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Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure

Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure

4.2 25
by Daniel Quinn

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In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn thinks the unthinkable. We all know there's no one right way to build a bicycle, no one right way to design an automobile, no one right way to make a pair of shoes, but we're convinced that there must be only one right way to live -- and the one we have is it, no matter what.

Beyond Civilization makes practical


In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn thinks the unthinkable. We all know there's no one right way to build a bicycle, no one right way to design an automobile, no one right way to make a pair of shoes, but we're convinced that there must be only one right way to live -- and the one we have is it, no matter what.

Beyond Civilization makes practical sense of the vision of Daniel Quinn's best-selling novel Ishmael. Examining ancient civilizations such as the Maya and the Olmec, as well as modern-day microcosms of alternative living like circus societies, Quinn guides us on a quest for a new model for society, one that is forward-thinking and encourages diversity instead of suppressing it. Beyond Civilization is not about a "New World Order" but a "New Personal World Order" that would allow people to assert control over their own destiny and grant them the freedom to create their own way of life right now -- not in some distant utopian future.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Beyond Civilization is the most solid, real, practical, and you-can-really-do-it book you'll ever find on how to save the world. Daniel Quinn has again proven he is one of our century's greatest and most insightful thinkers. The re-tribalization of the world: what an extraordinary possibility!"        
-- Thom Hartmann,         author of  The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

"As always with Quinn, his argument is crystalline and reads like a thriller. He shows us that getting 'beyond' the mess of civilization doesn't mean changing human nature or setting off a revolution. We need only breathe new life into an ancient human strategy for survival. Quinn's plan is inspiring and devilishly clever."          
-- John Briggs,         author of Seven Life Lessons of Chaos

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With the publication of his trilogy of novels (Ishmael; The Story of B; My Ishmael), Quinn became something of a cult figure in visionary fiction. In those books, Quinn explored the self-sustaining nature of tribal societies and his belief that the current worldwide ecological and economic crises are due to the agriculture-based organization of civilized societies. He now turns his hand to nonfiction, with an appeal for universal renewal through a "New Tribal Revolution." Acknowledging that it would be impossible for most civilized humans to return to the hunting and gathering typical of tribes, Quinn argues that modern men and women need to invent a completely different mode of existence. To do this, they must question a basic assumption of all civilized societies: "Civilization must continue at any cost and must not be abandoned under any circumstances." Quinn, borrowing from Richard Dawkins, calls this assumption a "meme," the cultural equivalent of a gene. Quinn's main examples are peoples like the Maya and Anasazi, who returned to tribalism after unsuccessful attempts at other types of social organization, and the communal structure of traditional circuses. The author has a knack for stating the obvious with tremendous personal conviction. His articulation of a simpler way of life will appeal to those made frantic by globalization and all the forces conspiring to make people dance as fast as they can. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Using parable and dialog, Quinn introduces the reader to some of the philosophical views that have led to our tacit assumption that civilization is the answer to humanity's problems. He offers critical reminders, without being either polemical or technical, that civilization may not be the answer. Rather, he asserts that we should move beyond hierarchy to a new form of tribal living--not the communal style of the 1960s but one suffused with conscious, purposeful awareness of each action's greater impact. Quinn notes, "Beyond civilization isn't a geographical space...it's a cultural space that opens up among people with new minds." As is characteristic of his philosophical novels, Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael, the prose is readable and the sociological discussion unobtrusive. Fans of Quinn's earlier works will welcome this title. Libraries seeking to provide contemporary discussion on human ecology will find this title an asset. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/99.]--Leroy Hommerding, Citrus Cty. Lib. Syst., Inverness, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A cultish recipe for the salvation of the human race, which is being poisoned by the "genetic" structure of its own civilization. Quinn returns to the theme of "Taker" and "Leaver" societies that he expounded in his prizewinning novel Ishmael (1992) and the sequel, My Ishmael (1997). In a typical simplistic reduction, he constantly asserts that the solutions to mankind's problems are easy, but no one else has thought about them correctly. His naive answer is to understand culture as consisting of what are called memes, the cultural equivalent of genes in the body. Once we are able to isolate the pathological memes that have allowed civilization (bad) to triumph over more successful tribal societies (good), we can initiate a new tribalism in which we all work together as equals to obtain the necessities of human life. Revolution against the current economic system will not be necessary; we can just opt not to participate in the prevalent, hierarchically structured, exploitative "Taker" society. Evidence of his crackpot theory is drawn haphazardly from Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene (the origin of the term meme and an extremely controversial book in its own right), a stunningly shallow analysis of Meso-American prehistory, and the plot of the movie The Sting (it turns out con men are also members of the ancient tribal fraternity). He anticipates his argument will be criticized by social theorists as an utter romanticization of tribalism and tribal society, but rather than offering a more sophisticated analysis, he merely attacks social theorists for being prejudiced. His justification for choosing tribal society over hierarchical society, premised upon thecontrol of food crops by an armed elite, is explained in a section entitled "Circus people are tribal people." Quinn is the sociological equivalent of Ross Perot—all vision and anecdote, with neither depth of thought nor workable solutions.

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Read an Excerpt

From Part One: Closing In on the Problem

I heard this, naturally, from my grandfather, he from his grandfather, he from his own grandfather, and so on, back many hundreds of years. That means this tale is very old. But it won't disappear, because I offer it to my children, and my children will tell it to their children, and so on.
-- Gypsy storyteller Lazaros Harisiadis, quoted by Diane Tong in Gypsy Folk Tales

A fable to start with
Once upon a time life evolved on a certain planet, bringing forth many different social organizations--packs, pods, flocks, troops, herds, and so on. One species whose members were unusually intelligent developed a unique social organization called a tribe. Tribalism worked well for them for millions of years, but there came a time when they decided to experiment with a new social organization (called civilization) that was hierarchal rather than tribal. Before long, those at the top of the hierarchy were living in great luxury, enjoying perfect leisure and having the best of everything. A larger class of people below them lived very well and had nothing to complain about. But the masses living at the bottom of the hierarchy didn't like it at all. They worked and lived like pack animals, struggling just to stay alive.

        "This isn't working," the masses said. "The tribal way was better. We should return to that way." But the ruler of the hierarchy told them, "We've put that primitive life behind us forever. We can't go back to it."

        "If we can't go back," the masses said, "then let's go forward--on to something different."

        "That can't be done," the ruler said, "because nothing different is possible. Nothing can be beyond civilization. Civilization is a final, unsurpassable invention."

        "But no invention is ever unsurpassable. The steam engine was surpassed by the gas engine. The radio was surpassed by television. The calculator was surpassed by the computer. Why should civilization be different?"

        "I don't know why it's different," the ruler said, "It just is."

        But the masses didn't believe this--and neither do I.

A Manual of Change
My first concept of this book was reflected in its original title: The Manual of Change. I thought of this because there's nothing the people of our culture want more than change. They desperately want to change themselves and the world around them. The reason isn't hard to find. They know something's wrong--wrong with themselves and wrong with the world.
In Ishmael and my other books, I gave people a new way of understanding what's gone wrong here. I had the rather naive idea this would be enough. Usually it is enough. If you know what's wrong with something--your car or your computer or your refrigerator or your television set--then the rest is relatively easy. I assumed it would be the same here, but of course it isn't. Over and over again, literally thousands of times, people have said to me or written to me, "I understand what you're saying--you've changed the way I see the world and our place in it--but what are we supposed to DO about it?"

I might have said, "Isn't it obvious?" But obviously it isn't obvious--or anything remotely like obvious.

In this book I hope to make it obvious.

Humanity's future is what's at stake.

Who are the people of "our culture"?
It's easy to pick out the people who belong to "our" culture. If you go somewhere--anywhere in the world--where the food is under lock and key, you'll know you're among people of our culture. They may differ wildly in relatively superficial matters--in the way they dress, in their marriage customs, in the holidays they observe, and so on. But when it comes to the most fundamental thing of all, getting the food they need to stay alive, they're all alike. In these places, the food is all owned by someone, and if you want some, you'll have to buy it. This is expected in these places; the people of our culture know no other way.

Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key--and putting it there is the cornerstone of our economy, for if the food wasn't under lock and key, who would work?

What does "saving the world" mean?
When we talk about saving the world, what world are we talking about? Not the globe itself, obviously. But also not the biological world--the world of life. The world of life, strangely enough, is not in danger (though thousands and perhaps even millions of species are). Even at our worst and most destructive, we would be unable to render this planet lifeless. At present it's estimated that as many as two hundred species a day are becoming extinct, thanks to us. If we continue to kill off our neighbors at this rate, there will inevitably come a day when one of those two hundred species is our own.
Saving the world also can't mean preserving the world as it is right now. That may sound like a nice idea, but it's also out of reach. Even if the entire human race vanished tomorrow, the world wouldn't stay the way it is today. We will never, under any circumstances, be able to stop change on this planet.
But if saving the world doesn't mean saving the world of life or preserving it unchanged, what are we talking about? Saving the world can only mean one thing: saving the world as a human habitat. Accomplishing this will mean (must mean) saving the world as a habitat for as many other species as possible. We can only save the world as a human habitat if we stop our catastrophic onslaught on the community of life, for we depend on that community for our very lives.

Meet the Author

DANIEL QUINN is the award-winning author of Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael. His Web site address is www.ishmael.org. He lives in Houston, Texas.

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Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the handbook for the new revolution. The new tribal revolution. Daniel Quinn has answered everyone's question, 'but what can I do?' The answers are here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I never used to be *that* concerned about the condition of the Earth and our civilization; I knew we had some great problems, but I figured they would be solved sooner or later and that humanity was in no real threat of going extinct. My God, what a naive view that was. Reading the Ishmael trilogy and Beyond Civilization has totally changed me. I used to be more or less apathetic about these issues, but after reading these books, I absolutely couldn't stay that way. We are in real trouble if we continue this way of life, and nothing less than a world with changed minds will save us. Everyone has to read Quinn's books, including this one. I'm not exaggerating when I say that. We all have to change our vision from the current one, or we'll end up stabbing ourselves to death (that's what we're doing now). Quinn makes these important facts very clear in this book, and his reasoning is so sound. These ideas were totally unknown to me before reading Ishmael. Now I can't believe how I got along without them. I know so many people who feel the same way after reading Quinn's books. They say their lives are changed. Some of these people were the most apathetic I knew towards environmental issues. It's *amazing* what effect these books have on people. I've never experienced anything like it. More than anything, this book is a tremendous inspiration, especially to those who have read Ishmael (they can appreciate the ideas more - so you read Ishmael too! :). It's straightforward, clear, and incredibly powerful. Please read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is a great companion to quinn's other works ( ishmael, my ishmael, the story of b ) ... i keep this book in my bathroom and read passages in it daily, finding new insights every time i turn a page ... its the new bible peace
Guest More than 1 year ago
Brilliant book, and it requires more than one reading in order to fully grasp the message. Essentially: the re-tribalization of the modern world. Spears and tipis not required, just a willingness to change from hierarchy to community, right smack dab in the in the middle of this world of skyscrapers and highways. No more running away, folks.
Guest More than 1 year ago
People who dropped out and went back to the land in the 60's and came up with the right balance of adults to children (about 5/1), practicing permaculture, growing their food organically, midwifing their babies at home, homeschooling, making decisions using concensus process, resolving conflicts using the tool of Re-evaluation Counseling and living off the grid have been holding continental gatherings bi-annualy since 1984 to celebrate their successes and write the blueprint for the (Post Industrial/Post Scarcity) Ecological Age. Daniel Quinns books serve as the raison d' etre for what is an already established worldwide movement that is overlooked by mainstream culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have recently picked up Daniel Quinn's work and immediately devoured as much as possible. The way the Author catches your attention seems too easy, ISHMAEL as well as it's sequel  MY ISHMAEL being an easy yet captivating read.  I have this one my list next, and from experience I can say it's going to be just as amazing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Making a living in a tribe as the hope for humanity is very appealing, and it is not what you think. Read it and join the conversation.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
As a pyschologist-to-be (still going through the years of schooling) the one outstanding theory that has been drilled into me is that in order to heal correctly, you must help your client to be honest with him/her self. That is exactly what D.Q. has done in his books. He has simply been honest in his writings. As a lover of honesty, i loved all of his works.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Daniel Quinn once again uses his story-telling talents to relay a challenge to 'takers' (from Ishmael) everywhere. He asks how much we really know about ourselves and the culture we defend so vehemently.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Quinn displays another set of new ideas and writes some more of his thoughts on his old ideas. thank you! thank you! thankyou! Mr. Quinn for giving me and others hope for our future, an hopefully helping to save our lives. The Earth Gods will love you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful new book by Daniel Quinn that inspires us all to action in whatever way we can. Inspiring, thought-provoking, and important essays in bite-size pieces. This book is exciting and positive in it's urging to start creating a sustainable way to live.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Have read all of Daniel Quinn's materials, and have been positively influenced by his writings. Hope to talk many other of my friends and family into getting his books and reading them!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Its an ok book, but nothing Daniel Quinn ever writes will top Ishamel, a book that was fresh and mind boggling when it first appeared on the scene! I still say if you want to understand Quinn's ideas, Ishmael is all you have to read. His theories and ideas are amazing but people took it to far, he is just a man with great perception, that doesn't mean he has all the answers. Beyond cicilization is a result of people making Quinn into a 'god' and him finally giving in. Don't rely on others, change your way of making a living to something that makes you happy and doesn't contribute negatively to the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, the forth in the series of great enlightening pieces by Daniel Quinn, lays out his contentions about 'taker' society and the repercusions of it's actions. A great quick read for such large concepts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Honestly, I've been a bit disappointed by the book. The reason why it made this list, however, is that it makes us aware that human beings did not appear as civilization builders. Indeed, civilization was only one of the many experiments that humans tested in order to improve their lives. Quinn shows us that many cultures tried this experiment at one point in their history, but that they all gave it up because they quickly realized that (1) this lifestyle pushed them to work more than ever before, and (2) it favored an uncontrollable growth that put in danger their ecosystem. Quinn's message is that it is time for us to do the same thing: it is now obvious that our civilization does not work well at all, and it is on the verge of being eliminated by natural selection (putting our ecosystem in danger puts us in danger!). Thus, even though our cultural myths implicitly tell us that civilization is the greatest accomplishment of human beings, it is now time to realize it is not true and to walk away. Now the real question is 'How can we walk away?' Do not read this book if you are just looking for easy and quick answers because you will not find them. What Quinn proposes is to (1) become aware of our cultural myths (the purpose of Ishmael), and (2) change them to a more sustainable mythology of the way we live. Thus, by teaching our children and other people around us about the failures of our own culture and the successes of other cultures, we should be able to have a better vision of human life and how human beings can live sustainably within the community of life. Quinn goes on saying that the tribal way has been working for hundreds of thousands of years, as it provides what people really need: A sense of belonging and of purpose. He then gives a few examples of how people, nowadays, could form small groups and start sharing their resources and monitoring their impact on their environment. Their is real hope and a future for the human species beyond civilization. Walk away from it and find your own creative ways to adopt a sustainable lifestyle!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Three years ago, when I first picked up Ishmael, I never would have thought that I would be an avid reader or a person who always seeks knowledge. Daniel Quinn has definitly showed what he is all about in this book, I love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good book that provokes contemplation of todays society and our social climate. I did however find it to be redundant with the same point being made continuously made throughout the book. I understood what was being expressed in the first few pages of each chapter and felt that the substance of the book was overstretched.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a veritable tornado of new ideas that are guaranteed to re-wire your mind!!I now know whats been itching me since I was a kid 'growing up'.There is something wrong with our 60hr-a-week-at-the-labor-camp, dispassionate,mall going,tee-vee consuming culture,and after reading this book,I can begin to understand why.If anybody from the Northwest reads this, feel free to contact me at my E-mail address
Guest More than 1 year ago
Quinn¿s writings are tremendously powerful in their ability to explain the evolution of human society, the development of Taker culture and ideology, etc. I believe his prescriptive writings, however (e.g. in Beyond Civilization) suffer from a fundamental flaw: his apparent assumption that Taker Culture can or will exercise self-restraint. Throughout his writings Quinn rightly admonishes us to look to the rest of the Community of Life for guidance on how to live as members of that Community, not overlords of it. Yet nowhere can we find any evidence that any other species has ever ¿Walked Away,¿ as he challenges Takers to now do. ¿Walking Away¿ (at least as I understand it) fundamentally means exercising self-restraint, consciously refraining from exercising available power to ¿convert the biomass of the planet to human biomass¿ as Quinn discusses in his video ¿Food Production and Population Growth.¿ Throughout his writings Quinn contrasts this ¿totalitarian¿ approach to food (agriculture) and life with that of other species and non-Taker cultures, species and cultures more in ¿balance¿ with the Community of Life. Do you seriously believe that this ¿balance¿ is achieved and maintained by their choice, rather than being unwillingly imposed upon them by other members of the Community or other controls (e.g. climate, competitors, soil types, etc.)? That is, do you believe for a minute that the Sioux would not have tried to convert all earth biomass to Sioux biomass if they had the tools to do so? Or that the coyote would not try to convert all earth biomass to coyote biomass if they had the tools to do so? Or the dragonfly? Or the Russian Thistle? Or the fire ant? Can you seriously argue that any other member of the Community of Life would (or has) willingly ¿Walk(ed) Away¿ as Quinn admonishes Takers to do? Nonsense. Give brother coyote the tools to minimize his enemies, enhance his food supplies, reduce his diseases and minimize the impact of adverse climate on him and he will certainly not ¿Walk Away.¿ He will overwhelm us, just as we now (largely) overwhelm him. Consider exotic invasive species around the world, species transplanted from their ¿balanced¿ Communities of Life of their native lands to new Communities of Life far away. These ¿new¿ Communities lack the ¿balancing tools¿ necessary to restrain their growth and expansion, and they expand dramatically at the expense of the rest of the Community, creating monocultures. I see absolutely no willingness of Cheatgrass to ¿Walk Away¿ in the intermountain West of the United States, or of the Cane Toad to do so in Australia, or of the Zebra Mussel to do so in the Great Lakes, or of the Brown Tree Snake to do so in Guam. Each of these species, lacking the ¿balancing tools¿ of its native land that kept it in check, is now rapidly converting its new Community¿s biomass to its own. There is no self-restraint, no ¿Walking Away.¿ When I do as Quinn suggests and look to the rest of Community of Life for guidance, I see absolutely no evidence that any other species has, or would, ¿Walk Away,¿ and Quinn provides no evidence to the contrary. Quinn does suggest that several New World cultures ¿Walked Away¿ (e.g. the Hohokam and the Anasazi), but I have found no anthropologists, archeologists, etc. who agree with him. Instead, they point to necessity (changing climate patterns, attack from other cultures, etc.)--not choice--as the factors driving these cultures away from their early Taker paths. Taker Culture enjoys the dubious distinction of being perhaps the first member of the Community of Life who will need to demonstrate something that is unprecedented in life on earth: the exercise of species self-restraint. I have absolutely no confidence that this will ever be done, and certainly the brief glimpses of life ¿Beyond Civilization¿ Quinn has offered thus far (e.g. the barely coherent, drug-induced ramblings of Michael Time on Quinn's website, the ridiculous, ba