Leavers & Takers

This might seem like a silly question, but I must attempt to have it answered anyway. When Mr. Quinn speaks of living tribally as helping people get “more of what [they] want (as opposed to just getting more)” (Beyond Civilization, p.115), is he simply referencing that tribal organizations FUNCTION to get people what they want (or need) whereas hierarchical organizations FUNCTION to benefit those in the upper echelon?

Or are there innate “needs” that can be fulfilled simply by BEING in a tribal social organization? (i.e., A tribal business can FUNCTION to give its members with children a free daycare service, but simply being IN a tribe fulfills needs of security, involvement, and “being a part of something” that all human beings seem to be attracted to.)

I did some research on a group of people that live in a remote mountain valley in Switzerland. They call their valley “Loetschental” and have been living there sufficiently and sustainably for about 1,250 years, and they still do.

This society performs a special form of agriculture that is not totalitarian, yet has been a sustainable kind. And this small civilization runs very differently from ours.

They raise three livestock animals—cattle, goats, and sheep (for wool, meat, and dairy) on the same pasture, hence no need to change the contents of the diversity of the pasture. Also, pasture is only around during the growing season—about 4 months a year—so hay grown there is used to feed the cattle the rest of the year, and food is stored for winter feeding.

They plant salad greens in gardens together, NOT on monocropped fields, and although they have single rye fields, they rotate their crops. Since the valley is about 7,000 feet above sea level, they have a very short growing season. Where they plant rye and hay one year they do not plant rye the next year.

They do not attempt to invade and conquer any neighboring villages, and do not try to make more of anything. They have a complete sense of limit. They grow the same amount every year—the amount needed to sustain their fixed population of 2,000—and no more.

Also, the wooden buildings in their valley never are torn down. The ones that exist now have existed since the dawn of the settlement. They also use no pesticides or hormones to raise productivity. They let Nature take its course to feed their livestock, and they feed whatever the pastures offer.

They may water their crops, but they do not try to control Nature—hence they “live in the hands of the gods” to a certain extent. They have made no attempts to hunt down the competitors or wage war on their animals. They may try to defend their livestock if attacked, but do not try to kill off the attackers.

They have no health problems or diseases of civilization, no depression, and have no hierarchical systems. Everyone shares the good times and the bad times together in the village. Yet they have all the good artifices of civilization—a culture, recorded history, an annual holiday celebration, and the ability to communicate ideas to the whole village. Would you call this a Leaver society?

I recognize the fact that cultures are subject to a form of natural selection, in which unlivable practices are abandoned or changed by the members of a tribal society over time. However, what I do not understand is how one can look at a tribal society today and make assumptions about their past.

Members of a tribe may say, “We have done this since the beginning of time,” but the oral tradition changes along with everything else, and it isn’t really reliable.

In several answered questions, you have replied to a person’s inquiry about an unpleasant cultural practice with a response along the lines of, that culture has been proceeding for thousands of years, anything unsustainable to its people would have been eliminated by now.

But how can we know whether they will be eliminated in the future? If a practice is eliminated in a tribe, does that render our previous criticism of it “correct” from an evolutionary perspective? Destructive practices must exist for a short time before they are abandoned, so how can we tell if the last few hundred years out of thousands in a tribe’s history aren’t the most internally destructive, or a radical change from what enabled them to survive before?

Has anyone discussed the fact that the Leaver/Taker conflict is also a battle that rages in our psyches? For me this has been THE epiphany of reading Ishmael.

I have personally suffered a lifetime of anxiety because the Taker culture in my mind (e.g. how to think and behave “correctly” in this world, and raise “well-adjusted” children) has made every effort to destroy Leaver cultures (spontaneous emotional expression, sexual passion, empathy for “abnormal” people like me, childish joy).

Once I gave up conquering myself, I found that there is room in my life for all my thoughts and emotions to “make a living.” I have experienced more peace, more integrity, more mental health, in the year since I read Ishmael, than in the previous 41 years of my life.

Anyone who asks “what to do” might pursue this path. To save the world “out there” is it not just as important to preserve our own diversity and dignity “in here”? Are we intellectual Takers, striving to dominate our emotional, spiritual, and physical Leavers?

I have recently come across a culture known as the Aleut, who inhabit the Aleutian chain of islands in the north pacific (between Siberia and Alaska, under the Bering Straight) and who mostly subsist of hunting the various sea life which (before the Russians in the 18th century) was rather abundant.

What struck me as odd was that their social organization was termed by various authors as “hierarchical”; indeed, they exhibited feautures of hierarchies, such as a “nobility” class and a “common” class.

Though the Aleutians did not (as far as historians and anthropologists know) have one section of society toil incessantly to erect massive structures as in other hierarchies, how is it that this particular culture was able to develop a hierarchical social organization without the development of agriculture?

Though I do not expect many people to be familiar with the Aleutians specifically, my question seeks simply to identify how any culture (for others must exist(ed)) can develop a hierarchy, which presumably contains a stratification in power, wealth and power WITHOUT developing agriculture? I was under the impression, after reading a number Quinn’s works, that agriculture (and only agriculture) developed hierarchies.

I’m a loner. I have some friends, but I don’t belong to any groups, besides my family. All I want to do right now is travel, and wander through the world.

Yet you seem to think that tribes are the only time-tested, or best way for people to live, right? And tribes are usually groups.

So where do people like me fit in? I know I’m not alone. What do you see for wandering loners like me? How did tribes treat them?

After reading My Ishmael school seems unimportant. I don’t want to fall into the job market flow and i don’t want to be a Taker. I want to spread the knowledge without going through this pointless waste of time people call schooling, yet if i drop out i’ll be looked at as a failure.

Its difficult to know what to do, should i stay in school and be a Leaver at the same time? is that possible? i’d like to hear your views please.

I am a doctor of chiropractic practicing in Canada, where, as in the U.S., much of the “health industry” is controlled by the big monies of the pharmacy companies. I would like to implement a system of care for my patients so they know that they will be taken care of regardless of their ability to pay.

The laws currently will not allow us to barter for services and when I do discount the fee, I feel the patients don’t value the service and almost feel guilty receiving it for free, since they know the exchange has to be a monetary one. In our current system, it is hard to deal with this.

I would like to drop the grip that this exchange(money) has on our office, but obviously it keeps us running and able to purchase supplies. Any thoughts on how to implement a system where everyone takes care of everyone and therefore everyone gets exactly what they need?