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Unformatted text preview: C H A ~ T E R 10" j ..,' I ~ ! Agriculture's JWixed Blessings \ . To SCIENCEWEOWEDRAMATIC CHANGES IN OURSMUGSELP--IMAGE. Astronomy taught us that our Earth is not the center of the uni- verse but merely one of nine planets circling one of billions of stars. From biology we learned that humans were'not specially created by God but evolved along with tens of millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human his- tory over the last million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption offagri,=""" cttlture(plus 'animal husbandry), supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was atHIall}'a.milest'one1ot tne wots~~well.:a~ for the better. With agriculture came not only greatly increased food production and food storage, but also the ~!.oJs:soda"1md sexual:" inequality, the dis..~'as~ and despotism, that curse modern human existence. Thus, among the human _cultural hallmarks being dis- cussed in Part Three of this book, agriculture represents in its mixed blessings a halfway station between our noble traits already discussed (art and language) and our unmitigated vices still to be discussed (drug abuse, genocide, and environmental destructiveness). E ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ J.. E! ~ ~ ~ c ~ c ~ ~ ~ . ..N ~O\ ~~ !::S " ~.S '- :::= tj~ ]~ ~::t: ~ .. ~~ o-ci~ ~ ~ o II) ~Z i5~ "t::I E II) ._ ta ~ Jooo)~ Agriculture's Mixed Blessings 18x At first, the evidence for progress and against this p-evimmiU 'in- Iterprttaftbir'will strike twentieth-century Americans and Europeans as irrefutable. \Ve...a:ibet~1""Of in almost every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than Ice Age cavemen, who were still better off than apes. If you're inclined to be cynical, just count o~r advantages. We enjoy the most abundant and varied food, the best tools and material goods, the longest and healthiest lives iri human history. Most of us are safe from starvation and predators. We obtain most of our energy from oil and machines, not just from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would really trade-today's life for that of a medieval peasant, caveman, or ape? For J1.'lost~f"'ou18his~ all humans had to practice a primitive life-style termed "fiiintl nd,'gatheringy: they hunted wild animals and gathered wild plant food~that hunter-gatherer life-style is often characterized by anthropologists as "nasty, brutish, and short." Since no food is grown and little is stored, there is (according to this view) no respite from the time-,consuming struggle that starts anew each day to find wild foods and avoid starving. Our escape from this misery was launched only -after the end of the last Ice Age, when people began independently. in different parts of the world to do- mesticate plants and animals. The agricultural revoJution gradually spread until today it is nearly universal and few tribes of hunter- gatherers survive....
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- Spring '08