I am really upset reading the best seller book SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari. Yuval states that we humans screwed-up everything back in the year 9,000 B.C. when we abandoned hunting/gathering and took a wrong turn into agriculture. The author leaped far beyond anthropological science into editorial judgment. Harari offered few details, so let me explain and improvise a bit.
This epochal agriculture transformation all began late one evening in mid November of the year 9,000 B.C. A group of Mesopotamian dudes were seated around the camp fire on a cliff above the Euphrates River. One of the elderly tribe members Mr. Ugbash changed human history when he stood up and flabbergasted his tribe saying:
“Guys, I’ve had it with all this moving around every few weeks. I’d like to stick around here. Me and the Misses like the river view and the kids are just learning to swim. We prefer to settle down. My hip is hurting me from all the migrating and the wife is on my case about so much packing and unpacking. No more endless wandering around for us.”
Mr. Gopslap, one of the tribe’s aspiring young conservatives was quick to call out Ugbash.
“When you signed up for a hunter gatherer career, you agreed to go where the roots, animals and nutritious bugs were plentiful. You can’t simply quit because your wife hassles you. Man up will you! Besides, there’s no other career positions being offered. You hunt, you gather or you do both. Take it or leave it!”
Ugbash’s hip was killing him, and he was having none of it. He was prepared for the confrontation. “I’ve been thinking about it guys. How about something new? Invent a whole new profession. You remember the little millet seeds that we gather across the river? Instead of woofing down every last kernel, why don’t we plant a few and see if we can grow enough to eat next year.”
That crazy idea was all it took to start the Agricultural Revolution! The millions of skilled practitioners in the H & G trade were terminated over night- replaced by a bunch of hay-seed farmers. A few years after that night on the Euphrates, planting and harvesting became the New New Thing. Today the hunting and gathering business so “Yesterday”.
The author of SAPIENS says the transition was not only a disruption, but a gigantic mistake. Many writers make grandiose pronouncements on controversial subjects. After all, what could be more fun for a scholar like Harari than to state, I am from Oxford and all you dimmer bulbs who went to Yale, Stanford or trade school- everything you learned about anthropology was wrong. This might be O.K. if Dr. Hariri was a humorist, but he’s not joking. He goes on to suggest the pseudo intellectuals and everyone else would have been better without the Industrial Revolution, Renaissance or agriculture. He concludes that had we remained hunter/gatherers we’d have been better, happier and healthier. He thinks Mr. Ugbash and followers made a huge mistake. They/we were all wrong. Ugbash should have sucked it up, ignored his wife and kept plugging away with the foraging life. Dr Harari goes on to describe the superior life style we gave up.
Hunter/gatherers like Ugbash enjoyed healthier diversity of items on their menu each day. Harari believes you can’t beat a mixture of squirrels, tree roots and bugs. Pancakes, Doritos and Whoppers don’t even come close, he seems to be saying. Next time you see a grasshopper or cockroach, don’t hit him with the spray can because they could add variety to your nutritious lunch. Harari also admires the H&G guys for non aggression. “When you have a farm,” he tells us, “you have something of value that others want. You are forced to take up arms and defend your home rather than disappear in the night”. To me this smacks of a wimpy response.
The author concedes that the opportunities for wealth accumulation were limited, but this loss was more than compensated by all the leisure time we could have enjoyed hang out after grubbing for insects.
Some may be seduced by Harari’s conclusions, but only if they enjoy the delights of living in a cave like a bat or yearn to spend their days swinging in the trees.
I myself, believe in progress. Climbing the career ladder, improving my golf swing, seeing the kids mature appeals to me. Progress fits in well with the big picture as well. Darwin showed us that little lowly, simple life forms evolve into the large, the complex and the intelligent life forms: Like us for an immodest example. From there it was off to the races. Humans came down from the trees, moved on to caves for a few millennium. Next step was the Industrial Revolution and from there we moved along into a condo with a view. This is progress and evolution, as Darwin says.
I enjoy the condo and modern life. But what I most aspire to is the life writing intellectual tomes, disparaging the conventional wisdom of my fellow learned scholars. That has to be more satisfying than eating bugs.