The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Fire From The Gods: the Original Sins of Agriculture and Industrialism And Hope For The Future

We’re all familiar with the myth: Prometheus steals fire from the Gods and gives it to man and is cruelly punished for it.

I’ve considered writing a story in which Prometheus is freed by Zeus and returned to Earth to judge the results of his action.

We’ve gone over the problems of industrialization and agriculture many times and that isn’t what this post is about, but as a brief summary: most people’s lives got worse about two thousand years after agriculture, and in some ways immediately after. Rotten teeth, more disease, reduced lifespan and narrow hips in women leading to more deaths in childbirth and harder live childbirths, then the rise of the kings and all the evil that came with them. As for industrialization, it came with capitalism and required stealing people’s property rights and forcing them to take wage jobs that up until the middle of the 20th century were worse than staying on the land. Then climate  change and ecological collapse, without which technological triumphalism might have something of a point

But the bitterness of the fruit (and the fall from Eden is a related myth) is the bitterness that knowledge has turned in our hands and struck us. We learned to do amazing things: to grow our own plants; to domesticate animals; to make a vast variety of items; to use river and wind and coil and oil and the sun itself for power; to look at our own DNA and change it and so on and so forth.

The triumphalism in some circles: the joy at human ingenuity, is largely justified. What we have learned and invented as a species is amazing and we should, collectively, be proud.

The issue isn’t human ingenuity, it’s demonstrated instead that every time something new is discovered or invented, instead of thinking “what great things will we do with this”, many of us think “oh fuck, how is this going to be misused?” The recent AI crap is instructive, but I’m old enough and was online enough in the 90s to remember the initial predictions from futurists about how the internet itself was going to change the world. A lot of it was right, but way too much of it was wrong: far too optimistic.

My favorite example is that every study I know of (there may be a few exceptions) find that the more you engage with social media the more unhappy you are. There are countless other examples, insert your own.

So the pattern, and this is a pattern that has gone on for somewhere between eight to ten thousand years, depending on whether you look at agriculture or the rise of kings as the watershed, is that we figure out something amazing and then, more often than not the balance between how much it makes life worse and how much it makes life better is in favor of “oh crap.”

Debates about capitalism, communism, anarchism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and so on are debates about a way out of this trap, these original sins—these stories of taking fire or knowledge from the Gods and then burning ourselves more than helping ourselves. They are attempts to find a way to get more of the good and less of the bad, to tilt the field solidly towards the good.

Most major attempts have been sincere in their inception, much like the glee of of most discoverers of new knowledge. Then they have gone wrong, some more than others.

Some solutions have done significant good, especially at first. Others have had the opposite pattern. The same is true of specific inventions. The printing press in Europe (not China) probably did far more evil than good for about 200 years (say hello, wars of religion.)

We’re going to spend  time teasing this apart over the next few months or maybe year or two because this is important. If there is a way out of this trap, it lies partially in understanding what we’ve tried in the past, and how it both worked and failed.

In the meantime, the simplest understanding is this: we are in a trap. As a species we created this trap ourselves. We forged our own chains and our own torture instruments, then used them on ourselves and keep doing so, in large part because we imagine them to be ourselves.

There is blame here, sort of, but really the blame/responsibility distinction is more important. We were born into societies that were already fucked up and that are immensely powerful, far more powerful than we are. Our collective might and the weight of the chains we have forged for ourselves over millennia is like Sisyphus’s boulder. It’s too much and every attempt to push it to the top of the hill has failed.

But the Gods haven’t said we must suffer forever from our own discoveries and inventions: only that we must learn to use these inventions with consistent kindness and wisdom.

Our task, then, is to figure out how to use knowledge and power with wisdom and kindness, in a sustained way, over not just a few decades or a century or two, which seems to be our best record so far, but over millennia, in a stable solution set.

Let’s get to it.

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The Essence of Capitalism


Open Thread


  1. Mark Level

    Hi, Mr. Welsh. Brilliant stuff, as usual. Even if there is only a small audience for wisdom at this level, one can hope that the message gets out over time . . . Just going to quote someone thinking along the same lines as you here: Modern mega-capitalism creates the human dilemma of “confronting standards associated with steeply pyramidal status hierarchies. . . . But psychologists are discovering that such an [end stage corporate & institutional controlled] operational milieu is confusing, distracting and anxiety-provoking. [50% of Americans will suffer mental illness over their lifetimes, & the “official” statistic here is likely under-counting] In our globalized mass-production/mass consumption/mass communication reality [sic], human scale has long since ceased to be a value. All has gone hyper. Too much, too fast, too far, too big. Too synthetic and overly complex.”– words from Steve Welzer, of Green Horizon magazine. To wrap up, as Bob Marley noted, “If I was educated, I would be a damn fool.” Some of us want out of the trap and to keep as much of our humanity as we can. Woe to those who cooperate and keep their heads down, fantasizing somebody else will fix things!!

  2. Joan

    This is an exciting idea ; I look forward to reading future posts on it and thinking about it.

  3. Eric Anderson

    Something tells me I’m going to enjoy this ride.

  4. Lex

    There’s so much to think about in this, and it’s appropriate to highlight the truth that essentially all religions saw and expressed in the myths of “forbidden” knowledge.

    It always takes me back to the ancient cultures of Japan which we now know were hunter-gatherers but extremely advanced. Like they domesticated rice and then decided it wasn’t worth it, returning to cultivation rather than domestication. It is painful that our history is written as if where we are today is both historically deterministic and “evolution” with the connotation of improvement.

    Some of this derives from our ignorance. There’s no real archeological trace of a berry patch whether it was found or developed and cultivated. But now we know that there were berry patches and managed groves of trees for human usage. An oak grove only needs collection of acorns and processing into food while also drawing prey animals to be hunted. Though none of this is to prop up the myth of the noble savage; merely to recognize that there are other ways to live. Ways that could be less exploitive and less laborious. There were other paths to walk. We chose this one, though more precisely the few chose this one because it gave wealth and power.

    How we might change our ways is a tougher question to answer.

  5. Ché Pasa

    In the trilogy, Prometheus is unbound and eventually reconciled with Zeus. Fire was his gift to humankind, but the use of fire by human ancestors goes back so far into the mists of time that it seems primal — a defining characteristic of the species. The use of fire, according to many mythologies, is the origin of civilization, not agriculture which has different gods and goddesses, and functions on a different plane.

    What was fire used for in ancient times? Cooking food, of course. But also for making pottery for storing things and carrying water, bricks for construction of buildings, tiles for roofing, metal work of all kinds including weapons and jewelry. Fire was used for clearing land for planting, as well as as a weapon against competitors and enemies. Fire warmed the living quarters and provided light in the darkness.

    Fire was seen as a living thing, and had to be treated with care and respect. It was a form of magic, too, that could easily transform from beneficent to dangerous and destructive. Like so much of what we live with and are, fire is neither all good nor all bad.

    The relatively recent discoveries in Turkey of large settlements with amazing stonework temples/gathering places many thousands of years older than the supposed oldest cities in Mesopotamia, bring into question the standard theories of civilization’s beginnings.

    Maybe agriculture wasn’t the impetus.

    And if not, what was it? Fire, like the myths of Prometheus tells us? A gift of the gods far more ancient than the gift of agriculture?

    And what went wrong along the way?

    Zeus, they say, reconciled with Prometheus. Zeus reigned for many a long year in many guises but then was overcome by Jesus and his psychopathic sky god Father, and then those divinities were overcome by Science which led to Progress which is now under threat by… what? Or who? In many ways the threat is from the Earth itself rejecting the Progress we so embraced.

    Yes, this will be quite an exploration. Thanks Ian.

  6. Trinity

    We don’t live within our means, the ecological budget. We don’t plan to, either. We don’t (collectively) want to, either. We are habituated to rapid change, a constant stream of new shiny objects, and the entire “keeping up with the Jones'” mentality.

    Until we develop a culture that can actually recognize that there are limits, that focuses on the development of human relationships (to each other, and to everything else in the world) and an understanding of those relationships and what they should look like, we won’t ever achieve anything but cyclical destruction/re-emergence; lather, rinse, repeat.

    The thirst for knowledge and knowing is strong in us all. It’s just been (deliberately) focused on the wrong knowledge. The worst of us are the ones allowed to decide what we should value (and therefore what we know, in the way that I know how to do my taxes) and this is no different from the majority of churches, which also sought to coalesce power by creating/imposing a value system.

    The current value system clearly does not value everyone, does not allow or encourage us to know who we really are except in the context that their value system defines (rich, white, crazy). It instead encourages us to become facsimiles of the worst among us, burning up resources in the process. So instead we value the loudest, flashiest among us. We value symbols of power that incorrectly confer status (and somehow, regrettably, also competence), instead of questioning those individual’s ability to lead, or their ability to decide what is truly in our collective best interests.

    We accept a hierarchical arrangement because we don’t know who we are or our individual capabilities, we don’t understand our place in the world (not at the top!) and especially because we don’t or can’t see how the world is actually arranged (not in hierarchies!). And we don’t seem to value any life, else why would we continue to support what is essentially a culture of death, not of life?

  7. Richard Holsworth

    If things go, the way, they appear to be going there’ll be a large die off. But after several generations of adaptation, those remaining could return to the pre-agricultural way of life. California’s Central Coast was once home to some of the most advanced hunter/fisher/gathers. The Chumash once lived the good life from SLO to Malibu. Great spot for the post-climate-apocalypse-hunter-fisher-gatherer.
    “a people who at that time were among the most advanced hunter-gatherer societies in the world.”

  8. Marcus Gardner

    I don’t know. Personally, all the things that I understand are to be the checks and balances against knowledge becoming unchecked power, are the things I’ve seen failing on a more and more consistent basis. Relationships. Religion. Ecological imbeddedness. Alternative cultures. Self-awareness. Political movements/revolutions. It seems like they’ve all gotten co-opted in largely the same ways, only serving to further estrange us from a deeper connectedness with each other, ourselves, and the planet.

    My lack of hope could be my own trauma speaking, but I can’t help but think that the only thing that can actually bring balance to this whole situation is humanity facing actual, inescapable consequences (e.g. collapse, in whatever forms that may take.)

  9. multitude of poors

    Just tossing this thought out here, as is increasingly the norm, I actually don’t have the time to discuss it at length. I would say the ability to communicate would be the beginning of a civilization. So what happens in the event of a major solar storm, or a deliberate cut off of the internet? Something that I find terrifying that no one ever discusses. As it is the use of a telephone as a basic and more importantly, emergency voice communication device seems to be increasingly obsolesced (seems to be by design). I witnessed it just trying to get a Covid vaccine and an antibody test.

    Those millions in the US alone, with no internet access have been effectively muzzled and no one at all seems to care, they are never discussed.

    gotta run …

  10. Carborundum

    I’ve come to the conclusion over many years of observation that the balance between whether something makes life worse or better is most dependent on the psyche of the observer. The notion that things are fucked up due to forces beyond one’s control sells very well to an audience of disaffected olds. That their isolation from most of the worst the world has to offer and the space to kvetch about it is founded on those “factors of fucked-upedness” only adds to the irony…

  11. anon y'mouse

    humans are totally unnecessary to the planetary ecosphere.

    we, however, can never (yes, Melon Husk–never) live without it.

    and there is no human existence without killing and creating waste. all the “net zero” and vegan fantasies (b vitamin deficiencies=no fun at all) aside, we were created a certain way and until our genes adapt into something else, trying to do that would result in malnutrition and misery. we are THE top predator of whatever environment we are in, but unlike animal predators, we serve no purposes outside of ourselves. there’s no reason for us to be here screwing shit up, so we had better do so only when necessary, only as much as necessary, and while trying to limit ourselves and our unavoidable damage.

    killing and creating environmental damage is necessary to our livelihoods. but the Earth could do better without any of it.

    how to come to some accommodation with these facts? and they are facts. we are not necessary to “keep other animal numbers in check” nor to carry out any biological or geological processes going. but keeping them going much as they have been during our existence is somewhat our priority, and that’s where we are failing.

  12. Richard Holsworth

    Worst enemies are not the Republicans. But the mouthpieces for the illusion of liberal concern. “Krugman in The New York Times last week (“Wonking Out: Why growth Can Be Green”). As someone who has been actively researching this very question for the last five years, I think Paul Krugman is wrong and that the argument he defends is not only baseless but also potentially dangerous. “

  13. Willy

    No matter what we come up with, we’re going to have to deal with corporate-plutocratic “think tanks” and their AIM (Astroturfed Influence Machinations, or whatever catchier acronym works better) which target the fear/hope restrained mob.

    But it seems that current AIM isn’t as functionally proficient as in days of old (such as pharaohs deciding that farmer-mobs running beer-drunk amok during Nile flooding season could be better managed building pyramids necessitating that whole son-of-Ra schtick) so there’s that.

    If TINA, CRT or BLM=bad (or whatever catchier acronym they think’ll work better) is all they’ve got, then we’ve got a chance to get some ideas out to that targeted mob.

  14. different clue

    Does the ” Surviving Hard Times” post-thread still exist? I am having a hard time finding it. Do I just need to look harder?

  15. different clue


    Funnily enough, there is a book called Riddle Of The Pyramids . . .
    which argues exactly the thesis that the whole pyramid building project , from start to finish, was an extensive state-creation, state-building, state consolidation excercise by the pharaohs.

  16. anon y'mouse

    California First Nations did live the “good life” as long as you weren’t a slave. oh, and they had an hereditary elite class structure as well as chiefs.

    and they had the “slavery for life and all your generations” thing, too.

    all without agriculture.

    i wonder how that squares with the idealists’ conceptions that “First Nations had everything already figured out about controlling psychopaths”?

  17. different clue

    Well, I found it by search-engineing ” Surviving Hard Times” and the search-engine gave me the right name which is “Preparing for Bad Times”.

    So . . . . never mind.

  18. capelin

    Interesting to frame things on this trajectory, looking forward to it.

    Two concurrent themes that come to mind are that “humans get dysfunctional over a certain group size” – Jane Jacobs, and others; and also, to Lex’s point, that there were/are multiple “channels” of human development, often far superior to aspects of “ours” (think sustainability, or base health knowledge of any society that lives connected to the land, compared to the *overall* western medicine shitshow).

    The growth to dominance and destruction of other channels, from a small geopolitical area, is a big factor in the trajectory. What if America, or Africa (etc, etc) had been able to maintain continental sovereignty, and participate in developing the world order, as equal players?

  19. Eric Anderson

    anon y’mouse:
    Your first comment has me thinking hard back to this post:

    The king that is the exploiter, rather than the steward of the realm, soon realizes there is no realm over which to be king.

    Put more simply: when you shit in your nest you live in a world of shit.

  20. GrimJim

    “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

    Applied to the resurrection of dinosaurs, but is quite apt in regards to virtually every technological “advancement” ever made by humanity.

    Archaeologists keep finding ruins of ever older and older urban settlements that predate agriculture by millennia. Virtually every one was not destroyed; they were abandoned. Likely, from the scant evidence, a generation or three into the development of the elite caste, when everyone figured out that things were going pear shape for everyone else in that social relationship.

    So these early adopters of urbanity, mostly still Stone Age hunter-gatherers, simply bailed. They were able to walk away as they still had the skills, wherewithal, and space to do so.

    Eventually, the first long term urban settlers got boiled like the proverbial frogs, and it’s all been mostly downhill since then…

  21. Richard Holsworth

    anon y’ mouse kinda harshes the mellow; but, yes, the egalitarianism of hunter gatherers varied; “Generalizations about wealth and inequality differ greatly depending on whether one focuses on the more mobile low-density foragers, or the smaller set of sedentary high-density foragers; the latter, after all, includes societies (e.g., Northwest Coast, Calusa) with slavery, hereditary nobility, stores of durable valuables, and other features strongly related to intergenerational wealth transmission.”

  22. Ché Pasa

    Yeah, I’d be careful about overglamorizing and romanticizing Native societies in the Americas. What we know about them is imperfect at best, but more to the point, our knowledge is largely based on observations and mythologies about them when they were under extreme stress from the Euro-American invasion, conquest, and genocide.

    These societies were adaptable and they did adapt to the stresses they were under and the social, political and economic changes they endured, but the result is little or nothing like what those societies were or would have been like absent the violent and acquisitive Euro-American presence.

    Chumash, for example, are well aware that much of the natural bounty they relied on even after contact is now gone. What remains is grossly inadequate to provide a stable, abundant life for even the remnant Chumash survivors. They can’t go back to what once was. And as anon’y’mouse points out, it wasn’t all that swell for some/many anyhow.

    The question arises: why would you want to live that way?

    I think it was Bruce Wilder in another thread who suggested there are benefits to the modern world. The idealism about What Used to Be is all well and good, but it doesn’t honestly reflect the actual life and conditions the vast majority of people lived under. In more ways than we like to acknowledge that life could be just as brutal, nasty and short as counter-myths suggest.

    Under stress of invasion, conquest and genocide, Life as it Used to Be was oftentimes even more brutal, nastier, and shorter.

    Most of us, even Euro-Americans, are survivors or descendants of survivors of one sort of invasion, conquest, and genocide or another. We carry the trauma and recognize the signs of it happening (to us) again and again. Some of us are empathetic enough to recognize the signs of it happening to others.

    Not all peoples have perpetrated, experienced or survived that trauma though. Can we find them and learn from them? Wasn’t that part of the premise of Shangri-La? And wasn’t it based on romantic visions of something real? British have to believe they are not absolutely unredeemable, and so it is for many North Americans. But for reasons no one quite understands, we constantly fall into the habit of making things worse. Is that some kind of primal social imperative? Or is it some consequence of our collective trauma?

  23. anon y'mouse

    my job in life is to harsh mellows.

    as for the chief being a steward vs an exploiter, that happens automatically and in due course, is my point.

    and in each society that generates enough of a surplus to allow for it, regardless of tech level or agricultural/hunter-gatherer basis.

    “power corrupts”, even among a small group of people. just look at any cult leader. Manson didn’t have a hundred people following him.

    it seems ingrained in humanity to believe that leaders are “more knowledgeable” and “more capable” in some vital capacity, thus it is necessary to surrender some measure of one’s personal sovereignty (if we will allow that any such thing exists) to someone else.

    i would perhaps guess that this all started as “the wise person in our group who has the ability to give a final say to disputes because their judgement usually restores peace and functioning to the group”. how that gets turned into some guy sitting on his ass on all the rare material goods, eating the best food and walking on people while everyone bows down to him as a god and the priests and aristos play along with the whole thing so they get their overlarge, mostly labor free “cut” is the great mystery.

    and the fact that so many, and probably so many here in this group, would say that is ok because of some inherent “greater capacity” within these upper folk.

    perhaps an even more crafty person would say it’s a good thing to restrict such consumption to a small class. after all, great chains of being are stable and the Lord’s ownership and protection over certain lands and forms of wildlife means that they weren’t all killed and eaten to extinction by the commoners. so much so that the old aristo strongholds often become the “public” parks of the citizens in modern times.

    i guess people have a deep need for sumptuary laws and all kinds of dictates that determine what they can have based upon relative status. and this works out always for the benefit of the guy in the big headress and all his functionaries.

    the level of technological development/refinement is always used to exploit a greater amount of resources and usually necessitates exploiting a greater amount of resources. enlargening the surplus for the Headress Men to sit on while claiming the benefits are trickling down when usually, the pyramid just got another level added to it and more people than ever before are living in misery and exploitation merely to survive.

  24. Trinity

    “i wonder how that squares with the idealists’ conceptions that “First Nations had everything already figured out about controlling psychopaths”?”

    I never said all the indigenous figured it out. In fact, I said there was very little information available on how they did it (that’s what “scant” means).

    I’m tired of being targeted by people who have to misdirect their anger, due to feeling helpless, I guess. Any target seems to work for them, and I expect this will only get worse as our collective situations get worse.

    Which pretty much explains what’s going on everywhere in the west, so congratulations on being part of the problem rather than the solution, by arguing against everything others say instead of contributing your own ideas to solve the problems at hand. You might even feel a little less helpless.

  25. Richard Holsworth

    Yes Ché, I must admit that being forced to come to the realization that First Nation people too oftentimes lived under a grossly unfair brutal hierarchy left me with a feeling of despair. Though in reality, neither I nor my immediate descendants would survive my now trashed pipe dream of rediscovering and recreating a way of life in harmony with the earth.

    I don’t see a way forward that isn’t toward a life that’s ever more brutal. That said, let’s recognize that those folks had a handle on living sustainably. And according to the study I cited above, their world WAS in aggregate more egalitarian than ours with (with a GINI coefficient about like today’s Denmark.

    Anyhow, for us t’s gonna be a wild ride.

  26. Ché Pasa

    Also, many of us are the descendants of those who perpetrated invasion, conquest and genocide. Some of us — perhaps most — are descendants of both survivors and perpetrators. All those contradictions swirl within us. Knowing who we are isn’t that easy.

    Yet still we must.

  27. Eric Anderson

    anon y’mouse:
    “it seems ingrained in humanity to believe that leaders are “more knowledgeable” and “more capable” in some vital capacity, thus it is necessary to surrender some measure of one’s personal sovereignty”

    Yes, but perhaps for reasons we don’t naturally intuit. My thoughts always come back to the line in “The Second Coming”by Yeats:

    “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    Gives me goosebumps when I read it, every damn time. And I’ve read it a lot.

    Suffice to say — The best follow because they are plagued with doubt, while the worst lead because they’re not. It’s a truism. And, I suspect, why the gods laugh at us as we continue to allow the worst of roll the boulder back up hill. Solve this paradox and the world begins to heal I think.

  28. multitude of poors

    I’ve noticed that among those I’ve most considered to be: wise; thoughtful; un competitive with others; fair; and emphatic persons—the last thing they’ve wanted to do is to lead a group of people. I’ve guessed it’s because they knew everyone has blind spots of unawareness, and the last thing those persons wanted to do was cause harm to others because of one of their blind spots. I also note that those chomping at the bit to lead others, and forcefully knee-jerking unsolicited advice in the face of another’s misery—which they, many times, have never witnessed themselves—have always left me very uncomfortable, and sometimes telling them to lay off.

    It seems an age old conundrum.

    gotta really run …

  29. Jason

    I understand, Trinity. I understand.

    Thank you for continuing to “fight the good fight.”

  30. anon y'mouse

    when you try to project some kind of psychoanalysist’s crap onto me, instead of the arguments at hand, you lose.

    you have put forth the idea that we need to look at what First Nations people did.

    well, look at what they actually did instead of some fantasy. were some of them living egalitarian lives? yeah, but i would bet anything those were the roving hunter-gatherer bands. each time they settled down, hierarchy quickly ensued.

    you can go back to feeling “helpful” with your suggestions about us looking to the Wise Ways of the past, again. not that there weren’t many wise ways among all cultures in the world. but when the material and technological basis of a culture changes, it sure seems like the baby is thrown out with the bathwater and new rationalizations to protect those benefitting from the new status quo are devised.

  31. Ian Welsh

    Right at the edge of moderation in some of these comments, which is probably my fault, since I let some earlier stuff thru. Tone it down and remember that it should be a polite debate at worst. Nothing is at stake in these conversations, so there is rarely any good reason to hurt each other.

  32. Purple Library Guy

    Thinking of moderation, I’m pretty sure the post I tried to put up a couple of times which did not show up said nothing impolite to or about anybody. And now that I think about it, I believe that every time I have posted on the topic of how leaderless, direct-democracy styles of organisation might be arranged in such a way as to allow for large scales, those posts have not shown up. Mr. Welsh, if you have an objection to the ideology involved in such ideas and will be consistently not letting them through, please let me know so that I can stop wasting my time composing such things; sometimes they take a bit of work.

  33. Ian Welsh

    I don’t remember specific moderation more than a day or so, but I’m quite sure I didn’t moderate anything only because of discussion of methods of direct democracy.

    There was no moderation here for over 10 years. It started because people just can’t control themselves.

    That said, I rarely discuss specific moderation decisions, and never publicly. I used to at some older blogs, it never led anywhere good and was a giant time suck.

  34. different clue

    I remember reading about semi-recent archeological investigations in parts of Amazonia, revealing evidence of the truth of Spanish explorer Orellana’s claims of millions of people living along the Amazon River as seen when he floated down it. The subsequent Germocaust of the Explorer Euro-diseases exterminated them all down to near-zero.

    Orellana reported town after town after town of near-equal size to eachother. He reported no grand cities or ceremonial centers. Maybe they were further inland away from the river, but no trace of them has been found. But traces of numerous towns have been found, once looked for, and traces of several hundred thousand square miles of canal networks, earthwork networks, etc. have been found. And zones of Indigenous ManMade Terra Preta have been found scattered around the Amazon. It looks like the people involved were conducting a many-centuries-long project of up-terraforming the Amazon. So there is an example of limited hierarchy and limited nastiness in the context of millions of people growing food and not just hunter-gathering it.

    Apparently millions of people were doing their serious farming all over the Valley of Mexico and elsewhere in Mexico before the Aztec invasion and conquest. They did not like Aztec hierarchy and nastiness and one supposes they had developed something better to compare to it right up to the time of the Aztecs. Some of those other peoples joined the Cortez war against the Aztec Empire, not realizing that the Spanish were just another pack of “Overseas Aztecs”, if you will.

    The temperate rainforest Pacific Coast tribes had their Potlach traditions whereby the “biggest men” got that level of respect by giving away or destroying a lot of their visible wealth, thereby constantly re-leveling any purely wealth-based hierarchy which might emerge.

    The Southwestern Pueblo Tribes had agriculture, not just hunter-gathering, and seemed to maintain themselves at a limited hierarchy level.

    What was the hiearchy/injustice level in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy before contact and colonization?

    So examples exist.

    Did species mankind never once save another species from natural extinction? Here are two species of plants saved from natural extinction from whatever-the-cause by organized humans. The gingko tree was discovered in Chinese temple gardens and has never ever been found growing in the wild. A specimen of the Lost Franklinia ( Franklinia alatamaha ) was found and samples taken and propagated by William Bartram. It was never again seen in the wild. But it still exists in cultivation.
    You can even buy one yourself and do your part to keep the species going in cultivation as it remains extinct in the wild.

    So there are two species fading into extinction on their own which have been directly saved by human action.

  35. Willy

    You said it DC. We need an expert in native societies around here.

    Not to get all 80’s culture, but I do know that the Commanche were a sort of Jeff Spicoli of the plains, all cool buds and tasty waves mellow, an underperforming, underinfluencing tribe for most of their existence, until something happened and they got all sociopathic into conquering, pillaging and enslaving.

    Sure they witnessed the power of those newfangled horses. But didn’t all the plains tribes? Just because you give Spicoli a Harley doesn’t mean he’ll suddenly turn into Leonard Smalls. Something else had to turn the Commanche to the dark side.

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