The Human Animal: Modernity, Biology, and New Tribes

This is going to be a bit of an exploratory article. Unlike a lot of what I’ve been writing recently where I’ve been combining a lot of preexisting stuff I’ve written, this will be more of a collection of musings. Hopefully we’ll be able to get something coherent out of it. The subject for today is going to be the nature of Man as a self-domesticated “human animal” that seems to be in denial of this fact. We like to think we’re somehow separate from the rest of the animal kingdom and the natural world, and I think this denial is tied to many of modern society’s ills.

Let’s jump in.

When I got into philosophy, I did so with the notion that there was a way to reconcile the seemingly contradictory fields of science and religion, or more broadly, objective reality and the subjective experience. In the same sense, one of my current overarching interests is to figure out how to reconcile our biological nature with the state of the modern world we’ve created.

To put things bluntly, I think we’ve seriously fucked up our notions of what a healthy society looks like. This goes further than just the obvious crises of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other forms of preventable illnesses. There’s also a “spiritual” element- mental health is declining and psychological illness is on the rise, even though the modern world seems to be improving by most measurable factors. I’ve covered this and its causes at length in other articles, like The Desert of Nihilism and the Throne of God, so if you’re curious, check that out.

Let’s consider for a while what the old structure of society looked like for most of human history.

The Old World

You’d have your hunter-gatherer bands that were all pretty closely related to you- you’d live and work closely with your extended family, and there was literally a village to raise children. I’ve heard arguments that having a larger number of people involved in child-rearing actually minimizes the deleterious personality flaws that individuals have by “averaging” out things, so there’s likely some benefit there.

Beyond this, you’d have things like customs and religious practices to give structure to the various phases of life. Almost all cultures had rituals for initiating young men (and women, though I obviously can’t speak to that as well) into adulthood, something we’re sorely missing out on today. It’s been said before, but the popularity of figures like Jordan Peterson is emblematic of this yearning for some sort of masculine structure in the form of a paternal figure.

More than simply needing initiation, young men have a deep need for brotherhood. It’s pretty evident that certain men’s groups like The Red Pill community, the MGTOWs, and the MRAs (to name a few) are a direct response to this, though not necessarily the ideal one in my book. What’s really lacking is a higher-order source of meaning, a cure for the diseases of modernity, not these sorts of symptom-treatment solutions we see men being drawn into. As someone who joined a fraternity in college, I can vouch for the value of these sorts of male-only spaces, which are becoming fewer and further between- though a lot of those that exist presently are in need of either significant updates or total overhaul.

Despite my extreme aversion to tribalism (explored at length here), I do think we need to develop some modern sort of tribes. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should aim for this kind of dull “us vs them” tribalism that we see in so many arenas (politics and religion being the worst offenders, in my book). It’s pretty obvious that we can’t go backwards, anyway- if the old ways worked well enough, we wouldn’t have lost them. No, what’s needed is a novel approach, informed by the wisdom of the past- a synthesis between tradition and innovation.

The Current World

The most obvious thing here is that the way we’ve chosen to structure society is almost completely contradictory to the way we’re designed to live. If the relationship quality of our lives is governed by Dunbar’s number (we can have meaningful relationships with a total of roughly 150-250 people), then this is probably the ideal size of the base unit of society.

Cities aren’t great, in this regard. There’s a psychological phenomenon called “diffusion of responsibility,” where as the number of people who could possibly take action on some issue increase, the likelihood that any specific individual will decreases. Part of this includes the “bystander effect,” where we become significantly less likely to help victims when there are more people present.

Now, couple those things with another concept called “broken window theory.” This theory proposes the idea that if someone breaks a window in an abandoned building, the likelihood of more windows being broken increases. From there, other sorts of vandalism and environmental neglect start to accumulate- graffiti, littering, and potentially even crime become abundant.

The issue arises because people don’t feel any deep attachment to protecting the sanctity of the community, since responsibility is diffused over a dense population. Plus, you have the added effect of a community that gets uglier and more decayed, which starts lowering morale. This is kind of the social equivalent to the rationale underlying Peterson’s “clean your bloody room,” thing- if your neighborhood looks like a slum, you’re probably going to have a bad time. There are all sorts of perspectives on how to prevent/mitigate these effects, but I’m beginning to think that it’d be easier to treat the disease rather than manage the symptoms.

What if we radically rethought the way we structure our living situation?

A New World

Historically, there are a few people who have made attempts to do just this, although a lot of them were really stupid, or based on some sort of naive idealism or utopian thinking. While I may be an idealist, I’m most certainly not a naive one, and I gave up any hope of utopia long ago. If we’re going to do it, it needs to be deeply rooted in reality, and in the biological constraints of our human nature.

Fortunately, we already know about human nature, because unlike technology, it does not change rapidly. People are just about biologically the same as they’ve been for tens of thousands of years, barring any recent changes or ailments that evolved from the switch to agrarian society. There’s some evidence that we’ve gotten a bit dumber in the past ten thousand years, but that’s a subject for another day.

What we do understand is that the basic needs remain the same. Food, water, shelter, a social group with meaningful relationships, work that matters, physical fitness, and a connection to the natural world are all critical things that people require. Why not build off of that?

Let’s try and visualize what that would look like.

Obviously, the first constraint is Dunbar’s number. The living situation would be designed with a cap around 150 people, and it would have to have a mechanism for expanding when this limit is hit. (For more on this, read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, or check out this summary of the relevant section.) Think of it like cell division in an organism- you’d have to have a small group of people in the community trained to “colonize” when the time was right.

This 150 person locality should be the basis of the governmental system- perhaps a small “council of elders” who run most governmental concerns, and a town hall process that involves the entire community. It’s essential to get everyone in the community to participate, because the citizens should feel like their voice is heard and their input matters- this will prevent the bystander effect and hopefully keep the (metaphorical?) windows from breaking.

I’m a firm believer that just as the individual is the best person to make decisions regarding themselves, the community is best able to decide how it should operate. This is similar in essence to Taleb’s notion of fractal localism (read about that here), or the original intent of the framers of the US Constitution in delegating most things to States. I’d go further than the founding fathers and say that 90% of things should be left to individuals, 9% to the community, .9% to the states, and .09% to the federal level. Bureaucracy is the devil, and a demonstrably large source of diffusion of responsibility- we should work as hard as possible to avoid large-scale organizations, because of both this lack of personal investment, as well as the inefficiency that they present.

Let’s look at some of the basic needs and how we’d meet them.

The Basics

I’m an advocate for a primarily pastoral system. You can center these small communities at the middle of a large grazing area for ruminants, and if you so desired, include some standard farming in there too (though I’m pro-carnivore, this would be up to the community. See how easy that is?) It wouldn’t be too hard to also incorporate some sustainable features into the design of the community, like installing a good deal of solar panels, a small nuclear reactor, or making all the houses into Earthships (which are effectively self sustaining, click here for more.)

One of the benefits of this is a move away from extremely processed foods, arguably one of the greatest threats to our health today. On top of that, you get to introduce the average person into a relationship with where their food comes from, something we have no connection to in the modern system of factory farming. This would have the benefit of cutting down on food waste, as well as dramatically raising the nutrient quality (no preservatives for international transport), and making everything noticably fresher.

In this community, we can also incorporate an educational system that is significantly less “standardized” than the modern approach. I’ve mentioned before that the traditional educational system is built on the Prussian model, which was designed to train soldiers and factory workers. Since we’re approaching post-industrialization, we’re not going to need an abundance of obedient drones- no, we need a system to train original thinkers and visionaries who still have the practical skills necessary to support their communities.

I think that over the next 20-50 years, we’re going to transition from the physical schoolhouse of today into a digital, noncentralized school framework that will focus on teaching students to self-educate, and letting them determine what sorts of subjects to pursue. Standardized testing is obviously failing our kids, and the notion that everyone should learn the same stuff is not just naive, it’s malicious. Think of how many children are being prevented from pursuing their passions, and what that does to the child’s psyche. I say we let kids go after what they want to learn, while providing the support for when they need it. (Look into the Van Damme Academy for an example of schooling done extremely well.)

Return to Physicality

Beyond this, I think that we need to make physical education at least as important as mental education. There are a lot of people who have done and are doing fascinating, brilliant work on the subject. At the turn of the 20th century, a man named Georges Hebert developed what he called the Methode Naturelle (Natural Method), a system of physical training based on the movements that would be useful in nature. This inspired both David Belle (one of the founders of Parkour) and Erwan Le Corre, the founder of MovNat and Natural Movement (I’m currently reading his fantastic book at the moment).

These men have presented the notion that our current approach to physical fitness is as wrong as our approach to community is. Le Corre’s argument is that, just like a lion doesn’t need to use a weight bench to get fit, neither do people. Instead, we should look to our roots of running, jumping, crawling, climbing, throwing, and more to learn how our ancestors were able to maintain perfect fitness (for essentially all of history until the last several thousand years.) I’m not far enough into his book to write much more on it, but rest assured that I will be doing so as I start incorporating his method into my training.

My interest in this subject came from another book I read recently (which I highly recommend), Natural Born Heroes by Christopher MacDougall (author of the [also highly recommended] Born to Run). MacDougall’s hypothesis is basically the same- we used to be able to have perfectly normal people conditioned to accomplish amazing feats, and that somehow we’ve lost it all in modernity. This all ties into what I mentioned earlier about my approach to philosophy- I believe that we’re in an age where our great task is to reconcile the many different fragments we’ve splintered into. Running shouldn’t be isolated from climbing, which shouldn’t be isolated from combat sports, or from jumping and crawling.

We need an all-in-one approach.

A More Perfect Beast

I want to see a totally new combination of these things- not just for physical fitness, but for mental aptitude and spiritual well-being. Imagine if you had a way of incorporating physicality into philosophical education, and at the same time learned practical skills, and how everything tied together? It’d certainly be better than trying to learn whatever the fuck “common core math” is supposed to be.

We’ve become isolated from our nature as human animals, and as a result, we’ve let our bodies languish and our physical connection to the majesty of life on this earth is all but severed. We work in miserable, fluorescent-lit offices that are so divorced from our biological purposes that we’ve come to believe that we’re not meant to be fit, or happy, or able to thrive in and enjoy this world.

That breaks my heart.

Why should the ability to be healthy- physically, mentally, and spiritually, be something uncommon? I believe that it’s our birthright as humans, as the focal point of the divinity of consciousness, to be fulfilled and engaged in a meaningful way of life. I think that the way we’re living now (myself included) is in no way reflective of that birthright.

There are a lot of people now who are working on different parts of this puzzle- but there’s an underlying, intuitive sense that I (and I believe many others) can feel. This is the sense that there’s a better way, a more complete picture that we’re all only seeing fragments of. Life doesn’t have to be complicated and miserable, and in our pursuit of modern technological “progress,” we’ve succeeded in convincing ourselves that it does.

I think there’s a new age coming, though- an age of integration. We can bring together these people who have all the different pieces of the puzzle, and perhaps, when we come together, we can see the bigger picture. Imagine a world where we live both as man the animal and man the innovator- that we can return to a harmony with nature without giving up the great progress we’ve made over things like starvation, illness, and poverty.

To this end, I’ve dedicated myself. In the same vein as my attempts to make a coherent philosophy for modernity, I’m going to attempt to integrate into that philosophy the physical and social elements that I think are essential to the quality of life we so desperately need.

Let us move towards a better world- one where we neither deny our nature nor neglect our needs. Let us move towards a new sense of community, and education, and physicality, and spirituality. Let us move towards a more complete person- that we may all become heroes.

Towards the Age of Truth unending,

‘Till the end of time.

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