Pandora’s Box and the Invention of Agriculture
Pandora’s box (noun): The process of creating complicated problems as the result of unwise interference in something.
The above definition shows up numerous times in related essays on the history of western civilization, the agricultural revolution and the ideological epoch that spawned both movements. And so it should. The definition is ‘bang on’ when attempting to assess the advanced modern human’s place in history…his significance and impact on the ‘big picture’ view of things. Some people find history to be boring (in and of itself) but that same history can take on a new light when used to help make sense of the world in which we live – via the Newtonian precepts of consequence and causality. For better or for worse the universe is unfolding as it should in our little neck of the woods…for better or for worse nothing is out of place especially when viewed through the unerring lens of consequence and causality. In fact, given hyper-man’s violent and turbulent history combined with his uncanny ability to do stupid things there would be something ‘not right’ if our world today was in a relative state of peace, harmony and balance. It is anything but. Some will and some won’t agree that we and the rest of the biosphere have, in recent times, passed over an invisible line, an imperceptible and irrevocable threshold into a new and dangerous reality referred to ominously as the ‘next major extinction event’. Some will, many won’t. Regardless, we are where we are and how we got here so quickly is the subject of this short piece.
How we got here so quickly has everything to do with the key term ‘unwise interference’ from the above definition. Mankind’s collision course with nature has been driven by his penchant for interference, manipulation and control. The term and its meaning, together with the broader definition of Pandora’s box quite accurately describe the methodology by which advanced hyper-ideological, innovative, industrialized, technological super humans did so unconsciously manufacture a social and environmental train wreck in only seven thousand years. Blind and unwise interference…we just didn’t have a clue what we were messing with when we began screwing around with the delicate balances and the finely tuned system of laws and principles that nature had established over three and a half billion years of biological evolution. I am referring of course to the invention of agriculture. The two central tenets of natural law are (1) balance and (2) biodiversity and in both cases the invention of agriculture violently upset nature’s entire apple cart.
Modern humans have a thing for graphs…graphs take complicated concepts and mid-boggling amounts of facts and figures and lay them out in neat, linear structured vertical and horizontal lines that are easy to grasp and understand. Looking at a graph is similar to looking at a road map if you are lost. Anyone interested in current affairs, climate change, CO2 levels, population dynamics, habitat loss, deforestation, agricultural practices, etc. has probably seen their share of graphs, myself included. My favorite graphs are the ones charting the events in history over the past say one-hundred thousand years or so which flag the invention of agriculture and the industrial revolution. I recently managed to collect a number of such graphs in one file which chart many of the above stats (climate change, CO2 levels, the melting of glaciers, permafrost, sea ice, etc.) and each line of trajectory exhibits an almost identical pattern of behavior, that being the exponential curve. You know, the one where the line at the bottom goes along fairly consistently for a hundred thousand or a million years and then shoots straight up, disappearing off the graph around the start of the twenty-first century.
If one looks closely they will observe the exponential curve beginning to rise ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly around that period when humans invented agriculture. (Such is the nature of the exponential process). One graph, dealing with human population for example, indicates there were between five and six million human hunter/gatherers spread across the globe just prior to agriculture. Today our population is 7.5 billion with a projected 10-11 billion towards the end of the century. So the rate of increase (the exponential growth factor) is approximately 1500 to 2000. That’s 1500 to 2000 times as many humans on the planet by the end of this century compared to pre-agriculture. (Note: Cultural anthropologists have estimated that world-wide hunter/gatherer populations would have increased by no more than one million by the 21st century had agriculture not been invented).
‘The last five major extinctions events were caused by either geological cataclysms or extraterrestrial incursions. This is the first time a planet has been brought down by an idea’.
The ‘idea’ of agriculture was the demon seed from which grew the abominations known as western civilization, the industrial revolution and our lethally over-populated world. How could one simple idea cause this magnitude of environmental and social chaos in only seven thousand years (measured from the point when agriculture became the dominant practice). The answer to this question lies in the insidious nature of the poison infecting the original seed itself which was the notion that one subspecies of advanced super-ideological primates could begin to take control of the planet…away from nature. By capturing, taming and converting wild plant and animal species into rapacious monocultures we interfered with three and a half billion years of biological evolution. At that precise moment in history we unconsciously and irrevocably blew the lid (and its hinges) clear off Pandora’s box. It’s worth repeating that biodiversity is a central tenet of natural law…a monoculture is its antithesis, its exact opposite. And therein lies the ‘heart’ of the darkness we created.
‘In accordance with nature’s ancient and time-honored system of order, wild things were never, ever intended to be domesticated, controlled or conquered. Nature itself was never, ever intended to be domesticated, controlled or conquered. But domesticate, control and conquer we did and today we are living with the consequences of our folly’.
The invention of agriculture kick-started an exponential process that would lead to the environmental and social meltdown we are experiencing today… and human population growth was a leading driver of that process. Following is a reprint of a paragraph from a subsection of the ‘train wreck’ essay titled; ‘The Equation and the Small-to-large Differential’ which explains how the idea of agriculture abruptly inverted nature’s time-tested equation governing the small-to-large differential in species population management.
Excerpt from Train Wreck Essay…
All Roads Lead to Rome
Nothing in our world occurs out of a vacuum…everything is subject to the unforgiving laws of consequence and causality. When these laws are applied to the seven-thousand year development of western civilization (since agriculture became a dominant force) it is much easier to understand how the global train wreck we created actually occurred. Many view history as a forward progression of events leading up to the current period and if one is attempting to make sense of the train wreck unfolding around us today they will have a difficult time because there is no discernible ‘starting point’ from which to base historical or logical conclusions upon. Generally speaking, western civilization has been a tumultuous, war-ravaged bloodbath fuelled by greed, conquest, lust for land, gold and wealth, religious and state-sponsored tyranny and of course genocide. These are irrefutable historical facts. But even if we accept these as fact, how do we make sense of our violent, destructive history if we have no ‘seminal moment’ upon which to predicate it. In other words, these historic events did not occur out of thin air…they had to start from somewhere right?
The invention of agriculture (and the idea that triggered it) was that seminal moment. The vile poisons, spoken of earlier, contained within the original idea or seed – that humans could blindly assume control of the planet and begin to interfere with the natural order of plant and animal species – infected the DNA of each successive generation of western civilization and just like a malignant and unstoppable weed it strangled, suffocated and transformed the Earth into the lethally over-populated industrial cesspool that it has become. If one accepts (even for a moment) that the invention of agriculture was both the starting point and seminal moment that birthed the monstrosity we call western civilization (and the industrial age) then the train wreck begins to make sense very quickly. And this observation comes not from a judgemental (good vs. bad) point of view but from a purely clinical assessment of the facts as viewed through the unerring lens of consequence and causality.
All roads lead to Rome…. we can now trace all of our social and environmental ills back to that seminal moment when the elements of interference, manipulation and control were first introduced into our relationship with nature.
September 15th 2018