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Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS 
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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
DWill wrote:
There is tremendous space between primitive tribal life and modern affluent life. Junger is saying that the earliest tribal life had solidarity going for it, despite what must appear to us to be a life of hardship and lack of opportunity. Presumably, this solidarity didn't disappear when people began living in larger groups.
I think the argument is that the emergence of larger social groups caused a steady corresponding reduction in human solidarity, simply because the solidarity of a band where you know and rely on everyone is obviously far stronger than in each successive stage of larger and larger social groups.

The six million years of evolution since we split from the chimps has mostly involved small clan group organization, so there is a sense in which this level of intimacy is hardwired in our genes as the optimal social structure for mental health. Any bigger group has to find substitutes for the solidarity of the clan.
DWill wrote:
As Junger says, it is still possible for people to feel united even in our own century, but it takes some extraordinary event to make us snap to attention to the presence of one another.
The feeling of existential unity produced by war is the closest analog to clan identity, but even then, there is a need for intensive state propaganda to whip up the fervor of nationalism. Such social unity among strangers is quite different from the solidarity of a small group in a hunter gatherer world.
DWill wrote:
Otherwise, the forces of individualism and inter-cultural war separate us and weaken us as surely as if we were being attacked from without. (I jump ahead here to his topic in the final chapter of the book.)
Yes, this theme of the corrosive atomizing force of competitive individualism as a social norm is the big question for Tribe.
DWill wrote:
I don't consider this happiness deficit an established fact, though. Junger makes much of the numbers of whites (how many?) who did not want to be repatriated. I'm not sure this supports a conclusion that life with the Indians was happier.
Intuitively it seems obvious. The Indians had a paleo diet, individual freedom, rituals grounded in reverence for nature, and strong social values of honor and dignity. By contrast the industrial mass conformism of the USA had brought with it from Europe a range of traits that gave it much more economic power as a group but at the cost of reduced individual happiness.

I suspect the settlers had a less nutritious mass produced diet, and more mental illness from forced conformity to alienated dogmatic fantasy and rituals based on separation of spirit from nature. The great thing about industrial agriculture is that it feeds a bigger population and produces surplus for war and culture. But to cope emotionally with the alienation from nature produced by industrial life requires supernatural religion, which brings a heavenly host of social pathogens. Primitive life is happier, even if shorter and less comfortable, more subject to disease, accident, poverty and risk.
DWill wrote:
For one thing, we have here a somewhat negative view of happiness, that is, as the relative infrequency of depression and suicide.
I don’t get how that is negative. A society where mental illness is worse is obviously less happy. Modernity has an epidemic of mental illness, a good proxy for unhappiness.
DWill wrote:
the surplus that agriculture made possible resulted directly in specialization and with it the growth of arts and industries, elements that we would like to cite as essential to our happiness.
Yes, the question of whether money can buy love is an enduring controversy. Looking at the hierarchy of needs, above the base level it seems unlikely that increased affluence increases happiness, although I recall a Swedish book a few years ago by Johan Norberg argued against that.
DWill wrote:
The afterlife figures in many indigenous traditions that were not the creation of a priestly class. Deception was also part of shamanistic practice.
The difference between shamanic and monotheist religion turns in large part on the contrast between animist and transcendental frameworks. My reading is that primitive religion is more about a return to the earth and the cycle of life, whereas the Abrahamic view takes off with a theory of the immortality of the soul, and the complex metaphysics of heaven. My impression is that there is a big difference between how fundamentalist Christianity views heaven as our home and how indigenous spirituality views earth as our home.
DWill wrote:
The key word is "trade-off," indicating a loss compensated for by a gain. Junger acknowledges but does not emphasize that we may have gained as much as we lost in becoming modern people.
The evolution of an advanced global technological civilization has brought opportunities and powers orders of magnitude above the stone age. But the problem is identifying what we have lost, and how we might create substitutes for the things we have lost such as the comfort and solidarity of a close knit small community.
DWill wrote:
There is really no state of grace in shortened lives in which brutality will not be unknown (see Steven Pinker and others) and in which the harsh law of nature prevents the old and handicapped from being cared for.
What I personally understand by the concept of a state of grace is harmony with nature. A society that is in harmony with its natural environment is sustainable, able to continue in similar way. A society that is not in harmony with its natural environment is unsustainable.

One of the big influences on my thinking on this topic was the 1982 movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koyaanisqatsi . The soundtrack by Philip Glass joined with the vision of the scale of industrial onslaught on nature to create a vision of an unsustainable world, hurtling towards apocalyptic destruction. The overall theme is the delusory dangers of the dominant alienated American religious view that wrongly sees spirit as separate from nature and sees no path for their reconciliation.
DWill wrote:
I just don't think religion and myth give us any ability to objectively view our past.
If myth provides a distorted mirror of the reality in which people live, then it does provide some help in social and cultural interpretation. On the big themes of the alienation from nature, which is an underlying theme in Tribe, the Christian story of cross and resurrection could actually provide some ability to interpret the big trends of history.

For example, the Biblical idea is that society was so fallen and delusional and depraved that when God appeared among them the response was to hammer nails in his hands. As a metaphor for the separation of spirit and nature the story of the cross is quite strong.
DWill wrote:
I also take issue with your view that it took religious delusion, foisted on the masses, to fuel the destruction of cultures that stood in the way of wealth-producing societies. That wasn't the engine because there was no singular engine in such onslaughts.
When we look at colonialism, there is a universal use of religion as part of the imperial enterprise. There is a dominant view that primitive religion is Satanic and must be stamped out by the advanced faith of the conquering power. The moral legitimacy conferred by religion is essential to imperial expansion. The conquest on earth tends to be mirrored by an imagined conquest in the realm of myth. How you could take issue with that core feature of history, how the mandate of heaven provides moral justification for mundane conquest, looks surprising.
DWill wrote:
If we look at the beliefs that have sustained cultures with greater solidarity than our own, we'll find things that aren't "true." But can that be the point? For example, American Indian traditions have never recognized evolution, but should it be a deal-breaker? I also think that "only as symbolic" will vitiate whatever tradition we're looking at 100% of the time. These beliefs have always been held as more than symbolic and need to continue to be in order to hang on.
This problem of the status of symbols can best be explored by study of the role of Jesus Christ, seen as the universal mediator between earth and heaven. This mediation function has an old metaphysical purpose in connecting time to eternity. That is an abstract conceptual ideal role of an anointed savior - purely and entirely symbolic.

Now the problem that arises when you build a world civilization is that this symbolic need for a cosmic king does not go away. People always want a source of moral redemption and hope focused in an individual. So if there is nobody with the perfect skill to be the mythical king, one will inevitably be invented, as a law of social psychology.

Now as we move to a scientific world where all claims must be justified by evidence and logic, the complete absence of any real evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ stands as a problem for the “vitiation” model of faith that you describe. You seem to be saying that to the extent the myths of the Gospel are seen as literally untrue they lose their religious power.

That is an assumption that I entirely question, because retaining Christian tradition and interpreting it parabolically provides a far better ethical framework for society than any available alternative.

The problem of atheism is that it lacks any framework of ritual organization, and is therefore incapable of serving as a basis for local community cohesion. There should be no problem with retaining the beautiful comforting religious traditions of baptism and eucharist within a worldview that refuses to accept any unscientific assertions.
DWill wrote:
We misjudge the lives of the !Kung people if we think they had super-abundance. It may have taken them only part of the work-day to gather what they needed to survive because that's about all the land offered.
I did not say the !Kung have abundance, but that they are happy, and that global society requires universal abundance to achieve similar happiness.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/happines ... nah-curtis explains that “The claim that happiness is brought on by buying goods and spending money is disproved by the Kalahari Bushmen, who, as the chief of the tribe told me, believe that the key to their happiness is fewer material goods. He said that because they have so little, they are so happy… Instead of the common western belief that money and luxury brings pleasure, it was interesting to see how experience and community is the Bushmen’s foundation for happiness… Through these observations of the Kalahari society, I have realized that song and dance can bring more happiness than buying a pricey new handbag. In fact, through personal experience such as walking through the bush, playing games, making dinner, and learning their language, I felt a new sensation of joy… enjoy the ride and live happily because like the Bushmen, all a person needs is a supportive community and an enthusiastic spirit to live a thrilling life.”
DWill wrote:
They adjusted their lives to be attuned to the environment, as we have not. They were content with very little, as we are not. We need super-abundance today, but only so that all the people of the earth can have enough, which implies a socialistic leveling process that doesn't work in the U.S. or, I'm guessing, in Australia.
It is quite hard to survive in the modern world without affluence. When wealth is put to productive use it is a great boon. However, I agree with Junger’s argument later in the book about the criminal nature of the finance industry, how the American political system is so badly corrupt that it allows thieves working for banks to get away with unimaginable grand larceny.

So the idea that more equality would be good is something I endorse, simply to deliver rule of law. But I don’t think it is unreasonable for people to want to have assets worth a million dollars to retire on, for example.

My view is that productive use of the vast scale of the world oceans will be the key to achieving sustained global super abundance, a bonobo world of universal happiness.


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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
There is tremendous space between primitive tribal life and modern affluent life. Junger is saying that the earliest tribal life had solidarity going for it, despite what must appear to us to be a life of hardship and lack of opportunity. Presumably, this solidarity didn't disappear when people began living in larger groups.
I think the argument is that the emergence of larger social groups caused a steady corresponding reduction in human solidarity, simply because the solidarity of a band where you know and rely on everyone is obviously far stronger than in each successive stage of larger and larger social groups.

The six million years of evolution since we split from the chimps has mostly involved small clan group organization, so there is a sense in which this level of intimacy is hardwired in our genes as the optimal social structure for mental health. Any bigger group has to find substitutes for the solidarity of the clan.

Yet it seems that mere size of settlements didn't mean that the in-bred need for close social contact couldn't be satisfied. I think of city neighborhoods early in the last century and perhaps still today. Large populations can break into smaller units to retain more of the "band" feeling. The change has more to do with the growing ability of humans to lessen their dependence on one another. This would seem to be against our best interests on the one hand, but on the other we feel it is desirable. There can be as much stress, after all, in close association as there can be warm fuzzy feelings, and we still have the original "band" to fall back on or withdraw into, in the family.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I don't consider this happiness deficit an established fact, though. Junger makes much of the numbers of whites (how many?) who did not want to be repatriated. I'm not sure this supports a conclusion that life with the Indians was happier.
Intuitively it seems obvious. The Indians had a paleo diet, individual freedom, rituals grounded in reverence for nature, and strong social values of honor and dignity. By contrast the industrial mass conformism of the USA had brought with it from Europe a range of traits that gave it much more economic power as a group but at the cost of reduced individual happiness.

Well, I think there is room to question not only the paleo diet (probably a good deal of starch consumed), but the existence of individual freedom as we would define it. Traditional cultures have romantic attraction but also tend to be less liberal than we probably can imagine. And the thing about happiness is of course that it's damn hard to define.
Quote:
I suspect the settlers had a less nutritious mass produced diet, and more mental illness from forced conformity to alienated dogmatic fantasy and rituals based on separation of spirit from nature. The great thing about industrial agriculture is that it feeds a bigger population and produces surplus for war and culture. But to cope emotionally with the alienation from nature produced by industrial life requires supernatural religion, which brings a heavenly host of social pathogens. Primitive life is happier, even if shorter and less comfortable, more subject to disease, accident, poverty and risk.

I'm pretty sure that in these early days, "mass-produced" would not describe the means by which the settlers or pioneers got their food. Aren't you jumping the gun a bit to industrial life? I don't understand, either, Robert, singling out the Europeans' religion as supernatural, as though there was no such thing in native religions. Christianity from one point of view entails less superstition than older religions, not more. The supernatural placed relatively few restraints on the Europeans compared to those of other religions. I'd recommend looking at the matter anthropologically to lessen the chance of partisan bias.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
For one thing, we have here a somewhat negative view of happiness, that is, as the relative infrequency of depression and suicide.
I don’t get how that is negative. A society where mental illness is worse is obviously less happy. Modernity has an epidemic of mental illness, a good proxy for unhappiness.

By "negative," I mean happiness defined as the absence of some bad quality, and the point is that we all, today, expect much more from it. If you go in for utilitarian calculations of happiness, it isn't true that a society with lower incidence of mental illness is therefore happier. What if the higher-MI society is able to deliver a much greater level of happiness to most of its members? What if the happiness of the low-MI society is really just so-so? These are the trade-offs philosophers discuss when parsing happiness from a utilitarian perspective.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
the surplus that agriculture made possible resulted directly in specialization and with it the growth of arts and industries, elements that we would like to cite as essential to our happiness.
Yes, the question of whether money can buy love is an enduring controversy. Looking at the hierarchy of needs, above the base level it seems unlikely that increased affluence increases happiness, although I recall a Swedish book a few years ago by Johan Norberg argued against that.

You missed the "arts" part, meaning the specialization made possible by agriculture created literature, music, sculpture, etc. in such quantity that one could argue more happiness was produced for humankind than was possible while almost everyone needed to be producing food. I recall that the research on money and happiness states that a certain amount of surplus money does produce more happiness, but that the effect doesn't hold as people become truly wealthy. Eric Hoffer said that it's that little bit extra, over the level of sufficiency, that people feel so motivated to work for and that they in a certain sense need.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
The afterlife figures in many indigenous traditions that were not the creation of a priestly class. Deception was also part of shamanistic practice.
The difference between shamanic and monotheist religion turns in large part on the contrast between animist and transcendental frameworks. My reading is that primitive religion is more about a return to the earth and the cycle of life, whereas the Abrahamic view takes off with a theory of the immortality of the soul, and the complex metaphysics of heaven. My impression is that there is a big difference between how fundamentalist Christianity views heaven as our home and how indigenous spirituality views earth as our home.

Judaism, the first of the Abrahamic faiths, didn't include immortality of the soul, but I accept your general distinction, though I wouldn't agree that indigenous beliefs are, in total, more conducive to a healthy society.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
The key word is "trade-off," indicating a loss compensated for by a gain. Junger acknowledges but does not emphasize that we may have gained as much as we lost in becoming modern people.
The evolution of an advanced global technological civilization has brought opportunities and powers orders of magnitude above the stone age. But the problem is identifying what we have lost, and how we might create substitutes for the things we have lost such as the comfort and solidarity of a close knit small community.

Right, but again I think we're Janus-faced when it comes to human closeness. We crave it but also will take the opportunity to fashion a buffer between ourselves and the world. That's what individualism is about. Our technology, especially media, has enabled us to separate from others to a degree never seen before in the history of civilization. It's interesting in that regard to look at ways in which technology tries to mend the wound by, for example, facilitating face-to-face contact through Meet-Up or flash mobs.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
There is really no state of grace in shortened lives in which brutality will not be unknown (see Steven Pinker and others) and in which the harsh law of nature prevents the old and handicapped from being cared for.
What I personally understand by the concept of a state of grace is harmony with nature. A society that is in harmony with its natural environment is sustainable, able to continue in similar way. A society that is not in harmony with its natural environment is unsustainable.

One of the big influences on my thinking on this topic was the 1982 movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koyaanisqatsi . The soundtrack by Philip Glass joined with the vision of the scale of industrial onslaught on nature to create a vision of an unsustainable world, hurtling towards apocalyptic destruction. The overall theme is the delusory dangers of the dominant alienated American religious view that wrongly sees spirit as separate from nature and sees no path for their reconciliation.

I recall that film with the obsessive Philip Glass score. I think your general point can be granted, but beyond the level of small nomadic groups, I think sustainability has always been extremely difficult for humans to achieve, even when it continues to be reflected in beliefs. Were the practices of American Indians truly sustainable, for instance? Some evidence suggests that environmental overreach doomed the Anasazis.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I just don't think religion and myth give us any ability to objectively view our past.
If myth provides a distorted mirror of the reality in which people live, then it does provide some help in social and cultural interpretation. On the big themes of the alienation from nature, which is an underlying theme in Tribe, the Christian story of cross and resurrection could actually provide some ability to interpret the big trends of history.

For example, the Biblical idea is that society was so fallen and delusional and depraved that when God appeared among them the response was to hammer nails in his hands. As a metaphor for the separation of spirit and nature the story of the cross is quite strong.

Speaking of the indigenous, my strong feeling is that myths can be in some way controlling because they've emerged from a culture through an organic, unconscious process. If that isn't the case, I don't think that any effort to adopt or adapt their symbolism will ever work as a graft. Sorry to be pessimistic on that.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I also take issue with your view that it took religious delusion, foisted on the masses, to fuel the destruction of cultures that stood in the way of wealth-producing societies. That wasn't the engine because there was no singular engine in such onslaughts.
When we look at colonialism, there is a universal use of religion as part of the imperial enterprise. There is a dominant view that primitive religion is Satanic and must be stamped out by the advanced faith of the conquering power. The moral legitimacy conferred by religion is essential to imperial expansion. The conquest on earth tends to be mirrored by an imagined conquest in the realm of myth. How you could take issue with that core feature of history, how the mandate of heaven provides moral justification for mundane conquest, looks surprising.

Alexander and Rome conquered much of the known world, treating the indigenous gods with some liberality, but they still conquered. This argument is the old one of what motivates people to kill and dominate. Religious justifications don't in any case signal that without them, all would be sweetness and light. Attila the Hun didn't bother with them.
Quote:
Now as we move to a scientific world where all claims must be justified by evidence and logic, the complete absence of any real evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ stands as a problem for the “vitiation” model of faith that you describe. You seem to be saying that to the extent the myths of the Gospel are seen as literally untrue they lose their religious power.

Thanks. That is exactly what I'm saying. I'm saying it in regard to any myth. What you are talking about is closer to aesthetic appreciation than to religion that has the power to animate. I'm fine with that, by the way. My position is that the importation of the symbolism won't be equal to the task you want it for.
Robert Tulip] [quote="DWill wrote:
That is an assumption that I entirely question, because retaining Christian tradition and interpreting it parabolically provides a far better ethical framework for society than any available alternative.

The problem of atheism is that it lacks any framework of ritual organization, and is therefore incapable of serving as a basis for local community cohesion. There should be no problem with retaining the beautiful comforting religious traditions of baptism and eucharist within a worldview that refuses to accept any unscientific assertions.

There's no point in my trying to rain on your parade. I could be wrong. But certainly up to this point there has been no significant interest in a de-mythologized Christian religion, I mean one with institutional legs. The reason has to do with the nature of the power of myth, which relies to a degree on being seen as true.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
They adjusted their lives to be attuned to the environment, as we have not. They were content with very little, as we are not. We need super-abundance today, but only so that all the people of the earth can have enough, which implies a socialistic leveling process that doesn't work in the U.S. or, I'm guessing, in Australia.
It is quite hard to survive in the modern world without affluence. When wealth is put to productive use it is a great boon. However, I agree with Junger’s argument later in the book about the criminal nature of the finance industry, how the American political system is so badly corrupt that it allows thieves working for banks to get away with unimaginable grand larceny.

There is a contradiction here. Material things for the Kalahari Bushmen would destroy their happiness, according to your interesting quote, and by implication our happiness will be less to the extent that we consume. Regarding the criminals of the finance sector, Junger has the penetrating observation that in a band of humans close surveillance and social pressure would root out the selfish bad actors.
Quote:
So the idea that more equality would be good is something I endorse, simply to deliver rule of law. But I don’t think it is unreasonable for people to want to have assets worth a million dollars to retire on, for example.

I don't think it's unreasonable, either. But make no mistake, the reason to have these assets is to be able to continue the lifestyle we had when working, a lifestyle that was full of extras even if we are far from one-percenters.
Quote:
My view is that productive use of the vast scale of the world oceans will be the key to achieving sustained global super abundance, a bonobo world of universal happiness.

Again, Robert, I can't square this with your view that things won't buy happiness. I also have said before that it doesn't square with an ethic of sustainability. Sure, you can always say we can someday have unlimited abundance at little or no environmental cost, but that is radically unsupported by our experience to this point.



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
DWill wrote:
mere size of settlements didn't mean that the in-bred need for close social contact couldn't be satisfied.
Is that just subtle positioning with the term “in-bred” or are you implying that Stone Agers committed incest? The general practice was that women left the band to marry, preventing in breeding. Nonetheless, use of this pejorative term does serve to position the discussion with a condescending sense of modern superiority towards the primitive, which is the prejudicial attitude that Junger is questioning.
DWill wrote:
I think of city neighborhoods early in the last century and perhaps still today. Large populations can break into smaller units to retain more of the "band" feeling. The change has more to do with the growing ability of humans to lessen their dependence on one another. This would seem to be against our best interests on the one hand, but on the other we feel it is desirable.
Your term “this” is ambiguous, as to whether it refers to the change or the dependence. A good rule for precision and clarity in communication is to remove all pronouns.
If band-level tribal social coordination is wired in to our biology (not ‘in-bred’) then you naturally should expect that people will try to recover methods that are similar to what has been the norm for 99% of human evolution. But a city with its formal rule-of-law systems provides preference to anonymous mass identity, and the informality of the local clashes against the urban economic driver of the larger and larger efficient unit of scale. Efficiency is impersonal, but human beings are personal. Black markets are a way that informal systems defeat formal systems. The goal of formality is a key objective in development theory, for example with property law.
DWill wrote:
There can be as much stress, after all, in close association as there can be warm fuzzy feelings, and we still have the original "band" to fall back on or withdraw into, in the family.
Even the family is under pressure. To raise a highly controversial topic, gay marriage, it has occurred to me that the capitalist economy has a natural preference for individual workers who are entirely flexible and have no dependents, so can effectively marry the firm. To treat homosexuals as second-class citizens - by excluding them from the sacred bond of sacramental relationship in marriage - works against this drive of capitalist anonymity and formality in social relations. The nuclear family has an informal quality, reminiscent of the tribal band.
DWill wrote:
there is room to question not only the paleo diet (probably a good deal of starch consumed), but the existence of individual freedom as we would define it. Traditional cultures have romantic attraction but also tend to be less liberal than we probably can imagine. And the thing about happiness is of course that it's damn hard to define.
Sure, those are all good and reasonable points. Perhaps I am just a hopeless romantic drawn to the dream of the noble savage, but I would go even further, and say that in my own scientific mythology, the dawn of the Holocene ten thousand years ago in the Neolithic era was the Golden Age, while the depths of modernity in the later Middle Ages was the centre of the Iron Age. This combines the orbital analysis of the seasons seen in the Milankovich Cycles with the ancient Indian myth of the Yuga, the cycles of wisdom and ignorance. Exploring the correlations between the science and myth in this dialectic of the modern and the primitive is one of the big research topics that this material leads to. The reason I regard the dawn of the Holocene as the Golden Age, before the rise of settled agriculture, is that despite the shortcomings of primitive life I think there was a social stability and freedom which have both steadily deteriorated, together with biodiversity – in a fall from grace – as a direct function of technological progress. Mapping the actual orbital cycles onto the mythological cycles appears to me to provide a very accurate long term theory of history.
DWill wrote:
Quote:
I suspect the settlers had a less nutritious mass produced diet, and more mental illness from forced conformity to alienated dogmatic fantasy and rituals based on separation of spirit from nature. The great thing about industrial agriculture is that it feeds a bigger population and produces surplus for war and culture. But to cope emotionally with the alienation from nature produced by industrial life requires supernatural religion, which brings a heavenly host of social pathogens. Primitive life is happier, even if shorter and less comfortable, more subject to disease, accident, poverty and risk.

I'm pretty sure that in these early days, "mass-produced" would not describe the means by which the settlers or pioneers got their food. Aren't you jumping the gun a bit to industrial life?
There is a story of a Sioux chief visiting New York two centuries ago and returning to tell his people that the old ways are over, that the Plains Indians cannot survive against this industrial monster that has landed on their continent. I am not talking about the romance of the frontier with growing food for a family around a log cabin, I am describing how the European systems of settled agriculture were systematically exported to the USA on a greenfields basis, enabling productivity on a scale undreamt of by hunters and gatherers. That process of industrial efficiency has continued, leading to the glories of Walmart.
DWill wrote:
I don't understand, either, Robert, singling out the Europeans' religion as supernatural, as though there was no such thing in native religions. Christianity from one point of view entails less superstition than older religions, not more. The supernatural placed relatively few restraints on the Europeans compared to those of other religions. I'd recommend looking at the matter anthropologically to lessen the chance of partisan bias.
The point I was trying to make is not at all to diminish the level of superstition and ignorance in primitive life, but rather that systematic monotheism takes the alienation of spirit from nature to a whole other level compared to tribal religion which is small and unique and close to the earth, generally involving an animist reverence for the spirituality of specific natural places.
DWill wrote:
If you go in for utilitarian calculations of happiness, it isn't true that a society with lower incidence of mental illness is therefore happier. What if the higher-MI society is able to deliver a much greater level of happiness to most of its members? What if the happiness of the low-MI society is really just so-so? These are the trade-offs philosophers discuss when parsing happiness from a utilitarian perspective.
Yes, that is an entirely reasonable comment, and illustrates the need for caution in romanticizing tribal life, as Pinker has argued. But still my view is that our modern global historical trajectory is towards human extinction, due to the pathological denial of the natural basis of spiritual identity, and our failure to see the risks inherent in technological progress. I see mental illness as an important ‘canary in the coal mine’ regarding the deep unhappiness that people feel about the direction we are taking our planet. We need a paradigm shift to prevent the collapse of civilization, and a recognition of the value of tribal practices seems to me to be a central part of that paradigm shift.
DWill wrote:
the "arts" part, meaning the specialization made possible by agriculture created literature, music, sculpture, etc. in such quantity that one could argue more happiness was produced for humankind than was possible while almost everyone needed to be producing food. I recall that the research on money and happiness states that a certain amount of surplus money does produce more happiness, but that the effect doesn't hold as people become truly wealthy. Eric Hoffer said that it's that little bit extra, over the level of sufficiency, that people feel so motivated to work for and that they in a certain sense need.
It is a good question, is the ability to produce a Mozart worth the homogenization of the planet? Part of the beauty of the arts is that creativity emerges from the interstices between the formal and the informal, with the spark of genius usually railing against the prevailing culture in some way. The Roman plebs were bought off with bread and circuses, but that old tactic to stop urban riots does not mean the plebians were happier than the free people outside the Empire.
DWill wrote:
Judaism, the first of the Abrahamic faiths, didn't include immortality of the soul, but I accept your general distinction, though I wouldn't agree that indigenous beliefs are, in total, more conducive to a healthy society.
Is that so about Judaism? I thought Jews believed in going to heaven. I am not talking about any literal return to indigenous beliefs, since evolution does not go backwards and modern thought should be entirely scientific. My point about indigenous culture is that the context prior to the rise of industrial civilization was on the whole happier, albeit on a much much smaller scale of population, with lower productivity and lifespan, and with a flat earth horizon limited by the surrounding mountains.


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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Continuing the response
DWill wrote:
we're Janus-faced when it comes to human closeness. We crave it but also will take the opportunity to fashion a buffer between ourselves and the world. That's what individualism is about. Our technology, especially media, has enabled us to separate from others to a degree never seen before in the history of civilization. It's interesting in that regard to look at ways in which technology tries to mend the wound by, for example, facilitating face-to-face contact through Meet-Up or flash mobs.
Junger acknowledges this point when he discusses the greater freedom felt by Americans who went to live with the Indians. I will come back to the specific issue of how Indian culture allowed greater individual expression, but here are some general quotes from Junger about why many white Americans preferred Indian life on the other side of the frontier.

“The proximity of these two cultures over the course of many generations presented both sides with a stark choice about how to live. By the end of the nineteenth century, factories were being built in Chicago and slums were taking root in New York while Indians fought with spears and tomahawks a thousand miles away. It may say something about human nature that a surprising number of Americans— mostly men— wound up joining Indian society rather than staying in their own. They emulated Indians, married them, were adopted by them, and on some occasions even fought alongside them. And the opposite almost never happened: Indians almost never ran away to join white society. Emigration always seemed to go from the civilized to the tribal, and it left Western thinkers flummoxed about how to explain such an apparent rejection of their society. “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs,” Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend in 1753, “[ yet] if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.” On the other hand, Franklin continued, white captives who were liberated from the Indians were almost impossible to keep at home: “Tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life … and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods.”
Junger, Sebastian. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Kindle Locations 105-115). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

"...as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, there were numerous settlers who were captured as adults and still seemed to prefer Indian society to their own. And what about people who voluntarily joined the Indians? What about men who walked off into the tree line and never came home? The frontier was full of men who joined Indian tribes, married Indian women, and lived their lives completely outside civilization. “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European,” a French émigré named Hector de Crèvecoeur lamented in 1782. “There must be in their social bond something singularly captivating and far superior to anything to be boasted of among us.” Crèvecoeur seemed to have understood that the intensely communal nature of an Indian tribe held an appeal that the material benefits of Western civilization couldn’t necessarily compete with."

Junger, Sebastian. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Kindle Locations 168-175). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
DWill wrote:
Beyond the level of small nomadic groups, I think sustainability has always been extremely difficult for humans to achieve, even when it continues to be reflected in beliefs. Were the practices of American Indians truly sustainable, for instance? Some evidence suggests that environmental overreach doomed the Anasazis.
Sustainability means keeping things going as they are. That is only possible in a circular economy that processes all its waste into useful products, and thereby enables only beneficial human impact upon natural biodiversity. So the problem for modernity is how to convert waste products such as CO2 into valuable commodities. I think it is entirely possible to develop methods to profitably process all waste that humans now create. If we could do that, the problems of sustainability of mass urban civilization would be solved.
DWill wrote:
Speaking of the indigenous, my strong feeling is that myths can be in some way controlling because they've emerged from a culture through an organic, unconscious process.
The process of myth is only partly unconscious. I think of popular songs as today’s closest analog to myth. If we knew why one song is a hit and another is not we would be rich. It is interesting how creative geniuses find themselves struck by the muse for a time, able to produce art that resonates with a mass audience. The difference between a great melody and a dull one can be impossible to pin down, and yet we have a conscious consensus about something whose roots seem entirely unconscious.

But that does not mean that pop music controls us, and the situation is no more controlling for myth, contrary to your assertion. Social control is not exercised primarily through organic unconscious processes, but by deliberate conscious action by political hierarchies.
DWill wrote:
I don't think that any effort to adopt or adapt their symbolism will ever work as a graft.
But that is always how myth evolves! A great ancient example is how the Greeks grafted their God Dionysus onto the Egyptian God Osiris to manufacture the God Serapis when Alexander invaded Egypt. My view is that Hebrew prophecy was then grafted on to Serapis to construct the myth of Christ.

The adaptation of symbols reflects cultural dynamics, with the Gods of conquered people initially condemned as evil and then returning in a subordinate status, with the divine hierarchy reflecting how constant efforts to combobulate myths are received by the society. Tribe is a reflection of how the settler societies of the USA and Australia have a crisis of meaning through their total rejection of indigenous spirituality, presenting a cry to graft some native values into the empty faith of the European conquerors. There is already a certain receptivity to indigeneity in the gospels, but that was heavily suppressed by the framework of Christendom and is now coming out of the cave.
DWill wrote:
Alexander and Rome conquered much of the known world, treating the indigenous gods with some liberality, but they still conquered. This argument is the old one of what motivates people to kill and dominate. Religious justifications don't in any case signal that without them, all would be sweetness and light. Attila the Hun didn't bother with them.
This liberality you assert did not actually exist. Those claims were just a self-serving construct of the conquerors. When you consider what the Romans did to Jerusalem in 70 AD, assertions of imperial liberality ring entirely false. The scale of intimidation wreaked upon those who would not bend the knee to the Lord of Rome is far beyond what we can easily imagine. Remember the problem that Pliny faced, that Roman law saw fire brigades as possibly seditious, and therefore stopped people from fighting fires. So much for the Roman lie of liberality.
DWill wrote:
What you are talking about is closer to aesthetic appreciation than to religion that has the power to animate. I'm fine with that, by the way. My position is that the importation of the symbolism won't be equal to the task you want it for.
We shall see. My view is that the realization that the historical Jesus is a big lie will hit the public mind like a bombshell, and people will put the pieces together about the real scale of human depravity, that the depths of lostness were so severe in the ancient world that people had to invent a messiah to create any sense of hope for the future.
So today, as we dispassionately and scientifically analyse the content of the hope that people have had in Christ, I do not believe that this deconstruction will destroy that hope but will reveal its inner meaning and animating purpose, converting the secular world to an understanding of the spiritual identity that is central to authentic human life.
DWill wrote:
up to this point there has been no significant interest in a de-mythologized Christian religion, I mean one with institutional legs. The reason has to do with the nature of the power of myth, which relies to a degree on being seen as true.
Religious evolution is a slow process, and the history of ideas is always captive in some way to the spirit of the age, such that ideas produced by people who are ahead of their time can be ignored by scholars and the public for centuries. Creating an integrating synthesis of a scientific faith is an immensely complex problem, and explaining that synthesis in a simple and accessible way is equally difficult. It has not been done yet, but all that means is that religion still awaits its Newton to bring order and light into the chaotic darkness.
DWill wrote:
There is a contradiction here. Material things for the Kalahari Bushmen would destroy their happiness, according to your interesting quote, and by implication our happiness will be less to the extent that we consume.
Is the contradiction that things which seem to make us happy actually don’t? I am not sure that contradiction is the right word for that, since it seems to be a true observation. Buddhism teaches that attachment is the cause of delusion, delusion is the cause of suffering, and enlightenment requires detachment. Junger endorses this theory with his view that obsession with acquiring material possessions destroys our social connections and our mental health.
DWill wrote:
Regarding the criminals of the finance sector, Junger has the penetrating observation that in a band of humans close surveillance and social pressure would root out the selfish bad actors.
But also, the modern finance industry is so massive that a clever criminal can conceal their tracks to get away with grand larceny, especially by operating within the letter of the law or knowing how to appear legal. It is the scale of Wall Street that makes the sort of close observation of a primitive tribe simply impossible. We now require massive formal surveillance systems to produce transparent and accountable structures that are robust against corruption.
DWill wrote:
Quote:
My view is that productive use of the vast scale of the world oceans will be the key to achieving sustained global super abundance, a bonobo world of universal happiness.

Again, Robert, I can't square this with your view that things won't buy happiness. I also have said before that it doesn't square with an ethic of sustainability. Sure, you can always say we can someday have unlimited abundance at little or no environmental cost, but that is radically unsupported by our experience to this point.

The point of abundance built upon new ocean industry is achieving a world where people do not have to work, where simple robot technology converts the massive areas of the open oceans into super fertile sources of new life and materials and energy. That new economy will enable people to occupy themselves with higher spiritual and cultural and creative pursuits, and the current myth that happiness resides in personal ownership of material possessions that they do not need will be seen as obsolete and stupid. People will then no longer be like the selfish isolated untrusting dogs in the manger who predominate among today’s wealthy.


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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Robert Tulip wrote:
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/happines ... nah-curtis explains that “The claim that happiness is brought on by buying goods and spending money is disproved by the Kalahari Bushmen, who, as the chief of the tribe told me, believe that the key to their happiness is fewer material goods. He said that because they have so little, they are so happy… Instead of the common western belief that money and luxury brings pleasure, it was interesting to see how experience and community is the Bushmen’s foundation for happiness… Through these observations of the Kalahari society, I have realized that song and dance can bring more happiness than buying a pricey new handbag. In fact, through personal experience such as walking through the bush, playing games, making dinner, and learning their language, I felt a new sensation of joy… enjoy the ride and live happily because like the Bushmen, all a person needs is a supportive community and an enthusiastic spirit to live a thrilling life.”


I find it quite plausible that these tribes live happily, even compared to people in the richest countries. It is interesting that it seems like once you are exposed to modern society, there is no going back, other than the very rare person who decides to leave and go live in a commune or as a monk or something. It may be that people are ignorant of the joys of tribal life, but even people that are nostalgic for it (or the modern version of the somewhat fictionalized old neighborhood and family of say the 1950s) make very little effort to change their lifestyle. Some people might live a little bit simpler than average and recycle a lot and think they're living with nature, but they're usually not even close to the other end of the spectrum.



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
mere size of settlements didn't mean that the in-bred need for close social contact couldn't be satisfied.
Is that just subtle positioning with the term “in-bred” or are you implying that Stone Agers committed incest? The general practice was that women left the band to marry, preventing in breeding. Nonetheless, use of this pejorative term does serve to position the discussion with a condescending sense of modern superiority towards the primitive, which is the prejudicial attitude that Junger is questioning.

I feel like the Washington DC politician who was pilloried for using the word 'niggardly.' The word choice may have not been felicitous, but certainly I wasn't referring to sexual mores.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I think of city neighborhoods early in the last century and perhaps still today. Large populations can break into smaller units to retain more of the "band" feeling. The change has more to do with the growing ability of humans to lessen their dependence on one another. This would seem to be against our best interests on the one hand, but on the other we feel it is desirable.
Your term “this” is ambiguous, as to whether it refers to the change or the dependence. A good rule for precision and clarity in communication is to remove all pronouns.

All pronouns are good, but the demonstrative pronoun I used can be especially tricky. I remember an English teacher telling us to write "this idea, this statement, this development," or whatever. Good advice. I was talking about the change.
Quote:
If band-level tribal social coordination is wired in to our biology (not ‘in-bred’) then you naturally should expect that people will try to recover methods that are similar to what has been the norm for 99% of human evolution. But a city with its formal rule-of-law systems provides preference to anonymous mass identity, and the informality of the local clashes against the urban economic driver of the larger and larger efficient unit of scale. Efficiency is impersonal, but human beings are personal. Black markets are a way that informal systems defeat formal systems. The goal of formality is a key objective in development theory, for example with property law.

This impersonality of cities ( :)) doesn't fit the image I have of teeming metropolises such as Bombay, where, supposedly, village-like social customs can still be found. That's what I've been told by travelers, anyway. I continue to think that greater size isn't the sole driver of anonymity or alienation.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
There can be as much stress, after all, in close association as there can be warm fuzzy feelings, and we still have the original "band" to fall back on or withdraw into, in the family.
Even the family is under pressure. To raise a highly controversial topic, gay marriage, it has occurred to me that the capitalist economy has a natural preference for individual workers who are entirely flexible and have no dependents, so can effectively marry the firm. To treat homosexuals as second-class citizens - by excluding them from the sacred bond of sacramental relationship in marriage - works against this drive of capitalist anonymity and formality in social relations. The nuclear family has an informal quality, reminiscent of the tribal band.

Your critique is unclear to me, Robert. I assumed you meant that treating gays like second-class citizens goes along with the drive of capitalism, rather than against it. In any event, it's my impression that, by and large, capitalism is progressive on the subject of gay marriage. Businesses don't want to lose customers or potential employees, so they don't want to discriminate against gay couples. Companies who do discriminate, like Hobby Lobby, are the exceptions.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
there is room to question not only the paleo diet (probably a good deal of starch consumed), but the existence of individual freedom as we would define it. Traditional cultures have romantic attraction but also tend to be less liberal than we probably can imagine. And the thing about happiness is of course that it's damn hard to define.
Sure, those are all good and reasonable points. Perhaps I am just a hopeless romantic drawn to the dream of the noble savage, but I would go even further, and say that in my own scientific mythology, the dawn of the Holocene ten thousand years ago in the Neolithic era was the Golden Age, while the depths of modernity in the later Middle Ages was the centre of the Iron Age. This combines the orbital analysis of the seasons seen in the Milankovich Cycles with the ancient Indian myth of the Yuga, the cycles of wisdom and ignorance. Exploring the correlations between the science and myth in this dialectic of the modern and the primitive is one of the big research topics that this material leads to. The reason I regard the dawn of the Holocene as the Golden Age, before the rise of settled agriculture, is that despite the shortcomings of primitive life I think there was a social stability and freedom which have both steadily deteriorated, together with biodiversity – in a fall from grace – as a direct function of technological progress. Mapping the actual orbital cycles onto the mythological cycles appears to me to provide a very accurate long term theory of history.

Viewing the distant past nostalgically, reverentially, and mythologically is humans' typical mode. We do seem to need to believe that the warts that are all too evident in our present didn't plague us in our innocent beginnings. I'm pretty much a uniformist; I take the Ecclesiastian view: there is nothing new under the sun.

To my way of thinking, what would make a myth scientific is that it had support in fact and data, just as we we expect from scientific theories. I suppose then it would cease to be a myth. I don't find that simply basing a myth on geologic epochs or using any other scientific language gives it more factual status.

Let me be clear at this point that I admire Junger's book. What he tells us about our current society is important. There is, however, a nekker-cube quality to this matter of tribes and tribalism, whereby with a change in perspective we see a new and unwelcome aspect. I don't need to elaborate much on this; tribalism has been linked to many intractable ills of humankind. It isn't as though the unified beliefs of groups--group solidarity--has been a general blessing for us.
Quote:
There is a story of a Sioux chief visiting New York two centuries ago and returning to tell his people that the old ways are over, that the Plains Indians cannot survive against this industrial monster that has landed on their continent. I am not talking about the romance of the frontier with growing food for a family around a log cabin, I am describing how the European systems of settled agriculture were systematically exported to the USA on a greenfields basis, enabling productivity on a scale undreamt of by hunters and gatherers. That process of industrial efficiency has continued, leading to the glories of Walmart.

Yes, Wal Mart seems to be the culmination of this fantastic engine of production. But if you like capitalism, as you do, you must like Wal Mart, wouldn't you say? I would never deny the sadness of what seemed to have been lost, but for me it comes down to having to accept the bad with the good. Otherwise it's wanting to have our cake and eat it.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I don't understand, either, Robert, singling out the Europeans' religion as supernatural, as though there was no such thing in native religions. Christianity from one point of view entails less superstition than older religions, not more. The supernatural placed relatively few restraints on the Europeans compared to those of other religions. I'd recommend looking at the matter anthropologically to lessen the chance of partisan bias.
The point I was trying to make is not at all to diminish the level of superstition and ignorance in primitive life, but rather that systematic monotheism takes the alienation of spirit from nature to a whole other level compared to tribal religion which is small and unique and close to the earth, generally involving an animist reverence for the spirituality of specific natural places.

In a better world than we had, that quality of primitive life that I agree should be cherished, would have been, when the clash of civilizations occurred 500 years ago. But it didn't happen that way, so you and I are the inheritors of a bloody, violent overthrow of indigenous civilizations. We owe our existence to that tragic reality.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
If you go in for utilitarian calculations of happiness, it isn't true that a society with lower incidence of mental illness is therefore happier. What if the higher-MI society is able to deliver a much greater level of happiness to most of its members? What if the happiness of the low-MI society is really just so-so? These are the trade-offs philosophers discuss when parsing happiness from a utilitarian perspective.
Yes, that is an entirely reasonable comment, and illustrates the need for caution in romanticizing tribal life, as Pinker has argued. But still my view is that our modern global historical trajectory is towards human extinction, due to the pathological denial of the natural basis of spiritual identity, and our failure to see the risks inherent in technological progress. I see mental illness as an important ‘canary in the coal mine’ regarding the deep unhappiness that people feel about the direction we are taking our planet. We need a paradigm shift to prevent the collapse of civilization, and a recognition of the value of tribal practices seems to me to be a central part of that paradigm shift.

As I've already hinted, tribalism may be part of the problem regarding human decision-making, which must occur on a unified basis in order for our planet to be saved. It's ironic that becoming all one tribe, world-wide, means ditching tribalism. That push toward unification also would mean loss of cultural diversity even if by a miracle we save biological diversity. That needs to be seen as an acceptable trade-off.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
the "arts" part, meaning the specialization made possible by agriculture created literature, music, sculpture, etc. in such quantity that one could argue more happiness was produced for humankind than was possible while almost everyone needed to be producing food. I recall that the research on money and happiness states that a certain amount of surplus money does produce more happiness, but that the effect doesn't hold as people become truly wealthy. Eric Hoffer said that it's that little bit extra, over the level of sufficiency, that people feel so motivated to work for and that they in a certain sense need.
It is a good question, is the ability to produce a Mozart worth the homogenization of the planet? Part of the beauty of the arts is that creativity emerges from the interstices between the formal and the informal, with the spark of genius usually railing against the prevailing culture in some way. The Roman plebs were bought off with bread and circuses, but that old tactic to stop urban riots does not mean the plebians were happier than the free people outside the Empire.

I don't know if Mozart was worth the homogenization of the planet, but it's true that in some hard-to-specify way, the two go together. The point I would make is that we do point with particular pride to achievement in the arts, and those arts could not have developed in tribal societies.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Judaism, the first of the Abrahamic faiths, didn't include immortality of the soul, but I accept your general distinction, though I wouldn't agree that indigenous beliefs are, in total, more conducive to a healthy society.
Is that so about Judaism? I thought Jews believed in going to heaven. I am not talking about any literal return to indigenous beliefs, since evolution does not go backwards and modern thought should be entirely scientific. My point about indigenous culture is that the context prior to the rise of industrial civilization was on the whole happier, albeit on a much much smaller scale of population, with lower productivity and lifespan, and with a flat earth horizon limited by the surrounding mountains.
[/quote]
This comment simply takes me back to the what-is-happiness question. The American view of happiness is the Jeffersonian, entailing active pursuit of individual desires. Happiness equals fulfillment on that view. Happiness equals stability and harmony on the other.



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Robert Tulip wrote:
The relation between the rise of agriculture and the decline of human happiness is possibly the biggest single story in human history. What happened was that the rise of population in the middle east meant that the old hunter gatherer lifestyle was no longer possible due to scarcity, so people had to grow crops and herd livestock more intensively to feed the growing population.

I must get this book. Following your discussion with Robert with interest.
One small comment, which Junger may have addressed: the real "take-off" of agriculture is considered to be the expansion of the proto-Indo-Europeans, who combined farming of cereal crops with early weaning of children. Breast-feeding inhibits pregnancy, and so continuing it well into age three was an effective means of child spacing, and still is in societies not practicing birth control. With grain porridge, the Indo-Europeans could wean at twelve months and so increase their family size and population growth rate. The rest is pre-history.

DWill wrote:
I also think that "only as symbolic" will vitiate whatever tradition we're looking at 100% of the time. These beliefs have always been held as more than symbolic and need to continue to be in order to hang on.

I tend to look at this critical question as one of education. The highly educated can hold "only symbolic" and "symbolic means something important" in their head at the same time. Whether less educated people can remains to be seen.

Roughly speaking, then, I put my hope for modernism in well educated types learning to deal with mythology as expressions of deep psychological forces, rather than with less educated types giving mythology up. Which do you think would be more threatening to social progress, professors teaching "the resurrection expresses the victory of spirit over violence" or professors teaching "there was no resurrection, get over it"?



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Harry, thanks. The first quoted piece was actually Robert's.

What I was saying to Robert was not that symbolic understandings aren't in some way viable for individuals, but that with only that level in play, there might not be churches filled with people. Your example has a professor conveying insight to students. I'm still not sure that approach would transfer well to a church. When I said "vitiate a tradition," maybe I should have said instead "vitiate an institution."



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Dexter wrote:
I find it quite plausible that these tribes live happily, even compared to people in the richest countries. It is interesting that it seems like once you are exposed to modern society, there is no going back, other than the very rare person who decides to leave and go live in a commune or as a monk or something. It may be that people are ignorant of the joys of tribal life, but even people that are nostalgic for it (or the modern version of the somewhat fictionalized old neighborhood and family of say the 1950s) make very little effort to change their lifestyle. Some people might live a little bit simpler than average and recycle a lot and think they're living with nature, but they're usually not even close to the other end of the spectrum.


Yes, you are right. Junger asserts that Indian buckskin clothes were more comfortable that European clothes, but these days people I would be surprised if many people wear traditional Indian clothes other than in tourist ceremonies. In Australia there were remote tribes who lived outside of contact with the broader society until the 1960s, but the attractions of western technology were overwhelming. Back then poor people were thin because they did not have enough food - now they are fat from eating too much junk.



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
DWill wrote:
like the Washington DC politician who was pilloried for using the word 'niggardly.'
Yes, but ‘in-bred’ looks like a Freudian slip when describing primitive tribes. I know you meant ‘ingrained’.
DWill wrote:

impersonality of cities ( :)) doesn't fit the image I have of teeming metropolises such as Bombay, where, supposedly, village-like social customs can still be found. That's what I've been told by travelers, anyway. I continue to think that greater size isn't the sole driver of anonymity or alienation.
Here is a commentary on the difference between village and city life in India. http://www.importantindia.com/7114/vill ... city-life/ It illustrates that romanticism of the rural is a highly misleading thing. I was reading about cities in Africa where the lack of formal rules means that people build wherever, so there are no roads, sewers or power easements, all the basic structures of urban planning. Again on the development theme, cities have been the drivers of global prosperity for five thousand years, so even though they may be crowded and violent and dirty and noisy, subsistence farmers still flock to the town for a better life. There is quite a debate regarding rural development among aid donors, and my view is that the value for money of urban development way outstrips supporting rural communities, when you look at the gross diseconomies of scale of providing health and education to remote locations.
DWill wrote:
I assumed you meant that treating gays like second-class citizens goes along with the drive of capitalism, rather than against it. In any event, it's my impression that, by and large, capitalism is progressive on the subject of gay marriage. Businesses don't want to lose customers or potential employees, so they don't want to discriminate against gay couples. Companies who do discriminate, like Hobby Lobby, are the exceptions.
No, what I meant was that capitalism welcomes workers who have no dependents, and since homosexuals are less likely to have children, there is an economic driver to shift social values to provide equality of status for gays. The basis for anti-gay prejudice has been that having children is the purpose of relationships, so a relationship that cannot produce children has traditionally been seen as less socially valued. But with shifting views about the desirability of population growth, that traditional reason has lost a lot of traction. I am not trying to get into whether things are good or bad, only to point out that social views on such questions often have a strong subconscious economic cause.
DWill wrote:
Viewing the distant past nostalgically, reverentially, and mythologically is humans' typical mode. We do seem to need to believe that the warts that are all too evident in our present didn't plague us in our innocent beginnings. I'm pretty much a uniformist; I take the Ecclesiastian view: there is nothing new under the sun.
Nostalgia aint what it used to be, as the great Yogi of all American wasdumb didn’t say. That attribution is an aBerration.
Nostalgia used to evoke the idea that tradition and authority are the highest values. With the scientific enlightenment, that idea encountered a withering critique, as science argued that logic and evidence should always be decisive. We live through times of wrenching massive change, where things are extremely different today from the recent past, in something as small as the number of people on public transport staring at personal screens compared to just a decade ago. Nostalgia may get the occasional wistful nod, but by and large it is as way uncool as religion. I think this desire for the new is partly what Junger is reacting against, in looking instead for a rekindling of continuity with the old. I certainly find that the ideas of scientific mythology that you responded to here fall as though stillborn from the press. The myth of science is that we can totally live without myths. That is a pathology, since humans are not machines and popular culture needs big simple stories.
DWill wrote:
To my way of thinking, what would make a myth scientific is that it had support in fact and data, just as we expect from scientific theories. I suppose then it would cease to be a myth. I don't find that simply basing a myth on geologic epochs or using any other scientific language gives it more factual status.
I agree regarding data as the basis of scientific stories and myths. What I find interesting in the geology of the ice ages is there is actually an excellent correlation with the long term Christian framework of time, at a scale that is bigger than generations but smaller than for example the Big Bang. This millennial geocorrelation deserves further study as a way to investigate deep causal factors for the structure of Christian myths such as the timing and purpose of the story of Jesus Christ.
DWill wrote:
Let me be clear at this point that I admire Junger's book. What he tells us about our current society is important. There is, however, a nekker-cube quality to this matter of tribes and tribalism, whereby with a change in perspective we see a new and unwelcome aspect. I don't need to elaborate much on this; tribalism has been linked to many intractable ills of humankind. It isn't as though the unified beliefs of groups--group solidarity--has been a general blessing for us.
The modern absence of group solidarity is bad. The atomization of the world into isolated individuals with the extreme Thatcherite view (which she herself did not clearly hold) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2 ... marks.html that there is no such thing as society opens up a real problem regarding the balance between individual and social values. Society is not an entity, just as God is not an entity, but both these concepts have a practical use. Tribalism is a foundation for trust, identity, loyalty, belonging, location, symbolism and faith. All these concepts have a sort of metaphysical vagueness, but they are wired in our brains as important.
DWill wrote:
Yes, Wal Mart seems to be the culmination of this fantastic engine of production. But if you like capitalism, as you do, you must like Wal Mart, wouldn't you say? I would never deny the sadness of what seemed to have been lost, but for me it comes down to having to accept the bad with the good. Otherwise it's wanting to have our cake and eat it.
We are not going to create community by breaking up Wal Mart, any more than we would improve traffic safety by going back to horse and buggy travel. The way I look at it, capitalist innovation through progress in robotic automatic and other economies of scale will generate universal abundance, and we should aim for pure efficiency in production. That will enable a new society where we have the resources to satisfy basic needs easily, so people’s time will be devoted to things we find more valuable, namely spiritual health through relationships and creative work.
DWill wrote:
In a better world than we had, that quality of primitive life that I agree should be cherished, would have been, when the clash of civilizations occurred 500 years ago. But it didn't happen that way, so you and I are the inheritors of a bloody, violent overthrow of indigenous civilizations. We owe our existence to that tragic reality.
Yes, but we should also recognize that the way culture evolves is that a thesis generates or encounters its antithesis, and these two opposites then interact to produce a synthesis. Tribal culture encountered civilization, and the interaction of these antithetical models of social organization is now creating a new synthesis, with an emerging respect for tribal values as Western civilization seems spiritually empty.
DWill wrote:
tribalism may be part of the problem regarding human decision-making, which must occur on a unified basis in order for our planet to be saved. It's ironic that becoming all one tribe, world-wide, means ditching tribalism. That push toward unification also would mean loss of cultural diversity even if by a miracle we save biological diversity. That needs to be seen as an acceptable trade-off.
The lesson from tribes is not that we need to be isolated, but rather that we need to be connected with small groups, a bunch of people who we get to know well over time. Globalisation generates extreme individual isolation, and there is a great need for intentional measures to counteract this economic driver for the sake of human wellbeing.
DWill wrote:
I don't know if Mozart was worth the homogenization of the planet, but it's true that in some hard-to-specify way, the two go together. The point I would make is that we do point with particular pride to achievement in the arts, and those arts could not have developed in tribal societies.
As I reflect on this, I do think that modern cultural achievements are worth the damage we are inflicting, but only if we use these achievements as a platform to consider how we can prevent collapse. That I think is the big question raised by Tribe, how to prevent the collapse of civilization.
DWill wrote:

The American view of happiness is the Jeffersonian, entailing active pursuit of individual desires. Happiness equals fulfillment on that view. Happiness equals stability and harmony on the other.
Both these sides are needed to sustain happiness. The idea that humans can be happy in an unstable and unharmonious world is wrong. Equally, the idea that we can be happy when our individual freedom is suppressed is untrue.


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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
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Nostalgia aint what it used to be, as the great Yogi of all American wasdumb didn’t say. That attribution is an aBerration.

You're killin' me, killin' me! :-D I'm just checking in to say that there is so much to talk about on this topic, and so little time. Apropos of tribalism, my family is now joining a large bunch of kin in Connecticut for a reunion. The places we hale from say something about the challenges tribalism faces even on this fundamental level of family. We live in Virginia, California, Washington state, Chicago, Texas, Florida, New York, and several other places, as well as Connecticut, which continues as a base of sorts. There is still a family farm located in, of all places, Middletown, near Hartford. The existence of this farm,and how my cousin who now owns it has been able to preserve it and resist the allure of easy money, is a good story in itself. The feeling I have in seeing these people again is that I'm grasping for something that really isn't there, in the sense that there has been little continuity in my relationships with most of them. It's pleasant, but what does it mean that my genes are somewhat more similar to theirs than to a random selection of the population? I don't know.



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
DWill wrote:
Harry, thanks. The first quoted piece was actually Robert's.

Thanks. I hope my edit has it correct now.
DWill wrote:
What I was saying to Robert was not that symbolic understandings aren't in some way viable for individuals, but that with only that level in play, there might not be churches filled with people.

Well, I have seen it in action for nigh on 30 years. But mostly pretty educated people sitting in those pews. Hence my way of putting it.
DWill wrote:
Your example has a professor conveying insight to students. I'm still not sure that approach would transfer well to a church. When I said "vitiate a tradition," maybe I should have said instead "vitiate an institution."

Yeah, I see the point. Even in the liberal places I go, they don't often say anything that might directly alienate somebody for whom the old view, taking the symbolism literally, is "still in play."
By moving the venue to the classroom, however, I was also meaning to propose an entire cultural approach, in which the elites, including professors, understand the symbolic dimension and don't invest themselves in addressing the "literally true" notion about religious myths.

If you do that with "in the end, we must count Sisyphus happy" (for example) no one worries about whether there is an actual Sisyphus in a literal Hades.

I am suggesting that the elites can simply say, "we have no way of knowing" when the question is brought up about the literal truth of more culturally embedded myths, like Yahweh literally creating the universe or Jesus being resurrected bodily, and move on to do good work using the symbolisms. There are still trouble patches to worry about - students are likely to ask "but isn't Christianity true while Hinduism is false?" but I still think for many purposes, "we have no way of knowing" is a reasonable answer.

Churches also have some scope for open inquiry behind the scenes. You would not stand up in the pulpit and "preach your doubts," but the answer to a heartfelt "With all these reasons to doubt, why do you still believe?" in private can convey volumes.



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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Harry Marks wrote:
Even in the liberal places I go, they don't often say anything that might directly alienate somebody for whom the old view, taking the symbolism literally, is "still in play."
This is an important point that illustrates the positive and negative aspects of tribalism. For the Christian ‘tribe’, acceptance of conventional language around the virgin birth and physical resurrection has a stated or unstated sanctity, such that within the ritual context there is a magic spell, and people are expected to maintain the illusion. This ritual practice is all about a tribal identity grounded in acceptance of a shared conventional myth. However, we can all see that this lie has a corrosive moral impact. It is hypocritical to say that you can say things in private but not in public, while also maintaining that your public views have integrity.

We see gradual cultural change in such matters, constantly driven by people who are willing to shock the faithful. My sense is that the popular view about Judeo-Christian myth largely accepts that Adam and Noah are mythical, but continues to assume that all the later Biblical figures are historical, despite strong evidence they were invented.

If the faithful are allowed to live in a tribal bubble where their delicate sensibilities are never disturbed, we see the appalling results such as flat earth creationist miraculist assumptions which are viewed with mockery and scorn by all sensible people. The result is the entire practice of church worship falls into disrepute, the church tribe becomes an increasingly narrow and backward sect, and the social value of ritual and story decline. For a tribe to be healthy, it must allow contestability in its views and practices.

The whole practice of taking symbolism literally is morally fraught. A symbol is an imaginative representation of a meaningful idea. The great symbols are multivalent and archetypal. There is a seductive temptation to think that by simplifying them we can increase their power. That may be true in the short term, but it is essential to remember that hypocrisy is not sustainable or moral.


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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Harry Marks wrote:
By moving the venue to the classroom, however, I was also meaning to propose an entire cultural approach, in which the elites, including professors, understand the symbolic dimension and don't invest themselves in addressing the "literally true" notion about religious myths.
Debate about theology is a completely different thing from religious worship. The repetitive ritual nature of worship is more about emotional comfort and tribal belonging than learning new information. Whether classroom instruction is sufficient to convey understanding of the symbolic dimension of myths seems to me to be quite a major and difficult question. Reading the great sociologists of religion such as Durkheim or Malinowski or Eliade or James or Weber might help, but there remains a problem that merely academic description is quite different from personal participation, and the description needs to find some way to respect and understand the act of joining in.
I think the modern university has a range of pathologies regarding religion and its tribal values, ranging from secular disdain through to religious capture. Atheists view worship as contemptible irrationality, while believers tend to have an apologetic agenda to justify tradition. Both those approaches are flawed.


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Post Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS
Harry Marks wrote:
If you do that with "in the end, we must count Sisyphus happy" (for example) no one worries about whether there is an actual Sisyphus in a literal Hades.
Sisyphus is obviously fictional. People do worry a lot about whether there was an actual Jesus in a literal Nazareth, and for that matter an actual Satan in a literal hell, or God in heaven. And yet each of these could be just as metaphorical as Sisyphus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Myth_of_Sisyphus

Albert Camus, author of the existentialist classic The Myth of Sisyphus, did not inaugurate a Sisyphian cult for the existentialist tribe, whereas with Jesus, the whole ritual framework of the eucharist was entirely about retaining tribal values of community, ritual and belonging within a deracinated urban alienated world.

The absurdity of eating the flesh of God serves for Christianity as a way to say there is more to reality than our bleak appearances. Communion provides a ritual source of tribal hope and identity against the evil of the world.

The bleak anomie of Sisyphus repeatedly pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain only to have it recurrently roll to the bottom again is an image of hellish despair and eternal torment, a warning of a world without meaning. Sisyphus is a cry for meaning, not a basis of tribal values.


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