Tuesday, May 03, 2005

phd's in anthropolitics

is there a field called antrhopolitics? if there is i would like a phd in that please. my reading list of late has bounced back and forth between books based loosely on anthropology and books based loosely on politics. what they have in common is their tendency to chip away at my faith in humanity.

I just started reading 'short history of progress' by Ronald Wright. It's based on his recent lectures at Massey Hall. There is a whole great series of lectures at Massey Hall turned into books, produced in part by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Anansi books. I love this series because the go after really big questions like, as science informs us more and more about the questions that used to torture and inspire great artists, where does spirituality fit in? What a brilliant question. [Douglas Adams used to remind me that though our answers may be sound, humans tend to ask the wrong questions.]

Here are some gems from the Ronald Wright book (and I'm only on page 43):

"we are running 21st century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago or more [the human brain]. This may explain quite a lot of what we see in the news."

"the Upper Palaeolithic period, which may well have begun in genocide, ended with an all-you-can-kill wildlife barbeque. The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game. Most of the great human migrations across the world at this time must have been driven by want, as we bankrupted the land with our moveable feasts."

"Some of their [Cro-Magnons] descendants - the hunter-gatherer societies that have survived into recent times - would learn in the school of hard knocks to restrain themselves. But the rest of us found a new way to raise the stakes: that great change known to hindsight as the Farming or Neolithic "Revolution."

"Like the accumulation of small changes that separated us from the other grat apes, the Farming Revolution was an unconscious experiment, too gradual for its initiators to be aware of it, let alone to foresee where it would lead."

"Highly important, for what it tells us about ourselves, is that there was not one revolution but many. One every continent except Australia, farming experiments began soon after the regime of the ice released its grip."


The only bummer of this book is that, having heard the final Massey lecture on CBC radio, I know he's going to end it by telling me that we need to consume less and stop being so damn domineering, and civilization will then run properly. This advice never seems to amount to much. Nobody seems to listen. Probably because each of us suspects that if s/he changes his/her ways, no one else will, and then look, you've gone and made yourself a freak of society for nothing.


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