“When we grasp fully that the best expressions of our humanity were not invented by civilization but by cultures that preceded it, that the natural world is not only a set of constraints but of contexts within which we can more fully realize our dreams, we will be on the way to a long overdue reconciliation between opposites which are of our own making.” –from Coming Home to the Pleistocene
Paul Shepard was one of the most profound and original thinkers of our time. Seminal works like The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, Thinking Animals, and Nature and Madness introduced readers to new and provocative ideas about humanity and its relationship to the natural world. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Paul Shepard returned repeatedly to his guiding theme, the central tenet of his thought: that our essential human nature is a product of our genetic heritage, formed through thousands of years of evolution during the Pleistocene epoch, and that the current subversion of that Pleistocene heritage lies at the heart of today’s ecological and social ills.
Coming Home to the Pleistocene provides the fullest explanation of that theme. Completed just before his death in the summer of 1996, it represents the culmination of Paul Shepard’s life work and constitutes the clearest, most accessible expression of his ideas. Coming Home to the Pleistocene pulls together the threads of his vision, considers new research and thinking that expands his own ideas, and integrates material within a new matrix of scientific thought that both enriches his original insights and allows them to be considered in a broader context of current intellectual controversies. In addition, the book explicitly addresses the fundamental question raised by Paul Shepard’s work: What can we do to recreate a life more in tune with our genetic roots? In this book, Paul Shepard presents concrete suggestions for fostering the kinds of ecological settings and cultural practices that are optimal for human health and well-being.
…We are talking about eating meat and the impact that may have had on us as a species and how it altered human history and thus the planet. The use of weapons changed everything. As aggression and weapons were so consistently effective against tools and plowshares, warlike empires rose on the ruins of passive nations and the use of force exploited a violent reconditioning of the cultural mind. These formidable invasive societies altered almost every aspect of existing cultural paradigms until, as Raine Eisler writes in “The Chalice and the Blade”
Concepts of normalcy shifted.” And “a completely new replicative social code was imprinted in the mind of every single man, woman and child until their ideas of reality had been completely transformed.
As Homer said, “The blade itself incites to violence.” Not only that, but weapons worked to generate a masculinized worldview marginalizing women and their more lenient tendencies.
I traveled to the wildest vast region of Venezuela where most of the aboriginal people live, southeast, to visit with a group of Pemon in the Gran Sabana. For the first many days the food was all plant derived. One dark night sleep would not come, so I explored my immediate area relying on my senses other than sight. The jungle behind was almost silent. As I felt my way along the ground toward the opening’s stream, I suddenly sensed human presence. As I crouched and inched forward, now with my sight and all senses alert, a shadowy silhouette emerged against the night horizon. A man standing solidly still in the middle of the stream ready to strike downward with a spear. He surely sensed my presence before I sensed his. Leaving space for his strategy, I froze as he noiselessly agreed to share the moment with me observing. After a long while the expected happened. Then he stole soundlessly away carrying the outcome.
The next day when fish was offered, I told the chief I do not eat meat. He said that other people there also do not eat meat, and that meant we were closer to the creator. I noticed that only a handful of people ate the fish.
In that moment I grasped one of the largest misperceptions of our times. Generations into the future, if an anthropologist explored remnants of this place and found those fish bones discarded in ways that humans discard fish bones, it would be authoritatively concluded that this people (as an oversimplified whole) had a diet that included fish. If a reader of that anthropologist questioned labeling this entire group ‘hunter-gatherers’, that questioner would be scoffed at, challenged to show proof of veganism among aboriginal peoples.
What if wild humans who subsist/ed on plants tend/ed to be less violent, sometimes tend/ed to be oppressed and overrun by more aggressive meat eating wild humans? What if wild folio-frugivore humans from the beginning left fewer signs of their ways of eating, no bones with scratches & no hunting weapons, leaving studied understanding of their existence more obscure to us from the future? What if foraging humans with plant-based diets lived the ways most symbiotic with our species’ life in habitat? What if the more aggressive hunting humans dominated and/or ignored them, and led the charge toward our species’ invasive, colonizing, destructive ways? What if the oppressors’ man-the-hunter version of truth is now assumed, deemed indisputable? What if some humans even today remain innately connected with our most natural animal diet that excludes meat?
While some oppressors respond to challenge by shutting their minds with demands for sanctioned ‘proof’, what if other rewilding hunter-gathers open their hearts to the deepest calling back for adapting forward to our species’ most thriving primal way, ‘closer to the creator’? What if our walk on this modern path into abysmal abyss continues until our species’ clashing domination vs symbiosis ways resolves and we adapt through re-manifesting and embracing our folio-frugivore primitive mindset and way?