Saturday, December 12, 2009

Help needed from history and anthropology buffs

A campfire
Image via Wikipedia
For the past year or so, an idea for a new book has been rolling about in my brain. I registered a new domain for it today and want to start formalizing my thoughts. Much of that will come out in this blog. That may spill over to the other domain. And I'll probably try out the concepts in a variety of settings to see how the concept plays out.

Speaking of that: Here's an early chance for you to get involved. The central conceit is simple: as a culture, we move constantly toward as state of increased convenience. I've played with it from a few angles, and that always seems to be the case. There probably exists the odd edge-case or two, and individuals and even small-ish groups can decide to move in the opposite direction. But I'm talking about entire societal blocks. Terms like "Americans" and "industrialized nations" describe the groups I'm looking for.

Tell me examples where large societal blocks moved away from a more convenient lifestyle to a lessor one.

History has provided a few of those. The great civilizations of Mesoamerica come to mind. But I'm building in an out-clause for those shifts that a great calamity or disaster caused, or when dystopia forced our adaptable brains to go another direction. I'm looking for those cases where a conscious decision to "go backwards", if you will, was generally adopted before the disaster struck. Before people looked around and said "Wow, there's nothing left to eat and everyone else is dead. Guess I better remember how to use a sharpened stick to skewer some of these rats."

I'm looking for examples of ebullient societies -- maybe even organizations? -- who decided to not just right their course, but to abandon some trappings of convenience and go "back to a simpler time" on their own. I don't think it's happened. But I'm willing to be wrong and start adjusting my thought process around it.

I don't think this book is going to leave my head unless I write it down. I appreciate your help way way in advance.

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12 comments:

  1. The Amish in PA and OH are the first that come to my mind.

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  2. I thought about them and will likely study them more. My understanding of their culture is that they just follow the traditions of prior generations rather than having abandoned trappings of today. They never used them. Again, that's limited knowledge on my part, mostly gleaned from Witness.

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  3. I'm reminded of religious movements like the Shakers or the Amish, who forego "worldly things" and live a very simple lifestyle even now. Of course, because of celibacy, the Shakers are dying out, but there are still Amish communities in Pennsylvania and surrounding states who practice varying degrees of simplicity.

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  4. Wow ... that's a good thought. I've been interested, and actively scarfing up books in, history (even really early history) from the sixth grade on. I can't think of ONE example off the top of my head. You're right about calamity causing all the backward movement in all cultures and organizations I know. Even when companies SEEM to go "backwards", like when Levi Strauss and Mars Corp bought back all their stock and became private companies again ... if you've ever had to deal with a Board, you know how much simpler it is to get stuff done without it, even if you're doing more actual work yourself.

    But, now that you've got my curiosity piqued, it's time to do some research....

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  5. How would you count the Amish and the Luddites?

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  6. Mayans moved from city life back into the forests. However, this may not have been a choice so much as inability to sustain so many people with failing food supplies: http://www.gorp.com/weekend-guide/travel-ta-archaeology-mexico-belize-guatemala-sidwcmdev_054416.html

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  7. Perhaps the "Back to the Land" movements throughout history might provide some fodder for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back-to-the-land_movement

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  8. Good info, Rich. Also seems the "earthship" crowd might fit here to. Though they each seem to be edge-cases at best. Still, worthy of future and further research. Thanks!

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  9. That's my recollection of the anthropological data. Supports my claim that this reverse-flow doesn't happen to cultures at large save for extenuating circumstances. Like approaching famine. :)

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  10. As explained to Thomas, the cultures you cite seem to have "held fast" rather than went backwards. But in truth, they don't hold fast, as some trappings of modern life have been adopted.

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  11. Keep thinking, Shirley! And let me know if any likely candidates crop up.

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  12. Rich above and Thomas below brought up the same culture. I'm not sure they are a fit as a culture that has chosen to move backwards in convenience. Unless people convert to Amishism? Other than Harrison Ford. ;)

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