There’s a whole host of scientific & technological endeavors where, in a bid to stifle traditionalism, every ‘advance’ & trend progressively *worsens* the thing at hand, until finally it arrives back where it started.
For example, in the medieval era, the herbalisms & traditional medicines eventually obliterated by enclosure, misogyny & modernity had vastly higher survival rates than the ‘’’medicine’’’ of the time, and thus remained true until probably the late 19th century
Actually, this persisted well into the 20th & 21st—ethnobotany, ethnonedicine, ethnobiology & ethnoengineering exist because scientists & capitalists desperately realized that destroying 10s of 1000s of yrs of traditional knowldge was neither scientific nor profitable.
Ivan Illich was the master at pointing out these cases of iatrogenic modernistic hubris in medicine, engineering, education, science, technology, infrastructure, parenting, nutrition, and more.
People often point to capitalism as the driver of these phenomena but that isn’t *exactly* true.
Enclosure, patriarchy, colonialism & imperialism all existed before capitalism, and they began this process of evisceration long before the dawn of capital.
What’s more, *modernism* as an ideology in medicine, science, technology, from medieval doctors to Francis bacon were keen to distinguish themselves from trad methods for reasons of ethnocentrism, but also disciplinary legitimacy & distinction.
The process of self-conscious attempts at distinction by modernist institutional actors in STEM, scholarship & policy, existed (quite profoundly actually) in socialist societies too, look no further than city planning, ecology & anti-religion campaigns.
S. Federici’s ‘Caliban’ is a famous & incisive exposition of the ways colonialism, enclosure, patriarchy & biopower combined to subjugate women, traditional knowldge, workers & indigenous subjects.
Ivan Illich, Thomas Szazz, Michel Foucault, RD Laing, Robert Whitaker, Erving Goffman, Harold Garfinkel, Paul Goodman & Paolo Freire did the same for education, medicine, psychiatry, technology, transportation, and the like.
Since it was their main research area i won’t list specific books unless asked, but suffice it to say that, while much of their work was excessive or even problematic, they successfully showed medicine, psychiatry, education & technology to be iatrogenic & often self-defeating.
Margaret Lock, Annemarie Mol, Donna Harraway, Nancy Scheper Hughes, Vin-Kim Nguyen, & Kaushik Rajan have done similarly pioneering work on medicine, mental health, capital, gender, colonialism, and modernism.
There’s a book whose title I forget, so gender/STS people do your thing!, but it shows how the AMA’s bid for disciplinary legitimacy catalyzed the beginning of the anti-choice movement. Another book whose title I also forget does the same but for the rise of fetal imaging.
@socialrepro perhaps you know the titles of these two works?
Jane Jacobs & James Scott have both done the most to show us why ‘seeing like a state’ is pernicious, and what happens when the state tries to force plans, architectures, lifestyles, ‘order’ etc on cities, communities, nomads, forests, grains, and more.
Although he has become something of a vile CHUD, N. Taleb actually makes good points vis a vis ‘antifragility’, self organization, unconscious evolution, black swans, false expertise, skin in the game, iatrogenesis & culture.
Similarly, John Gray bleeds into straight conservativism, defeatism & so on, but his perceptive analyses of antheopocentrism, teleology, secularized religion, modernity, and the church of progress having perhaps the highest body count overall, are necessary correctives to hubris
Hayek’s points about evolution, information, planning, cybernetics & self-organization would actually be quite perceptive if he wasn’t a resentful capitalist dweeb, self consciously wedded to a self contradictory ideology of individualism, subjectivism & reductionism.
Michael Pollan & primmies like Lierre Keith are HIGHLY problematic in many (or most in Keith’s case) ways, but their savaging of nutritionism, modernism, fashionable diets, and so on, are well argued (i just wish other people had argued them lol)
This holds for most primmies & DGR people, Zerzan, Kaczynski, Jennsen, Keith, Naess, etc. their criticisms of technology, modernity, the state & civilization are often on the mark. The rest of their ideology, however, is, at best, incoherent horsepoop, and, at worst, reactionary
I’ve pointed out these variables before, but what separates primmies & reactionary anti-civ from non reactionary are:
1. Nature/culture divides
2. Historical teleology
3. Artificial views of technology
4. Normative views of the body & ability
(Cont.)
5. Aestheticized sentimentalist views of ‘wilderness’ & ‘hunter gatherers’ reflecting artificial, colonial, purist views
6. Their focus on population, often bleeding into eugenics & border control (Edward Abbey, Daniel Quinn & ITS come to mind)
7. Their profoundly individualistic conception of humans that denies or even rejects the role of society, culture, technology & language, all of which, as Sahlins, Boyd & Richerson, Harraway, Deacon & Tomasello show us are part of our very *genetic* & evolutionary constitution.
8. Their belief in ‘Fall’ narratives
9. Their belief in eschatology
10. Their artificial definitions of cities & often civilization, which very frequently cede said definitions to the very people they criticize (Wengrow, Scott, Graeber & Sahlins forcefully show this in general)
Now, that said, there’s other forms of anti- & post- humanism I actually think are valid and MUST be reckoned with.
The animal centric post humanism of D Harraway, Cary Wolfe & J Derrida savages anthropocentrism. The afropessimism of Wilderson, Hartman, Moten & Mbembe shows just how white supremacy structures humanity & politics as such.
The Postcolonial & critical race feminism of Spivak & Davis show how colonialism, patriarchy & class intersect. The French feminism of Cixous, Irigaray, & Kristeva mixes post structuralism & psychoanalysis to show the gendered nature of the human & the ‘unconscious’.
It is often said that with Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche & Freud we suffered 4 humanistic humiliations:
1. Darwin: we are not biologically special or pre determined
2. Marx (& Durkheim): we are not the drivers of but are driven by history & society
3. Nietzsche: get REKT humanity
4. Freud: we are not in control of our actions, actually you’re just horny

So, I count them in the anti modern & anti human (more accurately they’re paradoxically modern & paradoxically humanist)
The Cybernetics & systems theory of Wiener (lol), Bateson, Shannon, Niklas Luhmann, Mauratana & Varela, shows how we are embodied in dynamic social, natural, & communicative systems which by definition are never fully observable for observation affects what is described.
Latour, actor network theory, object oriented ontology, and speculative realism all decenter the human subject from epistemology & ontology, radicalizing the insights of folks like Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Whitehead, Husserl, Tarde, and so on.
In my mind this is all related to the main point of the thread but I am aware it may seem I am meandering so thus ends my excursus on primitivism, anti-civ, post humanism & anti-modernism.
John Oschendorf, and others, of the historical architecture discipline show how, at the very least, the modal lifespan of traditional architecture & engineering is actually vastly larger than that of modern architecture.
Indeed, even buildings built just before the 1900s are more durable than those that came after. What’s more, they collapse less, they have more functions, they’re easier to modify, they use vastly less energy, minerals & throughput, and they scale better.
Urban planning, civil engineering, architecture and so on, are all TEXTBOOK cases where, rather than solely the profit motive, but disciplinary, institutional & epistemic desires for distinction, legitimacy & superiority combined to undercut vastly better techniques.
Advocates of the green revolution like to point out that modern population couldn’t survive without petroleum agriculture. But there are several problems with this argument.
1. However it may have been, NOW permaculture & agroecology can provably produce enough—they’re, at worst, 80% as efficient, and the world over-produces food by 3X!
2. The growth in labor productivity before & after the green revolution is the same. Instead, what it did was allowed higher concentrations of throughput, heavy capital & so on. The rise in output was thus due to a rise in inputs NOT productivity
3. Historically, population only outgrows food supply where people are:
a. Stratified
B. Coercively or geographically confined/immobile
C. Patriarchy & cishetnormativity force childbirth
D. Primitive accumulation and/or capital encourage birth as a capital stock
In history, famines almost never occurred for hunter gatherers EXCEPT where:
1. The crises were Global in nature (ice age)
2. The foragers at hand were confined by geography and/or
3. The foragers at hand were confined by nearby states
Amartya Sen & Mike Davis show how it is institutions (authoritarianism) & poverty, on the one hand, and markets, states & capitalism, on the other, combined with ecological phenomena that produce famine.
Most deaths in famine result from diseases due to malnutrition. Jared Diamond, Vaclav Smil, James Scott & Bill Cronon show how disease & ecology are anthropogenic & social, how agriculture resulted in energy/productivity declines & how colonialism, agriculture & disease relateZ
(My point is still about the green revolution, I promise!)
4. Finally studies shows that fertility falls as income, equality, democracy, literacy, women’s rights, quality of life, and mobility rise.
While, in the Global North, among middle & higher earning women, the problem is the fertility gap—occupational & financial pressures prevent people from having the desire # of children, for most of settled history & for the marginalized, its usually the opposite problem.
All of this suggests that, absent the green revolution, agricultural productivity would have continued to rise, and fertility would have kept pace, or, more likely declined. Thus the green revolution was a solution in search of a problem! It CAUSED what it was meant to solve
Agriculture originally, the transition to fossil fuels, the green revolution & so on, are all examples of self-necessitation. Their creation caused more problems than they solved, but once they existed the creations they created required them! We can’t ‘go back’ from them.
All of this allows me to go to my next point, and indeed, already covered much of it. I already mentioned J Scott, J Diamond, W Cronon, M Sahlins, and V Smil, so instead I will generalize their points.
Andreas Malm, Timothy Mitchell, D Yergin, A Gonzales, P Shulman & T Wrigley have all shown how modernity requires energy, that we live in a socio technical system (also, D Headrick, but I just started reading him literally today, so can’t report yet)
Malm, Mitchell, Shulman & Gonzales show how the transition to steam power, petroleum, coal & nuclear were driven by considerations of power & politics, not efficiency, just as Scott etc did so for agriculture.
Water power exceeded steam in relative efficiency for 100 years (and in marginal efficiency for almost twice that!), and petroleum & coal had to subsidized at a loss by states & militaries for almost 50 years to catch on!
Nuclear power has, Gonzales shows, whatever other benefits you believe it has, NEVER been sufficiently profitable or capitalizable on its own, and has ALWAYS existed in regulated oligopolistic markets, supported by subsidies, tax breaks, regulations & militaries.
Instead, nuclear energy was pursued for the marginal advantage it gave in the military (nuclear weapons, high energy), in social control (centralization), in sociotechnical concentration (for the suburbs), for the int’l prestige it conferred, and for its modernist aesthetics.
Now, all of these people are absolutely on the mark, but like Scott, Sahlins & Diamond miss a point, namely, that efficiency was less important than raw accumulation, storage, standardization, and concentration.
So, while cooking food destroys nutrients, it makes the nutrients still there more available & it kills pathogens. So, while Malm is correct to criticize Wrigley for determinism, he misses that both their views are correct.
Wrigley & Smil show how energy flows were substantially less efficient but the energy STOCKS were vastly larger, more concentrated, and easier to accumulate. The same goes for agriculture & the green revolution.
Also, like agriculture & green revolution, they were all pursued for social political reasons but after a century or several they became self necessitating .
If people truly followed economics, ironically, the world would look much different. People would have pursued nomadic foraging slowly & steadily as population & spread increased, until the point at which it was no longer possible to migrate & forage en masse.
Meanwhile, the forms of foraging & temporary agriculture they had been slowly but surely developing & seasonally or periodically abandoning for 40,000 years would have also slowly developed and improved.
Settlement & agriculture would not have been coerced, and they would have increased in labor & land efficiency in step with population such that they would have only adopted it when it was more efficient & sustainable!
The same holds true for settlement & architecture (I Will discuss Graeber & Wengrow on seasonally in a bit), AND eventually the same would have been true for energy transitions, water power etc.
Well, let’s be clear, when I say the above, I mean ‘assuming human population was not otherwise wiped out, assuming migration & population growth continued, & assuming cultural practices encouraged such development’ NONE of which are inevitable
The point is more that, were one or more of the following true:
1. teleology/developmentalism
2. technological, geographic &/or ecological determinism, and/or
3. Marginalism

This is how history would have turned out. Clearly they’re falsified!
Philippe Descola has shown how forager societies do NOT use the most calorically, temporally & materially efficient foods & techniques, even where they understand they’re more ‘efficient’—ecology/geography/technology ONLY matter at the subsistence margin.
Even at the subsistence margin, culture still matters tho, as individuals & societies have been willing to die for their culture. What’s more, nomadic foragers & elites in settled societies have rarely lived near subsistence & even the lower classes ceased to do so millenia ago
Sahlins, Smil, Diamond & Scott have shown how the original ‘leisure’ societies did not produce at the margin. Indeed, for most of history people had backward bending labor curves—> more income meant LESS work, not more.
Now to superficially argue against myself, Descola, as well as de Cunha, Viveiros de Castro, Graeber, Wengrow, Strathern, McKinnon, Sahlins, and Taussig have all shown how supposed universalism is nonsensical.
Not only is my usage of categories like efficiency, economy, ecology, culture, rationality, geography & technology foreign to many societies, they directly contradict their local epistemologies & ontologies.
Wengrow, Graeber & Sahlins have shown convincingly that the noble savage ideology is total bunk. Indeed, much of the archaeological evidence we use to discuss them is totally off the mark Bc said remains were only seasonally used!
Thus, while it is true, as Scott etc segue, That ON AVG hunter gatherers were healthier, happier, more equal, more well fed, more leisurely; and as Douglas P Fry shows, more peaceful. This doesn’t counsel ‘noble savage’ Bc these traits were NOT *universal*
Part of this is just perspective. As a sociologist i care about averages, but anthropologists care about contingency & specificity.
Thus to capitalists & civilizationists i emphasize the equality, health, and peacefulness of nomadic foragers, but to primitivists & ‘noble savage’ advocates I discuss their violence, stratification & vast cultural diversity!
What’s more, Wengrow convincingly argues that there’s a concept of civilization NOT tied to teleology, colonial views of barbarians/nature & to monuments that instead focusses on cultural & social complexity, and I find it convincing.
Cunha, Descola, Castro, Taussing, and Merchant convincingly show that our concepts of society, culture & nature basically do not make sense in many communities. Gupta & Ferguson’s famous article does the same for the general case.
I have done MANY threads on the economic, political, ecological, geographic, technological, and material aspects of enclosure, extractivism, colonialism, imperialism, the state, capitalism, patriarchy, and so on. This thread is an attempt at a different angle.
Here I have focussed on the cultural, ideological, epistemic, ontological, psychological, discursive, and disciplinary aspects, and how they INTERACT with (or render moot) the other set. I mentioned many of the facts i often do but i hoped to emphasize diversity here not unity
The takeaways I hope you got are:
1. Hubris is bad
2. Modernism, teleology & civilization comprise distinct ideologies with causal import not unique to or reducible to capitalism, and they operated in pre-, non-, and post- capitalist societies
3. Teleology, rationalism, marginalism, and determinism (geographic, ecological, technological & economic) are, as statements about history, society & culture, falsified
4. Distinction & legitimacy drive substantial historical behaviors
5. Universalism about humans is false
6. Humanism, as a belief in humans as distinct from animals, self conscious & aware, free from society, culture, technology, language, ecology & biology, is false
7. Humanism & modernism as specific ideologies entail intense racial, colonial, gendered, sexualized, ableist, asocial, teleological, hubristic, specieist, anthropocentrism, classist & ethnocentric assumptions
8. Attempts of modernists to impose order in the world, to forcibly confine people, to delegitimate traditional knowledge, to destroy self organizing long standing tacit communal knowledge, have been AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER
9. This modernist ideology existed before capitalism, and helped to bring it into being, and it persisted in AES societies, with equally bad results
10. Perhaps the biggest cause of problems in the world are attempts at solutions!
11. There is no going ‘back’—history lacks a direction, there was no childhood of man, foragers still exist, AND, every major transition (agriculture, cities, fossil fuels, green revolution) is irreversible & self necessitating (at least in the short run)
12. This is not a pessimistic or inevitabilstic claim. Permaculture & agroecology are attempts to reconcile the green revolution, agriculture & fossil fuels with traditional knowldge, sustainability & ecology, for example.
Ethno-/historical- botany, medicine, ecology, biology, engineering, architecture, education, and agriculture are, where detached from colonial, modernist & profit considerations, the ‘way forward’—mixing the advtages of modern scholarship with the knowledge it often displaced
13. The uncanny valley is a dangerous place. Agriculture, medicine, etc all supplanted traditional forms—they did not complement them—but were originally insufficient, and thus long periods of deprivation followed until they caught up & sometimes surpassed
This is the Dunning Kruger effect on a societal scale—we over estimate our competence for our knowldge has yet to grant us sufficient meta knowldge to judge our actual capacities.
The Ancient Greeks may be somewhat experts on our ‘civilization’ given their massive contribution, warts & all. Perhaps this is why from the myths of Prometheus & Icarus to the histories of Herodotus, one vice stands above all: hubris.
Perhaps it is not accidental that they had words for metis (tacit skill), for distinguishing techne, episteme & phronesis, for distinguishing chrematistics from oikosnomos, & for distinguishing sophism & philosophy, distinctions we’ve largely lost.
Suffice it to say, for all their ethnocentrism, talk of barbarians & hypocritical self congratulations, they understood that the boundary between humans & gods, humans & animals, and humans & ‘others’ was tenuous, fragile, artificial & had to be maintained.
They also understood that knowledge & wisdom are not exhausted by verbal skill, technology, craft or science, but concern tacit knowldge, pragmatism, facility, constant self correction, and trust in the accumulated wisdom of societies.
And with Prometheus, Icarus, the Trojan horse & Pandora’s box we see what happens where curiosity, technology, confidence & hubris exceed competence, meta-knowldge, morality & wisdom.
And per Quinn & Scott that the Garden of Eden is the transition to settled agriculture from the foraging abundance of the alluvial Near East, or the Tower of Babel the problem of hubris, endogamy, ethnocentrism & settlement we have a crucible
It is ironic that of two of the main traditions we draw on—Greco-Roman, and Judeo-Christian, we kept the ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism, elitism, teleology, and the power of the ‘word’
Yet, on the points on which the two agree, 2, indeed, which they REPEATEDLY almost compulsively try to convey—the dangers of hubris, the importance of wisdom, skill & culture, the fragility of humanity, the incompetence of curiosity, & the issues of settlement, we threw them out
Similarly in the modern era, the few things that Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Durkheim, Skinner, Einstein, Foucault, Heidegger, and many more agree on, are the things that even those who synthesize the above acutely ignore!
These are the insights that neither history nor humanity had intrinsic meaning, that nature may be law like but it is not meaningful & transcendent & we can’t self subtract or conceptualize it, that we are not masters of ourselves or out fate, that subjects & free will are myths
So, with the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Jews, and the highest luminaries of both modernism & post modernism, it seems we’ve an inveterate tendency to throw out the baby & keep drinking the bath water.
If there is any valid to be had in any of the above as luminaries, as philosophers, as wisepersons, as scientists etc, then surely it is where they agree, rather than not, that one should look—ESPECIALLY if it conflicts with the dominant culture!
And where they agree is plain & simple:
There is perhaps intellectual & moral vice more destructive on a personal & political level, no screed with a higher body count, than that of hubris, of epistemic, cultural, psychological, ontological & scientific arrogance.
Arrogance about our selves—thinking ourselves free, self aware, transparent & self controlled bounded, rational, individual, encapsulated agents.
Arrogance about our societies & cultures—the belief that we are superior to others, that we’ve mastered our fates, and that the ‘other’ is subpar, in need of education, at best, and elimination, at worst.
Arrogance about science & truth—belief that there is some transcendent truth & meanig, that we have access to it, that it is transparent, and that we have it all figured out.
Arrogance about history—the assumption that history has direction OR that we govern its terms, the belief in either a ‘Fall’ or an eschatology, and arrogance about having discovered its deterministic laws.
Arrogance about technology, ecology, economy & geography—the assumption that we have mastered these, that there are technical solutions to all things, and that we are free from their constraints, or that blindly pursuing them w/o morality & wisdom is a bad idea.
Arrogance about competence—where confidence exceeds competence, due to hubris & a lack of meta knowldge, tacit knowldge & wisdom, we’re all bound to fail.
My 3 or so main drives I’ve found are my sentimental & aesthetic view of the nobility of truth & scholarship, by vision of total freedom & human emancipation, and by my pursuit of hedonistic pleasures, but through & with those if I have one overriding goal it is the following
Namely, unifying my political, scholarly, and personal interests & motives is the contention that the single greatest vice in scholarship & politics is hubris, a form of collective arrogance.
This is why I am so vicious when I encounter sentimental & aesthetic visions that undercut clear thought (beyond, of course, the baser motive we all share: revulsion at those whose pleasures & precepts are incompatible with our own).
It is why my focus in sociology is on knowldge (What is more humbling than to learn that knowldge production & science itself are empirically determinate, predictable, bounded, social processes ?)
And it is why my politics have always, through thick or thin, been committed to the notion that the single greatest evil is to seek to cage, confine & control another living being, for, from that as its condition of possibility, springs all the others.
At the risk of an even hokier metaphor, perhaps we can see intellectual arrogance as itself a sort of cage, forcible confinement of our minds & discourses (i know i know, I’m shmaltzy), and it is against that crucible of caging I direct the vast bulk of my efforts. Peace :)
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