Friday, March 15, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 11

[Note: This is the eleventh sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Social Structure

You and I are tropical primates, and our family tree originated in Mother Africa.  Africa played a primary role in the evolution of our bodies and minds.  Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers for at least two million years.  Because they were predators on the savannah, they could not live in large herds.  Too many hunters spoil the ecosystem.  Their ability to function as high level predators was heavily dependent on powerful technological crutches.  At the same time, they were pitifully slow, plump, juicy, walking meatballs.  They were far too vulnerable to survive as solitary predators, like tigers or bears.

The key to success was to live in small groups of maybe 15 to 30, work as a team, and move elsewhere when food got scarce.  The normal daily experience of wild hominins included constant exposure to a wide variety of other species.  In the family of life, we were a wee minority group, not the dominant animal.  Ancestors spent every day of their lives in a healthy natural habitat, not an ugly noisy stinky industrial gulag of concrete and steel.

Joe Kane spent time in the Amazon rainforest.  He noted that, prior to contact with outsiders, most Huaorani never encountered more than seventy or eighty people during their entire lives, most of whom they knew by name.  Imagine that.  Mentally, we are far more comfortable being in small groups where we are known and respected.  It’s not groovy being a stranger in a vast mob of strangers, day after day, year after year.  You might feel like a zoo animal, serving a life sentence for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Functioning as a wild hunting and foraging team was very different from civilized life.  Sharing was essential.  Nobody went hungry unless everyone did.  Louis Liebenberg mentioned a study of San hunters.  Of those aged 15 to 38, just 17 percent of the hunters were responsible for 70 percent of the kills, while half of the hunters killed nothing at all.  If meat was not shared, many would starve, and the community would blink out.  Cultures had different methods for distributing portions of the meat, but this task was never a job for the day’s lucky hunter, and his portion was never the largest. 

It was essential for effective teamwork to avoid personal conflicts, and to promptly resolve the ones that occurred.  Clans typically had time-proven strategies for nurturing good interpersonal relationships.  A humble and respectful demeanor encouraged warm drama-free relationships.  Self-deprecating discourse (the opposite of boasting) was common among wild people.  Peter Freuchen wrote that when an Eskimo hunter brought home a primo feast, he would shamefully apologize to the others for bringing back crappy meat that was unfit for dogs.  The people nodded and smiled.

Bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers had no tolerance for bigheads.  Whenever someone displayed the first symptoms of pride, they were mocked, teased, or shunned — whatever was needed to restore the swollen head to normal size.  Then came reconciliation and forgiveness.  Uppity males who could not be reformed might be deported to other clans.  Incurable jerks sometimes had to be euthanized.

Christopher Boehm described how an American anthropologist created an ugly scene while staying with the Utku Eskimos of northern Canada.  She behaved in an ordinary American manner, sometimes a bit moody, occasionally displaying a flash of anger when irritated.  This was totally uncool in a culture where folks spent long, dark, frigid winters in close company.  Folks were expected to smile, laugh, and joke — to display good manners. 

Everyone’s highest responsibility was to maintain the stability of the group.  In the Utku culture, except for childish outbursts, it was rude to show your emotions, because strong thoughts can kill or cause illness.  Anger was dangerous juju, highly toxic.  Eventually, the natives ran out of patience with the American drama queen, and she became a nonperson. 

A primary benefit of nomadic life was that you couldn’t have more belongings than you could carry in both hands.  This avoided all of the bad juju of hoarding, inequality, and hierarchy — the core curse of modern society.  In regions having abundant wild food, like the Pacific Northwest, tribes became sedentary, lived in permanent dwellings, and became able to hoard stuff.  Those with lots of stuff tended to look down on folks who don’t.  Inequality was a reliable cause of resentment and conflict.

Vine Deloria noted that everyone is a descendant of tribal ancestors.  In each tribal homeland, unique spiritual traditions emerged, fine-tuned to its landscape, ecology, and climate.  Every homeland had sacred places where the community participated in special ceremonies.  All members of the tribe had deep roots in the homeland, and all shared the same worldview.  A tribal person “does not live in a tribe, the tribe lives in him.”

In modern society, neighborhoods are constantly-changing swarms of occupants having highly diverse incomes, ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political views.  People may live side by side for years, yet have nothing in common, and sometimes intense differences.  Many do not know the names or faces of most folks in their neighborhood.  This is not a coherent community sharing a profound sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of their ecosystem.

Colin Turnbull wrote that in the Pygmy world, it’s hard to see a clear boundary between work and play.  The vital task of maintaining social harmony required generous amounts of singing and dancing, followed by gathering ripe fruit, or hunting, or fireside chats, or teaching the children.  They enjoyed a society harmonized by a common set of beliefs, values, and lifestyles.  Everyone was on the same channel.

Modern society is a cranky boisterous mob of numerous cultures, classes, ideologies, and religious beliefs.  We are expected to accept diversity, and even take pride in our tolerance of those who are different.  Turnbull realized that “a society that was not bound together by a single powerful belief is not a society at all.”  It was just a mob of folks kept under control by law and force.

Turnbull spoke fondly of Father Longo, a Catholic missionary.  Pygmies had no word for evil.  “In order to convert them, then, he would first have to teach them the concept of evil, and that he was not prepared to do.”  He left them unmolested.

John Gunther saw that folks in the wild animist tribes of Africa were of one mind.  When missionaries taught them Christianity, it was highly disruptive, because it taught the importance of the individual, a foreign idea.  While you might have a salvation experience, your friends and family might not.  The unity of the group could be rubbished by spiritual discord.

In modern society, everyone is an individual, and we spend our lives competing with everyone else to climb the organizational ladders, and proudly display our glittering status trinkets.  Self-centeredness is the norm.  Jay Griffiths wrote that missionaries in South America often provided the natives with mirrors, to heighten their sense of individuality.  She learned that in Peru, four Christian groups used helicopters and speedboats in their fierce competition to locate uncontacted tribes.  They fully understood that they would inevitably be sharing the diseases of civilization, but they didn’t care.  In some places, half of the natives died within two years.

Daniel Everett was sent to the Amazon to translate the Bible into the language of the illiterate Pirahã hunter-gatherers.  Eventually, overwhelmed by the absurdity, he became an atheist, abandoned the project, and lost his family.  “I would go so far as to suggest that the Pirahãs are happier, fitter, and better adjusted to their environment than any Christian or other religious person I have ever known.”

Jean Liedloff described the natives she met in South America.  The Tauripan people of Venezuela were the happiest people she had ever met.  All of their children were relaxed, joyful, cooperative, and rarely cried — they were never bored, lonely, or argumentative.  The Yequana people seemed unreal to Liedloff, because of their lack of unhappiness.  As an expedition was moving up a challenging jungle stream, she noticed that the Italians would get completely enraged at the slightest mishap, while the Yequana just laughed the struggles away.  Their daily life had a party mood to it.

Colin Turnbull spent years with the Mbuti Pygmies.  He was amazed by their joyful way of living.  They would laugh until they could no longer stand, and then sit down and laugh.  We tend to regard our childhood as a golden age of innocence and joy — before we’re shipped off to dreary schools, jobs, and nursing homes.  The Pygmies did not idolize childhood, because they spent their lives in a place of wonder, and with each passing year, the wonder of it all kept growing.

Robert Wolff described the Sng’oi people of Malaysia.  They knew each other’s unspoken thoughts, communicating telepathically.  “They had an immense inner dignity, were happy, and content, and did not want anything.”  They loved to laugh and joke.  They were often singing and smiling.  Angry voices were never heard.

Lewis Cotlow visited Eskimos in arctic Canada.  One night, he spent several hours talking to local officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  They kept repeating one idea in different ways: “The Eskimos are the happiest people in the world.”

Knud Rasmussen traveled across the arctic, from Greenland to Siberia, from 1921 to 1924.  He enjoyed the Eskimo people.  “A notable feature was their lively good humor and careless, high-spirited manner.”  The women worked very hard, but “they were always happy and contended, with a ready laugh in return for any jest or kindly word.”  Eskimos perceived whites to be uptight and coldly impersonal.

Peter Freuchen spent a lot of time with the Eskimos, and married into their culture.  He wrote that “they always enjoy life with an enviable intensity, and they believe themselves to be the happiest people on earth living in the most beautiful country there is.”  Inuit women had “perpetual smiles,” and “they seem to have more natural grace, more zest for life than their white sisters.”

Joe Kane was impressed by the fact that Huaorani men and women enjoy equal status.  It was always unacceptable to give orders, or to raise a hand against a woman or child.  Family harmony was important. 

Richard Lee spent time with the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert.  He noted that the women were quite independent from their parents and husbands.  “The many forms of sexual oppression that women experience in other societies, such as rape, wife battering, purdah, enforced chastity, and sexual double standards are absent in !Kung society.”


Friday, March 1, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 10

[Note: This is the tenth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Genetic Evolution

Charles Darwin achieved fame for popularizing the knowledge of genetic evolution, a normal and natural life process.  All living things have genes, and their offspring inherit copies of them.  No other critter, living or dead, possesses genes exactly like yours.  Each of the billions of cells in your body carries a copy of your unique genes.  Cells exist for a while, then die.  New cells are created to replace them.  Every hour, your genes are duplicated countless times as your body replaces dead cells with new ones. 

The genes in every cell are incredibly complex, and it is normal and natural for boo-boos to occur in the duplication process.  The mutations are purely random, and they are called genetic drift.  It is not unusual for mutated genes to be passed from parent to offspring.  For some offspring, random mutations might be beneficial in some way.  Other offspring can be diminished by mutated genes, leading them to become less able to survive, thrive, and reproduce. 

Everything on Earth, and all beings in the family of life, are constantly changing.  Food resources can increase or decrease.  Drought can be washed away by deluge.  Parasites, viruses, volcanoes, fires, floods, invasives… the wheels of change keep spinning.  Glaciers become tundra, tundra becomes grassland, grassland becomes forest, and then the parade reverses.  Stability is a temporary state, change is the long-term norm.  Evolution helps the family of life adapt and survive.  Species unable to adapt to change disappear from the stage.

In the animal world, if predators get too good at hunting, they deplete their prey, go to bed hungry, and maybe starve.  If prey get too good at escape, the growing herd will decimate the vegetation, and maybe create a desert, so everyone starves.  If the predators gradually become one percent faster, the prey gradually become one percent faster, not two.  Balance requires predators to be slightly better at their sacred obligation — limiting the herd — but not too good. 

The speed of genetic evolution varies.  Species with slow rates of reproduction, like elephants, can take many generations or millennia to adapt beneficial new features.  Evolution proceeds much faster in species with brief lifespans.  This is why pathogenic bacteria can quickly develop resistance to antibiotics, and insects to insecticides.  Some plants develop resistance to a new herbicide in as few as four years.  Some fungi can develop resistance to a new fungicide in just three years. 

We try so hard to control everything.  Big Mama Nature just howls with laughter, gushing tears, at our comical experiments in playing fake god, silly efforts that regularly bite us on the ass.  She has no use for two-legged stewards, or managers, or sustainable growth maniacs.  She gets along best with animals that are wild, free, and happy.  It’s survival of the fit-ins.  Ecological loose cannons need not apply.

Today, we’re living in an especially exciting time!  The treacherous sorcerers of innovation and progress have conjured a colossal curse on the family of life.  The curse has overloaded the atmosphere with crud, which is destabilizing the climate to a degree that seems certain to turbulently blindside life as we know it.  Thanks to genetic evolution, the surviving species will eventually adapt to wrecked ecosystems, and a heavily scarred family of life can continue on its sacred journey.

And now, dear reader, we need to stop here for a moment, sit down, take a deep breath, and have an extremely embarrassing birds-and-bees discussion on the difference between genetic evolution (yum!) and cultural evolution (danger!). 

Cultural Evolution

Genetic evolution is billions of years old, as old as life on Earth.  Its realm is the metamorphosis of genetic information over time.  Cultural evolution is the realm of learned information — beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and so on.  It has emerged recently, in the last few million years.  It’s essentially a hominin fad, a spooky quirk of swollen brains.  Innovation and progress are two of its monster children.  These children are as unpredictable as two year olds with a box of hand grenades.

In hominins, genetic evolution proceeds at a snail’s pace, but cultural evolution can boogie like a herd of gazelles on meth.  It might have taken our ancestors a million years to genetically evolve vicious claws and fangs, and we may have blinked out before succeeding.  Instead, cultural evolution inspired our ancestors to invent lances and javelins — fake claws and fangs. 

When someone’s leg is amputated, they can be fitted with a prosthetic leg, so they can walk again.  Dentures are prosthetic teeth.  Warm clothing is prosthetic fur.  Heated dwellings provide a prosthetic tropical climate, so tropical primates can survive far from their normal habitat.  Prosthetic claws and fangs eventually made the ancestors capable of killing critters bigger than themselves, bringing home more meat at the end of the day, and feeding more bambinos.

Chimps don’t do this.  They snatch insects and lizards with their hands.  Their small scale hunting is far less likely to rock the ecological boat.  This is why there are not seven billion pudgy chimps staring at cell phones while driving.  Indeed, their million year track record with this effective strategy has to be categorized as genuinely sustainable.  Chimps set an excellent example for the last surviving hominins — humans — who are beginning to swirl the drain.  Alas, we have been bedeviled by a compulsive obsession with every type of prosthetic device that greedy capitalists can imagine.  Zombie consumers endure mindless jobs in order to acquire and proudly display as many of this season’s trendy status symbols as possible.

Anyway, our ancestors got totally addicted to cultural evolution.  They shifted from chimp-type hunting, to stones and clubs, then scavenging, persistence hunting, thrusting spears, projectile javelins, bows and arrows, nets, snares, harpoons, horses, guns, and on and on.  Like junkies, prosthetic addiction requires shooting up bigger and bigger doses to continue experiencing the beautiful soaring flights of euphoria.  Like junkies, cold turkey withdrawal from prosthetic addiction is excruciatingly painful.  Imagine your president, and her husband, stumbling around naked in the Congo, gobbling termites, slugs, bird eggs, berries, and lizards.

Cultural evolution in weaponry enabled our ancestors to extract more food resources from the ecosystem, so the land’s carrying capacity for humans increased, for a while, as long as overhunting didn’t deplete the prey, and chill out the feast.  Each advance in hunting technology temporarily increased the food resources available for hungry hominins, encouraging their numbers to grow.  Inevitably, the ecological boat began to rock, and sometimes overturn. 

As you can see, innovation is risky.  It often has unintended consequences.  Chimps are conservative, and teach us that innovation is unnecessary for enjoying a million years of healthy sustainable living.  The humans that are currently decimating the chimps’ forest, and the entire planet, present a different, and very important lesson.

Chimps have almost no understanding of the human-caused Earth Crisis.  Their knowledgebase is modest, limited to local affairs, in the here and now.  They learn by observing and imitating their elders.  They lack the cultural information needed to destabilize the planet’s climate systems, acidify the oceans, eliminate forests, and generally behave like insane idiots.  They learn exactly enough to live sustainably from birth to death.  Perfect!

When I was a young lad, I was forced to spend years institutionalized in a series of educational penitentiaries.  Like an assembly line, students had their brains filled with cultural information.  I was taught about history, numbers, reading, writing, human supremacy, the daffy pursuit of status, and the sacred principles of unsustainable living.  Our mission in life was to get a job, work hard, accumulate status trinkets, and spend our lives moving as much stuff as possible from nature to landfills — a remarkably toxic game.  I shudder at the amount of stuff that has passed through my life.

Americans, British, and other colonizers created boarding schools for the children of the wild aboriginal people they conquered.  Kids were snatched away from their families, communities, and cultures.  They were forbidden to speak their own language, or sing their songs.  They had their brains filled with the cultural information of industrial civilization.  The kids suffered tremendous emotional damage from this brutal process, and many were seriously wounded for the rest of their days.

Priests used to boast: “Give me your child for his first seven years, and I will have him for life.”  The cultural information you are imprinted with in childhood usually solidifies like concrete, and those beliefs are carried until your final breath.  This works perfectly in sustainable wild cultures, where kids learn time-proven knowledge.  It sucks in super-toxic cultures, where everyone is taught to be mindless eco-terrorists.  Derrick Jensen once noted that unquestioned beliefs are the most dangerous and destructive things in the world.

Humans are not in serious trouble because of crappy genes.  Genes did not get us into this mess, culture did.  Every human that squirts out of the womb is a wild animal, ready to spend a lifetime in a healthy tropical ecosystem.  We don’t become batshit crazy critters until we are trained by a batshit crazy family and society.  If you had been born into a wild, free, and happy tribe in the Amazon rainforest, you would have grown up in a sane culture, and you would be living in a low impact mode that has respect and reverence for the natural world (until the maniacs on bulldozers arrive to introduce you to progress).

Genetic information is passed from one generation to the next via reproduction.  Cultural information is passed via words, images, and demonstration.  We acquire it from TV, websites, books, classrooms, conversations, and so on.  We absorb a knowledgebase that has accumulated over many generations.  Each new generation has no need to spend decades reinventing the wheel, clothing, or the fire drill. 

Paul Ehrlich once spent time among the Inuit of Hudson Bay, Canada.  He was surprised to discover that the entire knowledgebase of their cultural information was known by everyone — how to hunt seals, tan pelts, weave a net, sew a coat, and so on.  In Ehrlich’s own culture, nobody knows even a millionth of our cultural information.  It’s impossible to learn it all, and the knowledgebase is constantly growing, faster and faster.  Folks can get a PhD from Stanford without ever learning a single thing about science.  The survival of humankind is dependent on ecological sustainability, but most PhDs know nothing about it, nor do our political leaders.

Here’s a half-happy idea: William E. Rees reminded us that cultural evolution is also subject to something like natural selection.  Maladaptive cultural mutations, like the belief in perpetual growth, limitless resources, or utopia-bound progress will eventually push the civilization off the cliff, into the compost bin.  Stuff like motorized transport, industrial manufacturing, and agriculture will inevitably go extinct because depletion of resources will pull the plug on them.

The more daunting challenge has to do with wisely and deliberately tossing overboard the maladaptive hallucinations that infest our throbbing thinkers — hierarchy, patriarchy, human supremacy, materialism, disconnection from nature, and so on.  Our culture never stops pushing us to run at full speed to the cliff.  We are completely unprepared to proceed with a healthy, cleansing, cultural evolution enema.