What do you think of Robert Carniero’s theory of environmental circumscription?

This seems to be the most widely accepted theory on why tribal societies become state societies. He does, of course, speak from a background influenced by Mother Culture, and seems to think that population automatically expands and food production must be expanded to accommodate it, but would you say that his theory holds true if the societies he studied were already in the food race?

He studied South American societies but applied his theory to the Western one as well. He begins with agricultural tribes and doesn’t address hunter-gatherers or semi-agricultural peoples.

Would you agree that circumscription was a catalyst for abandoning tribalism in the cases Carniero studied, but that he simply hasn’t gone back far enough in their history to pinpoint the adoption of totalitarian agriculture as the real reason?

What do you believe IS the reason that people abandoned tribalism? It begins with complete dependence agriculture, doesn’t it?

A book was recently written by an author named Richardson B. Gill that is being hailed in the anthropological community as the last word in explaining the collapse of Mayan civilization. In short, Gill attributes the collapse to factors almost solely related to drought caused by global weather pattern fluctuations involving active volcanism in the region and a related shift of the mid-Atlantic high pressure region over the Yucatan peninsula in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D.

He has come up with tough-to-dispute geological and meteorological evidence for the presence of these climate fluctuations and it is due to the nature of this evidence that he is being continually lauded in academia as the man who finally solved the Mayan mystery.

I know you have stated that droughts are not sufficient cause for the end of a civilization, but he’s talking about unheard of die-out-rates of over ninety percent for both the Mayan and hunter-gatherer populations in that geographic region. This seems to me to be precedent for the end of a civilization by means of almost pure physical deprivation.

If they indeed “walked away,” I think it was more due to an interpretation of the gods’ perceived condemnation of the Maya’s previous way of life. In essence, “look what it brought on its people.” Hence the vandalism. Basically, when people can’t get water, they die.

How does this affect your own personal thesis on the Mayan collapse?

I am a high school English teacher currently reading Ishmael with my 10th graders. We were discussing Ishmael’s idea that man is the only animal that breaks the law of limited competition—kills off other animals’ food sources or other organisms that are not his specific food source—in order to keep his food source plentiful.

One of my bright students shared a video that he had seen in a science class. The video is called The Evolutionary Arms Race (aired on PBS, WGBH 2001) and the part he shared was the practice of the tropical leaf cutter ant.

These ants cut leaves and carry them to their nests to feed them to a fungus which the ants in turn eat. In the process of feeding and caring for the fungus, ants seemed to develop a sort of white sticky film on their bodies.

It was discovered that the fungus has a predator—a mold. This white sticky film is a bacteria secreted by the ants that kills the mold. So the ant secretes an organic pesticide to get rid of a weed it doesn’t want growing in its garden.

In your opinion, would these ants be breaking the law of limited competition?

The basic idea is that when our human population grows large enough, we will run out of resources, most important of which is food. Have you considered though, that as our population grows, humans themselves will become a food source to other humans?

Of course, our population may be growing too fast for our beliefs about the “sanctity of human life” to change enough to tolerate cannibalism. But what do you think about the possibility? Might we simply become a cannibalistic society and continue on our normal course?

I understand that totalitarian agriculture and “putting the food under lock and key” must be eliminated to get ourselves out of the overpopulation crunch we’re in now, but I’m wondering if with that would come the elimination of all currency.

You suggest in The Story of B that putting the food behind lock and key was the first step, so it would seem that capitalism was the outgrowth of that. If that were to be eliminated, what would differentiate tribalism from a sort of de-centralized communism?

In the response to one question, #551, you said, “Among Leaver peoples, food is free for the taking. Takers keep it under lock and key so that you have to work for it.”

Meanwhile in a response to another question, #552, you described the Maya as Leavers. But didn’t the Maya put food under lock and key and force people to work to get it back? Or if they didn’t, how did their civilization exist? Or is the difference simply that the Maya considered that they had a choice with regard to what they did with their food, as proven by the fact they eventually did return to a lifestyle in which food is “free for the taking”?

Are the food race and totalitarian agriculture the same thing? Even if we stop increasing food production to respond to population growth, I still think that people will insist on keeping the food locked up and making people work for it.

Whenever I suggest the idea that food should be as free as oxygen or sunlight, people look at me funny. What do you think is an approach for changing minds to end the “locking up” of food, rather than the food race?

Mr. Quinn, here is an interesting question that a member of our discussion group asked: DQ relies heavily on natural selection as a framework to explain why early American civilizations were abandoned—they didn’t work as well as another form of social organization (presumably tribalism), so the people “walked away,” (like the children of Israel “walked away” from Egypt, pillaging and looting).

So my question is, what’s to stop anthropologists and other naive puppets of Mother Culture from using the same argument to explain why tribal peoples “walked away” from tribalism to civilization?

DQ would say that wasn’t a free choice; they were misled and coerced—but how do we know that the people of, say, Teotihuacan weren’t misled and coerced, when we have no records of what happened and there are signs of conflict (or at least looting and pillaging)?

DQ might then say that the civilizations weren’t environmentally sustainable, while the tribal cultures that our civilization “civilized” were sustainable.

But how does that figure into natural selection when the unsustainability is not yet affecting mortality?

The way our civilization wiped out tribal cultures was no less “natural” than the way crazy ants (Paratrechina longicornis) wipe out other species of insects. Meanwhile, the Teotihuacanis and Maya had not even come close to reaching the environmental limits of their surroundings . . . so their behavior is “not” explainable by natural selection.