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Why revolution is not enough


I am a long time reader of Znet; Michael Albert and Noam Chomsky’s ideas, among others, have laid the foundation for much of how I view the world, and for what I want to accomplish in the world. However in recent years I have come to question some of the basic assumptions that appear to be shared by the people on Znet. Mainly, I think that people on this site assume that agriculture and industrialism represent an improvement over hunting and and gathering. For example, in an interview with David Barsamian Noam Chomsky said "You could be a very happy Stone Age person and not have a computer or a television set. No doubt the people in the favelas live better than in the Stone Age, although probably not by nutritional or health measures."

 I take issue with the assumption that people in the favelas live better than stone age people. Or to make it more stark, I don’t even think it’s obvious that privileged westerners live better than stone age people. Many anthropologists and archaeologists think that stone age people spent most of their time on leisure, requiring minimal effort to meet their basic needs. They did not have to worry about food, as it was all around them. Certainly, we could point out all the conveniences of modern life, the gadgets that we can play with, the medicine that keeps us alive longer, the houses that protect us from the elements. But what are we giving up? We live in a world where all are senses are under constant assault: cities are noisy, the air and water are polluted, the landscape is scarred by concrete and other structures, with only a few plants growing among the cracks. Are we really better off than when we could see the stars at night, hear bird song in the morning, swim in a fresh lake?

 Furthermore, and more importantly, I think our "civilized" lifestyle is inherently immoral, or at the very least, unsuitable for who we are. We are animals; wild animals do not live like we do, and neither do wild people. They do not domesticate plants, controlling their lives from seed to harvest, even breeding them to suit the sole interest of people. They do not take over land, driving off all life but their own crops. Instead, they simply harvest the plants they need from among the forest or the plains or the desert, and trust the earth to provide food in the future. Meanwhile, the other living beings are free to live or die on their own. Hunters and gatherers above all value honor and respect for all living things, seeing them as brothers and sisters; to enslave animals or plants is a violation of the basic freedom of those creatures just as much as enslaving another person is wrong. Hunting and gathering people live in true communities. They work together, play together, live together. Their lives aren’t divided up like ours where we interact constantly with strangers or co-workers toward whom we have little long-term obligation. Their responsibility is to each other; our responsibility is usually to some person we will never meet, and often to someone who we will never see again. The profound alienation of capitalism would be ameliorated by something like parecon, but not eliminated. In hunting and gathering society, people are far closer to the source of production than is possible in any industrial society. The people make almost everything themselves. If you consume something, you produced it, or you personally know the person who produced it.

I think parecon comes up short in other areas. Since it assumes an industrial society, attempts to protect the environment must be managed by people. However, hunters and gatherers do not generally seek to manage the environment, but rather let the environment manage itself. This is the natural way of life: some live and some die. This applies to whole species as well as individuals beings. Attempts to meddle in this cycle of life are both immoral and doomed to failure. The natural way is to take what we need and trust mother earth to take care of the rest.

I think this is not an irrelevant issue, but rather it is at the core of what goes into our decision-making about what we want our future to look like. If it is truly desirable to live in a more or less hunting and gathering lifestyle, then we should work toward that goal. Z magazine and Znet seem to operate under the assumptions that industrial society is not only inevitable, but furthermore desirable. I would like to at least call those assumptions into question. If it is our goal not to revolutionize this society, but rather to replace it with a hunting and gathering one, then I think our plans would have to change. We would have to think about and work on transitioning from agricultural-industrial civilization to a more balanced way of life.

 

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