Thanksgiving Thoughts 2017

Once again, it is the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, and in keeping with my annual tradition, I’d like to remind you that Friday is Black Friday Buy Nothing Day (and also to let California readers know that our State Parks are again offering some free passes so you can enjoy some time out in the fresh air instead of shopping).
And of course, there is yet more to say about the complex relationship between the land of North America/Turtle Island, the first people who came here over 10,000 years ago, and the more recent immigrants to this continent. Last year the news from Standing Rock was about the new generation of indigenous land and water protectors being under attack from some of these more recent immigrants. What this said about our nation, our priorities, and our future ranges from inspiring to alarming. This year, the NoDAPL water protectors delivered a petition to their state attorney’s office to drop the charges against those who were arrested last year, and (heavens to Betsy, who could have imagined!?!) the Keystone pipeline had a bit of a leak.
Last year, I gave a little summary of the central hypothesis of Guns, Germs and Steel. In essence, the indigenous peoples of the Americas were screwed because Europe’s aurochs could be easily domesticated into cattle, and American bison could not. Despite the domestication disadvantage, several complex civilizations had come and gone in the Americas (Maya, Aztec, Inca).
New research published this month suggests that livestock, particularly draft animals, also appear to be at the root of extreme inequality.  The inequality introduced by farming in the civilizations of the Americas stabilized at a fairly low level, but climbed dramatically in European and Asian civilizations. One explanation for this is the inheritabilty of livestock herds, allowing the rich to ensure that their children and grandchildren will be even richer, growing slight inequities of initial fortune into huge inequities of power and status in a reinforcing feedback loop. (And don’t even get me started on the horrors and ecological devastation of factory farming – eating a yummy veggie loaf again this year!)
Once again we are reminded that inequality, complexification and technological progress are not “normal” in the sweep of humans’ tenure as a species. About 96% of the time humans have been Homo sapiens (about 200,000 years), and among the vast majority of independent human cultures that were still intact a few hundred years ago, we’ve been low-complexity foragers with “stone-age” technologies and no “permanent” settlements. Those are very successful, old-growth cultures. High-complexity cultures generally adopt a rapid expansion, weedy model of growth and invasion (even our choice of grain-based agriculture reflects this) – but there’s no evidence yet that such things can be built to last more than a millennium or two.
Undocumented immigrants Refuse to learn local language Still get food assistance - Undocumented immigrants Refuse to learn local language Still get food assistance  Lucky Pilgrims

So, one of the things you may be grateful for this holiday season is the opportunity to live at a time of such amazing social and technological complexification that we are able to investigate and consider the differences between old-growth cultures and weedy ones via nigh-instantaneous information access. Or, you know, you could be grateful for other stuff that’s maybe more pleasant: trees, dolphins, stars, rainbows, truly kind people…

Oh, but don’t forget Buy Nothing Day, or even go for a Buy Nothing Christmas, and have a Happy Thanksgiving despite everything!


[Yes, some of the above is cut and paste from my post last year… if one must self-plagiarize, one should at least acknowledge it 🙂 ]

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