Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Reading Daniel Quinn's Ishmael online;  Quinn's book was in our household years ago but I never read it, it appeared about the time my son went to university, I remember picking it up and the story was told through a gorilla called Ishmael, so I put it down again, perhaps I should buy it..... Here Quinn is explaining that the way humanity went through an agricultural revolution, marking our progress through farming and civilisation, forgetting the greater amount of time humans, or their contemporaries had actually been living through the stone age as foragers or hunters.  Now sense tells us that we could not all go out hunting and foraging, and that human kind would indeed be reduced if we did - not a bad idea some would say.  His theory that we should resort to a more tribal nature, in many ways a bit like the protestors at Heathrow demostrating against the proposed third runaway, which drifts through the news this week.  Four years and our hippies have turned this vacant land into something more productive, but the bailiffs are moving in to move them on, the owner wants the land back.  The battle is of course to do with noisy aeroplanes for the people living round Heathrow, for the protestors it gives them a meaning and value to life to fight something that is seen as destructive  but in doing so bonds people into a 'tribe' different from the 9 to 5 people around them.

 "We have at last arrived at a point where we can abandon this vague and clumsy way of talking about “people of our culture” and “people of all other cultures.” We might settle for “Followers of the Law” and “Rejecters of the Law,” but a simpler pair of names for these groups has been provided by a colleague, who called them Leavers and Takers. He explained the names this way, that Leavers, by following the law, leave the rule of the world in the hands of the gods, whereas the Takers, by rejecting the law, take the rule of the world into their own hands. He wasn’t satisfied with this terminology (and neither am I), but it has a certain following, and I have nothing to replace it with."

When we talk of tribalism of course the first image to come to mind is the 'Law of the Jungle,' a 19th century understanding in that the strongest survive, and also our ideas are given extra credence by such images these Amazon Indians give who have emerged from the jungle in Peru recently as their lives are  by threatened by logging and oil companies

Historians wouldn’t touch this other stuff, and here’s the excuse they fashioned for themselves. They didn’t have to touch it … because it wasn’t history. It was some newfangled thing called prehistory. That was the ticket. Let some inferior breed handle it - not real historians, but rather prehistorians. In this way, modern historians put their stamp of approval on the Great Forgetting. What was forgotten in the Great Forgetting was not something important, it was just prehistory. Something not worth looking at. A huge, long period of nothing happening.

As I’ve pointed out again and again, the foundation thinkers of our culture imagined that Man had been born an agriculturalist and a civilization-builder. When thinkers of the nineteenth century were forced to revise this imagining, they did it this way: Man may not have been born an agriculturalist and a civilization-builder, but he was nonetheless born to become an agriculturalist and a civilization builder. In other words, the man of that fiction known as prehistory came into our cultural awareness as a sort of very, very slow starter, and prehistory became a record of people making a very, very slow start at becoming agriculturalists and civilization-builders. If you need a tip-off to confirm this, consider the customary designation of prehistoric peoples as “Stone Age”; this nomenclature was chosen by people who didn’t doubt for a moment that stones were as important to these pathetic ancestors of ours as printing presses and steam locomotives were to the people of the nineteenth century. If you’d like to get an idea of how important stones were to prehistoric peoples, visit a modern “Stone Age” culture in New Guinea or Brazil, and you’ll see that stones are about as central to their lives as glue is to ours. They use stones all the time, of course - as we use glue all the time - but calling them Stone Age people makes no better sense than calling us Glue Age people.

Do I get a better understanding of the world as it is today, I think not sadly, but my understanding of the 'stone people' is that they were on the road to where civilisation stands today, nothing could have been done to prevent it, we are the sum of our curiosity, which drives forward advance.  The religious meme will always be a source of wonder to me, it has had terrible consequences in the way we humans use these different belief systems to lead our lives.  As I despair of the cruelty inflicted on animals so I despair of crude faiths that use their symbols to inflict death, to bully, to send women and children into slavery. 



  1. People are always able to justify their actions by using their religion as a basis for their thinking. Nothing changes does it?