From the dawn of everything to a small farm future: a review of Graeber & Wengrow

The late David Graeber and David Wengrow’s (henceforth GW) The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (Allen Lane, 2021) is the newest big book of revisionist global history on the block. I’ve been fighting the urge to write a review of it, but since it illuminates several themes of interest to this blog, what follows is a white flag of surrender to that fine ambition.

When I say The Dawn of Everything is a big book, I mean really big. Several reviewers of my own tome commented with palpable tiredness about how exhaustively argued (272 pages), endnoted (12 pages) and referenced (12 pages) it is, but it’s a mere pamphlet compared to GW’s numbers in this regard (526, 83 and 63, since you asked). I mention this partly to remind myself to say something later in this review about the rights and wrongs of quantification, and partly to dramatize the point that it’s impossible to summarize GW’s book and do any justice to the depth of their analysis, so I’m not even going to try.

What I am going to do is pick out a few themes that chime with my own interests, which, broadly speaking, are how to rethink almost the entirety of the present world political and economic system in the face of profound ecological and social crisis. As is often the way of such things, I’m going to focus a bit more on where I disagree or am uncertain about GW’s analysis than on points of agreement, so I just want to say upfront that their book is a magnificent achievement and a crowning glory for the extraordinary David Graeber before, alas too soon, he left us to join the ancestors.

Although GW’s book defies summary, I’ll offer a quick thumbnail anyway. Standard modern global histories tell us that our genus Homo emerged about 2 million years ago. These hominins of our genus, so the story goes, lived for most of that time in small, egalitarian foraging bands where nothing very interesting happened for multiple tens of thousands of years until men invented agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago. This enabled the accumulation of surplus, the division of labour, social stratification and the emergence of centralized states, culminating in the incredible technological mastery of the last couple of centuries centred around Europe and its offshoots.

This is often told as a story of heroic progress that puts white, agricultural men in the historical driving seat, but often enough the story is inverted, the heroes become villains, and we are called back to a time of innocent, egalitarian, non-racist, non-sexist foraging. This solidifies a seemingly immovable modern duality: upwards to a brighter future or downwards from a brighter past. Progress or a fall from grace, modernity or nostalgia, accelerationism or primitivism. Like GW, I’ve done my best over the years to escape this airless duality, but it’s a struggle. I hope their book becomes an important waymark in its overcoming.

In GW’s revisionist account, a lot of very interesting things happened during human ‘prehistory’ – in particular, playful and transitory experimentation with both egalitarian and stratified forms of society across vast interconnected human landscapes of continental scale. Then women invented agriculture (or, better, horticulture), basically as a niche craft specialization. For a long while nobody took it any more seriously than all the other ways people had of messing around outdoors. But eventually it did, literally, take root across much of the world, creating more populous but smaller, more localized societies that were more inclined to stress their cultural differences from one another. There was no definite relationship between the emergence of agriculture and the emergence of stratified, centralized polities. Historically, both foragers and farmers created large urban centres based on bottom up, relatively egalitarian forms of self-organization, but they also created ones with a parade of emperors, kings and other bigwigs.

We tend to dignify the latter with the concept of ‘the state’, but there’s never really been such a thing as ‘the state’ with a core, enduring set of attributes. Nevertheless, nowadays we do seem to have lost our human capacity for playful experimentation and are ‘stuck’ within a system of stratified, centralized polities. In GW’s words, “There is no doubt that something has gone terribly wrong with the world. A very small percentage of its population do control the fates of almost everyone else, and they are doing it in an increasingly disastrous fashion” (p.76). Amen to that.

Though their story differs from the anti-heroic version of the standard history, ultimately GW are fighting against similar biases in global histories that they see as too male, too white, too agrarian and too focused on centralized political power. At the same time, they’re underwhelmed by counter-histories concerning the superior mystic wisdom of ancient and indigenous peoples. Theirs is a humanistic tale that paints everybody in every society as creative and confused in the same measure, and perfectly capable of sustained critical reflection about their own society and others they encounter.

I have few quarrels with most of that, though I do think GW get into some tangles as they try to unfurl this argument over the grand sweep of history. Still, there’s an aspect of their grand narrative about the questionable concept of ‘the state’ that I’d like to highlight. Where GW criticize the modern tendency to define ourselves as living within the confines of the state and then cast back through history to locate its origins and the reasons for its successful persistence, I’d extrapolate their critique forwards. All too frequently, people project the trappings of what they understand to be ‘the state’ into the future and ridicule the idea that it may not persist, with jibes like Leigh Phillips’s ‘collapse porn’ shtick. But from GW’s telling, there’s no reason to find ‘collapse’ unlikely. The various elements that define a state regularly get scrambled and recombine in different ways. What historians call Dark Ages are often when centralized power wanes and ordinary people come into their own. So maybe folks should quit the name calling. Maybe we ‘doomers’ are really the optimists?

Of inequality and freedom

A big part of the fizz of human history arises because we’re simultaneously creatures that like to construct pecking orders and status gradations among ourselves, with a taste for attaching ourselves as flunkies to people higher up the heap, and creatures that like to demolish these gradations and emphasize our equality and autonomy. I don’t think the standard historical narratives we tell about ourselves emphasize this point and its oddity enough. When we devise political schemes that only find a place for one of these modalities, they usually soon founder as the other one asserts itself.

In his book Hierarchy in the Forest,Christopher Boehm has argued that the hierarchy/equality duality is an evolutionary legacy – both from our deep ancestry in a great ape lineage given to rigid (male) status ranking, and from our long human gestation in face-to-face foraging societies where egalitarian cooperation was a winning strategy. I find this plausible, based largely on a long period of intensive participant observation fieldwork that I began in about 1982 involving many evenings drinking in the pub, where I’ve found pompous self-aggrandizement and its negation via the fine art of taking the piss to be on display in roughly equal measure. The latter seems necessarily based on small-scale, face-to-face interaction and the micropolitics of gesture and language.

GW invoke Boehm respectfully, before scorning his view of a long egalitarian gestation in face-to-face groups. The truth, as they like to point out, is that we have vanishingly little idea of what people were doing and thinking over most of the 2-million-year history of our genus, so it’s wise to avoid guesswork. But this argument cuts both ways. GW present plausible archaeological evidence that foraging peoples prior to the spread of agriculture (but mostly only just prior to the spread of agriculture) played with status ranking and were part of much larger interacting populations. But this doesn’t prove our ancestors weren’t playing the egalitarian face-to-face band game most of the time through our evolutionary history. Their suggestion otherwise involves its own kind of guesswork. I feel that, as here, a little too often in their book they build some big conjectures on fragmentary evidence.

So to the idea that Paleolithic foraging peoples engaged in building urban hierarchies, I guess my response is ‘OK, but how often?’ GW do not, thankfully, attempt the kind of absurd, evidence-mangling quantifications that the likes of Steven Pinker engage in to prove his notions about the awfulness of the past, but without knowing how often pre-agricultural foragers built mass, status-ranked societies over the last couple of million years it’s hard to assess the weight of GW’s argument.

In the early part of their book, GW critique the whole emphasis of modern political thinking on equality, placing their emphasis instead on freedom. In some ways, their take is similar to the one I’ve been discussing recently under the banner of autonomy or self-possession. But I think they stretch the distinction a bit too far. It’s difficult to be truly autonomous in societies of great inequality, and as GW themselves ably document, societies that emphasize self-possession usually go to some lengths to ensure that inequalities don’t get out of hand. So in important ways freedom and (relative) equality are two sides of the same coin.

GW’s real kicker on the matter of equality comes later in the book when they discuss the unhappy confluence of sovereign power with bureaucracy that generates a good deal of what we understand by the notion of ‘the’ state. Impersonal notions of formal equality – treating people as interchangeable units or tokens of some particular class – is, they say, usually the harbinger of extreme political violence and inequality. Their position seems close to the civic republicanism that I’ve outlined in my own writings. What ultimately matters the most to people is not metrics of social equality but a sense that we’re participants in a political community that takes seriously what we have to say and gives us some leeway to lead the life we choose.

Such questions of participation were at the heart of political debates in Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries as older forms of royal and imperial rule gave way to a modern politics shaped by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Unfortunately, GW miss the opportunity to get into this when they discuss these two thinkers in the early – and in my opinion, weakest – part of the book. GW have a different agenda, relating to what they call ‘the indigenous critique’, which leads them into a dismayingly superficial contrast between Rousseau and Hobbes as theorists of the original human condition, with Rousseau supposedly detecting a kind of propertyless primitive communism and Hobbes, by contrast, famously characterizing human life in this state of nature as “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”.

The problem is, neither Rousseau nor Hobbes were actually talking about the original human condition, as GW acknowledge without ever really getting out of the tailspin they set up for themselves by suggesting that they were (in fact, they concede, the historical event that most framed Hobbes’s thinking was the English Civil War concluding the same year he published his famous phrase). I hope to say more about the questions Hobbes was asking, probably in my next post, because I think we urgently need to ask similar questions again across much of the world today. I also think we need to find different answers to his ones, but the inspiration of his thinking lies in the way he formulated the problem of how people can form political communities from first principles.

On this point, GW make a great play for their ‘indigenous critique’ idea that such first-principles political thinking in early modern Europe was first crafted by indigenous people from beyond Europe’s boundaries, specifically from North America, as a response to their colonial encounters with Europeans, and this was then adopted by Europeans themselves with the indigenous origins being airbrushed out. Already, this is ruffling feathers among specialists of 18th century European history. Whatever the case, ultimately GW’s stronger contribution is probably their argument that ordinary people everywhere are perfectly capable of producing articulate critiques of the political forms taken by their own and other societies.

Three political forms

Let’s examine those forms. To greatly simplify GW’s analysis, and perhaps to extrapolate them somewhat faithlessly into an analysis of my own contriving, GW argue that there are basically three broad kinds of political society. There are republics, involving bottom-up political self-organisation by ordinary people operating more or less as equals. There are aristocratic ‘house’ societies, involving predatory warrior leaders and petty would-be kings with an unstable power expressed through fighting, gifting, feasting and general rape and pillage. And there are empires, in which the petty kings have grown up into more stable monarchies, usually by combining political sovereignty – that is, a sacred sense of authority – with bureaucratic organization.

GW’s sympathies are with the republics, as mine are, and a big part of their book is concerned to show that people can and have orchestrated them many times worldwide throughout history in the face of the other forms of politics. They’re also concerned to show how the different political forms often emerge through deliberate local differentiation from neighbouring forms (what GW call ‘schismogenesis’). So the house societies of eastern Anatolia emerged as a counter to the urban republics of Mesopotamia, and the egalitarian republics of indigenous, pre-European California emerged as a counter to the house societies of the Pacific Northwest.

All of this I find interesting and plausible. I’m just not sure how easy it really is to form bottom-up, more or less egalitarian republics. Again, I want GW to show us not just that this has happened, but how much it’s happened and what proportion of the people who’ve lived since the Neolithic have enjoyed true republican freedom. This isn’t something that can be quantified precisely from the archaeological record, but I think we have a rough idea. At one point, GW quote political scientist James Scott without demur in his view that “the period from about 3000BC to AD 1600 was a fairly miserable one for the bulk of the world’s farmers” (p.445). That’s a pretty large slice of humanity exempted from the freedoms that GW champion. And I’m not even sure it got much better after 1600.

At issue here is the way different kinds of political power interact. In GW’s Californian example, people chose to forge relatively egalitarian and peaceful non-slaveholding societies in deliberate contrast to the aristocratic, slaveholding house societies of the Pacific Northwest, and apparently did so with considerable success (interestingly, GW say this was accompanied with strong private property rights and the development of money systems within Californian societies that also deliberately avoided agriculture). But my feeling is that such successes are historically quite rare. I suspect that the non-egalitarian violence of house societies is easier to project historically, particularly when it allies with the non-egalitarian violence of empires. This is James Scott’s argument. Ordinary people living under imperial rule got squeezed between the legalized violence of the regime and the predatory violence of ‘barbarian’ peoples in the peripheries of empire.

Still, these forms of power aren’t static, and opportunities lie in their changing realities. Often, emperors are too busy playing with their sacred power behind the walls of their palaces to care too much about what their subjects are doing, so provided the latter pay their taxes and don’t challenge imperial power too directly, life in an empire isn’t always so bad. Likewise, in modern nation states, mini empires of the latter day, a strange nationalist alchemy has turned the sacred power of the emperor into the sacred power of the people themselves, giving ordinary folks a chance to press their advantage – albeit often at the expense of foreigners or enemies within.

House or warrior societies also provide opportunities for advancement for anyone who can project charismatic authority and is good at cracking heads. Or at least for any man. No doubt, there’s a kind of playfulness in a hell-raising, slave-raiding, heavy-drinking, sexually predatory house society of charismatic leaders and their henchmen. But this kind of play is highly gendered, and looks a lot more fun for the ones in charge of the playing than the ones being played.

GW generally present republican societies as more measured, more attentive to the dynamics of power and to the ways power can be corrupted and more focused on distributed power than in the other two political forms, where inegalitarian power ultimately is centred one someplace or someone. Gendered perspectives are a constant undertow in their book, and in some ways republicanism emerges from it as a more ‘female’ political form – more inclusive, connected and communicative. This contrasts with the way that in practice the historical republican tradition in Europe from classical times to the present has so often been militarist and masculinist, perhaps because civic republics have often been embattled enclaves carved out in times of trouble from larger warring polities.

I’m less optimistic than GW about the prospects for people to throw off the shackles of their oppression with a republican politics of freedom because of this embattled history, and because of the difficulties of escaping status inequalities that are underwritten with violence. Nevertheless, GW convincingly show that these difficulties can be overcome in certain situations. It seems possible that the post-capitalist and post fossil fuel world we may now be entering will be one of these situations – what I called in A Small Farm Future ‘supersedure situations’, where people improvise local politics in the face of waning state power. Generally, I think GW understate the advantages held by imperial and royal/warrior power in projecting itself, which is why they keep asking how it is that we got ‘stuck’ with it. They’re still asking this on page 503 of their book, by which time you’d have hoped they’d have an answer. But they do convincingly show that not everyone always gets stuck.

Of gender, households, families … and gardens

In fact, they do sort of have an answer to how we got stuck, in their interesting but rather undeveloped argument that royal and imperial power is modelled after the structure of patriarchal households. As GW see it, this is what gives inegalitarian violence its staying power. What matters isn’t really the king or the patriarch’s arbitrary violence, which ebbs and flows like the weather. It’s the fact that their capacity for violence is contained within a house (or a kingdom, for which the house is a metaphor) where there are ongoing relationships of care between people that gives this capacity its ongoing human force and that can turn violent weather into a stable climate. I’ll note in passing regarding recent discussions on this blog that in GW’s presentation, the kingdom comes after, or is modelled after, the family or the household – so the household gets priority.

I find all this quite persuasive, and it’s changed my views somewhat on points I made in A Small Farm Future about gender and household organization. I don’t recant the overarching analysis I presented there, just the particular spin I put on it. I’ll comment further on that in a separate post. For now, I’ll just note that GW’s argument about the nexus of violence and care only gets us so far in understanding how we get ‘stuck’ with sovereign power, because it merely displaces the question onto how we get ‘stuck’ with patriarchal household organization – a form, they note, that has been widespread historically.

Still, GW show us that on plenty of occasions historically patriarchal sovereign power gets flipped, and not necessarily for any apparent structural reason. It’s as if that more egalitarian, more republican and perhaps more female mode of politics is always there in the wings, awaiting its moment. And that, I think, is an important take home from their book. Never discount the possibility of transforming patriarchal sovereign power.

Another take home from their book, although GW don’t remark on it, is the ubiquity of small, family-based households as a basic unit of social organization. Again and again across their case studies ranging worldwide over human history, they present evidence of small family-based residential units. They choose to emphasize other things, like the way that these small units interact in numerous commons-based formats, and the way that official scripts for what constitutes a family get subverted in practice. These things are worth saying. But they don’t undermine the fact that small, face-to-face, kinship-based household units are so often the building blocks of human societies. The tendency to gloss over this and to de-emphasize kinship in the contemporary social sciences seems to me something of a blind spot that ultimately will need correcting.

GW pave the way for this correction quite nicely here and there – for example when they show how indigenous people in certain parts of North America prior to European colonization opted for scattered family homesteading as a means to escape sovereign patriarchal power, which is not always how the history of American homesteading is presented. But they pull their punches, and their rather weak argument against kin-based social organization – “many humans just don’t like their families very much” (p.279) – succumbs to the problem that many humans just don’t like anyone they have to negotiate social and economic relationships with long-term. Looking at its ubiquity throughout history, it’s tempting to conclude that appropriately sophisticated forms of kinship organization seem to be the best of a bad job in this respect.

GW’s take on kinship has its limitations, but their discussion of gender is more impressive. Their account of farming’s origins as a playful, egalitarian craft specialism of women in their role as expert experimental scientists of the domestic was a particular delight. I found these arguments plausible, although again with something of a surfeit of speculation over evidence. It rings true that people took slowly to farming, and in early agrarian sites like Çatalhöyük avoided certain livestock domesticates because hunting was more fun.

But GW’s view that the Bible’s Garden of Eden story ill fits this narrative surprised me. Surely the idea that Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and bade Adam do the same nicely captures this sense of female knowledge and mastery, and its longer consequences? In truth, I doubt the Eden story involves any memory of what was happening at places like Çatalhöyük. We’re closer today to the era of the Yahwist source for that story than s/he was to the era of Çatalhöyük. I say ‘s/he’ because some have speculated that the Yahwist writer of the Eden story was a woman, and a case can be made that the story is less straightforwardly misogynistic than it’s often presented. Perhaps it’s an attempt to make intelligible a kind of multi-millennial male sulk about the need to stop playing in the woods and assume domestic responsibilities. More on that another time, perhaps. But it leaves us with the same general problem bequeathed by GW’s own enigmatic text: why have we got so stuck with patriarchal household organization, sovereign power, and the state?

Well, while I’m on the subject of idealized gardens, I’d like to suggest GW might have profitably explored the distinction between horticulture and agriculture more fully in pondering this question. They point to many ancient examples of mass urban residence that didn’t ultimately lead to repressive state sovereignty. And they invoke the case of indigenous North America to suggest “it’s simply not true to say that if one falls into the trap of ‘state formation’ there’s no getting out” (p.481), based largely on their analysis of the rise and fall of Cahokia in present-day Illinois from around the 11th to the 14th centuries.

These examples, even the urban ones, generally involve people who were producing their own subsistence either through foraging or mixed horticulture. They didn’t seem to involve worlds with a lot of non-producers, or producers largely dependent on arable grain monocultures and herding. I’m not suggesting these crop choices drove the politics. Maybe it’s the other way around. The people who were able to retain their self-possession were the ones who didn’t get sucked into arable and pastoral dependence. Either way, if this is true people’s options for escaping state sovereignty across much of the world today look bleak. But maybe not impossible with a turn to horticulture and a small farm future?

Idealism and materialism

David Graeber was blessed with the ability to write sophisticated social science in accessible and (almost) jargon-free ways while addressing real world political issues, and The Dawn of Everything is no exception. I’m not going to humiliate myself by taking a deep dive into the underlying social theory of the book and reveal my inadequacies by comparison, but I do just want to venture some closing thoughts on questions of idealism and materialism. It’s a topic of interest mostly just to professional social scientists, philosophers and Marxists, but I hope to show that it may have wider implications in our present political moment as we try to get unstuck.

For social scientists, ‘idealism’ refers to the view that society is shaped and perceived ultimately through the ideas that people have about it, whereas ‘materialism’ refers to the view that society is shaped and perceived through the real underlying material conditions in which people live. Marxist versions of materialism hold that societies progress in determinate ways as a result of internal tensions, and their resolution, grounded in material conditions such as class conflict.

GW don’t have an awful lot of truck with Marxist materialism, inclining towards an idealist sense that social change is driven more by cultural movements than material conditions and conflicts. And they add an individualist element – people are self-conscious architects of their own cultural change, not just automata representing some broad class or cultural type.

I agree with them, and I imagine they’ll get some stick from Marxists for failing to espouse the approved materialism. Well, join the club. My feeling is that Marxists can be quite tolerant of idealist elements when circumstances suit, but as I read GW’s book and thought about the kind of Marxist critiques that have been levelled at me, it occurred to me that it may be time to turn Marxist materialism on its head.

Marxists don’t really like the ‘idealist’ notion that people just self-consciously reconstruct the political cultures they inherit, but those Marxists that have criticized me along ‘collapse porn’ or ‘disaster feudalism’ lines happily operate with the idealist notion that the vast inertial ship of modern fossil-fuelled industrial technology can simply be repurposed for the benefit of the many and not the few. GW’s book has helped me clarify my conviction that it more likely works the other way around. The inertial ship of industrial high technology is a material drag that must be abandoned (I know oil companies are villains, but the energetic-industrial problems we now face don’t arise solely or mainly because of their villainy). We can abandon it if we develop a different politics around food, energy and habitation, which is basically to say a different set of ideas about how we ought to live. Out of this, different material practices can emerge.

In that sense, I endorse GW’s upbeat conclusion that it’s within people’s power to change things and remake their social world – not a power or a social world restricted to particular classes, groups, genders or political ideologies, but one available to everyone. And this, I must stress, is not a ‘liberal’ or still less a conservative position, but a populist republican one, as I shall explore in more detail in another post.

At the same time, there’s another material drag on republican possibilities in our evolutionary predilection for status aggrandizement as well as status equality. So the dangers of arbitrary sovereign power reasserting itself are ever present, as subjects of regimes inspired by Marxist egalitarianism might perhaps attest. It’s probably unwise to bet against new emperors or new patriarchies emerging. All the same, GW give us plenty of inspiration for trying to stop them.

So concludes this review – and also I think my blogging for the year. Many thanks to commenters old and new for sharing their thoughts with me, which makes writing this blog the continuing pleasure that it is. My apologies for not always finding the time to respond as fully as I’d like. I hope to be back in the new year to finally finish the long-running blog cycle about my book. In the meantime, if you’d like a little more small farm futurology to tide you over, there’s always this and this. So wishing everyone happy holidays, and see you soon, I hope.

138 thoughts on “From the dawn of everything to a small farm future: a review of Graeber & Wengrow

  1. Thanks for the review Chris. I’m still working my way through TDOE so looking forward to reading your thoughts.

    Have a great festive season. That goes out to all the contributors on this blog as well.

  2. Yes, thanks Chris for the review.

    I’m on page 164, and taking a short break.
    So far, I’ve been really happy to read the descriptions of the various social arrangements, and pleased with the writing style. I have no basis to judge the accuracy or completeness of the sociological arguments, but I like reading examples of how other people have lived differently from us.

    I remember being really excited a while ago, when I first heard of Gobekli Tepe. How those wacky hunter-gatherers built a megalithic site, then buried it with dirt and built another one.
    But the more I read about it, the darker and creepier it sounds.
    Those people may have been free, but they may also have been evil.
    Or, as Graeber and Wengrow might have it, evil for part of the year.

    Çatalhöyük sounds much less evil, but still deeply strange from my modern perspective.

    I haven’t gotten to their gloss on the Eden story yet, but I also believe that story hints at a memory of women being the primary domesticators.
    My feeling though, is that when reading the Bible or Torah especially, it is well to remember that there was a lot of editing happening down through the years, so the stories got sculpted to suit the factions in power at the times, and those were inevitably patriarchal.

    I recommend Karel Van Der Toorn’s ‘Scribal Culture & the Making of the Hebrew Bible’ if you are interested in following down that rabbit hole.
    For instance, I didn’t know that there was a major rift in the priesthood over the heresy that was Deuteronomy. It all reads like Torah to me today.

    I was interested to read what Graeber and Wengrow have to say about California natives – my home turf. I’ve read a few accounts, and there isn’t all that much agreement from one writer to the next. I get the sense that things were incredibly complex socially before the conquest.

    But my mind keeps getting stuck in a box canyon.
    The bit where free people who don’t approve of the power structure of their society leave and go somewhere else.
    We have nowhere else to go.
    Even in Death Valley there are two microbreweries!
    We are stuck, for sure.

    I’m happy to read about these ideas, but our future here on the ground is going to be really rough.

    • But my mind keeps getting stuck in a box canyon.
      The bit where free people who don’t approve of the power structure of their society leave and go somewhere else.

      This is certainly a matter to keep in mind… there will still be opportunities to move about, but there won’t be wide open spaces to settle. Future moving will be into occupied spaces – one will be trading one power structure for another.

      Another angle to chew on relative to moving about is the kin aspect. Small groups will, over time, become somewhat inbred if there isn’t some sort of immigration and emigration. Humankind has dealt with this matter for many millennia of course, but there are still examples where small groups are isolated enough to suffer the ill effects of inbreeding.

      As Chris (and GW) have pointed out, kin relationships are very important – likely more important in an individual’s formative years than any other social relationship(s). As such, the significance of keeping genetic variation within the group is a matter to be ignored at the whole group’s peril.

    • I think the Eden story has endured as it has a deep sense of “truth” about it.

      After all, girls hit puberty before boys.
      “Knowledge” could be seen as becoming aware of ones sexuality. The “snake” tempting Eve, Eve then tempting Adam.

      I can remember (a long time ago) the sudden attention that the girls in the playground were paying to all us feckless boys!!!!!

  3. I’ll be looking forward to read GW’s book. It sounds like, similar to what I got from /Debt/, I should expect lots of fascinating and challenging historical/anthropological insights, if not a coherent political philosophy drawn therefrom.

    As usual, allow me to interject some Aristotle into the conversation:

    Your (and GW’s?) mention of the “three political forms” (republicanism, aristocracy, and monarchy) is interesting because Aristotle was the first to distinguish them, but he did so in a very different way. For you, they seem to represent a sliding scale between egalitarian (republican) and totalitarian (monarchy). However, for Aristotle, they were all forms with both a good and true form and a tyrannical perversion: monarchy could become despotism, aristocracy could become oligarchy, republicanism could become mob rule (the “tyranny of the majority”).

    This concept maps onto the belief that every evil is a privation of something good. Something couldn’t be truly bad (sickness) if it weren’t parasitic on the existence of some good thing (healthy, body integrity); i.e., the very fact of being sick is proof that you are still alive. This idea lies at the heart of what is called “metaphysical realism”, which deduces that there is both a physical and spiritual reality that are intrinsically related in terms of ‘matter’ and ‘form’. Realism is opposed and flanked by metaphysical idealism (the belief that ideas/forms/spirits are the only true ‘reality’ and that the physical world is an illusory shadow thereof; e.g. Hegelianism) and metaphysical materialism (the belief that only the physical world is real and that any ideas or conceptual forms are derived thereof; e.g. Marx).

    I bring all this up because I think it provides better clarity to the dichotomous spectrums of idealism vs. materialism, equality vs. authority. When you say that “it’s as if that more egalitarian, more republican and perhaps more female mode of politics is always there in the wings, awaiting its moment”, it seems to me that the answer lies not in the three political form regarding the number of nominal rulers (rule by the many, by the few, or by only one), but rather in whether any government is ordered towards its true and natural end (the common good) or a perversion thereof (tyranny: the private good of the rulers). Neither a materialist system which relies exclusively on a perfect economic arrangement, nor an idealist system which fixates on universal political forms is well suited to reality, a world of humans, who are both body and soul, who need both food and fulfillment.

  4. Thanks Chris for this insightful review (re-writing this comment in summary form since it apparently got swallowed into internet abyss when I tried posting yesterday). It will be a while before I can plough (or forage?) through the book, but I have listened to these interviews of the authors by Sasha Lilley on Against the Grain (part 1, David Wengrow, part 2, David Graeber recorded in 2018):

    Based on those, I have a preliminary question that I hope you can throw some light on. A major thesis that comes through in the interviews is an anti-scale determinism, i.e. an agnosticism or relativism about scale at least as far as its relation to social (in)equality is concerned. Based on their interpretation of the evidence, any size of society can be any kind of society, from egalitarian to hierarchical and everything in between, and sometimes both/and (depending on season, subsistence activity, capriciousness of leaders, social resistance, etc.). There is no necessary or automatic relationship between small scale and egalitarian, or large scale and hierarchical/authoritarian, and indeed, they claim, the opposite seems often to have been the case, with a pattern being many apparently egalitarian cities flanked by comparably small scale societies marked by high inequality, hierarchy etc. (much of this based, I gather, from relative presence or absence of monumental structures, grandiose tombs and the like). From this Wengrow derives a “more hopeful, optimistic kind of picture” for our own times given the trends toward urbanization, including the expansion of “mega-cities, megalopolis or whatever”. Graeber declares: “the problem of scale is not the problem”.

    I’m curious what your take on their take is? Do they extend their anti-scale determinism beyond the question of social equality, for example to environmental matters? For me, on the one hand I find this anti-determinism attractive for its openness and possibilism, but on the other, as someone who as hitherto been quite influenced and persuaded by the likes of Schumacher, Kohr, Illich, Sale, Bodley (The Power of Scale) etc. (indeed, also James C. Scott to a considerable degree if my understanding of Seeing Like a State and The Art of Not Being Governed is correct), I guess I am not quite ready to throw scale out the window as an important problematic, perhaps not all-determining but also not nothing (i.e., a sort of ‘soft scale determinism’). Do you think GW would endorse a small farm future, or line up with eco-modernist city-mongers – or is this too simplistic a framing? I can certainly see votaries of urbanisation/cities happily appropriating the book to support their cause, even if the leap from post-pyramid Teotihuacan to contemporary, say, Mexico City or Mumbai is a very exaggerated one to say the least. Are they just saying, cities/large scale arrangements don’t have to be dens of inequality, they can actually be highly equal and non-hierarchical if we so choose and design them; and small scale societies can easily be unequal and hierarchical (though, presumably, also don’t have to be – depends on conscious intent, choice and design). If so, that seems decently reasonable to me, but this still doesn’t resolve huge challenges of the subsistence and ecological kind, among others.

    Thanks for any clarity on the above!

  5. Hello Chris, commentariat.

    Chris this is ‘millie,’ from Twitter, whom you kindly invited to a debate at your house, here. Thanks again. Perhaps everyone here might decide to join in, in setting the anthropological straight. The record can, of course, be set straight again, amongst us, here: it’s just a matter of each of us putting in the work that is individually required of in order to operate in open space, unshackled.

    Unshackled by doubt. If we can’t Feel it, then we can’t know it. If we can’t Hear it, we can’t know it. There’s a great song lyric from a couple years ago. “I don’t know where I’m going but I can hear my way around.”

    Let us be the anthropologists setting the record straight, so that Chris or someone else here might (or might not) tear down the travesty that is this evil, manufactured, idealistic co-optation of cultural anthropology (CA). Who other to do it than men and women of the Ecology, such as ourselves. CA is, after all, just deep ecology.

    CA is the formal study of humanity’s relationship to the ecology. We can know that because the ecology is Everything that Man both IS and HAS. The ecology is reality. Anything that our five senses process is OF the ecology, and anything that our minds glean insight from, is rooted in either our five sense experience of the ecology, or the gifted five sense experience of our ancestors.

    What is the nature of the ecology itself? It is exactly that which, and ON which, Sean Domencic, above, saw the need to set the record straight: REALITY is energy (“body”) and that which animates energy (“soul”), together in symbiosis. THAT is metaphysical realism, with the ‘meta-‘ being the animating force. Today we in the West refer this animating force as consciousness. In the universal animism that is our deep human heritage if subsistence living, consciousness was referred to by some variation of “the great spirit in the sky,” with the Spirit not as god but as the animating force of Sky – sky being Everything, both earth and sky. How magnificent that we humans have always known reality to be holographic.

    The reality of the ecology is holographic. We know this now — and again — from quantum physics. We know that there is nothing material at root. There are just energy gradients. Informally we speak of materialism (Marx), but ecologically — in Reality — we are speaking about energy flows within the ecology. Marxism is brutalism, wherein energy is wrenched from its animist symbiosis of energy and that which animates energy, and deified/idealized as an independent ruler of ‘reality:’ this is what hierarchy looks like.

    We also know that the Hegelian wrenching of consciousness (human metaconsciousness, to be precise) from that which consciousness animates, in order to deify/idealize consciousness was nothing more than the root cause of what the red man referred to as the wetigo. Hegelianism effectively represents man’s ontological self-separation from the ecology. Man’s self-deification. And, of course, this civilized strain of human metaconsciousness, as we all well know, did not self-separate downwards, no, it elevated itself, in its own mind, above the rest of creation, in hierarchy, ushering in the New Age. As James Taylor sung in “Gaia,” people left their bodies (the ecology) just to live in their minds, by enslaving the ecology and, in the process, enslaving themselves in the prison of the idealized, deified mind.(Aristotle understood the metaphysical concept of polarity, but failed to apply it holistically.)

    Alex, you pose another fundamental question regarding the travesty that is this manufactured (as I believe it to be), idealistic anthropology. The redundant question of anti-scale determinism, which shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. Does anyone here disregard Dunbar’s Number?

    Is that what anthropologists are doing these days? Disregarding DN?

    Egalitarianism ENDS at DN, whatever the actual number is, which is based on the cumulative circumstances of any given society. Which speaks to the misuse of the term hierarchy, which is only ever properly used after DN has been exceeded. The word hierarchy means ‘sacred ruler.’ An individual, or group of individuals, can only leverage rulership over others by controlling structural surpluses, or at the very least, a reliable means of bountiful production in a fixed locale, such as a highly favorable ecology with a strong fishery.

    Anyway, that’s a start coming from me.

    My hope is that we all together choose to write a coherent anthropology together. If we want something done right — and apparently Marvin Harris and Robin Dunbar aren’t good enough anymore — then we must undertake to do it ourselves. And here we are at the beginning, talking about the reality of our animist heritage. If we don’t get ourselves back inside that holistic reality that Sean referred to as “metaphysical realism,” then we can’t expect to be able to divine any meaningful insights into the nature of our deep heritage, we can’t expect to hear and feel our way around it, not caring where we’re going.

    If there’s anything I’ve written that anybody here disagrees with then, Chris, that might serve as the jumping-off point for the debate that you invited me here to participate in.

    Looking forward to it.

  6. Thanks for the comments. Many possible directions to go in, and I regret not much time for me to engage as fully (or to appraise myself of other reviews/discussions) as I’d like right now.

    Maybe to start with some aspects of Reante’s & Sean’s comments, I think I agree that material reality is basically energy plus a few physical and biotic irreducibles, and the rest is largely what people choose to make of it, which can vary profoundly. I will need to ponder the Aristotelian and Thomist (and also Stoic) traditions a little more – I’m sceptically amenable to the idea of a transcendent ‘good’, but probably not as an a priori absolute … which means I’m not especially sympathetic to ideas about what cultural anthropology or humanity must intrinsically be in their essences. But Christopher Boehm’s evolutionary take on ‘hierarchy’ – or better, status (in)equality – strikes me as a useful and plausible transcendent framework to work with and generates its own rather complex field of social ‘good’.

    So to Alex’s questions, I think GW are probably right *in theory* that equality can be scale neutral, but in practice I’m not so sure. Certainly it’s eminently possible to have social domination in small-scale societies, and the elaborate emphasis on egalitarian decorum in many such societies seems explicitly designed to prevent this. Likewise, you can have forms of republican egalitarianism in large-scale urban societies, but as I mentioned above most of GW’s examples in this respect are ancient forager/horticulturist producer societies. There are plenty of more modern large-scale societies emphasizing egalitarian republicanism in theory but in practice relying on global helots and/or unsustainable resource use (usually both). The evidence seems to be a bit hazy about who was doing the producing in Teotihuacan – I suspect it may have been one of these in-name-only egalitarian societies. That would be blatantly true of Mexico City today, so if W is saying that their book shows genuine large-scale, urban egalitarianism is possible within present global residential patterns I’d have to demur. Their book says notably little about post 18th century industrial modernity, but it’s something of a game changer in terms of labour exploitation as well as resource exploitation. So … while I don’t think the possibilities for egalitarianism are the main drivers for small scale (the possibilities for its close cousin, self-possession, might be more to the point), I find it hard to conceive an egalitarian modern urbanism. Also, while I don’t place as much importance as Reante does on structural surplus, I agree that it’s probably easier to make status differentiation stick where it’s possible to accumulate goods or renown over the long haul.

    GW emphasize the importance of being able to move as a guarantor of freedom, as I have also done. So Eric & Clem’s points about the difficulties of this in the modern world are to the point. There *are* places that I think will become more populous in a global small farm future (e.g. parts of Eastern Europe, Central Asia & South America) but the processes will likely be messy. Where it’s not possible to escape physically, again I emphasize the importance of being able to escape juridically – essentially through having strong property rights (minimally over oneself, and ideally over some land…)

    To Sean’s points about political forms, I suppose I could reluctantly assent that kings or aristocrats might have their place as specialists in politics and defence who contribute something to society, just as farmers and blacksmiths do (kind of a medieval three orders thing). So if they collect reasonable taxes, keep the peace, bestow the temples and other infrastructure and otherwise leave me alone, then maybe fair enough. But my Boehmian tendencies come out if they start putting on airs and graces and claiming to be the better sort of person – then it’s time to take back the crown. Graeber’s writings on kingship and getting stuck with it in this latest tome & also his kingship book with Sahlins are very much to the point here – and it’s interesting how many societies hedge kingship with extreme limitations. There may have been good kings, but I think the concept of the good king is troublesome… However, I do agree that there are dangers of tyranny with all political forms, including republicanism. Thence back to property rights…

    Apologies that’s a very sketchy treatment of a lot of big ideas, but I regret it’ll have to do for the moment. I’ll try to respond further if I can, but my winter woodland work awaits!

    • My quick 2 cents before bed:

      Distributism (property rights as you noted) seems to me the right place to go for defending true equality: the common good is best promoted by widespread ownership because it creates subsidiarity within hierarchies. But I’m skeptical of arguments that make out republicanism as intrinsically superior to other forms. Industrial Capitalism has found democracies/republics very pliant tools through history; I don’t feel anarchism has ever convincingly grappled with that. Interestingly, Saint Thomas famously argued for the superiority of the “mixed regime”:

      “ Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.” (ST I-II Q105 A1.

  7. Thanks Chris,

    Regarding (my?) “a priori absolutism.” 🙂

    As I said, if we can’t feel and hear our way into nature, which is us, then we won’t get anywhere. This approach is the epitome of experience-based seeing, as opposed to abstract theoretical reasoning. I believe it takes adequate life experience to wield deep insight and wisdom. I get the impression from everyone’s comments that we’re all capable of that.

    As to absolutism itself, it’s a common charge levied, and often levied, I believe, because of self-doubt, which is a suboptimal psychological condition I touched upon in my previous comment.

    I do believe that everyone reading this comment is doing so because he or she believes absolutely in human societies that don’t include (structural) hierarchy. Absolutely believing that does not make that belief absolutist.

    I also believe that everyone reading this absolutely believes that human societies should do their very best to build their cultures around ecological principles. CA is the field of study most relevant to how human societies have fared in this endeavor.

    “while I don’t place as much importance as Reante does on structural surplus, I agree that it’s probably easier to make status differentiation stick where it’s possible to accumulate goods or renown over the long haul.”

    Structural surpluses leverage hierarchy. Status differentiation is not hierarchy, and is not directly related to structural surpluses since status differentiation exists in both surplus and subsistence societies. Leaders of subsistence societies — or, even bonafide ‘big men’ — may or may not have leveraged some material perks (best cuts of meat, most desirable woman, or more than one wife, perhaps) with their superlative efforts or abilities, but that’s not MUCH leverage, though plenty I’d imagine, for the egalitarian ‘alpha male/female,’ since giving to your brothers and sisters is its own reward anyhow. Certainly it’s not a hierarch of coercion. There’s a redneck dude in town here who’s just kick-ass at everything, and he’s always distributing food. He deserves everything he gets, and he doesn’t lord himself over anyone, but what he says carries a little more weight than everyone else because he’s earned that.

    Dunbar’s Number went unaddressed. Is this metric no longer axiomatic to the field of CA? I wouldn’t know myself. Dunbar’s Number, another absolute but not an absolutism, since it’s conclusion is well-grounded in behavioral science, the long, dark history of military organization, and also in our understanding of the first 98pc of our human history, wherein human societies invariably fissioned after reaching their particular numbers. With the implication being that hierarchical behaviors started setting in, due to our hard-wiring as a species.

    • Hi reante, and welcome.

      I’ve a question and an observation:

      Q; Are you an only child? (I know, rather personal… skip it if you like)

      Obs: Dunbar’s Number: An interesting concept and a metric that social scientists might be able to test hypotheses with… but not, to my mind, a static value over time. The intrinsic value of DN seems to be as a touchstone for conversations around scale. I seriously doubt one can employ DN as a causal quantity in the vane say of Euler’s Number or Planck’s Constant.

      To my point about scale – I have over 300 contacts in my “device”… when I scan through the list it does contain many that I have only a scant acquaintance with… but among those I do share regular correspondence or collaborative interactions (many and various communities) the number passes a couple hundred even before I pull in a list of family to include first cousins and their families. Further there are the commonly known actors of our age (literal ‘actors’ in stage and cinema, but also well known politicians, mega personalities, etc). These latter folks get tossed through our wide spread conversations as though we’re all supposed to know them. [eg, merely typing ‘Trump’ will elicit strong feelings – though not always the same sorts of feelings for all]
      So a few thousand years ago it may well have been that an individual’s DN would come to something like 150. Today our technology allows one individual to participate in many communities, many virtual of course – but even these virtual communities produce results. Some folks will be able to navigate a population where their DN exceeds several hundred. Other’s likely experiencing a far smaller DN. The IQ number elicits lots of controversy. I doubt DN rises to the same level of controversy as IQ, but for me it looks suspiciously similar in many ways.

      • Clem, thanks for the welcome and the contribution.

        I have a brother who is two and a half years older than me. We were close growing up. Now our relationship is strained and extremely limited. That’s the way it goes sometimes I guess. I know I’m not easy for my family. Black sheep, downwardly mobile, eschewing nimbyism and hunting my edible sheep and goat family with a knife, cutting down forests in order to establish coppicewood silvopastures. When I walk the air moves out of my way. The other week I come to find anthropology Iaying on its deathbed because academia got hijacked by fake leftist wokeness just around the time I went to college, so’s I waltz into an anthropology joint, here, and act like everyone should want to talk truth to anthropology.

        I know, Clem, I’m an animal in the trenches, don’t give a hoot or a toss about polite society. I believe I rewilded as a human in the summer of 2012, casting my social graces into the wilderness so that those who don’t want to know have an easy out at their fingertips. I come back as wild jesus baby. (I’m doing it now, giving you an easy out.) Take your pick of fallacies whenever you like, Clem. Strawman, ad hominem, red herring. You already did. As did our estimable host, except he buried it in the middle of a text, and made it subtle, in the genteel mode of a Paul Kingsnorth or Charles Eisenstein, in their easy to miss flash-denigrations of any conspiracy theories that threaten the foundations of what they stand for as walking taking cults of measured personality (not saying that of you, Chris). My family probably just thinks I suffered one-too-many concussions, and draw parallels between me and troubled relatives of yore. That’s their business.

        What’s your excuse?

        Thanks for also engaging on the content.

        You are comparing apples to oranges are you not? You are comparing your multicultural, largely disembodied (as you yourself disclaimed), device-enabled,
        wage slave(aren’t we all), economically independent social life to a separatist, monocultural, fully-embodied, kinship of subsistence peoples whose dead ancestors and unborn descendants are counting on them to do a competent job of leaving the culture in better shape than they found it.

        The hollow, industrial ease IS the cause of the unbearable lightness of being that we experience. The industrial slaveowner wielding his energy slaves — be it the plutocrats or joe six-pack — cares not for the do or die hunting partners he doesn’t have. He has health insurance instead. Or maybe he doesn’t, but he doesn’t have kinfolk. He has people who raised him and gave him the boot at 18, and who now, from a structural perspective, merely pay disembodied lip service to notions of family. Family is so watered down that it overcompensates by claiming that family means unconditional love. When in truth there is no such thing as unconditional love, which we know as a hallmark of religions which themselves are replacement shakes for true sustenance. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Anybody who doesn’t would do well to speak up so that we can reassess.

        If you water-down the espresso you get an americano. That doesn’t mean you get more coffee if you follow me, Clem.

        Dunbar’s Number at the very least means your willing to die for that person. The military company or infantry always falls within Dunbar’s maximum.

        DN as the hostess with the mostest means you are willing to go to the ends of the earth for that person. The military squad and special forces units always fall within Dunbar’s minimum.

        The great majority of human societies that ever existed were between 20-40 people, the size of a military platoon. Even today platoons are led by a leader of nominal ranking who is one of their own, because militaries are all about results, and they know better than to flout natural law.

        To suggest that in 1or 2 percent of our modern human history we can completely rewire our collective unconsciousness with regard to our social hardwiring, which itself is 1 or 2 percent (WAG) of our hominid evolution is to suggest that the collective applied consciousness of the hominid past means little to nothing. Is that what you’re suggesting, Clem?

        Natural law is very clear that increases in the pace evolutionary gains, of adaptiveness, can only occur as a result of increased evolutionary pressures, of bottlenecks. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

        Civilization is a NEGATIVE pressure; I don’t imagine that this point requires explication but if it does then let me know.

        Does this change your view, Clem, or do we need to keep going?

        • Oh we’ve GOT to keep going sweetheart…

          I’m often guilty of cherry picking, so please don’t be put off if I merely focus on two of the points you’ve just made…

          To suggest that in 1or 2 percent of our modern human history we can completely rewire our collective unconsciousness with regard to our social hardwiring, which itself is 1 or 2 percent (WAG) of our hominid evolution is to suggest that the collective applied consciousness of the hominid past means little to nothing. Is that what you’re suggesting, Clem?

          Natural law is very clear that increases in the pace evolutionary gains, of adaptiveness, can only occur as a result of increased evolutionary pressures, of bottlenecks. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

          To the 1st point – I thought I was suggesting that with the assistance of a modern tech device many of us are able to track and associate with far more folks than our forebears. Sort of like suggesting that someone with a rocket can walk on the moon and come home – which for 98% of our ancestors was not even conceivable. So I’m NOT implying that an expansion in DN is somehow due to a rewiring of our brains. I would go a bit further and notice that even as the distribution of these little electronic devices is remarkably widespread already, there is still a gap, not all have access. Thus any benefit to those of us who do have them (and can expand our own DN) have a certain privilege not enjoyed by others. I don’t have a rocket and am not likely to ever waltz upon the moon. Sucks to be me?
          BTW, military platoons today benefit from modern tech and thus can work larger values into their personal DN. So put me down as a not so much a DN denier, more a DN skeptic. The value of the number and the concept is weak.

          On point #2 – Please first define precisely what you mean by Natural Law. You’ve mangled evolution and it’s not clear you have a good grasp of adaptation. I will agree that necessity is an enabler for innovation. But it is not the only enabler.

          I’m guessing we have quite a ways to go yet before I’m going to modify my view of DN or the mechanisms behind natural selection.

          • Clem appreciate the love.

            What you are positing as some sort of transhumanist tech amplification of DN I am saying is irrelevant to DN because the nature of the amplification is not the same as the nature of the organic dynamic. Apples and oranges.

            Natural law is one and the same as metaphysical realism.

            How have I mangled evolution?

            What are other enablers?


  8. Thanks for the review. I ordered the book three weeks ago, but the order got cancelled by the supplier, so I haven’t read it.
    I am not very convinced by the argument that kindoms are modelled on patriarchal household (family) relationships (You rightly ask where they come from – and I have no idea).
    At risk of sounding like a socio-biologist I find the more plausible link being between a dominating male in a a band and cheifs, cheifdoms, kingdoms and ultimately empires. The dominant male is not a far fetched figure, but he is not linked to the household unless you expand the household unit to the band or whatever social unit people were living in.

    • Thanks Gunnar. I’ll try to say a little more about this particular topic in due course. As I see it, the key issue is how mere force gets turned into authority, and that’s where the household stuff comes in. You do get dominant men acting autonomously from household restraint – a lot of societies work hard to try to stop this from happening and regard it as a failure of society when it happens, but it happens often enough, despite their best efforts.

      • Just sniping here – overwhelming force does not always win out and we here in the USofA have demonstrated several times (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan come to mind) recently.

  9. Fairly briefly on republicanism, and on Dunbar’s Number.

    Sean, when I say republicanism I mean civic republicanism, connected to self-possession, virtue ethics etc. I agree with you that merely a republican style of central government is no defence against the tyranny of capital, but this isn’t really a ‘republic’ in the sense I mean.

    Perhaps there’s a deeper theological issue underlying the wider discussion here that would be good to make explicit, although I’m a bit out of my element with it. My sense is that in Christian philosophy, God is the a priori absolute and Jesus is the conduit through which people access God. Jesus therefore becomes the model for sacred worldly authority, notably for kings but also for the church. Hence it’s hard for aristocrats – mere warriors – to unseat kings, unlike say in Hindu kingship where it’s hard for kings to assume sacred authority.

    This singular sovereignty gets secularized in notions like parliament as the sovereign will of the people, and the nation as the church that contains it. Protestantism opposes itself to worldly claims of sacred authority and is unimpressed by popes or sacred kings. In a sense I guess I’m a secular heir to that – I basically see collective political institutions as contrivances, necessary evils to which people must surrender some of their own ‘sacred’ self-sovereignty, which is easier to do when they have a hand in defining what they must surrender. But my philosophy isn’t radically individualist, and I have some sympathy to more corporate (Catholic?) conceptions of political society. In both cases, I think one must be attuned to who is calling the shots and what narrower rather than genuinely collective interests they might be serving.

    Boehm provides a secular ‘materialist’ framework for understanding how these kinds of political thought might manifest as specific cases within the larger biological evolution of human morality. To my mind that needn’t undermine the content of the specific cases, although I struggle to see them as absolutes. But I might be persuaded otherwise. As I say, I’m not really in my element with this and there are aspects of the secular materialist individualism that partly underlies my perspective that are certainly open to challenge. I’d stress, by the way, that when I say ‘individualism’ I’m not saying that I think individuals are prior to society or autonomous from collective ideology – simply that they have autonomous moral and material agency set within that collective ideology. In that respect I find distributism broadly speaking a more satisfying political economy than most others.

    The work of Boehm’s I’ve read is his 1999 book from Harvard Univ Press ‘Hierarchy in the Forest: the Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour’.

    GW have an analysis of property as emerging from notions of the sacred. Perhaps I’ll try to address this a few blog posts down the line.

    By the way, Sean’s podcast with me has just landed:

    Regarding Dunbar’s number, not something I’ve much looked at but for info GW profess themselves unpersuaded by its general applicability, suggesting it’s derived mostly from primate studies of questionable applicability to humans. As I said above, my view is that GW underestimate the influence of small group interaction in human evolution, but whether that warrants Dunbar’s number is debatable. GW say various interesting things in their book on adjacent matters. One is the presence of large culture areas through which many foraging peoples have travelled freely historically – often on the basis of clan or totemic identities that can locate them socially with unknown others in distant territories. Another is the nature of military conflict, which is always socially staged – and in some ancient contexts usually involved two champions in combat, while everyone else watched, so there isn’t necessarily an optimum combat number. I guess my point, somewhat akin to Clem’s, is that there are different numbers in different contexts. For a lot of day-to-day livelihood making, the optimum number IMO is one, although of course the one depends implicitly on many others. The hearth also seems an important number, of 1 to 10 or so usually. Beyond that there may be neighbourhoods, kindreds, clans and potentially very large commons in all of which relations can be quite complex. For sure, in some contexts the relevant question may be who you would die for, and I suspect that one has been evolutionarily stress tested. But whole lives can be lived without that question being tested at all, and often enough people build amity with more or less unknown others quite readily. Perhaps more than other primates, humans have a lot of signals at their disposal for judging encounters with others, and a lot of unmotivated investment in amity. But often they build elaborate large-scale gift/exchange systems with semi-unknown neighbouring others, just to make sure – also relates to Clem’s gene pool point.

    • Thanks Chris. Appreciate the interesting reflections, the details of which I’ll have address another time.

      Wanted to make a brief structural comment. Correct me if I’m wrong but what I got from your thoughts on the DN question is that you haven’t given it a hard look in order to make a strong determination one way or the other. The issue that’s have with that is that not fully assessing the merits of DN in the context of CA is analogous to an atheist or an agnostic not caring that pure Reason tells us that something (the universe) CANNOT come from nothing. not that the causative ‘something’ is god, because that would be assigning a value to something that pure Reason knows that we absolutely cannot directly assign any value to the phenomenon other than a verb tense such as ‘creator,’ which of course was exactly what our deep ancestors universally did.

      My point is to not thoroughly assess (potential) first fundamentals of a field of study is to not care about addition at the cost of multiplication and everything that follows. Holistic knowledge requires starting at the beginning.

      If Dunbar’s Number is true then that nullifies all belief in the possibility of civilized egalitarianism.

      Similarly, if structural surpluses are required in order to establish hierarchy such that a subsistence society exceeding DN can stay together by coercion rather than fission — and the required intensification of the mode of production can be accomplished and sustained — then the natural law of DN has not been changed but merely suppressed by the coercive force, and in the suppression the former animism turns to proto-religiosities that serve the function of ‘justifying’ the culture change.

    • Interesting exchange going on here. I wasn’t familiar with Dunbar’s Number, but Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.

      Assume for the moment that DN is ‘true’, that it reliably describes a stable connection between the structure of the human brain and that human’s social relationships.

      My understanding is that the number, whatever quantity it has, applies to each individual and their stable social circle. So a society on which DN is true would not necessarily consist in lots of independent Dunbarian groups, because the people in one person’s social circle each have their own social circles that are unlikely perfectly to overlap.

      ‘Society’ is a good name for the aggregate of all those Dunbarian circles, and I’d suggest that human beings have developed over millennia not only to depend at an everyday level on a core social group but also to engage constructively with the inevitable extension of society beyond that group (the realm of politics perhaps?). So even if Dunbar’s Number is ‘true’, the ‘political animal’ is also ‘true’ – both important elements of being human, neither one necessarily to be lauded above the other.

      Indeed, far from accepting that ‘egalitarianism ENDS at DN’, I’d claim that egalitarianism BEGINS at DN. David Graeber was fond of pointing to everyday communism as the small acts of support and solidary people provide to each other everyday. This would perhaps characterise relationships within a person’s Dunbarian circle. Beyond those limits the active promotion of principles like egalitarianism presents a way of maintaining a broader society comparatively free of the conflicts and tensions that might prevent people from enjoying their Dunbarian social lives, and indeed from going out and forming their circles in the first place. Dunbar’s number always has to exist in a kind of dialectical relationship with a wider society.

      All this assumes, of course, that Dunbar’s Number is ‘true’.

      • Hey Andrew,

        You’re putting the cart before the domesticated horse.

        The wild horse is DNoperating in a subsistence society.

        The horse in and of itself — neither wild nor domesticated — is the axiomatic human social limitation because DN is, for all intents and purposes, the eons-old, ‘timeless’ (undoubtedly micro-changing) ecological principle of human hard-wiring, whether the hard-wired human be inside the surplus society (civilization) or outside civilization in the subsistence society. Therefore DN be the determining factor as to whether the cart (civilization) be a pulled cart or just a fixed storage bin. Because without the horse (human social hard-wiring) there can be no civilization in the first place!

        The cart is behind the formerly wild horse that the rider (civilized surplus culture) done harnessed to it. The rider harnessed the wild horse by breaking it, of course, so that it can no longer go about it’s own business of living. This breaking is the imposition on the horse (the hard-wired human) of a culture change. The nature of that culture change is what I referred to, to Chris, earlier. Proto-religion subsumes animism, subcultures subsumes wild whole-culture DN, and domesticates it, creating domesticated multicultural multiples of DN, which are simulacra of the real thing. This is the point at which politics emerges in human societies, as you alluded to.

        • Thanks Reante. You paint a picture of a state of wild nature, tamed and constrained by civilisation – a version of the Fall. I’m uncomfortable with it because it identifies at the heart of the human being a natural (‘hard wired’) essence that you clearly believe to be the true form of humanity, one that should guide the way we view and encounter the world.

          I don’t think that natural and ‘civilisational’ elements can be so clearly disentangled, and I think it’s dangerous to try to do so because it would involve making choices about who is following the natural (true?) path and who has been corrupted.

          I think one of the purposes of Graeber and Wengrow’s book is to demonstrate that there is no evidence there ever was some kind of animistic society of pre-civilisational sufficiency. Politics was also there at the start, just as much a part of the human being as this supposed instinctive solidarity of the Dunbarian circle. Humanity exists through culture in nature.

          If you’re chasing a subsistence life of animistic communion with the world, then good luck to you, I hope you live it. But what does it accomplish to view all those who don’t wish to imitate that as domesticated lost causes who have turned away from their wild ‘nature’? Wider political engagement can also offer hope for a future of human flourishing, it’s not some extraneous alien quality to be cut away.

          • Andrew, you’re welcome. Thank you.

            It is a version of the Fall yet not of the deterministic religious variety. It’s a cultural fall rather than an intrinsic falling of human nature. There’s a long history of observant people strategically walking away from the dominant cultures of their day: it’s called civilizational collapse.

            I have to ask: if there is not a natural essence to humanity then what is the essence? Or do you not sense one at all?

            GW are dealing with the last 2 or so percent of the history of modern humans. So when you appear to agree with GW that there is no human history of animism and no human history of pre-civilizational sufficiency subsistence, know that saying such a thing to a classical anthropologist is analogous to the way a Zionist would receive a holocaust denial by an iranian; it’s not merely a political revisionism it’s incomprehensible. It also reminds me of the biblical literalists who put planetary history at 6000 years.

            I don’t consider anybody lost causes. I don’t believe in any cause. But I do observe how lost people are, myself included. I would be surprised if you didn’t.

            When we are each playing a role in the current mass extinction we are about halfway through, through our commercial consumption, and aren’t trying to take responsibility for that role by learning how to live within the annual ecological ‘budget’ of our immediate surroundings, yes, I consider that a profound lostness.

            But then again you appeared to have suggested that human subsistence living has never existed. It’s difficult to respond to that.

          • Thank you Reante. I have no problem with the need to find more ecological responsible ways of living, or with acknowledging the destructiveness of our present civilisation and the sense of loss it frequently inspires. We can agree there.

            Essences? I recognise many characteristics belonging to humanity, but my disagreement concerns a focus on one ‘natural’ essence as something in some way prior to all others, and therefore something that can be fallen away from. If humanity has an essence I think it has to be cultural as much as natural, and so generally defined as to permit so many possibilities that it’s probably not really worth defining in the first place.

            I don’t deny the importance that animism and ideas about sufficiency have played across human history. My point was that no society has demonstrably lived within a pre-‘Fall’ state of nature happily oblivious to the kinds of political engagement necessary beyond the bounds of a kind of instinctive everyday communism. Part of the issue here is that I don’t really accept Dunbar’s Number and the idea that a close set of ‘stable’ relationships can be distinguished – as has frequently been discussed on here, politics is as much part of the household as it is the kingdom or republic.

          • Isn’t the idea of “Essence” just a human construct?

            It’s a way of framing humans but is it a real thing? I think not.

            All humans share some characteristics such as the ability to think/believe in things that don’t actually exist in the material world. God’s, spirits, laws, taboos etc. Maybe “essence” could be added to the list.

            If humans have an “essence” at all, maybe it’s the ability to change their culture/behaviour at will to adapt to changes in environment/circumstances?

    • Thanks, Chris, for an insightful response. Allow me to take aim at a certain aspect of your “secular materialist individualism that partly underlies [your] perspective”—if it’s “open to challenge” then you know I will take you up on it!

      You say that your philosophy isn’t “radically individualist” and I agree entirely with your definition of “autonomous moral and material agency, set within a collective ideology”, but I believe that’s a logical contradiction with your belief that “collective political institutions [are] contrivances, necessary evils to which people must surrender some of their own ‘sacred’ self-sovereignty.” Here’s why:

      Granted that almost every individual human is formed within a political community, and granted that a universal characteristic of a species is inherent to that species, it appears to be part of human nature to be political. If this is the case, then political life is not a “contrivance”, but a /fulfillment/ of our nature. Now, granted that anything which exists seeks to maintain its existence by the order of its parts (for example, an animal seeks to survive by pursuing its bodily needs, and we call this “health”, which is the teleology of all the bodily functions), the purpose of the political community is peace, i.e. a state which in all its members live in harmony. But to live in peace, citizens must act according to certain habits which contribute to peace, and these we will call the “virtues” (namely, prudence, justice, courage, and temperance—but I’ll skip the argument for why those particularly are the four natural virtues).

      This is a very brief summary, in the language of the Aristotelian tradition (he was the one to first say “man is a political animal”) but similar views were common across premodern philosophy. At minimum, the liberal assertions about universal self-sovereignty are non-existent before modernity. But let’s consider that alternative line of argument:

      If humans are ultimately fulfilled by their personal self-sovereignty (which you suggest), then it follows that any political community is an evil, because politics requires hierarchy, through submission to laws, customs, and rulers. But if the political community is to exist, then it follows that the only reason humans would contrive a polity is to protect and promote their personal sovereignty (thus the classic “social contract theory” of liberalism). While certain ways of living might make this society run more smoothly than others, it has already been established that the highest human good is self-sovereignty, so citizens ought to reject any theory of natural virtues (which are habitual acts), because these would make a claim against their personal freedom to do whatever is right in their own eyes.

      (Notice how the Aristotelian argument begins with an observation about human natural and abstracts to knowledge of the virtues/fulfillment, whereas the liberal argument begins with an a priori assertion that individualist autonomy = fulfillment and then concludes with a political theory wildly out of step with observer human nature.)

      One might imagine that this liberal society would be like that of the Cyclopses, which the Greeks described as “each one ruling his own house”, i.e., without joining together in a political community. But quite the opposite is true: even when humans fail to acknowledge polities as /good/, they cannot deny that polities are /useful/. Thus, liberal regimes appeal to a “neutral” public sphere about things that “everybody can agree on”, namely, individualist freedom and material wealth. These two promises form the foundation of Progress, as liberal capitalist society attempts to create 1) an ever-expanding plethora of personal legal freedoms (always for the individual, never for a community) and 2) an ever-increasing “freedom” from the constraints of nature, through techno-industrial growth. As Patrick Deneen has popularly and precisely analyzed in his recent book “Why Liberalism Failed”, these two dynamics, the former often associated with progressive liberalism, the latter with conservative liberalism, form a vicious cycle of an increasingly dominating Nation-State (which justifies itself by being the sole securer of freedom for its increasingly atomized citizens) and Market (which must appeased for the sake of techno-industrial growth, and our Baconian pursuit of total dominion over the natural world). This is not an accident of liberalism, but the essence: there will always be governments, but if one eliminates the conception of virtue and the common good, then the only thing to pursue is private gain and material wealth.

      In brief, my argument is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too: if human fulfillment lies in self-interest, then the individual is prior to the community. If the individual is naturally nested within the community, then self-sovereignty cannot be the purpose of life and politics.

      Two final points: first, I don’t think your “civic republicanism” gets off the hook so easy by making a polite nod to virtue ethics. This is precisely what the American Founders did, asserting again and again that liberalism would only work with a virtuous population. As I’ve argued above (and Deneen, MacIntyre, and others have at greater length), liberalism necessarily erodes virtue by constructing a polity which, according to its own logic, can only have progressively increasing self-sovereignty and technocratic autonomy as its end. It’s an oil and vinegar situation: you can mix them together, but they’ll separate out soon enough.

      Finally, I want to address the theological point you started with. But note that, so far, none of my argument has involved an appeal to divine Revelation. A central tenant of the Aristotelian tradition is that it can be understood through natural reason alone, without appealing to any “Word of God”, even though it is open to (and, Christians believe, perfected by) Faith.

      You are correct to say that the Kingship of Christ, the God-Man, is a “singular sovereignty”, but quite wrong to see the Protestant-Enlightenment-Progressive conceptions of sovereignty as a secular descendent therefrom. Rather, on my view, the consolidation of singular sovereignty beginning with the Reformation-era rulers (Henry VIII, the German princes, and the Spanish crown) is the beginning of a return to pagan sacred kingship, in which the sovereign is a god, ie, an idol. A simple history might go: first Monarchs assumed the power of the Church, but still made homage to certain conceptions of natural and customary law which existed in communities under, but outside, their direct domain. Then, liberalism—through the age of revolution—swept away this vestigial Christianity, reducing natural law to sacred self-sovereignty, which can then create a new, more totalizing, legal regime through the social contract. Ultimately, this is fulfilled in the technocratic progressive project (whether capitalist or socialist) of eliminating whatever still vestigial social mores, local communities, commons, guilds, or biological limits remain, creating the more intense forms of idolatry of Market, Class, and Nation-State which exist today.

      The liberationist and Thomistic Christian view is that idolatry always centralizes power in human hands, by making gods, whereas true religion decentralizes because all of Creation /participates/ (a key Thomistic concept) in the transcendental being of God, the “Source of all Being”. (The recent New Polity podcast “How Tyrants Use Scale” is excellent on this topic). Thus, every pope, king, parent, local magistrate, wealthy man, etc, can make no absolute claims about their power, but simply participate in God’s authority. In the words of Christ to Pilate: “Any power you have comes to you from above” (John 19:11). It’s from this point of view that Prophets of the Old Testament can rail against the king, both Jewish and Gentile, for defying the law of Moses and the natural law—which both have their origin in God. These laws don’t flow down from one single sovereign to another, but are suffused inherently through reality, a cosmic order which is both hierarchical and yet ordered towards liberation (because God is the Good).

      All this is where another important Catholic concept, that of “subsidiarity”, comes from. But I’ll get off my soapbox and leave that for another time… (and I’ll check out that Boehm book when I can!)

    • I’m fond of twelve as a decent number for a workable small group. Two people who really don’t get on don’t have to deal directly with one another too much in such a situation. It’s large enough to split several ways if need be, and small enough to gather around one table to eat together. The people who hate cooking can get left out of the food prep rota and everyone will probably still get fed. I often feel like my own household of three adults would be more effective vat navigating the world if we could combine with a few others (preferably with more space than the two bed terraced house we rent, oof), even while I know we would need a more intentional structure (or some kind of kinship) to make that work.

      And 12 households of 12 make 144 people, which is handy if we’re trying to approximate Dunbar’s Number.

  10. Hey Chris,
    Thanks for reading and reviewing The Dawn of Everything. Now I know that I won’t have to read it.

    The time that has freed up will let me finish cleaning some beans and small grain, see if I can dehull buckwheat without breaking all the kernels, work on a cheapo version of a Winnow Wizard and plan for what ever will come our way next season.

    I can’t help but think that maybe y’all need to get outside a little more.

    • In Gene Logsdon’s Small-Scale Grain Raising (I believe one of the Eric’s recommended it on here a while ago – thanks for the recommendation) he advises slightly toasting or at least dehydrating buckwheat with heat to encourage the hull to shatter off more cleanly. He then puts it through a blender before sifting it. If like me you haven’t tried it, I hope it helps, and bon appétit with the pancakes!

      • Thanks Simon,
        I’ll have to look at that book again.
        What I’m really after is white buckwheat flour. One of our French CSA participants is very dismissive of what she can find on sale here. She claims that French buckwheat flour has no specks of hull in it. The only way I can see to do that is to completely dehull it first.
        My restaurant customers would love that.

        • Will Bonsall also relates his experiences, writing that Japanese buckwheat (Fagopyron esculentum) is the easiest to process into flour, using his Corona mill (achieving a ratio of 60 per cent flour to 40 per cent hulls, which is then sieved), whereas Fagopyron tataricum hulls impart a bitter flavour using this method, and hence are more suited to roller milling.

    • Greg, this is what I do when I’m not outside. When I’m resting my body. Or when I’m outside taking a break. Or when I’m meeting the obligation of responding to a conversation I’ve committed to having with somebody.

      Think of it in balance, like medicine men and women sitting round the fire.

    • To finish that thought, anthropology and sociology are not predictive sciences.

      Even if they were, looking back 1000, 10,000 or 2,000,000 years to when people were scare and resources were plentiful doesn’t have much to say when the situation is flipped on its head. Beyond that the spectrum is behavior is too wide and the initial conditions are unknown.

      Humanity could be in for a rough landing when we get to a small farm future. About all you can say about it is that people care about family and community. Two people working together can get three times as much done as someone working alone.

      • Right on Greg. I do believe that you are answering your own question.

        The fact that it took 2M years for modern humans (and neanderthals) to lose the animist challenge that mother nature presented us with is a testament to animist egalitarianism with regard to both neighboring human communities and the sister species all around them. WE — humans with OUR mental capacities — existed for 2M years. Same size brain, opposable thumbs, complex tool use including language, control of fire, and with the ability to choose to absolutely dominate its ecologies.

        But there was no need to dominate. Because there was natural abundance. You had to work for it, but that’s Life. For humans to scheme against their sister species was anathema to all Reason and ethics. Given that modern humans were obviously well aware that they were the apex predator of all ecologies, had won the evolutionary ‘arms race,’ and had no natural predators, leveraging their community metaconsciousness into a culture of schematic dominance was a dysfunctional proposition to a fully-functional species. It wasn’t going to happen.

        What did happen was was happens with any highly competitive species that has room to grow in an ecology. It grows of its own accord, and if it grows too much in an ecology it disperses or it shrinks to again meet the resource base. Life breathes, in and out, in and out.

        Eventually humans discover the planet, as of course they inevitably would, given their abilities. This pressurized the situation. Periodic episodes with ecologies compacted by humans bumping up against each other became chronic compaction. And this period of chronic compaction is what I consider to be the rhetorical golden age of humanity. This tipping point into chronic compaction, wherein there was still perfectly intact and functioning wild abundance but it had become abundantly clear to animist humanity that they had to begin focusing a lot more of their group metaconsciousness on developing more formal cultural constructs in order to better adapt to the challenges of chronic compaction. Necessity is the mother of invention.

        And they obviously had a lot of positive feedback loops, with regard to sustainability, that they could begin to emphasize more. The first being population control measures. To not engage in those would be a supremacist disrespecting of neighboring peoples and sister species. The first option of course was the rythmn method. They weren’t stupid. The paleo diet and long nursing practices acted as a strong positive feedback loop, because it severely restricted how children a woman could beat during her reproductive years, which was a huge reason why they eschewed the farming of complex carbohydrates, because starches jack up female reproductive potential.

        It’s good to start getting inside of our deep history, now, so that we can understand why and how animism was the erstwhile heritage of a good-hearted, Reason-based species. This is the fun part. True creative commons.

        Greg you said

        “Even if they were, looking back 1000, 10,000 or 2,000,000 years to when people were scare and resources were plentiful doesn’t have much to say when the situation is flipped on its head. Beyond that the spectrum is behavior is too wide and the initial conditions are unknown.”

        And then you said

        “Humanity could be in for a rough landing when we get to a small farm future.”

        As I began to show above, animism was perfectly suited to implementing conservative ecological human cultures in the face of chronic compaction. Chronic compaction is the generalized overshooting of the resource base in relation to the mode of production.

        The selfish, spiritually-weak alternative to character-based animism stepping up its game in the face of adversity, was to begin to disregard the common consciousness underpinning all beings.

        “About all you can say about it is that people care about family and community.”

        Indeed. All top predators are pack animals and subject to the variability within DN.

        • Hi Reante,
          To start with, I wasn’t asking any questions.

          As I have said before, please write in short declarative sentences.

          I have read everything that you have written here, twice, and I’m still not sure where you are coming from. Give me two 10 word sentences that spell out your point.

          • Thanks Greg. Quite right, you weren’t asking a question. Sorry.

            “Even if they were, looking back 1000, 10,000 or 2,000,000 years to when people were scare and resources were plentiful doesn’t have much to say when the situation is flipped on its head”

            “Humanity could be in for a rough landing when we get to a small farm future.”

            The future is reverse engineering human history with small farms.

            Exiting the system and living mostly on homegrown perennial foods.


    • I’ve been quiet because I took on another half allotment plot. No organic matter has been added to the soil for two decades, the surface is about a foot below the surrounding paths. We’ve been digging drainage trenches, racing against the winter rains.

      I normally do slow cold-ish layered compost because it’s easy and low effort but I am trying the “turn it every few days” method this time. I have quite a backlog of coffee grounds to get through, the woodchip supply is so-so but I also have a decent amount of fallen leaves. I use some of the (bagged) leaves to insulate the top of the heap and it reaches 68°C a day after turning. Turning compost by hand is tiring but if it really does speed things up it will be worth it.

      On the bright side, I’ve worked out how to safely transport a pallet on my bike trailer. This means I should be able to set up a whole row of compost bays and turn the stuff from one to the next.

      I’ve read the first two chapters of the Wengrow/Graeber book. It’s started raining now and the forecast is wet for a while, so maybe when I’ve recovered from Christmas services I’ll have another go. I can turn compost in the rain but digging trenches is miserable.

      But Christmas dinner tomorrow will be a feast of homegrown food: potatoes, oca, Jerusalem artichokes, swede, celeriac, beetroot, black salsify, leeks, garlic… maybe squash and beans too but there is a goose to eat (we didn’t grow that). I’ll go out and forage some bay leaves and alexanders tomorrow, crow garlic and three-cornered leek too, as has become a tradition. And we’ll have to decide which of the homemade wines to have.

      • Congrats Kathryn on arriving at the problem of deciding which homemade wine. You must, therefore have enough of it (so far).

        My wife has been fermenting too, and regularly makes apple from raw local purchased juice. Honorable mention also to the grape and the Nanking cherry. And the apricot is improving, not really weird any more. But the star this year was the dandelion. One afternoon in may, I picked a gallon of open flowers from our yard, and Jean set those to bubbling, along with many other things which only her notes remember.
        We opened it in the fall, together with an insomniac friend who came over at midnight to toast the night-blooming cereus.

        Sorry, I just had to brag about her efforts.
        Happy Christmas.

        • Sounds great! We have elderflower, yellow plum, red plum, and black raspberry.

          The 20L fermenter of blackberry wine was contaminated by plaster dust (and goodness knows what else, but almost certainly lead paint flakes) during unnecessary kitchen ceiling replacement work imposed upon us by the letting agents. (Long story, but two months on we are mostly done removing dust from every item we own.) That’s quite annoying, as last year’s blackberry wine was excellent and we had run out, and there won’t be blackberries again until summer.

          We decided on black raspberry with the goose, in the end. I’d like to give dandelion wine a try. The problem is we don’t have many dandelions in the (small) back garden, and there honestly aren’t that many in most of the local parks either.

          • 20L!
            Yikes, you’re serious!

            Jean does a gallon at a time, max.

            I’m intrigued by elderflower, having been mostly disappointed by my experiences with elderberries.

            We have black raspberries, but not in great quantity.
            I have to recommend black raspberry/gooseberry pie – the highest & best use of both of them, and much more than the sum of the parts.

          • Elderflower is delicious, and very different from the berries. A sparkling wine is traditional, though I went for still this time. I did a very small batch of some translucent yellow elderberries but the wine they made was pretty bad. I’ve had elderberry wine made by other people that tastes almost like a fine port, though, so I do want to try again (maybe with the black elderberries this time though).

            The 23L fermenter was pulled out of a skip in early summer. We decided on blackberry wine for it because we weren’t sure we could get enough of anything else, and because the previous year’s 5L batch of blackberry wine had been so good.

            We don’t have huge numbers of black raspberries either, so only managed about 2L of that wine. The combination with gooseberry sounds delightful and I will give it a try sometime!

            The allotment is in a frost pocket, and so I’ve been toying with the idea of icewine.

          • Does the kind of elderflower make a difference ? We have a bunch of red elberberries but they are not good to eat. It would be nice to fine a use for them so they would die out…

          • I only know Sambucus nigra, which is widespread here in the UK. I would refer to people with local knowledge for your local elderberries/flowers!

          • I’ll have to do that. I know the berries aren’t any good to eat (may be toxic) but the birds eat them and poop the seeds everywhere. A good use for the flowers = no seeds.

            I’m impressed with your dedication. Moving pallets on a bike trailer seem a little sketchy. Turning compost in the rain is beyond the pale.

            It will be -25C here tonight and -30C is forecast for tomorrow night. Those darn Canadians are sending us all their cold air.

  11. Thanks Andrew,

    “Essences? I recognise many characteristics belonging to humanity, but my disagreement concerns a focus on one ‘natural’ essence as something in some way prior to all others, and therefore something that can be fallen away from. If humanity has an essence I think it has to be cultural as much as natural, and so generally defined as to permit so many possibilities that it’s probably not really worth defining in the first place.”

    How can the essence not be natural? Meaning OF nature. OUT of nature? Is not the essence of all species natural? Evolved and continuing exist under the biological laws of nature – under Natural Law? The fundamental law being that no community of species can exceed it’s energetic resource base.

    To suggest that humans don’t have a natural essence is to say they have an unnatural essence. Now, as Alan Watts once wisely said during a q&a on man’s modern relationship with nature, and in response to the run of the mill, banal, obtuse, small-minded, establishmentarian objection that “man is a part of nature so how can you that industrial civilization is unnatural,” watts quipped, “well some things are more natural than others.”

    Culture is the metaconscious overlay of man’s human dealings with the ecology. That is not the essence – the essential feature. The essential feature of man is of course his taxonomy, right? His taxonomic classification as Homo sapiens.

    I mean let’s get real here. Right.

    Culture is mere group ‘personality.’ Right? As determined by the local ecological requirements in combination with the mode of production.

    With all due respect, to say that the human essence — one’s own essence — is effectively indefinable IS profound lostness in the flesh. It’s the hallmark of the postmodern human that has nothing to hold onto, awash in a sea of (subcultural) chaos.

    “as has frequently been discussed on here, politics is as much part of the household as it is the kingdom or republic.”

    The definition of politics is the sociology in which citizens participate. The root ‘polis’ means city.

    How exactly, Andrew, does politics apply to interpersonal household dynamics? Family dynamics? Or is there a true word that we can use in its stead?

    Furthermore, how in our right minds could we possibly think that EVER using that word in the context of indigenous hunter-gatherer bands is appropriate, or respectful?

    Back to DN if we might, everyone. I googled DN and, lol, for the most part the results are debunking articles.


    How about we go to the source instead?

    If this contemporary, fiat anthropology is to own it’s fiat beliefs, then it has to rationally outcompete the greats of classical anthropology. Have a look at the underlying universality of the group dynamics of these hardcore separatist societies/cultures within civilization:

    • Thank you Reante. I fear we could bandy definitions back and forth for quite a while and I’m wary of shutting out other conversations on this post. We take quite distinct positions and I don’t think either of us is likely to move a great deal.

      One final proposal from me, if only to characterise our differences rather than overcome them: perhaps we should go further back to an earlier source, Ferdinand Tönnies, and his gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, or ‘community’ and ‘society’. The former an affective relation mediated by personal engagement, the latter an abstracted relation mediated by impersonal formalities.

      You, I think, would recognise here two different kinds of human group, of which ‘community’ represents the natural, essential state of humanity, hard wired into our biology, while ‘society’ represents a kind of subsidiary emanation forced into being as communities outgrow themselves. I know you’ll correct me if I have you wrong here.

      I would see ‘community’ and ‘society’ as two coexisting modes of human existence that are connected and reciprocal in form. I know of no historical examples of human cultures in which personal affective and impersonal abstracted relations were not entangled in some way or other, whether we choose to look at the smallest family group, the largest ‘political’ assembly, or various networks and associations in between.

      As I see it, you would argue that humanity can live solely within communities without the accretions of society; I would argue that both community and society are essential (that word again!) to humanity, albeit expressible in a whole host of diverse combinations.

      I’d be interested to read your reply if you choose to leave one, but perhaps we should accept our differences thereafter and draw a line under this exchange.

      • Thanks Andrew. Your comments are a pleasure to read, I’m sure everyone agrees. Soothing. Reading between the lines, however, is unsettling.

        “I know of no historical examples of human cultures in which personal affective and impersonal abstracted relations were not entangled in some way or other, whether we choose to look at the smallest family group, the largest ‘political’ assembly, or various networks and associations in between.”

        You are repeating the original ‘iranian denial/biblical literalism’ that you have subsequently already walked back in your comment prior to this one,bwhich leads me to the conclusion that you don’t actually believe in your heart of hearts (affect-logic) that band societies consciously practicing subsistence modes of production have ever existed. To repeat: I don’t quite know what to say to that, and I’m a someone who is rarely at a loss for words.

        From the psychological perspective — and setting history aside — this community-society conceptualization of universal human social reality is split personality disordered. There is no denying that, yet you believe it to be a good and universal (dis)order.

        Capture bondage causes the human mind to bargain with the situation as a coping mechanism. I fully realize that England (I was born there and know it well) is energetically a great deal more claustrophobic than, say, the american west. England is way, way down on the list of places you’d want to be during collapse, so the tendency is to glom onto narratives that sooth. I speak plainly and say this with all due respect, my graceful brother, and with the best intentions.

        Ecology is seamless and coherent; nondual.

        The modern community-society conception is fractured and incoherent; dualistic. Such multicultural “coexistence,” as you described it, is not mutualism. Come, now.

        The fact is, Andrew, that every single one of your direct ancestors, and mine, chose to surrender their ‘community’ histories under threat of annihilation. Think Braveheart, or Last of the Mohicans. All of us here are born from peoples — and it’s not like I don’t understand the choice, because I do — who gave up on nondual ways of life at ‘gunpoint.’ And all us who don’t have the opportunity to be here, if you follow me, would have come from those ancestors of ours who chose to fought to the death against the Imperial Ontology of Split-Personality Disorder.

        Society is, in truth, imperial society, Andrew. Imperialism naturally selects for humans who are more willing/capable of self-soothing behaviors – who are more pliable. Imperialism deselects for separatist warriors.

        ‘Political consensus’ is the spoils of genocide. Never forget that the ancient britons did not go quietly into the dark night. Those that chose to fight to the death did so, so that we would not become what we are today. To not honor that sacrifice, and really FEEL why the true warriors of our ancestry died fighting for us, is to self-sooth out of weakness, a weakness born of that greatest of genetic bottlenecks ever imposed on humanity – by imperial humanity.

        Believe that my brothers and sisters.

        ‘Society,’ as opposed to ‘community,’ is just business. It’s nothing personal it’s just business. The dark alter ego. The shadow. ‘Society,’ is the market economy. Right? Right.

        Market economies can only arise from running structural surpluses. The original form of money was centralized grain surpluses, and these grain surpluses kick-started the derivatives markets of Imperialism: explosive population growth, new weapons technologies, standing armies, expansionary warfare, ‘Society.’

        Thanks again, Andrew, for your generosity.

    • Just to throw my hat in the ring. I think the debate on “essence” may have run its course here but I’ll say my bit anyway.

      I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions.
      The word “essence” needs clarification. What exactly do you mean by it?

      What we are all debating on this blog is different forms of human behaviour. How people behave as individuals, members of a family, in clans, communities and societies. To suggest that there is an “essence” is to suggest that there is one “true” form of human social organisation/behaviour. That there is a “true/original” essence of what it is to be human and by definition a set of essential behaviours.

      I think this is a flawed argument. I don’t think that ancient Hunter-gatherers behaved in one, uniform way. Humans adapt behaviour to environmental constraints. These environmental constraints are not universal. They vary from ecosystem to ecosystem. So human behaviour responds differently accordingly. Even within one ecosystem humans can come up with very different behaviour strategies to adapt to the challenges.
      Our “essence” (if there is such a thing) is our ability to adapt our behaviour to changes in environment/circumstances and so by definition limitless. Or only limited by our imaginations.

      • Thanks John. Essence as we all know means the essential quality. The universal, irreducible quality common to all humans, in order for a human to live.

        ALL species adapt their behavior to environmental conditions, if they are able to. Therefore to do so is not an essentially human phenomenon but an essential biological phenomenon. Biology is the field of knowledge of the interrelations of carbon-based life forms. Our irreducible essence is therefore as a particular carbon based life form or, better yet, the symbiotic human manifestation of energy and that which animates energy.

        The collective stories we tell ourselves about our collective adaptive strategies are NOT our essence.


        Environmental constraints ARE universal at the fundamental level. Humans require sufficient, food, clothing and shelter. And that’s it. The rest is noise, dude.

        “Our “essence” (if there is such a thing) is our ability to adapt our behaviour to changes in environment/circumstances and so by definition limitless. Or only limited by our imaginations.”

        That sounds like a worldview that could believe in transhumanism if it wanted to. First you talk about environmental constraints and then you talk about unlimited possibilities. Which is it, John?

        • Reante.

          I can’t resist one more trip down this particular rabbit hole (against my better judgement).

          I feel that you have replaced “Essence” with “Essential Quality”, which has left me non the wiser.
          Contrary to your claim, I’m not sure that it is something that “we all know”. I for one, am struggling with its meaning.
          The only “irreducible quality common to all humans”, that I can think of, is the desire to stay alive. (This leads on to a need for food, shelter etc) but then that is the same for all living things. Not just a human quality.

          Interestingly, I think humans are the only living organisms that choose to end their lives. Which in a way goes against their “Essential Quality” (as I defined it)

          I find the whole concept (for that is what it is) of an “essential quality” that defines us humans, as problematic on another level.
          It feels a bit like a return to “The Garden of Eden” idea. That there was a point in time, when we lived our true nature. But this implies that there was a “beginning” for humans. I think this is misleading. I believe in the Darwinian view of life on earth. That we evolved over time and that there has never been a point where a line can be drawn between ourselves and earlier hominids. (Though the sporadic nature of fossil records creates the impression of clear defined stages of change and adaptation) We Homo sapiens morphed over time from one hominid to another with plenty of interbreeding thrown in as well. There is no time when “pure” homo sapiens existed.

          You say “ALL species adapt their behaviour to environmental conditions, if they are able to.”
          But the big difference is that humans can choose (a conscious decision) to change their behaviours at will, to adapt to environmental challenges.
          A big part of this adaptation is the ability to change our culture. To change the way we organise as a group the overcome environmental challenges. It’s this ability that has given us the edge over other species. Most (if not all) other organisms do not “choose” to change behaviour. The change happens through genetic mutations and natural selection over many generations.
          I can choose to stop eating meat over night, but a tiger can only become vegetarian through natural selection over many generations. (And the resultant “tiger” would probably not be a tiger any more)
          A polar bear can’t decide to live in the Amazon and a sloth can’t decide to live in the Arctic and adapt it behaviour accordingly. But I could choose to live in either place and adapt my behaviour to survive. In fact, most humans make a conscious choice to live in specific ecosystems, or else they move to somewhere else. This option is not open for many species.

          Have no idea what transhumanism is??? More words/concepts I guess, that are slippery to pin down a meaning to.

          Environmental constraints exist of course. I was thinking more of our responses to those constraints being limitless, or at least limited by our collective imaginations. The ways we think about the world and how we organise and interact with it are limitless.
          Just spend a couple of hours in a book shop in Glastonbury and you’ll know what I mean (Chris will know what I mean, as we both live in the shadow of the Mendip Hills!).
          Our ability to conceptualise the world we live in is boundless.

          So, in answer to your final question, it is that, decisions that we make are limitless. That doesn’t mean that the outcomes are always successful regardless of the environmental constraints. We can’t just decide to fly, or hibernate, or burrow underground, but can come up with limitless was of existing within our biological bounds.

  12. Well thanks for the discussions. I took Greg’s advice and have been hard at work outside with the chainsaw over the last couple of days. Perhaps the fact that this is a tool now mostly used only in small-scale, non-commercial forestry indicates the depth of present predicaments.

    I don’t think I’m going to weigh in on the substance of the matters debated above. But I do have a wider question. Suppose the time comes when we have to provide more of our daily needs locally with the faltering of the global political economy, and suppose the population of many localities is swelled by refugees from places where livelihood-making has become still harder. It seems a fair bet in these circumstances that the range of opinions on what life is about and how people should organise themselves will be even wider than the considerable differences of opinion evident in discussions on this website. In that situation, how would people go about managing their differences and organising local society?

    • What a great guy Gene Logsdon was. His book ‘All Flesh is Grass’ was big for me. Who would ever buy grass seed again after reading it? Not me. Start with bare ground and if you treat it right with the sheep and in 5 or 6 years in most of the US and surely England, too, you end up with peak pasture: THICK-growing common bluegrass and common white clover. The sheep couldn’t want for anything more.

      I have come to learn that contrary to conventional wisdom, the annual version of bluegrass doesn’t actually exist. Indeed the science on it is a bit foggy, the genetics are the same as the perennial but the morphology is profoundly different. In weak pastures of medium-low-to-medium fertility, bluegrass appears sparsely, spindly — a stem without leaves — and is regarded as an annual pasture weed. I have come to realize that this is just the peak perennial grass at the very bottom of its fertility range, reminding us that if we build it they will come. They are intimations of immortality.

      Several years ago i had the good fortune of haying about an acre of prime bluegrass/white clover pasture just a couple miles from my place. It was part of a 5ac field just purchased by some newcomers who weren’t ready to manage it yet. The B/WC stand was adjacent to the barnyard but, in looking at the lay of the surrounding land, you could tell that it was also a sweet spot of natural fertility. The bluegrass stood 18in tall and the enormous common white clover looked like the ‘improved’ dutch white clover at 8in. My animals went absolutely bonkers for it. It was bonafide dairy quality.

      I hayed it again next year and while it was still a pretty pure stand of B/WC, it was a shadow of its former self. The next year it had disappeared altogether, only stray little cloverweed and bluegrass weedstem. Three of my fields now have lots of bluegrass outcompeting the even the perennial ryegrass I originally seeded.

      Fertility dynamics speak to your question below, Chris. Collapse will be a self-organizing process. Fertile folk coming from positions of strength in any country locale will naturally cooperate. During The Shakeout, weedy people will cause the people of average fertility (no land or neglected land, now unemployed) major problems, then eventually, when the social services pull back to larger population centers and fuel rationing makes the turning of the countryside into bedroom communities, both the weeds and the former working and middle classes will empty out.

      Collapse will be self-organizing, and the manufactured, multicultural complexity will revert (re-green) towards the hard-nosed, simple truths of natural fertility, and the universal valuing of character over personality. For high-fertility peoples, collapse will mirror what the high-functioning animist cultures went through in that age when chronic human compaction had arrived, and mother nature upped the ante on animism, forcing people to step up their games or suffer the consequences.

      Mother nature is upping the ante on reante right about now. Reante: again as before.

        • Thanks for mentioning that title – I didn’t realise Logsdon had written so many books, and his style is very accessible.
          Self-organizing collapse is an appealing thought; forging ahead, assistant producers one and all.

          • Yeah sure thing, Simon. We also have Logsdon’s hardback practical skills book.

            If anyone’s interested, here’s a brief article by the dairy farmer, also now deceased, from whom Logsdon learned of the B/WC phenomenon. This guy, F.W. Owen, was a a very high-functioning small-scale grassfed dairyman. He would empty out his stock tanks three times a day in summer so as to keep the water as cool as possible because the cows would drink more of it and I’m doing so make more milk.


    • how would people go about managing their differences and organising local society?

      People will gravitate toward centers of production, which will be farms of varying sizes. The owners of the farms will likely become employers and landlords who will organize their properties and their new workforces around the necessity of increased manual labor and decreased mechanical work.

      Landowners and refugees will both have a strong interest in maintaining as much order as possible and preventing the fruits of their labors from being lost or stolen, so various forms of ad hoc policing will emerge and require a substantial amount of cooperation between farms and clusters of farms.

      Huge amounts of bartering will also take place between farms, which will mean that transportation routes between them will need protection and, as the years go by, more and more maintenance (just keeping tree debris cleared will be a big job).

      Apportioning responsibility for these kinds of common support work will require regular communication between farm managers, so some form of regular of council meeting will need to take place in a central hall or barn (they won’t take place over Zoom).

      I expect that a lot of decisions will be made by consensus, since no one will have the authority or ability to prevent disgruntled managers from refusing to participate. Perhaps some form of vote-based decision making will be agreed on eventually.

      It may be that a small coterie of very large landowners with high numbers of employees will make the decisions or at least have veto power over decisions made by the councils.

      All this local self-organization will depend on the absence of outside military forces imposing their will over large areas, in which case it would be the leaders of those forces who will control the decision making process.

      However, it will almost always be in the interest of everyone to keep production from farms as high as possible, if only so that production can be taxed. It may be that farm councils will still make most of the local decisions and regularly send delegations to the heads of military forces for consultation and instructions.

      This could rapidly evolve into an incipient representative democracy or else an aristocracy, depending on how much control the most powerful (military commanders) want to exert. Whether top-down or bottom-up, the farm worker will likely have the same life. It will be the land owners and the farm managers that will have the most to gain or lose from the decision making process.

      • Hey Joe,

        Enjoyed the comment, thanks.

        The present circumstances represent peak totalitarianism. The system may be privatized but that merely means the privatization of totalitarianism has proven to be the most efficient way for the plutocrats to increase their wealth in the Age of Oil.

        On the backside of peak totalitarianism, the forces of centralization will always seek to maximize their control. It is as plain as the noses on our faces that we are currently in the midst of what I call Globalist Perestroika, which is the USSA-led inverse socioeconomic restructuring of what the USSR undertook. Globalism, which is internationalist capitalism taken to its logical conclusion, is being reverse engineered into national socialisms, because that is the initial political structure best suited for industrial collapse.

        National Socialism in all likelihood means that all commercial farms will either be nationalized outright or have to meet very strict quotas. My guess is that almost all operations will be nationalized because almost all operations carry debt obligations they won’t be able to meet when the systemic banking crisis hits.

        I personally would never involve myself in that kind of situation. It will not be pretty.

        Not running surpluses in marginal hill country while staying above the fray of the flatlanders is generally where we’ll find the open spaces to fall in love with Life all over again.

        • The role that language plays shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to managing and organising a future local society with a higher proportion of immigrants. While there remains the possibility of some choice, in Europe at least it seems that societies where the language spoken is English, German or French, understandably boast the largest influx, whereas – one imagines – fewer displaced people seek to settle somewhere where they first, ideally, have to learn a language that’s wholly new to them, and not widely spoken. How that might play out in the future is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, producing food is an international language of sorts, whereas the intricacies of how other essential aspects of society should work is much trickier to convey, debate and thrash out with no common language. Perhaps future localism will need to streamline in this and many other ways if it’s to function well enough, lest the local equivalent for mañana become, frustratingly, the most popular spoken word.

      • Found this interesting and appropriate quote from Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man” in a NY Times review an of equally appropriate book by Rebecca Solnit, ” A Paradise Built in Hell”.

        “In the colonies during the Revolutionary War, Paine wrote, ‘there were no established forms of government. … Yet during this interval, order and harmony were preserved as inviolate as in any country in Europe. … The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.’”

        • Thanks Joe. Thomas Paine was an exceptional man. Had he benefitted from a mature field of 20th-century cultural anthropology, which as I’ve argued is now being buried post-haste by woke neoliberal institutionalism, he would have connected the final dots and become an animist. At which point he would have bowed out of public life.

    • To come back to Chris’ question about organizing a small farm future in the face in large scale migration –

      I’m still getting hung up on the initial conditions. We are 400 miles from the center of North America. I don’t suppose that we will be seeing many Canadians coming this way. Most likely we will see residents from Minneapolis. The first ones could be people we know.

      For much of the year there is not a lot to eat in farm country. If farmers are storing their crops waiting for better prices, there could be corn and soybeans. But nobody eats them. A whole dairy cow is a pretty daunting hunk of meat to try to barbecue. Produce is only available for 5, maybe 6 months of the year. No one, no one, is growing small grain much less storing it.

      Many city folks are not gardeners. More are probably able to cook raw products, but I’m not sure how many. Few will come with a stash of seeds. Even if they did, and it was spring time it will be 45-60 days before there is anything they can eat. Fall would be tough. Winter a complete disaster.

      Where would they live ? How would they keep warm ? What would they eat ?

      I suspect that once we are full up with people we know, the larger group of us, would not be excited about strangers taking our food. Even after that as the situation settled down, I still don’t think we would be receptive to strangers taking our food or firewood. Our neighbors would probably all be aligned with that too.

      The first order of business would be to provide for the common defense. The second would be to make sure we had enough to eat for a year or so. Third would be to keep warm in the winter.

      I think that consensus would be the first choice for decision making with majority rule as a back up.

  13. A few quick remarks on new comments.

    On political concord, thanks for the answers to my question – I’ll get onto this issue properly when I reach Part IV of my book in this cycle. And thanks Joe for the Solnit/Paine stuff. I drew on Solnit’s book in my own one. I think her insights are important – how to normalize the solidarity found in extraordinary times in less extraordinary ones is a key challenge.

    On Simon’s point about language, yes I’m sure this is important. Although to some extent people go to the places with the most prosperous economies, which by some strange coincidence often seem to be the metropoles of once far flung colonial empires whose languages have become globalized. Not so much in the case of Germany, though – the backstory there is kind of the exception that proves the rule. But none of this undermines Simon’s wider points.

    To expand on tree felling, I’ve written about this previously but the lowdown is that I manage about 7 acres of woodland that I planted nearly 20 years ago on 10×10′ spacings, so currently doing a lot of thinning – especially since sadly most of the European ash is now dying from chalara, so I’m cutting more than I otherwise would and replanting other species. We use the wood I cut for winter space/water heating (especially the ash) and for constructional uses (especially oak & sweet chestnut). For the firewood, I cut one winter and use it the next. I can’t say I’d be wild keen to dispense with my chainsaw and do it by hand, but I respect those that do. In terms of carbon balance and dabbling in the dark arts of technocracy, my take is that a chainsaw is about the least problematic of the various machines used on the homestead, but I’m open to debating it. I’d assume those who don’t use chainsaws don’t use cars or trucks either, the latter seeming to me a considerably more problematic technology, though maybe all of them are part of the same juggernaut…

    Finally, thanks Sean for your thoughtful response regarding politics. I enjoy hearing your perspectives on these issues, which are quite relevant to a post coming up soon, so I will come back to this then. Briefly, I think your line of argument about the dangers of slipping from civic virtue into a shallower liberalism is a good one, and I won’t resist it strongly. Perhaps there’s scope for a counter-argument along the lines that while political society is a given, its brute existence doesn’t radically determine its shape, so there’s a case for scepticism about normative claims in this area. On the secularization of sovereignty, I think there’s some force to your arguments but I’d beg to differ on some points of emphasis, not least around the sovereign as idol, but I’ll aim to come back to this in the new year. Thanks for engaging me on it!

    By the way, I’m reading McCarraher’s ‘Enchantments of Mammon’ – an even bigger book than GW’s! – and am enjoying it. I’ll try to get around to Macintyre again soon, and come back to some of your points once they’re under my belt! I’m reasonably open to natural law and virtue arguments, but I don’t think the ‘contrivance’ point can so easily be assimilated to liberalism or social contract theory. Anyway, more soon.

    • And ironically perhaps, it is precisely those countries whose languages haven’t taken the world by storm – I’m thinking of Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and many others around here – that some kind of small farm future that will always be a good fit with the world can today be carved out more easily than in wealthier and more populous ones. For the price of the family iPhones, around my locale you can still find a modest abode with some land, a well, various outbuildings and an inheritor showing you around whose bearing might say ‘there you go, son – what more do you want?’
      So along with the language, an attitude that would consider the above scenario as a potential paradise built in paradise, wouldn’t go amiss.

      • Simon, we bought land with a well, a year round creek, and a few outbuildings including a hand-dug dugout house. Paradise indeed. 🙂

        • Good for yous (plural), and as you maintain/improve it, and plant usefully all around it, ditto for future generations, with some luck. I feel certain you are doing all of that and more, and that your hearts are in it. Season’s greetings!

          • Simon, thanks for the warmth and encouragement. All we can do is try. It’s the honest trying that counts and not the outcome. The honest trying of living beings is the qualitative definition of collective Life itself.

  14. Sorry to hear about the trees. It’s not the fungus, of course, that’s killing them. It’s other circumstances. The fungus is a saprophyte that lives on dying or dead tissue and cannot live on healthy living tissue. Therefore the fungus cannot ‘infect’ healthy tissues and be the cause of their disease and death. We’re exposing germ theory, here, as the asinine theory that it is.

    There must be something(s) going on with the European ash population to cause the die-off. Particular sensitivities to industrialism. While conifers thrive under such conditions, uniform, high density plantations are a stressor for most hardwoods. Not saying you shouldn’t have. 420ppm co2 levels don’t help. Trees have elevated lignin production in elevated co2. Elevated lignin must cause it’s own internal stress, and elevated lignin certainly reduces nutrient cycling of leaf litter which means probable nitrogen deficiency to some degree.

    You planning on managing any of them as coppicewood, and seeing if they come back healthy? If you have a grouping that you felled you could let a couple in the middle go and see what happens. Then maybe when you can’t get gas for your power saw anymore you can still be a woodcutter without killing yourself. 🙂

    I’m a woodcutter too. Limb and buck with a stihl 261, love her. I’m tractor logging my fir/maple forestland for firewood and chainsaw milling, converting it to maple coppicewood silvopasture. Getting some nice straight poles in the middle. Three years in and some are four-inches at the base. Amazing.

    • reante said:

      Sorry to hear about the trees. It’s not the fungus, of course, that’s killing them. It’s other circumstances. The fungus is a saprophyte that lives on dying or dead tissue and cannot live on healthy living tissue. Therefore the fungus cannot ‘infect’ healthy tissues and be the cause of their disease and death. We’re exposing germ theory, here, as the asinine theory that it is.

      There is pretty good evidence to suggest that
      Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (causal organism for ash dieback) is more a facultative saprophyte than a simple saprophyte. For instance you might want to check out:
      Particularly this:
      The research
      Three years on and what has been achieved? We have a good genome sequence of H. fraxineus, revealing that it does not contain the great diversity of genes for wood degradation like those used by wood-rotting fungi, but it does possess cell wall-degrading enzymes such as cellulases and pectate lyases used for cellular penetration. It also synthesises toxins, effectors and predicted protein inhibitors to help it evade plant defenses.

      There also appears to be genetic variation in the host population for some levels of tolerance (and/or resistance) to H. fraxineus. Dying hosts do not display this trait against saprophytes.

      When you have a second, I’d enjoy seeing your source for the saprophyte assertion made above.

      While at it, if you can, please expand on how the germ theory is asinine.

      Like Greg and Chris ( comment:December 19, 2021 at 15:12) I’ve been outside a bit… so I do still owe you an explanation of how you’ve mangled evolution in comments from last week. I’ve a hunch the difficulty you’re having with the biology of ash dieback may be related to your impressions of evolution.

      • Hey Clem,

        Whether the fungus among us (FAU) is a facultative anaerobe or a true anaerobe makes no diff regarding the fact that they can only eat diseased dying and dead tissues. Facultative anaerobes emerge from dormancy in low oxygen conditions, which are diseased and dying conditions, either after the organism has cut off the oxygen supply to the tissue or after the tissue has become to intoxicated to function.

        Ash trees are highly aerobic organisms. The FAU cannot be around aerobic tissues (unless they are in spore form which is their protected, dormant state) because oxygen is toxic to them. This is biology 101, whether the fiat industrial, less-natural establishment teaches it or not.

        The establishment likes to bargain with reality and the ‘facultative’ dissimulation is exactly that.

        For all intents and purposes, both facultative and true anaerobes are saprophytes. There are exceptions to this rule, called aerobic saprophytes, but they are ‘edge’ creatures eating diseased and dead organic matter in otherwise oxygenated environments such as the linings of respiratory tracts.

        Germ theory is asinine because it is stupidly untrue and incredibly destructive. (See the fake pandemic.) Agrarians didn’t believe in ‘germs.’ ‘Germs’ are simply saprophytes. They’re not microscopic terrorists. And in fact we couldn’t live without them, seeing as how they are an essential part of our microbiome. As anaerobes lying in pervasive dormancy throughout aerobic organisms, their job is to wake up within diseased and dying tissues in order to eat them – so that we can grow new tissue. By nature it’s a dirty job cleaning up, in our mammalian case, putrifying meat and rancid fat and so naturally anaerobic metabolites are toxic. Processing these toxins by enzymatic activity and filtering them out is what we call detoxification, and it causes secondary symptoms to whatever it was that caused the primary symptom which was a mass casualty event of cell death.

        Correlation does not equal causation.

      • Oh, Clem, I didn’t address this ‘money’ quote you provided from the industrial ‘biology’ article:

        “Three years on and what has been achieved? We have a good genome sequence of H. fraxineus, revealing that it does not contain the great diversity of genes for wood degradation like those used by wood-rotting fungi, but it does possess cell wall-degrading enzymes such as cellulases and pectate lyases used for cellular penetration. It also synthesises toxins, effectors and predicted protein inhibitors to help it evade plant defenses.”

        The FAU has to eat, and ust like the rest of us, it uses enzymes in order to do so.

        Life itself has a seamless and symbiotic relationship with Death. It is not a binary relationship. Being a Facultative ‘crossover’ microbes are WHAT enable the seamlessness, by having the ability of early recognition of Life turning to Death. Oxygen levels determine the fertility range for facultative anaerobes in the same way that mineral bioavailability determines the fertility range for common bluegrass. Healthy tissues are not within the fertility range of facultative anaerobes.

        Cellulase and pectate lyases are used by the FAU because OTHERWISE diseased and potentially-dying but not-yet-dead ash tree tissues cannot be eaten by the FAU without them. Obviously.

        Just because the FAU is an extremely competitive, ‘invasive’ species does not mean it is, in and of itself, BAD. Like everything else in Life, other than civilized man, it’s just going about its business of honestly trying. And dishonestly-trying civilized man wants to blame the FAU by psychologically projecting his own now-global destructiveness onto the FAU, so as to avoid taking responsibility for the profound ecological disturbance he has caused. He points a finger at FAU but has three other fingers pointing back at himself.

        “Toxins, effectors, and protein inhibitors.” The toxins are metabolites of low-oxygen matabolism. The effectors and protein inhibitors are tools the FAU uses in order to take out the trash so that the ash tree can create new or scar tissue. The FAU’s job is to break down the dying cells in order for the host organism, the ash tree, to be able to clear them.

        The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear makes sound minds unsound. Make brilliant minds stupid. We all have experienced how dumb we get when we’re anxious. The Imperial, Industrial Establishment self-selects for fear-riddled human beings.

  15. Back to Chris’s question on organising and managing in communities with a higher number of refugees, there’s a tendency to imagine that climate refugees will be making their way to us. It could work the other way around. Then there will be those for whom the climate in a modern society begins to ring hollow, and who seek refuge elsewhere.
    This short and often humorous documentary concerns the latter, a couple who left their UK 9-to-5s to live the rural life in, of all places, a Hungarian village. They face many of the obstacles climate refugees can face – zero language initially, very little money – and also had no experience of running a smallholding, horticulture, and killing animals for the table. They are revisited after a year, and it is heart-warming to see what great strides they made in their garden, and in the wider community.

    Signing off now, also in a Hungarian village, where the duck is stuffed and plucked. Now we just need to kill it. 🙂
    Merry Christmas!

  16. So … a final comment for the year, aiming to wrap up a few things, before I get to wrapping up a few other things …

    On human essences, what I think I’ve learned from the discussions here is that what’s essential for people is (1) a need for food & shelter (2) a need for politics, and (3) a need to bargain with reality (broadly what I call ‘symbolic goods’ in my book). Point (3) basically encompasses anything involving words (of which ‘reality’ is one, but is maybe not ‘just’ a word). As I see it, point (3) also encompasses notions that there are pristine and unconflicted cosmological or biotic orders. All told, these three points under-determine the correct way to think about life and reality, though they’re possibly enough to suggest that some of the mainstream ways of thinking about them in contemporary global civilization are inadequate.

    One implication of the above from my perspective is that, Reante, I’m on quite a different intellectual, political and spiritual journey to you and I have quite a different way of engaging others about it, such that I’m doubtful I will find dialogue with you especially fruitful. I say this just to be upfront about my lack of response to your comments. Still, Small Farm Future can be a place of many voices, so I appreciate you visiting my site and sharing your thoughts.

    One thing I will engage with briefly is your term ‘woke neoliberal’ which, while I think problematic in several ways, is also potentially illuminating. I’m not sure exactly who you’re aiming it at. I don’t think it’s a fair characterization generally of Graeber and Wengrow, but having said that I note there’s an interview with David Wengrow in Jacobin – house magazine for what I think could be characterized only a little unfairly as a ‘woke neoliberal’ version of cornucopian technocratic leftism. In it, just as Alex feared in his comment above, you can see the way GW’s incautious ideas about the scale neutrality of equality are already getting recycled by an ecomodernist urbanism. Wengrow somewhat compounds the issue to my mind by misquoting Benedict Anderson – “imagined communities” not “imaginary communities” – and then applying this take of Anderson’s on modern nationalisms to the very different situation of Paleolithic culture areas.

    Regarding chalara, thanks for the various links. I’ve found, as confirmed in the links, that coppicing is about the worst thing you can do in response to it, but there’s definitely a case for leaving be where possible. I’m juggling that case with the temptation of getting worthwhile firewood while I can and of avoiding the unpleasant challenge of felling dead trees.

    On future political communities, thanks to all who’ve commented on that and to Simon for banging the drum for Eastern Europe – which will almost certainly be a migrant destination in future. I’ll look at the video with interest. In relation to my present theme in the blog cycle, I think it’s important to pay attention to the legacy and re-negotiation of property rights to discern how all this will play out. More on that next year.

    And many thanks Simon for that lovely music video. Who would have thought that a chainsaw brand could inspire such devoted melodic inventiveness? For the sake of balance, I trust you can point me to a similar song in praise of the Husqvarna? Or are you a partisan in that age old debate?

    So finally merry Christmas/happy holidays everyone. And do please stay tuned for a Small Farm Future special commemorative blog post on new year’s day.

    • A new season’s greetings to you, Chris, and thank you for speaking plainly.

      The reason you don’t think dialogue will be fruitful for you is because you’re the Chief around here and you’d like to keep it that way. You have a lot riding on the continuity of the cultivation of your intellectual territory here. Me, I’m a traveling man with nothing to lose, only interested in talking truth back into existence with anyone who may have ears to hear. I’m a facultative anaerobe feeding on the nested hypoxic lies of industrialism; on the lies told about the lies. I am an initiate bound to paying forward the gift that was given to me by other truth tellers who set me on this path in the first place. They showed me that I don’t know where I’m going but that I can hear my way around.

      You won’t debate me on matters of real substance because the arguments I present are based of first truths (fundamentals) that pre-empt any rebuttals that you might have at your disposal. To Clem’s credit, he has upped the ante on reante a couple times, and then folded. Had he the wherewithal to refute, say, the factual microbiological cultural separatisms that are the aerobic and anaerobic communities of organisms — each seamlessly interlinked to each other in hypoxia, by the facultative community — then he would have. It would have been simple to do. But refuting facts can’t be done. No matter how much research Clem does, he will not be able to truthfully argue that facultative anaerobes are biologically capable of eating the healthy, oxygenated tissues of aerobic organisms.

      So how is it that intelligent adults such as ourselves can come to believe such nonsensical ideas completely devoid of reason?

      Hierarchy, of course. What else, right?

      Well here’s an idea: if the hierarchical culture is so ethically bankrupt and rotten to the core that it can no longer come up with a reasonable interpretation of REALITY, as evidenced by its facilitation of mass extinction and climate change and looming nuclear catastrophe not from war so much as from the nuclear power industry that requires grid power to keep from collectively going fukushima, then we need to buck up throw off the lies that shackle us, and get real, because we’re capable of that or we wouldn’t exist in the first place.

      Experimental, holistic coppicing of your ash stand, of a sufficient sample size, including a manual mulching program, and high-grade actively-aerated compost tea applications and a summer watering regimen will, over time, tell you for sure if fertile aerobic Life Itself is capable of avoiding a descent into hypoxia even in the age of 420ppm and chronic air pollution, and wholly unnatural same-age tree plantations of artificially-bred nursery stock transplants that were planted at such an insane density that it could have only been dreamt up by an industrial capitalism that MUST maximize production of commodities at all costs, and externalize blame for any unintended consequences on some of our oldest direct ancestors, the fungi, without whom our lives nor any life could exist.

      So what gives, Chris?

      • I can look out my window and see hierarchy in nature. The chickadees are at the bottom of the heap. Even the juncos push them around. All the way up to the blue jays who scatter all the birds. Amongst the blue jays there are dominant birds. And the hawks will eat them all as well as the mice.

        My conclusion is that hierarchy is a part of the real world.

        Question -Why do you fight with people who should be your allies ? Is the One Truth exclusively yours ?

        • Hey Greg. Thanks.

          None of the natural ordering you described among the wildlife you observed has anything to do with hierarchy. This is a very common misconception.

          Hierarchy means ‘sacred ruler.’ Hierarchy is the religious intraspecies ranking of mankind, and the ranking is always based on the ability to hoard money, directly or indirectly, with money as the market-based proxy for the leveraging of the political power afforded by the monopolizing of surplus natural resources. This is human phenomenon. No other species can leverage the power of agricultural surpluses; they can only leverage the personal power (subsistence power) afforded to them by the creator (nature/evolution/natural, law), which is a totally EARNED, hard-won phenomenon representing billions of years of a particular species harnessing, together in symbiosis the differentiated background field energy gradients and consciousness. The differentiation of personal power across creation is a function of the differentiated, universal Source Energy, and is necessary for Life to exist at all. Without creative tension, and the death of the mouse by beak and talon, there is no Life.

          We sometimes refer to what we see among wildlife and domesticated life also, as ‘natural hierarchy,’ but this is an informal (mis)use of the term. Pecking orders, so to speak, are just a part of Life, and we have to remember that in their natural state not leveraged with agricultural surpluses, they are wholly and fairly earned, by a combination of the fruits of focused ancestral labor and focused living labor.

          I’m not fighting, Greg. This is not about me, and the truth is not mine. Yet holistic truths are singular by definition, or they could not be whole.

          If there be just one Reality in which we presently find ourselves, then, again by definition, there by One Omniscient Truth about the one Reality. Nobody will argue this point because everybody agrees with it – even the most ardent relativist will find himself cornered on this point. Of course, no living being has omniscience, but human powers of observation ARE capable of patterning the One Truth from the ‘bottom-up’, because the differentiation within the natural order are multiple sub-truths (sub- ‘One Truths’)
          nested within the One Truth.

          This fractal explication of the nature of Reality is what I was originally using as a means of critiquing GW’s new book, over on twitter, that resulted in Chris inviting me here.

          If there is one Reality, then there is One (Omniscient) Truth. If Reality has one nature — that of ego-less ecological differentiation — then we can pattern the differentiation without ego, and see that the differentiation all say the same thing and, in doing so, this ‘sameness of saying’ becomes a reliable pattern on which we can hang out hats. We call it a truth. A One Truth. Such as, aerobic organisms and anaerobic organisms are evolutionarily separatist with regard to one another in their respectively healthy states.

          Many ‘one truths’ — all saying the same thing about Reality — are capable of building whole, ‘egoless’ human cultures. Human cultures are, more or less, and depending on the degree of cultivation, living Theories of Everything that are always working towards the One Omniscient Truth, so that they can be well-adapted to their collective non-human ecologicies that collectively and unconsciously operate under the Omniscient Truth (Reality). Naturally, some human cultures will take some cultural turns away from the Truth — that’s Life — and end up sorely regretting it.

          • Hi Reante,
            Sorry to hear that your goat died.

            The English language has moved on from the original Greek derivation, for example, Maslow’s hierarchy of need. A quick internet search does bring up the original meaning but not exclusively. It shows up in fields that have nothing to do with sacred rulers.

            Isn’t reality filtered through our perception ? Put one foot in a bucket of 100F water and one in a bucket of ice water. Then put them in 65F water. your personal experience will say it feels hot and cold at the same time.

            Shadows on the cave wall. Unified field theory. And all that. People have been discussing reality for years and not come to any conclusion.

            Do you think the universe has consciousness ?

      • With all respect, reante, I don’t think that’s quite fair to Chris.

        There’s ancient woodland near me which is, roughly, on 10′ spacings in parts, though the trees themselves do vary in age, so I’m not sure that’s so very unreasonable. If you’re starting a new bit of woodland there are probably worse ways to go about it than planting it up and planning to take some trees out early and let others mature. I’m certain Chris would have given some thought to systemic balance even twenty years ago when he planted the woodland. He writes in passing of some small part of the work he has actually done, and what has or has not worked in his own context, and your response is to say he must have been doing it wrong because it doesn’t line up with your understanding of how aerobic Vs anaerobic microbes function.

        Even if you are right, well, so what if Chris did make some mistakes? I’m sure we all have. He still has to lie in the bed he made: to make the decision about firewood, and about how to spend his (finite) labour in stewardship of the local ecosystem on which he depends. There’s an honest empiricism to that which, I think, outweighs iconoclasm. Don’t get me wrong, I’m
        as angry at industrial crapitalist overproduction as the next person. But I respect Chris’s willingness to try to sketch out something different, both in his ideas and in his practice.

        I do think of Chris more as host than chief, here; if this is because my own biases have made me a welcome guest then so be it, I suppose.

    • Husqvarna?! I seem to recall a certain Leonard (oranges/door hinges) Cohen knew a few words that rhymed with that.
      Happy new year!

  17. Our small local library did not have GW, and the regional network it is part of did not either. Not sure what that says, but the librarian decided to buy it from their modest budget, so I will be the first reader. This tome looks daunting, but it’s winter, so here we go, with a lot of aspects to watch for thanks to your review and subsequent comments.

    My brain cycles are more inclined to work out the puzzles of how our homestead soils, plants and animals can best become more self reliant, resilient, and optimally productive for the full web.

    That said, I try to hang in there when the equally complex puzzle of human behavior in groups is discussed. How we might best prepare for the descent with those behaviors as a key determinant is why I come here, even if the scholarly back and forth gets my head spinning.

    Whether pagan, christian, or whatever, this pause between the growing seasons ( here in the north, anyway) is when there is more time for reflection and planning, and I hope you all can recharge. I’m already poring over seed catalogues, and will use them as breaks between GW chapters.

    • Are you doing much seed saving?.

      In my greenhouse the growing season is not quite paused, more going slowly. Peas, broad beans, lettuce and parsley are all doing well, though I do really need to get the peas outside soon as they are outgrowing their guttering. Between that and remedial work on the new half plot, I don’t feel like there’s much of a pause! That said, the shorter daylight hours do make for more evenings spent reading or mending.

      • Seed saving- yes, some, but not as much as I should be. We currently save seed from our garlic, potatoes, flint corn, and all the various dry beans we grow ( And wheat- I grow a small stand of wheat also). We mostly buy heritage seeds, so could save more if needed, but the more promiscuous plants like tomatoes and squash would need a more complicated garden layout since we grow multiple varieties.

        Our winters are such that there is a definite pause.

        • I have found that tomatoes keep to themselves pretty well if the vines don’t grow together. Even if they do, save the best of what you’ve got. It’s not like you are saving the last Brandywine. Squash are promiscuous but it you only grow one species of each, the crossing is minimal.

  18. Thank you for the great feedback, Kathryn, and hello.

    I included the exposition on egolessness in my most recent and sloppy comment (sorry I was in a hurry) because it relates to the ‘One Truth’ debate regarding Reality, that Greg initiated. In the same way that all individual roads led to the singular Rome, all individual spiritual paths lead to the (singular) One Truth, which is the reason that our universal human heritage, as long-since established by classical CA, was animist.

    Chris isn’t ‘Chris,’ reante isn’t ‘reante,’ greg isn’t ‘greg;’ we clutch at these nominal pearls only because — as the direct descendants of those that surrendered their character-based, indigenous ways of life at Imperial ‘gunpoint’ — so much has been lost. Right?

    When we live in concert with the ecology, following its lead as much as we can, accepting the wise leadership of our Mother, nature, then fewer of us walk the highland paths that cannot support as much life and more of us walk the lowland paths that can support more. They are different bioregional paths heading towards the One Truth that is the Trying – the trying to leave the place better than we found it. It’s that simple, and the nominal pearls — ‘chris,’ ‘reante’ — are neither here nor there. They’re just identifiers for person A and person B.

    If person A has engaged in the culture of agricultural domination, and done so in a nested manner, within AND during, the late-industrial climax phase of agricultural domination, and finds himself on the receiving end of unintended consequences, and responds by externalizing blame onto the blameless, wild nature that he sought to dominate instead of the consequences of his and his culture’s selfsame domination, then it is encumbent upon us, here, to discuss the merits of such externalizing of blame so that we can all better reflects on how we, too, do the same thing and would be wise to try not to do more of it in the future. In that light, person A has taken one for the team and done us all a favor in learning from mistakes and thereby leading by example.

    Ashes are early succession trees. They did not evolve to compete with oaks; with chestnuts I don’t know. Oaks in particular, like walnuts, don’t like others getting all up in their shit, so they exude tannins and juglone, respectively, and over billions of billions of years of egalitarian, applied, competitive consciousness, they earned that right fair and square. My overarching conclusion is the same as yours, Kathryn, person A’s woodland has a life of its own which is, by definition, always a work in progress, and now is apparently the time for most of the ashes to bow out. From person B’s One Truth perspective, the immigrant FAU is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. And who can argue with that? What nominally-clutched pearl can argue with that? Certainly not reante, nor, I believe, anyone else willing to embrace radical honesty.

    Indeed we have all made mistakes. I’m a SLOW learner. Frankly I’m the dumbest of blondes. I make every mistake in the book. Once! 🙂 (I wish…) Let’s learn from each others mistakes. That’s how cultures grow themselves. It’s nothing personal. On the contrary: it’s the putting of our hearts in the ecology, which is the animist way.

    “your response is to say he must have been doing it wrong because it doesn’t line up with your understanding of how aerobic Vs anaerobic microbes function.”

    Kathryn, this is not MY understanding. It is OUR understanding, even if everyone fails to recognize it. Look at the words. Aerobic. Anaerobic.


    They are designations of their respective ecological niches.

    Niches are habitable ecologies.

    Do you see why we need to start living all over again from scratch?

    It’s like we don’t even know up from down anymore.

    • Kathryn one more thing regarding the excerpt from your comment that I quoted.

      I believe you’re misrepresenting my point. I’m not saying Chris planted his forest wrong because of what we know about microbiology. I was saying Chris was wrong to blame the ash dieback on the FAU. I even said to Chris, parenthetically, in my first comment on the matter, that I wasn’t saying he shouldn’t have planted at 10′ x 10.’ He can do whatever he wants, it’s none of my business. Other than in timber formations, 10×10 plantings are considered double-density plantings due for thinning at around ten years.

      Also, regarding the ancient woodlands on tight spacing; it is indeed worth mentioning but as you yourself imply it is also an apples and oranges comparison with respect to Chris’ woodlot.


      • I see. Thank you.

        I think I saw Chris’s description of ash dieback as just that — a description. That doesn’t mean the ash dieback is all the “fault” of a fungus, of course ecology is more complex than that; but the involvement of the fungus might well inform what Chris decides to do next. It sounds like he has indeed already tried coppicing.

        • I hear you, Kathryn, thank you.

          I don’t mean to beat a dead horse but when we get our world rocked it takes a while to get our bearings.

          The plandemic new war on terror that was rolled out by the globalists was done so in order to mask global peak total oil liquids production which finally took place at the end of 2018. The plandemic serves the function of destroying consumer demand on-demand, in order to better manage both financial collapse and supply shortages.

          The spiritual path is at root the consistent making of every personal effort to not miss out on growth opportunities that should happen to cross our path. Each path is different because each person has his or her own path and personal gait. But the growth opportunities themselves are universal. One Truth.

          The plandemic has afforded the perfect example of the universality of growth opportunities. Two years ago, even as a self-professed rewilder, I was a passive, default believer in germ theory. Then again as I always say to myself out of kindness, rewilding is a process. The plandemic is a legendary ogre stepping onto each of our paths and challenging us to either remove him from our path or be forced to leave the path.

          We leave the path and the music stops.

          The ogre has met us at a pass, and behind the ogre we suddenly can see that the path opens up into a lush valley of resonant frequencies that we can feel radiating from here. Radiating right through the ogre.

          All we have to do is use a most rudimentary reasoning process in order to make the ogre vanish, which is this: ‘viruses’ don’t have the physical apparatus to DO anything, in exactly the same way that the FAU doesn’t have the physical apparatus to eat aerobic tissues.

          The plandemic is an epic test of psychological fealty to the neocon/neolib establishment. And I believe it’s a trap being set in order to run the faithful off a cliff, so to speak, at this point of post-peak overshoot – but I digress. We could talk about the new field of proteomics and look at exogenous exosomes (viruses) and the role that they presumably play in evolution. But what we can say for sure is that Covid is all shadow play and if we’re getting shaded out by the ogre blocking our path then we can’t move forward into open space.

          “That doesn’t mean the ash dieback is all the “fault” of a fungus, of course ecology is more complex than that; but the involvement of the fungus might well inform what Chris decides to do next. It sounds like he has indeed already tried coppicing.”

          The FAU is the OPPOSITE of being able to be faulted. In playing a primary role in bringing about the secondary stage of forest succession, the FAU is out on the cutting edge of overhauling Chris’ forest for the better. Lo and behold, the forest is ALIVE!

          Coppicing in order to regenerate a hardwood tree that is dying from the top down is as obvious a management practice as cutting of a gangrene leg before the aerobic person ultimately dies of circulation problems. I recognize that Chris is not managing coppicewood but trunk timbers.

          • I am not at all convinced that our current leaders are competent enough to create a “plandemic”.
            I wouldn’t leave most of them in charge of a lemonade stand.

            I do think stepping away from participation in the systems that have led us into overshoot is an important part of learning to live in some kind of balance. However, I’m keen not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I certainly have ample reason to believe germ theory is true, and aerosol transmission of respiratory viruses, for that matter. Neither of those mean that the wider context is without consequence, of course.

            As for my own stepping away (or stepping towards living in some sort of congruence with truth), it is more gradual than I would sometimes like. I am doing more and more where I am, though.

    • I may well have made a profound mistake this year with regard to oak trees, but I don’t know. We are a grassfed operation. We had our best dairy doe die two days ago. She was 8 years old, getting up there. She went down 24 hrs after giving birth to three robust kids, and never got back up. In the last week of her pregnancy I decided that she had gotten a little too bony on her thoroughly decent but not rich hay I cut this year, along with the plentiful browse. All the other does have been doing fine. So I began her alfalfa rations early. When she went down I figured I just hadn’t properly accounted for her advanced age.

      Talking about tannins here made me recall that we had a bumper crop of of acorns this year, and for weeks the goats hung out under the oak trees a lot eating acorns. The soay sheep love them too. Perhaps some of you will recognize the foolishness of my not rotating them away from the trees, I don’t know, but my current understanding is that goats rarely get acute toxicosis from anything if they have plenty of variety and quality to choose from, which they did. Perhaps she sustained a renal injury from too many acorns a couple months ago that — when combined with an early-season, December kidding this year and, possibly, slightly inadequate hay for her age and her high milk production genetics — tipped over into renal failure. It would also stand to reason that the high-calorie food concentrates that are acorns may hold a little too much appeal to a high- performance milk goat who is past her physical prime but whose will is still strong. Most of us here can probably relate to having bitten off in our prime a little more than we can chew in our old age. Barkis is a little too willin’.

      It has been wet weather these last few weeks so the pure dairy breeds have been going out to browse much less and therefore relying more on the hay.

      I don’t know, but I will need to consider further whether or not to give them free choice access to fresh acorns in the future. It’s never appeared to be a problem before, but nevertheless I bear full responsibility.

      • Sorry to hear about your goat, are the kids being fed by another?

        Acorns have mast years, so it seems to me like the kind of thing that could vary a lot depending on the year. I don’t know anything like enough about goats to speculate further than that.

        • Thanks for the condolences, yes and no, we’re hobbling-on with a mix of purchased milk a what little we have available from another doe this early in the season. The kids are doing well.

          Thanks for your reflection on mast years. My wife said this morning that people on the goat forums agree that you need to be really careful in breeding 8yrs old dairy goats. Greenhorn or not obviously I wasn’t careful enough.

  19. Greg, thanks for your condolences. Dee was a 50-50 alpineXnubian, and our best producer but she was also one of those occasional animals with whom one feels a deep connection. When she was a doeling she jumped over a 52in high cattle panel from a standstill, without touching it. She just sprang right over it. Only goat I’ve seen do that.

    Lots of words get bastardized. Butchered. Sometimes to the point of irony, like the mass psychosis that is the misusage of the word ‘literally.’

    Lots of words get used informally. When I’m talking with my IRL fellow animist friend, I have used the term ‘natural hierarchy’ more than once, in referring informally to the qualitative differentiation of, say, individual ability.

    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a similarly informal use of the term. This psychological ‘hierarchy’ is a conceptual framework for the qualitative differentiation of fundamental human psychological yearnings. If we wanted to we could draw thematic parallels between the ruling, institutionalized caste systems universal to all surplus societies and the ‘rule’ of ‘hierarchical’ fundamentals of human psychology operating under natural law, seeing as how daily human yearning is ultimately ruled by physical necessity. I get that.

    ‘-archy’ means ‘ruler.’ there’s no getting around that. simple reason tells us that rulers are anathema to egalitarian societies. we all know what a ruler is.

    Yes, reality is naturally filtered through our perception. It’s when perception subsequently gets filtered through culture when our perception of reality gets distorted. Do you see? In the movie The Matrix, the mass of humans are lying in sensory deprivation chambers and their (lack of) perception is filtered through the cultural virtual reality. This is an extreme metaphor for the (agri)cultural distortion of reality, which in truth is wild, because as we all know reality itself cannot be farmed.

    Animist cultures were minimalist. Culture served undistorted perception by basing culture on pure reason, because the source of all reason was close observation of cause and effect dynamics in the ecology.

    Do I think the universe has consciousness?

    No, not as such, itself. I do not believe that the universe itself has consciousness. The universe is not a singular entity as the pantheistic religion s would have it. The universe is the totality of individualized Life insofar as life forms can be individualized.

    I have a cosmological framework that I call the home cosmology. It is an animist cosmology and as such is based on pure reason insofar as I can discern it.

    All Life is symbiotic because, as I said in my first comment, life is the symbiotic manifestation of energy and that which animates energy (consciousness). This includes mineral life, which is also energy animated by consciousness. It also includes energy waveforms, which are energies animated into waveforms by consciousness. Symbiotic Life is holographic, in a word. This is based on pure reason and physics verifies the non-physical nature of the energetic symbiont.

    The universe is the collective existence of all symbiotic Life. Right? Meaning the universe is everything. But since Life is indeed a symbiotic hologram of energy and consciousness, the power of deep, ineffable perception that we call Reason (which itself evolved out of our close observations of ecological cause and effect) tells us that symbionts cannot exist in and of themselves in Life, in Reality – by definition. Symbionts only exist in symbiosis with their symbiotic partner(s), again, by definition.

    Therefore, consciousness does not exist in and of itself in the universe. And neither does energy. If they exist independently of each other then they do so elsewhere.

    Animists did not and do not believe in god, but since animism is based on pure reason it does hold that there must be a ‘creator’ because something (the universe) cannot come from nothing. But reason also dictates that nothing can be directly known by humans about the creator, such that the ‘god’ assignation be invalid due to it carrying connotation.

    That said, the home cosmology (HC) does use informalism in making rhetorical use of ‘god’ lol.

    In rhetorical form the HC states that the “elsewhere” referred to above, in which the consciousness symbiont may be hypothesized to reside independently, is ‘outside’ of the universe and ‘in god.’

    Independent consciousness as the C in god. Source consciousness, if you will.

    And energy is the A in god, because energy is the Application to which consciousness applies itself, in order to animate energy. Consciousness applied to the application is AC, or applied consciousness.

    We are applied consciousness.

    If it isn’t already, then going any further would be TMI.

    • You are right, that gets to be a lot of information. Without any context it is a lot confusing.

      How did you come to this belief ?

      If all life is some sort of symbiosis, should we interfere with it ? If so, Capitalism and Consumerism are a symbiotic pair. How do we put a spanner in the works to keep them from pitching all of us into the abyss ?

      Sorry but short declarative sentences work best for me. My bias is that convoluted construction is either jargon or messy thinking.

      • I came to this belief putting the pieces together, formally for the last fifteen years. After a picture starts to form then pattern recognition kicks in, and pieces start falling into place of their own accord. We’re all familiar with proficiency.

        Mentors, hard work, and a proper diet. Nutrient density. I butcher an animal about every week to ten days. The anatolian shepherds get 2/3 and we get 1/3. Bone broth everyday. Water from the well. I’m grounded to my ecology by being consistently loaded up on minerals, especially the metallic minerals. Consciousness is an electromagnetic phenomenon; when we’re fully mineralized in a fully mineralized ecology we’re home free in conscious resonance, and the cosmology flows forth. All animist cultures had some variation of “the great spirit in the sky,” which was a reference to consciousness and not god as the great spirit has oft been mistaken for by civilized man. And “sky” was both sky and earth. “Sky” was energy.

        No, we shouldn’t interfere with Life. That was the whole point of animism. We moved away from that with the interference that was the agricultural intensification of the mode of production. The hydraulic societies that emerged in the river valleys. The waterworks for the plantations.

        Capitalism and consumerism are not symbiotic in the true (biological) sense. They are economic phenomena which are cultural products of human metaconsciousness (MC in the home cosmology). Even in an informal sense I would not say that capitalism and consumerism are mutually inclusive because ANY market-based economy is a Capitalist economy because capital is the means of exchange. Socialist, ‘non-consumer’ economies are still capitalist in that they, too, function on capital flows. Socialism, whether national or Marxist International, is just a highly-regulated form of capitalism so as to minimize economic inequality, in order to minimize social and economic instability. National Socialism is where all countries are headed next out of necessity. The plandemic fiasco is serving the secondary function of destroying the neolib/neocon establishment – coming soon to a theater near you. The plandemic ‘resistance’ culture will take its place. Tulsi Gabbard, Sarah Wagenknecht – people like them, national socialists, will rise to the power of puppetry over the next few disastrous years. IMO. The elite are pretty sharp, and pay people smarter than themselves to think for them besides. This is what global Perestroika looks like.

        Ironically, perhaps, I’m rather optimistic about TPTB doing a good job of collapse. They’re the opposite of suicidal so it’s in their interest to do a good job. With the genetic weakening of billions of people this year, we can see that Perestroika is well under way. It pays for the elite to be proactive. It pays for us to be proactive, too. The elite appreciate us maintaining the polarity.

  20. Kathryn,

    Regarding the well-worn plandemic, briefly. The ‘elected’ officials aren’t the ones calling the shots. The intelligence services and the bankers are together calling the shots. Civilization is a People Farm primarily farming people. All farms have intelligent, competent management, or they don’t exist for long. This People Farm has existed for a long time. The managers pay many people just to think through the management of the farm. Of course they do, because their own dates are tied to the ongoing success of the farm.

    To think that “no one is driving the bus” may be comforting (or not) but it flies in the face of reason because centralization of production requires centralization of management.

    The plandemic required very little to implement. A fake field of science, in viro’logy,’ and a fake dia’gnostic,’ in the PCR test. And a global PR campaign. They picked a ‘coronavirus’ because they are the ubiquitous class of cyclical detox exosomes, which are the intercellular communication protein messengers.

    ‘Viruses’ are, for all intents and purposes, actually exosomes. There are other cell particles resembling the supposed viruses, too, but exosomes are the functional cell particles which virology mischaracterizes. Exosomes are made by all eukaryotes. They are intercellular messages – one of the ways in which our body intelligently manages itself, like a farm. If ‘no one was driving the bus’, as in our unconscious, we would not be alive. Just like the global economy, which also ‘unconsciously’ managed, as in, outside of public view – just like any corporation is.

    Endogenous exosomes are those with which we communicate to ourselves. Exogenous exosomes are those that leave our bodies, in aerosols and otherwise, and enter other bodies. The transmission you speak of. That is true. Remember though that these exosomes are simply amino acids in single or double strands, and such genetic strands cannot functionally be anything other than information. Virology preposterously claims that these nucleic acid protein strands can perform complex functions. Yet they are simply encased in a hard protein shell, for structural protection of the message, which itself is encased in a fat layer for preservation, and may or may not have enzymes embedded in the fat layer. And that’s it. That’s all they are, even according to virology. And NOBODY on the planet — not me, not you, not anyone we know — can use Reason to justify what it is they say that ‘viruses’ are capable of. Just like with anaerobes. It’s a simple challenge: make it make sense. Make it accord with everything else we know about reality.

    Disease spreading DOES happen, but it is not contagion. Exogenous exosomes are evolutionary messengers that the collective unconscious bodily processes of all eukaryotes on the planet use for Adaptation. We are always fine-tuning our response to our environment. These exosomes are a huge part of evolution. Evolution is not random mutation via the reproductive cycle. That’s ridiculous. Evolution is a living continuum of microadaptions.

    In this highly homogenized industrial world we live in, people are subject to generally the same toxic exposures at generally the same time. Family members particularly so. Sicknesses are the body’s acute detox cycles. Detoxing is tough love. We don’t like it but if we don’t do it we eventually die. Given the homogenization, it stands to reason that peoples’ detox cycles might align.

    Beyond that we know that conscious resonance is part of Reality. Women’s mentrual cycles align, for a classic example. Another classic and spectacular example is the infinitely repeatable lab experiment in which one beaker has dna in it and another beaker on the other side of the room has free nucleic acid in it. When UV light is shone onto the free acids self-assemble into the same dna strand as that which is in the other beaker. Conscious resonance.

    On the other hand, germ theory has NEVER shown contagion to happen. Not once. It’s all the imaginary power of suggestion, as opposed to the real, organic power of suggestion that is exosomal communication.. Yet we go on believing virology, too, even though viruses have never been observed hijacking and replicating inside of cells. Even though they have no bodily functions. It’s crazy.

    I challenge you, Kathryn, to justify your “ample reason” to believe that germ theory is true.

    Cheers. 🙂

    • I would encourage folks to check out Zach Bush’s ‘virome’ presentation. He has a long and a short version. He uses the term virus in order to be more accessible, but his treatment of them is exosomal.

      If we are to be biological farmers we need to understand true biology.

    • Chicken pox, measles, mumps; historically, smallpox. Cholera. Malaria. Polio.

      These are all contagious diseases with clear evidence of being caused by microorganisms. Viruses in particular don’t, by themselves, “do” anything — they use our cells to do it instead. That’s how viruses reproduce.

      I am fortunate that due to vaccination, climate and public sanitation measures for drinking water, the only one of these diseases I have experienced first hand is chicken pox. If we had known then (as we know now) that airborne transmission of chicken pox is possible, I might have avoided it entirely and eventually been able to get a vaccine instead.

      Of course, ot all diseases are caused by microorganisms; of course not all microorganisms cause disease. I’m rather fond of bacterial fermentation myself. But I’ll continue preserving and storing my food in ways that eliminate botulism, I’ll continue washing my hands, I’ll continue wearing a mask in enclosed spaces (and more generally limiting my indoor exposure in periods of high transmission).

      I don’t think the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled well in most places, but I certainly don’t think it’s fake.

  21. Hey Reante.

    I’ve not read your entire output in this conversation, but have looked through a fair bit.

    I’m interested in some of the stuff you have to say but like Greg find it hard to follow as it’s a little verbose.

    Three things to say really though.

    Firstly. I’d be interested in some links. I.e. your dna/acid beaker experiment reference. I’m perfectly willing to listen al all viewpoints but find that hard if I can’t see the info folk are basing their statements on.

    Secondly. It seems to me that the animist cultures aren’t in general trying to make universal claims to truth. Would you agree? I would have thought animist (maybe indigenous?) world view’s are highly subjective and context specific. I.e. highly attuned to making sense of the world in the specific and rooted contexts from which they arose. So, not perhaps interested in, or claiming, universal truths. Also seems to me that a lot of the problems in the world arise from the post/enlightenment insistence that knowledge (perhaps more importantly practice) can be non specific, objective and universalised. Final observation. Your post describing the home cosmology seems to be a sort of version of a universal animist cosmology? Perhaps? I’m not trying to attack your ideas but also think in many ways that’s a bit of an impossibility. I don’t think you can really have an animist universal cosmology. Do all animist cultures have the same underlying world view?
    Perhaps that rationalist tendancy to want to univeralise is strong in you?
    Seems to me science can tell us interesting things about how physical processes work and allow us to create dazzling tech but not much more.
    Animism/spiritualality/beleive/cultural practice (whatever) can tell us much more about how to live. I’m not sure the two come together in the way you seem to be suggesting..
    Basically I don’t buy that pure reason or true objectivity can exist. So I don’t really buy claims made with these assumptions, be they overreaching scientific claims rooted in a rationalist/materialist world view, or the ideas of an individual arising from their specific, subjective interpretation of the world around them.

    Third point. Not 100% sure I get you ideas about germ theory but try telling me I can’t get sick from having my toddlers and young children cough and sneeze all over me and I’ll have trouble beleiveing you. Prior to the kids we never got ill now they are out licking bus windows, kissing other kids, sharing snacks and swapping covid facemasks and we have a fairly ongoing run of colds. Surely our bodies weren’t just waiting for the right inputs/information to go though a detox round? Have I misunderstood you?


    • Hi Hanno.

      I agree. I think the idea of a “universal truth” is flawed.

      The bookshops of Glastonbury are full of such claims of truth. It just illustrates how imaginative the human mind can be.

      As you say, our experience of the world is subjective. How else can it be? We experience the world through our senses. But these senses don’t necessarily give us the whole picture. In fact, I don’t think us humans will ever be able to see/experience the “whole picture”.

      There may be realities out there that we just can’t experience or even imagine.
      Try explaining the idea of colour to someone who is colour blind.
      Or smell to someone who can’t smell.
      They can only really be understood through the experience of them.

      A blind fish living at the bottom of the ocean has no knowledge of the sun, moon, solar system, milky way, cosmos. Or even land, air or sky,.
      The fish’s reality is different to ours.
      What’s to say that out reality is also not the complete picture. Is our reality also limited?

      Watching rice resonances was an eye opener for me. A hint of realities/phenomenon beyond my experience.

      Then there is the electro magnetic field or Infra red and ultra violet. We have created devices that help us to “see” these things, but we can’t experience them “first hand”.

      So the idea that we can find a universal truth when we can’t even experience the “universal” seems like a pointless quest to me.

      If you think you’ve found it Reante, then good luck to you.

      We all try to make sense of our worlds. To try and create some control through understanding. Otherwise we live in perpetual anxiety.
      I see it with my autistic son. His anxiety reduces the more control he has over his environment. My anxiety threshold his higher than his, but I still need to feel that I have an understanding of the world around me and so some kind of control/agency.

      The Aztecs thought that, by cutting someone’s heart out, they gained some control/influence over the gods. That they could please the gods and prevent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. To have some control. (Maybe their religion was so violent because they lived in an area of very “violent” geology. One was a reaction to the other?) Without this senses of control, living where they did would have been mentally unbearable.

      I think all humans do this. Hence the wierd and wonderful collection of books in those Glastonbury bookshops. Without a “story” we are adrift and feel vulnerable.
      The “story” isn’t the same for everyone, but the need for a “story” is.

      • Some proselytizing ‘missionaries’ came to the door one day. Isn’t this a form of arrogance, I asked? One of them admitted that it was.

        • If a wheel can be trued, Steve, then so can Life. It’s a strawman argument, or a red herring, to conflate religious missionaries with truth tellers.

          Whether or not they had eyes to see, what you might have done was take the time and the effort to show the missionaries exactly where their imperial faith falls short of universal human Reason.

          • Reante

            Sometimes life just feels too short to have the conversation.

            If the “missionaries” feel like they are on the right path, then good luck to them.

          • “Universal Human Reason”.

            Kinda puts humans at the centre of the universe again. I though Copernicus had put a stop to that?

            What about “universal octopus reason”? Isn’t that just as valid?

          • Is it a strawman argument (or red herring) to mention perceived similarities between religious missionaries who proselytize and “truth tellers” who proselytize?

          • You’re right John, sometimes life is too short to have the conversation. And yes, good luck to them. Thanks.

      • John I’m not suggesting I nor anyone else is omniscient. Only omniscience can provide the “whole picture.” I assume it’s not intentional but it’s still a strawman argument to turn my advocacy for a holistic pattern recognition operating system into a pathological desire for omniscience.

        You’re right there is a need for a story in the same way that once you have an opposable thumb there’s a need for a hand tool. This conversation, for me anyway, is about us writing a home story that we can be proud of because the dominant culture’s stories are almost all total bullshit upon close inspection. Total bullshit isn’t good enough for me. To return to the OP, GW saying that egalitarian civilizations were common and can be again isn’t good enough thinking for me. Not even close. It’s classic establishment co-optation in service of a co-opted anti-capitalism… at the end of capitalism. Again, things that make you go hmmmmmm.

    • Hey Hanno,

      Briefly on the conscious resonance experiment, and then I’ll have to address the rest of your comment and the other much appreciated comments later.

      What I presented, about the self-assembling nucleic acid, was Tom Cowan’s distillation of the ‘Spiegelman’s Monster’ experiments.

      I’ve just looked up the experiments.

      Spiegelman took bacteriophage rna, a single replicase enzyme, and free nucleic acid and, since we live in a thermodynamic universe, shone a light on it. The replicase and free acid turned into the rna. Then, Spiegelman took a piece of this synthesized rna and put it in a separate tube, with a replicase enzyme and free nucleic acid, and shone a light on it. The rna was replicated. Then he kept doing these replications until there was no original rna in the replications.

      These experiments spoke to what I’ve been speaking to on the symbiotic origins of Life. On the ‘material’ level, the piece of rna plus the replicase enzyme (a protein) plus the free nucleic acids, should not be able to ‘know’ how to build the whole rna replication when the dual- electromagnetic and thermodynamic wave functions of the light interacting with the water solution generate the Life reaction. Herein lies the conscious resonance: ENOUGH of the pattern for the whole rna is there, so source consciousness — the C in ‘god’ — patterns it, and applies the resonant patterning to the Application — the A in, in this case, the synthetic lab ‘god’ — which is the everything in the test tube including the water and the light.

      Tom Cowan’s verbal distillation of the experiments, that he gives in some of his interviews, omits the replicase enzyme which is why I did, too, because I was taking his word for it. The reason he does is obviously because the enzyme doesn’t change the nature of the process. The way i told it made it sound like a quantum entanglement, or nonlocal, phenomenon. And that’s exactly what it is.

      Here are two references and I look forward to your response:'s%20monster%22%20ultra%20violet&f=false

      • Tom Cowan’s (and thus my) retelling also left out the rna piece. One might think that to do so is to exaggerate the ‘magical’ nonlocalism. I expect that Tom, whom I refer to as the Yoda of the Terrain lol, would reply that in interviews he generally follows the KISS principle, and that his simplified retelling of the experiment is essentially true. And he would be absolutely correct.

    • Hanno,

      Regarding historical animist cultures. Sure, they were VERY context specific. True locals, baby. They were keeping it as real as it can be kept. No doubt.

      Nevertheless, evolutionarily they were exactly like us with the exception that were much more robust. I say the obvious because civilized people tend to think they are superior to indigenous people, and I just want to remind ourselves of that wayward tendency so that it doesn’t color our thinking during this conversation.

      For all intents and purposes, if we, as home cultural anthropologists, put ourselves in their shoes, using our powers of our own life experience in combination with reason-based insight, we can look into the nature of their reality because as I’ve said previously, there is only one ecological Reality.

      So, no, I don’t agree with you when you say,

      “It seems to me that the animist cultures aren’t in general trying to make universal claims to truth. Would you agree? I would have thought animist (maybe indigenous?) world view’s are highly subjective and context specific. I.e. highly attuned to making sense of the world in the specific and rooted contexts from which they arose. So, not perhaps interested in, or claiming, universal truths.”

      Cosmologies ARE universal claims, Hanno. Perhaps you did or didn’t read my first comment here, or another one, detailing animist cosmology. In classic anthropology and even mainstream dominant culture it is widely regarded that animism was the ontology common to all pristine subsistence societies. Now having said that, I don’t doubt that there existed animist people’s who had very limited cosmologies so as to be effectively unrecognizable to us heady modern peoples. Obviously as early humans evolved into homo sapiens with the use of language and the development of a dense metaconsciousness so did cosmology evolve, such that the transitional human species was not so much a ‘storytelling’ animist as it was a functional animist.

      Cosmologies are universal claims because they are making claims about reality – and reality is Everything. Right? Right.

      Correct me if I’m wrong but you appear to be conflating universalism with Chris’ original criticism of (me) regarding (my)(political) absolutism.

      We have to recognize the political relativism that ‘democratic,’ multikulti, secular society has ingrained into our psyche.

      Gotta run more later.

    • Hanno,

      “Your post describing the home cosmology seems to be a sort of version of a universal animist cosmology?”

      Yes it’s an animist cosmology, about the universe (Reality), because cosmologies are frameworks cultures use in service of getting everybody to agree on how to live in immediate Reality which is the ecology.

      But it’s not a universal cosmology. Only imperial cosmologies are universalist, hegemonic cosmologies. Such as many religious cosmologies. Such as also the industrial cosmology within which germ theory finds itself, which itself we see is currently imposing it’s imperial designs on the unvaxxed and sovereign freedoms in general.

      “Perhaps? I’m not trying to attack your ideas but also think in many ways that’s a bit of an impossibility. I don’t think you can really have an animist universal cosmology. Do all animist cultures have the same underlying world view?
      Perhaps that rationalist tendancy to want to univeralise is strong in you?”

      Animism, historical and contemporary, is the worldview that everything we can sense with our five senses is energy animated by consciousness. That everything that moves and doesn’t move, that can be seen and not seen, can be felt and not felt, touched and tasted, and not, is (energy) animated by (some variation on) the great spirit in the sky (consciousness), and therefore, we all brothers and sisters fairly cooperating and competing in Life and Death. Yes, this was the underlying worldview of animists. How, and how well, they went about pursuing their mode of subsistence varied, of course, but they didn’t vary THAT much because ecologies don’t vary THAT much from one to another, only the basic level anyway. On the granular level, sure; hunting buffalo is quite different from hunting rabbit; learning their respective behaviors takes time and focus, as does recognizing the ecological impact of hunting them.

      Animism was in historical fact our universal, human, subsistence-society heritage before the late-paleolithic age whereupon human societies finally began to intractably bump up against each other due to chronic human compaction. The age of chronic human compaction in global ecology inevitably caused some societies to ‘cheat’ and intensify their mode of production from subsistence to running structural surpluses which began in river valleys where waterworks and floodplains could easily be taken advantage of.

      My rationalist tendency to want to universalize is only with respect to such things as CAN be universalized, such as our universal heritage. If I’m universalizing anything that cannot be universalized please do let me know, in the same way that I am in the process of letting you guys know that your universalizing of germ theory is a major ontological mistake, and doing my best to say why.


  22. Reante,

    I have an aquaintance in intelligence and relatives in The Military and other ‘strategic’ business’s.

    While they wont always come clean for obvious reasons they know how the world works and what the issues in the future are – look at some of the stuff the US Military has produced in climate change.

    They are very concerned and knowlegable about both ‘supply’ and political issues – the Northern Ireland Peace Process was in part kicked off by The Army saying that it could do no more in terms of bringing peace to the province.

    I suggest that its the money people – banks, and teh super rich we need to be afraid of.

    • Hey John.

      I agree with you. The money masters are at the top of the pyramid scheme. They finance the intelligence services.

      Sure, the people in the intel services all majored in political science and other worldly edumacations, but their professional work is hyper-cloistered. My dad was career CIA. He told me that no one knew what anyone else was working on. Not even the station chiefs. EVERYTHING went through Langley. It was all structured like one big manhattan project. You go out to lunch with your coworkers and you talk about anything but work. Pretty wild, huh?

      Kathryn, do you think anybody at Langley knows anything about anything? I’m pretty sure at least a couple bombs came out of that manhattan project anyway. Just teasing. 🙂

      John, yeah, I remember the German military report on Peak Oil that was leaked or whatever, back from 2012 or something like that.

      Peak US conventional oil production was 1971. Two years later was Bretton Woods and the petrodollar, and the surrounding of the ME with imperial armor.

      Peak Soviet oil production was 1989. Two years later the USSR collapsed.

      1999 was peak cheap oil. Barrel to Real Dollar ratio was at it’s lowest ever. Two years later was the inside job and the fake war on terror. Saddam and his non-existent WMDs was moving out of the petrodollar. (Later Gaddafi tried to do the same thing.)

      2004/5 was peak global conventional crude production. Two and a half years later Bear Stearns collapsed, then Lehman Brothers, then everything collapsed, and we’ve been in a post-capitalist, zombie plutocracy ever since, with no organic economic growth.

      In late 2018 global total oil liquids peaked, which was the EndOfTheRoad. A little over a year later TPTB proactively started massively destroying demand and reorganizing industrial life as we know it, with a supposed virus for which there’s zero hard scientific evidence of even existing (prove me wrong), and that supposedly causes a disease that is diagnosed with a test that is not scientifically designed nor capable of diagnosing ANY disease (prove me wrong).

      Things that make you go HMMMM.

  23. John,

    Universal human reason as in, the reasoning ability that is universal to all fully-functional human beings.

    If you aren’t interested in constructive conversation, and prefer to try and derail the conversation because of ulterior motives, know that I am not the only person here who recognizes that.

  24. Steve,

    The truth can’t be proselytized. It can be refused.

    And if the purported truth is in truth actually false, then it can be refuted with Reason. Feel free to do that.

  25. So, I come back from my winter break and find the number of comments under this post has passed a hundred! Normally, I’d consider that a good thing, but it does rather depend on the tone, the intent and the content of the comments. And also on whose voices get heard and whose don’t.

    Just to run some numbers on the latter point, since Reante first commented here there have been 44 comments from Reante, 30 comments from people responding directly to Reante, and 36 other comments. Reante’s word count tops 13,500. The next highest is me, just under 3,000 words, with the third wordiest commenter at around 1,500.

    I gotta tell you, Reante, I’m struggling. Your dismissiveness towards other people, your unwillingness to countenance frameworks or evidence contrary to your own, your intent to dominate the narrative, and the rhetorical dirty tricks – it’s not a good look. I won’t wade too far into the details, but minimally, I’d suggest that if people decide to stop engaging with you it might be wise to refrain from trumpeting it as an intellectual victory on your part, or some kind of moral failing on theirs. You don’t know why they stopped, and it might be for … other reasons. There is some basic courtesy missing here.

    Then there’s the content. To speak bluntly, I find your take on animism and ‘first truths’ unconvincing but with a few points of interest, your take on chalara, forest management and fungal ecology thoroughly muddled, but still tethered here and there to some semblance of human and biotic reality, whereas your take on Covid, viruses, germ theory etc. – not so much.

    You’ve created a set of self-legitimating positions for yourself that you’ve hermetically sealed from alternatives. I find Steve’s missionary metaphor apt. You’ve come to a community, utterly convinced that you’re bringing it the truth. You tell some of its members that you’re open to rational challenge, others that your arguments are based on first truths that pre-empt any rebuttals they might have, and still others that they’re trying to derail the conversation. What conversation? Except in a colonial situation, which this is beginning to feel like, the community is under no obligation to engage with the missionary or let them determine its conversations. And why should it, when its perspectives are pre-emptively denied? Happily, it is not a colonial situation.

    Maybe other commenters here are getting more out of your comments than I am. I’d like to invite them to let me know their thoughts, either publicly here or privately via the Contact form. Whatever the case, I’d ask you to go a bit easier on the keyboard and let some other voices be heard. For my part, I don’t particularly want my site to become a noticeboard for your musings. If you don’t already have one, perhaps you could start a blog of your own where you can write as much as you like about whatever you want.

    I’ve not muzzled anyone yet on this site after ten years of blogging, but I’m pondering it in your case. I’m expecting a long response to this comment from you outlining my personal and intellectual failings, but maybe the road upwards will begin with you confounding that expectation.

    • Hey Chris,

      How am I not letting other people talk? That’s not a rational statement.

      I’m all for people sharing their thoughts about the content of what is is that reante has to say. But why would you invite people to contact you privately in order to say things about me that they’d prefer not to say in public? Are you feeling like you need some sort of validation?

      It’s not unheard of, Chris, for a new rag and bone man to saunter into town and become the center of attention until his stock has dwindled. He may say some curious things to the townfolk, may be poorly socialized in his own way which, as a traveling man, everybody knows comes with the territory. He may even ruffle the sheriff’s feathers a bit at having vaguely upset the local pecking order and infecting the youth with romantic ideas. We can’t have that now can we? But the rag and bone man always move on eventually, so not to worry, boss, you won’t need to dirty your lapel and give me the boot. I have no intention of commenting under your next post tomorrow.

      You invited me here. It didn’t go so well for you. Deal with it. Or get it over with, and hit the kill switch on reante, and delete all of his posts while your at it. Do it like facebook does it, lol.

      I am convinced that I have let the truth come alongside me in many ways. My preternatural confidence is evidence of that. I invite you, Chris, to counter the biological truth that the FAU is incapable of eating healthy tree tissues. If you can counter this reported truth then I will be proven wrong that the FAU is the cause of ash die-off. Why is me saying this so heretical? It begs the question.

      “You tell some of its members that you’re open to rational challenge, others that your arguments are based on first truths that pre-empt any rebuttals they might have”

      What’s wrong with me saying, “hey you guys, don’t forget that according to non-politicized biology, anaerobes structurally aren’t capable of doing what GT claims they are capable of doing; now, I would welcome it if you can correct me and show me where I’m mistaken in that view because I’d prefer to live in truth than falsehood, but I have to tell you I’m pretty damn confident that biological principles are very clear on this simple, fundamental point so I have to say that I really don’t expect that you will be able to.”

      Why is that such a big deal, Chris? Because in this snowflake age everybody deserves a trophy just for showing up?

      “I’ve not muzzled anyone yet on this site after ten years of blogging, but I’m pondering it in your case. I’m expecting a long response to this comment from you outlining my personal and intellectual failings, but maybe the road upwards will begin with you confounding that expectation.”

      Yes sir right away sir. Is there anything else I can get you?

      • I can’t say a response of that sort was unexpected, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

        Nor would I say that your interventions haven’t gone well for me. I found them quite the spectacle while they lasted.

        Just to lay down a couple of pointers in case they’re useful in future situations, I prefer people to comment publicly on this blog rather than contacting me privately about matters of substance. But I recognize that the web can be an intimidating place sometimes, and it’s quite easy to feel bullied or intimidated. I don’t want people to feel that way when they come to my site, so I’m open to private ‘meta’ communication about matters of that sort and – as in this case – may sometimes actively invite it.

        I don’t like debating on Twitter, largely because of the word limits (ironically). So I sometimes invite people I engage with there to switch over to this site. Perhaps the best thing is to think of it like inviting a relative stranger into your house. If they casually insult its occupants and generally stampede around the place, they probably won’t get invited back.

        • Maybe it would help if you encouraged people to use their real names when they comment. Anonymity is protective of people’s private lives, but it often results in people becoming more uninhibited and discourteous. The lack of inhibitions might be beneficial sometimes, but discourtesy never is.

          Until now, you haven’t had to worry about the balance between privacy and courtesy. It’s a shame that you have to even think about it, but it probably always comes to every blog. You may need to check the “moderate” box.

          • Yes, maybe that’s a good idea. Can’t stop assumed names, of course, but maybe even such minor barriers can be effective. I’ll have another look at house rules presently, though by and large things have worked OK on this site, I think…

  26. On other topics, thanks Joe & Greg for your thoughts on political transition. I will come back to this a little later in the blog cycle. For me, the politics around the immediate turbulence of the transition to come is interesting, but more so the politics around a post-transition situation, if we get to that anywhere.

    And thanks for the conversations on fruit and wine … bringing GW back to the real fundamentals of life …

    • I agree that the politics of the post-transition period is generally more important, since it will last for many generations to come, but I also can’t help but feel that the transition will be so chaotic as to almost completely obscure the post-transition future in any given locale. I see post-transition politics as important, but unknowable. If just about any kind of politics can appear just about anywhere, what’s the point of looking?

      It’s likely that chance will result in wonderfully satisfying political systems emerging in some locations, while others might end up with what we might now consider to be a thoroughly disagreeable political system. What I am curious about is discovering possible methods of creating conditions now that might positively influence future politics, if only a little.

      I think one of the biggest drivers of chaos and bad outcomes will be hunger. If we can strengthen our local communities with significant local sources of food, then people might be able to organize their post-transition politics more calmly, without the stress of constant hunger. This will be impossible to do in modern cities, but rural areas could do much more. How about programs like planting food forests everywhere possible on both private and public land or long-term emergency stockpiles of cheap calories? Anything we can do now to ease more people through the transition with reasonably full bellies will make the post-transition politics a lot more friendly.

      I think the politics of preparing now is the politics we should be concentrating on. Despite the evidence that this is likely to be fruitless (climate change, nuclear weapons, capitalism, as examples why) it stll offers more hope of positive effect than trying to design the politics of small farm communities of the post-transition (post-collapse) future. If we shrink our field of view small enough, both in time and space, we just might find good things to do that produce results we can see now and that will last through the transition to come. A bird in the hand …

      PS You may find my conversation with Mary Wildfire in the comments section of this post on Resilience relevant.

      • Interesting points and interesting discussion with Mary – thanks. I definitely want to come to a more focused discussion on this soon … before it’s too late!

        There are difficulties with uncertainty at either end of the collapse/transition spectrum. If you dial it very fast the situation approximates to one of war, where all bets are off and outcomes are quite random. If you dial it very slow you end up peering into the crystal ball of future political systems in unknowable circumstances. Maybe middle range is the way to go – trying to construe the politics of a land, water, energy, capital and climate stressed but functional localized economy.

        Your discussion of deurbanization is to the point – it’s one of the biggest questions.

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  29. Dear Chris,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the excellent book tDoE by GW.
    I think the main point of the book is that there “Are Lots Of Happy Alternatives” a.k.a. ALOHA!
    I read the book as a celebration of imagination. A joyful invitation to think about other political configurations. About worlds where billionaires are impossible. About other legal systems around ownership, property, inheritance and money.
    Or in the words of Rob Hopkins: “From What IS to What IF?”

    Regarding the kinship question – I have been very much inspired by the work of Robert Sapolsky, see his excellent multipart lecture series on Biology and Behaviour (youtube link
    Among others, he shares the observation that most mammals can smell kinship, but humans cannot. We construct kinship through culture. We can join in bands-of-brothers when needed. And that kibbutz-kids of the same child-group never marry, since they feel like brothers and sisters.
    I think that we recreate kinship continuously over the decades. The “Dunbar” group changes every year. And most traditional cultures had either young men or young women to move out to another homestead/village at time of marriage.

    Kinship is strong, but dynamic. The strongest hate that I have seen in my life has been inside families. My maternal grandpa could not stand his brother, and vice versa. They avoided each other for twenty years.

    In the book, GW also describe how people can leave their tribes to move into other tribes that are more suitable for them.
    (I have changed tribes, when I moved out of industrial R&D into farming, probably similar to Chris’ journey.)


  30. “The Dawn of Everything” is a biased disingenuous account of human history ( ) that spreads fake hope (the authors of “The Dawn” claim human history has not “progressed” in stages, or linearly, and must not end in inequality and hierarchy as with our current system… so there’s hope for us now that it could get different/better again). As a result of this fake hope porn it has been widely praised. It conveniently serves the profoundly sick industrialized world of fakes and criminals. The book’s dishonest fake grandiose title shows already that this work is a FOR-PROFIT, instead a FOR-TRUTH, endeavor geared at the (ignorant gullible) masses.

    Fact is human history has “progressed” by and large in linear stages, especially since the dawn of agriculture ( ). The book’s alleged major “fundamental” insight is “the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently” (the first part of that statement is hardly a great insight because a perceptive child can recognize that) YET fails to answer why we do NOT make it differently than it is now if we, supposedly can make it “EASILY” different, why we’ve been “stuck” in this destructive system for a very long time. THAT is really where “the ultimate, hidden truth” is buried and the answer is… it is because of the enduring hegemony of “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” ( ) which the fake hope-giving authors of “The Dawn” entirely ignore naturally (no one can write a legitimate human history without understanding the nature of humans)

    A good example that one of the authors, Graeber, has no real idea what world we’ve been living in and about the nature of humans is his last brief article on Covid where his ignorance shines bright already at the title of his article, “After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep.” Apparently he doesn’t know that most people WANT to be asleep, and that they’ve been wanting that for thousands of years (and that’s not the only ignorant notion in the title). Yet he (and his partner) is the sort of person who thinks he can teach you something authentically truthful about human history and whom you should be trusting along those terms. Ridiculous!

    “The Dawn” is just another fantasy, or ideology, cloaked in a hue of cherry-picked “science,” served lucratively to the gullible ignorant underclasses who crave myths and fairy tales.

    “the evil, fake book of anthropology, “The Dawn of Everything,” … just so happened to be the most marketed anthropology book ever. Hmmmmm.” — Unknown

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