My extremely simplified recap of how I think we got where we are…
Who do you suppose first stood upright, cooked food, sheltered in caves, constructed huts, wrapped animal skins around themselves and whatever other first you can imagine? These people changed our paradigm, our world view, and nothing would ever be the same again.
Agriculture, planting food to harvest, though major, had a more limited influence than learning how to preserve the food grown, I believe. Part of our diet had always consisted of plants, fruit, occasional meat protein, even insects. A change more significant than agriculture had to be when one individual or group realized they could survive by providing food storage and hiring a couple of bully boys to guard it.
We’d survived for millennium as hunter gatherers. It made no sense to spend more calories (energy units) acquiring food than those needed to make sure everyone in your group was fed. Strength resided in numbers. No one individual or group held onto any surplus food or expected others to barter to be fed. If a person experienced good fortune, he would have a celebration and give gifts to everyone who came. His greatness was measured by his generosity. Our paradigm shifted because of the actions of individuals.
These people were our first hucksters, lobbyists and confidence men. They sold the group (tribe, clan, family) the idea that producing more food than needed would be good for all. They lobbied to bring everyone on board and convinced them to place their trust and confidence in this individual. In time, these enterprising folk became our first landed gentry. Nice work if you can get it. It requires no physical labor on your part, you eat well, you’re protected, and may very well be able to attract the most desirable mate. When anyone didn’t have something to contribute or trade, our proto-tycoons would grudgingly accept control of the land for which these people were responsible. He would allow them to continue to hunt and cultivate this same land for a small token of their future bounty. When you’re hungry, I’m sure this doesn’t look like a bad deal.
…greatness was measured by…generosity
When enough such transactions took place, he, our entrepreneur, appointed himself king, lord, or whatever title seemed appropriate.* More bully boys were hired. Eventually parts of the vast land holdings this muck-a-muck had acquired could be taken from their original “owners” and granted as gifts to other ambitious hominids who offered their fealty and support. This group of ambitious people, well above the serfs, peons, land slaves and slaves, but well below the Imperial Pooh Bah, competed to have the most, be the best, the brightest, the most favored.
Competition appears to be built into the world, at least at the top level. Predominantly males vie for the choicest mate by proving to be the strongest, make the prettiest or most amazing display or by securing a choice nesting site. Meanwhile, females actually choose who earns the top honors.
In our second-tier homo sapiens, the most ambitious created their own territories, fiefdoms they were responsible for and which they could and would defend. This again changed the paradigm.
Occasionally, these princes might supplant the existing overlord, or they might just stake out land nearby. Since travel proved arduous and removing or co-opting people who already lived on your chosen property might be dangerous and difficult, these vice-chiefs went where the least effort would be required. Once their holdings were secure, they could name themselves emperor or whatever title they chose.
…power attracts the ambitious, lazy, vicious and greedy like shit attracts flies.
On another track, you had those people, perhaps less physically able, but no less ambitious. This group, generally more intelligent than average, secured power in other ways. This is not to imply that the early “leaders” were stupid. They were clearly smart enough to create their own position and to hire big (preferably dumb) brutes to back them up. Nor should we assume this new group is all sly and cynical. Latching on to the power players these people became the shamans, medicine men, wizards and wise counselors. Probably most were legitimate in their own way, but whether genuine or mountebank; they survived through cunning and guile. They may be the pre-hominid animal version of the male who sneaks in and mates with the alpha male’s chosen when the alpha male is distracted.
This group, too, changed the human equation going forward. Initially these men had no power, or appeared to have no power, though they might well become the true voice of their leader. When conflicts arose, they could play one side against the other, protecting themselves, consolidating their power and even improving their status. These powers behind the throne may have created or gravitated to religions. What better way to become a power in your own right? Some of these people had a true calling, but power attracts the ambitious, lazy, vicious and greedy like shit attracts flies.
The vast majority of the population, woman who had generally found cooperation worked better than conflict, bachelors, unable or unwilling to compete at the highest levels, settled for life as they knew it. Most were good friends, good neighbors willing to assist others or the group. Certainly there were wastrels, charlatans, drunks and dullards, but they were the minority.
Civilization grew. Rules were laid down by emperors, religious leaders and daily actions became codified. Life became more structured, more limited and limiting. Women and men in these groups found cooperation and following the rules the best way to survive. Groups grew into communities, into hamlets, into villages, into towns, into cities. People sought food, shelter, compatible mates and put down roots when they found them. They hunted, farmed, traded and survived. Showing loyalty to the area’s chief, they raised children and followed the existing norms, rules, and laws. They inspired their children to be better so they could have easier lives than their parents.
…these groups found cooperation and following the rules the best way to survive.
*My female readers should consider it a compliment not to be lumped into this group.
To be continued…
The Pen’s Might ~ Philip Brent Harris
The Extra Mile
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