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During the voyage of the Gjöa we came into contact with ten different Eskimo tribes in all, and we had good opportunities of observing the influence of civilization on them, as we were able to compare those Eskimo who had come into contact with civilization with those who had not. And I must state it as my firm conviction that the latter, the Eskimo living absolutely isolated from civilization of any kind, are undoubtedly the happiest, healthiest, most honorable and most contented among them.

It must, therefore, be the bounden duty of civilized nations who come into contact with the Eskimo, to safeguard them against contaminating influences, and by laws and stringent regulations protect them against the many perils and evils of so-called civilization…

My sincerest wish for our friends the Nechilli Eskimo is that civilization may never reach them.

Roald Amundsen, The North West Passage

What’s so bad about civilization? It’s not just about the carbs. The Kuna of Panama and several other cultures have been known to do fine on high carb diets.

A big clue comes from the fact that our health declined exponentially with industrialization. As was widely observed at the turn of the last century,

the negative evidence is convincing that, in the opinion of qualified medical observers, cancer is exceptionally rare among the primitive peoples…
certain diseases such as dental caries, arteriosclerosis, and cancers are so uncommon among certain primitive people as to remain unnoticed — at least as long as nothing is changed in the ancestral ways of life…

tribes living naturally will show a complete absence of cancer till mixture with more civilized man corrupts the naturalness of habit; and just as these habits conform to those civilizations, even so does cancer begin to show its head…

various, in Zac Goldsmith, “Cancer: A Disease of Industrialization

One of these observers said the health of the indigenous people was so great that a physician “could not expect his bread in this commonwealth.” He was better off without it!

Actually, the bread he’d be fed would have been, among other things, organic, whole grain, sourdough, low gluten… in short, the best thing before sliced bread. That explains in part why indigenous cultures can do well by carbs and even fare fairly well with farming: with proper preparation and a sufficient complement of seafood, fermented food, and wild food, you can greatly mitigate agriculture’s “side effects.”

With industrialization, however, all that went out the window. Hence all the above ominous observations, as well those of pioneering dentist Weston Price. There’s something about refinement, about turning not just our food but our whole lifestyle into a drug.

So Shall You Reap

As we’ve seen above, our quest for quick fixes has equally damaging effects on our bodies and the environment. That’s because there is no difference.

Cancer is now the leading cause of human death in the world. Humans are now the leading cause of animal death in the world. Forty years ago, there was twice the wildlife we have today.

Our food race is converting our planet’s biomass into HUMAN mass. This is what happens when we clear a piece of land of wildlife and replant it with human crops. This land was supporting a biomass comprising hundreds of thousands of species and tens of millions of individuals. Now all the productivity of that land is being turned into human mass, literally into human flesh. Every day all over the world diversity is disappearing as more and more of our planet’s biomass is being turned into human mass. This is what the food race is about. This is EXACTLY what the food race is about: Every year turning more of our planet’s biomass into human mass.

Daniel Quinn, “Reaching for the Future with All Three Hands

What does that sound like?

Cancer is the situation that occurs when a certain type of cell out of the many different types of cells in our body — such as blood cells, pancreas cells, brain cells, liver cells, connective tissue cells — decides to grow in an uncontrolled way, in an excessive way, and at the expense of all the other types of cells in the body…

This civilization project… is the process wherein humans decided to co-opt the natural resources of the land base and set off to grow themselves at the expense of the rest of the community.

Tom Cowan, MD, “A Holistic Approach to Cancer

The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part.

Eckhart Tolle, “A New Earth

Cancer needs sugar. Agriculture needs fertilizer. The economy needs “a shot in the arm.” We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Cancer and civilization are two words for the same thing. It’s why both, once they take hold, spread so quickly, like wildfire, consuming everything in their path.

Fat Holocaust

It is widely believed that chronic inflammation is at the root of nearly all of today’s diseases: arthritis, bursitis, colitis, dermatitis… you name it. After all, it’s what “-itis” means. Add cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, allergies, asthma, and dozens more — including chronic pain, which affects more Americans than cancer and heart disease combined — even depression.

The most obvious outward sign of our widespread inflammation is obesity. We are blowing up. We are a consumer culture, clogging our arteries, and like Augustus Gloop, it shows.

Inflammation is the body’s response to stress: whether from diet, the environment, lifestyle, or other factors. Inflammation is beneficial when needed, but when chronic, disastrous. Your stress response gets burnt out. You lose the ability to respond to stress: your response-ability. So we take drugs: specifically, cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones, and this only adds fuel to the fire.

Nutritionally Assured Destruction

It is our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.

John O’Sullivan, Democratic Review, 1845

Agriculture has been a war against nature, a “food race” like the arms race. As Quinn explains, that race can’t be won. Like the arms race, producing more food only makes it worse. If we stopped increasing food production today, no one would starve as a result; that’s a myth that only benefits the food industry. People would just stop making more babies.

You can’t just ask people to stop making more babies. We need a wholesale paradigm shift to an economic system — a world religion — that is no longer about growth: about being fruitful and multiplying.

Our adolescence is over. We’ve fought authority, and this authority always wins. We’re on the edge of adulthood — and the edge of disaster.

Humans are a dangerously insane and very sick species. That’s not a judgment. It’s a fact. It is also a fact that the sanity is there underneath the madness.

Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now

We’re mentally/physically sick because we’re culturally/agriculturally ill. We are what we eat. But we can still grow and eat what we’re designed for. And as Tom Cowan points out, “the very diet that can heal so many sick people is the very diet that, when applied to agriculture, can heal a ‘sick’ earth.” Good health, sanity, and salvation are just a few meals away.

Growing Up

Take your protein pills and keep your helmet on.

David Bowie, “Space Oddity”

All of civilization, ultimately, is a drug. A drug is anything simpler, easier, or more pleasant.

The average American spends 94% of their time indoors. Inside the city walls, you’ve got air-conditioning and remote control. You have consistency and the comfort and security it provides.

But domestication literally dumbs you down. Your brain literally shrinks. You become more docile, more complacent. Like Emerson says, “consistency is the hobgoblin of feeble minds.”

The trade-off is that we’ve become alienated, estranged: aliens in our own home, strangers in our own land. We’re not just exiles, we’re endiles. We no longer know the real world. But we can’t stay in Pleasantville forever. That’s the painful truth. And like C.S. Lewis says, “if you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth.”

The music we’re facing is that civilization has been, for the most part, a cheap high. And we’re coming down. Like all drugs, civilization has been like a giant credit card. Our tab has run out — and we have to pay interest. Now there are far more humans and far less nature. You can’t go home again because both have changed. There is no Garden to go back to, only the one that we tend to. We must go back, not as children, nor as willful adolescents, but as adults. The solution is neither foraging nor agriculture; it’s permaculture.

Permaculture means working with nature, not against it, by growing what already thrives in an area, i.e., what grows wild. Here’s one example. Native Americans practiced permaculture successfully for thousands of years (see 1491). That’s the promise of partnership, but it takes patience. And patience is not exactly our middle name.

Years ago, I trained in consensus decision-making with Caroline Estes. Caroline would say that to Native Americans, if you took three years to reach a decision, that was a snappy one. Benjamin Franklin writes of white missionaries being confused by Indians who would patiently listen to their sermons and then refuse to believe them. He compares this with “the mode of conversation of many polite companies of Europe, where, if you do not deliver your sentence with great rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the impatient loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffer’d to finish it!” Now you know why I’d rather write than teach!

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