Seven or eight thousand years ago, early agriculturalists living in the fertile drainage valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were struggling with a climate crisis. The spring rains that they depended on to kick-start their crops were coming later and later every year. In some years they didn’t come at all. Many folks were abandoning the farming lifestyle altogether, reclaiming their birthright as members of a nomadic foraging species, and moving to where antelope and nut trees and other sources of food were still prevalent and more predictable. Out of ingenuity or out of sheer desperation—or both—some of those who stayed behind began to reroute local runoff streams and to scratch channels into the clay to bring water from the river to quench their sunbaked fields.
Human history since then has been a protracted tale of the proliferation, repurposing, innovative expansion, and brutal application of these technologies of social control.