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Over the course of history there have been many revolutions that tackled a major change in the course of human lives, among them are the cognitive revolution, Agricultural revolution and scientific revolution. Since the cognitive revolution happened in nature and humans did not have a choice in it, the agricultural revolution is known as the root cause that led humans to live the way they are living now.
If we compare the choices we had 10,000 ago between choosing settlements and agriculture with the Spartan way of living (hunting and gathering), can we really say that we had a choice? We can decide by comparing both lifestyles and looking at their flaws and gains.
The life of hunting and gathering was an easy and harsh one, a successful hunt could provide them with one week of food supply so they had much more leisure time than people living on agriculture. However there were many issue with the hunting lifestyle, people had to constantly move around searching for food and shelter, and children were burdens for their mothers as they had to be taken care of until they were 4 years old.
They were content with what they had until their population started to grow because they could not provide every one with food, so they either had to keep their number low by keeping a low rate of birth or sacrificing their children in order to continue hunting, that is when they started to looking for other solution for feeding them all instead of those two choices.
And the agricultural lifestyle was not an easy life too, work fields and planting crops created pain for our back spines, and people had to settle in one place and watch over their land and animals, also overpopulation created food shortage and many other issues so people had to work harder each day. However the outcomes of it were far too great and better than the hunting and gathering lifestyle.
It took 10,000 years for agriculture to develop and advance to the modern age way, it has sprout innovation, which was only possible in an area of dense population because each individual or sub groups had a certain task to perform and they started specializing in them, for example one group was responsible for watering crops, they started by carrying water from rivers to the crops, and when they realized it was a hard labor they began to think of solution to make it easier such as building canals to direct the water to the crops and create their farmlands near waterways, also using hands for digging would damage and bruise their hands so they started making equipment for that and so on.
The big idea here is that we didn’t have much of a choice, the process of changing our lifestyles was to make our lives easier and solve bigger problems such as feeding overpopulated society, and the choices we made was a trade-off, we chose an easier life.
We can distinguish between agriculture and hunting in three levels:The first one is on the macro-level (population), on this level agriculture is beneficial as it can provide food for a large number of population and can also provide a stable environment with dense population than could develop knowledge, experiment and sciences which has led to this modern age. Hunters wouldn’t benefit from having a large number of population as their food source was almost limited to an amount in a place.
The second one is on the micro-level (individual), on this level agricultural revolution makes a loss, as we can see today that despite having advanced in all aspects of life, humans still endure from Physical, emotional and existential sufferings created by this modern and civilized world. Not just humans but also domesticated animals suffer in this level, while their numbers has increased drastically their lifespan has decreased and they are living a horrible life.
A chicken is farmed after a couple of month from birth and cows are living in a narrow space while they are made pregnant as soon as they give birth so that they can produce milk and after that they are sent to butcher house for their meat. Hunters did not have much emotions and existential knowledge to be compared to us now, so in this notion hunters gained from physical capabilities that their bodies were very muscular from performing daily physical activities and therefore did not suffer from joint pains and such.
The third one is on the cell level, we have produced many chemicals and products and use them while our biological bodies are not adapted to them. The constant use of sugar in our diets is making us fat and suffer in many ways, drugs and stored foods modified with bad GMO (genetically modified organism) led our cells to go rogue and led to cancer. However the hunters had a good nutrition of natural food and good diet of meat, so they led a healthier life much more than the average population now.
A famous historian called Yuval Noah Harari who is a famous for his book (Sapiens) calls the Agricultural Revolution “History’s biggest fraud” and supports the hunting and gathering lifestyle. Harari questions every aspect of agricultural revolution and says that Humans did not domesticate animals and plants, they domesticated us. This means that while humanity started settling down, we began to look after crops and animals while feeding them and taking care of them. The notion here is that who was feeding of who? Professor harari says that animals and plants are living of us, and to an extent this claim is true.
And he indirectly mentions that Physical, emotional and existential sufferings humans endure from this modern, civilized world is not worth it and supports the pre-agricultural lifestyle. However I disagree with Harari and believe that calling the agricultural revolution a fraud is illogical, we had a choice between living a Spartan life of hunting and settling for agriculture, and we chose the second one. So we should not duel on the choices of our ancestors which led us to civilize, globalize and advance in technology.
While it’s true that agricultural revolution have brought us many famines and diseases, however each time we came across an obstacle, we then came up with ways and solutions to fix them. Now we have medicines to cure sickness and disease, we also built houses and apartment to solve overpopulation, and we have ways of dealing with anxiety and sadness by interacting with other and traveling. Another question arises when we are comparing the life after agricultural revolution to the nomadic life of hunter gathers which professor Harari might have missed, were their needs fulfilled?
When talking about needs we come across the famous diagram known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which consist of 5 layers of needs starting form physiological, Safety, love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. We can pretty much agree on the fact that only physiological needs such as food, water and shelter were met in the hunting and gathering lifestyle and it was to a limit, or they were too occupied by fulfilling their physiological needs to the point that the other needs did not exist for them.
The revolution from hunter gathering lifestyle to agriculture was a difficult one, but I don’t agree that it was a mistake, perhaps professor Harari prefers the nomadic lifestyle and considers them happier than us because they were content with what they had and didn’t know their capability to achieve more and accomplish things that we can do today such as music, art, philosophy, technology, astronomy.
I personally prefer the modern world and it’s more enticing to me than living in a cave or on hunting. so if we compare the two lifestyles I would choose the agricultural lifestyle because we have found ways to fix the flaws in agriculture, while it brought spread-out diseases we have developed medicine to cure them, it created back and joint pains so we developed machines to do our works. But did our leisure time increase and people could sit back a live a happy life after 10,000 years of agricultural revolution?
The answer is probably no for most of the times, however I believe the trade-off is worth it because the means and technology we have today can make up for the small amount of loss we made, at least majority of humanity have a stable life and good night sleep compared to the Pre-agricultural human life.
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