Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn

Beyond Civilization is a short, down to earth, and readable book which really helped me “think out of the box”—the BIG box Daniel Quinn calls “civilization.”  He doesn’t think we should overthrow civilization or abolish it or outlaw it.  He thinks we should simply leave it behind and move on to better things.

The question immediately arises:  what could be better than civilization?  First of all, it is important to understand what Quinn means by the term.  He’s not talking about art, music, indoor plumbing, or polite manners; he does not think we need to leave such things behind.  By civilization, he means the hierarchical structure where those on top control the ones below them, or at least make life very uncomfortable for them if they do not obey.  This “civilized” structure of society is responsible for much of human misery, not to mention the destruction of the earth as a functioning human habitat.

If we agree with Quinn that the hierarchy of civilization causes these problems, then we still have to ask:  what’s the alternative?  Quinn’s answer is a return to a form of human organization that worked well for humankind for millennia:  small cooperative groups called tribes.

Before we get out our spears and put on our animal skins, we should be aware that Quinn is not talking about going “back” to anything, but rather moving forward to forms of modern tribalism that can work for us now.

He does not prescribe particular details, but rather encourages us to use our creativity to figure out how we can work together in small groups, each member using their talents so that the group can make a living together.  He does give some examples of modern tribalism at work, but most of this accessible little book is about changing our perspective on how human beings might live together successfully.

Rather than dismissing all this as hopelessly idealistic, we should recognize that Quinn is not preaching altruism, however laudable such a thing may be.  On the contrary, he repeatedly shows us that this way of living is mutually beneficial, as well as satisfying.  He’s also not suggesting we preach these ideas and try to get everybody to do it as once.  We don’t have to wait for the whole world to get on board; anyone who wants to implement these ideas can start now.  I see his point.  Many of my life’s experiences so far confirm the truth of Quinn’s book, and through his words I find an even greater rationale to live cooperatively and sustainably.

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