September 2, 2011
I just finished your book after having been a fan of your blog for a
while now. Congratulations on an incredible novel.
You raise the issues I have been pondering for most of my adult life.
The big dilemma for me is that although I fundamentally agree with
what you propose in the gnoll credo (return to our predatory nature),
I cannot see that being a viable option. At least not now.
My vision (for myself at least), is to turn to a farming life as a
stepping stone (in the mould of Joel Salatin) in the hope that future
generations can build on this momentum and return closer to a more
It seems to me though that you are a little more to the point about it
in the book. Do you see this as a viable path? If so, how would you
see it happening?
I don't pretend to have the answers. I don't think anyone does, as I
think we've reached a very unique point in human history, where we
cannot turn back due to the "success" of modern civilisation, yet we
are on an irrevocable path to calamity.
But I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it from a personal
perspective. Do you have plans on a personal level to "break free"? If
so, how do you envision it happening?
Also, this has been nagging at me for some time - what is your first
name?! Or is that one of those mystery things you intend on keeping a
Congratulations again on the book.
February 22, 2010
It's a good idea to stop here unless you've read The Gnoll Credo.
As I say explicitly in the Epilogue, we've got a long way to go, and it's most likely a multigenerational project. So I see two separate issues:
* What do we work towards? (A return to predatory nature enabled by a change to predatory form)
* How do we survive in the meantime?
This second question seems to be what you're asking.
I see ranching and pastoralism as a much more viable path than farming, for several reasons. And I think pastoralism is what you really mean, but I'll explain.
First, grains are not something we should be eating anyway...and vegetables don't contain meaningful calories. There's a reason grains are called "staple crops": that huge row of delicious tomatoes will feed one person for perhaps a couple days. So all that permaculture vegetable/fruit stuff is tasty, but it's fundamentally useless as a survival method. End of story.
Second, the Amish and Mennonites are the only people who will actually be feeding themselves through farming if TSHTF...and do you want to be living like the Amish? Aside from the scratchy clothes and stifling traditions, it's a hell of a lot of work...and it'll be even more as the machinery breaks and people have to start planting, seeding, and harvesting by hand or with wooden tools. Agriculture has always been endless drudgery.
Third, there's very little good farmland out there, and even if you try to grow organically and sustainably, most of it is poisoned by the chemicals used by your neighbors.
Finally, depending on your stored surplus year to year leaves you vulnerable to domination. Animals can be moved: crops and granaries stay where they are. "Give me half or I rape your daughter." End of story.
Taking ranching to a greater extreme, you have the African pastoralists like the Maasai, who are semi-nomadic.
In summary, I see ranching as a more direct and viable path to a predator future than farming. It's still a lot of work...but you get to eat real food. And that's basically what Salatin is doing AFAIK. Dealing with all the plants becomes a luxury, not a necessity.
"I think we've reached a very unique point in human history, where we cannot turn back due to the "success" of modern civilisation, yet we are on an irrevocable path to calamity."
Exactly. Civilization cannot be "saved". All we can hope to do is survive the slow collapse of its institutions, and someday, to build something better from the wreckage. Again, farming leaves you vulnerable to domination.
Do I have plans on a personal level? First, there's no such thing as "breaking free." Going rural/"self-supporting" is the opposite of freedom: it ties you to one tiny scrap of land which you can never leave because of the animals, not to mention all the government paperwork and taxes that come with land ownership, house building, and selling food.
Frankly, performing contract work remotely is the modern version of being a hunter-gatherer -- either that, or traveling around the country performing/dealing drugs -- and it's much closer to living like a predator than tying yourself to land. But most people want the security of a regular paycheck, and are willing to sacrifice almost everything in order to get it.
That being said, I'd love to associate myself in real life with some people I can trust and understand during the inevitable and ongoing deterioration of the current system. I used to have plans, and even visited several intentional communities, but I mostly gave them up because 1) you can't do it by yourself and 2) most communitarians are clueless ve*gan hippies with ridiculous "spiritual" agendas and/or have a creepy cult of personality thing going with their leader. And if there's going to be any cult of personality, it'll be around my own, so...no.
Perhaps, someday in the future, TGC and this site will bring together enough people to think about addressing some of the real-life issues. But it will have to account for the fact that most of us are socially broken from an evolutionarily discordant upbringing (nuclear "family", schools, and babysitters vs. the gradual transition in tribal life from imitating to participating), and it's impossible to build tribal trust and interdependence instantly out of nothing.
Desire everything, expect nothing.
September 2, 2011
Indeed, the second question was what I was asking. Yes, by farming, I mean pastoralism. Salatin's "farming" philosophy is based almost entirely on rearing animals, with any produce that comes as a result being a bonus. This is my intended path - I am not interested in raising crops. I want to eat meat! The reason I am considering it is that I attended a workshop he held here in my home town of Melbourne recently, and it seems far more achievable than I originally thought to get started with minimal expense. A lot more research is necessary, but some of the ideas he put forward seem practical and achievable for someone with my lack of knowledge.
My preference, as seems to be yours, would be to be able to return to a predatory lifestyle. However, I don't see a path leading to that. I've outlined what I view as insurmountable hurdles below. They seem to correlate fairly closely with what you've written.
1. Any attempts to do so would be curtailed immediately by our "civilised" brethren. I know some forms of hunting are accepted here in Australia, and as far as I am aware in the USA as well, but as a way of living, I don't believe it's viable at this point in time. I could be wrong, but somehow I doubt that authorities would just stand by and watch if hordes of people took to living off the land in a hunter-gatherer fashion.
2. I do not have the skills or knowledge necessary to survive in this manner. As much as I yearn for a simpler way of living, and being more connected with the land, I would be probably be dead within days if I tried.
3. Like you, I don't believe you could or should do it by yourself. Our gregarious nature I believe necessitates that any attempts to live off the land would need to be done with a tribe. I am a fairly introverted person, but even then I find myself needing company if I spend more than a few days in solitude. I don't know how we could even go about forming a tribe of this nature. From personal experience, even broaching the topic of there being something wrong with modern society is met with incredible resistance and scepticism. Generally I don't even bother any more, as most people either simply aren't aware that there is might be anything wrong, or choose to live with the attitude of "what can I do about it anyway?". And in many ways that is a totally understandable response. It does all seem too hard! So, forming even a small group of like minded people in the same geographical area is a tough ask. First, finding these people, then forming sufficiently strong bonds to embark on such a radical departure from our current lifestyle seems a bridge too far.
In regards to my breaking free comment, I can see that I've used a poor term to describe what I was trying to get across. I agree with you that being tied to a piece of land is the opposite of freedom. I was more referring to re-joining the food chain - eliminating the intermediate steps between where we source our food from, and the food going into our mouth. As you put it, when the shtf, if it happens in our life times, I want to be as close to self sufficient as I possibly can be. It may make no difference in the end, but I think it would be a far more satisfying way to live even if it achieves nothing else.
On that note, one of Salatin's remarks in his workshop is that there are a lot of older land owners / farmers out there desparately looking for people to work their land. They do not want to give the land to their children, as most will simply sell the farm the moment they're 6 feet under, and many would even consider rewriting their will if they found a willing and competent "steward". Apparently that is the case both here and the US. So there is the potential to "lease" land and operate with minimal outlay. Food for thought anyway.
"most communitarians are clueless ve*gan hippies with ridiculous "spiritual" agendas and/or have a creepy cult of personality thing going with their leader". I did laugh at this, because one of these said cult leaders, the infamous durianrider, lives in the same city as me. I was invited to one of his talks a few months ago by an acquaintance with an interest in raw food. I had to decline, as I didn't really feel like listening to his verbal diarrhea for a few hours. When I mentioned that I eat meat, lots of meat, and don't believe veg*nism is much chop, I never heard from him again. Shame really.
February 22, 2010
1. I'm not sure you're thinking far enough ahead. As I said here, "Seven billion people eating grass seeds at a rate only made
possible by massive energy input from petroleum and rapid depletion of
ocean fish to make up for the lack of complete protein, and at the cost
of rapid topsoil depletion and destruction of watersheds via
agriculture's toxic byproducts, is utterly unsustainable and will collapse under its own weight with or without anyone's help."
Which is just the more long-winded version of "Civilization cannot be "saved". All we can hope to do is survive the
slow collapse of its institutions, and someday, to build something
better from the wreckage." So I'm not terribly worried about the short-term problem of regulatory/societal disapproval...that's just something to work around while keeping our eyes on longer-term goals.
2. It took millions of years, and brains 10-15% bigger than ours, to figure out Late Pleistocene survival strategies. We're not going to recreate that knowledge in a year of spare-time hobbies. For instance, I just took a meat-cutting class so I could understand how the hell you cut up a cow into the parts we actually eat...and even that started with aged, hanging quarters.
Second, as the book mentions, we can't go backwards or we'll just be slaughtered by those who didn't...and our species is in the middle of an awkward physical transition, dependent on tools for its survival. We've got some biological re-engineering to accomplish along with the social re-engineering. (More here.)
3. One effect of TGC -- as you've experienced yourself -- is confronting us with these issues and making us think about the solutions. So: help spread it as best you can! It's a numbers game. The more people read it, the more will be interested in the deeper implications. And you can try to nudge those who seem to understand over here.
I agree that involving ourself with the food chain is an intermediate step, so long as we understand it's not an end in itself. Being a slave to animals is a step up from being a slave to grass...but it's just the beginning of our journey.
You raise a good point about old farmers wanting someone to take care of their land...I hadn't thought of that. Between that, depleted soil from over-aggressive agriculture, and the price premium for naturally-raised meat, such land might be cheap enough to re-establish pastoralism as a viable option.
September 2, 2011
1. I wouldn't worry about the regulatory disapproval either, except it will probably land you in a cell if you keep it up long enough or piss off the wrong beaurocrat / "authority". As much as I like to try to take the approach of I don't give a shit what others think, I do to the extent that I don't wish to cut off my nose to spite my face. Maybe that's a lack of courage on my part, but for me at least that would be a big consideration on top of the others I have already listed.
Regarding your view that we will experience a slow collapse, what is your definition of slow? I am in complete agreement that it will collapse. I've thought (known) that since I read The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann several years ago. The only question is what will be the trigger, which I think will determine the time frame. It could be any number of factors, such as war over resources (let's face it, that's pretty much all wars are ever about), famine and massive crop failures, oil shortages, or virus outbreak which finally tip us over. All are interrelated to some extent, but I believe a virus outbreak for example, courtesy of our abominable agricultural practices in CAFO's, would speed things up faster than food shortages.
The reason for my question is do we need to adopt different contingencies or take different approaches for a slow or fast collapse? What if it all goes belly up literally overnight? And what is the likelihood of this happening? It's a rhetorical question, but one I think we need to consider.
2. Your link to a previous discussion about the free time available to hunter-gatherers is interesting. I've often wondered what that kind of lifestyle would have looked like. Some have cast doubts on how accurate the claims are that hunter-gatherers had lots of free time: http://huntgatherlove.com/content/darker-side-original-affluent-society. I don't know enough either way, but the principle I agree with you on. It takes time, likely generations, to learn the kind of skills we will need. I'll post my thoughts on the technology we might want when I've given it some proper thinking time. If I'm able to pursue the ranching / pastoralism, it'll be something incredibly close to home!
3. It does take time doesn't it? Mass media is basically out of the question - you'd either be written off as a doomsdayer or a crackpot, or you wouldn't get the air time in the first place. Just looking at one of Robb Wolf's latest posts is a stark reminder of the latter. So with that limitation, it seems to be one person at a time. It's frustrating, but change won't come from the top, we have to initiate it ourselves.
The dilemma is how much time do you invest trying to bring about change in others (much of which is often wasted energy, and possibly energy sapping), and how much do you devote to your own journey. Are the two mutually exclusive?
I think that as selfish as that sounds, you have to focus on your own journey first, as talk is often cheap, and unless someone has a real life example to follow, I don't know that you're going to affect any real change in them with words alone unless they're already headed down that path of their own volition.
February 22, 2010
In the short term, absolutely one must take care to not piss off Authority. However, there comes a time where existing Authority deteriorates far enough that the political calculus is different: for instance, even today, many second and third-world urban slums are not under the control of the government or police, and I expect that trend to continue. Northern Mexico is completely out of anyone's control. Here in the USA, Oakland police already have issued an official list of "crimes we don't bother to investigate anymore".
I'm not sure it matters what the "trigger" for the collapse is...and the high-percentage play is that it's such a slow process that we'll only be able to identify it in retrospect. In fact, it's happening already and right now, with the financial disintegration of the European Union. The late 1990s were the apex of American power, and the apex of modern "civilization"...$1 gas and everyone was "rich" from their HELOC.
Of course there is a low-percentage play of quick collapse due to EMP terrorism or a major solar storm...but the likely scenario IMO is everything slowly continuing to become more corrupt, dysfunctional, and broken. East Africa is experiencing another famine...again, which one might have predicted given that Ethiopia's population has doubled since Live Aid. Basically, expect "disasters" like the East Asian tsunami, the East African Famine, Katrina, and Fukushima to become more frequent as population pressure pushes all our systems closer to the margins of survival.
If it goes belly-up overnight, well, you survive off of stored food (which you should have), go CHUD once it runs out, and hope there's something left to rebuild from once the rest of the CHUDs die off. The millions of hungry people from the cities will be out with guns and their last tank of gas, and you can't hide your dairy herd from them all.
As far as that HGL article, remember that the few remaining foraging tribes are on land so harsh and unproductive that we got well into hte 20th century before anyone could figure out any way to make money from it by eradicating the natives. Accounts of natives in America just after contact are instructive here. Read this article for a comprehensive counterpoint and overview that neatly eviscerates the HGL argument.
"Giving them to understand upon what terms they must be received under us," as Governor John Winthrop put it, the Indians were told "Not to do any unnecessary workd on the Lord's day within the gates of proper towns." Not to worry, replied the sachems: "It is a small thing for us to rest on that day, for we have not much to do any day, and therefore we will forbear on that day."
I agree: it's not selfish to change yourself first! Otherwise you're just a demagogue. Other people cannot be changed: they have to change themselves. I think the best use of our time is to spread the message, find those who are receptive to it, and not to waste time arguing except inasmuch as one is in a public forum where the undecided might be swayed. And setting the example is a very convincing argument: for example, I wouldn't be an effective advocate for functional paleo eating if I weren't in strong physical shape myself.
Keep thinking and moving forward...but remember to not lose sight of long-term goals while solving short-term problems.
September 2, 2011
That's an interesting thought that we're already witnessing the decline. I've always thought of it as some abstract concept that we'll begin to see the start of some time over the next 20 years. It hadn't really occured to me that we're already there. I know things are pretty messed up, and they have been for a long time, but I think there's still the veneer papering over the cracks and it seems to be mostly behind the scenes for the majority of people, so it's a case of "all is well, nothing to see here, carry on".
I will definitely check that article out. On primitivism, I only heard the term anarcho-primitivist recently, and I was quite surprised how closely it fits to my own outlook in many ways. Not surprised that the term exists or that it's been coined - surprised I hadn't heard it before.
You've made some fine points and given me more to ponder, which I love doing!
February 22, 2010
History always seems much more clear-cut in retrospect: it's difficult to identify major turning points until well after they occurred. Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, etc. That being said, I think the 2008 (and ongoing) financial crisis is a clear marker for "the beginning of the end" of the current world order.
(And not that I'm necessarily buying all that's on that website -- it's just where that particular Bob Black essay happens to live.)
I'm glad you're thinking about these problems: time is growing shorter for everyone, and "permaculture" is a dead end as currently practiced.
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