Friday, August 6, 2010

Happiness is... Absolutely Brilliant Readers!

I've been exploring - in a very intermittant and extremely haphazard sort of way - the question of why humankind "evolved," or more accurately transitioned, from living a life of relative leisure and plenty living on the "fruit" of trees - acorns - to living a life of toil and sweat waging war on the soil to grow grains.

Commenting on my most recent post on the subject reader "Eric The Red" wrote:

... consider these aphorisms. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. An army marches on its stomach. The bible stating that man must support himself by the sweat on his brow. Control what a culture eats (and how much free time the culture has) and you control what that culture does.

Brilliant stuff, encapsulating in a few short sentences what I've been struggling with across months and rambling paragraphs.

Control. I have to think that the concept of control - over land, over food, and therefore over populations - has a lot to do with the transition from living off the bounty of trees to the sweat, oil and blood-soaked battle with the land.

Yes, traditional balanocultures had a tradition of "ownership" to some degree. In California's balanocultures, which survived into the 19th and even early 20th centruries (and which, I should thankfully add, still survive today as a culture but not with the same freedom of movement or control over the land) family would lean a decorative stick against the trunk of a particular oak tree to claim ownership of that year's acorn crop. A family hoping to share in that tree's bounty would then need to negotiate for the right to a share of that tree's crop, and provide payment of some kind.

But this is a very different concept than the kind of land ownership necessitated by and made possible by production of annual grain crops.

Dr. David Bainbridge writes that California balanocultures could gather enough food to last a year in just a few weeks of labor. Of course there would be continual labor involved in processing (leaching and grinding) and cooking the acorns to eat, but this work would be done with the reassuring knowledge that a year's food - or two years' food - is cached and safe. The amount of leisure time must have been astounding! Astounding... and a real threat to anyone hoping to control a population's activities. Far easier and far better to have those people (and by "people" I mean men who a) must have had immense amounts of leisure time in balanocultures and b) would be the people rulers would most want to control for their own military purposes) staring at the back end of a beast of burden while fighting to keep the plow straight. Far easier to own and control the land, and get others to work it in exchange for a very small portion of the crop. Far easier to keep others in a permanent state of indebtedness.

It's a system we all bought into, and buy into every day in a hundred small, almost unnoticeable ways.

I've been obsessed with the question of why we changed, why we stopped eating acorns. Greed, control, guilt, wanderlust. I'll keep thinking about and writing about this question of why.

But the new question I'll be spending a lot more time thinking about, writing about, and hopefully living out is: How do we go back?

1 comment:

  1. I've heard a similar theory and I have been trying to track down information about the "Great Acorn Conspiracy" ever since. Where did you hear about it?