My wife, Karen Holdaway Miller, gave birth to our son, Ethan Isaac, on May 16, 1967, in Oakland, CA.
Meanwhile, I was hard at work at UC-Berkeley.
In the summer of 1967, Karen, Ethan and I relocated to the new Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS) “mobile” HQ at Lake City, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. We were headquartered at the Ryan Ranch, which sat on the far side of the Lake Fork (of the Gunnison) River. It’s now a Nature Conservancy property. We did a lot of exploratory stuff in that first San Juan summer. Harry and Libby Frishman were also there, and we became good friends.
I got my BA in Dec. 1967, with my grades good enough to get me “into” Phi Beta Kappa. I went right into grad school, in the Dep’t. of Anthropology, specializing in Physical Anthropology. This was in the Winter quarter of 1967-1968.
But the emphasis of the Physical Anthro staff and students was not exactly what I was looking for. It was primarily centered on primate studies and paleoanthropology. I wanted to pursue studies in the biological basis of human behavior. My advisor, Sherwood Washburn, suggested I transfer to Harvard, and study with Irven DeVore. He got me in, and, in the Fall of 1968, Karen, Ethan and I moved to Cambridge, Mass. DeVore and Richard Lee were running the Harvard Kung Bushmen project, and this kind of study inspired me. The idea was that studying nomadic hunters-gatherers provided one with information on humanity’s original social adaptations, prior to the disruption wrought by the invention of agriculture and the founding of cities. It is now commonly appreciated that the hunter-gatherer way of life was based on small-group reciprocity, the absence of coercive authority, little warfare and a low birth rate – that it was, in other words, “sustainable”, having persisted for 99% of human history. The way of life that replaced it – mass societies ruled by elites – has now brought humanity to the brink of self-annihilation, and many now agree that the experiment called “civilization” has proved a failure. What to make of this development? Humans are not “bad”. Only some of us are bad – meaning, in most instances, greedy. In small-scale, face-to-face hunter-gatherer societies, the greed of individuals could be kept in check, through peer group pressure. Someone who was “bossy” got put in his/her place. Truly incorrigible persons would be sent away … or murdered. Nothing that threatened to disrupt consensus decision-making, and the peace, harmony and the egalitarian relationships of one to the other could and would be tolerated. But … this mechanism required that a hunter-gatherer society be small enough that everyone knew everyone else. After the invention of agriculture, the resulting aggregations of people that inhabited the first villages and then cities no longer had the means by which to control the greedy. The greedy got control of the first wealth – stored agricultural products – and immediately hired goons to protect their advantage, and priests to legitimize that advantage. This circumstance has stayed unchanged from the day (seven or eight thousand years ago) that it began, to the present. There are still kings in this world, along with plenty of oligarchs, and death remains the usual penalty for defying authority. This system has led to the pillaging of earth’s resources, so that the wealthy may become yet wealthier. But how much longer can this kleptocratic civilization last – now that the world begins to deal with the consequences of climate change/sea-level rise, resource depletion, overpopulation, and all the other insults that our natural world now faces? This is the kick-off to the end game, and what follows won’t be pretty.
Karen, Ethan and I travelled to Oregon the next summer, to work with the Northwest Outward Bound School. See the next post.