Saturday, November 24, 2012

Agriculture Considered Harmful?

Disclaimer: I wouldn't say I wholesale believe this yet. I'd like to hear more on both sides.

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race, by Jared Diamond. It's agriculture. Using evidence from current hunter-gathering tribes and studying skeletons, they found that after humans adopted agriculture, they started getting nutritional deficiencies, their average height decreased by six inches, diseases became epidemics, weather changes caused famines, and the ability to stockpile led to greed, class divisions, and gender inequalities. Why did agriculture spread, then? Because it could support more people, so they could push the hunter-gatherers out. See also: Ishmael. (it is an easy and interesting read. I recommend it.)

Interesting side note: The Most Spectacular Mutation in Recent Human History, by Benjamin Phelan. It's the ability to drink milk. Around agriculture-time, we also became able to drink milk without fermenting it first. Nobody seems sure why that was such a big evolutionary advantage.

2 comments:

slifty said...

I know right? Also when they came out with penicillin people started dying more to heart attacks, and ever since the invention of the car people have started to die in accidents ;)

Dan Tasse said...

And ice cream causes murders!

About the cars point: right, agriculture brought a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Few innovations are unqualified boons. But the point is that maybe the ups don't outweigh the downs.

The penicillin-heart attacks example is also worth considering: maybe a lot of the "negatives" were always there, the new technology just unmasks them. But I think they're saying average life expectancy went down after agriculture. I wish I had the facts handy to know if that's true or not.