Saturday, November 21, 2020

Wild Free and Happy Sample 50


[Note: This is the fiftieth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews.  These samples are not freestanding pieces.  They will be easier to understand if you start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE — if you happen to have some free time.  If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd is in the process of reading and recording my book HERE.


As discussed earlier, humans originated on the tropical savannahs of east Africa.  For most of the human saga, we were strong, healthy, nearly naked tropical critters with beautiful brown skin and curly hair.  In the tropics, winters were not cold, and food was available year round, so there was no need to preserve and store food.  There was no need to invent technology for staying warm, like protective clothing and shelter.

Because they were nomads, hoarding personal belongings would have made no sense.  Hauling stuff across roadless wilderness was hard work.  Because they lived simply, they didn’t need much stuff.  Instead, their survival largely depended on the knowledge stored in the glop between their ears.  For them, the keys to survival included cooperation and sharing, working well together.  Hunter-gatherers were egalitarian, everyone was equal.  Nobody gave orders, or took them.  No one went hungry unless everyone did.

The berry patch was freely open to all.  If a wandering forager picked some berries, they were hers to share and eat.  If I killed a kudu, the event was a perfectly normal and natural, like the sun rising at dawn.  Nobody owned the animal, no one got upset.  It would be carried back to camp, shared with the band, making everyone happy.  All was good.  If a lion ate my brother, nobody exploded with rage.  Lions ate many brothers and sisters, because they were good to eat.  We all feed each other.

In the tropics, some sort of food was generally available year round.  From week to week, folks knew the prime time for various munchies, and where to find them.  They regularly visited the wild buffet, and took what they needed from the daily specials.  Long term food storage was unnecessary and absurd. 

Big Mama Nature devoted a couple million years to fine tuning the evolution of tropical primates for survival in tropical climates, our home sweet home, where we belonged.  Compared to today, our ancient ancestors would seem to have been simple, stable, sane, and sustainable.  They were not two-legged category 5 hurricanes, like modern consumers.  Things were relatively cool for a very long time (sort of).  It wasn’t until much later that some sorcerers discovered the Fountain of Progress, guzzled its hallucinogenic fluids, and started smashing things.

Snow Country Colonization

As discussed earlier, maybe 100,000 years ago, some intrepid pioneers began migrating from Africa into Asia.  They wandered eastward through tropical lands, eventually reaching Australia.  The pioneers had a great time, and found many wonderful things to eat.  Quite a bit later, some of them wandered northward, into regions having a temperate climate, snow country. 

In portions of northern Eurasia, they discovered vast steppe and prairie grasslands that spanned from central Europe, east to the Pacific coast.  Temperate grasslands were ideal habitat for nurturing large herds of large herbivores, the food most cherished by hunter-gatherers.  It was as if they had stumbled into an unimaginable Serengeti-like heaven of limitless meat.  Joy!

Oddly, this was a bit like polar bears migrating into steaming hot Congo rainforests.  The notion of tropical primates colonizing snow country was equally silly.  The colonists were not born with fur coats.  They were not capable of hibernation.  They were too big to easily travel across deep snow, or thin ice.  Food was scarce during the winter months.  They knew little if anything about food preservation and long-term food storage.  But they were spellbound by the availability of so much meat!  Might there be some way that they could possibly make a home in this land?

The colonists proceeded to improve their skills at hunting, trapping, and surviving the long and frigid winters.  Over time, they got a bit too skilled.  As generations passed, the abundance of game gradually diminished.  Some species blinked out forever.  By and by, folks began fooling around with horticulture and herding, setting the stage for the dawn of plant and animal domestication.

I’ve already pointed out the obvious fact that the domestication of plants and animals was a sharp change of direction in the human saga.  It forced us into the express lane to a turbulent future.  I must emphasize that it’s also important to understand that the mere fact that hunter-gatherers successfully colonized snow country — thousands of years before domestication — was itself a crucial turning point, a necessary prerequisite.  Domestication originated in regions having a temperate climate, as did the first civilizations.  Colonization unlocked the gate to dangerous realms.

Energy Storage and Risks

In snow country, hunters faced more challenges than their ancestors had in Africa.  Back in the tropics there was no frigid season, so no need for the long-term storage of food energy.  If hyenas snatched the kudu you just killed, you may have lost one day’s effort, or less.  In snow country, the two options were store energy or starve.  Many weeks of hard work were invested in creating their winter food stash, lots of eggs in few baskets.  On any day, it could be raided by rodents, wolves, dogs, bears, or other hungry visitors.  A sudden hot spell could melt frozen meat and spoil it.

Of course, compared to snow country hunters, the farmers and herders faced more and bigger challenges.  From planting to harvest, a farmer’s crops were vulnerable to many potential risks (weather, fire, insects, disease, deer, bunnies, etc.).  Once the harvest was brought in, the granary was loaded with valuable energy for future use, something like a tank of oil.  It was a treasure chest that stored the concentrated results of countless hours of hard work — like a crisp new $100 bill, not a mere handful of pennies.  Carefully stored energy could be an irresistible temptation to folks who weren’t your best buddies. 

Likewise, herders invested loads of time and effort in creating impressive treasure chests of living flesh.  Herding was not risk free.  Late at night, your livestock could be quickly driven away by thieves.  Wild predators could pick them off.  During a long drought, or when anthrax or rinderpest came to visit, the herds in a region could be obliterated.  At any time, you could lose the stored treasure of a year’s hard work, or more.  Nothing was insured.

Livestock herds were overseen by masters who firmly controlled their movements, protected them from predators and raiders, and blocked their escape attempts.  Lifelong enslavement made it easy for masters to acquire their meat, milk, blood, hides, and wool whenever needed.  Imagine spending your entire life subservient to a dominator who eventually intended to cut your throat, strip off your hide, and eat you (and your kids). 

In snow country, when hunters, farmers, or herders enjoyed a lucky streak, it could lead to population growth, which could lead to increased tension and conflict.  More folks expected a piece of the pie, and some got wee slices.  Treasure chests, of course, have a long tradition of inspiring the belligerent behavior of aggressive parasites.  One successful day of raiding could snatch the rewards of months or years of toil, an outstanding profit.  Very clever!

More is Better

The colonization of snow country, and the necessity of food storage, inspired a new meme: more is better.  Having adequate energy storage was mandatory, but having even more was better still.  When good luck disappeared, it could be a blessed life saver. 

Folks painfully understood when they were dangerously hungry.  They also understood when life was kind to them.  Oddly, many humans seem to have a hard time perceiving the border line between enough and way too much.  In their brains, the idiot light that indicated [ENOUGH] never came on.  More was always better.  Too much was impossible.  Why do wobbly wrinkly 85 year old gits, with a billion dollars stashed away, still put on a suit and tie every morning and strive to hoard even more?

Herds of livestock were self-propelled warehouses of living meat that didn’t spoil.  Provided with grass and water, their bodies added more meat every month.  So, more is better was an intoxicating idea, until the land was stripped of vegetation, and herders experienced the painful revenge of merciless limits.  Farmers could farm like crazy, year after year, until their topsoil was drained of nutrients or ran away.  Limits spoil rowdy parties.

Of course, for our wild ancestors who remained in the tropics, the more is better concept was absolute nonsense.  It was impossible for nomadic folks to make use of more than enough (too much = waste).  They couldn’t haul surplus with them, and in the hot climate, it would spoil, or attract pests and scavengers.  It wasn’t until much later, when domesticated crops and livestock were imported into Africa, that tropical folks began suffering from serious more is better deliriums.  Prior to this, enough was enough, and they all lived happily ever after.

Control Freaks

Big Mama Nature is fully aware that unusual population outbursts in any species can destabilize healthy ecosystems.  She generally does what’s needed to restore balance.  The current human outburst has become a spectacularly destructive living asteroid.  It’s now traveling at maximum velocity toward an invincible fortress of merciless limits that will take great delight in splattering the juggernaut.  There will once again be peace on Earth (and a staggering mess).

Domestication triggered a shock wave in the human saga.  It radically altered the traditional core relationship between humans and the rest of the ecosystem.  For maybe two million years, hominins were participants in a family of life that joyfully danced to the ecstatic music of freedom.  Then, domestication gave birth to a monster child, a new and obscene verb named control.  Devilish anti-freedom.  The toxic juju of control has infected the relationship, rendering it dysfunctional and violently abusive.

During the hunter-gatherer era, folks foraged for wild plant foods, and took what they needed.  This wasn’t a labor intensive control-oriented process of clearing, tilling, planting, weeding, etc.  The shift to agriculture transformed healthy sustainable wild landscapes into unsustainable radically simplified manmade food production systems.  Wild and free are the opposite of controlled.

Hunting was the pursuit of wild game, which required a combination of skill and random chance.  Wild game is intelligent, alert, and driven by a powerful desire to avoid predators.  Being alive is precious.  Wild game is out of control.  They are not passive dimwitted sheep in the pasture, constantly overseen by shepherds and dogs.  Herding is the process of controlling enslaved animals, for every minute of their lives.  When the herder needs meat, he selects which animal dies.  Escape is impossible.

Agriculture was a sedentary enterprise, the farmer was firmly bound to a specific piece of land.  When danger approached, the granary treasure chest could not be easily moved to a safe place, because it was not self-propelled, like livestock.  Depending on the threat, a farmer could defend it (and maybe die), or abandon it (and maybe starve).  High vulnerability, and a desire to survive, inspired farmers to reside in villages, and benefit from mutual defense.  Over time, as threats increased, villages became walled and fortified cities.  Over time, a warrior class emerged, to molest incoming attackers, and to attack and rob vulnerable outsiders.

Many farmers didn’t have the time, space, or desire to keep much livestock, but herders did.  Herders who had access to extensive open grasslands could pursue a very different way of life, and they did.  Indeed, the mindset of pastoralism eventually achieved great power.  It provided the foundation for the mindset of the world as we know it (stay tuned, more later).

Mother Africa Infected

Lyall Watson wrote a fascinating biography of Adrian Boshier (1939-1978), a young British man who went to South Africa and walked a path of power.  During his first six years in Africa, the lad spent most of his time in the bush, learning the ways of the land, rewilding.  He would head off into wild country with nothing but a pocketknife and a bag of salt (for trading), and live off the land for as long as he wanted. 

Boshier became highly skilled at catching and befriending dangerous snakes.  Walking into a village wrapped up in a 14-foot python (4.2 m), he terrified the natives, giving birth to his reputation as a powerful magician.  He would catch an eight-foot cobra, milk its venom, and drink it before a gasping wide-eyed crowd. 

Prehistoric cave painting in Europe gets a lot of attention.  African cave art gets less.  Boshier visited many caves, because the rock art in them had immense spirit power.  One day, he sat in a cave in Makgabeng, and had a chilling experience when his eyes focused on a horrific heartbreaking image.  The artists were likely San people, the original residents.

Mother Africa is where the human saga began, an evolutionary adventure spanning back maybe two million years, when early hominins came down from the trees.  There’s a good chance that the San people are the ancestors of most or all humans alive today.  Around 100,000 years ago, some Africans began migrating into the Eurasian landmass, where they eventually learned how to survive in a temperate climate, and then much later conjured plant and animal domestication into existence.

The images that had filled Boshier with horror were portraits of fat-tailed sheep, critters domesticated in the Middle East.  Sheep were not indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa.  They were brought to Africa by folks who were returning to Mother Africa, their ancestral homeland, with some new and creepy habits.  Some say the Bantus brought the sheep, others suspect the Khoi (Hottentots).  Whoever brought them, they were symbols of a dark transition.  The family of life in Africa was, for the first time ever, no longer entirely wild and free.  Hideous manmade freak show critters had arrived, along with a freak show culture of control and domination.  Trouble ahead.

Watson lamented, “The introduction of a pastoral economy, starting perhaps three or four thousand years ago, seems to have marked the beginning of a relentless destruction, now almost complete, of the earliest way of human life.  It was the end of a society that had discovered how to live in harmony with — rather than at the expense of — nature.”

 [Continued in sample #51]

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