Friday, February 25, 2011

The thin ice of domestication

There are numerous possible forms that a post-civilized world might take.  Imagination is a poor resource in this case because imagination tends toward a bipolar one-dimensionality, with a charred and lifeless shell at one pole and a green utopia—a global human Ewok village—at the other.   In between are various levels of road-warrior thunder dome dystopia.  But this single linear dimension hardly begins to encapsulate the range of possibility, and nonlinear systems theory suggests that something surprising is likely to emerge from the rubble, something unexpected, something unpredictable even with a thorough account of the structure of the relations among prior conditions.

Primitivism is informative, but not instructive.   A clear understanding of how our nature as beings was shaped by our past can provide us with ways of thinking about our present circumstances; it can provide us with a model for preferred future conditions as well, but it cannot tell us what is specifically necessary now in order to bring about those preferred conditions.  

It is clear that domestication is at the center of the storm, and that our salvation requires a physical and psychological re-wilding.  What is not so clear is which paths we should take in pursuit of that goal.  If the collapse is violent and abrupt, the question of paths will be answered for us.  Foraging life-ways may be the only recourse for any who happen to survive.  If it is less violent, or if it is more dissolution than collapse, then there may be an opportunity to reverse history in stages, and the communal Neolithic village may reemerge as a dominant form.   

I wonder whether an intentional return to the Neolithic makes sense, as a way of facilitating the de-civilizing of the planet: a return to life in small pastoral villages modeled on the Neolithic ideal but armed with the tools of permaculture and informed by an understanding of the dehumanizing potential of any lifestyle based on domestication. 

Or is domestication like plutonium in that there is no safe level of exposure?  A hesitant crackling dance onto thin ice, or a faltering stride off the precipice?

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