How often have you decided to do something because it
seemed like a good idea at the time?
The "Fertile Crescent." Source - Wikipedia
Then, later, have you thought to yourself, that wasn’t such a good idea? What have you then done? Have you changed your mind and done something different? Perhaps you have had to repair some harm. Perhaps you have had to apologise to someone? Or, have you decided, I’ve made my bed, now I have to sleep in it?
I think we can all relate to such a scenario and the possible subsequent sequels.
For some reason when this happens collectively we tend to ignore the possibility that the “good idea at the time” was not such a good idea. We stick with the idea, even if it harms us, and the planet with us.
Agriculture is one such scenario.
Around 12,000 years ago a portion of the human race, living in the Fertile Crescent,1 began planting fig trees and domesticating varieties of cereal and legumes. Pigs, goats, cats, cattle, and sheep also began to be tamed and domesticated.
The Agricultural Revolution had begun. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Agriculture and the domestication of animals allowed humans to leave behind their nomadic hunter-gatherer past and their reliance upon the local “gods” to provide for sustenance. The discomfort of uncertainty was replaced by certainty and comfort.
Or was it?
Prior to the Agricultural Revolution humans may have been anxious about the future; would the gods provide? The future was uncertain.
With agriculture, however, came new modes of uncertainty. Would the rains come and flood the fields and wash away the newly sown plants? Or, would drought burn and destroy the new shoots? What chance was there of pestilence? Will marauding plagues of locusts arrive?
With agriculture also came settlement. There was no point in roaming if the crops you planted were just there within walking distance, and all you had to do was tend them.
Settlement led to increased numbers of people. Easily accessible food meant more people. More people meant more planting and tilling, providing more food. The vicious cycle had begun. More food means more people means more food means more…
More people also meant more land was required. It also led to some within larger settlements taking increased control of the processes of agriculture. Over time this led to stratification within settlements, and the rise of ruling classes and elites. Control of these processes led to accumulation and eventually the concept of private ownership of crops, animals, and most importantly – land.
These acquisitions now had to be safeguarded and protected. There was always the danger of other tribes wanting to take over your land and use it for themselves. Warfare began!
As settlements grew, the danger of theft was not always external. There was little to hinder the growth of police forces, legal systems, courts, and capital punishment.
Before long empires grew up. The first known empire was that of Sargon the Great, who established the Akkadian Empire in the third millennium BC. Empire building had begun.
Empires came and went. The twin aspirations of land and defence (by now empire builders had discovered that the best form of defence was conquest) led to larger and larger empires. At the height of its fame the Roman Empire not only claimed the Fertile Crescent; it had completely encircled the Mediterranean Sea.
The idea of conquest and the private ownership of land caught on and became widespread within the imaginations of Kings and Queens of Europe, as well as a number of well-to-do merchants.
Next came colonisation: of Africa, the Americas, the Pacific Islands, Australia, and New Zealand. It can be reasonably well argued that colonisation was a direct outgrowth of the Agricultural Revolution.
I’ve got too far ahead.
Let’s return to 10,000 – 12,000 years prior to our time. The Agricultural Revolution also heralded in perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of human psychology and well-being to ever befall us – our disconnect and separation from nature.
Prior to the Agricultural Revolution hominids (of which modern humans are part) lived in close connection with nature; so much so, that hominids were indistinct from any other part of nature. We were nature. Nature was our natural home.
The Agricultural Revolution changed all that. Nature was now ours to tame, to domesticate, to force into our ways. Furthermore, nature became something other than us. Nature was wild, and wild had to be contained and overcome.
This led, inexorably, to the degradation of the environment that we see today.
Could this have been averted?
Could any of this been foreseen? Could any of it have been averted?
Probably not, because each of the steps along the way would have been seen as a good idea at the time.
However, one of the advantages of hindsight, particularly hindsight that takes a large picture view, is that we might learn something. What might we learn from this example?
First, we might learn that just because something seems like a good idea at the time, it may turn out to have dire outcomes or consequences. So, let’s not rush. Let us consider the consequences. Indeed, let us consider the by-products and side-affects that can already be seen.
The second thing we might learn is that we are part and parcel of nature. What we do to nature we do to ourselves. And surely, we are starting to realise this now – perhaps too late! Again, let’s not rush. Our technological innovations and our head have gotten way ahead of our hearts and our inner natures. We have outstripped our capacity to feel.
And, if we want to feel again, then we must give ourselves time. Time to just sit, time to just listen. Time to feel.
That seems like a good idea!!
1. The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped part of the world centred on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Mesopotamia) and extending to the Eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Sometimes historians include the upper Nile in this description.