Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Short Essay: Fire From The Gods

This is an essay I wrote in my anthropology class on whether or not the advent of agriculture could be considered humanities worse mistake. It was in response to a topic we covered in class regarding the rapid instances of starvation and malnutrition that started to run rampant in early human populations shortly after the neolithic revolution. An inspiration for this essay was the "David Sarif Ending From Deus Ex Human Revolution."

Fire From The Gods.
Agriculture was humanities first leap. It was the moment that Homo-Sapiens stole fire from the gods. Until the advent of agriculture early man was just another animal. They may have had culture and even produced art, however, humanity existed at the whim of his environment. If there was not enough food then no one ate. When the first human started to till soil, raise crops, and domesticate animals, they did not just change life but caused a change in the very existence of life on earth.

Humanity began to take control of its own existence when they started tilling fields. No species before or since has gained the ability to shape the world around them to the extent that humanity does. The law of the jungle is survival of the fittest, some animals make it while others do not. Before agriculture early man had a small population. This population was held in check by the amount of food that was gathered or hunted. Agriculture allowed humanity to expand rapidly. Eventually the species would be able to inhabit the whole of the earth. Agriculture also allowed humans to become specialized in roles.

Specialization allowed people to evolve faster then nature intended. Evolution is not just a biological force. While the farmers farmed, masons built pottery to store food, blacksmiths and metal workers shaped the very earth into objects to further help man change his environment around him. Evolution is change, and man was causing his environment to change to suit him, not the other way around. As with any form of change, agriculture included, the new change is not always the best and must be perfected.

Famine and diseases followed agriculture, as evidence by the article “The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race.” Guiding humanities own evolution comes at a cost. Early man had to learn how to overcome unforeseen challenges. However, humanity was using ingenuity to overcome these challenges. During the initial phase of agricultural transition humanity had to learn how to tend and care for plants. During this transition the life expectancy decreased as well as the over all nutritional intake of early man. Nature did not get everything right on the first try and neither did mankind. As humanity learned better and more sophisticated ways to farm, so did their quality of life improve. Humanities current life expectancy in a properly developed nation is more then double what it once was. Developed nations are merely better at surviving then others.

Agriculture brought people together. These people began to settle in areas and build settlements. These settlements became a breeding ground for pathogens. Yet another hurdle early man had to face,a new challenge in their quest to control their own existence. Since humanity was now specialized into roles, they were able to ask the question: why? This question gave rise to the answer: science. 

Humanity wanted to know why people would get sick. The science of medicine had its primal roots with shamans trying to understand why the evil spirits did not like them. As understanding grew, those evil spirits got a new name: bacteria and viruses. With specialized people learning about these “evil spirits,” humanity was able to find ways to combat them. Today medicine enhances and prolongs the quality of human life.

Gender inequality has always existed. Hunter-gatherer tribes had roles dedicated to men and women. The men would hunt animals, putting themselves at risk of mortal death or traumatic injury. The woman did the gathering, a much safer occupation, and tended to the young. A by product of agriculture may have made these inequalities more pronounced, however by the modern era a great deal of the hard farming labor is regulated to men and women in developed nations.

Social inequality has existed since the dawn of humanity. If a hunter was not a good hunter then he starved and died. If a farmer is not a good farmer then he starves and dies. Agriculture just made these inequalities more pronounced. As humanity specialized its roles they found that those that were not good at farming might be good at something else. The elite would rule, they may not till the field but they give direction and ensure the safety of the people they rule. In developed nations such as the US, people are considered rich by world standards. They have food readily available. The United States leads the world in scientific research.

Science I the key to controlling our reality. Evolutions drive is to rise above the limits and be better adapted then the generation before. If humanities history on a clock of world history is a mere two hours and the advent of agriculture happened 13 minuets ago, then in 13 minuets humanity has achieved more then any other species to date. This advancement all began with agriculture. Mankind may have stumbled to get here but they did not fall.

Evolution drives humanity, just like any species, to rise above its limits. We were cold and weak to other predators so we harnessed fire and made tools. Every obstacle mankind has faced they have used creativity and ingenuity to overcome it. In Greek myth, Prometheus stole the fire of creation and gave it to humanity. That fire was and is humanities ability to change its environment to suit them. To say that agriculture was humanities worst mistake is denying who humanity is. The species adapts, evolves, and overcomes to situations better then any species that has ever existed. Eventually humanity may even conquer death and all thanks to one early human that decided to plant seeds.


  1. Really great post, Michael. I like what you're doing here, in this post specifically and your blog generally. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


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