Fresh Lens Podcast

The Dawn of Everything - Part 2

February 23, 2023 Hirad Motamed & Patricia Veinott Season 1 Episode 19
The Dawn of Everything - Part 2
Fresh Lens Podcast
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Fresh Lens Podcast
The Dawn of Everything - Part 2
Feb 23, 2023 Season 1 Episode 19
Hirad Motamed & Patricia Veinott

This is part 2 of our coverage of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.

In this episode, we're still laying the foundations to answer the question of why it is that we're stuck in a single political paradigm. We discuss how cultures diverge, why the agricultural revolution wasn't much of a revolution, and how pre-agricultural societies actually lived (spoiler: in all sorts of ways).

Show Notes Transcript

This is part 2 of our coverage of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.

In this episode, we're still laying the foundations to answer the question of why it is that we're stuck in a single political paradigm. We discuss how cultures diverge, why the agricultural revolution wasn't much of a revolution, and how pre-agricultural societies actually lived (spoiler: in all sorts of ways).

[00:00:00] **Hirad:** Hello, Trish and hello listeners.

[00:00:02] **Trish:** Hey, Hirad.

[00:00:03] **Hirad:** So this is our third attempt trying to get to the second episode of the Dawn of Everything by David's Graber and Wengrow. I hope that we can get through this one without any technical issues.

[00:00:15] **Trish:** Yep. So. This book, the Dawn of Everything, new History of Humanity. This is the second episode that we're probably gonna be tackling this book in three episodes because it is a tome. Last

[00:00:30] **Hirad:** Maybe four.

[00:00:31] **Trish:** three or four, so the first three chapters were more.

trying to dispel the pop culture narrative that we often get about the history of humanity, which is sort of a mix of very oversimplified, making it seem like all hunter-gatherer humans lived, like Kalahari Bushman. And then part of it isn't even based in any anthropology at all. It's sort of enlightenment thinkers sort.

Make belief, thought experiments about human history that eventually penetrated the psyche or the imagination of the public.

[00:01:11] **Hirad:** Yeah, so like, just to do a quick recap of where we are at so far. So the book is trying to answer. It started off by trying to answer this question of what's, what are the origins of inequality? And then quickly people kind, the, well the authors realize that this is the wrong question to ask.

The real question they've decided is, Why are we so locked into one form of political arrangement? And that form is kind of, you know, these nation states with their bureaucracies and their their coercive power. and what they seem to think is that, oh, throughout human history we used to experiment with all kinds of different political systems.

How do we end up with this one that we can't really imagine anything else from? And to kind of answer that question, they're trying to figure out what were all the different ways in which people could live. And I think what we are doing right now is reviewing the different arrangements that we know that people were living with prior to the agricultural revolution. Cuz really agricultural revolution is typically the, the little like marker past, which we think everything looks the way it does right now and before, which we think everybody lived in these like happy little hunter gatherer you know, tribes with their infantile simplicity.

[00:02:27] **Trish:** Yeah, like largely egalitarian small groups that you were probably like genetically related to a fair number of them. And yeah, the whole story always hinges around agriculture and this like sort of. , not Roma. It's like what of the opposite of romantic idea that humans, you know, we wanted more, we wanted more stuff and so, but we didn't know that we were opening Pandora's box and that, you know, before we had much more leisure time and life was easier.

And then after agriculture you had to work so hard and we kind of got ourselves stuck in this economic system.

[00:03:02] **Hirad:** Yeah. Yeah. So I think we are still kind of building up toward that final answer, right? Or like, or, or trying to piece together all the evidence that we can about what is the answer about why we've got stuck in this, in this particular unequal non egalitarian mode.

But before we get there, we still need to like do a little bit of you know, building the foundation of, of trying to answer that question. And I think this episode is, there's gonna be a little, it's gonna be a little disparate. It's gonna be, we're gonna talk about a few different things that haven't quite come together yet, but hopefully in future episodes they will.

And I think the place where we wanna start is talking about cultures and how they form. So do you wanna kick us off on schismogenesis, Trish,

[00:03:50] **Trish:** Yeah. schismogenesis. So this was an interesting idea and the way it was presented in the book was that. . We often think that cultures are sort of products of the ecological environment that you're in. So you know, depending on what the climate provided, that would depend on like what your food production system looks like.

And that could all sort of eventually lead to how your society organized. But it's interesting. So Graeber and Wengrow Compare. , the indigenous populations of sort of the Pacific Northwest and Canada to like Northern California. And so these are all along the same coast. I mean, it's not exactly the same climate, but you know, they would've had a lot of access to the resources of the ocean, largely sort of, you know, like temperate climates and whatnot.

But these two populations are completely different in. Almost all the ways that you can be, like, they rely on totally different food sources. Their societies value different things. They like one, some societies had slavery, some didn't. So they've really diverged in a way that sort of doesn't fit that standard narrative of that sort of ideas or technology, kind of just diffused around the earth.

And it was a sort of a product of. Yeah. Cultural diffusion from other places and the local climate that you lived in. So why would they end up so differently?

[00:05:24] **Hirad:** And the answer is schmoes. Schismogenesis is this idea that we pick and choose which technologies we adopt, not only because of some kind of economic benefit that it gives us but also because of more intangible values and like what we think that technology says about us.

So one of the examples that Graeber gives in the book is I think it was these athabascan tribes versus the, the Inuit. I, I forget which group was which, but one of them used snowshoes and the other one did not have anything nearly as good for walking on snow, and yet they just refused to adopt the, the snowshoe.

And it's not that they were not aware of each other, they knew what a snowshoe is. But it, they just refused to adopt it. Similarly, one group had kayaks, which was the superior watercraft. And the other group did not. And again, it's not because like these groups regularly interacted, but they just decided not to adopt certain technologies from the other one.

And I think so yeah, gray and Windrow spend a lot of time talking about the contrast between. Pacific Northwest tribes and the Northern Californian tribes. And part of the reason is they're actually very close with each other. This was a very relatively densely populated area. These tribes were, there was a lot of different tribes with different language groups living in the, in this area. And what was interesting is typically we think of culture following language, right? So we think like if, if certain language groups are related then probably the, the, they, they came from the same same original population and therefore they might have other cultural similarities as well.

Well, it turns out that that wasn't the case in in this region. It was the cultural values, even when the ling the language groups were similar, the cultural values could be much different. So to kind of put a to highlight some of these differences the Pacific Northwest tribes were.

Absolutely obsessed with wealth and material surplus, and they owned a lot of slaves to the point where Europeans back then were astounded at how much slaves these Pacific Northwest tribes had. It's estimated that 20 to 25% of the population in these tribes was actually slaves at any one time.

by contrast the Northern Californian tribes, they had something that to the Europeans resembled their Protestant work ethic. They believed in hard work, they believed in kind of a stoic existence. Whereas the people in the Pacific Northwest, they, it, the, the, you had to be richer and you had to be fatter.

in, in order to have a high social status. In Northern California, they had these sweat lodges where if you were not very skinny, you couldn't actually slide through the doors. I think that's technology we should adopt. That's, that's a Ricky Gervais joke. I think this should, we should put those doors in front of the pastry section on the in the supermarkets.

Just make it not open past a certain width but I digress.

[00:08:28] **Trish:** I disagree with that joke. I'm just not gonna derail our entire conversation.

[00:08:32] **Hirad:** But, and similarly, and they, they valued hard work. So they would have these rituals where you had to like, take a bunch of wood for the sweat lodge and they had to, you had to carry a barefoot up a mountain. And that was like , I think it was like an initiation ritual or maybe a coming of age ritual that the Northern Californians had.

Whereas in the Pacific Northwest if you had any, if you had a choice, you couldn't be seen dead carrying wood. That was like a slave's job. And to explain these contrasts. Again, these are tribes that are living very close with each other in close contact. They're very aware of each other. In fact, it appears that some of the cultural rituals that they have in the case of Northern Californians, Is actually set up to mock the values of of the Pacific Northwest tribe.

So they had this festival where there's a clown character, and this clown character was actually enacting all the behaviors that you could see in the Pacific Northwest tribe. So it's not that they're unaware of this, they're not they're not. Unaware of you know being wealthy, the idea of being wealthy, the idea of being rich and fat.

It's just that there's something that they find off-putting in terms of as, as a value judgment. So all of this is to say, this phrase, schismogenesis, is about this concept of cultures that are in contact with each other, defining. Who they are in contrast to their neighbors. Can you think of a situation, Trish, where you may have experienced schismogenesis in in real life?

[00:10:00] **Trish:** See, this is where we both get to kind of crap all over our home and native land, both immigrants to this lovely country that we call home. But they do have a giant chip on their

[00:10:13] **Hirad:** gotta say what the, what the country

[00:10:15] **Trish:** I am. I am , but yeah. Canadian culture, like man, we have such a chip on our shoulder about being right next to America.

Oh boy.

[00:10:27] **Hirad:** Yeah, so there's, it's, it's funny, I feel like sometimes Canada doesn't have an identity on of its own other than just being not America. And in there are instances of it that that is just absolutely comical like we are, and Canada, and at least in terms of, its like public rhetoric is obsessed with guns. By, by being obsessed about not having them, it's, it's ridiculous that every time there's like a mass shooting in the us it's like the thing to talk about in Canada and about how great it is that we don't have guns, or we'll have, like the, the government here will introduce gun controlled. We already have like gun con guns un controlled up to wazu, like nobody in Canada has.

Legally, at least. But every time there is a mass shooting in the us, Canada will come out with a gun control legislation. It, it's absolutely laughable. But Canadians eat this shit up,

[00:11:17] **Trish:** Yeah. And it's become very much a point of pride in the Canadian identity that they don't want to own guns. And the type of person that does feel like they need to own guns or something and like that, they are not the same as these like crazy violent people to the south who are always shooting up schools. I know. And it's all, I kind of feel like it's the same thing about Canadian healthcare. They're really, really proud of having social healthcare and it kind of doesn't matter that the entire system's in shambles and actually a lot of times you get really bad healthcare. It's just the fact that Canadians are the type of people that believe that this is a universal right. And that is such a fundamentally core part of your identity as a Canadian that it would be inconceivable to mess with it too much or to have any sort of reform in that this is like yeah, just like a fundamental part of their identity, their healthcare.

And that's completely I think based on, yeah, it's just a complete response to American healthcare.

[00:12:19] **Hirad:** Yeah, and I kind of realized so I'm originally from Iran and I realized that this phenomenon of schismogenesis is something that I have experienced in every culture that I've been intimately familiar with. So like very similar to this Canadian feeling of want, wanting to define themselves as not Americans.

Iranians wanna define themselves as not Arabs. I think that's a, that's a very we, we really wanna highlight those things that are uniquely ours. Then we can get into like the history of like why that is and whatnot. Iran has a lot more of its own culture than Canada. I feel Canada is like very, like, I, I think the portion of its of its culture that's defined by being not American is like way more than Iran's culture is like by defined by being not Arabic.

But it's very important for us to to highlight those differences. And people actually, like sometimes even in Farsi, we have loan words from Arabic and some, and some people really go out of their ways to try to find. other alternatives to like, not use the the Arabic word. They don't have a problem with, like, if we borrow phrases from French or, or English, that's all fine.

I haven't seen that people work very hard to make up like Farsi equivalents for, for loan words from English or, or French.

[00:13:33] **Trish:** Well, I think, yeah, like there's a lot of examples I've heard similar arguments saying that Islam really helped create Europe because that was like a very distinct outgroup that helped all these little countries that previously had been fighting amongst themselves for a long time, kind of gave them something to unify around that there was like an out group that they felt like was a threat.

And even just on a personal nature of like human nature, you can see even just between men and women, sometimes like as a woman, you wanna define yourself and it maybe like pushes you more into femininity when you're trying to , see yourself as different than men.

You know what I mean? I feel like even men and women can , Really fall into maybe more extreme stereotypes of what you think would be like masculine or feminine, like in relation to each other.


[00:14:22] **Hirad:** Yeah. I actually think this is like a, a program that we're running all the time. This idea of you, cuz you're always pinging your environment. Right. And, and I think it's a, like you, you actually used this before when we were talking before recording that like you, do you feel this way about siblings as well, right?

When you were in a siblings feel like they need to define themselves in contrast to the other ones,

[00:14:45] **Trish:** Yeah, you're trying to find the way that like kind of, you're unique and you're special, even though you're like in this like shared environment and you're like, basically very similar to a lot of the people in your family, what's your thing? You know what I mean? Like, how are you gonna like, make yourself sort of different and stand out?

So it's just like, it's just a fun concept and you, I feel like you see it everywhere. It's nice to have a name for it.

[00:15:07] **Hirad:** Yeah. So the, the point of all this is I think the, I think the central point that we were trying to get to with, with this idea of schismogenesis is. Let's go back to this narrative that we're trying to dissect here, right? So the narrative was people lived in infantile simplicity in, in these little like hunter gatherer tribes.

Then poof, agricultural revolution happens, and then you have these large city states and then like larger and larger nation states, and you have hierarchy and inequality and all that. the point that I think Graeber and Wengrow are trying to get to with this idea of schismogenesis, like, Hey, no, this was not a foregone conclusion.

First of all, this idea that agriculture gives you material surplus. There is a lot of instances where you are aware of ways of gaining material surplus, but it's not always considered a good thing. So for example, in the case of the Pacific Northwest Tribes and the Californian tribes, the Californian tribes were foragers and the Pacific Northwest tribes, they would , they're primarily relying on fishing as their primary food source.

And they would smoke them and they would store them, and they had material surplus from fishing. But the Californians would not, even though they had an abundance of you know fishing resources that they could tap into they would just decide to be foragers. Instead, and it's not that they were unaware of the ability to have this material surplus, they just chose not to adopt it. So just because you have this a available resource that can give you material surplus if you, if decide to tap into it, that doesn't necessarily mean that people choose to go down that route. And so the point I think that Graeber and Wengrow are trying to make is people had to make a conscious decision.

It wasn't just that agricultural revolution just happened at once. And then we were stuck in this mode. That's kind of like the. The Rouseauian image they knew that certain modes of production would carry certain costs and benefits, and they explicitly chose to adopt agriculture at some point. And, and one of the points he's making is like this, this was not a foregone conclusion that would happen is like people could, different tribes could choose to adopt agriculture and then other ones could choose not to. So it's an open question about why agriculture was adopted in the first place and were there people that chose not to do it

[00:17:24] **Trish:** Yeah, I think that, again, we wanna try and dispel of this sort. Way you view history is this like trajectory, you know, it's not that people were like incipient farmers and there was an emerging complexity. It's like there was all sorts of things happening. Like there was evidence that at least some cultures, I think , I forget the name of the people who built Stonehenge, but they, at one point they were mostly hazelnut foragers, and then they adopted agriculture, but then they decided that they wanted to go back to like hazelnut foraging, so they abandoned agriculture and went back. And then there was like a ton of examples of how there were many, like all over the world, people were practicing pseudo agriculture, where they were like definitely cultivating things and definitely growing things, but it wasn't necessarily in the same manner that we view agriculture today. And so this, he gets into a lot of this too, of like, what do we even mean by when we say agricultural revolution?

[00:18:26] **Hirad:** Right.

[00:18:27] **Trish:** Like that's probably not even the right word for it.

[00:18:32] **Hirad:** Actually, before we get into that, like how long the agricultural revolution took, I wanna double click on something you just said. This idea of the incipient farmer. Right. So a lot of the times we, over and over in the book when, when trying to dispel the existing narrative about human progress, Graeber and Wengrow try to identify why is it that we have such a so the wrong image of how. , you know, non agricultural societies lived. And a lot of it comes down to biases in the existing academic fields like archeology or anthropology that have either stemmed from self-serving narratives.

So one part of it was like when, when European colonialists would come to North America they had this notion that I think starting from like John Locke or something, that, if you work the land your labor is is now part of the land and that gives you ownership over it. And they just decided that. Whatever these like you know, native American societies were doing was not considered, it wasn't agriculture the way Europeans understood it. Therefore, they were not really working the land, therefore they didn't have any sense any kind of title to it. They were just part of the land, not owners of it.

And that was kind of a narrative that was justifying european colonialism, even though there was all kinds of land management techniques that was being practiced in North America. And so when we think that way, we are just actually glossing over a lot of facts about how actual life of these tribes were and what kinds of technologies they had, what kinds of environmental management techniques they used to make sure they're on top of their food production.

And they're, they're managing their resources well. So that was one part of it.

[00:20:16] **Trish:** Yeah exactly. I just wanted to also talk about how the Europeans couldn't believe it when they arrived in North America. There were these beautiful sort of old growth oak forests and that Indigenous people would control, have little brush fires to clear out all the brush.

But obviously the big older trees wouldn't be affected by it cause it wouldn't be like a full on forest fire. And this made it much easier for hunting deer and other large animals because there wasn't as much brush so you could see them. But then when they cleared out all the indigenous people it all just grew into , brambles and undergrowth and everything.

So it's like how they didn't realize that that was not just the way forests grew here, that that was a very managed landscape that had been manipulated to give them the hunting environment that they wanted.

[00:21:02] **Hirad:** Right. Right. Yeah. And, and so, and the other part of it outside of this, like self-serving narratives was that academics would get stuck in you know, a certain way of thinking or a certain story that would just take hold within a certain field, like archeology. And when new evidence comes up, they can't really adapt to it, or they can't really integrate it, integrate it into the existing theories. So one example was when we look at a lot of pr You know, cultures prior to the agricultural revolution if we see them or, or, and when we look at cultures that don't have, don't practice agriculture, but they practice agriculture a little bit.

They're not predominantly agriculture based. But they do grow plants and they do manage the land to some degrees. One way that academics might explain this is they are incipient farmers, so they haven't fully progressed to be like us, But they're on their way. this is another kind of just very irritating and egotistical and self-serving narrative to again, imply that we are at the end of the progress where the, at the latest version of humanity.

And if, if someone is like practicing agriculture, but they're not fully practicing it like us, then they're just, they're on their way. But what Graeber and Wengrow say no, it's like the, you can adopt agriculture, partly because you weigh the pros and cons of thinking, maybe I don't want this thing full on.

Maybe I wanna have some balance of different ways of producing food and all that. So it's not such a foregone conclusion that this idea of we're gonna a, once we discover agriculture, we're gonna go to that as a predominant food source. And that's it. That's like, there's not, there's not gonna be anything else.

This is not how it actually is. People, different people weigh things differently and and if they adopt agriculture a little bit, that doesn't make them incipient farmers. It just means, it just makes some people that decided not to fully adopt agriculture.

[00:22:58] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah. It kind of reminds me of forgetting which chapter it was, but when he talks about this notion of agriculture kind of developed in places where resources were a little bit thin on the ground, and so you had to start growing things and practicing like pretty intensive agriculture just to feed yourself. And then, so instead of being like, oh, this was some like technological revolution that should spread everywhere, it was sort of that some people ended up living somewhere that was much more difficult to make a go of it. I liked the, the idea that we look at people who are hunter gatherers as if they were behind, and people who are using agriculture as ahead or more technologically advanced, where it was more that. The places that adopted agriculture usually had such thin resources on the ground that they had to move into

[00:23:54] **Hirad:** right.


[00:23:55] **Trish:** So it was like, we look at it backwards and the joke they make is that all the bad spots are taken arguments, so it's instead of you know being like, why were these people like only Hunter and gathering when we had agriculture? It's like, why were people living in such places that were so difficult to survive that you had to adopt such an intensive program of agriculture?

[00:24:18] **Hirad:** lost all the good hunting grounds. Therefore, they had to they had to adopt agriculture.

[00:24:22] **Trish:** yeah, it was like, I guess quote here we are asked to believe that it was only after they ran out of deserts and mountains in rainforest that they reluctantly started to colonize richer in more comfortable environments. which is like rivers and coasts .

[00:24:36] **Hirad:** But what I don't understand is like was agriculture also is better in places where there is other resources, isn't it? Like you wanna do agriculture by river, don't you?

[00:24:50] **Trish:** So, I mean, you can do mixes, right? It doesn't have to be one or the other, like. Rivers that flooded a lot. Sometimes they practiced agriculture cause it was easy because the river would flood, so that would bring in all new soils. So you didn't have to worry about soil degradation. You didn't have to plow because it kind of like flooded and killed the things that were there.

But the intensive, I'm gonna take a field and plant a whole bunch of the same thing and have to like plow and till, and fertilize and do all this stuff. So,

[00:25:20] **Hirad:** Yeah, so you could also have agriculture on easy mode instead of the one that we're, well, now it's getting easier because of because of technology, but it wasn't that way for a long time.

[00:25:32] **Trish:** Yeah.

[00:25:33] **Hirad:** So , we talked about schismogenesis, and how you choose technologies including agriculture that you want and reject the ones that you feel like they don't say something positive about you.

[00:25:46] **Trish:** Or that you just don't need it? Like why would you work hard at trying to like get some monocrop off the ground when you've got a salmon run that comes in every year.

[00:25:56] **Hirad:** Well, you can imagine a culture that just values working hard for whatever reason.

[00:26:00] **Trish:** No, but see, like I don't think that , like, I don't know, I don't really buy this narrative that like some cultures were like lazier than others. Like I think that like people all work, it's just the type of work that is Deined that they make up rules about what kind of work is sort of respected or not respected or like where you are in the hierarchy.

[00:26:22] **Hirad:** Yeah. Yeah. That's what I mean. Like if, if, if if you have a say, like a some mythology that says you please the gods by, by tilling the soil then, then you will want to till the soil more often you know rather than go fishing for example, because that doesn't please the gods.

[00:26:39] **Trish:** Or creating just like fit, like, you know, weaving or creating things or making art or like whatever, right.

[00:26:46] **Hirad:** Yep. So with that, with that idea of like, hey, this, this adoption of agriculture was not a foregone conclusion. The other myth that we wanna tackle in this episode is another part of this like linear progression narrative, which is that you know, you, you had these small societies that because they didn't have agriculture, the number of people in them couldn't really grow. to me is, is now that you, now that we've read this book to me this is such a patently laughable idea because like if there are, you know, a thousand hunter gatherers, you know, clearly planet Earth has enough resources to sustain a thousand hunter gatherers. You know, like what the, who cares if they're in one big tribe versus like 10 small tribes.

So this idea like there are enough resources on, on the planet to support hunter Gather. Tribes or support humans at the population that they were, you know, 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. And the social arrangement doesn't really change how many, how much resources there are. So for the most part, I don't think the resources capped out at a hundred people or something.

[00:27:54] **Trish:** And , they were coming together like this idea too, that they were always living in small bands like we have archeological data in many places that there was like giant cities that they were at least seasonally coming together and living in.

[00:28:06] **Hirad:** Exactly. So we've had this again, the linear progression story is that. Because of agriculture, we ended up with material surplus, and now that we had material surplus, the population could just keep growing as if it was actually the materials the material limitation that would like keep people at just a hundred per or a hundred, a hundred to 150 per tribe.

And now that the population keeps growing and it's all settled in one place, now you have the rise of hierarchy and differences in wealth because again, we have material surplus. So that can lead to differences in wealth and Graeber and Wengrow essentially go through and, and provide example after example that say different combinations of these things can go together without the other one. So, so let's say. So we have material surplus, large, settled societies and hierarchy, and you can have any combination of these, or you can have any of these by itself without the other ones. So there have been societies that are predominantly based on fishing that would have large material surpluses, but no hierarchy.

They can be societies that are settled and very hierarchical, but no agriculture. Excuse me. And so any combination of these things can can exist. So we don't necessarily, this idea that material surplus large settled societies and hierarchy go together is kind of bunk.

[00:29:23] **Trish:** Yeah.

So we have examples of this just to name a couple the Calusa people who were living in Florida. When Europeans made contact, they came upon a gigantic society, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in canoes. There was like a king in a throne, you know, being attended to by many people, you know, a throne that only he was allowed to sit on.

So it was like a very. Very firm like hierarchy, a very large society. Obviously like a lot of inequality happening but hadn't adopted agriculture.

[00:30:03] **Hirad:** Right. Similarly, there is a, a site in Southern modern day Louisiana called Poverty Point for some reason but this was the site of a very large scale settlement about 1600 BC. And as far as we can tell at the, this site couldn't produce anything of, its of its own, but it's kind of seen as a kind of a hub of culture and knowledge exchange, and we know that people have been.

Coming there or going from there to, you know, very, very far distances cuz at, at this site, all the buildings are built using a very specific unit of measure. And that unit of measurement is also used in sites as far south as Peru. Now you, when you think about this, you've got this a bit of a metropolis happening with thousands of people in 1600 BC in north America with sophisticated architecture where this architectural knowledge has traveled such vast distances and diffuse into different different cultures.

So again, this, that is a very complex society. We can't really dismiss that as as an incipient farming society because they just didn't have settled you know, they just didn't have large scale agriculture the way they did in the Fertile Crescent. And yet we just tend to dismiss this evidence, or, or at the very least, this evidence doesn't really get integrated into the existing archeological narratives, which kind of defines that period in North America, as you know, they, they call it the archaic. So, and they just dismiss it off, off bat as if it was like thousands of years where nothing happened.

[00:31:48] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So I think hopefully the point that we're making and that you're bringing away from this is that there wasn't one sort of like original state of affairs for hunter gatherers. We weren't all around the world living like the Kalahari Bushman. Just panoply of different complex ways that people were living in different places using like all sorts of different arrangements.

Do you kind of feel like when we talk about this, because faithful listeners will have listened to our previous episodes where we really sort of like went on like, rah, rah, rah, modern liberalism, scientific method, and so. Do you think here we're like being very defensive of a lot of different ways to live and saying like, well listen, like sure, they might not some, you know, like right now we're ripping down this idea of like a linear trajectory.

So like, you know, we look at things as like, did they have the wheel, did they have like iron or bronze or like, I actually don't even know, like the way that those ages sort of went, but. Does it feel like we are kind of like singing a different tune than perhaps we were in previous episodes?

[00:33:07] **Hirad:** Which tune are you referring to from previous episodes?

[00:33:10] **Trish:** Like previously when we would be in defense of liberalism and the liberal system and the scientific method because that is very much sort of like on a trajectory towards knowledge and towards sort of truth and homing in on that.

Do you feel

[00:33:28] **Hirad:** I feel like he actually touched on this in like one or two paragraphs talking about how most technological advances that we're living with today were actually discovered before the before the enlightenment era, right? So even agriculture itself, all kinds of techniques of how to manage the land how to domesticate animals, how to build things from different materials that are available.

A lot of this stuff has had just as much of a, just as much of an impact on human trajectory as anything we've had in the last, like three, 400 years. So there, there, I think he, at some point he did talk about that there are two different ways of discovering knowledge. And I forget the terms exactly, but one is very experiential and one is the type that you can kind of reduce things to in a, in a lab.

[00:34:15] **Trish:** Yeah, I guess I, I just have been thinking about this a lot and on one hand, like it's easy to be dismissive of cultures of like when I'm viewing them as primitive and stuff. And I feel like a lot of what we're trying to do here is dispel that and kind of show the different ways that people were living and like that's what David, like the Davids are trying to do.

But I don't wanna get into the, like decolonizing, bullshit, where there's this romanticization and be like, oh, there's like all these different ways to understand. Like, it's kind of like the new noble savage. So I wanna address what we mean, and that I don't feel like we're going back into this annoying narrative that, do you know what I mean?

[00:34:59] **Hirad:** well, I mean, that's actually interesting cause I feel like I've, I've shifted my, like if you told me, talk to me about like, these different ways of knowing like three years ago I would've laughed you out of the room. But I think I've kind of come around to it a little bit. I do think there is, there is value in just experiential knowledge that you can't gain in a lab or, or the fact that.

Not everything is possible to be reduced to the kinds of things that you can find out in a lab. You know, like we can't reduce the whole world. And I actually think, a lot of the things that humans can believe but are technically false, end up being true on some level.

Like like a lot of the myths that you might, you might find some society believing. Our brains are kind of like statistical machines. I think like we, we can actually do more calculations than, than we are consciously even aware of. I think a lot of the myths may tell us something about how to behave in the world that ends up having the effect that we want.

Even if our explanation for why that behavior is good may not be scientific, if that makes sense.

[00:36:00] **Trish:** Yeah. And I think that you can really like appreciate the sort of ingenuity that a lot of these groups had. And like we often look like to look at like just a few data points of like, oh, like did they have this or did they like know about like this technology? And then like to sort of. make the, you know, label them as primitive or something if they didn't have those things, while you're really like throwing out this like really like interesting, like a lot of like accumulated knowledge that they did have.

But I also feel like the problem is that we would kinda like wanna take that same idea of like, well, you know, like, did they have like a government right? Or did they have like a court system or something? But , To me human arrangements and how you wanna live as a society is not the same sort of like developmental system like you might have like discovering scientific

[00:36:54] **Hirad:** Yeah, I mean that's that's totally true. That's like a, that tells you something about their value systems. And I hope that later in the book we kind of come back to this idea of The influence of north American societies on European thinking about equality. Cuz I, I hope there is more material on that and more threads to pull on because I find that very interesting and how that influenced kind of the understanding of human freedoms the way as we have it today.

[00:37:22] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah.

[00:37:23] **Hirad:** I think one final point that we wanted to touch on for this episode was h how the rise of agriculture itself happened, right.

[00:37:33] **Trish:** Yeah. So a big point that they make in the book is basically how we probably should. . So they don't actually say that they should, we should call the agricultural revolution something else. But the idea is, is that with a term like revolution, like revolutions usually don't happen really, really slowly in gradually over thousands of years.

Like the Industrial Revolution, it's like. The steam engine was invented and the next thing, everyone's laying down railroads all over the world. And this happened, you know, within like 150 years, right? Or don't know. What's another revolution? American Revolution, right? Happened in like a year.

This is what we think , but with the agricultural revolution, it took forever. . Yeah. Like some people adopted it, some people went back. There were big collapses of early farmer populations where, you know, it didn't work out at all. The course of domesticating plants and animals took forever.

So yeah, it's not just this Quick thing that all of a sudden, like everybody, you know, saw their neighbors with like a field of wheat and were like, oh my goodness. Look at that. go home and start planting wheat on their own as well.

[00:38:51] **Hirad:** Yeah. And the way that we know this is that domesticated wheats and wild wheats have some fundamental genetic differences. And scientists have kind of tried to re repeat that process of taking wild wheat and then selectively breeding it and to get domesticated wheat. And the longest that this might take would be like on the order of decades, like within 20 years, it should be very easy for you to go from wild wheat to domesticated wheat,

[00:39:17] **Trish:** Using the methods that they would've had available to them at the time. Right. So this means just like based on, you know, uprooting by hand plants that you didn't like, collecting seeds from ones you did, , you know, things like that. Like, we're not like talking about like in a lab, like doing some sort of like gene splicing or something.


[00:39:34] **Hirad:** yeah, yeah. But but all the evidence about how this would happened in real life back in, back 10,000 years ago was that it actually took. About 3000 years to go from wild wheat to domesticated wheat. And so this probably suggests that domesticating wheat wasn't actually the point. And the Davids kind of speculate that probably wheat was being used for other purposes that was not food and it was not very central.

But gradually we did kind of, and, and most likely we're trying to use it for things like the straw and weaving and all that. And then gradually we found other users for it as well.

[00:40:13] **Trish:** Yeah. Yep. and I think that a lot of the problem comes from just the way we view agriculture as like the big monocrop in a field where he talks a lot in chapter seven about how in Amazonia they were sort of practicing their own variety of agriculture in that they would , you know, find a little clearing in the forest and then have these little home gardens where they planted all sorts of different plants that they liked and tended to them and even would make their own mix of soil based on, you know, refuse and stuff from like the town or from fires or whatever to fertilize it. But then , they were fairly mobile. So the next year your garden might be wherever you guys had moved on to for the next year. And so they were small scale, they had a lot of different things growing together.

They would move around a lot and it would just kind of make use of what was around and natural clearings that existed. But you know, we would, we wouldn't consider that agriculture, even though they were obviously doing a lot of plant cultivation and were intimately aware of how plants grow, grew, and what they needed to grow and how that they could be like manipulated to have the outcome that they wanted.

I'll just make one more point about how long it took, the agricultural revolution. This is just a quote that I liked in Mexico, domestic forms of squash and maze existed by 7,000 bc. Yet these crops only became staple foods around 5,000 years later.

Similarly, in the eastern woodlands of North America, local seed crops were cultivated by 3000 bc, but there was no serious farming until around one thousand. China followed a similar pattern. Millet farming began on a small scale around 8,000 BC on the northern plains as a seasonal compliment to foraging and dog assisted hunting.

It remained so for 3000 years until the introduction of cultivated millets into the basin, so unquote.

[00:42:10] **Hirad:** Mm-hmm.

[00:42:11] **Trish:** So, I mean, like that's it. You know, people were obviously fooling around with agriculture, but. I mean, if you're not really changing any, if it's taking thousands of years to adopt technology, then probably it can't be viewed as a revolution.

[00:42:29] **Hirad:** Yeah. And it wasn't the primary thing, so people were aware of it. They knew how to, they knew how to do it. They were not relying on it as a, as food source. It was not like the excess food that it would produce was so in demand that they had to drop everything and just do agriculture

[00:42:47] **Trish:** Yeah.

[00:42:48] **Hirad:** and. As to the question of why they did at some point drop everything and just do agriculture.

I think we'll have to stay tuned for when we get through the next couple of chapters,

[00:42:58] **Trish:** Mm-hmm. . , is there anything that you just wanted to talk about that you thought was interesting or ...

[00:43:04] **Hirad:** so I think we can take a moment to talk about the book itself a little better. Cause I think part of the reason why we've had a hard time recording about this book, and I think part of it is the way it's structured. It's, it's a good book, but man, I really struggle with knowing what I'm reading at some points like.

There are times where I'm getting through a chapter and I'm like, okay, I'm, I'm reading it and I'm getting some, factoid out of the book, but I don't know why, like where does this little fact that I just read fit in the grand narrative? Because, you know, the book's usually, like we've established with this book what question we're trying to answer.

Right. And usually with books is like they establish that question. And then each chapter has its own question that it tries to answer. And the answer for each chapter's question fits into the answer of the, the grand question the whole book is trying to answer with this book. I feel like and I think listeners might have got this feeling from our episode as well, that it's kind of like all over the place and actually feel like we did a better job of like painting a narrative, starting from like schismogenesis to like the way that agriculture was adopted.

but like we actually changed the order significantly from what it's like in the book. And I'm really struggling to get a whole, a full picture of what is this book trying to say? And I'm like, I'm going back and like rereading things multiple times and, and like really have to work hard at that.

I don't know how you found it.

[00:44:29] **Trish:** Yeah. I think that that's intentional though, because I think that the problem is, is that we've kind of been fed a narrative and the narrative's wrong cuz people have looked at human history and be like, ah, I'm gonna draw a narrative here about like what humans used to be like versus what they're like now.

And his book is all over the place because the human history has been all over the place. Right? And so it's just kind of like, well, Listen, you know, we're going to talk about what was happening all over the place at many different times. Just so you know that there was not one original state of affairs, right?

[00:45:00] **Hirad:** I, I don't buy that. I think like

[00:45:02] **Trish:** you don't buy that

[00:45:03] **Hirad:** if you, if you're writing a book, it's still your job to like, Painted paint some narrative like you, that's like a,

[00:45:10] **Trish:** The narrative is that there isn't a narrative

[00:45:12] **Hirad:** No, no, no, no. This is not Okay. But even, even if that's your narrative, that there isn't a narrative, you are still, the, the, the principles of clear communication don't change because our picture of like human development is like non-linear, you know, like you still have to like, communicate things.

And I feel like there is like the, a book still needs an arc, even if like the subject that, that it's about doesn't have an arc, you know?

[00:45:39] **Trish:** I mean, I guess I'm just delighted at well, so I, I mean, I know you shouldn't just like tear apart. It's harder to create than it is to destroy, but I've really been enjoying, he's been going after like Jared Diamond and you know, like Yuval harari. We know that. We've been also like jumped on that band bandwagon and stuff.

But I just feel like there's been a lot of crap pop science out there and these are the books that I like to read. Right. So I kind of like that he is like taking them all down a step and be like, listen, you guys don't actually haven't done your research, you haven't done your due diligence.

[00:46:15] **Hirad:** Yeah. Yeah, I mean there, there, there was also quite a bit of Yuval Noah Harari takedowns in, in the bits that we read for this episode, and that's always enjoyable.

[00:46:25] **Trish:** Mm-hmm.

[00:46:26] **Hirad:** But I feel like that's all it's, it's, it's interesting that all of these different writers, they're all riffing. It's, it's almost like a Marvel movie where they have, like, they have the narrative.

They just put like different characters in different suits on top of that story arc. And I feel like that's what all these pop science books are, are like, like they have that fundamental story that like Rouseau painted or Hobbes painted, and. And, they just put their own little you know, facade on it and, and call it a day.

[00:46:58] **Trish:** Yeah. Mm-hmm.

[00:46:59] **Hirad:** I, I actually think like a lot of this, a lot of what we're reading in this book what it reminds me of is who we are and how we got here and how there's this this popular image of like a linear. Evolutionary progression. Right? And, and I see this all the time. I was actually Somewhere on social media.

I saw this question that comes up all the time about evolution, about if if we came from monkeys, which we didn't come from monkeys, but you know that this was the way it was posed. If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? And the answer is like, there are, there are still monkeys because monkeys are very good at existing.

And the monkey that you see is just as evolved as we are, is just like evolved with different strengths and weaknesses that make it fit for its environment. And it's like a, it, it's this human tendency to kind of have this like linear progression. I feel like it's the kind of thing that gets us in trouble about having a realistic picture of how the world actually works.

Because when you read about how humans have come, human populations have come about there is, it's not linear. It's about, it's all these like populations that separate and then they come back together and there's all these different types of mixings that has happened. And similarly with our politics, people pick and choose all kinds of things.

Sometimes they settle in. Large societies in one place. Sometimes they pick ways of producing food that produces surplus and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they go for hierarchy and sometimes they don't. And so it's a it's actually life is a lot more interesting when you see it that way.

[00:48:28] **Trish:** Yeah. And like why are humans, it's like, I feel like there's some obsession too, we always have with like self-flagellation of how we've ruined everything, right? It's like we used to be these innocent children of nature and then somehow we messed that up. Or the earth, you know, was this pristine, beautiful place until humans arrive. And now it's been climate catastrophe, don't get me wrong I know that humans are definitely changing the earth, but

[00:48:55] **Hirad:** that's our job. That's what we are here for.

[00:48:57] **Trish:** But that's kind of like, like many organisms before us have changed the earth and crazy ways too. And the earth has always been in this state of flux and changing.

And sometimes it's been a snowball and sometimes it's been a crazy heat dome. You know, things change, but we always just kind of want to go build these narratives about ourselves we're, I don't know why we love to paint ourselves as the bad guys.

[00:49:21] **Hirad:** Well, it's like, it's two things. It's like we do love to paint ourselves as a bad guys on, on the one hand, but on the other hand, it's always like, we are the most advanced. This, there's, it's like these two things I, I feel like maybe it has, has to do with your just personality of how you would like to see things.

So some people just love to see us as the bad guys because we are the most advanced. And some people just love to highlight the element that we are the most advanced. But both of those things are wrong. Like these these other societies that existed with different arrangements, they were just as complex.

The, the, I think the fundamental thing I'm taking away from this book is, Humans have been human the way you and I understand what a human is for, I don't know, two to 300,000 years. But as long as there was homo sapiens, they were probably obsessed with the same kinds of things and same kinds of behaviors as, as we are so sure like probably technological advancement and accumulation of knowledge takes a long time to build up. So in that sense, they could have been different, but they probably always cared about the arrangements of their societies and their sense of autonomy and egalitarianism. And the, the things that would bring them joy was probably not that different from the things that would bring us joy.

Right. And they would want to be moving away from a place that is turning out to not bring them, make them happy to a place that would make them more happy and all that.

[00:50:46] **Trish:** Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Well put, well put.

[00:50:48] **Hirad:** I think that's a good spot to wrap it for this episode. And we will plow through the next couple of chapters, hopefully not in, not so long, and do at least one or two more episodes on the dawn of everything.

[00:51:02] **Trish:** And wrap this up soon. Yeah. Well, it was a lot of fun.

[00:51:06] **Hirad:** it w it is been a quite a technical challenge to get this episode out, but it looks like we actually got this one recorded, so I'm very happy about that.

[00:51:13] **Trish:** Yeah. And we'll chat again soon.

[00:51:16] **Hirad:** Sounds good.