Mephistopheles, Child of Christian Civilization

Part 4: Civilization in Transition

The news media recently reported that the Mashco Piro Indians in the Peruvian Amazon have been pushed out of their environment of evolutionary adaptation that they have occupied for at least 600 years because of commercial concerns and natural resource extraction (same old story.) An added complication here is that the Mashco Piro are the last uncontacted tribe in this area of South America. In the interests of holy preservation, why cannot these people just be left to themselves? They are, or were, a self-sufficient hunter-gatherer society that required no “assistance” from the developed world. It would seem they will fall victim to the inexorable Manufacture of Evil as anthropologist Lionel Tiger wrote in his superb book; and with it, another small piece of humanity’s heart is ripped out for the sake of wealth and comfort for the allegedly “civilized.” At this point, the human heart is in shreds already (along with its soul: “we will tear your soul apart,” the hell-priest cenobite states) as the numbers of uncontacted tribes continues to shrink. This does not even include indigenes who have had contact with the agro-industrial world but continue to maintain a mostly tribal lifestyle.

This author has provided a solution to protecting both self-sufficient native peoples and uncontacted tribes. The following is taken from a previous essay published by Dissident Voice on the subject but remains relevant and can be expanded to include hunter-gatherers anywhere in the world.

In the 1990s, Russian anthropologist Olga Murashko introduced the “Concept of an International Ethno-ecological Refuge” as part of the Seventh Conference on Hunter-Gatherer Studies convened in Moscow. This concept was designed to encompass the preservation of indigenous peoples’ traditional societies and the larger territory and complete biome within which they exist. Unlike the North American native reservations or national park system, the international ethno-ecological refuge would not merely resettle indigenous peoples in undesirable locations not of their own choosing or solely serve as habitat protection for the enjoyment of visitors. It would, instead, be a “total package” for the conservation and preservation of the complete northern Siberian forager-herder nomadic territory, all its natural resources (to be accessed only by the natives,) and overall habitat, its flora and fauna, and the unmolested practice of traditional culture and life-ways of the indigenous peoples that anthropologist Piers Vitebsky has documented so well. The state and international community would have custodial responsibility for the well-being and proper management of the ethno-ecological refuge and all its constituent parts. Outside intervention or interference would be kept to a minimum to allow the complete self-determination, self-sufficiency, and self-preservation of the indigenous peoples within the preserve. The preserve territory would be outlined by the indigenous peoples to encompass all habitats and ranges for their nomadic lifestyles to remain unimpeded by outside interference, whether it be economic development, socio-cultural reconstruction, park-land creation, resettlement efforts of traditional territories, resource extraction, the use of trade-routes, or the destruction of faunas.

The instrument for the effective realization of the refuges is the International Convention of Independent Countries on Indigenous Peoples (Convention 169.) The wherewithal to implement Convention 169 on the state, regional, and local levels is within the purview of the 26 signatories to the declaration. Whether or not they act on this or similar legislation will directly affect the future of indigenous peoples and their cultural survival as independent entities. Ethno-ecological refuges should be, in effect, microcosms of humanity’s environment of evolutionary adaptation in and around habitat mosaics. In the case of the Siberian North, this would include the essential tundra, taiga, and river valley “edge environments.”

Evolutionary ecologist Clive Finlayson has stated that “edge environments or habitat mosaics” are the loci of the human “innovators” who have survived local extinction events in the past and have preserved both themselves and their adaptive cultural skills for future generations. In today’s world, these traditional innovative peoples need the preservation efforts and advocacy of outside agencies to survive on a shrinking planet of nation-states and environmental degradation. Ethno-ecological preservation of edge environments would thus serve as human and ecological “life-boats” in the stormy seas of cumulative technological change and the future uncertainties it represents. It is incumbent on all responsible individuals to comprehend the big picture; and ensure the physical and cultural survival of humanity here on Earth in real terms by implementing pre-existing international regulatory vehicles rather than placing faith in, and waiting for, some nebulous future technological utopia that may or may not come to pass. It may be more heuristically and tangibly useful to consider what anthropologist Robin Fox terms the “paleotopia” of the ethno-ecological refuge when exploring “the search for society” and implementing its potential for realization.”

The model presented herein can be constructed to fit any foraging or hunter-gatherer society; it only takes the willpower to do so. One of anthropology’s greatest contributions to world cohesion and environmental protection is the preservation of small band societies and especially uncontacted tribes, few as they are, around the world. This will be humanity’s legacy to itself in the uncertain millennia to come. Let the experiment with civilization continue; but also let the tried and true small band society survive next to it, and then let the future bring what it may. The arrogant, pretentious, and patronising gibberish coming from the futurists and techno-utopians need to understand what brilliant anthropologist Marshall Sahlins wrote some 50 years ago in his seminal Original Affluent Society paper for the Man the Hunter symposium: “In this relation of hunters to worldly goods there is a neat and important point. From the internal perspective of the economy, it seems wrong to say that wants are “restricted,” desires “restrained,” or even that the notion of wealth is “limited.” Such phrasings imply in advance an Economic Man and a struggle of the hunter against his own worst nature, which is finally then subdued by a cultural vow of poverty. The words imply the renunciation of an acquisitiveness that in reality was never developed, a suppression of desires that were never broached. Economic Man is a bourgeois construction – as Marcel Mauss said, “not behind us, but before, like the moral man.” It is not that hunters and gatherers have curbed their materialistic “impulses;” they simply never made an institution of them. “Moreover, if it is a great blessing to be free from a great evil, our “savages” are happy; for the two tyrants who provide hell and torture for many of our Europeans, do not reign in their great forests, I mean ambition and avarice…as they are contented with mere living, not one of them gives himself to the Devil to acquire wealth.” The italics are mine here, because as long ago as the Man the Hunter conference was, the basic problems facing hunter-gatherer societies are still recognized today. Yet, the hunter-gatherer lifeway has continued uninterrupted since the dawn of humanity, while the dawn of civilization has brought many interruptions and left its ruins strewn all over the globe during its 5,000 year or so life cycle.

Thus we come to the main theme of this essay: what is humanity’s intention for its origins relative to its potential legacy? Will the First World Nations cling to their wealth and power and “acquisitiveness” while the Second and Third World try to catch up at any cost? For that is what they are doing because just as the middle classes have been feeling the economic pinch of slipping backwards financially, so the Second and Third Worlds see themselves slipping; not realizing, probably, they will never reach First World status. Their rising populations too, are, in fact, one of the time bombs (author Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb) they will also have to deal with. However, at the same time, they degrade the earth and disenfranchise the indigenous populations who “stand in the way of progress.” Amazonian rain forests are not the only one’s suffering: Indonesia is destroying theirs at a frenetic pace; and of the Old Growth Redwood Forests in California? Perhaps some three percent remain minus their indigenes. The same is happening in South America and Southeast Asia, to provide a few examples. Hunter-gatherers will eventually run out of space, and when a species loses its habitat, most people know that means extinction. (Perhaps the developing countries should be more careful lest they really turn the indigenes into cannibals. Dr. Francis Pechischer already, in the early 1970s, wrote An End to Starvation? about feeding the starving with untainted human medical waste. Sound strange? Read the article in Dissident Voice.

Generally speaking, the optimist-futurists think that the coming techno-utopia on the horizon will provide all the answers to humankind’s survival. But is that really so? Perhaps, as added insurance, even the sanctimonious one percenters and their large collectives can leave a few of Olga Murashko’s International Ethno-ecological Refuges on the shrinking planet just for the sake of it, even as a tax write-off should they help their respective governments create the refugia. Do we want the peace of mind of knowing that our children’s children and beyond will have a fighting chance in some distant future without having to conceive of, worry about, think about, or dream about the black cassocked sinister archpriest inhabiting the highways and byways of our mental and physical landscapes? If ontogeny (development of the individual) really recapitulates phylogeny (development of the species,) then, there may come a day when our distant descendants only know that their combined outer and matching inner worlds are metaphorically speaking a “Garden of Eden,” a “Happy Hunting Ground,” or an “Elysium,” the completion or perfection from which humanity emerged and to which people will return upon the “reconciliation of the opposites” and the reconstitution of the primordial Paleotopia.

The serendipitous secreting and later recovery of the Nag Hammadi Library points the way: this ancient wisdom bequeathed to future generations can assure that critically thinking individuals can use science (see above) and spiritual guidance to find humanity’s way home. The Greek Orthodox Pachomian monastery had the foresight to bury and hide the codices containing the library after Saint Anthanasius condemned on pain of death the use of “non-canonical” books in his AD 367 edict. An interesting and opposite diachronic convergence occurs where the father of cenobitic monasticism, St. Pachomius, meets the cenobite from hell (the black cassocked hell-priest “Pinhead”) in a contest for human psyches. Today, synchronically, individuals have to choose, consciously, or unconsciously, which of the cenobites (“His Eminence”) to genuflect before.

The Pachomian monks pointed the way more than 1,700 years ago:

Wisdom, let us attend. Look upon me, you who reflect upon me, and you hearers, hear me. You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves. And do not banish me from your sight. Do not be ignorant of me. For I am the first and the last (an ouroboros: completion or perfection of the psyche.) I am the wisdom of the Greeks and the knowledge of the barbarians. I am the one whom you have pursued and I am the one you have seized. And come forward to me, you who know me and you who know my members, and establish the great ones among the small first creatures. Come forward to childhood and do not despise it because it is small and it is little. And do not turn away greatnesses in some parts from the smallnesses, for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses. Hear me, you hearers and learn of my words, you who know me.

The monks here were reading, in a metaphoric and poetic style, about the opening of the unconscious to scrutiny and taking the first steps to reconnecting the ego-Self axis. The passages above are from a treatise called The Thunder, Perfect Mind where, once again, we become aware that a seeker is pursuing what Jung called “completion” or “perfection.” (Anthropos, heal thyself.) It is a diachronic example of a current, synchronic “malaise of the 20th century.”  Carl Jung may have been more properly correct to restate this conclusion as the “malaise of civilization’s last 5,000 years.” For the few civilized exemplars escaping Purgatory with the “light-bearer” that are able to attain this “ouroboric individuation” (linkage of ego-Self axis) the future is bright. For the hunter-gatherer, who knows nothing of these things, better to not destroy the linkage between the conscious mind and genetic memory so they don’t have to recover it at all, and do not even have to know what a “split” dissociative psyche is (in other words, they need no myth of Paradise Lost or Ariadne and the labyrinth.) History is littered with the wreckage of indigenous societies that have tried (notably Native Americans, Australians, and Siberians) to “repair” themselves. Better not to be broken, so “fixing” is not required. This applies, by definition, to The Human Zoo. A combination of small band society ethno-ecological refugia as defined by Russian anthropologist Olga Murashko for the few pristine hunter-gatherers left and a few “enlightened” small civilized social groupings networked with them may be the key to humanity’s survival in the distant and unpredictable future.

Piers-Vitebsky-Reindeer-PeoplePiers Vitebsky: Reindeer People

Few material wants and needs combined with eschewing the dependence on agriculture may also be the way forward. Marshall Sahlins states that “hunter-gatherers consume less energy per capita per year than any other group of human beings. Yet when you come to examine it, the original affluent society was none other than the hunter’s – in which all the people’s material wants were easily satisfied. To accept that hunters are affluent is therefore to recognise that the present human condition of man slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times.” Recall here the shadow quaternio featuring the Reman “slaves” as Nosferatu, the black cassocked sinister cleric residing and hidden deep in the human psyche. Sahlins “tragedy of modern times” is the symbol that does not go away, as discussed above and as we saw with the 80-year run of the black cassocked cleric in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (synonyms for the cleric/creature/saurotherium/Ammut can be traced back 3,200 years to Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece, and in reality probably began at the dawn of civilization some 2,000 years before that as the Sumerian Ereshkigal symbolized with “the black sun.” See Stanton Marlan’ excellent study entitled The Black Sun.) Sahlins, some half-century ago, stated that “the world’s most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such, it is an invention of civilization. It has grown with civilization, at once an invidious distinction between classes and more importantly as a tributary relation that can render agrarian peasants more susceptible to natural catastrophes than any winter camp of Alaskan Eskimo.” The present author has also written about what would happen when the next glacial event overtook the Earth. This is not a matter of speculation.

The “Ice Ages” began at the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch some 2.5 million years ago and had a formative effect on the development of that “special” genus Homo that includes our own species. The present Holocene Epoch warming trend is over 10,000 years old at present. The last time such a trend came and went was between 130-120,000 years ago and also ended after 10,000 years. Some present glaciologists are predicting the end of the Holocene in less than 1,500 years based on ice core evidence. What will be the “end” result for civilization when the next ice age is in full swing? Marshall Sahlins and I both (on separate occasions) have written on the projected results: once more the experiment with civilization will be challenged in the extreme as the glacial conditions annihilate the agricultural base. Is it possible to imagine millions of people dying from a sustained natural environmental change? We could review those that brought down the Mayan, Angkorean, and Natufian civilizations, but that would be beyond the scope of this essay. Interestingly, Sahlins chose the Eskimos as his “test” subjects whereas I chose the Nenets to see it through the next cold epoch. As evolutionary ecologist Clive Finlayson has stated, the small band societies living in edge environments or habitat mosaics are the most innovative and adaptable and likely to survive. Should the one-percenters, other bureaucratic regimes, and world governments become interested in Olga Murashko’s ethno-ecological refugia, at least some of the smart money would be on Greenland’s Eskimos and the Nenets of Siberia! Other potentially successful areas include Southeast Asia, South America, and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The key here, for survival, would be small group society living combined with contacts over wide areas through traditional tribal networks and exchanges similar to Early European Modern Human (“Cro-Magnon”) lifeways some 25,000 years ago in similar environmental conditions.

As this author has also shown above, in agreement with Marshall Sahlins’ and Clive Finlayson’s conclusions, and in line with anthropologists Olga Murashko’s and Robin Fox’s ideas on social tinkering (see also Fox’s The Search for Society: Quest for a Biosocial Science and Morality,) the most likely scenario for long time survival of the species is not the anticipated overly sanguine mega techno-utopia (technology can be lost as history has shown) promised by the futurists, but with small band societies described by Robin Fox (for the few enlightened civilized) and the ethno-ecological refugia for the hunter-gatherers. Paleotopia may not be perfect, as Robin Fox suggests, but it is our environment of evolutionary adaptation: the models shown herein being two ways of assuring the future of humanity that have realistic foundations grounded in millennia of natural selection, a science of the mind, and the natural sciences.

George is a former archaeologist and anthropologist in cultural resources management where his mission was the preservation and curation of prehistoric Native American sites and artifacts. He graduated from The American University with a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology in 2004. Current areas of interest include advocacy for Indigenous peoples and issues and rights of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.