Monday, April 30, 2012

What's wrong with this picture?

I was listening to a Hal Sparks on a progressive radio station in Chicago a couple days ago. Like all good progressives, Sparks is a delusional civilization apologist who believes that global post-industrial society reflects the material bloom of the creative human spirit—the global machine is our manifest destiny. He is also a flaming technophile, the kind to whom the “fetish” connotation of the term truly applies.

He began his program by singing the praises of twitter. There are those who insist that twitter (electronic social networking in general) is simply a tool for deepening our narcissistic self-absorption, and that the content of a typical tweet lowers the bar for banality. But not Hal. For Sparks, “twitter is about community”. 


We are designed for life in tribal society where we would have regular meaningful interaction with a sizeable number of people, Sparks says. But most of us, as we trudge through the daily grind of work and family, have meaningful interactions with maybe a half dozen or fewer people on a regular basis. Twitter (and facebook and etc., ) allows us to transcend the limitations of physical proximity and establish true community with numerous others.  

Exchanging electronic signals with anonymous strangers is community. 

Fresh water comes from a machine. 

I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here. 

“By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed [and] exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be.”  --George Orwell

Friday, April 27, 2012

More on the domestication bulldozer

Here is a report of a new DNA-based study about the spread of agriculture across Europe 5000 years ago, providing additional evidence that early domestication-technology didn’t transfer across cultures.   Instead, the first agriculturalists in Europe came from elsewhere and displaced (killed) or assimilated (enslaved) local foraging populations:

A cultural practice that produces exploding populations and exhausted soils can only survive through ever-expanding migration and conquest.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Myths of empire part 2: the neutrality assumption

Another potent myth of civilization is that the individual components of its technological apparatus are neither good or bad in themselves. Although technology can be used in good or bad ways or directed at good or bad goals, the technology itself is entirely neutral.

[Still waiting for someone to tell me how a nuclear weapon can be neutral. Or sarin gas. Or surveillance technology, or…]

Consider this recent news item, a story that would be humorous if not for the fact that a human being was killed by an addiction that was intentionally crafted by corporate chemists and marketers.

A young woman in New Zealand died as a direct result of a 2 gallon per day Coca Cola habit. The article cites a corporate statement that strongly evokes the neutrality meme: "We believe that all foods and beverages can have a place in a balanced and sensible diet combined with an active lifestyle" and that “grossly excessive ingestion of any food product, including water, over a short period of time with the inadequate consumption of essential nutrients, and the failure to seek appropriate medical intervention when needed, can be dramatically symptomatic…”

Corporate addiction technology is just neutral chemistry.  Manipulative corporate propaganda is just psychology.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Feeding the machine

Stratified societies that involve finely partitioned division of labor require enormous amounts of energy to be directed at the production of large food surpluses in order to feed everyone not involved directly in the production of food.  And the addition of a single minor domain of specialization, a trivial additional division of labor, involves a disproportionate increase in energy demand.

Foraging life-ways that involve little or no division of labor require only about 5 Kcal per person per day, of which 3 are directly consumed as food.  Agriculture requires between 12 and 26 Kcal per person per day, depending on the extent to which domesticated food is augmented by hunting and wild harvesting.  Once we move to industrial agriculture, the figure jumps to 77 Kcal per person per day.  And in our post-industrial electrically-charged coal and nuclear civilization, the number is over 230 Kcal per person per day, of which less than 5% is (over)consumed as food. 

To put this another way, life in post-industrial civilization requires 77 times more energy per person than it takes for a hunter-gatherer to feed herself.  

Or to put it yet another way, the energy it takes to keep one civilized person alive for a single year is more than a hunter-gatherer can eat in a lifetime.

Source of Kcal/person/day data: O’Sullivan, P. (2008). The ‘collapse’ of civilizations: what paleoenvironmental  reconstruction cannot tell us, but anthropology can. The Holocene, 18, 45 – 55.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Anarchy is good for your health

Here’s a news report about a study on the negative health consequences of hierarchy for those on the lower end of the pecking order. The study found that low status leads to genetic-level changes in the immune system for female rhesus macaques. It’s not simply the case that healthy individuals end up higher in social rank.The disruption in immune function is a result of occupying a position of low status: “status drives immune health, rather than vice-versa.” 

At least for rhesus monkeys.

One can only wonder about the immune effects of life in a police state such as ours, where true status is restricted to an elite class, and among the masses is a function of the transient economic power to purchase the most recent must-have consumer sparkly.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Selective memory

According to Hobbes, life in a state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Modern anthropology and archaeology have entirely debunked the Hobbesian account of “primitive” human existence. None of his five adjectives have even remote application to foraging lifestyles past or present.

What is interesting to me is that most people only remember the last three: nasty, brutish and short. And I wonder whether that’s because the first two are too easy to apply to life within the alienating embrace of civilization.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Badges? We don't need no stinking (facebook) badges

I recently opened a facebook account under the name Canis Calabrian (a fictional prehistoric dog) to serve as a social-media point of contact for persons who might be interested in my new book.  Yes I know I have frequently railed against the evils of social media (and will continue to do so), and the presence of anarcho-primitivists on facebook seems on the surface to be a glaring contradiction. But, then, the Church doesn’t send missionaries to the Vatican.

I wanted to put a link to facebook on this blog to close the loop.  And it turns out that there is a very convenient facebook widget designed for just such a purpose, something called a facebook badge.


Is it supposed to be like a merit badge?  An award?  The badge worn by an official?  A cop? A meat inspector?  Maybe it is meant as a symbol of affiliation, something like the stars pinned on Jews in Nazi Germany (all-aboard the facebook train). Or maybe calling it a badge is just supposed to tap into a juvenile “badges are cool” sentiment: badges are sparkly things worn by people with power.

Given the way most people use social media, I strongly suspect the latter.

I took the liberty of appending a brief disclaimer to my badge.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Myths of empire part 1: legitimate authority

Because authority gains legitimacy only through reference to authority, the idea of legitimate authority is logically circular. The psychological circuitry of humans, however, is not designed to function according to strict logic. And the concept of legitimate authority is gets traction through widespread belief in several potent myths—call them “myths of empire.”  Here are two. 

Authority myth 1: The oppressive structures of power and control in modern civilization reflect a logical extension of natural dominance hierarchies such as those seen in many of our animal cousins. Birds, do it, bees do it, even gorillas and chimpanzees do it. So that fact that humans do it too—only far more extensively and efficiently—is to be expected.  But the truth is that what birds and bees and chimpanzees are doing is something qualitatively different from what is being forced upon civilized humans. And to say that the modern police state has its roots in the natural stratification found in primate society is like saying the plastic components of the keyboard I’m presently typing on have their roots in the decayed bodies of prehistoric plankton.    

Authority myth 2: The oppressive structures of power and control in modern civilization are necessary, and without them all would be chaos and misery. This myth persists despite the fact that a large portion of the misery experienced by civilized humans (and all non-civilized beings, human and otherwise, living in the bulldozer’s path) can be linked directly to the oppressive power structures of civilization. All myths incorporate a kernel of truth, and there is definitely truth to the idea that oppressive power is necessary. What is frequently left unexamined is exactly what it is necessary for. Scratch the surface of any corporate CEO’s skull and it becomes clear that the only thing power is necessary for is the amplification of power itself.   

[Bricks, by the way, are probably not the best tools for scratching the surface of corporate CEO’s skulls—especially if you are dealing with a representative of big oil. The desire to want to get below the surface may have a negative impact on your technique.]