The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers
The Question (ID Number 774)...
I would like to understand the origin of our cultural vision. Is it somehow an outgrowth of the development of agriculture? What prompted the adoption of agriculture? Obviously starving people don't plant crops any more than drowning people build life rafts, but what was the scenario?
...and the response:
People as bright, imaginative, and inventive as we are have been around for a couple hundred thousand years, and it's completely reasonable to suppose that after tens of thousands of years as foragers they knew perfectly well how to foster the regrowth of foods they favored (and agriculture is nothing more than fostering the regrowth of favored foods). And studies of present-day aboriginal peoples (supposedly "non-agricultural" peoples) show that indeed they engage in quite sophisticated agricultural practices designed exactly to foster the regrowth of foods they favor.
It's absurd to imagine that, some ten thousand years ago, a hunting-gathering people in the Fertile Crescent sat down and there and then decided to adopt forever a new lifestyle, something that involved growing all their own food, taking the rule of the world into their own hands (giving them the right to decide who lives and who dies), settling into villages, developing new technologies, and overrunning their neighbors all over the world.
What does make sense is that this people said to themselves something like this: "As we travel through our territory every year, we stop for a time at twelve different places. We can't stay indefinitely at any one of these places, because if we did we would soon strip it bare. Instead, as we get ready to leave each one, we take care to foster the regrowth of the food that grows there so that there will be plenty when we arrive next year. Why don't we try something new next year. In each of those twelve places, we'll put in a twice as much effort in fostering the regrowth of the foods we like, so that in the following year we'll be able to stay at each place twice as long. Of course, then we won't need to travel to twelve different places. If we can stay twice as long at each place, we need only six places. And if we go on increasing food production at each site, we'll soon need only three places—and finally just one place. It'll be a lot of work at that one place, but actually it will just be the same amount of work we now put in at twelve different places. We'll just be doing all the work in one place instead of twelve. Who knows? We may not like living that way, but it's worth a try, isn't it?"
The same trial was made several times in Central America, but in the end the citizens of these civilizations found that they didn't like living that way. They quit and went back to the hunting-gathering life. (Historians have come up with all sorts of bizarre "explanations" for this strange phenomenon; the possibility that people could actually wish to be quit of such a wonderful thing as civilization simply beyond imagination.)
Every animate species grows until its food supply begins to diminish (as it must, since it's being eaten). As its food supply diminishes, the species' population diminishes. As the species' population diminishes, its food supply begins to recover. As its food supply recovers, its population again begins to grow. As its population grows, its food supply again begins to diminish. As its food supply diminishes, its population diminishes—and so on and on and on, for every animate species on this planet. Populations and food supply constantly balance each other in this way, and this explains why lions have neither overrun Africa nor disappeared from Africa, why kangaroos have neither overrun Australia nor disappeared from Australia.
For millions of years, the human population was limited in exactly the same way—until some members of the human population began to subsist entirely on food they produced themselves, through agriculture. Agriculture enabled them to DEFEAT the feedback relation between food and population that limited all other species (and that had previously limited them). When their food supplies began to diminish, they simply grew more . . . and more . . . and more. And their numbers grew more . . . and more . . . and more.
This is why—in just ten thousand years—our agriculturalist ancestors grew from being a few thousand people gobbling up the Fertile Crescent to being a few billion people gobbling up the entire planet.
It should be noted that our form of agriculture is not agriculture itself—NOT agriculture as practiced in other cultures—it's a form I've called Totalitarian. Totalitarian Agriculture is based on the premise that ALL THE FOOD IN THE WORLD BELONGS TO MAN, AND MAN MAY KILL ALL COMPETITORS, DESTROY THEIR FOOD, AND DENY THEM ACCESS TO FOOD (thus transgressing the Law of Limited Competition observed in the rest of the living community).
People don't begin to become self-aware until adolescence, and they spend the rest of their lives formulating explanations about themselves and the choices they make. These explanations have to satisfy them and the people around them—their friends, their spouses, their children.
The same is true of cultures. The people of the Agricultural Revolution—the people of our culture—didn't become self-aware as a culture in a single generation or in a dozen. But over time, as they built their new way of living and began to carry it out into the world around them, they had to develop explanations of what they were doing. They were inflicting their lifestyle on the peoples around them, sometimes violently (as they did to the Semitic peoples south of them), and they had to justify this to themselves and their children. The people of our revolution eventually began to think of themselves not as merely one culture out of thousands but as humanity itself—just as we do today (despite Charles Atterley's denunciation in The Story of B: WE ARE NOT HUMANITY!).
Having thus given themselves the name of humanity itself—MAN—they could confidently tell themselves that THE WORLD WAS MADE FOR MAN, AND MAN WAS MADE TO CONQUER AND RULE IT. This is what they saw themselves as doing and what their children were told they were doing. And they could tell themselves that THERE IS ONLY ONE RIGHT WAY FOR PEOPLE TO LIVE, AND THAT IS OUR WAY. This is not only what their children learned, it was what the conquered were told; the European settlers of the New World very specifically told the natives that GOD DID NOT INTEND THE LAND TO BE USED THE WAY YOU USE IT. GOD INTENDED THE LAND TO BE PUT TO THE PLOW, AS WE DO. Because of this, they considered themselves completely justified in taking the land away from the Indians, herding them onto reservations, or simply killing them off.
Of course the conquered had their own stories to tell. Thus the Semites who saw their land invaded and put to the plow told their children this story about the people of our revolution: "These people think they have eaten at the gods' own tree of wisdom and so have the right to decide who lives and who dies in the world. This knowledge will be the death of them." And it is this death that we are now facing as the Sixth Extinction proceeds and gains momentum.
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