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Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure
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113 of 114 people found the following review helpful
"Beyond Civilization" follows in the footsteps and elaborates on the themes of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael Trilogy ("Ishmael," "The Story of B," and "My Ishmael"), which should be read before this companion volume is tackled. Unlike these three books, "Beyond Civilization" is non-fiction, a collection of short essays in which Quinn clarifies some of the ideas from the Ishmael Trilogy and responds to questions posed by readers and critics. A bibliography and thematic index for all four books are also extremely helpful resources for Quinn readers.
The essays that make up this book deal with varied topics - from school shootings to what it means to "save the world." However, they are all connected in their criticisms of 'civilized' society and support for a "new tribalism." The concept of the New Tribal Revolution occupies a large part of "Beyond Civilization," and it is a complex topic to try to summarize. Basically, new tribalism calls for the immediate creation of a non-ethnic tribal society in which the ravages of civilization - both ecological and social - can be minimized. It should be emphasized that Quinn is NOT a primitivist or Luddite, as some claim. He calls not for the destruction of knowledge and technology, but rather urges people to use them in a different and (in his view) better fashion. New Tribalism is not a return to the past - it is an effort to go beyond civilization and 'save the world' from environmental disaster and social self-destruction.
Many reviewers have criticized Quinn's somewhat vague instructions regarding what they should do to go beyond civilization. The lack of a clear program did not bother me too much - for one thing, it will help prevent dogmatism in any movement seeking to go beyond civilization. Readers, in my opinion, should not expect any new culture to spring fully-formed from Quinn's pen. Life and society beyond civilization will evolve into forms that work well; it will not be arbitrarily created.
"Beyond Civilization" is structured as a collection of straightforward essays written in the first person and addressed directly to the reader. All of the essays are less than one page long and they can be read all at once, or slowly and reflectively over a number of days. Was the book written in a condescending fashion, as some reviewers have complained? I personally don't think so - Quinn does his best to be engaging and argumentative, which may not go across well with some readers.
Agree with Quinn or not, you will find "Beyond Civilization" captivating and perhaps even inspirational. You will return to it time and again, drawn by its analysis of civilization, tribalism, and humanity itself. Highly recommended.
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2000
BEYOND CIVILIZATION: HUMANITY'S NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE offers the people of our culture alternative ideas on how to make a living. It doesn't claim to be the only way, nor is it one way in itself. This book can get you thinking about how you might go about doing what you really love in life and gain security and what you really need at the same time. Every page is like a jewel of idea and thought. Quinn discusses why we can't take the "Mayan Solution" which was to walk away into the jungle since there is no longer a jungle for us and there are too many of us for that to be a viable solution, but he does show us that we can still "walk away". He likens the rat race that is our current way of life to dragging stones up a pyramid. And he insists that we do not have to continue to do this. He doesn't provide a way for us to sit around and get what we need, but helps us to rediscover the easiest and most workable way that humans have to make a living-- tribally. He notes that when left to choose-- humans gravitate towards the tribal life... not because it's "natural" or "right" but because it is the easiest way for human beings to make a living. He points out that wolves evolved as pack animals, birds evolved as flock animals, bees evolved as hiving animals, etc. and humans evolved as tribal animals. He refutes the critics claim that he is saying that we should go live in a cave with a spear and offers more realistic solutions. But we have to be inventive and do it ourselves. It's not magic-- which is what I think many people who have given this book poor reviews actually want.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for, another way to live, another story to be in, or an extraordinary thought provoking experience!
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 1999
I am a student of anthropology and sociology, and I just wanted to offer a few words. I am an admirer of Daniel Quinn, and one of the many reasons I got into the study of human society was reading The Story of B. I've also read Ishmael and this latest nonfiction book. I admire Quinn for tackling such questions, as few other authors of fiction have. I also admire him for his drive and vision, his almost childlike optimism (I mean this without any insult). However, be aware that his logic is at times faulty, and his view of society seems to be limited largely to the realm of economic anthropology (as in Marvin Harris, et al. who argue that resources are the *main* factor in societal dynamics). Also, I think that his view of religion, mainly Christianity, is oversimplified. His points are often excellent, but he simply overstates their applicability. I thank him wholeheartedly for getting people thinking about these issues. Just read the reviews above -- so many people will now be thinking about society in new ways! May I just suggest reading more than Quinn, if for nothing else than simply to get a more balanced view and then decide for yourself what sounds most believable.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 1999
"Beyond Civilization," the latest and, in many ways, most powerful work from writer/philosopher Daniel Quinn, is the first Great Book of the new millennium. In this latest and stunningly provocative work Mr. Quinn has brought into sharp focus the ideas, observations, and original thinking that have formed the conceptual and thematic basis of his body of work from the award-winning "Ishmael" through "The Story of B," "Providence," and "My Ishmael."
This non-fiction presentation is profound in its format; each page presents a specific topic and discussion which can send the thoughtful reader into the most profound and inspiring rumination on some of the most important issues and considerations for our survival as a species.
The writing is deceptively simple and direct in style, presenting thoughts as significant to political, social, environmental, and personal life in the 21st Century as the deceptively simple equation "E=mc2" was to 20th Century science. Ideas like, "There is no one right way for people to live," for example. Think about it!
This is a book to read, reread, consider and think about over and over again. While seeming to overlook just how many unsolved problems have been created by, and how imperfect is, the way we're living now, some will criticize the book by saying it doesn't solve everything and isn't perfect. But "Beyond Civilization" isn't meant to be the complete answer, "only" the most complete asking of the real questions, along with some of the most profound suggestions for answers ever found in one book.
If we're to survive as a species, and beyond that to achieve truly meaningful and happy lives as individuals, Daniel Quinn has given us what may be the most important book to be written for the next millennium. It's certainly a most profound, provocative, stimulating, and seminal work, while remaining eminently and enjoyably readable.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2006
I thought I finally had Daniel Quinn all figured out after reading the Ishmael trilogy, but after reading this, I have way more questions than answers. For starters, he has talked through his books about our culture being one of totalitarian agricuture and this being the downfall of our culture, that we force everyone to live this way and now there is no diversity left and our "civilization" will self destruct soon without a change. His change is an escape from civilization (going beyond civilization) by taking up tribal living again, albeit tribal living in a new way (basically by starting businesses that work on a tribal level with everyone contributing and playing just as equal part so that everyone feels valuable). The big problem is that he never says how this is going beyond our culture. Sure, he started a tribal business in New Mexico with his wife and two other people, but they still had to live in this culture, be supported by this culture, and rely on this culture to survive. He cannot think of any examples as a way of living outside of this culture, for all the times he advocates us doing it. I see what he means by the circus example and his small newspaper, but these are still dependent upon the larger culture to exist, couldnt exist without the support of the one culture that they are trying to escape. How do we escape this culture? He wants us to jump over the prison walls and forage out on our own, but doesn't address what seemed to be the big issue of our totalitarian agriculturalist society. I thought this was the problem, so it is hard for me to see how the two can connect: how to live in a new tribal way that also exists outside the culture of totalitarian agriculture? Is there an answer that I am missing? Or does Daniel Quinn simply not know (which I think he tries to make a point of in this book, that he probably doesn't know and that's ok to not know). Mostly this book rehashes everything from the trilogy but throws in some new stuff about tribes, very little, however, and it is clear I guess that he really doesn't have any answers here.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2000
Honestly, I've been a bit disappointed by the book. The reason why it made this list, however, is that it makes us aware that human beings did not appear as civilization builders. Indeed, civilization was only one of the many experiments that humans tested in order to improve their lives. Quinn shows us that many cultures tried this experiment at one point in their history, but that they all gave it up because they quickly realized that (1) this lifestyle pushed them to work more than ever before, and (2) it favored an uncontrollable growth that put in danger their ecosystem. Quinn's message is that it is time for us to do the same thing: it is now obvious that our civilization does not work well at all, and it is on the verge of being eliminated by natural selection (putting our ecosystem in danger puts us in danger!). Thus, even though our cultural myths implicitly tell us that civilization is the greatest accomplishment of human beings, it is now time to realize it is not true and to walk away. Now the real question is "How can we walk away?" Do not read this book if you are just looking for easy and quick answers because you will not find them. What Quinn proposes is to (1) become aware of our cultural myths (the purpose of Ishmael), and (2) change them to a more sustainable mythology of the way we live. Thus, by teaching our children and other people around us about the failures of our own culture and the successes of other cultures, we should be able to have a better vision of human life and how human beings can live sustainably within the community of life. Quinn goes on saying that the tribal way has been working for hundreds of thousands of years, as it provides what people really need: A sense of belonging and of purpose. He then gives a few examples of how people, nowadays, could form small groups and start sharing their resources and monitoring their impact on their environment. Their is real hope and a future for the human species beyond civilization. Walk away from it and find your own creative ways to adopt a sustainable lifestyle!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2003
This is the best review that you'll ever read. Ever. Therefore don't even waste your time reading any other reviews.
This [if I was serious] would very likely be a lie, but would certainly be really, really arrogant. Quinn argues that our culture, however, makes use of exactly this same sort of single-minded self-indulgence [i.e. a collection of "lethal memes"] to perpetuate itself, and simultaneously propel itself down a self-destructive path along which it has been heading for the last several thousand years [a very short period in human history]. Complicating matters further, the culture of which he speaks is not the typical high-level variety based on race, ethnicity, or national origin; instead, it is a single culture-the "culture of maximum harm"-that is in turn built on the spoils of pervasive agriculture. And finally, We identify ourselves so closely with our Culture that it can be extremely challenging to get perspective on it.
A decade or so after having found Ishmael, I still find Quinn's view very compelling. This, though, does not suggest that I always find that message delivered perfectly, as my experience with Beyond Civilization proved recently. A week ago, I actually finished my second reading of BC, the first having been three years ago, when I initially purchased it. The strange thing is, I didn't remember reading it before picking it up this time [I was reminded by some margin notes I had written during my first time through] and even then, I remembered little of the book.
I chalk this up to several things. First, having heard the message for a number of years, I probably coasted over the stuff that sounded familiar. Otoh, that knife cuts both ways: Quinn employs a style that is repetitious, and occasionally veers towards pedantic. His tone at other times is tinged with a slightly dismissive, condescending quality. And while these criticisms apply to his earlier works as well, a second problem-unique to BC-was a significant departure in style from the books of the "Gorilla Trilogy" [Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael] that made for a somewhat less "readable" book. For me then, BC was thus quite literally forgettable the first time around.
That said, why would I suggest *anyone* want to read any of these books? Except for BC, the answer, in my opinion, is that the analysis contained in these books is the single sharpest and most accurate account of how We got Here.
BC, as a rereading has shown me, is different. It too is valuable, but its contribution is found in beginning to explore how to deconstruct the "culture of maximum harm". For me the book really begins about half way through, where Quinn clearly frames the problem of just why the change for something better has been so difficult, even [especially??] for those who seemingly most want it. He thus masterfully observes:
French philosopher Simone Weil disagreed with Marx, saying that revolution, not religion, is the opium of the masses. Shame on them both for not understanding their drugs better. Religion is a barbiturate, dulling the pain and putting you to sleep. Revolution is an amphetamine, revving you up and making you feel powerful.
He finishes with something of an admonition, "When people have nothing else going for them, they'll grab either one-or both. Neither drug is going away. Far from it." (p. 77) So much, apparently, for the Wars on drugs and terrorism.
Quinn then describes applying the vision of "beyond civilization" to the War on poverty. To begin, he discusses truly working with the homeless [i.e. as equals, as opposed to the hostile manner in which homeless people are most frequently addressed]. The material is interesting and relevant, but the discussion doesn't stop there. Quinn, in another apt twist on the theme of poverty, develops the notion of a "tribal business" in the face of the impoverished wage-earner. As he says, it's not a critique designed for the top money-makers and those truly satisfied helping them gain or maintain that wealth. Without going into further detail, I will submit that Quinn's suggestions have the potential to be a better way to work for many, and is practicable right now.
So, fwiw, I have a few recommendations. Finish the Gorilla Trilogy in the order published [or at least get through Ishmael] as prerequisite reading. When you dig into Beyond Civilization, [should the need arise] brush off annoyances that you might find distract from the message. That is to say, feel free to ignore the writing style, the sometimes oddball vehicles Quinn uses to get his points across, or even the personality of the author himself [if necessary].
When you're finished, Beyond Civilization still might not be the most brilliantly written work you've ever encountered, but I honestly can't imagine one more sincere, immediate, accurate, and necessary.
[Oh, and one last caveat: you might have to read it twice!! ;-)]
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2005
I just finished the book, "Beyond Civilization," by Daniel Quinn. It was a great read, and had everything I expected it to offer. The book is more a collection of thoughts on a unified topic rather than a fictional story, leading you through ideas as is found in the other three books by Daniel Quinn in this area of thought. All the same, the thoughts were worthwhile, and I'll offer you a brief synopsis here.

This book is prefaced on the understanding that there is something wrong with the world. To tackle this problem, Quinn has set up an elaborate and well-defined paradigm in previous works involving the two cultures of takers and leavers. The thesis is that there is not something wrong with the world, but that there is something wrong with us. More than "us" there is something wrong with "civilization." This last word is in quotes because in Quinn's books it assumes a more perjorative guise than the colorless descriptor most people are familiar with. Civilization is a product of our culture - the same way that beaver dams are a product of beaver culture (and more recently investigated, their biology). What is wrong with our culture?

Well, from this perspective, at least for me, Quinn is already preaching to the choir - I have long since adopted his worldview on this subject and espoused the revolutionary values that come with reshaping my personal culture. In this book, more than the others that I have read, Quinn offers to his readers not just a problem: "This is what is wrong," but a partial solution, "This might be what you could do about what's wrong for you." Quinn believes that the best alternative to the conventional Taker mythology is tribal communities, where a group of people make their living by producing something that they value - rather than working for wages. When you are working for something you believe in, you work better and harder and are more willing to give up creature comforts to ensure the success of the endeavor that keeps you fed. It is the modern, technological equivalent to the biological imperative that Quinn outlined in Ishmael, "Take only what you need to survive, and leave the rest for someone else." Being Quinn, he admits this is not the solution for everyone, nor rightly should it be. Diversity is the key to everything, and diversity of ideas is no exception to Quinn, even when those ideas are his own.

Quinn describes one outcome of the taker culture as unceasingly replacing the diversity of nature, in all its glory and efficiency, with something much less appealing: the hordes and piles of human biomass. Think of it - a field is plowed and displaces an entire ecosystem that once thrived there... the farmer grows some corn, which is eventually shipped to Africa and consumed to fuel the production of another set of starving children in a continent far, far away. What would you rather have, an ecosystem with diversity - or an increasing frail child within the taker culture. To me this isn't even a question - not because I don't like children, but because I can follow this trend to its eventual conclusion: the destruction of all habitable areas in the world and the decimation of the biosphere's diversity in ways that haven't been seen since the end of the reign of the dinosaurs.

Quinn frequently qualifies the laudable nature of tribal living as the path of least resistance, and the once that humans should naturally follow (they did it for millions of years until just recently). He postulates that although other cultures reached advanced states, they eventually abandoned these experiments in favor of the tribal living that was found for them to be more satisfying. He shows that within our culture, it is the existence of several key survival memes that (survival for other memes, not for the human beings those memes inhabit necessarily) which prevent participants in our modern culture from being able to even consider that there are alternatives to the way we are living now. He likens those in modern culture as the serfs who day in and day out moved blocks of stone to build the pharos' pyramids - only in modernity we work year-round and for many more hours each day and the names of the pharos have changed (Microsoft, best buy, McDonalds). Though the legacy of these pharos might survive in perpetuity - our contribution will never be specifically recognized and we have traded our human soul for a simple wage and a meaningless existence whose emptiness we combat with sex, drugs, alcohol, and television.

Disheartening to me was the fact that Quinn was not reticent in his distaste for utopian idealists or those who seek communes. Communes are for those who share common values, rather than those who work together to make a living. Yes, a commune can eventually find a way to produce a living if it has to - but it would be a much better approach to form a group in order to make a livelihood first. Having values is great - and living with those who share them is great too - but without a livelihood that supports and works within the confines of those values, what is the point. If you just want to hear like-minded folk than watch the daily show, but if you want to make a living with others in a venture you can believe in look for those with something to offer first, and worry about the cadre of values they hold later (or never). What's important is making a living - everyone has to do it from slugs to starlings, artichokes to antelopes: everyone has to make a living, or they die. Finding a tribe is something that you can start doing today, without moving to a mountaintop or quitting your job or living any more of an ascetic lifestyle. For that reason it is both imminently achievable, and has the greatest probability for eventual success. Making a living with other people in a way you find meaningful really is the path of least resistance - it is a meaningful life that will provide you with what you need to live. More than necessities like money to buy food, having a purpose and value for your life is perhaps more essential for its paucity in modern society. Who do you know that really believes in what they do?

I really want to have my own land, and live independently - and living tribally will be an collaborative venture within that paradigm. I do want to distance myself from the current state of "civilization" both physically and cognitively. What I need to do is develop a tribe that has a similar set of desires as well as a diverse skillset that we can communally put to bear on the making of our livelihood. I have been building my skillset from the time of puberty - it is really all that I do. Day in and Day out I am learning new skills - I just didn't realize until reading this book just how fundamental those tools are going to be for my eventual success as a tribalist.

Don't read this book first - start with Ishmael. I've got a few copies lying around if you'd like to step into the world of the future and jump the fence to escape the taker mentality that you already espouse without your knowledge or consent.

Peace and Love!

Dominic Sebastian
ebacherdom.blogspot.com
051103.0632
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2004
This book consists largely of brief reiterations of the ideas Quinn has presented in his first books. It is also designed as a "practical handbook", unlike his previous philosophical journeys. Beyond Civilization thus doesn't inspire the sense of profound and shocking revelation that Ishmael and the other books do in many of their readers. This in itself is a big disappointment to many.
Quinn writes in the first pages that the most common response he got to his first books was a feeling of, "I understand the problem we are facing now and its urgency, but I have NO idea what I can do." He wrote Beyond Civilization in response, as an attempt to take readers from an abstract thought level to a realistic approach. The book works very well as that response but doesn't stand on its own.
Quinn also, more than any author I've read, simplifies his ideas to no end and constantly uses the most basic analogies to communicate them. The apparent intent and result is to make the concepts widely and easily available to understand - to make them "obvious." Quinn is peerless in achieving this, and it it is the defining characteristic of his writing. In B.C., a common side-effect is frustration, when minds made hungry by the earlier books and expecting more of the same are instead offered further simplified reiterations. People new to Quinn's ideas see only the simplest premises with no explanation at all, leading to label the ideas and the book as tripe.
Upon rereading Ishmael I noticed that the unique ecological ideas in it about agriculture had taken precedence in my memory, and that the book was actually about human cultural philosophies, or "the story we are enacting." Quinn's ideas for practical solutions in Beyond Civilization are therefor not about ecology but about how to enact a different story within civilization. The proposed actions are definitely unlike widely accepted "environmental" solutions. Anyone expecting ideas that are similar to or advancements of already existing approaches could be disappointed. In reality the tribal business idea is quite revolutionary in it's effect on how people would live and think; certainly much more so than recycling is.
The most common thing that is done with Quinn's ideas is restating them inaccurately (and in the case of objections, then going on explain why he is wrong.) In almost all cases this is because some point Quinn made is forgotten and left out, which is probably a result of his writing style, since it is so common. I think it is necessary to reread the books and read the others to get all the ideas down before proposing a flaw in thinking or declaring some lack in realization. It might be something as simple as when Quinn states that third world population explosions can only be created by first world increases in food production. He repeatedly says that he doesn't propose reverting to hunter-gathering and primitive technology, which he says is impossible at thie point, but that the only way to save anything is to surpass the invention of civilization, to invent a better and more advanced social organization (not more complicated; further evolved). The Q and A section on his website is really useful for clarifying as well. As usual Quinn tries to anticipate the readers' questions and respond, clarifying differences between communes and tribal businesses and defining partial agriculture.
The other feature of most Quinn readers, that's noticed in supporters and dissenters alike, is their reluctance to be creative in applying his ideas. Maybe this is because almost no ecological thinkers demand this in their proposed solutions. Quinn has few examples of tribal businesses because few people in the world have consciously and actually ventured Beyond Civilization at this point. Quinn is also very careful never to suggest any "Programs" - doing would make him very popular, but would also mean failure in what he is working to achieve. Instead he only gives principles which can be applied in an endless possible number of ways.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2000
Since the publication of Ishmael, Daniel Quinn has been building on a philosophy that offers hope in this apparently hopeless world. While we all try to recycle, reduce, and reuse, our world is still hurtling towards destruction, rapidly. Here is the first practical "how-to" manual for saving the world, your own world, the world you see every day. This is not some global strategy that requires governments to co-operate with each other. Rather than informing us of what the governments SHOULD be doing, or how the oil companies SHOULD be drilling, Daniel Quinn shows YOU how YOU can personally become involved in continuing the life of YOUR species within the community of life (and in the process increase your own wellness). The message here is not for us to continue waiting for others to do something. Beyond Civilization is your guide of how you can begin to do something in your very own life. The ideas are presented in a clear manner that leaves one wondering why no one has thought of this before. That's the best part of this book; most of the ideas presented are NEW. This is something different, something beyond recycling, something beyond restrictions on world-consuming corporations, something beyond the mad juggernaut of destruction our culture has become...BEYOND CIVILIZATION. Something else.
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