Section One

Before Civilization


Neandertals did not paint their caves with the images of animals. But perhaps they had no need to distill life into representations, because its essences were already revealed to their senses. The sight of a running herd was enough to inspire a surging sense of beauty. They had no drums or bone flutes, but they could listen to the booming rhythms of the wind, the earth, and each other's heartbeats, and be transported.

James Shreeve (1995)
his collection opens with some reflections about what it was like for our species prior to civilization.

In a literary vein, the pages from Roy Walker's classic treasury of poetry, Golden Feast (1952), remind us that from Ovid to the American Big Rock Candy Mountain folk legend, the memory or vision of an uncorrupted original wholeness persists. In fact, utopian anticivilization longings reach back at least as far as the earliest Greek writings. From Hesiod's Works and Days, dating from the early seventh century B.C., came the canonical description of the Golden Age, the bitterly lamented vanished epoch of Kronos' reign, when humans "lived as if they were gods, their hearts free from sorrow, and without hard work or pain," when "the fruitful earth yielded its abundant harvest to them of its own accord, and they lived in ease and peace upon the lands with many good things."

Obviously this refers to the vast Paleolithic era, comprising more than 99 percent of our time span as a species. Current anthropology tells us that the pre-agricultural foraging life did not know organized violence, sexual oppression, work as an onerous or separate activity, private property, or symbolic culture. Reworked by Virgil and Ovid as the lost age of Saturn (the Roman Kronos), Hesiod's Golden Age reappeared as Arcadia, and the idyll has persisted in cultures everywhere. Richard Heinberg's Memories and Visions of Paradise (1995) is, by the way, an unexcelled recent exploration of this theme.

Fairchild's eminent study Noble Savage (1928) introduces the innocence of native New World peoples, soon to be lost to disease and warfare, upon the arrival of early conquerors. Rousseau, the origin of Fairchild's title, describes the felicity and freedom that once obtained.

The excerpt from Thoreau is a brief but lively one: "the most alive is the wildest," is his heartfelt conclusion. Perlman's intensity, in his superb Against His-story, Against Leviathan (1983), leaves little doubt as to the nature-based authenticity of those not subdued by civilization, as seen in their sense of play and autonomy, for example. 

DeVries summarizes features of nondomesticated robustness and vitality in sharp contrast to later degeneracy in health. Sahlins' offering is an early statement of the central point of his Stone Age Economics (1972), namely, that paleolithic peoples are truly affluent, with no artificially produced or unmet needs.

Lynn Clive objects to the sacrifice of birds to skyscrapers and jetliners, while Landau offers a personal response to all we have lost. In a marvelous meditation, Adorno describes the utopian component of children's make-believe play. He recalls the pretamed stage of humanity in which productivity as a value is clearly refused, and exchange disregarded, as such nonutilitarian activity "rehearses the right life."

Roy Walker

The Golden Feast (1952)

he fullest Roman expression of the Golden Age theme is in Ovid, a poet who completed his education at Athens. The last and greatest book of the Metamorphoses is devoted to the Pythagorean philosophy, and bears that title. In Dryden's translation this final book is the starting point of our endeavour to trace this tradition through the eighteenth century, and although the poem is a Roman achievement we may defer consideration of it. Ovid's first book deals with the grandest metamorphosis of all, the transformation from the Chaos that preceded Nature's birth to the comparative order of Caesar's time. In that great change an empire greater than Caesar's is won and lost, a Golden Age of peace and plenty, lost to be found again by those who carry a vision of it through darkness and observe its precepts of peace and harmlessness to all that lives. This is the golden legend that has haunted the imagination of Europe's prophets, regardless of their own temperaments, habits or cultural environment. In essentials it is also the story of Genesis and its history is inevitably joined with that of the first book of the Bible.

Then sprang up first the golden age, which of itself maintained

The truth and right of everything, unforced and unconstrained.

There was no fear of punishment, there was no threatening law

In brazen tables naile'd up, to keep the folk in awe.

There was no man would crouch or creep to judge with cap in hand;

They live'd safe without a judge in every realm and land.

The lofty pine-tree was not hewn from mountains where it stood,

In seeking strange and foreign lands to rove upon the flood.

Men knew none other countries yet than where themselves did keep:

There was no town enclose'd yet with walls and ditches deep.

No horn nor trumpet was in use, no sword nor helmet worn.

The world was such that soldiers' help might easily be forborne.

The fertile earth as yet was free, untouched of spade or plough,

And yet it yielded of itself of every thing enow;

And men themselves contented well with plain and simple food

That on the earth by Nature's gift without their travail stood,

Did live by raspis, hips and haws, by cornels, plums and cherries,

By sloes and apples, nuts and pears, and loathsome bramble berries,

And by the acorns dropped on ground from Jove's broad tree in field.

The springtime lasted all the year, and Zephyr with his mild

And gentle blast did cherish things that grew of own accord.

The ground untilled all kind of fruits did plenteously afford.

No muck nor tillage was bestowed on lean and barren land

To make the corn of better head and ranker for to stand

Then streams ran milk, then streams ran wine, and yellow honey flowed

From each green tree whereon the rays of fiery Phoebus glowed.

But when that unto Limbo once Saturnus being thrust,

The rule and charge of all the world was under Jove unjust,

And that the silver age came in, more somewhat base than gold,

More precious yet than freckled brass, immediately the old

And ancient springtime Jove abridged and made thereof anon

Four seasons: winter, summer, spring, and harvest off and on.

Then first of all began the air with fervent heat to swelt;

Then icicles hung roping down; then, for the cold was felt,

Men 'gan to shroud themselves in house; their houses were the thicks,

And bushy queaches, hollow caves, or hurdles made of sticks.

Then first of all were furrows drawn, and corn was cast in ground;

The simple ox with sorry sighs to heavy yoke was bound.

Next after this succeeded straight the third and brazen age:

More hard of nature, somewhat bent to cruel wars and rage,

But yet not wholly past all grace.

Of iron is the last

In no part good and tractable as former ages past;

For when that of this wicked age once opened was the vein

Therein all mischief rushéd forth, the faith and truth were fain

And honest shame to hide their heads; for whom stepped stoutly in,

Craft, treason, violence, envy, pride, and wicked lust to win.

The shipman hoists his sails to wind, whose names he did not know; 

And ships that erst in tops of hills and mountains high did grow,

Did leap and dance on uncouth waves; and men began to bound

With dowls and ditches drawn in length the free and fertile ground,

Which was as common as the air and light of sun before.

Not only corn and other fruits, for sustenance and for store,

Were now exacted of the earth, but eft they 'gan to dig

And in the bowels of the earth insatiably to rig

For riches couched, and hidden deep in places near to hell,

The spurs and stirrers unto vice, and foes to doing well.

Then hurtful iron came abroad, then came forth yellow gold

More hurtful than the iron far, then came forth battle bold

That fights with both, and shakes his sword in cruel bloody hand.

Men live by ravin and by stealth; the wandering guest doth stand

In danger of his host; the host in danger of his guest;

And fathers of their sons-in-law; yea, seldom time doth rest

Between born brothers such accord and love as ought to be;

The goodman seeks the goodwife's death, and his again seeks she;

With grisly poison stepdames fell their husbands' sons assail;

The son inquires aforehand when his father's life shall fail;

All godliness lies under foot. And Lady Astrey, last

Of heavenly virtues, from this earth in slaughter drownéd passed.

Ovid's lines recreate the vision of the Ages of Gold, Silver, Brass and Iron, set down some seven hundred years before by Hesiod in Works and Days. Captured Greece, as the candid Horace says, had captured her rough conqueror.

In Hesiod's Golden Age, the first beatitude is the tranquil mind which, rather than a high material standard of living, is the highest good. Freedom from toil, next celebrated, expressed man's harmonious place in the natural order, in contrast to our civilization's war on soil, animal and tree. Long life, free from violence and disease, is as natural to the Golden Age as the abundance of fruits on which mankind is nourished there. All things are shared. All men are free.

We have vestigial modern doctrines for all these qualities: pacificism, vegetarianism, communitarianism, anarchism, soil conservation, organic farming, "no digging," afforestation, nature cure, the decentralised village economy. At the golden touch of Hesiod's or Ovid's lines the clumsy polysyllables crack their seed cases and flower into the variegated life and colour of single vision. The vague association that many of these ideas have retained in their attenuated modern forms is not accidental.

Finally, we may notice what seems to be the American's own version of Cockaigne, The Big Rock Candy Mountains:

One evening as the sun went down

And the jungle fire was burning

Down the track came a hobo hiking,

And he said "Boys I'm not turning.

I'm headed for a land that's far away,

Beside the crystal fountains,

So come with me, we'll all go and see

The big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the big Rock Candy Mountains,

There's a land that's fair and bright,

Where the hand-outs grow on bushes, 

And you sleep out every night.

Where the box cars are all empty,

Where the sun shines every day,

On the birds and the bees,

And the cigarette trees,

And the lemonade springs

Where the blue-bird sings,

In the big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the big Rock Candy Mountains,

All the cops have wooden legs,

The bull-dogs all have rubber teeth

And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs.

The farmer's trees are full of fruit

And the barns are full of hay.

Oh I'm bound to go

Where there ain't no snow,

Where they hung the Turk

That invented work,

In the big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the big Rock Candy Mountains

You never change your socks.

And the little streams of alcohol

Come trickling down the rocks.

Where the brakemen have to tip their hats,

And the rail-road bulls are blind.

There's the lake of stew, 

And of whisky too.

You can paddle all around 'em

In a big canoe

In the big Rock Candy Mountains." 
 pp. 72­75, 244­243

Hoxie Neale Fairchild

The Noble Savage: 

A Study in Romantic Naturalism (1928)

he narratives of Columbus illustrate the first step in the formation of the Noble Savage idea. The Caribs are represented as a virtuous and mild people, beautiful, and with a certain natural intelligence, living together in nakedness and innocence, sharing their property in common. But though Columbus is enthusiastic about the Indians, he does not compare them with the Europeans. For such a comparison a stimulus was soon provided by the brutality of the Spaniards. Humanitarianism is the motive back of the Breuisima Relación de la Destruyción de las Indias of Las Casas.

By 1539, when Las Casas' book appeared, Spanish goldlust had made oppressed slaves of the free and amiable beings described by Columbus. 


"God," the Bishop exclaims, "made this numerous people very simple, without trickery or malice, most obedient and faithful to their natural lords, and to the Spaniards, whom they serve; most humble, most patient, very peaceful and manageable, without quarrels, strife, bitterness or hate, none desiring vengeance. They are also a very delicate and tender folk, of slender build, and cannot stand much work, and often die of whatever sicknesses they have; so that even our own princes and lords, cared for with all conveniences, luxuries and delights, are not more delicate than these people who possess little, and who do not desire many worldly goods; nor are they proud, ambitious, or covetous. They have a very clear and lively understanding, being docile and able to receive all good doctrine, quite fitted to understand our holy Catholic faith, and to be instructed in good and virtuous habits, having less hindrances in the way of doing this than any other people in the world. Certainly these people would be the happiest in the world if only they knew God."

But the Spaniards have dealt with these poor souls most monstrously. "Among these tender lambs, so highly qualified and endowed by their Lord and Creator, the Spaniards have made entrance, like wolves, lions and tigers made cruel by long fasting, and have done nothing in those parts for forty years but cut them in pieces, slaughter them, torture them, afflict them, torment them and destroy them by strange sorts of cruelty never before seen or read or heard so that of the three million and more souls who inhabited the Island of Hispaniola there are now no more than two hundred natives of that land." The pleasant impression made upon the Indians by the comparative clemency of Columbus has been completely eradicated. "The Indians began to see that these men could not have come from heaven."

The Apostle to the Indians is terribly in earnest. He knows the Indians, and loves them as a father loves his children. He does not claim perfection for them, but he recognizes them as perfectible. He does not assert their superiority to the Spaniards, but his indignation against his countrymen contains the germs of such an assertion.

English views of savage life tend to be less highly colored and enthusiastic than those of the Spanish and French. But though it seems probable that the Noble Savage is chiefly a product of Latin minds, Professor Chinard slightly underestimates the extent to which English explorers gave support to the cult of the Indian.

There are, for example, decidedly sympathetic passages in the Voyage of Sir Francis Drake from New Spain to the North-west of California. This celebrated voyage was begun in 1577. The narrator reports that the savages - here natives of Brazil - go  stark naked, but he does not philosophize upon this observation. The "naturals" seem to be a civil and gentle folk: "Our general went to prayer at which exercise they were attentive and seemed greatly to be affected with it." The savages, indeed, worship the whites as gods, at first making sacrifice to them by tearing their own flesh, and when this is frowned upon by the voyagers, bringing offerings of fruit. The savage king and his people crown Drake with flowers, "with one consent and with great reverence, joyfully singing a song." They wish the English to remain with them for ever. "Our departure seemed so grievous to them, that their joy was turned into sorrow." Incidents such as these are ready-made for literary treatment.

Strenuous efforts were being made to "boom" Virginia as a field of colonization. This may partly account for the enthusiasm of Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlow in their First Voyage Made to the Coast of Virginia. These gentlemen find the natives fearless and trustful. They are "a handsome and goodly people, and in their behavior as mannerly and civil as any in Europe." Later it is reported: "We found the people most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as live after the manner of the golden age." This comparison with the Golden Age is particularly interesting. When men began to think of the American Indian in terms of traditional literary formulas, they were well on the way toward the formation of the Noble Savage idea.

A very influential account was doubtless Raleigh's Discourse of the large, rich and beautiful Empire of Guiana. The portions of this account which are of interest to us deal with various tribes along the Orinoco Rivera region which is the habitat of the Noble Savage at his noblest and most savage.

Raleigh's opinion of the natives is consistently favorable. Of one tribe he says, "These Tivitivas are a very goodly people and very valiant, and have the most manly speech and most deliberate that ever I heard, of what nation soever." This tribe relies for sustenance entirely on the bounty of nature. "They never eat of anything that is set or sowen: and as at home they use neither planting nor other manurance, so when they come abroad, they refuse to feed of aught, but of that which nature without labour bringeth forth."

Raleigh agrees with many other voyagers in ascribing rare physical beauty to the savages. Of a Cacique's wife he writes: "In all my life I have seldome seene a better favoured woman. She was of good stature, with blacke eyes, fat of body, of an excellent countenance, her hair almost as long as herself, tied up againe in prettie knots. I have seene a lady in England as like to her, as but for the colour, I would have sworne might have been the same." Praise from Sir Hubert!

The following is a portion of an account of an interview with a venerable chief: "I asked what nations those were which inhabited on the farther side of those mountains. He answered with a great sigh (as a man which had inward feeling of the losse of his countrie and libertie, especially for that his eldest son was slain in a battell on that side of the mountains, whom he most entirely loved) that hee remembered in his father's lifetime, etc., etc. After hee had answered thus farre he desired leave to depart, saying that he had farre to goe, that he was olde, and weake, and was every day called for by death, which was also his owne phrase. This Topiawari is helde for the prowdest and wisest of all the Orenoqueponi, and soe he behaved himselfe towards mee in all his answers at my returne, as I marvelled to find a man of that gravitie and judgement, and of soe good discourse, that had no helpe of learning nor breede."

This sketch of the old Cacique is executed with a significant relish. Quite plainly, the savage has become literary material; his type is becoming fixed; he already begins to collect the accretions of tradition. Just as he is, Topiawari is ready to step into an exotic tale. He is the prototype of Chactas and Chingachgook.

The effect on English writers of such accounts as those we have been examining is shown in Michael Drayton's poem, To the Virginian Voyage:

"And cheerfully at sea,

Success you still entice, 

To get the pearl and gold, 

And ours to hold


Earth's only paradise.

"Where nature hath in store

Fowl, venison, and fish,

And the fruitful'st soil,

Without your toil,

Three harvests more,

All greater than you wish.

"To whom the Golden Age

Still nature's laws doth give,

No other cares attend,

But them to defend

From winter's rage,

That long there doth not live."

Virginia reminds the poet both of the Earthly Paradise and the Golden Age; and the second stanza quoted brings an unconsciously ironical reminder of the Land of Cockayne. Here we see that fusion of contemporary observation with old tradition on which the Noble Savage idea depends.

pp. 10­15

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1754)

Man, whatever Country you may come from, whatever your opinions may be, listen: here is your history as I believed it to read, not in the Books of your Fellow-men, who are liars, but in Nature, which never lies. Everything that comes from Nature will be true; there will be nothing false except what I have involuntarily put in of my own. The times of which I am going to speak are very far off: how you have changed from what you were! It is, so to speak, the life of your species that I am going to describe to you according to the qualities you received, which your education and habits have been able to corrupt but have not been able to destroy. There is, I feel, an age at which the individual man would want to stop: you will seek the age at which you would desire your Species had stopped. Discontented with your present state for reasons that foretell even greater discontents for your unhappy Posterity, perhaps you would want to be able to go backward in time. This sentiment must be the Eulogy of your first ancestors, the criticism of your contemporaries, and the dread of those who will have the unhappiness to live after you.
Stripping this Being, so constituted, of all the supernatural gifts he could have received and of all the artificial faculties he could only have acquired by long progress considering him, in a word, as he must have come from the hands of Nature I  see an animal less strong than some, less agile than others, but all things considered, the most advantageously organized of all. I see him satisfying his hunger under an oak, quenching his thirst at the first Stream, finding his bed at the foot of the same tree that furnished his meal; and therewith his needs are satisfied.

The Earth, abandoned to its natural fertility and covered by immense forests never mutilated by the Axe, offers at every step Storehouses and shelters to animals of all species. Men, dispersed among the animals, observe and imitate their industry, and thereby develop in themselves the instinct of the Beasts; with the advantage that whereas each species has only its own proper instinct, man perhaps having none that belongs to him appropriates them all to himself, feeds himself equally well with most of the diverse foods which the other animals share, and consequently finds his subsistence more easily than any of them can.

The savage man's body being the only implement he knows, he employs it for various uses of which, through lack of training, our bodies are incapable; our industry deprives us of the strength and agility that necessity obliges him to acquire. If he had an axe, would his wrist break such strong branches? If he had a sling, would he throw a stone so hard? If he had a ladder, would he climb a tree so nimbly? If he had a Horse, would he run so fast? Give Civilized man time to assemble all his machines around him and there can be no doubt that he will easily overcome Savage man. But if you want to see an even more unequal fight, put them, naked and disarmed, face to face, and you will soon recognize the advantage of constantly having all of one's strength at one's disposal, of always being ready for any event, and of always carrying oneself, so to speak, entirely with one.


Hobbes claims that man is naturally intrepid and seeks only to attack and fight. An illustrious Philosopher thinks, on the contrary, and Cumberland and Pufendorf also affirm, that nothing is so timid as man in the state of Nature, and that he is always trembling and ready to flee at the slightest noise he hears, at the slightest movement he perceives. That may be so with respect to objects he does not know; and I do not doubt that he is frightened by all the new Spectacles that present themselves to him every time he can neither discern the Physical good and evil to be expected nor compare his strength with the dangers he must run: rare circumstances in the state of Nature, where all things move in such a uniform manner, and where the face of the Earth is not subject to those brusque and continual changes caused by the passions and inconstancy of united Peoples. But Savage man, living dispersed among the animals and early finding himself in a position to measure himself against them, soon makes the comparison; and sensing that he surpasses them in skill more than they surpass him in strength, he learns not to fear them any more. Pit a bear or a wolf against a Savage who is robust, agile, courageous, as they all are, armed with stones and a good stick, and you will see that the danger will be reciprocal at the very least, and that after several similar experiences wild Beasts, which do not like to attack each other, will hardly attack man willingly, having found him to be just as wild as they. With regard to animals that actually have more strength than man has skill, he is in the position of the other weaker species, which nevertheless subsist. But man has the advantage that, no less adept at running than they and finding almost certain refuge in trees, he always has the option of accepting or leaving the encounter and the choice of flight or combat. Let us add that it does not appear that any animal naturally makes war upon man except in case of self-defense or extreme hunger, or gives evidence of those violent antipathies toward him that seem to announce that one species is destined by Nature to serve as food for the other.

These are, without doubt, the reasons why Negroes and Savages trouble themselves so little about the wild beasts they may encounter in the woods. In this respect the Caribs of Venezuela, among others, live in the most profound security and without the slightest inconvenience. Although they go nearly naked, says Francois Corréal, they nevertheless expose themselves boldly in the woods armed only with bow and arrow, but no one has ever heard that any of them were devoured by beasts.


Other more formidable enemies, against which man does not have the same means of defense, are natural infirmities: infancy, old age, and illnesses of all kinds, sad signs of our weakness, of which the first two are common to all animals and the last belongs principally to man living in Society. I even observe on the subject of Infancy that the Mother, since she carries her child with her everywhere, can nourish it with more facility than the females of several animals, which are forced to come and go incessantly with great fatigue, in one direction to seek their food and in the other to suckle or nourish their young. It is true that if the woman should die, the child greatly risks dying with her; but this danger is common to a hundred other species, whose young are for a long time unable to go and seek their nourishment themselves. And if Infancy is longer among us, so also is life; everything remains approximately equal in this respect, although there are, concerning the duration of the first age and the number of young, other rules which are not within my Subject. Among the Aged, who act and perspire little, the need for food diminishes with the faculty of providing for it; and since Savage life keeps gout and rheumatism away from them and since old age is, of all ills, the one that human assistance can least relieve, they finally die without it being perceived that they cease to be, and almost without perceiving it themselves.

With regard to illnesses, I shall not repeat the vain and false declamations against Medicine made by most People in good health; rather, I shall ask whether there is any solid observation from which one might conclude that in Countries where this art is most neglected, the average life of man is shorter than in those where it is cultivated with the greatest care. And how could that be, if we give ourselves more ills than Medicine can furnish Remedies? The extreme inequality in our way of life: excess of idleness in some, excess of labor in others; the ease of stimulating and satisfying our appetites and our sensuality; the overly refined foods of the rich, which nourish them with binding juices and overwhelm them with indigestion; the bad food of the Poor, which they do not even have most of the time, so that their want inclines them to overburden their stomachs greedily when the occasion permits; late nights, excesses of all kinds, immoderate ecstasies of all the Passions, fatigues and exhaustion of Mind; numberless sorrows and afflictions which are felt in all conditions and by which souls are perpetually tormented: these are the fatal proofs that most of our ills are our own work, and that we would have avoided almost all of them by preserving the simple, uniform, and solitary way of life prescribed to us by Nature. If she destined us to be healthy, I almost dare affirm that the state of reflection is a state contrary to Nature and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal. When one thinks of the good constitution of Savages, at least of those whom we have not ruined with our strong liquors; when one learns that they know almost no illnesses except wounds and old age, one is strongly inclined to believe that the history of human illnesses could easily be written by following that of civil Societies. This at least is the opinion of Plato, who judges, from certain Remedies used or approved by Podalirius and Machaon at the siege of Troy, that various illnesses that should have been caused by those remedies were not yet known at that time among men; and Paracelsus reports that the diet, so necessary today, was invented only by Hippocrates.

With so few sources of illness, man in the state of Nature hardly has need of remedies, still less of Doctors. In this respect the human species is not in any worse condition than all the others; and it is easy to learn from Hunters whether in their chases they find many sick animals. They find many that have received extensive but very well healed wounds, that have had bones and even limbs broken and set again with no other Surgeon than time, no other regimen than their ordinary life, and that are no less perfectly cured for not having been tormented with incisions, poisoned with Drugs, or weakened with fasting. Finally, however useful well-administered medicine may be among us, it is still certain that if a sick Savage abandoned to himself has nothing to hope for except from Nature, in return he has nothing to fear except from his illness, which often renders his situation preferable to ours.

Let us therefore take care not to confuse Savage man with the men we have before our eyes. Nature treats all the animals abandoned to its care with a partiality that seems to show how jealous it is of this right. The Horse, the Cat, the Bull, even the Ass, are mostly taller, and all have a more robust constitution, more vigor, more strength and courage in the forest than in our houses. They lose half of these advantages in becoming Domesticated, and it might be said that all our cares to treat and feed these animals well end only in their degeneration. It is the same even for man. In becoming sociable and a Slave he becomes weak, fearful, servile; and his soft and effeminate way of life completes the enervation of both his strength and his courage. Let us add that between Savage and Domesticated conditions the difference from man to man must be still greater than that from beast to beast; for animal and man having been treated equally by Nature, all the commodities of which man gives himself more than the animals he tames are so many particular causes that make him degenerate more noticeably.

The example of Savages, who have almost all been found at this point, seems to confirm that the human Race was made to remain in it, the state of Nature, always; that this state is the veritable youth of the World; and that all subsequent progress has been in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, and in fact toward the decrepitude of the species.

As long as men were content with their rustic huts, as long as they were limited to sewing their clothing of skins with thorn or fish bones, adorning themselves with feathers and shells, painting their bodies with various colors, perfecting or embellishing their bows and arrows, carving with sharp stones a few fishing Canoes or a few crude Musical instruments; in a word, as long as they applied themselves only to tasks that a single person could do and to arts that did not require the cooperation of several hands, they lived free, healthy, good, and happy insofar as they could be according to their Nature, and they continued to enjoy among themselves the sweetness of independent intercourse. But from the moment one man needed the help of another, as soon as they observed that it was useful for a single person to have provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, labor became necessary; and vast forests were changed into smiling Fields which had to be watered with the sweat of men, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow with the crops.

Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose invention produced this great revolution. For the Poet it is gold and silver, but for the Philosopher it is iron and wheat which have Civilized men and ruined the human Race. 

pp. 19­25
Henry David Thoreau

"Excursions" (1863)

believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock spruce or arbor-vitae in our tea. There is a difference between eating and drinking for strength and from mere gluttony. The Hottentots eagerly devour  the marrow of the koodoo and other antelopes raw, as a matter of course. Some of our northern Indians eat raw the marrow of the Arctic reindeer, as well as various other parts, including the summits of the antlers, as long as they are soft. And herein, perchance, they have stolen a march on the cooks of Paris. They get what usually goes to feed the fire. This is probably better than stall-fed beef and slaughter-house pork to make a man of. Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure, as if we lived on the marrow of koodoos devoured raw.

There are some intervals which border the strain of the wood thrush, to which I would migrate, wild lands where no settler has squatted; to which, methinks, I am already acclimated.

The African hunter Cumming tells us that the skin of the eland, as well as that of most other antelopes just killed, emits the most delicious perfume of trees and grass. I would have every man so much like a wild antelope, so much a part and parcel of nature, that his very person should thus sweetly advertise our senses of his presence, and remind us of those parts of nature which he most haunts. I feel no disposition to be satirical, when the trapper's coat emits the odor of musquash even; it is a sweeter scent to me than that which commonly exhales from the merchant's or the scholar's garments. When I go into their wardrobes and handle their vestments, I am reminded of no grassy plains and flowery meads which they have frequented, but of dusty merchants' exchanges and libraries rather.

A tanned skin is something more than respectable, and perhaps olive is a fitter color than white for a mana denizen of the woods. 'The pale white man!' I do not wonder that the African pitied him. Darwin the naturalist says, 'A white man bathing by the side of a Tahitian was like a plant bleached by the gardener's art, compared with a fine, dark green one, growing vigorously in the open fields.'

Ben Jonson exclaims,

How near to good is what is fair!

So I would say

How near to good is what is wild!

Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees.

in Charles R. Murphy, ed. 

Little Essays from the Works of Henry David Thoreau, pp. 139­142

Fredy Perlman

Against His-story, Against Leviathan! (1983)

he managers of Gulag's islands tell us that the swimmers, crawlers, walkers and fliers spent their lives working in order to eat.

These managers are broadcasting their news too soon. The varied beings haven't all been exterminated yet. You, reader, have only to mingle with them, or just watch them from a distance, to see that their waking lives are filled with dances, games and feasts. Even the hunt, the stalking and feigning and leaping, is not what we call Work, but what we call Fun. The only beings who work are the inmates of Gulag's islands, the zeks.

The zeks' ancestors did less work than a corporation owner. They didn't know what work was. They lived in a condition J.J. Rousseau called "the state of nature." Rousseau's term should be brought back into common use. It grates on the nerves of those who, in R. Vaneigem's words, carry cadavers in their mouths. It makes the armor visible. Say "the state of nature" and you'll see the cadavers peer out.

Insist that "freedom" and "the state of nature" are synonyms, and the cadavers will try to bite you. The tame, the domesticated, try to monopolize the word freedom; they'd like to apply it to their own condition. They apply the word "wild" to the free. But it is another public secret that the tame, the domesticated, occasionally become wild but are never free so long as they remain in their pens.

Even the common dictionary keeps this secret only half hidden. It begins by saying that free means citizen! But then it says, "Free: a) not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being; b) determined by the choice of the actor or by his wishes."

The secret is out. Birds are free until people cage them. The Biosphere, Mother Earth herself, is free when she moistens herself, when she sprawls in the sun and lets her skin erupt with varicolored hair teeming with crawlers and fliers. She is not determined by anything beyond her own nature or being until another sphere of equal magnitude crashes into her, or until a cadaverous beast cuts into her skin and rends her bowels.

Trees, fish and insects are free as they grow from seed to maturity, each realizing its own potential, its wish until the insect's freedom is curtailed by the bird's. The eaten insect has made a gift of its freedom to the bird's freedom. The bird, in its turn, drops and manures the seed of the insect's favorite plant, enhancing the freedom of the insect's heirs.

The state of nature is a community of freedoms.

Such was the environment of the first human communities, and such it remained for thousands of generations.

Modern anthropologists who carry Gulag in their brains reduce such human communities to the motions that look most like work, and give the name Gatherers to people who pick and sometimes store their favorite foods. A bank clerk would call such communities Savings Banks!

The zeks on a coffee plantation in Guatemala are Gatherers, and the anthropologist is a Savings Bank. Their free ancestors had more important things to do.

The !Kung people miraculously survived as a community of free human beings into our own exterminating age. R.E. Leakey observed them in their lush African forest homeland. They cultivated nothing except themselves. They made themselves what they wished to be. They were not determined by anything beyond their own being - not by alarm clocks, not by debts, not by orders from superiors. They feasted and celebrated and played, full-time, except when they slept. They shared everything with their communities: food, experiences, visions, songs. Great personal satisfaction, deep inner joy, came from the sharing.

(In today's world, wolves still experience the joys that come from sharing. Maybe that's why governments pay bounties to the killers of wolves.)

S. Diamond observed other free human beings who survived into our age, also in Africa. He could see that they did no work, but he couldn't quite bring himself to say it in English. Instead, he said they made no distinction between work and play. Does Diamond mean that the activity of the free people can be seen as work one moment, as play another, depending on how the anthropologist feels? Does he mean they didn't know if their activity was work or play? Does he mean we, you and I, Diamond's armored contemporaries, cannot distinguish their work from their play?

If the !Kung visited our offices and factories, they might think we're playing. Why else would we be there?

I think Diamond meant to say something more profound. A time-and-motion engineer watching a bear near a berry patch would not know when to punch his clock. Does the bear start working when he walks to the berry patch, when he picks the berry, when he opens his jaws? If the engineer has half a brain he might say the bear makes no distinction between work and play. If the engineer has an imagination he might say that the bear experiences joy from the moment the berries turn deep red, and that none of the bear's motions are work.

Leakey and others suggest that the general progenitors of human beings, our earliest grandmothers, originated in lush African forests, somewhere near the homeland of the !Kung. The conservative majority, profoundly satisfied with nature's unstinting generosity, happy in their accomplishments, at peace with themselves and the world, had no reason to leave their home. They stayed.

A restless minority went wandering. Perhaps they followed their dreams. Perhaps their favorite pond dried up. Perhaps their favorite animals wandered away. These people were very fond of animals; they knew the animals as cousins.

The wanderers are said to have walked to every woodland, plain and lakeshore of Eurasia. They walked or floated to almost every island. They walked across the land bridge near the northern land of ice to the southernmost tip of the double continent which would be called America.

The wanderers went to hot lands and cold, to lands with much rain and lands with little. Perhaps some felt nostalgia for the warm home they left. If so, the presence of their favorite animals, their cousins, compensated for their loss. We can still see the homage some of them gave to these animals on cave walls of Altamira, on rocks in Abrigo del Sol in the Amazon Valley.

Some of the women learned from birds and winds to scatter seeds. Some of the men learned from wolves and eagles to hunt.

But none of them ever worked. And everyone knows it. The armored Christians who later "discovered" these communities knew that these people did no work, and this knowledge grated on Christian nerves, it rankled, it caused cadavers to peep out. The Christians spoke of women who did "lurid dances" in their fields instead of confining themselves to chores; they said hun-ters did a lot of devilish "hocus pocus" before actually drawing the bowstring.

These Christians, early time-and-motion engineers, couldn't tell when play ended and work began. Long familiar with the chores of zeks, the Christians were repelled by the lurid and devilish heathen who pretended that the Curse of Labor had not fallen on them. The Christians put a quick end to the "hocus pocus" and the dances, and saw to it that none could fail to distinguish work from play.

Our ancestors I'll borrow Turner's term and call them the Possessed had more important things to do than to struggle to survive. They loved nature and nature reciprocated their love. Wherever they were they found affluence, as Marshall Sahlins shows in his Stone Age Economics. Pierre Clastres' La société contre l'état insists that the struggle for subsistence is not verifiable among any of the Possessed; it is verifiable among the Dispossessed in the pits and on the margins of progressive industrialization. Leslie White, after a sweeping review of reports from distant places and ages, a view of "Primitive culture as a whole," concludes that "there's enough to eat for a richness of life rare among the 'civilized.'" I wouldn't use the word Primitive to refer to people with a richness of life. I would use the word Primitive to refer to myself and my contemporaries, with our progressive poverty of life.

pp. 6­10
Arnold DeVries

Primitive Man and His Food (1952)

he defective state of modern man has had its effects upon medicine and the very study of disease. Dr. E.A. Hooton, the distinguished physical anthropologist of Harvard, has remarked that "it is a very myopic medical science which works backward from the morgue rather than forward from the cradle." Yet this is exactly what the customary procedure of medicine has been. The reasons have been somewhat of necessity, it is to be admitted, for one can scarcely study health when the adequate controls are not present. In civilization one studies civilized people, and the frequency of the forms of degeneration which are found then determine what we consider normal and abnormal. As a result, conditions which generally form no part of undomesticated animal life are regarded as normal and necessary for the human species. So long has disease been studied that the physician often has little concept as to what health actually is. We live in a world of pathology, deformity and virtual physical monstrosity, which has so colored our thinking that we cannot visualize the nature of health and the conditions necessary for its presence.

The question should then logically arise: why not leave civilization and study physical conditions in the primitive world? If perfect physical specimens could here be found, the study could be constructive and progressive, giving suggestions, perhaps, as to the conditions which permitted or induced a state of physical excellence to exist. We might then find out what man is like, biologically speaking, when he does not need a doctor, which might also indicate what he should be like when the doctor has finished with him.

Fortunately the idea has not been entirely neglected. Primitive races were carefully observed and described by many early voyagers and explorers who found them in their most simple and natural state. Primitive life has also very carefully been observed and studied with the object of understanding social, moral or religious conditions, in which, however, incidental observations were made too with respect to the physical condition of the people, and the living habits which might affect that condition. Others, in modern life, have studied the savages with the specific object of determining their physical state of health, and the mode of living which is associated therewith.

The results of such work have been very significant, but regarding medicine and nutrition in actual practice, they have been almost entirely neglected. The common view that primitive man is generally short lived and subject to many diseases is often held by physician as well as layman, and the general lack of sanitation, modern treatment, surgery and drugs in the primitive world is thought to prevent maintenance of health at a high physical level. For the average nutritionist it is quite natural to feel that any race not having access to the wide variety of foods which modern agriculture and transportation now permit could not be in good health. These assumptions have helped to determine existing therapeutic methods, and they have largely prevented serious consideration that might be based upon factual data.

But the facts are known, and these comprise a very interesting and important story. They indicate that, when living under near-isolated conditions, apart from civilization and without access to the foods of civilization, primitive man lives in much better physical condition than does the usual member of civilized society. When his own nutrition is adequate and complete, as it often is, he maintains complete immunity to dental caries. His teeth are white and sparkling, with neither brushing nor cleansing agents used, and the dental arch is broad, with the teeth formed in perfect alignment.

The facial and body development is also good. The face is finely formed, well-set and broad. The body is free from deformity and proportioned as beauty and symmetry would indicate desirable. The respective members of the racial group reproduce in homogeneity from one generation to the next. There are few deviations from the standard anthropological prototype. One individual resembles the other in facial form, looking much like sisters or brothers, with the chief differences in appearance being in size.

Reproductive efficiency is such as to permit parturition with no difficulty and little or no pain. There are no prenatal deformities. Resistance to infectious disease is high, few individuals being sick, and these usually rapidly recovering. The degenerative diseases are rare, even in advanced life, some of them being completely unknown and unheard of by the primitive. Mental complaints are equally rare, and the state of happiness and contentment is one scarcely known by civilized man. The duration of life is long, the people being yet strong and vigorous as they pass the proverbial three score and ten mark, and living in many cases beyond a century.

These are the characteristics of the finest and most healthful primitive races, who live under the most ideal climatic and nutritional conditions. Primitive races less favored by environment are less successful in meeting weakness and disease, but even the poorest of these have better teeth and skeletal development than civilized man, and they usually present other physical advantages as well.

The experience of primitive man has therefore been one of great importance. We note that people living today, under the culture and environment of the Stone Age, have not only equalled but far surpassed civilized man in strength, physical development and immunity to disease. The mere existence of this fact poses an important question to modern medicine and should arouse serious thought and consideration.

Of equal significance is the fact that the good health of the primitive has been possible only under conditions of relative isolation. As soon as his contact with civilization is sufficient to alter his dietary habits, he succumbs to disease very readily and loses all of the unique immunity of the past. The teeth decay; facial form ceases to be uniform; deformities become common; reproductive efficiency is lowered; mental deficiency develops; and the duration of life is sharply lowered.

It would hence appear that the nutritional habits of primitive man are responsible for his state of health. So long as the native foods remain in use, there are no important physical changes, and the bacterial scourges are absent, even though a complete lack of sanitation would indicate that pathogenic bacteria might be present. With a displacement of native foods for those of modern commerce the situation changes completely, and the finest sanitation that the white man can provide, together with the best in medical services, is of no avail in preventing the epidemics which take thousands of lives. Among scientists who have studied at first hand both the physical condition and food of many primitive races, the close relationship between the two has been clearly recognized.

pp. 4­7
Marshall Sahlins

"The Original Affluent Society" (1968)

f economics is the dismal science, the study of hunting-gathering economies must be its most advanced branch. Almost totally committed to the argument that life was hard in the Paleolithic, our textbooks compete to convey a sense of impending doom, leaving the student to wonder not only how hunters managed to make a living, but whether, after all, this was living? The specter of starvation stalks the stalker in these pages. His technical incompetence is said to enjoin continuous work just to survive, leaving him without respite from the food quest and without the leisure to "build culture." Even so, for his efforts he pulls the lowest grades in thermo-dynamicsless energy harnessed per capita per year than any other mode of production. And in treatises on economic development, he is condemned to play the role of bad example, the so-called "subsistence economy."

It will be extremely difficult to correct this traditional wisdom. Perhaps then we should phrase the necessary revisions in the most shocking terms possible: that this was, when you come to think of it, the original affluent society. By common understanding an affluent society is one in which all the people's wants are easily satisfied; and though we are pleased to consider this happy condition the unique achievement of industrial civilization, a better case can be made for hunters and gatherers, even many of the marginal ones spared to ethnography. For wants are "easily satisfied," either by producing much or desiring little, and there are, accordingly, two possible roads to affluence. The Galbraithean course makes assumptions peculiarly appropriate to market economies, that man's wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although improvable. Thus the gap between means and ends can eventually be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the extent that "urgent" goods became abundant. But there is also a Zen solution to scarcity and affluence, beginning from premises opposite from our own, that human material ends are few and fi-nite and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty, though perhaps only a low standard of living. That I think describes the hunters. 

The traditional dismal view of the hunter's fix is pre-anthropological. It goes back to the time Adam Smith was writing, and maybe to a time before anyone was writing. But anthropology, especially evolutionary anthropology, found it congenial, even necessary theoretically, to adopt the same tone of reproach. Archeologists and ethnologists had become Neolithic revolutionaries, and in their enthusiasm for the revolution found serious shortcomings in the Old (Stone Age) Regime. Scholars extolled a Neolithic Great Leap Forward. Some spoke of a changeover from human effort to domesticated energy sources, as if people had been liberated by a new labor-saving device, although in fact the basic power resources remained exactly the same, plants and animals, the development occurring rather in techniques of appropriation (i.e., domestication. Moreover, archeological research was beginning to suggest that the decisive gains came in stability of settlement and gross economic product, rather than productivity of labor.)

But evolutionary theory is not entirely to blame. The larger economic context in which it operates, "as if by an invisible hand," promotes the same dim conclusions about the hunting life. Scarcity is the peculiar obsession of a business economy, the calculable condition of all who participate in it. The market makes freely available a dazzling array of products all these "good things" within a man's reach but never his grasp, for one never has enough to buy everything. To exist in a market economy is to live out a double tragedy, beginning in inadequacy and ending in deprivation. All economic activity starts from a position of shortage: whether as producer, consumer, or seller of labor, one's resources are insufficient to the possible uses and satisfactions. So one comes to a conclusion "you pays your money and you takes your choice." But then, every acquisition is simultaneously a deprivation, for every purchase of something is a denial of something else that could have been had instead. (The point is that if you buy one kind of automobile, say a Plymouth fastback, you cannot also have a Ford Mustang and I judge from the TV commercials that the deprivation involved is more than material.) Inadequacy is the judgment decreed by our economy, and thus the axiom of our economics: the application of scarce means against alternate ends. We stand sentenced to life at hard labor. It is from this anxious vantage that we look back on the hunter. But if modern man, with all his technical advantages, still hasn't got the wherewithal, what chance has this naked savage with his puny bow and arrow? Having equipped the hunter with bourgeois impulses and Paleolithic tools, we judge his situation hopeless in advance.

Scarcity is not an intrinsic property of technical means. It is a relation between means and ends. We might entertain the empirical possibility that hunters are in business for their health, a finite objective, and bow and arrow are adequate to that end. A fair case can be made that hunters often work much less than we do, and rather than a grind the food quest is intermittent, leisure is abundant, and there is more sleep in the daytime per capita than in any other conditions of society. (Perhaps certain traditional formulae are better inverted: the amount of work per capita increases with the evolution of culture and the amount of leisure per capita decreases.) Moreover, hunters seem neither harassed nor anxious. A certain confidence, at least in many cases, attends their economic attitudes and decisions. The way they dispose of food on hand, for example as if they had it made.

This is the case even among many present marginal hunters who hardly constitute a fair test of Paleolithic economy but something of a supreme test. Considering the poverty in which hunter and gatherers live in theory, it comes as a surprise that Bushmen who live in the Kalahari enjoy "a kind of material plenty" (Marshall, 1961, p. 243). Marshall is speaking of non-subsistence production; in this context her explication seems applicable beyond the Bushmen. She draws attention to the technical simplicity of the non-subsistence sector: the simple and readily available raw materials, skills, and tools. But most important, wants are restricted: a few people are happy to consider few things their good fortune. The restraint is imposed by nomadism. Of the hunter, it is truly said that this wealth is a burden (at least for his wife). Goods and mobility are therefore soon brought into contradiction, and to take liberties with a line of Lattimore's, the pure nomad remains a poor nomad. It is only consistent with their mobility, as many accounts directly say, that among hunters needs are limited, avarice inhibited, and Warner (1937 [1958], p. 137) makes this very clear for the Murngin portability is a main value in the economic scheme of things.


A similar case of affluence without abundance can be made for the subsistence sector. McCarthy and McArthur's time-motion study in Arnhem Land (1960) indicates the food quest is episodic and discontinuous, and per capita commitment to it averages less than four hours a day. The amount of daytime sleep and rest is unconscionable: clearly, the aborigines fail to "build culture" not from lack of time but from idle hands. McCarthy and McArthur also suggest that the people are working under capacity they might have easily procured more food; that they are able to support unproductive adults who may, however, do some craft work; and that getting food was not strenuous or exhausting. The Arnhem Land study, made under artificial conditions and based only on short-run observations, is plainly inconclusive in itself. Nevertheless, the Arnhem Land data are echoed in reports of other Australians and other hunters. Two famous explorers of the earlier nineteenth century made estimates of the same magnitude for the aborigines' subsistence activities: two to four hours a day (Eyre, 1845, 2, pp. 252, 255; Grey, 1841, 2, pp. 261­63). Slash-and-burn agriculture, incidentally, may be more labor-intensive: Conklin, for example, figures that 1,200 man hours per adult per year are given among the Hanunóo simply to agriculture (Conklin, 1957, p. 151: this figure excludes other food-connected activities, whereas the Australian data include time spent in the preparation of food as well as its acquisition). The Arnhem Landers' punctuation of steady work with sustained idleness is also widely attested in Australia and beyond. In Lee's paper he reported that productive members of !Kung Bushman camps spend two to three days per week in subsistence. We have heard similar comments in other papers at the symposium. Hadza women were said to work two hours per day on the average in gathering food, and one concludes from James Woodburn's excellent film that Hadza men are much more preoccupied with games of chance than chances of game (Woodburn and Hudson, 1966).

In addition, evidence on hunter-gatherers' economic attitudes and decisions should be brought to bear. Harassment is not implied in the descriptions of their nonchalant movements from camp to camp, nor indeed is the familiar condemnations of their laziness. A certain issue is posed by exasperated comments on the prodigality of hunters, their inclination to make a feast of everything on hand; as if, one Jesuit said of the Montagnais, "the game they were to hunt was shut up in a stable" (Le Jeune's Relation of 1634, in Kenton, 1927, I, p. 182). "Not the slightest thought of, or care for, what the morrow may bring forth," wrote Spencer and Gillen (1899, p. 53). Two interpretations of this supposed lack of foresight are possible: either they are fools, or they are not worried that is, as far as they are concerned, the morrow will bring more of the same. Rather than anxiety, it would seem the hunters have a confidence born of affluence, of a condition in which all the people's wants (such as they are) are generally easily satisfied. This confidence does not desert them during hardship. It can carry them laughing through periods that would try even a Jesuit's soul, and worry him so that as the Indians warn he could become sick:

"I saw them [the Montagnais] in their hardships and their labors, suffer with cheerfulness. I found myself, with them, threatened with great suffering; they said to me, 'We shall be sometimes two days, sometimes three, without eating, for lack of food; take courage, Chihine, let thy soul be strong to endure suffering and hardship; keep thyself from being sad, otherwise thou will be sick; see how we do not cease to laugh, although we have little to eat'" (Le Jeune's Relation of 1634, in Kenton, 1927, I, p. 129).

Again on another occasion Le Jeune's host said to him: "Do not let thyself be cast down, take courage; when the snow comes, we shall eat" (Le Jeune's Relation of 1634, in Kenton, 1927, I, p. 171). Which is something like the philosophy of the Penan of Borneo: "If there is no food today there will be tomorrow" expressing, according to Needham, "a confidence in the capacity of the environment to support them, and in their own ability to extract their livelihood from it" (1954, p. 230).

in Richard B. Lee and Irven De Vore, eds., Man the Hunter, pp. 85­89

Lynn Clive

"Birds Combat Civilization" (1985)

umankind truly was not meant to fly, and birds keep trying to tell us so. As people and their flying machines continue to overpopulate the skies, not only do plane-to-plane collisions increase, but bird to plane collisions drastically increase as well, especially since new technology has created sleeker and quieter engines which sneak up on birds and scarcely give them any warning of their approach. Needless to say, it is the birds which must attempt to change their natural flight patterns to avoid fatal collisions.
Seagulls have become a particularly confounding nuisance to airport officials in Michigan. As their natural feeding grounds along the Great Lakes become more and more polluted, they drift inland. Wet runways peppered with worms and grasshoppers provide a perfect new feeding ground for seagulls. Cherry Capital Airport near Traverse City has reported large flocks of seagulls, as many as 150 at a time.

Approximately 1,200 plane-bird collisions occur each year, causing $20­30 million in damage. Such collisions prove fatal for the birds, of course; however, they have also been responsible for many aircraft crashes fatal to human beings. Sixty-two people were killed in 1960 near Boston when a propeller-driven plane sucked in several starlings and lost power.

Birds seem to be waging all-out war against the U.S. Air Force. In 1983, it reported 2,300 bird collisions; and 300 of these each caused more than $1,000 in damage. This past summer in Great Britain, a U.S. Air Force crew was forced to bail out of their F-111 jet when a 12-pound goose smashed into the protective covering on the nose of the jet. The jet, worth $30.9 million, is now quietly at rest on the bottom of the North Sea. 

So what does civilized man do to combat the situation? In Traverse City, airport employees run around the airfield chasing gulls away with "cracker shells" fired from shotguns. They play tapes on loudspeakers of the cries of wounded seagulls, and they're considering putting up hawk silhouettes to see if that might do the trick. Someone has invented something called a "chicken gun" or a "rooster booster" which hurls four-pound chicken carcasses into the windshields of aircraft at speeds over 500 mph to test their strength against bird collisions. These tests are presently taking place on Air Force jets.

BASH (Bird Air Strike Hazard Team) was organized by the U.S. Air Force in 1975 after three F-111 jets were lost due to bird collisions. This team, made up of Air Force biologists, travels to U.S. bases around the world, targeting bird troublespots and trying to come up with innovative ideas (like the rooster booster) to deal with the problem.

Modern industrial-technological civilizations are based on and geared to the destruction of the natural order. They pollute the air and feeding grounds of wildlife; they chase birds from the skies. They construct buildings like the Renaissance Center in Detroit with mirror-like reflective shells which confuse birds and cause them to crash into them.

As our buildings grow taller and as we fly higher and higher, as we overpopulate our skies with our deadly contrivances, we lose sight of our true and now former place on the earth. We myopically look only at tomorrow. We can marvel at the exquisite beauty of a single bird through a pair of binoculars and then, with the same eye, turn and marvel at a newly constructed skyscraper or a supersonic jetman's artifices which are responsible for killing flocks of such birds.

If anyone were to suggest to the BASH team that the best way to stop bird-plane collisions would be to stop flying altogether, they would, of course, think you insane or perhaps "bird-brained." But what is so bad about bird brains? If we acknowledge the message our bird cousins are sending us, maybe it isn't such a bad idea after all.

in Fifth Estate, Summer 1985, p. 6

John Landau

"Wildflowers: A Bouquet of Theses" (1998)

hat I desire is a return to the profundity of experience. I want a society where everyday activity, however mundane, is centered around how incredibly profound everything is. I want that profundity to become so immense that any mediations between us and it become totally unnecessary: we are in the marvel. When I am in that awe, words are so irrelevant, I don't really care if you call my experience "God" or not. All I know is it is the greatest pleasure possible: to hug a tree, to jump up and down at a beautiful sunset, to climb a magnificent hill, to take awe in what surrounds us. I am a hedonist, and I will have these pleasures; neither the religionist nor the atheist shall lock them away from me!

Primal peoples were in touch with this profoundness, and organized their life around it. Religion is a decadent second-hand relic of this original, authentic mode of experiencing, that attempts to blackmail by linking social control and morality with profound experiencings. Primal peoples sought to avoid whatever distracted from this profundity as much as possible. Obsessiveness of any sort could distract from the wholistic goodness of the environment.

Why are we here? To experience profoundly.

Our task, therefore, is to rearrange life (society, the economy) such that profundity is immanent in everyday life. Spirituality represents the specialization and detachment of profundity from everyday life into a disembodied, disconnected, symbolic realm that becomes compensatory for an everyday life whose immanence is banality. It is obvious that we don't regularly experience wonder, and this is a social-material problem, because the structure of everyday life discourages this. Other societies in history, however, have endeavored to discover what is truly of value in life, and then, and only then to structure everyday life upon those evident values.

We wish to make calculation and obligation islands in a sea of wonder and awe. We wish to make aloneness a positive experience within the context of profound, embodied togetherness.

Western spirituality has perpetuated a separation between the material and spiritual realms, probably because it arose out of a civilization ruled by an out-of-control materialism. The world used to be experienced profoundly; in spiritual terms, the earth used to be inhabited by spirit. Western spirituality abstracted spirit from the world, from the flesh, leaving an enlivened, disembodied spirit and a deadened, barren world. It is our job to refuse what has been artificially separated, not through a symbolical gesture, but by existentially redressing the alienations to which we have been subjected.

Human beings have developed over the past two million years various strategies for taking care of what some have called our "needs." Various subsistence strategies have been invented, and our task would be to examine these and choose the strategies which best support an everyday experience of profundity.

We are discussing a life where one gives joy to others through the mere act of being, where exchange of gifts is a way of life, where one's routine has inherent meaning, not because it makes reference to some symbolic system, but because it opens one out onto kairos, the profound moment, the experience of ambience, awe.

In order to do this, we must develop a pace that is conducive to this, a set of understandings whereby the experience of profundity is a value and for which rests, pauses, and meditations are in order as a part of routine, and a social reality based upon sharing of profound experiences as primary exchange rather than the exchange of money or etiquette.

Our job is to invent primal peoples! Through our imagination and what little we do know there is no evidence against such group movement. We must imagine these primeval peoples, in order to create an incredible myth in order to live it, to become it!

Silence was a great future of such times. People gestured towards the world. Experiences of awe, wonder were everyday affairs. Because people lived outside, they had a much greater oxygen content. They lived in a perpetual oxygen bath, which produces highs, heightens the sense of taste and smell, and is very relaxing. Anyone who has camped out in the open air knows this experience.

The energetic connection with the surroundings was immense; an incredible exchange on all levels was constantly taking place. It is within the context of this immenseness that our words, our 'rationality,' our technical pragmatics seem so narrow, so very small. Far from being primitive, these were people enjoying and interested in preserving immenseness. This is no idealism. A concrete experience in nature can demonstrate the incredible power of the outdoors. One may engage in an intense, strenuous experience with others for a few hours (a night hike or some such) and then afterwards meander about in total silence, gesturing at most, exploring movement, smells, and impulses. This will give a taste of how rich it all is. This is what we have lost in our narrow obsessiveness with technicality. What Zen practitioners strive for a lifetime for, our ancestors had by birthright. Sure, they didn't know how to make a waterwheel or how to harness electricity; they didn't want to: they had better things to do! It is even remotely conceivable that they did know of these things, in potential form at least, but saw them as trivial to the process of life.

In the silence, all of the chitchat and all of the worries and all of the monuments fade. In the is-ness, what need to leave one's mark? What need to become immortal through art or culture? Disappearance is erasing the record, off track, no trails, no history. One is in the disappearance already. All one needs is to lose track, to stop recording, to turn off the tape machine, to disappear, it's all right. It's OK to disappear. Do so now. The grass in front of you is all that ever was or will be. It has no memory, no future. Just silence.

So when we know this rich heritage, when we reach into the heart of our being and know that humans very like ourselves lived a good two million years in this way of being, we are awed, and the scum at the top of the pond, the curdled milk of history, our obsession with technicality, pours off and we are left with the pure froth of Being.

Primal Revival Growth Center, Los Angeles, 1998, pp. 1­2

Theodor Adorno

Minima Moralia: 

Reflections from Damaged Life (1947)

oy shop. Hebbel, in a surprising entry in his diary, asks what takes away 'life's magic in later years.' It is because in all the brightly-coloured contorted marionettes, we see the revolving cylinder that sets them in motion, and because for this very reason the captivating variety of life is reduced to wooden monotony. A child seeing the tightrope-walkers singing, the pipers playing, the girls fetching water, the coachmen driving, thinks all this is happening for the joy of doing so; he can't imagine that these people also have to eat and drink, go to bed and get up again. We however, know what is at stake.' Namely, earning a living, which commandeers all those activities as mere means, reduces them to interchangeable, abstract labour-time. The quality of things ceases to be their essence and becomes the accidental appearance of their value. The 'equivalent form' mars all perceptions; what is no longer irradiated by the light of its own self-determination as 'joy in doing,' pales to the eye. Our organs grasp nothing sensuous in isolation, but notice whether a colour, a sound, a movement is there for its own sake or for something else; wearied by a false variety, they steep all in grey, disappointed by the deceptive claim of qualities still to be there at all, while they conform to the purposes of appropriation, indeed largely owe their existence to it alone. Disenchantment with the contemplated world is the sensorium's reaction to its objective role as a 'commodity world.' Only when purified of appropriation would things be colourful and useful at once: under universal compulsion the two cannot be reconciled. 

Children, however, are not so much, as Hebbel thought, subject to illusions of 'captivating variety,' as still aware, in their spontaneous perception, of the contradiction between phenomenon and fungibility that the resigned adult no longer sees, and they shun it. Play is their defense. The unerring child is struck by the 'peculiarity of the equivalent form': 'use-value' becomes the form of manifestation, the phenomenal form of its opposite, value.

In his purposeless activity the child, by a subterfuge, sides with use-value against exchange value. Just because he deprives the things with which he plays of their mediated usefulness, he seeks to rescue in them what is benign towards men and not what subserves the exchange relation that equally deforms men and things. The little trucks travel nowhere and the tiny barrels on them are empty; yet they remain true to their destiny by not performing, not participating in the process of abstraction that levels down that destiny, but instead abide as allegories of what they are specifically for. Scattered, it is true, but not ensnared, they wait to see whether society will finally remove the social stigma on them; whether the vital process between men and things, praxis, will cease to be practical. The unreality of games gives notice that reality is not yet real. Unconsciously they rehearse the right life. The relation of children to animals depends entirely on the fact that Utopia goes disguised in the creatures whom Marx even begrudged the surplus value they contribute as workers. In existing without any purpose recognizable to men, animals hold out, as if for expression, their own names, utterly impossible to exchange. This makes them so beloved of children, their contemplation so blissful. I am a rhinoceros, signifies the shape of the rhinoceros. Fairy-tales and operettas know such images, and the ridiculous question how do we know that Orion is really called Orion, rises to the stars.
pp. 227­228