Beyond Civilized and Primitive: Some Favorite Quotes

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this post-civilization anarchist theory stuff lately, and I’m really, really impressed by what I’m finding. It’s a newer philosophy of anarchism so there’s not too much out there on the subject yet, but here are some favorite quotes from a piece called Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

Americans think freedom means no restraint. So I’m free to start a big company and rule ten thousand wage laborers, and if they don’t like it they’re free to go on strike, and I’m free to hire thugs to crack their heads, and they’re free to quit, and I’m free to buy politicans to cut off support for the unemployed, so now they’re free to either starve and die, or accept the job on my terms and use their freedom of speech to impotently complain.

We like hot baths and sailing ships and recorded music and the internet, but we worry that we can’t have them without exterminating half the species on Earth, or exploiting Asian sweatshop workers, or dumping so many toxins that we all get cancer, or overextending our system so far that it crashes and we get eaten by roving gangs.

I think the root of civilization, and a major source of human evil, is simply that we became clever enough to extend our power beyond our empathy. It’s like the famous Twilight Zone episode where there’s a box with a button, and if you push it, you get a million dollars and someone you don’t know dies. We have countless “boxes” that do basically the same thing. Some of them are physical, like cruise missiles or ocean-killing fertilizers, or even junk food where your mouth gets a million dollars and your heart dies. Others are social, like subsidies that make junk food affordable, or the corporation, which by definition does any harm it can get away with that will bring profit to the shareholders. I’m guessing it all started when our mental and physical tools combined to enable positive feedback in personal wealth. Anyway, as soon as you have something that does more harm than good, but that appears to the decision makers to do more good than harm, the decision makers will decide to do more and more of it, and before long you have a whole society built around obvious benefits that do hidden harm.

I have a wild speculation about the origin of complex societies. The Great Pyramid of Giza is superior in every way to the two pyramids next to it — yet the Great Pyramid was the first of the three to be built. It’s like Egyptian civilization appeared out of nowhere at full strength, and immediately began declining. My thought is: the first pyramid was not built by slaves. It was built by an explosion of human enthusiasm channeled into a massive cooperative effort. But then, as we’ve seen in pretty much every large system in history, this pattern of human action hardened, leaders became rulers, inspired actions became chores, and workers became slaves.

Click here to read Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

And here’s a list of other articles written on post-civ theory: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/topics/post-civ

 

Intro to Post-Civilizationism?

It’s called Take What You Need and Compost the Rest: an anarchist introduction to post-civilization theory

The author envisions a future where Nintendo consoles are solar-powered communal property, where pavement is torn up and replaced with gardens and bike paths, where garbage mining is a way of life alongside advanced electrical engineering using scavenged toy parts. She makes a very compelling argument against the concept of civilization, the definition of which she defines as being a centralizing, globalizing, waste-making machine that seeks to eradicate all other methods of human organization and co-operation, obliterating older, more sustainable social structures.

The very first paragraphs pack quite a punch:

Well, that civilization thing was interesting, now wasn’t it? I mean, it certainly seemed worth a shot. We got a lot out of it: telescopes, wheelchairs, wikipedia. But we also just about took out the natural world. Science, agriculture, and specialization have done a lot for expanding cultural ideas and communication, but they’ve done even more for genocide and ecocide.

So it’s time we give up the noble, failed experiment altogether and moved onto something new.

The book has several sections: the introduction, “Cooperative Scavenging”, “So You’ve Decided to Reject Civilization”, “How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization”, “The City That’s Not a City”, and “For Science to Live, Civilization Must Die”. It’s a short read, only about 30 pages, but fun, self-aware, and honest.

Highly recommended! Share it around, print it out, and share it even more.

My Business Is Our Business

I’ve been going on 4-5 months now unemployed. I’ve sent probably a hundred resumes, applications, and inquiry emails over that time, and the only responses I got was to tell me that I was overqualified to work at a grocery store. Thanks for nothing, job market.

But on Sunday I found myself hanging out with some cousins, one of whom was showing us all the delicious Mexican food this little old lady makes for their family on a weekly basis. They pay her, they pick it up from her house, and they munch on it all week like leftovers. And I thought to myself, holy cannoli, could do that! Not only do I love to cook, but I love to cook things that 99% of people don’t even know how to. So after ballparking how much food costs, how long it takes me to cook in general, and then throwing together a basic menu of things that look impressive but are either 1. made of cheap, simple ingredients, or 2. made of a few exotic ingredients that I already use in cooking for myself. All that was left to put an ad on Craigslist and wait.

It didn’t even take long, though. It took all of 24 hours to secure a first client who wants meals for his daughter who has a very long list of no-no foods. She needs to be vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free, and baker’s-yeast free, among a smattering of other fruits and veggies she’s sensitive to. Honestly, I can do that, no problem. I’ve learned so many tricks over the past 2 years since getting stomach problems of my own that I can cook for practically anybody. I did get another email almost right away too: someone who’s been doing this for a long time sent me a frustrated note, saying that I was charging too little, and that was not only undervaluing myself, but other people who do this sort of work too. I apologized, noted that I was pretty desperate, but that I would raise my rates for the next client.

But that got me to thinking. Was I really undercharging? How did all of this relate to my politics?

After spending a few minutes with a calculator at this point I estimated that I would be making the least amount of money per hour of cooking than I would if I had more clients; and right now that comes out to be about minimum wage, ~$10/hr. But then I thought about how that didn’t factor in the time it took me to go shopping, and other related tasks. That’s when the anti-money anarchist started coming out. Why do I need to be paid to go shopping at all the places that I already do my own shopping? To walk/bike to and from the store? Not only are these things that I already do for myself, but they’re things that are good for me too. If I just shift my point of view a little bit, I can transform that tiresome errand into the world’s cheapest gym membership. Or if I twist things a little more, I can even see it as being paid to exercise and go for walks. How lucky am I?

I thought some more at this point about the profit motive, and how ruthlessly wasteful it is. How much of a profit do I want to make? How involved do I want this venture to be? Would I still do it  even if I got no money for it? Does this have any place in my ideal community?

I want enough money to get by, at the end of the day. But this is funny to me because my father says the same thing, and to me, he lives extravagantly. Upper-middle class for sure. But to him, any decline in his quality of living, any downsizing, any withholding of material desires, doesn’t even enter into his mind as a possibility. Which is just completely alien to me. So right now, I just want to be able to make my loan payments, move to Canada to be with my hubs, and have a garden. I don’t want a car, house, or a $2000 sofa. I don’t want a Vitamix or a Cuisinart stand mixer. No Keurig, no PS4, no Dyson. Nothing I can’t buy used (well… mostly). In other words, I’d love to be able to live off $1000/mo. Unfortunately, my school loans are almost 3/4 of that right now. I can’t wait to be debt-free.

The other fun thing is that I get to take over another person’s meals and get close to being ZW with the buying and preparation. But looking at the wider picture, I’m in the perfect position to offer this service and do it the way that I am. I happen to be located at a nexus of health food stores and farmer’s markets, many of which are within walking distance. Most people in Los Angeles aren’t nearly as lucky as I am, so I get to help them offset a little bit of their carbon footprint this way also.

All in all though, I am OK with doing what I’m doing and in the way I’m doing it. I love to cook, and I love to cook for others, so this is a healthy thing for me to do, and the money is just the icing on the cake, really. Why should I charge more? I’m not greedy, I just want to survive and not be miserable. If I get to make great, healthy food for others AND support local farmers on their dime? Score.

Lazy Monday

Most of my days are lazy lately. But this is recipe is becoming a bit of a staple for me. to be honest. It’s a little complicated, but the result is just so much fun and tasty. Besides… who doesn’t like hot dogs??

This is a recipe from a new favorite of mine for vegetarian and vegan cooking, written by a couple of native Angelinos called Lust for Leaf. What’s really neat about vegan cooking, I’m discovering, is that you can make your own meat and dairy products. Personally, I find that very empowering. (I think I already talked about this in another post when I got excited about the idea of flax eggs.)

HK Dogs

Makes 8 dogs

By Alex Brown and Evan George in Lust for Leaf

  • 1/4 c. almond meal
  • 1 c. silken tofu
  • 1 tbsp Better Than Bouillon mushroom stock
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 c. wheat gluten (I used 1 c. flour + xanthan gum… they didn’t firm up quite enough, so 2 tbsp rather than 2 tsp gum might do the trick)
  • 1 tsp arrowroot (used cornstarch)
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground mace
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • wax paper
  • aluminum foil (optional)
  • non-stick spray

1. Put the almond meal, liquid smoke, sugar, spices, oil, and tofu in a blender. Process.

2. Combine water and bouillon in a cup, then whisk in arrowroot (or cornstarch).

3. Add the broth to the mixture in the blender and process. “Stop and smell; it should smell like a processed hot dog. If it doesn’t, you’ve done something wrong.”

4. Dump mixture into a bowl and stir in wheat gluten (or flour + xanthan gum) until it’s good and mushy.

5. Get a pot with a steamer and add 4 cups of water. Set that on high with the lid on and leave alone for now.

6. Cut out 8 rolls of wax paper and lightly coat with the non-stick spray. Roughly divide the mush into 8 equal parts, and proceed to roll ‘em up. You should aim for them to be about 6″ long when rolled out into an even log shape. Twist the ends of the wax paper tightly, set aside, and repeat.

7. Set them into the steamer basket, supporting them with pieces of foil to help keep their shape if necessary. Steam for about 50 minutes and let them sit in the wax paper to firm up when finished cooking. Remove from casing before storing so they don’t stick.

8. To prepare, grill or saute in a pan over high heat.

-

I’ve only made this twice so far, but it seems so versatile (and so handy to just have a stack of wieners in the fridge to pick at during the week). Like, take out the paprika, cardamom and mace, replace with diced garlic, nutritional yeast, and triple the bouillon for a cheesy garlic sausage. Or add a little more liquid smoke, some cayenne, thyme, a dash of cumino, and you might have more of an andouille. The possibilities seem to be endless!

I’m currently looking up alternatives to kitchen staples such as foil and wax paper, and I think parchment (made from renewably-sourced, unbleached material) may be the way to go as it’s compostable.

Zero Waste POC

I’ve been hanging out with my cousins for a few days to get away from being stuck at home with my grandmother, and I’ve been doing lots of cooking and grocery shopping. (She’s gonna show me how to make red sauce out of the raw chiles! Finally! This is a skill I’m sure Canada will be glad to have acquired when I get up there.)

But today we went to a Mexican market to pic up some stuff here in Glendora and I realized just how much Latinos have been into reusing stuff for basically ever. Cloth menstrual pads, bags, everything. We were doing it way before it was cool. And part of that is the poverty thing, but part of it is also a cultural thing. Thriftiness, resourcefulness, those tend to be values that are passed down among us because it’s important for us to remember where we came from and how we got to where we are. (In my case, that wasn’t passed down, unfortunately. I don’t know what part of Mexico my great-great grandmothers came from, and I don’t know what they were trying to get away from in coming here. The Revolution is my theory.)

Photo courtesy of Flavors of the Sun.

The bulk bins are rarely ever fancy, or hell, even sanitary-looking by yuppie standards. But fancy is kind of the antithesis of thrifty and green, isn’t it? (I’d do well to remember this too.) If you’ve ever been into a shabby-looking “ethnic” market, you’ll know, as soon as you step inside, that the store knows exactly who their patrons are, and rarely do they ever need to win them over with pretty displays. Price and quality trumps everything else. My rule of thumb when it comes to Asian and Mexican stores and restaurants is the less they try to visually impress their customers, the better their goods are likely to be.

Photo courtesy of D Brown Cooks.

I’d started to realize just how zero waste some of these ugly stores, tucked away in unassuming strip malls, often were. I was in a store that was only a few blocks away from where I live in Pasadena, in the “ghetto”, when I asked if I could have my pico de gallo packed into a stainless container. When the lady behind the counter obliged without much of a second thought, I knew that I’d hit the jackpot. I could probably get meat (if I still bought it) and cheese packed that way if I asked nicely. I could get my ceviche zero waste-style too.

The store that I’d gone to with my cousin today though, was practically as stocked with bulk products and package-free produce as that store I’d gone to in Portland, even though this was deep in the buttcrack of working class LA suburbia. They had bulk bins for nuts, flours, sugar, cereal, Mexican candy, beans, rice, chiles, and even pet food. It was an amazing reminder that POC, especially immigrants, seem to have a much better grasp of what kind of impact they have on the places and people around them. Not that it’s even born of a desire to be more “eco-friendly”, but I think it’s values. Don’t take shit, especially food, for granted. Know where your money’s going. How much it costs to support your family. Where you can save and cut corners. Why buy new if you can get it from a thrift store? And so on and so forth.

This is a big reason why people of color and non-white ethnicities are alienated from the vast majority of the green movement. There’s an assumption that everyone needs to do things differently, but what they don’t realize is that some groups have been doing this for generations, all while white people have historically derided them for it. And now suddenly, shopping from bulk bins and buying used is “in”.

And I’m definitely not alone in pointing this sore spot out. Here’s a very good piece written by a South Asian-American talking about their frustrating relationship with the backyard farming/organic food movement.

We need to acknowledge this unsavory history and tendency toward racism and colonialism in the various green movements. And until we can do that, people of color will never be on board with the mainstream movement. (Some, however, never want to be. And I can’t blame them.)

I’ve thought about listing these stores on Bea’s “Bulk” app, which maps out user-submitted stores that sell items in bulk or without packaging (aside from produce, I believe). And then I decided not to. What good would it do? I don’t want these stores inundated with ZW-minded yuppies who would have otherwise found these amazing places dirty or uncomfortable, who are only shopping there for lifestyle reasons. They have their bulk stores– Whole Foods, Sprouts, and so on. They don’t need ours too. At least, not until they wholeheartedly accept and embrace the culture and neighborhoods that they serve. And you all are just not there yet, I’m afraid.

The Aztecs of Mexico: A Zero Waste Society

The Aztecs of Mexico A Zero Waste Society

Proud to have a little bit of this heritage in me.

By the year 1519, when the Spaniards arrived, Mexico-Tenochtitlán had a population of over 200,000. It was the largest city in the Americas, and one of the largest in the world — bigger than any European city at the time. Its size, orderliness and cleanliness impressed the Spaniards. The city, laid out on a grid plan (which can be seen in the background of the fresco image at top of the page) that covered over 12 square km, was the centre of the most powerful empire in Mesoamerica at the time. Due to the abundance of water and sunlight, as well as a temperate climate, the chinampas were highly productive, producing up to four crops a year, and about two-thirds of the food consumed in the city.

Another important factor in maintaining that high productivity was the intensive recycling of nutrients. The Aztecs disposed of all kinds of organic wastes in the chinampas (artificial islands), such as food leftovers and agricultural residues, which fertilized the crops. Further, the most valuable fertilizer used on the chinampas was human excrement. With other uses, such as for tanning leather, the excrement was so valued that the city had a network of public latrines from which it was collected and eventually sold at the city’s main market.

Human urine was used as a mordant (fixative) in the dyeing of fabrics, and, thus also considered a resource. Nearly every household had ceramic containers used to store urine in order to sell it. In Aztec times, Mexico did not have cattle, sheep, goats or chickens (they were introduced by the Europeans), but the Aztecs consumed animal protein from turkeys, ducks, deer, fish, and other wild animals. They also raised a breed of dog they called itzcuintli for human consumption, feeding them food leftovers.

Read the whole article here!

Five R’s

I know that Bea has one, and another prominent ZW blogger has one, but I like this one the best.

Someone references these in the documentary Inside the Garbage of the World, but there wasn’t any follow-up to it in the interview. Also, the 4th R can mean much, much more than I think the interviewee really intended.

Refuse

This is the first line of defense against garbage. Just don’t have anything to do with it to begin with! Keep it out of your life, and you won’t have to deal with the rest of the R’s. It’s not necessarily that simple, though. Refusing something, whether it’s a freebie or a gift, is often seen as perplexing at best, and horrendously rude at worst. What helps is to reiterate that your refusal isn’t related to your ego, but rather your ethical obligations to the environment.

Reduce

If you bring an item into your world, then bring in less of it, or as little of it as possible. Buy the least complex version of the thing as possible– keep it simple in terms of packaging, assembly, usage, all those fun things. For a rather extreme example, can you guess which comes with less packaging and parts: my breathing washer, or a typical washing machine? I think you can guess the answer~

Reuse

This one’s pretty straight forward: if you acquire something new, make sure you can use it indefinitely. Reuse spaghetti sauce jars, for example. Or when you’re done reading the paper, use it to pick up the dog poo, wrap gifts with it, or use it for package fill. And so on. This should be done with everything that will eventually reach the end of it’s life serving the purpose it was made for.

Reclaim

This one was going to be at the end, but it made more sense to put it here since recycling should be a last resort, given how truly wasteful it is. Anyways, this is the big one. Reclaim. In a way, this usurps Bea’s “Rot”, since that’s technically reclaiming the nutrients in your inedible food scraps, and also eventually reclaiming your soil if it’s in poor shape. This also has much broader implications, though. Reclaim your community (from powerlessness, from isolation, from HOAs). Reclaim your streets (from trash, from ugliness, from cars). Reclaim your ecosystems (from pollution, from over-use, from invasive species). Reclaim your government (make your lawmakers work for YOU). Reclamation, I feel, is the real heart of activism. Go out there and remember that we’re working to get back things that we once had, things that were taken from us. Things haven’t always been this way. Remember that.

Recycle

This goes last because it doesn’t even meet the minimum requirements for sustainability, to be frank. Paper, plastic, and other miscellaneous recyclable materials like foam, fabric, etc., aren’t truly recyclable: they get downcycled. They don’t get repurposed into something of equal or greater value, their material integrity degrades with every reincarnation, and recycling is simply delaying their inevitable fate in the landfill. Metal and glass fare a bit better, but the energy that goes into recycling metal is huge, and it’s almost just as toxic as processing the original virgin material. Glass, I feel, is the best we’ve got when it comes to recycling. It doesn’t take as many resources to process glass, and in the case of returnable milk bottles, all it takes is a thorough washing! But while recycling is far from the ideal that many common folk make it out to be, it’s certainly better than throwing it in the garbage.

Best Vegan Sammy

I like preparing vegan food a lot even though I’m not actually vegan– hell, I’m not even vegetarian. I do eat more meat than I’d like, just due to the nature of my family functions and such. But ideally, I’d eat it only during special occasions, and only free-range or pastured. It’s how our pastorial ancestors lived for the most part, and it’s that way of life that I’d like to connect with much more.

Eating simple vegan meals also keeps my cooking routine ridiculously easy most of the time too. I mean, things CAN get complicated if you’re wanting to bake or make “cheese” or “sausage”, but that kind of experimentation happens only once in a while. I have my list of veggie staples, I have my small arsenal of pantry items (which are all very versatile), and that’s it. Sure, it’s fun to go out and get a nice, big, complex meal someplace, but I don’t need to do that at home. Take the sandwich for example: bread, condiment, insides. You don’t need to make a roasted this, or a smoked that, or a such-in-such reduction for it. Keep it simple!

Enter this 4-ingredient sandwich (modified from this one from Oh She Glows). It can be pretty darned zero-waste (though sadly my tahini, which I’m currently addicted to, came in a plastic tub… how disappointed I am, Trader Joe’s!) if you’re lucky, too.

Wow this picture sucks!

Easy Vegan Sammy

  • Toasted bread
  • Tahini
  • Tomato
  • Avocado
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Cheese would probably be tasty too? Though not very vegan?

Yep, that’s it. The recipe I based this off of (if you can even call it a recipe lol) calls for hummus and pesto. Honestly, I’ve been there, done that. The problem is that it’s a lot of mush, and will kind of make your sandwich taste like mush too. You have to put quite a bit of hummus in a sammy in order to get that good hummus-y flavor too, so why not just skip all the filler and go straight for the zingy, flavorful tahini? This recipe is even easier, technically… being  zero-waste and all, you’d have to make your own pesto otherwise. I mean, you could make your own tahini too, but I didn’t have such a good go at it last time, heh. I’ll try when I get myself a food processor.

Anyways, this combination is amazing, IMO. I had one of these for dinner last night, and I had the one pictured just now for breakfast. Yum.

And yes, those are tiny avocados.