[Note: This is the fifty-first sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy. The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews. These samples are not freestanding pieces. They will be easier to understand if you start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE — if you happen to have some free time. If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd is in the process of reading and recording my book HERE.
[Continued from sample 50]
And now, dearest reader, it’s time for a brief message from
your humble storyteller. Hi! I’m going nuts! The plan here was to compress some
super-significant trends of the last 10,000 years down to a lumpy chubby
chapter. It’s a journey that wanders
from wild, free, and happy to the nightmarish whirlwinds of the twenty-first
century. It’s about unconditional
surrender to those who control us, and to the beliefs we’re expected to
profess. It’s about wealth and obsession
with status. It’s about disconnection
from nature, disintegration of traditional wild cultures, and a free-fall into
self-destructive meaninglessness without a parachute.
I’m far more comfortable talking about logical and linear
history — names, dates, places, descriptions, consequences. But this chapter spends some time poking and
squeezing a number of slippery and slithery mental inventions that smell like
abstractions, mental fabrications — freedom, control, progress, success,
etc. I am not a philosopher. Abstractions are not my forte, and I’ve
burned up too many hours trying to envision a clever approach here.
I would love it if this rowdy mob of ideas would simply go to
their assigned seats and, in an orderly manner, stand up and introduce
themselves to you. They aren’t
interested. They aren’t obedient
robots. So, Plan B is to flip through a
series of snapshots, an exhibition of impressions, ideas, trends, and
curiosities. What follows is not logical
and linear, it’s more random, intertwined, and meandering. Let’s see what happens. Do your best.
Here we go.
Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers, living in small nomadic groups. Survival required cooperation, sharing, and
the prompt resolution of conflicts. They
were egalitarian, everyone enjoyed equal worth — women, men, young, and
old. Nobody gave orders, or obeyed
orders. Nobody went hungry unless
everyone did. Folks who became infected
with pride, and got big headed, were mocked and shunned until they
recovered. Healthy communities could not
tolerate the disharmony generated by self-centered oddballs.
Over the course of two million years, hominins fine-tuned the
dance of small group survival in tropical grasslands. This long and gentle path carefully guided the
evolution of our bodies and minds. Each
band of hunter-gatherers operated with a conscious identity of “we.” They thought like a group, not a bucketful of
anxious, irritated, self-oriented individuals.
Similarly, the relationship between bands of hunter-gatherers
and the surrounding family of life also consisted of a strong sense of “we,” of
Nelson spent time with the Koyukon people of Alaska, who were the opposite
of arrogant human supremacists. They
told him, “Every animal knows way more than you do,” which was true. Wild critters perfectly understood the art of
natural survival. It was impossible for
tropical primates to survive in Alaska without manmade technology that
compensated for their numerous physiological limitations.
Nelson beautifully described their attitude of profound
respect and reverence. “Traditional
Koyukon people live in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes. A person moving through nature — however
wild, remote, even desolate the place may be — is never truly alone. The surroundings are aware, sensate,
personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treated
with proper respect. All things in
nature have a special kind of life, something unknown to contemporary
Euro-Americans, something powerful.”
Among tropical wild people, personal property was minimal,
usually no more than could be carried in both hands — spears, nets, pouches, feathers,
baskets, bits of clothing, and so on.
Nobody coveted simple stuff like this.
It did not make people crazy, greedy, or homicidal. There was no hoarding. A hunter would get no benefit from owning 900
spears. Spears were too quick and easy
For hunter-gatherers, status was not based on property, it
was based on their special knowledge or abilities — healing, storytelling,
tracking, hunting, conflict resolution, shamanic gifts, and so on. Social status was about respect — not power,
authority, competition, or control.
Everyone knew who was really good at certain stuff, and they received
honor for their gifts. This form of
status was normal and healthy.
Herding was a different game.
Managing livestock was a constant responsibility. Animals had to be guided to water and fresh
grass. They had to be protected from predation. Wild carnivores had to be exterminated at every
opportunity. Male animals not needed for
breeding services were mellowed out via castration. Some nomads regularly collected milk from
lactating females. Herders assisted when
animals were birthing. To avoid
overgrazing, and to discourage losses from escape and predation, there were
limits to herd size. Thus, a relationship
formed between herders and the group of critters they regularly oversaw. Master and slave. Controller and controlled.
Hunting produced meat via skill and good luck. Herding produced meat via totalitarian
control. The concept of personal
property expanded to include valuable animal slaves, a source of nourishing
life energy. Each critter in my herd
became a status symbol, and my social rank was based on the value of the status
symbols I possessed. You are what you
own. This was a new and radical shift in
the human saga. It inspired a sense of
power and omnipotence, an amazingly brilliant smarty-pants, Superman. For the first time in the human saga,
Superman could have ongoing life and death control over tons of living meat. Whoa!
My ownership of an easily replaced spear or loincloth had
trivial importance. On the other hand,
my ownership of 40 large herbivores was a matter of tremendous
significance. This set me apart from (and
above) someone who merely owned two goats.
More is better could lead to notions that I am better. Superman had no immunity to a highly
contagious mania known as status fever, which reduces kind and decent people to
obnoxiously ambitious nutjobs.
Over time, status fever spread to epidemic levels in some
cultures, becoming a primary motivator for individuals and groups. It led to the emergence of many powerful
nomadic tribes and empires, motivated by swarms of screaming demons. More is better, by any means necessary! Grab as much as you can.
Today, of course, billions suffer from advanced stages of
multi drug resistant status fever, and most of them are not livestock
herders. Countless things have now been
reduced to silly status trinkets that delirious consumers find irresistible, including
clothing, jewelry, shoes, cell phones, jumbo TVs, appliances. It’s a never-ending lifelong treadmill of
resource intensive acquisitions, upgraded at every opportunity — bigger houses,
fancier cars, cooler boats, exotic vacations, and on and on. More!
Our culture celebrates this status seeking mentality, and
encourages youngsters to spend their lives striving to increase their status
display to the highest degree possible. We
are expected to continuously strive to hoard more than our neighbors, more than
our parents and siblings, and to own more stuff than we owned last year. Obviously, this is a ridiculously
unsustainable dead end way of life. If
we weren’t raised in consumer society, this game would appear to be utterly
idiotic and insane (and it is).
Stan Rowe perceived that consumers are raging narcissists,
spellbound by their own image, imprisoned in an introspective cage — too much
time spent before the mirror. Their
culture has become disconnected from an ancient relationship with nature and
the family of life. Many devote their
entire lives to acquiring and discarding unnecessary stuff, hoping to someday
find inner peace. They are trying to fill
the vacuum created by their loss of wildness, freedom, and functional community. It’s an ineffective attempt to suppress a
gnawing hollowness in their lives.
Cronon compared and contrasted Native American society with the culture of
European colonists. Indians enjoyed far
greater affluence because they were in an intimate long-term relationship with
their ecosystem, and the things they considered to be needs were minimal. They didn’t need a luxurious post and beam
trophy home with a stone fireplace and a four horse garage. When you have few wants, the path to
prosperity is short and easy. Even the
least industrious wanted nothing.
Colonists, on the other hand, had an insatiable hunger for an
infinite number of frivolous needs. They
had thick black smoke pouring out their ears from raging brain-fires of status
fever. Their culture had a demonic
technology called money, which made it much easier to exchange commodities,
make profits, accumulate durable wealth, and soar away to daffy mental orgasms
of pride, achievement, success.
Back home in Europe, more than 1,500 years of forest clearing
had eliminated large regions of ancient woodlands. Wildlife was severely depleted. Rivers formerly loaded with salmon had become
sewage canals. Cities were incubators of
infectious diseases. America blew their
twisted little minds. They could make so
much <bleeping> money if they destroyed everything they could, as quickly
as possible. They imagined that the
supply of valuable resources was beyond limitless. Most of this astonishing wealth was free for
the taking. Whee!
Wall Kimmerer noted that among the Anishinabe, howling winter winds are
associated with the Windigo, a legendary monster with a heart of ice. It is the primal survival instinct in that
rises during the Hunger Moon, and then swerves out of control, from need to
greed. It eats until hunger fades, but
doesn’t stop. Windigo is a selfish
spirit that doesn’t know when it has taken too much. It is the insatiable hunger of the
corporation, the greed freak, and the maniacal consumer. It’s daunting to see that much of modern
society has now become thoroughly entranced by the Windigo spirit.
Different cultures assigned different status value to
different types of property. For
California Indians, gold was just an ordinary type of stone. Raymond
Dasmann noted that they would happily trade ordinary gold nuggets for glass
beads. Pale faced Americans, on the
other hand, went absolutely delirious with status fever at the sight of
gold. There was nothing they would not
do to stuff the shiny stones into their pouches. They washed away many mountains with hydraulic
mining. The Gold Rush brought people
from everywhere. “The Indians were
deliberately decimated.” In 1765, there
may have been 130,000 in California. In
1850, maybe 85,000. By 1852 just 31,000
was born in Kentucky in 1780, and captured by Indians at age 9. He spent the next 30 years living on the wild
side. In one of his yarns, he jabbered
about his favorite horse. It had been
stolen from another tribe by an aggressive war party. The successful raiders had returned with 180
horses. “In this excursion they had been
absent seven months. They had fallen
upon and destroyed one village, and taken one hundred and fifty scalps, besides
Sitting Bull was not the slightest bit fond of insane
colonizers. “The love of possessions is
a disease with them.” A century ago, Peter Fruechen
mentioned a comment from a mystified Eskimo, “You white people don’t really
know how to do without things and still be happy.” On another occasion, an Eskimo snarled at
Knud Rasmussen. “You are so strange, you
white men! You collect things you will
never require, and you cannot leave even the graves alone.”
An old hippy friend of mine, Hitch-hiker John, observed
American society with a mix of horror and amazement. “They are never distracted by ideas,” he
said. “Brainwashed people have no issues
— they don't know how to think. The sole
focus of their lives is just one all-consuming question: how can I get what I
In the good old days, wild lands were like commons, freely
open to hunters, foragers, and all other wildness. Folks were welcome to wander, explore, and
help themselves to whatever they fancied, because the wild buffet was free to
all, usually. In some locations, groups
did establish limits that defined the boundaries of their hunting territory,
and enforced them. When these limits
were respected, there was less irritation that could lead to hurt feelings,
conflict, and injuries.
Like herders, farmers were also possessed by a burning desire
for ownership, and the status it conveyed.
They performed backbreaking labor to reduce wild forests and grasslands
to cropland and pasture, land that was no longer freely open to one and all (No
Trespassing!). The transformation from
wild to private typically involved erasing much of the healthy wild ecosystem,
and replacing it with a highly controlled unsustainable manmade soil mining
Paul Shepard noted that the concept of controlling pests,
animals, plants, and predators was relatively new. “If the farmer can destroy his competitors,
be they beetles, fungi, birds, or deer, and the pastoralist-rancher can kill
lions and wolves, they will be inclined to do so. Wild things become adversaries; they take up
space, sunlight, or water that the farmer can use for his crops, or they invade
the crops, eating, trampling, or infecting them with disease.” Nature became an opponent, something to
conquer and subdue. This land is my
land. My harvest is stored in my
granary. My livestock are grazing on my
Wild folks let wild meat critters run free and enjoy their
happy lives. Wild game didn’t need to be
provided with food, water, protective shelter, and security guards. There was no need to cut, dry, and store
hay. When meat was needed, hunters went
to work. Similarly, wild food-producing
plants were allowed to grow however they wished. There was no need to engage in tedious
In essence, the simple hunter-gatherer way of life was about
going out and getting what you needed, when you needed it, and leaving the rest
alone. All they needed was enough, and
nothing more. In the days before status
fever epidemics swept through their homeland, they were genuine, good
old-fashioned conservatives. Leave the
world in no worse shape than the day you were born (and better, if possible).
Big Mama Nature had zero interest in regularly serving lavish
all you can eat banquets for wild humans.
As with all other critters, it was their responsibility to invest modest
amounts of time and effort every week, to acquire their nutrients. This approach could have a future. The ecosystem did not need to be obliterated.
Compared to tropical regions, living in colder lands was more
challenging. There were lean periods
every year, so food preservation and storage increased the odds for
survival. As discussed earlier, the
domestication of plants (farming) and animals (herding) was essentially
developed and intensified north of the tropics.
Domestication encouraged deforestation, soil erosion, overgrazing,
wildlife destruction, population growth, tension, conflict, infectious disease,
and so on.
Both farmers and herders invested immense amounts of time and
effort accumulating stashes of essential life energy — edible nutrients made by
domesticated plants and animals. In a
sense, their stashes were like treasure chests, collections of precious valuables. The emergence of these new and unusual
treasure chests triggered a huge turning point in the tropical primate saga. On one dark and stormy night, a demon
whispered an evil idea into the ear of a demented nutjob: stealing treasure
chests required far less effort than creating them. Oh my goodness! Why didn’t I think of that?
Laborious drudgery was for scroungers, dolts, and slaves. Clever exploitation trumps hard work. A Berber proverb proclaimed, “Raiding is our
agriculture.” So, raiding became a
respectable and manly profession. Its
frequent success created a need for the treasure makers to invent the warrior
profession, in order to protect their stored wealth. The raiding game led to centuries of
conflict, which spilled rivers of blood.
It persists to this day, as a furious unlimited full-scale war on the
family of life.
Sedentary communities were chained to a location. They could not rapidly grab their treasure
and flee. So, they had to protect their
towns and villages with palisades, walls, fortresses, moats. Walled cities protected vast amounts of
wealth. Raiders kept inventing new and
improved ways of overcoming physical barriers and exterminating city
defenders. At the same time, cities
tirelessly invented new and better ways of protecting themselves and
exterminating raiders. Alfred
Crosby wrote a fascinating book about the endless spiraling arms race in
deadly technology, from thrown stones a hydrogen bombs.
Nomadic pastoralists owned treasure chests that were highly
mobile — herds of precious four-legged food lockers. Their nutritious flesh did not spoil whilst
they remained alive, it increased — and they produced offspring too. Many raids also acquired slaves, two-legged,
muscle-powered busybodies that generously provided baby slaves. Slaves and livestock were valuable
commodities that could be sold to agrarian states, in exchange for city made
The raiders’ highly mobile way of life gave them a strategic
advantage over the immobile city dwellers, whose access to food could be cut
off by an extended siege (when dogs became “siege mutton”), while flaming
arrows landed on their wooden roofs, and corpses of plague victims were hurled in
via catapult. Barbarian hordes, like the
Mongols, loved raiding farm country, because cities were fat, juicy sitting
ducks. It was often very easy to swipe
the fruits of years of sweat and toil via a lightning raid.
Scott noted that, as long as cities were weakly defended, barbarians could
enjoy a far better life than farmers.
Mongols perceived agrarian communities to be ra’aya (herds) —
irresistible get-rich-quick opportunities for merciless, bloodthirsty, mobs of
looters. Mounted on speedy horses,
hundreds of nomads could suddenly appear out of nowhere, thunder into town
without a polite invitation, and enjoy an exciting day of slaughter, rape, pillaging,
Horses played a starring role here. For many thousands of years, they were simply
wild game, a source of meat and hides.
Following domestication, they were also used as beasts of burden,
carrying loads, and pulling them.
Eventually, folks developed saddles, stirrups, and bridles, which
transformed horses into awesomely powerful high velocity assault missiles.
This revolutionary innovation provided humans with mind-blowing
godlike powers. For two million years,
hominins had moved across the land by foot, slower than an elderly squirrel. Now, an astonishing new era had begun, and
its destination was not love, peace, and happiness. Mounted warriors turbocharged civilization’s
expansion. Cavalry enabled mass culture,
mass control, and mass murder.
Status fever is an equal opportunity pathology. Some cities began contemplating other cities
in the region, calculating the amount of treasure they controlled, and the
weaknesses in their defenses. Naturally,
strong cities overwhelmed weaker cities, and empires metastasized. Conquering neighbors was an exciting way to
fill treasure chests, and increase their herds of livestock, warriors, serfs, women,
Similarly, nomads were not honorable gentlemen having the
highest moral principles. It was not
beneath their dignity to attack, kill, and rob other pastoralists, if they were
believed to possess interesting treasure.
There was no reason why strangers should remain the owners of livestock
that could become my property with a modest investment of belligerence and
terrorism. Social status was very
important to testosterone powered egos, and macho lads took every opportunity
for elevating it.
Throughout the centuries nomads have enjoyed being parasites
on hard working farmers. In A.D. 98, the
Roman historian Tacitus said
this about the tribal Germans: “They will much easier be persuaded to attack
and reap wounds from an enemy, than to till the ground and wait the produce. They consider it as an indication of
effeminacy and want of courage to gain by the sweat of the brow, what they may
acquire at the price of their blood.”
a Danish historian, was born around A.D. 1150, and had more of a ringside seat
at the bloody horror show. “Now the
warriors, who were always pillaging the neighborhood, used often to commit
great slaughters. Plundering houses,
cutting down cattle, sacking everything, making great hauls of booty, rifling
houses, then burning them, massacring male and female promiscuously — these,
and not honest dealings, were their occupations.” War dogs were popular too. “Biorn had also a dog of extraordinary
fierceness, a terribly vicious brute, dangerous for people to live with, which
had often singly destroyed twelve men.”
Saxo also mentioned berserkers (bear shirts), warriors who
wore bear skins into battle, and became ferociously violent, completely out of
control, and fought in a trance-like wild fury.
Ralph Metzner called it a holy rage that they could not turn off. They killed everyone in sight, even friends. In Ireland, Cu Chulainn was so overheated with
battle rage that a group of naked women was sent out to calm him. He was put in
vats of cold water, which boiled and evaporated.
Cambrensis (Jerry of Wales) visited Ireland, and wrote a report in A.D. 1185, when the rivers were full of salmon, the rainforest was full of wolves
and boars, and indigenous chiefdoms were constantly fighting amongst
themselves. England’s King Henry was
beginning the process of conquering Ireland.
The Irish were low-tech guerilla warriors, skilled at hit and run
ambushes. They used slings to hurl
stones with skull-splitting accuracy.
They had spears, javelins, and axes.
The English were state-of-the-art warriors, having chain mail, armor,
archers, and deadly swords. For example,
“He who had seen how John de Courcy wielded his sword, with one stroke lopping
off heads, and with another arms, must needs have commended him for a most
Henri Mallet wrote about the customs of pagan Scandinavia. The scribes who penned the ancient sagas were
associated with the nobility who were often highly engaged in the raiding
industry. Sagas devoted much attention
to documenting the triumphs and defeats of warriors and warfare. Mallet wrote one sentence that hit the nail
on the head, “The weak had no right to what they could not defend.”
In that culture, war was their source of honor, riches, and
security. Courage was the highest
virtue, death was not feared. The
honorable way to die was violently, weapon in hand, ideally laughing with their
final breath. This was rewarded by a
premier afterlife in Valhalla, where they would spend eternity in bloody
battle. Every day, they would delight in
cutting each other to pieces, and then magically recover, mount their horses,
and ride back to the hall of Odin for a night of feasting and oblivion
The shameful way to die was bed death. Folks who died of disease or old age were
sent to a low class afterlife in Niflheim.
To avoid this fate, Mallet wrote, warriors would plunge off an ancestral
cliff (ättestup) to a violent death, in order to end their lives
honorably. Those too weak to jump were
sent to Valhalla by a caring friend smashing their skull with an ancestral club
(ätteklubbor). Stafva Hall in Sweden had
annual festivals, with singing and dancing, after which the wobbly geezers,
beyond their expiration dates, leaped into the lake far below.
With every century that followed, raiding continued spreading
into new regions around the world, grabbing as much treasure as possible, often
utilizing staggering amounts of destructive force. The twentieth century saw tremendous advances
in fossil-powered mechanized warfare, on land, on sea, and in the skies
above. Large cities could be reduced to
ash trays with the push of a button.
Today, technological innovation has enabled many more options
for raiders, few of which require “coming to grips” with their opponent, and
getting splattered with their blood, sweat, and spit. Millions of dollars can now be robbed with a
mouse click, from a cozy cubicle in nowhere land. We are living in the Golden Age of status
fever. In many communities, the
infection rate among adults approaches 100 percent. “More” is the god word of modern society. Imagine what life would be like if humankind
had remained wild and free.
Big Mama Nature is not amused. She will still be standing — scarred and wounded
but defiant — when the lights go out, and industrial civilization runs out of
treasure, and finally slips beneath the waves.
Let the healing begin.