New Civilization News: Beyond Civilization    
 Beyond Civilization8 comments
picture 26 Apr 2004 @ 10:03, by Flemming Funch

This is from a synopsis of "Beyond Civilization" by Daniel Quinn:
One of our most fundamental cultural beliefs is this, that Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance. This notion seems intrinsic to the human mind --self-evident, like The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Implicit in this belief about civilization is another: Civilization is humanity's ULTIMATE invention and can never be surpassed. Both these beliefs exemplify the cultural fallacy, which is the notion that one's beliefs are not merely expressions of one's culture but are intrinsic to the human mind itself. The effect of this fallacy is that it's almost impossible for the people of our culture to entertain the idea that there could be any invention beyond civilization. Civilization is the end, the very last and unsurpassable human social development.

No one is surprised to learn that bees are organized in a way that works for them or that wolves are organized in a way that works for them. Most people understand in a general way that the social organization of any given species evolved in the same way as other features of the species. Unworkable organizations were eliminated in exactly the same way that unworkable physical traits were eliminated--by the process known as natural selection. But there is an odd and unexamined prejudice against the idea that the very same process shaped the social organization of Homo over the three million years of his evolution. The people of our culture don't want to acknowledge that the tribe is for humans exactly what the pod is for whales or the troop is for baboons: the gift of millions of years of natural selection, not perfect--but damned hard to improve upon.

Civilization, in effect, represents an attempt to improve upon tribalism by replacing it with hierarchalism. Every civilization brought forth in the course of human history has been an intrinsically hierarchical affair--in every age and locale, East and West, as well as every civilization that grew up independently of ours in the New World. Because it's intrinsically hierarchical, civilization benefits members at the top very richly but benefits the masses at the bottom very poorly--and this has been so from the beginning. Tribalism, by contrast, is nonhierarchical and benefits all members with notable equality.

It's out of the question for us to "go back" to the tribalism we grew up with. There's no imaginable way to reestablish the ethnic boundaries that made that life work. But there's nothing sacrosanct about ethnic tribalism. Many successful tribal entities have evolved inside our culture that are not ethnic in any sense. A conspicuous example is the circus, a tribal enterprise that has been successful for centuries.

Beyond civilization isn't a geographical space (is not, for example, somewhere you "go and start a commune"). Beyond civilization is an unexplored cultural, social, and economic space. The New Tribal Revolution is our "escape route" to that space.
I haven't read the book. I've read Ishmael, though. And I probably agree with him. We've got to get over that big monolithic hierarchical civilization thing. I'm not sure I would call that "beyond civilization". I've called it a "new civilization", which would a more bottom-up, distributed, self-organizing, free, collective intelligence way of organizing. Which is contrasted to the "old civilization" which is hierarchical and centralized. Somebody is in charge, somebody owns and controls most elements you need to live your life, and collective stupidity is the norm.

I agree as well that a new kind of tribes might be a key. Get together with the people you're in sync with, and work together. There's no need to try to impose your view on everybody else in the world. But there are problems to solve as to how it would work. I don't know if Quinn gives the answers to that. I'm not sure if it will do it just to work for more simplicity in general. The problem might well be too much simplicity in the old civilization, too much simple-minded centralized decision making, and what is needed is more complexity. Complexity in the good sense - a more intelligent and flexible system, distributed but inter-connected in a synergetic and self-adjusting manner.

Here's more, from a review at Amazon:
Futurist Daniel Quinn (Ishmael) dares to imagine a new approach to saving the world that involves deconstructing civilization. Quinn asks the radical yet fundamental questions about humanity such as, Why does civilization grow food, lock it up, and then make people earn money to buy it back? Why not progress "beyond civilization" and abandon the hierarchical lifestyles that cause many of our social problems? He challenges the "old mind" thinking that believes problems should be fixed with social programs. "Old minds think: How do we stop these bad things from happening?" Quinn writes. "New minds think: How do we make things the way we want them to be?"
Indeed, I'm all for that. The old civilization is woven of a material that doesn't really serve most of us. A lot of the structures were created with an eye towards how to control large populations, and milk them for their productive output. Our economic system is a pyramid scheme, and there's not much democracy anywhere - despite what it is made to appear like. It is sometimes possible to very locally create good conditions of democracy, freedom, and healthy economy. Which makes most people think that the system is inherently alright, and stand up to defend it. But there's a hole in the bottom of the barrel. The system is slanted so it is always an unhill battle and synergy is hard to attain. There will be somebody standing on top of the hill to tell you that the weather is nice and everything is fine, and you just need to work harder. But most people are stuck trying to get up the hill, while powering somebody else's water wheel. And it doesn't have to be that way. This planet can quite well support that we all live comfortably, even abundantly, and without destroying it in the process. But, yes, we need to get beyond our old kind of civilization, which isn't really ours anyways, but that of our kings and emperors and bankers who managed to harness our collective irresponsibility to their advantage.


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8 comments

26 Apr 2004 @ 17:00 by lugon @80.58.19.44 : elements for newciv
http://udoo.org/money is one.

Communication between people - not the internet, but something closer and more pervasive - is another.

Silence might be another.  



26 Apr 2004 @ 22:35 by koravya : Sense of Community
And a sense of tribal cooperation
which can operate on local levels,
and perhaps in larger configurations.
Ideally.
Right after the aberrant selfishness
at the expense of our brothers and sisters
is naturally selected out.  



27 Apr 2004 @ 02:43 by lugon @213.96.167.75 : beyond civilization
I have read Daniel Quinn's book. IIRC, "civilization" is "hierarchical", so the term "beyond".

One important point in the book is "no need to wait". We don't need to wait for people to be "better", for human rights to be in place, for technology to do what it "should" ...

The book doesn't give "recipes" (which no one would trust).  



27 Apr 2004 @ 05:55 by Amrit Hallan @203.101.6.24 : Civilization
Civilization entails working together towards common as well as individual goals. I haven't yet read any book or essay on civilization and its characteristics, but to me civilization is a way to live in harmony. It's mostly a theoretical and historical concept. Every society that works for the betterment of the world in general is civilization.  


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Other entries in
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