Mohandas Gandhi was once asked: “What do you think of Western civilization?” “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied.

Like a babe in the woods, I waded into the thicket of political correctness surrounding ongoing mass migrations and Islam. Statements that I thought unexceptional, like “if you have uncontrolled massive immigration from north-to-west African nations, known for their poor health care systems and widespread tropical diseases, new (and old eradicated) diseases will spread into Europe” (here I was told that Mr Trump is spreading these same bogus claims about South American immigrants) or that “if you have uncontrolled massive immigration to Sweden from nations where women’s rights are nearly non-existent and violence against women pervasive, you will those same problems coming in” where I was attacked on multiple fronts, apparently because to claim such a connection is plainly racist or islamophobic unless it’s “proven beyond the shadow of the doubt” — while it turns out that Swedish authorities stopped collecting pertinent data because to do so would be, yes, racist, and such proof is therefore unavailable. Don’t you just love Catch 22?

Not long after that heated exchange, Denmark announced that indeed, diphtheria, which had been eradicated decades ago, has staged a comeback, along with several other diseases. And a wave of women-targeted crimes has swept Europe, disclosing not only the issues touching on women vis-a-vis the newcomers, but also the extent of imposed censorship regarding such crimes. Coupled with the intransigence of European elites regarding massive immigration over the last year, and their painfully obvious lack of any preparations or plans for handling the refugees, much less for trying to integrate them, it all added up to a concerted effort, to my mind, to stubbornly NOT face any of the realities on the ground while hiding behind slogans — for example Ms Merkel’s “We can do it, we will do it” blithely asserted in her New Year’s Eve speech while the migrants were already out wilding. (Oh wait, it turns out the Cologne police did have a plan after all: to stand by doing nothing, erasing public camera recordings, and lying.)

Now, none of these actual happenings should surprise anyone. Migrating peoples from areas rife with poorly treated diseases will spread them. What’s to argue about?! The wall of denial, however, has an uncomfortable likeness to the wall of denial we crunchy greens have so rightly criticized regarding issues like resource limits, the destruction of planetary ecosystems, rapidly deepening inequality, and others. For a number of years now, I have been participating in the green/doomish community with the assumption that I am flanked by people who have both the courage and the intellectual acumen to face reality. So participating in the exchanges around Europe’s refugees, and by extension Islam, has been a rude awakening for me. My trusted allies, always somewhat prone to collapse porn and popular panics, seem to have wandered off on a tangent I find hard to understand, and harder to excuse. There is no blindness like politically correct blindness, it seems. Because I lived all my formative years in a communist system where serious problems were swept under the rug and empty slogans ruled the day, I have a nose for this bullshit even when it hides under other labels. If we (former or current) eastern Europeans don’t yell out a warning, who will? If not now, when?

I will begin by reporting what I have seen while out in the bush, exploring. You may have noticed some of these things before, but to me, having been busy looking in other directions, they were surprising or new. The shocking transformation of Sweden from perhaps-a-bit-boring but exemplary “spread the wealth” country to a state teetering on the brink of failure as profound problems connected with the “welcoming culture” have accumulated, and citizens have been silenced by a heavy blanket of aggressive anti-racist, pro-tolerance rhetoric. The impending breakdown of Germany, likewise a well-run, prosperous country where more than a million of refugees were taken in without any border controls whatsoever, in defiance of current laws, and where the authorities have been forced to admit that many of them (hundreds of thousands!) are completely unaccounted for. The transparent vilification of those who wish to peacefully protest the current state of affairs as racists, neo-nazis, extremists, and islamophobes lumped with the fascist fringe, while all right-thinking people should ignore their vile propaganda, or at least allow themselves to be intimidated into looking the other way. (I have watched videos of protests staged by the German anti-islamization group Pegida where the demonstrators had to be protected by the police from the physical threats by young people yelling “Heart over hate.” Irony? Nah. Shortly thereafter, a report came out showing that one of the political parties was paying a good wage for folks willing to go out and disrupt the demos.)

While hanging in the online anti-islamization underground, I witnessed the weirdness of disturbed men who used the sex attacks in Europe as pretext for putting women in their place, peevish as hell over the nagging they have gotten from us over the years for being male chauvinist pigs. Now, we feminazis need them to defend us from third world gropers and they are damned if they’ll lift a finger on our behalf! Never mind that men have abused women for millennia, quite notably in the ‘western civilization’ parts of the world, while we women have made a public fuss about it for a few generations at most. Bring out the violins!

Censorship in Europe is proceeding at a frightening pace now that the “real news” about refugees is out of the bag, thanks to the internet. And this narrowing noose of “allowable speech” – Facebook has begun eliminating disagreement with refugee policies from its medium in response to Merkel’s request, and a Saudi prince has just bought up a big share of Twitter — makes peaceful solutions less and less likely. Anecdotal reports are beginning to appear in the alternative media that folks in Holland are being visited by the police to warn them about their internet statements critical of certain government policies. And only yesterday the Guardian announced that when it comes to immigrants and immigration policies, comment is no longer free. No wonder; Guardian’s politically correct “welcoming culture” articles have lately been met with a solid wall of critical comments from readers. Monty Python’s John Cleese shares a few thoughts on the clampdown here.

And then there is the bizarre behavior of both American and European elites who have goose-stepped into a box that says, no matter what happens, repeat after me, “It Has Nothing To Do With Islam.” They seem to be emulating the memorable scene in Animal House where the marching band, led astray by pranksters, keeps on marching into a wall. As a cherry on top, there is the grisly freak show of the “Stolen oil-R-Us” Islamic State, accompanied by the war frenzy of all who have a vampiric stake (may it pierce them through the heart) in the weapons trade, and the utter destruction of Syria which knowledgeable people, ah irony, describe as one of the truly multicultural societies of the world — until recently, that is — and the descent of Turkey into tinpot dictatorship while it tries to impose blatant extortion on EU, Ottoman empire style. Well, those are just a few highlights to report, to give you the flavor of my travels, so to speak. Sleep? Who needs sleep when the Spectacle turns up its horror show?

Sorry about the run-on sentences. Lack of sleep will do that to ya, and I badly need to vent. I will say just one more thing, and leave analysis for next time. I have no loyalty toward “western civilization” as such. Western civilization went astray long time ago I my book, and its ugly underbelly should have become head-banging-against-the-wall obvious to anyone by the time Assyria rolled along. My loyalty is to civil culture where ever it may be found. Like Gandhi may have once said, western civilization would be nice. It would be nice if we stopped obsessing over our bogus, absurdly bloated standards of living, stopped pretending that we can be rescued by a pack of shills who in turn pretend to be statesmen, put a brake on the runaway train of consumption, filthification, and waste, stopped defending our indefensible and destructive “way of life” that’s really a “way of death” for the planet, and focused instead on civil, “civilized” behavior toward each other. And that includes dispensing with politically correct bullshit where ever it stinks up the body politic, and willingness to go out on a limb if necessary to stand against behavior that does not cut it. Earth to Europe: sane people defend their boundaries, personal, local, political. Those who don’t, get steamrolled.

steamrolled

I began a very strange journey with my series on civil culture, vs the culture of thuggery that continues taking over the world. (And no, by that I don’t mean Islam.)

In my last post, I originally included this paragraph:

I also don’t buy that people who criticize Islam are islamophobes any more than people who criticize Christianity are Christianophobes, or people who criticize Marxists are Marxophobes. That’s just plain old bullying. People’s thinking influences their behavior, and inasmuch as Islam inspires and encourages anti-social behavior, it ought to be criticized, as should any other religion or ideology. Islam is — in part — ideas, and no ideas ought to be beyond the pale when it comes to criticism. “Abusing” a religion may be offensive to some, but it’s abusing people that should draw opprobrium.

I ended up deleting it, because I wanted more time more to think it through. I do believe strongly that criticizing is overall a beneficial activity, and part of the necessary – even crucial – feedback loop that keeps human behavior within certain agreed-upon norms. In addition, we in the west, children of classical Greece which pioneered wide-ranging, intrepid exploration of abstractions, generally do not think any ideas ought to be shielded from challenges and outspokenness, and that the only kind of speech that should carry legal penalties is personal slander and direct physical endangerment (yelling “fire” in a crowded place, or telling an abused spouse “next time, I will kill you.”).

That line gets fuzzy when it comes to speech that vilifies people traditionally put-upon, and might contribute to their physical endangerment in the long run. We Americans have mostly held the line where angry verbal insults are not – apart from the most egregious exceptions — the province of the law. Europeans tend to side more with the “hate speech” paradigm due to some highly unpleasant historical events in the 20th century that relied heavily on hate-mongering propaganda.

I have sympathies for both sides. When push comes to shove, I defend free speech. But I am not insensible toward people who want to maintain a certain level of cultivated discourse, of civility in relationships. It’s been my own experience that when two married people begin to use brutal invective against each other, the good will within the relationship takes a big hit. So, similarly, within a society. To bring that back to the discussion of “insulting religion” – I feel that while to jeer at or to attempt to discredit people’s cherished religious artifacts should never be a legal issue, I see it nonetheless as an undertaking that sows division, and often leads the critics themselves to dishonesty, unnecessary vehemence, sectarianism, and just plain angry disrespect. Would you walk into a house where your neighbors have an altar to the elephant deity Ganesha, and because you disagree and feel offended, pie the statue? Clearly a dick move.

Ganesha

Why spend energy on denouncing other people’s holy writ, be it the Christian Bible, the Islamic Koran, or the Jewish Tanach? They are precious to other people, and even though you disagree with their estimation, why would you go out of your way to malign what others hold in such tender regard? This behavior becomes especially unproductive in view of the fact that denouncing other people’s holy writs makes absolutely no dent in their belief, and likely reinforces their stance under duress.

We live in a world plagued by ideologies that do mischief, no doubt about that. Cults, religions, and secular ideologies are all linked to grievous damage to human communities throughout history. But these same movements have borne good fruits too, depending on who was doing what to whom. It seems to me that it would advance the cause of “civilized civilization” if we got a grip on how to deal with ideologies in a way that defuses their malignant aspects while leaving the positives in place.

There is no question that our way of thinking influences our behavior. But true intentions are notoriously difficult to ascertain, especially when they are not your own but someone else’s. So why not focus on behavior instead? If a woman is murdered, does it makes sense to analyze whether the perp was inspired by a biblical passage, a sura, secular misogyny, or psychopathic entitlement? The behavior is what matters, and the harm lies squarely in the behavior. Anything less serves those who wish to obfuscate this basic and clear fact.

And so this is my prescription for those who wish to battle toxic ideologies: focus on the very human and fallible embodiment of the underlying script. Interpretations, and the behaviors they inspire, are never beyond the pale when it comes to critical questioning. However divinely-inspired the scriptures are held to be, their applications in the here-and-now are entirely and only human. No matter what Exodus 22:18 says, whether a heretic is tortured or killed depends on what the believer does with those and many other ideas. And once we abandon the war of words about the Koran, we can focus on what Muslims actually do with the writings and traditions they have inherited. It is this foundation I will use to explore, in future posts, some of our current cultural dilemmas.

old book

My personal confrontation with the refugee/migrant crisis in Europe has placed me in an awkward position. I don’t mean my going out on a limb with a non-PC exploration. I mean having to confront the dissonance between my unciv convictions – in other words, my opposition to civilization as we know it – and my gut-level reaction to those who privilege the interests of strangers over those of their home cultures, who are unwilling to make value-laden comparisons between cultures (or civilizations), and who promote the ideology of multiculturalism without regard to their policies’ consequences.

The ‘clash of civilizations’ meme has been assiduously promoted by mainstream media. “Our” western civ against Islam and its barbarian hordes. I am glad to see that this form of propaganda for “our way of life” has been firmly rejected by crunchy greens. At the same time, I have found it profoundly troubling that these same people, my allies, are all too ready to throw their concern for women’s wellbeing, or that of any group of peaceful citizens readily abused, under the bus when discussing crime caused by Europe’s flood of migrants.

I have clashed with people, normally friends, on Resilience.com over this issue, and felt quite betrayed by those who in other context say they promote “localism” but when it comes to protecting local cultures of Europe, that localism seems to vanish, making room for a reflex reaction in defense of a politically correct line against boundaries and for the indiscriminate acceptance of all comers.

But why, I thought to myself, am I standing up for a civilization that has let me down in so many ways? Where before, the faults of this civ loomed large but somewhat theoretical, now, in the clash of Europeans with the forces unleashed by migration out of control, I stepped into a box with a label that said, “compared with a culture that forces its women into harems, into sacks with openings for eyes, and into tolerating brutal violence against them as normal, hey, I’ll take western civ any day!”

Seductive though the clash of civilizations narrative is, I keep reminding myself of the fact that I loathe the way this culture treats women as well. I detest the hypersexualization of girls, the parading of women’s naked or near naked bodies everywhere one looks, from booze and lingerie ads to celebrities who vie for attention through concocting ever more risqué gowns. I choke on the backlash against us as some men brazenly return to jeering outspoken women who skip make-up as ugly broads, and on reports of politically correct campuses that manipulate elder feminists through threats of “no platform” simply for the “thoughtcrime” of disagreeing with trans definitions. The list goes on and on.

What a choice the ‘clash of civilizations’ story places before me: black sacks with eyes, or decadence and demeaning bullshit! Two faces of one civilization gone awry.

No, I don’t buy that Islam is evil. Religions go through their abusive, violent periods when many abusive, violent people use them as justification for their abusive, violent behavior. Islam is going through that now. Christianity went through it some centuries back; after all, it was a Christian pope who invented the holy war at a time when Christendom was launching the crusades, yet to gear up for the full-out persecution, torture and mass murder of its own brothers and sisters in Christ. Religion and power mix poorly. That’s why people came up with the separation of religion and state. Folks with first-hand knowledge warn against Islam’s violence as enshrined in its holy writ. I am sympathetic to that point of view as my younger self argued against Christianity on the same grounds. But I no longer buy the argument. Once, Christians used the Old Testament’s “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” as an excuse to torment and murder women and heretics. Today, they don’t. Once they used the Bible to justify chattel slavery. Today, they don’t. I am more persuaded that all religions have skeletons in their closets, and that the behavior of followers has to do with their everyday values and character; they will use excuses and justifications for their behavior when those values and character are lacking.

islam slander

Thuggery wrapping itself in religion.

There is a real clash of civilizations going on now, unreported. And that is the clash between those who are willing and able to behave in civilized ways in the best sense of the word, and those who are not – who would rather wreak mayhem upon the world. Western and other elites, all those who profit by wars and plunder without end, who pretend to be fighting terrorism while aiding and abetting it, all those turning our world into Orwellian nightmare, they are on the other side of this clash. So are everyday people – regardless of their ideological affiliation — who harm their fellow humans in innumerable small and sometimes large ways and find endless excuses for it; those who delight in demeaning domination games, taking advantage, pulling the wool over your eyes, making other people’s private worlds hell. They are with the Dark Side. Every other human division is just a diversion from this stark reality.

The first civilizations were built by people among whom anti-social behavior was firmly limited by boundaries created by the demands of community and survival. They were peaceful, more or less egalitarian (meaning a social arrangement that evens out native differences between human beings in the interest of crafting a low-conflict polity), and the surpluses and prosperity were broadly shared. By the time this civilization came along, those ancient peoples were but a faint memory. We can use that faint memory made more vivid with the help of recent archeology as inspiration to build a real civilization again. We can choose to raise a culture that is grounded in the values of being truly civilized, values that have been showcased in their best form by a number of tribal societies: generosity, trustworthiness, empathy and kindness, open-mindedness, fairness, civility, common sense, mutual respect, recognition of fundamental worth of all humans and other living beings, courage and resilience, loyalty, deep connection, love of beauty, gratitude, humility, willingness to accept limits and responsibilities as the other side of freedom, and a commitment to a lifelong effort to cultivate these virtues in oneself and in the local society one inhabits. This is the road ahead: walking the Path of Beauty into whatever the future holds.

oaks

Men, said the Devil, are good to their brothers:
they don’t want to mend their own ways, but each other’s.
— Piet Hein

Remember Darwin’s finches? From the ancestral finch population, Galapagos forged seven distinct species that provided for Darwin the impetus for his evolutionary theories. Out of one, seven. Greater diversity, as each group adapted to a different geographical and ecological niche. Greater richness and resilience for the living world, and a delight for human observers. [Actually, the web says there are 10 or more of these finch species out on those islands. And they are related to tanagers.]

Galapagos finches

Galapagos finches

Now, maybe these new finch groups are not altogether species, maybe they are more like wild landraces. After all, they can and do interbreed when thrown together. But who would argue against the notion that the finch world of the Galapagos grew more diverse and interesting than formerly? Who would argue that importing finches from, say, North America would be a good thing for the finches of the Galapagos, or for the diversity of the global finch family? Wouldn’t the “diversity of the melting pot” cause them to lose their distinct adaptations?

Similarly, we tend to believe that tribal societies, say the Mbuti or the Cree, ought to have protection from the western civilization at large, so they can maintain their culture and way of life, self-determined, rather than other-determined by the logic of modernity or conquest.

Yet when it comes to the societies of Europe or the local communities of the western world, another logic seems to apply. Apparently, if you have a “white European”-derived culture not protected by the aura of exotic ethnicity somewhere far away, your culture actually needs to import diversity from parts half way across the globe! Your culture is accused of being too uniform, too homogeneous, too close-minded, and paying no heed to the need for “diversity.” But what kind of diversity is this, that argues for giving up your own culture – a culture which contributes to a more diverse human world – for some abstract ideal of mixing people from a variety of cultures and ethnicities into a mishmash where nobody feels at home?

I have been following, aghast, the invasion of Europe by people whom the PC crowd insist on calling refugees, and others call migrants. Aghast, not because Syrian refugees don’t deserve the support of their neighbors. They do. (They are a minority among the incomers.) But because the crisis has been insanely politicized to a point where anyone who disagrees with the official “welcome refugees” line is pilloried as a racist and a xenophobe, and a discussion of the issues has become near impossible.

Baffled, I turned to exploring the one society in Europe – widely known for its very inclusive and generous social safety net and rather egalitarian and progressive society – which decided in the mid-70s to implement a multiracial experiment. Feel free to pitch in, as I’ve never lived in Scandinavia and my understanding is imperfect. The Swedes, wishing to further improve their already outstanding society, and having been told in no uncertain way that to do so they must open their border and begin to take in people from a variety of far-flung countries in Africa and Asia because anything less would be churlish and mean, not to mention racist and discriminatory. As far as I can tell, they have brought on a disaster that is perhaps unique in the history of Europe.

The Swedes were told, and may have believed, that their culture was way too stale, pale, prejudiced, and in need of a drastic overhaul. At the urging of people who grew more shrill as the years passed, the multicultural vision began to be officially implemented from 1975 on. People of mixed racial parentage were celebrated, white Swedes were denigrated; those who wanted to craft a whole new society in Sweden and be done forever with the “old Sweden” prevailed. The influx of immigrants looking to partake of what Sweden had to offer grew until today it’s a flood. The result? In the city of Malmő, indigenous Swedes are now a minority. There are no-go zones all over the country, controlled by immigrant gangs. Police cars are the targets of grenades. There has been a housing shortage for quite some time, and Swedes are being told to house newly come asylum seekers in their garages. There are no jobs for most of these newcomers. Sweden is now contemplating borrowing large sums from abroad so that it can feed and house the influx, and its politicians are being slowly forced to admit that the ideology of compulsory anti-racism and anti-discrimination has turned the country into something that horrifies many of the immigrants themselves, not to even mention the feelings of the original inhabitants. Corruption is rampant; politicians live in wealthy neighborhoods with other ethnic Swedes while pontificating on racism to their less fortunate countrymen and women.

To add insult to injury, the country is under some sort of a McCarthyite spell so that the actual situation cannot be discussed openly; anyone who questions the status quo is accused of racism and bloggers, youtubers and facebook users are the only ones who dare to speak out against the monomaniacal, politically correct “party line”. And Sweden has long since stopped collecting and publishing the ethnic background of people committing the wave of crimes sweeping over the land.

Racist!

Racist!

Why is it that indigenous Europeans are denied their own culture going back thousands of years? Why is it that these various distinct regional cultures for which Europe has become famous, and which have fueled its tourism, have been under attack? The Hopi or !Kung deserve to be their own, but the Finns or the Slovaks do not? Why? It seems clear to me that turning Europe into a melting pot serves those who are enemies of diversity, in the global sense, and not the other way around.

And to bring the discussion to America, why is it when whites verbally attack blacks they are racist, but when blacks likewise attack whites, that’s ok? Why is it that American communities were long ago shorn of their local self-determination? Must the only vision be a forced integration pioneered by the school-busing fanatics of years gone by? What is wrong with communities that would rather be white, or black, or Latino, or green, hanging with their own kind? If these communities did not drain resources from others, what’s wrong with it in principle? In America, the only communities where people are allowed to hang with their own kind are the rich, in their gated neighborhoods, and the artsy-craftsy tourist traps like New Hope, PA or Sugarloaf, NY, where the locals determine together to sell or rent only to fellow craftspeople. Nobody else is allowed to choose their neighbors.

racism peanuts

I come from a nation (a group unified by history, language, culture and its own unique relationship to the land) that nearly disappeared in the conquering wave of germanization. It took a hundred and fifty years of massive effort on the part of the dreamers who wished to record and encourage the vanishing Czech culture. Even the dreamers did not believe it could be done. And yet, the dream swept the land with a reawakening that gives me shivers to this day. (Knowing that was possible, I know that a crunchy green awakening is possible too.) And now, all that – in its many European permutations — is being swept away by millions of displaced people from as far as Bangladesh, as far as western and central Africa. The Europe I knew is vanishing before my eyes, not only because of the intentional chaos caused by global elites permanently at war, but also because a fifth column of aggressive ideologues have turned their backs on the cultures of their birth in their quest for some crazy rainbow utopia. And we all know how much success radical utopians have had forging viable new sociopolitical systems.


This is a contentious topic, and last thing I want is for bullies to pile in here, abusing other commenters. Keep in mind the fundamental rule of engagement on Leaving Babylon: argue with passion by all means, but attack the argument, not the person. Thank you, and thank you for listening to my bewilderment and grief. Let’s help one another think through these difficult issues. Oh, and check out the animation (10 minutes) below. When exactly does “multiculturalism” morph into “genocide”?

 

Over on Hipcrime Vocab, a new awesome summary of the trip from egalitarian tribes to civ.

I have a few comments. We need a better understanding than Harris offered regarding the move from a society committed to leveling, and the rise of the Big Men. As escapefromWisconsin puts it, “in such societies, aggrandizing members … encourage the production of surpluses by which they throw lavish feasts to enhance their prestige and status.” Yes, but a society based on the values of ‘vigilant sharing’ would not allow striving for prestige and status in the first place.

I disagree that slavery emerged because the agrarian lifestyle is backbreaking. There is plenty of evidence that foragers/horticulturists lived very well; they had some surplus, they still had the leisure. Slavery turned into a necessity only after top-heavy elites made mincemeat out of the economic patterns linked to sharing. It’s the overhead, stupid! :-)

And finally, the progression from egalitarian band to despotism already happened within the egalitarian bands themselves. There is a creepy account of a Greenland Inuit group that fell prey to a despotic shaman who murdered people and stole women. The band became so terrified they were unable, at the time this early account was written, to strike back. We don’t know if they finally managed to assassinate him, or whether they all snuck off in the middle of the night. In other words, it is possible to hoard power and become a despot without first taking the entrepreneurial path of Big Men.

Welcome, commenters!

I have been suffering from a bad writer’s block, perhaps for the first time in my life. But there is an interesting discussion unfolding at Collapse of Industrial Civilization: part of it harkens to one of the favorite claims of the Doomer community: it’s not money, it’s cheap energy, stupid!

The highlighted analysis of the Greek predicament has much to recommend it. So is the author’s claim that money is not the deepest problem, but energy is. Except, where it is not the deepest deep problem. I maintain that both the money problem and the energy problem can be solved provided we solve the power problem.

The problem of power in a nutshell is this: those in power have most of the money, most of the oil, and most of everything else on this planet. How then do we solve any problem that runs into this wall? The problem of money will not be solved as long as this elite does not want it solved. And there is plenty of energy on this planet, oil-based and otherwise, provided we stop the waste, profligacy, and that giant vacuum that sucks up most of the wealth in the direction of the pathocracy.

Easter Island went down because they did not solve the problem of power. Tikopia solved its power problem and went on to thrive. Somehow — I have not heard of any legends that remember how — the Tikopians leveled their society. They retained chiefs, but humble ones, living only one notch above everyone else. And put in place many checks and balances in addition.

Having leveled their society, they could successfully address overpopulation, universal access to land (e.g. energy), as well as the bitter, murderous conflict that wracked their society before. They also tackled the pig problem and managed to eliminate every last one, despite the powerful lure of delicious bacon, because the pigs were not only ruining their gardens, but also fed the lust for power, wealth and status via elite-sponsored feasting.

Am I just another kollapsnik who thinks that “their” deepest problem is the one? Perhaps. You tell me. But you better put up a damn good argument. And how do we solve the problem of power? I have a feeling that this problem cannot be solved in the public eye, top down, in full visibility. It can be only solved in the grassroots, below the radar. I plan to make a few hints, though, for all who may be working it out. After all, the roving Eye cannot see everything, and understands far less than it sees.

elitist

 

The house stands. Green food is here. I give, you give, all must give.
— from a Kepele spell

Many years ago, I was fortunate to discover Pascal’s Wager, and applied it to my own life. Now, in its original form, the bet is tainted by Monsieur Pascal’s own belief that God — the Creative Force — set things up so that humans who do not believe are tormented for eternity in a place called hell. A booby trap.  Suffice it to say that I never was one to paint God in vengeful dictator colors.

pascal's wager

But I was intrigued by the logic. What if, I thought, I make the bet my own? If I believe, and I am wrong, nothing happens after death, no gain. If, on the other hand, I believe, and this turning changes my life for the better, and possibly enables me to make connections to unseen forces and mysteries of the universe, I come out ahead.

Correspondingly, if I remain an unbeliever, and God does not exist, no loss in the next world. But, on the other hand, I miss out on a life that turns me away from the path of arid materialism and, possibly, cynical “nothing matters in the long run” orientation. This was a time when the strictly scientific, rationalist vision of the universe began to grate on my nerves, and I discovered I much prefer my world enchanted. Pascal helped me see that when it comes to beliefs which, at present, have no way of being proven one way or another, my intuitive preference could be a starting point for turning my life around. Decades later, I can confirm that the wager has more than paid off, though of course that rational escape hatch inspired by Pascal was only one element of my younger self’s transformation.

Nevertheless, it was with great amazement I came recently to understand that such a bet was commonly taken by our tribal forebears, who understood our needs and our psychology far better than the modernists who have been predicting the demise of religion for more than a hundred years now. My new insight was triggered by two books: Shamans, sorcerers and saints: a prehistory of religion, and Historical vines: Enga networks of exchange, ritual, and warfare in Papua New Guinea. Though the tomes are dense and slow reading, they are well worth the effort as they trace the deep history of religious/spiritual currents and practices. I will be referring to them in the future; they illuminate the problem of power and the paths away from Babylon.

Tribal people did not have ‘religion’ as we commonly understand it; they had cults. I searched for a better name since the word ‘cult’ has unpleasant connotations, but there are no other options. Perhaps it’s time to rescue it. The dictionary tells me that a cult is “a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols,” or “a system of religious veneration and devotion.” And that is exactly what tribes had. Their cults were always evolving and responding to the social needs of the present; they could do so because the cult’s direction and adaptation was fully in the hands of the local “users.” Indeed, it’s been said that cults were for them a powerful social technology that addressed ecological and other problems the tribe was facing in its cultural evolution. For example, in Papua New Guinea they used egalitarian, altruistic, unifying cults to balance the tribe’s induction into the increasingly inequitable and competitive “cult of MORE” which originated long before the coming of the whites.

Cults were concerned not with the afterlife but rather with effectiveness in this life. First, they were utilized to help assure the thriving of family, clan and tribe by “doing right” by the unseen forces and tribal ideals. Second, they provided a tool for dealing with problems in the here and now. In effect, the power these ceremonies unleashed enabled people to embody certain values and behaviors that were helpful in alleviating a crisis. For example, when a smouldering feud burst into flame and angry, vindictive feelings ran high, a Kepele cult ceremony might be organized that entailed building a ritual house by common effort, storytelling (related to cosmology, tribal origins, and legends), specific rituals, a feast, dancing, and a boys’ initiation ceremony. These shared, hallowed activities defused the tension and helped turn the tide of violence.  Cross-clan and cross-tribe cults like the Kepele opened up local clans to innovation from abroad and fostered amiable relations with distant neighbors while creating possibilities of new alliances for marriage and trade. And lifting people’s spirits and resetting their orientation in the world was a big part of the magic.

If I needed more persuasion to consider seriously the value of spiritual practices at this point, Brian Hayden’s argument from our biological heritage would be the next best thing. I quote at length below. But I confess that for the very first time, I appreciate fully the power of shared ritual, and mourn the magnitude of what we lost when religion was either hijacked by power brokers, or abandoned altogether.

We can look at our ancient human biological heritage in a new way — the aspects of our human emotional makeup that instinctively resonate within us. These include our natural reactions to rhythm, dance, song, drama, ritual, and all the myriad factors that tend to produce altered states of consciousness in us. These are not simply behaviors that we have learned because cultural traditions have taught us to enact them, with our minds serving as a blank canvas. I contend that these are all evolutionarily structured basic behavioral penchants, similar to the proclivity that human infants exhibit for learning and structuring language. All these factors — language, play, family closeness, kinship, ritual, rhythm, dance — probably played important adaptive roles in the early evolution of the human race. Cultural traditions may model the styles and the details, but the basic penchants undoubtedly stem from ecological adaptations. Not everyone may feel the pull of each factor equally strongly. Some people seem more sensitive to music, others to ritual, others to masks and drama. However, there are probably very few people who do not naturally feel some reaction to at least one of these factors. Recognizing these aspects of our human nature and our human heritage and valorizing them as the essence of what it means to be human is an important step in coming to terms with our contemporary religious experience.

Politicians, philosophers, scholars, scientists, and others have often expressed dismay that in this age of science and enlightenment, such large proportions of even the most modern populations continue to hold irrational, unverified superstitions or beliefs about the existence of a supernatural world, gods, ghosts, or spirits. For such people, science and modern social or political life should have eliminated the need for supernatural beliefs and ritual practices. But they have missed the point. Religion satisfies an inner craving for meaning, a feeling of wholeness or union with greater forces, and an inner satisfaction that comes only from ritual life, just as music and rhythms satisfy an inner emotional craving deep within our souls and minds for the trances, the ecstasies, and the profound experiences only they can produce. These are fundamental adaptations of our biological heritage. To argue that advances in science or politics have eliminated the need for religion is tantamount to arguing that science and politics have eliminated the need for music….

Rational thought on its own becomes pathologically self-serving and destructive of life. Einstein purportedly expressed a similar sentiment when he said that the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant; we have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

ritual

Once aggrandizers are given an inch of leeway under favorable resource conditions, they quickly stretch that inch into a mile and keep on going.
— Brian Hayden

Once upon a time, there lived the ancestral apes that gave rise to humans, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Figure 1
In all likelihood, they lived in bands dominated by the strongest, most aggressive individuals — the male alphas. This tends to produce a rather disagreeable state of affairs where anyone can be humiliated or brutalized at any moment, and the best food and most mates go to just a few. Even baboons would rather opt out when the opportunity arises! In addition, our growing brains demanded the fats found only in scarce meat which the alphas commandeered.

Evolution snaked forward. The chimps pretty much put up with the true and tried. Bonobos evolved out of this unpleasant arrangement into an alliance of females, cemented by mutual sexual pleasuring. Humans likewise evolved out and into an alliance of betas, cemented by unprecedented, increasingly more subtle communication abilities, eventually including laughter and speech.

In conjunction with weapons-at-a-distance that equalized brawn and brains, power came to be shared, and so was the meat. The resulting egalitarian bands, a durable and satisfying arrangement, saw humans through the harshness of repeated ice ages and other natural calamities. During this time, humans became survivors par excellence on the planetary stage. The egalitarian strategy of “vigilant sharing” had proven itself a winner.

When did our first egalitarian revolution occur? Nobody knows, as yet. Some experts posit it could be as far back as when we came down from the trees, others place it into our sapiens timeline. The oldest known wooden, fire-hardened spears come from about 300-400,000 years ago.

This agreeable social arrangement began to slightly unravel in areas of plenty in the late European Paleolithic, and gradually wound down among the so-called “complex hunter-gatherers” after 15,000 years ago. Complex or transegalitarian foragers were people who forged new pathways into competition, accumulation, increasingly violent conflict, and ratcheting economic growth. Individuals known in the literature as Big Men or aggrandizers led this “elitist revolution,” becoming quite the experts on getting people to crank out work and surpluses, by hook or by crook.

In the beginning, these hardworking, enterprising, and generous leaders couched their projects in the language of altruism and community. But being “triple-A” (aggressive, acquisitive, ambitious) personalities, they were also surreptitiously looking out for number one. As more and more wealth of the tribe flowed through their hands, they learned to skim a little, then a bit more, for themselves. They finessed a plethora of strategies that created social imbalances among the people of the tribe. At first, only a few families were left behind, and most did well in the aftermath of Big Men’s projects. But in time, poverty spread apace with increasing social stratification. And after a few millennia of these increasingly manipulative and coercive tactics, the very individuals who early on worked the hardest and kept the least became those who worked the least and kept the most.

As the ratchet picked up speed, wealth and power inequalities grew to such an extent that a genetic bottleneck shows up around 8,000 years ago [reports just off the press, here and here] in various communities of the mid to late Neolithic. Just like in the days of our apish ancestors, the most aggressive alphas grabbed the best food and most of the mates. H. sapiens went baboon.

More work meant more food meant more people. Aggressive, accumulative, highly competitive societies gained a short-term advantage and were pushing out those who stayed with the old relaxed, egalitarian lifestyle. The needs of power came to trump the needs of life on the “Parable of the Tribes” planet. Elite-run societies are very good at producing goods; they nevertheless have a variety of disadvantages. The key one being this: aggrandizers have a problem with brakes. In the long run, they drive their societies off a cliff.

And here we are. Time, once again, for a crash. Except, this time, it’s global. Except, this time, it’s affecting the entire web of life our own lives depend on. The planetary ecosystems are devastated; some are dying. Our fellow creatures are disappearing forever. The soils that feed us are blowing away and turning into desert. There are invisible poisons everywhere, in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, in mothers’ milk. Clean water has become a rare commodity. Oceans are chock-full of garbage. Pathetically enough, the aggrandizers are losing their touch: jobs are vanishing at a time when people depend on them for their entire livelihoods. A stain of misery seeps across the anguished blue planet.

Our leading aggrandizers, of course, are not paying attention. It is one of elite privileges, not having to listen to the peons. Not having to listen to bad news. Not having to face feedback that is simply inconvenient to their plans and schemes, inconvenient to getting even richer and more powerful. One of the cherished perks of being rich and powerful is ignoring anyone who isn’t. Why not continue to live in a bubble and pretend that the bubble that’s lasted so long is permanently impervious to reality?

The Earth is running out — out of minerals, out of peoples and places to exploit, out of space for waste, out of patience. And the teetering tower of complexity, having reached the point of diminishing returns, stirs deep memories of quite another lifeway. Our species knows how to handle hardship and austerity — this knowledge is part of our genetic endowment. When resource conditions worsen to the point that aggrandizing behaviors again pose a threat to community and survival, humans set down tight limits on greed and narrow self-interest. I reckon we are about there. Time for the second egalitarian revolution, don’t you think?

equal

We’re not trying to live like our ancestors, but to do something totally new: to preserve the most helpful complex technologies, while shifting to a political and economic system where power is fully shared.
— Ran Prieur

It seems like ages ago when I wrote about the logic of power. To sum up that post, I argued that it is not possible to fix domination by seizing power. When a group outdominates the current dominators, they become the new dominators. This really ought to be clear by now to anyone looking to “change the world.” It has nothing to do with faulty characters of the revolutionaries. It has to do with the logic of power. Boggles the mind, though; people still try again and again to grab power from their “oppressors.” And they are equally frequently admonishing fellow revolutionary spirits to “dismantle” power as though it were scaffolding.

dismantle power

What is power, anyway? It seems to me that power in its most basic sense is potency. Ability to do, to accomplish. We are all given power along with life, and all adults have, fundamentally, more or less the same amount. In the personal sense, of course, individuals vary somewhat, depending on their levels of energy, their vitality, strength and perseverance, and their specific talents. Their power also waxes and wanes depending on state of health, age, and other factors. But in the “state of nature” personal power fluctuates within a relatively narrow range.

So this type of power is often spoken of as “power-to.” Looking at the uses of power specifically within social settings, however, there appear to be two other kinds of power: power-over, the ability to force others to do one’s bidding against their will, and power-with, the use of power together with others in a variety of voluntary, collaborative ways. Much of the malfunction of “this civilization” has to do with its heavyhanded reliance on power-over.

Power is a form of energy, then. And as other forms of energy can be temporarily gathered up and stored, so can human power. Temporary power acquisition by individuals can be beneficial. The leader of the hunt is given the power to direct the day’s maneuvers. Back in the village, though, he gives that power back. He does not hoard it, bossing people around. And if he does try, tribal folk have in their repertoire a variety of tactics to put him back in his place, and will be less likely to grant him power next time around.

Even in our culture, such ad hoc power acquisition can be a force for good. The fire brigade captain alone directs the action during a fire, and the team is better off. It can be argued that temporary concentration of power in an individual or group is one of the ways healthy power can be used. It is when someone begins to accumulate power the way an alcoholic hoards booze that things go awry.

Power, like water, needs to flow to stay healthy. When it is hoarded and congealed, it goes stale and eventually poisonous. And when it turns toxic, we find ourselves in a grim fairy tale: the person who hoards it will be sickened by the power he wields, and anyone who tries to grab that toxic power away from him will be poisoned and corrupted in turn. Once you touch that poison, its evil magic will turn you into yet another marionette goose-stepping in the domination death march.

How then do we deal with power gone toxic? How can we change the world without touching that poison, without trying to “dismantle” it, without any involvement with it at all?

Congealed power is an attractor. You cannot seize or dismantle an attractor any more than you can seize or dismantle a whirlpool in a river. When the river no longer feeds energy to that particular whirlpool, the eddy will weaken and disappear. Attractors are ‘dissipative dynamic structures.’ They need constant input of energy to keep going, just like a lightbulb needs a constant flow of electricity to keep emitting light. Once the flow stops, the light goes dark. There is no need to seize the lightbulb, nor to dismantle it, right? If we want another type of light, that’s where we direct power and attention.

If we want our power to flow and stay healthy, we pass it from hand to hand; we share it. We pay it forward.

flow

The Neolithic revolution was neither Neolithic, nor a revolution.
— Colin Tudge

Human beings of the race that calls itself Homo sapiens lived in relative equality, in small foraging bands all its existence from the time they emerged about 200,000 years ago. Then, around 30,000 years ago, during a bit more clement time within the last ice age, glimmerings of inequality arose at sites known in Europe — in places that were unusually plentiful in game.

sungir

One of the Sungir burials

Tools grew more elaborate, trade widened, grave goods accompanied certain burials, jewelry and other prestige items became notable, and evidence of control over significant labor was in evidence (viz, for example, the stupendous numbers of sewn-on ivory beads in the Sungir graves).

It has been hypothesized that at some locations, the fabled painted caves in France and Spain turned into places where elite children underwent their initiations. But when game grew sparse, humans went back to tight egalitarian cooperation.

Significant inequality kicked off around 15,000 years ago, after the end of the ice age, during the Magdalenian culture. By now, the dog, horse, and possibly the reindeer had been tamed by these stone-age foragers, thousands of years before the domestication of plants. The delicious pig was bred, also by foragers, in Anatolia about 13,000 years ago, while their Syrian neighbors may have tinkered with rye. A couple of millennia later, foragers built the impressive ceremonial center of Göbekli Tepe which shows the command of vast labor pools, not only to build the center, but eventually to bury it under a hill of gravel.

GobekliTepe2

Part of Göbekli Tepe; click to enlarge; copyright National Geographic

While most of the tribes roaming the Earth continued in the age-old foraging and sharing patterns, a few cultures blessed with particularly fecund landbase began to amass wild surpluses, captured or tamed animals to use in ceremonies, processions and sacrificial rites, threw elaborate feasts, forged far-reaching alliances and trade, and started the engine of ratcheting economic growth, which then — very slowly and haltingly at first — began its world conquest.

feast

preparing a tribal feast

The “feasting model theory” for the origin or agriculture was proposed by archeologist Bryan Hayden. It posits that intensive agriculture was the necessary result of ostentatious displays of power. To regularly throw feasts as a means of exerting dominance, large quantities of food had to be assembled. The enterprising Big Men came to be admired and encouraged for their charisma and skill in wheeling and dealing as they organized these ever larger, more sumptuous and more competitive affairs.

As feasts and ceremonies got more lavish and impressive, the economic treadmill speeded up. People were propelled to get inventive. Foragers had tended wild plants since time immemorial; now they began to cultivate more. Not to feed themselves day-to-day, you understand: for that, they had the plentiful wild food all around them that had always fed them. But the aggrandizive feasts demanded delicacies and amazing new foods to impress the guests. The animals, of course, were the first coup. The dog, whose genome began to diverge from wolves 100,000 years ago, was already domesticated 36,000 years ago. How impressive it must have seemed to have a tame wolf at one’s side who could keep the wild wolves at bay! And so, later, much more effort was put into making a steady supply of animals available for processions, ritual sacrifice, and feasting.

The first domesticated plants were a curiosity. Cultivated rice was proudly presented by the elites at feasts and glorified in myth. But the plant itself was fickle, produced little, and required a lot of work. For real food, people relied on manioc and wild staples, but to impress guests or to trade for desired items, they used rice. And of course, rice and the other grains produced alcohol, another coveted item at feast-time.

The picture I see is not of late Paleolithic and early Neolithic people planting fields of grains and vegetables. I see them growing small experimental plots of plants that could be leveraged into prestige and wealth. In our age, people of modest means tinker in their garages and dream of making it big. The foragers tinkered in their small garden plots. Once an experiment seemed promising, it was given a bit more land, and began to be displayed at the table of a few chosen people, not unlike Wes Jackson showcases his latest, most promising perennial grains at the Land Institute’s yearly festival, and gives small amounts to his friends and allies to try out.

It took many centuries, perhaps millennia, of such small-scale experimentation for grains, lentils, and other cultivars to achieve some reasonable production standard. Only then did they make sense as staples. What were once luxury foods became common fare. And once the old luxury foods were no longer scarce, new prestigious luxury foods had to be found for the insatiable elites. What are some of those early luxury foods? Chiles, vanilla, avocados, gourds, chocolate, alcohol, pork. The grains rice, rye, wheat, barley and maize were all accorded special respect and sometimes even divinity. A big coup was scored when the enormous and dangerous aurochsen were turned into smaller docile cattle.

And so the engine set to crank more and more nifty foods began to crank more people, and the Food Race kicked off in earnest. Tractable animals and improved plants were only some of the items the elites and their socio-economic treadmill pressed for. The others were metals, better tools and containers, more elaborate houses, monuments, ornaments and rare items from faraway places, bridewealth, and other cultural artifacts that validated the new extractive unequal economy. Thus began the endless stream of innovation and profusion of goods whose tail end we are experiencing now, supported by the geysers of fossilized fluids from the bowels of the earth.
SEATED GODDESS
Wild foods were the staples at Çatal Hüyük, the first town. It was wild grains that were venerated and interred in the statuette of the Seated Goddess. Wild aurochs bucrania adorned the walls. And the people ranged for miles to gather and hunt, rounding up wild goats and sheep into adjacent corrals. But I wager they had tiny garden plots nearby on the rich alluvial and regularly flooding soil surrounding their hillock, plots where they experimented with small amounts of exotic foodstuffs emerging from their patient manipulation. It would be thousands of years for the results of some of these trials to become widespread. Tinkering was so uncertain and laborious! The plentiful foraging grounds that surrounded them made such leisurely experimentation possible.

When their later descendants tried to grow the much improved crops in ever larger quantities, they ran into a problem: they damaged the soil they were forcing past endurance, and eventually caused crashes all around the Levant and Mesopotamia. These crashes were not really caused by ignorance — our clever and observant ancestors were savvy to the ways of the land — but the inexorable treadmill pushed and pushed them so they pushed and pushed the land, until it collapsed. Then they starved or migrated, taking their destructive system with them.

This ratchet, friends, is the socio-economic origin of agriculture. It is also the origin of destructive mining and metallurgy, of despotism, loss of leisure and increasingly debilitating work, increasingly violent conflict, population explosion, and slavery. In other words, agriculture turned destructive not because of some intrinsic flaw within larger-scale, more sophisticated cultivation. It turned destructive for the same reason mining, conflict, grazing, or governance turned destructive. Stay tuned.

ratchet002

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