FIRST EARTH | Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Daniel Quinn

Daniel Quinn

A system had evolved over hundreds of thousands of years among humans, a collaborative community called the tribe, where people worked together to make a living, basically. Very simple in itself, and those who gave support got support. They weren't into making products and buying products and selling products, they were into not necessarily taking care of each other, but making sure that the tribe went on and continued.

And it was not a hierarchical system, it was a very egalitarian system. When times were good, times were good for everyone, and when times were bad, times were bad for everyone. There was no class at the top that lived well at the expense of others, and so on.

We are a culture that is very fundamentally based on greed, but if you look outside of our culture, that isn't the case. In tribal societies, as they were, and as they are now, they are not dogs eating each other. Very definitely not. Anyone who is greedy, who tries to take and not give, not support the other members of the tribe, will soon find himself being shunned and isolated, and therefore unable to make a living himself.

So that doesn't work. Everyone collaborates to make a living for them all, for the whole group. So that's a much more accurate depiction of human nature, if you're going to talk about the great predominant paradigm, then our particular culture, which is a very young social group. We are not humanity, unlike what many people would like to believe.

The third world is a group that would like to be the first world. I'm thinking of undeveloped countries, nations that exist today. So they're not unlike us, except that they're not as advanced as we are, technologically. But of course, talking about tribal peoples, tribal peoples are not third world peoples. They may live in third world countries, but they are not participants in the third world civilization. And third world nations that exist are civilized as they can be, as much like us as they can be.

But you don't see anything in the media about the Yamamami of Brazil, tribal people of Brazil, or the Gebusi of New Guinea. They don't make the news at all. Nobody knows they exist, except anthropologists. They don't make news. They just live and go along as they've gone along for thousands of years. Except when they're exterminated, or when they decide that they would rather commit suicide than be slowly sucked in to our world. Then they become a little newsworthy.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there were quite a few stories about the tribal peoples of Brazil who were committing suicide, rather than be overrun by us.

Anthropologists have established very clearly that the more you live dependent on agriculture [instead of hunting and gathering], the harder you have to work. And the easiest life of all is simply going out and getting what's there already. Because you don't have to plant it, you don't have to care for it, you don't have to use pesticides, you just go and get it. So that's the fewest calories expended to live, that way.

All of that stuff that goes into it, to put 140 calories onto your shelf. And all of that is effort, by somebody. Of course, a lot of it is fossil fuel, of course. But at every point, human effort is involved, as well. No, by far, the people who have the easiest life, most leisurely life, are the people who are hunter-gatherers.

Well, if there isn't enough wisdom for us to begin to reorganize our agricultural system so that it no longer depends on fossil fuel, which it does at this point, at every stage of the game, from fertilizer to the grocery store shelves. There will be not only an enormous famine, but an even more devastating panic, years before the actual famine. It'll be devastating. This is bad news! Sorry to give it. But it is true.

And when I wrote Ishmael, I knew that we were attacking the biological diversity of the planet, but I had no idea that we had already entered into a period of mass extinctions. It's estimated that as many as 200 species a day are becoming extinct! This is roughly 1000 times the normal rate of extinction. There of course have been extinctions throughout the history of life on the planet. But this is what is meant by a mass extinction, like happened in the last Permean period, when the dinosaurs disappeared.

I've said it's like we're living at the top of a tall skyscraper, and every day, we go down to the lower floors, and knock 200 bricks out of the walls, at random, just here and there. Well, there are plenty of bricks, you know, millions of bricks, no problem, the building's still standing. But, eventually, if you do that day after day after day after day, for year after year, decade after decade after decade, you are attacking the fundamental structural stability of the building. And that's what we're doing to the community of life on this planet.

But until people understand that, you can argue with them all you want, and you won't get anywhere. They really have to see that, and accept that, before you can have any sensible conversation about what to do about that. And so long as people remain oblivious to this fact, you can argue about other things all you want. But till they see that we really are facing a calamity, not for the planet, because life on the planet will go on just fine without us, but WE are in danger of making ourselves extinct, we are going to be one of those 200 species that become extinct one day.