The Archetype of Hannibal Lecter

Past as Prologue: The Archetypal Hannibal Lecter

By George S. Svokos

Copyright April 2014

Some 80,000 years ago, an early modern human (EMH) discarded the cracked femur bone of his last meal into the midden (refuse pile) just outside his rock shelter. It joined jawbones, smashed skulls, and other long bones which were pounded “with great force, using stone tools or rocks, apparently to extract the nutritious brain and marrow” states paleoanthropologist Christopher Stringer. The rock shelter had been in regular use for some time, as it was a prime location for both hunting game and for fishing in the nearby Indian Ocean. Protein was thus plentiful, which was well documented in the bones of the animals and fish remains excavated in middens in Africa, Europe, and possibly other locations. What might have seemed strange was that these particular discarded bones from the EMH’s recent meal were human. The cut marks made by the sharp stone tools clearly indicated defleshing and consumption identical to other meat products; especially since the human bones were found in the same midden with the remains of “other” animal bone food debris from known prey species. Thus, it would seem that Homo sapiens practiced cannibalism from very early on in its prehistory. This, of course, is not the only known prehistoric episode of cannibalism among humans. We know it also from a much more recent site in our ancestral homeland a mere 15,000 years ago. It would appear then that this was a long-standing tradition among our human forebears. Early evidence of cannibalism goes back some two million years to the first members of the human family tree (or “bush,”) with regular occurrences coming down the ages 900,000 and, later, 600,000 years ago to our predecessor (ancestral) species Homo heidelbergensis. The Heidelbergs passed this evolved trait down to its two “derived” species, the Neanderthals in Europe and the EMHs of African origin. Cannibalism has been well documented from several sites in our human cousins too, the Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, within the last 100,000 years. This part of our behavioral repertoire was not limited to only one member of our genus Homo, but to most, if not all human species in space and time. It would seem them that since cannibalism prevailed in all human species that it could, perhaps, been seen as an early, natural, and possibly ubiquitous behavior: one might even say a “pristine” behavior. In other words, cannibalism was (and probably still is) “normal” for humans, just as it is in certain other species.

As an early adaptation, it would have formed part of our ethogram, or “the totality of the human behavioral repertoire as encoded in the brain by evolution.” This is our “genetic memory” or the archetypes and the collective unconscious as Carl Gustav Jung would have described these elements of the human mind. Archetypes are the patterns of the pysche’s perception which lie within the substrate of the collective unconscious and can manifest themselves as symbols externally. “So far as contents of the collective unconscious are concerned, we are dealing with archaic or primordial types, that is, the universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” The collective unconscious is “not individual but universal, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals.” Humanity’s genetic memory/ethogram/collective unconscious is a circumscribed phenomenon originating and residing within our complete naturally selected behavioral inventory. Archetypes and their primordial images become visible to us symbolically when “constellated” (activated) in the unconscious by external stimuli. Ethologists (behavioural biology) would consider these as “innate releasing mechanisms” (IRMs) within the totality of our behavioural repertoire. It follows then, that humans cannot operate outside this “totality of our behavioural repertoire” because such phenomena cannot exist as separate entities from our evolved archetypal/IRM genetic natures. Our genetic memory/ethogram/collective unconscious is an archaic component and location within the brain.

One or more archetypes or IRMs exist within the human behavioral repertoire which constellate for the purposes of hunting and subsequent consumption of various meat proteins required for both sustenance and brain expansion, which rapidly progressed after two million years ago. Paleoanthropologist Christopher Stringer states that “cannibalism seems to have been a regular enough part of human behavior over the last million years or so for it to be represented in many fossil assemblages, and so it might be considered as normal for early humans, however distasteful (in every sense!) we might find it today.” Human predators were hunting, slaying, and eating human prey as part of their hunting and gathering routine. Such behavior is “certainly part of our evolutionary history” and as such is encoded in the human ethogram. He goes on to state that “there is enough sound evidence…to indicate that butchery and consumption of human flesh has occurred in the very recent human past.” Evolutionary ecologist Clive Finlayson states that it is possible, that different human groups saw each other in different ways, especially at a time when good species or ecotypes lived in relatively close proximity. These perceptions may have led to different groups viewing each other as friends, or as food. That this occurred in the past may be demonstrated not only from the fossil record, but from recent examples (even with only one species extant:) Melanesian aborigines applied the moniker “long pig” to human prey items as late as the 1850s. “Civilized” people are also not exempt from the confines and activation of this element within the human ethogram. In the 21st century: the North Koreans sold and consumed human meat in their markets; in southwestern China it was sold as “ostrich meat” in their markets; and it was sold as “an expensive treat” in a Nigerian hotel. The ubiquity of the patterning of cannibalism in the Paleolithic and beyond means that it was an evolved part of our behavioral repertoire, and as such, remains within the confines of normal human activities. Why then the general “modern” aversion or taboo against humans eating humans?

A substantial disruption in humanity’s environment of evolutionary adaptation occurred at the end of the Paleolithic era some 10,000 years ago. It is generally known as the “Neolithic Revolution” to describe the rapid rise in intensive food production (farming) rather than food collection (hunting and gathering.) This, in turn, resulted in massive food surpluses, overpopulation, the rise of the city, civilization, and the various socially stratified inequalities inherent in large and impersonal bureaucratic entities. As a result, the mores of the hunter-gatherer gave way to the mores of the newly developing agricultural societies. Instead of allowing the human ethogram to unfold properly in its environment of evolutionary adaptation, overpopulated and confined farming environments and their city concomitants morphed into psychologically oppressed and stunted societies (biologist Desmond Morris calls these large urban centers “the human zoo”) where human nature needed to be controlled and suppressed by newly emergent cultural phenomena, laws, and “religious” rules. The natural mores of the nomadic small band territorial hunter-gatherer were warped into the unnatural mores of static and overcrowded agriculturally based civilizations: consciousness became “out of context” with this new environment and was severed from the collective unconscious. The “ego-Self axis” was disconnected as Carl Gustav Jung would have stated. Cain the farmer may have slain his brother Abel the nomadic pastoralist but the foragers had already been kicked out of the Garden of Eden (our environment of evolutionary adaptation) for alleged “disobedience.” The “knowledge” the family of Adam and Eve paid for was to learn, embrace, and toil the land. Nomadic hunting and gathering lifeways had given way to the drudgery of sedentary agriculture. It was the “genesis” of a settled, city-dwelling, and overpopulated farming society. That was the original sin, not some vague theological notion. The cunning evolved predator had been dulled by 10,000 years of domestication and misuse of its primordial spirituality. Hunting and gathering culture was now considered anachronistic and pre-civilized as if humans left their “wild” natures behind like some great saurian tail. Civilization and its associated religions are in reality returning us to the prey species mentality of our early pre-human ancestors. Eventually, we run into such proscriptions as “thou shalt not kill” and the practice of “nonviolence” against all (to include the current vegan movement:) the mores of today’s so-called “polite societies.” Nearly two million years of human evolution belie these proscriptions: how can a species which evolved to become a hunting and gathering apex predator be nonviolent? Disavowing the human ethogram is both unnatural and an unrealistic proposition.

Biosocial anthropologist Robin Fox states that humans have a “violent imagination” in reference to our genetic memory. How could it be otherwise in a species which evolved as a hunter-gatherer? “Violence” here must be understood in its proper context: it is a means to an end in the environments of evolutionary adaptation of many species, including human, without the moral connotations imposed by religious authorities and other oppressive bureaucratic regimes which operate on an inhumanely large scale. The violence of the small band hunter-gatherer is largely a food procuring survival mechanism. The measure of violence is the primary issue here: the difference is between the small group of hunters who are trying to survive as organic extended kinship groups (20-40 individuals) and the unmitigated violence of overpopulated, stratified, and agriculturally based societies. Perhaps “nature, red in tooth and claw” is a more appropriate point of view as Alfred Lord Tennyson eloquently alluded to the sometimes violent natural world, in contrast to the mass violence of parasitic ideological groups cloaked under the veneer of “civilized” society. It is worth quoting Robin Fox at some length on this point: “We hear a great deal today about the problem of violence, but if man has a problem with violence, it is a problem only because he makes it so. Nature knows no such problems. In nature, violence is commonplace; aggression is commonplace. Both are undoubtedly necessary. The lion knows no problem. The lion knows when to be violent; when to assert itself; when to kill; when to run. For man there is a problem of violence in much the same way as there is a problem with sleeping or eating. There is a problem because man imbues violence with meaning. No animal has a problem about eating. The animal knows what it eats: if it is a hunting animal it kills its prey and devours it; if it is a scavenging animal it follows the killer to its prey and eats its leavings. With man, in the earliest years of his truly human existence, there was also no problem: he ate what it was his destiny to eat (including his fellow humans,) he killed what he knew he should kill; he asserted himself against that which he knew he should overcome. The problem arises not out of the desire to kill, any more than out of the desire to eat. The desire to kill is certainly different from the desire to eat, but it is as real as the desire to eat; as natural as the desire to eat; as unavoidable as the desire to eat. If one considers that the desire to kill is in itself a problem, it is a little like saying that the desire to eat is a problem. In what sense is it a problem? There is no problem for the lion: it is certainly no problem for the theory of natural selection that the lion should desire to kill, in the same way that it should desire to eat. The same is true for man. Only if one wishfully decides that there should be no killing (or eating) does the very existence of the desire to kill become a problem. In and of itself, the desire is neutral. It is a problem only if one chooses to make it so. For many animals killing is reasonable within the framework of their experience and their need to survive. It makes as much sense to say that killing per se is a problem as it does to say the herbivore’s desire to eat grass is a problem because it destroys the grass: it is not a problem for the herbivore, but only for those who can imbue behavior with meaning. The herbivore and the carnivore do not do this: omnivorous man does. And the problem exists because he is the animal that creates problems, not because he is the animal that kills, or eats. Since man evolved as a hunting, omnivorous species, it follows that he will destroy animals, plants, and even other members of his species who threaten him. He is right to do so. All these things are totally natural, totally within a comprehensible scheme of evolution. They are not problems. That man is on occasion both aggressive and violent presents no more of a problem, in a scientific sense, than the violence of the lion: it is the same. Many herbivores, even, can be aggressive and violent, although they kill only rarely. They were mostly created for flight, not fight. But even then, their violence against their predators is natural and explicable.” What, then, can we reasonably say of the omnivorous human hunting animal, Homo sapiens? Clearly, violence is a natural, normal, and evolved behavioral pattern: just like cannibalism is a part of our evolved eating regime. They belong to the human ethogram; and do not exist outside of it as some strange anomaly. Sociobiologist Daniel Freedman reinforces the notion that “we should use the terms evolved or phylogenetically adaptive because it will have the advantage of bringing evolution into the forefront of our thinking where it belongs.” The human ethogram is a homeostatic evolved or phylogenetically adapted system. Thus, there is no problem with the scientifically neutral notions of violence and cannibalism: both are part of humanity’s evolved small scale biosocial morality.

Movie and television series icon Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter has such a grip on the popular imagination that some consider him to be the vilest character ever created for the large and small screens (and four books by author Thomas Harris.) The larger question considered here is why? Is it simply because American audiences are conditioned to morbidity and “senseless” violence? This seems to be a rather facile explanation. The answer is actually rather murky and lies in the shadows: Hannibal has touched on something primordial deep within our evolved mental structures, deep within each and every one of us. The archetype of the apex predator is being constellated in our minds with the evolutionary force of the collective unconscious. Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall states that “there is plenty of evidence, mostly in the form of fractured bones and carnivore tooth marks, that early hominids (human ancestors and their relatives) were frequently preyed upon; and the indirect evidence of habitat and small body size and anatomy speaks to the same thing. We can thus conclude that early hominids would have had the social characteristics not of hunters, but of prey species. Our ancestors were the hunted, not the hunters; and the belief is that much in our modern behavior reflects this.” Before we rose to the top of the food chain, we were part of the food chain. This primal fear yet remains within us because it is part of our early evolutionary conditioning. Hannibal Lector is frightening because he may want to eat us. The author and the movie/television producers are titillating our natural fear of being eaten by a “predator,” human, or otherwise. The “fight or flight” response (IRM) is being triggered by the unpredictable threat he represents. Hannibal is the cunning primordial human hunter slaying and eating his human prey much like his (and our) Paleolithic ancestors did. However, instead of identifying ourselves with Hannibal’s prey items (domesticated humans or “the good guys,”) we should be reclaiming our birth right and identify ourselves with Hannibal himself and our late Paleolithic predatory heritage (wild humans) as the end game of natural selection. Domestication is the late aberration which has turned most of humanity back into sheep. “The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.” It certainly sounds like the “opiate of the masses” wallowing in their “herd mentality.” If one is content with being a sheep in this flock, it may be better to sleep with one eye open. Hannibal reminds us to be “the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” He may be the “fox in the civilized henhouse,” but he is neither psychotic nor a psychopath; it is a fallacy to consider him the “bad guy.” It is the modern individual’s responsibility to integrate “the shadow” he represents and enhance one’s self-awareness. On the surface, it may appear to be counter-intuitive, however, the resurgent atavism of the Hannibal Lecter archetype should be viewed as a symbol of our true hunter-gatherer nature re-expressing itself in a modern context nearly completely divorced from our environment of evolutionary adaptation.

Modern hunter-gatherers and our ancient ancestors certainly favored “innards” as a dietary staple both in our present and primordial natural environments. They were frequently consumed first, at the kill or butchery site as prized cuts of meat to ensure freshness: “and the gods sent the great eagle every day to eat Prometheus’ regrown liver.” The hunter-gatherer knew this long before the dawn of the Greek pantheon: the “eagles” of the Paleolithic properly ate what it was their destiny to eat. Considered the cheap or throw-away (“offal”) cuts of meat in the more recent past, they have again rebounded to the forefront of haute cuisine. Even today they are considered “offal” although chefs like Australia’s Adrian Richardson are reintroducing them as fine dining as he lavishly prepares these dishes on his entertaining television program Secret Meat Business. This knowledge was not secret to hunter-gatherers in the past or present. The fact that offal was viewed with disdain by those who could who could afford “better” only indicates how far away from animals and our relationship to them as hunter-gatherers they have become. The hunting and gathering lifeway has been a successful adaptation for humans for nearly two million years and will continue to be so. The future of the geologically recent experiment with food production and “civilization” remains to be seen. Food collection successfully conveyed Homo sapiens through the ice ages: we are literally “children of the ice age.” Societies based on food production are at risk of having their “bread baskets” obliterated with an unfavorable turn of the weather lasting hundreds or thousands of years. The Natufian experiment with emergent food production techniques ended with the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling event nearly 13,000 years ago; Mayan civilization collapsed with extended periods of drought over 1,000 years ago; and the Khmer Empire of Southeast Asia began its decline 700 years ago with deforestation and the subsequent ecological effects on its irrigation system. The Natufians, who were not heavily invested in food production returned to hunting and gathering and survived. The aforementioned civilizations did not. Humanity is already far beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth and the continued rise in population will put further strain on the planet’s resources. What happens then when the next glacial cycle returns within the next 1,500 years or so? The warming trend of the Holocene epoch is nearing its conclusion after 10,000 years of relatively stable temperatures. The last inter-glacial period had already ended after its 10,000 year span, thus it seems the next thousand years or so may, in fact, be borrowed time. The solution is plainly visible in the archaeological record and with modern hunter-gatherers. Paleolithic periglacial and modern Arctic hunter-gatherers consumed a far higher percentage of animal proteins in their diets because plant based foods were scarce. “Bread baskets” and “rice bowls” cannot exist in the cooling and arid conditions of glacial cycles. Intensive agriculture and its spawn, civilization, will fail. Band-level hunter-gatherers, much like their prehistoric ancestors, have the best chance of survival in the long term.

Hannibal Lecter, as an avatar of modern and ancient hunter-gatherers, is the exemplar and manifested symbol of the carnivorous properties and lifeways of the natural human being. He is the reminder brought forth from the collective unconscious of our meat eating heritage. It should be noted that all meat products described here are of the freshest variety, irrespective if they are offal or prime cuts. Hunter-gatherers generally eat the healthiest game products. This runs somewhat contrary to the vast array of “mystery meat” products available at grocery stores and chain restaurants today. How many people think twice about picking up that wonderful pot roast on sale this week or a “happy burger” and fries from some favored fast food stop? If someone were to replace these mystery meats with “long pig,” would the average consumer notice? Apparently not, as the examples from North Korea, China, and Nigeria indicate. The arguments relating to the grading of specific cuts of meat, or even if meat should be eaten at all, obscure the basic fact that we are phylogenetically adapted to the consumption and metabolization of meat proteins. It is there, in the genetic memory palace of the mind and in our anatomical structure. When that sanctimonious ignoramus professor trashes another thesis proposal, an obnoxious boss thinks he knows it all, or the ex-significant other gives one grief, who has not considered preparing them as the zenith of a gratifying gastronomic experience? Hannibal states that “it is not a shame to die, but to be wasted.” Hunter-gatherers do not waste food. The future of the human species is predicated on our carnivorous propensities, skills, and abilities. It is all well within our evolved behavioral repertoire: it is natural, normal, and explicable. There is no problem here. It is assurance. Come now gentle reader, let us not mince words: is it not the “thrill of the hunt” and the consumption of our prize that makes us human?

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Untamed Thinking: A Short Story in Honor of Anthropologist Robin Fox

The Shaman’s Vision

Copyright George S. Svokos

October 2013

The tall, lean, muscular man strode quickly and purposefully through the late spring landscape. It was still quite cool, though he could feel the sun warming his face. He had a rendezvous with the spirit world, and was moving towards the Great Womb – the crack between the worlds which he would slip through to commune with the spirit beings of the other world. He would be in the company of this land’s powerful and varied bestiary, and with “The Old Ones” who were his and his clan’s ancestors. He needed guidance from The Old Ones about the future, and especially for the next hunt. The big animals would be migrating this way within the week. The man was a hunter, and the shaman of his band, his organic extended kinship group. He was a “man of power” heading for the cave within the familiar rock shelter where he would be utterly alone, for hours and perhaps days to draw power from this sacred space. He knew this land intimately, the various flora, fauna, rivers, forests, glades, and valleys which he and his band had lived in since time immemorial. True, the weather was somewhat unpredictable over the years, but his finely tailored animal fur clothing, worn in layers, kept him from both freezing and overheating from the somewhat unpredictable weather patterns. These changed frequently over the years, and yet the seasons still came and went as they always did. He also had no fear of being intercepted by the “others” – the shorter, very muscular neighbors his band had occasional contact with. The two groups of humans got along amicably enough, trading meat and animal hides on occasion, though their language was difficult to understand. Rumor had it that wives were even exchanged at this time. These contacts had been more frequent in his grandfather’s day, less so now that the hunter-shaman was a mature adult. As he neared the familiar landmarks leading to the cave, he slowed and paused briefly to survey his surroundings. This was always a time of calming serenity for him, and he made his way to the narrow cave entrance.

As he entered the first gallery, he lit his oil lamp in the cool darkness. He could see the work of his uncle, grandfather, and more distant ancestors in his shamanic line painted on the walls of the cave. Great mammoths, aurochs, lions, woolly rhinoceros’, horses, and giant deer peered back at him from the great rocky canvas before him. He would not meditate here, as there were more grottoes deeper inside the cave. It was not until he reached the fourth gallery that he stopped and took his customary meditation position. His “kit” was exactly where he had left it before – his drum, the rattle, mask, and ocher pigments for painting his visions on the rich tapestry of the gallery wall. After clearing and quieting his mind, he began the slow rhythmic breathing that would signal the beginning of his journey to the spirit world. The shaman began the systematic but slow drumming that would ultimately open the crack between this world, and the next. Breathing and drumming, breathing and drumming, soon he was entering into that altered state of consciousness which were the doors of perception to the world of The Old Ones. It did not take long for him to “see” what The Old Ones were communicating to him, in symbolic pictures within his visions. He followed the familiar game trail in his mind’s eye. What he saw next was not at all what he had been expecting, perhaps a “wise old man” communicating a hunting foray, or a lovely young woman leading him further and further into the center of his mind to see the Edenic splendors of “the happy hunting ground.” What manner of vision was this? Nothing at all was familiar; in fact it was a hellish place with hordes of people, no landscape to speak of, no animals for the hunting, only seeming chaos and confusion. The morass of people and the miasma they created were appalling. It was some monstrous caricature of the villages he’d seen to the East, some distance away.

Despite the disturbing imagery being projected onto his mind’s eye, the Cro-Magnon hunter-shaman dreamed the dream onwards. What did this mean? What were The Old Ones trying to convey with these unsettling scenes? The shaman was perturbed, but yet, at the same time, could not avert his gaze from the unpleasant events unfolding before him. It was mayhem and madness for certain, he surmised. Seemingly endless numbers of people crowded together in some kind of massive, unnatural village, itself an unrecognizable landscape of colossal proportions. People as thick as an ant colony or a beehive, and just as anonymous. What had this to do with his world, the shaman wondered? In the shimmering haze of his vision, it occurred to him that a rift in time had propelled him into the future (in fact, he did not realize just how far into the future he was seeing – prognosticating some 25,000 years down the ages.) Faces came and went as he tried to look harder at what he was viewing. Eventually, he seemed to lock onto one of the multifarious faces in this unnaturally crowded image – just another low status male amongst the undifferentiated masses. He was a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, though not an unpleasant visage. The closer the shaman looked at this man, the more he could detect… what? Mental anguish? Loss? Loneliness? Hopelessness? Anomie and alienation? It was noticeable particularly in his sad eyes, revealing a tortured soul. But the rest of his face was impassive and as unreadable as the masses surrounding him. His eyes held the shaman’s for a moment, and they seemed to gaze at each other. Was this strange man of the future also “seeing” the entranced shaman? Suddenly, it struck the shaman that this man with the sad eyes resembled someone that he knew – was this some strange mirror image? The uncanny feeling disturbed the shaman even more. Was “sad eyes” a spiritual being of the future that was felt as kin? In a way “sad eyes” seemed to be aware of the shaman, though not directly. Was there some connection between them that spanned the ages? It certainly felt that way. The Old Ones were sending a message to the shaman: that phenomenal and life-way destroying times awaited in a dark future. Major change was in the offing, and the damage would be irreparable. The shaman felt the inner pain residing in “sad eyes” tortured psyche and could barely stand these overwhelming feelings. The shaman, being a lucid dreamer, felt he could no longer tolerate these scenes of destruction and pain. Pleading with The Old Ones, he mentally attempted to change these strange horrors into the successful cooperative hunt which had been his initial desire when visiting The Old Ones. And what of the signs for the upcoming hunt? Mammoths were notoriously cantankerous and aggressive, and the hunting band could not afford the loss of a seasoned hunter. Gradually, the painful and distressing feeling tone of the vision began to shift, as the monstrous village and “sad eyes” faded from view. But the shaman would not forget the sad eyed man from the future. His image and feeling tone were indelibly stamped on the shaman’s mind.

The old hunter who next appeared on a more familiar landscape indicated that this herd of mammoths was particularly wary of predators and likely to offer resistance. He pointed to where the hunters should wait in ambush for the juvenile male of the group, who would likely be a short distance from the rest of the herd. The hunter-shaman saw a young mired mammoth struggling to free itself from the swamp trap that held it fast. Cave hyenas were already gathering, with their high pitched “laughs” in the background. But the hunting band was undeterred, butchering the meat and watching guard over the scavenging predators. The grizzled old hunter chieftain gave the shaman the universal sign of success, which pleased him. It meant he could return to camp with good news for the upcoming hunt. Shimmering in the haze of the vision, the old hunter vanished into thin air, as the shaman felt the stirrings of consciousness returning. Following the trail back to the grotto, the shaman quickened his pace. Upon awakening, he felt a bit groggy from this experience into the other world, and found himself feeling anxious and sweating freely in his clothes, even though it was relatively cool in this part of the cave. He had to strip down briefly so that he would not overheat. Although the visions did not feel like they had taken much time, the shaman realized that in fact, some two days had passed since his arrival at the sacred cave. The shaman was concerned that the first vision, if revealed to the hunting band, might cause disquiet and possibly even a confrontation. The shaman was in no way inclined to paint this first scene on the blank canvas of the nearby gallery. Instead, he drew a mammoth, both to derive power from it, and also to impart the hunting magic needed for the successful hunt. Using damp ocher on his hand, he “stamped” his painting with his “signature,” so that if one day “sad eyes” did see this display by a “man of power” that he too could draw meaning, strength, supreme confidence, and healing energies from this sacred space.

As the hunter-shaman trekked back to camp, he thought about “sad eyes” and the message The Old Ones had conveyed through him. Sometimes, the shaman dared not reveal the contents of his visions, given the discord they could cause. He therefore decided to keep the first part of the vision to himself, while informing the chieftain of the band and the senior hunters of the successful hunting strategy revealed to him by The Old Ones. A loner by nature, the shaman dutifully informed his band of the spirit quest, and then retired to his own tent, where he contemplated the meaning of his disturbing experience in “future” time. Was this a warning from The Old Ones? Was there, in fact, a catastrophe awaiting his clan, entire tribe, even society itself? When would this happen? It seemed that his entire consciousness had gone out of context when confronted by the strange and eerie first vision. It almost made him feel dizzy when recalling the vivid imagery of the trance state. Could altered states of consciousness cause such an intense dislocation of the mind? Or was it really the content of his vision that caused the aberration? A disjunction of consciousness with genetic memory? Would his “kin” of the distant future be sensitive to the destruction of his environment of evolutionary adaptation? Would this sensitivity extend to his consciousness being out of context? Would that be the “normal” state of mind of future humans? The masses in the outrageously grotesque village certainly seemed to have that kind of mental aberration. These thoughts troubled him as his tired mind and body began to finally relax. He needed to sleep, and fell into a deep and thankfully dreamless slumber.

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The Better Angels of Our Nature and an Evolutionary Response to Extremist Reactionaries

Beyond Armageddon

Copyright George S. Svokos

October 2013

Lest we muddle the matter further, let us define precisely what we mean by the term “Armageddon” because for some, the preposterous has become credulous. It is not in the Christian sense, that is, the coming of apocalyptic destruction of an evil world to be followed by the messiah and his reign over the “kingdom of heaven.” God will not send a monstrous flood to wash away the evil in this world and leave planet Earth to the chosen people (whoever they are, or believe themselves to be,) nor will the “meek inherit the earth.” It is also not what “ancient alien astronaut theorists” claim in their literalist expositions of advanced humanoids returning to the Earth from their home in the cosmos to reconfigure and reconstruct the human genome and further civilization’s progress. We refer here, too, to the UFOlogists and their lore which is coeval with Christian theology and the “ancient astronaut theory.” It is neither the formation, by a “master race” of humans, of a “new world order” nor the return of demi-gods or aliens to re-create an illusory utopia from the ancient past. Philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche have grappled unsuccessfully with notions of utopia (Atlantis lost) and of the rise of the godless superman (Zarathustra.) All of these phenomena may be classified under the general rubric of “millennialism” which seems to come in various forms: messiahs forming kingdoms on earth after destruction of the wicked earthlings; aliens returning from the stars to guide and shape human advancement; rise of the herrenmensch; identification of a lost utopian antediluvian civilization or the  rise of a future techno-utopia, indeed, the kingdom of heaven in other guises. The millenialist complex so described is a constellation of feeling tones, images, and thoughts which coalesce in the oppressed mind to produce an exaggerated energetic phenomenon. This results in the large aggregation of the like-minded into dangerous parasitic ideological groups rather than the more humane and natural organic extended kinship groups of remote antiquity: humanity’s primordial, small, and personal kin-based systems of social interaction within their environment of evolutionary adaptedness.  Humanity is not so easily divorced from its primeval environment: human-environment interaction is a holistically integrated biosocial evolved adaptive organism in, and of, itself. A reductionist regime would fracture nature’s cohesive ontogenetically recapitulated phylogeny of our species.

The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung would have considered the millennialist complex an illness of the mind akin to a neurosis and, in its most extreme form, a psychosis; to put it another way, it is an “oppression religion” whether secular (i.e., national-socialism, communism, hyper- capitalism, “philosophy,” freemasonry, etc.,) or religious (eastern or “of the book,”) in its manifestation. The virulence of the neurosis/psychosis is dependent on how powerful the complex expresses and manifests itself in the mundane world: messianic pronouncements; a new world order; the rise of the master race or “brotherhood of man;” the arrival of the long lost builders of civilization from somewhere in the Milky Way; the revelation of a lost world-wide and “highly advanced” Stone Age civilization hidden in the mists of time (which would, of course, have been utterly impossible during glacial conditions,) or a presumed future techno-utopia. In the ideology of the millenialist complex there is always something to look forward to, to anticipate, to discover, or to aspire to in some undefined and murky future time which is better than the current state of affairs. Perhaps then “Armageddon” should be viewed from a more eastern or psychological viewpoint where this “world” of the ego is supplanted (i.e., destroyed) by the attainment of enlightenment or psychological wholeness in a “worldly” and unpleasant society. However, this too largely hearkens back to the millenialist complex of the current oppression religions which first arose more than 2,500 years ago (and possibly even further back in time if Hinduism falls into this category.) That the complex is alive and well with millions of believers in the present is proof positive of the oppressed mind in the “modern” world. But a kernel of truth can be plucked here from the east and the psychologists – that of reconnecting the conscious mind with humanity’s genetic memory. This enterprise has been the goal of many in the “civilized” world who realize something is wrong in “modern” societies; a disconnect or disjunction of the mind. The proper question to ask then is: are there people who have always had this faculty and never lost it through time, and therefore do not need to “rediscover” it? A careful inspection of the spirituality of hunter-gatherers (“shamanism” in the broadest sense) provides a window into the true nature of humanity’s primordial “religiosity” and its purpose in the Darwinian calculus of survival. Only the temporal arrogance of the agro-industrial civilizations frowns upon these alleged “primitive” or “savage” societies, which persist, relatively unchanged in their basics, to a more human heritage visible to the astute observer. “Traditional” societies exist in the present in spite of agro-industrialist civilized incursions. They, too, are a modern adaptation to living in current environments. A re-introduction to humankind’s environment of evolutionary adaptedness is therefore a necessary correlation to a fundamental understanding of society; and of necessity to jettison 19th century notions of social progress. Thus, it is time to dispense with “modern” agro-industrial civilized religious and secular oppression beliefs and understand what the term “Armageddon” means from the more appropriate perspectives of climate change, ecology, and evolution.

Various human (genus Homo) species or ecotypes (a genetically distinct form that occurs in a specific habitat but which can freely interbreed with another form in an adjacent habitat) have speciated and radiated out into the Old World, and finally the New World. What concerns us here is how these human species/ecotypes operated in their habitats and adjusted (or not) to changing environmental conditions. Climate change and the resulting environmental perturbations drove human evolution in several “punctuated” events by Ice Age conditions which began with the onset of the Pleistocene Epoch some 2.5 million years ago. The earliest evidence of tool use (cut marks on bones) dates back 3.4 million years while the first lithic assemblages appear in the fossil record 2.6 million years ago (the “Oldowan” chopper industry.) At this time, however, much to Louis Leakey’s chagrin, there was no elusive “handy man” within the genus Homo who could have made these tools. The first documented human remains in the fossil record date to approximately 1.8 million years ago; though there is the reasonable presumption of the existence of an ancestral species from which these first humans are derived. This genus/species is currently unknown. However, tools had been in existence for millennia prior to this time. Moreover, chimpanzees have been found in Central Africa (The Congo) who use tools to hunt that are not recognized by archaeologists in fossil assemblages because they resemble naturefacts rather than artifacts. Recent research on these chimpanzees has allowed anthropologists at the Smithsonian and George Washington University to recreate their naturefacts using experimental archaeology based on observations of wild behavior patterns. They then went out into the field and found these same naturefacts in ancient deposits: the first recorded archaeological excavation of chimpanzee tool kits and assemblages. The lesson here is that tool use preceded the advent of the human line. If chimpanzees and humans are thoughtful tool users then it stands to reason that their most recent common ancestor did the same about 7 million years ago. That archaeologists have not recognized naturefacts in fossil assemblages is not evidence of absence. Moreover, early hominids (probably genus Australopithecus,) though not found in association with Oldowan tools, are currently the only available candidates for their creation (A. garhi at 2.5 million years ago.) The speciation event which led to the first of human line (Homo erectus) indicates that they “inherited” or acculturated tool making and use from pre- or proto-human ancestors. This is not surprising given the recent research on the Congolese chimpanzees. The recent finds of the floresiensis diminutive hominid in Indonesia was found with an associated tool industry (and spear-hunting pygmy elephants of the genus Stegodon) and yet there seems to be debate among paleoanthropologists on where this species should be properly placed in the taxonomic record: within the genus Homo based on cranio-facial observations or Australopithecus based on post-cranial skeletal proportions and morphology. It does strain credulity to place floresiensis in Homo simply because of presumed tool use and hunting. The problem here is that the cranium, while resembling Homo erectus in morphology, is far too small to place in that species. The notion that brain expansion occurred in H. erectus to near modern human proportions and then reverted back to australopithecine levels also strains credulity. A more logical hypothesis would be that pre- or proto-human forms were tool users. Given the fact that there is no candidate for the earliest tool users belonging to Homo and recent evidence of sophisticated and deliberate tool making, use, and hunting by chimpanzees in the Congo further reinforces the notion that these behaviors long pre-existed the human (sensu stricto) line.

The other benchmark of humanity, bipedalism, also long predated the advent of the genus Homo and cannot be used as a measure of what makes us human. Sahelanthropus and Orrorin show evidence of bipedalism at 6.6 and about 5.8 million years ago, respectively, long prior to brain expansion seen in the genus Homo. The australopithecines show a morphological adaptation to walking in trees much like the modern orangutan does. This is a tropical forest adaptation, not an adaptation for traversing savanna-like environments. The fact that bipedalism later became an “exaptation” for savanna-woodland environments is the product of serendipity in the ecological record and was present in the most recent common ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees. The knuckle-walking of the chimpanzees is a later adaptation to a forest dwelling species that is largely confined to such environments by this mode of locomotion. In other words, pre- or proto-humans were pre-adapted to upright walking which they later exploited for a different purpose: from walking in trees to walking in savanna environments. Walking later became long-distance running in Homo erectus, the exploitation of an exaptation for the superior hunting abilities of that species. The increase in protein intake (meat-consumption) then saw incipient brain expansion as the new resources were utilized and maximized. By the time we reach Homo heidelbergensis some half-million years ago, we already have a large-brained and lethal human apex predator species sharing that title with hyenas, wolves, and lions. But this was long in the making – from the prey mentality of the pre- and proto-human species hundreds of thousands of years later to an apex predator mentality species. At an earlier point humans (species erectus) had gradually, through the generations, fissioned off into the uninhabited savannah-woodland habitat mosaic of the mid-latitude belt from the Iberian Peninsula all the way west to China/Korea and its southern prong down into East and South Africa. A later “out-of-Africa” fissioning movement of the Heidelbergs (H. heidelbergensis/rhodesiensis) spread those populations across the mid-latitude and southern prong savanna-woodland belt (MLB) into Europe and Asia. The next speciation events occurred in the MLB of East Africa, Europe, and Asia some 300,000 thousand years ago from the Heidelbergs to ancestral or “archaic” Homo sapiens, ancestral H. neanderthalensis, and the Denisovans (closely related to the Neanderthals,) respectively. The erectines yet survived in Asia at this time, thus we have four distinct human species at the beginning of the (African) Middle Stone Age (MSA.) It would seem appropriate to use the African timeline since the Heidelbergs arose from that region of the MLB during the MSA and expanded outward from there. The MLB provided the sites for the edge environments or habitat mosaics (ecotones) as the ebb and flow of the ice ages proceeded after 1.8 million years ago. These habitats were less desirable than the “prime real-estate” of pristine environments of evolutionary adaptedness and tougher to manage for extant human species. Thus, these peoples had to innovate much more than conservatives living in ideal or pristine environments where innovation was not necessary.

 If necessity is the “mother of invention,” then edge environments would have been the birthplace of innovation. A major factor in the evolution of human species was the climatic impacts which caused the edge environments to develop, expand, and contract. This was no easy matter as habitat loss is a known cause of faunal extinctions. “Conservatives” will prosper in their ideal environments; however, when they are forced into edge environments they must either become “innovators” themselves or face extinction. That different human species/ecotypes, including Homo sapiens were culled and became locally extinct is a certainty. Some population levels were so low that further environmental degradation eventually led to their total extinction (H. neanderthalensis, the Denisovans, “archaic” H. sapiens/H. helmei, and H. erectus) somewhere around 25-30,000 years ago. The only human survivors were a relict population of H. sapiens sensu stricto living in the Great Rift Valley in the southern Ethiopian/Kenyan/Tanzanian corridor. All people on the planet today are descendants of this relict population of some 2-10,000 breeding individuals who survived the Toba eruption in Indonesia and the associated “genetic bottleneck.” This population must have been in the “innovator” group living in a habitat mosaic in East Africa; later fissioning out to other parts of Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and finally the New World. By this time the “innovators” were the pioneers of environments outside the MLB and thrived because of their adaptive abilities. A possible example of the survival of “conservative” pre- or proto-human ancestors would be the relict floresiensis populations which survived in Indonesia’s temporate, MLB-like environments to 12,000 years ago.

Today, there are three existing edge environments or habitat mosaics/ecotones: the Arctic; the desert, and the tropical rainforest. The people living here are akin to the innovators of the MSA and Late Stone Ages. These are not backwards tribal peoples eking out a living in a marginal environment suffering on the earth’s poorest real-estate, pushed there by expanding agro-industrial civilizations. These hunter-gatherers have remained in their edge environments because they chose to be there and have successfully adapted to their habitat mosaics; the agro-industrial civilizations did not covet their land and thus displace them. It is true, however, that the agro-industrialist civilizations eventually wound up with the most desirable locations and have thus become the “conservatives” of the human race. The “innovator” hunter-gatherers could not face the growing power of the agro- and agro-industrialist civilizations; they therefore tried to evade them when possible or were left relatively unmolested in so called “undesirable” habitats. An accident of history (the Neolithic agricultural revolution) allowed the so-called “rise” of first agro-civilizations around 6,000 years ago and then agro-industrial civilizations about 200 years ago. History and pre-history has already demonstrated what happens to the “conservatives” relative to the “innovators.” That the “conservatives” are now civilizations with massive populations and cumulative technological change does not alter the fact that only the “innovators” tend to be the survivors of the major climatic shifts in glacial and inter-glacial environmental and ecological loci. “Technology” has been lost and re-invented in the fossil record: “advanced” foragers lost their technologies during major climatic events governed by the ice ages and went locally extinct. Then, technology became simple and useful for the new edge environments and then became advanced again at a later time and different locations. Although true foragers (hunter-fisher-gatherers) are now a rarity on the Earth despite 7 billion people on the planet, these are the real “innovators” remaining in their edge environments, rather than the “technologically advanced” “conservatives” of the agro-industrial civilized world. They were the former “innovators” now regulated to the status of “conservatives.” We must not confuse the cumulative technological changes of agro-industrial civilized societies with human “progress.”  What, then, will happen when the Holocene inter-glacial ends and a return to glacial conditions once again blankets the planet? Here, we are not discussing “if” glacial conditions will return, but “when,” for the environmental, global, and climactic cycle we currently live in is still a period of warming within the larger timeframe and geology of the ice ages. In other words, what will happen to the agro-industrial civilizations once glacial conditions return for another extended period? The last inter-glacial period lasted for 10,000 years between 130-120,000 years ago. The current Holocene inter-glacial is now 10,000 years old.

 We must look to prehistory to find the likely answers to this question. While the ebb and flow of the past ice ages has caused expansion and contraction of mosaic habitats/ecotones, with the concomitant expansion and contraction of human populations, “innovators” in the right place at the right time survived to the present. The “conservatives” and the unlucky “innovators” did not make it. However, this does not mean that one species or ecotype of human is intrinsically more valuable or more human than another. There was more than one way to be human. Some perfectly good models were produced by evolution. The fact that anatomically modern Homo sapiens is still around today is a serendipitous event not shared by our kindred human cousins. We were lucky 73,500 years ago when our population was probably smaller than equivalent Neanderthal populations. The surviving sapiens group eventually repopulated the planet and then overtook it in several massive population explosions (at 10,000 years ago, 200 years ago, and the 20th-21st centuries.)  Humanity is now a plague on the planet, destroying everything in its way including the environment, megafauna, other faunal species, and “innovator” forager populations trying to stay out of the way of the “conservative” agro-industrialist civilizations. The fact that they are the majority with thousands of years of cumulative technological change behind them does not ipso facto make them any less deleterious to the few remaining “innovator” populations left on the planet. These new “conservatives” have domesticated themselves, along with the grasses and animals that comprise the “civilized” larder. In effect, these domesticated “conservative” human populations have reverted to the prey-species mentality of our pre- and proto-ancestors. They cannot live “in the wild,” as it were, like modern foragers. Placing domestic livestock near “wild” areas often leads to attacks by natural predators such as bears, lions, hyenas, crocodiles, wolves, and cougars facing habitat loss on the defenseless cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, cats, dogs, and people intruding on their environment. This interface environment is proof of the inability of domesticated fauna (including “civilized” humans) to interact in a meaningful way with a natural biome. An exception which proves the rule is the semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists who have a long history with lions: the “king of the jungle” will move out of the way for the tribesmen moving through their territory to graze their cattle. The Maasai live close to their environment, and a reversion to true foraging is not out of the realm of possibility, should that adaptation be warranted; thus they make be considered as a type of “innovator” in their own right. This notion is not as outrageous as it seems: it has, in fact, already happened in the past. The Natufian foragers of the Levant had taken advantage of the plentiful wild grasses (wheat, rye, barley, etc.,) produced by the warming trend after the Last Glacial Maximum. The abundance of food in the Levant and the Fertile Crescent led to a semi-sedentary existence where wild game and plant material supported a growing population. Then, in the blink of an eye (in geological time,) the interstadial glacial conditions of the Younger Dryas event suddenly struck this burgeoning population and its agricultural precursor wild grass crops. The abundance, of wild animals and grasses was drastically reduced in the short period of time (12,800-11,600 years ago) of the cold snap. The Natufian agricultural experiment collapsed, populations were severely reduced, and the survivors reverted to the innovative practice of hunting and gathering. Habitat loss has already been shown to cause local extinctions, and if severe enough, to ultimate extinction. Populations automatically shrink when ideal “conservative” environments fail. Only the “innovators” survive and the only people currently in that category are extant hunter-gatherers living in edge environments or ecotones. What, then, will happen to mega agriculturist societies when another Younger Dryas (the “Youngest Dryas?”) event occurs, or at the onset of the next glacial maximum? The answer is another Natufian episode of loss of habitat (intensive agriculture in this case) and the resulting population density reduction. Thus, when intensive agriculture fails, so will their dependent civilizations; the Mayans are a salutary lesson in this regard – the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Humanity’s lifeboat is the current “innovator” forager societies of the world living in their edge environments and thus must be the goal of any true conservation effort for the future – not the perpetuation of, and striving for, cumulative technological change of the “conservative” mega agro-industrialist civilizations.  “Armageddon” takes on a new meaning in this context. Historically the crossroads of critical trade routes in the southern Levant between the Near/Middle East and North Africa (Egypt,) “great” and presumably civilized empire building or wrecking battles were fought at this location near the ancient city of Megiddo many times, which has since become a metaphor for world (in this case mega agro-industrialist society) ending catastrophes. It is, perhaps, an irony that Megiddo is in the Levant, where the successors of the Natufians reverted to hunting and gathering after the agricultural domestication experiment failed during the Younger Dryas. The Earth will again be the province of the innovative foragers living in current edge environments long into the future. It is here where thoughtful individuals search for society and quest for a biosocial morality. For only the “civilized” world’s “Armageddon” lies on the horizon. 

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An Article on Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers

“Traditional Forager Culture, Assimilation, and the Cash Economy in Northern Siberia”

Copyright George S. Svokos

 September 2013

            The existence of pristine foragers has generated considerable debate and a latent controversy remains associated with this notional category of human subsistence life-ways. Scholars of traditional Siberian forager culture and Russian government officials have not yet reached a consensus for a singular definition to describe these groups. This is a taxonomic task that must be resolved for the benefit of the “numerically small peoples of the North” as they are currently defined by the Russian government and known to scholars who participated in the 1993 Seventh International Conference of Hunting and Gathering Societies. Indigenous peoples’ rights, livelihoods, environment, and physical and cultural survival are all dependent on a proper understanding of the term “traditional foragers.” The fact that this descriptive category has been politicized leads inexorably to the conclusion by more powerful entities that for some vague rationale these peoples should be viewed as inferior; and that this devaluation is justified because the foraging spectrum is considered to be at or near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This view is highly prejudicial and at the same time unwarranted. A much more balanced view of the foraging spectrum is provided by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins in his seminal work “The Original Affluent Society.”  The foraging spectrum is not merely a primordial survivor of prehistory, but a modern human adaptation for coping with natural environments just as agriculturally-based civilized societies are today. The indigenous peoples of Northern Siberia have maintained a traditional nomadic or semi-nomadic foraging subsistence life-way centered on hunting, fishing, gathering, and reindeer-herding. They subsist by utilizing largely wild animal and wild plant resources which lie “outside the cash sector of the economy.” The “numerically small peoples of the North” may thus be properly defined as “pristine forager-herders” when unmolested by the duress imposed on them by government or corporate activities. According to anthropologists Peter Schweitzer, Megan Biesele, and Richard Hitchcock, it is a truism that very few groups fall into this “pristine” category in the modern world because historical, social, political, and economic forces have created a situation in which most of the affected peoples now engage in a mixed economy of foraging and cash-generating activities. In order to preserve their traditional forager-herder life-ways, a solution will have to be devised which permits the self-determination of the northern Siberian indigenous peoples and the concomitant self-sufficiency this implies. The most promising development in this area is the establishment of internationally recognized ethno-ecological refuges free from internal interference by the nation-states within which they are created and their protection from economic exploitation by large corporate concerns.  A vitally important task then, in the realization of these refuge environments, is to legally and ethno-culturally identify which groups fall into the category “pristine forager-herders” in the Siberian North and the home territories to which they belong. The demographic composition of the pristine forager-herders necessarily will have to make provision for the non-assimilation of these peoples into the larger general Russian population. Assimilation is one of the factors for the decline in numbers of the native peoples of the area and represents a major threat to their continued existence over the long-term.  This is a continuing problem and must be addressed by a systematic method which will reverse a long-standing demographic trend and stabilize the number of indigenous peoples to sustainable levels.

One state policy facilitating assimilation of indigenous peoples is the settling of outsiders on native territories. The subsequent collapse of state-run industries in the post-Soviet Siberian North has left economically dispossessed non-indigenous people on native territory with no way of making a living for themselves. As a result, these people have resorted to more traditional ways of subsistence at the expense of the natives and lay claim to the former indigenous territory that they have inhabited in excess of some two decades or more. In addition, state policy aimed at assimilating indigenous peoples involved their forced collectivization into state-run reindeer-herding farms. Survival International reports that these “brigades” must supply the Russian government with reindeer meat as part of their compensation for “working” as reindeer-herders, rather than subsisting in their adapted environments as traditional forager-herders. Thus, the state has tethered the traditional forager-herder to its economic machinery. Other methods of assimilation include state-sponsored indigenous hunting and trapping, or the more insidious intrusion of “frontier capitalism” into the Siberian North such as mammoth tusk collection and their sale to foreign buyers. This economic tethering to the state and cash-generation is exacerbating assimilation through mixed marriage arrangements of indigenous women outside their tribal affiliations as they become more educated, and the native men remain in more traditional pursuits by working in the reindeer-herding brigades and the state farm collectives. Educated native women prefer the more educated men of the urban environment leaving the native men in their semi-traditional subsistence modes. Damage to the land by industrialization and the removal of the younger generation to boarding schools from their former home territories has further eroded indigenous population numbers. Anthropologist Dmitri Bogoiavlenski indicates that compounding the problem is the generally low population numbers inherent in forager-herder communities being unfavorably impacted by the state-run industries, large corporations, and local non-indigenous peoples. Economic development of indigenous territories remains largely unregulated and is contributing to the decline in native numbers through their forced acculturation into the cash economy and “education,” the change to agricultural methods, and the resulting loss of fishing and hunting grounds and reindeer pasturage. The related low birth rates and high mortality also affect indigenous populations. These factors are converging to place the indigenous peoples of the Siberian North in unfavorable conditions that put their cultural survival, natural habitats, and traditional life-ways at risk.

The impact of the cash economy on indigenous peoples in northern Siberia manifests in alarmingly visible changes to traditional subsistence modes and environmental degradation of non-renewable sources. Survival International reports that in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, the indigenous Nenets’ forager-herder life-ways are threatened by petroleum extraction and incursions into traditional pasture lands by large government-owned corporations such as Russian gas giant Gazprom. The Nenets are being impeded from realizing their nomadic lifestyle by the accoutrements of the oil and gas pipeline industry and their interconnected series of roads that block or alter traditional migration routes and reduce the area necessary for their campsites. Pasturage is being degraded and the reindeer herds are forced to not only change migratory patterns but also face the loss of their grazing territories. Survival International reports the Nenets themselves state that “the land is very important to us” and the reindeer are their “lives and their futures.” One unambiguous response to assimilation and economic development has been the evasion by Nenets of the Russian system altogether. In 1997, Norwegian anthropologist Ivar Bjorklund reported that he had “rediscovered a forgotten tribe of nomads in the Siberian tundra, where they have gone undetected for generations.” These were, apparently, a group of approximately 200 Nenets who had evaded the Russian authorities when the latter attempted to collectivize them and send the indigenous youngsters to boarding schools. They had lived off the land without recourse to any attachments to the outside agro-industrial world around them. In other words, this group of Nenets met the definition of “pristine forager-herders” and confirmed their existence as more than a notional category. Bjorklund stated that “these are a proud people who are aware that they command a lifestyle that is completely unique” and that this lifestyle is “very vulnerable.” Though potentially a functional strategy in the large wilderness reaches of the Siberian tundra and taiga environments, it seems unlikely such maneuvering will continue to be effective in the face of continuing  industrialization of the Siberian north by the Russian government, Gazprom, and international economic entities. The Nenets “unique” lifestyle as small-group traditional forager-herders thus has been recognized as necessitating action for its preservation. It is unlikely that indigenous peoples such as this group of unassimilated Nenets can survive unaided in the long-term. Clearly, some form of international intervention is required to prevent the eventual extermination of this traditional society that got along quite well for a long time without outside interference. As blatant an intrusion into traditional life-ways and the environment though this was, yet another and perhaps more insidious form of cash economics has arisen in the Sakha Republic and the New Siberian Islands with indigenous Yakuts and Yukagirs further to the east of the Yamal Peninsula within the last decade. A recent issue of National Geographic indicated that here, both indigenous groups and dispossessed Russian industrial workers take part in the legal, though poorly regulated mammoth tusk hunting trade. This is a five-month spring and summer “hunting” season wherein the natives forsake their traditional lifestyles to collect the ever more valuable mammoth tusk ivory. When the season is over, the tusk hunters use the ice-fishing season to transport the ivory up the Yana River to the regional capital in Yakutsk where prices are generally higher than in the local villages. From here, they make their way to the lucrative Chinese market where prices increase still further. National Geographic has reported that Chinese demand for ivory is insatiable; to the detriment of both the Sakha Republic’s nonrenewable mammoth resources and African elephant populations vulnerable to poaching. Although elephant ivory is illegal, Chinese ivory-carving shops do not distinguish between the legal mammoth ivory and illegal elephant ivory which both command equivalent prices. The result has been both the growth of mammoth tusk hunting activities and an increase in the poaching of African elephants to fuel China’s ivory market. The cash economy is therefore adversely impacting the non-renewable resources in the Sakha Republic and African elephant populations and at the same time fracturing traditional Yakut and Yukagir traditional subsistence life-ways by introducing a mixed market and subsistence economy. Not everyone is successful at collecting the mammoth tusks, which leaves people short on the very cash they need to help them get through the season. Moreover, even the natives are wondering how long this non-renewable resource will last. Another unforeseen impact of development in the Sakha Republic is the loss of local fauna reported in the New York Times as part of the Russian government’s public eradication policy of wolf populations. Here, they are seen as pests and not as apex predators within the larger biome they inhabit. Villages are “luring” hungry wolves with domesticated livestock when their population of natural prey items, rabbits, falls in some seasons. Reduced prey availability normally results in a natural adjustment of predator levels, but in the Sakha Republic wolves are surviving by attacking sedentary livestock herds, including reindeer. The Russian government’s response is to authorize the slaughter of the wolf populations without regard to their numbers. The Russian government does not seem to be concerned about eventual wolf extinction even though they must be aware of the North American paradigm of slaughter without consequences. Surely, if the indigenous peoples remained nomadic (i.e., abandoning the farming collectives and monetized reindeer “brigades,”) they would husband smaller and more mobile herds of reindeer which would remain largely out of harm’s way and the natural balance of wolf-rabbit populations would regulate itself within its usual biorhythms. Such unnatural perturbations of northern Siberia’s indigenous peoples, their environments, and faunas are also being affected by the opening of the Northeast Passage to commercial Russian and Chinese seaborne traffic in 2011-2012 due to global warming. The Northeast Passage connects northern Europe and Asia for approximately four months via a shorter, more economical pathway than the old routes through the Suez or Panama Canals. The New York Times reported that Gazprom recently completed a natural gas cargo delivery and that Danish and Japanese seaborne traffic have been using this route since 2010. Chinese shipping giant Cosco used the Northeast Passage in 2013 to transport cargo to the Netherlands. This Arctic highway has been increasingly utilized by maritime powers and the trend is likely to continue or expand as the Passage remains open for longer periods. Ominous signs for the well-being of northern Siberia’s indigenous peoples are appearing through Gazprom’s continued development of the region, China’s statements about the viability of resource use in the area, and the associated increased use of the Northeast Passage to transport commodities from, through, and near northern Siberia. With the threat of increased interference by Russia, China, and other maritime powers, the outlook for northern Siberia’s forager-herders does not look promising. A legal entity or mechanism needs to be realized to protect indigenous peoples’ habitats and their cultural survival. If governmental and international will-power can restrain unchecked economic growth, development, and exploitation in certain regions, it may be possible to preserve indigenous life-ways and the territories they inhabit. Fortunately, such a vehicle has been unveiled by the international community, even if it has not yet been actualized.

In the 1990s, Russian anthropologist Olga Murashko introduced the “Concept of an International Ethno-ecological Refuge” as part of the Seventh Conference on Hunter-Gatherer Studies convened in Moscow. This concept was designed to encompass the preservation of indigenous peoples’ traditional societies and the larger territory and complete biome within which they exist. Unlike the North American native reservations or national park system, the international ethno-ecological refuge would not merely resettle indigenous peoples in undesirable locations not of their own choosing or solely serve as habitat protection for the enjoyment of visitors. It would, instead, be a “total package” for the conservation and preservation of the complete northern Siberian forager-herder nomadic territory, all its natural resources (to be accessed only by the natives,) and overall habitat, its flora and fauna, and the unmolested practice of traditional culture and life-ways of the indigenous peoples. The state and international community would have custodial responsibility for the well-being and proper management of the ethno-ecological refuge and all its constituent parts. Outside intervention or interference would be kept to a minimum to allow the complete self-determination, self-sufficiency, and self-preservation of the indigenous peoples within the preserve. The preserve territory would be outlined by the indigenous peoples to encompass all habitats and ranges for their nomadic lifestyles to remain unimpeded by outside interference, whether it be economic development, socio-cultural reconstruction, park-land creation, resettlement efforts of traditional territories, resource extraction, the use of trade-routes, or the destruction of faunas. The instrument for the effective realization of the refuges is the International Convention of Independent Countries on Indigenous Peoples (Convention 169.) The wherewithal to implement Convention 169 on the state, regional, and local levels is within the purview of the 26 signatories to the declaration. Whether or not they act on this or similar legislation will directly affect the future of indigenous peoples and their cultural survival as independent entities. Ethno-ecological refuges should be, in effect, microcosms of humanity’s environment of evolutionary adaptation in and around habitat mosaics. In the case of the Siberian North, this would include the essential tundra, taiga, and river valley “edge environments.” Evolutionary ecologist Clive Finlayson has stated that “edge environments or habitat mosaics” are the loci of the human “innovators” who have survived local extinction events in the past and have preserved both themselves and their adaptive cultural skills for future generations. In today’s world, these traditional innovative peoples need the preservation efforts and advocacy of outside agencies to survive on a shrinking planet of nation-states and environmental degradation. Ethno-ecological preservation of edge environments would thus serve as human and ecological “life-boats” in the stormy seas of cumulative technological change and the future uncertainties it represents. It is incumbent on all responsible individuals to comprehend the big picture; and ensure the physical and cultural survival of humanity here on Earth in real terms by implementing pre-existing international regulatory vehicles rather than placing faith in, and waiting for, some nebulous future technological utopia that may or may not come to pass. It may be more heuristically and tangibly useful to consider what anthropologist Robin Fox terms the “paleotopia” of the ethno-ecological refuge when exploring “the search for society” and implementing its potential for realization.

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