Foundations for a Hunter-Gatherer Philosophy: If You Don't Like it, Leave.

Every time I hear someone say “if you don’t like it, leave”, I half expect someone to artfully discharge saliva and tobacco (tobaccy?) at a spittoon so close to me that I nearly spill my sarsaparilla. I grant no credit to those offering the line as a coherent argument, as it seems most often to be the kind of vomit inspired by garden variety xenophobia and American exceptionalism uttered by only the unexceptional – reveling in an entitlement granted by those far superior of mind and mettle (and long-since dead). No, unfortunately the sentiment fails to rise above the laziness of the proliferation of the status quo. In other words, mindless conservatism for the sake of comfortable lethargy rather than tangible ideas or ideals.

What pains me most is that it’s actually a great strategy conceptually, and one that has served humanity well over millions of years. Somebody made a really bad movie about a guy who promises to move to Canada in the event that George W. Bush won the election for his second term. Of course, we all know how that turned out and he actually follows through with his stated intentions. Now, I take this act somewhat seriously. After all, I moved to Panama City, Panama shortly after the same election. Granted, I’d intended to anyway, but it was extra motivation in light of my frustration with the fear-drenched American politics and rampant jingoism exemplified by the political climate at the time. That endeavor lead to, or highlighted, two insights.

To those short on motivation in the domain of thought, leaving the United States (for any reason) is tantamount to heresy. These ardent right-wing authoritarian followers aren’t amenable to the idea that the brainchild of Jefferson and Madison has weathered time exactly as Jefferson predicted (not well, and needing of revolution in order to maintain its greatness). For them, what is is what was meant to be; ordained by the infinite wisdom of the founding fathers <sarcasm>who emblazoned “In God We Trust” on our currency</sarcasm> in the hopes that a mint could forever engender the support of some invisible magical overlord.

It is not in my blood to side with sloth and indifference in service of monotony. No, I shall take my measure of justification from the admiration of the pioneering spirit implied by the enlightened of those before us:

To remind [King George III] that our ancestors, before their emigration to America, were the free inhabitants of the British dominions in Europe, and possessed a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to promote public happiness. That their Saxon ancestors had, under this universal law, in like manner left their native wilds and woods in the north of Europe, had possessed themselves of the island of Britain, then less charged with inhabitants, and had established there that system of laws which has so long been the glory and protection of that country. Nor was ever any claim of superiority or dependence asserted over them by that mother country from which they had migrated; and were such a claim made, it is believed that his majesty’s subjects in Great Britain have too firm a feeling of the rights derived to them from their ancestors, to bow down the sovereignty of their state before such visionary pretensions. And it is thought that no circumstance has occurred to distinguish materially the British from the Saxon emigration. -Thomas Jefferson, The Rights of British America

Indeed, Jefferson recognized that voting with one’s feet was not only legitimate, but also a natural right and universal law. With a much narrower understanding of the ancestral migrations of humans, he outlined the mechanism of severing ties of authoritarians by vacating one territory in favor of frontier.

This strategy has evolutionary precedent. Our ancestors largely depended on individuals acting in concert to improve their individual survival. Hunter-gatherer bands were more effective hunters and gatherers than individuals or pairs. Extrapolating (I think fairly) from modern hunter-gatherers, they were well aware of this advantage and sought to maintain group solidarity. Surely, this had its upper limits as hunting and gathering does not scale very far in relation to coverable territory. The difference between hunter-gatherer life and modern life with respect to groups is that a significant number of people voluntarily leaving could also reduce the group size to below optimal levels. Thus, in a dispute, it would have often been advantageous for both sides to reach a compromise. The ultimatum game of, “if you don’t like it, then leave”, had much more serious consequences. As such, its power as a political act was more significant.

Nevertheless, leaving was always an option for individuals and any coalition that could be organized. Political coercion was absolutely limited by this dynamic.

James C. Scott extends the “frontier” concept in ‘The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia‘. In Jefferson’s time, as with ancestral hunter-gatherers, frontier existed just over the horizon from civilization. Rather than define “frontier” as the raw frontier as we imagine it, he delineates further by geographical barriers imposed upon states’ abilities to exert control over various populations. In other words, hillbillies (and corollary Asian populations referred to by similar pejoratives) were quite literally outside of state-sponsored civilization by nature of geographic isolation. He further asserts that, just like hunter-gatherers and American settlers:

At a time when the state seems pervasive and inescapable, it is easy to forget that for much of history, living within or outside the state—or in an intermediate zone—was a choice, one that might be revised as the circumstances warranted…. When [burdens] became overwhelming, subjects moved with alacrity to the periphery or to another state.

Until nation-states enveloped the remaining unclaimed corners of the globe in the 19th and 20th centuries, 100% of human existence included the ability for the industrious to venture into the frontier. This is the second insight I discovered once my visas renewals ran out, and was faced with a legal change in the United States that would have made continuation of my business illegal (according to the U.S.) merely because of my citizenship. In eerie defiance of Jefferson’s criticism of King George III’s tyrannical Britain, a “claim of superiority or dependence [was] asserted over [me] by [my] mother country from which [I] had migrated. As Scott puts it, things have changed now that:

“the sovereign nation-state is now busy projecting its power to its outermost territorial borders and mopping up zones of weak or no sovereignty.”

To clarify the reality of my second insight: there is no more frontier on this planet, excepting the sea. Unfortunately, humans aren’t particularly well adapted to life in excess of 200 miles from land (international waters). Thus, the dynamic of imposed human political obligation has shifted drastically and recently. When someone now says, “if you don’t like it, leave”, they fail to understand that there is nowhere to go. There is no Jeffersonian solution of “going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies… likely to promote public happiness.” Quests for new habitations lead only to other occupied territories with entrenched regimes.

It is true that citizenships can be wrangled in other nations. However, the process is highly restricted, and ultimately results in nothing more than trading one overlord for another.

Ironically, all signatory nations to the United Nations have agreed that it is a fundamental human right to be able to move freely across borders and relocate wherever one chooses. Those nations that signed the document (U.S. included) agreed to implement laws to support this right. However, it was signed in 1948, and travel has become more restricted in the years since.

  • Fact: The modern absence of frontier is contrary to our hunter-gatherer past.
  • Fact: The modern tendency of nations to claim superiority over their citizens is contrary to the principles the United States used as justification for declaring independence from Britain.
  • Fact: The modern system of international law to which nation-states agree that a frontier-esque existence is a universal human right.
  • Fact: The modern nation-states are in material breach of the contract to which they agreed.

It seems that too many people embrace the half-sentiment and half-responsibility of the first sentence in the following quote without grasping the importance of the rest.

“People say that if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America. We love the people of America very much, but when it comes to the government, it stops right there. The government is a bunch of corrupt thieves, they are rapists and robbers. And we are here to say that we don’t have to take it anymore. We are here to say that we are here to tell the truth…” -Born on the 4th of July

As a foundational property of a hunter-gatherer philosophy, I’ll have more to say about this in the future. For now, what other implications do you see in the recent shift in this dynamic? Do you think there’s a way to apply the hunter-gatherer concept of endless frontier in our lives within the framework of the current nation-state system?

Part II: The Libertarian Question

73 Comments
  1. Sean Müller 4 years ago

    I'll have to mull over this again to get it to sink in fully but this first read-through is brilliant an I agree with it almost fully. What I want to say before it leaves my mind is that some are taking the idea of the sea as the new frontier seriously. http://seasteading.org/ is a group actually trying to figure out ways to live outside the current nation-state. pretty interesting stuff. Anyways, I need some sleep, read over this again and actually comment on the possible implications of this whole thing. Rock on!

  2. Lisa L. 4 years ago

    Hey,

    I don't have much to say about the concept of leaving – as a child, my thinking was that the Heinleinian planetary migration approach was best, such that we would all settle out into an equilibrium where we simply lived on a planet with people we could get along with – but I was commenting to say how great it is that you reference Scott's book on SouthEast Asia! The fact that I read it even before starting to eat Paleo set the stage for my acceptance of many Paleo tenets. In retrospect, the dichotomy between tuber eating anarchists and rice growing authoritarians is so much intellectually sweeter.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Interesting. I wonder how it would have gone had I encountered the book and paleo in the order you did. With the paleo background, I hightlighted a ton of "See! Agrigulture is the devil!!!" stuff in addition to the frontier concept.

    • Dana 4 years ago

      Heinlein wasn't familiar with the Gaia Hypothesis, either. If it's true that a planet develops an atmosphere to support life only in concert with the evolution of said life, sustainable terraforming will be impossible and there is nowhere for us to go.

      It seems we will have to adopt another tactic foreign to our species experience: changing a cultural group from the inside rather than leaving the group entirely. I'm not sure we can do it.

      • Nance 4 years ago

        I fear it will take tragic circumstances to shake us up enough to actually manage to change our culture from within. The current mental image I carry of the US public is of a 3-year-old pouting in the corner. And I feel just about that helpless too.

  3. Kevin Holbrook 4 years ago

    Fascinating historical parallel for the mechanisms of evolution. I certainly wouldn't say that endless frontier is a viable option today. After all, where would we go? There's certainly no promising land available. I suppose taking some would work. 'Leaving' is certainly a romantic concept, if even for the value of experimenting with a new society — perhaps one that mimics some of the elements of the paleolithic? Oh, the possibilities.

  4. matt 4 years ago

    great post and I want to read more about Zomia. I don't have much else to add from others have posted except two things.

    1. Bob Dylan said, rightly, "to live outside the law you must be honest" …to me this drives towards point 2.
    2. This post raises the importance of internal or spiritual freedom. The myriad stories of meditation transforming prisoners in brutal prisons speak towards true freedom from "overlord-ship"

    evolutionarily speaking…there is something to inner reflection that is quite uniquely human.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      There is also something about the relationship we choose to assume with the mediations of culture.

  5. Victoria 4 years ago

    This is an interesting topic and one upon which I can never seem to get my words together to actually come up with anything interesting or insightful to say, however it does remind me how exhilarating I found Into the Wild , and how uncomfortable I find returning to civilization after staying in relatively isolated and free locations for even relatively short amounts of time.

    • David Csonka 4 years ago

      I watched the movie based on the book. I couldn't help thinking that he was such a jerk for abandoning his sister like that.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Victoria, I don't believe you! Out with it.

      I wish I could unsee Into the Wild. The film was so reactionary 'teen angst' that I couldn't enjoy it. I'm afraid any attempt to read the book would be similarly tainted.

      • Victoria 4 years ago

        I tried to get it out here and on a thread in the forum and both times I looked back and though 'wow- I've written a lot and said nothing'. The 3 sentence bullets are – we evolved to live in small groups and interact with relatively small numbers of people (Dunbar's number?) with the ability to opt-out if desired (though this was probably a fairly perilous option). Our knowledge of the world and all the other people in the world has vastly expanded, and our ability to deal with the number of people (and groups) that such an expanded community requires is beyond the limits of our capabilities. We're F-ed, at least looking at this in the context of our evolutionary instincts, and must rely on our over-evolved brain and technologies to come up with a system that is optimal, though I think it's unlikely that we'll be able to design a system (and if we did, convert to it) that works with human nature, not against it.

        I'll admit I was probably at the right time in my life to read Into the Wild- I had just spent 10 days bumming around a small island off the coast of Australia and was heading back to the winter doom and gloom of the ghetto in which I am getting my PhD… I saw bits of the movie on the plane ride home, loved the music and bought the book and soundtrack when I got back. I recently tried to watch the whole movie and didn't make it half way through…

      • Gregory Rader 4 years ago

        I will leave some thoughts on the actual post tomorrow morning after some much needed sleep, but for now just wanted to note that the book (Into the Wild) is told documentary style. The author certainly conveys a good bit of angst but it is done from an analytical third person perspective. I suspect you might find it much more tolerable.

  6. Kurt Harris 4 years ago

    "the founding fathers <sarcasm>who emblazoned “In God We Trust” on our currency</sarcasm>"

    According to my memory and this Wikipedia article, mention of the deity was not on the coinage until 1860, so we can't blame the founding fathers for the god bit.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust

    Sorry to be nitpicky.

    Nice article.

  7. Kurt Harris 4 years ago

    I live as an anarcho-capitalist in my own mind, rendering unto caesar just enough to maintain my physical liberty, while flying under the radar as much as practical. One needn't leave physically to opt out. With the proper resources and planning, one can be a citizen of the world while still located in the US and refusing to acknowledge the sovereignty of any nation state- including the one that happens to temporarily dominate north america right now.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Mental anarcho-capitalism is a pretty good strategy. But yes, it does require significant planning. In particular, hedging against a currency fluctuations makes it difficult for the average individual. There is no requirement to maintain capital in the form of money, of course, but it's an interesting argument between commodity denomination and fiat currency when considering physical mobility (among other things).

      • js290 4 years ago

        One doesn't have to change the whole world, but one can change the little bit of the world around him. I've been finding it's easier to discuss concepts of non-coercion and laissez-faire free markets with acquaintances recently. This is not something that could have been done even just a few short years ago. Perhaps, I'm just getting better at talking to people. But, usually, it starts by not disagreeing with the other person. Then employing some Socratic irony asking them how best to achieve what they believe. It then becomes a lot easier to propose the idea that perhaps employing bureaucrats isn't the best way to their solution and may in fact be the cause of the problems they're trying to solve. I think two very easy ones to talk about right now are diet/healthcare and education.

        As pointed out in The Market for Liberty, the violent, down-with-government-types, who call themselves anarchists are pretty useless. It comes down to sharing the ideas of meaningful, non-coercive, human interaction with the people around you. The people I find resistant to even just thinking about these concepts are usually closeted authoritarians. They fear other people making choices they may disagree with. I'm not kidding myself and expecting some sort of amplification cascade. For the foreseeable future, we'll be subservient to a bunch of useless bureaucrats. But, you never know who may be affected by these ideas simply because they've never been exposed to them.

  8. Tom Woodward 4 years ago

    Great post Andrew. You really get the wheels spinning in my head with a lot of these. You're right that we've passed that point in human history where you can set out and stake your flag in the ground if you for some reason disagree with the way you're being led. However, a person can still wield tremendous power of change without having to get up and move. Though someone may be dissatisfied with a large governing body, there is much you can do on a local level to change the community. You can have an effect on the food system, education, media, local laws and ordinances, as well as group organization of ideas and activities. While you may never change the tax code or legal system, our country affords us enough freedom to make improvements to a local society without having to leave and start a new one. Not exactly a rebuttal since you were making a different point, but this is my glass is half full take on it.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      I agree to a point. However, the political process can also be an abyss in which one can lose their life (I'm thinking in terms of time investment, not execution). In a cost-benefit calculation, I have serious doubts regarding this strategy. I don't want that to sound cynical, but pragmatic.

      To my mind, the nation-state concept became outmoded at the same moment the world became 100% claimed by nation-states. The current system of control by citizenship primarily benefits tax regimes at the behest of said citizens. Implementing a "free market" with respect to citizenship would seem to alleviate the authoritarian tendencies of all governments. This small step would mimic the ability to opt-out of oppressive regimes like hunter-gatherers did. So if you'd like to pursue legal channels, perhaps that's a good area of focus.

      • Tom Woodward 4 years ago

        Sadly, the best way to chase frontier these days is to rapidly accumulate and hold assets. Buy an island, a jet, a boat, and bring judges, lawyers, and politicians into your circle. Geographical, legal, and political barriers crumble under the weight of a bank account. When 6 million people occupied the planet, the common man could take possession of acreage since it was cheap and plentiful. With 6 billion, land is a luxury good.

        • Author
          Andrew 4 years ago

          Bank accounts crumble under the weight of currency crises and political upheaval. Panama was a great example of that actually. Their currency is pegged 1:1 with the dollar. In fact, the U.S. prints their money. This was a problem for the Panamanian people as the dollar softened against the Euro (among others) in the last decade. European investors muscled many locals out of the real estate markets with purchases of second homes. Since the currency valuation was a matter of policy in another country, the people of Panama were innocent bystanders in the event.

          A similar dynamic can be seen today with the Euro crisis in Greece, Ireland, et cetera. When local markets are pegged to currency valuations across a larger geographic area, shifts can arbitrarily demolish localities. Of course, this is merely a systemic effect. Actual crises and political turmoil can make things much worse. The global economy is fairly fragile and subject to behavioral economic biases ("irrational exuberance" et cetera) that multiply systemic risks.

          The effect is often slow and nearly imperceptible to those within a particular economy. For instance, U.S. citizens effectively had their dollar denominated wealth eroded by half relative to much of the rest of the world because of policy directives to weaken the dollar. The average citizen has no way to mitigate this risk even if savvy enough to ascertain its impact. And again, the crises from Japan to Britain to Argentina to Thailand to Mexico to the U.S. (and many others) since the late 80s have happened in times of relative political stability. The worst-case scenario is much worse.

          Land ownership, aside from being subject to political upheaval, is fundamentally contrary to hunter-gatherer philosophy as well. But the answer of what to do about it isn't so simple. I have a lot to say on that, but it will get its own "Foundations of a Hunter-Gatherer Philosophy" post.

  9. J. Stanton 4 years ago

    It's a winning strategy in evolutionary terms: if you or your subgroup feels that you have a way to survive outside the protection of the group, and you actually do manage to survive, that wins on both an individual and a species level over the strategy of "always fight those above you for dominance, never leave".

    General-purpose intelligence is necessary to make this work, since otherwise all the suitable ecological niches will already be occupied.

    Now that it is impossible to live outside the authority of 'government', "always fight those above you for dominance" becomes the only viable strategy. I think this has strong implications for expected levels of societal aggression (including governmental repression, the other side of the same coin) going forward.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Agreed. Your last point is particularly poignant.

  10. Author
    Andrew 4 years ago

    By legal I mean political reform of legal structures, not to imply a choice between legal and illegal modes of existence.

  11. Greg Linster 4 years ago

    Is the U.S. government fragile? What's fragile will eventually break. Perhaps the evolutionary process of creative destruction will present new frontiers in places we've already been.

  12. Emily 4 years ago

    "You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas."

    – Davy Crockett

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Same difference. 😉

      • Emily 4 years ago

        I know you've lived in Austin – anyone who would equate that to hell is delusional

      • Emily 4 years ago

        Actually, group Psychology is powerful and interesting. In order to leave, one must develop a psychology of rejection and those left behind will tend to collect badness and dump it on the leaving – a scapegoat. In groups, it seems to me the connection is often broken painfully. I find it likely that in family tribal groups, one often does not choose to leave – one is kicked out. (in the shakespearean way, Banished). There is also the romantic ideal of going off to seek one's fortune – doesn't seem to make as much sense from an HG perspective. Davy Crockett lost his representative seat in Tennessee, so he told everyone to eff themselves and fled to Texas (where of course he was promptly killed)

        • Author
          Andrew 4 years ago

          "In order to leave, one must develop a psychology of rejection"

          I reject the 'must' in this sentence. It's detrimental to maintain the framework of Group A is staying and Group B is going; that's an agrarian perspective from the start. Yes, the article is framed that way out of modern necessity, but you're speaking specifically of H-Gs. They were already going… constantly. It's easy to envision a common scenario that Group A thought turning left was a good idea and Group B thought turning right was a good idea.

          "I find it likely that in family tribal groups, one often does not choose to leave – one is kicked out. (in the shakespearean way, Banished). There is also the romantic ideal of going off to seek one's fortune – doesn't seem to make as much sense from an HG perspective."

          Invoking Shakespeare and romantic ideals guarantees we're using the wrong framework. They're both great examples of traditions owing to agrarian power struggles.

          Since important H-G decisions (and all other species) primarily confronted the domains of survival (food) and reproduction, it's most likely that these decisions were the flashpoints for disagreement. It's hard to imagine from within the matrix of modern consumer capitalism, but all of the abstractions were stripped away and decisions were much more immediate.

          Hypotheses involving evolutionary explanations of human aesthetics develop this thinking further and demonstrate that those who chose more wisely would have been selected for, and the others being selected against.

          I find J's response more compelling: "in evolutionary terms: if you or your subgroup feels that you have a way to survive outside the protection of the group, and you actually do manage to survive, that wins on both an individual and a species level over the strategy of "always fight those above you for dominance, never leave"."

          • Emily 4 years ago

            I think at a microcosm level the intensity of group dynamics would be heightened. Jefferson not being an HG I felt it fair to use different historical constructs.

  13. stu 4 years ago

    I'm quite certain that during our hunter gatherer past, tribalism was the dominant geopolitical force. That meant if you walked over the horizon in search of greener pastures, you had a pretty good chance of getting speared or bludgeoned to death by other humans.This is the case in present day Papua New Guinea, where hunter gatherers live in very small tribal territories and inter-clan rivalries contribute to very high murder rates. Also consider that in the century before we declared our independence, colonists were starving, and fighting indians(King Phillip War), also infecting them with small pox. I think we should all feel lucky to live in a time when we can travel rather freely. Growing up 40 or 50 years ago you would have found the world less spoiled and more ripe for the young traveler. Unfortunately, a lot of young adventurers of that generation found themselves in a certain Southeast Asian country. FYI hunter gatherers have been getting massacred by agriculturists/herders for millenia so in terms of evolutionary fitness, they are the winners. I agree that we have much to learn about our diet from an evolutionary perspective. Unfortunately it seems that the dominant "tribe"(industrial/agricultural/capitalist) is not neccessarily the healthiest or happiest.

    • Karen 4 years ago

      There is a lot we can learn from modern hunter-gatherers, but we also have to keep in mind that they are marginalized. In a more abundant landscape there would have been less need to fight over resources. Not to say that tribes necessarily lived peacefully together, but there are fewer examples of warfare during times of rich resources and more during times of distress.

      It seems that with a less inhabited planet, and more available resources per person, it would have been easier to just leave and go somewhere else. There would still be risk. Could you, by yourself, support yourself? Could you survive encounters with other groups? I think that the most likely scenario is that as a population gets too large, resources become more strained and it creates infighting of some sort. Someone(s) gathers together a group of individuals and leave. This reduces the population to a more manageable level for the local resources and removes any potential troublemakers at the same time.

      As for the example of the King Phillip War, the colonists were fighting the natives for resources. However most of the natives they were fighting were actually agriculturists and not hunter gatherers at that point. I just had a thought, and have nothing to back it up, but I wonder if the population for North America (or portions of it) were already reaching their max (of what could be reasonably supported) before the colonists landed.

      In any case, your last point I think is really good. It brings home the concept that evolution is not necessarily progress. I still wonder what people were thinking when they switched to agriculture. No doubt the long term effects were hard to see, and still are in many ways.

      • Author
        Andrew 4 years ago

        Yes, your point on marginalization is a good one. It is the main pressure that causes shifts from an immediate-return hunter-gatherers to the more violent delayed-return iteration (other than geographic isolation).

        It's more likely that small(ish) groups would have broken off from other groups. This would have been the superior strategy for survival, but a necessity for reproduction.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      “I’m quite certain that during our hunter gatherer past, tribalism was the dominant geopolitical force. That meant if you walked over the horizon in search of greener pastures, you had a pretty good chance of getting speared or bludgeoned to death by other humans.”

      What reason do you have to be quiet certain of this? In modern immediate-return hunter gatherers, we see high levels of friendly trade and exchange between bands. Human “combat” tends to be over territory or reproduction. Since we’re talking about hunter-gatherers, territory is out the window. Fights between humans tend to be male-male competition as signals to women to exert female mate-choice. Fights of this nature don’t tend to be death matches.

      Based on patterns of migration, population density, and Zahavian signalling theory, I’d assert that other humans were the least of your worries across the Paleolithic.

      This is the case in present day Papua New Guinea, where hunter gatherers live in very small tribal territories and inter-clan rivalries contribute to very high murder rates.

      Anthropology distinguishes between delayed-return (sedentary) hunter-gatherers and immediate-return (mobile) hunter-gatherers. Levels of tribalism and violence among H-Gs maps almost perfectly to this distinction. Just like agricultural societies, the sedentary nature of the populations leads directly to “Big Men” and religious rituals to bolster their legitimacy. Papua New Guinea H-Gs are a good example of the delayed-return category, not the immediate-return variety that would have been the main structure in the Paleolithic. A delayed-return strategy only typically develops out of geographic necessity (island populations) or in the neolithic’s tendency for agrarian cultures to box-in H-Gs and force them out of an immediate-return mode of existence.

      I think we should all feel lucky to live in a time when we can travel rather freely. Growing up 40 or 50 years ago you would have found the world less spoiled and more ripe for the young traveler. Unfortunately, a lot of young adventurers of that generation found themselves in a certain Southeast Asian country.

      I don’t find this we’re lucky because it could be worse argument compelling. While factually true, it’s also factually true that it could be better. It feels like an excuse for complacency.

      FYI hunter gatherers have been getting massacred by agriculturists/herders for millenia so in terms of evolutionary fitness, they are the winners.

      Again, this isn’t compelling to my mind in any way. It’s a Spencerian social evolution argument, not a Darwinian one. Jared Diamond wrote the book on it, and it can’t be used to invoke a claim or fitness or winning in the Darwinian sense. The thinking is very Third Reich.

      I agree that we have much to learn about our diet from an evolutionary perspective. Unfortunately it seems that the dominant “tribe”(industrial/agricultural/capitalist) is not neccessarily the healthiest or happiest.”

      Finally, back to Darwin. Fuck Herbert Spencer.

      • stu 4 years ago

        It seems you are all too eager to accept an evolutionary explanation of sex and fitness, but are fearful of its implications in regards to sociology and politics. IMO you can't have one without the other. If you apply the theory to anything you must apply to everything, otherwise you are violating logic. No, i do not think it justifies genocide or war crimes of any sort. On the contrary, I believe the explanatory power of evolutionary theory may give us insight into better understanding and even preventing such atrocities.

        "Until nation-states enveloped the remaining unclaimed corners of the globe in the 19th and 20th centuries, 100% of human existence included the ability for the industrious to venture into the frontier."

        From an ethnocentric standpoint, yes, however, anthropological studies have shown that the peopling of continents occurred quite rapidly. Estimates for the original habitation of North and South America arrive at a span of only a few thousand years. Therefore, unless you happened to be in the vanguard of original paleolithic exploration it is highly unlikely you would have the chance of experiencing any true frontier. By the time Columbus landed on Hispaniola, there were many millions of Indians inhabiting this continent from the arctic circle to Tierra Del Fuego.

        • Author
          Andrew 4 years ago

          Fearful shmearful. It’s a simple matter of the units of selection and the mechanism of selection being completely different in the disparate systems you seek to equate. Applying a colloquial definition of evolution as you’re attempting is a conflation of many different ideas, and is factually incorrect. The logic of “change over time” evolution is not the same as Darwin’s logic, which is not the same as Spencer’s logic, which is not the same as Lamarck’s logic, et cetera. Don’t haphazardly wrangle different logical principles with systems of differing composition and expect me to acquiesce to the application – particularly the claims that i’m the one violating logic. The differences are important.

          Your last paragraph is a function of geometric population expansion. The compression of later periods distorts the picture if extrapolated over evolutionary time. The depth (in time) of evolution is more powerful with respect to natural selection than the breadth (in terms of population). Further, the increased population densities tend to afford low quality individuals the same opportunities to reproduce as high quality individuals so the selection pressure is further muddied. In other words, Holocene population densities aren’t as important for evolved human behavior as the tripling of hominin brain size across the Pleistocene. That’s particularly relevant to this article as the brain increase, and corresponding behavioral adaptations, occurred in the Pleistocene, which saw exponentially larger swaths of frontier. So it’s possible for you to be factually correct about the Holocene population levels, but still wrong about the implications on human behavior and psychology.

      • Will 4 years ago

        Is it necessary to accuse people who disagree with you of being Hitler? Should we not consider leftist viewpoints because Stalin did? We are talking about ideas here, not dictators. Whether or not an idea was adopted by an unfortunate movement of the past is neither here nor there. The Third Reich also had staunch policies to abolish class distinction in Germany, does that mean that having a disregard for class distinction makes one a Nazi?

    • J. Stanton 4 years ago

      "I'm quite certain that during our hunter gatherer past, tribalism was the dominant geopolitical force. That meant if you walked over the horizon in search of greener pastures, you had a pretty good chance of getting speared or bludgeoned to death by other humans."

      Aside from the points Karen and Andrew brought up:

      R. Brian Ferguson, "The Birth Of War," Natural History Magazine, July/August 2003 http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~socant/Birth%20of%2

      "…The [archaeological] record shows that warfare is largely a development of the last 10,000 years."
      "In sum, if warfare were prevalent during prehistoric times, the abundant materials in the archaeological record would be rich with the evidence of warfare. But those signs are not seen."

      Also, when comparing death rates of hunter-gatherers, almost everyone forgets that modern homicide statistics exclude war, genocide, and terrorism. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq? Not in the statistics. Hitler, Stalin, Mao's Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot, Rwanda?

      That's hundreds of millions of dead not counted in the totals. Read these lists for a sobering reminder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_ant

      • Karen 4 years ago

        The link to the Birth of War wouldn't open for me. Sounds interesting though.

    • Dana 4 years ago

      There's a huge difference between evolutionary fitness and combat fitness, at least in human beings.

      Which group has committed major population overshoot and wide-scale (across whole continents) ecological destruction? It hasn't been the H-Gs.

      Would you say a rabbit in Australia is evolutionarily fit? I sure wouldn't. It doesn't fit into the local environment at all. It takes more than it gives back and has no natural predators (unless Aborigines have suddenly discovered it to be edible–but it's not high enough in fat).

      The genius of Homo sapiens is that we can naturalize pretty much anywhere, and that's with forager-level technology. But we no longer do that. We behave more like rabbits in Australia or kudzu in the Deep South. And the only reason we've gotten as far as we have in the past two centuries is we're living on borrowed sunshine. When that runs out, things will get really ugly. This is NOT evolutionary success. Evolutionary success adapts to what is, not what is not supposed to be.

  14. Stephen 4 years ago

    Just thinking about the future, rather than the past, have you read Iain M Banks' notes on his Culture civilisation?
    http://www.vavatch.co.uk/books/banks/cultnote.htm

    Pertinent:
    "The Culture, in its history and its on-going form, is an expression of the idea that the nature of space itself determines the type of civilisations which will thrive there.

    The thought processes of a tribe, a clan, a country or a nation-state are essentially two-dimensional, and the nature of their power depends on the same flatness. Territory is all-important; resources, living-space, lines of communication; all are determined by the nature of the plane (that the plane is in fact a sphere is irrelevant here); that surface, and the fact the species concerned are bound to it during their evolution, determines the mind-set of a ground-living species. The mind-set of an aquatic or avian species is, of course, rather different.

    Essentially, the contention is that our currently dominant power systems cannot long survive in space; beyond a certain technological level a degree of anarchy is arguably inevitable and anyway preferable."

  15. Wyat 4 years ago

    I like the idea, but grounding it in so-called "evolutionary psychology" (perhaps better called speculative normativism?) probably undermines the argument more than it supports it. Once you've opened up the bag of worms that is using the concept of the "natural" collective human action in the realm of political ideology, you're in a lot of trouble–every apologist for the present and his semi-autistic little brother can articulate some form of the "it's against human nature to x" speculative/bullshit argument.

    I'd rather just say that, in the present order of things, humanity should experiment and do x (here, some form of nomadic exodus). The fact that we can conceive of such things makes it possible–"natural" doesn't come into the picture at all. Read Deleuze & Guattari's "Nomadology: The War Machine" (if you haven't already) or Hardt & Negri's "Empire" for some better articulations of this.

    And moreover, there's already a significant body of work that not only points out that much of the world has already reached a transnational phase (albeit one still uniformly dominated by a different sovereignty: see "Empire)", but that is highly critical of this! Contemporary capitalist culture pushes a kind of nomadic, "mobile" lifestyle onto it's floundering, meandering subjects who are forced to flow from one bursting economic bubble to another at ever-increasing rates. To perpetuate a kind of nostalgia for nomadism is easily appropriated into the cultural logic–even fashion itself–and needs to be approached with that particular grain of salt, methinks.

    TL;DR — non-positivist academia is way ahead of you on this one, to the point where it's already sort of moved on.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      I don't have time to address another inane non-critique of evolutionary psychology at the moment. Non-denialist academia is way ahead of you on this one, to the point where it's already sort of moved on. And… of course grounding philosophy in any tangible referent is anathema to the postmodern program. Consider this a placeholder for my insouciant response. My kilted ass is currently obliged elsewhere.

    • Dana 4 years ago

      So HGs weren't really nomadic and we're imagining it all, is that what you're saying?

  16. Liam 4 years ago

    You're probably an anarcho-capitalist. I am. Paleo suits me from a dietary point of view but also from a political point of view. As often with libertarianism the philiosophical viewpoint happily meshes with the utilitarian.

  17. James Kevin 4 years ago

    Well i just start to read your article and reviews of this post … i think is was gonna more awesome …

  18. WhatAboutJason 4 years ago

    Don't donkey punch me, but dare I say the new frontier is right here? I suppose you could get out there and go all tribal and live on the plains of Africa or something. But with the surge in social media and the ability to inspire thousands with nothing more than a blog post, maybe the new frontier is right here, inspiring people with knowledge and point of views that would never have been heard 20 years ago.

  19. Edward 4 years ago

    "land ownership is contrary to hunter-gatherer philosophy as well" – mind giving an example? To say they don't have land titles and hold auctions isn't quite enough, hunter-gatherers don't have money either but they still trade with one another. Today's remaining hunter-gatherer populations are fiercely territorial, not just towards foreigners but often tribes are at war with each other for control of land, I'm thinking of the tribes of papua new guinea in particular. I would think having your own bit of dirt for your family or extended group is a similar thing, it's a physical representation of the barrier between you/your group/family and others you don't particularly want/it's not convenient to have at a given time in your group. Would be good to see a post on this because protection of territory seems to be so deeply ingrained across peoples and over time that it's hard to ignore.

    • Profile photo of Andrew
      Andrew 4 years ago

      I do have a post planned on this. In short, anthropologists explicitly distinguish between nomadic HGs ("immediate-return" or "simple) and fixed territory HGs ("delayed-return" or "complex"). Hunger-gatherer bands never "choose" fixed territories, but become that way when forced by geographic restrictions (typically: islands) or political restrictions (typically neighboring agrarian cultures that claim surrounding land and box them in). New Guinea populations tend to be a bad example of traditional HG populations because it's an island and has a mix of delayed-return HGs, horticulturalists, et cetera.

      In ancestral (immediate-return) HG populations, there is no land ownership.

      For a slightly more modern angle on this, see Thomas Paine's essay, Agrarian Justice.

      • Edward 4 years ago

        Yes, I see. Perhaps nomadism is ideal, but, obviously with a population of 7 billion and going upwards, impossible. It is interesting that 'territorial' becomes the norm when conditions change. I don't think a model of wandering citizens across a borderless globe is feasible or ideal in current conditions.
        But how to emulate that freedom to walk, I think as posters have mentioned above, it can be incorporated into one's mental state, and the internet is a wonderful tool for that.

      • Cal 4 years ago

        It's outright misleading to say that pre-agricultural HGs of found land ownership contrary to their "philosophy" and to tell someone to read Paine's economically illiterate "Agrarian Justice" political pamphlet to find anything out about it… HGs largely didn't have property rights in land because they largely didn't domesticate animals or grow crops or what have you – they were mostly nomadic, and thus there were few potential gains from extending any property rights to land and many costs (e.g. delineation, fencing, negotiation, etc.). However when their technological and economic advance made the internalization gains from extending property rights to land greater than the costs of delineation ("transaction costs"), they did so. The intermediary swidden horticulturalists Scott focuses on in his reasonably good book are a fine example of property rights extended land. See e.g.
        http://www.springerlink.com/content/v6t6846117023http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_i

        • Profile photo of Andrew
          Andrew 4 years ago

          If you’re going to be histrionic and arrogant, at least be a little less wrong. What I’ve presented here isn’t a minority opinion. There’s no shortage of anthropology and primatology to support what I’ve said.

          None of the technological or economic “advances” you allude to have been motivated by some sort of HG lust for technology or economy, but have been driven by agriculture and the property ownership it necessitates, or other external factors driving change. Your reduction of all of this to rational optimization of an economic curve is cute, commonsensical, and yet has little bearing on how humans actually behave.

          Using Scott to support your notion is adorably odd. Scott provides a perfect example demonstrating the point I made above about transitions HGs undergo when isolated by geography or impinged upon by other cultures. Your attempt to insert horticulturalists into a dialog about HGs is just further support of my point(s); there is no property ownership among HGs so you have to go outside of HG ethnographies to find an example supporting your point.

          I like Thomas Paine’s essay on the matter. It’s insightful, interesting, and on-topic, but has nothing to do with academic anthropological support. And, I’ll recommend that people read whatever the fuck I want when I think it’s insightful, interesting, and on-topic. People interested in ideas – rather than simply bolstering their myopic political ideologies through confirmation bias disguised as ad hominem – tend to appreciate it.

          • Cal 4 years ago

            I don't know what you think you're arguing against. Pre-agricultural HGs, as far as we can empirically tell, did usually have property ownership. It simply was not extended *to land* for economically obvious reasons. They were extended to land when this was reversed via technological and economic development. The extension of property rights to land was largely endogenous and spontaneous, and long preceded the emergence of the State (contra Engels and Marxist anthropologists who theorized property rights were imposed top-down by the proto-capitalist State). This is empirically uncontroversial and common knowledge among researchers. See e.g. http://international.ucla.edu/cms/files/bowles_ch…. HGs did not have some anti-propertarian "philosophy" akin to Paine's protoGeorgist nonsense, and land ownership was not some foreign concept imposed on HGs top-down by states or agriculturalists.

            The various and varyingly vague definitions of "egalitarianism" are not mutually exclusive with property rights, nor are sharing norms or team-hunting norms… so I have no idea why you think projections of egalitarianism onto monkeys is relevant.

            And I'm actually quite familiar with Scott's work given I co-wrote that second article (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1715223, RAE forthcoming) going over his primary sources and referencing them on the subject of property rights in the pre-agricultural, stateless customary law of Southeast Asia. I don't know what "myopic political ideology" you're talking about. As far as I can tell, your political conclusions are identical to mine and there would be few people in the world who agree with me in as many ways on as many topics as you (the same cannot be said of Scott, who clearly does let a certain political ideological presupposition cloud his otherwise exemplary work, as Berkeley "Social Democrat" economist Brad DeLong points out here: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/10/james-scott…. I was particularly annoyed when I wrote the previous comments by your misrepresentation of Herbert Spencer and promotion of anti-propertarian HG myths.

          • Profile photo of Andrew
            Andrew 4 years ago

            The context of "property" in this conversation started off with specific reference to "land ownership" and land alone. It wasn't extended beyond that (by me, at least), until your interjection. You're clearly somewhat familiar with Paine and George. Paine's essay has "Agrarian" in the title and George was obsessed with land, so all references still point to land as the focus of the conversation. I didn't intend any of my comments to reflect on personal (i.e., non-land) property.

            In terms of non-land property, I'm sympathetic to George's analysis which distances improvements on land and goods fashioned from natural resources from the actual land and resources them selves. In terms of HGs conception of personal property, it's not as clear-cut as you make it out to be. Social leveling mechanisms to strongly influence sharing (and shun stinginess) occur in both HG and tribal/horticultural populations. In the instance of HGs, the mechanisms are similar to those used to enforce egalitarian political relationships. So while they're not mutually exclusive, they're also not easy to disentangle. In addition to Boehm's previously referenced work, Peter Gray touches on this to some extent (from a different angle).

            Whatever your relationship to Scott, his work still demonstrates my previous point about the influence of external cultures impinging upon HGs (or those that would have remained HGs absent said impingement).

            Be annoyed about my characterization all you want, but your defense of Spencer remains of secondary importance to my defense of Darwin with respect to "social Darwinism" – which is the context in which it was raised. On the future date that "social Darwinism" is replaced in common usage by "social Spencerism", you might have a more legitimate beef. Until then, Darwin's name is far more besmirched – as his writing was much more distanced from the concepts of "social Darwinism" – than Spencer's writing.

    • Profile photo of Andrew
      Andrew 4 years ago

      I just noticed that I discussed this somewhat in the previous comments as well.

  20. guest 4 years ago

    Many good points, but I want to add that the problem isn't just government, it's really capitalism. Corporations control our lives just as much, if not more than government. We should be able to leave capitalism behind too, but since we can't we just need to unite in order to overthrow the state-capitalist machine and replace it with a democratic society.

  21. Sabio Lantz 4 years ago

    Could you please turn on the time stamp on your blog. I'd like to know how old the post is. Seems like you have not posted here for a long time.

    • Profile photo of Andrew
      Andrew 4 years ago

      Never fear. Posts about Jefferson are timeless.

  22. Rob Paterson 2 years ago

    Andrew I think there is – the New "New World" is in our minds. As more and more of us become immigrants to this "place" we can connect and help each other. Once we reach about 20% we can tip the system. 20% buying real food drives a real food system and takes the margin away from big ag. 20% of us not using much oil to heat, changes the economic. 20% in Tiny houses etc etc.

  23. Germaine Lowry 1 year ago

    Nothing makes me feel like killing myself quite like one of your posts Andrew (I mean that in a good way). Just when I think I'm at the bottom I read another article and the cloud gets a little darker.
    I think I'll bookmark the site for later reading

  24. Ivana 2 years ago

    I told my grandmother how you hlpeed. She said, “bake them a cake!”

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