Better Way to Make a Living

SUBHEAD: Going back to tribalism may be the key to survival. by Chuck Burr on 2 January 2009 in Culture Change - (
Image above: Photograph by Timothy Allen. From (
We are no more able to find our way forward living as Homo modern as we are living as Homo hunter-gatherer. Both ways are blocked. Living today on the infinite growth treadmill as Homo modern results in the death of our planet. Homo sapien has exploded our population to a level that we can no longer run back into the forest to make a living like the Mayan did. So what are we to do? The questions is actually, not “what are we going to do?”, but “how are we going to make a living?” First let’s rule out the obvious: we can no longer make a living as Homo consumer. Peak oil will put an end to our happy motoring and consuming lifestyle before we get the chance to consume the world.
A new International Energy Agency (IEA) report shows the decline of global oil production has been recalculated at 9.1% per year, up from 5.8% earlier in 2008. The weakened global economy will buy us a couple more years, but after that the decline of world oil production will be far steeper than its rise. We started the last century slowly, but we are now running our fossil fuel economy full speed with the easily extracted oil gone and only the hard or impossible to extract left. The end of plentiful cheap energy will mean a reduction in the complexity of our society so significant that few today comprehend it. I wonder if President-elect Obama has any idea what is in store for us. Watch to see if restoring “growth” is his mantra when inaugurated. This year we saw the end of investment banking and the beginning of the end of suburbia in the form of the mortgage crisis. Peak oil’s curtailment of happy motoring has not even kicked in yet. Next, the experiment of the agricultural revolution fails, as it has created overpopulation and overshoot of carrying capacity via a "food race." The food race drives population growth with growth in food production; every increase in human population is met with an increase in food production. The agricultural revolution made us powerful, but it has also meant the greatest mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Just when we need earth’s resilience in her biodiversity the most, Homo modern is destroying it by converting what is left into human biomass. Combine agricultural-revolution population with peak oil and you get a nightmare. At the start of the last century, there were only one billion on the planet, today there are almost 6.8 billion. That means that 5.8 billion people are here one way or another because of oil, and oil is about to run out. The obvious being eliminated, that we are not going to make a living as fossil fuel consumers nor as hunter-gatherers, how are we going to make a living in the future? What if I told you I had a way to make a living that has worked for 150,000 generations and it does not involve running into the forest? The answer is tribalism, or, as I describe in my book Culturequake: The Fall of Modern Culture and the Rise of Earth Culture, tribal communities. Tribalism is misunderstood by Homo modern as “living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.” Hunting and gathering is only one way of making a living; there are a million other ways to make a living. The important point is not “what” you do to make a living, but “how” you make a living. Make a living doing what ever you are best at, whether it is on a permaculture farm or fixing bicycles, it makes no difference. Tribalism has over three million years been the evolutionarily proven form of human social organization. Bees make a living in hives, deer in herds, whales in pods, birds in flocks, and humans in tribes. There is no getting around it. If you think that civilization is the new answer, you are deeply mistaken. In the mere blink of an eye, 500 generations, civilization has brought the world the point of mass extinction. It might be working for a wealthy westerner, but it is not working for the other 95 percent of the human population nor the 30 million other species on the planet. Tribalism has two primary components that enable the average person to make a living from generation to generation without being stressed out or exploited. First, a tribe is simply a group of people making a living together. Everyone in the tribe does not even have to have the same beliefs; they just have to want to make a living together. Second, tribe members have a strong incentive to share what they have made or found with other tribal members. This gives everyone else a strong incentive to share as well. There is no one leader or boss as in our hierarchic agricultural revolution culture. Being the main scheduler, for example, is just another job. When food is scarce everyone goes hungry; no one keeps a surplus to him/herself. Generally, tribes are thought to be fewer than 150 people. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized this number of people to be the limit with whom we can maintain stable social relationships in which we know each person. He suggests that numbers larger than this require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforcement. I suggest this number does not require a hierarchy; everyone can be an equal. So what should you do? The universal advice I got from older people when I was growing up was “do what you love to do and you will be good at it.” You will make the biggest impact with your life that way. Find like-minded people and find a way to make livings together that you all enjoy. Based on my experience as an entrepreneur I would also say follow the path of least resistance and watch for serendipity. Try multiple things and see which one gets the most traction. Also, walk before you run. Try your ideas on a hobby, part-time, or club scale to get started. You could start with your neighbors and each could plant a different fruit or nut tree and you could exchange harvests in the fall. Create a micro-neighborhood edible perennial nursery business. The possibilities are endless. Have fun with it. One idea I am considering is to start by creating a virtual tribal community. We cannot all move in next door to each other overnight, but like-minded people could put their properties into a land trust for the benefit of the community. This would create a patchwork to start with within the existing suburban culture. You could coalesce closer together over time as the opportunities arise. In regards to finding like-minded people, try hosting a potluck to discuss how things might change toward neighborhood sustainability; see who shows up. Also I cannot emphasis enough about learning about permaculture and even taking a two week intensive permaculture design course (PDC). You will meet your tribe of like-minded people there. See the permaculture resources below. Have no hierarchy; work from a group consensus. Produce no surplus; make just what you need locally and your population will be stable and will not be in overshoot. Do this and you give your children a bright future. The one great benefit of a tribal community is cradle-to-grave security. In our Homo modern culture, we “make things to get things.” In a tribal or Leaver culture, you “give support to get support.” It is a completely different story or cultural meme. Memes are to cultures what genes are to people. Also, by living a better story, we create a new cultural meme that is more likely to be replicated than our current modern cultural story or meme that, “civilization must continue,” and “the world was made for man.” I mean really, how poor a story are these? A far better story is that our children and we can make a living without destroying most of the other life on earth. The real exciting part is that not only can we survive, but we can thrive! We can thrive amid a riot of cultural diversity among different tribes all making a living differently. We will also be living within the natural carrying capacity of our surroundings; a far greater result than what we have today. So this is our resolution for the new year: To find “our people” and to make a living together. Maybe being laid off from building pyramids for someone else could be a blessing in disguise as an opportunity to walk away from modern consumer culture. Postscript: Use this winter as a time to catch up on your reading. Besides reading, I recommend:
  1. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway
  2. Permaculture for Beginners DVD, coming soon from Geoff Lawton at Permaculture Research Institute of Australia
  3. Beyond Civilization, by Daniel Quinn
  4. Dunbar’s
  5. The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore
  6. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, by William Catton
  7. Culturequake: The Fall of Modern Culture and the Rise of Earth Culture, by Chuck Burr
  8. Permaculture Activist magazine, edited by Peter Bane
 Visit to learn more about the Culturequake book and the online Magazine. Chuck Burr LLC
  9. "A Return to Tribes" by Jan Lundberg, Culture Change Letter

1 comment :

Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of New Hampshire said...

The top story of the year is that global crude oil production peaked in 2008.

The media, governments, world leaders, and public should focus on this issue.

Global crude oil production had been rising briskly until 2004, then plateaued for four years. Because oil producers were extracting at maximum effort to profit from high oil prices, this plateau is a clear indication of Peak Oil.

Then in July and August of 2008 while oil prices were still very high, global crude oil production fell nearly one million barrels per day, clear evidence of Peak Oil (See Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of "Oil Watch Monthly," December 2008, page 1)

Peak Oil is now.

Credit for accurate Peak Oil predictions (within a few years) goes to the following (projected year for peak given in parentheses):

* Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

* Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008)

* Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst and Samuel Foucher, oil analyst (2008)

* Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

* T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

* U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

* Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell geologist (2005)

* Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

* Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

* Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

* Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

Oil production will now begin to decline terminally.

Within a year or two, it is likely that oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand. OPEC cuts could exacerbate the gap between supply and demand and drive prices even higher.

Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

"By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame."

With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

It is time to focus on Peak Oil preparation and surviving Peak Oil.

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