Sunday, January 7, 2018

Obstacles to progress?



I’m reading a new book, Sapiens, right now, by Yuval Norah Harari. In it, he totally questions whether the 'progress' our species has made in the last 10000 years has been in anyway advantageous or constructive or logical, from any sociological or historical perspective. The change from a hunter gather lifestyle to agricultural was the biggest mistake of all time, apparently. 

We gave up the pleasant and nutritionally varied and physically beneficial nomadic occupation of searching out food, for a back breaking, toxic and monotonous farm economy and the inevitable explosion of cities and factories, overpopulation and a modern lifestyle full of stressful meaninglessness. Sapiens became the losers, unknowingly outwitted and controlled by a few clever plants – wheat, corn, rice and potatoes.

Here is a paragraph about about wheat's rise to importance and how millions of humans are more or less compelled to eat it to stay alive rather than enjoy a much more diverse variety of edible plants readily available to our species on this  planet, before it was domesticated.

'According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. In areas such as the Great Plains of North America, where not a single wheat stalk grew 10,000 years ago, you can today walk for hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres without encountering any other plant. Worldwide, wheat covers about 2.25 million square kilometres of the globe’s surface, almost  ten times the size of Britain. How did this grass turn from insignificant to ubiquitous? '

'Wheat did it by manipulating Homo sapiens to its advantage. This ape had been living a fairly comfortable life hunting and gathering until about 10,000 years ago, but then began to invest more and more effort in cultivating wheat. Within a couple of millennia, humans in many parts of the world were doing little from dawn to dusk other than taking care of wheat plants. It wasn’t easy. Wheat demanded a lot of them. Wheat didn’t like rocks and pebbles, so Sapiens broke their backs clearing fields. Wheat didn’t like sharing its space, water and nutrients with other plants, so men and women laboured long days weeding under the scorching sun. Wheat got sick, so Sapiens had to keep a watch out for worms and blight. Wheat was defenceless against other organisms that liked to eat it, from rabbits to locust swarms, so the farmers had to guard and protect it. Wheat was thirsty, so humans lugged water from springs and streams to water it. Its hunger even impelled Sapiens to collect animal faeces to nourish the ground in which wheat grew. The body of Homo Sapiens had not evolved for such tasks. It was adapted to climbing apple trees and running after gazelles, not to clearing rocks and carrying water buckets. Human spines, knees, necks and arches paid the price.’

So if wheat doesn’t like them, then it stands to reason that farmers are not going to like rocks either.

Reluctantly, and with much cursing I imagine, the huge boulders and rocks were tugged and shoved off to the sides of the hardscrabble fields that needed to be cleared long ago, so that food could be grown on the land

By contrast, hunting and gathering for stones (from fields, forests, shorelines and rocky outcroppings) for many of us dry stone wallers, is something we usually enjoy.

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