Until the lion learns how to speak, every story will glorify the hunter.
…it appears that non-pathogenic soil microbes, human small intestinal bacteria, lactobacilli from fermented foods, some sea algae, common mushrooms, and plants grown on soil fertilized with animal manure can all can provide biologically active B12. Any of these could have served as ongoing sources of B12 for prehistoric human ancestors, but modern circumstances may make these non-animal sources of B12 unreliable for modern humans.
I think it safe to assume that our prehistoric ancestors had more contact with soil than we do, sitting on it, sleeping on it, digging in it, and drawing water from sources in contact with the soil. Humans like other primates are apt to touch their own lips from time to time, providing a vector by which soil microbes could enter the human gut.
Humans living in modern industrialized nations typically ingest multiple courses of oral antibiotics over a lifetime, reducing or eliminating the population of B12-producing bacteria residing in the small intestine. All of our prehistoric ancestors would have been breast fed and probably kissed often, which transmits flora from one generation to another, and this transmission would not have been interrupted by antibiotic treatments.
Fermentation of plant foods, particularly fruits, occurs spontaneously in nature, providing another route by which our ancestors may have ingested B12-producing lactobacilli. Our ancestors almost certainly consumed any edible wild mushrooms and all of the plants they ate grew in soils teaming with bacteria and fertilized by fermented organic wastes, providing another B12 source.
All of this information suggests that modern hygiene, indoor lifestyles, antibiotics, and use of chemical rather than biomass fertilizers in farming have reduced the amount of B12 available to humans in modern urban environments from non-animal sources.
Thus, the low availability of B12 from non-animal sources in modern urban environments is an artifact not reflective of preindustrial environments, and it appears probable that our prehistoric ancestors had more non-animal sources present in their environment, like the southern Indians studied by Albert et al. …
Richard Heinberg, 1995
Chapter 1. Prologue
Chapter 2. Civilization and Primitivism
What Is Primitivism?
What Is Civilization?
Chapter 3. Primitivism Versus Civilization
Wild Self/Domesticated Self
Health: Natural or Artificial?
Spirituality: Raw or Cooked?
Economics: Free or Unaffordable?
Government: Bottom Up or Top Down?
Civilization and Nature
How We Compensate for Our Loss of Nature
Chapter 4. Questions and Objections
Chapter 5. Some Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 1. Prologue
Having been chosen — whether as devil’s advocate or sacrificial lamb, I am not sure — to lead off this discussion on the question, “Was Civilization a Mistake?”, I would like to offer some preliminary thoughts.
From the viewpoint of any non-civilized person, this consideration would appear to be steeped in irony. Here we are, after all, some of the most civilized people on the planet, discussing in the most civilized way imaginable whether civilization itself might be an error. Most of our fellow civilians would likely find our discussion, in addition to being ironic, also disturbing and pointless: after all, what person who has grown up with cars, electricity, and television would relish the idea of living without a house, and of surviving only on wild foods?
Nevertheless, despite the possibility that at least some of our remarks may be ironic, disturbing, and pointless, here we are. Why? I can only speak for myself. In my own intellectual development I have found that a critique of civilization is virtually inescapable for two reasons.
The first has to do with certain deeply disturbing trends in the modern world. We are, it seems, killing the planet. Revisionist “wise use” advocates tell us there is nothing to worry about; dangers to the environment, they say, have been wildly exaggerated. To me this is the most blatant form of wishful thinking. By most estimates, the oceans are dying, the human population is expanding far beyond the long-term carrying capacity of the land, the ozone layer is disappearing, and the global climate is showing worrisome signs of instability. Unless drastic steps are taken, in fifty years the vast majority of the world’s population will likely be existing in conditions such that the lifestyle of virtually any undisturbed primitive tribe would be paradise by comparison.
Now, it can be argued that civilization per se is not at fault, that the problems we face have to do with unique economic and historical circumstances. But we should at least consider the possibility that our modern industrial system represents the flowering of tendencies that go back quite far. This, at any rate, is the implication of recent assessments of the ecological ruin left in the wake of the Roman, Mesopotamian, Chinese, and other prior civilizations. Are we perhaps repeating their errors on a gargantuan scale?
If my first reason for criticizing civilization has to do with its effects on the environment, the second has to do with its impact on human beings. As civilized people, we are also domesticated. We are to primitive peoples as cows and sheep are to bears and eagles. On the rental property where I live in California my landlord keeps two white domesticated ducks. These ducks have been bred to have wings so small as to prevent them from flying. This is a convenience for their keepers, but compared to wild ducks these are pitiful creatures.
Many primal peoples tend to view us as pitiful creatures, too — though powerful and dangerous because of our technology and sheer numbers. They regard civilization as a sort of social disease. We civilized people appear to act as though we were addicted to a powerful drug — a drug that comes in the forms of money, factory-made goods, oil, and electricity. We are helpless without this drug, so we have come to see any threat to its supply as a threat to our very existence. Therefore we are easily manipulated — by desire (for more) or fear (that what we have will be taken away) — and powerful commercial and political interests have learned to orchestrate our desires and fears in order to achieve their own purposes of profit and control. If told that the production of our drug involves slavery, stealing, and murder, or the ecological equivalents, we try to ignore the news so as not to have to face an intolerable double bind.
Since our present civilization is patently ecologically unsustainable in its present form, it follows that our descendants will be living very differently in a few decades, whether their new way of life arises by conscious choice or by default. If humankind is to choose its path deliberately, I believe that our deliberations should include a critique of civilization itself, such as we are undertaking here. The question implicit in such a critique is, What have we done poorly or thoughtlessly in the past that we can do better now? It is in this constructive spirit that I offer the comments that follow.
Chapter 2. Civilization and Primitivism
What Is Primitivism?
“There’s religion on the one hand and good luck on the other. Religion makes you ‘good’, folklore brings you luck.” – Chilly (Charles) Lee, Romani gypsy of the Purrum clan.
Chilly Lee is a wildly passionate and forthright Romani man who I met through his cousin Jasper Lee. As an anthropologist, my interest in this unusual Romani family is from a modern tribal perspective as they have retained so much of their ancient folklore and clannish tradition. I have been lucky enough to study them, particularly Jasper due to his remarkable clan role of Chovihano (medicine man/holy man), on and off for about 4 years. Their traditions are exceptionally private and only on offer to the world under stringent conditions. I have had to prove myself worthy and sincere (‘good and true’ to use Chilly’s words) to the elders of the council (kris) in order that I may be trusted with some of their customary laws and rare myths which have been passed down the generations.
Folklore and animism
Folklore is the beliefs, stories and traditions of ancient or primitive people which interpret their everyday world, environment and their existence in a natural way. Folklore can cover a great many ideas, stories, myths and superstitions throughout time and across the globe but generally are regarded as quaint or naïve tales from a far simpler way of life than that of sophisticated modern culture.
Included in the great realms of folklore is the world of animism. Very basically animism is the belief that all things animate and inanimate have a spirit of their own and that there is no boundary between the physical world and the spiritual world. Within a culture today, animism in its purest form is a sign of a profound primitiveness, which we find only in remote tribes in the Amazon, Africa and a few other isolated pockets of the world. For primitive tribal people the world of animism and spirits is not a belief system, it is an experiential understanding of life itself and predates any religion which may exist in any culture today.
The evolution of animism
Tens of thousands of years ago, ancient people in Britain were also immersed in a dream-like world steeped in spirits and otherworldliness and where solemnity and ceremony was merely a glint in the eye of their Neolithic descendants. Primitive minds do not have the capacity for somber and formal ritual and we know that from observing primitive extant tribes today. Our ancient ancestors would probably laugh at some of our depictions of ancient people, earnestly making ceremonial offerings to their ancestors or important spirits. While offerings were made, the solemnity and gravity we seem to attach to these people’s beliefs are heavily religious attributes associated with more modern conceptual ideas of spirituality and should not be associated with ancient nomadic people who were very light-hearted and cheerful.
Although on the lead up to the Neolithic revolution from about 50,000 years ago there are numerous signs of the development of human consciousness and steps towards conceptualizing life (and death) such as the development of art, personal adornment and formal burials, the shift into agriculture and settlement is what truly revolutionized the human existence from a natural state to an artificial one. As we see in the Middle East during this time (the cradle of civilization and the global initiators of full scale sedentary agriculture), by introducing priests as ‘interpreters’ of the natural gods and spirits, this new powerful elite successfully managed to remove the ordinary people from their own ancient connection with all the natural deities through the use of power, intimidation and scare-mongering. The vast religious monuments such as the ziggurats and step pyramids were pronounced visual accessories in this social and economic revolution. We also see this happening all over Europe and in Britain with the Neolithic and Bronze Age glitterati imposing the same cultural intimidation at sites such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire and the Seahenge in Norfolk. This time throughout the world saw the rapid decline of a truly animistic lifestyle which can only exist within primitive, egalitarian social organization and which had previously existed unchanged for millions of years.
Moving on from there to the early Iron Age, Greek philosophers appeared to be the first to introduce the concept of spirit and matter being separate and by the 17th Century, Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton had everyone believing that all physical matter is in fact ‘dead’. This evolution of scientific thought has followed our complex social development and so has in turn fuelled our spiritual development, but not because the monotheistic god of your choice evolved from an animistic view of the world. Rather, by separating spirit and matter, we then had to account for ‘spirituality’ in the likeness of the artificial social structure we had created, i.e. within the human realms of social inequality and complexity. Religion is a concept which cannot exist as a moral code for life within a community which is primitive and interprets life within the natural order and natural laws. It can only exist around the outside or as something altogether separate. This was Chilly’s beautifully succinct point, I think.
Modern tribal folklore
The hidden doorway: do neo-shamans and indigenous shamans utilize the same doorway, do they share the same qualities within a different context or has shamanism evolved within a Western perspective into something entirely different? What is it that is actually being practiced in our ‘civilized’ communities and how does it relate, if at all, to tribal prehistoric life?
The evolution of the hidden doorway: the invisible feature which clearly identifies the shaman or medicine man of any tribe, culture or period of time by his ability to access otherworldly realms, retrieve messages and communicate with ancestors. How has this remarkable quality evolved through time, does it and can it exist in the modern Western civilized world? Do neo-shamans and indigenous shamans utilize the same doorway as prehistoric shamans, do they share the same qualities within a different context or has the doorway evolved within a Western perspective into something entirely different? By comparing tribal indigenous people, neo-shamanic and new-age styles and applying the growing trend of neuro-psychology, I am asking what is it that is actually being practiced in our ‘civilized’ communities and how does it relate, if at all, to tribal prehistoric life? Should we, in fact, be calling neo-shamanism shamanism at all or should we, in honor of the real ancient tribal traditions, be calling it something else entirely?
“Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree trunks, she could see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glimpse of the empty room from which she had set out. (She had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe)”. The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
A shaman or medicine man/woman is the person traditionally in a tribal setting who is charged with the spiritual, otherworldly or one could say the psychological well being of the tribe (I say psychological because that is how it translates to the modern civilized world). The actual word shaman originates from Russian Evenki and Tungus tribes of Siberia but has been adopted in the West as a generic term for the priestly, wise person who provides spiritual advice to the tribe by means of communication with ancestors, natural spirits and the hidden otherworld.
The tribal shaman is inherently endowed with a set of instructions regarding the intricacies of the magical and spiritual properties of life and the natural world. He has an instinctive understanding of the principles within which all of life is organized, not just life in the visible, physical realms, as he translates between the worlds on behalf of nature, the spirits and his tribe – the methods by which I refer to as the ‘doorway’. He is fluent in the symbolic language of nature, reading omens, interpreting signs and acting out significant rituals which express honor and influence the natural spirits and the ancient ancestors of his people. He is also charged with protecting this gateway to the hidden otherworld, indeed he can become the gateway in that he transforms or ‘disapparates’[i] to become the much hidden fabric by which nature and her spirits can come through to this world and communicate with us.
“…to be a Chovihano [Romani shaman] you had not only to be in contact with nature, but also needed to be a true spokesperson for her in many forms, telling her story for her since humans had severed their ancient spiritual connections with her.” Patrick Jasper Lee – We Borrow the Earth (Thorsons 2000).
It is worth mentioning here that within primitive tribal communities, everyone (not just the shaman as is often portrayed) in the tribe would communicate with the spirits as it is, and would have been, a part of normal everyday life. The shaman would only be brought in for specific tasks or rituals or because he himself notices something is awry within the tribe and needs to address it.
The Shamanic Psychology
It is common within neo-shamanic, new-age and some anthropological communities to hear people talking about shamans entering ‘trance-like’ states and even ‘states of ecstasy’, that which allow him, or provide the right conditions, to access to the magical realms of the Otherworld. The journey, or experience itself is often referred to as an ‘alternative reality’ or an ‘altered state of consciousness’.
David Lewis-Williams[ii] has studied the neuro-psychology of prehistoric shamanism, the human ‘consciousness’ and the relationship between mind, the material world and various dream or autistic states. He attempts to substantiate his work with indigenous credentials by linking it to the rock art of the San Bushmen in South Africa and in North America. From his findings, he claims that the Mesolithic cave paintings of Lascaux in northern France are depictions of the shamans’ journeys within the spirit world, experiences which he describes as ‘alternative realities’, encountered via a trance-like state. He defines hunter gatherer shamanism as “fundamentally posited on a range of institutionalized altered states of consciousness”. He claims that modern humans experienced a ‘creative explosion’ or ‘the upper Paleolithic revolution’ about 40,000 years ago when we developed ‘consciousness’ and so, theoretically, the ability to comprehend what he terms alternative realities such as that of the unseen spirit world, leading to the achievement of progressive ideas such as art, elaborate burials, sophisticated jewellery and body adornments. His view is that Neanderthals had not the consciousness (nor intelligence) to develop these concepts and that therefore led to their extinction.
He describes consciousness as an awareness of self and that a variety of methods can be utilized to induce a shift along an intensified trajectory of our consciousness “towards the release of inward generated imagery” (visions or hallucinations). Therefore, we can derive that the unseen otherworld and any interaction with it (i.e. shamanic journey) is interpreted by Williams as a hallucinated projection of the ‘inner self’, of what is within our own personal, psychological realms, provoked by sensory deprivation, psychotropic drugs, flashing lights and so forth. Trance is the key to unlocking that stream of ‘consciousness’ that enables our inner world to speak to us and is according to him a neurological condition or state, hard-wired within the brain.
So where does Nature fit into this palaeo-psychological analysis? To broaden our perspective on the primitive mind we need to appreciate more of the social anthropology or ethnography relating to tribal hunter gatherer communities. Nature and the tribal relationship with nature are at the heart of every tribe’s existence, wherever they are in the world or in time. Their reality is simple and interwoven with the natural principles of life which are very much external and apparent in their environment, their relationships with each other and the spirits. Therefore their dreaming or visions and the way they perceive and experience all the worlds (upper, middle and lower) are gently and subtly traversed as a part of everyday life– it’s not a question of turning on the TV like we do and getting sudden, chaotic, hard-wired abstract images.
The Amazonian Pirahãs[iii] experience dreaming as an extension of their waking consciousness – the dream is immediate and very real and the boundary or doorway to that dream world is so subtle, almost unseen, so that the spirits they encounter in their dreams they sometimes also see during the day as they’re walking around. The entire tribe can share these spirit visions or sightings; they are not the inner ‘hallucinations’ of one person or shaman. The visions are often communal which demonstrates the tribal mind, thinking and behaving and experiencing as one entity with everything on the outside to be shared. This is something that civilized individuals are incapable of due to the intense development of ‘self’ which in itself cancels out the ability to be ‘self’-less (or neutral) and therefore tribal in the real primitive sense.
“One morning at three o’clock…Xisaabi suddenly sat up and started singing about things he had just seen in the jungle, in his dream…recounting a trip to the upper ground, the sky and beyond. The singing woke me up but I wasn’t bothered because it was hauntingly beautiful, echoing back from the opposite bank of the Maici, a full moon shining brightly, illuminating him clearly.” Daniel Everett, Don’t Sleep There are Snakes.
The early Greek atomists in around 500BC were the ones who first made a clear definition between the world of spirit and that of matter and so began the fragmentation of all things down to the smallest atomic particle. Along with this split during the Iron Age came the birth of philosophy, Christianity and other organized religions quickly followed as the problems of soul became problems of ‘self’, now separate and isolated, and required their own explanations and understanding. Rene Descartes developed his 17th Century philosophy on this idea of spirit/matter dualism and so contributed to the development of mechanism (Cartesian physics) and the anti-animistic world view that all physical matter is in fact dead. Fritjof Capra in his book the Tao of Physics discusses the impact of this split on humanity “As a consequence of the Cartesian division, most individuals are aware of themselves as isolated egos existing ‘inside’ their bodies.” He talks about how our “inner fragmentation mirrors our view of the world ‘outside’” so we interpret our environment according to our own personal fragmented identity. Tribal people have no inner world or fragmentation of self – there is only them as an integral part of their environment and the qualities therein.
Shamanic ecstasy – the legal high