If you were living in Europe in 1789, things would have looked bad. Riots in the streets in Paris had lead to the sacking of the Bastille. Where was this anarchy going to lead us? Monarchs everywhere were worried and regular folks too.
But in spite of all the terrible things that followed - the Terror - 25 years of war - what emerged was the advent of the modern world and a century of relative peace and in spite of some bad bumps in 1848, a growing voice for all people in Europe and America.
When we are in the chaos of a transition from one prevailing culture to the next, it all is messy. But without change, we face cultural death.
In this chapter from my upcoming book - The Fractal History of Mankind, I do my best to explain to myself - and hopefully to you too - where we are in our development as a species.
By looking at our history, we can see that we are on a track. We are on a development trajectory that is akin to how each of us develop as a person. We can also see how it is our relationship with food that shapes each stage.
With this as a guide, we can see that we are probably in the transition part of what is a phase. Our times are not eternal nor are they normal. They are merely a phase. A phase that has a beginning, a middle and an end. A phase that is succeeded by another phase. Each phase bringing with it a complete overthrow of the food system that preceded it . Each phase bringing with it a revolution in how society is ordered and how power is manifested.
So what phase might we be in? I think that we are ending a phase where we see a rejection of the the earth on which we depend (Our “Mother”), a mania for surface display, a mass cultural conformity, a denial of responsibility and a desire to be young all the time. Our time is surely a time of delusional narcissism. It’s all about ME!
What do these norms suggest to you? They remind me of myself and of my own children as teens.
If I am right then, there is hope. For what is to come then is a Generative Phase.
A phase that we see in young real adults as they get ready to bring new life into the world. Where they start to think beyond their own immediate needs and selves. Where the health and security of the child, and so the home and the society in which the child will be raised, becomes paramount. A phase when the shift of personal concern moves beyond “Me” and towards “Us”.
If food is the driver of each phase, then such a new Generative Phase will demand a totally new food system from the one that we have now.
If it is “generative” then logically it will return to working with and not against nature. It would imply a rejection of separation and a return to integration. It would imply a return to the more feminine and a reduction of the more masculine.
In our next chapter we will explore the early signs of such an emergent system. But now let’s review the idea that each new collective phase tracks the individual phases of an individual life. Let’s see how each transition is shaped by changes to our food system that in themselves also track how humans are also affected by their food circumstances.
In our Hunter Gatherer past, we had a relationship with food, with nature and with each other that is similar to that of a human infant from birth to 3. For an infant there is no separation from the mother. She and her mother are one. In our Hunter Gatherer phase we were the same. This was not a conscious feeling. It was exactly how an infant regards her relationship with her mother. It was simply her reality. We saw ourselves as being attached directly to our “mother” the Earth herself. She gave us all our food as a mother suckles her babe. She fed us directly. Our meat and our plants were tended by her. All we had to do to eat was to accept her gift by knowing how to take the gift.
Our food model of integration with the Mother was our world view. There was no separation at all.
The animals we killed were us. They gave themselves to us. The food we gathered was us. The plants actively gave themselves to us. They were her gift. So we too shared all our food in the tribe. This sense of attachment and integration extended to all people and to all things. So even the trees and the mountains and rivers were us. There was not even an eternal death. Life and death were connected. For we knew that our ancestors would return in other entities, people, animals, things. Even day and the night, awake and sleep are not separate. Dreams and our waking life are two realities that blended into each other. Even time is not a force for separation. For the past, the present and the future are all one.
Most of all, our children were not separate, they each belonged to all the tribe. They were our collective future. Infants were fed by all the women. There is always milk. Infants are not weaned fully until 2. For in a wandering life only one child can be carried. No woman could afford to be only one man’s. The tribe was surely a “Hive” like structure?
We lived like this for millions of years. Then this idyll ended.
In such a world, being weaned and making way for the next child was wrenchingly traumatic. The weaned child has to break with her mother and take her place in the larger world of her tribe. She discovers her father. She discovers boundaries. She discovers that she has very little power and has to do what she is told.
The toddler and young child does not choose this new world. She is pushed away. She is pushed away by a change in her food system. She had to make way for the next baby. So she had to enter a world where all have to work for their food. Where all have to know their place.
I think that, collectively we found that Mother Earth could no longer be relied on to feed us directly. Maybe our success as hunters had caused our population to overshoot the earth’s natural bounty. We surely had passed the carrying capacity of the core food process of nature, living off the income of the Earth. We had to find a new way of getting food or starve.
We had to separate from nature. We had to learn how to make her work for us rather than simply take her bounty.
As we started farming, we entered early childhood.
When the early settlers went America, we entered late childhood.
As we entered agribusiness, we entered our teen years.
All along this child continuum, the process of separation became ever more extreme.
Separation from nature and then in the end separation from our own human nature.
The new subsistence food system made us like 4 year old. For subsistence farming is unending toil with only a small surplus that can only support a small group of non toilers. Serfs have to accept their place. Who does not think and accepts their lot? A 4 year old.
With most of us being children, the elite became the parents. In fact, the only parent we had to worry about was the father. He owned the land and us. The serfs, the land, the herd, the food and the sword that made it all worked belonged to the parents. It was all about HIM because property moved through the male line. All was about blood.
So who was the father became key. The women had to be controlled so that the bloodline could be assured and also because they embodied the old world that had to die. The mother had to die. Eve had to be punished.
Even in the house of a serf this new social arrangement ruled. He might be a slave but he at least owned his wife and children. As he obeyed his master, so they obeyed him.
As on earth so in heaven. The Gods died. Only one God was allowed now. This God became an angry father too.
He also demanded our obedience. He anointed his ruler on earth. He supported the ruler by offering the masses a deal. The great reward of obedience to the rules in was to be eternal life. Death having been merely a point on a continuum, now became a gateway. The direction we took at the gateway, heaven or hell, would be decided on not by us but by God’s agent, the church. This gave the church huge power over all. Even over the temporal rulers for all, even Kings, would be called to the judged.
In this child-like system, thinking was not allowed.
There could be no questioning for if questioning was allowed, the food system would collapse. Serfs could not question their place. As children, we no longer had to think or observe. In fact thinking or observing was punished. The wider world was now off limits. Above all thinking for your self was banned. Only the grown ups, or elites, could think. Even they had to be careful. For no thinking that questioned the book could be allowed by anyone.
The advent of the written word separated man from learning and knowledge. Quickly a book gained authority as the requisite source, such as the Ptolemaic system and then could no longer be questioned. For about 1500 years knowledge stagnated or was lost.
But most people still lived close to nature and were endlessly pragmatic and informed about how nature worked at the working level. Nature was a powerful daily influence on early farming people. We battled with her with our bare hands. We lived with her animals. We rose with the sun and went to bed with the moon. We waited for the rains and for the spring. We still could read the sky.
We lived like this for about 10,000 thousand years.
And then we started to grow up. We became children on the edge of adolescence.
We started to have minds and views of our own. We started to think! “Why?” became our most used word. As some of us thought more, we could see that many of the truths our parents had told us were fairy stories. For we not only could think but we had eyes too. We could see and we could think about what we saw. The advent of the press meant that we could exchange our ideas with many.
But this awakening was not universal. Only some of the children awoke to puberty. Most continued to toil as children until our own time. Some still do.
So part of the collective human society started to evolve into adolescents. What became paramount for these people was the need to think. This meant that the “parents”, the monarchies, and their supporters, had to be questioned. In England, the thinking children got a more general foothold. This was the first society to accept thinking.
Some of these “adolescent children” ran away to a new place, America, where the the hold of the “parents” was exceptionally weak.
In fact, they fought off the hold of their parents and in 1776 founded a state that had ideas rather than blood as the cornerstone. A place where the church was separated from the state. A place where new ideas were seen as the best kind of ideas. A place where the printing press was central. For it was the press that was the symbol and the propagator of new ideas. This was a state that made the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech itself a guiding rule.
Even more a breakthrough, in this new place, land was in effect free. In the old place, the parents owned it all. Here there was so much land! Now all you had to do was to work the land and it became yours! You just needed to be able to work hard and be resourceful to be a large land holder.
This abundance of land was to change everything.
This was to shape the new society that was in time to become the dominant society in the world. For throughout the agricultural phase, status and wealth from land. Over time, the elites had got control of all the land. This was what made birth so important for land was not bought and sold but married into or granted by a higher lord. Land produced money. Money bought things but high status came from land. Those who only made money from money could never be part of the true elite.
The very nature of America being so huge was to change all of this. The Old colonies were restricted. It was illegal to go west. The point was to keep the value of land high and to support the new elites in America who had been influenced by their connection to England. Men like Washington and Jefferson were in effect, English Gentlemen with estates.
But the expansion west and the advent of steam that would bring 50 million land and opportunity hungry people from Europe changed all of this. They pushed west for free land and in so doing changed the world. Something other than land would have to show that you had status. This would evolve to be money. In Europe status came from land. Money was not enough. Now in America with so much land, money was the fount of status.
Now America became a true new world. A world of true opportunity. The civil war was as much a conflict about world view as anything else. Men from Ireland and Germany would arrive off the boat and enlist to fight as much for their right to be free as to free any slave.
With the end of slavery, the agricultural system in America could no longer be the same as the one that was the norm in the rest of the world. Now food had to be produced by free men. This had never happened since the end of hunting
A food system produced by free men would have to be one where endless toil and servitude would not be the key to the system. A food system produced by free men would have to employ something other than the muscle of men and beast to do the hard work of keeping nature at bay.
This new system would use money, ideas and above all coal and then oil to take the place of slaves and horses.
In so doing it would create the society that we live in today.
We would create the Teen Years for humanity. A time when the process of separation became most extreme.
Now we face the next choice and stage - will we grow up and parent where we live? If we do, we will use a very new food system from agriculture and agribusiness. It will be like the transition from Hunting to Farming - ALL the rules will be opposite. And core will be our re-connection with nature - with our own nature and with her. and this time, she will be our partner. This time we will use our hard won knowledege to understand her rules and to work with her to apply them.
We will no longer fight her but mimic her so that she can do most of the hard work. This is what pasture based food systems do - they use the rules of the Serengeti on our farm. This is what permaculture does - it uses the rules of the forest to hekp us grow food. This how the web works, it is a natural network where the network effect gives each of us more and more value. We will harness not the old capital of the sun but we will harvest its much more abundant income.
More on the specifics later. While I post about the chaos, it is to help us see that it is best that we don't hang onto the Ancien Regime. It is best to look ahead to what is to come. If enough of us see it - can can get there. That is my hope.
For this is no sure thing. Just as some individuals get stuck in an early stage of development for life, so could we. Or worse, we could go back as we did in the 1930's to the Angry Father who will make it all OK.