Table of Contents

Human history

Three revolutions. The human history I find most compelling is the history of three revolutions:

  1. The neolithic revolution: the beginning of agriculture and human culture
  2. The industrial revolution: the end of sustainability; luddites
  3. The information revolution: mass media, computers, and social media; neo-luddites
The neolithic revolution

Nomads. Mesolithic nomads were one with nature, immersed in it and at its mercy. They were not humanity as we know it: protected from nature, separate from nature, conquerors and exploiters of nature. They were on an equal footing with the rest of nature and in desperate competition with it: an unsuccessful hunt or an unusually dry summer meant starvation. They lived and died as animals, fully immersed in nature and natural cycles and at their mercy. The hippie back to the land, return to nature shtick is atavistic because the neolithic revolution gave birth to our potential to make progress with love. That makes it a betrayal of our humanity on the deepest level. Yes we're part of nature but it's not that simple.

Early farmers. About 12,000 years ago a few nomads settled down and became farmers and herders living in permanent settlements instead of seasonal camps. Early farmers were innovators, developing new technology for planting, cultivating, irrigating, harvesting and storing food. They practiced selective breeding to increase the value to humans of the plants and animals they ate. They didn't have science as we know it but they observed and innovated, laying the groundwork for practical science and engineering. With new technology they could produce more food than nomads. They could live in warmer, safer homes where food could be stored. People didn't starve just because hunting or foraging was bad. Life was more secure now that they were farmers and had their own fields. Technological innovation and private ownership were born, and some people had enough leisure to begin experiencing love as we know it.

Alcohol. A major force driving the production of excess fruit and grain was the hunger to get a buzz on, to get wasted and escape the bleak drudgery of subsistence farming, if only for a few hours. Alcoholic beverages became a regular part of life, not just a rare treat. Alcoholism was born.

Culture and class. Successful farmers could afford to support workers to do the hard labor of farming, giving rise to an underclass: class differences were born. They also supported specialists: people who brewed beer and wine, built houses and fences, made ceramics and jewelry, sang and played music, healed wounds and propitiated angry gods. Human culture and art were born. Nomads had art but not artists as we know them. Previously, no one could afford to devote a lifetime to art. Artistic development had been severely limited by the need to survive.

Self realization. Agriculture made leisure time a possibility for people in the upper classes; nomads worked full time all the time to survive. A few of those people used their leisure time to follow their longing for something more. Self realization took its place at the top of the hierarchy of human needs. Self realization is a human invention, our very finest.

Crime and slavery. A Neolithic farmer was a juicy target for a clever scumbag: make a show of force and demand half his crops from now on, and maybe his daughters would live. Half became the vast majority, and his daughters did not fare well; they might've welcomed death. Farmers became the exploited class: serfs, economic slaves to the usurping owners of their farms. Welcome to humanity as we know it.

Humans are disruptors. That's how we started out and that's how we've been ever since. We disrupt nature, creatively imposing our will on the natural order of things. That disruption makes human culture possible, all the wonders of science, technology and art. Those wonders come at the terrible price of human misery: crime, repression, exploitation, alcohol and drug addiction, violence, slavery and the emotions all of that is based on. All that is part of us. None of it can be fixed. It's all the inevitable outgrowth of thinking. Disruption is our role here, our part to play in the game. The only way to be human and not ruled by misery is to make progress with love and keep making progress, a path rarely taken. It's true that the planet can only support so many disruptors. There are far too many of us now. The planet will have to fix that. Global warming should do the trick.

The industrial revolution

Village life. Ancient cities began to form during the neolithic revolution, but for thousands of years most people lived in villages. Villages could be more or less self-sustaining, trading minimally or not at all with other villages. Villages could be sustainable in a given area if the population was stable. That was rarely the case. The advantages of settled life resulted in population growth; villages tended to grow.

Ancient cities. Meanwhile, cities were developing. The concentrated population of a city required lots of surrounding land for support. Cities swallowed villages, gradually expanding outward. Sustainable villages became an endangered species.

Tipping point. The industrial revolution was a tipping point in the development of new technology and the expansion of cities. Cities became so large and powerful they took over all the villages in their political domain. One way they did this by being attractive, exciting. Village life was lots of hard work with no great prospects. There was more potential in cities; some people got rich. Another way was eminent domain: powerful people in a city could simply wipe out villages if that land was needed for mining or defense. Cities made village life undesirable and irrelevant.

Luddites. Some people resisted industrialization. They didn't fare very well. They were severely punished, often executed. Nobody cared about their grievances. Time doesn't run backwards; the power had shifted to the cities, and there it would stay. So far it shows no signs of leaving.

The information revolution

Mass media. Printing, radio, movies, TV. Mass media introduced something new: easy entertainment. Thanks to mass media and the Internet, entertainment has replaced religion as the opiate of the people. It's way better opium, much more seductive. TV trumps church, even in Texas. Before mass media we had to work for entertainment by physically traveling to wherever the entertainers were. People traveled to the arena for spectacles, the theater for plays and later movies, the auditorium for music. Mass media brought all that into the home, first as books and then as broadcast media.

Computers. The advent of personal computers made then a tool ordinary schlubs like you and I could use, not just business and the man. The advent of the Internet made computers a means of communicating. The advent of social media changed everything, and not for the better. It's the second coming all right, but not the biblical one. Yeats's version.

Neo-luddites. Some people resist computerization, and any technology that's not been proven harmless. That's absurd. All technology is harmful. There's alway a tradeoff. Nobody cares what the neo-luddites think.