Saturday, September 3, 2016

The History of the World (Part One)

The History of the World
(The Flyoverland Crank Version)
Part One

This is the first chapter of a multi-part series that I will publish every other week or so, starting this week

The universe we inhabit appeared 13.82 billion years ago on a Tuesday. A single, unimaginably dense point began expanding and a lot of complex stuff happened and continues to happen. Now, the most interesting thing that resulted, from an Earthlings perspective, is that 4.54 billion years ago, the Earth appeared. The Earth is the result of some of the complex stuff that happened and continues to happen. At some point this complex stuff produced man.

Or… to one degree or another, everything mentioned in the preceding paragraph, as well as what follows, happened because God decided when and if it should be so. The details depend on your personal belief. I know some very nice, perfectly normal people that believe what I consider to be some very strange things (of course I’m not talking about your beliefs). I freely concede that one of them may turn out to be right and that I may be wrong. I’m wrong with disturbing regularity so I try to keep an open mind. I highly recommend this approach as I’ve found it to be the only effective defense against blind panic when a high-velocity radioactive fact comes crashing through the roof of my thought structure like a meteorite, and lands in the chair I just got out of to answer the phone. The meteorite analogy is a paraphrase of a bit of a Marc Cohn song, “Live Out the String.”  

Regardless, man gradually learned to use tools. Also fire: For warmth, light, and most importantly (in my semi-humble opinion) cooking. Personally, although I’m an enthusiastic carnivore, I’ve never cared for the taste of raw meat. Along the way the attributes and technology that distinguish us from the other animals on the planet such as language, art, religion, the wheel, etc. developed.

Agriculture came along roughly 12,000 years ago and changed everything.

Our ancestors had been hunters/gatherers for eons. Since grocery stores hadn’t been invented yet everyone had the same job -- killing something or harvesting something that nature had randomly produced -- to keep from starving to death. Now, on a good day, this wasn’t a half bad way to make a living. If you, or you and the gang (odds are you belonged to some sort of tribe or odds are you would be dead) managed to find something to kill and eat without getting killed and eaten in the process and/or stumbled onto an apple tree full of ripe apples early in day, why, you could go home early!  Assuming you had found enough food you were free for the rest of the day. Of course, this could be quite boring because there wasn’t a lot to do since they had neither cable or computers, not even smartphones. This was why sex was invented. I refer to sex as practiced by homo sapiens, which tends to be a somewhat frequent and obsessive activity as compared to most other animals.

Anyway, various someone's at various locations gradually figured out how to plant and nurture crops as well as domesticate animals. While this required a lot more work than hunting and gathering it was a somewhat more reliable way to keep from starving to death or from becoming some other species lunch. Also, there are a few scientists, and some evidence, that suggest getting high was a significant motivation as well. Turning grains into beer is easier than turning them into food, and beer was just as popular then as it is now, even without clever commercials -- please drink responsibly. Eventually, we got good enough at this agriculture thing to produce more food than was absolutely needed for the gang to just scrape by. This made it possible to settle down instead of wandering all over the place looking for enough calories to keep body and soul together.

Man, by nature and necessity, is a social animal. It takes quite a few years before we reach maturity so we’re dependent on our parents ( a mom and a dad if we’re lucky) much longer than the average creature. Also, survival is considerably easier and our lives are  potentially much more pleasant when we work together. For example, everyone knows that bringing down a wooly mammoth with the tribes' help is much easier and more efficient than trying to do it yourself. That’s why most people naturally prefer to hang out or at least affiliate with a clique of some sort, it’s a  survival mechanism. Getting along with the inhabitants of the other huts on the block not only promotes regular meals and security, it enables you to get your fair share of woolyburgers without having to slay the neighbors.

Social cohesion increased the likelihood, and quality of, survival. Having to share the playground with the other kids is where morality (the rules) come from. Please see, The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt.

And somebody came up with monogamy. I’m guessing it was ancient history's version of Dear Abby. Under this system, everyone got to have sex, not just the alpha males and their harems. If all the dudes could count on access to, um, companionship, it made the cooperation needed for the hunt less prone to social drama. The dudettes could count on access to, um, companionship, and protection for the kids. This arrangement was/is disproportionately beneficial for dudes. Dudes need their significant dudette to be, among other things, a good mom, a good wife, and often as not, willing and able to work outside the home. This is necessary to counter a given dude's natural tendency to rapidly devolve into a naked ape when left to his own devices.      
We figured all this out long before agriculture made villages not only possible but necessary and humans began clawing their way to the top of the food chain (the original corporate ladder). When we reached the point where we could produce more food than we needed it was only natural that folks began to specialize. Most remained farmers, but surplus food made it possible for some people that had abilities that benefited the community to do their thing without having to farm. A relatively reliable supply of food and water (and/or beer) leads to increased populations. If enough people can produce enough food to keep themselves alive and have enough left over to feed specialists such as craftspersons, cops, kings etc. -- well, before you know it, a village becomes a town becomes a city becomes a civilization. The rest is history. History began in Mesopotamia, an area that corresponds roughly to greater modern day Iraq, that fertile crescent thing that gets so much press. Ain’t that ironical in light of recent events. This happened about 3,500 BCE. To be continued.

Have an OK day.

©Mark Mehlmauer 2016

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