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Thread: Was Civilization Just a Big Mistake?

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    Cat-tastic Babba's Avatar
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    Was Civilization Just a Big Mistake?

    I wouldn't call civilization a mistake. It naturally evolved. But our bodies evolved for one way of life - hunter/gathering - and has problems dealing with the agrarian lives we lead now. I recently read "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" and the author made a persuasive argument about the ways cultivating grains has not been so good for us. We're too dependent on cultivated food. For a long time, just after we became farmers, we were dependent on one food, essentially. And when there was a crop failure everyone went hungry. Agrarian societies had a less nutritious diet for centuries. Whereas, hunter/gatherers (it should be gatherer/hunters because we were always more dependent on plant foods than meat) relied on a wide variety of foods and would just move on if the food supply dwindled and ate with the seasons. Farming brought on widespread disease because of stored grains that rodents would live in. The labor associated with farming has not been good for human backs. And on and on.

    Andrew Sullivan summarizes the thesis of James Scott’s Against the Grain, an account of the emergence of the earliest states in human civilization:

    The usual narrative is that this was progress, the use of intelligence to finally better our lot, leading to writing and culture and politics and what we call civilization. But that drastically misreads much of the evidence….Our health declined sharply; our average height diminished; our diet worsened….And the evidence shows that most humans at the time were understandably unimpressed. The persistence of hunter-gatherer communities throughout the early state era — and their healthier, more leisurely, and just as intelligent lives — made many suspicious of the new way of life.


    ….But for a few, the new order gave them extraordinary power. Control the territory and you control a lot. And so civilization begins with exploitation, hierarchy and control. The relative egalitarianism and intergenerational communities of human society for over 190,000 years slowly attenuated….The deeper you read into the book, and mull its research, the harder it is to ignore the possibility that modern civilization has, in one respect, been a gigantic, species-level mistake, a bid for power and mastery over nature and other human beings that has led to stunning achievements, but also untold misery and suffering.

    In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond makes roughly the same argument—agrarianism was worse for most people than hunting and gathering—but with a different explanation for why it happened anyway. It’s not that anyone initially thought it would give them immense power, it’s just that humans hunted big game nearly to extinction. Staple crops were pretty crappy before thousands of years of breeding turned them into the wheat and rye and millet that we have today, but they were still marginally better than starving. As time went by, hunting became harder and crops got better, and civilization began. This did eventually give a few humans extraordinary power over the rest, but that wasn’t the motivation at first.
    Was Civilization Just a Big Mistake? ? Mother Jones

    And I agree that the development of farming wasn't motivated by the lust for power, but it is an outcome. And it can be said that that power has led to lots of war. We didn't have war before we became agrarian societies. We always see ourselves as so much more civilized than our hunter/gatherer ancestors. But I don't really think that's true. We are more violent and experience more stress day to day than they did. The violence is caused by the need for land and the need for land is caused by farming. I'm not saying they were better genetically. They were the same as us. I'm saying that we've put ourselves into a position where we trigger our own violence. And we cause our own stress.

    I will have to read the book they're talking about, though. It's one of my favorite topics.

    Also, i recommend Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel". Very enlightening. Here'a the documentary if you don't want to read the book.

    Last edited by Babba; 19th November 2017 at 06:54 AM.
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    Veteran Member Moorhuhn Wanted Champion Hollywood's Avatar
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    Read the book years ago, very good.

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    Master political analyst Dittohead not!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Babba View Post
    I wouldn't call civilization a mistake. It naturally evolved. But our bodies evolved for one way of life - hunter/gathering - and has problems dealing with the agrarian lives we lead now. I recently read "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" and the author made a persuasive argument about the ways cultivating grains has not been so good for us. We're too dependent on cultivated food. For a long time, just after we became farmers, we were dependent on one food, essentially. And when there was a crop failure everyone went hungry. Agrarian societies had a less nutritious diet for centuries. Whereas, hunter/gatherers (it should be gatherer/hunters because we were always more dependent on plant foods than meat) relied on a wide variety of foods and would just move on if the food supply dwindled and ate with the seasons. Farming brought on widespread disease because of stored grains that rodents would live in. The labor associated with farming has not been good for human backs. And on and on.



    Was Civilization Just a Big Mistake? ? Mother Jones

    And I agree that the development of farming wasn't motivated by the lust for power, but it is an outcome. And it can be said that that power has led to lots of war. We didn't have war before we became agrarian societies. We always see ourselves as so much more civilized than our hunter/gatherer ancestors. But I don't really think that's true. We are more violent and experience more stress day to day than they did. The violence is caused by the need for land and the need for land is caused by farming. I'm not saying they were better genetically. They were the same as us. I'm saying that we've put ourselves into a position where we trigger our own violence. And we cause our own stress.

    I will have to read the book they're talking about, though. It's one of my favorite topics.

    Also, i recommend Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel". Very enlightening. Here'a the documentary if you don't want to read the book.

    There have been wars ever since Og conked Grog on the head with a club and took over his tribe. War is not something that started after humans started experimenting with agriculture as an alternative to hunting and gathering.

    And we may have evolved as hunter gatherers, but primitive man did not live very long or very well. The idea of the "noble savage" has been roundly discredited. Primitive man lived difficult, brutish, and short lives.
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    Cat-tastic Babba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dittohead not! View Post
    There have been wars ever since Og conked Grog on the head with a club and took over his tribe. War is not something that started after humans started experimenting with agriculture as an alternative to hunting and gathering.

    And we may have evolved as hunter gatherers, but primitive man did not live very long or very well. The idea of the "noble savage" has been roundly discredited. Primitive man lived difficult, brutish, and short lives.
    Not the first instance of warfare, which surely predates recorded history, but of an organized war between civilizations. For the purposes of this question I'll define a war as:

    • Defined scope: the war had a beginning, and end, and specific belligerents. Not an ongoing state of hostility between people groups.

    • Dedicated fighting force: the war was fought by a military of some kind, rather than armed commoners who skirmished when they happened to meet.

    • State-driven: Military action was enacted by one or more governments. (One state campaigning against disorganized tribes would count.)


    The earliest war I can find a description of is Sargon's conquest of Sumer at the Battle of Ur in c. 2271 BC, which led to the establishment of the Akkadian Empire. I suspect there were earlier documented conflicts in Sumer or other very early agricultural civilizations.
    https://history.stackexchange.com/qu...war-in-history

    I disagree with you about war. I wasn't suggesting that hunter/gatherers weren't ever violent. I was suggesting that the need for land has caused humans to be more violent than our hunter/gatherer ancestors and to use organized states to grab land. Healthy humans aren't violent for the sake of being violent. Circumstances bring about acts of violence as well as stress. We have developed societies that put humans in circumstances that bring about violence more often than hunter/gatherers.

    And I'm not saying that we should go back to being hunter/gatherers. That boat sailed eons ago. And I'm not saying it was better in every way. But there were certain aspects that were better. What I am saying is that we can learn from and change things in our societies that better suit our genetics.

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    Southern Strategy Liberal OldGaffer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Babba View Post
    https://history.stackexchange.com/qu...war-in-history

    I disagree with you about war. I wasn't suggesting that hunter/gatherers weren't ever violent. I was suggesting that the need for land has caused humans to be more violent than our hunter/gatherer ancestors and to use organized states to grab land. Healthy humans aren't violent for the sake of being violent. Circumstances bring about acts of violence as well as stress. We have developed societies that put humans in circumstances that bring about violence more often than hunter/gatherers.

    And I'm not saying that we should go back to being hunter/gatherers. That boat sailed eons ago. And I'm not saying it was better in every way. But there were certain aspects that were better. What I am saying is that we can learn from and change things in our societies that better suit our genetics.
    Nomadic Tribes like the Huns, the Vandals, the Goths and so forth destroyed civilization in their quest for resources as their tribes grew.
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    I did read one pretty interesting article quite some time ago that said in fact we are indebted to the development of humanity becoming agrarian. This allowed people the time to develop experimentation and the written word and such. If we had remained nomadic or even semi-nomadic, this type of technological advancement for lack of a better term would either not have happened or been tremendously slowed down.

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    Thought Provocateur NightSwimmer's Avatar
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    One thing is for certain. Had we kept our old ways and avoided modernization, there would be far fewer of us today. I suppose one could consider that either a blessing or a curse.
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    Master political analyst Dittohead not!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Babba View Post
    https://history.stackexchange.com/qu...war-in-history

    I disagree with you about war. I wasn't suggesting that hunter/gatherers weren't ever violent. I was suggesting that the need for land has caused humans to be more violent than our hunter/gatherer ancestors and to use organized states to grab land. Healthy humans aren't violent for the sake of being violent. Circumstances bring about acts of violence as well as stress. We have developed societies that put humans in circumstances that bring about violence more often than hunter/gatherers.

    And I'm not saying that we should go back to being hunter/gatherers. That boat sailed eons ago. And I'm not saying it was better in every way. But there were certain aspects that were better. What I am saying is that we can learn from and change things in our societies that better suit our genetics.
    I have to admit humans have gotten better at slaughtering each other since we began to till the soil and build cities. We've now arrived at a pinnacle of development in which we could wipe a significant percentage of humankind off of the globe in a few minutes.
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    Galactic Ruler Spookycolt's Avatar
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    Considering our live span was about 20 years back then and that its over 80 now I'd say cultivation has worked out in our favor.

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    "In the beginning the universe was created, this has made a lot of people very angry and is generally considered a bad idea." - hitchhikers guide
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