Postscript to AnPrim On Fire
In response to my essay 'AnPrim On Fire' John Zerzan stated refutations in his April 2, 2019 Anarchy Radio show. Here are my responses to his points (paraphrased from my notes):
JZ - Controlled fire was around 2 million years ago, very least several hundred thousand years ago.
Ria - Colonization tends to start innocently, linger for a long while, then erupt to top dominator position. For example, kudzu came to the states from Japan in 1876 for an exposition in Philadelphia, then in 1883 for an exposition in New Orleans. Home owners wanted it to provide shade, farmers wanted it to feed cows, and the government wanted it to control erosion. By 1946, kudzu had been planted by humans on 3,000,000. It started spreading into cities and wild habitats. By 1997 Kudzu was listed by the government as a noxious weed. Today it has encroached into 7,400,000 acres. Since humans began colonizing, this story is told again and again, with different characters and settings.
To compare kudzu to controlling fire, kudzu in its co-adapted indigenous habitat in Japan is akin to earliest humans’ first forays with fire, foraging in wakes of wildfires and later moving food out of and in to hotspots (earliest cooking). This was a wild human-fire nourishing relationship.
The first step to humans domesticating fire, akin to kudzu being brought from its home into far away expositions, is early humans maintaining fire over a period of time, transporting it, forming base camps around it.
The final step to humans domesticating fire, akin to kudzu’s entwining with human culture, is human’s ability to make fire by hand. With this invention human’s relationship with fire shifted from opportunistic to habitual and dependent, perhaps the first ‘progress trap’. Archaeological evidence puts this at 700,000 to 120,000 years ago.
JZ - Fire was not just for cooking, but warmth and light to ward off predators.
Ria - Temperature is one setter of habitat range boundaries. The human body, like all bodies, living primitively thrives within a certain temperature spectrum. If an area falls outside that spectrum, that serves as a natural force to keep the species population in check. Ignoring and encroaching temperature spectrum limits through innovations is an act and ethos toward colonization
JZ - In terms of domestication, when you use fire you don’t change the nature of fire. He goes with domestication, with a definition of: changing the nature of something, namely animals or plants, about 10,000 years ago.
Ria - What does it mean to ‘change the nature’? Controlled fire sparked the human slow invasion of all bioregions, leaving extinctions in their path, long before agriculture. This forever impacted, altered and degraded interconnections between all life and with habitat. This altered plant and animal cultures and biologies everywhere. All plants and animals ‘change the nature’ with one another as they form and reform, shift and reshift. That is the way of wild, so I don’t understand the significance of ‘change the nature’, I see agriculture as intensifying control under colonization.
Regarding the anarcho-primitivist and radical left’s link between civilization and domestication (agriculture), exploring definitions of ‘domestication, ‘civilization’ and ‘colonization’ offers some clarity.
Domestication- the process of hereditary reorganization of wild animals and plants into domestic and cultivated forms according to the interests of people. In its strictest sense, it refers to the initial stage of human mastery of wild animals and plants.
Civilization- the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced.
Colonization- the action of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use.
Since humans came down from the trees, they have had stage after stage of increasingly organized advancements. Some were slow and some fast, with the fastest by far probably being the organized advancement of agriculture.
JZ - If you want to argue that fire set in motion an ethos of control, domesticating vector, you have to show some evidence for that. Because nothing changed until actual domestication of plants and animals when everything changed, hierarchy & patriarchy. If you don’t see a change in band society, egalitarian anti-hierarchal, that’s common knowledge,
Ria - After incursions dissolved into settlement, humans like all species reignited their innate yearning for mutualism. Everything changed with human’s control of fire. Here’s just one piece of evidence that early humans had behavior of control, predation and colonization, which was either driven by or resulted in an ethos of control, predation and colonization:
Felisa A. Smith, Rosemary E. Elliott Smith, S. Kathleen Lyons, Jonathan L. Payne. Body size downgrading of mammals over the late Quaternary. Science, 2018; DOI: 10.1126/science.aao5987
“Elephant-dwarfing wooly mammoths, elephant-sized ground sloths and various saber-toothed cats highlighted the array of massive mammals roaming Earth between 2.6 million and 12,000 years ago. Prior research suggested that such large mammals began disappearing faster than their smaller counterparts — a phenomenon known as size-biased extinction…
With the help of emerging data from older fossil and rock records, the new study estimated that this size-biased extinction started at least 125,000 years ago in Africa…
…as humans migrated out of Africa, other size-biased extinctions began occurring in regions and on timelines that coincide with known human migration patterns, the researchers found. Over time, the average body size of mammals on those other continents approached and then fell well below Africa’s. Mammals that survived during the span were generally far smaller than those that went extinct.
The magnitude and scale of the recent size-biased extinction surpassed any other recorded during the last 66 million years, according to the study, which was led by the University of New Mexico’s Felisa Smith.
“It wasn’t until human impacts started becoming a factor that large body sizes made mammals more vulnerable to extinction,” said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Kate Lyons, who authored the study with Smith and colleagues from Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego. “The anthropological record indicates that Homo sapiens are identified as a species around 200,000 years ago, so this occurred not very long after the birth of us as a species…
…the research team found little support for the idea that climate change drove size-biased extinctions during the last 66 million years. Large and small mammals seemed equally vulnerable to temperature shifts throughout that span, the authors reported”
Lyons went on to say that restructuring from large to small mammals has “profound implications” for the world’s ecosystems. Large mammals tend to be herbivores, devouring large quantities of vegetation and effectively transporting the associated nutrients around an ecosystem. When they disappear, the small mammals are poor substitutes for important ecological functions.
With domestication of fire everything changed, such as in division of labor by sexes in my essay heading Fire Transformed and Stratified Humans, Further, controlled fire could be the birth of compulsory labor and taxation. When humans began coming together to share the fire, their relationships formed new intimacies and power dynamics. As today, there would have been a social pressure to gather a constant supply of firewood as the price to pay for benefiting from it.
With patriarchy comes speciesism, a new power over animals in humans’ shift from prey to predatory. Fire was used to clear out caves inhabited by other animals for shelter from the elements. Fire was used to engineer weapons to ambush larger herbivores. Fire was used to corral and entrap large mammals to kill and cook them.
Fire was the most important factor in expanding into new terrains and developing early human societies. Whoever wielded fire had more power. Once the terrains were dominated, early humans began managing the biomes, which benefited certain other life as well, often creating a thriving diversity. Evidence of more complex management such as still practiced by some native people is found 100,000 – 200,000 years ago.
Before fire, the human diet was plant based. After fire which brought on organized hunting and sporadic meat, the human body slowly began adapting with changes in teeth, gut, etc. But even after human dietway formed into the fast food meat centeredness of today, at the human biological core humans remain herbivores and thrive best with that dietway.
JZ - If you are a raw food vegan you might want to arrange the story of human species to fit that, the impulse of that then you don’t like fire or cooking or hunting.
Ria - It’s challenging for people today to conceive of a way without fire, cooking or hunting, just as people deny that our species is a colonizing one. Without fire, humans would not have been able to colonize. Without a colonizing ethos, humans would not have used fire to expand outside the primal human habitat. Which came first, the ethos of colonization or the technology of fire is a moot point. Fire mastery hoisted human ferocity, and with that wrought a fiery new lifeway onto all.