Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cult Diversity

            Freedom can’t really exist without there being a diverse range of lifestyles to choose from.  Traditional communities were almost always unified by their forms of dress, building techniques, diets, spiritual practices and all sorts of other behavior.  Within communities the rules could actually be quite strict.  Their freedom really came more from having so many other groups nearby, or the space to just start one of their own if need be.  For the most part, things were just fair and enjoyable enough for people to not mind the rules.  The ideal that some (not all) anarchists have for creating a society of totally free individuals seems a lot less likely to succeed than just having lots of options for small, unified communities.  For this chapter I want to get into some different categories for how communities can be arranged and discuss what range of options would be sustainable for each category. We’re still in the “what do we want?” part of this book.  After this chapter we can get into the activism that I’m hoping will help bring these ideas into reality.

It’s important to remember that different things work best in different areas and that, although certain things shouldn’t be tolerated, there is no one right answer for how all people should live.  Not only do local conditions always dictate how people live to a certain extent but cultural diversity also makes us more resilient as a species overall.  Trying to set up one universal philosophy will never work.  Even disturbing behavior and beliefs that we know for a fact are incorrect can somehow work out better for populations than good logic sometimes.  History has shown that it’s not necessarily the smartest, strongest or most deserving who are deemed fit.  Random changes come that we can’t anticipate and often it’s the weirdos who are rewarded.  Therefore, you can’t just force people to always play the odds.  Again, this doesn’t mean that I think everything should be tolerated but if all localities are living sustainably then, no matter how unappealing the things they’re sustaining might seem to sensible human beings, the world as a whole will still be better off than it is now.  Even if some manage to get back into unsustainable behavior, having diversity helps quarantine their negative impacts.

The main things that groups should be wary of are those that could be early signs of imperialism.  There really should be a zero tolerance policy for groups that try to dominate their neighbors. The only case anyone can really try to make to justify imperialism is that we require all the diverse resources of every land to create some super technology capable of preventing an asteroid strike or something.  And considering that in the last century or so we’ve literally caused as much damage as the mass extinction events that we’re supposedly trying to prevent, which happen only once every 100 million years, I think we can fairly say that this argument is bullshit.  And for primitive cultures, they obviously can’t even try to use that excuse.  Imperialism is just so clearly wrong and unjustifiable that anybody who tries it should expect a violent retaliation.  We don’t want an arms race though.  As a lot of anti-empire writers have pointed out, when a peaceful group is attacked by a violent group there are only three things that can really happen.  They can fight, stay and become enslaved or simply run away.  All result in the spread of a violent culture into their territory, either by letting a violent culture in or by becoming one themselves.  Or to put it another way, those who are irresponsible and willing to destroy their land to produce weapons and grow armies always have an unfair advantage over those who live sustainably.  However, if many responsible groups recognize the threat that one other group poses early enough then they can collectively intimidate that group and get them to change.  Each locality should know what to look out for and be willing to join with others to defend against neighbors who show signs of growing beyond what their own resources can sustain.  Obviously, the world is already full of groups who’ve grown beyond what can be sustained but this chapter is about setting up new communities that are sustainable, that will stay sustainable and that will keep each other sustainable.  Confronting industrial civilization and forcing it to stop destroying the world is a whole other challenge that we can think about after this.   

So for all the above reasons, variations of primitive lifestyles are important to consider.  I’m going to be calling these “spectrums.”  This concept is most often used when discussing politics.  Liberals are left-wing, conservatives are right-wing, and going from far left to far right, according to most analyses, the political spectrum looks something like this: anarchist, socialist, liberal, moderate, conservative, libertarian, totalitarian.  Not everything breaks down so easily into a left or right positon on the same line, of course.  Even with politics I’m sure we’ve all met a liberal, or even a radical, who shares some agreement with the conservative philosophy.  Again we have to simplify a little bit.  It’s almost impossible for every member of a community to agree on what’s best in all categories.  It is worth picking out the ones most important to you and trying to find people who at least agree pretty closely with those.  These will be broken down into two categories: spectrums dealing mainly with the general structure of the community and spectrums dealing mainly with personal freedoms.




Individual houses equally spread apart—individual houses arranged in villages—towns of clustered dwellings—large numbers in shared living spaces


            Individualism is usually frowned upon by simplicity advocates.  Community gets much veneration in these groups but nothing about living away from others is inherently unsustainable.  This category really just has more to do with personal preferences.  As I mentioned earlier, the more spread out people are the less likely disease will start or spread, and the less those people have to worry about sanitation.  In more of a longhouse type setting where hundreds of people are basically sharing a room, hygiene needs to be given more consideration, and therefore more rules usually have to be enforced somehow.  The communal extreme, of course, has benefits like more security, comradery, and less building materials used to house people.  A lot of back-to-the-land groups have experimented with these things already so we can learn from their mistakes.  Ecovillages, the Amish and the Israeli Kibbutzim are good examples.  Like I already said, they tend to start off idealizing sharing.  As things go on, most of them come to see that sharing can go too far.  People generally like having some of their own things and having a place to go where they can be alone at times.  They like having trustworthy neighbors who can watch their kids when they’re not around but they usually still want to spend more time with their own kids than spend their time equally with all of the community’s kids.  It’s more about finding the right balance than choosing one extreme or the other.  You can live a good distance from your neighbors while still considering them to be your neighbors, and you can live right next to somebody you rarely interact with.  There are a lot of options to choose from and I can’t really say that any of them are wrong.

            Below are a couple images, again following the ideal and realistic approach that I used with the earlier ones, with ideal on top and realistic on bottom, showing communities with a more suburban feel.  Each home has its own cropland, basically a large backyard, and the communities share grazing land.  My idea is that each home would be responsible for the upkeep of one paddock but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Also, each backyard could either be broken up into many different food forest stages (basically, each with their own full mosaic) or each “yard” could be in a different stage of development and neighbors could just share or trade with each other.  The outside line would be a simple road, with the houses and driveways dotted along it, and the dark green represents unused land.  Remember, communities can cluster together.  This is just to show another alternative to the models described earlier.  Things could be arranged more like a typical town too with houses closer together, maybe even connected, and cropland a short walk away that people work more collectively.  As long as there’s around one acre of land within walking distance of each resident, the houses don’t have to all be equally spread out.  There are a lot of ways that things could be laid out. 


Everyone’s a generalist (able to do everything for themselves)—people can do most things themselves but require some assistance from experts and therefore many work a trade part time—mixture of full time specialists and generalists—all full time specialists who depend on each other’s expertise


In the modern world, specialization runs rampant.  Most people live as experts of some narrow field and become disconnected from the bigger picture.  Primitivists tend to want individuals to live more as generalists, people who are pretty good at a lot of things, rather than great at practically nothing.  Although it’s technically possible to set up an economy where people who work as furniture makers or house builders can survive even when nobody in the community needs another chair or a new house, it rarely plays out that way.  Instead of just saying “well, everybody’s satisfied with my services.  I guess I’ve done a good job and deserve to take a long vacation until needed again” they’re likely to say “oh no!  If nobody needs anything from me, how will I justify being fed?  I’d better convince people they need more stuff and I’d better stop making such durable products that last so long if I want to eat.” 

Specialization is basically the start of business, and business has pretty screwed up incentives, even on a small-scale.  It almost always leads to increases in resource use since people are rewarded based on how much they can produce and how much they can get others to consume.  Still, socialists would contend that this is more from capitalism than business per se.  In my opinion, a more socialist approach, using some sort of planned economy, would be an improvement but like I said earlier, better isn’t necessarily good enough.  Trade is usually more sustainable than using money though, so having some specialization doesn’t automatically lead to these social and ecological problems.  There’s a big difference between trading chestnuts for potatoes and buying all of your food with money that you made by producing and selling something that nobody really needs.  But as long as things are self-sufficient at the community level there are many arrangements that can work, even though I’m not a fan of many of them.



Self-sufficient communities—some trade between communities but still capable of providing their own necessities—network of specialist communities that depend on each other


            This is pretty closely related to the specialization spectrum but with more of a focus on the relationships between communities.  For a community to be totally isolated it must be self-sufficient.  The more trade with neighboring communities, the more specialized your community’s economy can be.  Say one community is located on a coast or river bank, a second is located inland in a forest away from any substantial bodies of water, and a third is located in a grassland.  So you have specialist fisherman/aquaculturists, forest gardeners and hunters/graziers.  Clearly, if relying only on themselves, the first eats a ton of fish, the second a ton of nuts and the third a ton of meat or dairy.  Trade can benefit all of them without creating unnecessary businesses.  This arrangement also makes them more likely to come to each other’s aid if one is attacked by a fourth group who wants to steal from them or take them as slaves or something.  They don’t have to be total specialists to desire trade.  They can still be self-sufficient and feel unsatisfied with their diets.  Sufficient just means adequate after all.  In my opinion it’s a good idea to be friends with neighboring communities but not actually dependent on them for your bare necessities.    



Egalitarian—voluntary compliance with advice of respected elders or experts—some mandatory compliance with commands of authority—authoritarian regimentation


            In my opinion, equality is something all communities should strive for.  I can’t explicitly condemn all forms of hierarchy though.  Groups of people working together can’t always expect to come to a consensus.  I personally would prefer that hierarchy play a very limited role, like giving respected elders, or whoever’s expected to have the most knowledge about the subject at hand, a little more say in decisions, or allowing parents to boss their kids around a little bit until reaching a certain age.  Compared to where we are now that hardly even seems like it should be considered “hierarchical” but according to a lot of anarchist thinkers even these things shouldn’t be tolerated.  That’s why I feel a need to mention it.  It’s one of those things that’s kind of silly to even argue about considering that if there’s no threat of force, people will either take advice or they just won’t.  When threats of force do come along though I can agree that leaders tend to abuse their power.  The way I see it, leaders should be seen more as spokesmen for the community than as authority figures.  My opinion aside though, having authority figures doesn’t inevitably lead to an unsustainable society or to war between societies, nor does the existence of a slightly privileged person or group with more possessions or bigger houses.  At a certain point it becomes highly destructive, both socially and ecologically, so don’t interpret this as a justification for lavish lifestyles.  The world would be best off if everyone used only what they needed.  If those within the community are willing to tolerate it though, and if they’re overall still sustainable and not having negative impacts on nearby communities, then I’d say that other communities shouldn’t intervene, even if they don’t consider their ways to be laudable. 



Austere (bare necessities only)—more than enough of essentials—some luxury (jewelry, art, decoration, games, celebrations, etc.)—taking as much as land will allow 


            I just mentioned that I’m not a fan of lavish lifestyles but again, if they fit within the range of sustainability then they don’t necessarily need to be treated as a threat.  I will say that I find it disgusting to treat the natural world this way though.  It’s like saying “it’s more important that I have fun than that you live.”  The things you consume are living creatures and habitat for living creatures.  It’s not just about another human living near you having to skip a meal when you eat extra, or having to settle for a smaller dwelling because you used up more of the local building materials.  That said, primitivists need to admit that even the austere cultures they emulate tended to gorge once in a while.  Sometimes it may have even had surprising benefits, at least according to some interpretations.  Supposedly, being wasteful at times was one more way to keep their population densities slightly lower so that in the event that a drought comes or something there won’t be as much fighting over resources.  A lot of primitivists are also fans of “gift economies” and gift-giving rituals.  Even these can lead to competitions in outdoing each other’s gifts, which can obviously be a problem.  When thinking about wasteful behavior people tend to forget about things like rituals, celebrations, art and sports, focusing instead just on house sizes and the tangible objects people own.  Funeral rituals and marriage customs shouldn’t be treated as irreproachable.  They can be as wasteful as anything.  And being “in shape” or good at things, like games or an art, shouldn’t automatically be considered commendable self-improvements.  Athletes burn a lot of calories, often doubling or tripling their daily requirements, and therefore eat a lot more food.  Besides the space to grow their extra food, their fields and courts were once ecosystems as well, and their rackets, bats, sticks, pads and helmets all come from someplace.  Artists need a lot of practice to perfect their craft, even with simpler disciplines like charcoal drawing, and therefore use a lot of materials that they don’t really need to.  Easter Island is the famous example, where every tree had been cut down for what was basically a pointless hobby (some argue that it may have actually been rats or something else that caused the damage but the story still works as a warning).  So these things need to be questioned as well.  Again, the general rule here is that if it’s sustainable, doesn’t have negative impacts on other communities and doesn’t cause enough discontent for those within that community for them to ask for help, it should at least be tolerated by other communities.  However, it’s reasonable to make the argument that since we can’t accurately gauge our impacts and that natural disasters can come along unexpectedly at any time, it’s a good idea to stay well under the limit rather than to use exactly as much as you think nature can afford to give you.  This is why sustainable cultures don’t view ambition the way that the modern world does.  For them, once responsibilities are taken care of, laziness is usually preferred to fanatical industriousness.



Nomadic hunter gatherers—migratory trapper gardeners—mostly sedentary horticulturalists—totally sedentary agriculturalists


One thing that I really want to spend some time on is what it would look like to be a little closer to the hunter gatherer side of this spectrum.  First, just let me make it clear that this wouldn’t be possible for everyone on the planet without both a significant drop in human population and a significant increase in the health of our ecosystems.  I already mentioned earlier that the more hardcore rewilders won’t be satisfied even if the majority did convert to permaculture communes but there isn’t much chance for anything more than a tiny portion of the population to rely on hunting and gathering for their sustenance. In its current condition, the planet can’t even support the hunter gatherer population it once did (approximately ten million), certainly not 7 and a half billion amateurs.  One statistic, which I got from Frank Marlowe’s book on the Hadza, and that I’m pretty sure he got from Robert Kelly’s work, is that the average population density of hunter gatherer territories (in some of the healthiest environments to still exist) is around 1 person per 1,000 acres (4 square kilometers).  For marginal environments, like the Juwasi’s territory, I’ve seen estimates of 1 person per 10,000 acres!  Compared to my estimate for communities that produce all of their own necessities with intensive permaculture, that’s literally 1,000 to 10,000 times the space required.  Since it’s such an admirable lifestyle though, I’d like to see some people experiment with getting as close as possible to hunter gatherer. 

About as close as we can expect for any significant portion of the current population would be something more like “trapper gardeners” (pretty sure I got this term from Miles Olson), which is actually how a lot of indigenous people lived thousands of years ago anyway.   Basically, band to tribe-sized groups (somewhere between a dozen and a couple hundred) would still cultivate gardens, and the gardens would still go through succession, steered towards forests dominated by fruit and nut trees just like permaculture mosaics, but instead of raising livestock and fish they’d just set up camp between productive fishing zones and hunting areas that get only simple management (compared to conventional farming).  The most famous example of “simple management” is burning grasses and underbrush to keep the land attractive to grazing animals and easy to move through for hunters.  Naturally, you’d also expect that, whether intentional or not, the nearby landscape would gradually shift to tree species more useful to humans.  When cutting down saplings for building materials or to clear paths, anyone with even the slightest foresight will choose to let a higher percentage of trees that produce edible nuts and fruits stay standing.  If you have to remove some pine trees from a stand of several species and you recognize that one of them produces edible nuts, then most of the ones you cut down will belong to the other species.  So these “semi-wild” areas, although not actually cultivated, will end up with higher proportions of trees like hickory, beech, pine nut, low-tannin acorns and sugar maples than forests that lack human influence.  Only in the modern world do humans choose to surround themselves mostly with useless varieties.  In my opinion, a reasonable population density sustained this way could be around 1 person for every 10 acres, so a pretty good compromise. 

Below is a diagram of what a typical trapper gardener community would look like.  Notice that the food forests are laid out more organically as people can be a little more selective about what land is worth using.  The brown blobs around the dwellings just represent cleared land but those clearings could also be used for growing vegetables or something.   And the river could also be a lake shoreline or sea coast.


I also need to mention why “trapper” instead of hunter.  Basically, the stereotype image of the wild human sniffing the air as he crawls through the mud with spear in hand isn’t really how most groups got the bulk of their meat.  This type of hunting was used but not as effectively as setting traps in most cases.  It’s much more efficient to lure animals towards snares, pitfalls and ambushes.  Fish weirs were common in rivers and lakes to harvest them by the basketful.  And obviously when growing nuts and vegetables, a lot of rabbits and squirrels will come to you.  Anyone with ten acres of land could probably catch an adequate supply of meat just with snares and other traps around their crops.  Reading one of Gene Logsdon’s books on pasture farming not too long ago, I remember him saying that the wild species that most farmers consider to be pests are often comparably as productive as their domesticated livestock, and that’s without them doing any work.  So yeah, pretty stupid living arrangement we’ve got here.  Instead of putting tremendous effort into eradicating all but a few marketable species, we could just eat the squirrels, woodchucks, snakes, frogs and grasshoppers.  Getting people back into lower population densities and self-sufficient lifestyles would allow us to make use of the things that nature produces on its own and let us cut back on the amount of pointless chores that people are doing.

I don’t buy into the idea that a lot of anarcho-primitivists have about sedentarism itself being inherently unsustainable.  Being able to migrate seasonally for different food sources or to just totally relocate every few years is worth considering though. 


Quick plunge into primitivism (immediate ban of all non-democratic technics)—fast transition (allowing use of industrial civilization’s artifacts)—slow transition (reliance on some industry to continue)

            This was brought up a little already when talking about retrofitting existing suburbs.  Even if people agree that primitivism is the best way to go, they won’t agree on how long it should take to get there.  Most want to just be ready for “the crash” when suddenly they have to take care of their needs locally.  But I have to bring up the statistic about fossil fuel reserves again: it’s at least claimed that there’s 5 times more fuel available than what scientists say we can afford to burn.  That means waiting for something to force us to change will probably be too late.  We’ve already produced so much crap that industry can be phased out quickly and we’d still be surrounded with tools, replacement parts, containers and functional machines for centuries.  And while I consider earthships and similar improvements on modern buildings to be too lavish, I wouldn’t be against building one in each community so that people who live in huts and other truly simple dwellings can still take some hot showers, wash clothes, and even check their email during the early stages of transition.  Being able to do a quick image search for yarrow to make sure what you just collected isn’t poison hemlock, or being able to check planting and harvesting schedules would obviously be helpful for a while.  Having something closer to a typical American home for visitors to stay in could be helpful as well.  One shared earthship per dozen or so families is practically nothing compared to what’s wasted on buildings now. 
             The “quick plunge” extreme would look more like one of those Naked and Afraid type shows where people suffer and fail miserably.  The “infrastructure” just isn’t in place and most of us, even those truly interested, have no idea what we’re doing.  We need to be realistic.  However, what I’ve seen from the eco-village movement, where people grow 10% of their own vegetables, power their TVs with solar panels and drive their electric cars to “green” office jobs every day, I consider to be way too slow of a transition model, if it’s even going anywhere at all.  They often act as if the way they’re living actually is the sustainable endpoint already.  We need to challenge ourselves a little more than that.  At the same time though, as much as I disagree with the bomb-shelter-survivalist approach, where they just stockpile the fruits of industrial civilization rather than try to produce anything themselves, there always is the chance that, as scary as the thought may be, these people are the ones who end up being the sole survivors of a nuclear attack or something.  Remember, evolution doesn’t always reward the best ideas.  We can’t just force everyone to do the same thing, no matter how sure we are that our plans are the most logical.     




Totally leave animals alone—keeping of pets—some hunting and trapping—livestock raised humanely, mostly for milk, eggs and wool—livestock raised intensively for meat and draft labor.  


            This is one of those touchy subjects that keeps aspiring primitivists arguing amongst themselves more than should be necessary.  People who prefer to eat vegetarian diets shouldn’t automatically judge those who eat meat every day.  In colder climates that’s the only possibility for getting all your nutrients.  The Inuit used to eat meat almost exclusively.  And as much as compassionate hunters may prefer to make quick kills of smaller-brained creatures who at least appear not to experience pain the way “higher” lifeforms do, what option do they really have in that environment?  I don’t think any environmentally-minded person likes to see whales struggle for hours against harpoons and slowly hacked up before finally succumbing.  It depends how you look at it though.  Whale hunters can feed hundreds for a long time by taking only one life.  If you eat grasshoppers, you’re killing hundreds just to feed yourself for a day.  Anyone who gets their nourishment from flesh has some tough choices to make but compared to the other extreme, veganism, I don’t know of any preindustrial cultures that managed to survive that way.  I don’t think that I consider it as dangerous for your health as the Paleo crowd claims though.  Not everybody will respond the same to every diet.  Some are lactose-intolerant, others don’t handle carbs well.  There are people who would die if forced to replace most of the grains they eat with nuts.  We have different ancestry and genes do make a difference here, as do medical conditions.  Having tried veganism myself a while ago, I just decided that it wasn’t best for me.  I lose weight very easily and have to use every trick in the book to hold on to any muscle mass.  Others try it and seem to do fine with it.  There’s some debate that veganism might depend on more land per person though when all inputs are accounted for, so it’s really difficult to calculate accurately which is best.  As long as people are able to produce what they need locally with responsible land management techniques, they should all have the right to put into their bodies whatever they want as far as I’m concerned. 

I personally would prefer a lifestyle closer to the Native American approach that I described in the cultivation spectrum, where they basically maintained rotational food forest gardens while just managing hunting and fishing areas rather than actually going through all the extra hassle, and questionable ethics, of ruling every aspect of animals' lives.  The closer we go to the hunter-gatherer side of the spectrum the smaller the population I'd expect to be supportable, and that is part of the puzzle.  I’d like to think that people will just voluntarily decide to have less kids and that the population will slowly go down to a more reasonable size over the next century or two but so far I haven’t seen any reason to actually expect that.

I already talked a good amount about grazing in the previous chapter but not much on fish.  For the most part, aquaculture isn't as well developed, at least in temperate regions, as a lot of books and videos might lead people to believe.  Without intense management it requires a lot more space than most realize.  Aquaculture isn’t usually about self-maintaining ecosystems that will last essentially forever as long as they're not overharvested.  Many actually recommend draining the ponds empty every few years and starting over.  It seems to me like restoring the health of nearby rivers and lakes should be a bigger priority.  Again, most Native American groups seemed to have it right.  Rather than maintain fish hatcheries, most just found ways to encourage fish coming in from the ocean to lay eggs where they could be easily found and collected so they could be "planted" in new locations.  They also had ways of maintaining beaches to boost clam production.  And obviously, even with no “cultivation” the nearby fisheries were much more productive just from having less pollution and gentler methods of harvesting.  There are examples of highly productive aquaculture that mimics nature pretty well, like Veta La Palma in Spain, but for the most part aquaculture done in any sustainable fashion likely won’t be as productive as food forestry and grazing, at least in temperate regions.  The tropics have a longer history with it.

Even with humane husbandry there are ethical concerns, like choosing who breeds with who, making animals dumbed down and bored as hell, castrating males and separating males from females, manipulating the relationships between mothers and calves to get more milk, denying birds the ability to fly, etc.  I mean, it basically is slavery, especially for draft animals and horses that are treated like personal vehicles.  Maybe you can make the argument that, since they’re simpler creatures than human beings, they don’t experience humiliation and resentment the way human slaves do.  You can say that they lack the foresight and reasoning abilities to desire anything better.  A freed cow will still just spend its days eating grass after all.  Perhaps you can even make the argument that the extra protection we give them from predators makes up for the drawbacks enough for the relationship to be considered symbiotic.  That’s kind of pushing it though.  When you watch wild animals, they do have social lives and do seem to appreciate some adventure.  Even at its best, domestication clearly does rob animals of something (and at its worst can be absolutely horrific).  Considering where we are though, it does seem necessary to keep domesticated animals, at least for now.  As Allan Savory points out, a lot of the damaged land of the world, what he terms “brittle,” can only heal with intensive planned grazing.  If left alone, that land won’t get enough animal impact to return to healthy grassland on any time scale that matters to us and will only continue to degrade. 

In most areas there are restoration methods that don’t use animals though.  I’ve seen how much change can occur just from laying out rows of rocks on contour or digging depressions by hand that can be planted with trees to slowly spread forests into desertified land.  But with how fast and easy animals make restoration, it seems worth it to me.  Besides “brittle” areas, they also make agricultural land more fertile and productive, especially when grazing under tree canopies where most plant crops can’t grow or on pastures planted to rest annual cropland.  And obviously, the more food options we give ourselves, the more resilient we are. 

I don’t see any reason why there can’t be vegan experiments though.  I personally don’t think veganism is the best way to go but whether we agree with them or not, vegans are among us.  I don’t see why they can’t be accommodated, as long as they don’t try breaking the livestock out or waging a bloody crusade against omnivores.  As long as each side respects the other’s wishes I don’t see why this issue should keep aspiring primitivists too divided to work together.  Some communities could be reserved for the more zealous animal rights people where they totally forgo grazing, aquaculture, hunting and fishing.  Those would actually be much easier communities to design for.  They just need to incorporate as many plant sources of complete protein as they can, like soy, quinoa, and combinations of certain grains with certain beans, as well as plant sources of omega 3 fats, like hemp, flax, butternuts, walnuts, seaberries, purslane and, for those in the tropics, things like avocados.  They also need to consider plant sources of clothing fiber, like cotton and, again, hemp and flax. They’d probably want longer cycles between clearing land too since the only manure they’ll have for fertilizer is their own, which can work.  The more mature you let the forest get, the more wild animals will find their way in, shit in it, die and decompose there, etc.  They’d also likely want to set up shop in warm, non-brittle regions.  Other than that, they have a lot less to worry about compared to the communities that have to integrate crops with domesticated animals.  The biggest challenge that I can think of is controlling nut-eating and herbivorous animal “pests” without killing them.  Simply tolerating their presence will likely result in needing even more land per person.  When the time comes that we’re all trying to live self-sufficiently again, I think most vegans are going to start noticing some drawbacks to their philosophy.  However, their ideals may also motivate them to invent new husbandry techniques that the rest of us can learn from.  I’d hope that the vegan crowd would just help encourage the others to keep looking for ways to make things more humane rather than cause any debilitating hostility. 

The position of pets and animals raised mostly for milk, eggs and wool on the spectrum is debatable.  Since milk requires calves or lambs to be born every year, and since most of those offspring would just be a hindrance to us after their first year if we didn’t eat them, raising animals for milk might not actually be more humane than raising them for meat.  With eggs and wool, even if it still makes sense to eat those animals, you can say it’s more humane since they can live longer lives than they would if maximum meat production was the goal.  With milk, it actually encourages people to slaughter a lot of young animals to keep the herd at a stable size.  Lifespans might not necessarily be the best way to decide what’s most humane though.  I personally consider hunting to be more favorable to animal well-being than forcing them to live long lives of enslavement.  There’s also a big difference between sheep dogs who, as Joel Salatin would probably say, get to express their “dogness” every day and chihuahuas who are just used as cuddle-slaves, basically bred to be living teddy bears.  There are a lot of conflicting opinions on this subject and a wide range of them are at least respectable.






Atheist (no thought given to spirituality at all)—fables and myths—dogma


As much as I dislike organized religion, if it was somehow wiped out it would eventually be replaced by new superstitions.  In fact, those who expect science to prevail over faith would likely be horrified if they could see a century into the future.  The scientific method may survive but many discoveries and breakthroughs will be lost and forgotten in the post-oil age.  And I’m not too worried about it.  Knowledge of black holes, the structure of atoms and quantum physics can all be lost to oblivion for all I care.  The scientific community has been on its own religious crusade, commonly called “progress,” to figure out how everything works in an attempt to prove all religions wrong.  Although business interests and a lust for power play a role in that process as well, the competition with religion is a major reason why science turned into a cult of its own.  This has had consequences at least as destructive as those of superstition.  Frankly, both sides promote arrogance.  They say “I know everything and can therefore control the world as I wish.”  The most well balanced cultures are those who allow some mysteries to remain unexplained.  Mystery is the magic of the world, and besides being interesting, it promotes humility.  The humble know their place and don’t try to transcend it.  They use stories for inspiration without dogma.  Understanding this, what ideas would benefit the future if they were perpetuated through something resembling a religion? 

I’ve thought for a while that if the afterlife scenario expressed as most likely was reincarnation we’d see more responsible behavior.  Rather than separate the paradise or punishment from this world, followers could expect to return to a heaven or hell that they’d spent their lives contributing to.  It is pretty amazing that so many people who help destroy the planet for future generations can believe they’ll go to heaven when they die because they showed up on time for work every day or spent an hour at church every week.  That’s the turn spirituality has taken though.  Besides that view of the afterlife, are there commandments that would prevent mistakes from being made? Religions have always had some good messages, even when the overall effect was destructive.  If we were to pick out the good messages and leave out the bad ones, religion would teach things like “With every deliberation, always consider the impact on the future generations.  Respect all living things by imagining yourself in their position and imagining how they’d wish to be treated.  Fit with the landscape around you, and never require trade for your survival.  Accept no claims on faith alone.  Protect diversity.  Give back from where you take.  Don’t allow power to accumulate in few hands.” 

I’m sure others who are more interested in a serious effort to overhaul their religions can come up with more ideas.  I’ve spent some time doing research on “green religions” and “greening” existing religions, like Christianity.  In my opinion the dominant imperial faiths of the world have so many bad incentives interwoven with their good messages that we’re better off just abandoning them entirely.  At the same time though, I do understand how rare it is for “new” cultures to start from scratch.  It’s a lot more work and much more challenging to attract converts by inventing something totally foreign.  Whatever people decide to do, I highly recommend that communities not allow their adults to take their stories literally.  Lying to kids for a while before telling them the truth at a certain age is one thing but every adult should know what the purpose of the teachings is and be open to changing them when they’re not having the desired effect.  I used to wonder if religious zealotry became so destructive because someone’s parents died before telling them that they were the ones eating the Oreos and putting the presents under the tree every year.  Now it seems obvious to me that the manipulation was intentional.  The leaders never really believed what they were saying, so it’s probably not too dangerous to lie to your kids a little bit.  I can’t say that I’m a fan of that approach personally but it might work out better for some parents than being totally honest.



Mixed faiths—one faith shared by most but others tolerated—only one faith tolerated


            In the modern world, most countries tolerate having people of mixed faiths.  It’s one of the things that a lot of Americans claim their country is about after all.  Even now though, communities within these huge countries tend to still be a majority of one faith or another, mostly the same race and political affiliation too, like Israel on a smaller scale.  At that size I don’t really see a problem with that.  People of similar opinions and lifestyles always feel more comfortable around each other.  When you scale up to even the size of a small state though, like Israel, the majority start to reinforce each other’s biases and they come to believe that anyone different from them is crazy.  Then persecution gets out of control. 

              A lot of small-scale ecovillage projects intentionally try to recruit as diverse a population as possible.  Then, despite the personal growth they may experience from learning about other cultures, they just end up with a bunch of people who don’t really work that well together and have their celebrations and things separately.  A little diversity can always be helpful when trying to come up with ideas and problem solving but it’s one of those things that can be over-idealized, just like the sharing ideals brought up in the community spectrum discussion.  You see this with permaculturists a lot too, where they’ll try to fit 100 species of plants into their tenth of an acre backyard when they’d probably be better off growing about a dozen things that grow well together and trading with their neighbors who each grow a different dozen species.  I think the focus should be more on the diversity of communities than the diversity within each one.  Even if members think similarly, they’ll still be able to pick up on mistakes they’re making by comparing themselves to their neighboring communities. 

                I’m not saying that we need to keep ourselves racially segregated or anything like that, just that if people are more comfortable around their own “kind”, whatever that may mean to them, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Even denying new members who aren’t of the same faith should be allowed on a small-scale.  Keeping the “purity” of their lifestyles, however they want to live, should be a right.  It can get pretty ugly when denying membership based on things like race, attractiveness or strength but again, I think neighborhood-sized groups of people should have that right.  It’s not until one community becomes a physical threat to another that I think they should be treated like one. 

If at this point in human history, with all the science clearly showing how wrong or irrational certain beliefs are, people still don’t agree on things, they’re not going to agree more about them in the future.  If anything we’re going to see more irrational thoughts about different cultures.  In the past you could at least make the case that, since they’d lived so separately for so long, different races carried different diseases that made strangers inherently dangerous.  Now that pretty much every disease is already everywhere, I think it’s a lot harder to make that case, but people will still try.  Attempts at genocide would obviously fit in the “shouldn’t be tolerated” category but when groups simply choose to keep their distance we’re probably better off just letting them.

            One more thing that should be pointed out is that when looking at all the different back-to-the-land experiments that have taken place in the last couple hundred years, the hippies, anarchist communes, ecovillages, “cults”, the Amish, Israel’s Kibbutzim, and others, you notice that the ones that lasted longest were usually united by some sort of religion.  For some reason atheist projects have just had much lower success rates.  This doesn’t mean that you must be religious to be a primitivist but it is worth keeping in mind.  Maybe just celebrating holidays like Christmas and Easter with more emphasis on the original astronomical ideas (the solstices and equinoxes), going back to using psychedelic drugs as sacraments and using “church” as a time to discuss ecology and what’s going on in the community could make the unifying characteristics of religion more tolerable to atheists.  It’s worth considering at least.



Free love—several consistent partners—one partner for everybody—only those deemed fit may breed—only alphas mate


            Sex is probably the main reason we should never expect humans to act totally rational.  Human beings, as well as most other creatures on this planet, have one main instinct from which all other instincts branch off.  This is the desire to reproduce.  We behave as we do because our ancestors had to find mates and produce healthy children in a healthy environment where they were able to grow up to do the same.  This is why we see mothers risk their lives to save their babies from danger, why we feel so much jealousy and pain when rejected by someone and why less attractive individuals tend to have the most ambition to stand out from the crowd by doing something special, basically trying to trick anyone they can into having sex with them.  Techno-utopianists often try to make the case that we can do away with scarcity and that then, since people will have no good reason to fight over anything, people won’t fight anymore.  However, the woman or man that you’re most infatuated with, whether they have a twin or not, will always be the only authentic one.  Even if you want to consider things like cloning, surgically redesigning facial features or inserting different memories into different minds, this will never stop people from fighting over partners.  Even if there was an exact copy of the person you want, you would still come up with some irrational justification for preferring one over the other. 

              The simple living crowd tends to follow some myths about human nature too.  Free love is the stereotype for hippie eco-communes, seeing commitment as a form of oppressive ownership.  At least at first they see it that way.  Free love is another one of those idealizations that rarely plays out in the real world as people imagine it will, mainly because it’s based more on romanticized fantasies about pre-civilized life than it is on reality.  Being a little more open to promiscuity can have some benefits though.  In a lot of traditional cultures, multiple spouses are encouraged when there’s more women than men or vice versa.  This is one of many methods that people have devised to help prevent fighting over partners. 

            Technically, every option that I’ve listed on this spectrum can be sustained and won’t guarantee conflict with other communities.  I’d imagine that the more oppressive options towards the right would raise the likelihood of conflict though, especially within the community.  There are only a couple ways to keep people from trying to have sex.  Either you can threaten them or you can try to convince them that their abstinence is somehow for the greater good, and we’ve already seen how badly that can go.  The best example of that is the early 20th century pseudo-scientific movement called eugenics, which was based mainly on misinterpretations of Darwin’s theories.  The basic idea behind eugenics was to improve the human race through selective breeding, as well as inbreeding.  It had a major influence on psychotic zealots such as Adolf Hitler and the results were disastrous.  It should have been obvious to anyone that actually understood Darwin’s theories that this racist approach was wrong, considering that those theories had nothing to do with ideas of timeless superiority or genetic hierarchy.  His theories should have encouraged an appreciation for diversity due to the fact that changes are random and that there’s therefore no guarantee that what is considered fit for survival today will still be fit tomorrow.  The truth is that no race is, was, or ever will be “superior” to any other.

            As bad as eugenics was though, is it really wrong to say that not everybody should reproduce?  We’re attracted to certain people and disgusted by others for a reason.  The characteristics we associate with beauty are indicators of health and fertility.  They’re also a sign of how well someone fits with their environment (what “fitness” really means).  A lot of the things we’re taught are just overcompensations for our hatred of Nazi policies, things like “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”  Sure, personality matters too, and certainly intelligence does, but I think it’s our responsibility to be a little shallow.  This doesn’t mean that only women who look like swimsuit models or men who look like body builders should breed.  Those images are pushed on us more to get us to buy things than because of how well they represent human health.  Men need their protein shakes and gym equipment.  Women need their makeup, jewelry, designer shoes, and SlimFast.  There’s no reason for us to be THAT shallow.

               There’s also no reason to think that any race should actually be excluded from any region.  Obviously there are genuine differences between races, making us better adapted to different conditions.  Those with dark skin are more sun-proof.   Those with lighter skin can synthesize more vitamin D in cloudier climates.  People living at high altitudes for generations tend to develop larger lungs for breathing the thin air.  In cold climates, people develop stubbier limbs, which gives them a better surface area to volume ratio for keeping warm.  The diets of our ancestors have changed our bodies as well, allowing some adults to digest milk better than others or to handle high-carbohydrate diets or larger amounts of sugar.  Tolerance for alcohol and other drugs varies too.  However, we’re a species that can get away with some shortcomings in our designs.  We wear clothing, make our own fires and figure out which local plants can provide ingredients for sun lotions.  Even when it comes to diseases that different races are more susceptible to than others, we create medicines and figure out ways of preventing these diseases.  It’s true that certain people are more likely to do better in certain conditions but using that as an excuse to forcefully segregate the races would just cause more harm than good.  Besides the anger and violence that it would cause, our resilience comes from our adaptability, and diversity is a big part of that.  Remember, the perfect location for your genes today may not be so perfect tomorrow. 

               Sexual attraction is the only eugenics program that people should need.  I definitely wouldn’t advocate enforcing laws about it or anything.  There’s too much to consider for any group of scientists to honestly say that they know exactly who should and shouldn’t breed.  With a lot of diseases, you can make the argument that the problem has more to do with certain people having a lower tolerance for artificial toxins than others.  So if we can stop producing those toxins, and clean up the pollution that’s already around us, then people with those susceptible genes might be just as healthy as everyone else in the future.  At the same time, the argument can also be made that many of these toxins are so persistent that things might not improve enough within one generation for their kids to have any better chances of being healthier.  If someone’s genes are totally unfit for their environment today, whether for natural or artificial reasons, then that may still be the case many generations later.  You can go on and on with this kind of reasoning.  Therefore, deciding who is fit enough is always going to be subjective.  Ultimately, people just have to decide for themselves.  We’re never going to achieve perfection, and it’s not like it would be such a horrible atrocity for humans of the future to have some character anyway.  The goal isn’t to create some sort of super race like the Nazis wanted to, just to keep people educated about the consequences their kids could face if they decide to ignore their instincts.  I know that it isn’t exactly politically correct to say that ugly people shouldn’t have kids but being someone born with a body that has no potential to ever be healthy no matter what I do, and with parents who should have known better but decided to follow Christian tradition instead, I have some strong feelings about it.  It’s especially irritating when people ask ME when I’m going to start having kids.  What a disgusting thing to do that would be.

            Just look at domesticated animals to see how much selective breeding policies can change our bodies.  Cows that literally need humans to milk them, chickens that are too stupid to put up a fight when someone snatches their eggs.  The eugenics movement also led to the creation of many of the worthless dog breeds that we have as pets today.  It’s completely selfish and has left us with pets who suffer from terrible genetic diseases, all for the sake of looking “cute.”  Some of them, such as pugs, can’t even give birth without human intervention, making them unable to reproduce without us.  This says a lot about where our own evolution could be headed.

            It almost seems like there’s an intention to make us all attracted to the weakest, least intelligent and least fertile.  Like I said above, it appears to benefit capitalism.  By convincing young girls that there’s a way they’re supposed to look, they come to believe that they can make themselves look like models whether their body types even have the potential for it or not.  As a result, they’re constantly giving in to new fads in fashion and diet and spending a tremendous amount of their money on cosmetics, clothes, exercise videos, plastic surgery and all sorts of other junk.  With so many women growing up to believe that it’s impossible to give birth without modern medical procedures, that belief is starting to become reality.  Since more and more babies are being born with the aid of surgery, like domesticated animals, we really are becoming dependent on it.  Considering that modern medicine isn’t sustainable, that’s a serious problem, possibly even worse than our dependence on vaccines.

            If we can condemn other things that are known to increase the risk of birth defects, like smoking or drinking while pregnant, why is it so taboo to condemn breeding with people who have obvious genetic disorders?  Compare it to inbreeding.  Even though we think it’s weird and gross, the only reason that so many diverse cultures around the world have come to similar conclusions about inbreeding is because they realized that it raised the likelihood of their offspring being born with deformities.  Having kids with your first cousin is estimated to increase the risk by only 3 or 4%.  If we condemn that then why are practices that are much more likely to cause defects just ignored?  Why is this something that we can’t talk about?  It’s not like I’m suggesting that ugly people should be killed, or even denied the right to have relationships.  I am one of those people after all.  I just think it’s something that we should be more honest about.  Ignoring this issue is about as unfair to future generations as polluting the planet’s drinkable water with contaminants that will remain there for thousands of years.  It's not something that we should allow to be overlooked.

            There is a lot more that could be said on this subject.  Is it okay to arrange marriages?  Should there be an exact pattern followed, like everyone marries their second cousins or cross cousins or something?  These types of arrangements, although incestuous by our culture's standards, used to be very common.  I don’t think many people in the modern world would like to see a resurgence of them.  However people decide to handle this, this is one of the things everyone in any particular community should probably agree on if they want to remain a functioning community.



Sexes share roles equally (or follow their preferences)—separate gender roles encouraged—some gender roles enforced—strict separation of roles


            A high proportion of primitivists identify themselves as feminists so this is one of the categories they tend to argue the most about.  A lot of primitivist feminists will point out that they consider the typical feminist goals, like giving women equal opportunities in office jobs or the military, to be kind of a waste of time since they don’t want things like office jobs and the military to even exist.  The more typical feminists then contend that as long as we still depend on paychecks these are struggles worth continuing.  I can sympathize with both sides.  My focus here though is just on what gender roles, if there are any, could look like in primitivist communities. 

              Radical feminists contend that there’s no such thing as gender, an idea that’s incensed transgender activists and triggered some of the most incoherent and annoying arguments that I’ve ever listened to in my life.  The transgender issue is worth talking about for a second because of this fuss.  There are certain things about transgenderism that I think should be criticized.  The use of artificial hormones, support for plastic surgery and, not in all cases but often, stereotyping what it is to be a woman or a man are all problems.  I’m sorry but this materialistic love for shopping and jewelry and shit isn’t something I’m going to support no matter how persecuted you are.  Radicals and progressives let people get away with murder as long they’re part of a marginalized group that gets picked on by Republicans.  I also don’t think they should consider it a hate crime when denied access to bathrooms of the opposite biological sex.  The bathroom issue is complicated and people have blown the “threat” of transwomen to biological women way out of proportion but women still have the right to demarcate dick-free zones for themselves.  You can’t infringe on the rights of others and call it a hate crime when they complain about it.  Since businesses obviously don’t want to create new facilities to accommodate such a small minority, it definitely sucks to be ridiculed or attacked no matter which door you choose to walk through, so I do sympathize.  That said though, since I am advocating a world where there’s not really any need for public bathrooms I probably shouldn’t bother stirring up any more controversy.  I just felt like I should say something about it considering that so many advocates of primitivism have been getting labeled “anti-trans.”  Let me state explicitly, I do not hate men who choose to live as women or vice versa.  Your clothing preferences and sexual orientations are not what bother me. 

            The radical feminist view is basically that gender is an artificial hierarchy, that it shouldn’t exist, and as long as it does exist can’t really be a personal choice.  They use the word patriarchy a lot but I try to just avoid it myself.  When people hear “patriarchy” they assume it means rule by men, and similarly that “matriarchy” means rule by women.  I think that’s probably how the words were originally used but most radicals use matriarchy more to describe egalitarian societies and patriarchy to describe oppressive ones.  You can pretty clearly see why there’s so many confused interpretations of their ideas.  The terminology creates the impression that women are all perfect saints and men are inherently bloodthirsty rapists.  This isn’t what they’re trying to say, at least usually, but since these words create so much unnecessary confusion I like to just stay away from them as much as possible.  Although men are in most positions of power, the vast majority of men are victims of the system too.  It’s more an issue of one class dominating the others than it is an issue of males dominating females, at least today in the western world.  There are still major women’s rights issues but considering that studies of women’s happiness compared to men’s often find that they’re the ones who are happier, I don’t think patriarchy is the best word to use and it really just pisses off a lot of people who might otherwise be willing to listen. 

            So with that out of the way, are there gender roles in primitivist communities?  It was almost universal in traditional cultures to have some separate roles between the sexes.  Usually the men did the bulk of the hunting and fishing, and the women did practically everything else.  Women did most of the gathering, providing at least as many calories as the men in most cases, did most of the child-rearing, and even most of the house building.  There was an enormous range of diversity though.  There were patriarchies and matriarchies (in the original sense of the words as well as in the egalitarian/hierarchical sense, although the feminist version of human pre-history is considered a joke by most serious anthropologists), groups where both sexes did everything together, groups where the sexes hardly ever saw each other and, supposedly, there may have even been some groups where the women did most of the fighting.  Humans have tried just about everything at some point.  Most groups, however, regarded both sexes as equally important but separated their chores.  It makes sense.  We are built differently and our brains aren’t wired the same.  Men by nature are more muscular and aggressive, women more nurturing and better at delicate or refined crafts.  Both usually just seem to agree on these roles without any sort of bullying or coercion.  In the event that a girl would rather hunt or something, I’d imagine that it would be rare enough to not throw the structure of daily life for everyone else into much disarray. 

In the case that some weird religious belief develops in a group that encourages women to handle the riskier roles of hunting and fighting off intruders while encouraging men to do most of the pottery and childcare though, it’s kind of hard to imagine this benefitting them.  The fact that babies grow in women’s bodies makes it more important for them to avoid injuries.  Meanwhile, even the most badly beat up man can father healthy children no problem.  This is also likely part of the reason why it’s more common for women to be attracted to older partners than it is for men.  Women’s bodies need to grow, carry, birth and feed babies.  Men’s bodies just need to be capable of ejaculating.  It’s not even necessarily vital for fathers to be good providers for the family if they’re part of a larger group.  Also, women are likely to have more trouble hauling carcasses back to camp and would have to take time off from hunting while pregnant, breastfeeding and probably even during menstruation.  This means that groups who rely only on female hunters would have less active hunters on any given day, and each one would only be capable of carrying back a fraction of what male hunters would be able to.  I know women have been held back in a lot of ways but you can’t always just assume that different roles are the result of the strong exploiting the weak.  When behavior is so universal among such diverse cultures there usually are pretty good reasons for it.



Kids run free—kids are mostly free but are encouraged to participate in organized study a small amount of time—kids are mostly free but forced to participate in organized study a small amount of the time—organized study takes up a large amount of time—strict regimentation


            Parents who try to raise their kids differently than most other kids in the area usually end up being hated by their kids.  The kids get made fun of for how they dress in school, have trouble making friends and at about the time in their life when all they can think about is sex they decide they need to totally reject the ways of their parents, if they hadn’t already.  The parents themselves are likely ridiculed by other parents who can’t believe anyone would subject their own kids to such a humiliating existence.  No matter how well-intentioned or intelligent the parents are, they’re likely to fail at raising a different type of human being.  To escape the peer pressure it really is best to be in a community with similarly-minded parents and similarly-raised kids.  Even badly designed curriculums and regimens are likely to have better results in this scenario than an intelligent plan that ruins a kid’s social life.

Most primitivists are more likely to use the “learn by doing” approach, letting kids spend a lot of time playing, as well as simply observing and participating in their parents’ daily activities.  I don’t see much reason why there’d even be an official building designated as some kind of little person training facility.  I know people have come to see schooling as a necessity but what are these kids really learning?  None of them remember the history lessons when they’re older, or the math formulas, the layers beneath the earth’s crust, or much of anything really.  What sticks is the routine of showing up someplace at the same time every day, mindlessly following orders, putting up with boredom, doing repetitive tasks, letting out their farts inconspicuously and pretending to be busy with something when an authority figure walks by.  If we want our kids to continue our way of life then that’s what they should get used to.  Doing that playfully or strictly is the only question, and only small groups of people will ever be able to agree with each other on that.




Drug use encouraged—drugs allowed—drugs allowed on certain occasions—drugs discouraged—drugs strictly forbidden


            I don’t know how anyone can even pretend to believe that prohibition is about protecting kids at this point.  I mean, the drug war has essentially just given violent criminals the seeds to plant their own money trees.  This obviously isn’t reducing crime or making society safer.  Drugs aren’t some new problem that suddenly sprung up out of nowhere and threatened to destroy society.  It’s the laws that did that.  Drug use has been common for thousands of years.  All over the world, mind-altering substances were used as religious sacraments, or just for fun.  There’s psychedelic mushrooms, like amanita muscaria in colder regions and psilocybe cubensis in warmer regions, ayahuasca in the Amazon, coca in the Andes, salvia divinorum in Mexico, peyote cactus and dried secretions from the glands of certain toads in the American southwest, betel nut in the eastern tropics, cannabis, morning glory seeds and alcohol of some variety pretty much everywhere else.  Most cultures saw no reason to deny anyone the right to experience hallucinations.  The experience was usually seen as beneficial.  Psychedelic drugs help us see things with fresh eyes.  Without them we become so used to our surroundings that we miss the obvious.  We make too many assumptions about things, thinking we know all there is to know about everything around us when we’re really only glancing at them.  Things are “just the way it is” and whatever we’re used to is fine with us.  Temporarily seeing the world in a different light can have truly profound effects on our understandings, allowing us to see things as if for the first time again and notice problems that we otherwise wouldn’t realize are problems.   It can help us imagine new possibilities that we’d otherwise never consider.

            The fact that these things can help us notice problems is part of the reason current leaders of the world want them to stay prohibited.  Many protesters of the Vietnam War were cannabis users, which gave Nixon a reason to intensify restrictions on it.  Of course, there are other reasons why the modern world has taken a different view on drugs than the traditional world.  Cannabis is an extremely useful and easy to grow plant that anyone can produce themselves.  Remember, supporters of economic growth don’t want self-reliance.  If you can make your own anti-depressant, anti-nausea drug, sleep inducer, or cancer treatment (both cannabis oil and juice from the young leaves have been shown to shrink tumors), then less money is spent on pharmaceuticals.  It’s even been alleged that a major contributor to alcohol prohibition could have been John D. Rockefeller because he was afraid Henry Ford would design his cars to run on ethanol, making the world less dependent on his oil company.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  This is just what the growth imperative does.  Businesses fight against anything that could cut their profits, like efficiency improvements.  If doctors cured and prevented disease then they’d put themselves out of business.  If prisons rehabilitated, cops made the streets safer and the military brought peace to the world then they’d all take an enormous pay cut.  The incentives are all backwards.  In a world where people can be self-reliant, their opinions on drugs, and a lot of other things, will change dramatically.  If primitivist communities do choose to keep drugs out of their territory though, they can have that right.  Just don’t expect other communities to make the same decision.



Elderly revered—elderly given some extra support—elderly get no help and die when unable to take care of themselves—elderly killed at certain age by custom


            The next couple spectrums are probably the best examples of how horrible behavior can still be sustainable.  I’d imagine that any groups towards the right of this spectrum would be at serious risk of intervention from neighboring groups.  Such approaches have been used though.  Primitivists usually had, and some still have, more appreciation for their elders than the modern world does.  There are some good reasons for this.  By comparison, our elders don’t really have much wisdom to offer us.  They make up the bulk of Fox News viewers, consistently vote against the interests of future generations and, with all the toxins eating away at our brains these days, most people over 50 aren’t capable of much critical thinking.  It didn’t used to be this way.  Generally, the older you were the more useful advice you could offer.  You’d seen it all, and since the world changed much more slowly before the industrial revolution, the lessons learned decades earlier were still relevant.  And instead of moving off to some secluded retirement home, they lived close enough to help out with babysitting and things.  Unless an unusually severe drought came along or something, the slight increase in work that the younger adults had to do to keep them fed was almost always worth it to them.  Even in desperate times, I’d expect the old to be as likely to choose sacrificing themselves as the young to demand that of them. 

              Opponents of primitivism usually point to life expectancy statistics as one of their first objections.  When you look into the main reason for the drop among primitivists though, it’s actually from a higher rate of the very young dying.  The majority of those who make it past childhood were expected to make it to their sixties.  Maybe another quarter of those would live past 80.  Infant mortality, the inability to produce vaccines and the crudeness of surgical procedures are probably the most deserving of concerns amongst opponents.  However, even simple precautions that we now have a better understanding of, like washing hands before delivering a baby, can make a huge difference.  Communicable diseases are less threatening with low population densities and localized lifestyles.  Bones and teeth tended to be stronger than ours are today due to their diets and active lifestyles, so although not a fun experience to go through when it happens, broken bones and dental problems would likely not be as common as most assume.  Most cavities come from carbohydrates and sugar, which are much more prevalent in modern diets, and a good portion of bone breaks come from activities primitivists wouldn’t be doing, like driving cars and playing extreme sports.  Plus, to get this back on the original subject, many people being kept alive longer by modern medicine are spending that time doing little more than dying.  So even ignoring the negative impacts of the medical industry from the increased resource consumption, it’s arguable whether or not the longer lives brought on by modern medicine are truly benefitting those who are getting more years.




Weak cared for—weak allowed to stay if they can pull their own weight—weak sacrificed


            As horrible as it may sound, helping the weakest and least genetically immune to surrounding micro-organisms survive, allowing the least fertile to successfully reproduce and letting the dumbest get away with their stupid behavior are all dubious improvements.  You can’t just look at things like life expectancy, or even levels of happiness, and decide that modernity is best for us.  Ignoring the bigger picture is totally irresponsible.  Again, I’m not an advocate of eugenics.  We just need to be honest about these things.  One contributor to the high infant mortality rates among hunter gatherers is mothers choosing not to keep their babies.  It was common to breastfeed for 2-4 years as a way of spacing out pregnancies.  In the event that a woman gave birth to a new baby while still breastfeeding another, she had to make a difficult choice.  If the older child isn’t capable of living without her milk she may decide that she has to abandon or kill the newborn in order to keep the other alive.  A woman who gives birth to twins or triplets would usually expect to only be able to care for one of them and also have to choose which one to raise.  The same goes for birth defects.  If the baby doesn’t look capable of surviving in this world then she was likely to decide that the best thing to do is put it out of its misery.  I know it’s almost unimaginable to the average American woman these days to have to make such a decision but this is just part of the harsh reality that we need to accept if we want to be truly sustainable.

              Being someone who’s had health issues my whole life, I’ve probably thought about things like this more than the average person has.  I often wonder if I’d have been better off dying younger or if I’d be better off just giving up on my life now.  Sometimes I wonder if my consciousness would have experienced the life of a different body had this one not been created.  Thinking about things like this can really eat away at me some days.  This has definitely not been an enjoyable existence.  I’d like to think that, with good decision-making, the number of people who have to go through things like what I’ve had to will be limited.  That’s why I think it’s so important for people to start considering these ideas. 

When someone older gets sick or injured and is incapable of contributing to their society, meaning unable to produce as much as they use, people will usually decide to work a little harder for that person’s benefit.  It’s usually only during tough times that people start considering things like sacrifice or abandonment.  For those with deformities who can keep working about as well as anybody else, I wouldn’t expect many to be shunned simply based on things like how weird their appearance or sound of their voice may be.  Even people who’ve lost limbs have been supported by others in primitive societies.  If people are willing to physically carry a full grown human being on their backs from time to time, it shows that they could afford to be generous.  Any group of people who only have themselves to depend on will have difficult choices to make from time to time but like I said, primitivism shouldn’t imply suffering.  Most anthropologists agree that hunter gatherer and horticultural societies actually had a lot more leisure time than we do.  This made it possible for them to take care of their less fortunate members.




Cycles of thoughtless growth and crash—some considerations taken when the problem becomes obvious—some considerations and discussion at all times—strict monitoring of population size


            Respecting your land’s carrying capacity is one of the main keys to sustainability.  This can be a little more complicated than simply monitoring numbers of human beings though.  Clearly, small amounts of people are capable of causing more damage than larger numbers in the same place.  If the 320 million Americans in this country were replaced by the 1.25 billion inhabitants of India, who on average each use 30 times less resources, and assuming their lifestyles stay about the same, America would actually see its environmental impact go down to about 13% of where it is now even though the population would have increased nearly 4 times.  We could complicate the argument a little more by pointing out that the way resources are used can make one person’s heavy use less destructive than someone else’s light use, like badly farming a piece of land and causing it to degrade despite getting little food from it compared to getting tons of food while making a landscape more lush than it was before.  But as a general rule, the more you’re taking from a landscape the more damage you’re causing, and the more people living on it the more they’re going to take. 
            Our brains didn’t evolve with much concern for limiting reproduction.  We evolved on a planet that takes as much life as it gives.  Droughts, floods, disease, conflict with other humans and dangerous predators all basically did the population control for us.  As we devised ways of making our landscapes more resilient to wet and dry spells (with swales, terraces, channels and other simple earthworks), found ways of preventing and treating illness, invented weapons that could keep dangerous animals at a distance, and networked different groups of people with each other, it became necessary for us to actually think about population size.  There are the common stereotypes about primitive methods, like human sacrifice and war, but they did have, and therefore today can still have, more peaceful approaches as well.  There are plants known to act as abortifacients, like Queen Anne’s lace and cohosh (a plant called silphium was so widely used for the purpose in ancient Rome that they’re thought to have caused its extinction).  Women can monitor their cycles and only have intercourse during the least fertile days.  Men can pull out.  Least popular would probably be abstinence but that is an option.  Religious taboos that discourage sex do tend to drive people kind of crazy but again, that option is there.  Longer breastfeeding, which I mentioned in the previous spectrum, will likely be common, as well as long discussions with teenagers about being responsible.  I’ve even heard of people making condoms out of animal intestines, but I can’t say that I’d actually recommend that.  Anal sex might have some extra risks when people live without modern soaps but there’s still oral sex, handjobs, dry humping… there should be enough options to keep people relatively satisfied.  The idea obviously is to focus more on preventing pregnancies than on killing people who are already alive.  High-tech modern medicine is more reliable and consistent but we can still do a pretty good job without it.  We’re going to have to if we want to be sustainable.


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