The Agricultural Revolution: It Was a Trap



One of the controversial, mind-bending Guns, Germs and Steel type ideas in Yuval Noah Harari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is that the Agricultural Revolution, while advancing human institutions and increasing population, did more harm than good to the individual-- your typical farmer/peasant had it worse than your typical hunter/gatherer; the peasant ate a less varied diet, starved more often, worked much harder, and became bent, broken and diseased while tilling the fields . . . and Harari insists that we didn't domesticate wheat . . . wheat domesticated us (Malcolm Gladwell frames a similar argument in a more positive manner with Asian culture and rice production in Outliers) and with every toilsome step that humans took to make wheat more bountiful, we became more addicted to the high yields of the plant-- we buried the seeds deep instead of scattering them, we hunched over and cleared the fields of rocks and weeds-- though were meant to climb trees and chase antelopes-- we carried buckets of water to the fields instead of roaming the land in search of diverse nutrition, we built fences to keep out the animals and we dug canals to bring even more water, we fought diseases and blight . . . all so we could stay put and rely more and more on these few staple crops, which were flourishing, now that they had found willing slaves to take care of them . . . and in the lean years, when the crops failed, instead of moving on, people stayed and starved . . . and each step of the way towards this agricultural society was so miniscule that no one noticed what now seems obvious: cultivating wheat . . . it's a trap!

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