SATURDAY, APRIL 1, 2017
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T. S. Elliot
Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS
TUCSON (A-P) — From whence did we start? To Nature and to Nature's laws do humans belong. For a time we can imagine we are special, exceptional, that we are the axis about which the universe spins. But we are merely the axis about which our narratives spin—all narratives except the ones Nature tells to those who listen, who guess then test to iterate towards some understanding which is also love. For nearly four billion years we have evolved. We are Nature as briefly embodied phenotypically to loose information that doesn't work, acquire information, and perhaps pass adaptive information on by gene or meme. We are the system, the environment, co-existent with the film of life on Earth, hence it is 'system over self' whether individual or a collective of eusocial selves. For a time it may seem otherwise, but our grasp of time (and reality) is fragile.
Our journey into civilization involved the loss of our original nature. We were social primates in the linage hominidae who became the last hominid standing upright. Aside from presiding over the extinction of all other bipedal apes, if only by displacement as gorilla, orangutan, and chimp are now nearly displaced, we also committed empire. The civil society of control hierarchies (religious, political/legal, and more recently economic/corporate) that arose subsumed us into it's collective. We came to be enmeshed within complexity more complex than we knew or could know. We as Anthropocene enthusiasts came to serve the control SYSTEM. We know not what we 'know' or don't know, which is true ignorance.
From bands of sisters, numbering 20 to 50 humans from infants to the elderly, some found power to create larger groups than the nomadic tribal life of dispersed bands allowed, but only rarely, so bands are the bio-social norm. Several bands having a common origin may share a tribal identity and interact, but would otherwise live separate lives. A band having nearly equal numbers of members from two tribes could come to change tribal identity, but there was no biophysical basis for empire building. In the epipaleolithic, in areas where the hunting and gathering was good, the bands were many and close enough together to gather in large groups to exchange genes and memes.
Stories were told, information exchanged, and imaginative claims about the nature of things made. Some narratives were more compelling than others. Some were more viral and spread. Some served elite interests. When the best storytellers of each band gathered, differences arose, conflicting claims made, and a dominate narrative evolved championed by the most eloquent storyteller.
The first empires arose as empires of belief lead by a dominate storyteller who lorded over a hierarchy of lesser storytellers, the confabulating priests and priestesses, who claimed to know many things they did not and came to dominate the minds of fellow members of their tribe. During the gatherings, great monuments could be made to serve the empire of belief based on taking narratives seriously as if real or true, more real and true than one's everyday life. The people were turned into true believers, life becomes defined by belief, the first of many losses of original nature to come.
A few found power near resources of abundance, such as where fish gather, to form permanent villages and store dried fish in great quantity. Settled gatherings of more than 150 humans were possible, but hierarchy arose. Some had more 'rights' and some had more authority. Complexity, more than we knew or could know, arose to degrade our original nature and social order. Chiefs with warrior minions arose to rule chiefdoms. Those living near the permanent village could hunt, gather, and trade for dried fish. The surplus of food in the fixed village empowered those exploiting an exceptional resource by providing energy to support a mobile force to collect 'tribute' serving elite interests from outlying tribes. While the elites within the permanent village were enriched, all citizens within the settlement benefited and agreed that the still wandering backward outliers must pay tribute as the priests taught. So compared to the outliers, the settled ones were all distant elites, as the less than five percent who consume twenty-five percent of earth's resources, the Americans, are today. Groups larger than tribal size develop political and religious control SYSTEMs to deal with complexities unknown within roving bands.
With the development of agriculture, both plant (e.g. Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley) and animal based (e.g. Indo-Europeans, Mongols), the exceptional became common. Imagine a valley of fifteen bands, three tribes of five bands each 'united' by shared customs based on descent. Each band of hunter-gatherers averages 40 humans per band for a valley total population of 600. Tribal warfare maintained boundaries during resource shortages and in rare times of famine could result in fatalities. At other times, the matriarchal bands would at times gather with neighbors, including those of a different tribal identity for exchange, but the need for nomadic wandering limited group size preventing empire building.
If knowledge of agriculture arrives from outside the valley, one or more bands may embrace the new pattern. If all those of one tribe do, their population could grow ten fold, and soon those refusing to embrace the life of toil are pushed aside, the beginnings of empire building. If all embrace agriculture, the three tribes become three kingdoms/chiefdoms in a valley of 6,000 that are not equally matched. In one a powerful alpha male dominates the rising warrior class needed by each kingdom to protect its resources from the other two. The stronger soon prevails, perhaps forming a temporary alliance with one before betrayal, and a valley-wide empire emerges.
(1) Resources flow into the central settlement where monuments arise near the palace and temple. (2) Demands on outlying areas and unsustainable practices exceed carrying capacity leading to decreased energy inputs. (3) Empires collapse from within or go forth, beyond their beginnings, to conquer other people and places for the taking unto regional collapse or until another expanding empire is encountered. (4) The pattern repeats for millennia until a global empire develops, one that firmly believes in sustainable development, that can only collapse from within. Such is the last 10,000 years of human history in four sentences. For tens of thousands of footnotes, see Encyclopedia of History.
We have not ceased to explore large-scale hierarchical organizations beyond the tribal—the religious, political, corporate as control SYSTEMs that temporarily replaces the system of Nature from which we came. Society, including its economy, remains a subsystem of environment, a biophysical fact that does not go away because ignored. There are two endgames: (1) extinction or (2) to know Nature for the first time and to know our place in it (failure means repeat the pattern). Like all humans before us, we collectively will learn our place the hard way (again or face extinction). Those who merely learn the hard way, however, do not long 'know' but merely believe without knowing. To actually know for the first time implies coming to iterate towards knowing what we know of the what-is and how we know it. We have to know the system for the first time by way of modeling it in a manner that comes from understanding energy principles in a sciency sort of way. That knowledge must then be preserved, passed on, loved and understood. To be ruled by natural laws would be a naturoarchy.
The system is not only more complex than we know, but more complex than we can know. We do not know what works. We can pay attention and see what works; we can iterate towards what works with a realization that failure is an option. We may or may not be able to evolve complex technological industrial societies that actually work, as in are sustainable over millennia. As alcoholics typically can't live with just some alcohol, we may not be able to live with just some technology as those who embrace all possible technology will be empowered, temporarily, to destroy those who do not before techno-industrial society self-destructs or worse, evolves into a drone collective (the Borg option). To humans who can think more than a decade ahead, endgame concerns are non-trivial, may seem to matter enough to be addressed.
To revisit a hypothetical past: two tribes numbering 400 total come into existential conflict with the third tribe of 200 that goes agrarian and comes to number 2,000 agro-workers/warriors/priests/chief. Those choosing not to work in the fields all day or rule over others will be displaced/assimilated/destroyed as it will be 2,000 against 400. Imagine a Big Valley where there are twenty tribes, 4,000 hunter-gatherers, and one, 200 people, goes agrarian and becomes 2,000 increasing the valley total to 5,800. If the 3,800 who continue to live the traditional life humans are adapted to live have foresight, they will see that those next to the agro-tribe will soon be eliminated or subsumed, as all would be in a short time of a few hundred years. The only alternative would be to agree upon forming a shared military. The agro-tribe would be watched by guardians of the 19 tribes, forming a Hunter-Gatherer Federation. Upon evidence of the toiling ones amassing a force, word would go out to the 19 tribes to send a counter force such that even if the agro-tribe were stealthy and managed a blitz-attack upon a neighboring tribe, that the combined counter force (3,800 vs. 2,000) would prevail. If the agro-tribe was unable to learn the hard way, if each generation or so attempted to expand in conquest, the 19 tribes may eventually decide to not stop at driving the agro-tribe back into its watershed. They may have to eliminate the agro-tribe and its carcinogenic proclivities. History, written by the victors, fails to record if this option was never tried. Energy and technology, including that of agriculture based empire, enables empire building. Fossil-fueled technology has empowered a global empire that has taken the planet (for a time) and there are no other planets to conquer.
The hunter-gatherer nomadic life limited group size, while agriculture does not. To make agriculture work requires self-imposed limits on territorial and group size. Each management unit of those who have learned to live within limits would be composed of groups containing no more than 150 people (Dunbar's number) until and unless larger groups that actually work right and well for humans and their genetic endowment (original nature), are developed; but only if, for some reason, larger organizations are needed. Cities may be needed and could be supported around high-power sources, but social control could be largely based on 'neighborhoods' of 20 to 150 people who self-organize in the traditional socio-biological way humans have for hundreds of thousands of years.
Some controls need to be centralized (e.g. shared military, global trade, information exchange, global policy making), but social control doesn't. Only hierarchical groups of more than 150 build empires. Within a functional group of 40, social status will vary, but material wealth, such that some have 10x more than others, 100x more, 1,000x more, or 10,000x more (as in current empire) would not be tolerated—it would be socio-biologically impossible for those in possession of their 'original nature' to tolerate such inequality within a Pleistocene normal group size. Dispersed populations would have to form a Federation if only to provide a shared military option to prevent empire building. A Federation of Watersheds (each having an averaged radius of about 100 km) containing villages of tribal size with some containing cities of neighborhoods of tribal size, could provide other shared services and oversee interwatershed trade.
If a watershed management unit, one of maybe five thousand on the planet, had an average population of 10,000 agriculturalists and that population lived in dispersed, decentralized groups averaging 100, then there would be about 100 villages per watershed, some perhaps clustered into urban areas supported by some non-agrarian power source. The world would be a planet sustainably supporting 500,000 villages, having no more than a 20% footprint on a watershed to 'leave room for Nature', for a global population of 50,000,000 (10 times the Pleistocene global population or 150 times smaller than current unsustainable global population), such that success, the what-works as Nature (not humans) determines, could be shared and failure learned from.
Having one global empire is maladaptive in the extreme (the all-eggs-in-one-basket design), maximizing the possibility of human species extinction. Micro-managing each village would be unneeded and maladaptive. A shared mobile military force would be needed to prevent empire building. Interwatershed trade and transport would be handled by the merchant marines (shared army/navy) during peaceful times. Limiting human exploitation of watershed resources and other people would be needed, as would countering any empire building of any humans outside the Federation of Watersheds alternative. The only overarching need is to contain carcinogenic SYSTEM growth within Nature's system by preserving information about what works and to mold 'individual behavior into a plan of actions or avoidances that are oriented toward the maintenance of a viable equilibrium between Man’s demands and Nature’s resources'.
THE CHILDREN OF NATURE. Those who are straight inside (know their original or 'true' nature) are the Children of Nature who know that both themselves and the elites/commoners are equally Nature's Spawn.... Such people are called 'true children with no title'. Those who bend outwards (follow customs and conventions for reward) are Followers of Men [the SYSTEM!]. They bow and they kneel down and they shake hands in greeting; they grovel and pray and work [for the Dollar] for acquisition's sake. Such is the ceremony of followers. All people do it, even the elite before the greater elite, real or imagined. How would I dare to be an exception? To do what others do so as not to be criticized by others, this is to be a Follower of Men. —Chuangtse (third century BCE, paraphrased, mouse over and wait...)
How could a mere human dare to be an exception? 'What do you care what other people think'? —Richard Feynman