Civilization and Beyond
6 August 2004
To date, we have been discussing civilization, and what may lie beyond civilization, if / when we are able to evolve socially to the next stage of human development. These observations and speculations have been set forth in a series of essays, of which the following is the latest sequel:
As described elsewhere,1 I recently encountered the works of Daniel Quinn, and have linked up with the Ishmael Community. This encounter has been for me somewhat of a watershed event, clarifying ideas I have been formulating for many years. Daniel Quinn has worked out a vision of the world which strongly confirms my own intuitive perceptions and inclinations, yet provides a disciplined structure and definition which my perceptions had in some ways lacked. He confirms my optimistic view of how human events may play out, provided the awakening now in progress continues to gather momentum and "spread like wildfire." He also confirms my perception that changes taking place within individual hearts and minds will have a far more profound impact upon human events at large than any imaginable "mass movement" orchestrated by a charismatic leader, or religious sect, or political agenda, could possibly have.
Additionally, Daniel Quinn has described a context for human events which leaps entirely "outside the box" established and perpetuated by the cultural mythology2 of civilized peoples for the past 10,000 years. Specifically, Quinn has cast into high relief the undeniable fact that humans, i.e. members of genus Homo, have been present on this planet, and evolving steadily, for far, far longer – millions of years longer – than have been our earliest known civilizations. This fact fundamentally changes the picture we have been given by our mythology; for the almost universally held myth that human history begins with the advent of civilization is hereby disclosed to be a false and misleading fabrication.
On the contrary, Quinn's view pushes the context for human events back a few million years prior to the first civilizations, thereby making it obvious that civilization, which we have been taught to have been the crowning achievement of humanity, is after all only a recent experiment in "alternative living," which the crucible of time has disclosed again, and again, and again, to have been a dead-end path that doesn't work. Civilized peoples in the past have repeatedly walked away from their monumental civilizations, and abandoned them for reclamation by jungles and deserts all over the world.
This may come as an unwelcome shock to civilized people today; yet it is not as great a shock as that of the total collapse of civilization now in advanced progress everywhere. If civilized people were comfortable, satisfied, and confident of their steadily improving condition into the foreseeable future, there would be little reason to listen to "alarmists" like Daniel Quinn, or like me. However, this is not our situation now, is it? The signs are plainly evident to anyone who looks that "the Titanic has struck the iceberg, and is down by the bow," and it doesn't take a marine architect to reliably predict that she will soon find her berth at the bottom of Davy Jones's Locker. The civilized way of life is not sustainable! What else needs to be said?
The good news is that there is "somewhere else to go," for anyone who can see this eventuality, and elects to "bail out." Over the course of the past three million years genus Homo has developed a pattern for living which has been proven in the crucible of time to work. That pattern is the tribe, and it works as well for humans today as it has ever done. The tribe, like corresponding social systems for other species, has evolved over the course of millions of years, and aspects of the tribal pattern that have been found in that timeframe not to work have been meticulously eliminated by the relentless pressures of natural selection.
This circumstance gives those "with eyes to see" some significant advantages not enjoyed by most Titanic passengers. In that catastrophe, it was the "aristocracy" who were in exclusive position to man the lifeboats, and to keep everyone else at least at oar's length until they either froze to death or drowned in the North Atlantic. Today, as civilization self-destructs around us, the only available "lifeboat" is the tribe, which the contemporary "aristocracy" is evidently incapable of perceiving as a viable refuge from the collapse of civilization. In their view, civilization, regardless of any "incidental blemishes," is the only option. Civilization cannot, must not sink! Oh well.... Unless they change their minds about that, I recon they'll just have to go down with the ship this time. Too bad.
The Titanic was equipped with a woefully indadequate contingent of lifeboats, in relation to her passenger manifest, and in the event, even these were lanuched only partially filled. Today the situation is significantly different, for tribes are not physical things, like lifeboats, existing in inflexible numbers. The tribe is a formula, a pattern for cooperative human interaction, which may be duplicated in endless variety by humans of any description – provided we are able to attain an appropriate state of mind.
The "appropriate state of mind" for making use of a "tribal lifeboat" in which to escape collapsing civilization is the mentality of the culture Daniel Quinn calls the Leavers. The "state of mind" which condemns its possessors to "go down with the ship" is that of the culture of the Takers. The difference between Leavers and Takers is simple yet profound: the Takers are those who have elected to take the Law of Life into their own hands. The Leavers have chosen instead to leave the Law of Life in the hands of the gods.
The Law of Life has evolved over the entire course of the presence of life on planet Earth. It is the aggregate pattern of what works for all living species, as proven by natural selection in the crucible of time. Species that do not pattern their lives in consistency with the Law of Life do not remain for long in residence on the planet. The Law of Life is a mill that grinds slowly, yet exceedingly fine. An example of how it works is illustrated by the human Taker culture, which have taken the Law of Life into their own hands, and are now, after 10,000 years, at the final stage of their extinction. When their approach to life has entirely run its course, only Leaver cultures will remain ...if anyone remains.
In Ishmael3 there is an illuminating discussion of the myth of the Fall of Man as told in Genesis, which Ishmael suggests was originally a Leaver myth explaining how the Takers got that way, and was adopted uncomprehendingly into Taker mythology. It was the Takers, according to this interpretation of the myth, who first partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thereby acquired – or believed they had acquired – the knowledge of the gods, which is the knowledge of who should live and who should die, the knowledge of good and evil.
For the Takers, it is "good" that the Takers should live, along with their crops and animals; and "evil" that all non-Takers (i.e. Leavers unwilling to become Takers themselves), and all competitors for the Takers' food, should live. Therefore, the ultimate Taker agenda is that Leavers, and all Taker competitors, sooner or later must die. Thus from the Leavers' perspective, the Takers had "eaten the food of the gods," and become (or at least acted) like gods themselves, taking upon themselves the knowledge of the gods, the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of who should live and who should die.
The Leavers, in contrast, are the peoples who have elected to leave the Law of Life in the hands of the gods, and who themselves live in the hands of the gods. The Leavers know that the gods alone know how to keep an equitable balance in the world among those who should live, and those who should die; for everything that lives, lives because something else dies to sustain its life. Thus on one day, the gods decide that the rabbit shall live, and the fox shall go hungry. Another day, the gods decide that the rabbit shall die, and the fox shall dine well that day. The Leavers are the many, many peoples who for the past three million years have lived as all other beings on Earth have lived, in the hands of the gods.
The Takers are the single culture which for the past ten thousand years have chosen instead to take the administration of their own lives, the administration of the Earth, and the administration of the entire Universe, if possible, out of the hands of the gods, and decide for themselves what is good and what is evil, what shall live, and what shall die.
The Takers invented civilization, which is today in the final stage of collapse because the Takers have long since forgotten the Law of Life, and no longer know how to live. The Taker way of life is a made-up way of life, an entirely fabricated Taker invention, in substitution for the Law of Life which they have discarded, and taken upon themselves to "rewrite." Taker "law" (so called) is a jerry-rigged hodge-podge, frantically cobbled together, year after year, millennium after millennium, in a vain and futile attempt to replace the only real Law there ever was: the Law of Life. If the Takers persist in taking the Law of Life into their own hands, they shall assuredly "go down with the ship," and if anyone survives the collapse of civilization, it will be the Leavers, and beings who, like the Leavers, live in the hands of the gods, and in harmony with the Law of Life.
The Takers believe that ten thousand years is a "long time" to have remained alive, and to have prospered as they seem to have done. Yet ten thousand years is practically no time at all. In the span of Life on planet Earth, the three million years of genus Homo is short. We're young here, just starting out in Life. The Takers believe that their persistence and unparalleled growth during their "little moment" validates the infallibility of their choices; yet their explosive growth is only the symptom of a pathological aberration, soon to be culled out of the inventory of Life. The Takers have no cultural memory of a time before their own, or of a way of life different from theirs. They have utterly forgotten the millions of years of rich and diverse human history that preceeded their culture. They believe that their culture is the only human culture of any importance or significance, not only to themselves, but to the entire Universe, and to the very gods. In summary, the Takers believe that
- The earth was created for us, and we were created to conquer and rule the earth;
- Our way is the only right way to live, and all people should live as we do;
- Humanity was destined from our earliest beginnings to create civilization;
- Civilization must not be lost or abandoned under any circumstances;
- Civilization is the crowning achievement of humanity.4
These are the main elements of the mosaic Daniel Quinn is developing, which have so far found lodging within my comprehension. From them I derive the provisional "conclusion" that the most appropriate strategy an individual can pursue, who wishes to "stand from under" the collapse of civilization, is to abandon the Takers, and join the Leavers, eftsoons, or ASAP – as a matter of personal survival; and as a matter of taking the most effective possible action towards a solution to the human predicament on Earth. This is the particular focus of attention for which I feel so indebted to Daniel Quinn.
The crucial difference between Leavers and Takers, as described above, is a state of mind. The Leaver state of mind prompts one to join in tribal ventures with other Leavers. A tribe is a means of livelihood shared by all tribal members. As such, it is a kind of "lifeboat" which holds at least some probability of remaining afloat after civilization sinks. It can be conducted in any setting, under any circumstances, and make use of any combination of tools and skills, provided its members share the Leaver state of mind. I find it noteworthy that in recent years many Native American tribes have established for themselves prosperous tribal livelihoods based upon gambling casinos. This doesn't fit the stereotypical image of the bareback buffalo hunters of the high plains, yet in contemporary circumstances, it seems to work.
Now here is an idea that a small group of associates dispersed across several western states are working on right now, which may have potential as the basis for a tribal livelihood, and may be of interest to readers of this essay. It has to do with leveraging fiscal incentives in real estate transactions in such a way as to at once catalyze sales, lower costs, and secure in conservation large tracts of land that might otherwise be exposed to predatory land development.
"Time is running out. Whereas historically we lived off the interest generated by the earth's natural capital assets, we are now consuming those assets themselves. We have built an environmental bubble economy, one where economic output is artificially inflated by overconsumption of the earth's natural assets. The challenge today is to deflate the bubble before it bursts."
– Lester Brown5
"Business as usual" clearly does not work any more, and if we residents of planet Earth wish to avoid being swept up in a catastrophic tsunami of our own making, we had best develop strategies for conducting busines-not-as-usual. This requires creative innovation in all spheres of human activity; which although challenging, may yield surprising results entirely out of proportion to the effort invested.
Much of the alarming process of "consuming the capital assets of planet earth" has to do with how humans have habitually exploited the available land surface of the planet, i.e. real estate. In the spheres of agriculture, forestry, mining, manufacturing, urban and suburban planning and development, and land use in general, we have "taken," but we have not "put back." We have lived as if there is no tomorrow, with no end in sight to the vast cornucopia of wealth and abundance provided to us by our planet.
For much of human history, these practices have not apparently led to catastrophic results, for there have always been new frontiers to explore and exploit. We were few and small, in relation to our world, and there was no immediate penalty attached to "moving west" when we had exhausted the land locally. Today, this is no longer true, and our habitual patterns of "business as usual" are inseverably attached to severe, potentially lethal penalties for all of us.
We are keenly sensitive to these circumstances, and are developing innovative strategies in relation to real estate which may be accurately described as busines-not-as-usual.
Specifically, we deal in large parcels of unimproved land – the kind of land that is typically purchased for development, and exploited in ways which may be lucrative for developers, but are ultimately damaging to the overall ecology of the planet. The fair market value of such land is also typically beyond the reach of many buyers, and the land may linger long on the market before it is sold.
In order to move such properties quickly, it is necessary to "lower the bar" for potential buyers while returning fair market value to the seller. And in order to contribute to "deflating the environmental bubble before it bursts," it is necessary to provide economic incentives to buyers and sellers alike which render sustainable development (as opposed to unsustainable development) fiscally attractive.
In today's economic environment there are a number of little-known "open secrets" which may be combined synergistically to produce significant economic advantages for buyers and sellers of real estate, and significant environmental advantages for the planet and humanity as a whole. Innovative strategies implementing these "open secrets" can result in "win / win / win" scenarios for all parties to real estate transactions – including, not least, "Mother Earth."
Among the tools available for bringing these objectives within reach are the following:
- Conservation Development: development of a property in such a way as to quantify and conserve its conservation value.
- Conservation Appraisals: quantifying the conservation value of a property, as distinguished from its fair market value.
- Conservation Easments: selling open land with a conservation easement sequesters the land from development, and can generate substantial tax benefits, making affordable otherwise untouchable land.
- Mineral Rights: in many instances, although mineral rights are conveyed with a property, they do not enhance the value of the property for its intended use. They can, however, be translated into a substantial conservation value, sequestered from future development, and thereby add valuable "credits" to the property.
- Self-directed IRAs: using one's IRA funds to purchase real estate is a relatively unknown permissible strategy.
- Limited Liability Corporations: a co-operative LLC can be formed with relative ease and simplicity for the purpose of allowing a group of individuals to make a large land purchase which none of the participants could negotiate in isolation.
- Nonprofit Corporations: a nonprofit corporation can sometimes buy property at a discount, and pass the discount on to a subsequent buyer or buyer group. The net effect is a reduction in the fair market value, making a property more affordable and therefore more marketable.
- Government Subsidies: ranch land is sometimes available for development with part of the purchase price subsidize by governmental entities.
- Tax Incentives – as illustrated below.
There are others; not all of which are likely to come into play in a particular real estate transaction.
For the purpose of imagining how some of these tools might be combined in a busines-not-as-usual way to leverage a recalcitrant property for swift sale, let us suppose there is a 500-acre ranch with a list price of $1,000,000. A conservation buyer will look at this property to determine its conservation value for purposes of donating a conservation easment to a 501(c)(3) land trust. In order to determine the conservation value, a certified appraisal is required. Normally, the land's development value is taken into account. However, with a conservation appraisal, the appraiser takes into accout the development value being sacrificed when donating the easment to a land trust; and also includes mineral and other environmental values, such as carbon sequestration credits.
To illustrate this principle, consider our ranch listed for $1M. The conservation buyer in this instance wants to place the entire 500 acres into conservation. What is the potential tax benefit to that buyer for such a donation?
Let us assume that the development value of this 500-acre tract is $2,500 per acre, or $1,250,000, total. Next, the appraiser identifies additional values on this property. For example, the seller is willing to transfer their mineral rights on the entire tract. The conservation buyer learns that the surrounding area is being actively developed for gas production. Mineral rights are being sold for $2,500 per acre, or $1.25M on our 500-acre example. The appraiser now adds the development value and the mineral rights value, to arrive at a conservation value of $2.5M. The conservation buyer is successful, and has an annual adjusted gross income of $2.5M, and is in the 40% tax bracket, which includes combined federal and state taxes.
The conservation buyer purchases the property at its list price of $1M. He now donates the conservation easment, worth $2.5M, to a land trust, thereby creating a charitable deduction of $2.5M. The conservation buyer applies this deduction against his adjusted gross income of $2.5M. At the 40% tax rate, he now has a tax benefit of $1,000,000. This $1M in tax savings allows the conservation buyer to purchase the property at essentially no cost. The net result is the conservation buyer acquires 500 acres of land for nothing, and at the same time preserves habitat and open space undisturbed in perpetuity.
Everybody wins in this scenario.
- Seller wins, by swiftly moving his otherwise "reluctant ranch," in exchange for his full asking price, fair market value, and getting on with his life.
- Buyer wins, big-time. He takes possession of 500 acres for free.
- "Mother Earth" wins, by adding 500 acres of undisturbed, undevelopable land to the global inventory of such land, no longer vulnerable to the depradations of "business as usual" developers.
- Humanity at large wins by the presence of these same 500 acres of undisturbed land, which are no longer exposed to the eventual disturbance of predatory land development.
- In this way we are bringing into focus significant fiscal incentives to encourage real estate buyers and developers to "deflate the environmental bubble before it bursts," and doing well in the process, by doing good.
With incentives like these, what do you think the probability is that this heretofore recalcitrant property is going to move? This is an imaginary example of the kind of "deals" in which we specialize: busines-not-as-usual.
Above is an example of a "busines-not-as-usual" approach to an ordinarily stereotyped commercial enterprise – real estate – which may be amenable to adaptation as a means of a tribal livelihood. Buying and selling real estate melds well with tribal needs and aspirations, because tribes ultimately require land as the basis of their sustenance; and facilitating profitable land exchanges between buyers and sellers may be an effective strategy for making land available for tribal uses.
The example transaction described was deliberately simplified as a means of conveying the "bare bones" of the concept. In practice, much more complex, and specifically tailored provisions are likely to be written into the transaction. For instance, in the example above, instead of placing the entire 500 acres into conservation, a conservation buyer might elect to place 490 acres into conservation, holding out 10 acres for the buyer's own home site; which he may locate in the middle of the 500 acres. The result would be a 10-acre home site (presumably including the driveway giving access to the site) surrounded by 490 acres of undisturbed land held perpetually in conservation. Or, the buyer might decide it is more profitable to hold out 50 acres disbursed in five locations throughout the remaining 450 acres, retain one 10-acre lot for his own use, and sell the remaining four 10-acre lots to buyers who find appealing the idea of living in the midst of 450 acres of perpetually conserved and unspoiled land. There are many variables, and we have only given a quick glance to a couple of them.
Our group is currently aware of a number of specific properties with combined qualities that make possible transactions of the kind being described here. These identified properties represent the barest "tip of the iceberg" in relation to the volume of available land that may be exchanged on the basis of the premises set forth here. This approach to real estate is highly flexible and adaptable to the unique circumstances of specific properties, sellers, and potential buyers, and can result in very attractive "bottom lines" for all parties, "including, not least, 'Mother Earth'." The opportunity is rich, for practically no one else, to our knowledge, is dealing with real estate in exactly this way.
The appeal of this approach to real estate is not that it is "a good thing to do," but that it is a profitable thing to do. Transactions of this kind can be tailored in such ways as to reward substantially choices that have the collateral result of moving pristine lands into conservation, thus precluding their eventual exploitation in "business as usual" development. The net result is that all parties to such transactions find themselves "doing well by doing good." This is a formula that is sustainable, not because it is "nice," but because it works. If it works, it can be, and will be, duplicated; which will have the cumulative effect of sequestering increasing fractions of the commonwealth6 for all Life in conservation, where it is no longer accessible to predatory land development. Not too shabby, yes?
The "obstacle" that separates this potentially "good idea" from its implementation in actually consumated real estate transactions is the perennial challenge of connecting the buyer and the seller with the "good idea" that facilitates closure. We believe that one transaction of the kind described above, concluded to the satisfaction of all parties, may be sufficient at once to "prove the concept" and "prime the pump" for repeat performances. If so, there may be an opportunity here for expansion of a tribal livelihood that could potentially absorb the tools, tallents, and capabilities of many individuals of the Leaver mentality; or could even be duplicated by numerous different tribes, just as the gambling casino formula is today being duplicated by many Native American tribes.
If you think this approach to real estate investment has potential viability, I suggest you share it with others in your circle, and / or give me feedback. There are many potential avenues for exploration of this concept, all of which depend upon the response it receives initially. One direction such an avenue might take would be the creation of a conservation real estate investment fund. Unlike a mutual fund, which is invested in stocks and bonds, a conservation investment fund would allow investors to pool their capital for the purchase of land, as described above.
In addition to subscribers to my usual distribution list, I am bringing this essay to the attention of members of the Ishmael Community, among whom I imagine there may be some with a keen interest in it. To all readers of this essay, I repeat my recent Calls to Action:
If you resonate with this analysis, and it is your choice to do so, simply share the replacement memes7 with others in your circle. Obtain Daniel Quinn's books, and read them, and share them. Forward this essay, and its predecessors, and its sequels, with or without your own commentary and input. Share your insights and feedback with me, so I can share them in turn with readers of these essays, and they can (if they choose) pass them on in turn to others.
Additionally, if you have anything to offer which might advance the real estate idea described above, I will appreciate your getting in touch with me. Thank you for your time and attention.
This essay is followed by a sequel, In the Hands of the Gods, "Dear Friends," 8/18/04 edition.
- Civilization and Savagery – 5/25/04;
- Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme – 6/20/04;
- The Tribal Ideal – 7/2/04;
- Leavers and Takers – 8/6/04;
- In the Hands of the Gods – 8/18/04.
- The Gods & the Law of Life – 9/9/04.
- The Metaconsciousness Myth – 9/22/04.
- A Pact With the Devil – 10/14/04.
- A Metaconscious Mosaic – 10/27/04.
- More About Metaconsciousness, Part I – 2/5/05.
- More About Metaconsciousness, Part II – 3/20/05.
1. In Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme, and in The Tribal Ideal.
2. Myths are not properly considered as made-up fiction, as in, "Oh, that's only a myth." Myths are stories, mixtures of truth and fiction, because they deal with matters beyond the normal ken of "everyday life." Yet every compelling myth bears at its core a fundamental "truth" essential to the overall understanding of its culture. Indeed, the very fabric of life may be seen as the acting out of an elaborate and highly diverse mythology, not only in "ancient times," but "right here, right now," in your local life, and in mine. See "Creation Myths," 11/5/00, for further elaboration.
3. Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, A Bantam / Turner Book, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland, 1992.
4. Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999, ISBN: 0-609-80536-3. See The Tribal Ideal for possible "Leaver-oriented" alternatives to some of these beliefs.
5. Lester Brown, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 2003. The challenge today is far more than merely "to deflate the bubble before it bursts," in my opinion. The challenge today is to survive the collapse of civilization, and to pioneer a path that leads beyond civilization. But what Brown is talking about is at least "a step in the right direction."
6. See my Illustrated Essay, Sharing the Commonwealth for a visual, visionary illustration of the meaning of commonwealth. See also the FDL Draft Vision Statement, section 4.5. Land use.
7. In The Tribal Ideal. See also In the Hands of the Gods.
"Leavers and Takers" copyright 2004 by J. Harmon Grahn. Copying and redistribution, in whole or in part, are permitted in any medium provided this notice is included.
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Civilization and Beyond