Old Beliefs and New Technologies

Although I disagree with the implicit assumption that industrialization is good for humanity, Annalee Newitz’s article, How Farming Almost Destroyed Ancient Human Civilization, makes some interesting points about the effect of agriculture on society, particularly the idea that large societies must eventually abandon the ideal of shared resources:

It’s possible that the mega-village model of life wasn’t sustainable because it was propped up by belief systems that could only exist in small communities where everybody shared resources. That would explain why people abandoned these sites for smaller villages that never grew beyond about 200 people.

In a sense, agriculture was a technology that came before human civilization was ready. It gave humans the means to grow into large settlements and proto-cities. But we’d spent tens of thousands of years as nomads before that, and weren’t yet ready to abandon our ancient beliefs that no family should ever accumulate more than its neighbors. As a result, our earliest experiment with urbanism ended in failure. When the going got rough, with bad harvests and disease, humans preferred to abandon their nascent urban creations because we had not yet developed a social structure that would allow us to cope with the difficulties of city life.

Read the full article here.

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