I’ve just read Ran’s new essay, Beyond Civilised and Primitive, in which he spends a great deal of energy battling through a veritable thicket of ideologies. Obviously Ran feels the need to address the various views of people who will be reading his essay but what I like is how he (knowingly, I’m sure) blows himself out of the water with this paragraph:
A more reasonable move is to abandon primitive life as an ideal, or a goal, and instead just set it up as a perspective: “Hey, if I stand here, I can see that my own world, which I thought was normal, is totally insane!” Or we can set it up as a source of learning: “Look at this one thing these people did, so let’s see if we can do it too.” Then it doesn’t matter how many flaws they had. And once we give up the framework that shows a right way and a wrong way, and a clear line between them, we can use perspectives and ideas from people formerly on the “wrong” side: “Ancient Greeks went barefoot everywhere and treated their slaves with more humanity than Wal-Mart treats its workers. Medieval serfs worked fewer hours than modern Americans, and thought it was degrading to work for wages. Slum-dwellers in Mumbai spend less time and effort getting around on foot than Americans spend getting around in cars. The online file sharing community is building a gift economy.”
I’ve spent time debating with Ted, who after embracing Primitivism for a while has now turned about face and completely opposes it. I’m sure that some of the strength of his opposition comes as a result of the attack he came under from Jason Godesky when he made the shift but the point I was to make here is the same one I made to Ted when he described me as having primitive or anti-civ viewpoints. Ultimately I don’t care for the labels, nor do I want to align myself with any particular ideological box. I am much more interested in finding information that is useful to me in my life and while there is much in primitivism and anti-civ theory that I gain from I’m definitely not signing up for the whole package deal. And I am definitely not keen on packing my family up and heading off into a forest somewhere either!
The truth is I am barely interested in appearing consistent and logical, especially if it’s at the cost of creative thought and the pursuit of new and useful ideas. Conforming to conventional rules of debate is necessary if you want to convert people to your viewpoint but the only person I am trying to convert these days is myself.
I was going to write something harsh about how the need for ideology is a sign of weakness – my civilised instincts are still strong – but really I think it’s a sign that people don’t know themselves well and are using an intellectual framework to do the job that their (silenced) inner voice is supposed to do.
I’m not saying that I’ve got this problem completely sussed but here’s some real-life needs that I am aware of and which are driving most of my intellectual searching.
– I want to be able to raise my kids without doing too much psychological damage to them.
– I want to undo the psychological damage done to me during my childhood and early adulthood so that I can break free and have a fun and satisfying life (which will hopefully make the above goal easier to achieve)
– and I want to figure out how best to organise my family’s life so that we can prepare for whatever societal changes are coming up (and also so that I can work on the above two goals)
Undoubtedly I’m a mess of internal contradictions like most people but I should be able to link most of my writing back to these needs. If people like some of the ideas I discuss while doing this, then that’s great but I’ve pretty much given up trying to convert people these days. At least I hope I have.
All this is not an attempt to discredit Ran’s essay by the way. The truth is I was actually thinking of a different person when I wrote a lot of this post but (like all good essays) Ran’s has got me thinking. I’m sure his blog gets more traffic than mine and I imagine that if he doesn’t deal with differing ideologies in his essay he is probably going to come under a lot of attack – he probably will anyway :-) . And incidently, I think it’s important to argue against certain people, like the ones who want to bring-on the crash – as Ran does.
As always the best thing Ran does with his approach to predicting the future is open our minds up to the possibilities rather than close everything down to a single linear prediction like most people working in this area. Rather than freaking me out and immobilising my thoughts his writing always leaves me with hope.
-Via Idleworm recently I found this interview of Bill Mollison with this invaluable quote in which he basically challenges the conventional approach of working out an ideology and then using that to determine our real-world actions.
Alan: Doing permaculture seems to be the opposite of abstraction.
Bill: Oh, I put it another way. I can easily teach people to be gardeners, and from them, once they know how to garden, you’ll get a philosopher. But I could never teach people to be philosophers – and if I did, you could never make a gardener out of them.
When you get deep ecologists who are philosophers, and they drive cars and take newspapers and don’t grow their own vegetables, in fact they’re not deep ecologists – they’re my enemies.
But if you get someone who looks after himself and those around him – like Scott Nearing, or Masanobu Fukuoka – that’s a deep ecologist. He can talk philosophy that I understand. People like that don’t poison things, they don’t ruin things, they don’t lose soils, they don’t build things they can’t sustain.
These days I’m valuing my intellectual side less and less. It was developed during attempts to colonise my mind (at educational institutions) so I’m really not sure that it’s good for me at all but I also know that in it’s proper place it can be used to counter-act some bad (learned) instincts that I seem to still have.
As for the most challenging of Ran’s new ideas, that tribal hunter gathering is not necessarily our natural state, I’d find that hard to argue with since I tend to think that humans are born with a lot of potential but are otherwise a blank slate and can therefore head in any direction from there. With a proviso however, that we are born needing (expecting?) certain conditions to enable us to reach our full potential and to lead happy, satisfying lives – and that the environment found in peaceful tribes appears to be the best that anyone has found for doing this.
Whether that actually means we are supposed to live in such a state probably depends upon your ideology – and if you don’t have an ideology you’ll probably not care either way because you’ll be more concerned with figuring out a practical means of making your life more fun.