Saturday, May 23, 2009

What does anthropology tell us?

Not much that we'd care to hear, unfortunately. Jared Diamond, in his erotic thriller Guns, Germs, and Steel, contends that the natural state of the humanzee is small group communal living within well-defined territory, with a lot of roving, hunting, and gathering thrown in. That's how we lived prior to agriculture, sowing and reaping requiring, as it does, staying put. These mobile groups top out at about 100 members. Everyone else, the whole world of everyone elses, is an enemy. This according to Diamond, but accepted broadly.

Think about that for a minute. Everyone in your tribe is ok, even that bastard in the hut under the baobab tree, the one who's always picking his nose and flicking it in your direction. They're all ok because you know their faces and have since birth. The immutable laws of the group don't allow you to be at odds with another member of the group. So you know who your friends are. On the other side of the coin, you instantly know who your enemy is, too. It's anyyone whose face you don't recognize.

You might imagine stand-offs in the forest, one hairy, heavy-browed nitwit hooting and shaking a sharp stick at another hairy, heavy-browed nitwit, an unknowing trespasser. Two nitwits, the same in almost all respects, but pushed to extremes simply because they've never seen each other before. One chases the other until he crosses some imaginary line, and it's all over. Sound and fury, signifying nothing. You might imagine it that way, but you'd be wrong.

You'd be wrong because homo sapiens (otherwise known as "the ape that weeps," aka You and Me) has existed in pretty much its present state for about 150,000 years, give or take. And we only started farming about 10,000 years ago. Meaning that we've spent 93.3% of the existence of our species ready to attack strangers on sight. So that one nitwit who's trespassing? That's You. And the other one? That's Me. And I'm not hooting and shaking my stick. I'm trying to shove it through your throat.

This is generally accepted, capital "A" Anthropology. The tribes of Papua New Guinea, some of the last (mostly) unmolested humans on the planet, still roll that way.

This is pretty bleak. And fairly unwelcome news. If we're to keep our cherished illusions about brotherhood and sisterhood and the whole world joining hands to start, say, a love train, for instance- then we're not trying to hear that shit.

But the payoff for having your spirits dragged through the gutter draws nigh, o faithful reader. How about this: When was the last time you tried to gouge out the eyes of an unknown innocent? Have you recently had a set-to with a gang of roughs who claimed you were on their turf? Probably not. And why?

You can call it a social contract, if you like. Golden rule. Human decency. Belief in human rights. Ethics. Morals. What it boils down to is that we've made more progress toward being humane to each other in the last 6.7% of our species' existence than we did in the entire preceding 93.3%. And that's pretty goddamn amazing. It is a feat that has no equal in the history of all known life.

So the next time you're thinking they should just nuke the entire Middle East and start from scratch, or that everything's turning into a pile of shit, just remember that we haven't had a lot of practice being good to one another, relatively speaking. But not even the world's most cynical curmudgeon could deny that we've changed, most would say for the better.

Maybe we've plateaued. Maybe we'll regress. We might just progress. One way or another, as bad as it is, we've never been this nice to each other before. It may be a wintery kind of sunlight for May, but it's all you're getting out of us. We're going away to strangle our optimism now- you may wish to withdraw. Back next week, properly dismal.


This week:

All items mentioned below are first come, first serve. If you want something, let us know post-haste (because they're also for sale on the interweb)! All new items sell for cover price, used items as marked. Sadly, trade credit cannot be used for new items.

Our books are always searchable via ABEbooks.


Maakies, Tony Millionaire.
(Paperback, first edition of author's first book, signed)

Belching. Farting. Suicide. Drinking. Vomiting. Sailing ships and alligator-faced Frenchmen. Wachtel is the new Acme. That goddamn little boat bobbing around! No jokes here: It's a work of genius.

($75) [Sold]


The Man Without Qualities
, Robert Musil.
(Paperback, two volumes)

"That one is not famous is only natural: that one has not enough readers to live is a shame!" - Robert Musil

Considered one of the great Modernist novelists today, in his lifetime, Musil could find no audience. Only eight people attended his funeral. This massive novel, his masterwork, was unfinished at the time of his death. Only Musil's working draft survived, which he had written on a grain of rice with very tiny brushes. Nearly boiled as an accompaniment to a dish of gyoza, the book was rescued, translated, and printed in an edition that decimated a forest the size of Brazil. The gyoza were never consumed; have grown cold and unsavory.

($25) [Sold]


Behind the Pink Curtain, Jasper Sharp.
(Hardcover, limited edition)

Exploring Japan's notorious "Pink Films," a soft-core sub-genre not well-known outside Japan. The truly astounding thing is that all these films were made by ONE MAN. Written, produced, acted, the whole shebang. He was equally fetching in pink and blue, and no one ever suspected.



Kramers Ergot no. 5, Sammy Harkham, ed.
(Paperback, out of print)

If Art Spiegelman was a twenty-something right now, the version of Raw he would be publishing would be called Kramers Ergot. So cutting edge, it was irrelevant three seconds before the ink hit the paper, then got super relevant again five minute later. Now it towers like a statue of Anubis over the great cities of the West, commanding their doom.

($50) [Sold]


Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management, Bernard Jensen.

A classic in the field of bowel management. Includes a color photo section, and we'll let you guess what that might be about. The kind of book your crazy uncle gives you on your fourteenth birthday, along with the words, "You're a man now, Gary." We're not sure who Gary is.

($6) [Sold]


How fast do we rot?


Everything's turning into a pile of shit.

Except this:

Dust to Digital is perhaps the finest re-issue label going these days. They produced the fantabulous Victrola Favorites, and they've knocked the ball out of the park once again with Take Me to the Water!

Get it now at Wall of Sound!

Take Me to the Water from Dust-to-Digital on Vimeo.


BBC Radiophonic Workshop:

Experimental Tribute from Chris Carter on Vimeo.


# of weeks since Spine and Crown inception: 185

# of weeks since inception that no mention of Spine and Crown has appeared in the print edition of The Stranger: 185


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