All great human / global issues seem to stem from the transition from a hunter-gatherer way of life to an agrarian way of life. Problems then compounded with the transition to an industrial way of life. We are now in the information age, and this could save us.
The first domestication of animals and plants began a process of extraction and sedentary behavior. We no longer needed to move because we could store food in granaries and take from the animals. This living with animals also began a relationship with disease which we had never experienced before as a species. All of the major diseases which took immense tolls on the human population over the previous centuries, such as smallpox, polio, rabies, and others came from living with animals. And as we domesticated the plants to create crops, we perpetuated monocultures and reduced biodiversity. We then spread across the globe in conquests which wrought havoc on indigenous populations by way of our guns and germs. The hunter-gatherer way of life all but disappeared.
We derive physical (and thus mental) health via a complex delivery system built into nature. In the complexity of a plant are the nutrients we need, not in isolated, recapitulated components. Once we left farms and entered into cities and suburbs during the industrial transition, we continued to extract from nature, and then also to refine. White sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup; all the things nutritionists and pathologists know to cause the major problems in humans, like cancer and heart disease, come from this unnatural refinement of natural products.
Our extraction and refinement of oil into fuel and plastics have made possible the population explosion of the last century which has given rise to a whole host of problems. The settling of suburban sprawl, the pollution caused by copious automobiles and factories, the rise of big box stores, the cubicle life, and all other unhealthy ways of society have stemmed from the extraction and refinement of oil. This reshaping of the earth into cities and sprawl has had a “conquering” effect much like early agriculture-and-steel society migration; only this time, instead of wiping out indigenous people, we at last denuded our own basic needs for empathy, love, and equality – elements nurtured in hunter-gather societies, small societies, and resourced-based societies.
The current money-market system is itself an extraction and refinement. Real wealth used to be in family, community, and health. Having a commodity like a food or a service that could be traded was an asset built into the matrix of that natural, healthy life. Gold and other metals and minerals came about from extraction, and representative of something of value. Money – that is, paper bills – is a refinement of that extraction of gold, like high fructose corn syrup which exists within an ear of corn. But with the fructose taken and highly refined, or like sugar, white flour, and all other refined elements, it becomes fiat; empty. Too much sugar taken into the body tells the body to store up fat and so weight gain occurs. At the same time, the individual has not received real nutrition, and so craves more sugar. The same equation exists with fiat currency, or “money” – no real wealth is gained. The money gets stored, or used unwisely, and the individual craves more, seeking something of real value.
We are now even looking at the ways in which hunter-gather societies raised their young and how those societies still in existence today tend to cultivate individuals that are more secure and healthy than our own in Western world. The U.S. is the most violent society on the planet, now able to claim 11 of the 20 worst mass shootings of the last half a century, most all of these perpetrated by adolescents and young men. In his book The World Until Yesterday, author Jared Diamond points out that “The adolescent identity crises that plague American teenagers aren’t an issue for hunter-gather children.” Diamond’s studies have shown that hunter-gather children have longer nursing periods, sleep more closely with their parents, are provided more autonomy, have more “allo” parents (extended family caregivers) and are instantly responded to when they cry. Compare that to a society where the norm is a much shorter nursing period, children often sleep in separate rooms, are believed to do better if they are left to “cry it out,” and are graded, rated, and given orders everyday of their lives at home and in school, and a striking contrast is revealed.
It all goes together. No one can quite pinpoint exactly the reason for the impetus to have left behind the hunter-gatherer way of life. Yet, when we look at societies still operating this way, we see healthier, happier individuals. Better diets, longer lives, more confident children. Is there something innate within us which steers us towards this “progress?” What factors motivated us to settle the land, domesticate the animals and plants, and later to automate, mass-produce, and extract and refine everything?
Perhaps the basic drives of human beings are somehow faulty. It is said by psychologists, biologists, and neurologists the world over that the three basic human drives are to 1. Avoid pain 2. Conserve energy and 3. Pursue pleasure.
It would seem we’re hard-wired to make things easier for ourselves, and kick back and have some fun as much as possible. It makes sense, then, the automated “life of leisure” we have sought, and that every kind of entertainment and pleasure-delivery system is available to us today.
In religious terms, the fable is that we were once in the Garden of Eden, from which we were cast out. This seems much like the idealized hunter-gatherer way of life, one in which we coexisted harmoniously with nature and lived unspoiled in the spell of the sensuous.
But again, why did we mess that up? To follow the religious line further, it is because we are born with “original sin.” Some element innate within us impels us to ruin what we have – to bite the hand that feeds us, or to question its authority.
Indeed, we seem to have questioned nature. We have tried to circumvent it, conquer it, improve or reinvent nature at every turn. We have extracted from its bounty, and then refined those products to maximize their profitability for certain individuals among us. We have not reciprocated with nature. We have not given back what we have taken.
But there is hope. We are in the information age for a reason. For those of us who are interested in the outcome of the human race and believe that we have the wisdom and the innovation within us to begin moving on an enlightened path towards the future, we can now share information with one another at an unprecedented rate of exchange. We can read every book, watch every documentary, join every group, and work on every local project until our hearts are content.
Chances are there is a sustainability movement somewhere in your neighborhood. There are people who believe in the new paradigm of a resource-based economy. There are parents who spend more time with their children and families and less time chasing money and success. There are people who stone-grind their flour, grow their own vegetables, harvest their own meat. Find these people and join them.
Or, maybe you are already one of them. If so, invite more people into your fold.
We don’t know exactly why we left the sensuous and began a life of extraction and refinement in this cage of the money-market system. If our basic drives became perverted somewhere along the way by addiction and greed, we’re not sure the source of that perversion. Our stories tell us things about original sin and stepping away from the light. These are questions to be investigated by philosophers and mystics. Perhaps we will never know the answers.
But we can see that with a country that has 68% of adults overweight, that has fostered the growth of more mass murderers than anywhere else, that uses more of the earth’s resources than anyone else, and that continues to pump the myth of stardom and material wealth into the minds of its young and of the rest of the world, we do indeed have a situation on our hands.
And things were once so simple. We hunted, we gathered, we lived in small societies with our families and tribes.
No one wants to give up the amenities of our modern lives. We love our technology and our comforts. But we can reacquaint and re-integrate ourselves with a way of life that flies in the face of money-grubbing corporations. We can relearn how to care for ourselves and one another holistically and naturally. And we can begin to rebuild our reality starting with our own individual health, and by presenting a new model to our young.