Drop the Baggage for Freedom to Roam
Joel Bowman writing on geographic independence…
We’ve been thinking about geographical independence…going where you want, when you want…and what a life “on the road” means both now, and through the ages.
When we travel through space (plane, train and automobile)…or wade through time (history books, archeological discoveries, guesswork, conjecture and theory)…a number of differing perspectives jostle for our attention.
We come to find that what is sacred to one man—flags, gods, poetry, football teams, ancient texts, modern conveniences, irony, taste, Beethoven, democracy, monogamy, profit and prophets—may well be profane to another.
One man’s idea of heaven (say, the version in which he is rewarded with 72 virgins) constitutes another man’s idea of hell (a place where he is cursed with 72 mother-in-laws).
Today, for large parts of “Western Civilization,” material possessions are held aloft as signs of wealth and status.
McMansions. Hummer Homes. Triple-car garages. A television in every room and an iGadget in the palm of every hand.
But this wasn’t always that way. For our Paleolithic forefathers, when it came to “tangible” assets, less was often considered more. Instead of “stuff,” he yearned for “freedom.”
Free time. Free exchange. Freedom of movement.
Free afternoons spent whiling away the hours under the shade of the coolabah tree…
No TSA check points. No passport stamps. No visa requirements.
Extraneous possessions were to nomadic men and women but a nuisance. Indeed, when mobility is highly regarded, “excess baggage” soon becomes a trap…a weight…something to hold you back.
And yet, according to some anthropologists, despite their “lack” of possessions (or, more likely, because of it) life was no worse off for these itinerant wanderers than for the agriculturalists that came after them.
As professor Marshall Sahlins writes in his fascinating collection of essays, Stone Age Economics…
“A good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.”
It was only when he set down roots…when he gained more “stuff”…that the idea of “the things you own eventually coming to own you” really came into high relief.
The generally accepted theory was that man domesticated plants and animals during the agricultural revolution, pressing both into the service and maintenance of his new life of leisure and luxury.
Again, that’s one story…one perspective.
But consider for a moment the primary food he “domesticated:” wheat. Before he took to seeding the earth with this otherwise unimportant crop, it was but a random grass, confined to a tiny scrap of Africa.
Today, at over 220 million hectares, wheat is by a good margin the most widespread crop in the world. And Modern Man sets his back…and his capital, his machines, his time and his effort…to spreading it ever further…as he has done now for thousands of years.
True, the human population has increased dramatically during this same period…but to the extent that evolutionary success is dependent on fecundity, wheat is, by an order of some magnitude, far more successful a “reproducer” than man.
The obvious question begs itself: Who domesticated whom?
Food for thought…