Leavers & Takers

After reading all your books to date and listening to “The Book of the Damned” on audio I keep wondering what exactly you mean by “the gods”. I took it to mean that Leavers were, and still are living at the whim of nature and simply taking what comes free and not worrying about what is to come next. I assumed that you did not actually mean any god or gods in specific. Am I interpreting “The gods” correctly?

In Jared Diamond’s excellent book Guns, Germs, and Steel, he addresses the question of the origins of agriculture at some length and concludes that food production developed independently in at least seven places – the Fertile Crescent, two different areas in China, New Guinea, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and the Eastern present-day U.S. – and possibly as many as eleven. Furthermore, in at least five of those places agriculture could have been characterized as “totalitarian” – prompting large alterations to landscapes, supporting of a large social hierarchy, and yielding aggressive expansion into lands inhabited by non-agriculturalists (either killing or converting them). Diamond also points out that the areas that did not develop intensive food production were the areas where it was not possible to do so given the existing local wild edibles. He also argues that many of the regions that “received” agriculture from elsewhere did so through trade, not necessarily through expansion of existing Taker societies. So yes, the actual course of events turns out to be much more mottled and complex than the theory. My question is, doesn’t all this somewhat undermine your basic notion that the rise of intensive agriculture took place in just one or two small locations and then expanded everywhere else through population growth and conquest? Doesn’t it strongly imply that the momentum of people more or less everywhere was towards food production? If Mr. Diamond is to be believed, the number of societies that willingly gave up Leaver lifestyles for Taker ones is far, far greater than the number for whom it went the other way around.

I am currently researching the evolution of various hunter gathers to the point of sedentarisation, where agriculture becomes the predominant method of subsistence. I was wondering if you knew of any hunter gatherer groups that have evolved past the “leaver” philosophy into an agrarian culture and then did a complete 180 back into their indigenous lifestyle. Also, do you think the recent whaling situation of the Makah people in the Northwest coast is representative of this move “backwards” or is it more likely these people are generating a pseudo-hunter-gatherer society?

Yes, but how are the strategies proposed in Beyond Civilization supposed to eliminate pollution, overpopulation, crime, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, poverty, police brutality, political corruption, racism, child abuse, violence against women, homophobia, pornography, violence in film and music, exploitation of the elderly, date rape, judicial malfeasance, insider trading, road rage, and media bias?

In Ishmael, Alan comes to the realization that our Taker culture has violated fundamental rules of life. But in violating these stated rules, have we not followed the most important rule of every living creature — “Above all else, make sure you reproduce so that your genes are passed to the next generation?” Yes, we have decided which species will and will not live, but in so doing, we have almost assured (up to this point in time) that every person who wants to reproduce in our culture can? This point is made again in MY Ishmael. The culture which arose from the agricultural revolution broke the rule of erratic retaliation because they could. Julie determines that the erratic retaliation strategy is preferable to the total annihilation strategy because if a tribe took the annihilistic strategy, others would team up against them and destroy the subversive tribe. So, only threat of destruction is what prevented tribes from adopting the annihilation strategy. Once a tribe found a way to have unlimited resources, did it not make sense for them to destroy those around them, securing those tribes’ resources for their own progeny? I guess both of my questions sum up to this–although our culture (and our species) is on the brink of destruction, did we not just take a logical step in terms of reproductive success?