Travel out across the burnin sand
Across the ocean to some distant land
When we reach the end
We’ll all be singin and we’ll be friends
Back where it all begins
-“Back where it all begins”, The Allman Brothers
The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.
I’ve been reading “Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind”, by Yuval Noah Harrari. I heard about it on one of the podcasts that I listen to while driving all over the place for my sales job. I think it was “The James Altucher Show” though I feel like I’ve heard of “Sapiens” elsewhere as well.
Harrari does a masterful job of crafting a mind blowing narrative of human history woven of diligent research and Zen-ish objectivity and insight.
He challenges some of the mainstream ideas I was taught about the history of mankind in my suburban late twentieth century public education.
Scholars once proclaimed that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fueled by human brain power. Evolution gradually produced even more intelligent people. Eventually, people were so smart that they were able to decipher nature’s secrets, enabling them to tame sheep and cultivate wheat. As soon as this happened, they cheerfully abandoned the gruelling, dangerous and often spartan life of hunter-gatherers, settling down to enjoy the pleasant, satiated life of farmers.
Harrari contradicts this assumption, explaining that there is no evidence indicating Homo Sapiens grew to be more intelligent 10,000 years ago when they started farming than in the 50,000 years prior when they existed as hunter gatherers.
He also contradicts the idea that agriculture made their lives better, at least as individuals. Farmers worked longer hours than the hunter gatherers at difficult and repetitive tasks.
Studies of ancient skeletons indicate that the transition to agriculture brought about a plethora of ailments, such as slipped discs, arthritis and hernias. Moreover, the new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields.
Hunter Gatherers had a more diverse and healthy diet of meat, vegetables, and fruits they found pristine in nature. Each day brought a new challenge to hunt, fish, or forage for what they needed to eat instead of laboring away at the same farming tasks day after day. They also had a lower risk of disease. I mean it all sounds much better, right?
I guess the one part I get hung up on is that in order to hunt and gather, you need to keep moving. Once you’ve hunted everything there is to hunt, or picked all the berries there are to pick, you move on to the next area. Look, we all like to get away once in a while. But after a long day of work, as monotonous as it may seem to a hunter gatherer, I like to come home and unwind.
I have a tent. I go camping sometimes. It would be a heck of a lot less expensive for me to sell my condo and move into my car. It would certainly be a more interesting way to live also. But I’m not going to do that. Right now, as I type away on my laptop, I’m sitting on my couch in my living room… and I like it. Not going to get the tent out tonight.
As Bob Weir sang, “You ‘re sick of hangin around and you’d like to travel, Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down. I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin”. Not sure where I was going with that, but I started this post with an Allman Brothers quote so why not throw in one from another band with two drummers?
And as much as I love to venture out and hunt for new mountain bike trails to explore, I find myself reverting back to the same place I started out. The West Hartford Reservoir, in West Hartford, CT, or “The Rez” is ubiquitous in Central CT Mountain Biking. Everyone knows about it. It’s where many mountain bikers take their first turn pedalling mountain bikes on dirt. The water company property spreads out between CT State Highways 44 and 4. The 20 or so miles of trail within ranges from paved bike baths to advanced technical single track. A bumper crop of world class hand built mountain bike trails have sprung up around the area over the last 10 years, and while few mountain bikers would probably call the Rez their favorite place, it could be the most ridden trail system in the state in terms of how many people ride there on any given day.
It’s one place where I know all the trails, and though I do have my favorite loop, I can easily put together a ride on the fly that, without looking at a map or iPhone fits either a time constraint or weather condition. If I only have 30 minutes to ride, no problem, I’ve got a loop for that. If I want to do a 2 hour ride, there are at least a few ways I can put together a fun loop. If its been rainy, I know where the dry spots are. Or, if the whole place just got a soaking I can stay on paved and gravel roads to avoid eroding the well worn trails any further but still get in a good workout.
So during my multi month experiment with Single Speed Mountain Biking, I’ve appropriated the varied terrain and my trail familiarity at the Rez to good use. Most of this riding season, I’ve spent more time biking around Penwood State Park, which is about the same distance from home as the Rez, but to the north. However, when I switched to one gear, I decided to start out on familiar beginner trails to the south which offer gentler pitches than the steep ridgeline hiking trails at Penwood.
To my surprise, and to the surprise of some of my biking friends, I did finally graduate to riding single speed for my entire loop at Penwood, steep rooty climbs and all, but it took over a month of riding to get there, much of which was done in West Hartford. I started mountain biking there in the early 2000s. Since then I’ve ridden in places all over CT, New England and out west. But somehow or another I always find myself back at the trails I know best.
So, after millions of years of human hunting and gathering, maybe it wasn’t a step forward in intellect that caused humans to self domesticate. Maybe things were harder in some ways for them, and maybe their lives became a bit more mundane vs the tree climbing, rabbit chasing, and lion dodging of a hunter gatherer. But, maybe they found something they liked. Maybe they liked the familiar feeling and shelter of home. Perhaps it provided some sense of predictability in their crazy and uncertain lives. And, maybe they found a spot with some trails they really liked. Whatever it was, I’m glad they did. It’s getting cold outside and I really don’t want to leave my couch to get my tent out of the basement. Maybe I’ll start a fire in the fireplace and start reading Harrari’s next book, “Homo Deus”.