A Curious Dialogue
Socrates never wrote down a word: he taught entirely by challenging his
pupils to argue or debate or discuss things with him. We only know of his
existence because several of his pupils - Plato being the most well known -
wrote about his life and teachings. Plato, having been schooled in the “Socratic
method,” wrote most of his work in the form of a dialogue. Some of it was a
recreation of his earlier dialogues with Socrates, some dialogues with other
people, and some simply a dialogue with an unknown person, presumably himself.
The technique of dialogue is so compelling and powerful at presenting
information that I’ve decided to use it to share my most recent
thinking. This is entirely copyright 2000 by Thom Hartmann: please do not
reproduce any of it in any fashion by any medium...but feel free to tell your
friends to visit the page. Here goes:
Life is pretty good here in America. How come the Third World can’t use
economic progress to achieve our lifestyle? Why don’t we encourage them to
grow their way out of their problems? Because it would take all of the resources of at least four planet Earths to
sustain the six billion people of our world if everybody were to live a
lifestyle even of an American earning minimum wage flipping burgers. It’s
simply not possible.
Then why do we have it so well? Because others live so poorly. Literally. Look at the two-dollar nightlight
you can buy in Wal-Mart, made in China. It took two hundred pounds of soil mined
from the earth to supply the iron and copper in there. The plastic represents a
pint of oil, and the manufacture of the plastic took four gallons of oil. The
neon gas inside the little bulb had to be extracted from over a thousand cubic
feet of air, and the process consumed another gallon of gasoline. When you add
all the components together, there’s over two man-hours of work in it, and it
had to be transported over 11,000 miles to get to the store where you bought it.
And the store made a profit on the sale.
How is that possible? The rulers of China are willing to use up their resources to get our cash,
and to force their people to work as slaves. North Americans are 5% of the world’s
population, but we consume 30% of the world’s natural resources and produce
50% of the world’s non-organic waste. We can pull it off because through luck,
happenstance, and military power we directly or indirectly control most of the
world’s oil. Our control of oil and military/economic power has caused the
despots of the Third World to trade their resources and the sweat of their
people for our currency.
And when the world runs out of oil? It’s already happening. Burma is down to a 3-year supply, and the
realization of that about a decade ago led to an overthrow of their government.
As countries in the Third World lose access to oil or their wells begin to run
dry, you find war follows. East Timor is oil-rich, for example, a fact
overlooked in most American news analyses of why Indonesia, which is down to
about a 10-year supply domestically, invaded that tiny country. When countries
run out of oil, they do what Hitler did when he ran low on oil: they go to war.
But it seems to me that we’re moving toward something positive, that we’re
growing and evolving. I mean, a few hundred years ago they were burning women at
the stake and a few hundred years before that they were murdering people in the
crusades and before that people lived in caves and chased animals with sticks.
So there has to be some sort of forward path, doesn’t there? Some kind of
evolution? Yes and no. Every modern culture and every organized religion that I know of
has a myth that’s central to their belief structure, a creation myth, which
starts out with people being in a state of grace or happiness, a Garden of Eden,
from which they’re ejected into this world...
Don’t you think that’s a reference to the birth experience? To being
thrown from the world of spirit into the world of matter? Perhaps. But I suspect it’s really far more practical, more
reality-grounded, because these stories almost always point to a real, physical
place, not a metaphysical place. The Garden of Eden, for example, was at the
headwater of four rivers, which became the Euphrates, Pison, Gion, Hiddekel
rivers. The name Eden is probably an adaptation from the Sumerian name for the
plain of Mesopotamia, which was called Edinn. This was a real place, and the
first writers of the Bible spoke as if they had specific knowledge of it. You’ll
find this same sort of reality-groundedness in most other modern culture stories
that refer to a previous golden age or to the decline of humanity, from the
writings of Greek Poet Hesiod, who wrote Work and Days 2800 years ago, to
the stories of traditional Norwegians, dating back to before the Christian
conquest of Norway about 800 years ago. The Romans believed that when Saturn
reigned in ancient times, there was neither sorrow nor work: everybody was happy
and lived in peace. That was followed, according to the Romans, by the age of
heros - called the silver and bronze ages - and the iron age of work, which is
pretty much where Roman history ended, when the Holy Roman Empire reinvented
itself as the Holy Catholic Empire. So there’s a pretty strong consensus among
our modern cultures, from the Jewish to the Christian to the Hindu to the
Moslem, that there was a time in ancient history when all people lived happily
You missed the Buddhists. Yes, intentionally. To the best of my knowledge, they have no story about the
creation and there’s no notion of a fall from grace, at least that’s
acknowledged among all the different Buddhist sects. But Buddhism doesn’t
believe in a continuous soul and doesn’t discuss the presence or absence of a
single creator, either. So Buddhism is a bit of an anomaly here. Nonetheless,
the Buddhists start out with the assumption that all life is suffering, which
was the first of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, and that through the practice of
their method suffering can be overcome. One could argue that this presumes there
was a time before our civilization came along when all life wasn’t suffering -
which puts them back in the camp of the others - or that, like with the issue of
monotheism, they just don’t go there. But I think the true answer is that
while Hinduism believes in cyclical time, and Christianity, Judaism, and Islam
believe in linear time, the Buddhists believe in chaotic time.
Chaotic time? Chaotic time is the notion that there isn’t any particular time at all. It’s
all just an eternal “now.” The now of the past is the same as the now of the
present. If somebody became enlightened in the past, then people can also become
enlightened in the present, because time is essentially directionless and
They don’t posit an end of time? Actually, the Buddhists do: you find reference to it in the Bodhisattva and
other vows. For example, the Dalai Lama once led a group of us in a vow which
included: “As long as space remains, as long as sentient beings remain, until
then, may I too remain and dispel the miseries of the world.” It implies that
there is some end time, toward which we’re all moving, and those who take the
vow to stay or reincarnate (using that word loosely, in the Buddhist sense) are
going to stick around until that time. But in the acting out of Buddhism, I’d
say you see more of the chaotic sense of time than the linear sense of time.
Ok, back then to being ejected from the Garden of Eden. What does that have
to do with the evolution of human beings? It has everything to do with it, or, rather, with refuting it. With this
creation story and its variations, what virtually all Western and Eastern
thought is saying is that there was a time in the past when we were happier and
more attuned to spirit and Earth than we are today. In other words, in our
striving for improvement, we’re not evolving, but instead we’re trying to go
back to something we once had.
I know of one religion that doesn’t have a “we were once all happy”
story in its timeline. And that is?
Science. Our scientific story is that we started out living in caves, living
painful and terrible lives in the freezing cold and rain, and eventually,
through the use of ever-improving technology from fire to transistors, reached
our current state of comfort. And, of course, if we would just turn everything
over to science, they’d genetically engineer the perfect food, the perfect
person, and the perfect world. Yes, salvation through technology. However, you misrepresent that when you
say it’s the scientific perspective. What you’ve described is the consumerist
perspective, which falsely claims itself to be scientific. Consumerism is
actually the largest religion in the world, and it carries the belief system you
just described. But we’ll get back to that in a later conversation: first, I
want to finish with the idea of the Golden Age or the Garden of Eden.
Wait a minute - you’re saying that science doesn’t say that we evolved
from apes and that our ancestors were less happy than we are? Science says no such thing. The science of biology suggests that we evolved
from an early primate, which also evolved into apes: modern-day chimps and apes
are our cousins, not our grandparents. And the science of paleoanthropology -
the study of human and pre-human life before the invention of literacy - has
pretty much totally refuted the notion that most early humans lived miserable
lives. Like tribal people today, they ran the spectrum, from eking out a living
to having abundant, meaningful lives.
Are you going to pitch the “noble savage” now? It’s neither black nor white. A few weeks ago on a cold November day here
in Vermont, my wife met a fellow in downtown Montpelier who was walking around
barefoot. He had calluses on the bottoms of his feet that were at least a
quarter-inch thick: he hadn’t worn shoes in years. And he walked that way
everywhere he went, in all four seasons. The body is capable of acclimating
itself to just about any type of weather, within reason.
I haven’t seen any nudist Eskimos. They prefer to be called the Inuit people, but, yes, you’re right. On the
other hand, even in the face of all the wonders and luxury of our lifestyle,
many of them would prefer to continue to live their traditional life. Why would
that be, even in the frozen north?
I dunno - it seems nuts to me. Freezing their butts off. Not at all. They’re no colder or warmer than people living in town: both
live in heated buildings and wear warm clothing. The big difference is that the
people in town work anywhere from six to ten hours a day, five to seven days a
week, just to survive. The Inuits who live their traditional lifestyle work
about two hours a day to provide for food, heat, and shelter.
What about when they go out on a whale or seal hunt for a week at a time? And they bring back several months worth of food? Do the math: it averages
out to around two hours a day. That’s what’s typical among hunter/gathering
people, whether it’s in the Arctic or on the Equator. Scientists - real
scientists, not writers like Thomas Hobbs who’s always quoted with his “short,
nasty and brutish” comment about pre-British life - often refer to such people
as having “the original leisure lifestyle.” Missionaries today often make
the same comment about such people as the Pilgrims did about some of the Native
American tribes: they seem “lazy.” But it’s not that they’re lazy, it’s
that they’re satisfied. They’re living in Eden, and so they don’t jump at
a chance to go to work in a mine or factory or on a farm.
But what about the cannibals of Borneo or the warlike indigenous people of
New Zealand, the Maori? They were constantly killing each other - that doesn’t
sound like Eden to me. There’s even some evidence of cannibalism among the
Anasazi people living in what’s now called Colorado, during the twelfth
century, and the Aztecs were big into eating people. How could you say these
folks were living a leisure lifestyle? Excellent question - you’re revealing the basic flawed myth of our culture:
that linear time is the only time there is. That myth teaches that time is a
line, moving from some distant “bad” point to some future “good” point,
or from an extremely distant good time to a long period of bad time to some
extremely imminent future good time. For example, God kicked Adam and Eve out of
the Garden of Eden and cursed future generations to work six days a week with
their faces covered with sweat. But then God prepared an escape hatch, promising
one day to send to Earth a savior to free people from God’s own curse. The
Christians believe that was Jesus, but he didn’t fully succeed in freeing
people from the curse of having to work so hard and have a miserable life, so he
has to return to the Earth again to “make all things new.” So the beginning
of time was being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, the long middle of time was
from then until now, and the end of time is either death leading to heaven - the
individual end of time - or else the final battle of Armageddon followed by a
thousand-year reign of peace.
Ok, I get it about chaotic time, and linear time is pretty much a description
of the way I was brought up thinking, but why is linear time a myth? Because it’s simply not so. In order to have a notion of linear time, it’s
necessary first to erect a barrier to the memory of time before now. Cultures
create stories of the past which exclude all previous cycles, and focus instead
only on the current cycle, from the beginning of that culture until the present,
with theories of its future. For example, fundamentalists hold up our story of
Adam and Eve as the story of the creation of human beings. But in Genesis we’re
told that Adam and Even found a wife for their son, Seth, and that after killing
Able, Cain went off to the land of Nod and found himself a wife there and gave
birth to Enoch. You find that most tribal people, when you ask them what they’re
called, will give you the word in their language for “human being” or “people”
or “man.” This is true of the San, the Lakota, the Inuit, the Ik, the
Karamoja, and virtually every other tribe on Earth. They realize there are other
humans around, but they consider their particular group to be unique from all
the others. They were the ones who, like the Inca, were born of the sun. Or like
the xxx, were the result of a heavenly bird laying an egg in the place where
they live from which the first “people” were hatched. It’s a creation
story, yes, but a story of the creation of one tribe, that which came to
be known as the Hebrews or the Jews.
And that story erects the barrier to remembering what life was like before
their tribe got started? Yes. It’s the beginning of linear time.
And all our modern religions observe either linear or chaotic time? Mostly. You could argue that historically the Jews understood cyclical time -
they had built into the epistemology the notion of a weekly day of rest, of
giving the fields a rest every seven years, and of freeing all slaves and
equalizing all income every 49 years. But while some Jews keep this cyclical
notion of time alive, most have lost it: the Jubilee is no longer observed every
50 years, for example, and few fields are given their seven year rest. Only a
very small percentage of Jews even observe the Sabbath in the way that the Bible
dictates, and virtually no Christians do so. The Christians were so offended by
cyclical time that they smashed Maypoles in the 15th century and changed
the springtime rituals of cyclical “pagan” time into celebrations of a past
event called Easter. So pretty much everybody lives in linear time these days,
but cyclical time is what’s true.
That’s a pretty strong statement. I think science supports linear time as
being what’s true: consider the big bang theory. And what follows that?
Well, eventually all matter turns dark and cold. And then?
Eventually gravity pulls all matter back into the center of the universe,
where it gets compressed into a pinpoint. And then?
Got it. It explodes outward, in a big bang, starting the whole thing over
again. The ultimate cyclical time. Right. No matter how you look at it, if you look hard enough you find that
everything goes in cycles instead of in a straight line.
Which brings us back to the notion of evolution. If everything goes in
cycles, then how come there weren’t people back before there were dinosaurs? Maybe there were. But it would have been in the last creation cycle, not in
the last mammal-growing cycle of this planet. And the mathematical odds are
vastly in favor of their having been, being, and will be people on other planets
in the universe. We’re part of the life-cycle of this planet, which is part of
the life-cycle of this cycle of what we call our known universe.
Then evolution is a linear-time theory within a cyclical time universe? Actually, not the way Darwin understood it. Some of his earliest writing was
about the finches he found on the Galápagos
archipelago. He noticed that there was a cycle occurring between two finch
populations, those with larger beaks and those with smaller beaks. The birds
with the smaller beaks were more efficient in their use of energy: they didn’t
have to drag around as big a beak. This was an advantage, so long as there were
small-sized seeds for them to feed on. But as they increased in population, they
wiped out the plants that carried the small seeds, and their small beaks were
not strong enough to crack the larger seeds of the large-seed plants that came
to replace the small-seed plants. So the small-beaked finches seemed to vanish,
while the population of large-beaked finches flourished. But after a few years,
the large-beaked finches had wiped out the large-seed plants, and so their
population went into a decline while the small-beaked finches reemerged to eat
the small-seed plants, which were now growing where the large-seed plants had
died out. What Darwin observed was a cycle, not a progression.
But there is a progression in evolution, isn’t there? I mean how else would
we be here if life on Earth began with single-cell organisms? Yes, of course. But within that progression are cycles. That’s the
As it relates to humans and human evolution and that so-popular buzz-phrase
these days, “The evolution of consciousness”? Exactly. Imagine that you were living in a way that only required you to work
two hours a day. The climate was decent, food abundant, and there weren’t a
lot of people around to compete with you for the local food supply. You spent
your days hanging out with family and friends, making up songs, telling stories,
playing games, even visiting other psychic worlds and talking directly to the
gods through the use of local plants or techniques of meditation and breathing.
Life was good.
Sounds like Eden. But wouldn’t your tribe’s population eventually grow to
the point where it wiped out the local resource base and you’d have to work
more than two hours a day to find food? Let’s say for the purpose of this discussion that that happened once in the
past and that your tribe learned from it. You learned the importance of keeping
your population small and stable, in order to maintain a high quality of life.
This was before birth control pills? Yes, but there are many other means of birth control. Several plants make
effective morning-after teas. The women, living as they do in the natural world,
are more in tune with the natural rhythms of their bodies and easily able to
spot the fertile days of their menstrual cycle. You discovered long ago that
when women have equal power with men - particularly to decide when to have sex -
that the population stabilized. Like the Lakota, you have a cultural belief that
it’s poor form to have a child more than once every six years, because then
the previous child won’t get enough parental attention and the tribe will grow
too fast. Non procreative sex is encouraged, even including homosexuality. Women
breastfeed their children for years, and while women are breastfeeding their
bodies suppress estrogens and so it’s very hard for them to get pregnant. So,
you’ve figured out a bunch of ways to keep your population stable, none of
which include having to kill children or old people.
But there’s evidence that some tribal people did kill their children and
old people. Yes, but let’s assume, for the moment, that those people did that during
the learning part of the cycle I referred to a moment ago. They overpopulated,
didn’t know how to handle it, had to kill off some folks, and eventually
discovered the methods I just mentioned.
How are we feeding ourselves? We gather about eighty percent of our food from local plants, and about
twenty percent of it is local game. The women trap small animals with nets, and
the men hunt larger ones with spears and arrows and the like. It’s great fun,
great sport, and also consider a sacred job. Food, after all, is the core of
Ok, so we’re living in a group, a tribe, working just a few hours a day,
and our population is stable and life is good. Right. Trading with the neighbors, occasionally our children will intermarry
with theirs to keep the gene pool strong, we even have sporting competitions
Is this true? Did this actually happen? Lacrosse was a game invented by the Iroquois. They’d play it for fun, but
sometimes they’d play it as a way of settling disputes between tribes.
I thought the Europeans invented sports. Some. Until contact with the Native Americans, most European “sports”
were miniaturized versions of war. Jousting, sword-fighting tournaments, battles
to the death against wild animals like lions or bulls in an arena, or
fistfights. There were a few that were less violent, like the game of golf which
was invented by people who’d lived tribally - the Scots - until Britain
conquered them. But because golf wasn’t a “preparation for war” exercise,
in 1457 the Scottish Parliament passed a law making it illegal to play. They
wanted people to practice their archery, instead, to help defend and expand the
Geez. Ok, continue. So we’re sitting around having a pretty good life, and one day a tribe just
north of us decides they’re going to start organized and intensive
agriculture. We visit them and remind them that every time a tribe has tried
that in the past, it’s caused their population to explode and ultimately led
to famine, but they decide they know better than we do and tell us to mind our
Why would they do that? You mean they discovered agriculture? No, intensive agriculture had been known for twenty thousand or more years.
Probably for all of human history, a hundred thousand or more years, but we have
fossil evidence of it at least thirty to forty thousand years ago. It’s just
that people generally didn’t do it.
What do you mean by “intensive agriculture,” as opposed to regular
agriculture? Well, all people historically have practiced a sort of local, natural
agriculture. Even some apes do it. They encourage the local growth of plants
that are good to eat, and weed out the plants that aren’t good to eat. But
intensive agriculture is where large areas of land are devoted to the production
of a single crop. This causes a boom in the food supply, and so therefore the
What about all those prehistoric birth-control measures you talked about a
minute ago? Those were to keep the population stable within the limits of the local
food supply. When the local food supply expands, they’re not necessary.
The goal wasn’t a certain number of people in a particularly area, but a sustainable
number of people in a particular ecosystem.
Ok, so the folks to the north of us have started planting wheat or sweet
potatoes or whatever, and their population is growing. What happens next? Weather. Weather goes in cycles, but often the cycles are longer than the
memory of a single person. In the United States, for example, there are some who
are suggesting that we’re now moving back into the weather cycle that, in the
1930s, produced the dustbowl in the Midwest, leading to ruinous crop losses.
That’s a sixty or seventy year cycle. There are other weather cycles that
climatologists have identified that run hundreds of years. The “little ice age”
which killed off the people trying to colonize Greenland in the 1700s is an
example. It froze the river Thames in England, something that hadn’t happened
in the memory of the British Empire and hasn’t happened since. Nobody’s sure
how long that cycle is. So, anyhow, weather happens and the people who are
growing the crops hit a bad year. Too much or too little water, or a short
season, or a hard winter: something that radically cuts the productivity of
their cropland. They’re experiencing starvation, and getting desperate.
Yep. So, first they had to decide that they’d break the law that all the
other humans were living by, that you shouldn’t do agriculture...
There was such a law? There’s evidence of such a thing? Here’re two quick examples. First, among most of the Aboriginal tribes of
Australia it was explicitly built into their culture, their stories, what we’d
call their religions, that it was bad luck to engage in agriculture. It would
lead to the doom and destruction of the tribe, because fields of food just
attracted hungry ghosts. Second, consider this little quote from the fourth book
of Genesis in the Bible: “And in process
of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an
offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock
and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
But unto Cain and to his offering [of
agricultural crops] he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his
the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen?
If thou doest well, shalt thou not be
accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.... And Cain talked
with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that
Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”
What’s that all about? Cain was the first farmer, in this Biblical story. He was the first human
ever to engage in intensive agriculture. And the LORD didn’t like Cain’s
offering - he told Cain that he’d sinned, presumably by farming. And Cain was
so upset that the LORD had dissed him like that, that he killed his brother,
Abel. I think it’s a warning against agriculture, and it’s pretty typical of
the kinds of stories and religious mythologies you find among herding and
hunting/gathering peoples all over the world.
So that’s what got us in this mess: agriculture. Actually, no. It’s not agriculture per se. It was the decision to engage in
agriculture intensively, and to centralize that as the basis of our food supply.
That always leads to population explosion, which then puts the tribe at risk of
famine. And it also leads to a concentration of wealth, as those who control the
food literally control the power of life and death over others.
Ok, so the farmers from the north are coming to get us. They’re gonna kill
us off or enslave us, and convert our land into cropland. Is that about it? Yeah.
So what do we do? We have three choices: run, fight, or submit.
Which do we choose? It all depends on our situation. If there’s someplace to run to, then we
would probably do that. That’s what most tribal people do. It’s what the
Indians in the jungles of Brazil do when the loggers come in to clear land for
cattle for the hamburger chains of the United States. It’s what the Native
Americans did when Europeans first started to overrun the East Coast and then
the Midwest. And if we’re out of places to run, we can submit, which is what
many of the Native American tribes did, hoping to get good treatment at the
hands of the Europeans. Usually they were made into slaves, but at least they
were still alive.
And if we choose to fight? Well, keep in mind that we have a culture that’s not based on warfare. Our
life is pretty laid back, and we have no army. We don’t even have a police
force or a jail. So we can try to fight back, but first we have to develop the
weapons of war and a social structure to support that.
A step forward in human evolution? A step backwards.
Backwards?! I thought we were constantly moving forward, or at least forward
through a cycle? That’s the point we started with - that notion is wrong. The beginning of
our civilization wasn’t a step forward in human evolution or in creating a way
of life that works best for humans and all other life on the planet. It was a
But we have cars and trains and planes and antibiotics! And one in four of us will die of cancer, and we spend our lives frantically
working to make the rich richer, living in terror that we’ll be downsized and
lose our health insurance. And we’re producing killer germs faster than we’re
producing germ killers, and right now at this moment fully a third of the world’s
population is infected with tuberculosis and half the world’s population lives
on less than two dollars a day and goes to sleep every night hungry.
I never see that on TV. No, you never see that on TV. But it’s what’s real.
But I read this book the other day that said that we were all evolving
spiritually, and if we’d just learn to pray correctly we could reach the next
level, a much better way of life, happier lives. In fact, I’ve read that in
dozens of books - most of the “New Age” books - that we’re spiritually
evolving, and the agency of that evolution is, depending on the book or author,
intervention by God, angels, space aliens, ancient masters, hidden wise people,
or a particular type of spiritual exercise, meditation, or yoga. And if we could
only move to the next step, the world would be a happier place. The second half is right, but instead of using the world “evolving,” I’d
use the word “recovering.” Like Darwin’s finches, we’re cycling from one
beak to another. We made a terrible mistake a few thousand years ago, and now
most of the human race and the rest of the natural world is paying the price for
it. If we can figure out a way to undo that mistake, then life may become good
again. We can return to the Garden of Eden.
The cycle. Yes, we’re in the midst of a cycle. It’s one that has been repeated many
You mean there were trains and cars and televisions before? Probably not. But there were people who thought they could control and
dominate nature before. The earliest known record is The Epic of Gilgamesh,
which was written between five and seven thousand years ago. It tells the story
of a man who created a mighty empire and a huge army based on a human population
bloated by his huge irrigated fields of barley. His people were farmers before
the story of Cain and Abel was written: their land was apparently where Adam and
Eve sent their son to find a wife. And the Epic of Gilgamesh also tells of how
the fields became exhausted from over-planting, and finally the soil was
poisonous to the crops, too salty, because of over-irrigation. And his
Did they learn their lesson? Apparently not: they just moved on and started again. But some of the later
prophets warned against what they were doing. Jesus, for example, said, “Behold
the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into
barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”
A rhetorical question? A warning. Read it in context and you’ll see and hear what I mean.
So we’re not spiritually evolving? I’d say no, we are not. Others may be, those who never left the path that
we strayed from. But we’re in the bottom of the cycle, the pit. We first need
to climb back up, spiritually speaking, to the place where our Older Brothers,
the Kogi and other indigenous people, are already standing.
And they’re spiritually evolving? Most likely: it’s an ongoing process, albeit probably a slow one. But they’ve
been working at it for the past seven thousand years, while we’ve been
fighting wars with each other over agricultural land. We’ve been stuck, and
all this “spiritual progress” that everybody is talking about is, in my
opinion, really an effort to get us back on track or back up to where we were
before Gilgamesh made his fatal decision.
So let me see if I understand what you’re saying. There’s the large cycle
of life on the planet, and of the development of human life... And that’s a cycle of millions of years: you probably won’t notice a
change in that cycle in a single lifetime. Parts of that cycle included the
dying off of Cro-Magnon man, and the killing off or assimilation of Neanderthals
into modern humans. And the differentiation of the races of modern humans. We’re
talking long-term stuff, here.
Ok, there’s that cycle, a biological cycle. And we don’t know where that’s
going, maybe towards the assimilation of all races into one, or maybe into the
emergence of new ones, or maybe it’s just where it is, but it’ll take
thousands of years to know. And then within that cycle, there’s the cycle of
cultures, which can and do change within a lifetime or two. And that’s really
the cycle that we should be paying attention to, because that’s the one we’re
moving through. Right? Yes. This cycle bottomed out over the past three thousand years, and is
probably moving back upwards, as it were, toward its beginning point, now.
It’s beginning point? What are the stages of this cultural cycle? Well, to simplify it, we could say there are four stages to the large cycle,
and within the large cycle there are smaller cycles, which we’ll get to them a
few minutes. But the four big stages are: Paradise, Defiance, Terror,
and Recovery back to Paradise.
Can we go through them, one at a time? Starting with Paradise? Sure. Paradise is the first, but also the last, because this is a
cycle and not a line: we keep cycling through it. It’s why every culture has
stories about paradise in its ancient past...except those few cultures which are
experiencing paradise right now, who are at that point in the cycle today.
There are such people alive? Sure. And they’re well documented. Although we’re doing our level best to
exterminate them as fast as we can.
And when a culture is in the Paradise part of the cycle, how do they live? That’s the most stable part of the cycle, which is why probably most of
human history was lived in Paradise. For be in that part of the cycle,
people must have a cyclical rather than linear sense of time. They’re
connected into the cycles of nature, of birth and death, of the seasons. They
know that what goes around comes around. They have a memory of a time when
people lived the Defiance, the Terror, and the Recovery.
They tell stories to themselves to warn themselves not to step out of Paradise
into Defiance, because it’ll inevitably lead to Terror, which
will then require Recovery to get back to Paradise. The most obvious feature of Paradise
is stability. Population is stable, the social order is stable, the food supply
is stable, and things don’t change much.
Sounds boring! Exactly. And cultures which remember Paradise consider anything other
than that to be unpleasant. It’s why the ancient Chinese, who remembered the
time of Paradise, would say, “May you live in interesting times,” as
Yeah, I guess if I lived in Paradise, I wouldn’t want things to change
much. Hey - is this why our notion of heaven is that it’s a place where
nothing much changes, and people sit around playing harps all day? The words “Paradise” and “heaven” are often interchangeable in some
modern religions, so I’d guess that the modern notion of heaven is a distorted
or distant memory of the Paradise part of the cultural cycle.
And that’s why everybody is always trying to get there! This makes sense! Yes, although if you were in charge during a time of Terror, then you’d
want the idea of Paradise to be thought of as something unattainable by
normal humans. This isn’t because the folks in charge during the times of Terror
were inherently nasty - it was the times as much as the people - but because
during that part of the cycle the idea of a Paradise part of the cycle
was simply unimaginable. It couldn’t be real in the physical world, they’d
think, so it must be metaphysical. So if you were in charge during that time,
you’d tell people that they’d have to die to get there, and the way to make
sure you get there after you die is to do what the people in charge tell them to
do right now. “Just pick that cotton, boy, and when you die you’ll be
rewarded with Paradise.”
But isn’t that what our religions explicitly say? I mean, like, some
Christians even believe that if a baby dies unbaptized, he won’t go to heaven! That’s what the religions teach, because they were the ones who happened to
be in charge during the time of the cycle called Terror. They were just
telling their truth as they knew it: it made sense to them, because during the Terror
the idea of Paradise is so distant and far away that it seems
unattainable, just like in the dead of winter you don’t think, when looking at
the snowdrifts, that Summer may happen the next morning. It’s inconceivable.
So they were just telling their truth: Paradise is unattainable on this
Earth, at least in our lifetimes. They couldn’t see the cycles beyond their
own lives. But the founders of our modern religions could see the cycles
beyond their own lives, and so that’s what they taught. For example, Jesus
said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say,
Lo here! or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” He was
saying that it is possible, and that if enough people reformed the culture, it
could even be possible in a single lifetime.
It’s us who are capable of Paradise, but it’s our culture that’s stuck? Not stuck, so much, but just here and now in this part of the cycle. And
every culture, no matter where they are in the cycle, has a faint memory or a
fable or a story about the time of Paradise that they’d once known. If
they’re fully into the Defiance, the story is about how they’re going
to either improve on or recover Paradise, depending on whether they walked away
from it intentionally or were driven away from it. If they’re fully into the Terror,
then they tell themselves it’s in a long-distant future, or only available
upon death, because it seems so far away that it looks like those are the only
sensible possibilities. And when they move into the Recovery, then they
begin to believe that Paradise is actually a possibility within their own
lifetime, that they could re-achieve it now, then the stories begin to shift
into the arena of what can be done now, in this generation, to bring about Paradise.
But everybody, all cultures, have such stories, because all cultures sprang from
the roots of humanity, which has been around long enough that we all have
distant ancestors who experienced the time of Paradise and told or wrote
stories about it. Those stories echo either as fables or as religious myths or
simply as part of the collective unconscious.
You mentioned winter and Summer before. Are the four seasons an apt metaphor
for this? Very apt. Summer is the time of Paradise. All is well and life is
good. Then the weather turns nasty: Autumn has arrived, and the cold of Autumn
defies the warmth of Summer, causing annual plants to die and the trees and
perennials to lose their leaves. This is like the time of Defiance, and
the analogy is particularly good because most times of Defiance are
actually brought about by changes in the climate. It’s a time of turbulence,
of change, of danger. Those with arks survive; others may perish. Then, after
Autumn, come the short days and bitter cold nights of Winter, the time of Terror.
If Winter is upon us and I have food stored and you have none, I can get you to
do just about anything in exchange for some food so you can survive. Similarly,
during the cultural cycle of Winter, Terror, those in charge who control
the food supply exercise absolute control over everybody else. The Samurai can
cut off a person’s head and present his family with the bill. The kings and
their local Lords exercise the “right of the first night,” sleeping with
every new bride the night of her honeymoon before her husband can legally touch
her. People are bought and sold with the land, and life is cheap - except, of
course, the life of the ruling classes. And, like Winter, the season of Terror
can seem very stable, like it’ll go on forever. But, of course, it’s just a
season, and pretty soon, like the first shoots of Spring breaking up through the
thawing ground, the cracks in the social order begin, heralding the transitional
time or Recovery or Springtime. This is a time of willy-nilly growth, all
sorts of unexpected things popping up all over, movements and religions and
Sounds like the time of Recovery is rather interesting, almost pleasant. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s brought about by another sort of crisis, though.
The breakdown or overthrow of the older and seemingly stable social order that
reigned during the Terror. Disasters such as famine or plague. If it
happens slowly it could be a time of relatively peaceful evolution into Paradise;
more often, though, it’s a time of brutal upheaval, the riding of the four
horsemen. Actually, the Bible has stories of all four of these cycles, pretty
clearly defined. You’ll also find them in the literature of Hinduism.
Ok, so now we’re back to the Paradise part of the cycle. People have
figured out how to live in harmony with their environment and with each other.
But what then brings about the Defiance again? Why would somebody change things
if they were living in Paradise? As far as I can tell, there are three possible triggers. The first and
probably most common one is that there’s an ecological disaster, which is not
of human making. A volcano blows up, a drought or extreme rainy period extends
for a few years, the oceans rise and flood the homeland, there’s a huge series
of earthquakes, or - as has happened about every ten thousand years during the
hundred to two-hundred-thousand years of human history - there’s a major
meteorological shift like the beginning or end of an ice age.
Any one of which would disrupt the community’s food supply? Right. Or their water supply: food and water are the two things humans can’t
live without. So something external to the culture causes a drop in the food
supply, and suddenly the people must come up with a new way to live. The gods
have thrown them out of paradise, at least in their own minds, and if they don’t
do something quickly they’ll starve.
And in the story in Genesis, the two things they tried were herding and
domesticating animals for food, which is what Abel did, and intensive
agriculture, which is what Cain did. Yes. And those, basically, are the only two options. The three ways that
people have always provided for their food are hunting/gathering, herding, and
What about scavenging? I read an article somewhere about ‘man the scavenger’
that said that early humans were opportunists, like crows or buzzards. Well, first off, we’re not designed to be carrion eaters. We don’t have
the digestive system for it. But if people came across a fresh lion kill and
there was something left over or they could scare away the lions, they’d be
silly not to eat what they could. Really, though, this is just an aspect of
Got it. So when something happened that caused hunting and gathering to no
longer be a viable option, in Genesis they tried herding and agriculture. And
God didn’t like agriculture. He wasn’t happy with Cain’s offering. So it would seem. And you find similar stories still extant among the Bedouin
people of that region: they’ll herd goats, but they won’t plant fields. They’re
nomads. The same is true of the Karamajong of northern Uganda, who herd cattle
and live mostly from the blood and milk of their cows. And you’ll find
distaste for settling down and planting among the Roma people, who are often
referred to as Gypsies. All of these peoples chose the path of Abel, which the
Bible says was the path God preferred. The rest of us, it seems, chose the path
of Cain, which is to live off intensive agriculture.
And what’s wrong with that? Intensive agriculture creates a situation kind of like that faced by so many
Americans who are trying to live a lifestyle that makes them look richer than
they are. They can’t pay for a quarter-million-dollar house, but the bank will
loan the money for one. So they take the loan and live in the house, but a third
of their paycheck every month has to go to the bank. They’ve stepped out onto
the thin ledge of debt, and if they lose their job and can’t find a comparable
one quickly, they lose their home. Similarly, with intensive agriculture people
step out onto the thin ledge of an artificially inflated food supply. Irrigated
and fertilized fields of monoculture crops produce huge amounts of food, but are
very fragile: a bumper crop of locusts or a few years or drought will wipe out
the food supply just like the modern-day householder losing his job wipes out
his money supply. In both cases, the result is disaster.
And herding is more resilient? Yes, and so is hunting/gathering. Assuming low human population density, you
can move from place to place when local conditions get bad.
But didn’t the Bedouins wipe out much of the lands of northern Africa about
five hundred years ago, turning scrublands into desert by overgrazing? Yes, they did. Some of that land is only now recovering, and governments have
in many cases banned them from grazing. I didn’t say the pastoral life was
optimal, just that it was less fragile than intensive agriculture, and produces
more food than hunting/gathering. When something local happens that makes
hunting/gathering no longer viable, it’s the least fragile of the two options
Ok, you said there were three different ways that people could leave or be
thrown out of Paradise, or that would cause the Paradise part of the cycle of
culture to end and the Defiance part of the cycle to begin. What are the other
ways people would move from Paradise-time into Defiance-time? The second trigger for moving away from Paradise is the actual act of
defiance. A group of people, a small tribe, for example, decides that even
though their culture and religion teach that intensive agriculture is dangerous,
they’re going to try it anyway. They’re going to defy the gods. This is a
subtext to The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest foundational stories of our
culture. Gilgamesh went out and cut the head off the god who protected the
forests, and then cut down the forests. He used the logs to build a great city -
Uruk or Ur - and he turned the former forestland into irrigated cropland.
And the story ended in disaster when the cropland suffered from salination
and siltation? Right. One part of the Epic is another of those ancient warnings about
agriculture, just like Genesis.
But Gilgamesh’s people didn’t turn away from agriculture, did they? No, they concluded that somebody must have done something wrong, but weren’t
willing to believe that their way of living was what it was. So they blamed the
gods. For example, maybe it was the revenge of Enlil, the top god, for Gilgamesh’s
having cut off the head of Hambuba, the forest god. In any case, they moved on
to another nearby land, conquered the people there, and set up agricultural shop
And the cycle of land destruction and famine happened again? As it does to this day, all over the world. Even with the promise of
genetically modified foods and super-duper pesticides and fertilizers, an
ever-increasing food supply will always just produce an ever-increasing
population...until the food supply hits the limits of its growth. And intensive
agriculture exhausts land, so when that limit is hit, there isn’t a sudden
stability of food supply, but a sudden decline.
It’s coming here, now? It’s already started. Over ninety countries in the world can no longer grow
enough food to feed their own people.
But Western Europe and the United States and Canada aren’t among them,
right? So long as we can continue to convince the nations sitting on top of huge oil
reserves to keep pumping it out and selling it to us cheaply, so our tractors
and fertilizer factories can keep running.
Ok, I want to get back to that in a minute, but first let’s finish the
three ways people walk away from or are thrown out of the time of Paradise. You
mentioned climate change or natural disaster, and somebody coming up with the
bright idea to ignore the historic injunctions against intensive agriculture.
What’s the third? Invasion.
Oh, yeah. You mentioned that earlier, but just in passing. You read the
history of the world, though, from the time of Joshua conquering cities all over
the Middle East, to the settling of the Americas by Europeans, and it seems that
invasion is probably the most common trigger for the transition from Paradise to
Defiance and then to Terror. In our recent history, yes. Talk with the Abenaki Indians of Vermont and
northern New York State, though. They can tell you stories of the last cycle,
when the mountains of blue ice moved north and they settled the lands. Their
memory is, literally, ten thousand years long. Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki
storyteller, wrote a beautiful novel about those early times titled Dawn Land.
You’d probably enjoy reading it.
So invasion isn’t the most common way that the cycle starts over by
throwing people from Paradise into Defiance and Terror? In recent history it is, but in the history of the human race, I’d say the
anthropologic record shows that climate change is the most predictable and
Ok, so we have these four cycles, these four seasons. Do they happen to every
culture? Yes. Every culture has a memory of Paradise and a longing to return to
it, and is somewhere in one of the three other stages of the cycle if they’re
not in Paradise.
Does this happen worldwide? If you mean, “Does the entire world make the same shift at the same time?”
then I’d say the answer is a qualified “no.” There are still a few - a
very few - cultures alive on the planet right now who are living in the Paradise
part of the cycle. Others are in Defiance, Terror, or Recovery.
And what about our culture? The United States, Canada, Australia, and Western
Europe, what we call the First World? Where are we in the cycle? Overall, we’re in Recovery. It started in the 18th century, when the
American and French Revolutions brought back from the Iroquois the basic ideas
of how a culture governs itself during a time of Paradise.
The Iroquois were living in a time of Paradise? It’s not that simple. The Iroquois, as we refer to them, weren’t one
people, they were a confederation of a half-dozen tribes, formed around 1570,
and referred to as the Iroquois League. It appears from the histories of the
time that the Onondaga and the Cayuga were living closest to the Paradise
part of the cycle, and the Mohawk and Oneida were fully into Defiance. It’s
harder to know about the Seneca and the Tuscurora. All, however, were thrown
into Defiance by the arrival of whites, which prompted the formation of
the Iroquois League, what they called the Hodenosaunee. In any case, all
lived within either a few lifetimes or in physical proximity to people who lived
in a time of Paradise because the fundamentals of it were so well known
to them. They hadn’t descended into the season of Terror when Paradise
is thought to be distant and unattainable. Even when they fought against the
whites, they did so in the hopes that they could recover or return to a time of Paradise.
And that was also the idea of the Founding Fathers? That they could overthrow
the tyranny of the British and create a Paradise time here? I think that was the idea of some of them. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was
very enamored of the ways the Native Americans had organized their tribes, and
borrowed heavily from the Iroquois in his writing of the Constitution of the
United States of America. Others, though, like James Madison and George
Washington, seemed more interested in maintaining a hierarchical form of
government, an oligarchy of the educated and wealthy. Washington, as president,
wanted to be addressed and treated as if he were a king; Madison argued that
only white men who owned land should have full rights of citizenship and be
allowed to vote or participate in the government. Nonetheless, Jefferson and
those aligned with him, particularly Ben Franklin, built many of the Paradise
time notions of governance into the U.S. Constitution, and thereby set the stage
for the beginning of the Recovery.
Does Recovery come about because people decide to make it happen? It may seem that way, but my guess is that it’s not. I believe it’s
brought about by the exact opposite of the conditions that lead to the Defiance.
I’m confused - I thought you said three things could lead to the beginning
of Defiance. Yes, three situations: climate change, invasion, or decision. But at the core
of all three is one primary impact on people: scarcity. When resources become
scarce, then people leave Paradise in search of another Valhalla, or in
an attempt to recover Paradise. The scarcity can be brought about by
change in climate or by invasion, or by some third thing that would cause a
decision to be made, for example the emergence of a very powerful but
essentially sociopathic leader, or exposure to what seems to be the opportunity
for riches. The classic example of this are the hundreds of indigenous tribes
who are living on land rich in tropical woods, gold, or other natural resources
that we want. Instead of just killing them off, we’ve discovered that it’s
just as effective to give them televisions. Within a year or so, they decide
that they don’t really live in a paradise after all: the real paradise
is what they see on TV. And they want it, so they’re willing to deal with the
loggers or miners to exchange their land for cash and jobs. Or at least a few of
them are willing to make this deal-with-the-devil choice, and so we designate
them as the tribal leaders and sign contracts with them and then give them a
bunch of money and put the tribal government in their hands. We’ve done it,
literally, hundreds of times in the past century: it’s much more effective and
much less messy than simply going in and killing them like Custer tried to do
with the Lakota because he wanted to lay a gold-mining claim to their lands for
his retirement. The point is that all these transitions from Paradise to Defiance
are rooted in scarcity or the perception of scarcity.
And so the transition from Terror to Recovery is based in the opposite of
scarcity? Yes, it’s rooted in abundance. Or the appearance of abundance. And you can
see both micro and macro cycles of this. At their peaks, both the Greek and
Roman empires thought they had unlimited fuel supplies in the forests of Greece
and Italy. They entered what are still referred to as golden ages, and had the
luxury of a relatively leisure lifestyle and the development of philosophy and
entertainment. But these golden ages were not true times of Paradise, because
they weren’t sustainable, weren’t in balance. They were based on the rapid
consumption of a finite resource, in this case, wood. When each empire wiped out
their forests - as the Sumerians had under Gilgamesh a thousand or two years
earlier - then they, too, entered periods of scarcity. Nobody had time to be a
philosopher or playwright, and their empires moved into terrifying times of
warfare and expansion, capturing nearby and distant lands to get fuel and
slaves. Their art shifted to scenes of war, their literature to the stories of
warriors and conquest, their technology to instruments of destruction.
A micro cycle of abundant resources causing Recovery, leading to Paradise,
then running out of fuel and dissolving into Defiance, and then leading to a
reign of Terror? Yes, the same as we’ve seen in Europe over the past thousand years. Every
time a new fuel source is discovered, a pseudo-Paradise time is entered into
when art and culture blossom. Coal around a thousand years ago, oil and nuclear
power over the past century. In the United States, we are only now beginning to
exhaust the abundance of natural resources that were here when Europeans first
arrived: we’ve consumed about half our oil, and are discovering that the
damage to our environment from burning coal is so costly we need to make it more
scarce, even though there’s still a lot of it in the ground.
So what, then, is it that brings a culture back into the time of the true
Paradise? I read these books that say that there are angels or channeled beings
who’ll do it for us, and others say that space aliens are “helping” us
toward it, and the religious folks are expecting some cataclysmic event or the
appearance on the scene of a messianic figure, and some say that it’ll be the
triumph of science or free trade. And where we started: some people saying that
we’re “evolving” as a species toward Paradise. It’s all incredibly
confusing. Which is it? History tells us that it’s certainly none of the above. They’re all nice
fantasies, and all certainly represent the collective mythos, the archetype
embedded in our culture, of the memory of past Paradise and the
occasional contact with people living in Paradise and what we’ve
observed and learned from them. But it’s nothing as exotic or as complicated
as any of those things.
You mean there are no angels or space aliens and we’re not evolving? That’s not my point. There may well be angels and aliens, and certainly the
pressure of evolution is shaping every species on the planet, including Homo
sapiens. But these are not the things that bring about the return of the
cycle from Spring to Summer, from Recovery to Paradise.
Then what is? It’s when the oscillations stop.
Oscillations? Say you have a pond in your back yard, and it’s a warm, sunny day with no
wind. The surface of the pond will be so clear that you can see your reflection
in the water.
Or, at the right angle, see clear to the bottom. Right. So you throw a large stone into the center of the pond. What happens?
Waves. The whole surface of the pond gets covered with waves, and you can’t
see yourself and you can’t see the bottom any more. Right. The stone - an external force - has introduced disequilibrium. It’s
thrown things out of balance. That’s the shift from Paradise to Defiance.
Now, if somebody jumped in the pond and said, “I’m gonna take charge of all
these waves, and I’ll make sure that they all move in lockstep and just the
way they should,” and maybe put a wave machine into the pond to stabilize
things, then you’d have an artificial, man-made time of apparent stability.
That’s the time of Tyranny. But then the machine the new wave-emperor
installs runs out of gas. The waves slow down and begin to vanish. You’ve
moved into the time of Recovery.
And if the machine runs out of steam altogether and the waves stop and the
pond is again calm and clear, you’re back into Paradise, right? That’s the idea.
It’s a nice metaphor for imagining the cycles, but people aren’t ponds.
How do you relate this to how Paradise comes back around? Good point. The big way that people aren’t ponds, at least in this context,
is that people have memories and ponds don’t. If people have a memory of a
time when there was no disequilibrium, no oscillations, no waves, then they can
recreate that time.
Then you could say that ponds are better than people in that regard, because
they’re always trying to return to equilibrium. Gravity and all that: it’s
just natural law that when the wind isn’t blowing, the pond gets calm. And it’s natural law that when people aren’t being pushed around by
things being out of balance, they will naturally organize into Paradise
But we’re not subject to natural law: we’re humans. We control nature. That’s the great fallacy, the story that humans tell themselves that can
lead to Defiance, that maintains the power of the few during the time of Tyranny,
and that people waking up from during Recovery will lead back to Paradise.
You mean we’re animals? We have to obey nature? Yes.
And nature wants us to live in Paradise? Yes. Or at least in what I’m calling paradise for the purpose of this
discussion. It doesn’t mean that everybody is happy all the time, or that life
is perfect. People are still people. What it does mean is that people are living
in balance with their environment and with each other. They may not have TV, or
they may. They may eat fruit, or they may hunt elk. It’s not that there’s
one right specific way to live, but that living in balance and harmony is the
eventual goal and highest expression of every culture.
So how do the waves stop so the pond can clear? What ends the oscillations? Experience. There are some excellent examples of this from among the early
explorers of the Americas, but the most vivid examples come from the early
explorations of the Pacific. Melanesian people had been sending out exploration
parties from the countries of Southeast Asia for thousands of years, maybe tens
of thousands of years. These people would discover an island and often they’d
stay there and settle in, or drop off enough people to “seed” the island
with a colony and then go off in search of another island somewhere else.
Because of this long history, when explorers like Abel Tasman and James Cook
came across these islands in the 17th and 18th centuries, they discovered
different cultures at different stages of development.
Because of how long the people had been isolated on the islands? Because of how long the people had been on the islands after they’d
first crashed the local food supply.
Crashed the food supply? Yes. For example, the people we now call the Maori arrived in what we now
call New Zealand around the year 1200, about 800 years ago. When they first
arrived, this huge island was covered with over a dozen different species of
ostrich-like flightless birds, called Moa, which ranged in size from around
fifty pounds to over five hundred pounds. The Maori people must have thought
they’d discovered the ultimate paradise. The fossil record shows that for the
first few hundred years they didn’t even make spears or arrows or hatchets -
they just walked up to the birds and broke their long necks and then ate them.
In a place on New Zealand called Waitaki, archeologists discovered over 90,000
Moa skeletons, and virtually all of them had died of just having their necks
broken. It was a bone-dump for the local community for hundreds of years, and it’s
just one of many they’ve found around New Zealand.
So the abundance of food led them to a time of Paradise? It gave them what seemed like Paradise. I’d call it a
pseudo-paradise, the mini-cycle within the larger macro cycle that I mentioned
But they had all they wanted to eat. They didn’t have to hunt, they just
walked up to the birds and killed them. They must not have had any warfare among
each other, either, because they weren’t making killing weapons during that
time, so they couldn’t have used them against each other, either. Yes, that’s true. But they weren’t living in balance. This was the
dropping of the stone in the water. It was the early part of the Defiance
stage, actually. It just seemed like Paradise to them, which is why Defiance
can be so seductive. Like the jungle-dwelling people who’re shown Dynasty on
TV and told that if they just leave the jungle and work hard enough in the white
man’s gold mines, someday they, too, can live like that.
But life was good for the Maori! Yes, just after the stone was dropped into the pond. Just after they arrived
and found millions of pounds of meat walking around loose, docile, and
flightless on the island. But then they ate all the Moa.
All? Yes, all. The Moa - all dozen or more species - are now extinct. The Maori
people ate every single last one of them. Took them about four hundred years to
do it, but they did it.
And then? And then they got hungry. So they started building spears and arrows and
fishhooks, and went after the other local animals. Within another hundred years,
they’d exterminated or brought to the brink of extinction every other bird on
the island larger than a pigeon: the huia, takahe, and the kakapo. Along the
coast, Maori people hunted the three-ton elephant seal to extinction,
exterminated the half-ton sea lion (Phocartos hookeri), and from all but
the most remote regions wiped out the 300-pound New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus
What about fishing? They even wiped out the local fish habitats. The seas around New Zealand,
like most of the Pacific, were rich with Snappers, but the archeological record
shows the fish skeletons and the hooks used to catch them got smaller and
smaller over the hundred-year period following the extinction of the Moa. And
that was pretty much the end of the easily-hunted food on New Zealand.
What did they do? Well, by this time, they’d gone from the high of the pseudo-Paradise of the
early stages of the Defiance, and now they were moving along the cycle
into the period of the Terror. With the easily-killed large animals all
exterminated, the Maori turned to what they’d previously considered famine
foods: roots, tubers, frogs, ferns, rats, and small birds. And they began to
hunt each other.
You mean “Terror” literally! It’s almost always the case. Read the Book of Joshua. Read the history of
the Roman Empire. Listen to the stories of Dickens’ England, when people went
to prison for stealing bread but there were still millions so hungry they’d
risk it. Similarly, the Maori developed a warlike culture. Around 1400 A.D. they
began building forts and making the tools of warfare. They called their forts pas,
and the countryside of New Zealand was littered with them: every community had
to have one, or they’d be overrun and destroyed by a neighboring tribe who did
have a pas. Upon birth, every young Maori male was dedicated to their
newly-discovered god of war, and their language became rich with words to
describe the tactics of warfare.
And what were they eating? They began intensive agriculture. Tribes would build pas to stake out
fertile lowland areas, and then grow sweet potatoes there. But they had no
domesticated animals, and they’d killed off virtually all other sources of
animal protein on the island, so they turned to the last source of animal
protein available in the years just before Dutch explorer Abel Tasman discovered
them in 1642. In the hundred or so years before that date, they began eating
Cannibalism? Yes. Not only is the fossil record irrefutable, but Maori culture itself is
rich with stories of the ritual eating of captured or killed enemies. Sometimes
when war parties would go out on long expeditions, they’d take along a few
well-bound captives - hands tied but still capable of walking - to use as meat
along the way. When Tasman first discovered New Zealand, he wrote in his journal
on December 16, 1642, about how the Maori sent a small boat out to meet six of
his men in their small dinghy. Without warning or provocation, the Maori killed
Tasman’s sailors and took their bodies ashore and ate them on the beach. He
was so horrified he named the place Murderers’ Bay and sailed away, never to
But they’re not cannibals now, are they? I think I’ve read about the
Maori people, and they’re held in high respect in New Zealand. No, they’re not cannibals any longer, and now many of them are trying to
get some of their land back from the Europeans who eventually settled New
Zealand. But it was over a hundred years after Tasman left that another European
- Captain James Cook - decided to check out the islands of New Zealand again. He
visited in 1768, and found that they were still living fully in the midst of the
cultural cycle of the Terror. In his journal, Cook wrote: “I might
have extirpated the whole race, for the people of each Hamlet or village by
turns applied to me to destroy the other, a very striking proof of the divided
state in which they live.” Touring a local pa fortress, he was so
impressed he wrote: “...the best engineer in Europe could not have choose’d
a better for a small number of men to defend themselves against a greater, it is
strong by nature and made more so by Art.” The Maori were still struggling
to maintain themselves in the face of a collapsed ecosystem.
How do you know this isn’t just propaganda from Europeans like Cook who
just wanted to rip off the local people? I mean, Columbus called the Indians he
met cannibals, too, and then proceeded to use that as an excuse to enslave and
exterminate them. But there’s no proof they actually were cannibals. In the case of the Maori, nobody’s disputing it, even the Maori themselves.
For example, in 1869 a literate Maori, Tamihana, the son of Maori chief Te
Rauparaha wrote a biography of his father’s exploits. Tamihana made clear the
importance of the flesh of one’s vanquished enemies as a food source, often
even as a primary food source during long raiding trips. He proudly detailed the
conquest and murder of communities of hundreds of men, women, and children, in a
style reminiscent of the Biblical book of Joshua. He wrote of his father’s
pride in ripping out and eating the hearts and livers of his enemies, and how
successful he was at taking slaves from among those he vanquished. Tamihana’s
accounts are corroborated by dozens of other Maori people before and after,
including the Pakeha tribe Maori man F.E. Maning, who wrote in 1840 about how
rich the Maori language was in words to describe every aspect of military
formation and warfare. Clearly, in the few hundred years since the extinction of
the Moa and sea lion, the Maori had developed a terror-driven, warlike culture.
Twenty-seven dialects of the original language are still spoken, and it appears
that each of these groups was often at war with others over food and the land on
which to produce food.
So how or when did they transit from the Terror part of the cycle into the
Recovery part? And did they ever make it back to Paradise? The Maori haven’t yet made it back to Paradise, although some are trying.
In 1999, Louise and I met with a small group of them in Australia who are trying
to create a traditional Maori community, but based on egalitarian principles.
Time will tell if they’re successful. But what lifted them from Terror
into Recovery was the Europeans bringing to the island domesticated
animals, particularly pigs and sheep. But that’s not the point of the story.
The Maori just show one aspect of the South Sea Islands and the cycles of human
There are others? Definitely! Some were stuck fully in the Terror, just like the Maori.
The Easter Islanders were another example of that: when Europeans discovered
them, they were on the brink of starvation and aggressively killing each other.
The pseudo-Paradise time they’d experienced after first discovering the island
- when they built the famous stone statues - was over by a few hundred years,
and during that time they’d managed to kill off virtually all the large
animals on the island and, like the Maori, were subsisting on roots and tubers.
That must have been a familiar pattern among the islanders. Yes, but there were notable exceptions. In September of 1774, Captain Cook
discovered the island we now call New Caledonia. While the Maori had only been
living on New Zealand for about 700 years at that time, and the Easter Islanders
on Eastern Island for 800 years, New Caledonia had been settled for 3,500 years
when Cook showed up. The fossil record shows that about 3,000 years earlier, the
Melanesian explorers who colonized the island had repeated the boom and bust
cycle of New Zealand and Easter Island, and then descended into a warlike
culture. But then they moved from the Terror through the Recovery,
and into the time of Paradise. They’d learned what the limits of the
island’s food supply were, and the many various humane ways to keep their
human population stable and below the threshold of the food supply. They’d
come up with an egalitarian culture, and a cooperative form of governance. Thus,
Cook wrote in his journal that they were a “friendly, honest, and peaceful
They’d completed the cycle! Yes.
What happened to them? Seventy-nine years after James Cook discovered the islands of New Caledonia,
the French discovered nickel, iron, and manganese there. In 1853, France told
the natives that they were now under the thumb of the French government, where
they have stayed ever since, despite a few violent attempts at revolt.
Currently, the French tear out of the ground of New Caledonia about three
million tons of nickel ore a year, and slightly smaller quantities of iron and
manganese ore. They also run coffee plantations. The descendants of the people
Cook discovered, who now comprise about 43 percent of the population, provide
most of the labor.
So they’re back to Terror? Yes. It’s the most common story when people living under Defiance,
Terror, or Recovery encounter people living in the Paradise
part of the human culture cycle. Because people living in the Paradise
part of the cycle have no need for armies, weapons of war, police, or prisons,
they’re not well-equipped to repulse non-Paradise invaders. Remember -
invasion is one of the three typical ways that a culture falls from Paradise
into Defiance, whether it’s by submitting or by taking up arms and
becoming like the invaders themselves.
Does that mean that so long as there are any non-Paradise cultures on the
planet, all Paradise cultures are doomed? Good question. I don’t think so, but it certainly does seem to be the
trend. That’s the bad news, I suppose. The good news is that the experience of
the New Caledonians - before the French showed up - and many of the Native
American tribes - before the Europeans showed up - is that when left alone
people will invariably cycle their culture back to Paradise.
Always? Given enough time and no interference, yes.
Why? Because that’s humankind’s natural state. It’s how every other animal
on Earth lives, in balance and equilibrium with its environment and the
ecosystem that sustains it. It’s how all the other primates live.
But wolves eat rabbits! Doesn’t sound like the rabbits are living in
Paradise, does it? Actually, yes, they are. You’re anthropomorphizing, and doing it with a
culture in Recovery.
Anthropomorphizing? Yes, you’re imagining that the rabbits think and feel the same way people
do, and that all people think and feel the way you do. Neither of those
assumptions are correct.
But rabbits fight for their lives, don’t they? Yes, every animal will fight for its life. Until it knows that it will die,
and then it relaxes and submits. There’s probably some sort of biological
process involved, like it going into shock and losing consciousness or
sensation, but that’s what happens. It is the destiny of a certain percentage
of rabbits to end up as lunch for wolves. That’s a system in balance: it keeps
the rabbit population from exploding, but the urge and skill the rabbits have to
get away from the wolves keeps the wolf population from exploding. There’s
equilibrium. The waves have stopped and the pond is clear: the system can work
that way forever. That’s the definition of the Paradise part of the
human culture cycle.
And the reason why when the Maori first discovered New Zealand and found more
food than they could eat in a dozen generations was not Paradise was because it
wasn’t sustainable. Right. It was a blip, an apparent Paradise, but a false one.
Like people now who live high on the hog and think our way of life will
continue forever? It’s actually a startlingly good analogy. Our pseudo-Paradise of
well-fed, comfortable people in the First World is really an artifact of the
availability of oil. With oil, we can put a hundred horses under the hood of a
tractor instead of just one pulling the plow. With oil we can manufacture
poisons to kill our food-competitors, the herbs and insects, and so increase our
food supply. With oil we can cheaply transport food from the growing areas into
the cities. But oil is a finite resource, and eventually we’ll run out of it.
Like the Maori ran out of Mao. Yep. Just the same.
So how do we avoid ending up as cannibals like them? That, my friend, is the biggest question of our lifetime. Let’s take it on
in our next discussion.
Ok, but I don’t think I’m gonna sleep too well tonight. Well, if it’s any solace, the oil companies say there’s at least a
thirty-year supply left in the ground. So we have a little bit of time.
But in the meantime, we’re adding the population of the country of
Australia to the world every three months! Yes, there is that. So we should have our next discussion soon.
(c) Copyright 1996-2005,
Mythical Intelligence, Inc. and Thom Hartmann
Corporate personhood ordinances and constitutional amendments copyright CELDF
This site is for information purposes only and not intended to offer or substitute for legal advice.