our numbers, so we live in harmony with the planet." Those that failed to increase their numbers simply failed, not because they didn't try.

I'm referring to all human ancestors prior to homo erectus, which got good enough at taking that they were able to spread out of Africa (according to the most accepted theory) and begin effecting ecosystems on a planetary scale. By this point, we were already on the road to destruction of ecosystems and the consequent pressure to develop agriculture to feed a larger population. These groups and those that followed them almost certainly hunted many large fauna species to extinction. It is essentially certain that in many localized situations, they overshot their resources and died in famine. It is simply false to say that prior to agriculture (or even before that) humans had a "leaver" culture which did not alter the ecosystems they lived in, to their own detriment or that of other species.

(If hunter gatherer societies believed that "man belongs to the earth", it's surely because such folks still felt like their species was on the brink of survival; I'm sure many of them were eaten by tigers or had their entire families wiped out by drought or typhoon. But that doesn't change the fact that they killed more tigers than vice versa.)

I suppose it is possible that as a whole human species, around the world, we can make a social compact with each other to stop increasing our global population (and allow it to decrease by some amount) such that we might truly live in harmony and symbiosis with the planet, meaning that over the long term we don't take more from it than we give back, and vice versa. (It would mean, as a beginning, that everyone around the world would agree not have more than two children.) But neither we nor any other species that has ever lived on this planet has done that before. Every species, including us, has grown when it was able to grow, and shrunk when it was not able to grow. We are in fact the first species to have lived on this planet among whom some individuals have been able to come up with abstract idea that stability - the real meaning of "harmony and symbiosis" - might be desirable.

I sympathize with the goals of the author here, but if we were to invent a "leaver culture" that would be something entirely new to natural history. And it would mean maintaining - or rather building - a global culture capable of maintaining the non-growth social compact everywhere and teaching it to children everywhere. Giving up or losing global civilization may allow the earth to heal itself, for a time and in certain places, and refresh ecological resources for subsequent civilizations to feed on again. But eventually we will end up back on the same road we are on now.