civ


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

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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

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!

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

The only way for us to win is not to play.

At the core of the Machine is a whirlwind of human and planetary energy sucked into a global positive feedback loop that’s formed a funnel of destruction and death, mowing down everything in its path. An out-of-control vicious circle is very difficult to stop; there is no point underestimating the daunting nature of this task. Such a system has a huge investment in ignoring warning counter-signals. This, coupled with the addictive nature of power, makes for a very persistent system, which, indeed, has persisted very well for some 6,000 years. The heavy investment of the rulers in power-enhancing technologies also makes a big difference. And yet, and yet… a well-aimed negative feedback will stop a runaway loop cold.

History, so far, shows only two ways such Machines of domination were stopped. The first is a system-wide crash: the Machine ran out of — ruined — “nature services” that provided the resources human labor could gather and amplify, with resulting starvation, flight and desolation. This is the option accompanied by the infamous Horsemen: Famine, Pestilence, War and cannibalism (this shadowy horseman is rarely mentioned but rides along with the others as sure as Death). The second is a slower collapse with a silver lining: the workforce vanishes into the underbrush, merging with tribes and rebels off the radar, scavenging for real value, and leaving the Machine to grind to a halt. In other words, either warning signals are heeded and human energy redirects itself away from the Machine, or nature pulls the plug. I hardly need to emphasize that it would be much to our advantage not to wait for Mother Nature’s solution. Will it work? It’s the only thing that ever has. All it takes is a critical number of people quietly ducking out.

When the Czechs and Slovaks withdrew from public life into private and family affairs after the 1968 Soviet invasion, I was grievously disappointed. I envied the Poles their active and celebrated opposition. Now I see it as the sanest response they could have mounted. They withdrew from the system. They laughed at it in a million clever jokes. They worked as little as possible, they taught their own kids to look under the surface and see the lies, they believed nothing official but found their own sources of news, they created connected networks of craftspeople and others with useful skills to trade and get things done privately. And they put most of their energy into living. The system weakened; how could it not? The power structure, artificially propped up by Moscow, collapsed overnight when the Soviets could no longer ride in with the big stick. My old countrymen and women paddled with the current, while the power elites struggled against it, trying hard to control the situation. To no avail. It is a lot easier to harass a few dissidents than to go after millions of people who are most notable by… doing as little for the system as they can get away with, just minding their everyday lives, and not believing anything you say.

So it works in the modern world, just as it worked long ago for lowland Maya, or the Hohokam, or Norte Chico. It’s our last great hope: passing over the swamp that waters Babylon, we rain our energy onto the watershed that feeds the river of Life.

river

 We can refuse to participate in a dead society gone shopping.
— Joe Bageant

Once we understand what feeds it, it becomes possible to think of stopping the Machine. I puzzled over this one for a long time, only to suddenly grok the obvious: the fodder for the Machine is our precious life energy!

Eeww… eewww

So then. Deny it its coveted fuel: your effort, your attention and interest, your money, your loyalty, your goodwill and your good ideas. Deny it your streams of energy, one by one. Direct them instead to the Lifeworld. And don’t shout it from the rooftops! Just blend discreetly into one of the various subcultures experimenting nowadays with a saner way of life; the minions and guardians of the Machine will never even notice you.

This is the crux. Any machine can withstand tinkering, but no machine can run without fuel. Like an old mill on a dry riverbed, it will become a relic of a past that’s done with, a useless hunk of debris. Our radical withdrawal will be the end of the Machine.

Here are some of the ways of seceding from Babylon:

  • Down-work, un-work

More work is the source of evils like resource depletion and stress and pointlessly complicated lives; the Earth needs us to stop working so hard! The less we work, the less we feed the Machine. Our work aids the plunder, our de-working slows and stops it, one person at a time. This is why Babylon has always reinforced the message that work is virtuous and important even as it was inventing pointless busywork, harmful work, useless work. Let’s celebrate “Freedom from Labor” Day! Working more is not the way to leisure. Leisure is the way to leisure. Find it before the Machine uses you up and spits you out.

Working less will give the earth a break and repatriate you from ratdom back to humanity. There is plenty of work out there for those who want to do real things, useful things that matter. Once we shed debts and provide ourselves with paid-for basics, money is a small part of the picture. Well-being is what matters, not cranking out a pittance while the planet is plundered more and more. What we need is a “less work ethic”! Less work, less planet being used, more life.

  • Unschool

Unschooling does not mean turning the parent into a traditional teacher, and stuffing the kids full of the same nonsense that the official curricula dictate. No! Let children learn as they did between that ages of birth and 5 or 6, when they acquired prodigious quantities of knowledge, all by their own efforts. Just help them along, and they will be far ahead of their institutionalized peers. Best learning happens in context, by learners who are busily exploring their environment. Spend time with your children sharing with them what you know and what you love. Create neighborhood co-op schools. Get tutors (elders in particular): kind, child-cherishing experts who can take the kids down paths you do not know. And make it possible for children to learn real things: basic medical care, care for animals, food growing and cooking, conversation, geography of travel, building. All those abstractions schools “teach” will either be learned in the course of their exploration, or will never be needed anyways. Honest: when was the last time you needed algebra?

  • Dis-identify with the hologram 

Exit the theater of the audience-nation! As Joe Bageant once ranted so well: “All Americans, regardless of caste, live in a culture woven of self-referential illusions. Like a holographic simulation, each part refers exclusively back to the whole, and the whole refers exclusively back to the parts. All else is excluded by this simulated reality, a simulated republic of eagles and big box stores, a good place to live so long as we never stray outside the hologram. The corporate simulacrum of life has penetrated us so deeply it now dominates the mind’s interior landscape with its celebrities and commercial images. Within the hologram sparkles the culture-generating industry, spinning out our unreality like cotton candy.”

The hologram and its spin meisters have been having themselves a veritable orgy of lies and propaganda dealing with the wreck that is Ukraine. This has been one part of the world I have followed with some alacrity over the last year. Nothing, nothing, nothing reported in the MSM was close to the reality on the ground. When the fated Malaysian plane was shot down, a relentless stream of deception sloshed out like long-stored toxic sludge that burst its containment. As Ilargi has recently pointed out on Automatic Earth, 2014 was the year when the bargeload of lies heading our way was no longer even disguised. It may be time for me to pull back even from the little “Babylon-watching” that I still do. Their self-referential faux-reality does not deserve the gift of anyone’s attention. My heart goes to all those trapped in Babylon’s perpetual wars, and my blessings.

  • Unplug from the Spectacle

Toss the damn stupid boob box. Why are you still watching all those hundreds of channels with nothing on? It sucks away your hours like a vampire. Give those hours to something that will give you joy. After all, your supply of lifetime hours is very limited. News? You will learn about the important events from other people. It is quite possible to stop reading the papers – skimming the headlines is more than enough. And you will spare yourself the crassness of commercials, ads, infomercials and disinformation. Computer news can be used far more selectively, and can supply news directly from other people like us, unfiltered by official channels. Find what works for you. Waking from the trance takes time and new habits.

But that’s not nearly enough. I have been amongst the TV-unplugged for 15 years now, and yet I too get sucked into the vortex of disastrous news. In the fall of 2008 I gaped with horror and disbelief as the evidence of stupendous plunder unfolded. I spent inordinate amount of my time trying to fathom it. But what good has it done me or my neighbors? All those fear-mongering stories – the true and the false – are just stories, repetitive and debilitating messages of scarcity and doom, bringing about a festering sense of anxiety, failure and helplessness so that people become ripe pickings for demagogues and con-men. We can choose not to play this game. We can tell stories that are of use, and disseminate them via our own channels. And while the thugs and thieves will keep on with their business, we can and will find a way to secede from their Kingdom of Spin, leaving them to their slime, moving on.

  • Un-shop

Buy only what you must. Economize. Go frugal. Share. Grow and make your own. Join a community that knows how. Support local merchants. Let the uglification of box stores mercifully fall into the understory of history. A healthy economy does not depend on buying up an avalanche of crap and working in pointless jobs to be able to afford it. It depends on people being genuinely productive and economical. It also depends on a healthy planet to feed us, and on social systems not based on theft so that we don’t have to run just to stay in one place, while others fatten themselves at our expense.

  • Un-debt

Get a debit card if you must, or do a cash economy. Pay off the debts. Do what it takes. Get out of the yoke too demeaning even for oxen.

  • Delegitimize

Judiciously unvote. The choices are really between really bad and “keep fingers crossed” less bad. Is that good enough? For how long? Let Babylon’s politics languish on the periphery of your attention. Ignore the inanities of the election races. Stop chasing after the liars. Refuse the system your loyalty and your goodwill.

  • Break the spell of Thingness

We’ve been taught for endless generations that it is stuff that really matters. Stuff is primary. Stuff gives security and happiness. After all, we are the descendants of the Neolithic cult of MORE. But material stuff is just a fraction of what really matters here on Earth, and we already have more than enough of it. Let us return to a larger vision: humans who break their addition to material wealth for the greater good. Humans as intelligent beings who cherish– not ruin — creation, humans as those who are wise enough to enlarge the chances of Life.

  • Down-specialize

Back off from single-minded pursuits and become a generalist. Every biochemist should know how to fix what breaks in the home. Every engineer should know how to start a fire. Every office worker should know how to do basic healing. Every one of us should know how to grow food. We all together hold the potential to be able to do most anything that really matters and our local communities require. Let’s look at the priorities, and put specialization in its valuable, but much smaller place.

  • Undomesticate

Domestication, like slavery, rebounds on the perpetrator. We must return to thinking of our fellow animals and plants as symbionts, and more, as devoted friends. Some of these friends feed us; they give the gift of their lives so that we may live on. Others maintain the atmosphere, the ecosphere, the soil. Why don’t we treat them accordingly? In return, we will reap a restoration of our own wild spirit now crushed under the weight of misery-spreading dependency, under the burden of everyday brutality that exists because of our own complicity. Babylon sweeps it under the rug, and then abuses the rebels who refuse to look the other way.

Dare I say it? Let’s rewild!

  • Repudiate usury

Babylon would like us to forget that usury, historically and biblically speaking, did not mean charging high interest. It meant not charging interest at all. Medieval economies flourished without interest. And it was interest that pushed the cancerous expansion of Western civilization. Interest is one of the most powerful ratcheting forces behind the vicious circle of “endless growth” and accompanying plunder. There are other ways to conceive of money and lending. Send some of your energy to the financial rebels who are disseminating them.

  • Disencumber

Remember those storage sheds full of crap you will never use again, the closets chock-full of stuff you haven’t seen in years? Time to “shed it” for good. Most places have second-hand stores happy to take some of it. Try craigslist or freecycle websites. Some communities have Free Stores or book kiosks too, or need to. I have had good luck with half.com and amazon for passing on books that I cared about but that I would never read again. Every time something, no matter how small, is passed on to the next user, life opens up new possibilities.

  • Divest

We cannot expect to shrink Babylon or leave it while giving it our money. These money systems are the dark heart of Babylon, and they are the ones that transform our living energy into the stuff that flows out. It is laughable to think that Babylon will allow significant reform so that community banking and money issuance could take hold. But thousands of hidden, small experiments growing like mushrooms everywhere? At a time of ongoing high-level crises Babylon must deal with first – that indeed would be a formidable challenge. Divesting deflated South Africa’s balloon. It will deflate Babylon’s zeppelin too. Let’s find ways to invest our money in the service of Life.

  • Phase out economic dependencies

Learning to supply one’s basic needs without the dependence on Babylon is the key to freedom. Follow the paths of food to learn how ridiculous, wasteful, unsafe, and downright revolting our system is. Find local sources for the basics from food and soap to pottery and clothes. Become one of the local sources for something. Be part of the local economy. Cook from scratch. Relearn frugality and old-time skills and teach others. Restore the free and the abundant. Earn local money into existence.

  • Lighten the overhead

Stop feeding the chiseling bridge-trolls. Go direct for all the goods that you cannot buy locally. Look where the skimming goes on in an economic transaction, and find ways to circumvent the middlemen. The maintenance of elites is a luxury the planet can ill afford. As soon as we refuse to produce the skim-surplus that finances them, they will vanish like mist over a morning swamp.

  • Decontaminate one’s self

There are plenty of noxious ideas and patterns of thinking out there, the sort that keep us tied to Babylon’s strings forever. We must become shrewd and discerning. As we disencumber materially, it makes sense to do spring cleaning inside our heads as well. Community is more important than “multiculturalism” or “cosmopolitanism.” Anomie is not something we must accept along with stainless steel and velcro. And good medical care need not be based on an overly high-tech, top-heavy, impersonal model. Dare to imagine — and come to visit — the lovely world outside Babylon’s box.

  • Un-victimize

We must learn to defend ourselves and our communities. A time may come when it becomes imperative. In any case, the police are expensive, and not really needed in communities run well by their citizens. The Amish have no need of the police.

And we must learn to ease off the grid, to rethink our vulnerabilities to centralized solutions from electricity to emergency services. There are many ways a small community can provide its own, and become far less vulnerable to sudden problems. Remember the hard winter 2008 out east and its long lapses in utility provision along with a run on generators and attendant theft?  None of that is necessary among people who have made reasonable provisions for unusual situations.

And finally, we must again play a key role in keeping our food supply safe. Becoming part of a network of trustworthy farmers, food processors and artisans is where it begins.

  • Down-compete

Competition, like fire, is a good servant but a terrible master. It works best when it’s contained within a larger collaborative world. Unfettered competition fails to promote common good, and often leads a race to the bottom. When the emphasis on competition makes people less cooperative, selfishness and free riding are promoted, contributions to public good are reduced, heavy stress takes a toll on health, and we all end up worse off. Take a good look around you at this world out of kilter. One Harvard professor did, and he began to penalize students for lack of teamwork, even at exams. What do American schools call such teamwork? Cheating! Cheat Babylon by playing fair: cooperate.

  • Un-waste

Waste too is part of the grid in Babylon. The system encourages it in a myriad ways, from free dumps to curbside unlimited pick up, from its hidden network of sewers to water treatment plants (which are free at a glance, and very expensive and poorly designed if you really look) and toxic dumping. Eeww indeed! Yet the solutions are already out there, from composting to grey water systems and water-purifying wetlands, from reusing to making do. Waste comes from feeding human and planetary energy to the maw of the Machine. Food into waste, life into death. Let us reverse the transformation and reestablish natural cycles.

  • Dis management

Letting go of the controlling, managerial paradigm and meddlesome interventionism will be key in regaining our sanity. Interventionism breeds more interventionism and has costs that Babylon hides by “cooking the books.” Remember… when it comes to the universe, we did not cause it, we cannot cure it, and we cannot control it. Let it run itself – it knows how. Ran Prieur once said, “I swear, if we had infinite technological power, at our present emotional level, we would destroy all the clouds, replace them with holograms of clouds, and have fleets of airships drop water, instead of just letting it rain.” Isn’t that modern mis-managerial hubris in a nutshell!? Enough already…

  • Down-tech

Individuals and communities can scrutinize technology and pick and choose carefully. Must you really have another kitchen gizmo? Do you want to spend your days staring at a smart-phone, with the Eye following you wherever you go? Do you really need electricity 24/7? Each new artifact has its price, and impacts the well-being of human communities and the natural world. Heed the wise Akela’s call: “Look well, look well, oh wolves. As befits a Free People.”

  • Detoxify

Detoxify relationships, that is. Have you noticed? Anti-bully programs in schools are all the rage now, but nobody ever points out that schools exist, in part, to inure kids to being bullied (by teachers, administrators, and curriculum planners), so that when they get absorbed into the workforce, they think it’s normal, just put up and shut up. Domination is the poison in the wellspring of Babylon. Don’t drink from it.

Easier said than done. Bossism in all its forms has contaminated almost everything. Domination is a dirty trick, and we are all tainted. We all play the domination/submission game. But another game is afoot. The partnership game. The more you learn to play it, the less beholden you will be to the con-games of Babylon.

See? You don’t have to leave the country to leave the culture.
 

unplug

Dogs diverged genetically from wolves more than 100,000 years ago, during the previous warm interglacial. Did humans have anything to do with it? The oldest known dog skeletons are from 36 and 33,000 years ago, found in Belgium and Siberia. A child was exploring the Chauvet cave, using a torch to look at the artwork while a dog followed… 26,000 years ago, well before the Ice Age Maximum.

When the cold began to let up, some 17,000 years ago, the people of the Pyrenees living at the Isteritz cave took such good care of a reindeer with a broken leg, it survived for two years (viz Paul Bahn: Pre-neolithic control of animals, 1984, and his response to ongoing controversy). By 15,000 years ago, pictures of horses with rope halters appear in the Magdalenian cave art of SW France.

darudyhorse

Foragers created the first magnificent art. They built the first temples and the first high-density towns with thousands of inhabitants. They invented ovens and kilns, cookworthy pottery, wine and beer. They clearly domesticated the dog and probably tamed reindeer and horses.

So perhaps it’s not such a stretch to believe that they also domesticated the pigs, sheep and goats and a whole slew of plants, from grains to squash, gourds, and legumes, to delicacies like chocolate, vanilla, and chili peppers. Even more amazingly, it was rock-shelter dwelling, semi-nomadic foragers who spent hundreds of years patiently experimenting with the unpromising teosinte to bring about maize. Then they spent thousands of years more improving the new tiny-cobbed plant before settling down to grow it as a staple.

If a group of foragers plants a plot of squash near their favorite cave, then comes back in late summer to harvest their bounty, can they legitimately be called farmers? If another group of foragers raises some pigs while living off wild foods (and eating no cereals), can they be called farmers? If Egyptian foragers throw a bunch of traded domesticated wheat down into the rich alluvial mud on the banks of the Nile, perhaps to brew some beer, but otherwise live the hunting-fishing-gathering lifestyle, how are they any different from the Californian native foragers or the Aborigines who spread some favorite seeds and flooded them by diverting a creek’s spring runoff? Perhaps we need a new term, one that would reflect the foragers’ sophisticated plant manipulation skills that nevertheless did not, by themselves, lead to the predominantly farming life.

Archeologists have been, in my opinion, far too eager to brand cultures as farmers on flimsy evidence. It appears that farming is much younger than previously claimed. The first farming village was found in Egypt, dated to only 7,000 years ago. As Melinda A. Zeder, an archeobiologist, states:

This broad middle ground between wild and domestic, foraging and farming, hunting and herding makes it hard to draw clean lines of demarcation between any of these states. Perhaps this is the greatest change in our understanding of agricultural origins since 1995. The finer-resolution picture we are now able to draw of this process in the Near East (and, as seen in the other contributions to this volume, in other world areas) not only makes it impossible to identify any threshold moments when wild became domestic or hunting and gathering became agriculture but also shows that drawing such distinctions actually impedes rather than improves our understanding of this process. Instead of continuing to try to pigeonhole these concepts into tidy definitional categories, a more productive approach would be to embrace the ambiguity of this middle ground and continue to develop tools that allow us to watch unfolding developments within this neither-nor territory.

 

hunter-gatherers

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