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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:


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)


Gobekli tepe Google Images search



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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."

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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.


      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.

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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.

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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."

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