Sunday, November 06, 2005

Putting Food on the Table

Since I've first read Ishmael , and the rest of Daniel Quinn's work, this quote from Beyond Civilization has stuck in my mind:

"Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key--and putting it there is the cornerstone of our economy, for if the food wasn't under lock and key, who would work?"

He than goes on to say...

"People don't plant crops because it's less work, they plant crops because they want to settle down and live in one place. An area that is only foraged doesn't yield enough human food to sustain a permanant settlement. To build a village, you must grow crops--and this is what most aboriginal villagers grow: some crops. They don't grow all their food. They don't need to.

"Once you begin turning all the land around you into cropland, you begin to generate enormous food surpluses, which have to be protected from the elements and from other creatures--including other people. Ultimately they have to be locked up. Though it surely isn't recognized at the time, locking up the food spells the end of tribalism and beginning of the hierarchal life we call civilization.

"As soon as the storehouse appears, someone must step forward to guard it, and this custodian needs assistants, who depend on him entirely, since they no longer earn a living as farmers. In a single stroke, a figure of power appears on the scene to control the community's wealth, surrounded by a cadre of loyal vassals, ready to evolve into a ruling class of royals and nobles.

"This doesn't happen among part-time farmers or among hunter-gatherers (who have no surpluses to lock up). It happens only among people who derive their entire living from agriculture--people like the Maya, the Olmec, the Hohokam, and so on."

I bet if I asked most people if they like their job most would say no. In fact, I wouldn't be afraid to say that over 90% would say no. But then if I tried to explain to them why they have to work from what I just quoted out of Quinn's Beyond Civilization they would probably think I'm speaking a different language. I mean that's what most people go to work for is to put the "locked up" food on the table, right? Why aren't more people who hate there jobs trying to unlock the food? Are these the right questions to ask?...Hmmmn

3 comments: said...
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AzraelsJudgement said...

I would have to say this was my first awakening to what Quinn was trying to say and what friends of mine were saying who convinced me to finally read Ishmael.

Curt said...

Hi AzraelsJudgement,

Am I hearing you say that this post was your first awakening to what Quinn was trying to say?