Ecological restoration is a work of hope.
— George Monbiot

Monbiot’s Feral is an astonishing book. I have become something of a book skimmer, but his stories of daredevil fishing in the sea off Wales in a kayak drew me in. And then came the marvelous tales — of a young man and his friends regrowing a forest on the bleakest sheep-ravaged land high in the Welsh mountains; of returning beavers to the land; of stalking the wisent in the Polish wildlife reserve and fishing and kayaking in Slovenia’s regenerated forests and rewilded rivers. Another soggy but heartwarming chapter tells of Trees for Life, a group in Scotland attempting to rewild many miles of interconnected lands despite opposition from elite hunters who favor deer overpopulation.

Not all of the book gave me heart. His encounters with the lies and subterfuges of the bureaucrats with “other” agendas and built-in stupidity were dispiriting, as were his accounts of ocean damage. (I am not surprised that now Britain is poised to Brexit, there is talk of protecting its sovereign coastal waters where trawler over-fishing has ruined fishing village livelihoods.) Apart from living a more rugged life, Monbiot does not have many pointers on how humans can rewild. He seems unable to distinguish between gleeful psychopaths and stubbornly free mountainmen. He also suffers from the delusion that the primary purpose of rural politics in Britain and America seems to be to keep the farmers happy. If only! Small criticism, this – the book was well worth my time.

Let me use his writings to flesh out a coherent sense of rewilding. Here are a few pointers:

• Reinstating ecosystems in which man’s power to dominate is consciously withheld
• Becoming feral – becoming wild(er) after captivity or domestication
• Permeable landscapes through which animals can move once more
• Restoring predators and keystone species that begin to drive the dynamic ecological processes which permit so many other species to thrive
• Permitting the ecological processes inherent to the place to resume (rather than trying to recapture and restore some prior state)
• Restraining our push for privileging safety over experience
• Richer, rawer, more strenuous life for humans

He says: “Rewilding, unlike conservation, has no fixed objective: it is driven not by human management but by natural processes. There is no point at which it can be said to have arrived. Rewilding of the kind that interests me does not seek to control the natural world, to re-create a particular ecosystem or landscape, but – having brought back some of the missing species – to allow it to find its own way.”

“The scientific principle behind rewilding is restoring what ecologists call trophic diversity. Trophic means relating to food and feeding. Restoring trophic diversity means enhancing the opportunities for animals, plants and other creatures to feed on each other; to rebuild the broken strands in the web of life. It means expanding the web both vertically and horizontally, increasing the number of trophic levels (top predators, middle predators, plant eaters, plants, carrion and detritus feeders) and creating opportunities for the number and complexity of relationships at every level to rise.”

“Much of the richness and complexity – the trophic diversity – of these food webs was lost before it was recorded. We live in a shadowland, a dim, flattened relic of what there once was, of there could be again.”

Quoting the founder of Trees for Life: “Seeing the stumps in the peat and the remnant trees, I asked myself: what is the message in the land? What’s the story it’s telling us? My question was: What’s Nature seeking to do here? That is crucially different from the ethos of human domination. Rewilding is about humility, about stepping back.”

And now I would like to tell you why I reached for this book. I got the fanciful idea that farms and farming ought to be rewilded, and I am fishing for pointers. I imagine the farms of the future as places teeming with life, places where soil is grown at an astonishing rate and creatures large and small have once again repopulated the landscape. For me, it began with the realization that the permacultural ethic of “fair share” really means sharing with the critters who too have a claim on the fruits of the land. Our biomass, and the biomass of our domesticates, is crowding out everybody else – and then we grieve over species lost. Humans need to stop grieving and start shrinking, is my own thought. Not just births added are the problem, but pounds of human flesh! Not just pounds of human flesh, but pounds and bushels of human food we crank out like there is no tomorrow.

Once I had a garden upstate New York, and grew some pretty and much fussed over scarlet runner beans. And a delight they were. Then one day, I spied a creature with a big runner bean leaf in its mouth as it slunk off. Oh no, a woodchuck! Well, those of you having lived in North America’s eastern parts know that woodchucks are remorseless eating machines. And they climb fences. So my runner beans went the way of all flesh, and the woodchucks multiplied and multiplied until nature noticed and predators came out that-a-way. Back then, my thinking was, well, no more runner beans. I never even tried again. But now I think, why not grow runner beans and other veggies for the woodchucks? They certainly repaid me richly with the antics of the shortsighted babies staring me down a foot away, and the sight of them grazing the lawn in the early mist. And eventually, they fed the coyotes passing through, or the owls, or the red-tailed hawk family nesting by. Back then, despite myself, I felt possessive of the produce of my my my! garden. But now? My next garden will grow not just for me, but for the critters as well. And leave plenty of room where I neither trample nor gather; room of their own.

baby woodchuck

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I have been rereading the comments that followed my post “No guarantees” – an amazing stream of good thoughts, theories, and hard-won advice. One of the topics that jumped out at me was the bitter claim that no matter what, if we harvest a garden or field, we are depleting fertility by definition.

Wildearthman wrote: “The only historical agriculture found that could be sustained more or less indefinitely occurred on river bottoms where fresh fertility was imported each year from distant mountains. Even with composting, cover crops, and green manures, fertility continues to decline. On my few acres in the Cascades, the topsoil was stripped in clear-cutting. The subsoil is a good quality loam, but I have to import a lot of fertility to make things grow here. How do you keep growing crops in the same old soil, drawing out nutrients with each crop, without at some point adding fertility from somewhere else?”

Jan countered: “The key to continued fertility is to close the nutrient cycle.”

I reasoned that if nature can go from lesser fertility to greater, so could we. Even in pristine forests or grasslands, animals harvest and take away. They leave their poop, true, but they carry away all the energy they need to grow and maintain themselves. That is not returned to the soil until the bird or elk or bison dies.

Osker suggested that a harvest should not be a subtraction from the ecosystem. Clearly, this is possible: a farmer thins the forest he planted 15 years ago, so that all the trees have greater access to the sun; win/win. Relying more on perennial crops – mainly nut trees — is part of Osker’s  strategy.

And so all this put a bee in my bonnet. Is it possible to garden in place without depleting fertility? Is it possible to work a field over generations without the soil sinking lower and lower, with the topsoil growing thinner and thinner?

Then I remembered John Jeavons. I took note of him way back when primarily for his effort to shrink the land needed to grow enough food for one person per year. Only now am I discovering his solution to the very question opened up by my friends on this blog.

To refresh folks’ memory, Jeavons runs a farm in coastal California where he decided to find out what is the minimum of land that will adequately feed a human with a vegetarian diet. He proposed 4,000 sq ft (8,000 with pathways etc.) and now has expanded those numbers to 10,000 in fertile situations and 16,000 in challenging situations. Over time, his experimentation developed into a whole system that has a number of components which are elucidated here.

I am not intending to evaluate his system. I will only alert you that his popular book How to Grow More Vegetables has a new edition coming out in July.

I do think that Jeavons has possibly resolved the puzzle of fertility maintenance or even – gasp – its increase. Jeavons – and this is stupendous – keeps only 40 % of his land for growing human food, and allots 60% of it to growing soil food. To feed the soil, he grows nitrogen fixers, carbon-rich crops, root-dense plants, and perennials with deep roots that bring up subsoil nutrients. (He is no slouch with humanure either). He carefully composts the lot, and adds buckets of it to the beds.

So here is my question. Is this the solution we have been looking for? I can see the face of an Amish farmer being told he has to plow up another 60% of his current fields, just to feed the soil. And why 60%? One of my annoyances with Jeavons is that he will make statements neither supported by an explanation nor by a reference to other sources. For example, he claims that vermicomposting is not suitable to his method because the worms make the nutrients too available. Who says?

Minor quibbling on my part. I walked a field this morning, 100 ft by 100 ft, and took in visually the area that would be dedicated to feeding soil. Huge! Feeding soil must precede feeding everybody else. What an idea! (I do believe that Jeavons does not strictly separate the soil feeding beds and the human feeding beds – for example, rye will give its grains to humans, but the bulk of the plant is pure carbon. And the decaying roots feed the soil directly.)

Feeding soil will not do you any good if you let it all run away in erosion. Crop rotation is a topic of its own, and so is minimal tillage. Rock dusts do not steal fertility elsewhere yet may help fertility in your garden (as they help the fertility of tropical islands lucky enough to lie within the plume of the volcanic dust). Wood ash enriches acidic soils, there are compost teas and plant brews, the word is still out on biochar (which can be easily obtained by burning some brush). Try throwing a little in your chicken coop along with some corn to encourage scratching, and soon the coop will have no dust, no smell, and no poop stalagmites. Later apply the bedding to your garden. No chickens? Here is a recipe: a bit of biochar, some worm castings, a bit of corn meal or flour, bit of pee and a bit of rock dust. Mix well, and let ripen a few days. Voilà!

This of course does not apply to those who sell their produce. They have to import fertility. But getting municipal compost or certain horse manures seems not so much like stealing, but recycling. Nah? Another thought… the ancient practice of letting land lie fallow (as long as it’s covered by vegetation, and grazed occasionally) can be thought of as a nascent glimmer of understanding that the soil needs to be fed.

But back to the main topic. Will the magic application of 60% soil food keep your-mine-our garden’s and field’s fertility increasing? Is this the solution we have been looking for 7,000 years?

Ecology Action garden

You give, I give, all must give.
— Enga proverb

This is a story about a unique tribe of people in Papua New Guinea. My information is based on the detailed book called Historical Vines, by American anthropologist Polly Wiessner and her Enga colleague, Akii Tomu. The reason Enga are of interest to the project of this blog are several. First, they are a large and successful tribe in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, woven together by culture and language. Second, they have made oral history an important part of their heritage passed down in the men’s houses from generation to generation. There are reliable data going back to about 1650. And last, they have — within memory — moved from mostly hunter/gatherers supplementing with swidden gardens to largely horticultural/agricultural subsistence and trading economy based on introduced sweet potatoes, and pigs. At the same time, they transitioned from what might be termed egalitarian transegalitarianism to pronounced status and wealth differences while maintaining egalitarian ethos. The accompanying changes are described in detail by the various elders interviewed, through direct witness or cross-checked rememberance.

Enga settled in the Highlands of New Guinea as the glacial cover retreated and the climate warmed, many centuries ago. They hunted marsupials and cassowaries, gathered the nuts and greens of the forest, and grew taro in slash and burn gardens. Land was plentiful, and they lived in widely spread-out settlements. There is pollen evidence that at one point they made the decision to concentrate and intensify their taro gardens in the bottom lands, and let the forests regenerate. About 300 years ago, sweet potato made its way slowly from the lowlands, where it was an indifferent crop, to the highlands, where it came to produce so plentifully that it changed the course of Enga history. Originally, men hunted, women gathered, and men and women worked the gardens together, men clearing and planting and women tending and harvesting.

Much changed with the gradual introduction of the sweet potato which turned out to produce prodigious amount of food in this mountainous climate, surpluses became ridiculously easy to come by, and the pig was turned into sweet potato “storage on the hoof.” The women became the primary food producers, while the men began to devote more time to traveling, trading and politics. Populations grew, tensions increased between the “hunters” and the “farmers,” and fights for fertile land became more frequent… Today, all the land is taken.

The population in the early days is estimated at 10,000 plus. Recently, 110 tribes divided into many clans and subclans were documented by the study conducted from 1985-95, and by then the population burgeoned to over 200,000. There are 9 mutually intelligible dialects. The clans are thought of as patrilineal associations of equals, while kinship on the female side plays an important cultural role in opening the society up to wider cultural influences, facilitating exchange with in-laws and beyond. Land is owned both individually and by the clan. A man can pass his land to his descendants, but it cannot pass to anyone outside the clan, unless they become permanent members. Clans and tribes have a common origin myth, sometimes referring to immortal sky people, other times to animals. Genealogies play a large role in establishing inheritance rights to land.

The Enga province is blessed with 7 salt springs, and this salt provided a prime item for wide area trading. It was exchanged for high quality stone axes, shells, cosmetic oils, bark twine, and foodstuffs. The trading paths would in time play an important role in the spread of various cults, as well as the extensive Tee exchange (a carefully organized sequence of trade-based festivals) network.

Westerners began to make modest inroads in the late 1930s. Enga suffered severe epidemics post contact, but unlike other tribes, their population continued to rise, possibly because the Enga had a tradition of stringent quarantine for people afflicted with contagious disease. There’s been an emphasis on large families: sons to assure future strength of the clan, and daughters as producers and links for exchange networks outside of the clan. Until the last few decades, the division between the sexes was strengthened by the existence of separate men’s and women’s houses. Incipient big men were always — as far back as memories reach — found at the focal points of influence over the flow of goods and valuables.

enga_province-map

Egalitarianism

Even in the hunting-gathering days, some men did rise to modest prominence on account of their oratory, hunting prowess, and able mediation of conflicts. This trend intensified as the Enga society grew in complexity. But egalitarianism was deeply rooted, and remained so until modern times.

Each adult in Enga society is a potential equal within gender and within the clan. Exceptions are granted to leaders who share their wealth with the clan. These leaders go to great lengths to show that what they want is also to the benefit of the tribe, while veiling self-interest from the public eye.

People are very careful not to boast about the accomplishment of relatives or ancestors; individual names in history are often replaced with clan names, and while individuals are credited, they are never elevated to the status of heroes. To the contrary, egalitarian ethics structure oral traditions to the point that founding ancestors may even be ridiculed. In the tribal “hall of fame” are such characters as Lungupini who uses his own leg as a block against which to cut grass. His and other ancestors’ exploits showing stupidity, tricksterism, and foolishness have entertained generations.

Among Enga, escalating competition is not practiced, where one loses if one does not give more than one has received. Generous returns for gifts given are desirable, but not necessary; they are aimed at strengthening the bond, not winning in the “game” of giving and establishing temporary superiority. Neither individuals nor clans try to outdo each other by giving back more than they received. Competition is constrained within the clan in other areas as well. For example, people do not compete to “be right” in the matters of history, but rather compare and correct the stories. This is not so unusual. Competition was severely constrained in many pre-state societies. If competition is allowed to accelerate, how would the emerging inequalities be mediated?

Cultural artifacts — myths, magic formulas, traditions, poems, songs, stories and proverbs — were all used not only to anchor one’s identity and to impart certain values, but also specifically to bring about change, or to mediate its effects.

Formerly, cults that specifically focused on rebalancing male and female energies were practiced with the intent to make peace between the sexes. Women are not equal in status to men, but are well respected as producers, and as diplomats behind the scenes. If a woman or child sickens or dies, the man has to make payments to the in-laws for the loss.

Employing men from one’s own clan would signal exploitation and inequality and would lead to loss of support. The big men only employed servants from among nearby clans, distant relations or immigrants. If a big man broke this rule, he would fast lose influence, because Enga understand that employment creates inferior positions. “Because fellow clansmen were equals, servants were almost always men from other clans who could not set up households on their own land — for instance war refugees, or the handicapped from inside or outside the clan who could not stand on their own. Blatant exploitation of one’s own clansmen, who were by definition equals, would eventually lead to loss of support.”

Cult duties were not part of big man repertoire; it was the elders or traveling hereditary shamen who were the specialists regarding cult ceremony and magic. Sons of low status men could become big men.

Kamongo

Even in the early days, big men — kamongo — are remembered to have risen to leadership. Small feasts based on taro and the produce of the forests were held, and people visited long distances. The pig did not play much of a role then. The kamongo were humble men who worked for the good of the tribe.

Even though the authors stress how durable and difficult to dislodge was the egalitarianism of the Enga clans, it is clear from the accounts describing the exploits of the succeeding generation of powerful kamongo that power indeed corrupts. Where the great grandfather was a modest man seeking to forge friendly relations with everyone, his son was a powerful wheeler-dealer who had many servants, great wealth, and put much emphasis on ceremonial attire and theatrical performance. His speeches stressed his abilities to deliver what he promised. The generation after him was already given to loud and shameless boasting and the insulting of competitors, and after that the kamongo began to lose respect for infighting, intrigue, cheating,  heavy politicking, and political murder.

While egalitarian values were often stressed and catered to, nevertheless, greater and greater inequality crept in, tolerated because the kamongo divided much of his wealth among the people of his clan, or applied it to clan projects (wars, war reparations, cult purchases, increasingly ostentatious ceremonies). In addition to kamongo leaders, the Enga also had local clan elders, war leaders and hereditary ceremonial specialists.

Men had to campaign to be leaders. They campaigned by giving pigs or other things to those who needed them. They paid bridewealth for others. They became spokesmen for their clans during confrontations with other clans. They offered hospitality to strangers. Anything done to benefit or promote the clan would be regarded as part of their campaign for leadership. The people recognized men who did these things as big-men.

Here is a list of kamongo duties:
– mobilize work parties
– settle internal disputes
– distribute food at funerals
– provide group members with dress and ornaments for ceremonial occasions
– host traditional dances
– plan events
– conduct peace negotiations successfully
– orate elegantly in public
– know the skills of peacemaking oratory to restore balance by avoiding implications of superiority on either side
– help finance bridewealth and other obligations of clan members
– mobilize the clan to go out and get pigs for a Tee exchange
– manage and distribute wealth in the Tee exchange
– give special gifts to potential trouble makers in a reparation settlement

They preferentially offered or withheld finance, manipulated both the multiplicity of interpersonal relationships in any exchange situation and the ambiguities surrounding who the proper receivers would be, for his own and his group’s advantage. The kamongo is nothing if not a genius at devising intricate plans which seem to benefit everyone, including the persons who do not receive pigs, and then at convincing people to implement them.

Wars resulting from premeditated homicide, rape, or other aggressive and insulting acts were sometimes engineered by big-men as parts of strategies to attain their own political goals. Successful payback by the enemy tribe reestablished a balance of power, and enabled tribes to hold on to their territory.

Though Enga adults of the same sex are considered potentially equal, men can make names for themselves, become kamongo and wield considerable influence by displaying skills in mediation, in public oration, and in manipulating wealth, among other things. Competition for status and leadership in these arenas is intense. Tolerance for big-men’s having several wives, more wealth, and greater influence than others depends heavily on the benefits they provide to their fellow clan members; should they fail to deliver, their demise is rapid.

Cults

From the early generations onward, Enga was a society of long-distance travelers, traders, importers and exporters, innovators and experimenters venturing out on paths forged by marriage ties. New crops, cultivation techniques, goods, valuables, cults, and even styles of leadership were given and taken readily — but experimentally so. They were accepted into the current repertoire, placed side by side with existing heritage, and left to settle into their own niches over time.

Such openness also extended to the realm of ritual. New cults were readily purchased and added to the existing repertoire. For clans who had eight to twelve cults or healing rituals, the solution to competing possibilities was not to narrow the field by discarding some but to perform rites to determine which was appropriate for the problem at hand. The same held true for styles of leadership. The often flamboyant performers and orators who organized the Tee cycle and Great Wars did not replace the local clan leaders, though their roles overlapped. The value of both was recognized, the one to represent their clans in a larger political arena and the other to provide stability in internal affairs. And so the old continued to reproduce the cultural heritage of the past and provide continuity while the new kept abreast of change.

Cults for the ancestors were the anchors of society. In their performances, the ideal relationship between various tribal segments were acted out and central norms reaffirmed, particularly the equality of male tribal members and households and the obligation of group members to share and cooperate. Boundaries were opened and relatives from other clans and tribes came as invited guests to celebrate, bringing specialties from their areas to help provision the feasts. Cults were also exchanged widely among Enga and with neighboring linguistic groups; in this context they became important forums in which leaders could set new directions. As integrative events, ancestral cults grew hand in hand with economic developments and must be counted among the greatest systems of ceremonial exchange.

The authors mention how the recent disappearance of the cults due to missionary activity — while retaining and enlarging economic exchange — left the society unmoored, unable to maintain an equilibrium and harmony through the balance of ritual and exchange. Some of the cults were maintained by ritual experts, others by tribal elders and big men, to establish cooperation with the spirit world and its mysteries, harmony between the sexes, effective response to crises, and mediation of change. Ritual innovation and the purchase of cults created an eclectic and evolving mix of ritual, magic, initiation of young people, and cosmology.

Following Enga logic that “name” and prosperity stem from distribution rather than from retention, cults or elements of them were exchanged widely. Both importers and exporters stood to benefit by enhanced connections made possible by shared traditions. They believed that with proper ritual, the spirit world and human world need not work at cross purposes but could cooperate to bring about prosperity. Ritual celebrations also brought about moratoria on warfare. At the more egalitarian, unity-building ritual celebrations, food was provided free for all. Some of the surplus was simply channeled into communing with the ancestors, and curtailed competition.

The cults were manipulated to set new goals and values, regulate relations between generations and genders, and standardize beliefs to make wide area exchange and marriage alliances. Bachelor cults helped young men mature, develop their individual abilities, and overcome the inequalities of birth and background. In particular, they were led to develop an aura about them — posture, movement, speech, and assurance — signaling physical health, inner worth, and social effectiveness. Such a man would then be able to gain the cooperation and generosity of others. Eventually, wealth management was added to these virtues by the leaders bent on extending the networks of exchange ever further. Bachelor cults and initiation ceremonies strengthened the bonds of brotherhood and the chance of future consensus. It also gave the older generation more power to steer the younger one.

The cults provided a counterpoint of opposing ideals — ones of equality, sharing and cooperation within and across boundaries that limited or structured the growing competition. They rewove the fabric of society when it was torn by competition, in order to reestablish continuity and balance in relation to the past, for the present, and to lead into the future.

Each cult was different. To give you the flavor of it, one of the cults — the Kepele cult — focused on building the structure — the house — around which the ceremonies would take place. Several clans collaborated, each having part of the building process as their task. The ritual would include processions as well as specific magical procedures meant to bring to fertility to the tribe, promote cooperation and good relations, and reaffirm the values the tribe depended on. Every household was expected to bring one pig, and the food was free to all.

Ceremonial Wars and the Tee

The Enga engaged in real (destructive) wars, usually over territory after population had grown. But they also staged so-called “ceremonial wars.” Young warriors were hosted by certain clans, strategic skirmishes went on by day, and feasting, dancing and courting followed at night. Spectators came from far and wide. Casualties were few, and after the war had ended, war reparations for the 2 – 4 men slain among allied clans would be undertaken. These reparations were not for lives lost, but rather for the contribution the dead man would have made. As such, they went on for years. In later times, reparations to enemies became common as well, because enemies no longer could just move on to empty territory — you were still neighbors and had to get along in the future. Reparations also prevented destructive feuds. Some elders believe that the Great Wars provided an outlet for aggression and that in total fewer lives were lost overall. The Ceremonial Wars were a brilliant invention that induced people to produce huge surpluses that grew the economy. It also provided new opportunities for creating new trading and marriage connections. They were, in effect, tournaments, carefully arranged and fought to display military strength, form alliances, and cultivate exchange.

The common cause, danger, and spectacle drew unprecedented crowds. Owing to the sheer number of participants brought together by the ever better drama and ritual, the Ceremonial Wars were instrumental in constructing vast exchange networks fueled by intensified home production within a broad segment of the population. The glamour, excitement, group spirit, and ceremony of these great tournaments lent much greater social and symbolic value to pigs, mobilizing each and every household to step up production for the exchanges. Basically, the Enga used the cults, the ceremonial wars, and later the famous Tee exchanges all to crank out surpluses and pass the new wealth around.

Tee exchanges were held for the principal reason of paying back creditors. They were also public distributions of wealth for specific events: marriages, funerals, and war reparations. When a project needed financing, a Tee would be organized. Those who wanted to join would arrange marriages to those along the routes, and began sending wealth into the system; eventually they would receive returns from it.

In order to join the Tee, families had to step up production. Early on, only a few families chose to do so. Many people had only a few pigs, and were not interested in the labor-intensive task of raising more. Only later, as the Tee came to be flooded with wealth from the ceremonial wars and then new wealth introduced by the Europeans and became more visible, did many more families join.

In the end, though, the Tee began to fall apart: partly, the kamongo became corrupt, endless conflicts tore the organization apart, and women objected to yet another step up in production.

The Tee comprised of the chains of finance that tapped into the wealth of non-kin; greater access to wealth was compelling to the neighbors who heard about it and then sought to join, while big men sought new sources of influence and finance to control the trade. Altered values and intergroup competition were needed to develop the system further.

It was constructed by a few individuals along major trade routes who discreetly concatenated preexisting trade and exchange relationships into chains of finance. The early Tee allowed big men to assemble more wealth without greatly augmenting production or arousing the attention of fellow clansmen. Competition to control the flow of wealth was there, but merely as a current that ran under the surface.


And now?

One of the last great kamongo gave up the pigs and converted to Seventh Day Adventism, as did many others. Nowadays, it’s Islam that draws the young. And the tribal traditions are fading away.

Enga who had experienced precontact years as adults described them as a time when people sought ever new ways to keep abreast of change, maintaining equilibrium and harmony through exchange and ritual. Balance was tenuous, however, for ever-accelerating production for exchange depended on a generous environment. Should exchange or ritual fail, warfare was by no means muted but alive and well-practiced as an alternative solution. And the environment could not be infinitely generous. In the face of growing pig and human populations, a time would come when resources would be insufficient for all. Choices then would be more severely constrained by the natural environment. As it happened, Australian patrols marched into Enga in 1939 to set off an entirely different trajectory of development… But one is tempted to ask, had the patrols not marched into Enga, what then?

Could the inventive Enga have come up with a solution that has evaded humans elsewhere?

Enga in ceremonial dress

It may seem like a detour from the usual topics of this blog, but it really isn’t. By and by, I will tie my thoughts regarding Islam into the overarching topic of uncivilization. But first, I need to share with you my journey, and what I have found.

I used to think that Islam was just another religion. Bzzt! Then, when I discovered it wasn’t, I thought that my exploration would lead to me separating the religion and its strictly religious concerns from the rest of Islam, and talk about the rest. But that too proved impossible. Islam is a political ideology firmly wedded to its religious aspect. But let’s begin at the beginning.

First, I discovered that Europe, and western Europe in particular, is in the throes of massive in-migration by people from Middle Eastern and African nations who are largely Muslim. And that there seems to be a major incompatibility between Muslims and the largely secular, post-Judeo-Christian Europe. This in-migration is a recent add-on to something that began in the 70s. Immigration policies were changed from protecting the locals and accepting people who were more or less compatible with local values, to aggressive multiculturalism that promoted people from far-flung parts of the world, and loudly deplored the locals as boring, not rainbowy enough, and racist. There were already Muslims in Europe at that time, in France from Algiers, in Germany from Turkey, and so forth. And in the Balkans, Muslim areas have existed since the Ottoman conquests. But from about the 70s on, progressive policies were implemented that over time made it possible for greater and greater numbers to come in, while enabling many of these incomers to live on welfare and to separate themselves into ethnic enclaves. The goal of integration was replaced by “sensitivity to other cultures,” and the rest is history.

Now, Europe has millions upon millions of Muslims who live in separate neighborhoods more or less according to their own rules. Perhaps most troubling, these areas are noted for their lack of women in the cafes, for plenty of burkas, rapidly rising street hooliganism and crime, and for sheltering those peculiar aspects of Islamic culture having to do with keeping women forcibly sequestered in the home, never learning the language of the host country, and never having a chance to participate in the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all women by that country’s laws.

Since I last spoke about Sweden, things have gotten both worse, and a little better. The wave of crime, said to be fueled notably by Somali and Afghani migrants, has gotten worse. The reports of rapes and vicious murders continue unabated, despite the efforts of the Swedish political elites to hush them up. But people’s voices are getting through. Just last week, a policeman published the details of the cases he’s been working on recently. The vast vast majority of those crimes were committed by migrants. He’s received massive support from Swedes on social media; nevertheless, the authorities are cracking down on him for racism.

In Germany, the critics of Merkel’s open door immigration policies have become more outspoken as well, defying intensive efforts of authorities to spy on them and to prosecute them for even slightly injudicious words. And the British have taken in many young men pretending to be children. When folks seeing who was coming in complained, barriers were erected to keep them from the public eye, and pleas for medical vetting were for naught. This after similar practices had been disclosed in the Scandinavian countries along with the abuse of the generous benefits that ought to be reserved for, you guessed it, children, and most grievously, after a “15 year old” 6 ft man in his early twenties had stabbed a Swedish child-shelter worker – herself a refugee from Lebanon — to death. Politically, anti-open-door parties are set to win in Holland and France, while even the teflon Ms. Merkel may be poised for a brisk slide toward defeat by a fellow Europhile.

In my bewilderment at the seeming madness of what I was witnessing, I began to study the Koran, and frequenting sites that were more “right wing” than any I had frequented in the past, mainly because they were dedicated to spreading information that was leaking one way or another from these various countries through social media, activists, and artists. And thus began my real education about Islam. I had trusted well-known religion expert Karen Armstrong, a former nun whom I admired for her honest portrayal of her early and miserable days in the cloister, to provide me with similarly honest information regarding Islam. But she let me down.

In reading the Koran myself, I suffered a shock. I discovered first hand all the hatred dished out in the Koran toward the likes of me, a kafir. Its incitement to violence. Its misogyny. Its vilification of Jews and Christians. And Mohammed’s unabashed and transparent use of the religious vehicle for self-aggrandizement, self-enrichment, bullying, lechery, lies and vengeful viciousness. Trying to recapture my shock now, so many months later, I realize I cannot do it justice. Islam needs to be experienced as I did, directly at the source. Do yourself and humanity a favor; please give it a few hours of your time.


A side note: when the Koran was compiled many centuries ago, it was organized from the longest passages to the shortest. This makes it confusing and virtually unreadable. That’s why getting a chronological Koran is essential. There are others besides the ones I point to below. Chronological Korans organize the contents by beginning with the early verses communicated when Mohammed was still living in Mecca, following up with the later Medinan verses. The verses are interspersed with the unfolding story of Mohammed to make more sense of the narrative. An Abridged Koran and A Simple Koran are the ones I have used, sometimes comparing the translation with others on the web.


Then, looking to communicate with Muslims directly, I joined one of the online forums dedicated to countering anti-islamic propaganda. It was a creepy experience. I ended up walking on eggshells for two months lest I say something I’d be castigated for, was castigated anyway, and had to leave the site because the stress of being in such a hostile environment was wearing me down. What I found was that honest and well-meaning if rather blunt questions were met not with a moderately-worded discussion suited for a forum ostensibly helping people see Islam and Muslims in a good light, but with vituperation. I was memorably told that we Americans are degenerates, our society a cesspool of immorality, and our values nonexistent. My every word was scrutinized and found wanting, and my free ranging inquiry resented as hateful American arrogance. Yikes! Later I found these folks are known for cyber stalking and doxing bloggers critical of Islam. I did meet one interesting Muslim there who maintained a civil discourse throughout, and introduced me to the fact that some contemporary Muslims cleave to the Koran only and are critical of the reliability of supporting information from the early hadith and the sira (collected sayings and biographies of Mohammed).

After that, my education came from several “counter-jihad” sites that I still follow regularly (here is one sample), and from reading a number of books, notably Irshad Majid’s The Trouble with Islam Today, Wafa Sultan’s A God Who Hates, and an obscure free online book that was once banned in the Netherlands, and speaks of the experience of a Muslim from Pakistan who once began a long trek west, looking for a culture more user-friendly than his own. He fell in love with the Netherlands, and makes no bones about his incredulity how willing the Dutch are to ruin the good thing they have. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian doctor who emigrated to the States, is an amazing woman. She became famous in the Arab-speaking world when she was interviewed side by side with a cleric who was all set to outshout her. Not a chance. She told him to pipe down, it was her turn! She is a sight to behold. These books not only opened up to me many of the issues contemporary religious and cultural Muslims struggle with, but they also shine a light on the mentality of people in heavily Muslim countries. I recommend them all, and commend these courageous souls for speaking so generously and freely of their experiences.

More recently, I have tussled with Muslims and their progressive allies online. I discovered first-hand the dishonesty that is described by counter-jihad folk as “taqiyya artistry.” Taqiyya as I understand it is a shia term for the permissibility of lying in the propagation of Islam and also to shield oneself from enemy backlash (the Shia’s main oppressor being the Sunni Muslims originally; Muslims all too routinely accuse each other of apostasy when opinions vary and feelings run high). I have come across people who will say anything, no matter how outrageous, in their effort at misdirection, at infusing Islam with a benevolent glow, or at casting aspersions at anything western. Since I follow Czech media, I ran into Muslims there who, relying on general ignorance, hit people over the head with a barrage of colonial guilt – this against a people who never had any colonies, were typically the butt of wider European power clashes, and suffered under the onslaught of Turk invaders who mercilessly pillaged southern Moravia and colonized neighboring Hungary for 150 years.

It’s not that Muslims don’t mean well. Often they believe alternative facts because western historians are not to be trusted, in their view. Or they are happy enough just to repeat islamic propaganda. Overall, though, it’s that their religion tells them all sorts of heinous acts – including crass deception — are piety itself, and lushly rewarded in heaven, if done “in the path of Allah.” Ah, there’s the rub of intensely self-righteous ideologies.

The left allies of Islam, on the other hand, deflect criticisms of Islam by venting scorn on Christianity, their usual whipping boy. They have a point; there are of course some equivalencies. But the intolerant Christianity of religious wars, burnings at the stake, and inquisition against heretics is largely and long since a thing of the past. In fact, Christians are now being shockingly brutalized, suffering frequent pogroms in many Islamic countries. Christianity no longer lives in the 16th century. As far as I can tell, Islam never left the 7th.

Looking back, it’s been for me a year and a half of shocks relating to Islam. Yet another such “rude surprise” concerns its history. But I will leave that for another time. You may ask – have I discovered any positives along the way? I am told that the language of the Koran is quite lovely in a whimsical sort of way, in Arabic, using puns and word play to get its message across. And my interaction with a small range of ardent Muslims gives me the impression that they are fellow utopians at heart, dreaming like us radical greens of a better social order, of that shining city on a hill that might usher us forth from this miserable time of Satanic mills gone doubling down. They certainly show a passion and a dedication to their task of spreading what they love we might do well to emulate. And clearly, their faith is a strength unto them.

There is something about human beings, when it comes to the unknown. We don’t seem to be able to just wonder about something and speculate creatively, maybe have a bit of fun with it. No, not us! Instead we like to decide beyond all possible doubt without a single shred of evidence.

We prefer to nail our colours to the mast before we even know if there is a ship attached to it, and often we’ll defend that position to the death.

— Pat Condell

German résistance (song, English subtitles):

https://vid.me/e/WBlA?stats=1

The time has come, the walrus said, to reopen this blog. I promised a tribal post, but that will have to wait for final touches. Meanwhile, to go along with the current political frenzy (and yes, I am voting this time, in case you wondered), I offer you a timely post that emerged this afternoon from a discussion on the Small Farm Future blog, which itself was provoked by that blog’s response to JM Greer’s recent musings on liberalism.

First, I hastened to refresh my understanding of classical liberalism. I compiled this vignette from quickly perused sources.

Classical liberalism is a political philosophy and ideology in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of the government.

Main features: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets; rule of law and equality before the law; government by consent (constitution, checks on power, robust autonomy of local governing bodies); property protection; and commercial and industrial activities of citizens not subject to “undue restraint” – which led many early classical liberals, but not all, to fight protectionism (e.g. tariffs) and collective organizations (guilds, unions, et al.)

Chris Smaje added something essential: “I think a more important point concerns what liberalism has had to say about the form of politics rather than its content. And in a nutshell, that form is – argue your point peacefully, using reason; if you lose, accept that you’ve lost peacefully, with grace; and don’t intrude on things politically that have nothing to do with public wellbeing, such as the private pursuits of the individual that affect no one else. In order to realise that political form, a lot of work was needed to create a public sphere where people met as citizens and equals, and could expect even-handed treatment by the state.”

Needless to say, I consider this old-fashioned liberalism, stripped of its way-out laisses-fairytales by the recognition of the need for  “due restraint” regarding commercial and industrial activities of citizens, as a fine summary of what is so admirable — in a very practical sense — about the foundations of America. This liberalism is about the values and habits that undergird political discourse and indeed, everyday life.

Strangely, Mr. Greer calls liberalism a “movement” which is fading. As far as I can tell, he is speaking about a movement that married liberal attitudes to progressivism. I would agree that this uneasy marriage is ending — largely because progressives have jettisoned the liberal part. But what comes next is not likely to be the end of classical liberal mind & heartsets, but rather their infusion into more populist conceptions of politics; not a crusading progressivism setting its sights on the elusive purity of vaguely defined “social justice” toward favored victims, but rather a politics of specificity, place, loyalty, and responsibility.

greendrop

Chris has himself identified as an agrarian left-wing populist. Having had my curiosity piqued for some time with promises of explaining what he means, I decided to wait no longer, at least for the populist part. Here is what I found, elsewhere and in myself.

At its root, populism is a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government, rather than accepting control by a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite. Populists believe that the politicians are the people’s public servants, not just another, more modern, version of their masters.

Fareed Zacharia writes that “historically, populism has come in left- and right-wing variants, and both are flourishing today, from Bernie Sanders to Trump, and from Syriza, the leftist party currently in power in Greece, to the National Front, in France.” His article has very little to say about left-wing populism, which is perhaps not surprising since Syriza can only be regarded as an embarrassment, no better than faux populists and sellouts. On the other hand and predictably he has plenty of negative things to say about right-wing populism. After all, we all know that we can’t have “pandering to people’s worst instincts”, can we? And right-wing populism always seems to have that bugaboo hanging over it, that “rising support for a [demagogue] who would dispense with the checks and balances of liberal democracy.” As if left-wingers were immune!

I think it is more accurate to say that the French National Front, while regularly described as far right, is in fact, apart from their views on open borders and immigration, sticking to welfare state policies. Has it occurred to Mr. Zacharia that “we the people” do not want to dispense with the checks and balances of liberal democracy? Instead, we are angry to see these checks and balances routinely disrespected and eroded by the entrenched elites! What “we the people” want to dispense with are the corruption and special privileges that have saddled this country with unprincipled, cheating, lying, “living in a bubble” people with lots of money and high-level connections that enable them to lord it over us, and who end up making a lot of stupid, self-serving, counterproductive, even brutal and calamitous decisions without any accountability whatsoever, progressively “freer” from even the notion that they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us.

In truth, there are only two differences I have been able to discern between left and right-wing populism: lefties are more likely to dwell on the misdeeds of the banksters and Wall Street and demand substantial monetary and financial reforms, while righties are more likely to demand restrictive and well-regulated immigration policies. We are all for localism, for having our voices heard, for more accountable democracy, and against remote and contemptuous elites, ruinous trade treaties, and galloping globalism that disregards real people’s wellbeing.

I propose that there is only one populism: the commitment to heed the voice of the people, and to govern with the consent of the governed by servant leaders who are responsive to that voice. Which turns us right back to classical liberalism, integrating it with better mechanisms for ongoing public deliberation that includes ordinary voices, and for heeding the results of this public deliberation, having those then reflected in the policies subsequently crafted.

Both illiberal, authoritarian left and illiberal, authoritarian right slide into selectively-tolerant intolerance and thuggery. They are no populists, they are totalitarians. The major disagreement dividing us populists is not over reining in banksterism and crony capitalism, but over immigration policies, borders (both economic and geographical/cultural), and Islam. This is the current political edge and nobody has yet arrived at anything close to satisfying answers. Recognizing that fact and embracing the ongoing open-minded exploration of these confounding issues in the best “classical liberal” sense of the word would end the divisive and demeaning split of populism into the “virtuous” left and “far-right” bigots. This is a “divide and rule” lie and cannot be allowed to stand. I propose that all of us populists stand by each other and dispense with the name calling and with pushing people out of the conversation that ought to be held by us all.

 

wethepeople

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!