Elephant in the room

Ok. So maybe you have all worked this out philisophically for yourselves but I have not. How do you feel about condoms? Anti-bacterial soap? Blood tranfusions (I myself would not be here today without one)? The list goes on and on. These items save lives. They’re also mass produced and must be to be widely available and therefore save as many lives as possible. The production of said (and countless other) items require infrastructure and use of natural resources on a scale that is often destructive to the environment. I guess what I want to know is how it is someone could view this matter so simplisitically. It seems to me the only way I would be able to accept either premise without serious doubts is by constricting my vision to that of an extremist’s. How do some of you feel about this subject? Is their something I am not considering? Do any of you wrestle with this? Thank you.

Well, the way I see it is that we rely on the inventions that you mentioned because civilization creates a need for them. Necessity is the mother of invention. Civilization is full of inventions because it leaves so many holes in the web of life that need to be filled. Condoms, anti-bacterial soap, and blood transfusions are, by and large, responses to problems or imbalances that civilization exerts.

The emphasis you place on saving lives seems to hint at a moral impulse to quantify life, to measure it in terms of numbers: numbers of humans that are alive, or number of years lived, and to feel it is “right” to extend those numbers by any means necessary. When you focus on the numbers and you begin to lose sight of the relationships within those lives (as well as the relationship they share with the rest of life), you have put yourself at a distance from what it means to live in health through moderate means.

To talk of one of the examples you used:
If it were not for civilization, we would not have, or need, condoms. There are lots of alternatives for birth control that can be found in herbs and wild plants. While a mother is nursing, she is much more unlikely to be pregnant (the details for the reason why escape me; it has to do with hormones). Since women in hunting/gathering cultures nurse their children to a much older age than they do in modern society, a small child serves as its own form of birth control. This keeps the population in check as well as preventing a woman from being overextended with too many children to nurse.

I’ll try to illustrate with an analogy:
Let’s say I have a box with a padlock on it. Nobody else has a box of their own. I use that box to store something that everybody else needs, but I want to keep it for myself. The box is my invention and I use it to keep me “secure.” Well, sooner or later somebody is going to figure out the combination to the padlock and open the box. I realize I have no security in the box, but part of me might as soon deny that the box can’t keep me safe, and that part of me would come up with a “new and improved” padlock. The new and improved padlock takes me more effort to build, but I believe it’s worth it. But sooner or later, the new and improved padlock fails me. Someone finds out how to break in, and my stored supply is gutted. Because I’ve put myself in a position of dependence upon the box, every successive “break-in” devastates me more and more. I could spend my entire life working on building padlocks that keep failing, and continue to go through crisis after crisis, or I could just share with everyone and trust them to share with me.

That’s what we do with antibacterial soap… we put padlocks on our bodies, but sooner or later, a bacteria gets in that has learned how to break through, and it destroys the work we have done, and that very strong strain of bacteria, once inside, can do a lot of damage compared to the relatively benign bacteria that we tried to keep out.

Wild animals have all kinds of bacteria and parasites living in their bodies and they keep themselves at a level of optimal health within the balance.

I will say more but right now I do not have the time. Quickly I would just like to say… my moral impulse is that yes I am glad that my life was extended beyond infancy because of a life saving technology i.e. blood tranfusion. Another thing I wish to say is when I refer to condoms I am not excluding their effectiveness in preventing sexually tranmitted diseases which is revelant all across the globe but obviously of monumental importance in the continent of Africa. I also would like to ask, in your opinion what is the distinction between one one hand herbs and plants, or possible combinations/mixtures of herbs/plants and on the other hand antibacterial soap, blood tranfusions, etc.?

In addition to those herbs that BlueHeron mentioned, there are in fact condoms made from animal parts. They’re just slightly less effective. As for them preventing sexually transmitted diseases, I have to echo that, as far as I know, most if not all of STDs that are major problems today are the result of civilization, just as many other diseases. AIDS was the result of an attempt at a Polio vaccine (or a genetically engineered attack targeted specifically at African Americans, homosexuals, and certain radicals, depending on who you ask ;)).

Since you mentioned it, I’ve got to share some interesting stuff about antibacterial soap. Not so much the life saver.

Re: the condom question, in addition to herbs, etc., learning to read your menstrual cycle can prove very useful.

Derrick Jensen has Crones Disease. He cannot live without modern medicine, and yet he recognizes that modern medicine can only exist within the unsustainable infrastructure of civilization. Knowing this he still argues and works towards bringing down that system that destroys all life. Philosophically, I would say that you have to ask yourself what feels more important; the life of an entire land base or your existence? If You think of yourself as more important than your land base, and you feel you have the right to destroy future generations lives at the cost of living a few more years yourself than you are fucking insane and I hope you die in your sleep tonight :smiley: :smiley: :D. If you recognize that you and the land and the beings of the land all dwell in the same space (physically & spiritually) and you do not separate yourself from the land, than you have no philosophical dilemma on your hands at all. You and the land are the same. You’re individual life is part of the land and understanding that, you recognize that your life must end to save the land and future generations.

ON EDIT: My own life was saved by drugs (infections as a child) and I feel thankful, but I also feel a deep responsibility to take down this culture.

When you understand that people lived greater, better lives before civilization, you don’t ask these kinds of questions. Studying more indigenous cultures should relieve any existential crisis you may be experiencing. It seems like your still clinging to the idea that the things mentioned above (condoms, etc) have benefited humans in some way. They have not, they will not, we need to take civ down and walk away.

So, in short…

What do rewilders think about condoms? We don’t.

What do rewilders think about modern medicine? We don’t.

Rewilding means walking away from and dismantling the culture that creates these tragic failures and returning to one that creates life.

If your likening rewilders to “extremists,” it sounds like you still haven’t psychologically let go of civilization. Are people who jump from a sinking ship extremists? Only to the people who are in denial.

The Sinking Ship (By Daniel Quinn)

The ship was sinking—and sinking fast. The captain told the passengers and crew, “We’ve got to get the lifeboats in the water right away.”

But the crew said, “First we have to end capitalist oppression of the working class. Then we’ll take care of the lifeboats.”

Then the women said, “First we want equal pay for equal work. The lifeboats can wait.”

The racial minorities said, “First we need to end racial discrimination. Then seating in the lifeboats will be allotted fairly.”

The captain said, “These are all important issues, but they won’t matter a damn if we don’t survive. We’ve got to lower the lifeboats right away!”

But the religionists said, “First we need to bring prayer back into the classroom. This is more important than lifeboats.”

Then the pro-life contingent said, “First we must outlaw abortion. Fetuses have just as much right to be in those lifeboats as anyone else.”

The right-to-choose contingent said, “First acknowledge our right to abortion, then we’ll help with the lifeboats.”

The socialists said, “First we must redistribute the wealth. Once that’s done everyone will work equally hard at lowering the lifeboats.”

The animal-rights activists said, “First we must end the use of animals in medical experiments. We can’t let this be subordinated to lowering the lifeboats.”

The Daniel Quinn worshipers said, “First we must convince everyone why the ship is sinking. We can’t just put people on lifeboats without first educating them, because they’ll probably just make the same mistakes in the future.” (Urban Scout’s Edit)

Finally the ship sank, and because none of the lifeboats had been lowered, everyone drowned.

The last thought of more than one of them was, “I never dreamed that solving humanity’s problems would take so long—or that the ship would sink so SUDDENLY.”

“Finally the ship sank, and because none of the lifeboats had been lowered, everyone drowned.”

Then what happened?

“The Daniel Quinn worshipers said, “First we must convince everyone why the ship is sinking. We can’t just put people on lifeboats without first educating them, because they’ll probably just make the same mistakes in the future.” (Urban Scout’s Edit)”


Thanks Urban Scout!
Now I’l go to bed with a smile on my face

Based on what? Effective against what? Traditional medicine is a lot more than plant-based treatments. http://anthropik.com/2006/01/thesis-22-civilization-has-no-monopoly-on-medicine/

Statistically, it would appear that WHO inoculations are more responsible.

We’ve actually had a fair number of great discussions about stuff like this, like the responsibilities we take on, a la the predator/prey type relationship, when we use this sort of technology. Perhaps before concluding definitively that you can pigeonhole our opinions, you might want to read them.

Ok, I’ll weigh in.

I’m not convinced of that, but frankly, the question is beside the point. “Are herbs/plants as effective as modern medicine?” is the wrong question.

The right question is: “Do Hunter/Gatherers lead a healthier, more satisfying life than Agriculturalist and/or Industrialists?”.

The difference between the two is represented well in the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

[quote=“heyvictor, post:8, topic:1122”]“Finally the ship sank, and because none of the lifeboats had been lowered, everyone drowned.”

Then what happened?[/quote]

The fish ate well and all was good.

You know, I appreciate everyone’s willingness to “dive into the fray”, but I’ve banned interabang for 30 days for continuing to not introducing his/her/itself in the introductions thread, still not reading the supporting materials (like the Thirty Theses) that would help them understand if they would feel satisfied by the kinds of conversations they would have here, and for trying to tell another person’s Story (“we both know that [your response] is an act”).

If anyone here misses those kinds of exchanges where one person pretends to listen as the other person talks, try any one of the many other forums the internet provides - they may appreciate it more. At the very least you can try The Green Anarchy Forums.

You can check out the humanure bucket if you want to examine interabang’s last message.

[Edited for clarity and de-snarkification].

I was wondering if you’d jump on that.


This approach by interabang, asking for a “philosophy” regarding this or that item that might not be available in a post-civilization world, is a silly approach. If the questions about condoms, antibacterial soap, etc., are serious questions, they should be in the “Transitional Tech” section (which I would consider the “Pragmatics of the Real World” section). Humans are resourceful creatures.

Condoms - rubber can be processed from latex with primitive methods, so people may be able to produce condoms.

Anti-bacterial soap - not a beneficial invention at all, and there are better (both more effective and more healthful) ways of controlling human body odor.

Blood transfusions - who knows.

Everything in life is a trade-off. Some useful things may be given up, other useful things may be adapted and continued with a little resourcefulness.

But no matter how many “life-saving” technologies our species invents, you are still going to die.

My ancestors just a couple of generations ago were hunter-gatherers. I have been thinking for some time now what a treasure trove a modern landfill would have been for them. Looking at my stash of more yogurt cartons that I can ever reuse, I think about millions of yogurt containers in the landfills and what an amazing resource they will be. Especially since we have lost both the skill and most of the materials for weaving the watertight baskets we used to use. Of course these yogurt containers were made from petroleum at great cost to the Earth’s ecosystems, but what’s done is done. Aluminum smelters may have caused great pollution, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make use of all the aluminum waiting for us in the landfills. While civilization has destroyed much of the old resource base, it also offers many new resources for the resourceful.

There is something that friends and I have called the “Mengele Principle.” Josef Mengele was the Nazi doctor who did experiments using concentration camp inmates as his lab animals. He made a lot of important medical discoveries, some of which probably would never have been made without human subjects (he especially experimented with identical twins, using one as control subject). Afterward, the question was raised by some about whether it was ethical to use the medical knowledge that had been gained in such a gruesome way. But the price for that knowledge had already been paid, there was no way the suffering of the subjects could be undone, and if the knowledge gained could help others, that would mean that their suffering had not been in vain.

The crucial thing would be not to keep Nazi values.


It’s a shame that’s exactly what the American government and people have done.

This is like asking a pro-choice person, “How would you like it if your mother had aborted you?”

Condoms: We would not need them if we were still wild. Nomadic hunter-gatherers had to space the timing and incidence of children so they would not be a burden on tribal movement or on the mother’s well-being.

Antibacterial soap: We do not need this. Regular soap removes bacteria just fine. In fact, triclosan, the usual active ingredient in AB soap, causes greater drug resistance in bacteria and pollutes water, too. In the larger sense of preventing infections this would be a lot easier to do if there were a lot fewer of us.

Blood transfusions: Are not the be-all, end-all. They’re a very easy disease vector and the mere act of transfusing foreign blood into a patient stresses his body beyond belief. The simple fact is that people have accidents and people die, even with transfusions. This mentality of having to save every life possible no matter what is part of why we’re at six billion and counting now, and the earth is way overstressed.

And don’t get yer panties in a knot. My daughter was born with urinary reflux and had to be on antibiotics for a year and a half and then have surgery to re-insert her right ureter into her bladder. (Ow?) It’s a risk factor for kidney disease later on in her life; we’re hoping it doesn’t come to that. But I suspect that this defect, which is really common among kids these days, may have come from me getting bad nutrition when I was pregnant with her. Most industrialized people eat badly, if you want to know the truth; even the rich ones, for the most part. And it makes a HUGE difference in how babies develop in utero. So… I don’t think being able to do surgery on, or give drugs to, an infant with a defect is worth destroying the planet for everybody else, which is what it has come down to, BUT, had we never been civilized to begin with, she might not have had the defect anyway.

Sure, there are a lot of what-ifs. But what this boils down to is you’re asking six billion people to give up their quality of life AND their planet just so YOU could live a little longer. That’s kind of messed up. What are you going to do if your other life support system collapses, the atmosphere and the drinking water and your food supply? I don’t think they have a transfusion system for that one.

Forgive me, I’m half asleep, should have been in bed over an hour ago.

What I mean by all this is, wild people had their own ways of avoiding pregnancy if need be. They had herbal medicines, cultural technology (i.e., rules about when it was OK to have sex with your spouse), child-spacing through breastfeeding (which may have worked better back then than it does now), and if all else failed they had infanticide. I doubt they enjoyed that last option, but it was available to them, and I suspect it was as much about instinct as it was about culture; even today you see women in dire straits leaving their babies in dumpsters, and I’m pretty sure they came up with that idea themselves before the press began reporting about it.

Haven’t been on in a while. But what the heck.

Ancient peoples performed successful trepanation and there are herbal treatments for Crone’s Disease (although no cure, much like civ medicine). Somehow I doubt that we’ll run in to medical problems we can solve with civilization but not otherwise.

When archeologists first went to ask indigenous peoples about birth control they were men and they asked the men. The men had no clue and said so. The archeologists concluded these people knew nothing about birth control or where babies came from. When women archeologists entered the scene they asked the women. Who proceeded to help this poor woman who didn’t have this information with a week long crash course in controlling her cycles and birthing.

If you really want soap is easy and antibiotics are available. But has people have mentioned, its not really a good idea.

More generally, no technology is inherently unsustainable. Technologies are unsustainable because of our application of the basic principles. With proper imagination and knowledge all technologies are available to be had. Although some are probably not actually worth the effort.

  • Benjamin Shender