Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Grim Tale

Once upon a time…

Sometime between 2 and 5 million years ago, one of the many extant species of chimpanzee developed characteristics sufficiently close to the modern humans who called themselves scientists for the scientists to consider them to be members of their own species.

This new species of chimpanzee quickly settled into a genetic configuration that is virtually identical in all important respects to yours and mine.  Coincident with this configuration was a lifestyle that involved nomadic and semi-nomadic foraging in small highly cooperative, largely egalitarian social groups and the manufacture and use of relatively sophisticated stone, bone, and wood tools.  Many of these groups practiced small-scale gardening to augment their diet, but the majority of their food came from wild-harvested roots, fruits, nuts, berries, and game. 

Time passed. 

Lots and lots of time passed.

Very recently, beginning just 9 or 10 thousand years ago, an infinitesimally small minority of these people began to engage in large-scale domestication experiments.  The incorporation of farming and animal husbandry by these people had profoundly negative ramifications for their physical, psychological, and social well-being as well as deadly consequences for their foraging neighbors.   

With domestication came surplus food.  With surplus food came an increase in the population.  The rapidly increasing population of farming peoples ensured the eventual displacement and/or assimilation of the surrounding foraging populations, and domestication quickly became a dominant lifestyle.

Domestication also introduced hierarchical power relationships, eventually leading to cities and city states ruled by kings.  These early city states eventually collapsed as they over-exploited their local resources.  But the statistical inevitability and virus-like quality of the domesticating lifestyle ensured that others would emerge someplace else.

Numerous tools were developed in order to maintain control of the laboring masses and support the imposition of unnatural power hierarchies; chief among these tools was religion.  Later tools included abstractions such as private property, capital, and democracy.  Religious systems in Europe led to the use of the mechanical clock to coordinate the behavior of monks.  Capitalists later borrowed the monks’ clock to coordinate the behavior of wage-slaves. 

And the modern machine was born.

And the machine quickly discovered oil and the international corporation.

And the corporation declared itself the legal equivalent of a human being.

And very little time passed before the planet died.

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