Man’s Most Powerful Tool
“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”—Attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte (Though probably coined by French author Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle)
So stand the crimes of which History is hereby accused…aided and abetted, no doubt, by those who wrote it!
When we left off Monday, we were rambling about a dupe, a scam, a plot of such cunning and conniving almost nobody saw it coming. Not before…not during…and scarcely even after the fact.
History, we ventured, has given us a bum steer. The collective narrative, the idea of the “common good,” has been mobilized and, indeed, deployed against the very good of the commoner himself.
As it turns out, the popular wisdom we’ve come to believe (or perhaps been induced to) might not have been in our best interests after all. Rather, for one reason or another, myths were imagined and invented to entice otherwise rational individuals to go along with wholly absurd notions…
From ancient foragers planting roots to play their part in the great “Agricultural Revolution”…
To crusading soldiers marching off to defend “God, King, and Country”…
Through to Modern Man accoutering his naked, vacuous existence with all manner of unnecessary—and even harmful—”stuff”…
Each action predicated on the false premise that we’ll all be “better off” for our time and troubles.
Fallacy. Balderdash. Pure poppycock.
But let us back up a little…
First, the insight is not actually our own. It’s more eloquently articulated—and more thoroughly researched—by the learned Yuval Noah Harari. His book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, currently sits on our reading table. And it’s what the Australians might call “a cracker” (translation: very good).
But to tell it to you straight, the news isn’t all bad.
According to the good professor, our ability to tell (and believe, en masse) fibs and porkies—that is, our capacity and tolerance for pure fiction—may well be what separated us from competing “breeds” of humans.
It seems a given to us now, to believe that only one version of human—we, homo sapiens—would rule the world with unchallenged gall and imbecility. But there was a time—30,000 years ago—when brawnier and even brainer competitors fought for top honors.
H. neanderthalensis…H. erectus…H. florensiensis…and a handful of other species competed with we sapiens for valuable resources. Standing alone on the planet as we do now, the only species of human around, is, historically speaking at least, rather atypical.
Moreover, that sapiens should emerge victorious was far from a foregone conclusion. Twice (at least) our forefathers marched out of Africa and into the Levant, en route to Europe to challenge the physically superior neanderthalensis.
The first sortie was routed, perhaps owing to some “home team advantage” or another. (Fossils records of neanderthalensis reveal him to be much larger than his would-be interlopers, for example, and therefore better equipped to deal with the cooler northern climes.)
Unable to leave well enough alone…or perhaps just feeling a bit of wanderlust…sapiens made another go of breaking onto the euro scene a few thousand years later.
So what made future ventures successful?
According to Harari, it was our ability—unique in the animal kingdom—to invent wholesale claptrap and, most importantly, to convince others to go along with it, that gave us the edge.
That second part seems to be the key. Other animals are able to tell lies. And indeed they do. Green monkeys have been observed giving false signals to members of their own troop.
“Warning! An eagle!” screeches a fibbing primate…while skillfully purloining his neighbor’s tasty banana.
But even cheeky monkeys don’t invent unrealities in quite the same way as sapiens. They don’t, for example, say…
“Warning! A spirited blue dragon lives atop that hill, one that becomes extremely irritable and prone to bouts of anger if he doesn’t receive two-dozen bananas by sundown every Thursday.
Actually, I’m on a mission to collect a few on his behalf just now. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”
The ability to invent—and accept in large numbers—such utter untruths appears to be unique to sapiens…enabling us to organize on a vast numerical level with which our fellow humans were simply unable to compete.
Chimpanzees—our closest observable relative—group together in numbers not larger than about 150. Beyond that, trust breaks down and rival groups splinter off.
Similarly, neanderthalensis, erectus, et al. were unable to collect the kind of critical mass that we sapiens exhibit casually at any given rock concert…football game…Sunday (or Friday, or Saturday) mass…
The myths that we create—what Harari calls “imagined realities”—are what bind us together…for better and, just as often, for worse.
And just how is all this germane to a discussion about individual happiness, you ask. What does it have to do with simple living…with independence and self-sufficiency?
So glad you asked…
If our ancient forefathers—genetically no different from us—could be induced to believe whole cloth fabrications of reality…if they could be enslaved to an extent that they willingly surrendered life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on demonstrably false premises…
…might we Moderns also be enticed to labor under some contemporary myths? And might such myths steal from us our much sought after independence and self-sufficiency?
More importantly, perhaps, might we be a slave to these myths already and not even know it?
When we return, a closer look at a few of the more damaging collective fictions…beginning with what may well have been the biggest swindle of them all.
White Lies to Tell Your Tomatoes
As masters of manipulation, man has toppled regimes, amassed vast wealth and power, and even convinced the fragile tomato to grow during the winter. And while Oliver Stone won’t be making a thrilling biopic about that last one, it’s nice to have a fresh tomato in your salad, no matter the season. Here are Truth & Plenty’s tips to growing tomatoes indoors.
Light: The easiest and cheapest way to grow your indoor veggies is on a windowsill. For best results, face those bad boys south and keep them warm.
Budding home growers should invest in a small grow light (available for about $12 and up) and ensure they receive 12 to 16 hours of light per day.
Variety: Ideally you’ll want to select a cherry or plum tomato when planting indoors. Small fruited plants will ripen quickly and produce a large number of fruit.
Skip the Seeds: If you’re already growing tomatoes in the garden you can jumpstart the process by taking cuttings from your summer stock. Root the cuttings in water before moving them to four-inch transplant pots.—Ed