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Page added on March 30, 2015

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Ready for the Revolution

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Once aggrandizers are given an inch of leeway under favorable resource conditions, they quickly stretch that inch into a mile and keep on going.
— Brian Hayden

Once upon a time, there lived the ancestral apes that gave rise to humans, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Figure 1
In all likelihood, they lived in bands dominated by the strongest, most aggressive individuals — the male alphas. This tends to produce a rather disagreeable state of affairs where anyone can be humiliated or brutalized at any moment, and the best food and most mates go to just a few. Even baboons would rather opt out when the opportunity arises! In addition, our growing brains demanded the fats found only in scarce meat which the alphas commandeered.

Evolution snaked forward. The chimps pretty much put up with the true and tried. Bonobos evolved out of this unpleasant arrangement into an alliance of females, cemented by mutual sexual pleasuring. Humans likewise evolved out and into an alliance of betas, cemented by unprecedented, increasingly more subtle communication abilities, eventually including laughter and speech.

In conjunction with weapons-at-a-distance that equalized brawn and brains, power came to be shared, and so was the meat. The resulting egalitarian bands, a durable and satisfying arrangement, saw humans through the harshness of repeated ice ages and other natural calamities. During this time, humans became survivors par excellence on the planetary stage. The egalitarian strategy of “vigilant sharing” had proven itself a winner.

When did our first egalitarian revolution occur? Nobody knows, as yet. Some experts posit it could be as far back as when we came down from the trees, others place it into our sapiens timeline. The oldest known wooden, fire-hardened spears come from about 300-400,000 years ago.

This agreeable social arrangement began to slightly unravel in areas of plenty in the late European Paleolithic, and gradually wound down among the so-called “complex hunter-gatherers” after 15,000 years ago. Complex or transegalitarian foragers were people who forged new pathways into competition, accumulation, increasingly violent conflict, and ratcheting economic growth. Individuals known in the literature as Big Men or aggrandizers led this “elitist revolution,” becoming quite the experts on getting people to crank out work and surpluses, by hook or by crook.

In the beginning, these hardworking, enterprising, and generous leaders couched their projects in the language of altruism and community. But being “triple-A” (aggressive, acquisitive, ambitious) personalities, they were also surreptitiously looking out for number one. As more and more wealth of the tribe flowed through their hands, they learned to skim a little, then a bit more, for themselves. They finessed a plethora of strategies that created social imbalances among the people of the tribe. At first, only a few families were left behind, and most did well in the aftermath of Big Men’s projects. But in time, poverty spread apace with increasing social stratification. And after a few millennia of these increasingly manipulative and coercive tactics, the very individuals who early on worked the hardest and kept the least became those who worked the least and kept the most.

As the ratchet picked up speed, wealth and power inequalities grew to such an extent that a genetic bottleneck shows up around 8,000 years ago [reports just off the press, here and here] in various communities of the mid to late Neolithic. Just like in the days of our apish ancestors, the most aggressive alphas grabbed the best food and most of the mates. H. sapiens went baboon.

More work meant more food meant more people. Aggressive, accumulative, highly competitive societies gained a short-term advantage and were pushing out those who stayed with the old relaxed, egalitarian lifestyle. The needs of power came to trump the needs of life on the “Parable of the Tribes” planet. Elite-run societies are very good at producing goods; they nevertheless have a variety of disadvantages. The key one being this: aggrandizers have a problem with brakes. In the long run, they drive their societies off a cliff.

And here we are. Time, once again, for a crash. Except, this time, it’s global. Except, this time, it’s affecting the entire web of life our own lives depend on. The planetary ecosystems are devastated; some are dying. Our fellow creatures are disappearing forever. The soils that feed us are blowing away and turning into desert. There are invisible poisons everywhere, in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, in mothers’ milk. Clean water has become a rare commodity. Oceans are chock-full of garbage. Pathetically enough, the aggrandizers are losing their touch: jobs are vanishing at a time when people depend on them for their entire livelihoods. A stain of misery seeps across the anguished blue planet.

Our leading aggrandizers, of course, are not paying attention. It is one of elite privileges, not having to listen to the peons. Not having to listen to bad news. Not having to face feedback that is simply inconvenient to their plans and schemes, inconvenient to getting even richer and more powerful. One of the cherished perks of being rich and powerful is ignoring anyone who isn’t. Why not continue to live in a bubble and pretend that the bubble that’s lasted so long is permanently impervious to reality?

The Earth is running out — out of minerals, out of peoples and places to exploit, out of space for waste, out of patience. And the teetering tower of complexity, having reached the point of diminishing returns, stirs deep memories of quite another lifeway. Our species knows how to handle hardship and austerity — this knowledge is part of our genetic endowment. When resource conditions worsen to the point that aggrandizing behaviors again pose a threat to community and survival, humans set down tight limits on greed and narrow self-interest. I reckon we are about there. Time for the second egalitarian revolution, don’t you think?

Leaving Babylon

11 Comments on "Ready for the Revolution"

  1. Davy on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 8:45 am 

    We are part of nature and part of her cycles. We had an evolutionary peacock tail develop call civilization that resulted solely from advantageous weather. We then expanded with our evolutionary dead end large brain all the way to the oil age. Where our evolutionary dead end brain was not so large is not keeping population balanced.

    This happened because that evolutionary dead end brain believes in myth and fantasy over reality. Today we call that the exceptionalism of BAUtopianism which most of the world is bought into whether green, brown, liberal or conservative. Really doesn’t matter most people are bought into progress.

    We are destroying the climate and running out of all the resources necessary for sustaining civilization. The likely outcome will be a serious bottleneck reducing our species down to a small amount of people hunting, gathering, and nomadic AG in a narrow belt of survival somewhere near the poles.

    That is a real exceptional story isn’t it. We have destroyed the world of complexity by complexity. That was a really smart thing for an evolutionary large brain to do. Maybe you and I have a few years of BAUcomfort left but our kids are likely going to be a part of that transition back to that type of man we should have never stop being. It is possible our spirituality will remain somewhat complex and we can evolve into a new and special humanoid that will transcend the worst of modern man but that is for nature to decide first.

  2. paulo1 on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 9:12 am 

    This is why I live in a rural valley, a one hour drive north of a 35,000 population city. My town friends are still scratching their heads why we pulled up stakes and moved here, (’till they come up and go fishing and see my house). They sometimes hum the banjo riff from Deliverence when I sit down in the pub with them. I just smile. Out of sight, out of mind, out of touch except when we choose otherwise. It is a good path to be on… the radar.

  3. Plantagenet on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 11:02 am 

    Daver—I hope you are right that we have a few years of BAU comfort left. Things are pretty good right now. With low oil prices due to the oil glut, and a strong dollar, this is starting to feel like the 1950s again!

  4. Perk Earl on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 12:37 pm 

    “…“triple-A” (aggressive, acquisitive, ambitious) personalities, they were also surreptitiously looking out for number one. As more and more wealth of the tribe flowed through their hands, they learned to skim a little, then a bit more, for themselves.

    …aggrandizers have a problem with brakes. In the long run, they drive their societies off a cliff.”

    How many times have we heard someone in response to concern about the flora and fauna say, “Who cares?”, which they mean as a rhetorical question because they obviously don’t care enough to want an answer to that question.

    Northwest Resident (NR) wrote about this, i.e. the most aggressive taking what they want without any concern short or long term for anyone or anything surrounding that effort.

    This really is the crux of the problem too, because even as we come to understand our impact on the global climate, those with the greatest grab of liquid and less-liquid assets run a counter campaign to get the ignorant masses to go along with the idea it is perfectly all right to continue to spew ever more CO2 into the atmosphere. Throw caution to the wind because we’re the aggrandizers and we really don’t care a whit what happens to the planet, because worse case scenario we’re rich enough that we and our spawned legacy will endure on a south sea island or in an underground luxury survival hideout, while the peons kill each other off, providing a fresh new opportunity for their offspring to take advantage of in the ‘new world’ springing forth after the bottleneck.

    The aggrandizers control the power over the people. Even in the US with all its original concern for the people, lobbying took their power away. All we can do now is watch the aggrandizers take this unsustainable scenario to its end point, collapse.

    In the aftermath for some time it may again become egalitarian, but once everything is set up for the aggrandizers, they will once again flourish and take what is available via the following masses that need a job.

    What this suggests is given a naturally occurring evolution of species, once consciousness in an apex species reaches the point of manipulating elements to create complex machinery, aggrandizers come to the forefront and then eventually collapse is guaranteed.

    I doubt that humankind will become extinct. Instead what we have to look forward to is the swing from egalitarian to aggrandizers to collapse over and over again for billions of years.

  5. Revi on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 1:06 pm 

    We don’t have the brains to look ahead. We’re not wired for that. Read Dumanowski’s book. We are not able to figure out anything but use it up, wear it out, make it do and wear it out. We’re opportunists, and always have been.

  6. Richard Ralph Roehl on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 4:09 pm 

    Human baboonies are colorful, creative and imaginative… but as a whole (and ass-a-hole) they lack prescience and common sense.

    The United States of Perpetual War Profiteering will NOT exist by 2050-2060. And by 2100 the remainder of humanity (a.k.a.: ewe-man-unkind) will be perched at the razor edge of extinction. Probably a minimum of 90% of all other complex life forms existing on the planet will also be extinct by 2100.

    I rest my case with the Monarch butterfly. There has been a 94% decrease in the population since 2005. Monarchs will be completely extinct by 2020 (compliments of glyphosate). Honey bees are soon to follow.

    Indeed! Almost all large bumblebees are now extinct in the continental United States… and the smaller colonial bees could see COMPLETE collapse and extinction by 2035.

    Have a nice day! There aren’t too many left.

  7. Richard Ralph Roehl on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 4:14 pm 

    Meanwhile… the ONGOING radioactive contamination horror emanating from the Fukushima time-bomb nuke plants in Japan continue to poison the entire Northern Pacific Ocean. There exists no known technology to stop this extinction event.

  8. Dredd on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 6:12 pm 

    “Time for the second egalitarian revolution, don’t you think?”

    Time is composed of early, on time, and too late.

    Some of those on the tree are still on the tree, while others have left and poisoned the tree.

    The revolution will soon produce “The Harbor & Port Czar” to no avail.

  9. Makati1 on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 8:55 pm 

    Pea and RRR, you are most likely correct. I myself have doubts of the survival of homo sapiens this time around. Never have we had the ability to destroy the whole world at one go, just big chunks of it.

    As for that ‘exceptional’ country, if it lasts until 2050, I will be surprised. I an 70 and expect to see it’s demise before I go. I would be 106 in 2050, so…

  10. Makati1 on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 8:57 pm 

    Sorry Peak, I accidentally deleted a letter when I made a correction and didn’t notice. Of course, spell check didn’t know.

  11. HARM on Tue, 31st Mar 2015 7:28 pm 

    “I doubt that humankind will become extinct. Instead what we have to look forward to is the swing from egalitarian to aggrandizers to collapse over and over again for billions of years.”

    Just like the Moties?'s_Eye

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