May 14, 2006

 The world in a blade of grass

Grass Ronda.jpg

A one-minute two-stroke history of humanity:
Modern humans emerged in Africa about 100,000 years ago, skilled hunter-gatherers like their hominid predecessors. In the expansion phase, we spread over six continents, while our culture differentiated into around 10,000 language communities. About 10,000 years ago, roughly when humans were reaching Patagonia, women gatherers in the Fertile Crescent domesticated grasses into cereal crops, and male hunters tamed dogs, sheep and goats. This revolution triggered population growth, specialisation and social stratification, organised religion, science, writing, and states. The interaction of states by trade, cultural exchange, warfare, genocide and law drives the contraction phase of human history, with steadily decreasing cultural diversity. We are now in the final phase, nearing a global unity - of peace or self-destruction.
(115 words)

The domestication of grass is the central event of secular history.

This drastically simplified account is drawn impressionistically from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and the moral from his Collapse.)

At such a heroic (or heroically foolish) scale, the persistence of claims to sovereign independence by states at this late stage of the big crunch is a striking anomaly. We are now down to two genuinely autonomous powers, the USA and China, and neither is capable of establishing a global imperium. So I'm afraid it's a choice between a global technocracy (foreshadowed by the IMF, the WTO, the EU, the Internet governance system, and the IPCC) and Diamondian collapse. In what sense can a global polity of 6 billioo be a democracy?

Fundamentalists can console themselves with the thought that Genesis is right: it's all the fault of those Neolithic Eves that ate in Eden the seeds of the real "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", grass.

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