This post originally introduced the Intentional Paleo Community Facebook Group August 22, 2012. The gist was to initiate work toward a theoretical framework, build a real-world community, and develop a template replicable by others wishing to do something similar.
During my recent [failed] fatbiking trek from the U.S. to the Yukon/NWT border area of B.C. (don’t ask… yet), I had a lot of time to think. I also had a lot of opportunity to engage the environment and interact with land and animals in a way not available to enclosed vehicle travelers. The combination of situational inputs repeatedly pulled my mind toward the nexus of hunter-gatherer lifestyles, fauna, food, farms, forests, and fences. As my mind wandered, a truism became more and more real — hunter-gatherers are not nomads.
At times I was seriously short of food, and shared that through the expedition twitter account. A frequent response was that I should simply hunt and gather along the way. While this advice was sometimes well-meaning, and sometimes in jest, it started to frustrate me over time. Despite having a measure of technology that would have allowed me to hunt and fish, I was traveling based on efficient routes, and not according to an abundance of edible wildlife. In the modern world, wildlife tends to be displaced by roads. Collecting data for a roadkill research project drove that point home — at times in a very visceral way.
It wasn’t just the roads. Farms and fences stretched for hundreds of miles. Some held cows or alpacas or horses in, but they also held the other animals out. Ecosystems had been chopped and burned and plowed into oblivion. What was once an area I could have hunted and gathered had been transformed into a garden for growing, as one sign cheerfully displayed, “snack foods”. The energy transmitted by the sun, converted by the earth, and solidified by the plants and animals was off limits to me and the furry creatures of the world.
I was traveling by road. Because of the ability to transport building materials before there were roads, many roads are built near railroads. Because of the ability to transport building materials before there were railroads, many railroads are build near rivers. River valleys are some of the most ecologically diverse regions on our home planet — that is, before they are obliterated by roads and railroads and dams and farms. Nearly every plant you buy in a grocery store has displaced a diverse ecosystem throughout its entire life. This tends to be true of the animals you eat as well.
My brain was in overdrive, and I kept coming back to the idea of an “intentional community” that wipes the slate clean of agricultural constructs such as feudalism, monotheism, patriarchy, sedentism, overspecialization, technophilia, and farming.
But Andrew, we don’t have feudalism anymore? That’s true in terms of the particular “legal and military customs”, but the goals of feudalism remain firmly entrenched:
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs… which, broadly defined, was a system for structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. – Wikipedia
Yes, it is true that the relationship derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour is now mediated by capital. However, the functional mechanism is largely intact.
What follows is an early sketch of what I have in mind. Normally, I’d develop and present support for something like this. However, I want to open it up to your input before diving too deep. Nothing here is set in stone, and should only be viewed as a point at which to start discussion.
To rethink the communities we voluntarily participate in starting with what we’ve only recently learned about our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This is not a shunning of neolithic ideas per se, but a step back from the assumptions of agricultural civilization and rebuild on a clean slate.
To build a community deeply integrated with our current understanding of hunter-gatherer anthropology and evolved human psychology (with a small group of adventurous individuals).
To develop an evolving template for others who wish to do something similar.
- Civilization is a fairytale. The narrative of the
civilizeddomesticated relies on the lie that humanity’s history began the same day as agriculture.
- Agriculture is overrated. Given the choice, hunter-gatherers have historically resisted assimilation by agricultural civilization.
- Agriculture breeds evil: Patriarchy, slavery, authoritarian gods, rape, and murder for hire.
- Agriculture hates life. The fertile crescent is a desert. Monocrops are a green veneer temporarily separating former ecosystems from future scorpion habitat.
- Ownership is for the lazy. Property (land) rights arose from agriculture as a response to sedentism and delayed return on investment, and are enforced through contractual evil (see previous).
- Security is an illusion. Agriculture’s exports are disease and famine.
- Comfort is a facade. Average dwelling size has increased from 100 sq. ft. to 2,300 sq. ft (U.S.) while happiness has decreased and depression has increased.
- Wealth is fake. Consumerism is an evolutionary mismatch that hijacks the human bias to collect resources for immediate consumption.
- Money is the root of all boredom. Now get back to work.
Comments on Common Missteps
- It is not necessary to invoke a manipulative cabal tricking humans into living lives of abstraction. Human psychology is simply mismatched to the emergent hyperreal ecology.
- Homo economicus is a myth. Humans are not rational economic-optimizers, but emotionally driven animals with evolved mental shortcuts that are more probabilistic than logical.
- Libertarianism is an inelegant attempt to force the square peg of evolved human egalitarianism into the festering round chasm of the agricultural state.
- Buddhism, Zen, “new age”, and loosely related impulses are reactions to the psychological mismatch between paleolithic brains in the spectrum of agriculture-spectacular industrial capitalism.
- Work is not a virtue, but the game of life stripped of play and all other human qualities.
- Community is not communism.
- Being social is not socialism.
- Hobbes was a dick.
- Near zero difference in political power
- Think more opportunistic migration than perpetual motion or living in a van down by the river.
- De-emphasize notion of permanent residence with perpetual ownership
- Achieved via multiple locations in varied ecological contexts
- Apply timeshare concept as analogy to HG semi-nomadism.
- Sedentism is the path to land ownership with is the path to the state.
- Play serves survival benefit in terms of simulating, and providing practice for, potentially dangerous situations
- Play serves reproductive benefit in terms of sexual selection
- The stifling of play in children and adults is a neolithic construct in service of the increased workload required to meet caloric needs under farming.
- Quasi-gathering via minimal horticulture
5. Property rights distinguished from land rights
- No individual has a right to control natural resources
- No individual has the right to control objects fashioned from natural resources by another
- Our country is the world
- The state is a function of agriculture
- The state incites, perpetuates, and hijacks human group bias to its own benefit.
- Emphasize generalists over specialists
- Do not impose generalization in all domains
- Intentional division of labor foments sub-optimal well-being through fear of resource scarcity
- Humans are individuals, and individuality should be allowed/encouraged to flourish
- Strict communalism tends to limit individual expression
- Sexual selection (in the technical, Darwinian sense) should not be impinged upon
- Tiny house movement
- Human-nature interaction
- Ultralight cycling/backpacking
- Human ethology
- Zen/Minimalism (though these are inspired by our evolved psychology)
- Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence, Peter Gray
- The Hadza, Frank Marlowe
- The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott
- Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, Richard Manning
- Progress and Poverty, Henry George
- Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, Christopher Boehm
- Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Paul Shepard
- The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, Lierre Keith
UPDATE Spring 2015
We have laid the theoretical foundation for this concept, and purchased our first property! The ideas have change a bit since this was originally written, and in a good way.
Hobbes definitely was a dick.
This is a topic I've been thinking about for quite a while now, and I'm not sure it's possible. Without a huge amount of money, you couldn't have a big enough parcel of land to live as an opportunistic migrant. I've been mapping areas in Montana/Idaho where there are millions of acres of wilderness, but living as a hunter-gatherer is, of course, illegal on public lands.
Apart from moving to Mongolia or Kazakhstan and joining nomadic tribes, I have no idea how to accomplish any of this.
I'm thinking of it somewhat in terms of enclaves and exclaves. Think of the IC as C in Figures 1 and 2, and the hunting range can be any combination of A, B, C, or D. In most instances, hunting grounds would most likely be represented by B, as A and D would tend to be residential or commercial areas. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclave_and_exclave
Also, assume some minimal form of horticulture/permaculture within C.
I just wanted to say it's great to see a new article pop up in my RSS feed. Welcome back and I'm excited to hear some inspiring stories of your time "up north".
not an expert on American Indian but seems like this philosophy was already in practice by the indigenous people of the High Plains area,,,, before civilization destroyed their way of life.
yup. it was in place in europe before civilization destroyed their way of life. it was in place in south america and africa and australia and everywhere humans were before civilization destroyed their way of life. the trick is distilling it in such a way that it can be put into practice without civilization destroying it.
Great article. It deals with topics that I've been reflecting on. How would you avoid the destruction of the community by economical or state power if the land had valuable resources (something that has happened again and again)?
And how would you simulate the mechanisms for group cohesion like art, religion, rituals, etc, with the incredible strength that they possess in hunter-gatherer groups, without which, in my opinion, is very difficult to recreate their lifestyle?
I'd like to hear your opinion on these topics.
Excellent thoughts, my man. You ready to expound upon this at the Paleo f(x): Ancestral Momentum – Theory to Practice Symposium next year? We'd love to have you.
I'd love to. Though it's again likely that I'll have expedition plans that make it tricky to schedule.
Last weekend in March, in the ATX. We're looking to push the boundaries of this symposium beyond diet and fitness and into sustainability issues, public policy influence, and exploration of the "paleo" kibutz/community model. We'd also love a presentation detailing your last outing. You know we can supply you with all the good eats you can handle! 😉
See AGAINST HIS-STORY, AGAINST LEVIATHAN by Fredy Perlman.
This is a great template! Excited to see it implemented. I was wondering if you have explored Daniel Quinn's works, particularly Ishmael and Beyond Civilization? Just wondering what your take is on these?
I haven't read his books. I'm resisting for a little. Based on ccomments he's made outside of his books, he's a little more friendly to agriculture than I am currently.
I'm not sure what you mean…he seems quite critical of it to me, and I love his distinction between what he calls "totalitarian agriculture" (which the world now practices) and other forms of agriculture. I think you'd enjoy his books…if you're short on time however, I would get the Story of B and just read the essays in the back. You get pretty much the whole message without stories of gorillas and whatnot.
i have a hard time believing that Quinn would make any kind of positive statements about agriculture. however, that we lived as horticultural semi-nomadic HG's for 10 of thousands of years seems quite plausible with some good evidence – heard a good talk by Toby Hemenway about this – sorry can't find the link–
and BTW – the gorilla thing in Quinn's work is kinda fun if you let it be…
I didn't say positive, but his words here are more accommodating than mine would be: http://on.fb.me/Rj40DH
My main reason for not reading (yet) Quinn is the fictional component. Interacting with modern humans already tend to dismiss these ideas; drawing from works of fiction isn't particularly helpful in this regard. That said, allegorical narrative is a great way for *some* people to learn so it's not as though I don't think his work is valuable… it's just a matter of tactics. Am I being overly pedantic on this? Probably.
I understand your skepticism. I will say that I have given people people a copy of Ishmael that otherwise would never have seriously considered the ill effects of agriculture and the way humans have come to live and they have seriously altered their views. I think Quinn provides an accessible entry point into this discussion in a provoking way. He does cover a lot of ground, from agriculturally enabled over-population to the story of Genesis to the destructive belief that there is only one right way to live. I'd be interested to see what you thought of it if you get a chance to read it.
I am very interested in where this leads. How can I help? That is the question. I am searching for the answer…meanwhile, I will join and learn.
great inspiration, andrew. having recently moved to switzerland, it is interesting to consider the actual possibility of such a community in the context of an ecosystem that could realistically support it – but like your travels, every last square centimetre of this little green paradise is chopped and sectioned in an even more intense manner with very little niche left for true habitat.
Discussing the ideas and theory and implementation is fun, but without the ability to create a whole other little country, as well as manage it for several generations to return it to some level of “natural” ecosystem, the possibilities are but a pipe dream.
just seeing the huge efforts of a few small communities attempting to establish themselves is overwhelming – of course, the are swimming up the ingrained feudal stream.
i have requested to join your discussions with the idea that somewhere in the back-and-forth will be some seeds (there’s agriculture again…. ach!) of note to help shape what may be possible till some new, un-destroyed planets are found…
I've lived on several intentional communities during my hippie years and they do not work.
thanks Charles for the insightful and deeply helpful comment. yes – of course they do not work – how could humans ever dream of coming together and sharing resources and comradery in a meaningful way? why to even suggest such a thing is possible……
oh wait…… there are what? hundreds? no, you mean thousands of variations on such communities functioning worldwide? really? some of these communities even practice free love and are still existing? but the hippi times are over! how can that be possible?
wake up and stretch your mind from it’s slumber – there are communities all over the planet from just a couple families to many hundreds or even thousands of people where “hippi” ideals are being lived out in many different formats.
maybe what didn’t work in those communities was charles, not the community?
You are living in a dream/fantasy world – the places you describe do not exist. They have never succeeded long term.
i thank you once again, Charles for your deeply analysed, valuable and forward-thinking critic.
The fact is that – unless i am truly demented and living in a drug-induced matrix locked away in some insane asylum (which it seems i am not), these places not only exist… but thrive. in fact, i met my current partner 11 years ago at just such a community in germany and met a previous 6 year partner in the canary islands at – oh my goodness – just such a community again!
“There are more things in heaven and earth, [Charles],
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” and with all the respect i can muster in keeping with Andrew’s comment etiquette, perhaps you consider shoving off unless you can add something of interest and value to this discussion.
I needed to thank you for this very good read!! I dfelniteiy loved every little bit of it. I’ve got you saved as a favorite to check out new things you post…
you for got to finish the sentence. they do not work… some of the time. they do for others. the particularly don't work when they're built on principles out of alignment with human nature. the whole point of this is that i think most of them get that big horribly wrong. but thanks for your cynicism.
Charles has had a poor experience – Is it not typical of limited worldview that if your n=1 has failed then everyone must be having the same failure – doesn't follow.
i met my current partner of 12 years at a functioning (for 20 years) intentional community in Germany that includes the precepts of free love along with other parts of their program. I believe a more open sexuality and egalitarian ethic prevailed in our hunter-gatherer past.
This type of intentional community would have to include some sort of forest gardening system. A “food forest” consists of fruit and nut trees interspersed with perennial vegetables; they are the perfect long-term investment, providing a habitat for gathering, hunting, and recreation. After 5-10 years of minimal maintainence, these forest ecosystems will perpetuate themselves and become an abundant source of sustenance. I can’t imagine a feasible paleo community without this integral component. Look up Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton, Robert Hart, Martin Crawford, Graham Bell, Patrick Whitefield, etc. for more information.
Linked here from MDA. Wonderful article. We’re trying to leave the city but are not sure where to go and for what other than like minds and food security/gene health. It’s a big call for life-long city kids. Where there is a will there is a way, and this article really eggs me on. I haven’t looked deeply into your site yet but you sound like a legend so far.
Idealism takes many forms… unattainable forms.
Still, the effort is appreciated. You went too far but, if you hadn't, you would've not gone far enough.
Why Facebook? No everyone uses it – what about Google Plus??
I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks about this.
These are very interesting ideas about alternate methods of organizing the politics and structure of human society. I too agree that agricultural systems have brought about problems for mankind which include not only those you mentioned, but also diseases we contracted by living in close quarters with domestic animals and just too dran mnay people!
However, you would not be writing this article and sharing it with thousands, if not millions, if not for property rights, specialization, and patent laws generated and enforced by states / governments. All these structures came about because of agriculture and the need to organize large groups of humans for a common cause. I am not saying we don’t need to move on, or that there is not a lot to learn from the ways of hunter-gatherers and ancient peoples. I am just saying I like indoor plumbing, antibiotics, elctricity, and computers, don’t want to go back, and think we need to be aware, and respectfully critical, of how we got here before we can really think about how to move forward.
Andrew you offer up some very intriguing ideas and points of discussion. I absolutely believe that our psychological makeup is completely mismatched with today’s expectations of work and life. You can see it play out in Neolithic diseases and extreme apathy in today’s society.
We’re parents of two small children which doesn’t aford us the opportunity to disconnect from all dependencies however, I believe there is absolute merit in raising my children to explore knew ideas and ways of living that conflict with modern societies views on success and happiness.
hhmmmm Andrew – you have heavily edited the comment thread here – is this your normal practice?
I guess you don't have me a little credit, but it would be cool. I recently started testing the facebook comment system. I haven't edited anything, facebook puts stuff into moderation without notifying me.
well, i'm not sure what that "system" is, but i made a sane and contributing comment to this thread, was answered by a blunt, non-constructive cynic who i then *very* politely told to go jump –
i wonder why you would want to delegate your comment management to the likes of facebook?
oph yea – and the whole exchange has evaporated including my first comment.
Ravi Wells, of course i would prefer everyone send me handwritten comments by raven, but i haven't made a final decision on the best system of coordinates. generally speaking, comment moderation is one of the most tedious and thankless aspects of running a blog. it's a constant search for the optimal solution because none are perfect.
I visited a place in Washington called Feral Farm as a WOOFer about a year ago and it was just this. A piece of land and a commune with a permaculture project and a hunter-gatherer community.
Seems like a lot of people are using that term. Do you remember where it was or the names of any of the individuals?
Cool stuff. I was pointed in the direction of the Valve (video game company) employee handbook about a month back. ( http://newcdn.flamehaus.com/Valve_Handbook_LowRes.pdf ) Highly successful company, completely flat organization, I want to say of about 100 people but I don't know exactly where I picked up that number. I dunno, could serve as another, if distant, example. They've managed to carve out a moderately sane "work" model in an insane world.
I think this would work well if done as a gradual break. The community could produce some things (art, blogs, maybe if some people who truly enjoy their "work" were on board, some freelance, telecommunication type stuff, or even classes and tours for outsiders) use the funds to purchase more land or things the land couldn't provide yet. Hospital trips and birth control especially come to mind.
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