Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 565, April 11, 2010

"Fifty Ways to Leave Big Brother"

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Back to the Trees!
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I was rummaging around the kitchen this afternoon, as I often do, looking for bugs to eat, when I was suddenly stricken with a peculiar thought.

Bugs? Don't worry, I'll get back to them in a minute.

If my life had gone differently, if I had not been majoring in War Avoidance during my college years (I refused, then and now, to let lying lowlifes like Lyndon Johnson choose my enemies for me), I would most likely have ended up as a physical anthropologist. The story of human evolution has always been among my chief interests and greatest joys, offering, as it does, all the very best that both paleontology and archaeology have to offer, with a dollop of philosophy on the side.

Second only to the "unholy trinity" of John Wayne, Jeff Cooper, and Robert A. Heinlein, my heroes have mostly been men and women of science. As a kid, I carried a copy of Paul de Kruif's Microbe Hunters (still a great read) around like other people carry the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Koran. Long, long before Indiana Jones, I read everything I could of the adventures of Roy Chapman Andrews and Roland T. Bird, each of them roaming the world gathering up nature's oddities with a revolver on his hip and a song in his heart.

My mother, who apparently believed she was Polish (but that's another story altogether), regaled me with stories of little Maria Sklodowska, better known by her married name, Curie, the discoverer of radium.

If you've read my novel Pallas, the first volume of what I call the "Ngu Family Saga", you may remember the character Raymond Louis Drake-Tealy, the anthropologist who designed the high-tech hunter (forget "gatherer") economy on the terraformed asteroid, husband to Mirelle Stein, who wrote the social contract that governed that little world.

Like those of many of my characters, his name is a bit of a puzzle left for the reader to solve, an amalgam of three other names it won't hurt, after all these years, to reveal, not that they were all that hidden to begin with. I urge you to look these folks up (start with Wikipedia). Each was a daring intellectual pioneer who made a career of swimming upstream whether his colleagues and critics approved or not.

The "Raymond", and part of the "Drake-Tealy" honors Raymond Dart, early proponent of the "out-of-Africa" hypothesis of human evolution that was first, amazingly, suggested by Darwin, and the first scholar to describe humankind as "killer apes". The "Louis", and part of the "Drake-Tealy" are for Louis B. Leakey, a truly incredible human being, the subject of too many stories to go into here, but certainly the most illustrious figure ever to grace the fields of anthropology and paleontology.

You can also pull "Ardrey" out of the anagram. Robert Ardrey, like many in the study of human origins, was not a scientist. He was a playwright.

Interestingly, Dart was an Australian. Leakey was born and raised in Kenya. It doesn't take a much-overrated Ivy League or Oxford degree to produce good science. In fact, what institutions like those mostly produce these days is pseudoscience like global warming. And if I were in charge, any college or university with a "speech policy" banning "sexism", "ageism", "sizeism", "lookism", or even racism, would lose its precious accreditation. Guess that makes me guilty of First Amendmentism.

But, as usual, I have digressed.

Ardrey was also one of the most honest and fearless reporters of his own thoughts I'd ever encountered. As a card-carrying liberal, he loathed the conclusion that his reasoning processes took him to: that the significant difference between our species and all of the other apes is that "for uncounted thousands of years, we and we alone, killed for a living". But he also believed that it explained why we humans advanced faster and vastly further than any of those other apes.

Two other names I would have amalgamated into Raymond Louis Drake-Tealy's if it hadn't resulted in an unpronounceable mess, are those of Elaine Morgan and Desmond Morris. (The actual idea for a modern hunter economy was a result of reading an article about the development of agriculture by Jared Diamond called "Mankind's Greatest Mistake?")

Morgan was—and remains today—the champion of the "aquatic ape" theory. I was delighted, when I started doing research for this article, to discover that her thesis has finally begun to receive the respect it deserves. I won't go into it now except to say that it involves our ancestors having lived for a million years or so wading chest-high in slow-moving rivers, in part to avoid African land predators. I accepted it from the beginning because it parsimoniously explains certain things about our species that nothing else does very well.

Desmond Morris is a zoologist and the author of The Naked Ape. It is his idea that many of the otherwise inexplicable quirks we see in ourselves are leftovers, the result of our evolutionary heritage. Take that business with the bugs, for instance. Any time our higher cognitive processes get shut down, by panic, fatigue, or simply boredom, we humans have a tendency to revert to earlier, prehuman behavior.

Our early ancestors in Africa were arboreal troop-monkeys, living on a diet of fruit (to quote Yogi Bear, "Nut and berries! Nuts and berries! Yech!") and insects. When you wander around the house, not particularly hungry, but looking for something to munch on idly, what you are most likely seeking unconsciously are bugs. Most of our most popular snack foods (Fiddle-Faddle comes to mind, and small pretzels) resemble and have the same "mouth feel" as bugs. You can take the monkey out of the trees, but you can't take the tree monkey out of humanity.

It's been a long time, and I can't remember whether it's Morris's idea or mine that the roots of human behavior can be understood as an internal conflict between our fundamental troop-monkey nature and the behavior of the prairie hunters—the "killer apes"—they evolved into.

Ironically, that evolution had to happen because our ancestors were the losers in a struggle over African forests, dwindling as the continent dried up. What had been huge swatches of woodland became the veldt, open plains dotted here and there by copses which the winners held onto, kicking our forebears out to scratch for a living in a new way. The winners are still apes, while the losers will inherit the stars.

Morris talks a lot about our troop monkey ancestors, based on what we can see of them today. Relatively safe from predators high in the trees, they can eat all day, and, given their diet, they have to. They are anonymous—in that any single monkey can be substituted for any other without disrupting the group—and promiscuous. The individual counts more or less for nothing. They travel together, following rules of ethology observed in other species by Konrad Lorenz, like flocks of birds or schools of fish, unthinkingly driven only by sensation and instinct.

In some ways it sounds like the ancient concept of Paradise or the Garden of Eden. It is, of course, the very model and objective of collectivism.

On the ground, our ancestors, losers in the struggle for the trees—cast out of Eden as if by an angel with a flaming sword—had a much tougher time of it. They were exposed to predators like big cats, wild dogs, and hyenas. Indeed, many of the prehuman remains found today are full of tooth marks. They weren't strong, compared to these animals, and they were maddeningly slow, so they had to get smart, fast.

And to paraphrase Nietzsche, bringing him into accordance with Darwin, in the end, that which does not kill too many of us makes us stronger.

For example, watching my cats, who sometimes resemble prairie dogs in this respect, I suspect that our ancestors adapted to bipedalism for the view above the level of the grass, as much as for anything else. Later, they discovered that they could carry things if they remained upright.

Change of posture brought other changes. Notice, for example, that human beings court face-to-face. Then they marry and see each other mostly in profile for the rest of their lives. But see each other they do, while animals, at least judging from my cats, hardly ever look one another in the face. Ultimately, I believe that eye contact changed everything.

Somewhere along in here, possibly driven by bipedalism, prehumans decided that they preferred frontal copulation to anything else (the first to try were probably called perverts and run out of the group on a rail). This added to the importance of face-to-face eye contact and conversation.

Almost all of human prehistory is about increasing individuation, and frontal copulation had to be a great driver in that. Individuation set us inevitably on the path to individuality, and, ultimately, to individualism.

Most of this I learned in undergraduate physical anthropology courses that were among the last I took before I ran, shrieking, from the university, ecstatic to be leaping with both feet first into real life. But here's a funny thought: if human evolution is all about individuation, aren't most politics aimed in precisely the opposite direction?

Socialism, whether it's the "soft tyranny" of the EuroAmerican management state or the murderously repressive forms taken by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot, is all about disindividuation, a steady, relentless erasure of the individual differences among us, everything that makes us who we are. "Everybody in, nobody out!" is the marching mantra of militant collectivized medicine, but it accurately describes all other aspects of collectivism, as well. No alternatives allowed, no choices, no individualism, no individuality, and ultimately, no individuation.

"New Soviet Man", whether he is envisioned by Hitler (who was, inarguably, a socialist), Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or Barack Obama, is a throwback. What he represents is a sick dream of human evolution in reverse.

Talk about reactionary! In an essay "Prometheus Bound—and Gagged", I suggested that the enemies of freedom have been permanently traumatized by the discovery of fire and want to go backwards to a time before that. The concept that their ultimate (if unconscious) objective is actually to reverse human evolution can be used to defeat them.

The tragedy is that many of our fellow travelers and erstwhile allies—otherwise intelligent and admirable individuals like Ben Stein—have missed all this because of their own irrational and superstitious rejection of Darwin, what might be called "evolution denial".

The right are at their worst when they try to be tree-monkeys, too, turning off their brains and eating bugs. Somebody needs to give them a good shaking and two important items of information: if you believe DNA exists, and acts as described, you're stuck with evolution whether you like it or not; and if you don't like being descended from animals—and being an animal yourself—then try to be something else.

Something better than you are now.

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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