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Only the Poets can Save us Now

The hunter-gather age was the time when humans lived with respect for nature. The Godess era marks the beginning of agriculture and the manipulation of animals and the earth. The patriarchal era has carried that manipulation to terribly destruktive proportions. Richard Reese claims that it is our stories that allow us to believe that this destruktion is acceptable and even necessary. We need to change our stories.

By Richard Adrian Reese
For the last three and a half years, I've lived a hermit's life in the forest, and have avoided contact with society. I have lived without television, hot water, refrigeration, alarm clocks, garbage service, and daily papers. I've heated my home with wood. I've grown my own food. I use 97% less electricity than the average American home. I drive few miles.

Many people think that I'm some kind of wacky martyr, punishing myself for the sins of the world. The reality is quite the opposite - this period of simplicity has not been unpleasant at all - it has been the most creative and rewarding and enriching period of my life.

During this retreat of seclusion and reflection, I've been trying to solve the greatest riddle of all - why humans are destroying themselves and the planet. I've read mountains of books andmagazines. In a nutshell, we have two problems: there are way too many people, and we are living way too hard. It takes about 30 seconds to figure out the solutions to these two problems, and any kindergartner could quickly do it.

If we were rational beings, these two problems would have been solved centuries ago. But human beings are essentially irrational. I came to see that, in addition to population and lifestyle, there was a third problem, the biggest problem, a purely irrational one - a black magic spell, a voodoo curse. This problem is rooted in our myths, fantasies, and hallucinations of progress, and human superiority and infallibility.

Every day we hear stories that humans are the greatest. The world was created just for us. We are the successful conclusion of the entire evolutionary process.

Our faith says that we are the smartest - but the data says that the way we live is incredibly dumb and destructive. Faith is the ultimate truth. Data that conflicts with our faith, therefore, is impossible and unbelievable.
If human beings disappeared tomorrow, no ecosystem would collapse, or even be harmed. indeed, the disappearance of humans would be beneficial.

Our society is in a headlock. It is impossible for The Greatest Story on Earth to be a tragiccomedy, a ceaseless disaster of repeated mistakes. Our society's soul is like a crashed computer - it has locked up, it no longer works.

There are many viewpoints on this crash. George Steiner calls it collective personality disintegration. John Trudell calls it a disease of the spirit. Carl Jung says that the mass consciousness has become hysterical. Chellis Glendinning says that we suffer from domestication. Daniel Quinn calls it a breakdown in our stories. Many different names for the same voodoo.

Are Humans Number One?

Human beings are among the newest and youngest of all the creatures on Earth. We are so new that we have yet to truly integrate into any of the bioregions on the planet. Not a single ecosystem depends on us.

If human beings disappeared tomorrow, no ecosystem would collapse, or even be harmed. Indeed, in most places, the disappearance of humans would be beneficial. On the other hand, if trees were to disappear tomorrow, the entire planet would be rocked with convulsions. Trees are important. So are ants, earthworms, termites, honey bees, algae, and fungi. Humans are among the least important species on Earth except in the human stories of the last 8,000 years.

The Importance of Stones

Over the years, there have been dozens of cases where human infants have been raised by wild animals, including wolves, bears, and tigers. These feral children ran on all fours, and were so fast that it was almost impossible to catch them. They had tremendous senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Amala and Kamala the wolf girls could see in the dark, and smell meat from a great distance.

These feral humans were always naked, and were indifferent to the cold.Wild children would learn the languages of their adopted parents. They would whine and howl and shriek and bark. When a wolf boy was captured by humans in India, his wolf family would come right into the village at night, to play with their human relative. On a hilltop they would sit together and howl at the moon.

When feral children were caught, and returned to human society, most of them never learned how to walk well on two legs. They were uncomfortable being upright, and their walking was a clumsy hobble. Few of them learned to speak more than a few words, even after years of teaching.

So, we see that most of the magic that humans possess - like speaking or walking on two legs - is not built into our hardware. Our magic lies in our software, our learned knowledge, that is accumulated and passed on through the generations in our stories.

Today there is a popular myth that humans became powerful because of our ability to make and use tools. Not true - we had big brains long before we learned how to make stone tools or build fires.

Humans became powerful because of our mastery of language - the power of our stories. We studied nature intensively, learned a great deal about the ways of plants and animals, and built stories around this knowledge. We learned stalking from the cats, tracking from the wolves, deception from the opossums, trapping from the spiders, community from the apes, and joy from the chipmunks. We learned the finest magic of all beings, and enriched our stories with it. Stories are our software. Stories are the heart and soul of every culture. Stories define who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. Stories are our most important and powerful possessions. Good stories produce cultures that live in balance with the Earth, and bad stories produce cultures like the one you see around you. Stories created our problems, but stories can be changed. Stories must be changed. Only the poets can save us now.

Stories are the heart and soul of every culture. Stories define who we are, what we believe, and how we behave.

In a nutshell, when our stories were filled with reverence for the natural world, we lived in harmony with it. The stories worked.

We discovered thet there was a alimit to the number of people who could live in a sustainable relationship with the Earth. This limit is somewhere around five million people.

Stories That Work

Please do not confuse me with a misanthrope - a hater of human beings. What I despise is the senseless destruction that modern people cause, and the stories that promote and celebrate this destruction.

Many humans are wonderful and admirable. There is no music, sung by any species, as beautiful as the music of the jungle Pygmies. That is the music that plays in my head. The songs of the Pygmies celebrate the sacredness of the forest. The purpose of their songs is to keep the forest awake, and to keep the forest happy. They are the finest love songs I have ever heard.

Civilized people have forgotten how to keep our forests awake and happy. We do not sing joyful songs in our homes, workplaces, or streets. By forgetting our ancient songs, we have forgotten who we are, and our purpose for being here. We have forgotten how to live.

In 2500 BC, Egyptian explorers came across the Pygmies. The report to the Pharaoh noted that the jungle people sang to the forest, and danced for it. They have been doing this continuously for four and a half thousand years, and probably much, longer.

While countless civilizations have come and gone, the Pygmies have been singing in their sacred forests. The Pygmies have stories that work. Successful stories are the norm.

Indeed, the bad stories are very new. For 99.9% of the time that humans have lived on Earth, we have lived in relative peace. We cooperated with other species, respected them, and revered them. If humankind's history were a thousand page book, the bad stories wouldn't appear until the final paragraph on the last page.

The stories that worked - for close to three million years - are those of the hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers lived successfully in every continent and climate, except Antarctica. All around the world, the successful stories of these nomadic people had a number of beliefs in common:
* They believed in formless ethereal great spirits, but not in gods and goddesses with human names, faces, and personalities.
* They believed that all life was sacred, interconnected, and related.
* They believed that every rock, stream, plant, and animal had power, spirit, holiness, consciousness, wisdom, and the ability to communicate.
* They knew that they had to live in balance with the source of their existence, and infanticide was a universal means of keeping their numbers in check.
* They did not believe in evil or the ability of people to cast malevolent spells, only the spirits of the dead were capable of mischief.
* They did not engage in commerce, or the sale of services. Sharing was the cardinal rule - no one starved while another feasted.
* They believed that personal belongings could become poisonous, if not kept in constant circulation with mandatory gift-giving. Possessions were kept in perpetual motion, from person to person, to prevent diseases of the soul.
* They always lived in small bands of ten to thirty people, which allowed everyone to maintain a state of close friendship with all in the clan. It is impossible for humans to thrive in large groups.
* They believed that everyone in the clan was equal - decisions were made by communal discussion and consensus. They had no judges, chiefs, representatives, or preachers.
* They believed that the vitality of the land and the harmony of the clan was the primary goal - if the clan got out of balance, so would the land.

Therefore, individualism was not known, taught, encouraged, or tolerated. People with big heads were relentlessly mocked and teased until the swelling went away and they returned to a state of health and cooperation.

Civilized people look down on the hunter-gatherers. We call them savages and barbarians. We believe that their lives were nasty, brutish, and short. Most of this is myth - read some anthropology books. Certainly our ancestors were not angels, but there is a great deal of useful information that we could learn from their stories. What's amazing is what modern folks do on their vacations. We journey to the wilderness and camp with our families. We hike and fish and hunt and swim. We sit around campfires, feasting and telling stories. This is how we spend our one week of freedom, the greatest week of the year - attempting to find our lost inner cave man. In a nutshell, when our stories were filled with reverence for the natural world, we lived in harmony with it. The stories worked. Your ancestors once told these stories. Your flesh and blood once knew how to live. Your dreams can take you back to this knowledge.

This was the goddess era - the land was fertile, loving and abundant Earth Mother. Animals ceased being our brothers and equals. We fed them, bred them, milked them, and slaughtered them.

Artwork taken from The Reader's Digest Bible, with thanks.

Every year, America loses close to two billion tons of soil... Each year farmers lose what it took the Eart thousands of years to create

The Fork in the Path

Over millions of years, hunter-gatherers gradually grew in numbers and spread to every corner of the Earth. About ten thousand years ago, people were everywhere, there was no more uninhabited land, and people began to bump into one another. We discovered that there was a limit to the number of people who could live in a sustainable relationship with the Earth. This limit is somewhere around five million people.

Hitting the population ceiling presented us with a new problem - and our ancient stories provided us with no solutions. There was no script for dealing with too many people.

Survival was our driving force. We did not have the lemming's instinct for self destruction - in those days. We did what seemed right. We lived harder on less land. We domesticated animals. We ripped apart the earth and planted seeds.

This new way of life was much more work than hunting and gathering, but it permitted survival. In the early days, the soil was rich, and the gardens were very successful. Gardening was a very clever trick, and the gardeners became proud and big headed.

We also began to domesticate animals. Much time was spent wringing the milk from swollen udders. Much attention was paid to the sexual cycles of female animals, and when they came into estrus, they were bred.

Seeds planted in the fertile womb of soil. Sperm planted in fertile wombs of animals. Milking the female animals at sunrise and sunset. The world of the gardeners and herders was one that was dominated by the feminine.

This was the goddess era - the land was a fertile, loving, and abundant Earth Mother. Animals ceased being our brothers and equals. We fed them, bred them, milked them, and slaughtered them. Humans began to manipulate, exploit, and control the natural world. In our stories, the Great Spirit of the hunting people was replaced with human-like gods and goddesses of fertility.

The goddess cultures were relatively peaceful. Excavations of their remains in Eastern Europe show no fortifications and no weapons. What we find are many goddess figurines, magical tools for fertility rituals.

The shift to herding and gardening was an important one. At this point, we ceased living in harmony with the land. We began to cause injuries, to leave scars, to permanently alter the landscape. We opened Pandora's Box. We abandoned the Garden of Eden, ate the forbidden fruit, and experienced The Fall. Cain the struggling farmer killed his brother Abel, the singing nomad, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, gardening allowed rapid growth in our population. Hungry people began raiding others' gardens. Bands began warring. This led to walls, warriors, and aggressive leaders. A permanent military class needed food, so we shifted from gardening to farming.

Cities grew. Individualism tore apart ancient family bonds. Society was stratified into a hierarchy of classes, and inequality became the rule. With the rise of males in military and religious institutions, matriarchy gave way to patriarchy. The Earth Mother took the back seat to Zeus, Jupiter, and Odin - male war gods.

The concept of evil emerged. Our fixation with wealth and property grew to ominous new heights. Our ancient tradition of sharing was replaced with the harsh buying and selling of the marketplace. Poverty was invented. Healers no longer served for free, but for a fee.

My middle name is Adrian, which means a person from the region of the Adriatic Sea. This sea was named after the Etruscan port town of Adria, a town on an island several miles from the coast, offshore from the mouth of the Po River. Civilization ripped the Po River bioregion to shreds. The forests were decimated to feed the fires of metal-workers, potters, and glass-makers. With the trees gone, the soils washed into the sea, and destructive floods followed every big rain.

Today, Adria is no longer a seaport on an island. It is a farm town, 15 miles from the sea. Adria's ancient Etruscan streets are buried under 15 feet of eroded soil. Most of the watershed of the Po is now wasteland.

The story of Adria has been repeated countless times. The Tigris-Euphrates valley is now a wasteland. The tremendous cedar forests of Moses' Promised Land are now a withered desert. Greece, Rome, Turkey, North Africa - the entire Mediterranean basin has been laid to ruin.

Today, we are working feverishly to ruin the rest of the world. Every year, America loses close to two billion tons of soil. Each bushel of corn costs six bushels of fertile earth. Each year farmers lose what it took the Earth thousands of years to create. This is exactly how the Cradle of Civilization was destroyed, the same mistakes, but played in fast forward. Each trip to the supermarket feeds this devouring beast.

The stories told in our history classes have nothing but praise for civilization. The Pygmies are stupid brutal savages, but we are the most brilliant people to ever walk the face of the Earth. For 8,000 years, each generation has been taught the same stories, and repeated the same mistakes. Soon, there will be nothing left.

  Richard Adrian Reese lives in Hancock MI USA.

This article was given to us by a friend. If Richard Reese is out there somewhere, we would
like to contact him.

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