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Tasks for the Week, April 18

April 18, 2010
  • Play my music as loud as I please.
  • Grow my hair down to my knees.
  • Don’t get a job or punch a clock.
  • Get the fuck out, dwell in space.

Tasks for the Week

April 11, 2010
  • Find some healthy birch bark on a dead tree or log to create a knife handle.
  • Look for a shed antler from a buck for the same thing.
  • Get a coal from the bowdrill.  I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I think it’s the wood.  Therefore, this one is basically Find suitable wood for a bowdrill and/or get better at identifying tree species when they are dead.
  • Have human contact more than once in seven days; initiate said human contact if necessary.
  • Read some.  When weather permits, however, prefer outdoor activity to indoor.  Consider reading outside—in a tree, maybe.  That sounds fun, right?
  • Stay off of Facebook unless I receive a notification via email.  No other Facebook events are worth knowing about right away.
  • Stay off of the computer for the most part.  Reading for a while after I get up is OK, as is doing something brain-numbing before going to sleep.  Middle-of-the-day computer use is excessively extravagant behavior.
  • Likewise: spend zero dollars this week.  I spent too much last week and therefore risk becoming a model of extreme excess(!).
  • Eat something wild.  I know that I will be able to find both cattails and dandelions, so I should have no excuses.  Start looking for other foods—get better at identifying them so I can find them as they come into season.

One day at a time.  I can’t be freaking out about the fall already.

I’m afraid to turn 23

March 26, 2010

This is a personal post. I don’t care who reads it, and I obviously want someone to read it or else I wouldn’t have put it up, but if you don’t find me interesting as a person I highly doubt you’ll find this post interesting.

Superiority at the cost of forgetfulness

March 14, 2010

Human sacrifice is such a charged subject that its practice by the Triple Alliance has inevitably become shrouded in myths.  Two are important here.  The first is that human sacrifice was never practiced—the many post-conquest accounts of public death-spectacles are racist lies.  It was indeed in the Spanish interest to exaggerate the extent of human sacrifice, because ending what Cortés called this “most horrid and abominable custom” became a post hoc rationale for conquest.  But the many vividly depicted ceremonies in Mexica art and writing leave little doubt that it occurred—and on a large scale.  (Cortés may well have been correct when he estimated that sacrifice claimed “three or four thousand souls” a year.)

The second myth is that in its penchant for public slaughter the Triple Alliance was fundamentally different from Europe.  Criminals beheaded in Palermo, heretics burned alive in Toledo, assassins drawn and quartered in Paris—Europeans flocked to every form of painful death imaginable, free entertainment that drew huge crowds.  London, the historian Fernand Braudel tells us, held public executions eight times a year at Tyburn, just north of Hyde Park.  (The diplomat Samuel Pepys paid a shilling for a good view of a Tyburn hanging in 1664; watching the victim beg for mercy, he wrote, was a crowd of “at least 12 or 14,000 people.”)  In most if not all European nations, the bodies were impaled on city walls and strung along highways as warnings.  “The corpses dangling from trees whose distant silhouettes stand out against the sky, in so many old paintings, are merely a realistic detail,” Braudel observed.  “They were part of the landscape.”  Between 1530 and 1630, according to Cambridge historian V. A. C. Gatrell, England executed seventy-five thousand people.  At the time, its population was about three million, perhaps a tenth that of the Mexica empire.  Arithmetic suggests that if England had been the size of the Triple Alliance, it would have executed, on average, about 7,500 people per year, roughly twice the number Cortés estimated for the empire.  France and Spain were still more bloodthirsty than England, according to Braudel.

From 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, which, even though I’m only about a third of the way through, is so far just as good as sources (and real people) have suggested.  Earlier in the book the author also threw in some instances of the Indians lauding their superiority over early colonizers that contrast some of the familiar claims us Euro-Americans grow up with.

We’ve all heard how the savages had no work ethic and a seeming allergy toward hard work, so it’s funny to read about Indians sitting back and laughing at ignorant European colonists as they toiled hard for their daily bread.  We’ve all heard how the savages walked around naked like stupid animals, so it’s also funny to read about the healthier, taller, more physically-fit Indians laughing at the ugly and deficient European colonists covered in dirty rags and hair.  What kind of beast has orange, bushy hair coming from its face?!

Human extinction (and swine flu, AIDS, whatever else)

March 8, 2010

(I typed up most of this post in November, but I didn’t post it because there was another thing I wanted to get to.  Not knowing what it was I wanted to get to, I just left it as a draft.  I still don’t remember what it was, so I deleted the would-be transition and wrapped it up.)

My inner nihilist got out today.  A lot of people know he exists, since I don’t keep his existence completely unknown, but he’s so greatly annoyed by whine-asses throwing stupid (and wrong) accusations at him that he generally just keeps to himself.  It’s understandable, I guess, since I wouldn’t like being called a sociopath for not adhering to any moral code either, nor would I like being scolded because someone got sensitive about brown people and decided to turn me into a pariah by saying I said ethnic cleansing was a solution to carrying capacity overshoot (something which neither of us has never suggested and never will suggest, although we can both see where the anger came from: there are a lot of people, most of them brown, so to say “less” people obviously means less brown people).  Anyway, we’ve both been reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and the chapter we just finished was about extinction.  Since this seems like a fitting topic for a nihilist with a careless, totally-matter-of-fact manner of speaking, I’ll let him have the keyboard.

Let me just start out by saying I don’t care if humans go extinct.  However, I don’t find that possibility very likely any time soon, since humans have proven themselves worthy of existing and will probably scratch out some niche to fill until Earth becomes unlivable.  One of the chapters I read yesterday mentioned the possibility of HIV adapting to a point where it is no longer killed by mosquitoes’ systems, therefore becoming transmitted on a new, vast scale thanks to the little bugs.  I just thought Cool! The possibility of humanity being wiped out by something bigger than them is cool.  But the longer I thought about it (OK, I made the realization just a few minutes after) the more I realized that even something totally kickass like that probably wouldn’t do people in.  There are (almost) seven-fucking-billion people now, and no realist is going to believe that a virus that is evolving alongside us is suddenly going to totally wipe us out.  Smallpox killed a ton of Indians because it was new to them—they had been isolated from the Old World for thousands of years by the 1500s, so for the purpose (smallpox wiping them the fuck out) the illness might as well have come from outer space.  If  super-HIV came from space then people might be totally fucked, but it isn’t going to come from outer space (I don’t think; that might make a decent sci-fi story though).

We’re hardy.  I’m not even sure a massive extinction event that kills 75% of all living species will kill us all; there are seven-fucking-billion of us, and we’re on basically every part of the planet.  There is no doubt about it taking a huge chunk, probably way more than half, but I’m almost certain that at the very least a few thousand here and there would survive.  We’re too clever and adaptable to die out only because our numbers are reduced—we don’t even really have any natural predators left because we out-smarted them, so it’d basically just be humans, at the top of the food-chain, and whatever 25% is left.  Put a fucking mask on the back of your head and a tiger won’t attack you from behind (most of the time).  And we think cats are smart!

OK, so that’s out of the way.  Let me find my point….

I don’t care if humans go extinct, but they probably won’t.  Even though an extinction event might have trouble taking every human, it’s what would have the highest chance of doing so.  The only thing I can see wiping out humans altogether is a complete eco-catastrophe, or a collapse in the food chain, which would take out basically all forms of visible animal life (plants and bacteria probably ain’t goin’ nowhere), not just us.

I guess that’s why climate change isn’t quite the big deal it’s made out to be.  The underlying causes of climate change are important, but a climatic shift alone isn’t the end of the world.  We’ll survive it, some animals won’t, and the world will go on.  Maybe it’s completely natural (even though it’s probably not), and if it is then so fucking what?  We can baw about the havoc, but we’ll have to get over it at some point.  We can even baw about the polar bears dying, but … well, that brings me to my next point:

Humans are currently driving an extinction event that might rival the ones that did in the dinosaurs.1 Climate change is just a bit of it, even to the sorrow of the polar bears.  That, by my estimation, is a lot more worrisome than New York being under water—fuck all that—but most people are completely unaware of it.  If the foundations of the food chain are constantly weakened, given enough time it will collapse—and then we have that eco-catastrophe that I talked about, the one that will probably take everything even slightly complex.  And it is happening, even if most people don’t know about it—it can even be measured and quantified (with a degree of uncertainty).  When the oceans are becoming increasingly unlivable, the forests increasingly non-existent, it’s not terribly difficult to imagine an end approaching.

Since Daniel Quinn has put a lot of things very nicely, I guess I’ll just quote him:

We’re like people living in the penthouse of a tall brick building. Every day we need 200 bricks to maintain our walls, so we go downstairs, knock 200 bricks out of the walls below and bring them back upstairs for our own use. Every day. . . . Every day we go downstairs and knock 200 bricks out of the walls that are holding up the building we live in. Seventy thousand bricks a year, year after year after year.

I hope it’s evident that this is not a sustainable way to maintain a brick building. One day, sooner or later, it’s going to collapse, and the penthouse is going to come down along with all the rest.

Making 200 species extinct every day is similarly not a sustainable way to maintain a living community. Even if we’re in some sense at the top of that community, one day, sooner or later, it’s going to collapse, and when it does, our being at the top won’t help us. We’ll come down along with all the rest.

It would be different of course, if 200 extinctions a day were just a temporary thing. It’s not. And the reason it’s not is that, clever as we are, we can’t increase the amount of biomass that exists on this planet. We can’t increase the amount of land and water that supports life, and we can’t increase the amount of sunlight that falls on that land and water. We can decrease the amount of biomass that exists on this planet (for example by making the land sterile or by poisoning the water), but we can’t increase it.

All we can do is shift that biomass from one bunch of species to another bunch–and that’s what we’re doing. We’re systematically shifting the biomass of species we don’t care about into the biomass of species we do care about: into cows, chickens, corn, beans, tomatoes, and so on. We’re systematically destroying the biodiversity of the living community to support ourselves, which is to say that we’re systematically destroying the infrastructure that is keeping us alive.2

Ah, but you, clever reader, have spotted the contradiction!  You’re always so alert, so aware!  “But Tony,”  you plea, “if you don’t care if humans go extinct, why do you care if they themselves create the optimal conditions for their extinction?”  And damn it all, you got me!

My defense is basically this: it’s just stupid for humans to actively try to kill themselves off, and in the process also kill off anything else that gets in their way.  Stated another way, while it’s totally fucking badass (from some perspectives) to be taken out by something bigger than us, and it’s completely respectable, it’s totally fucking retarded to commit suicide just because it sounds like a good idea, and not respectable at all.

Notes and Links

  1. The Extinction Puzzle at
  2. The New Renaissance at

Old post/New post

February 5, 2010

I updated a post from this summer, “Progress progress progress!”, because for some reason I didn’t feel like making the new additions a post of their own.  Basically I’ve gotten some comments on the “Environmentalism as Morality” video I put on YouTube, and since I am tired of any “discussion” coming from there I directed one of the users to the first post (“Progress…”).  Whether he’ll read it or not I do not know, but I added it still.

Anybutt, read it if you want.

Links: YouTube comments, so you can understand what’s up (if you want), and then the updated post.

I don’t think I’ll become a very active YouTuber.

Language: strength and weakness

January 23, 2010

This is a short post influenced by this video, which I just watched.  Actually it’s just about one short quote; at about the midway point the talking guy mentions just how endangered Sumatran tigers are, and says that “their habitat is being lost and fragmented daily.”

I’m struck by his choice in wording.  Their habitat is being lost?  Technically his use of the word isn’t incorrect, but I don’t feel like it does a very good job (at all) of conveying what is actually going on.  The Sumatran tigers’ habitat isn’t like a set of keys or a remote control; it isn’t something that we can just misplace and then go, “Where is the damn thing?  Did I lose it?”

There are so many words that would have made better choices.  Here are two: stolen, destroyed.  Some might say the land is being “converted for human use.”  The fact is, the land hasn’t disappeared and it’s not going anywhere—but it isn’t suitable for tigers anymore.  Why be coy about what is going on?  If you really want to save the tigers you have to do so by saving their habitat, and I don’t think you can do that if you aren’t honest about what is actually happening to it.

Trees are falling so crops can replace them in the soil that remains.  We need that land so we can grow more food; we need that food so we can grow more people. Cutting down the trees alone doesn’t mean the tigers will disappear forever, but an amazing thing happens when habitat is “lost” to agriculture: everyone who used to live there is now a pest, and pests are open to extermination.  Why do you think ranchers shoot wolves?  (As I quoted in a post quite a while ago, wolves “break the rules” and because of that they can “expect to die.”)

Using these weak, vague words is only a favor to those profiting from the habitat “loss.”  It’s certainly not a favor to the tigers.

Tell it like it is.