The Original Sin of Agriculture: Prehistory

The Story of B opened my eyes to a linguistic problem that reveals some truth about the way we read and perceive history. We tell the story of history beginning with the rise of agriculture. Everything before the rise of agriculture is referred to as “prehistory.” That can be taken to mean simply that this was a time before history was recorded or written down. In another more subtle way it belies the way we think about the kind of life and people that existed before agriculture. In a sense this was non-history, non-life and they are therefore non-people.

This was certainly part of what allowed colonizers and religious imperialists to conquer in the name of civilization. Savages and barbarians were not real people. Their ways of life, thinking and relating could not possibly be anything more than animalistic instincts and perhaps demonic deception. They were primitive people who had not yet been blessed by the advances of civilization, progress and technology. There was nothing to learn from these people and everything to teach them.

I don’t mean to romanticize tribal civilizations by any means. There are harsh realities that come with another vision for the way the world works. But this is exactly what they offer in response to the failures of our technocratic society, another vision of the world.

In this other vision of the world, human beings are subject to the same rules and limitations as the rest of creation. The way we order our lives is based on living in harmony with the natural rhythms of the world. This includes the natural process of life and death. We are not as much in control of nature as we are subject to it. As mentioned in the previous post, this means there are tradeoffs concerning the population that the planet can sustain and how we move away from our current destructive practices. What this other vision offers is a refocusing and reorientation of the way we think about the problems we face, their sources and causes.

I don’t know that hunter-gatherer societies offer a viable solution for the near future. What they do offer is an alternative vision and a challenge to the modern myth of progress that has brought us to the brink of disaster. Perhaps they can help us find a path forward, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

This is the continuation of a series exploring basic assumptions about agriculture, history and our relationship to creation: The Original Sin of Agriculture Part I, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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