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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Is Farming the Problem?

Is Farming the Problem?

Here is a story that we tell ourselves. From The Good Ancestor: “Consider the immense legacy left by our ancestors: those who sowed the first seeds in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, who cleared the land, built the waterways and founded the cities where we now live, who made the scientific discoveries, won the political struggles and created the great works of art that have been passed down to us.”

We don’t question this narrative. We simply accept it as “the way things happened”. But read it again with your critical brain engaged. To begin with, this ancestral narrative begins in Mesopotamia. This is not accurate. A few people in the Mesopotamian river basins started writing down what they were doing (mostly with regard to how much grain and gold were passing through their hands), but our cultural story begins long before Mesopotamia and in many different parts of the world, and ultimately, the human story begins in Africa, not the Middle East.

Farming did not begin with sowing seeds. This is a classic chicken egg of an assertion. What seeds? Where did they come from? How did humans even know to put them in the ground and expect to harvest something humans could eat? We’ll come back to this because this is the focus of this essay.

Let’s consider the assertion that humans built waterways. Yes, there are some canals, some irrigation projects, a few long-distance pipes and aqueducts. These are not generally waterways in terms of transport, which is I believe what is being referenced. Humans have not, in any case, built most of the bodies of water we use. Waterways are part of this planet, a priori; humans have done more to break rivers, lakes and oceans than to build them…

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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