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
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
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.