Disclaimer: This article is bit longer than my usual articles, but if you bear with me for 15 minute more, I hope you will enjoy this article.
The article has been curated from the best-selling book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and like every evolutionary theory, it is based on assumptions and subject to interpretations.
The story dates back 14 billion years ago when matter, energy, time and space came into being in a ‘Big Bang’ explosion and after that some 4 billion years ago, a planet called ‘Earth’ was formed. Fauna and flora, flourished from single cell organisms to dinosaurs for billions of years. Only around 6 million years ago, in the jungles of Africa, a female ape (common ancestors of Homos and chimpanzees) had two daughters. One became the ancestor of chimpanzees and the other became the grandmother of Humans which means ‘animals belonging to the genus Homo’.
There was nothing special about our species, until 8,00,000 years ago, but the ‘Homos’ took the biggest leap in humanity by discovering an obedient and limitless force i.e. Fire. By around 4,00,000 years ago, ‘Homos’ domesticated and started using fire on daily basis. Fire protected Homos against predators, kept them warm, changed their eating habits as cooking enabled them to eat more cooked and safe meat, free from germs and parasites that infested such food. Some researchers believe that cooking shortened homos intestinal track, improved digestive systems and led to development of bigger and better human brain.
The cradle of evolution, for millions of years, gave rise to numerous species of ‘Homos’ like Erectus, Habilis, Neanderthals etc. which were our ancient half-sisters and half-brothers but they could not survive and flourish like our species. But how we, ‘Homo Sapiens’ (we, immodestly, named our species as ‘Homo Sapiens’ which means ‘wise human’) won the battle of survival and dominance?
Because evolution favored ‘Homo Sapiens’ due to our bigger and highly dense cerebral and neural brain, which constitutes 2-3 percent of our body weight but consumes 25-30 percent of the body energy. Such brain structure resulted in higher intelligence, superior learning and retention abilities. With better cognitive abilities, weapon making capabilities and daily use of fire, Homo Sapiens around 1,00,000 years ago, reached at the top of food supply chain and exerted influence over other species. Homo Sapiens, slowly started migrating from Africa and settled in different parts of the Europe, Middle East and Asia.
The Era of Cognitive Revolution
The period, between 70,000 years to 30,000 years ago, constitute the era of Cognitive Revolution for Sapiens, as the era witnessed the invention of boats, oil lamps, arrows, bows or needles etc. but the most important development was invention of language. It was a means of communication which enabled ‘Homo Sapiens’ to transmit information in unprecedented ways. We could communicate easily and store a massive amount of information about the surrounding world. This helped ‘Homo Sapiens’ to co-operate in flexible ways with other Sapiens.
Co-operation by common Imagined Realities, Myths and Fictions
Humans evolved for millions of years in small bands of a few dozen individuals but how, Humans, came together and formed such large communities? The answer lies is gossiping and sharing stories. We, invented stories about Gods, spirits, religions, motherlands and the newly found ability to communicate these stories helped us to form social links of relationships and friendships.
Humans cooperated successfully by believing in some common myths and imagined realities of Gods, Spirits, nations etc. Such myths, unified large number of individuals and families into groups and communities otherwise there are no Gods in the universe, no ghosts or bad spirits, no social structures, no nations and no corporations. This concepts were figments of our collective imagination, fantasies and imagined reality which everyone was made to believe. Such things did not exist in reality like rivers, mountains, water or lions but it is only because of such imagination which enabled us to co-operate effectively and forge a bigger society.
The idea of such imagined order exists only in our imagination but people today don’t want to accept that the order governing their lives is imaginary because every person is born in pre-existing imaginary order and such imagined order is embedded in our material world. It exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of thousands and millions of people.
We are still governed by such myths and fictions otherwise why two individuals who have never met can nevertheless come together and pool funds to build a Church. Because they both believe in a common myth of same religion of Christianity. Two Americans, who have never met will believe in same national anthem because both believe in existence of a nation, USA. Two workers, who hails from different cities can work together because they believe in a common idea of corporation which exists only in imagination.
Why Agricultural Revolution is the Biggest Fraud of History?
For 3 million years, Humans fed themselves by hunting animals and gathering plants but all this changed around 10,000 years ago, when the biggest fraud or the so called ‘greatest leap or the biggest fraud of humankind happened i.e. Agricultural Revolution. Why this was the biggest fraud?
Homo sapiens, as hunter gatherers, were very strong, energetic and healthy as they ate varied and nutritious diet like fruits, wild mushrooms, figs, rabbits, sheep, deers etc. and they travelled frequently and had more leisure time in caves. But when Humans started sowing seeds, watering crops, and harvesting the crops, it enlarged the sum total of food grains available at their disposal, but such extra food did not translate into a better diet or leisure.
The average farmer worked harder than the average hunter and got a worse diet in return i.e. wheat and rice which lacked in vitamins and many nutrients. Producing wheat demanded a lot of efforts like sowing, watering, removing insects, digging canals for waters, vigilance from locusts and wild animals and men and women labored hard under the scorching sun or when rain failed or fungus infected the staple plants, peasants died in thousands and millions.
This transition also bought many ailments in human’s spines, knees, neck like slipped discs, arthritis, hernia etc. as a result of digging canals and carrying heavy buckets of water. Moreover, agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently near to their wheat and rice plantations.
The agricultural revolution did not provide any better economic incentives or any better diet. Humans did not domesticate wheat but wheat domesticated humans. The only positive boon of agriculture was population explosion as humans multiplied exponentially as Humans settled at a fixed place and started living with families and formed civilizations.
Victims of Agricultural Revolution
The biggest victims of Agricultural Revolution were other species of animals who lived in forests. When agricultural revolution started, humans burned down forests and killed all the aggressive and unruly species of animals like lions, rhinoceros etc. to take more forest land under cultivation. But why some species like sheep, goats, chickens, horses, cows, donkeys, camels etc. flourished like today?
The reason is simple – we, domesticated all the submissive, obedient and harmless species and exterminated all other species which could not be employed in agriculture or could not be controlled. Today, an extinct species of rhinoceros must be much more satisfied than those cows which are confined at a fixed place for lifetime just to give milk and butchered when she is unable to give milk or those millions chickens which are raised only to be butchered every day just to satisfy our hunger.
But why the humans did not abandon farming and got back to hunting?
Because, it took generations for the small changes to accumulate and transform society and by then nobody remembered that they had ever lived differently. It happens to us today also as we, in the pursuit of easier life, had made our life much more complicated. We invented countless devices time saving devices like washing machines, vacuum cleaners, mobile phones, emails etc. but do we live in a relaxed life?
No, we have made our lives more frantic and we have forgotten how peacefully we used to live decades earlier without such time saving devices. We always take our luxury for granted and then those luxuries became our necessities. Humanity search for easier life, like in Agriculture revolution, released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways which nobody envisioned.
Unification of Mankind
Agricultural revolution is one of controversial events as some claim it set humankind on the road to prosperity and progress while others insist it led to destruction, greed and alienation. No matter which direction the road led, there was no going back. While hunter gatherers did not think about future, the farmers planned about the future in case the stock of grain runs out or if there is no rain or crops gets destroyed.
The stress of farming had far-reaching consequences as farmers settled near agricultural lands, dug wells and canals for water, learnt farming techniques from other communities and came together to form large-scale political and social systems in form of civilizations like oldest civilization of Mesopotamia or Indus Valley. Human societies grew larger and more complex and by believing in common myths and imagined realities in the name of ‘culture’, it enabled thousands of Humans to cooperate effectively.
We, developed the art of writing which helped in storing information and it changed the way the knowledge was stored and transferred and as a result written codes were established. Surplus of excess grains with farmers led to exchange of goods and services through barter system as a medium of exchange which further led to rise of physical currency and trade flourished. Civilization becomes kingdoms and the rule of hierarchies produced Kings and Queens and imperialism flourished.
But what actually unified Humans? The answer is Commerce, Empires and Religions. These three forces brought every Human into a global world, where we live in today. Merchants, conquerors and prophets were the first people who managed to transcend the binary evolution of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and to foresee the potential unity of humankind. Merchants saw the world as single market and all humans’ potential consumers, conquerors saw the entire world as a single empire and all humans as potential subjects and prophets saw the entire world a single truth and all humans as potential believers.
Industrial and Scientific Revolution
Unlike cognitive revolution, where our ancestors put a great deal to time and effort trying to discover the rules of religion that govern the natural world, the modern science differed from traditional knowledge in a very critical way – their willingness to admit ignorance. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism all asserted that everything is known about the world. They taught the world that Bible, Quran or Vedas are answers to all questions but modern science accepted collective ignorance of the questions governing them.
Modern science helped Humans to admit that they did not know the answers to various questions about sun, moon, gravity, biology, human body etc. and accepted that real progress is only possible with the help of science and no concept, idea or theory is scared and beyond challenge. For example, Darwin never argued that his theories of evolution are ultimate truth or scientists in this 21st century still admit that they don’t know what caused Big Bang. The willingness to admit ignorance has made modern science more dynamic, supple and inquisitive.
The last 500 years has been shaped by trade, imperialism, capitalism and scientific revolution. The scientific revolution started in Europe in 16th century when Copernicus discovered Sun as center of universe and it is still regarded as a major event in modern day science followed by works of Galileo and Isaac Newton. The European empires due to robust social and political structures ruled most of the world nations and capitalism and science were the legacy of European imperialism.
Finally when scientific and industrial technology intertwined with capitalistic system, the result was commencement of Industrial Revolution and as a result we know today, the economies have grown exponentially and scientific revolution produced unimagined wealth, super powers and limitless energy resources at Humans disposal.
Summing up the Humankind
Modern day Homo sapiens, 70,000 years ago, were an insignificant species of animal, minding their own business in the jungles of Africa but today, we have become master of creation as well as master of destruction.
We, collectively, unleashed weapons of mass destruction, killed every other species at the expense of our growth, cut down forests for our survival and caused havoc on ecosystem. But the important question arises – are we happier than our hunter gathering forefathers? And if not, what is the point of such developing agriculture, cities, coinage, empires, science and industry? Our ancestors 5000 years ago, did not change clothes for months, did not wash their faces for days or did not have comfortable bed or shelter, but why they were more contended than our present generation?
May be because we are not satisfied with all the things we have and want to achieve new things. When things improve, expectations also balloon and such dramatic improvement leave us more dissatisfied. Our expectation of ease and pleasure and our intolerance of inconvenience and discomfort have increased to such an extent that we are suffering from more pain than our ancestors ever did.
Social media and advertising industry are depleting our reservoir of contentment, rapid urbanization force us to live in alienation and meaninglessness despite the material prosperity, money has corrupted human values and intimate relationships, consumerism has made us to buy things we don’t even need at the expense of environmental degradation. We have lost the value of compassion and sacrifice in the pursuit of our goals.
Before saying Adieu…
Just imagine life would have been much easier if we were hunter gatherers only and would not have created the imaginary divide of upper or lower caste, black and white, rich and poor, dominance of men and subjugation of women and many more discriminatory things we are surrounded by.
Believe it or not, we are the deadliest species on this planet and which combination can be more dangerous than being dissatisfied and irresponsible with such destructive powers?