THE THIRD WAY

third way This essay is in response to requests for a précis and update of my much longer essay How to Save the World.

Thirty millennia ago, a new and unique human culture evolved1 amidst all the others. It differed radically from any culture seen before on Earth. It emerged as a Darwinian response to two2 major developments in human activity, which were in turn the result of a sudden scarcity of food3:

  • The development of advanced hunting and building tools, and
  • The development of crop cultivation and animal domestication.

Previous to this, human and non-human animal cultures had always reacted to food shortages by reducing their population naturally, painlessly 4, and instinctively.

As a consequence of these two radical developments, this acquisitive culture became:

  • much more specialized, and hence inter-dependent,
  • disconnected from the prevailing natural ecosystem (because we felt, for the first time, somewhat independent of it),
  • antagonistic to the prevailing natural ecosystem with which we were now competing for resources (e.g. with the advent of agriculture we began killing animals not just for food but simply because they ate our crops),
  • no longer able to rely fully on instincts that had served us for millennia (the use of our new tools such as axes and hoes, needed to fulfil our new specialized social roles, was not intuitive), and hence we became
  • more dependent on newly invented anthropocentric rational and moral guides for living.

This cultural and technological evolution has perpetuated itself ever since, and has been hugely successful (in much the same way, some would say, as cancer is successful, by mutating beyond the reach of natural balancing mechanisms). It has displaced or eliminated most other human cultures, consumed Earth’s natural resources, and degraded the natural ecosystem and biodiversity at an unprecedented and unsustainable pace.

The moral and rational guidelines we created to help us cope with our new lives are essentially apologies and justifications for our culture’s separation from the natural ecosystem and the damages it has created. Our instinctive knowledge is utterly inconsistent and irreconcilable with such moral and rational knowledge, and the resulting schism and anxiety has made our entire culture mentally ill.

This mental illness has been exacerbated by massive over-crowding and the additional stress that over-crowding naturally creates. The consequences of this are these new ‘acquisitive-culture’ artefacts:

  • Large-scale, resource-based wars, violence, terrorism and genocide as people fight for perpetually-scarce resources aggravated by over-population and intuitively unworkable and inequitable distribution systems
  • Greed, corruption, theft and tyranny as people psychopathically begin to hoard and protect ‘their’ property
  • Famine and large-scale starvation
  • Diseases that are endemic to over-stressed, over-populated, over-concentrated life species

Attempts to solve or at least mitigate these problems by resorting to moral or rational solutions have been abject failures:

  • Man-made laws, ‘democratic’ and autocratic institutions and policing systems have been consistently shown to be hopelessly corruptible, inequitable, unenforceable, uneconomic, unsustainable and often unworkable
  • Organized religions have generally served to increase and encourage hate, discrimination, violence, over-population, intolerance and ignorance more than they have alleviated them
  • Technologies that have produced important victories over hunger and disease have simply allowed the spiral of food production and human population to continue, ultimately producing more hunger and disease then they eliminate
  • Technologies have also massively contributed to the scale of human misery by producing weaponry, pollution, fertility aids and biohazards 
  • Economic systems are, for the most part, suicidally and inherently driven to increase aggregate material wealth without limit instead of attaining equitable and sustainable well-being

We must stop looking at inherently flawed moral (religious, political) and rational (legal, scientific, ‘logical’) solutions to our problems, and instead look to primeval, proven, balanced, sustainable intuitive solutions. In short, we must (re-)learn to get in touch with, and trust, our instincts. They served us extraordinarily well for 99% of humanity’s time on Earth: Contrary to myth, this 99% of our history was not a desperate and constant struggle for survival, but was likely a time of great ease, abundance, peace and equilibrium3.

Re-connecting with our instincts does not mean naively trying to go back to a ‘noble savage’ culture. Life does not and cannot evolve backwards. Rapid change can only occur when, as occurred at the dawn of the industrial revolution or the turning point of popular sentiment against the Vietnam War, people realize that a different course of action is intuitively the way to go. Neither moral nor immoral, neither logical nor illogical, but instead instinctive behaviour, the kind that causes people to love and care for their children, and the kind that causes monarch butterflies to traverse a continent over three generations between its nesting and wintering grounds. It’s not the right way to live or the rational way to live, it is, in Darwinian terms, the only way to live, and the code that makes us know what ‘it’ is, has been imprinted in our genes for three million years, and was only forgotten a mere thirty millennia ago. Other species that know this have survived and thrived on Earth far longer than homo sapiens, and it is only the new upstart culture, acquisitive man, that now threatens these instinctively wise and happy creatures.

In his book A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen says:

If we listen carefully enough I believe our bodies, the land, and circumstance will tell us what to do.  If someone were to ask me today what to do about the problems we face in the world today, I would say, ‘Listen.  If you listen carefully enough you will in time know exactly what to do…’ 

The fifteen million people that recently and spontaneously took to the streets to protest Bush’s religious (‘moral’) and economic (‘rational’ ) war against Iraq were doing just that: listening to their instincts.  Avoidance of war except in the face of imminent and overwhelming threat is intuitively the best way for us to survive as a species. We are protesting the war and trying to oust the madmen on both sides that crave it because we know keeping the peace is ‘exactly what to do.’ It is not a moral conclusion, or a rational conclusion, it is an intuitive certainty. We know it in our bones.

As a species, we have marvellous instincts. It is these instincts, the innate voices speaking to us in a language older than words, a language untouched by the artifice of morality or rationalization, that have given us:

  • our great works of art,
  • our inexhaustible passion for freedom,
  • the sparks of innovative genius that transcend logic and underlie all great human inventions, and
  • the wondrous sensory responses that we call emotions, including love.

Our emotions defy moral or rational explanation and are present, perhaps more strongly5 than in humans, in creatures that have neither the need nor the ability to moralize or rationalize about them. Creatures that by many standards live ‘better’ than man.

It is undeniably human to despair at the possibility of getting enough people to understand and, having understood, to act on this innate knowledge. It is tempting to give up and moralize or rationalize the hopelessness of our situation and the futility of trying to solve it, and pray for salvation or a second coming or an superior alien intervention or some other deus ex machina or technological panacea brilliantly imposed on us that will make everything ‘right’. But such despair is a product of the strictures of moral and rational thought. Intuitively we cannot despair. We must strive to survive, to evolve beyond, to listen and heed the voices inside us that tell us we must go on, fare forward, find the answers in the echoes of three million years of connectedness to the Earth, our home. That is our true human nature, shared with the ‘nature’ of all other creatures, and it is simply and utterly instinctive. The ‘meaning of life’ is, ultimately, tautological.

From listening, and studying the history and cultures of our and other species, here are some of things that I ‘know’ instinctively we must do, by whatever means necessary. If your instincts tell you something different, that does not matter: It is the combined instinct of our entire culture that will, if we listen to it, take us in the right direction.

  • We must redistribute the wealth, health, education, and power of humanity much more evenly and equitably. That means some people will have to give up a lot of wealth and power, since those are scarce resources.
  • We must radically decentralize our institutions and decision-making, to the community level, so that those wielding authority and making decisions are immediately and personally affected by the outcomes, and physically in close connection to others affected.
  • We must encourage ‘free’ trade only in goods that cannot feasibly be produced locally.
  • We must use taxes and regulations to minimize waste, pollution, and resource depletion, instead of taxing and regulating employment and clean, socially desirable production.
  • We must start to teach our children important life skills and morally-neutral life lessons, instead of dogma, rote facts and obsolete skills.
  • We must have smaller families, and contract with one another to reduce population in countries with few resources and high fertility rates, and to reduce consumption and ecological footprint in countries with many resources and low fertility rates. We must keep doing this until we can live within our means, in balance with the rest of life on Earth.
  • We must extend our respect for, and the basic rights of, human life to encompass all life on the planet, and learn to live within our means and in harmony with all Earth’s creatures.

We all must listen, and trust our instincts, and do what they tell us. If we listen carefully, watch those that are most connected to the primeval planetary drumbeat, feel with the calcium in our bones and our hearts aching with love for all life on Earth, we will know the answers. Not faith, not reason, just instinct, telling us what we must do.


FOOTNOTES

  1. This thesis about human history is described in Story of B and Ishmael , by Daniel Quinn. Other sources attesting to the plausibility of this thesis can be found in my longer essay, How to Save the World .
  2. Quinn argues that agriculture was the ‘defining technology’ that brought about this cultural change. In The Axemaker’s Gift, Burke & Ornstein argue that it was the development of the axe some time earlier.
  3. In The Wealth of Man , economist Peter Jay hypothesizes that, prior to the development of agriculture, man lived ‘a life of leisure’, needing an average of only an hour or so per day to hunt plentiful large game sufficient for his needs. Only when that prey became rapidly extinct did man need to invent agriculture and ‘division of labour’, and have to work hard to survive.
  4. A number of studies suggest that famine is unique to the human acquirer culture. Other human cultures that are more integrated into the natural ecosystem, and all non-human cultures, simply reduce their family size instinctively to compensate for food shortages which, in the natural ecosystem, occur much more gradually and in a much more modest scale than is the case in intensive human food production. In Story of B Quinn even argues that increased food production is the cause of famine, not its remedy.
  5. See When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Life of Animals, by Jeff Masson.
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3 Responses to THE THIRD WAY

  1. The Raven says:

    Hi Dave. You’ve got a lot of material here for discussion and we’re both under the gun to keep things brief in your comments section, so at the outset let me stress that the pursuit of truth and knowledge is my only interest, and I’m not grinding any axes here.In composing a reply, I’ve found that the amount of information I have is way beyond what will fit here, so if you don’t mind I’m shifting this to e-mail. Regards, – R.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Trail of Crumbs / Postcript: Anyone reading this comment thread that wants to read the subsequent discussion, just e-mail me and I’ll loop you in. -/- Dave

  3. Omar RABHI says:

    first, excuse my poor english. i use to speak french. Taken as a whole, i agree with your writings, especially the “how to save the world” essay. I don’t understand why you don’t take more examples from existing communities and tribal peoples ( for example from north africa) who survived roman empire, the three main religions, many and many other disasters, the Vandales and French colonization, in more of the Arab one, whom are still fighting for their rights and culture, here and now. What lessons can we learn from them? I really think your ideas can save these endangered peoples.Thank you for readingOmar RABHI

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