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Brendan Maloney

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Was the dawn of agriculture a benefit or a tragedy for humans?

In typical linear-thinking fashion, the great majority of scholars consider the dawn of agriculture and animal husbandry the boon that propelled us forward as a species so we became “masters” of our planet.

Is that really the case? An apt quote from Sophocles to consider here:

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

Pulitzer-Prize winning author Jared Diamond (“Guns, Germs and Steel” and “Collapse”) wrote an early passionate thesis about Agriculture titled, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” Here is the link to a 1999 Discover Magazine article on it:

http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race#.UxxyBD9dWSo

Also, the astonishing new finds at the huge 11,500-year-old temple complex at Gobekli tepe in Turkey are very informative: A large cooperative group of Stone Age hunter – gatherers, not agrarians, built it. And, as the archaeologist states at the end of this wonderful National Geographic film on Gobekli tepe, the genesis of this sophisticated architecture surely went farther back into the Ice Age itself!

National Geographic Gobekli tepe film (44 minutes)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT8uSpgNl5M

Gobekli tepe Google Images search

https://www.google.com/search?site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1038&bih=818&q=gobeckli+tepe&oq=gobeckli+tepe&gs_l=i

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    Mar 24 2014: Our human brain has evolved to the point where we can think critically, analyze problems, and solve problems. We have conceived, created, and invented products, tools, and technology - including agriculture and modern medicine - that make our lives "better and safer". In the process, just after a few thousand years, we have learned how to produce vast quantities of food which resulted in the rapid growth of human population. We have now far exceeded the level at which the resources of our planet can sustain. We have produced millions of tons of "stuff" and, after some use, dumped most of that in our lands, rivers, oceans, and atmosphere. That stuff is now gradually "killing" us. It's also important to mention the thousands of weapons of mass destruction that are in the possession of some nations, that at the order of some rogue leader of a nation, the push of a button will annihilate life on Earth as we know it.

    We are the only species on Earth who have become "far too intelligent" for our own good.

    Now we need more intelligence, wisdom, and will to solve the problems we have created. We may gain more intelligence but, will we gain the WISDOM and the WILL to reverse the direction we're in and regain the balance of nature and sanity of humankind?
  • Mar 22 2014: From an evolutionary standpoint, plant and animal domestication has definitely been an enormous benefit for humans, although not so much so for many of the plants and animals not domesticated. It seems our planet is currently experiencing another of its many mass extinctions, which seems to have been brought on primarily, if not exclusively, by us. Agriculture has become something of a curse on humanity simply because we have always been unwilling or unable to control our rates of population growth. Put simply, more people equals more agriculture, and more and more agriculture results in more and more ecological impact and less and less healthy food.
  • Mar 17 2014: Both.
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      Mar 18 2014: I agree, depending on where you/I live. China has had a "rough row to hoe" with a famine nearly every year for the last 2000 years.
      • Mar 18 2014: Why do they, China, suffer it? Can they not imagine another famine? Are they hopelessly optimistic? Do they not write things down? Do they not keep records of famines? Do they burn all records, obliterate all memories of famine, because they cannot suffer the memory? Or suffer the fallibility of the thought? Or feel stupid, ignorant, in the eyes of the rest of the world? Is the answer to these questions the same reason why the rest of the world suffer it? Is the real tragedy not that there have been famines in the past but rather that we (exc. BM) don't learn from them? That there will be another, more? Don't tell me it is because of linear alphabets! Actually, I don't mean that and I welcome a response that mentions linear alphabets.
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          Mar 20 2014: Well, here is what I found in Wiki about Chinese famines. Astonishing numbers of victims recorded in modern times, no data on ancient famines that may have been proportionately horrific. I would guess that once Agriculture created vast populations, there was really no going back to hunter / gatherer lifestyle. Agriculture created kings and emperors that ruled over farmers with an iron fist in every country on Earth, not just China. You will see in link that a number of Chinese empires were overthrown in revolts, just like elsewhere. Kings /emperors typically made sure that their soldiers were well fed, but when soldiers noticed that their families and friends were dying, they were then likely to overthrow their rulers. The vast majority of farmers through history were slaves or serfs, which had very little power. A recent PBS Frontline program showed that women Mexican migrant farm workers in the US are often raped by farm overseers - often Mexican men - so things haven't really changed that much.

          Your questions re the Chinese certainly apply to our modern situation, don't you think? What is needed right now, not tomorrow, is that every family on Earth should only have one child, until an optimal population of 2-3 billion is reached, before Oil Crash famine reduces our population for us, with attendant wars for vanishing resources and food. Want to talk to the Pope about that, Rodrigo Capucho Paulo? I left the Catholic Church when I was 14 and became an atheist, so I am kind of out of that loop...


          Wiki list of Chinese famines
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines_in_China


          PBS Frontline "Rape in the Fields"
          http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rape-in-the-fields/
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    Mar 16 2014: It seems to me we are not qualified to question the evolution of our species as it has only really just begun. Our focus should be on managing the development of our species. Let's revisit this in a few millennia and see where we are.
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      Mar 17 2014: Hi, Jim-

      Re evolution of our species, take a peek at the abstract in my profile (click on my name) Cheers!
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        Mar 17 2014: This topic area is clearly a passion and you have done your homework. Kudos on that. Remember, not all human "tribes" discovered agriculture. The plains Indians (my ancestors) made almost no effort to grow any crops. I would wonder if they were better off? Their lives were, to quote Hobbs on the life of man at war, "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Many of my kin seem to think those were the "good ole days." But I like hot water showers, toilet paper, electric cooking and lighting and driving vs. walking.

        If the whole world were nomadic would man be better off? I think we are passing through a phase just like any child growing up. And, like the child if we get through it we will almost certainly all be better off. I come down on the side that agriculture is the greatest benefit to human kind to date. IMHO.
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      Mar 25 2014: I agree Jim, that it might be useful to focus on better management of our species. We can learn, grow and evolve from the past and hopefully move on with mindful awareness.

      BTW Jim....I love your profile pic....Bohemian Waxwings I believe, with a little sparrow in the background? We have Cedar Waxwings in this area, and waxwings are one of the most elegant birds....IMHO:>)
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        Mar 25 2014: Taken on my back deck in Ridgeville SC. The other is a purple finch. My best bird shot taken totally by chance.
  • Mar 16 2014: Whether or not the dawn of agriculture will in the long run turn out to be a tragedy for humanity I can't really say, I don't have the imagination to grasp the arc of time involved and/or the complexity ofthe issues involved. Here we are though. We can't change the past or ignore it. All we can do is try to make responsible choices to make a better future and I'm just beginning to see that agriculture (not industrial agribusiness) can and should have a big part to play in our future. The sysnthesis of our current level of knowledge and technological capabilities with best of what agriculture (gardening) has to offer seems to have the potential of laying a strong foundation for a beautiful and healthy future society. Who can argue with the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits of reconnecting ourselves with nature. How will our choices and goals change if we reevaluate our identities in the light of a strong connection to the biosphere we are undoubtably a part of. I just watched Ron Finley's TEDtalk and couldn't help but imagine a future where we have one foot in the small and interconnected world that technology has given us and one foot in the garden with the community around us

    http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la
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      Mar 16 2014: Well said Jacob.....we are here.....now.....we cannot change the past, and in my perception, it does no good to insist that we could have....should have....might have done something different.

      We can learn from the past and hopefully make informed responsible choices for our present and future. I agree that sustainable gardening, in our own backyards, community gardens, eating locally grown fresh foods, seems like a stronger foundation for good health:>)
      • Mar 17 2014: Every time we try to change things to better, it might go wrong, but it might go good.

        In my opinion what might do the diference is to record our history and try to see more and better, judge more and better, metric more and better, for when we do something, we do, every time, more and more right.
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          Mar 25 2014: I agree Raymond,
          In my perception, the life experience is an exploration....we have the opportunity to learn, grow and evolve as individuals, while contributing to the whole:>)
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      Mar 16 2014: I agree with you and Colleen, Jacob. But we will soon have "Two feet in the small," not just one, when the 200-year Oil Bubble collapses, and mega farms in California, Mexico and elsewhere no longer send food everywhere. What most folks just don't get is that we must act now, not later, for the collapse to be as gentle as possible. But Pan sui fallenda's (Self- deceiving ape's) brain is simply not equipped for fast action, I fear. Main thing is to start reducing populations now... not tomorrow, but now. If we do not reduce our populations now, Mother Nature will certainly do it for us, as She has so many times in the past. Folks just don't understand how much suffering will, not may, occur. This is why my brothers and I decided not to have children.

      http://media.tumblr.com/ab8840dd07a4686d186cb2f10a3a28a9/tumblr_inline_mlxyq0SKBp1qz4rgp.gif
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        Mar 24 2014: Brendan, we are all wishing for more rain and snow in California, as of this moment. The consequences of a multi-year drought is unthinkable.
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        Mar 25 2014: Brendan,
        Whether or not our environment is threatened, I think it is important that we act responsibly, as good stewards of our earth, which sustains us. I'm glad I learned that as a wee little lass.

        Two of my brothers chose not to have children too Brendan, and another brother adopted two children. People have different ways of addressing the issue for themselves and for the whole, and I think/feel that each person's efforts are valuable. If mega farms in California, Mexico and elsewhere no longer send food everywhere, I will still have gardens, as I've had for 60+ years:>)
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      Mar 17 2014: Sorry for hammering Oil Boom Crash / Agribusiness Crash topic into the ground, Jacob- Its not intended for you as much as TEDsters who are just joining the conversation. All teachers know that you have to repeat something 3 tmes for it to stick, so... I do.

      Of course local farming is the cure, but will it happen before the Crash? From The Atlantic Monthly:

      "In 1910, one third of our 92 million citizens and 38 million workers were on the farm. By 1950, only 10% of Americans worked on farms. By 2010, farmers accounted for only 2% of the workforce, even though we produce and export considerably more food. Machines took over the farm.

      "People are prices. And prices are, to a certain extent, people. When a given process requires fewer workers, its price usually goes down. As durable capital goods like tractors replaced expensive people and hungry horses on our farms, "farmers were able to reduce their costs and pass these social savings along to food buyers," Steckel and White write. The workers released from agriculture fueled our mid-century manufacturing revolution and our modern services economy.

      "The mechanization of the farm invented the modern U.S. economy. It made us richer, better fed, more productive, and more fully served by workers freed from agriculture. But the robots have moved off the farm, and the mechanization of the non-farm economy is currently one of the great challenges facing the middle class. In the 1940s and 1950s, workers released from farming duties went to build things to fill houses that needed refrigerators and other modern appliances."

      So now, of course mechanization and globalization have destroyed the American Middle Class...
      • Mar 17 2014: Not a problem at all sir, some things are worth repeating. I have to call BS on some of the things stated in the article though, ha ha. I'll admit I don't understand all the intricacies of inflation, but healthy food is very expensive these days. "Made us richer, better fed, more productive, and fully served, etc" may be have been true at one point for a short period of time, but its hard for meto see. Maybe it depends on who "us" is! Its true frim what I understand that the middle class did grow for awhile but that period seems pretty well over and while we may be over fed I'm not convinced we're better fed.
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          Mar 25 2014: I cannot reply directly to your recent comment Jacob....
          "I've heard that saying and have always liked it and found it to be true, especially when I have a hammer in my hand ha ha "

          Considering your profession, you have a hammer in your hand quite often...LOL:>)

          Good that you have an experienced gardener as a garden mentor. Even after gardening for many years, it is still an exploration, and there's always something new to learn. I suggest that the only use for a hammer in the garden is pounding in supportive stakes....oh....fixing arbors, and other supports.....oh.....making whimsical garden decorations.....have FUN with the garden Jacob:>)

          Sometimes it is inspirational for new gardeners...flowers, fruits, herbs, veggies all growing happily together:>)
          http://smugdud.smugmug.com/Quintessential%20Vermont )
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          Mar 25 2014: Jacob,
          Response to your comment which begins..."That is beautiful!"

          Thank you.....it is FUN too....good exercise....good for the earth....good for my health....win/win/win.....have fun with gardening:>)
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        Mar 25 2014: Brendan and Jacob,
        I'm sure you've heard that if the only tool one has is a hammer, one will see everything as a nail? Hammering information from a place of fear, with one tool, is not usually as productive as some other possibilities.

        I agree Jacob....while we may be over fed in some areas of our world, it does not mean "better fed". More food does not necessarily mean healthy food. And I think that is an important element in this question...."Was the dawn of agriculture a benefit or a tragedy for humans?" Like most things in our world, it is how we use the practices. BTW Jacob....growing our own food is less expensive, and it could be the healthiest...hope you are enjoying your garden:>)
        • Mar 25 2014: I'm sure learning some new things. My wife's 91 yr old grandfather came out and supervised the planting. He gardened most if his life and was willing to share his experience and knowledge with us. I'm not sure how good a gardener I am but I'm gonna stick with it. Yes I've heard that saying and have always liked it and found it to be true, especially when I have a hammer in my hand ha ha
        • Mar 25 2014: That is beautiful! Our yard looks barren an desolate in comparison, though I have always found mesquite trees pleasant (except when they were flattening our tractor tires). I might not share those pics with my bride as she will surely start cracking the whip and lighting fires under my rear ha ha.
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    Mar 14 2014: Here is a very instructive link, my dear TEDsters - the Wikipedia List of Famines, many of which caused civil unrest, political upheavals and the collapse of a number of dynasties and empires.

    Famine and Plagues often go hand-in-hand because starving people's bodies are too weak to fight off disease and folks don't have the energy to keep homes and cities clean and free of vermin. The brains of starving people are often reduced to 1/3 of their normal size, too, which is never a good thing.

    So obviously, agriculture is a rather mixed blessing. A single event like the eruption of a very large volcano like Laki or Krakatoa can have devastating effects on crops world-wide by creating years that have no summers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines

    The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - War, Plague, Death and Famine, often ride together:

    http://joecruzmn.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/4-horsemen.jpg
  • Mar 12 2014: Ok, I'm going outside and ripping up my vegi patch. Those tomatoes will be the death of me.
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    Mar 21 2014: Ancient clam gardens in the US Pacific Northwest really helped with survival of coastal peoples and it can do the same for coastal populations worldwide today!

    http://www.sfu.ca/pamr/media-releases/2014/ancient-clam-gardens-nurture-food-security.html
    • Mar 21 2014: Actually Brendan you've just blown my Oil Collapse survival strategy. I mean migrating to the coast, not clam farming. Thank you very much.
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        Mar 21 2014: Me, I would migrate to the coast (Left or Right, doesn't matter), board a sailboat and keep on migrating... maybe until I died... gotta be an island with my name on it somewhere...
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        Mar 22 2014: Rodrigo-

        Yeah, maybe a reverse re-enactment of Saint Brendan's voyage from Ireland to America in the mid 6th century is in order for me... I would avoid using a sailing curraugh made from ox hides and white oak strips, though. In the "Navigatio di Sancti Brendani Abbatis," the earliest written account of Brendan's voyage, Jasconius the Whale rises up from under their boat and rubs along it repeatedly, trying to mate with it, as did another whale in Tim Severin's 1977 re-enactment of Brendan's voyage. Sailing is hard enough without a whale trying to screw your boat!

        http://brawnblog.com/current/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Cassock.jpg
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    B Ross

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    Mar 17 2014: The answer depends on how you define "benefit" & "tragedy". Without agriculture, no one would have time to invent stuff like computers or internet.
  • Mar 16 2014: The dawn of agriculture was a tragedy for every human being that perished, is perishing and will perish let alone the poor little animals that could not, cannot and will not be able to run away. The Fertile Crescent's apex predator converted an abundance of calories into an abundance of boredom.
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    Mar 15 2014: Great Apes, etc. all hunter gathers, Homo Sapiens take up agriculture. 12,000 years later, Great Apes, etc. still hunter gathers and Homo Saps are tweeting and taking selfies. So, some could express the purity of hunting gathering, and lament all the travesty that came from farms and bartering. But, will they be using PCs to post their horror at what mankind has become? It would be more honest to carve some pictures on cave walls.
    Just saying.
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      Mar 15 2014: Well, Mike, your cave wall scenario will likely come true when the Internet crashes and populations fall to 2-3 billion when the 200-year-long "Age" of Oil that drove ag to its present height ends, eh? If the great apes aren't all eaten by us for bush meat, their lives will continue as normal, while surviving humans will still be dizzy and buzzed from the hellacious roller coaster ride on this graph... How much starvation and suffering do you thing this graph indicates, Mike? How much cannibalism when folks really get hungry? Hide your puppies!

      http://media.tumblr.com/ab8840dd07a4686d186cb2f10a3a28a9/tumblr_inline_mlxyq0SKBp1qz4rgp.gif
  • Mar 15 2014: Well sir I am officially part of the tragedy, we planted the first veggies in our first garden this afternoon.

    I read the discover article you linked, it made a stong case for your argument. I struggled to understand how populations managed to grow with all the health problems that came with agriculture until I realized that the suffering wasnt happening for everybody equally and the minority that benefited (rulers, kings, elite, etc.) were able to make the other advancements you listed below.
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      Mar 15 2014: Well, for a well-balanced diet you can pick off a few rabbits and groundhogs when they try to raid your garden, even if you use a fence, right? As Lindsay sez below, it is agribusiness that is the problem. Did you scope out the Wiki List of Famines in my last below? Note that China had a famine almost every year for 2000 years, so Wiki didn't bother to list them all in main list!

      Back in the daze I helped a friend do a little guerrilla gardening at night in West Virginia. When the sun rose and we started looking around a bit we noticed two things: deer tracks everywhere and a wide gap in the mountain ridge half a mile away. We had just planted in one of the biggest wildlife thoroughfares in the state... Oops! We knew it was a write-off, but went back 3 weeks later to see the damage. Every plant nibbled to the ground - deer love the stuff - straight tracks going in, zig-zagging, staggering tracks going out... Hope they enjoyed the buzz!
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        Mar 15 2014: In this area Brendan, it is legal to shoot critters when they feast on one's produce. Many of us try to plant enough to share with the critters, and sometimes, it becomes necessary to add more meat to our diets!!! LOL:>)
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          Mar 15 2014: Hi, Colleen!

          I think it was during the Great Depression when so many folks were on the road looking for work, which was often bartered for food, that a law was passed that the first 3 rows of crops along a road could be picked by travelers. This was at a time when 80% of Americans were farmers, so there were a lot of crops along the roads.

          In the PBS American Experience two-part show on the Dust Bowl, on the day that it looked like Congress was going to vote against a bill giving aid to starving Western farm families, a towering dust cloud blown all the way from Oklahoma dimmed the sun in Washington, D.C., so that clueless Congressmen suddenly got a clue and voted for the bill.
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        Mar 15 2014: Bartering is still very popular in this area Brendan. I don't personally have critter challenges with the gardens, because I live on the main street in the village, so it is only smaller critters who visit my gardens....they don't eat much, and I'm willing to share:>)

        However, I have friends who have very extensive gardens who live in a more wooded area, and they have deer eating the food and flowers all the time. They sometimes share venison with me, and I help them with chores at their place.

        I saw the dust bowl series on public tv......it was really devastating! I don't remember the part about "clueless Congressmen", but it was apparent that dust blew from the dust bowl to the east regularly during that time.
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      Mar 15 2014: Good for you Jacob, for planting a garden! The earth up here in the north country, is still covered with snow.....two feet more a couple days ago, so it will be awhile before I can till the earth and plant outside. It is time to start seeds in the greenhouse however, and that will take care of the "spring fever" a little bit!

      Most of what we plant, was at one time growing wild (and still does in some areas), and humans simply brought the plants into their own backyards to make harvesting a little easier, rather than foraging out in the wild for food. Of course, a lot of advancements happened since then!

      I don't think you and I are part of a "tragedy" Jacob, because there are pros and cons to almost everything humans do, and I think we need to discover and honor the balance.
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    Mar 15 2014: "The evolutionary axiom “survival of the fittest” provides a nasty image of all organisms, humans included. This axiom has acquired a status of infallibility, particularly with laissez faire scholars from Herbert Spencer to Milton Friedman. To survive we must compete better, to compete better we must work harder. Any slackers in the natural world of survival would have been weeded out and discarded. The nasty burden of a primitive quest for survival is reinforced by a corporate culture that wants to convince us how much leisure we have in a modern laissez faire economy. Hans believes this without reservation, since he knows early humans did not have access to television, automobiles or other leisure-enhancing technologies." from Essay 22 by Kirk D. Sinclair, PhD
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    Mar 14 2014: the dawn of agribusiness definitely harmful to life & earth
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    Mar 14 2014: At the rate we breed (especially Africa and Asia), we would have been doomed without agriculture.

    Or maybe we wont breed that much.
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      Mar 14 2014: Hi, Feyisayo!

      If you read more of this conversation below, you will see that most of us consider the present world population of 7.2 billion and rising rapidly to be more of a "doom" than life without agriculture. Many folks agree that a sustainable world population might be less than half of what it is now. Do you agree?

      Here is a graph that shows that oil production is what drove agriculture and world populations to their present height. When, not if, oil production falls, so will human populations.

      http://media.tumblr.com/ab8840dd07a4686d186cb2f10a3a28a9/tumblr_inline_mlxyq0SKBp1qz4rgp.gif

      As I told my friend Jacob, both lines of my family came to the US fleeing terrible famines in Ireland and Sweden in the mid- 1800s. Most Africans are well aware that agriculture is a mixed blessing, fine when times are good and unforgiving when times are bad. Of course the was no UNESCO or Red Cross / Red Crescent in the 1800s...

      Best!
  • Mar 13 2014: I think you are missing the point of for why agriculture replaced the virile hunter class. Grain was cultivated to produce alcohol. When you are piss drunk and screwing every thing your grain alcohol eyes see you tend to want to keep the good times rolling and keep some animals close after of course you have already eaten the family cat and dog. Besides domesticated animals eat the same stuff alcohol is made from.

    Also what better way to keep the available females around than to give them a group activity whilst you sleep off last nights hunter clan meeting. I'm sure the meetings were to get ready for the hunt which never happened and when the tribe is not happy because they are hungry they will wonder off to another tribe. No women and children to make the grain to make the alcohol and you are back to eating squirrels, rabbits and carrion. Welcome to civilization we became civilized to make us uncivilized alcoholics. Cheers

    Thanks for the gobeckli tepe link, a friend is traveling in the area and found the link useful.
  • Mar 13 2014: The significance of the Gobekli Tepe find to me is that farming arose to pay for the outrageous but compelling lies that evolved from the entertaining stories that the elders related to hunter/gatherers after they had filled their bellies and got warm by the fire. Farming, religion and story-telling are symptoms of boredom. It is boring at the top of the food chain.
  • Mar 13 2014: Brenden
    Not to diverge too far of track. Read the abract, (great). As a mild to moderate dyslexic, it causes me to wonder if, inherently right-brained dyslexics, currently ~20% of the population, were more prevalent prior to agriculture.
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      Mar 13 2014: Don't know, Bradley, but since left-brain linear alphabets evolved from right-brain pictographs, it is interesting to note that ancient Egypt, the empire that by far outlasted any other at over 3000 years, used hieroglyphs/pictographs, not linear alphabets. Also, no women in history had more personal freedoms than women in ancient Egypt, so theirs was a very balanced-brain culture and that certainly was the key to their longevity... this ain't rocket science.

      Did you look at Gobeckli Tepe Google Images at top? The dawn of art may have been 100,000 years ago, though it really flowered about 50,000 years ago in cave art in several places... Art right-brained, alphabets created much later left-brained.
  • Mar 13 2014: You volunteering to live without agriculture?
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    Mar 13 2014: From Jared Diamond's paper, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.”

    "One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'' for men, 5' 5'' for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5' 3'' for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.

    "At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. "Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was bout twenty-six years," says Armelagos, "but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive."

    "Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p. m. we adopted agriculture. As our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants gradually spread to engulf us all? Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture's glittering facade, and that have so far eluded us?"
    • Mar 13 2014: I have a plan but it involves you commiting suicide so that there will be an apple left on the tree when I come round hunter-gathering.

      The worst mistake made by man wasn't made 10,000 years ago when we opted for economic growth. It is being made right NOW when we fail to see that we have reached the LIMIT of economic growth.
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        Mar 13 2014: Rodrigo -

        Re "When we opted for economic growth," who is the "we" you are referring to?


        From Jared Diamond again, showing that you are wrong about agriculture being merely a modern problem. There is no evidence to support the notion that early on, agriculture really benefited anyone except the power elite. Farmers worked harder and longer for less usable food calories than hunter-gatherers did. Plantation owners, not workers, benefit from plantations. In the US, "share cropping" was merely a new form of slavery after the Civil War.


        "Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.

        "Similar contrasts in nutrition and health persist on a global scale today. To people in rich countries like the U. S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an elite, dependent on oil and minerals that must often be imported from countries with poorer health and nutrition. If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in Ethiopia or a bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would be the better choice?"
        • Mar 15 2014: I, Brendan Maloney, President of the World, of hemispherically-balanced brain since counselling for multi-perish epi-genetic memory trauma, declare, in this year 10AO(AfterOil), the new Flag of the World which is the old UN flag with a spinning wheel nicked off the old Rep.India flag and declare a New Golden Age of Vegetarian Farming.
    • Mar 13 2014: Dr. DIamond has a history as an academic bomb-thrower, you might want to know that. He likes to take extreme hypotheses and see how far he can push them. He also happens to be a very talented writer who is very careful to not present evidence that might contradict his hypotheses.
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        Mar 13 2014: Did you read his 3-page paper that I included the link to, or are you just sniping? Re your shallow comment, "You volunteering to live without agriculture?," you are obviously not taking time to follow the conversation, as usual, Bryan. My very first reply to a comment was,

        "As many of my debate topics are, this is merely a philosophical exercise, especially since agriculture/animal husbandry is a 10,000- 12,000 year-old fait accompli. But let's have some fun with it..."

        Relax, Bryan. Take a few deep breaths and follow the entire flow of a conversation before jumping in. Let's treat the question I asked as the question it is. Examining the evidence and this conversation in full, what is your personal answer?

        "Was the dawn of agriculture a benefit or a tragedy for humans?"

        Your question, "You volunteering to live without agriculture?," adds nothing whatever to this debate... it is just a verbal bomb, like those you were disparaging of. Since you find fault with Diamond's thesis, what is your counter evidence?
        • Mar 13 2014: My reply isn't at all shallow. If agriculture is such a disaster, without net benefit, then any responsible person must immediately live without it. If it is actually quite beneficial and only an idiot would volunteer to live without it, then any "debate" on the subject is just public masturbation.
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        Mar 14 2014: Bryan -

        The last time I checked your profile, you called yourself a philosopher and a biologist. Diamond's thesis has everything to do with biology, yet you have yet to propose a counter-argument to him.

        What part of this clear statement don't you understand? "As many of my debate topics are, this is merely a philosophical exercise, especially since agriculture/animal husbandry is a 10,000- 12,000 year-old fait accompli. But let's have some fun with it..."

        Last time I checked, masturbation, public or otherwise, is quite fun. Are you volunteering to be pivot man in this little circle-jerk?
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        Mar 14 2014: Bryan-

        Did your family come to the US during the Great Potato Famine, like so many Irish families like mine did? Or are you magically descended from Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland? If you can only trace your Irish line back to the 1840s, don't be surprised. The British burned as many Irish birth records as they could, so the world wouldn't know how many Irish died with green mouths from eating grass while British ships fully loaded with Irish grain and beef sailed out of Irish ports to Britain and elsewhere.

        A lot of US Irish say, "My family came from Cork." Wrong - Cork was merely the largest port that famine ships sailed from, carrying people from all over Ireland the hell out of the country.
  • Mar 12 2014: Starvation is a symptom of farming. Warfare and tyranny are symptoms of boredom. Boredom is a symptom of farming. The solution to all 3 problems is for the human race to become aware of the spare time that farming gives us so that we can re-consider, with our collective brain, what we do with that spare time. I consider the tragedy of agriculture to be suffered by the poor little animals that can't run away. Should they suffer short, miserable lives so that we can butcher each other in pointless wars?
  • Mar 12 2014: Brendan, what an interesting topic,

    I appreciate modern industrial agriculture, I think it is the only way to supply the population we have today but I also agree with you and Rodrigo that different practices would be better if we had a smaller population to work with.

    As for now, one improvement that could be made is if people played a greater role in the production of their own food. Food is important, and alot of people (including myself) do not contribute to its production, handing over the responsibility to a smaller concentration of people. In fact, I would not be surprised if a large portion of people would not be able to recognize their own food in crop form.

    This frees us to do other things but no one needs a keen eye to recognize the problems it poses.
  • Mar 12 2014: Id say that its relative to what viewpoint you're looking from. A somewhat selfish viewpoint is that without the dawn of agriculture you and I wouldn't be here to have this discussion, and I'm pretty fond of both being here and having these discussions. From a broader viewpoint, say that of humanity as a species or that of the biosphere itself, then agriculture would likely have to be classified as a tragedy.
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      Mar 12 2014: Actually, we were doing relatively well, though we were a bit stunted by agriculture physically and mentally, until the first modern oil well was pumped in what is now Azerbaijan in 1848 and sent everything into hyper-drive. Problem: population crash probably won't be as smooth as its rise was and likely will be very ugly indeed, with mass starvation and wars over resources, with some of those wars perhaps employing nukes.

      Then there is the problem of the "super insects" we have created with massive use of ever more toxic pesticides: DDT used to kill tobacco cut worms easily, but now they have evolved so they eat DDT crystals for food! Insect plagues in the future will be of greater-than-biblical proportions, I fear.
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      Mar 13 2014: Hi, Jacob!

      Re your observation , "without the dawn of agriculture you and I wouldn't be here to have this discussion..."

      I agree whole-heartedly! Without the Irish potato famine that drove my father's family to the US in search of food and a new life and the similar famine in Sweden that drove my mother's family here, I would certainly not be here! But of course that isn't what you meant, now was it?

      You told me you were part Swede, so you might explore when your family came here from there. If you are part Irish, well... you can see where I'm going, my man! Mass famines are unique to agricultural communities.
      • Mar 13 2014: Hey we may be related after all. My maternal grandfather's grandfather came from Sweden and his grandmother was Irish! Ill see you on ancestey.com sir. Ha ha. That is very true but I was actually thinking back a bit further, without agriculture populations would have grown a lot slower and while there would likely be humans here they would not be you or I, as the bloodlines would not have followed the path it took for us to be here enjoying this chat today.
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          Mar 13 2014: Re: "I was actually thinking back a bit further, without agriculture populations would have grown a lot slower..."

          Pray tell me where on these graphs you see a rapid rise in populations due to agriculture? I certainly see the huge spike caused by oil production that triggered the very recent and utterly unsustainable rise in ag and populations.

          The only thing that insured that I am present and accounted for in this conversation was the open immigration policies in the United States at the time when both lines of my ancestors were starving because of crop failures, one from a plant disease that killed every spud in Ireland and the other from a series of extra long hard winters in a land that always has long, hard winters. If the US treated the Irish and Swedes like it did the Jews just before WW II, turning ships full of Irish and Swedes away from our ports, like it did to the Jews fleeing the Nazis, I, for one among millions, would not be here.

          http://www.investmentu.com/images/world-pop-growth.jpg

          http://www.ldolphin.org/poprecent.gif
      • Mar 13 2014: Didn't say there was a rapid rise in population growth due to agriculture, just that population growth would have been a lot slower without it. Do you figure wewould have had the steady growth over the last 10,000 years wwithout the spread of agriculture? It seems like, though its just speculation, there would have been a leveling off as hunting and gathering wouldn't be able to sustain an ever growing population. Maybe we can look for charts going back farther. As to you and I being here, without agriculture there wouldnt have been any crops to fail in the first place. What would the world and the cultures in it look like if we had been hunters and gatherers for thw last 10,000 years, maybe more balanced and sustainable, but one thing is probable, it wouldn't look anything like it does today.
      • Mar 13 2014: One thing we can tell from the chart you linked is that from 200,000 years ago till 10,000 years ago we had only grown to at most 10,000,000 people and in the last 10,000 years we have grown to where we are now, though there is no argument about industrialization and oil production causing an enormous boom(not boon ha ha) to our ppopulation growth. Maybe oil production and industrialization is the real tragedy for humans and the rest of the life on earth.
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          Mar 13 2014: I'm loving it, Jacob - this kind of exchange is what debates are all about!

          Now, if agriculture was the only advance in the last 12,000 years since hunting and gathering, your point about a steady population increase - though I still think it was very gradual, according to the graphs - might be valid. But a heck of a lot of advances occurred in the last 12,000 years that had little or nothing to do with agriculture:

          "Why is it continually inferred that the age of the “pagan” religions, the time of the worship of the female deities was dark and chaotic, mysterious and evil, without the light of order and reason that supposedly accompanied later male religions, when it has been archaeologically confirmed that the earliest law, government, medicine, agriculture, metallurgy, wheeled vehicles, ceramics, textiles and written languages were initially developed in societies that worshiped the Goddess?"
          -Merlin Stone, quoted in The Alphabet versus the Goddess

          Now, as I understand population growth, people have to live longer in order to have more children. There is quite a bit of evidence that early farmers were actually living shorter lives than hunter-gatherers, so something or a number of other things must have been working to extend the lives of people other than agriculture. Merlin Stone lists several likely candidates, and I can think of more. But let's examine the ones Stone lists:

          Law: A lot of family blood-feuds prevented by executing criminals or forcing them to make reparations.

          Government: In ancient Egypt, taxes were tied directly to how high the Nile river rose each year. One hell of an idea - you can't tax a drought -starved corpse, right?

          Wheeled vehicles: Sent everything into overdrive.

          Textiles: Amerindian women wore their molars down to nothing chewing hides long enough to soften them. Textiles allowed us to venture into hot and cold climates better.

          Pottery: Kept food from rats/mice.

          Medicine, metallurgy
      • Mar 13 2014: I just finished watching the Nature program "Dogs That Changed The World" and would humbly like to add the domestication of dogs to your list of advancements that aided population growth. I never really understood how much of an impact the relationship mankind has had with dogs aided our survival (especially in harsh climates) and helped us spread so far and wide across the planet. Yes gradual is a good desciptor for the trend shown in the graph and as so many aspects of our history the factors that brought us here are complex and interconnected to a point where it is hard for me to imagine us getting where we are with any one factor missing. I don't think of the early goddess religions as being dark, chaotic, or evil but they are mysterious to me, but that is probably just because I am ignorant about them. And when I think of our later religions one of the first words that pops into my head is violent, not order or reason ha ha. Even rulers who claimed to be buddhists had violent histories. Though I must add that in my opinion, these are less the fault of the religions and more the effects of power hungry and manipulative men and women that harness the power of religion. Hey brother I always enjoy our conversations and this is a great topic!
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          Mar 14 2014: Fun links here re occupations in the ancient world and not-so-ancient world. While farmers themselves often fared poorly, as they so often do today in most of the world, many of these folks lived longer and thus increased ancient populations. Also, kings and lords, who had all the best food including a lot of meat, fish and fruits that peasants did not have, sired hundreds of offspring from common women and noble women, passing on their superior genes and increasing life spans. A huge number of modern humans can trace their lineage back to royalty because so many bastards were sired by them.

          Ancient Greeks by occupations. Given the evidence of Stone Age Gobeckli Tepe, it is not unreasonable to assume that some of these occupations existed in the Stone Age, at least in prototype versions. Gobeckli Tepe surely could not have been built without a surplus of food and manpower/man-hours. Surpluses of food create lots of new occupations... star-gazing over many long cold nights requires lots of food calories, and both hunters and farmers needed star gazers/ calendar keepers to tell them when to hunt or plant, right? Man! I just noticed that farmers aren't even listed as an occupation in Greek or Roman lists... No respect at all! Slaves are listed.... maybe most/all farmers were slaves?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_Greeks_by_occupation

          Ancient Romans by occupation: Note - assassins in the Roman empire were a huge class. The power elite protected themselves with dozens/hundreds of bodyguards, so successful assassinations, of which there were dozens, were often pitched battles, not a knife in the dark or poison. Hah- Food Taster was an occupation back then, too!

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_Romans_by_occupation


          List of obsolete occupations - every author should keep this list on tap in order to stretch readers a bit!

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Obsolete_occupations
      • Mar 14 2014: Re Gobekli Tepe, I was wondering about the food supply the other day after reading your wiki link and watching that video. I know they mentioned that there was harvesting of wild grains going on, but I wondered if maybe there was a abundant source of meat handy that fueled the construction, something like the enormous herds of buffalo that uesd to roam the great plains. I know you also mentioned the auroch being domesticated. Were there large herds of auroch in that area and/or were they domesticated by that time?
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          Mar 14 2014: Anatolia / Turkey is the gateway between East and West, with the narrowest of bottlenecks at Byzantium / Constantinople / Istanbul. Ever since I was a kid first looking at a globe, my eyes and mind were immediately drawn there and I would love to visit it sometime! The amount of trade and knowledge that passed through Istanbul from both directions simply boggles the mind.

          From Wiki:
          "Because of its strategic location at the intersection of Asia and Europe, Anatolia has been the center of several civilizations since prehistoric times. Neolithic settlements include Çatalhöyük, Çayönü, Nevali Cori, Hacilar, Göbekli Tepe, Norsuntepe, Kosk and Mersin.

          "Çatalhöyük (Central Turkey) is considered the most advanced of these, and Çayönü in the East the oldest (c. 7250 - 6750 BCE). We have a good idea of the town layout at Çayönü, based on a central square with buildings constructed of stone and mud. Archeological finds include farming tools that suggest both crops and animal husbandry as well as domestication of the dog. Religion is represented by figurines of Cybele, a mother goddess. Hacilar (Western Turkey) followed Çayönü, and has been dated to 7040 BCE.[5]"

          If you look at this map, Gobeckli Tepe is situated halfway between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where the so-called Cradle of Civilization is. "Location, location, location," right? I suspect that migration and trade routes delivered most things needed for survival right to Gobeckli Tepe. Possible "lunch wagon" animal migration routes there, too.

          http://realhistoryww.com/world_history/ancient/Images_Anatolia/map_anatolia.jpg
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    Mar 12 2014: .
    Yes.
    It was a tragedy!
    Other technologies, too.

    Reason:
    Technology hardly meets the ultra-high accuracy required by us.
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    Mar 11 2014: Was the dawn of agriculture a benefit or a tragedy for humans?

    What if we view the issue from another perspective:

    1) There are now 7.2 billion humans on earth today, can the countries of the world feed their citizens without agriculture?

    2) If humans did not develop agriculture the way it is today, what could be the other alternatives?

    3) Paint a scenario of modern humans without agriculture.

    "... Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies. Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100–500 meters (330–1,640 ft) to the site.[30] The pillars weigh 10–20 metric tons (10–20 long tons; 11–22 short tons), with one still in the quarry weighing 50 tons.[31] It is generally believed that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled whatever ceremonies took place. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly caste—much earlier than such social distinctions developed elsewhere in the Near East.[7]

    Around the beginning of the 8th millennium BCE Göbekli Tepe ("Potbelly Hill") lost its importance. The advent of agriculture and animal husbandry brought new realities to human life in the area, and the "Stone-age zoo" (Schmidt's phrase applied particularly to Layer III, Enclosure D) apparently lost whatever significance it had had for the region's older, foraging, communities. But the complex was not simply abandoned and forgotten to be gradually destroyed by the elements. Instead, each enclosure was deliberately buried under as much as 300 to 500 cubic meters (390 to 650 cu yd) of refuse consisting mainly of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools; many animal, even human, bones have also been identified in the fill.[32] Why the enclosures were buried is unknown, but it preserved them for posterity."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe
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      Mar 11 2014: Hi, Rodrigo!

      As many of my debate topics are, this is merely a philosophical exercise, especially since agriculture/animal husbandry is a 10,000- 12,000 year-old fait accompli. But let's have some fun with it...

      1) "There are now 7.2 billion humans on earth today..." I would consider that more of a tragedy than a benefit, for both us and our planet, because I feel that a truly sustainable world population might be around 3 billion; given our desire for luxuries as well as necessities.

      2) Both modern agriculture production and world population is directly tied to gas and oil production. See graph in this link. Fertilizers, pesticides, transportation of farm crops, refrigeration, heating and cooking are all products of fossil fuels. When, not if, these fossil fuel sources collapse, so will our artificially inflated human populations. This graph shows why I think 3 billion is the maximum sustainable population figure, too. Agriculture 50 years from now will be what it was 100 years ago - locally grown.

      http://media.tumblr.com/ab8840dd07a4686d186cb2f10a3a28a9/tumblr_inline_mlxyq0SKBp1qz4rgp.gif

      3) I can't really envision modern humans without agriculture... But wait, Rodrigo... I can show you what we looked like before agriculture and I suppose you could extrapolate this into a future without agriculture... taller, stronger, bigger-brained humans! Re bigger brains in Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers in this image, consider that wolves have much larger brains than dogs because they have to live by their wits while domesticated dogs (and humans) often do not! Primate brains, larger than most mammal brains per body weight, are the product of a primate diet of grain, fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, small mammals, etc. When early agrarians gave up their "monkey diets" for much more limited diets, their/our brains atrophied as a result, being 10% smaller than Cro-Magnon brains.

      http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2011/06/13/article-2002684-0C87CA7700000578-362_468x266.jpg
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        Mar 12 2014: Hello Brendan,

        I agree with you completely. If you have read some of my contributions on the other topics, I basically mentioned that the sustainable carrying capacity of our Earth is about 2-3 billion humans.

        But I will visit this topic again. I'm just so busy putting out little fires in my small business. Enjoy being part of TED. You are one the most interesting ones.

        Wish you the best.
      • Mar 13 2014: Brenden
        All good points. Still, agriculture allowed humans to localise and specialize. This in turn led to building, trade and written language. Sure it also led to war and disease, but written language allowed the accumulation of knowledge. That knowledge has come with a price, but romanticise as you will, we can still look and see the lives of simple hunter-gatherer societies today and be glad of what we have.
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          Mar 13 2014: Hi, Bradley -

          If by "we" you mean us fat Westerners, your point is valid. Otherwise, not so much. Today's hunter-gatherers have been pushed into the very edges of viable existence by farmers who have grabbed the best lands, so contemplating modern H-Gs is of little practical use here. Historical scope is everything when discussing topics like this one.

          The biggest problem today is that because of mass media, everyone on the planet now wants to live exactly like we greedy, fat Americans do. Overpopulation, brought to us by - you guessed it - agriculture - is problem #1. Contemplate deeply the present pop. of 7.2 billion and rapidly rising, Bradley, then further contemplate what our planet would be like if all 7.2 billion people were greedy, fat Americans! That thought should drive anyone with a brain to drink, I should think!

          Re the "benefits" of written language, please read the abstract in my profile- just click on my name.

          Best!
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          Mar 13 2014: Hi, Bradley-

          Here is the relevant passage from my "Brain Catastrophes by the Numbers: Mental Minefields We Must Traverse to Survive" abstract in my TED profile:

          "Four: The dawn of agriculture ushered in two competing concepts that mirror our brain's hemispheres: The right brain nurturing of crops and animals and the left brain acquisition of wealth. Nearly universal female-affirmative goddess cultures provide evidence that both our brain hemispheres and our societies were largely in balance at that time. However, agriculture concentrated and increased food resources, populations, wealth and power so that any added brain catastrophe might be as devastating as a lit match tossed into a gunpowder magazine.

          "Five: The invention of linear alphabets ignited that gunpowder. The abstract letters of l-i-n-e-a-r a-l-p-h-a-b-e-t-s only acquire meaning when perceived in a sequential manner, so reading strongly stimulates the abstract, linear, and sequential left brain. The alphabetic worm - a faulty virus-riddled software program - literally re-wires the hard drive in the Apple computers of our brains via epigenetics by creating millions of new glial and neural cells and pathways in the troublesome left brain. The resulting glitches spread throughout the data storage systems of our cultures and then cascade from one generation to the next in our traditions, laws and religious dogmas, to the great detriment of modern humanity largely lacking the positive right brain input of women."