Thesis #8: Human societies are defined by their food.

by Jason Godesky

Yehudi Cohen’s 1974 Man in Adaptation is the kind of classic that made its case so well, no one ever reads it. Most introductory anthropology textbooks will devote an entire chapter to Cohen’s framework–a framework that modern anthropology simply takes for granted. Cohen divided the world’s cultures into any one of five “adaptive strategies”: foraging, horticulture, pastoralism, agriculture, and industrialism. Cohen noted the strong correlations these strategies had with the rest of their culture; so strong that, simply given a society’s mode of subsistence, accurate predictions could often be made about their level of political complexity, their kinship patterns, their population size and density, their modes of warfare, and even their religious beliefs. The underlying fact that makes Cohen’s typology so useful–and these correlations so strong–is that human society is, first and foremost, a strategy for acquiring food, and the manner in which that food is acquired defines the shape, scale, and kind of that society.

That may come as a shocking statement to the layman, but it is quite intuitive if we assume that the development of culture has a place in human evolution. All evolution is ultimately geared towards genetic reproduction, but to achieve that end, evolution works on two broad goals: the reproduction of life, and the maintenance of life (at least until reproduction has been achieved). These can be reduced with little violence to the truth to the essential drives for food, and sex. Most of the necessities humans require could be served by any social group. Any mixing of males and females will invariably lead to sexual relationships and the successful rearing of children. Protection from the elements is gained easily through any number of methods. That leaves food as the factor which society must spend most of its effort procuring. Not only is food a requirement which is needed on a much more regular basis than sex or protection from the elements, it is also a much riskier prospect than the others. Minimally, only a single sexual liason may result in offspring, and a single shelter can protect several individuals from the elements for an extended period of time–but most people must eat several times a day. In any social group with both males and females, sexual relationships will form, and protection from the elements can be easily attained in any environment–but famines often afflict whole bioregions for lengthy periods of time, and hunger and starvation can even become endemic to an entire population. Any form of society would suffice for our other basic needs. Culture develops primarily as a means of procuring food, and everything in a given culture serves that end.

Until very recently, all humans were foragers, or hunter-gatherers. The vast majority of cultural diversity in humans is accounted for by foragers. Inuit, Plains Indians, Ju/’Hoansi and Kwakiutl are all examples of foragers–totem poles, potlatching, “the Dreamtime,” “counting coups,” igloos, the cave art of Lascaux, and the n/um dance are all artifacts of forager cultures. There are foragers that rely primarily on nuts and honey, but most rely primarily on meat.1 Others rely on fishing. There have been equestrian foragers, pedestrian foragers, aquatic foragers–even sedentary, complex forager chiefdoms. Yet there are still some discernable and important features that correlate very strongly with foraging. For instance, egalitarianism is almost universal among foragers. Most exist at a band level. There is no exclusive occupational specialization, though there is often differences of emphasis. Everyone is at least familiar with how to do everything, though some individuals may devote more time to medicine, tool-making, or the arts than others. Everyone is involved in the procurement of food–even the most respected shaman is still expected to hunt. Most foragers are nomadic, usually traveling in wide circles and returning on a semi-annual basis to the same areas. Their populations tend to be low and sparse.

Foragers are almost invariably shamanistic animists. Their religion posits a world that is sacred and bursting with life. Details vary widely, but there is almost always a deep appreciation for non-human life, even sometimes on par with human life, as well as a conviction that humans are intimately bound into the natural world. Humans often enjoy a pride of place, even in forager mythology, but the divide between human and non-human life that is so prominent in agricultural mythology is almost always absent. This can easily be seen as a consequence of the forager lifestyle, of course. Tracking, hunting, gathering fishing and all other forms of foraging require not only an intimate knowledge of the food species being sought, but its relations with all other species. This kind of appreciation for other organisms as part of a complex “web of life” cannot help but be reflected in the forager’s own ruminations on humanity’s place in the world. By the same token, any forager who takes on the more prominent ideas among agriculturalists concerning humanity’s separation from the natural world and position as ruler, or in the best case “steward,” of the world would be very prone to over-exploiting her resources. Such a forager culture would be at a distinct disadvantage to a more animistic forager culture. Thus, natural selection favors shamanistic and animistic beliefs among foragers, and selects strongly against the memes found in civilizations.

There are two important exceptions to all of this that are worthy of note: the North American Kwakiutl along the northwest coast in what is now British Columbia, and the foragers discovered by archaeologists at Sungir. In both cases, regular, predictable abundance created a situation that allowed for the control of a surplus. These societies then became much more complex; in the case of the Kwakiutl, even developing a rigidly ranked chiefdom, with a sedentary society dependent on regular salmon runs and potlatching. It seems reasonable to think there might have been something similar at Sungir. These examples highlight that it is not foraging itself that guarantees the kind of simple, egalitarian, free society that humans are best adapted to, but the lack of a controllable surplus that foraging usually creates.

Though possessing an abundant surplus, neither of these forager groups were expansionistic–because the nature of their surplus precluded expansion. Sungir’s abundance relied on the regular bison migration patterns through the area; they could not expand into areas where the bison did not so migrate. The Kwakiutl depended on regular salmon runs; they could not expand into areas where the salmon did not so run. This highlights another important point: where foragers do develop the odd abberation of a surplus, it is always geographically limited–which makes complex forager societies incapable of expansion and conquest. This allows pockets of complexity, without wiping out all possibility for simplicity in the process.

This limitation was broken with the innovation of food production some 10 to 15 millennia ago. Cohen breaks food production out into four subtypes: horticulture, agriculture, pastoralism, and industrialism. This does not translate into greater cultural diversity, though. All food producing cultures exist within a tight range of possibilities. While horticultural cultures have some amount of diversity (though nothing approaching that found among foragers), pastoralism is a relatively rare strategy, agriculture is incredibly restrictive with incredibly little diversity, and industrialism is very nearly incapable of allowing for any diversity whatsoever. Indeed, we can see at least these last three as differing aspects of the same phenomenon. This suggests that Cohen’s typology may be slightly ethnocentrically flawed: in breaking out more types within our own adaptive strategy, the traditional typology tends to give pride of place to our own culture that may not be entirely deserved.

Horticulture was the first type of food production practiced. At its simplest, it is nothing more than basic techniques to favor the regrowth of preferred plants. Very low-intensity work can allow significant returns, as the beginning of the marginal return curve allows for significant ERoEI. This is what makes horticulture the most efficient adaptive strategy available.2 Horticulturalists tend to organize at the tribe level with a larger, denser population. The tribe is still egalitarian, but it involves a more complex organization, often involving groups like clans, clubs, guilds and secret societies that cut across tribal boundaries and provide multiple dimensions of power and influence to stabilize a larger egalitarian society. The size of the horticultural village tends to fix more around Dunbar’s number of 150 (see thesis #7).

Horticulturalists occupy an ambiguous area, where they are held in place by the tension between the forager and agricultural modes of existence. Horticulturalists do not produce all of their food; they still rely on foraging to supplement their diet. This means that the maintenance of ample wilderness remains an important issue for them. At the same time, shifting cultivation–especially slash-and-burn or swidden agriculture–often entails a very delicate balance of population and resources that can easily shift out of hand, resulting in massive ecological devastation. Much of the deforestation currently threatening the Amazon is the result of horticultural practices under severe population pressure.3

It is difficult to solidly differentiate horticulture and agriculture; the best criteria that most anthropologists find is that horticulture always involves a fallowing period. This has led to the idea since Cohen of a “cultivation continuum” ranging from horticulture to agriculture, depending on the intensification of any of the four main inputs: land, labor, capital and machinery. This suggests, to me, that there actually is a solid differentiation between horticulture and agriculture: the point of diminishing returns.

The concept of diminishing returns was first developed in the context of agriculture. After a certain point, simply applying more labor yielded less and less benefit. Even in agrarian societies, it takes more calories of work to farm a field, than is returned in calories of product. Among simpler agrarian societies, this shortfall is made up with the use of tools and animals. The plow uses the fundamental physics of a lever to lessen the workload. Animals can leverage energy sources humans cannot–by grazing in lands too rocky or infertile to be cultivated. In modern petroculture, fossil fuels make up the shortfall. Petroleum doesn’t just power tractors, it also forms the basic ingredients for everything from fertilizer to packaging, and the fuel for transportation. We now burn between 4 and 10 calories–mostly in fossil fuels–for every 1 calorie of agricultural product we produce.

The slope becomes sharper as more labor is applied–the process becomes increasingly inefficient–but the absolute number of calories yielded always goes up by some amount per unit of labor. So, production can still be increased even past the point of diminishing returns by applying more labor. It just becomes increasingly inefficient to do so.

Forager populations are very dispersed, because their food is very dispersed. Foragers gather food from the wild, whether by hunting, fishing, gathering, or simple scavenging. These resources are not collected in any one space, so every forager band requires a significant range of territory. This makes forager society very sparsely populated. This also means that the maintenance of wilderness is essential to their survival. Foragers do not seek to maintain wilderness only for religious conviction, but also for practical necessity.

By comparison, cultivation converts a specific area of biomass into human food, raising the edible ratio of that area to 100%. In swidden (a.k.a., “slash-and-burn”) horticulture, for example, an area of rain forest is cut down and burned, and a garden is planted in the ashes. This is the only way to practice cultivation in the rain forest, as the ground is about as fertile as cement–all of the nutrients are locked in the trees. This very clearly illustrates the conversion from biomass into human food, as the biodiversity of some area of rain forest becomes fertilizer to grow a horticultural garden. This is the essence of all cultivation.

For agriculturalists, who depend entirely on their crops for food, the wilderness is no longer a resource, but a nuisance. Not only is it land “going to waste” (and very often put into just such explicit terms), it also harbors all manner of pests and vermin who threaten the agricultural way of life. Living beyond the point of diminishing returns is difficult and dangerous. It implies a constant threat of starvation. Any loss of crops to wild animals represents a direct threat to the agriculturalist’s survival. This is why agriculturalists have innovated techniques of protecting their food from wild animals in a “program” that led Daniel Quinn to invent the term “totalitarian agriculture” for this adaptive strategy. Everything from scarecrows to fences, to the domestication of cats to hunt rats in grain silos, to modern pesticides fit under this rubric.

Agriculturalists are also inherently expansionistic. Agriculturalists must maintain very high birth rates to offset their high mortality rates from disease and starvation. Moreover, their intense cultivation drains the land’s ability to support their practices further. The Fertile Crescent was not always a cruel joke–once upon a time, it was truly fertile. The blasted wasteland we see today is the result of 10,000 years of agriculture. It took only a few centuries to turn the American Great Plains into a dust bowl that is now supported almost solely by petrochemicals. While the rare technological innovation may allow agriculturalists to find new land to replace those they have made infertile–to say nothing of their need to feed their growing population in the “Food Race”–these innovations are few and far between, proving that innovations do not always occur simply because we need them. More often, this requires an expansion of the land under cultivation. This can often mean military conquest of one’s neighbors–the conquests of Rome often listed the need for more agricultural land as the primary motivation quite explicitly–or, it can mean the destruction of wilderness. The destruction of wilderness is especially tempting, because not only does it bring more land under cultivation, it also destroys the habitat of those animals that threaten the agriculturalist’s survival.

This is why agriculturalist belief systems so often posit some theme of “man vs. nature,” or more often, divine permission to use nature as man sees fit. This relationship is necessary to allow for the actions agriculture requires. Agriculture requires the exercise of force against the natural world, and so, agriculturalist religion must find some way to justify that. The adoption of more forager-like religious beliefs about humanity’s place in nature can only be held on any significant scale by those specialists that agricultural production allows to be far-removed from the day-to-day realities of subsistence.

Pastoralism is a very rare adaptive strategy, that always occurs alongside agriculture. I tend to think of it as a special case of agriculture, but little more, as it seems incapable of appearing independently.

Finally, industrialism is our own adaptive strategy. Many see the Industrial Revolution as the source of all our current woes, but in fact, industrialism merely represents an exponential increase in agriculture’s scale–such that previously ignorable problems become very noticeable. Industrialism allows for the modern city, worldwide populations measured in the billions, and the kind of ecological devastation it takes to create the worst mass extinction in history. At the same time, industrialism allows the vast majority of the population to become specialists. These specialists are then able to dabble in things maladapted to their subsistence strategy, such as believing themselves to be part of the natural world, as foragers do. Interestingly, at this extreme, two forager correlates–the nuclear family, and the Inuit kinship system–return to the fore. The complexity of industrialism reduces the ROI of child-bearing while also lowering the death rate and extending the expected lifespan to very near forager levels. Europeans only reached the stature of their Mesolithic ancestors once again in about 1950, for example, thanks to “affluent malnutrition”–the state of nutrition that Steve Brill characterized as “overfed and malnourished.” This results in a significantly lower birthrate for industrialized counties.

Unfortunately, like pastoralism, industrialism is also incapable of existing on its own. This extreme level of complexity is very costly, and can only be maintained by externalizing costs. This generally requires a less complex area–an agricultural region–that can serve to pay those costs. Despotic regimes in the Middle East (like the House of Sa’ud) maintain low energy prices for industrial society. Industrial consumer goods are manufactured in sweatshops. Industrial lifestyles–the size of our ecological footprint, and our concomittant low birth rate–rely on the poverty of agricultural areas (i.e., their small ecological footprint) and their concomittant high birth rate. During the Cold War, the face-off of two industrialized societies created the “First” and “Second” Worlds. The “Third World” was the un-industrialized rest of the world. The collapse of the U.S.S.R. has left only the First and Third Worlds. The Third World is where the First World externalizes its costs. Foreign aid and military support to various Third World dictatorships have maintained them in situations where they would otherwise have fallen to popular revolt. The Third World debt crisis is “a symptom of an international economic system that tolerates growing and abysmal poverty as a normal condition.” Through the World Bank, the IMF, and outright military support, we have shown that we will go to great lengths to keep things as they are in the Third World, because these conditions maintain First World prosperity. We maintain conditions where sweatshops are the best alternative available, and where it’s better to grow cash crops for First World consumption than food for your starving family.

In The Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan provided a brilliant sociological analysis of the early Roman Empire. In it, he shows that the Pax Romana was peaceful and prosperous only for the heart of the empire. Its peripheries suffered constant war and poverty. This was, in fact, by design. The overall level of turmoil could not be lessened, but Italy could enjoy such a Pax Romana by exporting its ills to the provinces.

So, if the Third World does succeed in becoming like us, who will grow the cotton we clothe ourselves with? Who will grow the coffee beans? If democracy comes to power in the Arabian Penninsula, what happens if they decide their national interests are best served by charging us the actual cost of their oil, rather than externalizing our costs in the form of oppression and terrorism?

Thus, we see that industrialism cannot exist on its own. It can only exist on top of an agricultural system, by exploiting the lesser complexity of that system to offset its own costs. The First World needs the Third World–and so, industrialism can never succeed in replacing or eliminating agriculturalism. Industrialism and greater complexity are no solution to the current crisis of the diminishing returns on complexity.


  1. Cordain, et al, 2000. “Plant-Animal Subsistence Ratios and Macronutrient Energy Estimations in Worldwide Hunter-Gatherer Diets,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000. [ PDF ][ Back ]
  2. Marvin Harris, Cultural Anthropology, Allyn & Bacon, 2002. [ Back ]
  3. It is worth noting that this balance of population and resources, as delicate as it is, was successfully maintained by Amazonian horticulturalists until very recently. Western charities, deploring the plight of such “primitives,” provided them with medicine and food that allowed their population to grow exponentially as never before. With a significantly larger population, more fields and larger fields were required. This allowed less time for fallowing, so that when the planting cycle returned to a previously used patch of forest, it had not yet regenerated. Instead, the cycle moved outwards, inhibiting the ability of the forest to regenerate. Due to the population growth caused by good-intentioned Western charities, the delicate balance of Amazonian “slash-and-burn” agriculture was shattered, and an otherwise sustainable practice has become a significant threat to the earth’s most active ecosystem, and the source of some 80% of the planet’s oxygen supply. [ Back ]

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] The previous thesis glossed over a number of significant points, which we must now go back and revisit in greater detail. The most glaring of these glosses is probably the assertion that agriculture is a risky, marginal and difficult means of acquiring food. Many readers would certainly object that agriculture provides a stable, secure and reliable source of food. After all, it was the bounty of agriculture that allowed us to give up hunting and gathering, constantly wandering and wondering where our next meal would come from, giving us the time to build civilization. That is the common picture we’ve all been told, but it is also the opposite of truth. In fact, the Neolithic Revolution was, to use Jared Diamond’s turn of phrase, “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” […]

    Pingback by Thesis #9: Agriculture is difficult, dangerous and unhealthy. » The Anthropik Network — 10 October 2005 @ 1:04 PM

  2. […] recycling his notes from anth 100, jason godesky at anthropik has posted an essay that puts food at the center of All That We Know (god bless him). [Yehudi] Cohen divided the world’s cultures into any one of five “adaptive strategies”: foraging, horticulture, pastoralism, agriculture, and industrialism. Cohen noted the strong correlations these strategies had with the rest of their culture; so strong that, simply given a society’s mode of subsistence, accurate predictions could often be made about their level of political complexity, their kinship patterns, their population size and density, their modes of warfare, and even their religious beliefs. Human society is, first and foremost, a strategy for acquiring food, and the manner in which that food is acquired defines the shape, scale, and kind of that society. […]

    Pingback by » why sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron — 10 October 2005 @ 2:04 PM

  3. […] The primary criteria, though, help us to begin to understand the true nature of civilization. These five criteria are, however, bound to one another through causation. Thus, they always appear together, and never without the others–forming a clearly defined cultural package that we can call “civilization.” This should not be terribly surprising, because culture is a reflexive system, and changes to one part of that system will cascade throughout the whole. In thesis #8, we saw how formative subsistence strategy is for a culture, and how the precarious nature of food production limited cultivating societies to a very narrow range of possible diversity. We saw that Service’s traditional breakdown may be somewhat biased to tease out greater distinction among those societies more like ourselves, while lumping together far greater diversity among foragers not like ourselves. The differences between industry and agriculture are differences of scale, not kind. The Industrial Revolution did not fundamentally change the nature of agricultural society, it merely accelerated it along previously defined lines. Also, pastoralism is an extremely unusual option, confined almost entirely to the Middle East and Africa. Moreover, such societies cannot exist independently of an agricultural society. I tend to think of them more as an unusual case of symbiosis with agricultural societies: a remora to agriculture’s shark, if you will. […]

    Pingback by Thesis #13: Civilization always pursues complexity. » The Anthropik Network — 27 October 2005 @ 11:44 AM

  4. […] People have to eat. Unless you happen to be a breatharian. But the vast majority of us have to eat. Indeed, in many ways food shapes the foundation of our culture. After all, humans first began to organize into bands to facilitate hunting. Specifically to weight the odds in our favor. Since then many of the developments we are most proud of stem from this one innovation: egalitarianism to increase the odds of individual survival. No other living primate lives in this way. […]

    Pingback by Methods of Freedom: Subsistence » The Anthropik Network — 3 February 2006 @ 12:56 AM

  5. […] The hierarchy of needs offers an excellent foundation for a consideration of that ephemeral quality of “legitimacy.” This is usually applied to states, but we can just as easily question the legitimacy of any society. All human societies are built on one fundamental promise, in a sort of “social contract,” if you will: society is the conspiracy of many humans, working together, to maximize the mutual fulfillment of their basic needs. Food may be the most pressing of these needs (see thesis #8), but it is not alone. We might judge the success of a society—its legitimacy, or how worthy that society is of its members’ support—based on how well it fulfills the basic needs of its members. […]

    Pingback by The Hierarchy of Needs (The Anthropik Network) — 23 August 2006 @ 5:26 PM

  6. […] An expected age of death even at 54.1, or even 67.1, may seem dismal to us in the United States, but even here in 1901, life expectancy was 49. It has only been very recently that civilized life expectancy has caught up to even the most marginal foragers. Moreover, in thesis #8, we explored the relationship between the First World and the Third World. Focusing on First World statistics produces the same skewed result as focusing only on medieval royalty, to the exclusion of the peasants they relied upon for their abundance. The worldwide average life expectancy, then, is the far more relevant measure than the United States’. That number is currently 67 years–exactly the number Burton-Jones found for !Kung women eking out a living in the Kalahari. Given the marginality of the ecosystems these foragers exist in, it seems that we could easily conclude from these data that the incredible advances made in our life expectancy–advances which are now slowing, due to the diminishing marginal returns of medical research (a point addressed explicitly in thesis #15)–we have managed to raise our life expectancy to that of the most meager and marginalized foragers. […]

    Pingback by Thesis #25: Civilization reduces quality of life. (The Anthropik Network) — 17 October 2006 @ 10:40 AM

  7. law of attraction…

    Having abundance is not enough- you are only truly successful when you can share your abundance….

    Trackback by law of attraction — 9 June 2009 @ 7:57 PM


  1. I pretty much agree with everything being said here and on the entire site. But what can you do about it? If you speak up and attract too much attention, you will most likely die young in some tragic accident. Recall the author of Fortunate Son who was found dead of an OD in a Texas hotel room.

    Comment by Senator Paul Wellestone — 9 October 2005 @ 5:35 PM

  2. That fine fellow I keep citing so often, Jeff Vail, is an intelligence officer with the United States Air Force. As he once put it:

    When people suggest that my “damn the man” rhetoric is pure speculation, I like to remind them that I AM “the man”, at least between the hours of 9 and 5.

    So what he’s doing becomes even more impressive. Another time, he wrote:

    As for going to prison–I think that the trump card in our pockets is that hierarcy, especially hierarchy of the size of the US government–has to deal with such an information processing burden that they are essentially inept at confronting rhizome. I think that I’m a living example of that. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking? Either way, they keep renewing my security clearance (which is technically understandable–I don’t advocate ‘the violent overthrow of the US government’, just a very serious reform. Don’t like violence). Sometimes I almost feel like I’m intentionally testing the limits, just to see if I can map out how inept hierarchy really is…

    But, ultimately, even if the inept information processing units of our hierarchy do discover my work, what of it? What will they find? That a law-abiding, tax-paying American citizen is going camping more often, learning edible plants, and how to hunt? Why would they be alarmed by this?

    The collapse is happening right now, and it cannot be stopped. We don’t need to overthrow anything. It’s true, that so long as complex, hierarchical societies exist, humanity can never be free. But trying to destroy them by force is impossible. Luckily for us, they’re in the middle of killing themselves right now. All we have to do is get out of their way and be ready to survive it.

    Hierarchy is efficient and ruthless at destroying anything that stands in its way. But it is blind to the very possibility of rhizome. We exist in a pocket it is structurally incapable of percieving. But even if it could cast its eye here, what would it find? Someone opposing their power–like the author of Fortunate Son? No. It would find only what it would consider a harmless little crank who’s taking up a little more hunting, fishing and camping than usual. Nothing more.

    So, why raise the alarum? Because 6.5 billion people can’t be saved, but the beauty of the collapse is that every individual will have a choice: remain part of this culture and die, or find a new way to live and survive. I consider it a moral duty to make sure as many people understand that choice as possible. I can’t change the fact that 99% or more will choose to die; but I can try my damnedest to reach as many people, and on some level they’ll know the choice before them. At least I’ll be able to comfort myself that I did all that I could.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 9 October 2005 @ 7:59 PM

  3. Good answer. By the way, I am rapidly growing very fond of this site. Thanks for the Jeff Vail introduction. Once I started reading his book, I couldn’t put it down.

    Comment by Senator Paul Wellestone — 10 October 2005 @ 2:09 AM

  4. Cohen either forgot or neglected an input. He has listed land, labor, capital and machinery. But this forgets planning. Permaculture can be done with very little land, labor, capital or machinery, but requires intensive planning. I posit as an example the hillside rice paddies of mountainous Southeast Asia.

    - Chuck

    Comment by Chuck — 10 October 2005 @ 10:41 AM

  5. Planning is ephemeral, so it’s not really an input in the same sense. Permaculture is very clearly a form of horticulture. In fact, some of the most popular permaculture techniques were first used by horticultural tribes.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 10 October 2005 @ 11:23 AM

  6. Oh, and the rice terraces of SE Asia are one of the clearest examples of agriculture, because the terracing–and the rice paddies themselves–require such enormous amounts of labor.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 10 October 2005 @ 11:25 AM

  7. Great essay! I’m really interested in this comment;

    ‘The collapse is happening right now, and it cannot be stopped. We don’t need to overthrow anything. It’s true, that so long as complex, hierarchical societies exist, humanity can never be free. But trying to destroy them by force is impossible. Luckily for us, they’re in the middle of killing themselves right now. All we have to do is get out of their way and be ready to survive it.”

    The first anti-civ writer I read was Derrick Jensen who advocates that we in fact ‘bring down civilisation’ in order to save the planet and therefore ourselves. I’ve been on his discussion list and the most people seem to have come up with is to meet force with force. Derrick Jensen describes our culture of death exceedingly well but this essay of yours has crystalised a worry I’ve had for a while that maybe his solution to the ‘culture of death’ is even more death.

    I hasten to add that I haven’t read his most recent books so I could be off the mark but given that we could destroy our life support systems before (or more likely as a part of) the crash then Derrick Jensen is right in saying we need to end civilisation now but you’re also right in saying we can’t effectively do that. AND I’m also wondering if we would simply become what we try to destroy anyway… so what exactly is a guy to do?

    Comment by Alm — 11 October 2005 @ 7:50 PM

  8. I can’t speak for you, but I can’t bring myself to actively work to bring down civilization. I probably wouldn’t be able to condemn someone who did too harshly, but I can’t bring myself to that. So instead, I’m just going to try to survive civilization’s suicide, and be around to inherit the earth when it’s gone.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 11 October 2005 @ 7:54 PM

  9. In response to Alm’s posting stating: I’ve been on his discussion list and the most people seem to have come up with is to meet force with force.
    … I prefer to meet force with farce. Make them look stupid and their support falls away. Just look at what has been happenning to the current US ruling regieme. It is a slower process than force, but far more effective in the long run.

    Comment by ChandraShakti — 21 February 2006 @ 1:45 AM

  10. Thanks for this — excellent read, I’ll be digesting this for a few days. I have a distinct feeling this site will reward digging through. I found you through Discordian Research Technology, if you’re curious.

    Comment by Wombaticus Rex — 28 February 2006 @ 2:17 PM

  11. The Jeff Vail stuff is interesting but fades to chickenshit when you consider people like Jack Parsons or Thomas Acquino reached much higher security clearances and were avowed Satanists/Occultists with ties to all manner of international espionage circles. Maybe the heirarchy is “blind” to subversion, or maybe we don’t really know who the heirarchy is.

    “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”

    Comment by Wombaticus Rex — 28 February 2006 @ 2:21 PM

  12. This is why agriculturalists have innovated techniques of protecting their food from wild animals in a “program” that led Daniel Quinn to invent the term “totalitarian agriculture” for this adaptive strategy. Everything from scarecrows to fences, to the domestication of cats to hunt rats in grain silos, to modern pesticides fit under this rubric.

    Hmm. I’m confused. I agree that pesticides are a part of totaliarian agriculture, but I thought that “TA” was defined as actively trying to hunt down competitors. I remember reading from Quinn that while it is okay to protect one’s food from wild animals, it is just not okay to actively try to destroy those competitors.

    For example, pesticides are part of TA, as well as “predator control,” and expanding agricultural land, scarecrows and using cats to hunt rats do not seem to be part of Quinn’s definition of TA unless a farmer is actively out with his cat hunting all the rats. The cats just stand at the silo and wait for rats to attack it. If so, how does that fit into TA?

    Scarecrows do scare crows from fields, and fences block animals from fields, but they do not block everything off from the animals. Obviously, if a large amount of land is cleared for agriculture and fenced off, this is indeed a problem, but that is different then just fencing off a small garden in the wilderness.

    I thought that TA was about actively creating opportunities to kill competitors. But protecting oneself from competitors or attacking competitors when the opportunity presents itself is within the Law of Competition. Unless, I have mistaken Quinn.

    As Quinn as put it: Lions do attack hyenas but to not go out to attack hyenas. Bees will deny you access to apples in their hive but not access to the apples on an apple tree. Likewise, scarecrows scare crows but do not kill crows. So how do fences, rats, and scarecrows fit into TA if they only protect animals from fields when the opportunity presents itself?

    Comment by Taylor — 18 September 2006 @ 12:47 PM

  13. Of course, I’m nit-picking here, but I’m just curious as to what you meant versus what I believe Quinn said.

    Comment by Taylor — 18 September 2006 @ 12:48 PM

  14. Jason:

    Just found this on a vegetarian website. I was wondering what youth thought of it claims:

    I’m a bit duboius as to its claims myself.

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 24 October 2006 @ 3:19 AM

  15. Its an interesting article once you get past all the bullshit, like:

    the straw man of Hobbesian mythology being equated with man the hunter.

    In the same vein, claiming that ‘man the hunter’ is equivalent to “Judeo-Christian ideology of man being inherently evil, aggressive and a natural killer”

    And then he goes on to talk about a afarensis, whom everyone agrees was predomininantly herbaceous.


    Comment by janene — 24 October 2006 @ 8:16 AM

  16. Going through the article again, the idea that it these findings paint a picture of homo sapiens as a herbivore is dubious. Afarensis to some extent still lived in the trees, so they could be successful herbivores. But our species, who is ill-suited for “tree-living”, would have been a far less successful herbivore. And if we needed fire to be able to really eat meat so that we could cook it, that’s probably been around for about a million years, which is a pretty long time considering how recent our species is. And you don’t need to be an aggressive killer to be a hunter, as I think is demonstrated by wild canines.

    The main problem with vegetarianism I see is that in order to eat that way, you need to rely heavily on cereal grain-based foods because vegetables and fruits don’t have many calories and have a short shelf-life after harvest. And even if you put aside the fact that the lecithins in cereal grains are likely slowly killing us, heavy dietary reliance on them tends to result in agriculture, which turned the Fertile Crescent into a sandbox in pretty short order.

    And what a lot of these cement-headed latte-liberals don’t realize is that totalitarian agriculture makes it necessary that we make effective war on the rest of the animal kingdom in our mission to convert as much of nature’s biomass into human food as we possibly can. And of course, that results in Daniel Quinn’s “food race”, in which we keep increasing the food supply, which increases the population, which in turn makes us strive to increase the food supply, and the resulting ongoing swelling of our numbers is one of the big reasons civilization has been such a bust.

    But for the most part, I don’t care to argue these things with vegans, latte-liberals, and others who believe that the Green Organic Bio-Fuel Eco-Groovy Revolution is going to saves us all and make everything just fabulous. One just gets tired of bumping up against the cinderblock wall of cement-headed willful ignorance after a while. One of the few things that civilization is good at doing is convincing people that 2+2=5.

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 24 October 2006 @ 11:31 AM

  17. It’s not really a straw man, is it? I can certainly see how you could equate Man the Hunter with a Hobbesian view of human nature—of course, that requires the underlying assumption that “cows are more sacred than carrots,” which is really just an extension of descent groups: for your average Iraqi, for instance, you side with your local tribe against other tribes; you side with Islam against other religions; you side with Abrahamic religions against non-Abrahamic religions; you side with monotheists against non-monotheists; you side with religionists against atheists, and so on. We take that farther; killing a human is murder, killing a mushroom is unnoticeable. Killing a fly is blase, but killing a pet is sick and twisted. Killing a chimp is perverse, but killing a ground hog is generally OK. It’s exactly the same thing: we judge whether and to what degree the killing is justified depending on how closely they are related to us. Even with killing a person, it can be OK if it’s an enemy, but it’s never OK if it’s your brother. Vegetarians take that to its natural conclusion: killing animals to eat them is OK, but killing plants to eat them is just fine. What makes killing an animal wrong, and killing a plant OK? The fact that we’re more closely related to animals than plants. Even in the explicit arguments against eating meat, you see the arguments that animals feel pain, have families, etc.—the core of the argument is how closely related they are to us.

    As for the article, I’ve always thought Sussman’s work had more to do with current politics than human evolution. I think she sees what she wants to see, and she gets coverage because she’s not the only one who wants to see it. It’s not that she’s wrong that “Man the Hunter” is influenced by our cultural perceptions, it’s that her evidence is just so wanting. She’s looking back to a much more ancient era in human evolution. “Man the Hunter” explains how we got from there, to where we are now, in the era when humans really weren’t prey. They’re looking at A. afarensis, which as Janene pointed out, was primarily herbaceous, though other species of australopithecene were apparently scavengers. The innovation of handedness, stone tools, and the sudden explosion in cranial capacity that marks the dividing line between Australopithecus and Homo is precisely the time when humans started hutning.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 October 2006 @ 11:40 AM

  18. Sure its a straw man… build up a scenario that is irrelevant or otherwise separate from your main argument… show it in error and then use that as ‘evidence’ that your actual argument is true.

    She shows evidence that we are not evil, murderous creatures and therefore we are not hunters. Doesn’t matter that we can understand why she would conflate the two. Just matters that the two are not the same thing.


    Comment by janene — 24 October 2006 @ 12:03 PM

  19. Ciao Jason and others,
    I’ve been fascinated by the Thirty Theses and feel proud that I knew some of the books/ideas before I saw them here. I wanted to ask a questions that I feel like you’ve solved before: what are you doing specifically to prepare for the foraging future that will come? I imagine learning about wild edibles, but does your plan include some sort of “base”? I’m interested. Thanks!


    Comment by Zachary Nowak — 22 November 2006 @ 8:15 AM

  20. Are you familiar with Wes Jackson and his work at the “Land Institute?” He has been spending the past 30 years researching what he calls sustainable agriculture. Since you argue agriculture inherently unsustainable in all cases, what is your opinion about his work?


    Second, even though agriculture may require more energy than in requires, how does that in itself equate unsustainability if the shortfall is able to be made up with an energy source, like animals (or the flooding of floodplains with rivers)? Iceland is able to run buses on hydrogen via electrolysis, after all, even though its EROEI is negative, because of the local abundance of hydropower and geothermal energy, even though that would not be viable other places.

    Comment by ungulate — 23 November 2006 @ 5:48 PM

  21. Second, you have argued that agriculture is inherently unsustainable based on your research. What is that research you have done? What books, articles, and studies have you read? I ask because what I have read here has shown evidence showing that some agricultural practices were unsustainable but not others. For example, while there is evidence here showing the unsustainability of China, the Mayans, and the Fertile Crescent, I have not seen much mentioned here about other societies like the Scandinavians, Irish (prior to British colonization), and the Incas. I’m just curious, since your claim must apply as much to those societies as it does to the ones you mention. (I have read the 30 Theses, just curious about these other places you have not mentioned.)

    Comment by ungulate — 24 November 2006 @ 10:49 AM

  22. Jackson’s “sustainable agriculture” is a polyculture, which makes it horticulture. It can produce significant yields, but since all the plants are mixed together, it’s much harder to automate harvesting. The cost goes up, the EROEI goes down, and you end up with the same energy limits as any other horticultural scheme. Again, much more efficient than regular monoculture, but it has limits to growth.

    There are an endless number of cases I’ve left unaddressed. It would be impossible to address the pattern of agriculture in every individual location, and pointless, since each one repeats the same pattern. If you believe you have a counter-example, raise it, and I’ll be happy to illustrate the point with reference to that specific location. But I have no illusions about my examples being exhaustive; how could they ever be?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 November 2006 @ 5:10 PM

  23. The thing that stands out for me in your arguement, is the calorie ratio: 4 to 10 calories of input for 1 calorie of output, the difference made up from fossil fuel inputs (fertilisers, equipment). If that was an eco-industrial design exercise it would fail miserably.

    The advantage that HGs have is that the over-unity energy input is from sunlight into e.g. a forest food chain, where the human/society energy input is only that needed for harvesting and transportation to their camp site or village.

    We agree that the key problems with agriculture are a) it facilitates nonsustainable population growth and b) intensive cultivation burns up soil thus requiring expansion regardless of population.

    This is a specific case of the tradeoff between population and impact. Below a hypothetical threshold population level, it should be possible to reduce the impact of agriculture (b) to a sustainable level by for example minimizing the amount of land under cultivation, and rotating cultivated areas on a scale that allows previously-cultivated land to restore itself robustly before it is again rotated into cultivation. (Such a plan may have other fatal shortcomings such as caloric EROEI issues; I’ll leave that aside for now.)

    The deeper problem is the tendency for populations to increase to the limit of food supply, and here we are up against the entire history of our species. There must always be a mechanism in place to balance births and deaths. And there is no way to get from here to there without some sacrifice of personal autonomy, either in terms of breeding or in terms of lifespan. Whatever else we do, we have to get people to recognize that there is no more a “right” to breed without restraint, than there is a “right” to drive an automobile without restraint.

    Comment by gg3 — 28 January 2007 @ 11:32 PM

  24. Cohen’s typology of society is only a two dimensional picture that only reveals society’s superficial appearance.

    Beneath the surface, we find that Man survives as a social being, and the impulse that motivates how we procure food will always serve first and foremost the image of our social identity.

    Behind everyday appearances, we find all social behavior is un-consciously molded to construct an image of social identity that will best insure our healthy social survival.

    Even when hungry or during a prolonged famine, the shape of our food procurement will be molded by image conflicts that become powerful motivating preoccupations.

    Food only becomes a preoccupation when hunger threatens survival.

    Agriculture is not a preoccupation with food, as hunger is no longer an issue.

    Survival is no longer threatened thanks to the simple first response of cooperative horticulture.

    So why the hierarchy?, agriculture?, industry?, and civilization?!?

    Not because of food!

    Because in agriculture food is simply a means to an end.

    Food is simply the means by which agriculture allows us to compensate for MALE SEXUAL INADEQUACY!

    For the Inadequate Male, Sex is always a struggle that becomes a powerful motivating preoccupation regardless of any Female to Male ratio.

    Hunger, like aggression, triggers fear, and fear threatens the image of our Male Sexual Identity.

    Fearful Men who submissively surrender their individual sovereignty for the security of hierarchical authority due to fear of Hunger or Aggression, are sexually inadequate when measured by our fearless male-archetype, and are thus preoccupied with an inadequate Male Sexual Identity.

    This is why Hierarchy, like Agriculture is not about food, but about MALE SEXUAL INADEQUACY!

    Threaten the Sexual Identity of any individual or group and the reaction will be either Aggression or Submission.

    Do we want to understand 9/11?… Then we have to understand the powerful psycho-dynamic impulse of Arabs and Muslims to compensate for an image of their collective sexual identity that has been undermined and threatened by two centuries of Western domination.

    Once triggered, all our preoccupations take root deep within the psyche’s unconscious, and by far, the most powerful preoccupations within our psyche are SEX and AGGRESSION!!!

    Food is thus reduced, like all the institutions of civilization’s cultural activities—such as Politics, Business and Religion, to nothing more than a convenient pretense by Inadequate Males to deceptively express our preoccupations with Sex and Aggression through agriculture and hierarchy.

    Remember, a Primate’s most successful strategy for social Survival and Reproduction within a hyper-competitive hierarchy is deception.

    Comment by hoodie — 19 March 2007 @ 3:04 AM

  25. I could hardly disagree more. Why are we social beings? We invented society, first and foremost, to get food! Staying alive isn’t “superficial,” it’s the most fundamental essence of everything we do, and the most immediate crisis of staying alive comes down to getting food. Humans are social animals because that’s the method we’ve developed to get food. That’s why the pattern of society we create always molds itself to match our needs for obtaining food. Social ideals change readily and easily; that’s the advantage of culture, the fact that it can adapt far more quickly than biology. Culture and cultural ideals change to suit our material needs.

    I’m afraid your theory here is pretty obvious B.S. on one criticial problem–male sexual inadequacy has been a problem all over the place, in all times (or are you suggesting that men in the Paleolithic, or among the Ju/’Hoansi today, have some kind of different biology that makes them immune to such concerns?). So if the way a culture survives is “superficial,” how is it that a new social pattern began 10,000 years ago in so many different places, but all fairly specific and localized places? And why is it that the preoccupation you note with sex, aggression and domination always follows that change, without any sign of preceding it? If social beliefs drive the “superficial” needs of survival, then our social beliefs would be unchanging, and if civilization were as simple as a psychological disorder, it would have been universal and as old as humanity itself. Neither are true, and that means that the mental models civilization engenders follow a pattern of food gathering (which implies a view of the world). They are an effect, not a cause.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 19 March 2007 @ 9:53 AM

  26. OMG, hoodie, have you been reading Freud lately? (Not that I have anything against reading Freud, it’s just that things get funny when people take Freud-like ideas too seriously and/or literally.)

    Jason, are you planning to write/post any new articles soon?

    Comment by Hasha — 19 March 2007 @ 12:34 PM

  27. I am, at present, beaten-down, demoralized and broken. I’m afraid that the website has fallen pretty far down a list of more immediate priorities. I’ll get back to it eventually, but first I need to get back on my feet. I’m afraid there’s no immediate plans for my triumphant return, just a few comments that irked me enough that I couldn’t let lie.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 19 March 2007 @ 12:38 PM

  28. I’m really sorry to hear that, Jason. I hope of course that you do come back with some new posts here, but whatever the problem is, definitely, get your life in order first. Best of luck with everything!

    Comment by Hasha — 19 March 2007 @ 2:29 PM

  29. I almost posted an inquiry about you all in the forums yesterday.

    Keep hanging in there, you’ll find a way a through it. Obviously, I don’t need to remind you to keep your priorities straight, you seem to be doing a good job of that already! :-D

    Ah, well, best wishes, I hope everything works out for the best.

    Comment by jhereg — 20 March 2007 @ 8:45 AM

  30. Our relationship to food has triggered a powerful social dynamic whose scope and momentum has long ago taken on a life of it’s own that can no longer be defined by food.

    That’s true of all triggering mechanisms—they set off, not a linear, but a broad net of causal links whose consequences have a far more profound effect upon our lives than the trigger.

    Hunting and gathering food was a trigger for an existential intimacy with the entire living world that was so dynamic and profoundly effecting that it far transcended the original hunting and gathering.

    Transcended it to the point that we could never have left hunting and gathering for agriculture without first severing our intimate existential relationship to the life around us.

    We had to change psychologically, and regress to a fear-driven, fight or flight dualistic pattern of cognition before we could conceive of agriculture.

    Fixated by dualistic patterns of cognition, we are separated from all existential relationships by objectifying every relationship, and every experience in a highly effective, dualistic, object-subject separation of the knower from the known.

    And remember, regressing to a simple fixation on fight or flight dualistic patterns of cognition is accomplished much faster when threatened with aggression rather than mere famine.

    A spreading of organized aggression, more than famine, motivated the neurotic preoccupations that led to the mental state that conceived agriculture and hierarchical civilization.

    Moreover, this simple cognitive fixation already transcends any definition by food, because it’s now this fixation that will have to be corrected before we can even conceive of an alternative to agriculture or our hierarchical civilization.

    But it gets worse.

    Often times food isn’t even a trigger, but simply a vehicle, like a cigarette.

    Say I’m a typical chubb, and not long after a heavy diner, I sit on the couch with a big, bag of potato chips.

    On the surface that appears to be about food—I mean look, there’s the evidence; a big, bag of potato chips right in my lap, and there I am popping the chips one after the other into my already stuffed stomach.

    But here, like all the excess of agriculture, hierarchy and civilization, food is but a vehicle.

    A vehicle that allows us to express our compulsive oral fixations.

    My excessive compulsive need for food is the result of my failure to negotiate successfully my oral stage of personality development.

    That’s right, I was raised by a civilized woman who was made to feel embarrassed by her breasts, and because she was embarrassed to spontaneously breast feed in public, I developed, not only a stiff non-spontaneous, frustrated, untrusting, envious and resentful personality, but also a life-long compulsive oral fixation.

    Sound familiar?

    But that’s just the beginning, because my failure to successfully negotiate my oral stage of personality, as is nearly always the case, cascades into a momentum of failure that makes certain my failure to successfully negotiate my next anal stage of personality development.

    Unfortunately, the consequences of this failure eventually leads us back to my first post of a couple of nights ago.

    It leads us to a grasping, controlling, anal-retentive personality, with powerful anal-fixations and latent homo-sexual tendencies that compulsively seeks submission to hierarchical authority, and demands a more controlling and excessive agricultural relationship with our now objectified living world.

    This is why I feel that, not only has our social dynamic transcend definition by food, but that we will never progress out of either agriculture or hierarchical civilization until we begin to regain our mental balance first.

    Comment by hoodie — 21 March 2007 @ 5:25 AM

  31. Our relationship to food has triggered a powerful social dynamic whose scope and momentum has long ago taken on a life of it’s own that can no longer be defined by food.

    Well that’s just the thing. Look what happens when people eat a paleo diet, when they learn about wild edibles, when they start tracking. Their relationship to their food–to the whole world around them–changes. And those attitudes change, too. When you learn primitive skills, there’s the rushing thrill of freedom. You get a taste of it, and you learn what freedom means. It changes your outlook profoundly.

    Hunting and gathering food was a trigger for an existential intimacy with the entire living world that was so dynamic and profoundly effecting that it far transcended the original hunting and gathering.

    “Transcended”? No; I think we’ve simply forgotten how dynamic and profound hunting and gathering is supposed to be.

    Transcended it to the point that we could never have left hunting and gathering for agriculture without first severing our intimate existential relationship to the life around us.

    Obviously not, because the historical record clearly shows that we became farmers first, and only later severed our relationship. The first civilizations, like Egypt or the Moche, maintained a very animistic and shamanistic relationship for a few thousand years after they picked up farming. So obviously we started farming, and then lost that relationship.

    We had to change psychologically, and regress to a fear-driven, fight or flight dualistic pattern of cognition before we could conceive of agriculture.

    “Regress”? Have you ever hunted or gathered? Fight or flight is part of the basic human experience for a good reason. Hunter-gatherers employ it all the time. I think our adoption of agriculture had a lot to do with fear, but it’s not as if this required some abandonment of an animist world. Fear is part of life, and often times, it’s perfectly healthy to be afraid. Look at the beliefs of the Inuit–fear plays a significant role there. Wikipedia: “As Knud Rasmussen’s Inuit guide told him when asked about Inuit religious beliefs, ‘We don’t believe. We fear!’”

    This is why I feel that, not only has our social dynamic transcend definition by food, but that we will never progress out of either agriculture or hierarchical civilization until we begin to regain our mental balance first.

    And how does that process begin? By learning primitive skills, by getting that taste of freedom–by changing how you relate to your food!

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 21 March 2007 @ 9:39 AM

  32. Jason,
    I admire your optimism concerning food; I admire the delicate beauty of fragile hopes.

    Fragile in that; even in the ‘60s and ‘70s amongst a vast counter-culture seeking richer meaning in our relationship with both food and each other, we largely failed to overcome the constant gravitational pull of powerful compulsive behaviors already aquired by the age of five.

    Naively, we didn’t know of our fragility, so we were filled with a bright optimistic idealism that we thought would transform the world.

    But instead, we’ve been largely reduced to this scattered remnant, tenuously cyber-connected in a virtual-tribe.

    So despite the unforgettable magic moments we found in a more spiritual relationship with both our food and with each other in that then new tribal communalism, these magic moments instead remained but moments, or for the luck few, weeks, perhaps months, but, because of the counter-power of our compulsive behavior, rarely more.

    Of course it was worth it; the disciplined strength of non-materialistic simplicity, the communal intimacy, the gatherings, the months in the woods, the midnight forest drum-circles, these all helped to generate a new behavioral model.

    But our new model was rarely enough in the end to overcome the compulsive oral and anal behavior of our failed childhood personality development.

    So I don’t share your optimism about the power of a new foraging behavioral model.

    Don’t expect lasting significant transformations, but keep and enjoy those precious meaningful moments, because those remembered moments may have to quench your soul’s thirst through long droughts.

    Let’s remember how Noam Chomsky launched the revolution of today’s cognitive science when he demonstrated the limitations of behavioral modification against primal patterns of cognition.

    Likewise, one will come up against severe limitations when trying to modify behavior rooted in compulsive neurotic preoccupations with our deep seated inner-conflicts.

    Especially conflicts with gender archetypes that symbolize fearlessness.

    Fear results in inner-conflicts that can, if unchecked, become neurotic preoccupations.

    NOT the once useful momentary fight or flight fear of the little hunted mammal that we once were, and whose brain still lingers in the frontal-cortex like our vestigial tail-limb, but rather a neurotic paralyzing fear.

    The fearful man will needlessly, compulsively and continuously regress to a dualistic fight or flight fear response to many everyday situations.

    Fear that saps our energy, our confidence, our manhood, and our ability to strike with cool, spontaneous action.

    Fear that turns the confident fearless hunter into the doomed fearful hunted.

    I grew up in the inner-city, where, if you walk with fear, you’re already dead.

    The fearless man leaps through the woods like a bounding stag and strikes his prey without hesitation.

    The fearless man is whole and confident and wastes no time with un-necessary aggression.

    A Wholistic man, balanced, and confident enough to embrace a diversity of relationships and experiences.

    The fearless man is the only man free enough from compulsive neurotic fears to realize an existential experience with his own skin.

    That’s the true Noble Savage.

    That’s not the fearful creature we would have found yoked to an Egyptian plow.

    Nor is it any Shaman, who, unable to deliver his people from the yoke, pacifies himself with ceremonious rituals.

    No, we seek to recapture the fearless freedom beyond the hierarchical chains of civilization.

    We seek to end our alienation, and instead become one with our lost fearless male archetype, and feel what it is to take a single breath as a whole man instead of the frustrated compulsive inadequate anal-male.

    To psychologically feel for the first time the fearless spontaneity of nature’s eternal moment.

    Healing the psycho-dynamic pathologies at the heart of our neurological control-panel is what drives us here.

    Psychologically we are driven towards alternative behavioral models.

    Our motives are purely psychological, and only by a slow, step by step, generation by generation, dialectical process can we uncover, expose, and heal the momentum of five-hundred generations our oral and anal fixations.

    Then the neurotic inner-conflicts that preoccupy our behavior will cease to be so compulsive, and that will prepare our psyche to embrace, instead of reject, the new behavioral model that has been suggested in this thesis.

    Then, we can revisit the near-spontaneous magic of the ‘60s, and continue beyond to the reality that we come here hoping to create.

    Comment by hoodie — 23 March 2007 @ 4:40 AM

  33. Fragile in that; even in the ‘60s and ‘70s amongst a vast counter-culture seeking richer meaning in our relationship with both food and each other, we largely failed to overcome the constant gravitational pull of powerful compulsive behaviors already aquired by the age of five.

    Firstly, the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s wasn’t particularly “vast,” not on the scale of social change. They were significantly outnumbered. Secondly, their failure illustrates my point wonderfully, because they weren’t terribly interested in finding new means of subsistence. The communes were agrarian. They thought, like you do, that the root of our problems were psychological, that you had to change people’s “consciousness” and attitudes. It never occurred to them that such consciousness arose from a particular way of life.

    So I don’t share your optimism about the power of a new foraging behavioral model.

    Yes, the vast foraging communes of the 1960’s … oh wait, they farmed wheat and milked cows, and told us how the ills of civilization were primarily psychological fixations.

    The reason that so many other movements have failed is precisely because this is a matter of how psychology arises from the material, rather than vice versa. We’re in an escalation, and the window only opens when the positive feedback loop begins to break down. See my older article, “Where Have All the Savages Gone?

    The fearful man will needlessly, compulsively and continuously regress to a dualistic fight or flight fear response to many everyday situations.

    Yes, but these two are still related, the same way that a healthy stream is related to a flood. This is simply the overloaded version. And what happens when people learn primitive skills, and the genuine sense of freedom that comes with that? You see so much of that fear wash away. Some amount of it is drilled into us from our upbringing. I don’t think we’ll rewild so much as go feral. But it’s a start, and our children will enjoy a much better start than we did, as will their children. Will we be perfect hunter-gatherers? No. But it’s a start, nonetheless, and from where we stand now, it looks like most of the way.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 23 March 2007 @ 10:45 AM

  34. Jason,
    I’m relieved to find that you don’t deman a mind/body separation, and that you do recognize that the most difficult chains to break are the ones we carry in our minds.

    “Where Have All the Savages Gone?? is a powerfully insightful essay.

    I will no longer mistake you for a strict material-determinist.

    Yet it would be a mistake not to realize that the ‘60s and ‘70s Counter-Culture was famously about “Life Style?, even militantly about “Life Style?.

    And amongst the most militant of the “Back to the Land-ers? were thousands of highly motivated foragers.

    I would say that they were the most highly motivated amongst us, and amongst the ones who inspired me the most.

    You could find them deep in the Hawaiian bush, in Central American jungles; hunting carnivores, fruitarians, raw-food nudists, island foraging seafarers, and there were communes based on just about every food combination experiment you can think of.

    Compared to today, the movement was vast.

    What happened to it?

    Like your essay suggests, it wasn’t for lack of foraging skills, and you’re right, it was about a lack of a positive feed-back loop.

    Unfortunately, our excessive consumption of food, our grasping and controlling of things and each other, as well as the patriarchal conformist character of our hierarchy, all fulfill a positive feed-back loop by fulfilling our compulsive oral and anal preoccupations.

    Foraging doesn’t fulfill any of that.

    Neither did organic gardening, but anal civilization does.

    You believe that foraging will once again satisfy a positive feed-back loop by 2012-2015.

    Is that because you believe in a major break-down that will threaten the very survival of non-foragers?

    Personally, I suspect that being threatened by a break-down will trigger more desperate and oppressive oral and anal reactions against any foragers, and towards a more all consuming, conformist, anal-society determining the fate of dwindling resources.

    Anal civilization feeds off break-downs.


    Comment by hoodie — 25 March 2007 @ 2:43 AM

  35. And amongst the most militant of the “Back to the Land-ers? were thousands of highly motivated foragers.

    I don’t see any evidence for that at all. In fact, “back to the land” has largely been a rallying cry that precludes foraging. The hippies tended to be vegetarian, after all; hard to be a hunter-gatherer, whose diets consisted mostly of meat, when you’ll only eat plants, eh? Historically, only agriculturalists have had plant-dominated diets, much less full-blown vegetarianism. “Back to the land” movements have always pointed us back to an agrarian ideal, and the hippie movement was cut of much the same cloth. Communes were agrarian communities.

    Moreover, they didn’t make the case that we’re suffering the psychological impact of an inhuman way of life, but rather, that we suffer an inhuman way of life because of our psychological problems. How many times have you heard hippies talk about corporate greed, or how peace and love can free us? Comparatively, how many times have you heard hippies talk about materialists formations of behavioral patterns? All I’ve heard of the latter fall under categorial denials and appeals to our free will, while the former is positively cliche.

    Like your essay suggests, it wasn’t for lack of foraging skills, and you’re right, it was about a lack of a positive feed-back loop.

    I do think that there’s another element at play, yes, that you need to strike when the moment is right. In the positive feedback loop, it doesn’t matter how much effort, or even if you get everything exactly right. People who tried living primitively up until now just got steamrolled over. Now, things are changing. The positive feedback loop is breaking down, like all positive feedback loops do. When it begins to collapse, then civilization moves in the opposite direction, and the rules of relating to it reverse themselves. Instead of being doomed, foraging becomes the best guarantee of outliving it.

    You believe that foraging will once again satisfy a positive feed-back loop by 2012-2015.

    Is that because you believe in a major break-down that will threaten the very survival of non-foragers?

    Not quite. Foraging places constraints on production outside of humans, so it won’t allow for a positive feedback loop. Instead, foraging forces you to move into a dynamic equilibrium. I think you’re generally right about the psychological traits that civilization trains us for, and even requires of us to function inside of it, and humans being adaptable creatures, we take that and run with it. But when you change the context, that same adaptability means that we change again, rapidly, in a very different direction.

    But yes, I foresee a breakdown that will threaten the survival of non-foragers, and I’ve described the reasoning for that in detail in the Thirty Theses. To summarize as briefly as possible, complexity is subject to diminishing returns, so any way of life that depends on constantly increasing complexity will run itself into the ground. We’re seeing this in several concurrent phenomena, such as peak oil and global warming. I’ve predicted that in hindsight, we’l recognize 2012-2015 as the significant inflection point.

    Now, if we concern ourselves with the fate of most of the world’s 6.5 billion (or, as the UN projects, 9 billion by the time this may all be said and done), I think you’re correct that most will react by intensifying their civilized behaviors, which will simply serve to accelerate an already accelerating collapse. Just as our current positive feedback loop means that we grow faster the more that we grow, so, too, I expect collapse to snowball, and accelerate on its own momentum. But, the majority of people who follow this course will be damning themselves to die with the rest of civilization. What we face is natural selection in all its cruelty and simplicity. They’re not the ones who will have a chance to have an impact on the future of the human species. Instead, however few have the imagination to try something else as things become more difficult, will become the ancestors of the new, feral humanity. I don’t think they’ll all be primitivists, and I think the primitivist penchant to shrug off the importance of community might lead more than a few to fail as well, but I do believe that it will be the imagination to try, rather than the resources available, that will constitute the limiting factor of human survival.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 March 2007 @ 11:16 AM

  36. I hope you’re right about complexity running itself into the ground.

    It can’t happen soon enough!

    Because it’s the continuing sophistication of our complexity that will be used to control each and every one of us.

    I’ll read the rest of your excellent thirty-thesis, but if you’re only depending on Peak-Oil, or Global Warming to trigger a complexity down fall, then I would think that you’re setting yourself up for a disappointment.

    But like you said, even the best scenario is going to be a struggle.

    So I’m going to keep cutting timber for my sailboat.

    Oh, and never forget, Pittsburg is on the Ohio that flows to the Gulf and the open sea.


    I understand that what I said about the ’60s and ’70s counter-culture sounds unbelievable, but never forget, it’s the victors who write the history.

    The media was never a real part of us and never really shared the magic of our existential experiences.

    Their descriptions don’t even come close, and even the music was never more than a pale impersonation of the real spririt.

    What you will nearly always read, here and see today of the counter-culture is a deliberate misinterpretation by the envious and resentful, who compulsively dismiss the experience they were too afraid to share.

    No, you won’t find much evidence about foragers, because the media rarely left its “Green Zone”, and those crazy forager types were sly, and left few visible tracks across the social landscape.

    Though there were some books published at the time that gives a hint about about foragers.

    For example, I remember when “Survival into the 21st Century” was first published in ‘75, and, even though its ideas were no longer new material to us, it was still very inspiring to see it in print.

    I tell you the truth, there were thousand of haaaaard-core forager types.

    Not all of them were Americans.

    Some of the most serious and militant were Europeans.

    There was some serious adventuring going on.

    In those days, being wild was a badge of distinction.

    Living on the edge was a badge of distinction.

    It meant you had courage to live a unique and magical existence.

    Women were magnetically drawn towards the wildest ones, and the wildest were always the first to get laid.

    Even a goofy runt like Charlie Manson could get laid any hour of the day just for being different.

    Think about that.

    Even materialists got laid. Alot!

    Marxists and Socialists could be found everywhere amongst us, and were amongst the most egalitarian of us.

    And yes, even followers of Behavioralism, especially communes based on Skinner’s “Walden II”; several of which continue to this very day.

    Consider this, there was so much more freedom and room for experimentation.

    Land was so cheap that wild experimentation was happening in nooks and cranies all over the place.

    You must remember that, because nuclear weapons were new, they loomed large in our collective psyche, and etched deep within us a profound distrust in civilization.

    And a profound feeling that life had to lived in the present moment to the fullest, because tomorrow was sketchy.

    But never mind, because you’re right, the counter-culture was steam-rolled.

    Wether the next counter-culture will have any better luck anytime in the next 50 years is problematic.

    Definitely not if the complexity and its increased security and surveilance continues to grow.

    Comment by hoodie — 26 March 2007 @ 4:37 AM

  37. I’ll read the rest of your excellent thirty-thesis, but if you’re only depending on Peak-Oil, or Global Warming to trigger a complexity down fall, then I would think that you’re setting yourself up for a disappointment.

    I address both with a “may.” As I explain in the Thirty Theses, complexity fundamentally creates a crisis of diminishing returns. It’s what’s destroyed every preceding civilization, and we’re showing all the signs now. When that happens, predicting what will be the “final straw” is very difficult to predict; peak oil and global warming both present significant candidates, though in actuality, it will almost certainly be the combination. Diminishing returns on complexity means civilization faces more and more lethal crises, while its means to answer such crises becomes less and less. The probability of civilization’s survival approaches zero, though of course, predicting which event will finally do it is next to impossible.

    The media was never a real part of us and never really shared the magic of our existential experiences.

    My wife grew up a few miles from Woodstock, born and raised among hippies. I’ve known a number of hippies, too. I’m not getting my information from media portrayals. In my own conversations with hippies, they’ve never mentioned foraging, and have generally balked at my own suggestion of it. The communes they’ve described to me have been universally agrarian.

    But never mind, because you’re right, the counter-culture was steam-rolled.

    If you’re right (and you’re the first person I’ve ever heard describe the hippie movement as having any kind of foraging element, including a wide range of long-standing hippies), then I’d say it merely points to the same phenomenon that crushed the old-growth cultures that preceded that experimentation: when civilization is still in anabolic growth, it crushes everything in its path. When it goes into catabolic collapse, though, the rules reverse themselves.

    Definitely not if the complexity and its increased security and surveilance continues to grow.

    Definitely not … but growth isn’t an independent variable. Growth is a function of energy, and if you take more and more energy to get the same amount out, then your energy is dropping, and your capacity for growth is diminishing. If your economy is predicated on paying off your debts with a guaranteee of future growth, even standing still will cause a catastrophic, cascading breakdown of that entire system.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 26 March 2007 @ 11:03 AM

  38. You really give short shift to pastoralism. Dont seem to appreciate the worlds largest empire was won by one of their “rare” societies.
    and as for peak oil, the same cry was heard a century or so ago about “peak” coal.

    Comment by CK — 28 April 2007 @ 7:56 AM

  39. Pastoralism never appears on its own; it always appears as an epiphenomenon of a larger cultural system. The brief territorial success of the Mongols hardly changes that, seeing as how their system still depended on China in the east and European kingdoms in the west. I go more in-depth into this in “On Pastoralism.”

    As for your dismissal about “a century or so ago about ‘peak’ coal,” I’d love to see some sources for that, but your grasp of the geological situation is obviously as faulty as most people’s. I’d recommend thesis #18 for starters, and our special series, “Dei ex Machinis,” on why none of the “alternatives” on the table today can suffice to make up for oil’s loss.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 28 April 2007 @ 2:21 PM

  40. hoodie all your arguments are completely biased toward a heterosexual male perspective.

    Comment by Osqar — 12 February 2009 @ 11:01 PM

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