A review of a workshop based on Quinn’s “Ishmael”

Moa (My life, Our life, All of life) is a new workshop designed by Aaron D, who has a blog at http://www.ishthink.org/blog/aarond. According to Aaron’s announcement, the workshop was “inspired by a combination of books by author Daniel Quinn, Zen Buddhism, and Heart of Now practices”. I had the honor of attending the trial run of the workshop last May 12-13, and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely. In this culture, we don’t often have the opportunity to get into in-depth conversations about global “big picture” issues, and I think Aaron deserves a big round of applause just for having the courage to organize this event and assemble the resources to make it happen.

The weekend was filled with exercises and rituals, which helped to illustrate the concepts while breaking up the potential for over-intellectualization and despair. But the factual heart of the message was clearly inspired by Daniel Quinn’s novels. Two introductory talks set the agenda. On Saturday morning, Aaron carefully and majestically told the story of the origins of the universe and the evolution of life on this planet, starting with the Big Bang and the condensation of stars and solar systems, continuing with the appearance of single-celled organisms and then plants and animals, and culminating in the reigns of dinosaurs, mammals and finally the emergence of Homo Sapiens. The presentation itself evoked an image of timelessness by virtue of its length and pacing, yet no one seemed to be bored. It was as if the room was filled with the imagery of an ancient storyteller reciting poetry and myth around the campfire. Finally the point was brought home, that the human species has only occupied this planet for a tiny sliver of geological time.

The material was fully scientific, based on the latest findings of cosmology and evolutionary theory, although without any discussion of any lingering controversies. Among the attendees of the seminar, there was palpable agreement that this was the way it must have really happened. Not long ago, and even today among many Americans, the story would have been told very differently by literal Biblical creationists. I was struck by the irony that almost 150 years after Darwin, there is so little consensus in the world about how the story of the origins of mankind should be told. But on the other hand, 150 years is only a blink of an eye compared to the vastness of time, so perhaps there is no need for impatience.

Sunday morning, Aaron went though the major milestones of the history of civilization, while pointing out the ever-increasing growth of human population, culminating with the staggering six-fold explosion since the start of the Industrial Revolution, to its current figure of about 6.5 billion people. During this presentation, Aaron took the opportunity to present some basic concepts from Quinn’s novels. According to Quinn, early hunter-gatherer cultures lived by a rule of “limited competition”, in which it is forbidden to “hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food.” Thus, early man lived in a state of equilibrium with nature and other species. But with the rise of agricultural civilization in the ancient Near East (“totalitarian agriculture” as styled by Quinn) the rule of limited competition was overturned, and humans embarked on a war of conquest to subjugate the planet and all other species. In Quinn’s lingo, the peaceful “leaver” cultures were largely engulfed and replaced by a single “taker” culture.

Several other lecture presentations covered various aspects of the problems that have been wrought by the current explosion of “taker” civilization, with a special emphasis on desertification and loss of agricultural productivity, and the growing extent of world poverty and hunger. Aaron also discussed the prevalence of cultural illusions and misconceptions in American news media, including an unquestioning acceptance of “taker” ethics with respect to the natural world. Workshop participants were invited to imagine a different world, organized around the principal that the world exists for all species, not just humans.

For a better understanding of Quinn’s thought, I read his book “Beyond Civilization” as well as the “Public Teachings” appendix from “The Story of B”. Quinn has two prescriptions for his readers. Firstly, to seek changes in their lifestyle according to a principle of “less harm”, and to abandon the “taker” quest to live like “lords of the universe”, or “pharaohs” in a world of pyramid builders. Secondly, to find some way of making a living as part of a tribal unit outside of the corporate system. Quinn’s vision is that eventually, millions and then billions of people will simply abandon and walk away from “taker” culture in search of a simpler but more fulfilling way of life.

At the end of the weekend, workshop participants were asked to envision their personal responses to the ideas presented. Several of the attendees stated their intention to live more simply, explore local food production opportunities, and eat locally grown products. Others hoped to find rural communes where they could work towards sustainable self-sufficiency in a tribal environment. All of this is OK with me: I agree that living a simple lifestyle can be a significant boon for the individuals who make this choice, as well as a benefit to the ecology of the planet as a whole. Regarding rural communes, Quinn himself is skeptical: in Beyond Civilization (p. 117) he writes:

“In the paradigmatic utopian scenario, you gather your friends, equip yourselves with agricultural tools, and find a bit of wilderness paradise to which you can escape and get away from it all. The apparent attraction of this weary old fantasy is that it requires no imagination (being ready-made), can be enacted by almost anyone with the requisite funds, and sometimes actually works for longer than a few months. To advocate it as a general solution for six billion people would set an all-time record for inanity…. You don’t have to “go somewhere” to get beyond civilization. You have to make your living a different way.”

To which my reply is that of course not everyone can accomplish rural self-sufficiency. Even fewer can carry this out in a principled way without using cars and trucks, power tools and electronics. Most importantly: the further anyone progresses towards true sustainability and self-sufficiency, the more grievous sacrifices they need to make in terms of life experiences foregone (travel, entertainment, culture) as well as comfort and possibly health. But those who are able to succeed at communal self-sufficiency may emerge as survivors in the event of that civilization ultimately goes down into a post-apocalyptic, post-petroleum collapse. And if (as some are predicting) the world’s population is ultimately going to fall from six billion down to a post-industrial total of less than a billion, there’s something to be said for sheer survival.

In my view, Quinn needs to be understood first of all in terms of his passion for survival of the natural world and all of its diversity; as an entertaining novelist; and as a polemicist in favor of simple tribal lifestyles. Accuracy of anthropology is not his primary concern. However, there are some problems with his narrative. The last 50,000 years have been characterized by a series of mass extinctions of large animals, primarily herbivores. In Africa, where humans had been slowly evolving for millions of years, hunter-gatherer cultures reached their greatest extent and advancement starting about 40,000 years ago. At about that same time, some 50 genera of large mammals went extinct, representing 30% of all large species in Africa. On other continents, the sudden arrival of human hunters apparently caught nature more unprepared. Australia gained its first human inhabitants about 55,000 years ago, and during the 10,000 years following their arrival, some 44 species of large animals went extinct, every species exceeding 100 kg in weight, including such oddities as giant wombats, huge kangaroos, marsupial lions, and the Genyornis, a large flightless bird like the Dodo. In North America, seventy species went extinct about 11,000 years ago, more or less simultaneously with the first arrival of humans on the continent. These species included “condors with a sixteen-foot wingspan, ground sloths as big as hippos, three kinds of elephants, three kinds of cheetah and five other kinds of big cat, several kinds of pronghorn antelopes, long-legged, antelope-like pigs, an assortment of camel, llama, deer, horse, and bison species, giant wolves, giant bears and giant armadillos.” (Bryant). By 10,000 years ago, the human race had arrived in South America, where again most megafauna disappeared shortly thereafter. In the West Indies, a similar sequence of events took place only 4,000 years ago. There is abundant archaeological evidence of man’s success as a hunter of many of these species. Humans also used fire to clear vast areas, presumably to facilitate hunting and possibly also to reduce habitat for large carnivores. Early man probably did not hunt those large carnivores directly, but nevertheless many species became extinct, either because of habitat loss or loss of the large herbivores which had been their prey.

It’s very possible that human predation may not have been solely responsible for all these extinctions. Other factors such as climate change or disease may have been significant as well. What is impossible for me to believe, is that these hunter-gatherer cultures were inhibited in their hunting efforts by any ethical compunctions such as Quinn’s rule of limited competition. On the contrary, early hunter-gatherers clearly were attempting to carry out a campaign of total unlimited warfare against the pleistocene megafauna; a war which, for whatever reason, was always brought to completion within a short time after their arrival in any new continent aside from their native Africa. Not that they thought of it in that framework, as a project to eliminate the giant wooly mammoths and other game, but just that they were doing what they needed to do to keep their tribes safe and well fed. I would even be willing to argue that “taker” ethics is probably instinctive for all carnivorous animals; it is only a lack of opportunity and skill that makes other species appear to obey the rule of limited competition. And throughout biological history, species have gone extinct; how can this happen except when some other species (or combination of species) breaks the limited competition rule?

At any rate, by the end of the neolithic period (if not sooner) the “taker” paradigm had been enacted multiple times by many cultures across the globe. Nevertheless, Quinn was correct in his argument that the invention of agriculture created a whole new set of challenges, not only for the natural world, but also for human beings. The operative word is “Totalitarian”, as the new agricultural civilizations were organized in a militaristic, hierarchical fashion because of the pressures of war. This was explained in a remarkable book by Andrew Bard Schmookler, “The Parable of the Tribes” (1984). Reading this book was a transformative experience for me, and I would highly recommend it to any Ishmaelite. In the extensive quote below, Schmookler explains how the drive for power emerged, not as a result of human nature, but as a fundamental requirement for survival in this new environment.


[Begin quote]

With the rise of civilization, the limits fall away. The natural self-interest and pursuit of survival remain, but they are no longer governed by any order. The new civilized forms of society, with more complex social and political structures, created the new possibility of indefinite social expansion: more and more people organized over more and more territory. All other forms of life had always found inevitable limits placed upon their growth by scarcity and consequent death. But civilized society was developing the unprecedented capacity for unlimited growth as an entity. (The limitlessness of this possibility does not emerge fully at the outset, but rather becomes progressively more realized over the course of history as people invent methods of transportation, communication, and governance which extend the range within which coherence and order can be maintained.) Out of the living order there emerged a living entity with no defined place.

In a finite world, societies all seeking to escape death-dealing scarcity through expansion will inevitably come to confront each other. Civilized societies, therefore, though lacking inherent limitations to their growth, do encounter new external limits – in the form of one another. Because human beings (like other living creatures) have ‘excess reproductive capacity,’ meaning that human numbers tend to increase indefinitely unless a high proportion of the population dies prematurely, each civilized society faces an unpleasant choice. If an expanding society willingly stops where its growth would infringe upon neighboring societies, it allows death to catch up and overtake its population. If it goes beyond those limits, it commits aggression. With no natural order or overarching power to prevent it, some will surely choose to take what belongs to their neighbors rather than to accept the limits that are compulsory for every other form of life.

In such circumstances, a Hobbesian struggle for power among societies becomes inevitable. We see that what is freedom from the point of view of each single unit is anarchy in an ungoverned system of those units. A freedom unknown in nature is cruelly transmuted into an equally unnatural state of anarchy, with its terrors and its destructive war of all against all.

As people stepped across the threshold into civilization, they inadvertently stumbled into a chaos that had never before existed. The relations among societies were uncontrolled and virtually uncontrollable. Such an ungoverned system imposes unchosen necessities: civilized people were compelled to enter a struggle for power.

The meaning of ‘power,’ a concept central to this entire work, needs to be explored. Power may be defined as the capacity to achieve one’s will against the will of another. The exercise of power thus infringes upon the exercise of choice, for to be the object of another’s power is to have his choice substituted for one’s own. *

* As used here, power is a coercive capacity. Power may also be defined as the ability to restrict the range of another’s choices. It is thus differentiated from the kind of persuasive power that changes how others decide to exercise choice (except to the extent that, as, for example, in brainwashing, and less obviously in many other forms of indoctrination, coercive power creates the situation in which persuasion becomes possible).

Power becomes important where two actors (or more) would choose the same thing but cannot both have it; power becomes important when the obstacles to the achievement of one’s will come from the will of others. Thus, as the expanding capacities of human societies created an overlap in the range of their grasp and desire, the intersocietal struggle for power arose.

But the new unavoidability of this struggle is but the first and smaller step in the transmutation of the apparent freedom of civilized peoples into bondage to the necessities of power.

The Selection for Power: The Parable of the Tribes

The new human freedom made striving for expansion and power possible. Such freedom, when multiplied, creates anarchy. The anarchy among civilized societies meant that the play of power in the system was uncontrollable. In an anarchic situation like that, no one can choose that the struggle for power shall cease.

But there is one more element in the picture: no one is free to choose peace, but anyone can impose upon all the necessity for power. This is the lesson of the parable of the tribes.

Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest? What can happen to the others when confronted by an ambitious and potent neighbor? Perhaps one tribe is attacked and defeated, its people destroyed and its lands seized for the use of the victors. Another is defeated, but this one is not exterminated; rather, it is subjugated and transformed to serve the conqueror. A third seeking to avoid such disaster flees from the area into some inaccessible (and undesirable) place, and its former homeland becomes part of the growing empire of the power-seeking tribe. Let us suppose that others observing these developments decide to defend themselves in order to preserve themselves and their autonomy. But the irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power, and if the threatening society has discovered ways to magnify its power through innovations in organization or technology (or whatever), the defensive society will have to transform itself into something more like its foe in order to resist the external force.

I have just outlined four possible outcomes for the threatened tribes: destruction, absorption and transformation, withdrawal, and imitation. In every one of these outcomes the ways of power are spread throughout the system. This is the parable of the tribes.

The parable of the tribes is a theory of social evolution which shows that power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually yet inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies. More important than the inevitability of the struggle for power is the profound social evolutionary consequence of that struggle once it begins. A selection for power among civilized societies is inevitable. If anarchy assured that power among civilized societies could not be governed, the selection for power signified that increasingly the ways of power would govern the destiny of mankind. This is the new evolutionary principle that came into the world with civilization. Here is the social evolutionary black hole that we have sought as an explanation of the harmful warp in the course of civilization’s development.

[End quote]
If this analysis is correct (and I believe it is), then it represents a fundamental flaw with Quinn’s proposals to move “beyond civilization”. Quinn is wrong when he argues that the “taker” ethic is a cultural artifact, and that it can be alleviated by recovering an ancient way of being that prevailed before the advent of agricultural civilization. On the contrary, the will to take the things we need (even in violation of the limited competition rule) is built into our instincts and our genes. Totalitarian modes of hierarchical organization, militarism and power are not genetic or instinctive, but nevertheless they are built very deeply into the structure of civilization. Accordingly, transcending “taker” ethics will not come naturally to any human being. Furthermore, we are not free to walk away from the ways of power, at least not in massive numbers – if we do, we are at risk that power will come and find us, and enslave us. The best we can hope for is that some of us can elude its grasp for a little while.

In the late ‘90’s, Schmookler published a book on the declining state of his health, and I was under the highly mistaken impression that his voice had been silenced. I have just recently made the discovery of his website, his blogs and his columns at Atlantic Free Press. In one of his blog discussions, Schmookler was arguing for compassion and understanding towards some militaristic statements coming from presidential candidate Barack Obama — on the basis that a leader must show competence and comfort with military power, at least for defensive purposes, in order to be taken seriously. I would argue that even more so, we need to hold a space of compassion and respect for people’s material needs and for their efforts to meet those needs through agriculture and industry, otherwise we risk being (properly) marginalized as extremists.

At the same time, it is absolutely a fact that (as Einstein said) if we do not put an end to aggressive warfare, it will put an end to us. And we are in for miserable times if civilization continues to ignore natural limits. It’s hard to predict when the Malthusian walls will close in, but obviously we will never come close to a point where all the earth’s biomass consists of human beings. Those are the dilemmas we face, and (as Aaron wrote in his own blog recently) there is no silver bullet that is going to make these problems disappear. At the same time it’s vitally important that we keep talking about them – thus my appreciation for Aaron’s seminar.

One other aspect of modern times, which Aaron didn’t mention and which easily could be the subject of another workshop, is the tremendous pace of technological change. Scientific knowledge, computational power, communications technology, and biotechnology are all advancing at an exponentially accelerating rate, creating great dangers but also great opportunities. My hope is that solar and wind energy and fuel cell technology will bail us out of the impending situation of potential oil shortages and / or human-induced climate change, and buy us enough time to solve some of the other Malthusian problems as the rate of population increase slowly moderates. That is why my own choice is to stay engaged with industrial civilization, and hope for the best. Perhaps I need to put together my own workshop?


Peter J. Bryant’s “Biodiversity and Conservation: a hypertext book”:


Other links on extinction of megafauna:



Schmookler’s blog:



17 thoughts on “A review of a workshop based on Quinn’s “Ishmael””

  1. The following two links provide one possibly underlying basis for a counter argument to the claim that the megafauna of this period were wiped out due to the claimed rapaciousness of hunter-gatherers:



    And to bolster any general counter argument I suggest the following:

    From my understanding it had been given that hunter-gatherers of that period operated in somewhat small family based units, perhaps seasonally coming together in a clan fashion for large hunts and to enable pair bonding of the younger members. And that newly formed familial units would usually be required by necessity to expand into new territory to prevent over utilization of the available resources. This is all before the time of emerging complex agricultural (and hence warlike) societies, and I believe that the consensus is that these populations were relatively small.

    If so, to me this is hard to believe that they could have been that efficient as to wipe out entire species of large herds of such megafauna, or not have had some realization that there was a limit to the extent of their predations.

    If one extrapolates to the later nDn societies of the North American Plains region, at least, they seem to have understood exactly this principle. They only took what they needed, even developing spiritual rituals where they apologized to the bison and welcomed him or her back for the next cycle of life. Indeed, there were millions of bison until the Europeans came with their profit motive. The same goes for countless other fauna species which the nDnz seem to have maintained a harmonic balance with over long periods of human scale time.

    More likely, back in the time of what is being blamed by you here on the rapaciousness of all humanity in general (i.e. no “leavers”), and just exactly as is still happening today, wild fauna (and flora) eventually came under extreme “taker” stress due to the inexorable encroachment of agricultural (bounded property and now speculative) based human societies. And during any assimilations of the “leavers”, their carried over hunting practices became aculturated (as became institutionalized within such as the Judeo-Christian corpus) with the dominance over nature meme rather than the prior “living in balance” modality.

    Supposedly Brian Fagan (The Long Summer) used the latest consensus conclusions from anthropologists, archeologists, climatologists and such to say that the hunter gatherers were either displaced or assimilated into newly arriving agricultural immigrant colonies arriving from the more southern ‘civilized’ regions, i.e. Mesopotamia. This when cyclical sun driven climate changes destroyed the ability for their relatively new cultures to sustain. This was the prime thrust of his book, that human societies are driven by the sun (actually any resulting climate cycles since there is also new evidence that Sumer may have collapsed from a nearby cometary impact), especially as they become more complex and specialized because they can not quickly adapt. Better to pick up and move to where the climate is currently what it was like where you just were.

    In the process the hunter gatherers had little choice in the matter of the agriculturalist’s migrations because their numbers were just too small. Yes, their numbers were increasing, but only relatively slowly and it seems as they grew they also spread out to adjacent sustainable lands. Another person has surmised recently that hunter gatherers would have been insane to typically daily tackle megafauna considering the extreme dangers and the plenitude of smaller game and fish. Not that they would not do so occasionally for various reasons, such as to demonstrate their virility and such, but this should not have been at a level to create mass extinctions. Besides, one mammoth would feed an incredible number of people and much would likely end up going to waste even considering hefting a considerable portion back to the group. More likely the whole group would have had to go to the mammoths.

    In comparison regarding the earlier dinosaurs and the KT/Chicxulub event complex, the general theory is that these impacts (sic), and the Deccan Flats, affected the largest animals first for a variety of reasons including they could not adapt to the instantaneous climate change. Those that were unlucky(?) to survive immediately likely never had enough time to migrate, if that was even possible with their food supplies rendered moot. The animals that were ultimately left after what was most likely a long series of impact events were small mammals which evolved to what we have today.


    Whatever the controversies, it seems that most agree that those earlier forms of megafauna were mainly negatively impacted by catastrophic events, and of course, mankind did not exist at such time.

    If mankind had been so efficient in wiping out all such more recent large fauna then, for example, they missed the wooly mammoths of northern Siberia that were killed by some rapid climate changing event, perhaps the Clovis Impact discussed here. In fact, one individual killed virtually standing in place that was removed intact and whole via helicopter from the ice just recently on TV.

    Perhaps these Clovis Impact era humans were driven to migrate much faster and farther after this event in search of lands that had any sustainable resources?

    It was indeed the immigrating agriculturists who began the deforestation of Europe when they arrived. This and the rice farming in Asia around 8,000 BCE began the rise in manmade greenhouse gasses that allowed us to bridge across the ice age we should already long be in (as covered in SCIAM a year or two ago). Consistent with many of the early scientific warners of the present accelerated global warming spike now backing off the claim that the core cause is man made, I suspect that we may be seeing the sum of man made and the inexorable nascent natural solar system cycle(s) driven spike, the prior of which as witnessed in glacial ice core samples.

    Finally, it has just been proposed that psychologically ‘Getting’ ‘Begets’ ‘Wanting’, and if true then perhaps the “taker” society has amplified this principle to clearly negative ends. People who clearly have far more than their needs justify are driven to acquire ever more, sometimes at whatever means possible. But where was that the case with the hunter gatherers?


  2. These are all excellent points. I should be more careful about my statement that Quinn’s “leaver” cultures never existed, when the science behind that claim is so ambiguous. The Plains Indians bison cultures might represent a valid example of true sustainability, in which case they deserve our admiration, as well as efforts to understand their achievement better.

    However, I would still argue that the balance of evidence favors the thesis that human hunting was a major factor in the Pleistocene extinctions. Climate or catastrophic events such as comets or meteors might have been significant factors in certain times and places. But, Bryant’s article discusses eight distinct extinction events which occurred at different times on different land masses, but always simultaneously with human arrival on the scene. The argument that coincidental natural catastrophes arrived always at the right moment, so as to overshadow and absolve humans of all responsibility on eight separate occasions, should make even the most glib defense attorney blush with embarrassment.

    If the Plains Indians did eventually reach a spiritual entente with the bison, perhaps this might have occurred as the end point of a long process. Any wild species of predator that was especially dangerous in terms of attacking human tribes or their young, would probably be specially targeted for destruction as soon as the paleoindians could devise a successful hunting strategy. Other hunting expeditions presumably chose their targets based on a variety of considerations including desirability of the products from the target species, and ease of hunting and processing. As some species dwindled away under the continuous onslaught, other species might flourish and their populations expand to fill the empty ecological niche left behind. If this is what happened, it might explain the extraordinary abundance of buffalo at the time of the white man’s arrival. Meanwhile, the Indians might have a cultural memory of the species lost, and perhaps feel some responsibility to avoid continuing the process; thus contributing to the development of their spiritual attitude of harmony and respect for the earth.

  3. No doubt the humans did hunt megafauna, as the evidence shows, but why did they seem to stop with certain species and not complete what they were doing before?

    Was this because the ‘Clovis’ people, like so many other societies collapsed for whatever reason, e.g. climatic changes? This particular cause would seem strange since these people were nomadic and certainly quite adaptable relative to more recent rigid and fragile ‘civilizations’.

    Or, as was alluded to in the previous exchange and is part of the ongoing controversy, that the Clovis people (as witnessed by Kennewick Man and Spirit Cave Man’s skull morphology) and the modern nDnz (and prior moundbuilding peoples) are not the same lineaged peoples. If so, perhaps the nDn tribes would do well to distance themselves from Kennewick Man.

    If the skull morphologies present more like a European classification, does this indicate a possibility that these people were then exhibiting a comparative general rapaciousness as that being exhibited by current BrahmicAbramic Man vis-a-vis less aggressive or assertive human variants?

    Would not this be consistent with behaviors seen in other social life forms, such as ants, where one variety dominates another via warfare, enslavement, or colonial (sic) displacement?

    I suspect that, just like with most other complex systems, that there is a variety of causes for different extinctions that include human overpredation, but also include catastropy driven and noncatastrophic climatic variations. Bot of the latter also seem to be deeply embedded within the extant ‘sacred’ text corpora, possibly providing implicite positive feedback impetus for our negative societal behaviors.

  4. In response to why the Clovis “did not complete what they were doing before”, perhaps the answer is that it was ecologically necessary for some variety of herbivore to survive, since humans cannot directly eat grass. Thus when the larger or more vulnerable megafauna went extinct, their ecological niche was filled by bison. When the white man came, ultimately cattle and sheep replaced the bison.

    I spoke with Aaron yesterday. He’s been watching at least some of this discussion, and his conclusion is that since all this archaeological debate is so contentious and uncertain, he’s intending to re-focus his workshop on the things that are happening now, “in the moment”.

  5. “… that it was ecologically necessary for some variety of herbivore to survive, since humans cannot directly eat grass.”

    Hmmm, Crimson and Clover …. err Clovis, over and over. 8^)

    Crimson and Clovis, that is, until they had their Green Epiphany and their annual ecological focus group decided to take it easy on the bison, deer, and elk, etc.?

    Well, maybe, the Clovis became bummed out when they finished off all the slow, larger prey and didn’t like all the extra effort involved in chasing the smaller fauna? And the new equilibrium was established around this dynamic. Thus they became the ancestors of today’s in balance nDnz? Possible, but I strongly prefer my prior assertion and that therefore the nDnz might do well to disassociate from Kennewick Man.

    Support for my larger point that there are significant behavioral differences in contemporary groups of humankind, as within other fauna (genus in this case … mostly but not entirely), seem manifold and obvious. For example, in comparing various tribes around the globe, neighboring ones included. Or look at the behavioral differences between warring chimp ‘smirking takers’ and neighboring bonabo ‘orgiastic leavers’. Sinners all. Sigh, yes, our burden is heavy indeed.

    Somewhat like Clovis perhaps, BrahmicAbramic Man represents an agressive new (?) entrant onto the crimson killing fields when compared to other ‘less advanced’ societies. This with the high likelihood of inbred psychopathic tendencies inexorably rising to the top hierarchical alpha members; most likely happening at the shaman to priestly (and chief to kingly) transition time zone during the adoption of highly organized agricultural societies. Namely, the emergence of the specious and profitable artifice of religion, and the cooptation of the relatively new group dynamic lessons learned from the ‘operative’ shepherds by the priestly ‘speculative’ crooked shepherds over their ‘faithful’ human sheep.

    Did I say ‘speculative’? As in garning title (emmanating from their god’s/goddess’ divine providence no doubt) to their temple lands thus requiring ‘tithing’ rents by the human sheep tenants. Ah, location, location, location!!!

  6. No_st_ranger,
    “until they had their green epiphany”? Indeed the Plains Indians must have had a green epiphany at some historical moment in time, when they started chanting prayers to the bison and asking their forgiveness. Who can say when that started happening relative to the advent of modern humans, and the invention of language and prayer itself?
    But the theory I’m suggesting doesn’t actually require any change of behavior of human hunters. As the ecosystem was simplified by overhunting, and some species dwindled away, and meanwhile the amount of grass on the prairie remained more or less constant, the populations of bison, deer and elk would have swelled to fill the gap. Their reproductive rates also would have increased, overwhelming the hunters’ ability to keep up.
    It’s true that the amount of meat obtained by killing a mammoth would be out of proportion to the needs of the tribe. But they might have been interested in other resources besides meat. As an admittedly far-fetched example, what if the toenails of mammoth contained a Viagra-like substance? If so, the ultimate depletion of mammoth might have led to the organization of that ecological focus group you mentioned.
    I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen’s “Endgame” recently (and will have more to say about it later), and I see that he is also taking the position that early humans couldn’t possibly have been responsible for the Pleistocene extinctions. But I didn’t see any explanation about why these extinctions of megafauna occured 50,000 years ago in Australia, 4000 years ago in the West Indies, and a diverse range of other times on other landmasses, always coincident with man’s arrival. Sort of like Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comic strips, early man was trailed around the planet with this dust cloud of megafauna extinction. Did the meteors also fall and the climate changed wherever the people went?
    Also, I’m confused about the relation between the Clovis people and the North American extinction events. Are you saying the Clovis may have had hierarchic / psychopathic tendencies like their putative relatives, the Indo-European / Aryan founders and beneficiaries of “Western civilization”? And yet in spite of their evil nature, they weren’t actually responsible for the extinction of the mammoths and other megafauna… but then, they went extinct themselves in the Americas, their place taken by the peaceable Asiatic “nDn” stock?

  7. “But the theory I’m suggesting doesn’t actually require any change of behavior of human hunters.”

    Well, if your ‘hypothesis’ is correct, then certainly either the Clovi had a green epiphany or they were indeed different peoples from the nDnz. This, because if there were now not enough competive and non-human predatory pressures upon the bison that their numbers would expand so dramatically then there would have been no such impetus for the Clovi to amend their ways as you assert.

    Or maybe if they are the same line of humans, the Clovis Impact was seen as the apocalytic message from The Great Spirit to begin the next New Order?

    “But I didn’t see any explanation about why these extinctions of megafauna occured 50,000 years ago in Australia, 4000 years ago in the West Indies, and a diverse range of other times on other landmasses, always coincident with man’s arrival. Sort of like Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comic strips, early man was trailed around the planet with this dust cloud of megafauna extinction. Did the meteors also fall and the climate changed wherever the people went?”

    It is at times like these, that we must remember that “Correlation does not equal Causation”, that is, if Causation really exists – as per some philosophic speculators. ;^)

    As I mentioned earlier there might be several causes for megafauna extinctions, and the finding of some examples of positive evidence of human predation doesn’t prove that humans were the cause of some or all extinctions. Maybe the humans who killed these examples felt extraordinarilly peckish during the same times as these other extinction pressure phenomena were occurring?

    “Are you saying the Clovis may have had hierarchic / psychopathic tendencies like their putative relatives, the Indo-European / Aryan founders and beneficiaries of “Western civilization”?”

    Yes, why not? Maybe the ‘genetic’ situation is analogous to cancer which forms constantly in all our bodies, but normally there exists immune and other corrective measures to terminate matters before they get out of control.

    “And yet in spite of their evil nature, they weren’t actually responsible for the extinction of the mammoths and other megafauna… but then, they went extinct themselves in the Americas, their place taken by the peaceable Asiatic “nDn” stock?”

    In this specific case, I was trying to collegially postulate possibilities regardless of whose positiion was being supported, not trying to maintain perfect coherence for myself. However, considering the possibility of cancerlike psychopathies emerging and that such as (a Caucasoid like) Kenniwick Man may have been the correct morphological lineage model for the Clovi, we might not have to consider such things as Green Epiphanies for the nDnz.

    If the Clovis First hypothesis is incorrect, then this implies that the Clovi could have been such an emerging ‘cancer’, that later collapsed for some reason such as during the Younger Dryas cold period, now postulated to have been caused by an impact event (which I believe is one and the same with the “Clovis Impact”).


    So in this case, if the Clovi were being driven by psychopathic insticts to overpredation, then like so many other cultures that have been destroyed by even lesser causated climate change, the Clovi culture collapsed and possibly their pyschopathic leaders were seen as the cause and eliminated, for either the ‘green’s to emerge, sans epiphany, in the lower survival elements or greener others to take their place.

    The Solutrean Hypothesis even provides for a more direct, genetic psychopathic linkage path between the Clovi and
    the contemporaneous peoples of Southern Europe.

  8. As BrahmicAbramic Man (BAM) and Emeril are wont to say, “BAM!!!!!” Here they are tying the Carolina Bays features to the Clovis Impact and the Younger Dryas.


    Imagine the entire Northern Hemisphere first on fire, then followed quickly by decades of temps that were 10C lower than normal due to the Global Dimming effects of particulate matter and the Atlantic thermohaline cycle being shut down by the rapid glacial melt.

    I would imagine that whatever megafauna were lucky(?) enough to survive the immediate period were hunted down quickly by any hungry remaining Clovi and northern Europeans, if any.

    And, somewhat (sic) as you suggested, with forests ubiquitously burning across the Northern Hemisphere, the first flora to retake hold would be grasses, thus providing a preferential boon to fauna the size of bison and smaller. But not grasses becoming abundant because the megafauna were being hunted to extinction by Clovi. As in Siberia with the mammoths, the megafauna were quickly killed by extreme Nature, in that case being frozen in place.

    I’ll probably have to back off the psychopathic conjecture regarding the Clovi, but it did make for a fun discussion.

  9. It seems that there was a global greening of ‘uncivilized’ hunter gatherers at some point. Simply amazing how they all acheived such a widespread cultural acheivement after all having been so wantonly gluttonous.

    “John H. Bodley in his, Anthropology And Contemporary Human Problems, reports:

    “In 1965, 75 anthropologists assembled in Chicago to examine the latest research findings on the world’s last remaining tribal hunting peoples, who were expected soon to become extinct. The result was a new description of life in these simplest of ethnographically known societies, showing their existence to be stable, satisfying, and ecologically sound, and not at all ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short,’ as Thomas Hobbes had proclaimed in Leviathan in 1651. It was learned, for example, that even remnant hunters such as the Bushmen, who survived in extreme and marginal environments, were not eking out a precarious existence, constantly on the edge of famine, as was thought. Indeed, they devoted only a few hours a week to subsistence and suffered no seasonal scarcity. When uncontaminated by outsiders, tribal hunters seemed to enjoy good health and long lives, while they had the good sense to maintain their wants at levels that could be fully and continuously satisfied without jeopardizing their environment. One researcher even suggested that this was, after all, the original ‘affluent society.'”

    Sarcasm OFF.

    Kotke’s thrust in “Final Empire” seems to be that civilization (thanks BrahmicAbramic Man) has severely inverted the values that allows (sic) uncivilized man to live a decent life in harmony with nature. It seems that BAM indeed left the uncivilized garden of paradise to engage in a continuous, violent possession and power struggle driven by greed and envy, even institutionalizing it in its sacred corpora such that it could convince its weak sisters (the purer of heart) that we are on the right path using deceitful artifices such as Divine Providence to justify our serial genocides and territorial thefts.

    It appears to me that the combination of the social inversion (from Being to Doing as Kotke discusses) with some apparent instances of unchecked cancerous psychopathology are a lethal cocktail for the social and global ecology.

    Though given recent discussions of the plasticity of the mind, especially here in the infant stage, perhaps what we consider inbred psychopathology is really a form of nurtured sociopathology. If chimps can form language skill adaptations in their brains in infancy, perhaps this is where the Smirking Chimp and his ancestral lineage went wrong. The early overheard discussions of war profiteering and empire building gave them hardwired memes.

  10. “Edible Forest Gardens” (by Dave Jacke) mentions that the Eastern deciduous forests in North America were extensively managed by Native Americans. Fire was used to expand the areas of savannah and prairie and create more “edges”, all of which favored their preferred game species, and rotating “slash and burn” eventually led to areas of white pine forest. Jacke says that these ecosystem altering techniques created a “garden” that was “beautiful, productive, and sustainable over the long haul” and that the changes to the primeval forest were subtle enough that Europeans hardly noticed what was being done.

  11. The May(?) issue of National Geographic discusses these rather sophisticated agricultural practices, and how they were both wittingly and unwittingly permanently destroyed by the arrival of the Jamestown colony, who originally were looking for gold, only to find at the last minute that they could make do for the investors by growing non-native tobacco. And since “Getting Begets Wanting”, so profits demand ever more land, and Divine Providence helps those that help themselves.

  12. Malcolm Gladwell’s, “The Tipping Point”, discusses “The Magic Number of 150” in which it has been determined ad hoc empirically by modern day organizations such as the company, Gore Associates (of Gore-Tex fame – not Al Gore fame), the religious sect of the Hutterites, and numerous extant indigenous tribes dispersed around the world that groups (villages, business groups, interest groups, etc.) in excess of 150 members become disfunctional and suboptimal, if not downright fractionally contentious, via the unconscious formation of cliques.

    In fact, Gladwell mentions that there is a school of thought that hunter gatherers would not have exceeded permanent groups over that amount for the exact same subconscious psychological motivating factors.

    Without taking the time to elaborate on those underlying “channel capacity” factors, this points to the subsequant sociological need for the instantiating of social hierarchies within all post-hunter gatherer societies, including Communists, that maintain operative groupings of individuals larger than this amount.

    Thus, the 150 concept sounds like an interesting potential core concept around which to evolve to a Georgian socio-economic system, and with which to keep in mind as an amplifying “Tipping Point” tool for advancing desired social changes. After all, even militaries have always kept their operational “companies” close to this number, because they found that this is what maintains the most cohesive group order, for the exact same reasons as all other groups.

  13. A possible problem is that larger groups of thousands or millions of people (no matter how disfunctional) have greater aggregate power than any single small group of 150. Thus we see the prevalence of huge corporations and nation-states in today’s world.
    But perhaps in some post-apocalyptic world, an altered consciousness of appropriate scale and Georgian values will appear. Or perhaps every little group of 150 will have their own dirty nuclear bomb to ward off any would-be conquerers.

  14. I guess you really had to be there, i.e. to read the books.

    It isn’t that groups of 150 or less will directly take on larger organizations, but rather that they (and combining the other lessons Gladwell discusses) become much more effective and cohesive environments to spawn and spread new memes and such from out into the larger society, and possibly under the radar. That is, especially if they can be populated with enough individuals described as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, the modern equivalent of fishers of men (not in the Atwill context though).

    1. Hello Solange, I can’t believe it’s been 3 years since I posted to this blog. Not sure when I’ll be back, either. But thanks for reading!


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