Following the axiom that the most polished object is that which presents the greatest number of sharp corners, ... they remain equally spherical as compared to rudimentary creations, ... with the most perfect, and embryonic beings, ... with the most complete, ... in that the former lack all irregularities, protuberances and qualities, ... which leaves them (both) in more or less spherical form– Alfred Jarry
Mechanical systems are inclined to produce work to fascilitate organic systems, occasionally to facsimilate them. Biological systems produce movement and reproduction of novelties. Equilibrium in the former represents a stasis of operation or thermodynamic equilibrium – no worries. When energy input stops, so does the machine. Equilibrium in the latter represents distributivity or communication. When communication stops, the organism becomes an energy source for other organisms. This metabolism is even apparent at the chemical level which we have agreed to call "inorganic" only because they are not obviously self-renewing, even when self-motivating.
While also inorganic, no machine is self-motivating. The lunar rover and drone bomber can only follow directions. Machines are stimulus-response units; organisms encourage and are discouraged. Machines may express an aesthetic to an observer, organisms express and are impressed, with or without an observer. While a machine calculates internalised input, an organism can as well explore externality. While a machine can malfunction, it cannot intentionally err or act spontaneously. Organisms play, just for the fun of it.
Mechanical output feeds back to regulate the input. Metabolic output produces perturbation or growth. Mechanical reproduction (manufacturing) produces invariant identities. Organic reproduction produces new systems altogether, where-after self-similarity dissipates. Mechanical systems grow through additive combination. Organic systems grow by symbiotic merging. Hence, machines are composed of interacting parts, bodies are wholes in themselves, even when immerged with or tending to machinic prostheses. Beyond the point of energy input, machines can function in isolation from other systems. Bodies cannot. Organisms are open systems while machines are closed. Machines are organised. Bodies self-organise.
self-organising systems have a high degree of stability, and this is where we run into difficulties with conventional language. The dictionary meanings of the word "stable" include "fixed", "not fluctuating", "unvarying," and "steady," all of which are inaccurate to describe organisms. The stability of self-organising systems is utterly dynamic and must not be confused with [thermodynamic] equilibrium. It consists in maintaining the overall structure in spite of ongoing changes and replacements of its "components".– Fritjof Capra
Because there are commonalities (feeding and feedback, flows and circulation, inhalation and exhalation), they can be compared. One can be described in terms of the other, but they are never wholly or exclusively interchangeable. Organics can proceed autonomously with regard to mechanics. The reverse does not hold water. The machine is at the mercy of environmental feedbacks, having limited behavioural options; the organism maintains its own internal feedbacks by deviating with regard to environmental irregularity. This multiplicity of options is called adaptability.
Transgression is essential to organic systems, it is catastrophe for the mechanical. Flexible conditions place stress on machines but allow bodies to thrive. One can still say the machine, in many respects, mimics the organism and therefore, can aid in its function. The inversion of this sentence can only produce a tragedy or comedy.
Comparison or analogy is a means of approach. Outside of political arrangements (a mechanisation of society), it is not a logical or mathematical deduction for categorical property or in/exclusion. Overlapping patterns, like mathematical correlations, do not demand the imposition of linear causality or genetic (in the broad sense, taxonomic) relation. When a metaphor or analogy repeats itself or is repeated, it warrants a common name. That is all. Consensual agreement has no bearing on the truth of identities when the actual birth has not been witnessed. Truth is irrelevant when common sense is overwhelmed by resemblance, just as genetics is irrelevant with regard to the adoption of orphans: kinship is not a mechanical process.
Prayer is not a spare wheel that you pull out when you're in trouble. Use it as a steering wheel that keeps you on the right path...– Muhammad Najaath
...but unless you transgress and explore the margins and side streets, your path will take you (or something else will), rendering you inexhorably tactless and easily preyed upon. Even for the raven, there are neither straight lines nor smooth surfaces, just as there is no objective detachment.– Achmed Hibaab Azzizi Homeini
With each species of animal or plant there is one profession only, and it is hereditary. With us there are many professions, and they are not hereditary; so that they cannot become instinctive, as they would otherwise tend to do.– Samuel Butler, 1880
If we remove the insinuation of purpose from function and mechanism from action, we are left with the mathematical sense of "influence": one is said to be a function of the other when a change in either effects a response in its partner. In other words, they are connected, or engaged in communication, contingent. Likewise, teleology loses some of its mystical and even more of its egocentric connotations when necessity is operationally defined in terms of a response to a perturbation, to a disturbance. Disturbance is, by its very definition, the source of change, the change itself. Consciousness is the sense of disturbance, volition is the sense that some sort of movement is not only called for, but desirable.
This is obviously not sufficient for a giraffe to grow its own neck to reach the higher branches. But the giraffe is certainly purposive. It desires a full belly when empty. It desires life when threatened. This is only to say it responds to encouragement and is hopefully encouraged when responding. It seeks satisfaction. A full belly brings contentment. Long necks are always helpful if you are a giraffe. What do you suppose it will do to you if you try to prevent its access to the tree? I don't know too much about giraffes, but a sheepherder once told me: "Don't dog the sheep too much or they'll fuck you." I asked: "What will they do?" His answer: "One morning you'll get up and they'll be gone ... in three hundred different directions!"
As Butler pointed out, if it is not conscious of changes in its environment, it is not conscious at all. The fact that a giraffe moves from branch to branch or tree to tree when consuming leaves demonstrates its awareness of changes in the environment. And because it is attracted to the new and fresh, that is, novelty, it becomes distracted from the old and familiar and in this way, does not continue eating away at nothing or strip each tree it comes upon. We can see this because we are also masters of boredom, distraction and forgetfulness, ever seeking the new and different. We do sheep a disservice when we compare our own contentment with the banal and fear of change resulting in submissiveness "sheepish". The first law of sheep nature every apprentice must learn is "They go for fresh feed ... but they remember old waterholes".
Memory and awareness are the first requisite for self motivation in adjustment to changing conditions. Distraction is the second. Some call this curiosity, something which is said to kill cats if they don't stay focussed on the task at hand. Butler said: "It is a battle between teleology and non-teleology, between the purposiveness and the non-purposiveness of the organs in animal and vegetable bodies." It seems Butler and Darwinists got into a bit of a pissing contest over their theories, blinding each to the fact that their theories are not necessarily incompatible. I would say that the "battle" which transformed into the "nature-nurture" dispute is not about teleology per se, but about the possibility of our own conscious agency, whether there really are any such thing as decision gates. It has become an issue of constraint and morality on the one hand, freedom of movement, investigation and experimentation on the other.
Today, we are incensed at the suggestion of a moral education, given the utter failure of Kant's categorical imperative. But the moral of any story is just the lesson learned from its hearing. It is an algorithm. A lesson is extracted from one's experience and projected onto the future. It is induction. It is an hypothesis that a lesson from one situation might be applied to another. It gives us a sense that our efforts in the world are not absurd. But who would pose the question of absurdity except one who is made conscious of h/er own consistent failure to actualise instinctive potentials? If Schopenhauer or Camus were serious about the absurdity of all our endeavors, we should surely all want to hitch a ride onto any passing spaceship en route to a solar impact. The fact that children still create new ways to play (and adults secretly do so – it is called transgression), seems to keep us going. There is thought still some potential for pleasure in the world, even if it is only vicariously achieved by adults watching their children. Cultural transmission is never one-directional, and that is the surest potential for change.
One of the benefits of play is that, in addition to teaching the young how their world works, it teaches them that they are (or can be) causal agents in that world, leading to a sense that there’s enough predictability to environmental contingencies to make controlling them seem possible. Control as an ultimate finality is indeed the surest way to boredom, and possibly extinction as a species. There’s every reason to think that actually achieving total control over the environment is not the (evolutionarily) desired end state (or equilibrium), or the part that’s associated with the most pleasure. (As you say, the “process of connecting dots is always more enjoyable than the simple exposed pattern on completion”.) But thinking you have a decent chance of predicting what a lion (or dad) will do in any given situation may provide the motivation to stay alive (or avoid getting slapped silly).– mb
An eye to aesthetics merely turns the normal curve upside down. It's a matter of pataphysics. The new peaks are disturbances, bringing us to consciousness, arousing our interest, encouraging movement. They are always attractive, no matter where (or even if) our "moral senses" lie. The slopes and lows (mean, median and mode), the repetitively normal and banal (if they don't put us back to sleep) announce to us commensurable patterns – landmarks useful for navigation. In the study of probabilities, the fluke is not even registered on the pie chart and outright disappears on the normal curve. Pataphysical aesthetics places the fluke at its very center. A recognition of environmental consistency gives us the courage necessary to follow our nose, to engage, to immerse, to participate. When there is no consistency, it's either time to set aside the LSD for a time, or dispense with your neurosis and move your camp because, from this perspective, one can see the absurdity in the normal and realize the equivalence of all absurdities.
Backed into a corner, necessity and desperation are enough justification to fight back. When not, submission or self-annihilation, even though never appropriate except as feints or diversions, are the typical response. An aesthetic view of the world registers hiding places and positions from which to mount an attack – options to vary our behavior. A mind to movement tells us when to charge and when to retreat. That charge is never "into the valley of death", the behavior of soldiers who never reason, "why?" A soldier never acts purely on instinct as we often surmise, but on resignation and submission. From the aesthetic point of view, he is asleep. A mountain lion knows more of guerrilla tactics than the soldier ever will. Did you ever wonder why, back in the day, scouts were loosely attached, but never incorporated into the military machine until the masters of war discovered that even a total loss can be just as profitable as victory? For the masters of war, victory is only and has ever been measured in profits. Only foot soldiers are interested in military victories, but for them, personal success means only "coming out alive". To this end, they will tend to kill any little disturbance which brings them to consciousness. This is why it is so important that they are "trained" to act, not only as brothers, but a single unit. Without this, all "teams" would disappear in a napalm minute of frenzied mutual annihilation.
The word "altruism" is generally used as a motivation or a drive applied towards cooperation, symbiosis, mutual aid, gifting/sharing – the actual behaviours we witness now and then among social animals (and occasionally among ourselves). Reciprocity and cohesion (in the sense of cybernetic or mutually influential relations) are other words which come to mind. The word Darwin himself used in The Descent of Man was "sympathy", a word whose archaic meaning referred more to functional relationships between associated elements than our "fellowship", "pity" or "approval". Most arguments are trapped in the confusion between function and purpose. They are also trapped in Aristotle's either/or excluded-middle logic. My own opinion on the debate over cooperation and competition is that the process of adaptation is the resolution of competition, and the adaptive state (equilibrium) is cooperative – "equilibrium" certainly brings to mind a sense of balance. Competition is not the only factor which drives evolution, it is only one of many possible stresses to the system, else the lichen could not exist.
Evolution was a grand theory meant to account for the great diversity observed in the world around us. It was an attempt at constructing a new "world view". Darwin coined the phrase, "natural selection" as a 'law' to explain this great diversity. Natural selection is a metaphor of the puppeteer. No one promoting evolutionary theory would suggest an actual cosmic string-puller – that is the realm of the theologian. Does natural selection produce diversity? Yes and no: it operates on & maintains it. Diversity is. Diversity is the existing order, the rule – Bateson's "schismogenesis", the fracticity of fractal analysis. Diversity gives birth to selection, although nothing is 'actually' selected. That behavior or structure which promotes reproduction and maintains diversity survives. Cooperation is one such behavior. Cooperative relations allow the maintenance of abundance. Cooperative relations allow the maintenance of territory or niche. The maintenance of territory or niche maintains autonomy. Autonomy generates more diversity. Diversity means abundance. Natural selection is not a being or thing. It is ex post facto deduction. That which is selected is simply that which lives to reproduce. Reproduction is, of course, a matter of intimate cooperation among sexual breeders. Rape occurs here and there, but even among goats, proper wooing, that special grunt while nibbling on the ear, will grant that old smelly hegoat a bigger harem and waste a lot less energy. Physicists tell us this conservation of energy is the first law of nature. I don't know about such things, but it is certainly a thing easily witnessed in the world around us. Cooperation disperses and therefore minimizes energy expenditure, which is also to say, dependence on more energy than might be available. We say "share the load".
Overpopulation occurs when ecological relations (reciprocal or cooperative arrangements between species in the context of the "resource base") are ignored. One might think conflict would be selected to reduce population size and eliminate the resultant scarcity (the usual suspect evoking competition). One could also say death after reproduction is selected for the same reasons, and we would not therefore see a trend toward immortality. But continued indefinitely, this competition would result in the growth of scarcity and the eventual demise of all life. Physic's second law states that continued growth of a system (eaters compete to consume the eaten) always leads to collapse when feedback loops – reciprocity – are removed.
Natural selection is often called upon to mean "competitive advantage", but such an advantage, like an a-bomb versus a stone knife, always ends competition outright. The conflict becomes conquest and that is the end of the game. Another little bit of diversity disappears. If nature favoured a competitive state and had teleological powers (that is, was "purposive"), it would equalize any advantage among the competitors. This is called "democracy" and it is the democratic state which maintains perpetual competition. The right amount of sophistry can dull any competitive edge.
On the other hand, cooperative relations are by definition reciprocal. An extension of the second law of thermodynamics states that natural systems tend toward homeostasis (equilibrium, balance, reciprocal feedback). If competition is a factor in natural relations (and I do not deny this), it is always tempered by reciprocity/cooperation – and in fact, by diversity itself – unless the observers restrict their observation to civilization, defined itself by unrestrained growth, unassailed competition. This is the nature of 'progress'. The situation of children fighting over possession of a toy is the usual counter-argument for competition. This can just as easily be seen as a case of setting up a time-sharing arrangement (cooperation). The toy represents scarcity. The 'winner' usually drops the toy when finished and occasionally even gives it to the other. We also call this setting up social roles, or dominance relations. If one remains a possessive bully, a hostility is engendered and the other eventually attempts to clean his clock. Until learned helplessness sets in, thuggery always breeds insurrection and revolution. Insurrection is another feedback loop which resolves competition, conflict, struggle. [Another word is "self-defense", whether engaged during or after the fact. Insurrection is less 'just another contest', than it is an attempt to end it. When it becomes 'just another habit', competition has already 'won' and becomes the status quo – a perpetual and meaningless blood feud or a resigned acquiescence to slavery].
However, the maintenance of reciprocal ecological relations prevents overpopulation in the first place, so we could suggest that cooperative behavior has more selective potential than competition/conflict/death until cooperation again breaks down, as when scarcity is imposed geo-climatically or culturally. Territorial arrangements evaporate and the population can only compete or disperse. The more nomadic populations merely move on. Isolating mechanisms are cooperative agreements/arrangements toward mutual exclusion. This establishes territory. This need not entail a notion of defined boundaries which must be defended. If territorial competition was resolved or "successful", the resulting 'frontier' isolates the population and the competition is at an end. Another isolating mechanism is the time-sharing arrangements seen among grazing animals utilizing the same pastures – competition is avoided. I might question the traditional explanation for the giraffe's neck. Are they even attracted to the lower branches, or are these left for the benefit of their shorter-necked fellows? If a long neck was a competitive advantage, why are there still so many antelope on the African Savannah? If natural selection is deduction after the fact, one could not say that nature favors a state of competition. This tendency toward reciprocity, autonomy and diversity is, in fact, responsible for the origin of speciation when the logic of Darwinian evolution is applied, but stripped of its "struggle-and-compete-for-survival-in-the-face-of-scarcity" connotations.
Evolution has been highly criticized not only because it eliminates reliance on a god for our ontological explanations (one could argue that, consistent with enlightenment thinking, "nature" or "natural selection" actually takes over for god – hence, "intelligent design" and Monsanto's "genetic engineering") but because it is seen to justify or promote social darwinism, and in fact racism and nazism. Ashley Montagu pointed out that the colloquial Hobbsean interpretation in fact seems to justify fascism. What we call social darwinism is actually Herbert Spencerism as refined by Thomas Huxley.
Drawing from the philosophy of Hobbes (and probably a little Machiavelli), Spencer coined the phrase, "survival of the fittest". Huxley, an eloquent dialectician (or bullshit artist, if that is your bent), collected examples "in nature" which seemed to demonstrate this position. That other scientist, Kropotkin, had pretty much refuted this idea [he provided numerous illustrations of cooperation between species], but "History" favored his anarchy over his science. To this day, many mainstream evolutionists persist in the notion that competition is the engine of natural selection. It jives with the conception of human nature as is only demonstrated by the civilized. It paints a picture of the world of eaters and eaten all fighting for their lives just to survive to reproduction. It is the view of the world as a filthy monster. If risen to a point of fanaticism, it generates an opposing view of nature as an uncorrupted golden age of righteousness and nobility and peace and harmony – the kingdom of heaven on earth. Thus we are divided into two camps: we name each other "fascist" and "bleeding-heart liberal". The dialectic between competition and cooperation, which gives us "hedonists and "altruists", breaks down when one sees them as polarities or oscillations of a single process rather than oppositions. Would the hedonist suggest conflict as the basis of a loving relationship? (In fact, many do.) Would the altruists suggest cooperation as an appropriate response to vampires or rapists? Or, for that matter, tyrants? Sometimes conflict is necessary, but should it provide the basis of our existence? What do the first laws of physics suggest?
Evolution is not a theory of change, but a theory of the process of staying the same, which is the continuity of living, engaging and reproduction. Evolution is performative. Sometimes a revolution is required to accomplish this, and change is the result. Sometimes other shit happens. Conservative stasis should not be taken to mean "no change". Drift (micro-evolution) is expected if variety is to be maintained. Appearance may change but the general pattern oscillates within a recognizable range of parameters. Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" results in a near total unfamiliarity – any family resemblance is lost. What was it they used to say? "Variety is the spice of life" or "Vive la différance".
Increased variability often leads to fission and prior social cohesion begins to break down. The drop out is a common event in evolutionary biology, although few biologists would use this term. Juveniles of sheep, horses, chimps, baboons, and Apache unwilling to compete for access to feed and breeding partners will go off to form their own bands, if the territory will afford it. Yet they rarely become reproductively isolated (this is the Romeo & Juliette syndrome!). If the territory will not permit it (territorial circumscription), conditions are ripe for revolution. (We often note the strife seemingly inherent to ghettos and refugee camps. The function of the police as well as "philanthropic" aid is to make sure this strife does not spill out). Often the juveniles will overpower the offending dominant male. When such insurrection is not chosen, juveniles may out-wait the offender, who becomes feeble with old age. In many species, the so-called alpha male mellows out with age or experience soon after puberty. Sometimes a little interpersonal conflict is necessary to return to or maintain a state of cooperative living. There is nothing inherently authoritarian about self-defense.
The only way behavior changes in science is that certain people die and differently behaving people take their places.– Lynn Margulis
If we think of biology as the observation of living organisms and ecology as the observation of the relationships between them, following Bataille we can see a 'bio-economics' of matter and energy cycling (the system of eating and shitting). In this context, even at the cellular level, all relations are predator-prey relations (the eaters and the eaten). The distinction between parasitism and symbiosis is not always clear. From this perspective, such relations are not examples of competition for or over resources, for like a killer virus (see Burroughs), the animal or plant which extinguishes its "resource base" (feeds on prey to its extinction, saps the earth of its nutrients faster than it can replace them through decomposition as seen in mono-crop farming even with the addition of petro-fertilizers) causes its own extinction. When all is said and done, every small-time (which is to say, non-corporate) rancher understands the need to maintain his breeding population and that means an accompanying tending of "healthy" pastures and clean and abundant water sources. The urban left calls this "cruelty". The right calls it "horse sense". On the range, the right has a certain competitive advantage.
From the ecological perspective, all predator-prey relations are also symbiotic relations between populations or between (especially in the case of plants) the organisms and the molecular matrix they are ensconced in (or more accurately, matriculated with). The less diversity (in tactics for living), the more important (or apparent) is symbiosis, and the less distinction between symbiotic organisms is meaningful (for example, the moth and orchid which have evolved together in such tight reciprocity that one cannot be described without reference to the other; the ruminant is both defined and enabled by the microflora inhabiting the rumen; a lichen is a tight symbiosis between an algae and a fungus, I am rarely seen without the presence of "my" dog, etc.). Without some kind of symbiosis, the slightest perturbation of relations can cause instability or even the death of the individual or extinction of the overly specialized.
The entire process depends upon the maintenance of diversity. In fact, diversity can be seen as a result of the weakness or fragile nature of the relations between organisms. In fact, species itself, like "working class", is just a categorization with imposed boundaries. The world is always fuzzier than our classification systems imply, but they come in handy from time to time. Adaptation seen only in terms of specialization is fine in a world in which nothing changes, in a world without intervening variables. This is the view from a rock's perspective in a world without scissors or paper. Adaptability is the ability to roll with the punches, not to find a hole and hunker down (although this might be a very good short term strategy).
At the philosophical level, this also describes the relationship between diversity and flux. It is not a matter of give and take (economic exchange) but mutual influence (circular and reciprocal): diversity produces flux produces diversity. Mutual attraction keeps it all from exploding into space. Obviously, mutual attraction, mimicry (whether expressed symmetrically or asymmetrically) and cooperation are necessary to maintain sexually breeding species. Even the male must find some sense of commonality with his black widow or praying mantis spouse – there must be some cooperative behaviour prior to his losing his head over her. Lynn Margulis suggested the origin of meiotic sexual differentiation appeared when the prokaryotic cells merged in a penetrating symbiotic relation, producing eukaryotics, the artifacts of which remain as separate lineages of nuclear and mitochondrial dna.
None of this is an attempt to discount the existence of competition, but that outside of our own manufactured world, competition is something to be immediately resolved or avoided. Competition is the source of dialectic friction. Property (the index of civilized behavior) is the basis of its prolongation. Connections are made by cooperation, they are broken by strife. Our civilized history illustrates a prolonged counter-system (to natural selection) of power and competition which rents apart the weaker relations between organisms (particularly our relations with them and with each other), yet circumscribes them within walls for their "protection".
Growing up with (or without) property, we have come to see competition as the normal operating procedure in life. As a starting point (in linear thinking) and in the manner of the self-fulfilling prophecy, we are directed more and more toward isolation, disconnection, anthropocentrism, alienation, egoism: the individual in and of itself. The opposite (reactionary) tendency is also seen: we disappear in the presence of the overpowering machine: the individual ceases to exist except as an isolated frustration of impossible desire; suicide becomes the ultimate response. In either case, communism is the ultimate contradiction and logical impossibility. Where competition is the beginning (essential condition), community is unimaginable and the universe of organisms and ecology (the ecosphere) also disappears, both figuratively and, we're beginning to see, literally.
If (as colloquial understanding seems to suggest) competition were the driving force in evolution, thereby giving us notions of "survival of the fittest" and "progress" and "domination" (of some species over others), we would witness an evolutionary trend toward homogeneity and perhaps even immortality. In fact, what we consider the "lowliest" creatures, single celled organisms, are already the closest to this state. Sexual reproduction would have never evolved. The longest-lived species would be the dominant life on the planet, eventually to the demise of all other species. This is a description of the process of civilization, not evolution. "Death to the different!" is an old redneck motto. It can only lead to auto-eroticism and then cannibalism.
This is also the theory underlying modern medical science – a perpetual war against the smallest of organisms, the deadly terrorist virus competing for our space. Of course, if this were the case, the evil bugs would have, through superior forces, prevented the development of multicellular organisms in the first place. The colloquial argument persists, largely around the circular idea that the increase in complexity must have had a selective advantage, and therefore:
contrary to Mr. Spock, it is logical to hunt a species to extinction. We adapt by finding new species to hunt, and human progress ensures we will eventually be able to synthesize food. We already do this to a certain extent.
The problem with this line of thinking is that the world itself disagrees. In terms of numbers and shear expanse of territory, the simple creatures (microbes) are still the 'dominant' species on the planet and they will still be here when we are long gone.
If evolutionary forces worked against diversity, Darwin's ideas of "natural selection" would be rendered meaningless. The counter-argument, using the very logic it wishes to refute, suggests that our extinguishing of other species and domination of the planet through competition, our efforts at uniformity and globalization prove the theory of evolution as a survival of the fittest. But this is science fiction, not scientific theory. In fact, it is ultimately theological doctrine. To equate evolutionary process with competition annihilates both competition and evolution as theories of nature, for nature itself becomes purposefully self-destructive. There is no "will to live", only Freud's "death wish". It is a controversial topic because, ultimately, "Survival of the Fittest" is none other than the biological metaphor for Free-Market Economy, a burgeoning notion which predated Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. It is a notion going back even before Hobbes.
The "end" in evolution is NOT survival, but a living diversity. Evolution is NOT born of struggle, adaptation minimizes struggle. The means of evolution is NOT a compensatory reward from invisible selective forces and annihilation of that which does not "fit", but successful reproduction through intimate cooperation. Yes, the lion eats the gazelle, but only because it IS fit and plentiful. Were it not, she would find something else or starve and die. Competition may arise when faced with scarcity, but it needs resolved. The resolution of competition sets up (or reinforces) social relations, territorial relations, isolating mechanisms (all cooperative solutions to potential conflict) and the resolution is itself adaptive. Competition alone (without resolution) is not. That which enhances cooperation and abundance is reproduced and without diversity, there can be no selection. What we see "in nature" are strategies for living rather than strategies for killing, exploitation and subjugation. Social animals live in communities. The function of civilization has always been to end reciprocity, to eliminate diversity or confine it to ghettos and zoos.
Our own bodies are like rain-forest communities of cooperating microbes. This symbiosis defines health and fitness. To say they are constrained within us is only to say we have skin. It is not a political system, but it may become economic. We introduce scarcity with the chemical additives we call "food" and the smog we call "air" and even bio-toxins we call "medicine". These micro-organisms begin to struggle in the presence of toxic waste rather than abundant nutrition and their populations fall out of balance, or even disappear. We fall ill. New organisms to the community we call "myself" may have a similar initial effect, but over time, we learn to cooperate and adjust. We call this "immunity". Its process is that of "community". It is not a constant battle for health as the well-meaning doctors would have us believe. As with health, adaptation is cooperation. It eliminates competition and struggle. Antibodies are called up to don their warrior armour only when it becomes clear that our visitors have no intention to fit in. They come to identify the difference between toxic and nurturing behaviour. Health is a matter of radical fitness, the root of fitting in, organic community.
Organic systems flow. They consume and excrete, inspire and expire, adopt and reject, incorporate and abandon. There are no permanent systems. Permanent structure is a euphemism for immortality. But it is excrement. It is death. It is what archaeologists dig from the earth.
Without some sense of cooperation, where is there room for mimicry, ritual or learning? Isn't cooperation just a matter of following a social aesthetic? Roger Caillois presented a pretty good argument that a tendency, drive or instinct in life itself to merge with one's environment (is this not "fitness", "adaptation"?) is a better explanation for the existence of mimicking insects than protection from predators [it is less teleological than I'm here representing]. Again, competition, like predation, is a "self-serving" tendency to dis-organise or dis-enfranchise another from its matrix – within a local species-group, sociality would never get off the ground; "social animal" would be an oxymoron – we'd all be rugged american individualists and never bothered by pesky ants on our solitary picnics in the country! Without negative feedback in operation, progressive competition annihilates the "selective" matrix itself. For Kropotkin, cooperation (mutual aid) is the basis of social organisation. A less charged word might be "facilitation" or even "encouragement". Now we are back into the realm of contingencies of reinforcement.
Even biological instincts are at least finitely malleable. Culture extends the finitude to a comparatively (if not completely) infinite malleability, but only within the limits of natural selection (the survival of the survivors) if it doesn't want to divine the Grim Reaper or face biological extinction. [I find it interesting that American culture, with its emphasis on individualism, has produced a tendency toward more homogeneity, not less]. Any animal which learns or modifies responses and passes them on to its offspring outside of the genetic loop would be said to "possess" some degree of culture. Most specialists insist humans are the only species which does this. Obviously, culture is insufficient in and of itself, as it requires "nature" to supply each new generation. Were culture to succeed in the current project to annihilate all nature's influences, it would find itself a withered bud on a terminal branch of a dead tree about to be felled by an automated chainsaw. But culture and nature are not dialectically opposed. Maybe this is why sex is still fun and as well a variable artistic theme since the early cave paintings of pregnant horses? I think Butler was on to something when he said machines are only external organs while organs are internal machines. Freud saw a phallus in everything.
One of the current arguments against the coherence of cultures and the possibility of doing any kind of systematic ethnography is that, like a certain famous philosophical river, cultures are always changing. Such is the flux that one can never step in the same culture twice. Yet unless identity and consistency were symbolically imposed on social practices, as also on rivers, and not only by anthropologists but by the people, there could be no intelligibility or even sanity, let alone a society. So to paraphrase John Barth, reality is a nice place to visit (philosophically), but no one ever lived there.– Marshal Sahlins
Natural selection at base says only that self-defeating behavior will end in defeat whereas behavior which communicates within its environmental context to the mutual benefit of all involved, is encouraged. The difference between Natural Selection and Learning Theory is that the first regards the lineal transmission of "traits" to one's offspring, while the latter is not exclusive of one's side-kicks. Some traits are passed on laterally (for example, through mimicry) as well as lineally, and no matter the course taken, "improve with practice" (if not practiced, behaviour is extinguished, no matter how it was originally transmitted. It is akin to an atrophied muscle. It may, for a certain time, live on as a potentiality, but needs a kick-start or favourable conditions to become activated). The young predator is rarely as successful as its elder. What is transmitted is only a potentiality. It's actualization is what is or is not selected upon. If a behavior does not facilitate life, living is doomed. What is carried on from one generation to the next is not necessarily improvement, but competence. What is actualised is only a variation on a theme.
Put this way, the mode of transmission hardly matters. An even slight modulation of instinctual behavior modeled and mimicked by one's fellows could have profound effects down the road on the overall behavior pattern (or template) being maintained in the population. Modifications of behavior must as well be regarded as contingencies of anatomical evolution in patterns of extremely complex feedback. One would not refer to this as a "mutation". Mutations are highly overrated, except among sci-fi authors. Despite the search for universal "mutation rates" (close inspection reveals even these are situationally variable, and observed mutations have almost always had deleterious effects), nowhere is there suggested a predictable time-frame for evolution – both adaptation and extinction can be gradual or catastrophic. When the "flukes" (most divergent but statistically limited representatives of a population) are all that remain after a catastrophe, it is a catastrophic adaptation – a revolution. There is in fact no change in type, only in frequency of its occurrence. It is not a chance happening, only a change in distribution. Such would also describe the founder effect. Evolution, life itself, conserves, and what it most conserves, as Maturana pointed out, is living.
Butler added that living is only a matter of memory. If memory itself is found to be the result of or reduced to molecular arrangements and perturbations repeated over time, there is no question that Lamarck's idea of heredity of acquired habits (as further synthesized by Hering and Butler) was also correct. It is essentially the same mechanism described by geneticists regarding DNA, itself only discovered in 1953. Most biologists today would agree that [nuclear] DNA is not the be-all-and-end-all of cellular operations through time. They have only begun to investigate mitochondria, epigenetics (acquired and hereditable chromosome changes) and the functions of cellular nuclei in metabolism and protein synthesis. It turns out that proteins are as much messengers as the messaged. Timing of the "message" (variable ontogenesis) is starting to be seen at least as influential on the phenotype as is the actual "content" of the genotype. Early ideas of differential molecular vibrations may seem archaic, we are still dealing with the idea of repeated arrangements and "switching" of proteins in a very complex communication system – a linguistic environment of mutual influence with synergistic results. Interestingly, no one would dare to use the terms "linguistically recapitulating" or "metaphoric" to describe it. As "information" now only refers to the behavior of machines, that word is tolerated: 'biology is the study of information exchange at the cellular and biochemical levels'. No one would call it a linguistic system, even though that "metaphor" is much more appropriate to biology since it is a behavior of organisms as opposed to constructed machines; it is able to transcend the exchange paradigm which is only a function of very recent (in geological time) systems of political economy.
Even in terms of classical mechanics and thermodynamics, equilibrium must be considered a sort of memory and entropy forgetfulness. An example of near perfect memory is modern steel which, no matter how you bend it, springs back to its original configuration when released. Even so, an acetylene torch directed at its center will change its molecular arrangements at that point, such that amnesia is almost a certitude. There is no loss or gain in structural components. Lead 'remembers' that it conforms to stimuli and matches their effects. It does not return to an original state when pressure is released. It is a mimic. Iron and carbon (the constituents of steel) are basic nutrients to human beings. Lead is a notorious toxin. It is also exceedingly dull. Synchronicity or coincidence?
If conditions in the world are variable or change, one would expect its living inhabitants would undergo reciprocal adjustments – variability and diversification are coextensive with movement and therefore, to be expected. Of course, any variable response also changes its surrounding conditions. As Bergson pointed out, the difference between a stimulus and response depends largely on where one is standing at the time.
There is nothing more clairvoyantly teleological than progressive evolution by the singular mechanism of sexually (or asexually) transmitted molecular blueprints containing every possible option by which one may respond to changes occurring in some distant future and the hope that some mutant or virally corrupted organism will emerge as the new clan chief when the future doesn't quite turn out as predicted. There is no position less in need of consciousness than the mechanistic stimulus-response paradigm. This is counterintuitive to those like Rene Descartes who are aware that they are aware. Single causes in unilinear chains of events toward specific ends may be appropriate within the bounds of billiard tables and laptops, but the world itself is not nearly so flat.
Fourth law of civilization: The human gene whose discovery is announced in the New York Times – there's one every day, a gene du jour – is for some bad trait, like schizophrenia, kleptomania, or pneumonia. We have no good genes.– Marshal Sahlins
Agriculture, the indispensable basis of civilization, was originally encountered as time, language, number and art won out. As the materialization of alienation, agriculture is the triumph of estrangement and the definite divide between culture and nature and humans from each other... in domesticating animals and plants man necessarily domesticated himself.
(S)acrifice, which is the killing of domesticated animals (or even humans) for ritual purposes...is pervasive in agricultural societies and found only there...The scrupulous tending of strains of plants finds its parallel in the domesticating of animals, which also defies natural selection and re-establishes the controllable organic world at a debased, artificial level. Like plants, animals are mere things to be manipulated.– John Zerzan AGRICULTURE
This inflames the progressivist revolutionaries who insist we are talking about the first two stages of human history rather than poles of human socio-economic existence. They posit a third stage of transcendence by way of proletarian revolution. The first stage is discounted and irrelevant to their discourse by virture of their almost religious devotion to Engels' amateur misconstrual of prehistory in "Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State". Of course, we must lay the blame not on Marx & Engels, but the unilinear notions of L. H. Morgan and E. B. Tylor, the academic experts representing the "enlightened" interpretation of the nineteenth century, speculating well before any systematic investigation of "primitive life" had been undertaken.
Is agriculture "the indispensable basis of civilization"? Modern intensive agriculture and animal domestication techniques are extraordinarily recent developments. Not only did plant cultivation and animal husbandry predate civilization by thousands of years (I would say tens of thousands of years), but occurred throughout the world without adopting or creating civilization or a state sociopolitical arrangement. The more reasonable conclusion would be that a pre-existing horticultural condition was adapted (co-opted? corrupted?) to a permanently settled and hierarchical arrangement.
Shifting cultivation, swidden, digging stick agriculture, gardening are terms for primitive or archaic methods of farming. They are not environmentally destructive nor do they lead to class division or specialization. In fact, they represent communal events in the lives of people which actually promote growth, or re-vegetation. Purists say this is a qualitatively different behavior – gardening, not farming. To maintain this sort of distinction, one would be forced into the conclusion that either the state precedes agriculture or they come about simultaneously. Even to distinguish 'collecting' in foraging and 'harvesting' in farming sets up another unnecessary (false?) opposition or dichotomy. The whole discussion is based on western notions of sedentism, labor and property. A more appropriate label might be 'festival'. The Camus Festival in what is now south central Washington state is a good example. People from the entire northwest congregated to this area around vast fields of camus and harvested the root. The particular method of the harvest actually promoted more luxuriant growth of camus in the way that open-range livestock grazing promotes more luxuriant growth of range grasses and forbs. When the practice stopped, so did the camus. This is not an "extractive economy". If the first roots of the harvest were returned to the earth in the same way as the first salmon were returned to the sea at the start of the fishing season (Westerners mislabeled this 'sacrifice'), if only the largest samples are collected, leaving the young for next year's harvest, would we not call this farming or at worst, inadvertent farming? And are we to say that the harvesting of camus was more important than the social gathering, the feasting, the 'give-aways', the festival of the event?
It used to be considered that "inadvertant" behavior led to a cognitive realisation and at some point allowed the development of agriculture. Ethno-ecological studies have begun to turn this sentiment around. It is becoming apparent that traditional ecological knowledge exceeded our own. Could it be that cognitive realisation prevented over-exploitation of the environment?
Northwest Coast indigenous people have presented a quandary for anthropologists. Traditional resource management of plants of this region has not fit with Western concepts of agriculture or cultivation, and yet their highly sophisticated art and social structure did not fit with the characteristics of the anthropological category of hunter-gatherer society. The keeping it living ethic of plant resource management of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) ... has revealed sophisticated practices and explicit tending that enhanced plant resources and enabled their sustained use over many generations.
...if one is thinking about the outcome of an action, ...one naturally begins to do it with intention. In science, this is called bias. But in a more natural context, it could be called tending, gardening, or harvesting with the future in mind.
Using the perspectives of traditional ecological knowledge and scientific research in combination, it is clear that the protocols applied in traditional harvesting of eelgrass made it a sustainable practice – a good example of the keeping it living strategy explored by Deur and Turner (2005).
...the timing, depth, and choice of eelgrass harvesting sites by the Kwakwaka’wakw coincided with optimal conditions for new shoot recruitment and recovery over the growth season, and that their harvesting techniques ensured the stability of the eelgrass population in a meadow, and likely an increase of shoot densities. Protocols surrounding the harvesting time, as well as peeling and eating eelgrass, also ensured that the nutritional qualities of the plant were maximized for the consumers. The rationale found for these practices reflected in ecological studies indicates the expertise of traditional harvesters and resource users; ecologists would do well to take into account the observations of indigenous elders on the current state of the ecosystems they knew so well in times of less development and ecosystem damage.– Severn Cullis-Suzuki, 2002
Animal husbandry presents another bit of confusion when we think only in terms of modern, settled (fenced and factory farm) practices. Nomadic and seminomadic herding of animals is not very far removed from hunting range herds. Even in our own open-range herding techniques, (which have largely been eliminated since the Reagan/Thatcher years) the state may determine what range is 'open', the animals themselves determine day to day foraging. There is an old sheepherder expression: "Let them be natural; sheep don't overgraze the land, herders do!". To persist with the argument, we are told that farmers interfere with natural selection by imposing cultural selection on the target species' breeding. By this logic, one would have to say wolves interfere with natural selection when hunting caribou. Are they farmers or hunters? What is missed by the whole argument is the idea of symbiosis between species, relationships which maintain the health of each population involved.
And what of dairy animals? There is force and there is cooperation. Force is the modern approach. With a less modern approach, the mother bonds with the milker like she does with her own offspring. The relationship between the husbandman and the animal is one of sharing and cooperation which sets up mutually dependent habits. In the same way, Westerners describe Mongolian Steppe horses as nearly "wild" – hard to catch and hard to ride. Yet the Mongolian horsemen did not, nor did they need to confine or coral or tie their horses. In fact, using guerrilla tactics, they were able to overturn the European social order on their horses. Anyone who has actually spent time with livestock outside of the factory environment will be able to tell you of this personal bond.
Traditional wisdom tells us that the animals are our kindred and our teachers. "Who domesticated whom?" I would ask. When my goat demands of me the time I milk her, like a mother hurrying her child to the dinner table, who is dominating whom? Confusing corporate farming practices which are cruel, extractive, exploitive and destructive with all possible arrangements between the human and the earth, between the human and other animals reinforces a false culture/nature dialectic and has in fact led many vegetarians to reject any "animal products" like milk or manure for their gardens often out of protest to a condition of cruel domination. I sympathize with their cause but there are other possibilities than entail domination and exploitation, and these illustrate symbiosis.
If one were considered a part of the planet, s/he might say that ritual passed on in the doing and the telling keeps the earth from consuming itself. There would have to be an underlying ethos to "keep it living" (see Turner, “Keeping it Living”: Applications and Relevance of Traditional Plant Management in British Columbia to Sustainable Harvesting) not only among farmers, who must be concerned with growth and regeneration, but gatherers and hunters as well. The concern is for species maintenance. We tend to focus on ecological modification when refering to agriculture, forgetting that ecological relations are continually being modified with or without our "help". The more important focus should be on maintaining ecological integrity, and if this wasn't done during the paleolithic and neolithic, we wouldn't be here to discuss it today. It is becoming more and more clear that, with our exploitative and distructive practices, we may not be here tomorrow.
As with traditional understandings, NTFP (non-timber forest products) harvesting needs to be holistic in its approach. Impacts of harvesting NTFPs on other wild plants and animals in the ecosystem must be considered. Care must be taken in any largescale berry harvesting program, for example, that the needs of birds, bears, and other wildlife are not compromised, and that some areas are left intact for these other users of forests. Aboriginal people are particularly conscious of such requirements and particularly appreciative of the interconnectedness of all things (Turner and Atleo 1998). Diversification – harvesting a variety of products over the course of several years rather than intensive harvesting of just one resource – is another lesson to be learned from Indigenous use. Flexibility and adaptability are important characteristics of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Part of such a strategy in its contemporary form would be to combine educational opportunities, ecotourism, and other types of land use with the NTFP industry. In short, Indigenous traditional land and resource use is based on a long-term commitment to an area and its resources and detailed understanding of and continual monitoring of a resource base; these concepts are as essential today as they have been in the past for long-resident Indigenous and local peoples.– Turner
There is one problem I see on which most folks seem to rest their arguments. I think I've stated this before, but civilization by most definitions does not equate with the so-called "neolithic". In most places, the latter preceded the former by up to six millenia. Temporally, the neolithic followed the last glacial retreat (more accurately, "melt") around 11-14,000 years ago. Sea levels rose quite rapidly with populations retreating inland and upland, creating a new population pressure through an increase in density rather than number (the traditional view states that the invention of agricultural production increased population size and density, demanding sedentary lifestyles and ultimately producing civilization – this is the myth).
Culturally, the neolithic represents a vast diversity of manifestations, all of which didn't necessarily have intensive agriculture or mines and forges from which were manufactured weapons of war. In fact, a small minority did these things, but one thing is certain: none beyond that minority left artifacts and arrays (such as cities) suggesting a state socio-political organization or economic class which is characteristic of civilization (economic class creates hierarchy with haves and have-nots – or have-lessers – the haves becoming a centralized authority). Equating the seeds of civilization with the neolithic comes from a progressive environmental determinist view of history. Centralized chiefdoms, which some neolithic cultures displayed, had little more 'authority' than a paleolithic "head man". The institution of chief functioned to redistribute "wealth", preventing the occurrence of economic class and its necessary economic disparity. Only when this system breaks down, when bullies and thugs are allowed to become chiefs, do we witness the birth of property and protostates. For Elman Service, the state is defined by "the presence of repressive, formal-legal social controls based on physical force" and that, not agriculture, is the essential (a priori) element in the development of civilization.
If one disregards the classic definitions of civilization and extends the term to include so-called neolithic cultures, then at least 90% of those who ethnologists have described (including "neolithic hunter-gatherers" and all of whom most label "primitive culture") would in fact be civilized and the entire primitivist critique and much of the anti-civ thinking would logically collapse. A good source for background reading would be Elman Service' On the Origin of the State and Civilization and Pierre Clastres' Society against the State.
If the standard academic criteria defining civilization is accepted, one can only conclude that this cultural manifestation was a historical fluke. Perlman suggested only one origin (Sumer) but this is largely discredited by archaeology, particularly in the new world. The standard view of prehistory posits five to six independent original occurences of civilization, but even if this number were increased tenfold, considering that archaeologists have not dug up the entire planet (and almost nothing of the continental shelves), the number of incipient civilizations would still be statistically insignificant when compared to the incredible number of sociocultural manifestations humans have exhibited in their history on the planet. How then did civilization become ubiquitous? The answer lies in the notion and fact of progress – a system of positive feedback producing conquest and growth. Clearly, DNA cannot provide a basis for civilization, or we would see no order or patterns in biology, since natural selection would only favor the unhealthy flukes of history, and adaptation (a system which must incorporate negative feedback to reduce the chance of auto-extinction) would be rendered meaningless.
The word is meant to portray a brutish, violent and inferior nature. Etymologically, however, Savage referred to free living, particularly undomesticated living. It comes from Silva, meaning 'forest'. Living is not only possible without coersive authority and property, but predictable. The obverse of this sentiment has always been known to be problematic, to say the least.
A return to a primitive condition should not be seen as getting dropped off into the middle of the jungle or forest or desert and learning to chip arrowheads from stone or to milk camels. I prefer to think of it as a return to a primitive (as in 'primary') sensibility – a different view of existence and our relationship to it and to each other. There is not one primitive way of doing things as opposed to the modern one. In 'archaic' times and on the 'outside' of civilization, there was an extraordinary diversity of ways of doing things. Diversity was celebrated. Property as we are used to thinking of it was non-existent. Territory was the land one lived on or traveled in seasonal or annual rounds. There was no authority but that derived from wisdom and experience and demonstration that one had well learned their culture. In other words, expertise is not necessarily prone to produce labour specialization. All things were symbolically related by kinship or marriage. There were no wars of conquest. Raids between villages were conducted like we conduct football, only less violently. Here and there, raids were also conducted like marriages. Even in the Pacific northwest coast, chiefs did not rule, they made sure everyone ate well and had enough blankets. Slaves were not "beasts of burden" but members of the community not related by blood or marriage within the 'clan'. In other places, newcomers to the community were given a relationship of kinship. Technology was encouraged and admired, but not outside the context of its use or beauty and the ability for any to reproduce it. There was no job to go to.
An extension of the primitivist logic which would allow only a hunting/gathering existence would lead us to chastize farming or nomadic herding communities. This extremely limits the choices we may soon face should revolution or collapse befall our civilization. What with the destruction we have already done to the planet, hunting and gathering suggests to many the need for a huge die-off of the population if all were to adopt that lifestyle (this is absurd – some see the same end considering life without a cell-phone). In fact, this is one of the biggest criticisms of a primitivist outlook. Another argument is that there will be enough garbage left laying around in warehouses that we will be able to survive for generations before we need to worry about creating new social arrangements and situations, and these will occur naturally and gradually. A third criticism is that the primitivist view is often seen as overly romantic and therefore an unrealistic option.
The danger of romanticizing is not so great as chastising. Though both romanticizing and chastising are essentially based on misinformation through looking at a situation through the lens of our own cultural categories, the former at least suggests the possibility of an alternative to our own system if we value change. It suggests an ideal state and the possibility of happiness. The latter suggests that resistance is futile, since there are no alternatives. Utopianists should not deny that acts of repression or exploitation ever occurred in 'primitive' cultures. Certainly murder is an ancient phenomenon and you can't get much more oppressive than that.
But in cultures on the outside of civilization or the state there were means to keep thuggery and exploitation at bay and they were largely seen in the message of legend and myth and taught in stories and ritually enacted in drama. In fact, many of the fantastic acts of cruelty described to early anthropologists and travelers were likely misinterpreted as things which routinely happened rather than as tales depicting things to be avoided. This is not to say, like the romanticist, that acts of cruelty never occurred. As long as we do not propose universal rules of morality, the task of priests and judges, there is nothing to be feared in codes of personal and social conduct, morals or ethics. Certainly we all want more than just to be able to get along. We want more than mere survival. In one way or another, don't we all turn to the story-teller to guide us?
Probably the most distinctive feature of our own system when compared to other systems or cultures is that our story tellers or propagandists promote the continuation of capricious violence, exploitation and ruthlessness – personal gain at the expense of others. Sure, pleasant but contrary tales are told to children, but it is necessary that they get along in order to get the real message in school. They are set up to trust authority and thereby absorb the fantasies of the propagandists, trained to accept answers without questions. The sense of hypocrisy and bullshit experienced in middle school and high school is a pool for potential countercultural reactionaries, but the assumption of the good ad man is that his message will prevail, and it usually does since there are so few options available when we are thrust into independence from the family, we decide to buckle under and play their game ... and remain in a constant state of confusion. The state is maintained.
It has been often noted that "gifting" was a large part of "primitive life". This is the key statement. One can just as correctly use the word "sharing". It is not just another, even "large" part of primitive life, but the critical and essential part. "Ya just can't emphiskasize it enough!" (to quote Popeye the sailor man). Without sharing, all the chipped-stone arrowheads you can knap and cat-tail baskets you can weave or women-folk you can drag into your cave by the hair will not make you "primitive". Sharing occurs not only within communities but between them. It circulates 'goods' across vast distances when nomadic folks transport gifts between distant, more or less settled peoples in their seasonal migrations. Funny how so many 'primitive' cosmologies stress circulation and even consider the fruits of their own "labor" (if you can call it that) "gifts". We oversimplify and misinterpret the matter by labeling such things "trade networks", as if they had the same notion of property and value (think "exchange value") as we. What is valued is the connection or relation, and of course, the gifting itself – the encouraging contingence of reinforcement. Since what is given is that beyond which you require, that is, surplus rather than sacrifice, the problem never comes up as to how many ears of corn is worth one horse. Exchange value is a delusion of modern thinking.
Who needs private ownership when everything is free? Does this mean folks lived in a gentle paradise of continuously amicable relations? Not at all. If you didn't like the folks in the next valley over, you raided them. You might have thought them too stingy, but any reason is good enough to play the fun game of raiding the next village down the stream or over the hill – those nasty buggers who insulted your (fill in the blank) at the party last week. Raids still ensure the movement or circulation of goods, whether they're pretty clamshells, bushels of beans, horses or marriage partners. It's not 'theft' if there's no sense of 'property', and it's no more 'warfare' than the NBA playoffs. Again, on the indigenous Northwest coast, resource areas were said to be "property" of families and local kingroups. Boundaries were even staked out. But instead of the message familiar to us ("Keep out. Trespassers will be prosecuted"), boundary markers were more like the "occupied" sign on restrooms. Social etiquette demonstrates not a respect for property, but a respect for the ecosystem itself, especially when the very word "property" is synonymous with "health" and "ownership" means "the privilege of caring for". In our culture, wealth is what one can hoodwink and we are taught only to care for privilege.
"Primitive life" was communism, pure and simple. Even the progressivist anthropologists Lewis Henry Morgan and E. B. Tylor thought so, and they preceded Franz Boas and informed Mr. Marx. Yet the Marxists tell us that Communism can only occur as a stage following capitalism and socialism through revolution! (They're obviously thinking of a different sort of communism than I). This only makes sense if we think of revolution in its original sense of "return". Without property, there is obviously no withholding going on – the only sense of accumulation is as a stage in redistribution – and if there are no withholders (takers and keepers), there is no authority. Primitive life was also "anarchy". Anarcho-communism is therefore redundant (but let's keep the term anyway so we're not confused with those other misinformed anarchists – the anarcho-capitalists and syndicalists who wish to keep their jobs at the factory, managing their own exploitation like good christians sacrificing for the greater aristotelean good). Personally, I think anarcho-primitivism is also redundant, and also a synonym of anarcho-communism. I don't prefer it because modern folks would be even more willing to embrace communism than "return to the harsh struggle of the 'cave-man' – "Ughh! Mongo no like caves!"
Chiefdoms are most commonly associated with traditional and neolithic farming communities. I have often wondered myself about the authority of 'chiefdoms' and even some early 'kingdoms' which existed prior to or outside of the feudal/capitalist arrangement. Seemingly, it represents class division defined by social rank and a sense of rule and law. The chieftainship was generally an inherited position of leadership. In the Indigenous Northwest Coast (of North America), it was the position of giving away 'property' but also involved the settling of disputes and the coordination of collecting activities. But was it the 'authority'? There could be no arbitrary edicts because the ultimate authority was the message of the story-teller. Myths and legends and drama informed the people of the 'rules' of custom or appropriate behavior and the chief was most bound to these 'rules'. Without invoking an idea of democracy, the chief would lose weight to his name and therefore his rank by behaving contrary to the expectations of the people. Without recuperation, he is no longer chief. When you think about it, even in our own culture, is there any authority greater than the propagandist, or ad-man? He is backed up by the enforcement of the police and the threat of imprisonment. The chief had no such body of enforcement.
The old Kwakiutl said a chieftainship is the privilege of taking care of ones relatives – one's kin. S/he takes care of them by giving. The word for gift is also the word for property and it's literal translation is 'salmon'. Salmon is the greatest gift, a sacred gift. The chief inherits this position because kinship is always a matter of inheritance, not democracy. Rank is inherited and acquired since, if the village is well taken care of and the people take care of each other, the whole village (local kin group) reflects the chief's rank and therefore gains in rank, which is nothing more than prestige. And prestige is a firmly attached soul. It is health. Thus the children of a high ranking person will obviously share, acquire and inherit that rank.
But the chief also gives to those who are not his relatives by blood or marriage. These are called the slaves. A more appropriate definition of Kwakiutl slavery would be public assistance. They are properly wards of the kingroup. Slaves are 'captured' in raids on other villages or might have wandered in from different groups of relatives. He has no rank because he has no relations in his new village. The slave has no privilege and therefore no responsibility to give potlatches. He has no relatives to take care of. If a slave was taken from a stingy village, obviously his lot could improve even though his previous rank vanishes. Although marriages, like raids and potlatches were undertaken between groups or individuals of equivalent rank, a slave could theoretically marry within the group and obviously become a relative. Since everyone has a share in production (i.e. collection of food and reproduction of technology), it becomes clear that the slaves were not a work force for an 'elite' kin group. In fact, one gets more a sense of tolerance or acceptance in the assessment that they are not expected to participate in the local culture (host feasts or potlatches). Yes, it is a rudimentary class system – kin and non-kin – but there is no economic or political class since there is no 'economics' and no 'politics' in the sense we normally infer. Northwest Coast "slavery" might just be an institutionalised celebration of difference. All the terms Europeans used to translate other languages should probably be stood on their heads and re-examined from their backside.
A raid is when you take gifts from those who may be stingy scoundrels. But it is also just a sport. Raiding prevents property and its accumulation! Slaves are only 'property' in that they are also gifts. The village is where all the relatives live. It is called the salmon weir – the fish trap. Slaves are salmon in a trap, gifts from the cosmos. The great feast called the potlatch is 'making war with property', that is, with wealth, with gifts, with salmon. Marriage between villages is 'making war on the brides relatives'. Kwakiutl war is the opposite of conquest or rebellion. It is giving, and when giving between villages becomes competitive, giving is war. Giving is what makes the cosmos move. If not conquest, what is gained by war? Weight to your name. The soul and your name become more firmly attached. So you gain health. You partake in cosmic circulation, distribution, reciprocity, movement. If something cannot be given or passed on, it has lost its value – that is, the relationship is null – since value is seen in the actions of giving, not in the thing itself. It is destroyed, but in this it is also given back to the earth or cosmos. It is dead, to later return in another form. Do words like "slavery", "looting" and "vandalism" and even "ritual sacrifice" give us more clarity on the situation?
Anthropologists distinguish between chief and headman, the former very often an inherited position. Sometimes the difference is only a matter of degree. The Hollywood depiction of the biggest and strongest thug (perhaps aided by a group of accomplices) beating off competitors more accurately describes a king or dictator and the birth of the state, a centralized authority. On the contrary, if you took care of you and yours, and everybody everywhere had the same attitude, wouldn't everyone be taken care of? If, you might argue, this would be impossible since there are always scoundrels popping up here and there, wouldn't the chief or headman provide a good example to follow as opposed to, say, the authority of a collective or representative police force which scorns and chastises and imprisons the scoundrel? Even the queen of England wields no power beyond the source of example, putting into practice the message of the story-tellers. Of course, chiefdoms have no parliament and police force. And their stories scorn the stingy scoundrel and all forms of domination. Is this an argument for benign monarchy? No, there is no law. There are only stories. The stories are ritualized and performed as drama. The chief's leadership is no more than that of the leading man or leading lady in one of our plays.
In many cultures, the chief is not so much the leading actor, but the narrator. Clastres presented an illustrative anecdote from South America. There was once a chief (with a little 'c') who had desires to become a big Chief (with a big 'C'), an institution historically not present in their culture. He began his diatribe to 30 village mates to establish his authority. The 30 promptly turned their backs to him. This would normally be enough to suggest to him they thought it was a bad idea and he should go away. Instead, he went on to push his ideas, his authority, whereupon they turned around and plugged him with 30 arrows. Spontaneous direct democracy. No vote, no committee meeting. Their behavior was appropriate within the body of custom and reflected in their stories or myths, heard since they were able to hear. The 'Chief', normally the story-teller, contradicted his own story and their expectations of a 'chief'. Is this a situation of victimization under collective authority? No, it is a situation of self-defense no different than had a big cat attacked a group of small children – only the big chief was given an opportunity to back off when faced with collective refusal.
The story is the authority and the chief its agent. I would say that if you took care of your own scoundrels and yours took care of theirs, then all scoundrels would be taken care of. The story-teller does not make up the stories. Stories are also gifts and so are continually passed on and revitalized in drama. But as story-teller, I would enjoy no special right to be the chief since there might be those who set a better example of the stories. They are better actors. They are more believable, more consistent in actualizing the character in the script. We are talking about the difference between a character actor and a method actor. What they say is not distinct from what they do – they remain in character. Even we consider this a point of admirability. We label it "integrity". They then have prestige, a higher rank, and by their own example they are chief.
The Potlatch chiefdom is a glacial distribution during periods of melt: creeks, streams and rivers are fed, water returns to the evaporation/redistribution cycle. The chief (with a small "c" but large nobility or prestige, a healthy name) provides the fire or health which furthers the melting, assists circulation. It is centrifugal but there is always the expectation of return or renewal. Kingdoms ("complex chiefdoms") represent only the tributary distribution to the river. It is centripetal, with the only expectation at the center, one of growth, an accumulation of nobility. It encapsulates rivers and seas without concern for extension, circulation or reciprocity. This establishes centrality and hierarchy. It owns the river, it is the river, it demands itself. Being a dammed river, it cannot contain itself, so is inherently unstable. It is neither the ocean nor the rain nor the melting and freezing glaciar. It collects tribute from its connected tributaries. Where the potlatch redistributes, the kingdom accumulates and isolates or embalms itself.
Henry T. Wright, in Prestate Political Formations, more-or-less suggested (and I think correctly) that ideology must have transferred toward a view of pre-existing ranked bodies ("noble" families – with a small "n" – whose main function coordinated potlatches, feasts or give-aways) as influencial in the operation of the cosmos – mediators in cosmic decision-making, so they would no longer be seen as operating in distributional functions in pre-existing redistribution centers. The king (chief with a big "c") has subsumed himself under heaven and therefore disposed himself of responsibility, which is to say, participation. The nobility are paid tribute and that is all. The rest is up to the gods. There is a break here which is not anywhere explained. The change is not yet one of structure, but of expectations. One could imagine the birth of the trickle-down theory slowly building over time, and there is ample geological time available between the beginning of the neolithic and the first proto-states in any area. In some, like the Near East and Mesoamerica, we are talking of roughly five or six millenia. Wright sugests that consequential shortages would lead to a sort of nepotism coming from the chiefly body. Redistribution still occurs, but only to those closest to the center. This "break" from tradition sets the stage for rebellion, and, as he says,
"the wise paramount [Chief] will attempt to reorganize production or to increase his income by seizing productive capacity from his neighbors; the unwise paramount, especially one who has been so foolish as to create more than two levels of hierarchy, will face assassination, fission, or rebellion led by other nobles who believe themselves to have better claim to the office of paramount. Whatever the outcome, nobility and commoners will be killed, political relations will break down, and the building process will start again" (p. 30-31)
The so-called "chiefdom" I'm most familiar with is/was the Kwakiutl in the Pacific Northwest. They've been described as the "highest evolved" or "most developed" group of hunter/gathers ever assembled, outdoing many settled agriculturalists in "cultural achievement". These (pathetic) value judgments refer to the degree of complexity of their social organization, not that they "resemble us" in any way, except that they've been presented in the literature as highly competitive accumulators of wealth who also routinely practiced sacrifice, had social classes consisting of both nobility and slavery, and in fact, had rudimentary money (coppers) proving symbolic exchange. This standard view should be enough to suggest that my analysis is so full of shit that, well, you get the picture.
When I began researching the primary "scientific" literature (mostly Franz Boas' field notes, including his fairly complete portrait of Kwakiutl linguistics), I came across something Anthropologists have been trying to tell budding students since Boas' time. We can't interpret others' behavior through the lens of our own categories and the labels we apply to them. When we take this approach, we find that the entirety of the colloquial wisdom about the Kwakiutl breaks down and is exposed as a myth constructed, sometimes quite innocently, by missionaries, romantics, and colonial administrators.
To be brief, I'll only cover a few of these "mis-translations". In their own language, chief translates to "the privilege of taking care of one's relatives". The word for wealth translates to "salmon". The word for slave is "gift" and also means "not a relative, not required to give potlatches". The implication of high social rank is not wealth, but health, which refers to a "firmly attached soul". The term translated "soul" literally means "name". One function of the chief is to coordinate potlatches and feasts which correspond to "give-aways" elsewhere in Native America. I've always thought a more appropriate title than chief would be "party king".
This is the purpose of accumulation everywhere outside of the state. If a chief (as 'host' or 'hostess') didn't give away the accumulated wealth, s/he would lose rank and possibly be killed. What could not be given away was destroyed. We called that "sacrifice", a very bad translation. Bride-price and dowry are not "tribute", which brings up a picture of Roman tax collectors accompanied by military escort (just to be sure that the peasants had the proper giving spirit). They are gifts with no notion of tribute or exchange. "Bride-price" is an offering meant to illustrate the gifting nature of the young gentleman horny for your daughter. It shows his ability and intent to take care of his relatives. The competition involved between potlatchers functions to gain health by giving away the most (but not to the point of impinging on the health your own kin, which would be a losing game move). Competition itself is a bad translation, for the point of the game is not to win, but to keep playing. The end result of all this is the circulation of "wealth" (goods, services, food, "marriage" partners, stories, blankets, etc.) throughout the cosmos. The word is bandied about but there is no notion of property or ownership beyond the idea of fish caught in a trap – what good are they until distributed? The Kwakiutl word for village translates to "salmon weir".
Even in our own history, there is no accumulation without redistribution. A class based analysis illustrates just who in our culture this benefits and at whose expense. All chiefdoms accumulate wealth, but at no ones expense because wealth must be distributed or destroyed. No one goes hungry by virtue of accumulation of winter stores. No sacrifice, no economic exploitation. Among the Northwest Coast Indians, excess always leads to sickness, not only for the accumulator, but the entire village and as well, the neighbors, who might just get pissy about the predicament. Among all social animals (even insects), stinginess crops up from time to time, and there are always ways, either instinctual or culturally patterned or learned to limit its damaging effects. Only among the civilized do we find antagonism, stinginess and greed the normal operating procedure, which is why in every case, it must be accompanied with physical force or disguised with illusion, deception and diversion.
Contrary to most conceptions, revolution and revolutionary consciousness is always conservative. It does not arise except as a matter of reappropriation. Revolution centers itself in the past (if only to the point of a past regime), but is always set in the future. Where there is no memory, no tales of a previous condition, no alternative which comes to mind, it is rarely even possible. Revolutionary consciousness, on the other hand, is the force of conservation. It is evident in the "redneck" slogan of refusal: "Don't tread on me!" Conservation is also the status quo, only possible with intact negative feedback mechanisms. Conservation is the maintainance of ecological relations. It prevents growth of authority from arising in the first place. The death of this consciousness marks the birth of submission. Clastres directed us to this revolutionary, conservative consciousness in the chiefdoms he studied.
The main difference between a chiefdom and an incipient kingdom lies in the fact that the chief is always subject to assassination or banishment if s/he behaves untowardly (un-sacredly, or against the order of the cosmos, the community and its traditions). The monarch, on the other hand, controls a force of bodyguards, a police force, a praetorian guard, a military establishment replacing the natural revolutionary disposition of the people with fear, ultimately canceling out tradition in favor of the caprice of the central authority. This only exposes the fear inherent in any positioning of that authority. An hereditary chiefdom is the closest thing history provides us to direct democracy – the delegated (by tradition, not by vote) representation (of tradition) as well as its delegated scapegoat. Without revolutionary consciousness and its potential saturating the community, the chiefdom disappears, but, it seems, not entirely: we are familiar with the hostess at a restaurant who seats visitors, the consierge who welcomes us to the hotel, the MC who introduces entertainers, the envoy meeting invaders, the navigator or tallyman with tales and tillers. We call them servants. Clastres portrayed, not the commitee, but the entertainment itself: the talkers.
The chieftainship, as the Kwakiutl chief noted, is a privilege without fear. The king is privilege itself and lives and dies in fear of a coup d'état. A revolution rarely occurs because its potential has been eliminated, all the more so with increasing levels of hierarchy. The king comes to love his police who can spend their days dining on doughnuts and their evenings raping peasant girls because kingship has itself been institutionalized. The father of that girl might be able to win the kings favour and judgement against his own police, just as today we appeal to the law to protect us from legal abuse. The king's subjects, even its loyal "rednecks" will themselves eagerly die to protect their kingly institution. It's a matter, after all, of tradition and this is why we never see a king or any other ruling body stray far from the earshot of the high priest or advertising agency. But still, as Bataille noted, social power is "condemned not to develop, in fact, or even merely exist, unless it exercises a material domination over the whole".
The question which interests me is why, after a few million years without chiefs, did traditions "evolve" to incorporate them, but only here and there, now and then?
The usual suspect is increased complexity demanding increased delegation of responsibility and therefore, specialization and the birth of centralized authority. This is a teleological explanation resting on the assumption of progress in nature, that all things evolve from simple to complex organizational structure. What science has actually illustrated is that complex relations are just as apparent at the micro level (cellular biology, biochemical ecology or even molecular chemistry, atomic theory & quantum mechanics) as at the macro levels of analysis (general ecology, astrophysics). The answer is that simplicity itself is an abstraction, a figment of the imagination. It does not exist except as something removed from its context. The "natural" progressive dialectic is destroyed. If we concentrate on parts removed from context to demand the simple-complex dialectic (for example, that picking berries off a bush is simpler than managing an orchard), we merely chose to ignore all the other complexities involved had we only turned our attention to the context surrounding both activities instead of the one we chose to perceive as more complex. The berry must still be picked!
The only ecologically framed suspect left to account for the development and maintenance of chiefdoms is a generalized feeling or experience of precarity in feeling and experiencing individuals after geo-climatic or social conflict from forces outside the community – the negative feedbacks were interrupted, the status quo was disturbed. The timing of retreating glaciation and the birth of the neolithic with its first archaeological demonstration of chiefdoms is illustrative. We are talking about increased population pressure arising from a decreased land base (loss of coastal territories due to rising sea levels and desertification due to drought). There is also the likelihood that, with global climate change, the old stories or "signs" no longer functioned to serve movements timed to coordinate with formerly predictable seasonal events. This is the same process which, in less auspicious circumstances, led to to formation of civilization and empire.
The chief is the last bulwark of community and tradition. It is a position not of authority, but of conservation. His death gives birth to the king who reigns over progress, the system of total positive feedback which makes his reign a self-fulfilling prophesy for all future generations. The death of the king by the bourgeois revolution only scattered and dispersed his authority such that the middle men became the top – the pyrimidal peak was merely lopped off – just as today's proponents of direct democracy wish to do with the bourgeoisie, the oligarchy of authority. It is a doomed project without an ecological (centerless) world view of infinitely complex reciprocal relations. But with such a view, who could possibly want it?
There is a legend/story that the Indians in one part of British Columbia slipped from this condition of reciprocity ("circulation") and became civilized and went on to try to conquer (rather than merely raid) their neighbors. The fact that there is no evidence left to us (It occurred in "myth-time") illustrates to the attentive audience the unhealthy nature of this situation – they went extinct. The implication is that civilization, archism itself is always possible, but never necessary. It is neither an evolutionary stage nor the result of progress. The very notion of primitivism is threatening even to many radical dissenters precisely because it is our tradition to have no tradition at all except as consistent with progress, exchange and authority or "power". We are children of sustained precarity caught in an ever accelerating spiral of positive feedback, and it is this which we worship as "Progress". The fallacy of most primitivist discourse is that tradition and heritage is something which can be constructed in the here and now. The fact of the matter is that our Eurasian heritage consists of five thousand years of slavery and struggle against it.
But we were talking about agriculture! Well, it was these "children" who "invented" agriculture in the first place. It was not a progressive new development so much as a means of continuation when the population grew, not from increased production, but when the numerous coastal dwellers moved inland and upland from the rising sea levels from post-Pleistocene glacial melt. (We do not know, but there may just have been sustainable "farming" on the continental shelves in lower latitudes during the "ice age". We are in less foreign territory when we suggest a well developed coastal fishing industry - agriculture would be minimal given the abundance from rivers and sea).
It was civilized progress which re-made farming into one of the most environmentally destructive practices we have yet to produce behind the weapons of war and industrial pollution. We now see this destruction all around us, and some, not wishing to go forward (but disinclined to see far enough "outward"), think those "children" may have made a huge mistake. Well-meaning others looking only at the future, think we can come up with a progressive new & improved sustainable farming. Little do they know this is a very old idea.
Here is what Heidegger said about modern agriculture after the war (ww2), perhaps the most damning statement yet:
Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs. – Heidegger, 1949
Mono-crop farming, whether it was developed with this in mind or not, has the effect of rendering community autonomy impossible. It demands the extra-local integration of a state for local nutritional requirements to be assured. Obviously, no matter which crop is planted or how abundant the harvest, it can only be utilized in an extra-local exchange network to achieve dietary sufficiency at any level. The attribution of wheat agriculture to the spontaneous generation of civilisation is refuted in the ancient saying, "man does not live by bread alone".
Even in medieval times "peasants" were left alone to produce all their nutritional requirements. Labour was introduced in production of specific crops determined by an extralocal feudal bureaucracy to enter into extra-local distribution. This labour was performed during what was before "leisure time". This gave birth to the creation of supply-and-demand manipulated economies. The dislocation of peasants from the land, only accomplished with the Bolshevik revolution (the last major battle or extension of the bourgeois revolution, also called "WW1"), allowed global mono-crop farming to ultimately put an end to community everywhere.
There are a few holdouts today, but they are increasingly under attack to "reclaim" land "for the greater good". Dislocation becomes the new watchword. Nutrition is mass-produced in factories from coal and petroleum-derived chemical syntheses to supplement food commodities which increasingly tumble in nutritional content, not only through processing, but as an organic response to accelerated harvests, that is, soil exhaustion and injection of toxic growth-stimulants. We call this technological progress.
Modern agriculture, because it is tied to property (commodified) is more properly called "gang rape" than farming. Without property, uncivil farmers know ahead what they will need, and when that is collected the harvest is over. If there is accumulation, it is only to provide winter stores or "material" in the production of parties (feasts, potlatch, give-aways). Little distinguished from "gathering", there is no accumulation for accumulation's sake. The distinguishing character is what some have interpreted as the birth of "sacrifice". In the context of 'uncivil' society, this is ridiculous. Is seed returned to the earth to bring forth a new "crop" a sacrifice? Is the first fruits ceremony returning the first pickings to the ground? Is releasing the first salmon from the trap to continue their reproductive cycle a sacrifice or the necessary maintenance of salmon demographics? Haven't we learned by now that predation of any sort provides a 'natural' limit to Malthus' notion of exponential population growth because all life has more abundant reproductive potential than actual conditions of living permit? Does leaving the "baby" potatoes undisturbed in the ground during potato harvest represent a wasteful or negligent practice, or an assurance that the plants will return next season without planting (generally in even more abundance than this year's growth)?
Just how sure are we that we are at the "top of the food chain"? Does it matter what the "native" interpretation of the practice is as long as sustenance (a word derived from sustain) remains? Hierarchy does not allow for sustainability. You can see I am not restricting this notion to the realms of politics or economics.
Archaic farmers knew the importance of diversity in diet as well as in their "gardens". Not only allowing, but encouraging diversity and return (seeding, leaving or putting back part of the "harvest") is a common feature of "primitive" farmers as well as foragers. The distinction between farming and gathering is one of degree, not kind. Nor is it a matter of quantity. Even up to historical times, there have been numerous examples of pretty large-scale farming villages (although not quite the sedentary ones we are familiar with from Hollywood) incorporating the notion of ecologic succession without destruction (ecological succession provides for the incredible variability & flux of life, not its destruction – at some point, everything dies!). Peasant villages far removed from cosmopolitan hustle and bustle lived in symbiosis with nomadic pastoralists ("fields on the hoof"). A certain amount of autonomy was preserved yet they could still afford to pay the annual tribute to heavily armed (civilized) tax collectors. It takes progressive civilization (a kingdom or empire) to produce a radical and destructive transformation – from our limited sedentary perspective, we only see apples and oranges.
Another practice uncivil farmers incorporated was the maintenance of "refugia". When notions of property were enforced (by the propertied), refugia became known as "the commons" but lost some of its important meaning. Once we have commons,we already have a gang rape in practice in the form of "community property". Let me explain. The institution of commons was the birth of the trickle down theory of economics. Commoners (not quite slaves) were granted usufruct rights to the left overs, what the fat cats (nobles or "big chiefs") could not consume without bursting. The "liberal" enclosure laws removed the distinction between commoner and slave. We were moving to "equality" and once this set in, it was only a matter of time before the abolition of slavery was in everyone but the most die-hard conservative's mind. Equality was finally achieved with wage labour.
The myth of freedom of opportunity was born once rulership was expropriated from "noble" lineages and all remnants of feudal living were removed in the countryside by the elimination of share-cropping and private indenture of peasants (previously, peasants were inalienably attached to the land, even if that property changed hands). This has only recently been universally achieved in the livestock business. The opportunity for any to farm resulted in the gradual destruction of tradition – knowledge and practice handed down from one generation to the next maintaining more (relatively speaking) locally sound ecological practices. What was unsound of the civilized practice was the result of a gradual distancing from rotating fields (swidden or "shifting cultivation") to rotating crops in a single field circumscribed by property relations. Industrial farming even did away (by necessity because the technology could not cope) with companion planting, something some few hobby gardeners who don't mind a little dirt under the fingernail still appreciate.
Before property instituted the commons, refugia were areas not utilized at all. They may have been very rich in resources, but were not used except during periods of extreme hardship. Implicit in this is the understanding of seasonal, geographic and climatic fluctuation. These wild "fields" as well might be rotated. Refugia was even practiced in most circumscribed Polynesian islands. This is a much bigger concept than "fallow", which refers to a period of unuse because it is in fact used up. Only weeds survive. Fallow is demanded by the gang-rape methods of intensive (modern) agriculture. We think of weeds as invasive intruders. They are plants which only thrive after a catastrophe, and that catastrophe is almost invariably disturbed soil produced by the plow or road equipment or pesticides which kill off natural aerators and cultivators. Weeds function to bring back the health of an overused landscape. In our own ignorance, we usually poison everything in order to destroy one pesky varmint. It is akin to carpet bombing villages to assassinate one tribal "warlord" (a common practice by the liberal-minded military, where "liberal" means the same as "use liberally" when applying sugar to oatmeal mush).
The argument that modern techno-chemical farming feeds greater numbers of people is like saying that we should all be content to survive with a dialysis machine or breath in an iron lung plugged into an oil well, coal generator or hydro-electric plant and call that living. That is, living until no amount of chemicals will any longer bring forth crops from a field of asphalt or barren strip mine we used to call the Earth. Is it such a good (humanitarian) idea to promote this kind of thinking when we are already concerned with the effects of overpopulation? Like our economy, technology must always borrow from the future to pay today's debts. That future always has consisted of people condemned to poverty as a result of action taken in the present. More and more people are coming to see our modern diet is ever more toxic. It is in fact profitable for us to know this as it provides incentive for bio-engineers and pharmaceutical companies to come up with even more toxified food (soon entirely in pill form), commodified as a "cure". I'm sorry, but if you get a deep enough gash, no amount of band-aids will prevent Mr. Death from hauling your sorry ass away. But don't let's talk about overshoot and system collapse!
Only an idiot posing as a primitivist or a clever fascist would promote eugenics as a solution (in fact, the mother-fuckers do this on a daily basis, they don't merely promote it). Die-off is the ultimate in progressive thinking. It allows the continuation of existing conditions! Like they used to tell my old man at the factory, "workers are a dime a dozen; the plant is all that matters!"
Permaculture? I seriously doubt our brightest minds (remember those meddling fellows in white lab coats who helped create this mess in the first place?) will be able to come up with a salve to obviate our distress. As the philosophers in Hitch-hikers Guide said, "perhaps our minds are too highly trained!"
Permaculture still implies permanent fields absorbing 'foreign' inputs for maintenance. The most significant change from a neolithic farming village to sedentary (civil) agriculture is the end to movement. When fields no longer rotate within a territory, when the village loses its portability or seasonality, we have the modern situation: permanent settlement initially surrounded by and later surrounding permanent fields. The only mobility tolerated is by crops: only commodities are allowed freedom of movement. As for equality, there is none but for the equivalence of slaves in a world in which immobility is the precondition for stability.
I used to think gifting would solve the problem, which is just another economic solution. I still think it is damn necessary, but we will need more than a mere change in distribution practices to avoid the destruction we're doing to our home, no matter how much we can put a stop to exploitation of each other (fat chance!) Interesting how we call archaic (but locally responsible) farming wisdom "subsistence" when it is us who sub-exist. Shouldn't we begin to call it "sustenance"? Like the proverbial new guy always seems to say, "by any means necessary", lets put an end to gang-rape. This is not a matter of destruction or even creation but of "doing things differently" here and now. Here's where I'll get into the biggest trouble: "What the fuck's wrong with learning from folks who already know (knew) how to do it?"
This "local autonomy" shouldn't be viewed as a rock. While it's likely true that prior to civilization, people followed resources, they did this within local territories. People did not migrate across the earth in search of a living (see Krantz, 1971). The movement of territories and population expansions across large regions took multiple generations, not single lifetimes. The idea of populations expanding until a niche is established (most say "filled") is attractive, but should not be taken as a static process with an origin and terminus. Nor should we see autonomy as "stop here!" As much as we understand that territories, climates, seasons are subject to variability, we should expect to (and do) find networking between communities. This is established by overlapping territorial utilization and the reckoning of affinal and consanguineal relations as well as competitive rivalries. The state solidifies and expands these networks with grand socio-political integration. The state provides for a command and control system never before witnessed on such a scale.
What is most notable when looking at the state is the separation of society into dominators and the dominated collocated with the included and excluded. It would seem domination is required to achieve civilization, and certainly with few exceptions, we see archaeological evidence of force and control within the local (sedentary) population. One comes to the conclusion that if force as a means is necessary, people would naturally resist its ends. Civilization functions to break people of this resistance.
Pierre Clastres said we study the origin of the state in order to uncover the conditions around which it will meet its demise. People other than those who reign and benefit from 'power' have always tended to be against the state. Ironically, hardly anyone is against civilization. Maybe it's not irony in operation. Our short-sightedness prevents us from seeing that the two cannot be extricated from each other. Civilization is a command and control (regulatory) system composed of rigid institutions. The state institution provides the control function. The one (state) is the necessary condition of the other (civilization) to the point that their distinction is often only a matter of semantics. Those who sense an hypocrisy rather than internalize obedience very often view life in terms of a choice between the lesser of two evils (obey or starve). But our short-sightedness is not a lack, it is a biological given. We are creatures of habit, not gods. We easily fall into the notion of victim, and prey to the idea of progressive (just) laws. We are trapped in the self-fulfilling prophecy. But a trapped animal is always a potential revolutionary.
The state must provide something beyond fear in return, else it would face revolution at every turn. Divorce from access to food provides the first justification or rationalization to set aside one's discontent: necessity. This was accomplished with a praetorian guard protecting the grainery (or the fish cannery). At some point, this was not enough and we witness the investment of labour in temples. Divinity became the second great rationalization preventing revolution. This was still not enough, however, until workers discovered the cost-benefit ratio. Work as the lessor of many evils became desire itself when the poet-salesmen, who's chief product has always been desire, portrayed the entire planet as god's factory-farm. Sacrificial workers helped the gods out with their divine plans. Generations of iteration (habit, custom, tradition) meant one no longer even had to think about or justify a status quo of slavery. "Freedom" becomes bannished to the realm of dreams and impossible utopias.
Colloquial wisdom still agrees this was all a result of the invention of agriculture which allowed folks to stop wandering in search of food and settle down into great cities living the life of luxury "we" all enjoy today. With so much food, struggle nearly disappeared and leisure time, population size, and a sense of cosmetic beauty grew. But many folk still resented work, so technological progress was commenced in order to achieve a work-free life of unadulterated (that is, no elders, no "adults" telling you what to do) luxury, the utopian future. The more population grew, the more productive society was forced to become. Eugenics was what one practiced on enemies who might someday compete with us, not what one did to one's neighbors.
The fact is that most do not enjoy a life of luxury, even in the so-called "heterarchic" civilizations where we see largely egalitarian relations (more like bureaucratic socialism) in the cities but shade our eyes from the relations with the largely peasant countryside. It would be hard to imagine a civilization which arose without a social division between producers and the wealthy who exploit them. This has led me to posit (and in fact often insist on) an answer to Clastres' question of origin as the normalization of psychopathy – social control by a gang of bullies.
But this is only another example of uni-linear, cause-effect thinking like calling on an inherent Malthusian model of population-growth (the 19th and 20th century solution) or the interpreters of Zerzan who "put the blame" for our current predicament on agriculture by way of the symbolic thought inherent in language (the pessimistic 21st century solution resonating with an ancient "bad seed" human ontology). To say we can only communicate about the world symbolically and therefore shared experience is mediated through symbolic thought does not necessitate the conclusion that language (symbolic discourse) is the source of alienation, objectification and domestication, only that we are capable of imagining almost anything and go on to become trapped by our thoughts. Some are even capable of imagining infinity, others a fiery hell, others autonomous, self-producing flying machines!
It could very well be that on occasion civilizations did not start out when a local thug took control of food access and divvied portions out in exchange for favors. This would be especially true if it is also true that people naturally resist this sort of thing and that Clastres is correct when he says cultures have built-in (institutionalized) mechanisms to prevent an imagined or historically experienced state of affairs. How then can we account for civilization's beginning and the transformation which replaced sociality with antisocial behavior in statistical significance? What follows shouldn't be taken as a definitive reconstruction, but a possible scenario based on a series of "what if's". First off, what if our standard assumptions about the origin of the state are simply wrong?
We have actual documentation of the development of historical kingdoms in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central-Asian nomadic "empires" and the first nation-states in Europe. In every case, they were defensive postures against empires or conservative postures, adjustments to maintain in the face of imperial encroachment, but ultimately incorporated into empire. We have only more evidence of a conservation through change which went on to take a bad turn – a "best laid plans" sort of scenario. Could it be that the original civilizations (or at least some of them) were only attempts to make the best out of a bad situation, to maintain something threatened with extinction or even renew something lost? This would surely fit with what we are coming to understand more and more about human psychology – we are basically conservative creatures. What if King Thug the First was not the first king, but the first thug-king, coronated after anti-social behavior had already gained a foothold on statistical predominance?
The correlation between the end of the Pleistocene and rapidity of the Younger Drias (culminating in rising sea levels inundating most human territories and desertification of the rest) and the so-called Neolithic "revolution" makes Fredy Perlman's theory of the first cities arising from what were essentially refugee camps highly attractive. At the time, catastrophe was ubiquitous on the planet. One can imagine scattered groups with diverse customs and even languages converging on oases in search of dry land and fresh water. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think groups of individuals got together and started projects (dikes, clearings for farmland, food storage structures), and their example followed, all with the best of intentions. Wouldn't this be just another case pushed for environmental determinism? Another example of evolution or revolution as crisis management which linear thinking has always predicted?
Outside of the box of linear thinking, the environment is merely the conditions of existence. Conditions of living both limit possibilities and open up possibilities. Results are only actualities – fertility should not be confused with fecundity. Diversity should be expected, but so should be commonalities or patterns. Conditions of living change life, living diversity changes conditions of living. Sometimes asteroids strike the planet and everything gets shaken. Ultimately, all we can say is that everything, every process connected is a cause, a mover. There are no "prime movers" although there are more and less significant influences relative to an outcome. We perceive patterns and sequences, but the further from here and now we look, the less dependable are our rational assessments. Our agency is equally limited, even though there is potential seen around every corner.
It should be obvious that since semi-sedentary farming cultures did not produce civilization and its state, agriculture must have predated civilization. It was not an invention by the civilized but rather, earlier (semi-nomadic or "shifting") farming practices adapted to the new sedentary living arrangements. The so-called "invention" was sedentary farming, not farming itself, and even this is not sufficient to produce a state. Specialised irrigation projects came much later when it was seen that permanent fields could not be sustained (although no sociopolitical erection is a necessary or sufficient condition to apply water to plants). Progressive crisis became built into the system which required increasingly progressive responses, all in the name of conserving the status quo. What they did not understand was that there was nothing left to conserve but progress itself. A mix of several social adaptations taken out of their historical contexts made earlier arrangements no longer appropriate. Removal from (actually, of) the context meant the diversity of earlier adaptations was irrelevant. The condition must have been perceived as ultimately chaotic. Settled agriculture didn't provide for the increased (and increasing) population. Enclosures were erected to restrict additional immigrants. Very likely, one crisis after another appeared as well on the social level. Social organization disorganized. Times had never before been so nasty, brutal and short. Property and its authority established a new social order.
As Kent Flannery (in The Cultural Evolution of Civilization) and Marshal Sahlins both said, the trick to producing a surplus is found in getting people to work more, and more people to work. Even in conditions of starvation, all it takes to increase population growth is to increase birthrates beyond attrition. Creation of a surplus, in this case to adequately survive in the first place, a premium is placed on increasing reproduction to increase the labor force. This may not even be a conscious process. Many species experience increased reproductive rates when faced with the possibility of extinction. It may be simply a matter of relieving stress. Stress is certainly a most significant hormone disrupter.
On a conscious level, the need for more, smaller (younger) workers creates a productive, macho, almost catholic mindset. Women lose any control over their own reproduction. Weaning takes place at an earlier age. Birth spacing contracts. A man's status is measured in the number of children, whether from his own spouse(s) or those of his compatriots. Rape is institutionalized in the forms of contract marriage (a property arrangement) and the privileged warrior-police. Wars abroad bring in even more workers as well as fields to work. Bureaucracies must grow to regulate and manage this out-of-control system. Even so, the Malthusian exponential growth rate did not become established till the industrial revolution.
If there is a prime mover to increasing rates of population growth over and above natural and cultural limits to growth such as abortion or infanticide, predation, birth spacing, taboos, fertility resonating with local resources, etc. (epidemics, lethal sanctions and wars of conquest and annihilation should have an even greater limiting effect), that mover would have to stem from property, coercive authority to enforce it, labor to produce it and cosmetics to justify it in no particular linear order of primacy. This is still autopoietic, but pathological civilization. It is pathological because it is unchecked.
When the environmental (geo-climatic) conditions had settled back down from rapid change, thriving ecosystems began to re-emerge but not within the enclosed cities and their surroundings. What had been erected to keep others out now fenced people in. It's like trying to survive in a ghetto without the benefit of "crime" or a social welfare infrastructure. Yet they survived, but only at the expense of their neighbors. Conquest or abandonment were the only options. Archaeology provides numerous examples of just such abandonment. It should be obvious as well that this was the birth of revolutionary consciousness, renegade and dropout sentiments for political or economic reasons. It would take quite some time before desire for abundance was superseded in preponderance by the satisfaction with the merely adequate in the producer classes. This desire was never reduced (in fact it was enhanced) in the aristocrats, now in a situation where abundance is not revealed in nature but must be appropriated from within the community and from neighboring communities. Warfare and class struggle arise as alternative viewpoints of the same process. They are only the in and out of the matter. Progress becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, equality and justice for one and all becomes a pipe dream.
On the other hand, that all may have come much later, and it may have been mothers and grandmothers who instituted the first civil ethics within the "circumscribed" refugee camps just so the menfolk could end their translingual pissing contests and actually accomplish something. In fact, I think this is quite likely. The boys (and some of the girls!) have been confusing this with matriarchy ever since. We conventionally think of civilization as the sublimation of aggressive tendencies, we can see that it actually exacerbates them by institutionalizing these "tendencies", ultimately in specialized occupations – the police and the military, full contact sport and violent crime, and finally, vicarious participation through theatre and other simulations (e.g., the video game) for the more squeemish. It is the maintenance of circumscription which places a positive value on unification (and concomitantly, sacrifice) and a negative value on separation (labeled "cowardly" or "lazy" or "unsociable" behaviour). The obvious contradiction is the simultaneous positive value on competition. It may be the process of sustained conflict resolution resulting in sacrifice on all sides ("compromise") which removes so-called negative feedback resulting in accelaration of the system itself. Where "subdued" sacrifice, frustration and resentment are placed in the same bag ("baggage"), "progress" of the loci of control and counter-control is inevitable. War is by any and all sense of logic built into the system, if only by virtue of "the return of the repressed".
In any case, when territorial unification is complete, we witness prolonged periods of peace and an absence of fortifications, but this peace is enforced by internally deadly means. Police Force. The "police" logic is recapitulated in all institutions, in all our behavior, right down to child-rearing. Strife is actually the mainstay of civilization until its own spectacle is sufficiently developed and behavior is sufficiently a matter only of habit, or unthinking (meaningless) ritual by the majority of the population. Only at this point do we see democratic and "self-managed" institutions. Self-management is only the management of one's own exploitation. Democracy is only the collectivity of self-managed individuals in a state of mutual influence. It in no way should be confused with liberation.
A gift economy. I've said it is an oxymoron, but suppose we adopt the more colloquial, and most general sense of the term, "economy", as merely the circulation of "goods" – "goods" being anything esteemed (needful, desirable or having aesthetic "qualities") and behaviour – meaning, of course, "labour" (I'm joking here) – which keeps things flowing or in distribution. Emile Durkheim concentrated on the functional analysis of society, that is, what it is which makes it function, the "cohesive" relationships operating within, and viewed institutions in terms of providing and maintaining this social cohesion. Unfortunately, it is rarely protested when the idea behind "function" is colloquially translated to "purpose". We too often confuse how something seems to work with why it does so. If there is no obvious conscious motivation for behavior, we posit unconscious drives or secret plans like "repressed desire" and "generative grammar". On the one hand, we are constrained by bad seeds which need to remain vigilantly planted, and on the other, genes which sprout up like weeds, despite everything we do to poison them back. The idea is, without social cohesion, we would annihilate each other.Reciprocity is a collision of gifts, not an exchange.
Our ambitious upbringing teaches us that every behavior is entertained "in order to...". This is the basis of economy, industry, politics and, in fact, western logic itself: "if A, then B". "If I build it, they will come", "If you go to the store, I'll do the dishes". When this is repeated enough times, we have created a division of labour and the proposition needn't be voiced. We internalise expectations and no longer need to think about them. Our provisional contract has become a priori logic, absolute and necessary. We have patterned our behavior. We have procured a habit, but it's an acquired taste so we expect to see some variability in its expression. Because of our mutual expectations, we now as well have responsibilities. Responsibility keeps things nice, predictable, and proceeding largely unawares.
Durkheim's heir apparent, Marcel Mauss portrayed the gift as incorporating or demanding a "moral" responsibility to reciprocate. We give 'in order' to receive, but our return gift casts off guilt. Guilt is too hot to handle, so it spreads rapidly through the population. While the ethnographer or archaeologist sees only the flow of commodities, the philosopher only sees guilt, the political economist sees opportunity, power.
Everyone, it seems, who has discussed the potlatch, a generalised "gift economy" notorious for its extravagantic, festive qualities, has maintained this confusion of perceived function with imposed purpose or motivation. We even call it a system of competitive "gift exchange". In its entry for potlatch, wikipedia goes so far as to describe it as an exchange system which both sets up and maintains hierarchical relations between groups. At this point, it may be advisable to take the cotton out of our ears, look in the mirror and see just who it is we are talking about. If all this is true, where is the gratis in the gift? Is it still a gift if it must be repaid? Is it then not moral responsibility but guilt which drives the "gift economy"?
Symbolists, wanting to create some distance from questions of morality, have called this functional relation between gifts and counter-gifts "stickiness" or "viscosity" as an attribute of that given. We are still speaking of cohesion and the sense of gluing and binding conceals potential metaphors of the gravity or coevalence of aesthetic interest. A line of thought evident in Bataille, Derrida and Baudrillard suggests that what we normally think of as a "pure gift" is an impossibility. Early christians, dropouts from the roman empire to a tee, must have suspected this when they decided that a gift must entail pain before it can be said to be authentic. If the act of giving brings any benefit or positive repercussion to the giver, it is thought an act of violence toward the other and in fact, "against god". It is ironic that their messiah is said to have come to earth to abolish sacrifice. That it was something they just couldn't let go of is not ironic, since they were already well-entrapped in the exchange paradigm which depends upon notions of a balance between theft and sacrifice. Many today see giving, if not an impossibility, an act of authority or power: gifts entrap, bind, constrain, create obligations, obtain favours. The gift itself is entrapped by use-value.
With the exchange paradigm one sees the entire universe as a set of transactions. These exchanges must be compensatory or "of like kind" else we sense an injustice or imbalance. In The Accursed Share, Bataille saw this injustice as a naturally occurring phenomenon. There is always excess energy over that utilized. Fecundity is always greater than fertility. Outside of the capitalist arrangement, surplus must always be destroyed if it cannot be made use of. This destruction is what he called "unproductive expenditure". This is becoming an important line of thought in analyses of Potlatch behavior, as during these great feasts, destruction of excess was often as ubiquitous as the gift. If there is a gifting which cannot be seen to encapsulate a return to the giver, it is said to be a destruction or even apathetic indifference, an unproductive expenditure, waste disposal. Potlatch destruction is a return to the earth of something, itself to return again in a new form. It all seems an impeccable argument of necessity.
Of course, the so-called "height" of Pacific Northwest potlatching cultures has been explained by "Back-east" and landlocked professors as a response to a superabundant, almost paradisaical environmental bounty fueled by the famed Japanese Current and shelter from the mountains. Anyone who has actually grown up in the Northwest and ventured outside centrally-heated classrooms should be able to raise an eyebrow. That warm ocean current will still freeze your testicles. The country is rugged, temperatures, while generally not extreme, will vary from mildly uncomfortable at the coast to untowardly in the foothills, and downright unkind in the mountains. The fish run in one river may be minimal one year while abundant the next valley over. The chief beneficiaries of a biologically favourable environment are large conifers which are not a great food source for humans. The abundance is more apparent than real, and the most one can say about the region is that it is an area of seasonal and geographic variation or fluctuation in resources. It is the potlatch (among many other cultural adaptations) between diverse groups which provides the reality of abundance and appearance of excess, and this is a matter of reciprocal gifting 'abroad' and sharing at home. The competitive exchange paradigm of modern political economy just doesn't work to describe the prehistory of this region.
There is a growing sentiment among so-called feminists who equate the "exchange" logic as an unfortunate limitation from our patriarchal heritage, and who see not transactions but 'authentic' gifts in the functioning of the cosmos. A mother is, after all, expected to view her child as a privilege, a cosmic "gift", and is simultaneously driven to lavish it with care, love, attention. It is not supposed to be an economic or political arrangement (although that is how many, if not most of us were brought up). There is not supposed to be an expectation of remuneration such that when not returned in kind or even with "interest", a mother's love or care is withheld. This is impossible unless it was never there to begin with or faded as soon as the perinatal novelty wore off, much as we see among children who soon get bored with new pets. It could be said even a father's "obligations" to his children are never met, finished or satisfied if it is a matter if giving care. Finally, "mutual aid" is not a project which can have a beginning and end, an incentive and payoff. What comes to mind here, and it shouldn't be a surprise, is the word "nurturing" (see, for example, Nurit Bird-David, A bifocal ethnography of parental feeding in "the giving environment"), and that suggests a whole realm of encouragement and provision, called in some circles, "contingencies of reinforcement".
One could say gifting, in its most general sense, is an instinct, in its most general sense. Very young children are already adept practitioners. Gifting is something which, in our culture, must be unlearned before we can become "productive members of society". But gifting is the praxis of sociality or the behavioural manifestation witnessed in all (historically, or should I say, "prehistorically") "other" social groups. We have strong feelings about it, enough even to call it "moral behaviour", at least when the behaviour is co-opted into economic exchange or restricted to "special" occasions. Even so, an offering (food, help, advice) is reinforced else we cease making it in the one situation, but not in all. Social instincts are self-reinforcing – like play, their engagement brings pleasure whether that is a desired end or not. Gifting behaviour is extinguished when it is punished or regulated by the recipient or a third (mediating) party. Otherwise, gifting and play are sufficient unto themselves. One might say gifting is just a sort of mutual play, a language game sans politics. The potlatch is first and foremost a party, a pastime – entertainment.
Object-orientation or goal-seeking behaviour is a rational operation. Instincts, intuitions, sensation and caprice need not be until after the fact. They are justified (or inhibited) by, rather than derived from logic. Contrary to everything we've been taught, sociality is prior to hostility. They are not even in opposition: hostility is an effect when social relations break down. This can be witnessed in every family as well as every social group not exclusive to homo sapiens. It is not friendships which need proven, but enemies. We come into the world trusting. We only later on learn that trust can be misplaced. So what is at base social? Gifting is not a matter of morality but custom in groups which esteem, or at least, make a habit of it. Morality only enters the stage when the gift is regulated or denied, and that is the source of our confusion with payment. It is linguistic sophistry to insist "you can't get something for nothing ... to pick an apple from a tree requires a certain tit-for-tat expenditure of energy, and that is labour". This hides the fact that all movement is an expression of energy, that is, the potential for movement. It is not a loss until that potential is gone, and this is death.
While it is said it is a chief's privilege to give potlatches, any reason is justification to throw a party – birth, marriage, death and everything in between, such as if the chief's canoe has capsized. The potlatch is between communities what the feast is within. The gifting is not in return for health, but maintains it, and health is a matter of good circulation. The potlatch is medicine. At a birth or naming potlatch, it is the child who is the nominal giver. At a wedding, it is the couple. At a funeral, it is the corpse. At the winter ceremonial, it is the community. Of course, when the boat sank, it was the chief. In this case, we say it is given to restore his name or remove humiliation. In medicine, do we say we take the cure as a payment for the disease or that we return the disease to the healer in exchange for the cure? Then why do we need health insurance? Or is it that, despite all our PhD.'s in economics, we can't even do tit-for-tat right? Of course, what we have is capitalism, which simply means "give them a dollar and take back two". – William R. Hearst
Obviously, the motivation for behavior is not always predictable, nor is our ability to generalize motivation in one situation to all others. Suppose we were to leave that line of questioning to another and look only at function from a systematic point of view? Kroeber said all "primitive cultures endorse reciprocity". What this usually means is "we observe generalized patterns of sharing". Primitive reciprocity probably rarely entails a sense of exchange or tit-for-tat transaction, even when we witness mutual gifting initiating a private meeting. Reciprocity is an effect or consequence of gifting behavior, more a collision than exchange of gifts. Ideas of return are never curtailed by notions "of like kind". Yet the "myth" of eternal return may be the oldest one in the book: what goes around comes around. It is a matter of induction necessary to living: if the sun didn't return tomorrow and each morning thereafter, we'd certainly all perish.
Bataille spoke of sunlight as the basis of the general economy, but to take the analogy from physics one step further, who would see the movement of planets around the sun as depicting a set of economic transactions? It is movement itself which prevents the universe from coalescing into a homogenous gravitational blob where even transaction becomes meaningless, where transgression is synonymous with the circulation of gifts rather than the endlessly expansive explosion of a big bang. Gravity is not negated.
Closer to home, we are oral and anal creatures, but eating and shitting are less transactional as they are transformational. What comes out is not an expenditure but a necessary shedding – try withholding that and see what happens to your economy. It is certainly no sacrifice. It is not done only "in order to" eat more. But from the perspective of the growing vegetation upon which one dumps, shit is a gift, as is, from our perspective, the apple one later picks off the tree while we contemplate the difference between wind storms and farting flies. When we ponder from whom a gift came, we are positing an original owner as well as purposive motivation. This is only an ideological justification and is based on an equally ideological metaphysic of the universal existence of property and authority. A different ontology altogether is suggested if we modify our question, "through whom did our gift pass?"
Reciprocity is intertwined with the mathematical notion of function: a change in one element causes perturbations in everything it is connected to. If everything is interpenetrated, one would be correct to predict the existence of echoes, and that is a true return. Western logic has only historically pondered "equal and opposite effects". It isolates and alienates; it dissolves connections in the process of discovering, ordering and re-arranging them. It posits "direct effects" and creates absolutes and primary agents. Certainly we are aware of effects of plans which backfire in totally unanticipated and in fact, unpredictable ways. We call this chance, fortune, luck and we are afraid that this "chaos" is alienating. We relegate misfortune to intervening variables which must be identified and controlled. Chance must be eliminated. We want no surprises.
When gifting societies expect this circulating potential functioning in the cosmos, we call it magic or superstition, "backwards thinking". Durkheim did not well read his Epicurus, who revealed that cohesion is already a function of living systems, dissipation is a scattering death, and Poe agreed, even this is not the end. It all comes together, it all falls apart! Systems of reciprocity need not cause so much consternation. If one's comrades are giving, every giver is simultaneously a receiver. Aristotle be damned. When we trace the word, "share" to its Proto-Indoeuropean root (where giving and getting [*bhag- 'to share out, apportion, distribute, eat'] is not distinguished) and back again, we find it connected to shattering, scattering and shearing [*ska-, *sker- 'cut, distribute']; sow; spry, sprout, sprinkle [*(s)preg- 'to jerk, scatter, dissipate']; sow, season, semen and seed [*se- 'sow, scatter']; [*so- 'protection, healing, wealth'] sorcery, society, solidarity.
The exchange system is best described as a tit-for-tat economy. It is object-oriented – a rational-motive (teleological) system. The language is of desire and its satisfaction – to say "I'm horny for a cheeseburger" or "I'd like to eat you", while customarily inappropriate in some situations, are rarely misunderstood. The expression and satisfaction of need and desire is intervened by controlling access to needs and superimposing a feeling of necessity to all desires. The intervention demands gifts (in our culture, wage labour) which almost always entail sacrifice. Time does not enter into the equation except to make finer calculations: there is immediate and delayed gratification. Delayed gratification sets up the notions of debt and responsibility. Encouragement is still expected, and materialism provides its proof. Reinforcement (that is, encouragement) is superseded by reward, disappointment by punishment.
In an exchange economy, the given and received have a material as well as mathematical relationship, and not just in the sense that they are quantified. The more closely they are connected, the more we are likely to call them "in kind" or "kindred". We arrive at barter systems. The less direct (or more mediated) their connection, we tend to describe the transaction as "symbolic". The most obvious here which comes to mind is the monetary system and debt-credit transactions. But this would also entail Mauss' notion of the compulsion to return a gift, be it aid, a compliment or dinner at the Ritz.
On the contrary, systems of reciprocity would, in the general sense, be called tit-or-tat economies. Our colloquial sense of "no strings attached" actually keeps everything given moving. It is alienating only of property. We do not give because of a past receipt. Once given, the gift achieves a semblance of autonomy. This gives it a sacred or numinous quality. When one crosses paths with such a gift (when one receives), it is an arousing experience. We still retain some of this sense in the homophony of fortune (wealth) and fortune (luck). Habit and ideology are always tied, but one needn't posit one as prior to the other. If it is one's habit, even an unconscious habit, to give, it will never be misdiagnosed as a payment until we realize we are the only ones doing it. When one brings a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine when visiting an other, it is only a matter of custom, not a payment "in order" that your visit will be received. In fact, the gift (visit) and receipt (visited upon) are only a matter of perspective. The event is a singularity (the visitation). Why should you even want "to break the ice", unless it is to share among comrade-drinkers?
Imagine a group of people habituated to giving. What is given is in constant circulation. Everything is in circulation. When it extends beyond the local group, abundance is maintained despite local or seasonal variability in resources. A gift and receipt are never distinguished until they become property and lose their autonomy. When what is given is consumed, it is symbiotically merged rather than destroyed. Even the distinction between destruction and creation here breaks down. The ecological analogy which comes to mind replaces "give and take" with "merge or pass on". There is a certain choice operating in the latter which is missing in the former except among habitual takers. In gifting societies, habitual takers (predators) are routinely entered into the "destruction" cycle – they are eventually overcome, ostracized or fail to survive to reproduce, which is to say, they enter into a different sort of circulation. The scavengers and local fauna are thankful for the new morsels.
I've been watching my chickens of late and discovered what has confused so many on pecking orders and dominance hierarchies. Chickens only look civilised! A closer look reveals that when the so-called head bitch gets first to the grain I've dumped on the ground or comes upon an unwary mouse, her feeding frenzy scatters more food than she consumes. Grain is distributed to everyone; the mouse is ripped apart by collective beaking, having had spent more time tossed in the air than limp on the ground, and everyone gets a bite. Yes, some also get bitten and feathers fly if the scattering is not sufficient to establish distance, but that is only a matter of relative taste. It is certainly a potlatch and the gift is most assuredly possible, at least if you are a chicken, and it is not just excess which is scattered, but also the rare and wondrous. To say that chickens have dominance hierarchies is to give them the notion of private property and rights to it. Many argue such is so as it seems to justify their own behavior by making it "natural". Altruism and egoism, questions of motivation constrained within a paradigm of sacrifice and theft, need not be entertained. If the distribution of grain was merely an after-effect of egoistic enthusiasm, why does the chicken announce the feast prior to feasting?
Property (an exclusive "right" over another, a reward for a better game-plan or even a "door prize" won in a chance drawing) is more than just homophonous with property (an attribute or 'quality') which can be seen under a microscope or measured with a slide-rule. But ideas and material objects become indistinguishable unless we can back off and ponder from a distance. This is the "value" of comparative studies and the only way to appreciate that we do not stand at the center of the universe, and the universe is not obliged to give our habits any respect whatsoever. Of course, from this perspective, it may just be that the comparative diversity looks back at us – such is the result of ecstasis – and both indifference and value disappear alongside the isolated subject and dispassionate object.
Prestige is a scale measured by the success (in length, width and breadth or "duration and extensity") of the party. It follows the simple mathematical equation: "the more, the merrier". This only means a consistently prestigious party town has the biggest turnout, at least for the time being, all things being provisional. This actually cancells out the notion of accelerated competition through long-reaching circulation or redistribution. This is not to suggest it is no game. Antagonistic "vying" (in the sense of contestation, contention or envy but not the older Latin invitare 'invite, entertain, feast') should be self-limiting. Self-limiting as in Max Gluckman's "Peace in the feud", "centripetal forces pulling against the centrifugal effects of vengeance and violence" taking on the form of social drama (the scripts people live) where 'traditional' custom tends to put limits on conflict like a negative feedback operating on an internal combustion engine which we call a throttle. The late Medieval duel is a legally sanctioned case of mutual throttling. End of discussion! But even an on-going feud or reciprocal raid re-presents a distributive circulation rather than escalation. Legality superfluous and sanction redundant, the patriarch must hit the unemployment lines.
Accumulation (property) is likewise avoided since what cannot be given is destroyed, again, not to the point of your own or any other's deprivation. There is no "give until it hurts", no sacrifice except of excess baggage. There are no poor communities who party/participate in novel environments. There may be less prestigious periods due to ever-likely fortuitous events (there is no garden-of-eden circumscribed to a place, obvious when it is noted that the world flows through you only as you flow through it – when one stops, so does the other and the world ends). 'Rank' itself is shifting and provisional, in every sense of the word (provision, provide = gift, condition, contingency, for-seeing, food). Where "for" is the key prefix, we can retrogressively détourne "progressive" to mean "for growing" or "for movement" and the movement itself "for-giving".
A big party town (as opposed to a teeming city of permanent residents running into walls "for a living" – the 'company town') is a hospitable space for travellers, not one brimming with planted stay-at-homes. When in doubt, resort to the resort; shop at the free-store for provisions. You may choose to retire there. It is a provisional occupation, again in every sense of the word. Obviously, the potlatch viewed as an "economy" only concerns the maximization of health and the minimization of pain, even as it may entail cutting the throats of proprietary enemies to a standing ovation, should you be unable to pawn them off on your neighbors (why the ne'r-do-wells didn't migrate beforehand is beyond me! No forsight? – or is that "hindsight"?). But for the most part, the potential of distributing "marriageable" partners makes people themselves a "hot commodity" (in its most benign sense).
Seen as a game of "painting the town red", the frenzy of total destruction, what we might call an out-and-out riot or a destructive military or political party (an odd sense of 'in-gagement'), leaves the semantic territory of festive feasts and so goes the host's prestige, down the toilet of semiotic transformation. A potlatch only by extension, this more describes a raid which has no deleterious affect on one's prestige, as long as it occurs elsewhere than your home or your neighbor's. It's just not neighborly. But you never know. There is that moment of excited uncertaintity, a nervous anticipation some go out of their way to acheive, when the big war canoe arrives with Tlingit or Maori warriors and their families concerning what will transpire. There may be much preening among all the young and unattached, certainly apropos to either event.
A potlatch (or party) is not a matter of out-out or in-in but in-out, in-out, the inmixing of otherness which creates diversity, as both Laccan and Buckminster-Fuller would have it. If there is a metaphoric extension to war, it is the war on property, and that is a war on stasis. A prevention or prophilactic against inception, even conception of the state.
For the most part, however, potlatch is a circuitous creation, gifting and movement, and in this is probably the surface area or "lineament of exogamy", a major "topographical contour" (a curved plane, a nose, a defining noise) which reveals something about its subsurface. If mothers and sisters form a transposable, modulating core of the community spirally wobbling its way through space, it's largely the intermittent boys orbiting on the fringes who do the meandering into new matrixes when the romantic spirit intervenes (a patriarchal potlatch is a contradiction in terms, whomever is handing out the presents). But this is just an heroic form or backdrop through which all the real beings flow, inbetwixt and outbetween – where considerations of age supersede those of gender when addressing matters of movement through space. It's a different sort of stage theory, well into the theatrical sense of complimentarity, otherwise known as a dance floor or solar system.
Some Aztecs brought defeated enemy warriors home to kill at a public spectacle rather than on the battle field. We call them sacrificial events. One half of all economic transactions are sacrifices; the other, theft. By extension, we slaughter turkeys en masse prior to the thanksgiving feast: we tolerate "sacrifice" only as long as we can eat on the corpse. Otherwise, we leave our war victims on the ground for redistribution by 'the elements' or their mourning kin and loved-ones (unless there is a "trophy" part to mount on the home wall – a proper set of horns). There is also the matter of assisted suicide, sending one on the great journey prematurely. Clearly, there are acceptable and unacceptable contexts in which we all do our killing (or hire it out to appropriate specialists), few of which concern "what's on the menu". In this day and age, our major concern is the nature of our own journey, with little to none for that of the other. There was a time/space where people understood the potential backfire in killing an enemy after they've been humiliated. The tradition of "counting coup" always leaves an escape route with the potential for an educational moment distributing itself across the landscape. Otherwise, what's to learn from the engagement?
Death is the final categorical imperative in our unified terminal theory to put an end to potential altogether. The cosmos is portrayed as a mere background to miniscule events of no significant meaning or duration. Redistribution is thought a mere utopean idea from the left. Circularity demonstrates logical error and eccentricity is either the property of heavenly bodies and therefore none of our business, or it is grounds for a property transfer by means of psychopharmacology and a ticket to the funny pharm. see June Helm's piece on Dené exogamy. It may be that the so-called "lower" we descend the ladder of "sociocultural integration", the more we encounter dynamically complex social relations operating in a field of great spontaneity. In our own "level", it often seems there are none whatsoever. So much for progress.  Obviously, how can a young man be a patriarch who is surrounded by nurturing womenfolk? Perhaps the first little over-indulged and possessed Nero, circumscribed from any exploration, en-vying with her womb (or umbilical apron-string), kills mom and sets the community aflame, unless his brothers (or sons) put an end to him. It's a sticky wicket, since if we are to put any stock in legends, this fratricide protecting the community is thought likely, how the boys discovered the will-to-power, inaugurating the iron age and its patriarchal domination literally through kidnapping and metaphoric cooptation (the theft of symbols – the new objectified woman became the mere container to sprout the man's seed, otherwise, slave and provisional arm-candy). With the sense of the complex, "Oedipus", Freud may have had it backward in every respect. It's not always the case that the war against tyrants ends in a perpetual battle of sexes, but sometimes it seems so.