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The Ishmael Companion
Beyond Civilization
 Study Guide


From Beyond Civilization:
Excerpt 3

Nontribal businesses

Ordinary businesses don’t burden themselves with tribal obli-
gations. Most obviously, they don’t “take care” of their workers;
to do so would introduce them to a whole suite of problems in
which there is no profit whatever. Instead, they pay salaries and
expect workers to take care of themselves. One worker may thrive
on a given salary, while another languishes on it. From the
company’s point of view, there’s no injustice in this if the salary is
fair in the first place. It’s not the company’s fault that the second
worker has a large family to support or an ailing parent to take care
of—or is just a bad manager of money. The company can afford to
be hardnosed about this; it doesn’t risk losing this second worker to
a competitor, because its competitors are equally hardnosed about

This unspoken agreement among businesses to limit their obligation
to issuing a paycheck is precisely what gives our society its prison
ambience. Workers have “no way out.” Whether they move from
company to company or from nation to nation, their employers’
obligation ends with the paycheck (an arrangement that obviously
suits employers very well).

Prisons are always arranged to suit the warders. That’s the anti-
cipated order of things. No one thinks that prisons are built to
suit the needs of prisoners or that businesses are built to suit the
needs of workers.

Stepping into a tribe means stepping out of the prison.

Something better to hope for

Because all six billion members of our culture (which I’ve called
“the culture of maximum harm”) are striving to maximize their
affluence, we shouldn’t be alarmed solely by the one percent who
live like lords of the universe. We must be equally alarmed by the
other ninety-nine percent who are hoping to live like lords of the
universe. It’s probably not going to be the billionaire pop stars,
sports heroes, and deal-makers who are going to lead us out of the
prison we share with them. It’s the rest of us who must find the way
out, who must discover something better to hope for than inhabiting
a sable-lined cell next to Barbra Streisand, Michael Jordan, or
Donald Trump.

The world can support a few million pharaohs, but it can’t support
six billion pharaohs.

“Something better to hope for. . .”

Is this by any chance a reference to what I called “another story to
be in” in Ishmael?

Is this what I meant when I said that “people need a vision of the
world and of themselves that inspires them”?

Is this what I meant when I said in The Story of B that “If the world
is saved, it will be saved because the people living in it have a new

Of course it is.

An intermediate goal: less harmful

A student asked this question: “How does walking away from
civilization help us live as harmlessly as sharks and tarantulas
and rattlesnakes?”

My answer: Any move beyond civilization represents a move away
from the culture of maximum harm and therefore reduces your
harmfulness. Jumping over the wall of the prison won’t instantly
make you as harmless as a shark, tarantula, or rattlesnake, but it
will instantly move you in that direction.

Look at it this way: no move beyond civilization will ever result
in greater harm. If you want to do harm, you’ve got to stick to
civilization. It’s only inside that framework that you can burn up
ten thousand gallons of jet fuel just to have lunch at your favorite
restaurant in Paris. It’s only inside that framework that you can
casually dynamite a coral reef just because it inconveniences you.

Moving beyond civilization automatically limits your access to the
tools needed to do harm. The people of the Circus Flora will never
build a Stealth bomber or open a steel mill—not just because they
wouldn’t want to but because even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t
have access to the tools. To regain access to the tools, they’d have
to leave the circus and find new places for themselves in the culture of
maximum harm.



More excerpts from Beyond Civilization

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