Hello, My Name is Civilization, and I’m an Alcoholic
OK, I’m going to squeeze an enormous idea into a short, not too boring essay. Try to hang with me on this. Civilization began with something called “the agricultural revolution”. That is, a fundamental shift from a hunting and gathering lifestyle, to a farming lifestyle. This farming lifestyle led to permanent settlements, which then grew into cities, and eventually, into the civilization we know today. The question is: Why did they do it?
To start, lets take a very long look at human history. According to fossil evidence, people just like us, have inhabited this planet for well over one million years. One million years ago, all humans lived in Africa, and all humans lived very much like the San Bushmen of the Calihari Desert live today.
The San are a “hunting and gathering” culture. They plant no crops. They tend no livestock. Instead, they hunt wild game and gather wild plants for food. They have no written language, but have a very rich oral tradition. Even though the San have been pushed into some of the most inhospitable land on the African continent, they only work about four hours a day to meet their daily needs. They rarely go hungry, and enjoy better nutrition and more food security than do the farming people who now surround them.
The San enjoy a lot of leisure time, which they spend telling stories, making music, dancing and playing games, among other things. They have a rich culture, and that culture contains over one million years of accumulated knowledge about how to live on planet Earth. That knowledge allows them to flourish in the middle of a desert, while the farming people around them, who have forcibly taken all of the good land, work long hours, suffer from poor nutrition, and often starve.
But one million years ago, there were no farming people. All humans lived a hunting and gathering lifestyle, not unlike the San. Over the course of the last one million years, hunting and gathering humans spread out over Asia and Europe, and eventually even Australia and the Americas. This spread of humanity happened at a glacial pace, but by about 40,000 years ago, damn near every place on Earth that would support human life, was, albeit sparsely, inhabited by humans. This slow spread of hunter-gatherer culture gave rise to the vast diversity of sustainable human cultures around the world, from the Inuit to the Yanomami.
40,000 years ago, humans lived all over the world, quite happily, as hunters and gatherers. I’m not saying that they didn’t have problems, or that they didn’t fight. They had problems, and they fought, but they didn’t destroy the planet. They didn’t overpopulate the planet. They didn’t overheat the planet, and they didn’t work 40-50 hours a week just to get by.
So, the question is: Why, among the thousands of indigenous cultures around the world, did just one particular culture in the Middle-East, reject the collective knowledge of a million years of culture, and begin farming?
Farming is a lot of work, and not much fun. Compared to hunting and picking berries, plowing a field with a rock tied to a stick must have seemed quite tedious. Why did they do it?
If you’ve got plenty of food, which fossil records tell us they did, why would you plant wheat and barley? Even more perplexing: Why would they sacrifice the habitat of the game animals and wild plants that had sustained them for eons, to clear fields for wheat and barley?
That is what happened, by the way. One particular culture in the Middle-East took up farming, even though they had plenty of food, and then proceeded to farm so aggressively and so passionately, that they completely destroyed their own habitat. They wiped out all of the game animals and wild plants that they had relied on since the beginning of time. What was their motivation? What madness possessed them? What did they get out of wheat and barley that was worth destroying the world for?
The answer of course is BEER. Think about it awhile. Many indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes drink fermented alcoholic beverages on occasion, usually following an abundant fruit harvest, but the founders of civilization, sought to make drunkenness a daily, rather than an annual event.
Addiction is a very powerful motivator.
Yes, all of civilization is a dysfunctional adjustment made to support an alcoholic lifestyle. Don’t you think its time that we faced the fact that we have a problem?