Friday, February 7, 2014
Agriculture as mistake
This is an old article from Jared Diamond, later of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" fame. He posits the invention of agriculture as humankind's gravest mistake, in terms of quality of life. Anywhere where intensive agriculture has replaced a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, it marked a drastic reduction in quality of life--more work, more hunger, more disease, more war and inequality. (A case that neither Diamond nor many archeologists study very much is that of New World tropical horticulturists, who cultivated and still cultivate plants as a complement, not a replacement to, their hunting and gathering.) Only in the 20th century have medical advances (which could only occur thanks to the division of labor and process of civilization afforded by agriculture) and drastic increases in agricultural productivity allowed a large part of humankind to attain a better quality of life than we had as hunter-gatherers. And even this is based on a level of resource use that is probably not sustainable in the long run.