Civilisation Can Go Too Far


Civilisation, as I wrote earlier in the Folly of Animal Rights, is the cave and behaviour with which we humans nurture our kind and reproduce, safe from the deadly competition of nature outside. It has carried us successfully through the hundreds of thousands of years since we were small ape-like creatures in a green and unpleasant world full of large carnivores with huge teeth and a taste for small apes. Civilisation (aka human nurture) is based on a very simple rule; “Sharing and fair exchange without violence”.    

While our cave has evolved into our all-consuming electronic wonder-world of today, this simple cave rule has co-evolved into our modern complex raft of ethics, morals and rights, but they are still the indoor rules of our human cave. Those rules don’t apply outdoors, where nature has no human rules and everything either survives or it doesn’t. Today, of course, our cave is now a conceptual cave, a cave of the mind, because although we left our physical cave long ago, the cave didn’t leave us. Meanwhile, outside, nature still couldn’t care less about us. If you don’t believe that, try swimming across an estuary full of salt water crocodiles. They will explain nature’s lack of empathy with an impressive degree of dental emphasis.

But back to our cave. You can imagine it in plan as a large letter “C”, a common arrangement for human structures around the globe for millennia, with a door facing east “to catch the rising sun”.


Inside, we were safe, but outside, we were not. However, we needed stuff to live, and so we had to to go out of the cave and compete in nature’s great unforgiving field of tournament to get the resources we wanted. If we won a fight, we would drag the stuff back into the cave, where, inside the cave, the resources were put to use nurturing us and reproducing our kind.

There were clearly two activities going on.  The first, the outdoor function, was to obtain the necessary resources, an activity that required competitive determination, objectivity and strength. The indoor function, to apply those resources in order to realise the human purpose of the whole exercise, required cooperation, subjectivity (the inclusion of emotion) and empathy. You can guess what’s coming and I hear the sound of unwaxed wimmin’ in dungarees muttering darkly and sharpening knives.  

Evolution loves efficiency, so there has been this natural division of labour for hundreds of thousands of years and can still be found all over the world. Women are equipped by biology with the bits and pieces necessary for reproduction and so statistically they are likely to have evolved a social and hormonal bias towards the civilised, giving, indoor function, to the left, well away from the door of the cave on the right. Meanwhile, evolution provided men with the upper body strength, social and hormonal bias towards the uncivilised, taking, outdoor function (a statement that many women will agree with wholeheartedly when discussing gender). Quite unsurprisingly, the male function tends to cluster to the right, around the doorway, ready to nip out and grab resources or defend the cave.

Caveman jokes aside, the functions have always been straightforward.  It is the male function to hunt and defend “outside” potential and capture it.  It is the female function to take that captured potential and use it to realise a result.  Like a cement mixer built by Darwin and Spencer, the male function shovels the stuff in, the female function churns the mix and offspring are the result, to start it all over again. It is a cycle in which the two sides are apparently opposite, but entirely equal and perfectly complementary, like two halves of a wheel. 

And so here we are today.  Our politics are still the politics of the cave.  Male-function interests – authority, law, discipline, competition, objectivity, science, hunting, the military and hard technology all cluster to the right side, nearer the doorway, while female-function interests – sociability, empathy, cooperation, history, the arts, nurture and soft technology all cluster to the left, well away from the doorway.  (There is an up and down pair of functions, but that is for another day).

It means that in times of hardship and danger (and whilst growing), societies drift to the right. In times of peace and plenty (and when maturing), societies drift to the left.  In other words, you could say that civilisation is a female thing and that the longer we are well-fed and safe, the more female civilisation becomes.

But it can go too far.  Given safety or privacy, societies are “born” into female nurture, spend “childhood” absorbing their own culture, turn male competitive in “adolescence”, then turn back to female in utilitarian “middle age” and become “Old Crones” in decline.  As a civilisation matures, it swings to the left and away from male interests of the right side. Laws are questioned, leadership authority is ridiculed, science labelled Frankenscience, competition denounced as rape, the military is despised and industry regarded as bandits.  When society begins to decline, female interests and important left-side functions of nurture – distribution, social affairs, empathy, feelings, rights and sharing, all ripen, but they can then over-ripen, turn toxic and instead of fulfilling evolution’s function of nurturing us, begin to attack the right side interests. It is simply evolution at work, putting the governor brakes on over-consumption. History is littered with the remnants of societies that mysteriously disappeared at the very height of their civilisation. They turned too female, turned toxic, starved and collapsed in chaos, a fate that awaits all extreme left wing activity.

This simple cave picture explains most of sociology and politics and will save you four years of expensive labyrinthine toilet-tissue studies at some cod-uni or other. It tells you that hunters and soldiers go out of civilisation to hunt or defend in the hunting grounds and battlefields outdoors where, despite civilian assumptions, there are no rules.  Their job is to use weapons to compete and win, and why their activities should be judged by their peers, not by civilians, who don’t know humerus from anus when it comes to uncivilised outdoor matters.  Hunters and soldiers re-adopt the rules of civilisation when they return, the reason why criminals who use military methods against civilians inside the cave are regarded as animals, and why hunters and soldiers rarely discuss their outdoor activities with civilians inside the cave.  

There have always been important rituals marking these “male” departures and returns to the cave.  Such male rituals are important, celebrating and reminding us that we are civilised. Without them, soldiers, especially those who have experienced close combat warfare and have experienced the total body exhilaration of performing (and surviving) the male evolutionary function, can find it difficult to settle down. Take too, for example, formal hunting with hounds, an activity that takes place during the old pagan male half of the year that runs from Halloween to Mayday (another fascinating story for another day). The important dress and ritual of the hunt, like military pomp and ceremony, are actually a celebration of our civilised human state and of the male evolutionary function of hunting potential. They are a statement of our intention to compete and survive as humans. Civilians who think fox hunting is merely “rich fun” or an exhibition of cruelty prove the point that they are blinded by ignorance.

The cave analogy also allows you to compare “outdoor” soldiers to police. The police act inside the cave and are required to balance the demands of left and right with fairness under the civilised rules of the cave. As society matures, it moves left and the police balance follows, upsetting the right.

It explains, too, the weirdly myopic “townies” who oppose rural activities, even when those townies actually reside in the countryside. Rural people – people who are immersed in the countryside and not simply resident voyeurs – are well aware of the uncivilised nature of the natural world. For that reason, they tend to cluster more to the right than the left, better to keep an eye on things through the doorway of the cave. The better fed, safer, and more female civilisation becomes, the more civilians drift to the left mentally, even if their copious incomes allow them to settle in rural places.  Overfed and under-exercised, society turns female and fat, a familiar story.  Townie is a place inside the head of these people, a sign that they have been indoors for so long, they have lost sight of the natural world; their nurture function is turning toxic, and now they bite the hand that feeds them, convinced that they are justified.  

This, then, becomes the world of the politicised sanctuary owner, the animal rights activist and the anti-hunting saboteur, none of whom have much real comprehension of nature. Most appear to have an obsessive love disorder that loves to love nature, not love nature itself.  They think normal rural life is about exploitation, killing and cruelty, the intellectual equivalent of saying the Mona Lisa is load of paint smeared on a bit of old wood. They just don’t get it.  They are like Mexican tetra, blind cave fish, adapted to life deep inside the human cave, oblivious to the fact that today, everything we use still comes directly or indirectly from nature outside and is dragged into our cave.  

That’s why you see them, immersed in their world of modern, globally-sourced food, fuels, plastic clothes, transport and communications yet protesting about modern consumption, all the while listening to the infantile rantings of a disturbed Swedish child crying from her cradle. Male and female functions work equally like a wheel, but these people let their side down and our wheel goes wonky.  

They are over-civilised, over-female in function, profoundly gullible and preyed upon by male puppeteers like Goncalves and Packham who cultivate their neuroses and turn their angst into emotional dysentery. 

John Nash grew up in West Cornwall and was a £10 pom to Johannesburg in the early 1960’s. He started well in construction project management, mainly high rise buildings but it wasn’t really Africa, so he went bush, prospecting and trading around the murkier bits of the bottom half of the continent. Now retired back in Cornwall among all the other evil old pirates. His interests are still sustainable resources, wildlife management and the utilitarian needs of rural Africa.