Pro: People no longer have to be subject to the ups and downs of weather and the climate. We no longer have to starve during famines.
Con: The expansion of agriculture to feed the population serves to enlarge the population necessitating the continued expansion of agriculture to feed an ever-growing population. The result of the ongoing “progression” and evolution of agriculture has not actually resulted in fewer people going hungry.
A friend of mine pointed out in the comments of the previous post that this sounds like Malthusian theory about population control. As unsettling as the implications of this idea might be, I think we have to take it seriously. Malthus made a judgment that things like wars, famine, disease and natural disasters were good things because they served the purpose of controlling population growth. We have not yet made a value judgment about this particular claim about agriculture.
The claim here is that the development of settled agriculture made it possible for a larger percentage of the population to survive natural occurrences, such as a drought, that would have previously killed members of the community due to the shortage of available food. The survival of greater numbers of people naturally leads to an increasing population which in turn requires more cultivated land in order to feed them.
In other words, once it is possible to prevent more people from dying because of weather related food shortages, it is difficult, if not impossible, to go back. We started down that road some 50,000 years ago and didn’t look back.
The question posed is “Where has this shift from hunter-gatherer to settled agriculture gotten us?”
Jared Diamond argues in Guns, Germs and Steel that the foundation of inequality is the ability initially of some peoples to move to settled agriculture and therefore develop civilizations while others, due to geographic and ecological limitations, could not. If agriculture’s initial promise was to make it possible for people to overcome the vagaries and dangers of changing weather patterns, it appears that promise has yet to be fulfilled. 963 million people in the world today are going hungry.
While the implications of this may be uncomfortable and troubling, they must be dealt with. I’m no scholar of history, sociology, anthropology or agriculture, but I find this theory about the development of agriculture as compelling as it is disturbing.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring basic assumptions about agriculture, history and our relationship to creation: The Original Sin of Agriculture Part I, Part 2.
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