The Wise Progression of Humankind: Primitivism or Civilization?

Continuing on the theme of “Man vs. Nature”, in the following eloquent presentation Richard Heinberg critiques the devastating impact on the planet and ourselves inflicted by supposed civilized societies.

Heinberg argues the case for us to regain some of the primitive but wise values of past civilizations (and still present in small pockets in remote places), which may help promote peaceful cooperation betweeen human beings and the conservation of nature, before the unthinkable happens.

As Heinberg says in his talk ‘The Primitivist Critique of Civilization’:

Economics: Free or Unaffordable?
At its base, economics is about how people relate with the land and with one another in the process of fulfilling their material wants and needs. In the most primitive societies, these relations are direct and straightforward. Land, shelter, and food are free. Everything is shared, there are no rich people or poor people, and happiness has little to do with accumulating material possessions. The primitive lives in relative abundance (all needs and wants are easily met) and has plenty of leisure time.

Civilization, in contrast, straddles two economic pillars–technological innovation and the marketplace. “Technology” here includes everything from the plow to the nuclear reactor–all are means to more efficiently extract energy and resources from nature. But efficiency implies the reification of time, and so civilization always brings with it a preoccupation with past and future; eventually the present moment nearly vanishes from view. The elevation of efficiency over other human values is epitomized in the factory–the automated workplace–in which the worker becomes merely an appendage of the machine, a slave to clocks and wages.

The market is civilization’s means of equating dissimilar things through a medium of exchange. As we grow accustomed to valuing everything according to money, we tend to lose a sense of the uniqueness of things. What, after all, is an animal worth, or a mountain, or a redwood tree, or an hour of human life? The market gives us a numerical answer based on scarcity and demand. To the degree that we believe that such values have meaning, we live in a world that is desacralized and desensitized, without heart or spirit.

We can get some idea of ways out of our ecologically ruinous, humanly deadening economic cage by examining not only primitive lifestyles, but the proposals of economist E. F. Schumacher, the experiences of people in utopian communities in which technology and money are marginalized, and the lives of individuals who have adopted an attitude of voluntary simplicity.

Please read the full presentation ‘The Primitivist Critique of Civilization’ here:

Comments are closed.