Daniel Quinn

Author of Ishmael series of novels; Beyond Civilization.


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Excerpts from "Beyond Civilization"


(see Two Economies)

(stated problem - Civilization is a failed social Experiment) But the masses living at the bottom of the hierarchy didn't like it at all. They worked and lived like pack animals, struggling just to stay alive.

People are fascinated to learn why a pride of lions works, why a troop of baboons works, or why a flock of geese works, but they often resist learning why a tribe of humans works... Making tribal success visible is the work of my other books and will not be repeated here. (Tribalism)

One of our culture's fundamental memes is "Growing all your own food (vs. gathering some of it) is the best way to live."

A Hunter Gatherer who needs 2,000 calories a day to live has to expend only 400 calories to get them... By contrast, a farmer who needs 2,000 calories a day to live has to expend 1,000 calories to get them... Farming is less efficient at banishing hunger than hunting and gathering, but it unquestionably confers other benefits (most notably, providing a base for settlement and eventually Civilization)...

Abandoned civilizations: the Mayans, the Olmec and Teotihuacan, the Hohokam and the Anasazi... These civilizations were all destroyed and abandoned by the very people who built them... what they did next is almost unthinkable: the stopped farming. They stopped growing all their own food.

Anthropologist Jeremy Sabloff notes that dozens of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the Mayan Collapse... They all have something in common, as Sabloff neatly concludes: "None of these explanations has proved to be totally satisfactory." (The reason is that the Mayans did not hold our meme that...) civilization must continue at any cost and must not be abandoned under any circumstance... When they no longer liked what they were building, they were able to walk away from it...

It wasn't soldiers who conquered the Old World. It was farmers... The meme we brought with us to the New World was... Ours is the one right way for people to live and everyone should live like us.

I submit that Egyptian workers, relatively speaking, got as much out of building Khufu's pyramid as Microsoft workers will get out of building Bill Gates' pyramid (which will surely dwarf Khufu's a hundred times over, though it will not, of course, be built of stone). No special control is needed to make people into pyramid builders - if they see themselves as having no choice but to build pyramids... Karl Marx recognized that workers without a choice are workers in chains. But his idea of breaking chains was for us to depose the pharaohs and then build the pyramids for ourselves, as if building pyramids is something we just can't stop doing, we love it so much.

Forget about going back (to hunter-gatherer life). There is no back. Back is gone. But we can still walk away from the pyramid.

If there's going to be any future for us, our first invention must be a meme-killer. We must destroy in ourselves and in the people around us the meme procaiming civilizatino to be an unsurpassable inventino.... Since there's no better meme-killer than another meme, try this one on for size: Something better than Civilization is waiting for us.

Tribal life is not in fact perfect, idyllic, noble, or wonderful, but wherever it's found intact, it's found to be working well - as well as the life of lizards, racoons, geese, or beetles - with the result that the members of the tribe are not generally enraged, rebellious desperate, stressed-out borderline psychotics being torn apart by crime, hatred or violence... The tribal life doesn't turn people into saints; it enables ordinary people to Make A Living together with a minimum of stress year after year, generation after generation.

The cultures who abandoned civilization returned to Tribalism.

A tribe isn't a particular occupation; it's a Social Organization that facilitates Making A Living.

Examples: gypsies, Circus people (and other travelling shows), the Homeless.

I mean they don't keep the Circus going to make money, they make money in order to keep the circus going... The tribe is what provides them with what they need, and if the tribe is gone, they're all out of luck.

A tribe is a Coalition of people working together as equals to make a living.

What a tribal people transmits to the next generation is not a ready-made fortune but rather a reliable way to make a living.

  • What if you don't want to do the same thing as your parents? "Sorry, no money for college, but gosh you're a great juggler."

(Circus quotes) "Here, we're a family. We all work together, perform together, eat together, and yes, bitch and moan at each other. There's not enough of us to play chiefs and Indians. It's got to be a Democracy."... "Here you not only live in the Neighborhood, you're also working together for a common goal. You're part of something."

People don't plant crops because it's less work, they plant crops because they want to settle down and live in one place... To build a village, you must grow some crops - and this is what most aboriginal villagers grow: some crops. They don't grow all their food. They don't need to. Once you begin turning all the land around you into cropland, you begin to generate enormous food surpluses, which... have to be locked up... As soon as the storehouse appears, someone must step forward to grow it... In a single stroke, a figure of power appears... ready to evolve into a ruling class of royals and nobles.

Every Civilization that enters history ex nihilo (that is, from no previous civilization) enters with the same basic hierarchical social organization firmly in place... The rough outlines of this social organization are familiar to everyone through the Egyptian model. You have a highly centralized state organization that consolidates in itself all economic, military, political, and religious Power.

Kids of all ages run off to join the Circus. No one runs off to join Disney World (Theme Park).

  • I believe this is demonstrably false. I'm sure Cory Doctorow could back me up.

Aren't tribes actually hierarchical? No... In the Circus everyone wants there to be a boss, taking care of business... but the boss is just another person with a job.

Three rationales we use to stick with Civilization... justifying it (Karma)... transcending it... overthrowing it... Religion is a barbituate... Revolution is an amphetamine... Neither drug is going away... Religion is one the rise, right along with revolution.

(As a Free Agent are you "building a pyramid"?) The test is this. If you had a billion dollars in the bank, would you go on doing the work you do to make a living?.. There's plenty of room in the world for the ten percent who love their work. My passion is to make a little room in the world for the other ninety percent who don't... who slog stones up the pyramids not because they love stones or pyramids but because they have no other way to put food on the table.

Civilization Is A developed... advanced... progress... complex society. The thing that forces the institutions of any civilization to becpome politically and socially "complex" is of course their hierarchical arrangement... No tribal society, no matter how "advanced" in other respects, has ever been called a civilization in this sense.

(more to come)

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