[ Someone posted an article in facebook from the New Yorker titled “The case against civilization. Did our hunter-gatherer ancestors have it better?” And the author’s answer is a resounding “yes” backed only by bullshit. I was so annoyed I dashed off this post.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]
The hunter-gatherer Bushmen of Botswana are always trotted out as what a life in paradise we once lived in (as well as the Pygmies occasionally).
Why don’t these people who idolize hunter-gatherer trips ever bring up Napoleon Chagnon’s experiences with the Yanomamo?
As a balance to unthinking noble savage admiration, I highly recommend his book “Noble Savages: My life among two dangerous tribes – the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists”. Like the Bushmen, they are one of the last tribes living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle today.
But in the Yanomano, Native American, and other tribes all over the world, we know a constant fact of life was that up to a third of men died in an ambushed or ambushing others. The goal was to get a new wife, and slaughter or enslave her children. If you don’t believe it, take a vacation to Hawaii and read the tourist boards at historic sites – it was a god damn bloodbath most of the time.
Farming was inevitable, no matter how onerous. Any society that adopted agriculture gained enough surplus population to win wars against hunter-gatherer tribes, and so farming inevitably expanded.
Another big reason wheat and other grains were the basis of civilization besides taxation is that they can last for 7 years, important when a crop failure meant starving to death, and long enough to last beyond several years in a row of bad harvests. Grains also pack a lot of calories and nutrition per unit weight.
And grains are light-weight. Napoleon partly won wars because he put really good bread bakers on the front lines. Soldiers can more easily carry and eat a loaf of bread than a giant sweet potato. And a loaf of bread is what John Muir took with him to the high country while he tended flocks of sheep.
Slavery is not due to literacy, farming, and civilization. Illiterate Africans and American natives enslaved each other. Human nature is responsible for slavery.
Humans have always imagined there was a Golden Age in the past. Today, many idealize the time between the Civil war and early 1900’s. If you’re one of them, the book “The good old days, they were terrible!” will quickly put an end to that idea!
Nearly everyone except the bottom 2 billion are living better and longer lives than any civilization before us, which is entirely due to fossil fuels. The most privileged can travel all over the globe while before fossils few traveled more than 10 miles. We have comfort at the flick of a switch and so on.
I think many of us who are aware of the miseries of the past were hoping to wake people up to peak oil so we could be more thoughtful about designing ways to retreat to the past and create a better society than those in the 15th century. The end of fossil fuels means retreating centuries into the past. We should be thinking about ways to prevent a feudal system and instead one based on small farmers and merchants. Though human nature being what it is, I don’t know if that’s possible.
I don’t see any hope of going back to the so-called idyllic hunter-gatherer past. The agricultural cat is out of the bag.