Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

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the_platypus
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Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

I've just started reading, but it seems to be a fascinating book. It essentially challenges the idea of "progress" which underpins civilization, in contrast to the lives of traditional, hunter-gatherer societies. So far, it seems this book fits well within the ERE framework insofar as it challenges assumptions about the "good life" and our culturally conditioned values, beliefs, etc.

Anyone else read this or heard of it before? Thoughts, opinions, convictions?


the_platypus
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

Civilized to Death made a reference to Civilization and Its Discontents, but no, I've read neither of them.

I feel that this book is filling a link I've been missing. If standard FIRE is, "escape the system, so you can live as a part of the system," and ERE is, "escape the system by living in a way the system doesn't prescribe," this book seems to be, "this is why you want to leave the system for ERE."

Interested in reading those two works after this one.

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Alphaville
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by Alphaville »

well it's an idea with a very old history. just keeps getting new varnish with the ages. that way publishers can sell more books. oldest record we have of this is the epic of gilgamesh? right at the outset of civilization (well, just a few thousand years into it), the taming of the wild man. the myth of the fall also deals with that if you take as poetry rather than religion.

but we can't go back to paradise :lol:

ps check out also epicurus who wasn't a "paleo bro" but came up with his own garden. the hippies also in their own way.

the_platypus
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

To me, the unique idea here is the challenging of the cultural bias and belief in progress and civilization itself. Yes, there is paleo and other commercialized idealizations of the past. And yes, these are lucrative and prey upon delusion and clinging. But they don't fundamentally criticize civilization itself.

It is my understanding that the predominant attitude of 'the West' towards natural peoples, from Roman times up till recently, was largely dismissive. Whether they are barbarians, savages, or otherwise, they are inferior and must be socialized properly for the purpose of exploitation -- was the thinking. The Epic of Gilgamesh takes this approach, too, it seems; Enkidu, after all, becomes civilized, instead of Gilgamesh becoming wild and relieving his people of his oppression.

I have no idealizations about primitive life and there is no panacea and there is no going back. But it is refreshing to hear someone with more letters after their name take a fairly holistic look at the "suck" in society and its deep, deep sociological and evolutionary underpinnings. And, I think, to challenge that quite openly is fairly new (at the very least, new to me), and quite insightful.

I will check out this epicurus fellow!

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Alphaville
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by Alphaville »

i almost ran off into the jungle when i was in my early 20s :lol: (i had the chance to get onto a canoe and... who knows?) likely would have ended like chris mccandles, but with yellow fever or parasites or something.

i'm one of civilization's discontents btw, probably since early childhood-- so the temptation to leave it all behind is always there. i retired early before having any money--did it backwards. :lol:

nevertheless, i know well now that no matter how we rearrange things, life is dukkha. (but yeah, there are better arrangements and there are worse arrangements: so let's rearrange).

anyway key to me was that enkidu was gilgamesh's friend. back then you were able to be a little more wild i guess. but sumerian religion is incomprehensible to me so i can only guess what they really meant. same thing as prehistory: we can only guess. how much murder was there in stone age tribes? http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/180868

the_platypus
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

Very curious to know how you ended up in the jungle with the chance to board a canoe! Probably smart not to have gone...soft western bodies don't always fair well in the wild, lol!!

Also curious how you did it backwards - have a journal?

Ahh, dukkha. Would a more accurate understanding would be, "there is dukkha," or rather, "I am the source of all my dukkha," or even better, "I am dukkha"? ;) I agree though. And, dukkha is more or less present based upon circumstances and one's skillfulness. So, external rearranging can serve the function of making that journey easier for those of us who are not quite as skilled as the awakened one :)

Apparently the Stone Age wasn't great for people: https://www.livescience.com/27055-neoli ... lence.html

But to be fair, I think the book would argue that the Stone Age overlaps with the timeline of civilization, to which it would lay the blame for the majority of violence in human history. Whether that is empirically true or not...well, I need to read more of the book and outside sources to say :)

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Alphaville
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by Alphaville »

nah, i don’t journal.

anyway i was working there, and wasn’t soft in the least—i just felt the desire to “go native,” and i probably would have if i had stayed longer, but life sent me elsewhere.

i did come back with giardiasis though, and a friend unknowingly harbored worms on the forehead from a fly bite :lol:

anyway i’ve had many adventures over the years and they often turned dangerous, so i’ve seen both sides of the coin—the fun and the elation and the injury and death. now in middle age i just want good health and peace and quiet :D

but anyway where i was getting at with this is that perhaps the best place to be is in striking a good bargain with wherever you are, and if you can’t get a good one then move elsewhere. and we all need to be friends with the wild side, but going back completely... is a different story.

anyway, please keep us posted with what you find out—i’m always interested in this subject and maybe this author has something new to add.

eta: and us rearranging ourselves can reduce the damage we inflict upon others. our species.... ooof... doesn’t matter at what stage of history or prehistory. i don’t know where to go with this...

RoamingFrancis
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by RoamingFrancis »

I listened to the audiobook while on a plane, which was a pretty bad decision and gave me a big headache. But hey, what else are you going to do on a plane?

Though not an expert, I mostly agree with the author. I like his other book, Sex at Dawn, as well. He also runs a fantastic podcast; the most recent episode was a guy documenting an obscure form of shamanism on a Korean island.

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C40
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by C40 »

I am also a Fan of Chris Ryan, his other book, and his podcast. I read Civilized to Death and was pretty disappointed. It didn't have as much substance as I expected and I thought he could and should have done a better job with it. But I still enjoyed it, and learned from it, and I think it's worth reading.

There are other relevant threads here to find on the same subject. You may want to read these other threads:

"Ismael Trilogy by Daniel Quinn" (with lots of discussion on the this subject, outside of the book) - viewtopic.php?f=13&t=10875&sid=e8cde9ba ... c6b059aae4

"Society is doomed. What is the answer?" viewtopic.php?t=10633
I don't know for sure, but it seems like this is related.

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fiby41
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by fiby41 »

Etymology of the word is du: (prefix) + kha where du: means bad, hard to, negative connotation in general. Cognate would be the dis in disease. In the early days of 0, kha was the 1 syllable word to denote 0 but eventually the 2 syllable word endured in common parlance. kha means space to astronomers, void for mathematicians, empty for medics, ether for someone else but we are discussing philosophy?

I wouldn't agree with the_platypus saying he is dukkha because the nature of soul is existence, consciousness and bliss. Saying he is the cause of dukkha might lead to fatalism. He could say "I am brahma", "aham brahmAsmi" , "I am that super-soul [present in plants and animals also.]" It is only when the untainted self (Atman) comes in contact with the modes of material nature that it gets contaminated.

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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

On my list, but haven’t cracked yet. I have read similar. “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright comes to mind.

I am currently reading a couple books on the topic of urban ecology which are almost a philosophical response or outgrowth from this dichotomy, because they examine the niches we create as much as the niches we destroy. I particularly recommend “Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene” by Tim Dee.

I think “Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies” by Geoffrey West might also be of interest.

Beyond problems with resource depletion, the growth of civilization pretty much dooms most of us to devoting decades of our lives to soul-sucking activities such as commuting or filling out yet another acknowledgment of receipt of revision to warranty. One small problem I have with some writing on this and related topics is that these two different problems are too intertwined. Or maybe that’s just me cautioning myself against dysfunctional ENTP tendency to wish for relief from boredom at any cost. Related realization would be that slumming is fun, but slumming is also elitist. IOW, the price of civilization with a capital C is constant maintenance and dull maintenance is not what humans evolved for...yet.

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Alphaville
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by Alphaville »

fiby41 wrote:
Mon Nov 02, 2020 12:48 am
but we are discussing philosophy?
always :D

i mean, we tend to think when we don’t know how to act, and we talk about our thoughts.

but not necessarily in a formalized way, yes?

anyway re; dukkha, what i meant with my original comment is that sure, we can find better ways to organize society somewhat, but it’s not going to be a cure-all, and we’ll just have new/different problems if/when we solve the current ones. just like going from the wild to the civilized state solved some problems and created others.

there are problems always, there is suffering always, there was never a paradise on earth, and there is no techno-santa claus. and by techno i also mean paleo: the hunter-gatherer technology paradigm will not eliminate suffering just based on the magic quality of being an archaic mode of production.

there might be a cure to our suffering condition somewhere else, but it’s not there.
7Wannabe5 wrote:
Mon Nov 02, 2020 7:10 am
IOW, the price of civilization with a capital C is constant maintenance and dull maintenance is not what humans evolved for...yet.
i am definitely not wired for it, and i detest maintenance, but it takes all kinds to make the world, and some people do like themselves a sweet routine, and prefer serotonin-enhancing to dopamine-seeking activities. yes, some people don’t find maintenance dull, but soothing. it’s a good thing too that they are among us, or we’d all be dead already. :D

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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by The_Bowme »

His podcast is fun.

My basic issue is that it doesn't matter which society is better to live in; we don't live in the society we do because it's best, but rather it's the one that survived.

If I have an idealic hunter gather tribe, but someone else creates "civilization", and they decide they want me to be part of that civilization, or just the resources my tribe relies on.. well, we've seen what happens many times.

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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

A climax forest does not maximize production. Fire favors grasses over trees. Humans evolved at the margin of grass and tree. The earliest European settlers in my region were literate. In their journals, they regretted the need to burn trees for fields. At the margin, they planted apples and picked berries.

the_platypus
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

Some basic takeaways:

- h/g are not miserable, their lives are not "nasty, brutal, and short," their existence is not dominated by violence, and civilization not the "logical next step" for h/g societies. There is no sharp distinction between work and play for them; if a group goes hunting, each hunter is free to choose to go or not; the kill is shared regardless. Their average lifespan is low, and this is because infant and child mortality rates are high (the weak, unlucky, or abandoned die); but if they survive to adulthood most can expect to live 7+ decades. Agriculture was not some amazing innovation and the logical next step; it sucked, and a desperate measure to avoid starvation. But once using it, people could not go back, because population had already grown, requiring more resources and land, which grew the population...

- Egalitarianism in h/g tribes requires constant peer level enforcement and interconnectedness. If a hunter gets a big kill, his/her peers might jest and say the kill isn't so big, that they got lucky, etc. to prevent the hunter from getting an inflated ego. This fails if this is not a widespread part of the culture, and it fails if there is anonymity amongst members. In western societies, inequality/anonymity creates what the book calls "rich asshole syndrome"; it promotes pathologies of social dominance, greed, arrogance, callousness, and selfishness.

- Many h/g and traditional societies experience a sharp decrease in quality of life as they become increasingly enmeshed in civilization. Food quality, free time, social structures all are worsened as they participate in economies and trade time for very little money. As nations "develop" they raise their standard of living and things start to suck a little less. But this is exactly a central argument of the book; that a lot of the "progress" in civilized quality of life is simply getting out of the bad situation caused by civilization itself.

- infant and early childhood support (and lack thereof) explains a significant amount of psychological pathologies and eventual neuroses. If infants and children are not held, nurtured, cared for, given time to play and explore, loved, etc. they are likely to develop psychological disorders. The amount of contact that children in tribes get is seriously way more than they get in western society. Infants are held nearly constantly, by numerous adult caregivers. Cries are responded to in seconds. Children sleep with parents. But also, children can take risks. They play and learn by imitation well into their teens. They are unrestrained and able to move about. Their sexuality and sexual nature is accepted. The result is that children grow up having secure attachments and healthy psychologies. For those tribes where this is not obtained, they were significantly more likely to experience, among other things, violence.

Larger impressions (not necessarily written in the book, more my thoughts):

- I came away with a profound sense that so much of the malaise of civilization does not "just happen" or is "human nature" but is in fact a direct effect of our culture. Everything from psychological neuroses and violence and selfishness, to flat feet and dental cavities, to monotonous, oppressive workplaces, are the result of, essentially, a very unnatural way of living -- hierarchical, anonymous, sedentary/monotonous, malnourished and (starving/obese, take your pick), rapacious, violent.

-If much about civilization is pathological, then religion is, essentially, a kind of band-aid for the dysfunction of complex society. Discount the ways in which religion can be appropriated or created for imperialism and hegemony. Consider "spiritual" progress and ethics -- that all are morally equal; the virtues of humility, generosity, and gratitude; "higher" states of consciousness like ego death or flow; living entirely in the present, with little worry for present or past; laughing off misfortune. These are the stuff of the heights of spiritual aspiration -- and also the stuff of children (in some ways) and, apparently, h/g societies. Therefore, what I realized is that authentic religious truth is NOT the most profound truth (in some metaphysical way), but merely the expression of a desire to return to what was, for hundreds of thousands of years, the norm of human life. The childlike, the natural, the wholesome, the good. The deepest truth is not religious but instinctual, codified not in books but in our very bodies. Our original sin, our dukkha -- to put it in terms familiar to me -- is not, in fact, original or the natural state of existence; they are the result of living in unnatural social arrangements.

- I also came away with a re-ordered set of values. Nothing, nothing, is more important than the social community. That's it. Much of the psychological pathology in our society is the result of the culture placing money and progress ahead of family, friends, child raising, etc. If that single value were number one, and the community broadly enough defined to include....family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, all world people, all sentient beings, all ecosystems, the earth...well, it would be a different world, for sure.

- I tried not to drink the kool-aid, but perhaps I had a sip...h/g society is NOT a utopia, there is still disease, pain, fear, violence, IGNORANCE, etc. But, this book helped me to understand just how....well, unnatural, or rather, unevolved, we are for complex civilized society. I no longer think...we are enlightened! society should be better! I recognize we are out of our biological depth in this experiment. And though we have achieved much, it's clear that civilization is QUITE a long way from anything close to the eons of balance + stability achieved by the h/g lifestyle.
Last edited by the_platypus on Wed Nov 04, 2020 9:54 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Alphaville
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by Alphaville »

nah friend, that’s idealized. civilization sucks, but so does our past. just look at our uncivilized chimp cousins:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gombe_Chimpanzee_War

the_platypus
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

ALphaville, the book mentions this exact thing:

"Pointing to chimpanzee group-level conflict to explain the origins of human war is a powerful rhetorical device. If war is an expression of something embedded so deeply in us that it goes back millions of years to before our ancestors diverged from the line leading to chimps (who sometimes engage in lethal group aggression), then war must be innate to our species. But there are serious problems here. First, it’s subtly, if deeply, misleading to describe chimps as “our closest primate cousin” without mentioning bonobos—our other, equally intimately related primate cousin...

But the biggest inconvenience occasioned by bonobos may be the utter absence of lethal aggression among them. No war. No murder. No raping or pillaging. No infanticide. No support, in other words, for the primate origins of human war. Given that a common ancestor eventually evolved into humans, chimps, and bonobos, basic scientific and journalistic principles would seem to require that the bonobos’ deeply antiwar ethos would get as much attention from serious authors as accounts of chimpanzee brutality. But that’s not what happens."

I hope I can copy this to a forum and not get sued?

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Alphaville
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by Alphaville »

bonobos have been idealized too ha haha. that’s an old hippy theory.

there’s this endless human search for “there’s no such place”. this is just one more derivative iteration of it.

it’s okay to enjoy it for entertainment value or satire or consideration of possibilities or a critical horizon or whatever.

but all we really have is the present. the future and the past are, to a great extent, inventions.

the_platypus
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Re: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Post by the_platypus »

Alphaville, I think the point is that we really need to look at the interface between our own biology and our environment/culture. It is here that "human nature" is broadly determined.

One of the two most horrible things I read in this book, from Christopher Columbus' letters/journals:

“[The Native Americans] are very simple and honest and exceedingly liberal with all they have, none of them refusing anything he may possess when he is asked for it. They exhibit great love toward all others in preference to themselves...They are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest—without knowledge of what is evil—nor do they murder or steal… they love their neighbors as themselves and they have the sweetest talk in the world… always laughing...They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

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