Women gathering murnong and other food,
as sketched by squatter Henry Godfrey, on November 1, 1843.
Drawing from the artist’s sketchbook,
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.
The nutshell story of civilization begins with an evolutionary adaptation based on humans’ advanced intelligence setting them apart from other animals. Civilized humans see, experience and understand the world objectively, rationally, as it really is. Their advanced technological abilities make them the most adaptable, prolific, thriving species. All this combined with humankind’s ethics gives them the intrinsic right to assume the role as stewards of all others (who are rightfully used to support and progress the advancement of civilization).
This fascinating tale has now culminated into life worldwide writhing in dystopic drumbeats of civilization-initiated environmental collapses. A growing lot of dissenting humans are rumbling, freeing themselves by reading between the lines that this Civilitopia they were fed is a storyline birthed, owned and shape-shifted by rulers who enforce its following to the detriment of all. Just decades ago civilization’s patriarchal elite propagated the hype: Humans are hunters by nature, and that is what accounts for their success as a species. Why was caveman hunting selected for the podium, and not murder or rape or infanticide or cannibalism or causing species extinctions when there was also evidence of those in pre-history humans? When evidence of some hunting was found, why did that result in the practice of eating animals being applied to all humans going back to origins? Did the machismo leaders cherry pick a more alluring ‘killer ape’ early ancestry to justify current carnistic practices? Was it strategic that this lie also boosted the noxious ego to fuel the march toward the magical kingdom of Civilitopia? (For fun, google images of the word ‘caveman’, then ‘cavewoman’ to visualize the propaganda.) The mass of followers didn’t ask to be born into this shameful story, ensnared in a social structure where children with instincts to forage are systematically trained to proudly bear the blood placed on their hands. No life, wild or domesticated, want to live in a land scarred with ghosts of living nature communities replaced by rows of monocrops and caged bred animals to feed the story for it thrive. In these times, human senses and gut intuitions are awakening, recognizing the horrific realities as the official narrative’s foundation cracks.
Thorns of truth are stinging through sciences, like paleoanthropology. Evidence left behind is reinterpreted and new evidence is concluding that early humans were more prey than predator, that Neanderthals adapted their foodways to the local environment to the extent that some subsisted on a vegan diet, that the advent of organized hunting resulted in mass extinctions and rigid sex roles, that women largely provided the staple subsidence through gathering, and that the impetus for certain rituals and myths was to overcome the innate aversion humans feel to harming animals. Tough truths are hitting soft and hard sciences alike, such as: humans are biological herbivores with some behaving as omnivores either by privileged choice or due to decreased nature foraging opportunities brought on by civilization’s destruction of humans’ indigenous habitat and overpopulation. Some out of bounds truths merge with others filling in the picture of a wholly different human story, like the previous example combined with this: humans eating a plant diet have the healthiest bodies, with raw vegan being the healthiest, and conversely the more animal products a human consumes the worse his health, even amongst indigenous ‘hunter-gatherers’ eating wild animals. Truth bombs such as ‘humans are folio-frugivore by nature’ are resulting in furious fights by those desperately clenching the old storyline, or parts of it, as it crumbles.
If the human story is to be rewritten in a way that recognizes the inevitable doom of civilization and places humans back into nature, perhaps it will go something like this: Humans came down from the trees walking two-legged foraging for plants. There were many food and shelter opportunities along the sunny forest edge. As prey, they were constantly vigilant to signs of danger. For a while they took solace returning to trees by day to forage and by night to sleep. A quick environmental change left them moving on to other lands where they adapted their lifeways. Dire hunger drove them to scavenge off the remains of other animals’ kills. When plentiful plant food opportunities returned, they continued scavenging as supplement sporadically. They invented stone tools first to mash fibrous plant foods such as tubers, then to break open scavenged bones for marrow.
They discovered how to control fire, leading not just increased calorie intake of new-fangled cooked meat and vegetable foods, but to many social changes such as specialization, hierarchal roles, and organized hunting. They began thinking symbolically, expressing their thoughts through art and language. Many species of humans moved across lands. Some groups met and interacted. Some died out. One species of humans outlived the others and spread across all lands, increasingly impacting and shaping plant and animal communities. Most large mammals survived in Africa because they gradually co-adapted with humans, learning to fear and avoid the inventive ape. As they spread out of Africa, Homo sapiens wiped out swaths of megafauna within a short time. They planned into the future, honed technologies, and progressively intensified control of life and death of themselves and others.
To control their food supply, they began storing food, settling into lifeways based on herding and breeding more docile animals into submission on swaths of wild animals’ habitats. They soon settled even more firmly with food storing cultures based on agriculture, breeding plants into monocrops and animals into pens, encroaching farther still into free animals’ homes. Through this process they domesticated themselves. They developed a sense of ownership of land, plants, animals, and each other. Settled human populations living in escalating stratified power structures with one another and collectively as colonizers of all others slowly swelled in population. Industrialization sped the pace advancing both civilizing customs and impact on free living communities. Humans’ waning connection with wild places did not quash their longing for a life simpler, more mutualistic, more homeostatic with other life… more primal. With overpopulated humans living in structures of civilization dominating everywhere, the last of the hominids faced the choice before their evolutionary dead end, to continue heedlessly participating in civilization’s death march, or to begin the great return.
The return has a myriad of old ways with new actions based on in-between storylines. For example, being that humans have shown their ability to shift diets with environmental conditions, and that humans eating animals is distinctively devastating Earth’s living communities, will humans use their civilized intelligence to shift their diet back the one of their deep origins, taking a huge step out of civilization’s path of destruction? Will they hear and heed their primitive instincts as they were before technologies, colonization and bloodlust led them astray, catalyst by catalyst, toward the deadly dream of Civilitopia?
Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism and Global Conflict, David Nibert
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Richard Wrangham
The Caveman Mystique: Pop-Darwinism and the Debates Over Sex, Violence, and Science, Martha McCaughey
Children’s Literature, Domestication, and Social Foundation: Narratives of Civilization and Wilderness, Layla AbdelRahim
Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets, Yi-Fu Tuan
In a Few Centuries, Cows Could Be the Largest Land Animals Left: Throughout our entire history, humans and other hominins have selectively killed off the largest mammals. Ed Yong https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/in-a-few-centuries-cows-could-be-the-largest-land-animals-left/558323/
Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution, Donna Hart and Robert Sussman
Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus, Laura S. Weyrich, Sebastian Duchene, Alan Cooper. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature21674
A Northwoodsman’s Guide to Everyday Compassion, Kenneth Damro
An Unnatural Order: The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature, Jim Mason
A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature Through History, Matt Cartmill