Monday, January 9, 2012

Three perennial criticisms of AP

The “it’s too late now” argument 

There are two forms in which this critique typically manifests.  One form is the claim that technological innovation is an irreversible inertial process: once we have attained a given state of technological advancement, the ratchet of knowledge resets and we can’t go back to a simpler time.  The second form is the claim that we are too far into population overshoot to revert to subsistence lifestyles, and to do so would require a massive human die-off. 

The first claim is an empirical question.  And history is replete with counter-examples, including cases in which entire civilizations were abandoned as the people readopted more primitive ways of living. 

The second claim assumes that the transition away from global civilization has to be instantaneous.  It also ignores the ultimate unsustainability of our situation.  If civilization is allowed to continue, a massive human die-off is a foregone conclusion.  It’s what happens to any population that dramatically overshoots carrying capacity.  Unless we attempt an intentional transition away from global techno-culture, we’re playing Russian roulette with very few empty chambers.  Will it be (maybe) 5 or 6 billion people today or (quite likely) 12 billion people in a few decades?  And how much suffering and death will continue to occur in the interim if we do nothing?  

The “baby with the bathwater” argument

According to this line of attack, reverting to more primitive life-ways would mean abandoning clearly beneficial technology—especially medical technology. 

The erroneous inference here is that modern medical technology actually provides benefits that exceed the costs incurred by the industrial infrastructure that serves as a necessary precondition for modern medicine’s existence in the first place. 

The bathwater is rendered further baby-less by the fact that most modern medical technology is presently being applied to the treatment of diseases that are caused by the products of industrial civilization; diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, erectile dysfunction, obesity, and pandemic contagions were not well represented in the Pleistocene. 

In addition, the loss of modern medical technology (and other supposed beneficial technologies) would go entirely unnoticed by the majority of people alive today because they have little or no access to it to begin with.     

Life sucked in the Paleolithic

The third perennial criticism, a close cousin of the “baby with the bathwater” argument, is the claim that life in primitive foraging society was inferior to what we have today.  I call this the Hobbesian critique, the belief that uncivilized life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

This is perhaps the most difficult of the three common criticisms of AP to counter.  But only because it is hard to navigate the sheer ignorance it implies.  Countering this claim involves confronting the progressive delusion and plowing through a lifetime of exposure to pro-civ brainwashing and corporate propaganda, and perhaps educating the person about some basic facts of life in existing foraging cultures. 

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