Project CertoPower -- Page 4

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HOME

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Homo Concedo & Homo Diligentia

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The "Civilized Human Condition"

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Qualified Primitivism

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Self-
Development Techniques

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Why-Can-Do Booster

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Psychological Reversal

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Smash Your Illusions

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Escape the Matrix

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Suggested Strategies


Why "Qualified" Primitivism? Because It May Be Possible to Use Aspects of Modern Technology to Speed Up the "Great Abandonment" (see Review, right column) -- Don't Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater!

"The Happiness Conspiracy"
by psychologist John F. Schumaker

Extracts from John F. Schumaker's Article Killing The Things We Love

In Escape from Evil, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker describes consumer culture as a second-rate religion that has programed a society of ‘cheerful robots’ to martyr all to "a grotesque spectacle of unrestrained material production, perhaps the greatest and most pervasive evil to have emerged in all of history."

...But already by the middle of the 20th century, we had largely given up on utopias beyond that which could be consumed or ogled. Easier to swallow were anti-utopian scenarios such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World as they mirrored our heartless compliance in the face of indomitable manipulation. More recently, we recognize in films like The Matrix and The Truman Show our phantasmagoric world of factory-farmed experience that keeps us blankly nippled to fantasy, and numbed to life beyond our brainwashing.

...The highest act of love in a criminally insane society is disobedience. Normality can no longer be trusted. Unconditional obedience is an unaffordable luxury. To be "well-adjusted" is to be part of the problem.

...In his 1928 book Propaganda, Edward Bernays writes "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

...Culture is the last great frontier. While it would be a spectacular leap of maturity on our parts, the deliberate and preemptive management of collective consciousness guided by a responsibility-based culture is the next and most important step in our evolution. Nature has lost patience with our illusions. Time is no longer our ally. The Age of Idealism has forced itself upon us.

Utopia or bust -- that is the endgame. In reality, we gladly die for the things we love.

Amazon.com Review (edited) by Shani's Son "Saturnus" of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution by Chuck Burr

This brilliant book is a compendium of information from many sources, brought together in a short, easy to understand volume. It presents information suppressed by "the powers that be" and exposes the destructive Memes we are surrounded by and that profoundly affect us in our aberrant culture. It causes one to think deeply and question the very basis of what we call "civilization" and to consider that there were and are much better ways to live as humans. It references another important and groundbreaking book; Eisler's The Chalice and The Blade which is another must read that reveals humanity's true history, not the fabrications we read in so-called "history" books.

For 99% of humanity's history, we lived in mutually beneficial tribal societies, without the need for the monopolies of violence known as "The State," the artificial borders of "Nations" and the illogical control systems called "Religions." (Re = to do again, Ligare = To BIND. Ergo, "Religion" = BONDAGE).

With the patently obvious Epic Failure of "Industrial Civilization" all around us, it is time to live a completely different and more enjoyable way. Luckily, we don't have to reinvent the wheel, since we know what worked for us in the past, before hierarchical control systems came about 6-10 thousand years ago. What we need to do is return to that way of living with adaptations for modern times and the current Empires we are slaves to will die of attrition as more people recognize a better way and gravitate to it. As the Author wisely states; "Abandonment is the only thing that these control systems can't defend against."

This Great Abandonment is occurring now, with the rise of movements like the Transition Movement, Open Source Ecology, the Zeitgeist Movement, Community supported Agriculture, Permaculture, Intentional Communities, Land Trusts, Local Currencies, etc. leading the way. The future belongs to the most adaptable, not the most violent.


John Zerzan: Civilization, Moralism, and War

Jean Liedloff - Touch the Future

The Continuum Concept in action, Episode #274

Daniel Quinn Interview May 5th 2009

Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn (Page One)

Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn (Page Two)




Raw Food Diets

A raw food diet can be regarded as a "primitivist diet." I (Frederick Mann) switched to a 100% raw food diet in 1986 -- see How to Achieve Superhealth.

Eating a raw diet for 40 years, no longer vegan!

In 2004, after taking into account that many of the benefits of my diets actually came from eliminating sugar and salt, I (Frederick Mann) started having occasional cooked meals.

By 2011, I had become overweight. Fortunately, I found The Dukan Diet by Dr. Pierre Dukan, from which I realized that I had been eating too much fruit. I switched to the Dukan Diet, eating mostly raw. In 4 months I lost 35 pounds.

109 Year Old Raw Foodist Eats Chocolate

I (Frederick Mann) also take a wide range of supplements, as well as Chinese herbs. (By doing online research you can find out what supplements are beneficial to various parts of your body.) My health is superb. I haven't spent a day ill in bed since 1953! I walk a great deal. I play ping-pong twice a week. I swim laps 3 times a week. I regularly swim underwater holding my breath. Over time this increases the size of my carotid arteries, providing more blood to my brain.

Raw Milk and Raw Eggs - Can You Safely Eat Them?

(Dr. Mercola provides interesting health information, including on supplements.)

Raw Milk Secret

Ron Paul on the FDA, raw milk, cannabis and hemp

The Doctors - Extreme Health Trends; Raw Meat Diet


Even if you don't understand French, you can watch how Guy-Claude Burger ("Instinctotherapie"; La Guerre du Cru) and his "raw food family" use their sense of smell to select the food they eat, including raw meat. Watch a baby eat raw meat. The ultimate primitivist diet!

See also:


Civilization and Its Discontents

by Sigmund Freud

(Reproduced from the original.)

(this excerpt is from Freud's work of the same title: pp. 33­35, 91)

We come upon a contention which is so astonishing that we must dwell upon it. This contention holds that what we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery, and that we should be much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions. I call this contention astonishing because, in whatever way we may define the concept of civilization, it is a certain fact that all the things with which we seek to protect ourselves against the threats that emanate from the sources of suffering are part of that very civilization. 

How has it happened that so many people have come to take up this strange attitude of hostility to civilization? I believe that the basis of it was a deep and long-standing dissatisfaction with the then existing state of civilization and that on that basis a condemnation of it was built up, occasioned by certain specific historical events. I think I know what the last and the last but one of those occasions were. I am not learned enough to trace the chain of them far back enough in the history of the human species; but a factor of this kind hostile to civilization must already have been at work in the victory of Christendom over the heathen religions. For it was very closely related to the low estimation put upon earthly life by the Christian doctrine. The last but one of these occasions was when the progress of voyages of discovery led to contact with primitive peoples and races. In consequence of insufficient observation and a mistaken view of their manners and customs, they appeared to Europeans to be leading a simple, happy life with few wants, a life such as was unattainable by their visitors with their superior civilization. Later experience has corrected some of those judgements. In many cases the observers had wrongly attributed to the absence of complicated cultural demands what was in fact due to the bounty of nature and the ease with which the major human needs were satisfied. The last occasion is especially familiar to us. It arose when people came to know about the mechanism of the neuroses, which threaten to undermine the modicum of happiness enjoyed by civilized men. It was discovered that a person becomes neurotic because he cannot tolerate the amount of frustration which society imposes on him in the service of its cultural ideals, and it was inferred from this that the abolition or reduction of those demands would result in a return to possibilities of happiness. 

There is also an added factor of disappointment. During the last few generations mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never before imagined. The single steps of this advance are common knowledge and it is unnecessary to enumerate them. Men are proud of those achievements, and have a right to be. But they seem to have observed that this newly-won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not made them feel happier. 

If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization possibly the whole of mankind have become 'neurotic'?



What is Primitivism? (v .1)

by John Fliss

(Reproduced from the original.)

The following is my own attempt to define primitivism.

Primitivism is the pursuit of ways of life running counter to the development of technology, its alienating antecedents, and the ensemble of changes wrought by both.

Technology is here defined as tool use based upon division of labor...that is, tool manufacture and utilization that has become sufficiently complex to require specialization, implying both a separation and eventual stratification among individuals in the community, along with the rise of toil in the form of specialized, repetitive tasks.

The antecedents to technological development have been variously conjectured, but the answer to the question remains open. The best known writings along these lines are those of John Zerzan that question symbolic culture and its manifestation in number, language, religion, and ritual. Poorly understood in the anarchist milieu in which they first appeared, these types of explorations are especially important for their deductive value in developing new insights and evolving solutions.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand primitivism is as a counterweight to the pull of technology. Primitivism as a whole is the positioning of a counter-force to the thrust of technological progress. Given the integrated nature of technological development, primitivism may be the only human-oriented 1 response to technology that goes far enough not to be subsumed by it.

The factors showing the necessity of primitivism are many, and may include

In fact, an acknowledgement of the potential value of primitivist theory can result from any deviation, however small, from a technological determinist viewpoint...a deviation that is almost universal in our society, despite its considerable faith in technological progress.

Primitivism today is an inchoate tendency, particularly considering the enormity of its goal. Within the context of an open society, the success of primitivism would require the apparent superiority of a primitivist approach to a technological one in almost every area that is ultimately germane to human well-being. Anything short of this accomplishment may involve a synthesis of primitivist and technological approaches in our society, but not the ousting of the latter by the former.

In contrast with many understandings of modern primitivism, the central issue presented here is not primarily a political problem, but numerous technical ones. 3  And unlike most musings in political theory, the kind of problem solving and awareness needed to push the primitivist project forward--e.g., insights into improving health--can often serve personal ends apart from intellectual hobbyism or even their widespread adoption in our society.  For the individual, primitivism as an area of exploration has the promise of a much more fulfilling pursuit than the study of most political philosophies. Whether it can realize that promise will be crucial to the question of its success on a social scale.

Does the trajectory of primitivism by itself reveal the most advantageous mode of existence for human beings? That is a question that nobody can answer. Whether our path should be primitivism, technology, or some synthesis between the two, it is time to think clearly about the days ahead. What is important is the development of a range of options for bettering the human condition, and it is in the expansion of those options that we can find our path to the best possible way of life.

Footnotes

1. Deep ecology and similar extreme environmental viewpoints largely argue for an end to industrial society as a sacrificial gesture arising from an awareness of environmental degradation caused by technology. Few people would find this kind of argument compelling.

2. Ray Kurzweil is an accomplished inventor and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines. Hans Moravec is one of the world's leading roboticists, and the author of two books, notably Mind Children, and numerous essays. Both are well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the direction of future technologies. While both of them are technological optimists, Moravec's projections in particular go well beyond even my own in their austerity... although I don't question his overall awareness of the enormous pressures that humans will face from Artificial Intelligences.

3. It is unfortunate that primitivism is viewed largely as a political perspective, when nearly the entirety of its project falls outside the realm of specifically political solutions.

Extracts from The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and The Dawning of A New Era by Steve Taylor

Taylor's basic thesis is that about 4000 BCE (about 6,000 years ago), humans started undergoing a transformation he calls "The Fall" caused by an "Ego Explosion." Prior to the transformation, human societies were mostly egalitarian and peaceful. The transformation was due to climate changes (particularly droughts) in central Asia and the Middle East that made survival more difficult.

The Ego Explosion (over-developed sense of ego) resulted in individuality, a sense of inner discontent and incompleteness, loss of empathy, increased boredom (see reference to "Monster 0" under Political Observation #7), a sense of unreality, sexual repression, male domination (patriarchy), oppression of women and children, environmental abuse, and warfare -- many of the symptoms described in the right column of Page 3.

From Amazon.com Review by Simon "Simon": A wonderful book, May 26, 2006:

"The book makes the important point - using a massive range of research - that earlier human beings and many of the world's native peoples - did not have our strong sense of self or ego and so were free from all of this disorder. The book's depiction of how the insanity of so much human behaviour is produced by the ego is riveting and extremely impressive. After reading this there is no way you can look at "normal" human behaviour in the same way. Taylor makes it absolutely clear that what we consider as normal is, in many ways, insane. And just as impressively, Taylor puts together an extremely good case for the idea that we are beginning to transcend the insanity of the ego and moving into a new era. This is one of those books which makes you look at the world in a new light, and gives you inspiration and hope for the future. Somehow it gives me the inspiration to try to fight for a better world, to contribute to the collective change which is taking place, and rekindle the state of harmony which the human race has lost."

From The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and The Dawning of A New Era:

"If alien beings have been observing the course of human history over the last few thousand years they might well have reached the conclusion that human beings are the product of a scientific experiment which went horribly wrong."

"Many of the diseases which we're suscseptible only arrived when we domesticated animals and started living close to them. Animals transmitted a whole host of diseases to us which we'd never been exposed to before. Pigs and ducks passed the flu on to us, horses gave us colds, cows gave us the pox and dogs gave us the measles. ...[D]rinking milk, which transmits at least 30 different diseases."

Anthropologist Richard Gabriel: "For the first ninety-five thousand years after the Homo sapiens Stone Age began [until 4000BCE], there is no evidence that man engaged in war on any level, let alone on a level requiring organized group violence."

Perceptual Sleep

"It was only after 4000 BCE that people began to conceive of gods and godesses [that no one ever saw]."

Taylor uses the term "perceptual sleep" -- see my "Selective Blindness" on Page 3.

"To unfallen peoples the world is a fantastically real place... But for us fallen peoples the world is a more dreary place -- so dreary, in fact, that we hardly pay any attention to it, but spend almost all our time focused on tasks or distractions, or else on the thought chatter in our heads."

"The act of perception was sacrificed to the ego and to the practical tasks of survival. People began to think and do more and to perceive less." [emphasis added]

Evolving to the point of realizing Tony Parsons: The Open Secret may be the greatest antidote to the Ego Explosion!

The Primitivist Critique of Civilization

by Richard Heinberg

(Reproduced from the original.)

A paper presented at the 24th annual meeting of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, June 15, 1995.

I. Prologue

Having been chosen--whether as devil's advocate or sacrificial lamb, I am not sure--to lead off this discussion on the question, "Was Civilization a Mistake?", I would like to offer some preliminary thoughts.

From the viewpoint of any non-civilized person, this consideration would appear to be steeped in irony. Here we are, after all, some of the most civilized people on the planet, discussing in the most civilized way imaginable whether civilization itself might be an error. Most of our fellow civilians would likely find our discussion, in addition to being ironic, also disturbing and pointless: after all, what person who has grown up with cars, electricity, and television would relish the idea of living without a house, and of surviving only on wild foods?

Nevertheless, despite the possibility that at least some of our remarks may be ironic, disturbing, and pointless, here we are. Why? I can only speak for myself. In my own intellectual development I have found that a critique of civilization is virtually inescapable for two reasons.

The first has to do with certain deeply disturbing trends in the modern world. We are, it seems, killing the planet. Revisionist "wise use" advocates tell us there is nothing to worry about; dangers to the environment, they say, have been wildly exaggerated. To me this is the most blatant form of wishful thinking. By most estimates, the oceans are dying, the human population is expanding far beyond the long-term carrying capacity of the land, the ozone layer is disappearing, and the global climate is showing worrisome signs of instability. Unless drastic steps are taken, in fifty years the vast majority of the world's population will likely be existing in conditions such that the lifestyle of virtually any undisturbed primitive tribe would be paradise by comparison.

Now, it can be argued that civilization per se is not at fault, that the problems we face have to do with unique economic and historical circumstances. But we should at least consider the possibility that our modern industrial system represents the flowering of tendencies that go back quite far. This, at any rate, is the implication of recent assessments of the ecological ruin left in the wake of the Roman, Mesopotamian, Chinese, and other prior civilizations. Are we perhaps repeating their errors on a gargantuan scale?

If my first reason for criticizing civilization has to do with its effects on the environment, the second has to do with its impact on human beings. As civilized people, we are also domesticated. We are to primitive peoples as cows and sheep are to bears and eagles. On the rental property where I live in California my landlord keeps two white domesticated ducks. These ducks have been bred to have wings so small as to prevent them from flying. This is a convenience for their keepers, but compared to wild ducks these are pitiful creatures.

Many primal peoples tend to view us as pitiful creatures, too--though powerful and dangerous because of our technology and sheer numbers. They regard civilization as a sort of social disease. We civilized people appear to act as though we were addicted to a powerful drug--a drug that comes in the forms of money, factory-made goods, oil, and electricity. We are helpless without this drug, so we have come to see any threat to its supply as a threat to our very existence. Therefore we are easily manipulated--by desire (for more) or fear (that what we have will be taken away)--and powerful commercial and political interests have learned to orchestrate our desires and fears in order to achieve their own purposes of profit and control. If told that the production of our drug involves slavery, stealing, and murder, or the ecological equivalents, we try to ignore the news so as not to have to face an intolerable double bind.

Since our present civilization is patently ecologically unsustainable in its present form, it follows that our descendants will be living very differently in a few decades, whether their new way of life arises by conscious choice or by default. If humankind is to choose its path deliberately, I believe that our deliberations should include a critique of civilization itself, such as we are undertaking here. The question implicit in such a critique is, What have we done poorly or thoughtlessly in the past that we can do better now? It is in this constructive spirit that I offer the comments that follow.

II. Civilization and Primitivism

What Is Primitivism?

The image of a lost Golden Age of freedom and innocence is at the heart of all the world's religions, is one of the most powerful themes in the history of human thought, and is the earliest and most characteristic expression of primitivism--the perennial belief in the necessity of a return to origins.

As a philosophical idea, primitivism has had as its proponents Lao Tze, Rousseau, and Thoreau, as well as most of the pre-Socratics, the medieval Jewish and Christian theologians, and 19th- and 20th-century anarchist social theorists, all of whom argued (on different bases and in different ways) the superiority of a simple life close to nature. More recently, many anthropologists have expressed admiration for the spiritual and material advantages of the ways of life of the world's most "primitive" societies--the surviving gathering-and-hunting peoples who now make up less than one hundredth of one percent of the world's population.

Meanwhile, as civilization approaches a crisis precipitated by overpopulation and the destruction of the ecological integrity of the planet, primitivism has enjoyed a popular resurgence, by way of increasing interest in shamanism, tribal customs, herbalism, radical environmentalism, and natural foods. There is a widespread (though by no means universally shared) sentiment that civilization has gone too far in its domination of nature, and that in order to survive--or, at least, to live with satisfaction--we must regain some of the spontaneity and naturalness of our early ancestors.

What Is Civilization?

There are many possible definitions of the word civilization. Its derivation--from civis, "town" or "city"--suggests that a minimum definition would be, "urban culture." Civilization also seems to imply writing, division of labor, agriculture, organized warfare, growth of population, and social stratification.

Yet the latest evidence calls into question the idea that these traits always go together. For example, Elizabeth Stone and Paul Zimansky's assessment of power relations in the Mesopotamian city of Maskan-shapir (published in the April 1995 Scientific American) suggests that urban culture need not imply class divisions. Their findings seem to show that civilization in its earliest phase was free of these. Still, for the most part the history of civilization in the Near East, the Far East, and Central America, is also the history of kingship, slavery, conquest, agriculture, overpopulation, and environmental ruin. And these traits continue in civilization's most recent phases--the industrial state and the global market--though now the state itself takes the place of the king, and slavery becomes wage labor and de facto colonialism administered through multinational corporations. Meanwhile, the mechanization of production (which began with agriculture) is overtaking nearly every avenue of human creativity, population is skyrocketing, and organized warfare is resulting in unprecedented levels of bloodshed.

Perhaps, if some of these undesirable traits were absent from the very first cities, I should focus my critique on "Empire Culture" instead of the broader target of "civilization." However, given how little we still know about the earliest urban centers of the Neolithic era, it is difficult as yet to draw a clear distinction between the two terms.

III. Primitivism Versus Civilization

Wild Self/Domesticated Self

People are shaped from birth by their cultural surroundings and by their interactions with the people closest to them. Civilization manipulates these primary relationships in such a way as to domesticate the infant--that is, so as to accustom it to life in a social structure one step removed from nature. The actual process of domestication is describable as follows, using terms borrowed from the object-relations school of psychology.

The infant lives entirely in the present moment in a state of pure trust and guilelessness, deeply bonded with her mother. But as she grows, she discovers that her mother is a separate entity with her own priorities and limits. The infant's experience of relationship changes from one of spontaneous trust to one that is suffused with need and longing. This creates a gap between Self and Other in the consciousness of the child, who tries to fill this deepening rift with transitional objects--initially, perhaps a teddy bear; later, addictions and beliefs that serve to fill the psychic gap and thus provide a sense of security. It is the powerful human need for transitional objects that drives individuals in their search for property and power, and that generates bureaucracies and technologies as people pool their efforts.

This process does not occur in the same way in the case of primitive childbearing, where the infant is treated with indulgence, is in constant physical contact with a caregiver throughout infancy, and later undergoes rites of passage. In primal cultures the need for transitional objects appears to be minimized. Anthropological and psychological research converge to suggest that many of civilized people's emotional ills come from our culture's abandonment of natural childrearing methods and initiatory rites and its systematic substitution of alienating pedagogical practices from crib through university.

Health: Natural or Artificial?

In terms of health and quality of life, civilization has been a mitigated disaster. S. Boyd Eaton, M.D., et al., argued in The Paleolithic Prescription (1988) that pre agricultural peoples enjoyed a generally healthy way of life, and that cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, emphysema, hypertension, and cirrhosis--which together lead to 75 percent of all mortality in industrialized nations--are caused by our civilized lifestyles. In terms of diet and exercise, preagricultural lifestyles showed a clear superiority to those of agricultural and civilized peoples.

Much-vaunted increases in longevity in civilized populations have resulted not so much from wonder drugs, as merely from better sanitation--a corrective for conditions created by the overcrowding of cities; and from reductions in infant mortality. It is true that many lives have been spared by modern antibiotics. Yet antibiotics also appear responsible for the evolution of resistant strains of microbes, which health officials now fear could produce unprecedented epidemics in the next century.

The ancient practice of herbalism, evidence of which dates back at least 60,000 years, is practiced in instinctive fashion by all higher animals. Herbal knowledge formed the basis of modern medicine and remains in many ways superior to it. In countless instances, modern synthetic drugs have replaced herbs not because they are more effective or safer, but because they are more profitable to manufacture.

Other forms of "natural" healing--massage, the "placebo effect," the use of meditation and visualization--are also being shown effective. Medical doctors Bernie Siegel and Deepak Chopra are critical of mechanized medicine and say that the future of the healing professions lies in the direction of attitudinal and natural therapies.

Spirituality: Raw or Cooked?

Spirituality means different things to different people--humility before a higher power or powers; compassion for the suffering of others; obedience to a lineage or tradition; a felt connection with the Earth or with Nature; evolution toward "higher" states of consciousness; or the mystical experience of oneness with all life or with God. With regard to each of these fundamental ways of defining or experiencing the sacred, spontaneous spirituality seems to become regimented, dogmatized, even militarized, with the growth of civilization. While some of the founders of world religions were intuitive primitivists (Jesus, Lao Tze, the Buddha), their followers have often fostered the growth of dominance hierarchies.

The picture is not always simple, though. The thoroughly civilized Roman Catholic Church produced two of the West's great primitivists--St. Francis and St. Clair; while the neo-shamanic, vegetarian, and herbalist movements of early 20th century Germany attracted arch-authoritarians Heinrich Himmler and Adolph Hitler. Of course, Nazism's militarism and rigid dominator organization were completely alien to primitive life, while St. Francis's and St. Clair's voluntary poverty and treatment of animals as sacred were reminiscent of the lifestyle and worldview of most gathering-and-hunting peoples. If Nazism was atavistic, it was only highly selectively so.

A consideration of these historical ironies is useful in helping us isolate the essentials of true primitivist spirituality--which include spontaneity, mutual aid, encouragement of natural diversity, love of nature, and compassion for others. As spiritual teachers have always insisted, it is the spirit (or state of consciousness) that is important, not the form (names, ideologies, and techniques). While from the standpoint of Teilhard de Chardin's idea of spiritual evolutionism, primitivist spirituality may initially appear anti-evolutionary or regressive, the essentials we have cited are timeless and trans-evolutionary--they are available at all stages, at all times, for all people. It is when we cease to see civilization in terms of theories of cultural evolution and see it merely as one of several possible forms of social organization that we begin to understand why religion can be liberating, enlightening, and empowering when it holds consistently to primitivist ideals; or deadening and oppressive when it is co-opted to serve the interests of power.

Economics: Free or Unaffordable?

At its base, economics is about how people relate with the land and with one another in the process of fulfilling their material wants and needs. In the most primitive societies, these relations are direct and straightforward. Land, shelter, and food are free. Everything is shared, there are no rich people or poor people, and happiness has little to do with accumulating material possessions. The primitive lives in relative abundance (all needs and wants are easily met) and has plenty of leisure time.

Civilization, in contrast, straddles two economic pillars--technological innovation and the marketplace. "Technology" here includes everything from the plow to the nuclear reactor--all are means to more efficiently extract energy and resources from nature. But efficiency implies the reification of time, and so civilization always brings with it a preoccupation with past and future; eventually the present moment nearly vanishes from view. The elevation of efficiency over other human values is epitomized in the factory--the automated workplace--in which the worker becomes merely an appendage of the machine, a slave to clocks and wages.

The market is civilization's means of equating dissimilar things through a medium of exchange. As we grow accustomed to valuing everything according to money, we tend to lose a sense of the uniqueness of things. What, after all, is an animal worth, or a mountain, or a redwood tree, or an hour of human life? The market gives us a numerical answer based on scarcity and demand. To the degree that we believe that such values have meaning, we live in a world that is desacralized and desensitized, without heart or spirit.

We can get some idea of ways out of our ecologically ruinous, humanly deadening economic cage by examining not only primitive lifestyles, but the proposals of economist E. F. Schumacher, the experiences of people in utopian communities in which technology and money are marginalized, and the lives of individuals who have adopted an attitude of voluntary simplicity.

Government: Bottom Up or Top Down?

In the most primitive human societies there are no leaders, bosses, politics, laws, crime, or taxes. There is often little division of labor between women and men, and where such division exists both gender's contributions are often valued more or less equally. Probably as a result, many foraging peoples are relatively peaceful (anthropologist Richard Lee found that "the !Kung [Bushmen of southern Africa] hate fighting, and think anybody who fought would be stupid").

With agriculture usually come division of labor, increased sexual inequality, and the beginnings of social hierarchy. Priests, kings, and organized, impersonal warfare all seem to come together in one package. Eventually, laws and borders define the creation of the fully fledged state. The state as a focus of coercion and violence has reached its culmination in the 19th and 20th centuries in colonialism, fascism, and Stalinism. Even the democratic industrial state functions essentially as an instrument of multinational corporate-style colonial oppression and domestic enslavement, its citizens merely being given the choice between selected professional bureaucrats representing political parties with slightly varying agendas for the advancement of corporate power.

Beginning with William Godwin in the early 19th century, anarchist social philosophers have offered a critical counterpoint to the increasingly radical statism of most of the world's civilized political leaders. The core idea of anarchism is that human beings are fundamentally sociable; left to themselves, they tend to cooperate to their mutual benefit. There will always be exceptions, but these are best dealt with informally and on an individual basis. Many anarchists cite the Athenian polis, the "sections" in Paris during the French Revolution, the New England town meetings of the 18th century, the popular assemblies in Barcelona in the late 1930s, and the Paris general strike of 1968 as positive examples of anarchy in action. They point to the possibility of a kind of social ecology, in which diversity and spontaneity are permitted to flourish unhindered both in human affairs and in Nature.

While critics continue to describe anarchism as a practical failure, organizational and systems theorists Tom Peters and Peter Senge are advocating the transformation of hierarchical, bureaucratized organizations into more decentralized, autonomous, spontaneous ones. This transformation is presently underway in--of all places--the very multinational corporations that form the backbone of industrial civilization.

Civilization and Nature

Civilized people are accustomed to an anthropocentric view of the world. Our interest in the environment is utilitarian: it is of value because it is of use (or potential use) to human beings--if only as a place for camping and recreation.

Primitive peoples, in contrast, tended to see nature as intrinsically meaningful. In many cultures prohibitions surrounded the overhunting of animals or the felling of trees. The aboriginal peoples of Australia believed that their primary purpose in the cosmic scheme of things was to take care of the land, which meant performing ceremonies for the periodic renewal of plant and animal species, and of the landscape itself.

The difference in effects between the anthropocentric and ecocentric worldviews is incalculable. At present, we human beings--while considering ourselves the most intelligent species on the planet--are engaged in the most unintelligent enterprise imaginable: the destruction of our own natural life-support system. We need here only mention matters such as the standard treatment of factory-farmed domesticated food animals, the destruction of soils, the pollution of air and water, and the extinctions of wild species, as these horrors are well documented. It seems unlikely that these could ever have arisen but for an entrenched and ever-deepening trend of thinking that separates humanity from its natural context and denies inherent worth to non-human nature.

The origin and growth of this tendency to treat nature as an object separate from ourselves can be traced to the Neolithic revolution, and through the various stages of civilization's intensification and growth. One can also trace the countercurrent to this tendency from the primitivism of the early Taoists to that of today's deep ecologists, ecofeminists, and bioregionalists.

How We Compensate for Our Loss of Nature

How do we make up for the loss of our primitive way of life? Psychotherapy, exercise and diet programs, the vacation and entertainment industries, and social welfare programs are necessitated by civilized, industrial lifestyles. The cumulative cost of these compensatory efforts is vast; yet in many respects they are only palliative.

The medical community now tells us that our modern diet of low-fiber, high-fat processed foods is disastrous to our health. But what exactly is the cost--in terms of hospital stays, surgeries, premature deaths, etc.? A rough but conservative estimate runs into the tens of billions of dollars per year in North America alone.

At the forefront of the "wellness" movement are advocates of natural foods, exercise programs (including hiking and backpacking), herbalism, and other therapies that aim specifically to bring overcivilized individuals back in touch with the innate source of health within their own stressed and repressed bodies.

Current approaches in psychology aim to retrieve lost portions of the primitive psyche via "inner child" work, through which adults compensate for alienated childhoods; or men's and women's vision quests, through which civilized people seek to access the "wild man" or "wild woman" within.

All of these physically, psychologically, and even spiritually-oriented efforts are helpful antidotes for the distress of civilization. One must wonder, however, whether it wouldn't be better simply to stop creating the problems that these programs and therapies are intended to correct.

IV. Questions and Objections

Isn't civilization simply the inevitable expression of the evolutionary urge as it is translated through human society? Isn't primitivism therefore regressive?

We are accustomed to thinking of the history of Western civilization as an inevitable evolutionary progression. But this implies that all the world's peoples who didn't spontaneously develop civilizations of their own were less highly evolved than ourselves, or simply "backward." Not all anthropologists who have spent time with such peoples think this way. Indeed, according to the cultural materialist school of thought, articulated primarily by Marvin Harris, social change in the direction of technological innovation and social stratification is fueled not so much by some innate evolutionary urge as by crises brought on by overpopulation and resource exhaustion.

Wasn't primitive life terrible? Would we really want to go back to hunting and gathering, living without modern comforts and conveniences?

Putting an urban person in the wilderness without comforts and conveniences would be as cruel as abandoning a domesticated pet by the roadside. Even if the animal survived, it would be miserable. And we would probably be miserable too, if the accouterments of civilization were abruptly withdrawn from us. Yet the wild cousins of our hypothetical companion animal--whether a parrot, a canine, or a feline--live quite happily away from houses and packaged pet food and resist our efforts to capture and domesticate them, just as primitive peoples live quite happily without civilization and often resist its imposition. Clearly, animals (including people) can adapt either to wild or domesticated ways of life over the course of several generations, while adult individuals tend to be much less adaptable. In the view of many of its proponents, primitivism implies a direction of social change over time, as opposed to an instantaneous, all-or-nothing choice. We in the industrial world have gradually accustomed ourselves to a way of life that appears to be leading toward a universal biological holocaust. The question is, shall we choose to gradually accustom ourselves to another way of life--one that more successfully integrates human purposes with ecological imperatives--or shall we cling to our present choices to the bitter end?

Obviously, we cannot turn back the clock. But we are at a point in history where we not only can, but must pick and choose among all the present and past elements of human culture to find those that are most humane and sustainable. While the new culture we will create by doing so will not likely represent simply an immediate return to wild food gathering, it could restore much of the freedom, naturalness, and spontaneity that we have traded for civilization's artifices, and it could include new versions of cultural forms with roots in humanity's remotest past. We need not slavishly imitate the past; we might, rather, be inspired by the best examples of human adaptation, past and present. Instead of "going back," we should think of this process as "getting back on track."

Haven't we gained important knowledge and abilities through civilization? Wouldn't renouncing these advances be stupid and short-sighted?

If human beings are inherently mostly good, sociable, and creative, it is inevitable that much of what we have done in the course of the development of civilization should be worth keeping, even if the enterprise as a whole was skewed. But how do we decide what to keep? Obviously, we must agree upon criteria. I would suggest that our first criterion must be ecological sustainability. What activities can be pursued across many generations with minimal environmental damage? A second criterion might be, What sorts of activities promote--rather than degrade--human dignity and freedom?

If human beings are inherently good, then why did we make the "mistake" of creating civilization? Aren't the two propositions (human beings are good, civilization is bad) contradictory?

Only if taken as absolutes. Human nature is malleable, its qualities changing somewhat according to the natural and social environment. Moreover, humankind is not a closed system. We exist within a natural world that is, on the whole, "good," but that is subject to rare catastrophes. Perhaps the initial phases of civilization were humanity's traumatized response to overwhelming global cataclysms accompanying and following the end of the Pleistocene. Kingship and warfare may have originated as survival strategies. Then, perhaps civilization itself became a mechanism for re-traumatizing each new generation, thus preserving and regenerating its own psycho-social basis.

What practical suggestions for the future stem from primitivism? We cannot all revert to gathering and hunting today because there are just too many of us. Can primitivism offer a practical design for living?

No philosophy or "-ism" is a magical formula for the solution of all human problems. Primitivism doesn't offer easy answers, but it does suggest an alternative direction or set of values. For many centuries, civilization has been traveling in the direction of artificiality, control, and domination. Primitivism tells us that there is an inherent limit to our continued movement in that direction, and that at some point we must begin to choose to readapt ourselves to nature. The point of a primitivist critique of civilization is not necessarily to insist on an absolute rejection of every aspect of modern life, but to assist in clarifying issues so that we can better understand the tradeoffs we are making now, deepen the process of renegotiating our personal bargains with nature, and thereby contribute to the reframing of our society's collective covenants.

V. Some Concluding Thoughts

In any discussion of primitivism we must keep in mind civilization's "good" face--the one characterized (in Lewis Mumford's words) by

the invention and keeping of the written record, the growth of visual and musical arts, the effort to widen the circle of communication and economic intercourse far beyond the range of any local community: ultimately the purpose to make available to all [people] the discoveries and inventions and creations, the works of art and thought, the values and purposes that any single group has discovered.

Civilization brings not only comforts, but also the opportunity to think the thoughts of Plato or Thoreau, to travel to distant places, and to live under the protection of a legal system that guarantees certain rights. How could we deny the worth of these things?

Naturally, we would like to have it all; we would like to preserve civilization's perceived benefits while restraining its destructiveness. But we haven't found a way to do that yet. And it is unlikely that we will while we are in denial about what we have left behind, and about the likely consequences of what we are doing now.

While I advocate taking a critical look at civilization, I am not suggesting that we are now in position to render a final judgment on it. It is entirely possible that we are standing on the threshold of a cultural transformation toward a way of life characterized by relatively higher degrees of contentment, creativity, justice, and sustainability than have been known in any human society heretofore. If we are able to follow this transformation through, and if we call the result "civilization," then we will surely be entitled to declare civilization a resounding success.


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