Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind: serialised in quotes VIII: the beginning of politics, wars, art, and philosophy

Around 10 000 BC, before the transition to agriculture, earth was home to about 5-8 million nomadic foragers. Bu the first century AD, only 1-2 million foragers remained (mainly in Australia, America, and Africa), but their numbers were dwarfed by the world’s 250 million.

Attachment to “my house” and separation from the neighbours became the psychological hallmark of a much more self-centred creature.

For most of history these man-made enclaves [villages] remained very small, surrounded by expanses of untamed nature. The earth’s surface measures about 510 million square Km, of which 155 million is land. As late as AD 1400, the vast majority of farmers, along with their plants and animals, clustered together in an area just 11 million square Km—2% of the planet’s surface. Everywhere else was too cold, too hot, too dry, too set, or otherwise unsuited for cultivation. This miniscule 2% of the earth’s surface constituted the stage on which history unfolded.

The Agricultural Revolution made the future far more important than it had ever been before. Farmers must always keep the future in mind and must work in its service.

The stress of farming had far-reaching consequences. It was the beginning of large scale political and social systems.

Everywhere, rulers and elites sprang up, living off the peasants’ surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.

The forfeited food surpluses fuelled politics, wars, art, and philosophy.

The extra they [the farmers] produced fed the tiny minority of elites—kings, government officials, soldiers, priests, artists, and thinkers—who fill the history books. History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

 

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