Thursday, November 22, 2018

3092. Culture and Nature in The Epic of Gilgamesh

By Kamran Nayeri, November 22, 2018
Gilgamesh: Courtesy of LeWeb Francis

1. Introduction

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first known long literary writing from the earliest civilization.  It is a series of Mesopotamian epic poems, woven together over time, that recount the adventures of Gilgamesh, the ruler of Uruk, who lived about 2,600 BCE (endnote 1).  Uruk was where the town of Warka is located in today’s Iraq, about 250 miles south of Baghdad, and dates back to about five thousand years ago.  There is no set of well-preserved cuneiform tablets for The Epic of Gilgamesh. Since the nineteenth-century scholars have located and deciphered several partial texts and painstakingly cobbled them together to offer a coherent narrative. (see, “Introduction,” in Ziolkowski, 2012, and, George, 2003, for a detailed discussion) 

The epic has drawn the attention of scholars from many fields of inquiry (e.g., Maier, ed., 1997) as well as the general public. In this essay, I will examine the epic from a new perspective informed by my own argument that the transition to farming from foraging that began about 10,000 years ago required alienation from nature marked by the rise of an anthropocentric worldview (human-centeredness) basic to farming, which relies on domestication of plants and animals, and domination and control of nature.  The transition to anthropocentrism marked a world-historic change because our forager ancestors held a variety of ecocentric worldviews for the past 290,000 years (see, section 3, for a discussion).  

If my argument is valid, we must see this transition reflected in fable, mythology, and folklore in the cultural history of the early civilizations and consolidation of the anthropocentrism in the subsequent civilizations.  The Epic of Gilgamesh provides an ideal case study.  In section 2, I will outline a summary of the epic itself.  Section 3 will discuss the relationship between culture and nature in the epic.  In section 4, I will recall folklore and fables related to me as a child by my grandmother in Tehran in the 1950s and discuss whether and how thousands of years of civilization might have advanced their anthropocentrism.  However, the decisive domination of anthropocentrism in human culture occurs with the emergence, consolidation, and development of the industrial capitalist civilization and how it has uprooted almost all reservoir of forager societies and why it is vital to revive such worldviews in order to save the world.  I will discuss these in section 5. 
The Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, written 2,100 years ago. 

2. A summary of the epic

Gilgamesh, the protagonist of the epic, is the king of Uruk, a city of Sumer (and later of Babylonia), situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the dried-up, ancient channel of the Euphrates. Uruk played a leading role in the early urbanization of Sumer in the mid-4th millennium BCE. At its height c. 2900 BCE, Uruk probably had 50,000–80,000 residents living in 6 km2 (2.32 square miles) of a walled area; making it the largest city in the world at the time.

Gilgamesh is two-thirds god and one-third man, making him the wisest and strongest ruler of all mortals.  Yet, he is an oppressive ruler. He holds “the right to the first night” with any bride and rules mercilessly so that the people of Uruk appeal to the gods for relief.  The god Anu hears their plea and calls on the goddess of fertility Aruru to create another demigod in order to keep Gilgamesh in check and bring peace to Uruk.  Aruru creates the warrior Enkidu out of clay and sends him to live among the animals of the hills. Enkidu lives like other animals, eats with other animals, and drinks with other animals.  He also becomes a problem for the citizens of Uruk who trapped and hunted animals.  One such hunter goes to Gilgamesh for help to get rid of Enkidu.  Gilgamesh orders the trapper to enlist his temple’s “holy harlot” to bring Enkidu out of wildness into Uruk.  The task falls on Shamhat, a “priestess prostitute,” who disrobes and lays on the grass on Enkidu’s path.  Enkidu, who like a wild animal smells Shamhat, is turned on by her, and the two engage into a week-long orgy of sex. After that, Enkidu is tamed and Shambat covers his middle body with a piece of her dress and lures him to Uruk to battle Gilgamesh.  

Meanwhile, Gilgamesh has had two unsettling dreams which his mother, goddess Ninsun, interprets as finding a life-long friend.  So, when Enkidu arrives in Uruk and they engage in battle after Gilgamesh gets the upper hand, he embraces Enkidu and the two become close friends. 

Soon after, Gilgamesh decides on the conquest of the famed Cedar Forest to cut down its trees for the glory of Uruk. But to do so, he must overcome the guardian of the forest, a monster named Humbaba.  Enkidu tries to dissuade Gilgamesh, as Humbaba serves on behest of Enlil, the god of the Earth and the wind.  But Gilgamesh sets out on his quest anyway. When they finally arrive at the forest the birds and the animals alert Humbaba. A fight breaks out in which Humbaba easily humbles Gilgamesh and Enkidu. At the last minute, however, Gilgamesh appeals to the sun god Shamash who sends eight whirling winds that blind Humbaba.  Given this opportunity, the two heroes severely disable Humaba who appeals for his life. Yet, Endiku urges Gilgamesh to kill him, which he does. They return to Uruk on a boat with lumber for Gilgamesh’s palace and Humbaba’s head as a trophy.

Fresh from his conquest, Gilgamesh finds that Ishtar, goddess of sexual love and war, fancies him. But he rejects her advances because no previous lover of hers had fared well. Enraged, Ishtar plots to take revenge and pleads with Anu for the Bull of Heaven to unleash his force against Gilgamesh.  But Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven in battle and Gilgamesh cuts off its horn as a trophy to hang in his palace.  Meanwhile, Anu, Enlil, and Ea (god of water), the triad of deities, hold a meeting in which they decide either Gilgamesh or Enkidu must die because they have killed Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. Anu asks: “Now which one stripped the cedars?”  It was Gilgamesh. But Enlil intercedes: “Enkidu must die! Gilgamesh shall not!” Shamash, the sun god, tries to intercede but to no avail. Enkidu falls ill and has a wicked dream which begins with him cursing all who caused him to leave his wild birthplace for Uruk, and ends with him being taken by Anzû, a lion-headed eagle, to Ereshkigal, the Queen of Underworld.  When Enkidu wakes up, Gilgamesh is on his side and tries to comfort him. But Enkidu says: “In my dream, the heavens moaned, and the earth groaned back, and I stood in between.  You know what that portends.” Soon Enkidu falls into a deep sleep and his flesh turns white like the sheets. By the twelfth day, he dies.  

Gilgamesh holding Endiku's body after his death

The second part of the epic centers on the wandering of Gilgamesh who cannot make peace with the death of Enkidu. He orders a golden statue of him erected in Uruk. He then embarks on a journey to find eternal life.  In this journey, he encounters many wild animals and fantastical monsters. He reverts into a wild man who wears a lion skin for clothing.  Finally, he finds Utnapishtim, the only man who together with his wife were deified and given eternal life by the god Enlil after he preserved human and animal life in a great ship he built to escape the Great Flood. Gilgamesh asks Utnapishtim for eternal life but fails to achieve it by defying sleep for an extended time.  On his wife urging, Utnapishtim offers Gilgamesh a chance for rejuvenation by directing him to the plant of youth but a snake eats the plant. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk a mortal man.  In the closing of the story, Gilgamesh dreams of Endiku’s return to tell him about the afterlife.  He wakes up with an intense fear of his mortality. The epic ends with these words: “He who saw everything, saw his tablet completed.”  

3. Culture and nature in the epic of Gilgamesh

As some scholars have argued, it is possible that the modern renderings of the epic are somewhat colored by contemporary and professional concerns. Be that as it may, there are certainly generally agreed upon key elements of the epic that address my focus of the relationship between culture and nature and are confirmed by other sources about life in the Sumerian civilization, especially if we correct for the longstanding view of civilization as progressive in line with the more recent scholarship (see, Scott, 2017; Nayeri 2018).  

The Sumerian natural landscape
Until recently, archeologists and anthropologists who tried to figure out why some hunter-gatherers took up farming which then became the basis of civilization assumed that the natural landscape of the Fertile Crescent was similar to what it is today, largely barren.  Yet, in the epic, we find a much lusher landscape, including the Cedar Forest, teeming with wildlife. Recent research has confirmed this representation and rejects the assumption of a largely arid landscape which gave rise to the hypothesis that early farming settlement “made the desert bloom.” (Scott, 2017, pp. 43-55). 

Ecocentrism of our forager ancestors
To discuss culture and nature in The Epic of Gilgamesh, one needs to provide a sense of the ecocentric worldviews of our forager ancestors to discern continuity and change in the early civilizations, as reflected in the epic.  I do not think I can offer a better summary than what is provided by the Cambridge University archeologist Graeme Barker who has studied the problem of the rise of early farmers. He writes:

“…[I]t is clear from modern ethnographic research that most foragers conceptualize relations between humans and their world in ways very different from our own Cartesian model. Commonly, the environment is regarded as a benign spiritual home ‘embracing all manifold beings that dwell therein.’ (Ingold, 1996, p. 128) Relations with it are modeled on the same principle of sharing that applies within the human community: it is the source of all good things, a ‘giving environment.’ (Bird-David, 1990, 1993) Many foragers do not distinguish between their own fortune and the character of the world around them, using metaphors such as procreation, parenthood, and kinship to describe their relations to the environment. Land needed for living in is appropriated not by fences and boundaries, in the way of farmers, but by moving through its paths. Thus a forager’s territory is something to be related to and associated with, not owned, and tracks and paths are symbolic of the process of life itself: ‘who one is becomes a record of where one has come from and where one has been’. (Ingold, 1996, p. 138)
“In contrast with the Western concept of naturalism, most foragers are characterized by ‘animism’ or (less commonly) ‘totemic’ belief systems.  In the former, non-human animals are not just like humans, they are persons.  Their environment is a treasure house of ‘personages’ each with language, reason, intellect, moral conscience, and knowledge, regardless of whether the outer shape is human, animal, reptile, or plant.  Thus, the Jivaroan people of eastern Ecuador and Peru consider humans, animals, and plants as ‘persons’ (aents), linked by blood ties and common ancestry. (Descola, 1996) Foragers with animistic belief systems commonly do not have words for distinguishing between people, animals, and plants as separate categories, using instead classification systems based on terms of equality rather than hierarchies of our own Linnaean taxonomies. (Howell, 1996)  The totemic systems of Australian Aborigines use ceremonies and rituals to stress an abstract linear continuity between the human and non-human communities. Animals are the most common totems, signifying a person’s or group’s identity or distinctiveness, but though they may be good to eat or food for thought, they are not considered social partners as in the animistic belief systems. 
“The forger world is animated with moral, mystical, and mythological significance. (Carmichael, 1994) It is constructed and reconstructed through the telling of myths, which commonly include all kinds of animals as humans, changing shape between one and the other. In addition to the present world inhabited by humans and non-human beings, there is a supernatural world. In many forager societies, shamans mediate between the lived and supernatural worlds, entering and conceptualizing the latter, commonly through ecstatic experiences. One of the mythological beings featured in forager cosmology the world over is the Trickster: part god, part culture hero, transforming from the mythic past in morally ambiguous ways. (Gunter, 1999, p. 427)  As the whole world is self, killing a plant or animal is not murder but transformation. Finding food is taken for granted, reinforced by myths telling the hunter to be the animal before presuming to kill and eat it. ‘They are being heard by a sentient universe —a gallery of intelligent beings who, if offended by injudicious words (ridicule, bragging, undue familiarity, profanity, etc.) can take reprisal, usually by steadfast refusal to be taken as food or by inflicting disease or doing other violence.’ (C. L. Martin, 1993, p. 14)” (Barker, 2006, pp. 59-60, all emphases in original)

Continuity and change
Lingering ecocentrism
The polytheism that dominates the epic is certainly an outgrowth of the animism that has been prevalent among foragers, except the natural forces and states have been humanized as gods. Thus, Anu is the personification of the sky, Enlil is associated with the earth and wind, and Ea (also known as Enki) is the personification of water. In the epic, Anu, Enlil, and Ea constitute the triad of deities acting as arbitrators and overseers of other gods and goddesses.  Also, in the epic, each person can have her own private god for guidance and for support.  One can hypothesize that the tendency to increasingly associate natural powers and states with humanized gods represents a gradual development of anthropocentrism from the midst of universal ecocentrist worldviews. But this tendency is far less pronounced among the gods in the epic than it is for citizens of Uruk (more on this in a moment).  

In the epic, reality and magic are intertwined. Future is foretold, as Shamhat tells Enkidu what will happen once they arrive in Uruk, and dreams foretell, as in the two dreams of Gilgamesh, as interpreted by his mother, before Enkidu arrives in Uruk. 

We also know that Enkidu was created out of clay and placed in wildness to live like a wild man. He not only was but also saw himself as part of wildlife.  Thus, he freed trapped animals and chased out hunters. He protected his fellow animal species against civilized humans.  Even the gods themselves felt the need to protect nature against civilized humans by creating supernatural beings.  Enlil created Humbaba to protect the Cedar Forest and its wildlife. In all affairs of life, one could appeal to the gods for help and receive it. Thus, Gilgamesh had to appeal to Shamash, the sun god, for help to slay Humbaba. But later Anu, Enlil, and Ea, the supreme gods' council, are outraged and plan to punish Gilgamesh and Enkidu for killing Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. 

A developing anthropocentrism
Despite such continuity with the ecocentrism of foragers, there is already key elements of a class society as well as a pronounced anthropocentrism in the epic.  

  • Social stratification. In the epic, Uruk is portrayed as a stratified society.  Its citizens include farmers, herders, artisans, hunters and trappers, traders, and they are subject to an absolute ruler, Gilgamesh, who exploits them at will and claims the “right to the first night” with all virgins.  This oppression and exploitation are bad enough for the population to appeal to the gods for help.  
  • Patriarchy. In the epic, Uruk is already a patriarchic society.  To seduce and tame the wild man, Enkidu, Gilgamesh suggests enlisting a “holy harlot.” However, Shamhat, who agrees to lure Enkidu by engaging him in sex is also noted as a priestess, showing the ambivalence towards her social role.  But whatever that role is, it is certainly a subordinate role for a woman in the patriarchal society where nuclear family relations are in evidence among the citizens of Uruk.  Ishtar’s pursuit of Gilgamesh and his recalling of how she had betrayed all her previous lovers also smacks of the patriarchal view of women’s betrayal of their male lovers. 
  • Religious views and hierarchy.  Although there is no explicit mention of a temple in Uruk in the epic, we know Shamhat is a priestess, thus there must have been priests and temple when this part of the story was written. We do know that in the town of Eridu built near Uruk a little later, there was a temple.  Further, in the epic, there are two places where the afterlife becomes a preoccupation of the protagonists: When Endiku is in his deathbed and in the twelfth and last cuneiform which tells of what Endiku experiences in the afterlife.  In each case, the afterlife is in the Underworld and portrayed as an unpleasant existence. Some renderings of the epic interpret this last cuneiform as a final dream of Gilgamesh after he fails to secure an eternal life.  Thinking about afterlife has been a preoccupation of humans since our forager ancestors became aware of their mortality and what may ensue after that.  However, with the rise of civilization religious ideas of afterlife became institutionalized and a caste of priesthood created to oversee the religious life of the citizens.  
Attitude towards nature  
It is difficult to differentiate Gilgamesh’s attitude towards nature from modern-day hunters, in particular, trophy hunters.  He set out to conquer the Cedar Forest and slay Humbaba, its protector, largely for the thrill and glory of it.  After he slays Humbaba, he set out on a boat to Uruk carrying lumber from the forest for his palace and Humbaba’s head as a trophy. When he slays the Bull of Heaven, he cuts off its horn and hangs it in his palace.  Enkidu, who was born a wild man, becomes even more hostile to wildness after he is tamed by Shamhat. It is he who urges Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba after he is blinded by the whirling winds and pleads for his life.  Ordinary citizens of Uruk include farmers and herders who live off domesticated animals and hunters and trappers who live off wildlife. Their attitude towards the rest of nature is radically different from hunter-gatherers, who constituted the bulk of the 50 million humans who lived on the planet at that time and who surrounded the early outposts of civilization.  In the epic, Gilgamesh is credited with building a strong wall around Uruk which separates its citizens from the wildness that surrounds it. Archeologists consider walled cities such as Uruk as defensive structures in the face of warfare although it is not clear who the other side of the conflict might have been.  More recently, scholars view such walls as more to keep in the bonded population of the early city-states than to repel “barbarian” invaders. When Utnapishtim directed Gilgamesh to the plant of rejuvenation of life, a snake stole it from him (he would have achieved eternal youth if that damned snake was not around). When the Great Flood came, it was Utnapishtim who saved all of the animals by building a boat and boarding a pair of each species, thereby underscoring the preeminence of humans.  

4.  Childhood memories: echoes from Gilgamesh epic?

It would be prudent and preferable to see how the pre-modern Middle Eastern folklore and fables show continuity and change with The Epic of Gilgamesh. But that would make this essay much longer. Thus, I will suffice with telling of my own childhood remembrances. As a child raised in the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, in the 1950s (population at that time was about 500,000), I experienced life where there were no nearby neighbors, no running water, no electricity, and no central heating. This allowed me, a curious little boy who had no playmate, to explore the outdoors, climb trees, eat from their fruits, follow insects as they went about their business, watch the birds and listen to their songs, observe the patterns of the seasons, the clouds, the sun, the moon, and the stars, and let my imagination go wild at night whether cuddled under the covers in the freezing room at night in winter or laying in my bed on the roof, gazing at the starry dome above in summer.  My paternal grandmother, who lived with us liked to tell me stories at night. Some of these included fantastical imageries similar to those that appear in The Epic of Gilgamesh filtered through the anthropocentrism of the Iranian culture, largely dominated by monarchies and Islam for well over a thousand years. The first monotheist religion we know of, Zoroastrianism, was in Persia (a vast empire that was centered in today’s Iran) five millennium BCE. The protagonists of my grandmother’s stories were princes and kings, not demigods, and in place of the colorful polytheism of epic of Gilgamesh, there was a grey monotheism of an abstract, impersonal God.  While the powers vested in the human-like gods of the Gilgamesh epic were representing natural states and powers, the monotheist God has none of the fallibilities of humans or human-like gods, and is instead all-knowing and all-powerful, and merciful (which I quickly discovered as a child not to be true; why was there be so much misery?)  Thus, the imaginary creatures of my grandmother’s stories—which included div  (ogre, giant),  ghoul  (that lived in graveyards and consumed human flesh),  jinn ( spirits or demons depending on occasion), pari (winged female angel), simurgh (a large mythical bird that could speak)—were vested with powers that either we humans aspired to have or feared.  A div although very large and heavy and without wings could fly.  A jinn or a pari could appear and disappear at will. The protagonists—princes and kings—were either after breaking a spell cast by a witch or wizard, or finding a treasure, or finding a maiden unmatched in beauty. Again, the link to nature so evident in Gilgamesh epic was nowhere to be found. Even the landscape was barren (as it had become so after repeated ecological crises). Instead of the Cedar Forest and the wildlife that surrounded Uruk in the epic, in my grandmother’s stories, the lushness of landscape was reserved either for the king’s palace which was surrounded by high walls for his protection, or in fantastical castles in the sky (usually on top of the clouds), or a wondrously immense palace that the hero of the story would find at the bottom of a deep and dry well in the middle of desert.  
My grandmother Monavar Noori (birth ?--death spring 1979)

Some of the stories my grandmother told me betrayed her own fear of dying (although she must have been only in her late forties at the time).  Thus, she would tell me about what will happen on the first night after being buried in the grave, which is surprisingly similar to Enkidu’s accounting of his experience in the Underworld when he appears in Gilgamesh’s dream (worms were eating his flesh).  Both tellings assume that the dead can see and feel like a living person except in the Underworld.  Even though some wild animals, especially lions, appeared in my grandmother stories, there were no lions in Iran.  Yet, the imperial flag had a lion with a sword in its front paw and there are carvings of lions in battle with the ancient kings in the
Persepolis.  Of course, all of these were the faint memory of those days thousands of years earlier when there were, in fact, lions in the region, but they went extinct perhaps due to population growth, hunting, and ecological degradation.  In the 1950s, there were few wild species of megafauna left in Iran. Those that existed in the Shah’s hunting reserve close to our house were imported for his hunting pleasure. The area was walled off to ensure his Majesty's safety and his ease of cornering and killing an animal as a trophy.  Still, the Gilgamesh epic lived on in one particular case. After the 1979 revolution, the activists of Jahād-e Sāzandegī (Jihad for Construction) reported in their magazine that the Arab chiefs in Khuzestan province, not far from the present day Warka in Iraq, which is located where Uruk once stood, still practiced the “right of the first night,” which I presume was stopped.  In recent years, there was much excitement with a sighting a cheetah and her two cubs captured by a video camera stationed in the central desert (Dasht-e Kavir).  Unfortunately, with the massive loss of habitat due to human population growth and habitat loss (more than a doubling of the population in 40 years since the 1979 revolution, to over 80 million today), industrialization and pollution, and a deepening ecological crisis, the future of wildlife in Iran is bleak, short of a sudden reversal of these trends. 

5. From anthropocentrism to the Anthropocene

Since the beginning of the millennium, a growing number of scientists have warned that the planet is entering the Anthropocene (The Age of Man). Although the causes and the date of the onset of the Anthropocene have differed mostly due to the specialists' focus, they all share a common concern with how the Earth systems have been altered by humanity in ways that may be detrimental to much of life on Earth (endnote 2). Thus, the Anthropocene implies the destructive domination of culture over nature which much of life, including humanity, crucially depends on. 

But what has brought humanity from the anthropocentrism of early civilizations to the Anthropocene?  The short answer is the deepening of alienation from nature which has manifested itself in the relentless quest for domination and control of nature in order to extract ever more wealth from it (for a discussion, see, Nayeri 2018). This quest has rested upon the development of forces of production which are often also forces of destruction (endnote 3), that is the development of technology and science, as well as ecosocial relations of production that include subordination, oppression, and exploitation of the majority of humanity as well as domesticated species and wildlife. Technology and science have developed due to human curiosity and institutional arrangements articulated by the dominant mode of production.  

The development of forces of production accelerated as part of the historical processes that resulted in the emergence, consolidation, and eventual dominance of the capitalist mode of production, a process that began in Western Europe in the sixteenth century in the aftermath of the dissolution of serfdom.   

Until the rise of capitalist modernity, agrarian societies remained largely dependent on the non-human animals and humans to do farming, and the pace of change was slow.  Thus, the population grew slowly and their way of life was less destructive to biodiversity. When earlier modes of production were ecologically disastrously destructive, they contributed to the collapse of some civilizations like the first agrarian civilization in Sumer. Yet the scope of the disaster was geographically limited. Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History (1982) reminds us that in 1,400 the majority of the world was still not incorporated in regions of agrarian civilizations.  In fact, in 1,000 CE less than 15 percent of the world was under the control of civilization who called people living outside of it “barbarians.” They included foragers, pastoralists, horticulturalists, and small-scale farmers who often used semi-nomadic forms of swidden agriculture and still hunted, and gathered some of their produce.

With the gradual emergence of the capitalist world economy and the spread of modernity, these all changed.  While for medieval philosophers the natural order was part of a larger divine order, Enlightenment humanism bred the experimental science of Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo and the mathematical investigations of René Descartes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Sir Isaac Newton which developed an all-pervasive anthropocentrism that not only subordinated nature to culture but also left open the question of independence of society from nature. This almost complete alienation from nature is the hallmark of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization that has underpinned Western notions of philosophy, rationality, and science ever since (endnote 4). In our own time, it is characterized by bourgeois ecomodernist worldview backed by new fields of science and technology such as synthetic biology, material science, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence.  The quest to "colonize space," in particular, Mars, which has become of interest to venture capitalists, which had appeared in science fiction before, more recently has become normalized by scientists like Carl Sagan who proclaimed humans as a multi-planet species!

Of course, the realm of ideas and scientific and technical development ultimately depend on the dynamics of the dominant mode of production.  By replacing demigods of polytheism and the God of monotheism with the capitalist market and the pursuit of profit, the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization has unleashed a dynamic that young Marx and Engels succinctly captured in their own call for socialism:

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.
“The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.”(endnote 5) (Marx and Engels, 1848)
Of course, Marx and Engels never expected that their vision of socialism will remain unfulfilled into the twenty-first century, and the capitalist mode of production would expand as far as it has, creating the combined social and ecological crisis today that may result in the extinction of humanity and much of life on Earth. 

Uruk at its peak had at most a population of 80,000.  The human population of the entire planet at that time was about 50 million, the great majority of whom were foragers. In 2008, the world population had reached 6.7 billion, evenly split between urban and rural areas, and the number of cities with 1 million or more was 400. As of this writing, the world population has reached 7.7 billion and is expected to reach close to 10 billion by 2050. There are 46 megacities and metropolitan areas with population sizes between 10 and 38 million people.  According to the World Bank, Gross World Product was around US$78.28 trillion in nominal terms or approximately US$107.5 trillion in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). The per capita PPP GWP in 2017 was approximately US$17,300. (Wikipedia) “By virtually any measure—household expenditures, number of consumers, extraction of raw materials—consumption of goods and services has risen steadily in industrial nations for decades, and it is growing rapidly in many developing countries.” (Worldwatch Institute, “The State of Consumption Today”).  By one calculation, there are now more than 1.7 billion members of “the consumer class”—nearly half of them in the developing world. A lifestyle and culture that became common in Europe, North America, Japan, and a few other pockets of the world in the twentieth century are going global in the twenty-first.  China alone has added 300 million to the world “middle class.” Worldwide, private consumption expenditures—the amount spent on goods and services at the household level—topped $20 trillion in 2000, a four-fold increase over 1960 (in 1995 dollars).  Of course, this over-the-top rise in consumption by the “consumer class” as numerous as it still leaves 71% of the world population with $10 or less to spend in a day. No matter how this unequal distribution of income changes, if this trend in production and consumption is not reversed, there cannot be any doubt of an ecological collapse.   

Although hunting and gathering practices have persisted in many societies—such as the Okiek of Kenya, some Australian Aborigines, and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia, and many North American Arctic Inuit groups—by the early 21st-century hunting and gathering as a way of life had largely disappeared.  Still, ecocentric worldviews continue to exist in some cultures and rediscovered by others who resist the anthropocentrism of the capitalist modernity. Only through a genuine love of the natural world and its wonders can humanity hope to overcome widespread alienation from nature and work toward undoing social alienation to avoid possible extinction. I call this future human society concentric socialism, one free of alienation from nature and social alienation.  I also call the revolutionary process that would get us there ecocentric socialism, which will help combine the working people’s struggles against all manifestations of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist system to create a new humanity with an ecocentric socialist culture which will use the best of the unintended fruits of the civilization consistent for human development as well as harmony with the rest of nature. 

Dedication: I finished and published this essay on the evening of Thanksgiving day 2018.  A year ago, on Thanksgiving day, I lost Sunny who was with me since Christmas 2011 when I found her under the blackberry bushes on Darby Road near where I live.  I did not realize how much I loved her until she was gone.  I would like to dedicate this essay to her memory. Why is it that a human can find a deeper friendship with a cat than other human beings? Here is my farewell to Sunny written a year ago with a slideshow of her photos. 

Acknowledgment.  I am grateful to Julie Callahan who read an earlier draft and corrected my grammatical errors and in two places helped me rewrite the text.  All remaining errors and ideas presented in this essay are mine. 

1. My principal text for the epic is the translation by Kent H. Dixon as illustrated by Kevin H. Dixon (2018) which emphasizes the “sensory world” presented in the epic while maintaining “literary accuracy.” 
2. It is well-known that humanity now is staring at three existential threats: catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and a possible nuclear holocaust. It is also well-known that these existential threats are embedded in an interlocking set of social and ecological crises (Rockström, 2009; Stephen, 2015a, 2015b). In August 2016, even the Working Group on the Anthropocene of the International Geological Congress proposed declaring a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene (Carrington, 2016). The arrival of the Anthropocene entails the end of Holocene, the geological epoch hospitable to the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago on the basis of which civilizations have been erected. 
3. A few examples should suffice:
  • According to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, there were 35.8 million anglers and 11.5 million hunters in the United States spending 643 million days of fishing and hunting. Fishing and hunting is a big business with a total revenue of $81.0 billion in 2016. 
  • The Bagger 293 Bucket Wheel Excavator holds the record for the largest land vehicle in the history of the world. At 310 feet tall and 721 feet long, the 4-year-old German machine can move 100,000 cubic yards of dirt per day with the use of its 20 rotating buckets. 
  • At 144 meters long and weighing 14,055 tonnes, the Annelies Ilena is Europe’s largest fishing vessel. The Super trawler can hold 7,000 tonnes of fish, allowing it to fish continuously for weeks. 
  • The world largest diesel engine used in ocean-going container ships generates 109,000 horsepower. 
  • The Giant Bucket-Wheel excavator can move 240,000 m (8.475 million ft) of earth per day, which means that it can dig a hole the length of a football field to over 25 meters deep in a single day.  
  • The Ponsse ScorpionKing is a full, enormous vehicle which quickly shreds through trees. 
4. Horigan illustrates how political philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries argued for the independence of culture from nature. Thomas Hobbs held that the state of nature is “the natural condition of mankind”  which precludes “industry,” “culture,” “navigation,” “time,”, “arts,” and “society,” and “worse of all, [it means] continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man; solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbs, Leviathan, 1615, chapter XIII)  “Similarly, John Locke used a state of nature and a social contract as analytical devices for specifying the basic rules of political obligation.” (Horigan, 1988, p. 3)  “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property: to which in the state of nature there are many things wanting.” (Locke, The Two Treatises of Civil Government,  1764, Hollis ed., chapter IX) 
“For Rousseau the passage from nature to culture functions as a means for understanding the true nature of humanity; and in Condillac’s An Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge the oppositions between nature and culture and human and animal were used to demarcate the field of the social, marking out a specific field of study for human sciences. The concept of the state of nature was not intended to represent an actual historical state, but a conjectural one, a philosophical device used for specifying the attributes f humanity.”  (Horigan, 1988, p. 3)
Descartes advocated a hierarchy of mind over matter and dualism of culture and nature. The material world was a machine subject to mechanical laws subject to human reason. This view not only separated culture from nature but also privileged the former.  For Descartes, there was no question that humans were superior to the non-human animals who were just a mechanical part of the rest of the universe, without any agency. “The idea of man’s control over animality (including his own and that of women) is part and parcel of a more inclusive ideology of the human mastery or appropriation of nature, whose roots lie deep in the tradition of Western thought.” (Ingold, 1994, p. 11)  Horigan writes:  “These conceptions, of culture as opposed to nature and the human as distinct from animals, have been handed down from the Enlightenment to the contemporary human sciences, and remains a central part of modern social theories.” (Horigan, 1988, pp. 3-4)
5. Marx and Engels were historical revolutionary socialist intellectuals of the highest caliber. The views expressed here on “civilization,” “barbarians,” “barbarian nations,” and the backwardness of the countryside are in large measure due to their uncritical adoption of the Western European bourgeois intellectual society of their time which much later justly have been characterized as “Eurocentric.” To their credit, as critical thinkers, Marx’s and Engels’ views evolved and there are corrections made to some of the views expressed here, albeit without a discussion of the problems associated with them. Thus, sections of the socialist movement remained Eurocentric for some time.  The Russian revolutions of 1917 made a radical break with such views as did some of its leaders. The detour of the world revolution to the periphery of world capitalism also forced a correction. However, the attitude towards modernism itself remained largely uncritical, except, of course, its capitalist framework. At any rate, these issues regarding Marx’s and Engels’ views and those of the subsequent socialist movement while important and interesting lay outside of the concerns of this essay.

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