Beyond Civilization

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  • different books from both Daniel Quinn and Keith Chandler

Daniel Quinn

Book: Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure. Daniel Quinn. Random House.


"Civilization, in effect, represents an attempt to improve upon tribalism by replacing it with hierarchalism. Every civilization brought forth in the course of human history has been an intrinsically hierarchical affair--in every age and locale, East and West, as well as every civilization that grew up independently of ours in the New World. Because it's intrinsically hierarchical, civilization benefits members at the top very richly but benefits the masses at the bottom very poorly--and this has been so from the beginning. Tribalism, by contrast, is nonhierarchical and benefits all members with notable equality.

It's out of the question for us to "go back" to the tribalism we grew up with. There's no imaginable way to reestablish the ethnic boundaries that made that life work. But there's nothing sacrosanct about ethnic tribalism. Many successful tribal entities have evolved inside our culture that are not ethnic in any sense. A conspicuous example is the circus, a tribal enterprise that has been successful for centuries.

Beyond civilization isn't a geographical space (is not, for example, somewhere you "go and start a commune"). Beyond civilization is an unexplored cultural, social, and economic space. The New Tribal Revolution is our "escape route" to that space." (

Summary of Theses

"Quinn’s Basic Tenets

1. There have been two basic modes of social existence in the history of our species: the tribal mode and the civilizational mode.

2. The tribal mode of social existence was developed by a process of natural selection over tens of thousands of years and it worked well for all that vast time. It still works well wherever it is given room to operate and is competently applied.

3. The civilizational mode of social existence, in spite of all its great powers, has had, from the beginning, basic flaws. Now after less that 10,000 years of development, these basic flaws have come into full flower and are destroying the planet as a viable habitat for humanity. As an option for the future, civilization is a failed system of social organization.

4. In order to survive and to enjoy a maximally prosperous and humane life, we must walk away, one by one and region by region, from the civilizational mode of earning our living from this planet.

5. We must walk toward a third mode of social organization, not a return to ethnic tribalism, but an advance toward a new sort of tribal society. “Tribal” here means a way of earning our living from the planet that is not hierarchically organized, not founded on the centralization of wealth and power, not creating wealth and privilege for the few and a prison of work-slavery for the rest. Only such a post-civilization tribalism can resolve the current ecological crisis as well as restrain the exploding human population.

6. Agricultural food production is a core cause of our population explosion and the ecological ruination of the planet. Civilization began not with the invention of gardening but with the ownership of stored food. Once food surpluses are stored, they must be guarded by their owners and policing forces. This brings into being a hierarchical order. On the top are the owners and their hired guards. Below are the producers who must work not only for their own living but to support the food storage system and its owners and protectors. This basic structure may seem innocent and practical at first glance, for it provides a solution for leveling out the times of plenty with the times of famine. But not all the consequences of this new structure are beneficial. The owners, who might wish everyone to think of them as useful servants of the social whole, actually become persons of privilege and of excesses that seem to have no limits. Meanwhile the actual producers of this seemingly unlimited wealth are turned into prisoners of a system that requires of them more and more work and less and less participation in deciding what work is worth doing. In addition, these workers become, for the owners, a part of their wealth. It is to the owners’ advantage for there to be more workers.

Civilization, and thus the wealth of the owners, grows by having more food to feed more workers who produce more food to feed more workers who produce more food to feed more workers who produce more food to feed more workers. . . . This is the core dynamic beneath the population explosion. Tribal society did not produce more food than they could eat nor an exponentially expanding population of eaters.

7. We tend to be blind to the full implications of our historical dilemma because we are accustomed to thinking of civilization as synonymous with “good society.” We feel that civilization is at least a necessary evil for which there is no viable option. Furthermore, tribal life has been given a derogatory billing in the taken-for-granted perspectives of civilized people. Tribal society has been seen as obsolete, groveling, and even savage.

But actually tribal life, though imperfect like all human institutions, provided for its members very well. Except in times of extreme catastrophe, there was no poverty for anyone. And while tribal life had a few wealthier folk and a few strong leaders, no one was given the excessive prerogatives that have been standard for the wealthy and powerful in every civilization. In tribal society, everyone, including women and children, participated in various decision-making processes. And no one was excessively overworked. Usually, a few hours a day of meaningful, survival-necessitated work sufficed, leaving ample time for celebration and storytelling and art and dancing and family life for everyone. Even our most advanced, industrialized forms of civilization cannot boast of such accomplishments. It is true that ancient tribalism did not provide anyone with the wealth enjoyed by modern civilization’s upper classes. But a next form of tribal society could easily provide everyone (assuming a reducing global population and appropriate technologies) with a modest prosperity and time to enjoy it. And as for being savage, ancient tribal life was peace-loving compared to the perpetual war-making of almost every civilization. Tribal warfare was, in comparison with civilization’s massive killing sprees, a quite limited ritual of warrior sacrifices employed essentially for practical purposes like negotiating tribal hunting grounds.

8. The way forward to a post-civilization form of tribalism is not attacking civilization with a frontal attack, but simply withdrawing our support. The way forward is simply walking away from civilization toward the next social form of earning our living from the planet. Civilization is prepared to defend itself from any attacks from below. It has been successfully doing that for at least 6,000 years. Also, if our attacks from below win, we are stuck with running the civilization we have conquered. This accomplishes nothing in the way of lasting effective change. We must simply walk away. Against this strategy, no civilization has an adequate defense. This, Quinn claims, is what happened to Mayan and other early civilizations on the northern and southern American continents. People became fed up with their civilization and simply walked away, reestablishing some form of tribal society. The Mayan people have not disappeared, only the Mayan civilizations. Quinn is clear that today we do not have the luxury of adequate forests to walk away into. Reestablishing ethnic tribal societies planet-wide is not possible. But we can, Quinn claims, still walk away from civilization toward something new, toward social experiments that are more tribal than civilizational in nature.

9. There is no right way of doing human society. Uniformity is one of the flaws of the civilizational mode of thinking. The very idea that there is one right way of doing society has become an obsolete notion. Let every group create whatever tribal type of life they find appropriate in their place given their opportunities, needs, talents, etc." (

Keith Chandler

  • Book. Beyond Civilization. Keith Chandler

(mbauwens note: one of the most interesting books I have read)


... of civilization:

Keith Chandler:

"There are at least eight principal attributes that clearly characterize all civilized societies:

1. A hierarchical social organization dominated by a power elite which is not accountable to the powerless majority and for whose actions there is little or no redress.

2. Concentration of power and wealth in fortified urban centers.

3. Written language, the understanding and use of which are monopolized by the elite and its functionaries.

4. An economic system which vests title to the wealth produced by the society in the elite and controls that wealth by a strictly measured allocation of all industrial, agricultural, forestry, and mining resources within the control of the central power.

5. Skills, training, and labor specialization designed to serve the goals of the power elite.

6. Extensive slavery or serfdom.

7. A grand mythology portraying society as originating from and continuing to be influenced by suprahuman powers with the elite as the conduit of that influence.

8. A military establishment which is utilized not only for external defense and aggression but also for internal control and repression of the dispossessed majority." (