Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn

Posted: February 22, 2010 in Book Notes
  • There is no one right way for people to live.
    • Diversity, not uniformity, is what works. Our problem is not that people are living a bad way but rather they’re all living the same way.
  • There is something beyond civilization. Civilization is not humanity’s ULTIMATE invention and is not a final, unsurpassable.
    • No paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one.
  • “Saving the world” can only mean one thing: saving the world as a human habitat. Accomplishing this will mean (must mean) saving the world as a habitat for as many other species as possible.
  • Programs do not work – Sticks planted in the mud may impede the flow of the river, but we don’t need to impede its flow, we need to divert it into an entirely new channel.
    • Old minds think: How do we stop these bad things from happening?
    • New minds think: How do we make things the way we want them to be?
  • Programs make it possible to look busy and purposeful while failing. When programs fail (as they invariably do), this is blamed on things like poor design, lack of funds and staff, bad management, and inadequate training.
    • Old minds think: If it didn’t work last year, let do MORE of it this year.
    • New minds think: If it didn’t work last year, let’s do something ELSE this year.
  • Most programs take this form: Outlaw the thing that’s bothering you, catch people who do it, and put them in jail.
    • Old minds think: We have to write tougher and more comprehensive laws.
    • New minds think: No unwanted behavior has ever been eliminated by passing a law against it.
  • We do not need programs, we need vision. Vision is to culture what gravity is to matter.
  • The spread of vision needs to confer benefits on those who do the spreading.
    • Our culture’s spreading mechanism was population expansion: Grow, then get more land, increase food production, and grow some more.
    • Christian’s spreading mechanism was conversion: Accept Jesus, then get others to accept him.
    • The Industrial Revolution’s spreading mechanism was improvement: Improve on something, then put it out there for others to improve on.
  • Contrary to the fundamental meme, civilization does not need to continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstances. When the Mayan no longer liked what they were building, they were able to walk away from it.
  • Karl Marx recognized that workers without a choice are workers in chains.
  • Karl Marx called religion as “the opium of the people.” This opium carries the masses out of their misery and up into the empyrean of tranquil acceptance.
  • Lifestyle – a way of making a living.
  • Social organization – a coorporative structure that helps a group implement its way of life.
  • Tribe – a coalition of people working together as equals to make a living.
  • If you had a billion dollars in the bank, would you go on doing the work you do to make a living?
  • To go beyond civilization means going beyond hierarchalism. You can have a hierarchy without civilization but there never existed a civilization without hierarchy.
  • People never run off to join the circus to give up something. They run off to circus to get something.
  • Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has written: ” The world’s most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization.”
  • To overthrow a hierarchy is pointless; we just need to leave it behind. Abandonment isn’t an attack, it’s just a discontinuance of support.
  • This is exactly what the food race is about: every year turning more of our planet’s biomass into human mass. Every win in food production stimulates an answering “win” in population growth.
  • I don’t indulge in these speculations in order to lay claim to powers of prophecy. I toss them into the water to show you what part of the pond I’m aiming at…and to let you follow the ripples back to the shore of the present.
  • Beyond civilization isn’t a geographical territory, it’s a social and economical territory where people in open tribes pursue goals that may or may not be recognizedly “civilized.” You don’t have to “go somewhere” to get beyond civilization. You have to make your living a different way.
  • The earthquake proof building survives not by defeating the earthquake’s power but by acknowledging it – by drawing it in and dealing with it.
  • Buckminster Fuller, ” You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
  • Max Planck, “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents…What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.”
  • The tribal rule of thumb is: Can you extend the living to include yourself? In other words, if you want to live out of the tribal occupation, you’ll have to extend the group’s earning power to the point where it covers you.
  • Being “genetically inclined to violence” doesn’t doom you to becoming a mass murderer –  but having no hope may do just that.
  • The foundation for all our cultural mythology: The world was made for Man to conquer and rule, and Man was made to conquer and rule it; and under Man’s rule, the world might have become a paradise except for the fact that he’s fundamentally and irremediable flawed.
    • We must have another story to be in.
  • You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s always better to say “I don’t know” than to fake it and get into hot water.
  • Make people formulate their own questions. Don’t take the responsibility of figuring out what their difficulty is.
  • Never try to answer a question you don’t understand. Make the askers explain it; keep on insisting until it’s clear, and nine times our of ten they’ll supply the answer themselves.
  • People will listen when they’re ready to listen and not before. Let people come to it in their own time. Nagging or bullying will only alienate them.
  • Don’t waste time with people who want to argue. Look for people who are already open to something new.

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