The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Small Communities: How to avoid being exterminated


In the "Simpsons" series, Shelbyville Manhattan is the mythical founder of the town of Shelbyville. He split from his companion, Jebediah Springfield, who had refused to found a town where cousin marriage was legal. So, they founded two separate cities: Shelbyville and Springfield. Both cities went their own ways, without interacting very much with each other except in terms of occasional raids performed by local hotheads. In a more realistic tale, however, we might have expected that the Shelbyvillians and the Springfielders would have considered each other as abominations to be stamped out and that they would have engaged in doing exactly that.

Sometimes, you really feel like leaving this madness to the people who watch the news on tv every day or keep harassing you on social media. You feel like joining a separate community, like the Amish. They don't watch TV, don't use the Internet: wonderful life. Yet, you have a nagging feeling that it might not be so easy.....


As things stand, many of us are starting to think about the possibility of quitting. Yes, quitting the debate on social media, quitting the insults on TV, quitting the attempt to extract a drop of rationality from people whose brain was washed away by a tsunami of folly. They think they are the majority and maybe they are. Or maybe not but, in any case, why can't you just do your thing in peace, without bothering anyone? 

Not so easy. Theoretically, democracy is about protecting the rights of minorities. But, in practice, the Western propaganda system has evolved into something that thrives on demonizing minorities, in some cases pushing for, and obtaining, their extermination. The case of the Jews in Europe remains paradigmatic: it came after decades of demonization carried out in a society that was basically democratic in terms of its political structure. 

So, if you want to be a minority, you are at risk. At a very serious risk. 

In earlier times, it was possible for non-standard groups to leave their countries of origin and simply move to other places. That's becoming more and more difficult: not only the world is full of people, but the global propaganda machine seems to be linking governments all over the world. Countries that at some moment seemed to be friendly, suddenly become heavily engaged in stamping out the abomination represented by the minority of people who think like you. 

There follows that if you really want to be different, you have to accept that you are a separate group in a potentially hostile larger community. It is a dangerous condition, but history tells us that there have been examples of minority groups surviving for centuries or even millennia. Think of the Jews, the Dhimmi (non-Islamic communities in Islamic countries), the Roma (the "Gypsies"), and the Amish as possibly the oldest example of the many minority religious communities in the United States.

The Jews are the most ancient example. Their dispersion is known as the "Diaspora." It started with the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. From then on, most Jews have been living in scattered communities in Asia, Europe, and Africa. In recent times, they switched their strategy by returning to a full-fledged state. Their population is estimated at about 15 million (ca. 0.2% of the total world population).

The Dhimmi, أهل الذمة Ahl aḏ-dhimmah "the people of the covenant" are the non-Muslims living in an Islamic state. They are mostly Middle Eastern and African communities that maintained their Christian identity during the expansion of Islam, starting with the 7th century AD.  But they are also non-Christian groups such as the Jews and the Zoroastrians in Iran. Their number is hard to estimate, but it may be large: for instance from 10% to 15% of the Egyptian population is estimated to be Christian Copts nowadays. 

The Roma, also known as the Gypsies, are not so ancient as the Jews and the Dhimmi, but their existence may go back to the early middle ages as migrants from India, so quite possibly more than one thousand years. Very little is known about them until relatively recent times and even their total population is hard to estimate: it may be as small as 2 million, or perhaps as large as 20 million. 

The Amish are the most recent of the list, but still count at least three centuries of existence, having originated in Switzerland in the late 17th century, as a sect of Christian "anabaptists." In time, most of them moved to North America. They are now estimated to be about 350,000. 

All these groups didn't have an easy life and they were often subjected to various kinds of vexations and persecutions. Of the three, the Jews went through a full-fledged extermination attempt during the 20th century, after a history of local exterminations called "pogroms". The Dhimmi fared somewhat better: they are protected by the Sharia law and there are no reports of extermination campaigns specifically directed against them. But they have to pay a special tax and there are many reports of vexations and harassment against them. The Roma were repeatedly mistreated all over history and explicitly targeted for extermination during the 20th century by the German Nazis. The Amish were never under an actual threat of extermination in modern times, especially in the US where the legislation traditionally favors religious groups. But they had their troubles in the past and nobody can know what the future has in store for them. 

You may think that the hard life of Jews, Dhimmi, Roma, and Amish has been difficult enough that it is not to be taken as an example. But they are, actually, exceptions to the rule that in most human societies, anyone different is exterminated. The list is long: just take a look at the Wikipedia entry for "genocides," you'll see what I mean. 

So, how could the Jews, Dhimmi, Roma, and Amish manage to survive? There are several points in common in their strategies, the main one being to offer a low profile target to would-be exterminators. It means being not just a minority, but a very small minority that keeps to itself. That is, little or no proselytizing is allowed. It is possible to convert to Judaism for someone not born as a Jew, but it is not easy. The Dhimmi, wisely, refrain from trying to recruit Muslims. The Roma are close-knit family groups: you have to be born a Romani to be one. As for the Amish, they are more open to new recruits, but they do not make much of an effort at proselytizing, either.

The non-threatening image is helped by the rules that discourage mixed marriages. A rule sometimes expressed as "I don't marry your sister, you don't marry my sister." Then, the idea is to be poor -- even abjectly poor and also to avoid all forms of violence. 

The Roma have honed this strategy to perfection, they are often extremely poor and do not use and do not carry weapons. The Amish do the same, although they are known as gun lovers -- but they use guns only for hunting. The Jews are somewhat an exception, but their modern fame of a rich elite and of being effective warriors is recent. The condition of the Christian Dhimmi in the Middle East is similar: only recently have they developed effective militias, but they never tried an all-out clash against the Muslim majority. 

The main strategic position of these surviving minorities involves laying all their cards on the table. The way they dress, their language, their physical aspect, clearly identify them for what they are. (again the Jews are an exception, but that's modern. In earlier times, they were clearly identifiable). Deception by the minority would be seen as a threat by the majority -- it is to be avoided at all costs. 

Finally, these minorities tend to live in enclaves or traveling colonies of limited size, but not just as single families. It is probably a compromise between being too vulnerable (single families) and threatening (large groups). 

These rules have kept these separate communities alive for several centuries. But tolerance is always just one step away from genocide. It typically starts with the accusation of mistreating babies, then it moves one step up toward the accusation of eating them. It was commonly used against the Jews (and one may wonder how difficult it must have been for them to find kosher babies for their evil dinners). The Roma are commonly accused of stealing non-Roma's children (just as unlikely, considering that they have many of their own). And, finally, the Amish have been recently accused of pedophilia. (it is enough to say that it came from the "Daily Mail" to be sure that it is false, but just in case, take a look at this

After the "baby eating" phase, accusations may climb up to higher levels of depravity in a positive feedback mechanism well known in these matters. It does not necessarily lead to a full-fledged genocide, but it may happen if there are economic gains to be made in the extermination. A typical case is that of the Cathars, a European religious group that was common in Southern France during the Middle Ages. Their problem may have been that they owned lands in a specific region of Europe, where they also kept cattle and, probably, money and valuable items. When a papal decree allowed the confiscation of their possessions (and those of their supporters, or presumed to be), that opened up a specific interest in exterminating them. And it happened. 

Another example of a group that chose the wrong strategy were the followers of Jim Jones, who retreated to a remote jungle commune that they called "Jonestown," in Guyana. We will never know exactly what happened, but the whole community was wiped out in 1978. It is normally reported that it was the result of mass suicide, but some say they were exterminated by someone who wanted to get at the community's treasure. Like the Cathars, they had isolated themselves in a specific region, they had accumulated a certain wealth, and when they were attacked (if that's what happened), nobody could intervene to help them. 

As you see, forming your own community within a larger society is not easy -- especially in a democracy. You would have to develop a special language, live separately from the others and, most of all, be abjectly poor. And even that won't save you from the occasional pogrom. Then, if you make a mistake, you may expect the worst: not just a pogrom, but a full-fledged attempt of genocide. Not great as a prospect. 

Can you think of a different strategy? How about NOT laying your cards on the table and, instead, forming some kind of secret society? As you may imagine, this idea brings a different set of problems. We'll discuss that in a future post. 



  1. This is a very interesting and valuable post. The nature of inter-tribal behaviour in a context of no larger state is well known, but tribal survival within the borders of a state is a different matter.

    Even combining different ethnic and religious minorities into one state seems difficult enough even when there is some regular daily interaction or even intermarriage between groups, but maintaining an almost completely separate community is hard, as you clearly point out.

    Still, if the only way to survive civilizational collapse is to form communities that can live without modernity, the risk must be taken.

  2. Siguiendo esa línea, Ferrán Puig Villar, hablando en su blog precisamente de estrategias de supervivencia:

    "Las que hoy llamamos comunidades indígenas, a las que pertenecen hoy entre 370 y 600 millones de personas distribuidas en 87 países– de las que solo se habla para calificarlas de atrasadas – gestionan como mínimo la cuarta parte de la superficie terrestre; llevan manteniendo su hábitat, su biodiversidad y fertilidad de sus suelos desde hace miles de años, en ocasiones, docenas de miles, sobreviviendo a cambios climáticos comparables al actual. Son gentes que, viendo lo que se avecinaba, decidieron no sumarse a nuestra exuberancia suicida. Conviene escucharlas con humildad, con mucha humildad."

  3. One other thing: If a small poor community actually manages to keep things together as modernity crumbles down the Seneca Cliff, and they provide food, water and shelter for themselves, then they become the relatively wealthy ones and will thereby attract all sorts of attention. The Amish better watch out.

  4. If you really want to build up a secret society, maybe you should not discuss it on your blog? Or do you think the best secrets often hidden in plain sight?
    For the rest, this is an interesting and stimulating post, thank you. I prefer when you talk about your own ideas and thoughts.

    1. Never said I wanted to build up a secret society! But, of course, if I wanted to do that, I would not say it on my blog.

    2. Call it the "Second Foundation" ...

  5. Although it may be apocryphal, it is said that Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. McDonald said that he was in favour of minority rights, since the rich are always a minority!!!

  6. Ugo, I'm sure you probably know the book of Dmitry Orlov "Communities That Abide", where this topic is analized in detail.
    Conclusions are similar but more nuanced. The comparisons are also made with the same culture / ethnicity choice - Jews, Amish, Roma and few others.

    What characterizes these communities are few simple principles:
    - separatism - ethic / cultural / religous differentiation;
    - lack of hierarchy - communal / tribal governance model;
    - oral culture - certain, continously repeated mythology / ideology / teology;
    - conflict resolution methods - quote "The most important methods of social control are: gossip, ridicule, reprimand and scorn."
    - conflict resolution methods - non-agression, pacifism;
    - children growth / support / participatory education;

    Interesting book with some wise advice regarding post-collapse world.

  7. In a sense, I think that folks don't get the idea that out-castes like you discuss here and secret societies have a lot more overlap than what most people like to admit.

    Hiding in plain sight is a well-established technique and one that appears to be effective. I kinda doubt if any of the secret societies started out with the idea of "let's start a secret society". I think that they started out as "those people are fucking nuts, lets put some space between them and ourselves".

    So Ugo, while you may not want to start a secret society, your discussion here might just prompt one unbeknownst to you.

    For what it is worth, I approve

    1. Perfectly true Degringolade.
      I heard this is not accidental if the Bohemian club is called that way.

  8. It seems our Social Engineer is determined to demolish the currently running Social Contract, no matter how the peasants will fight tooth and nail to preserve it, knowing it socialises fossil fuels among them - by instinct...

    Anna de Buisseret, a British lawyer outlines all the moral and legal foundation on why the Social Contract is being breached, in the course of the Medical Emergency, nationally, internationally and globally.

    The right for minorities to live peacefully is one thing, the greater one is the right for all humans to live, undeterred from knowing the fundamentals in Life and Society;

    And that is their pinnacle important right to understand the role of Energy behind Slavery, War, Law, the Social Contract itself - and the future...

    I doubt that our Social Engineer is on the phone with Anna de Buisseret every day, telling her what to say, part of his single-player global chess game...

    But I felt from listening to her over the last year that she is beautifully laying the ground for humans to naturally inundate themselves deeper and deeper in an Energy Musical Chairs Game...

    A vicious game to make people self-destroy their own livelihood - confused, injured and disorientated, rather than all admit - humans are immensely primitive, they were not ready morally, ethically and intellectually for finite fossil fuels...

    All now are in a big trouble, the commons are hypnotised, our Social Engineer is delusional and takes no prisoners, and almost no fossil fuels left remaining for all of us.

    It is time for a movement to overhaul the Magna Cart, adding to it the rights for humans to understand what Energy really is.


  9. Hello Ugo,
    It all comes down, yet again, to the meaning of life.
    Party on like there is no tomorrow, or build something for the future?

    As David Graeber suggested, maybe the core value of most cultures (except Modernism) was reproduction, not production. Reproducing the group by growing food, eating together, raising children and protecting the old. This used to be the main focus, and is valued more in communities that survive.

    Another example of community the perpetuate, even if they usually dont reproduce in the biological sense, are the Christian monastic orders, from 500 AD to today. Similar to the advice above: abject poverty, isolation, not marrying your sister, non-aggressive, well-defendable properties.

    Here is a link to the 12 commandments by Dmitry Orlov regarding Communities that Abide:

    And to conclude - I would like to ask Ugo and all the other readers - why would you want to join a separatist community?

    The article starts out with a claim that "many of us are starting to think about the possibility of quitting".
    What do you want to quit? Do you need to physically remove yourself? Who do you want to join? Which of the examples mentioned is most alluring to you?


    1. These are valuable questions Göran.
      Why would you want to join a separatist community? As Degringolade said it, "those people are fucking nuts, lets put some space between them and ourselves".
      This is enough for me. It is a mental health issue.
      As for the other questions: Removing physically will be important. We need to leave the cities that will become soon unlivable. We need to abandon computers, smartphones, Internet, everything the governments (I should say, Big Tech) can use against us. The best places to go might be the ones with hardest conditions (isolated, cold climate, few food, like some mountains) in order to avoid longing.
      There we should bring and keep knowledge like books or special skills (like the monastic orders used to do). I am afraid much will be lost in the next few years.
      The 12 commandments by Orlov are very good, indeed. Of course it does not apply as well for a secret society.

    2. >What do you want to quit? Do you need to physically remove yourself? Who do you want to join?

      I can;t speak for Ugo and I could be pithy and use the quote "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” -Jiddu Krishnamurti

      An allegory to elucidate... think of being surrounded by people who regularly beat their parter, perhaps you might find that uncomfortable? I find the orthodoxy "uncomfortable", how they treat the environment, how the emit, consume and destroy, how they treat other groups like refugees, how they enact borders to keep others out like spoiled children in a sand pit, how they spend trillions on weapons of war to ensure others don't take their toys and comparatively nothing vaccines for the poorest etc I consider my day a failure if I need to be in a car for example and I haven't... for many months.

      I lived off grid in the bush in a tiny cottage for 10 years, circumstances beyond my control have seen me thrust back into a small city and covid ensures I am stuck there, that's enough time for me to grok how being amongst people who drive cars, vote for the incumbents, and want to destroy the biosphere are bad for my mental health and I need to be away from them.

    3. Hello Menucha nechona,
      May peace find your rest. I am intrigued - would you like to share more?
      I have ditched my smartphone, but I do still connect to the web occasionally, to read this kind of stuff.
      All your experience is valuable. Do you publish your thinking somewhere?

    4. Yep, I have all the books by Dmitri Orlov. Always valuable sources of insight. About the gypsies, though, he was a little superficial, but at least he made an effort to understand them. Not easy. I can tell you that, because I tried.

  10. Good piece, and in many respects describes much of rural Mexico...25% rural, self sufficient, where I live 125 different very small communities outlying a smallish "city"....most poor, but with food, relatives close by for defense. Yes, the issue of thieves coming in has to be faced, stealing stock or even corn out of the field. 68 languages are spoken in Mexico, and some of the indigenous groups face more problems than others...fossil fuels are used, but not necessary...horses plow, cows fertilize...sun can be used for much...lots of wild food. These people managed, a lot of them, to survive the carnage of the Christos Reyes, the Revolution...unless there is nuclear winter, I expect a lot of them to survive. I am integrated and work with them as much as I can. I like them and feel lucky to be here. It's as good as I could have done I think, foreseeing what I foresaw at 9/11. Christine

  11. Hello Ugo et al.

    I think the last message of Christine is very interesting. Maybe invite her to write a longer post on this?

    I suspect this autonomy is a universal phenomenon in rural village and small town life. In China they say that "the mountains are high and the emperor is far away" 天高皇帝远. The rule of law and official order is strong in the city, but not so much in the countryside.

    Villages persist through the millennia. Often with mild distrust of the next village, and strong antipathy of the "city people" who mainly come to extract taxes. Strong family bonds. Lots of informal agreements. Many commons.

    Of course including all human problems and vices, like addiction, power abuse, intolerance and greed... But on a smaller scale.

    Looking back at the villages that I have known in the past, many families go back centuries and they have a lot of knowledge of each other, and most of the people are related in one way or another. Modernization broke the agrarian life, but that is rapidly coming back.

    However, I don't know of any old village that was formed "consciously", as in an intentional community. Maybe because the "origin stories" lie so long back in time?

    What do you think - is the classic rural village a stable proud holobiont?
    Are there any exceptions?