3.10.10

TURNING BACK THE CLOCK. The self-styled progressives like to use that locution as a smackdown. Point out something wrong with a technocratic approach and prepare for the suggestion that Louis XVI's France or Dickens's England or Hoover's America is right around the corner.

On the other hand, when one self-styled progressive sees something wrong with contemporary life, even Louis XIV or Attilla the Hun advanced too far. The roots of our current problems of climate change and resource depletion go back 6,000 years to the arrival of farming. I can't make stuff like this up.
Why, and how, the change [to animal husbandry] took place is still an archaeological mystery. For my part, I am interested in the consequences rather than the mechanism of this introduction. Within a couple of hundred years of the arrival of the first sheep on British shores, it seems that the hunter-gatherer way of life had all but disappeared across the UK.
Because the herders figured out that being hungry was an option, not an imperative?
Farming bought benefits, but with a sting in the tail. More reliable food production led to population increase; food surplus and a settled lifestyle facilitated innovation: we can track an exponential increase in technological development from the arrival of pottery to present day Tupperware. The specialisation that first developed in the neolithic period has led to our almost complete dissociation from the means of production on which we now rely.
Which means, for example, that a lecturer of archaeology can post an essay to a Web site without ever having to contemplate the potential of a soldering iron as a sex toy.
Of course we could solve the problems of today if we reverted to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but global populations and changed circumstances make that impossible. There is no simple solution. The answers offered by an analysis of the past are more general; they relate to scale and they are actions that we can take on board, though we may not like their message. We need, for example, to reduce our individual energy consumption: we can do that; we need to become more self-sufficient: we can do that; we need to see the world differently: no problem?
No problem.
The real rewards will go to the people who develop backstop technologies, possibly using renewable energy sources, including breeder reactors. Reversion to the world of Pieter Bruegel the Elder is a second-best choice.

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