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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 623)...

    In Jared Diamond's excellent book _Guns, Germs, and Steel_, he addresses the question of the origins of agriculture at some length and concludes that food production developed independently in at least seven places - the Fertile Crescent, two different areas in China, New Guinea, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and the Eastern present-day U.S. - and possibly as many as eleven. Furthermore, in at least five of those places agriculture could have been characterized as "totalitarian" - prompting large alterations to landscapes, supporting of a large social heirarchy, and yielding agressive expansion into lands inhabited by non-agriculturalists (either killing or converting them). Diamond also points out that the areas that did not develop intensive food production were the areas where it was not possible to do so given the existing local wild edibles. He also argues that many of the regions that "recieved" agriculture from elsewhere did so through trade, not necessarily through expansion of existing Taker societies. So yes, the actual course of events turns out to be much more mottled and complex than the theory. My question is, doesn't all this somewhat undermine your basic notion that the rise of intensive agriculture took place in just one or two small locations and then expanded everywhere else through population growth and conquest? Doesn't it strongly imply that the momentum of people more or less everywhere was towards food production? If Mr. Diamond is to be belived, the number of societies that willingly gave up Leaver lifestyles for Taker ones is far, far greater than the number for whom it went the other way around.

    ...and the response:

    I've made the point again and again that the emergence of our world-dominating culture was not dependent on one factor alone, the development of totalitarian agriculture. What made (and makes) us different are the beliefs that there is one right way for people to live (our way) and that everyone in the world must be made to live that way. No other agricultural society (and I cite many in which agriculture developed independently) was driven by these beliefs.


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