HistoryBits: Pre-History

HistoryBits: Pre-History

Bits and Pieces of History

Society

Society/Geography

So much depended on water; rivers were arteries that conducted commerce, communication, and life-giving water. And much as we take water for granted today, it must have seemed like a constant back then, too—just like climate. But civilizations both high and low have ultimately been laid low by changes in the patterns of water and weather that had made it all possible. Heavy irrigation led to deposits of salts which rendered the soil infertile, and as farmland became desert, cities were abandoned and civilization withered. As water came and went, so did weather. Looking at Iraq today, you wouldn’t imagine that it was anything but a flyblown, sand-scoured desert. But there was a time when it was different, with a climate that was mild and moist. It seems that the more you come to take something for granted, the greater the consequences when it changes, and it’s no longer there; it’s our complacency—not our lack of ingenuity—that makes us so vulnerable.

Society/Archaeology and Anthropology

I suspect that both archaeology—the study of cultures through examination of their artifacts–and anthropology—the study of humans as a species—have their limitations. They can be as misleading in their focus on the trees to the exclusion of the forest as they are illuminating. Judging from the evidence of artifacts, one would be tempted to conclude that as time goes by, man becomes more sophisticated. But consider the Sphinx: It had been commonly thought that the Sphinx was 5,000 years old. But recent archaeological and hydrographic studies now pretty much confirm that it’s more on the order of 25,000 years old. What gives here–that’s back when people were supposedly shaking spears at mastodons! Might this not suggest that time is not the linear event we usually perceive it to be? That there were highly advanced civilizations (much more so than our own) in existence well before history (as we understand it)? As for anthropology’s focus on humans as a species, it seems to miss the whole point of why we have cultural differences. Much of the story of encounters between East and West should be understood in terms of an encounter between “sacred societies” and “scientific societies.” Meso-American societies for the most part belong in the former category, while most Western cultures occupy the latter. Sacred societies can be characterized by their reverence for nature, their belief that man should live in harmony with his environment, their subordination of earthly and temporal concerns to divine will, their different concept of time, their love of tradition, their mysticism. Scientific societies, on the other hand, live by reason, objective reality, and their belief that man must be master of his environment, and worship progress, wealth, and material comfort. Both sacred and scientific societies have something to learn from each other: rationalism enables man to fulfill his creative potential, while mysticism and the sense of the sacred would teach us that man must make his way in the world without ruining his environment and riding roughshod over his fellow human being; either approach by itself leaves much to be desired.

Society/Back to the Future

Given the sophistication of the Meso-American, Babylonian, and Egyptian civilizations, I sometimes wonder whether, if we could reach back into the past far enough, we might not encounter a civilization as advanced as (or more advanced than) ours. I suspect that we’d find that technology would have occupied a very low profile in such a civilization; after all, the trend with technology today is that the less intrusive, the better. And if so, what might they have understood about technology that we don’t?

Society/History

History in the ordinary sense is pretty much how it sounds: it’s the story of just us folks, and how people like us lived their lived and contended with the usual (and unusual) challenges of life. History “strictly speaking” includes all the markers and milestones of dates, battles and treaties, illustrious personages and whatnot that we’re typically made to regurgitate on the midterms. Neither is complete without the other, since the markers commemorate the high and low points of mankind’s experience—and we need to be aware of those in order to comprehend what we’re capable of, for better or for worse–while history in the ordinary sense celebrates the middle ground. Through it all, we come to realize that there’s nothing that happens nowadays that hasn’t happened before, and with much the same outcome, given the predictability of human behavior, whether now or a thousand years ago. I’d like to think that we could learn from how these things played out before, so that we might learn from those mistakes, but I realize that would be too easy; we always insist on learning the hard way, don’t we?

Society/Neanderthals

I submit that the study of humans as a species has its limitations, and can be as misleading in its focus on the trees to the exclusion of the forest as it is illuminating. We really start getting into trouble with the Neanderthals, and such stuff as cranial capacity and the relationship between brains and intelligence. The diversity of hominids hanging in what is presumed to be our family tree would seem to lend support–spurious, albeit—to those who focus on our differences to the exclusion of all that we have in common. In fact, all that we have in common far outweighs our differences.

Society/Origins of Species

I submit that the study of humans as a species has its limitations, and can be as misleading in its focus on the trees to the exclusion of the forest as it is illuminating. The diversity of hominids hanging in our family tree would seem to lend support–spurious, albeit—to those who focus on our differences to the exclusion of all that we have in common; in fact, all that we have in common far outweighs our differences. Taking this a step further, one would be tempted to conclude—on the basis of the evidence of artifacts–that as time goes by, man becomes more sophisticated. But consider the Sphinx: It had been commonly thought that the Sphinx was 5,000 years old. But recent archaeological and hydrographic studies now pretty much confirm that it’s more on the order of 25,000 years old. What gives here?? That’s back when people were supposedly shaking spears at mastodons! Might this not suggest that time is not the linear event we usually perceive it to be? That there were highly advanced civilizations (much more so than our own) in existence well before history (as we understand it)?

Society/Catal Huyuk

The archaeological digs at Catal Huyuk give us a window on the progressions of Paleolithic man from spear-chucking to row hoeing and finally to commerce and urban living, as it became increasingly apparent to him that the same principles of cooperative endeavor that governed the mammoth hunt might also be made to apply to reaching the higher rungs of civilizations. The Agricultural Revolution would not have been possible without property laws that rewarded with ownership the recurring, seasonal labor that a man needed to invest in bringing his farm to fruition. And with property rights came the ability of man to depend upon others for myriad other aspects of his livelihood while he in turn looked after his own specialized calling. All of this in turn made possible the rise of cities and civilization itself. So here we have it, in a hundred words or so, the lesson that seems yet so elusive to man: that civilization depends upon cooperation.

Society/Education

A young man was educated according to the calling of the class into which he was born, possibly to study the Inner Mysteries of mathematics, astrology, or theology as protégé of a priest or an official. For a girl, however, there was generally no such calling, and the guiding inspiration of her education was purely to add value to her as a marriageable commodity. How presumptuous we are these days to think that love is everything in marriage! It wasn’t that long ago when love meant absolutely nothing; when a young man asked about his upcoming marriage, he was frequently reprimanded by his father and told to mind his own business! Marriage was purely a tool of alliance with another family, and was negotiated with all the flinty-eyed obsession with the bottom line that the barter of a camel for a herd of goats commanded. Once the two families had concluded that the marriage was in their mutual interest, the price of the bride, and the goods that came with the bride, became the paramount concern. Virginity was not a virtue so much as it was an economic imperative, for without it, the woman was damaged goods and unmarketable. Her education in the domestic arts was merely another economic consideration that ensured her marketability and tenure as a wife.

Society/Children

I’ve heard it said that in ancient times, maternal love for a child was a luxury that women didn’t allow themselves to develop until the child was safely past most of the factors of infant mortality, which were legion–few children survived childhood diseases and all the other hazards of life back then. In fact, children were not cosseted and indulged as they are today until sometime in the mid-19th century in Western societies, but were treated more as miniature adults. Same thing with marriage, which was never for love, but only for the purpose of striking up alliances between families that could derive mutual advantage therefrom. Our modern ideas of maternal and marital love would seem altogether strange to people from those times.

Society/Inheritance

For most of history, children were regarded as economic assets—and a future source of social security for their parents–from the time they were able to perform the simplest chores, and as miniature adults that were held to the same standards as their betters. Childhood, like romantic love, is a modern phenomenon and a luxury for those who can afford to thumb their noses at the economic imperatives of the family business and arranged marriage. After all, the family was a business and everyone was a partner with a well-defined role. Primogeniture—the idea that the first-born male exercised absolute authority over its siblings and took precedence in matters of inheritance–made managing the family business easy, and settled any question over who did what and got what. Similarly, daughters were just another business consideration—they remained as partners in the family business only until they married, and there were dowries to be paid; if children were too much of an expense for the business, then infanticide–or relegating the girl to prostitution–was tragically the answer.

Society/Ordinary People

With “history from the bottom up,” the ordinary person has become as much an object of interest as the usual celebrities. After all, if history is the study of human behavior, it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that life as lived by the upper crust was appreciably different from the ordinary grind. It’s true what F. Scott Fitzgerald said, that the rich are different from you and me. But it’s also true that the study of ordinary folks is no less interesting. It fascinates us to realize that the while the stage upon which history is enacted changes with each act, the human struggle in most essential respects really hasn’t changed much: politics, government, and relations among states, the market and the economy, war and peace, and so much more are governed by the same forces of human behavior as they were thousands of years ago. What’s more, these forces are organized from the bottom up, and the crowning glories and infamies of history that we have the most conspicuous and comprehensive record of are just the tip of the iceberg.

Society/Standard of Living

It’s reassuring to realize that some things don’t change throughout the long journey of history: human nature, most of all. The challenges have remained pretty much the same for people, whenever they lived, whether in terms of livelihood, family and relationships, the struggle for gender equality, sexuality and marriage, the upbringing of children. And why do we study history? We do so because human nature doesn’t change, and history is most of all the study of human behavior and how people have contended with roughly similar challenges, and how they might be expected to behave in roughly comparable situations in the present day. Some would say that soul-growth is why we come to Planet Earth, and if history isn’t quite a crystal ball, it all least helps its student understand the opportunities for personal growth—and their likely outcomes–that are presented by the challenge.

Society/Women

How presumptuous we are these days to think that love is everything in marriage! It wasn’t that long ago when love meant absolutely nothing; when a young man asked about his upcoming marriage, he was frequently reprimanded by his father and told to mind his own business! Marriage was purely a tool of alliance with another family, and was negotiated with all the flinty-eyed obsession with the bottom line that the barter of a camel for a herd of goats commanded. Once the two families had concluded that the marriage was in their mutual interest, the price of the bride, and the goods that came with the bride, became the paramount concern. Virginity was not a virtue so much as it was an economic imperative, for without it, the woman was damaged goods and unmarketable. As for what love might or might not arise after marriage… that too remained a distant consideration. Adultery, a crime only for women, was frowned upon not because of the betrayal of love that it represented, but because the good name of the children came under a cloud and undermined their future marketability in marriage and thus the family’s continuity. And if the women failed to produce those children, she at once became irrelevant as a wife; whether she was cast loose often depended on whether the man could continue to support both her and his Significant Other. The poor women faced other terrors, with wife beating probably the least of them when compared with the tyranny of the mother-in-law—the ferocious guardian of her son’s honor and property (is there any more formidable force in the universe than a mother whose young is threatened?!), and whose domain the poor bride inhabited at the old harpy’s constant displeasure. It’s all enough to make you wonder how the human race ever managed to propagate itself through the present day.

Society/Sex

The ancient (!) view held that marital intimacy was for making babies, and not jollification. Perception of the ramifications of feminine sexuality swung back and forth between the poles of practicality–the loss of virginity to a pre-marital affair being a property offense, and not a crime of moral turpitude—and moon-struck monstrosity, as women’s carnality became embodied in such-like as the ferocious and devouring goddess Kali and her counterparts in other cults and religions.

Society/Status of Women

Life’s Lesson #1: Any time there’s a mystery, look to the bottom line (the one with the dollar sign appended to it) for the answer. For as long as farming remained the sort of poking-and-sowing business that women could perform, the status of women rose—giving rise in many societies to a Earth Mother cult that accorded due recognition to women for their role as life-givers, nurturers, and preservers of civilization. But once male strength became necessary to wield oxen and plows, men became the farmers. Once society became settled into agriculture, it began to support cities and their myriad divisions of labor; in the same spirit of diversification, clans organized themselves into specialized labor groups, and families into economic units. All this was reinforced by primogeniture, the custom of decreeing that everything go to the eldest son; after all, daughters were raised only to break their fathers’ hearts (and bank accounts) when they were married off to another family, and as such, were a lost cause from the beginning! But the point is, families became businesses, and anyone who works for the Corporation knows that businesses don’t work very well as democracies (and if you need any proof of that, consider the usual outcome of anything run by a committee!).

Society/Women/Venus of Willendorf

Life’s Lesson #1: Any time there’s a mystery, look to the bottom line (the one with the dollar sign appended to it) for the answer. For as long as farming remained the sort of poking-and-sowing business that women could perform, the status of women rose—giving rise in many societies to a Earth Mother cult that accorded due recognition to women for their role as life-givers, nurturers, and preservers of civilization; hence, the Venus of Willendorf as symbol of the fecundity of women and of Mother Earth. But once male strength became necessary to wield oxen and plows, men became the farmers. Once society became settled into agriculture, it began to support cities and their myriad divisions of labor; in the same spirit of diversification, clans organized themselves into specialized labor groups, and families into economic units. All this was reinforced by primogeniture, the custom of decreeing that everything go to the eldest son; after all, daughters were raised only to break their fathers’ hearts (and bank accounts) when they were married off to another family, and as such, were a lost cause from the beginning! But the point is, families became businesses, and anyone who works for the Corporation knows that businesses don’t work very well as democracies (and if you need any proof of that, consider the usual outcome of anything run by a committee!).

Society/Agriculture

As he progressed from spearchucking to row hoeing, the early Native American came to appreciate the merits of the committee approach as it became apparent to him that the same principles of cooperative endeavor applied in farming as they did in hunting buffalo. Ultimately, the Agricultural Revolution would not have been possible without property laws that rewarded with ownership the recurring, seasonal labor that a man needed to invest in bringing his farm to fruition. And with property rights came the ability of man to depend upon others for myriad other aspects of his livelihood while he in turn looked after his own specialized calling. All of this in turn made possible the rise of cities and civilization itself. So here we have it, in a hundred words or so, the lesson that seems yet so elusive to man: that civilization depends upon cooperation.

Society/Anasazi

As early Native Americans progressed from spearchucking to row hoeing, it would have become apparent that the same principles of cooperative endeavor that applied to hunting applied with far better results to farming. The Anasazi were especially astute in their appreciation of the limitations in bringing down a buffalo, and in bringing the larger animals to the groaning board, and as a result, they developed one of the most sophisticated of the early urban complexes centered around the cultivation of corn. There were lots of problems with making one’s living as a hunter, not the least of which was its economy of scale: whereas it required on the order of several hundred acres to keep a family in food by hunting, the same thing could be accomplished with a coupla acres of corn. However, the cultivation of anything besides sunburn in the deserts of the southwest is an iffy proposition, and much as the Anasazi would have concluded when the water ran dry, so will future archaeologists of Los Angeles, Denver, and Phoenix wonder, “What were they thinking?”

Society/Clovis Culture

Notwithstanding the relatively advanced technology of their spear-points, the Clovis hunters would certainly have appreciated their limitations in bringing down a buffalo, and the merits of the committee approach in bringing the larger animals to the groaning board. There were lots of problems with making one’s living as a hunter, not the least of which was its economy of scale: whereas it required on the order of several hundred acres to keep a family in food by hunting, the same thing could be accomplished with a coupla acres of corn. But as early man progressed from spearchucking to row hoeing, it would have become apparent that the same principles of cooperative endeavor applied. The Agricultural Revolution would not have been possible without property laws that rewarded with ownership the recurring, seasonal labor that a man needed to invest in bringing his farm to fruition. And with property rights came the ability of man to depend upon others for myriad other aspects of his livelihood while he in turn looked after his own specialized calling. All of this in turn made possible the rise of cities and civilization itself. So here we have it, in a hundred words or so, the lesson that seems yet so elusive to man: that civilization depends upon cooperation.

Society/Earliest Americans

Notwithstanding the relatively advanced technology of their spear-points, the early American hunters would certainly have appreciated their limitations in bringing down a buffalo, and the merits of the committee approach in bringing the larger animals to the groaning board. There were lots of problems with making one’s living as a hunter, not the least of which was its economy of scale: whereas it required on the order of several hundred acres to keep a family in food by hunting, the same thing could be accomplished with a coupla acres of corn. But as early man progressed from spearchucking to row hoeing, it would have become apparent that the same principles of cooperative endeavor applied. The Agricultural Revolution would not have been possible without property laws that rewarded with ownership the recurring, seasonal labor that a man needed to invest in bringing his farm to fruition. And with property rights came the ability of man to depend upon others for myriad other aspects of his livelihood while he in turn looked after his own specialized calling. All of this in turn made possible the rise of cities and civilization itself. So here we have it, in a hundred words or so, the lesson that seems yet so elusive to man: that civilization depends upon cooperation.

Society/Hopewell Culture

Notwithstanding the relatively advanced technology of the Native Americans’ spear-points, the Hopewell were quick to appreciate their limitations in bringing down a buffalo, and in bringing the larger animals to the groaning board. There were lots of problems with making one’s living as a hunter, not the least of which was its economy of scale: whereas it required on the order of several hundred acres to keep a family in food by hunting, the same thing could be accomplished with a coupla acres of corn. But as early Native Americans progressed from spearchucking to row hoeing, it would have become apparent that the same principles of cooperative endeavor that applied to hunting applied with far better results to farming.

Economy/Slavery/Sugar

Keep in mind as well that the reason there wasn’t enough plantation labor to be found in the New World was that about 95% of the some 115 million pre-contact inhabitants of the Americas had been wiped out by the smallpox brought by the conquistadors (which is why a “pristine wilderness” awaited the arrival of the Pilgrims a hundred years later).

Society/Columbian Exchange

This gives us an excellent case in point of how everything–but everything–is inter-related. The chaos theory holds that the beating of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the earth gives rise to a hurricane on the other. While the Columbian Exchange might seem to have been an innocent enough interchange of horses and cattle and whatnot from the Old World for potatoes and peppers and such from the New, it fostered some pretty grim consequences as well. The migration of corn from the New World to Europe and then to Africa was ultimately responsible for a huge increase in Africa’s food supply, and the population boom that resulted produced a massive upswing in tribal raiding for cultivable land. The captives, of course, became the currency of the slave trade. That took care of the supply side of the equation. The demand was spurred by the importation of the white man’s diseases into the New World. The “pristine wilderness” encountered by the Pilgrims when they arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620 was the result of a hundred-year epidemic sowed by Columbus’ crew and the Spanish conquistadors; a population estimated at some 115 million-strong at the time of Columbus’ arrival had been reduced by smallpox and other such ugly microbes to just several million—and an astonishing abundance of wildlife. And when it was eventually discovered that sugar cane grew like a weed in the West Indies, there understandably wasn’t much of a labor supply to draw upon. Slavery provided the answer. All that from an ear of corn… or shall we say, the beating of a butterfly’s wings?

Society/Colonies/Slavery/Corn

Slavery may not be what comes to mind when you butter up that golden ear of corn. But in fact, the arrival of corn from the Americas is what turned Africa from being marginally nourished to well fed… and fueled a population boom. This both heated up the competition for land and resulted in the captives of Africa’s tribal dust-ups being sold into slavery.

Society/Colonies/Slavery/Middle Passage

Once sea-borne aboard the slavers that transported African blacks to New World, the nightmare had just begun. Disease and the myriad miseries of being chained chock-a-block in hellish conditions for many weeks typically lightened the load of “deliverable cargo” by one-third or more. Then too, the journey might be delayed by the onset of the doldrums, a long stretch of still air that further lengthened the odds that slaves might survive the ordeal. What’s more, slavers were at risk of being stopped by anti-slavery squadrons, and the captain might just as soon cast his human cargo overboard to sink in their chains as risk arrest–in which case… a watery grave might well have been preferable to the horrors that awaited the slaves upon their landfall in the New World.

Society/Colonies/Slavery/Rice

Slavery may not be what comes to mind when you fluff up that pile of rice or butter up that golden ear of corn, but the consequences of corn were quite comparable to the role of rice in setting up the social catastrophe of slavery. The arrival of corn from the Americas is what turned Africa from being marginally nourished to well fed… and fueled a population boom. This both heated up the competition for land and resulted in the captives of Africa’s tribal dust-ups being sold into slavery.

Society/Christopher Columbus

The “pristine wilderness” encountered by the Pilgrims when they arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620 was the result of a hundred-year epidemic sowed by Columbus’ crew and the Spanish conquistadors; a population estimated at some 115 million-strong at the time of Columbus’ arrival had been reduced by smallpox and other such ugly microbes to just several million—and an astonishing abundance of wildlife. And when it was eventually discovered that sugar cane grew like a weed in the West Indies, there understandably wasn’t much of a labor supply to draw upon. Slavery provided the answer. All that from an ear of corn… or shall we say, the beating of a butterfly’s wings?

Society/Columbus/Foods

Everything means something… which is perhaps why we are what we eat. While modern man–being the all-business alpha-creature that he is–stuffs himself on the run with fast pap and franken-foods, traditional man understood that in the absence of a recognizable connection between what he put into his mouth and the sacred earth that sustained him, he was in danger of losing the psychic moorings that fastened him to reality. How tragic that Columbus and the conquistadors that followed reciprocated the New World’s healthful Horn of Plenty with a Pandora’s Box of disease that reduced the estimated 115 million inhabitants of the Americas at the time of contact to a pristine wilderness by the time the Pilgrims arrived a hundred years later.

Society/Madoc

The splendid possibility of a pariah Welshman holding sway in the primeval wilderness of 12th-century Alabama would surely qualify as an epic urban legend that could go a certain way toward explaining the quixotic outlandishness of southern white male culture. For my part, I’m prepared to accept it unquestioningly.

Society/Native Americans/Decimation

I wonder how many people realize that the “pristine wilderness” that the Pilgrims arrived in was pristine only because 95% of the some 115 million pre-contact inhabitants of the Americas had been wiped out by the smallpox that the conquistadors brought with them a hundred years before.

Society/Native Americans/Origins

Much of the story of encounters between East and West should be understood in terms of an encounter between “sacred societies” and “scientific societies.” Native American societies belong in the category of sacred societies, which can be characterized by their reverence for nature, their belief that man should live in harmony with his environment, their subordination of earthly and temporal concerns to divine will, their different concept of time, their love of tradition, their mysticism. Scientific societies, on the other hand, live by reason, objective reality, and their belief that man must be master of his environment, and worship progress, wealth, and material comfort. But perhaps there was a time when they shared common ground. Given the sophisticated attunement of Native Americans to the subtleties of nature–I sometimes wonder whether, if we could reach back into the past far enough, we might not encounter a civilization as advanced as (or more advanced than) ours. I suspect that we’d find that technology would have occupied a very low profile in such a civilization; after all, the trend with technology today is that the less intrusive, the better. Could it be that time is not the linear event we usually perceive it to be?

Society/Potato

The impact of the potato on the Old World is in the same league as that of corn. Slavery may not be what comes to mind when you butter up that golden ear of corn. But in fact, the arrival of corn from the Americas is what turned Africa from being marginally nourished to well fed… and fueled a population boom. This both heated up the competition for land and resulted in the captives of Africa’s tribal dust-ups being sold into slavery. Everything means something… which is perhaps why we are what we eat. While modern man–being the all-business alpha-creature that he is–stuffs himself on the run with fast pap and franken-foods, traditional man understood that in the absence of a recognizable connection between what he put into his mouth and the sacred earth that sustained him, he was in danger of losing the psychic moorings that fastened him to reality.

Society/Native Americans/Gender Equality

The observations made of equal treatment among Native American men and women would tend to confirm that gender inequality is an expedient of civilization. This goes way back: for as long as farming remained the sort of poking-and-sowing business that women could perform, the status of women rose—giving rise in many societies to a Earth Mother cult that accorded due recognition to women for their role as life-givers, nurturers, and preservers of civilization. But once male strength became necessary to wield oxen and plows, men became the farmers. (However, Native Americans seldom got to the point of depending on settled agriculture for a living, and of differentiating so extensively between men and women on the basis of physical strength.) Once society became settled into agriculture, it began to support cities and their myriad divisions of labor; in the same spirit of diversification, clans organized themselves into specialized labor groups, and families into economic units. All this was reinforced by primogeniture, the custom of decreeing that everything go to the eldest son; after all, daughters were raised only to break their fathers’ hearts (and bank accounts) when they were married off to another family, and as such, were a lost cause from the beginning! But the point is, families became businesses, and anyone who works for the Corporation knows that businesses don’t work very well as democracies (and if you need any proof of that, consider the usual outcome of anything run by a committee!).

Culture


Culture/Cave Paintings

Judging from the evidence of artifacts, one would be tempted to conclude that as time goes by, man becomes more sophisticated. But consider the cave paintings of Lascaux: the refinement of these renderings would suggest that the artistic acumen of man is intrinsic rather than acquired.


Economy


Economy/Metals

The launch and advancement of metalworking techniques, along with agriculture and irrigation, enabled the permanent settlement of homes and the construction of cities. Most of all, metalworking represented one of the first major progressions of technology, as man replaced stone tools with metal ones that were both more durable and more specialized, and made man the technological creature that he is. By giving man the plow, the knife, the spear, and more, metalworking added a vast new dimension to both his productive and destructive capabilities. Those capabilities have developed in tandem, so that technology has given man both mastery over the earth and the capability to destroy it. Some would say they’re one and the same.

Economy/Work

Agriculture defined man as the creature of the cooperative and highly regulated urban society that he is. The investment of regular labor that farming required created the concept and laws of permanent possession. Cooperative urban living is possible only with the clearly defined sense of “mine versus thine” that arose from the concept of private possession, and with everyone’s niche thus established, labor was able to become more specialized and productive and launch us on the path to true civilization, with security and welfare for all. Agriculture also helped define woman, too, for that matter! As the first nurturers and keepers of the crops and flocks, women came into their role in preserving and enhancing civilization–distinct from the manly pursuit of brutishly rendering it asunder. I once heard it remarked that “apart from the obvious anatomical differences, women are men.” Simplistic as this remark may seem, the more I think about it, the more implications seem to reveal themselves. There’s no question that in their way, women are as tough, as durable, as combative, and as competitive as men; and, I believe that anyone who has raised girls will readily concede that femininity is an acquired behavior and skill set (as is masculinity, to be fair). The fact that there is no more formidable adversary in nature than a mother whose young are threatened might suggest that these “base instincts” operate in women more on behalf of protection and conservation than conquest, acquisition, and dominion. Which force is the more powerful? It’s like speculating on whether greed is more powerful than fear; the fact that a stock market collapse can–virtually overnight—destroy the value that often takes many years to accrue makes the answer clear. History tells us it is far more difficult to conserve an empire than to build one, much as those who create often have little patience for those who manage. Left hemisphere/right hemisphere, yin/yang… male/female? In all these respects, the roots of our crops are the roots of civilization.

Economy/Tools

The first use of tools is something of a chicken-and-the-egg question. Did someone discover that something that was not a tool could help accomplish a task… or did someone look at a job that needed to be done and then set out to design a tool that would do the job? Was early man a creature of experience… or of abstract thought? Therein lies the Great Divide between animal and man, and between subsistence and civilization.


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