Milestones on the ascent to civilization include mastery of fire, sharpening and poisoning of hunting arrows; the domestication of beasts and cultivation of crops; stone, bronze, iron and steel; villages, towns, cities and nations; kings, armies, war — and onward: the motor car, the space ship, cyberspace, artificial intelligence and beyond, no one knows where.

Here and there were pockets of resistance, or non-compliance, or sloth, or simple contentment with the way things were. Nature was bountiful — why force her hand? Civilization offered much but demanded more. Was the game worth the candle? It was not, said Japan’s indigenous Ainu, among others.

It was a doomed course in the long run. Civilization is restless and expansive. Never content with what it has, it preys on the defenseless uncivilized for treasures they possess without knowing their value — gold, for instance. About 100 years ago, a young Ainu woman named Yukie Chiri (1901-22) wrote her people’s sad epitaph: “In the past, this spacious Hokkaido was our ancestors’ world of freedom. Living with ease and pleasure in the manner of innocent babes in the embrace of beautiful, vast nature, they were truly the beloved children of nature. Oh what happy people they must have been!”