Friday, January 13, 2012

Making the New Man

The reality is that most of us won't ever have to learn if we could survive entirely without any modern amenities. And what I mean is that most of us will have, at least, a shelter, and the sheer volume of manufactured clothing (at least in this country) will keep us clothed - even if the world turns upside-down. There is plenty of the flotsam and jetsam of the modern world to keep us housed, clothed and rich in utensils.

But as Naturalist, Arthur Haines, points out in this video, we have become something other than what our ancestors were - a weaker, more dependent version of a hominid species.

We don't know what we can eat without grocery stores and restaurants, and while we might recognize that all birds are edible, most of us wouldn't know the first thing about how to prepare the bird to be eaten, much less how to catch it so that we can eat it.

We don't know anything about plant lore and can't even identify the very things we eat on a daily basis, if they're not scrubbed clean and sitting on the shelf in the produce section of the store. In fact, there are probably hundreds of people who don't know that peanuts grow underground and coconuts grow in trees ... but neither grow in Maine.

Our teeth are weak from thousands of years of eating fire-cooked foods, and so, we need to cook our food before we can eat it. How many of us even know how to build a fire?

And speaking of fire, too many of us couldn't even keep warm, were it not for the power lines coming into our homes bringing us the spark that keeps things temperate and comfortable. And we're so fragile that we can't even stay cool (how many deaths are attributed to heat when the mercury climbs higher than is usual) without artificially cooled air.

Arthur Haines calls the modern man "domestica fragilis", but he points out that what we are is not what we have to be. We have a choice: domestica fragilis or neo aborginus.

Who do you want to be?


  1. R those the only choices???

    I've chased down my own food and clubbed it to death. I've scraped flint to steel and made fire to cook the scraps. I've lived by hauling wood and water. I know that I (and my family) can live in the wild... but, I'd rather not... can't we find a way to not throw away the good things we have learned/created??? Can't we find a way to live that doesn't destroy everything, and doesn't throw away everything?

  2. Alan - yes, I think those are the only two choices, actually. We can either be dependent on an oil-drenched lifestyle, or we can move to something that's not dependent on a finite and unsustainable resource ;).

    That said, I don't think it means that we're going to have to run out and live in debris huts in the woods and forage for all of our food ... and I don't think Arthur Haines is saying that either. I think we can live sustainably and enjoy some of our modern amenities (like warm houses and clean water). We just need to be a little more cognizant of our choices, and we need to realize that we can’t have everything so easy.

    We'll need to give up living huge cities and return to "village" life. We'll need to abandon our industrial agriculture and move to something smaller - like horticulture/permaculture. We'll need to give up our free-wheeling lifestyles, where it's normal to travel 40 miles per day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year to do jobs that do nothing.

    We'll need to live more locally, and if we were all doing that - eating within 100 miles for the bulk of our diet, driving fewer miles, recycling/reusing, cutting our energy usage by at least 1/2, we'd see some very big, very positive changes in the world.

    Anyway, that's the premise of my blog and of my book - trying to imagine ways that we can hang on to some of the things we've learned (like sanitation prevents disease) and transition to a lower-impact lifestyle so that we don't destroy what's left of the world.