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How to Change the Course of History
(Thu, 26 Apr 2018 20:15:19 +0000, 08:15 PM)Odin Wrote: Yes, it will be interesting to see more evidence from Graeber and Wengrow regarding egalitarian cities. However, they are not the first to make this claim. I've read similar opinions by other archaeologists.

Agriculture is definitely a turning point in human evolution, no question. It's an important one. I think it's also important to keep in mind that agriculture was one of several other turning points. e.g. the use of fire, tool-making, symbolic culture, moving out of Africa, adoption of clothing, building stone monuments, going from animism to religion, sedentism, living in cities, etc.

So which one should we say is THE turning point? Which one represents represents the Fall?  Maybe it's not agriculture, but possibly living in cities? Or perhaps technology? Also, why should we pick just one turning point as being the culprit? Maybe civilization can only come about as a result of multiple social practices coming together in ways that usually do not? This goes back to what you were saying before about a confluence of factors.

I feel it's also worth questioning our tendency to think of all these elements as suddenly appearing out of nowhere. One minute we are happy hunter gatherers, and the next minute we are domesticating plants and animals and 'dominating' nature. Or, one minute we are living an unmediated existence, and the next we are alienated with symbolic thought. Or, one minute we are making tools, and the next we are making commodities with technology. We tend to forget that these practices are all based and built on previous ones within processes that change gradually over time. It was hunter gatherers, after all,  who built Stonehenge and Gobekli Tepe. It was hunter gatherers who first planted seeds, and it was hunter gatherers who settled into city living. These things did not come about through some alien force from outer space. Hunter gatherers (some at least) changed themselves into civilization over time. Technology, for example, arose out of a previous division of labor that already and always existed within hunter gatherer societies. The basic elements of these transformations were already there, they did not come out of nowhere. They simply intensified and morphed over time.

So I think the question of origins has to be rethought. What is the 'origin' of civilization? How far back do we go? And how do we determine what exactly is an 'origin' point? How do we, or can we, know which one of these many changes is the one that lead us down the garden path? Which one was the actual misstep? Or is this even the right question?
I've read several claims, but I have not reviewed any literature to understand how they substantiate those claims, beyond "I would like this to be true, so therefore maybe it is".

I would say that there is no one turning point, nor that it was sudden. And I agree that there is sometimes a tendency to think like this, no doubt influenced by the simplifications made by popular books from the likes of Jared Diamond. The origin of civilisation is us. This misstep/original sin way of thinking is, to me, missing the point, and setting up an unfavourable and reactionary "how do we reverse it?" discourse. I think it is time to recognise that civilisation is the result of our activity, and that society has, through thousands of years, been systemically reinforcing activities of a certain kind. Viz., civilisation is picking up speed, and we have allowed it to take this trajectory, as a species. It is time for a conscientious humankind, if there is to be a humankind at all.

(Fri, 27 Apr 2018 21:16:27 +0000, 09:16 PM)Odin Wrote: There have been a few scholars who contended that early Mesopotamia, for example, was mostly egalitarian, at least in terms of wealth.

Frank Hole:  Upon this Foundation: The Ubaid Reconsidered. 1989
Hole claims that early prehistoric Mesopotamia was economically egalitarian, and the only authority was in the religious sphere of priests.

And to some extent David Oates in The Rise of Civilization 1976

Gil Stein argues more or less the same thing in Chiefdoms and Early States in the Near East: The Organizational Dynamics of Complexity 1994.

More recently, Jason Ur has argued that ancient Mesopotamia was based on the metaphorical extension of the household and kinship system, and not on bureaucratic elites.

Households and the Emergence of Cities in Ancient Mesopotamia - Jason Ur.

This is a minority position within archaeology. Most believe that early cities were stratified from the beginning. But we'll see if Graeber and Wengrow can provide more evidence. Not sure when their book is coming out. I suspect not until next year.

If you think about it though, it does make some kind of sense. When egalitarian hunter gatherers started living together in larger groups, settled down, and more hunter gatherer groups came to join them, then you would expect them to try and keep their egalitarian ethos. As their residences turned into cities, they would have likely tried to hold onto their anarchist tendencies as long as they could, until some other factors (perhaps scale, craft specialization, trade, or religion? etc) began to converge, influencing social relations into a more hierarchical direction. I think its entirely possible that there was a delayed effect from urbanization, that some time after organizing themselves into early cities, it still took hunter gatherers a while to gradually lose their egalitarian ways.

So when JZ writes: ""We know that given a choice, humans prefer to remain hunters and gatherers; we do not settle permanently into the toil of farming until it is forced upon us," I have to ask, 'forced on us' by who? Aliens? It was hunter gatherers themselves who decided to start planting crops. lol

Thank you for this list. I have some reading to do! And I agree on your point against JZ's rhetoric.
There is competition for resources namely, Darwinism, we were naturally selected, hence 7 billion of us going strong. I digress, I'm not so sure there is no god either, anyways, as for egalitarianism, there ought to be more of it in the hunter gatherer sense of the word. I really recommend reading John Zerzan's "Future Primitive." Excellent read. He basically states at one point women did most of the gathering for their tribes and well were in charge of making the decisions for the herd.

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