I don’t usually write reviews until after I’m finished, but sometimes I immediately start writing while reading a book, because it stimulates so much thinking. This book is obscure if you can call a book found a few searches deep on Amazon obscure. Well, it’s not mainstream and may even be self-published. While it lacks literary credentials, it happens to be exactly what I was looking for, a single-source introduction to the ideas of naturalism and the new thinking and growing movement against the propaganda of civilization. There are some ideas I disagree with, but for the most part, the author does a remarkable and substantial job exposing you to the growing ideas about the root causes of our modern suffering and ills, and if you haven’t guessed, it’s civilization. Many people would argue that the only option I am suggesting is to return to the wild and become some deranged Ted Kaczynski writing diatribe against the man, the machine, and industrial society, but that’s like comparing all Muslims to bin Laden. Living in the wild and anarchism is not the only option here, and you can cherry pick the best from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and civilized lifestyle. I’ve also been busy writing another novel that I thought was finished until I started this book and realized I need to include a lot of its ideas in my novel. But here are some thoughts that were provoked that got me excited. At 728 pages, I won’t be finished this book any time soon while concurrently finished up my novel.
You may have been sleeping under a rock or fully brainwashed by school if you haven’t noticed the counterrevolution or at least divergent view of modern civilization. The brainwashing goes something like this. We are born evil and sinful and incapable of love and trust. It is civilization that teaches us how to cooperate and be moral and caring. Without it, we would be savages, and as savages, we would freely kill and rape each other in a sick hellish nightmare. The Lord of the Flies is a book many of us read which seems to reinforce this concept, that without civilization, a group of boys marooned on an island would ultimately go insane and kill each other. This idea ignores the fact that the boys have no adult supervision, and any social mammal without adults to teach and supervise them, often regress to their selfish reptilian behavior. The Western religions of civilization also reinforce this message with the concept of salvation and without subjugation and obedience to a greater being, one will wind up in hell. Civilization is nothing but a glorified pyramid scheme.
Anti-civilization, or naturalism, is nothing new. It wasn’t the hippies who invented it trying to live off the grid on farming communes. Henry Thoreau was a famous naturalist who published Walden in 1854. Americans have embraced naturalism more than Europeans and Asians. The Asians have been too busy catching up to Europe and all their amenities of civilization. Meanwhile, the Europeans, having created most of modern civilization are probably too embarrassed to admit they created a monster. Naturalism has caught on with Americans because more Americans were forced to live out in the wild and away from urban areas in colonizing the continent. They have also been influenced more by Eastern religions and philosophies which have more in common with earlier religions. While the Europeans declared war on Paganism and replaced it with Christianity, the Asians adopted and adapted earlier spiritual concepts into Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Imagine if Christianity had swept across Asia first, there would be a bunch of Pagan temples strewn across America.
Keep in mind, I think naturalists have a tendency to overly demonize civilization while overly praising ancient hunter-gatherer culture. In my mind, they both have pros and cons, however, civilization has much greater and more significant cons. At the same time, it’s not a choice between living in Manhattan or Siberia. We can cherry pick the best of civilization and hunter-gatherer culture. Most important, however, is that civilized culture is unsustainable, predatory, exploitative, genocidal, encourages bigotry and inequality, and its destruction is on a much greater scale that negatively impacts the entire planet. Yes, hunter-gatherer clans might go to war when resources dwindle, but the impact was limited and did not threaten the planet. Yet hunter-gatherer clans experienced homicide and rapes, but it was not planned and widespread as happens in civilized society. Important to understand, in civilized society, humans commit atrocities under the guise of submission to authority. The Milgrim electric shock experiment and Stanford prison experiment prove the power of authority and the ability to commit atrocities when you feel you can submit to an authority. There was always a direct cost to harming others in hunter-gatherer societies. You felt responsible and you could see the damage up close and personal. With civilized warfare and exploitation, you don’t feel responsibility and often, you cannot see the damage up close and personal.
Civilized culture tends to over-analyze, over-engineer, and overly rely on rationalism. An important thing to realize is that the narrative voice in your head has no causal efficacy. It is reactive. It is explanatory not causal. Your hand reaches out and grabs an orange and split second later, the narrative voice in your head goes, “I’m hungry for this orange.” You mistake that voice for the agent of your behavior. It doesn’t mean you have no freewill. However, this has truly important implications. It means that you don’t influence your behavior by thinking more about things and finally convincing yourself of the most logical, self-interested option. The more you think about something, the more you are trying to explain and rationalize biases you already possess. You simply tend to give more significance and meaning to preexisting fears or desires. You do have frontal lobes that engage in decision-making by weighing different options, but the outcome of those decisions are made a split second before you realize it. You don’t keep your frontal lobes active by constantly mulling over things. In fact, by doing this, you actually overload the frontal lobes and cause them to shut down prematurely. People who are constantly over-thinking and over-analyzing things and hold the belief that their narrative voices possess causal efficacy are more likely to shut down their frontal lobes and succumb to more primitive, selfish, anti-social reptilian impulses. The trick is to keep your frontal lobes active by NOT overthinking things but by exposing yourself to more different ideas, opinions, values, and options. If your brain only believes there is one way of doing things, it is less likely to exercise and engage the frontal lobes. It is more likely to use the frontal lobes on useless worrying and over-analysis and rationalizations. Your frontal lobes are good at holding and comparing different ideas, opinions, values, and options. It plans. It determines the pros and cons of different approaches or routes, and then decides on a best approach or route based on multiple weights. You can often tell a person with small front lobe capacity by their inability to make decisions and determine the value of different options. Instead, they look for generalizations and prejudices that given them pre-made values and choices.
Civilized culture also downplays the importance of free art, music, and unconscious activities that it considers merely entertainment and distraction. Unconscious activities like art and music are actually vital training for accessing the deep recesses of your DNA. Song writers and authors sometimes wonder where they get their melodies or stories. Where do they come from? What is the creative process? How do they just make up stuff from nothing? The answer is they don’t. They are not creating or making things up. They are rather accessing the library of our DNA and a gigantic storage of information all the way down to the single-celled organisms we once were. Our songs and stories are already written in our DNA and all we do is translate them with our language into our culture. They say every story has one of several plots, like hero falls in love, hero overcomes adversary, hero travels and discovers riches, hero makes tragic mistake, etc. Where do these come from? Ultimately, they are all the story of life, originating from single-celled organisms that learned to move and then reproduce sexually and overcome adversity. Our DNA and the microbial DNA that lives on and within us, provide us with billions of years of answers regarding how to navigate our environment. They don’t communicate to us through our narrative, conscious voice but rather our unconscious processes and art, the expression of these processes.
Rationalists are often workaholics who have little time to play, recreate, or sleep and dream. Their schedules are filled, and they sleep four to six hours a night if that. Ironically, their frontal lobes are rarely engaged as they are constantly operating on a low-level of energy. The brain consumes about 20% of the body’s total energy output. Even worse, these workaholics rarely workout, so as their body deteriorates, they use even less of their frontal lobes. They may think they’re more rational and logical than an artist or author, but in fact, the vast majority of their thoughts are generalizations, mental shortcuts, and rationalizations. They are less inclined to take in new or diverse ideas or opinions, because this would require heavy frontal lobe activity. In fact, they vehemently oppose novel or diverse ideas and opinions as if their lives depended on it, and in a sense, it does since they can’t afford any extra energy consumption in their brain.
This book is a great introduction for naturalism and points out the increasing costs of civilization. While you may have thought that it was the automobiles that created sedentary and unhealthy living, it was actually civilization that started the whole unhealthy movement. The book argues that farming and civilization arose from a huge climactic change whereby ice melted causing catastrophic global changes and killing off large mammals, the food source of many hunter-gatherers. People were forced into eating cereal and then cultivating it and converting into farming. While the new unhealthy diet was not as robust as hunter-gatherer diets, it did allow for increased breeding. As a result, civilized humans lived in overly populated, high-density villages and towns with poor sanitation, vermin infestation, and diseases carried on the vermin. Close proximity to their domesticated animals, also caused the quick mutation of pathogens and transfer between species causing more mutations and deadly diseases. Diets mainly based on grain resulted in shorter, weaker, smaller humans with bone and teeth deterioration. Only those at the top of the pyramid ate the best foods and were likely taller and healthier than the rest, living further from the vermin and domesticated animals. In other words, humans split off and virtually created an entirely new underclass of physically distinct and inferior peasants and were treated as such. Most overlooked was their microbiome. Relying on a few species of plants and animals instead of hundreds, the new human microbiome became weaker and sicker. Instead of possessing a symbiotic, mutually beneficial microbiome, humans were now suffering indigestion and a pathogenic, exploitative and ultimately fatal microbiome.
On top of all this, instead of experiencing a consistent, healthy food supply, civilized humans suffered cycles of feasts and famines in their sedentary, monoculture worlds. As a result, social hierarchies became ever more important to protect oneself from a famine cycle since those closest to power had the most access to food. Evolutionary pressure, therefore exerted itself on humans who were skilled in supplicating to and submitting to greater authority and power. Our obsession with wealth and status may in fact now be genetic as a result of this. The magnitude of feast and famine cycles also produced a greater tolerance for inhumanity, hoarding, and ruthless competition. In other words, there was also evolutionary pressure to fight tooth-and-nail during famines, to murder without regret, to steal and cheat, and even during times of bounty, to hoard food in case of famines. In other words, civilized humans succumbed to a natural selection process that favored cruelty, selfishness, deception, manipulation, exploitation, and evil. If you wonder how we got to where we are, with all our wars, slavery, crime, hoarding, income inequality, celebrity-worship, and anti-social madness, look no further to the evolution of the civilized human.
Also upsetting is the disintegration of parenting and teaching. Hunter-gatherers possessed a huge body of knowledge about wildlife that was essential to survival as well as social norms, rituals, and relationship skills. Knowledge of the environment and social cohesion were evolutionary pressures. Civilized people do not need any of this knowledge, and social cohesion is not as critical as exulting and serving those in power for survival. In addition to this, children were not considered inheritors of your wealth of knowledge and protectors of your culture. With civilized people, there was no need for knowledge and culture was dictated from above. The peasants lacked both knowledge and culture. Therefore, they had no need to teach, mentor, or even monitor their own children. They only considered children as labor and treated them the same as one would treat their cattle. I always thought the origins of child neglect and abuse came from the Industrial Age, but it was actually invented in the Agrarian Era and perpetuated in the Industrial Age. To say humans have lost their way is an understatement, and to say that human history started with civilization is a farce.