Back to the Future: the Return of the Clan?

“Every man is the builder of a temple called his body.” – Henry David Thoreau

As a frequent Forum, with Michael Krasny listener, I was pleasantly surprised by the exceptional Ancestral Wellness literacy expressed in this recent show (Are Humans Meant for Monogamy?) by guest Christopher Ryan, psychologist and co-author of “Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality“.   Ancestral Wellness acuity of this level is rarely encountered in the mainstream.  Even mentions of vegetarianism in this show come with the caveat of “know your biological underpinnings and, if you still opt for a vegetarian diet, do so with this knowledge and take the necessary precautions”.  In this way, Ryan compares monogamy with vegetarianism — no moral judgements, just sound precautions if you chose to operate outside of your genetic hard-wiring.   Know thyself, then adjust accordingly so as to support your goals and wishes.

Hmmmm; where have you heard that before?  😉

Now this idea is as easy to parody as Paleo itself; however, Ryan isn’t advocating wanton hedonism, but rather, a need to know your genomic hard-wiring, and the hows-and-whys behind that hard-wiring’s development over our species’ existence.

Social networks and the innate human search for “spiritual meaning” (note: as opposed to religion), in my mind, are the missing — or at least, as yet unexplored — “third and forth rails” of the Ancestral Wellness movement.  Knowing who we are, in terms of diet and exercise, in an evolutionary sense, forms the base upon which those of us within this movement craft a healthier, happier and fitter lifestyle.  What’s missing, of course, is the societal and spiritual element.  Living within the societal structures of our current, modern dictates is as much an anathema to our well-being as subsisting on a Standard American Diet, or negating the positive implications of movement/exercise in our lives.  Neglecting our hard-wired need for “meaning” is just as corrosive.

Christopher Ryan suggests that the current economic situation may in fact drive some forward-thinking people to begin to form nascent “clans” (my word, not his), with both shared responsibility and shared fruits-of-labor.  As necessity is the mother of invention — or in this case, re-discovery — this can only be viewed in a positive light vis-a-vis hunter-gatherer clans and their propensity toward egalitarianism.  It will be interesting to see how governments deal with this scenario.

Ten-thousand-plus years of severe social conditioning, of course, won’t be scrubbed away in a mere generation or two.  But as with all cutting-edge ideas, there will always be forward-thinking, early adopters.  It is, in my mind at least, inevitable that the first “new clans” will emerge from this already egalitarian/libertarian minded Ancestral Wellness “sub-culture”; a sub-culture, by the way, that I am proud to be a member and vehement promoter of.

And hell, let’s go ahead and throw shamanism into the mix of ideas that were squelched/repressed/shamed a result of leaving behind the egalitarian, hunter-gatherer lifestyle as well.  Few non-fiction books have rocked my world the way Graham Hancock’s awesome work, Supernatural, has.  Totally mind-expanding, to say the least, in the way that Peter McWilliams’ work, Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do, skewed my political views (much further) toward practical libertarianism, way back in the day.  Ditto for Peter McAllister’s Manthropology, in shaping my notions of the average Joe’s physical ability and work capacity.

Food, fitness, societal underpinnings and spirituality, taken together and as viewed form an evolutionary prospective, round-out the Ancestral Wellness model.

The return of the clan and the clan shaman are, in my estimation, are a much-anticipated inevitability.  Sign me up for both.

A Weekend Fun and Frolic — on the field, in the parking lot and in the gym

Saturday: speed work –
(1) sprints: 6-seconds, self-timed, all-out and with full-recovery between reps.  Autoregulated by distance, in that when I failed to attain max distance two times in a row, I pulled the plug.  I think I ended-up getting about 10 efforts in, though I wasn’t trying to keep count.  “Full recovery” equated to about two minutes between reps.

(2) dual-leg speed hop; 10 seconds for max distance.  Same autoregulation idea as above.  Again, roughly 10 attempts before reaching drop-off.

(3) dual-leg hop — tractor tire course.  8 tires dispersed randomly, but spaced so that I could hop in, out and between each tire so as to complete the course.  Done fast as possible, but with no “double hops” or misses.  6 rounds, full recovery between rounds.

What’s the difference between speed and speed repeat (or speed endurance) work?  Check out this article from Elite Fitness: What speed training really means.  I can explain it no better than this.  Nice work, Jon.

Sunday: sprint repeat (endurance) work –
Prowler pushes, farmers walks, all manner of sandbag clean & press, snatch variations and other such manifestations of tourture — just a friggin’ free-for-all throwdown with Skyler Tanner and PFX12’s mastermind Kevin Cottrell.  Not a damn bit of it was quantifiable, although I was close to hurling at one point, so I guess that would qualify the session as “pretty intense”  Chalk another one up for the axis-side of the old power-law curve 😉

And let me just say this: you can’t take these two friggin’ animals anywhere — just look at what the hell they did to my prowler during this workout…

Check out that right rear skid.  What you can’t see is that the left rear skid is bent, too.  Does this mean that the Paleo/HIIT crowd is tougher on equipment than those West Side powerlifting behemoths?  Hmmmmm……  🙂

…meanwhile, the ol’ prowler is in ICU.  Damn, just after I got my bike off of the same such life support.  Meh…

In the news…

This is either a boon for health, longevity, and the quality of life — or a major score for the pharmaceutical industry.  Check out this story, from Big Think — The Man Who Was “Cured” of HIV.    Now this certainly can work out to be the essence of Ancestral Wellness — combining the best of modern technology, with an underpinning of smart & solid Physical Culture.  Without that solid underpinning, however, what science is creating is a class of customers beholden to the pharmaceutical industry not just for 75 years, but for 150 years.  Cha-ching!

Eat the rich, my friends…or rather, let the rich eat themselves.

In health,

11 responses to “Back to the Future: the Return of the Clan?

  1. So if there ever was a workout that fits in the “Critical Point of Change” type of random event for how I normally train, this was it. It was good fun; maybe we should get a shot of me with the sandbag for the “this grad student monkey broke your ‘hardcore’ prowler, Dave…” email, ha!

  2. I’ve been thinking something like this as well, in regards to developing “clans” as a response to the current economic situation. I keep coming back to that Einstein Quote, “We cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created them.” I feel as if this is what our “leaders” in DC are doing. I can’t help but feel that the solutions will come from the people acting independently, just doing it, trying out alternative ways of organizing and living within our current framework which may lead to a transformation of that framework.

    Ideas are out there and people have been talking about them. Daniel Quinn has written about it and has actively sought to create and foster communities. In his book “Beyond Civilization” he points to ‘Tribes’ as a viable method of living in the here and now. Tribes engaged in joint economic ventures, living outside of the single family home, 40 hours a week commuter system. There can also be tribes that still operate within that framework but share resources and common views and goals. Thus community.

    Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal (one of your fellow AHS presenters) has pointed out the importance of tribe and tribe building along with taking a larger holistic perspective on the Paleo story and how it can inform our lives beyond food and exercise. Here is his site:

    I was fortunate to attend one of Franks “Exuberant Animal Jams” in Tacoma, Washington last month and many of the people I met were interested in helping to evolve this story. If you are looking for someone living the shaman life look at the “Barefoot Sensei” of Exuberant Animal. He might not call himself a shaman or maybe he would, regardless, he is out there doing it and rapping on it, some may not agree with his methods of training but the point is to develop a life of movement engaged in the body and to “go from me to we” as he says and build a tribe. Here is the Barefoot Sensei:

    Just yesterday I wrote down five things that might move the vision forward and it can be done within the ancestral framework.

    1) Work less (at conventional jobs or in a shared business venture)
    2) Shared living, shared expenses/resources
    3) Focus on Active lifestyles
    4) Gardens, either at home or community (Rob Wolf’s Liberty Gardens)
    5) Community, tribe, or clan as social and entertainment/fun/celebration focus

    In my view it’s akin to dropping out. Dropping out of a broken system, run by people of little vision and concern, and creating something inspired. Epicurus did this back in ancient Greece. Hippies tried to do it. Amish are doing it there way.

    I agree the Ancestral community would be a great place to start, as outside the box thinkers are already here and connecting via the web and the symposiums. It would necessarily take a group of people with like minds and a shared vision to start this and like you wrote, “Ten-thousand-plus years of severe social conditioning, of course, won’t be scrubbed away in a mere generation or two.” So it wouldn’t be easy, but it’s been done, the models are there and just like anything that succeeds it will take determination and commitment on behalf of the social explorers.

    All the best,


    • There’s an important distinction to be drawn between indoctrination into a clan or tribe eventually marked by paradigm paralysis versus a liberative community of practice.
      I’m going to make recourse to telling the story of one that emerged in village based India circa 500+ BCE. Tribal organization had given way to city-states, mini-empires ruled over by kings who were essential war lords. In the Indian system of that time, while the most powerful, they were culturally second class to the brahmins, guardians of sacred rites rooted in shamanism, not what anglo scholars mistook as a religion they invented called Hinduism (after the greek Hindu mispronunciation of the Indus river and its valley of high civilization). Military lords mated to produce heirs, those genetically at least as fit as they were to rule and win wars.

      Get the emerging image: clan or tribe became a people with a social or ethnic identity.

      Well, along came a boy born into that situation, spoiled so rotten by it he was clueless to the suffering of age, disease, and death – and the states of unburdened bliss inherent in yogic or liberative psychospirituailty known in India for about 3 centuries then due to the Upanishads. In his mid 20s he was traumatized by witnessing old age, sickness, death and transcendent bliss. He set out to understand and know, leaving a life of relative priveledge behind.
      Second take home point: outside the monotheistic people of the middle eastern deserts, there is no quest for ‘meaning’ – instead theres’ a race to experience life without limiting beliefs. That’s what Sid did.

      Sid became a homeless person (gringo scholars interpret that as monk). Trapped in the alternative to ordinary society, he became trapped in the realm of religious options, nearly losing his life to starvation and excessive dare devil spiritual practices. Taking nourishment and sitting under the axis mundi or tree of life, he began waking up from the normal waking trance imposed by society as normal, as meaning, as value. Be became alive.

      In Sanskrit, he has 10 traditional names. One is Cool – he put out the raging neurotic fires feeding stress, the soap opera roller coaster ride of stress and dissociative identification states. Another is Fearless – all fears gone, hence his symbol became the Jungle Lion, king of nature. Yet another is Sharmelss – once fear is gone, once meaning is gone, what’s there to be shamed about – you cannot lose a face that was an illusion, not you. Another name is Awake – in Sanskrit, Buddha – awake, awakened, wide awake, not one of those pilots asleep at the wheel.

      So The Cool, Shameless, Fearless, Awake dude was called on to coach others. Since India of that time was still village based, he wasn’t about to create another damned entrapping zoo. He created what’s called Sangha, a place to become a refugee from the maddening crowd, from the momentum of mediocrity, from the human zoo – one called Sangha in Sanskrit. Again, gringo scholars, including people too busy being philosophers to learn important languages (Ken Wilber) call it ‘the community’. The word means ‘hunting party’. One important thing to know about buddhism is that it’s shamanism upgraded to Windows 7. We simply don’t need more clans and tribes imposing totalitarian rule – we need communities of transpersonal, transevolutionary practice, and not trainers but elders passing on the torch. Those traditions keep using words like primal since their wisdom is tapped into waking up the genome big time.

      At least that’s what was passed on to me in Japan 40 years ago.

    • Stace, in the book “12 by 12,” in which the author lives for a season in a 12 by 12 cabin in rural North Carolina, the author discusses what he calls “soft economies.” If a global economy is hard, farmers markets, local business, people know you are part of a “soft” economy. Soft not only because the effect is not global in nature but soft because it is built on relationships which allows for less hard constraints when dealing in economic transactions.

      It’s a good book, should you be of interest.

  3. It’s funny because my introduction to Paleo culture actually came about directly through the pick up community, and specifically it was Anthony Johnson’s blog where I felt I had met a kindred spirit, someone who had somehow become obsessed with ketogenetic diets, pick up, and exercise and was my same age. It was uncanny.

    Reading this post though I can’t help but think it was inevitable from the frame point of “ancestral wisdom”. Sooner or later intelligent, forward thinking people can no longer ignore the fundamental, deep seated insanity inherent in Western Civilization. I think that’s the binding thread that explains how all these disparate interests have come together. Evolutionary psychology drives the modern day mens movement, just like evolutionary archeology drives the HIT/paleo movement, and evolutionary history and common sense drive the movement to legalize and experiment with altered states and the drugs that produce them.

    I think at the very end, the most startling thing people will start to realize is that civilization is not all it’s cracked up to be. For all we have gained, in reality we’ve just been solving problems created by the damn institution in the first place, and slowly we are realizing that people used to be vibrant, healthy, and have rich, meaningful social lives before industrial capitalism bound everyone in shackles and made their lives meaningless and pathetic.

    • Western civilization’s insanity? I can think of a few non-Western nations equally insane, especially with respect to overt stripping of human rights. Syria? Iran? for starters!
      I’d also broaden the impact of evo psychology to include neuroscience, some areas of contemplative study (e.g., the Mind Life Institute in Boulder, Buddha’s Brain in California).
      Evolutionary archaelogy drives the HIT/Paleo movement? The Paleo movement originated from the work of Boyd Eaton, Marjorie Shostak, and Mel Konner, with Loren Cordain latter joining co-authored publications. Frank Booth’s works have contributed but no way near enough yet. Booth and Cordain are exercise physiologists and neither recommends HIT. In fact, in evolutionary exercise physiology – a field influenced by genetic and molecular biology in which one reads a lot about Paleolithic ancestors – advocacy of activity through training is essential what I’ve popularized in Physical Culture 2.0, a whole systems approach covering all metabolic and hypertrophy bases – HIT has membership as a method chiefly activating contractile hypertrophy, which is to say isn’t not especially good for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
      Keith’s research seems to have nailed down the modern Paleo Activity Fiction that’s invaded popular Paleo – one study of Samoans generalized to speak for all hunted/scavengers for all times. That study seems to be another piece of confirmation biased cherry picking to make the case for HIT only by excluding a much bigger evidential base supporting wide spectrum training in concert with contemporary exercise science. Again, HIT has a place in such training, albeit it a minor one – with intensity underscoring all varied activities. I’m sure you’ll be seeing new blogs by both Keith and I on the topic since we’re both working it and we share insights.

  4. Interesting reference about the fellow who’s AIDS was cured. Michael Mooney & Nelson Vergel’s Built to Survive (2000), with an intro by Mauro di Pasquali, MD, was the first & likely only intelligent, well researched guide to warding off the wasting effects of HIV, and with it bringing disease progression to a halt. Their method? Bodybuilding, a nutrient dense diet of whole foods, and ample amounts of selected anabolic steroids as hormone replacement therapy. I’m told there are plenty of HIV+ guys out there who will die in advanced age due to intelligently following that regimen.
    And that opens yet another topic of the upcoming event: hormone replacement therapy and selected supplements, particularly when dealing with those in need of arresting and reversing chronic degenerative diseases. Test levels fall along with everything else, so use of hcg + DHEA can get the pituitary hypothalamus adrenal axis restored. Not so likely for those guys who fell prey to bad medical advise by having vasectomies: exogenous test will most likely be added to the list of supplements. There is a naivety that Paleo/training will restore everything to normal function: depends on degree, sometimes cause, of current condition.

  5. Thoughts on Shamanism: Joe Campbell’s essay The Empty Symbol in his The Flight of the Wild Gander is a must read. The wild gander is a traditional icon for the shaman from ancient times, its symbol of flying movement the swastika – carried right over into perhaps the most sophisticated of all shamanic methods, the one gringo scholars misnamed as “buddhism.” Buddhist mappings of states of consciousness, realms of experience, and the transpersonal practices/training/bodhibuilding for development are incredible. Still takes some mastery of Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian to unlock the keys. I’m convinced they’re dealing with expression of bigger chunks of the genome than Western science’s paradigms can deal with or even wish to. Same with aspects of parapsychology – things anthropologists don’t much report for a variety of reasons all having to do with Western taboos inherited from religion. Murphy’s The Future of the Body offers a good synoptic overview – one including shamanism. Soviet sport superiority included having harnessed shamanic abilities – Garfield’s book Peak Performance goes into his experience. At the Weider event, Bill Pearl & I discussed the matter – he was Garfield’s coach as well as having life long interests in meta-normal skills.

    A new field emerging is called PsychoNeuroImmunology. Only Australia based Dr Ron Laura has applied it and biofeedback to training. Closer to home, Dr Ernest Rossi, another PNI pioneer, is making use of technique addressing the genome itself through voluntary control to bring about something medical people call spontaneous remission from terminal illnesses.

    Bottom line take home point: maintaining an open ended approach to evolutionary medicine as a base camp opens a world of suppressed anamolies, most imprisoned in marginalized yet specialized lines of inquiry. They are the stuff of an emerging new humanism, the stuff of Salk’s meta-biological evolution, his Survival of the Wisest – in full recognition of the current state of endangerment Costa so well speaks of in her The Watchman’s Rattle. We’re at a turning point in evolution, one in which homo sapiens better wake up and get in the driver’s seat.

  6. Quick response. When I mean “drives” I only mean that many proponents use the framework of evolution to justify their different philosophies. The Paleo movement and it’s biggest advocates point back to the history of humans and our ancestors and the vibrancy of tribal cultures. I’m not talking directly about who actually founded the movement. Just like I’m not exactly sure who “founded” the pick up community first, but it’s obvious that the majority of the communities main advocates use tons of evolutionary psychology to explain their concepts and ideas of sexuality and sex selection.

    I’m not saying anything for or against HIT except that it also benefits from a lot of evolutionary style arguments, whether they are accurate or not. Many HIT advocates claim that ancestral man more often engaged in short, intense exercise blah blah blah.

    As for the “insanity” comment, I would agree that most civilizations can be quite nuts, but I would point out that when I say “western civ” I mean in broad scope the civilizations that arouse out of the fertile crescent, as in most countries nowadays share that history, with the exception of civilizations that started independently of western-judeo influences. But you are right, there’s plenty of crazy to go around.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s