For incredibly long periods of time, two entirely different kinds of societies coexisted on the same planet.
One was territorial, violent, aggressive, and possessive. The other passive, tolerant, and non-confrontational. We could trace these two different arrangements of existence back even before the first true humans evolved. We could go back 6.7 million years, to the different arrangements that different groups in the pan genus organized their existence.
Evolution caused this split in these different ways of life or ‘societies.’ Each was an adaptation to the realities of geography in different areas.
Some areas were extremely rich. They could provide all of the needs of the members of the group that lived there without any need for them to travel or migrate. They could be sedentary: they could stay in the same place all the time and have everything they needed. To groups in these areas, life was like what we may imagine life was like in the paradise: they simply went from tree to tree and picked and consumed the ripe fruit as they passed by. These areas had monopolizable resources. All they had to do was protect these areas and keep outsiders out and they wouldn’t have to share their little bit of paradise with others.
The evolutionary principle of group augmentation caused a gradual increase in the level of violence and aggression in the groups that controlled these areas. If a troop with some sort of genetic or cultural forces that made them more aggressive and violent arrived in the area, and started a fight over the land, the troop with these qualities would have advantages in the fights. The more aggressive and violent troops may not win every single fight. But there would be an advantage to those that had these qualities. Evolution is patient. Over the course of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of years, outside observers who were watching this group would see their tolerance levels decline. They would see their group identity (what we call ‘nationalism’ in humans) increase. We would see their inclination to fight, kill, or die for their group (what we call ‘patriotism’ in humans) increase. They would see the group getting more and more furious at perceived slights by outsiders and more inclined to kill without compassion when struggles arose. These forces will work in some areas. The richest areas are like the Garden of Eden to the groups that control them. The groups in these areas would have to be aggressive, inhumane, and prone to irrational violence in order to create the conditions that would allow them to monopolize these areas.
Other areas can’t produce enough to support the monopoly systems. They do produce food and primates, being the most capable species wherever we exist, have priority over this food (where ‘we’ refers to us as primates).
But we can’t in unproductive areas as if we were in paradise. We can’t build nice homes and sleep in the same bed every night. We would have to travel from place to place, following the food and water.
The groups that lived in these areas had to scratch and work just to get enough to keep them alive. They required large amounts of land to keep them alive and it was not practical for them to wall off and defend this land.
Evolution put pressure on them too.
But it pushed them to live differently. It pushed them to find ways to avoid conflicts and particularly violent conflicts. Groups that spent their time fighting with other groups didn’t have enough time to get enough food to keep them healthy. Their children were less likely to survive to breeding age than children in more peaceful, tolerant, and non-confrontational groups. Over long periods of time, the non-confrontational genes became more and more prevalent in these areas.
Evolution also affected the cultures that were passed down from generation to generation. Children learn from their parents and elders. If children see the older people around them being tolerant, kind, generous, liberal, and open minded, they will copy these traits. If you have ever lived in remote areas, you will know that it pays to get along with others in these areas. You never knew when you will need some stranger to stop and help you. If you see someone, you will stop and help them. Children growing up in this environment will take it for granted: this is the way people act. Their instincts (derived from their genetic inheritance) tell them it is the right thing to do. Their training reinforces this.
A Balanced Society
The people of the city states didn’t have any desire to try to conquer less productive land because they couldn’t live the way they were used to living in less rich areas. They had fixed homes. They slept in the same beds every night. They could get up at regular times and go about a routine that didn’t really change much.
They felt secure in their homes: their city had a military to protect it from vast hoards of unknown people in the world (the great majority of the world always lives outside of any individual state, even today). They were behind massive walls. They could see the border patrol agents in the towers and walking on the roads on top of the walls. They knew that the majority of the people outside could not hope to overcome the defenses and violate their space. The only real threat involved an attack by another state. If this happened, their state would respond with all its force and do everything possible to protect them.
They didn’t have to worry about insiders violating their property rights because protections were in place. There were police and courts. If people tried to steal from them, the state would work with them to protect them.
Since they had homes, they could ignore the weather and live the same way regardless of the season. They could invest in their homes, building nice stone fireplaces with chimneys, beds, sofas, and other furniture. Since they had protected places that couldn’t be pillaged by wandering travelers, they could store large amounts of grains. With storage, they would never have to worry about going hungry because there was nothing available at that time: they would always have bread, milk, butter, eggs, wine, and cheese.
The practical realities discussed earlier don’t allow for this kind of lifestyle everywhere. Each increase of one mile in the diameter of their city led to an increase of 3.14159 miles in the circumference. (The circumference is pi times the diameter.) The relatively poor land outside the borders couldn’t provide enough extra food to support all of the people required to defend and protect the larger state. They could live this way if they were in rich areas. They couldn’t live this way in poor areas.
The people outside the walls would not have wanted to try to make war against the cities either. Most of them would have probably though the idea of even living in a city to be repugnant.
They would have to give up freedom. On the outside, they could set up their tents wherever they wanted. The could fish and swim in the mountain lakes in the summer and go south into warm climates in the winter. They could get their own food, fishing, hunting, collecting the berries in the summer and roots in the winter. In the cities, they couldn’t even sleep (at least in safety) without paying someone. They couldn’t take the food nature provides. All food is the property of the people who own the land where it grows. If they don’t have anything to trade (or money in cities that use money), they will starve to death, even if food is fantastically plentiful. (This would never happen on the outside.) If they lived inside the walls, they would have to put up with the crowds. It would be noisy and smelly.
The city-states all had administrations that made rules.
They had ‘governments.’ Governments are bodies that ‘govern.’ Govern means ‘to control or limit.’ They would not be free to live as they wanted. They would have to follow the rules, even if they were arbitrary and immoral. On the outside, as long as they could get along with others, they could do as they pleased. If they wanted to swim in the nude, they could: there were no police to arrest them. No one owned the land outside the cities. No one administered it.
It takes a different mentality to enjoy a life of freedom. You have to accept there will be hardship and be willing to endure it. You have to accept that there will be times when you will get hungry and cold. You have to accept that there are risks. You may get into a situation that you can’t get out of and perish. But you get many things that the people who have experienced it think are wonderful in return.
You get to understand nature. You get to see there is an enormous and wonderful world out there. You get to see that there is a harmony in nature that does not really exist in the world in the cities. If you can tune yourselves to this harmony, you get a feeling of peace and belonging to the world around you. You get a kind of freedom that people who lived in the city-states can never even really understand. You can go where you want. You can lay out your blanket and sleep when you get tired. You can travel and meet people with different ways of life, celebrate the wonders of nature with them and, when you get tired of them, move on to something new. You pay no taxes. You have no government. If you don’t like the weather, you can move to someplace with better weather. Your life belongs to you.
The quote below is from a person who was raised in this kind of freedom, Chief Joseph of the Duwamish. It is part of a reply letter he wrote to the United States Department of war, which had sent people to remove him and his people from the land they had occupied along the banks of the Puget Sound. They were offered the right to move to the cities of the conquerors if they followed the laws that applied there. The alternative was to move to reservations where the government would not interfere (or at least so they told them). Here are some excerpts from his letter:
This book is about the way the human race came to be on the path we are now on, the path that leads to our extinction. There are various different forces that put us here and various forces that are pushing us down it. If we want to understand how we can avoid being forced along a path that we don’t want to be on at all until we are pushed over the cliff to death, we need to understand that there are other paths. We need to understand that people are capable of living other ways.
I know it is hard for people raised in the highly territorial and loyalty-inspiring societies we have now to understand that true humans can live differently. But this is one important reason to understand history: it tells us what is possible.
I should point out that I am not advocating trying to recreate the system Seattle and his people had before the conquest. I am only saying that we need to accept that there are different ways that people can live. Seattle was raised differently than you and I. He was educated differently. His genetic heritage was different. (He descended from the people who had lived in unproductive areas for more than 20,000 years. Their genes and cultures had both evolved to allow them to survive in these areas over this time.)
We are on a path that leads to extinction. But we are not stuck on this path. There are other paths. We know there other paths. At the very least, there is the path Seattle and his people were on for thousands of years. How many total paths are possible for thinking beings with physical needs? (This is the category that includes humans.) Are there any take us a place where we can live in harmony with nature and other people, but still have technology and progress? I claim there are. The more we understand about our past—not the endless stories of good states and bad ones fighting in endless wars, but a real history that explains what was important to real people in the past—the easier it is to see that we have both the right and ability to take control of our desinty.
For a very long time, these two societies did not come into conflict with each other. But then some things happened on one of the world’s land masses, the Afro-Eurasian landmass, that altered this situation there in a very sudden and dramatic way there. It would take another 5,500 years before these changes would make their way to the rest of the world. But the Afro-Eurasian landmass would start to see massive changes almost immediately. The first dramatic change involved a complicated set of breeding changes that turned several different breeds of animal into what we now call ‘beasts of burden.’
America had horses in ancient times. But horses were one of many different animals that went extinct in the pleistocene extinctions. These extinctions coincided with the first evidence of human habitation so were almost certainly caused by humans. During this time, all large human predators went extinct. Shortly after, all major competitors for human food went extinct. Shortly after that, the great majority of large animals that had a lot of meat and were relatively easy to hunt also went extinct, at least in the Americas.
This didn’t happen in Afro-Eurasia. The reason probably involves milk. All mammals give milk (this is how the species is defined) and milk would have been an extremely important food for migratory people. There are still migratory people in Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, and Northern Canada. They still rely on milk to balance their diet. (You can still buy horse milk, butter, and cheese in there areas.) Migratory people can take their horses with them. They may not always have bread, but they always have something. Whatever the reason horses were spared, however, we know that they were and did not go extinct on the Afro-Eurasian landmass.
Although they existed and had been domesticated, the early horses were not really suitable to pull plows, wagons, or for riding. There were an estimated 273 breeds of horses in Afro-Eurasia in the ancient past. Breeders worked with them to create an animal capable of doing the things modern horses can do. About 6,000 years ago, they succeeded in creating a ridable animal.
Ridable horses must have seemed like marvels to the first people who saw them. They were in very high demand everywhere. In the cities, the military leaders wanted them very badly: they could carry troops at 10 times the former speed and they could haul wagons with hundreds of times more cargo than humans could carry on their backs. Migratory people wanted them too: they didn’t want to have to carry their things when they traveled.
Mares (female horses) can produce foals (baby horses) every year. This means that horse populations can double every 4 years. If you have 100 horses this year, you can have 200 horses in 4 years, 400 in 8 years, and 800 in 12 years.) Breeding doesn’t diminish the horse’s abilities to work. If all of the people who have horses take advantage of this, keep their animals healthy and bring in studs to breed the mares when necessary, the population will continue to grow a this rate. It will go through 10 doublings in 44 years and a staring population of 100 will become 102,400 horses. In another 44 years it will double 10 more times and there will be more than 100 million animals.
Once the first usable animals had been bred in enough numbers to create a viable gene pool, horses began to spread very quickly. Within a few centuries, horses would be common everywhere in the Afro-Eurasian continent. (The first horses were brought to the Americas by the Spaniards about the year 1500. We don’t know the exact numbers, but it would not have been very large: horses are very hard to transport. By the year 1900, there were more than 100 million horses in the United States alone; about ¾ of them were ‘feral’ or wild horses.)
The Advantages Of The Horse
This quote is from Britannica:
When Cortés sailed for the coast of Yucatán on February 18, 1519, he had 11 ships, 508 soldiers, about 100 sailors, and—most important—16 horses.
The writers on Britannica think the most important cargo on the ships were the horses. If you read books about the conquest you will understand the importance. (I recommend the wonderful and extremely well researched book ‘The Conquest of Mexico’ by William Prescott, which is available in the references section of the PossibleSocieties.com website.) The horses were the key to Cortez and his small contingent of solders conquering what many scholars today think was the most populous valley in the world, the great valley of Mexico, with more than 30 million people with a dozen different cultures, all in a period of less than two years.
This is from another Britinnica article:
In 1531 Francisco Pizarro’s expedition of 180 men and 37 horses sailed to the Inca empire in Peru. A Spanish priest met with the Inca emperor Atahuallpa, exhorting him to accept Christianity and Charles V. After Atahuallpa refused, Pizarro’s forces attacked, captured, and later executed Atahuallpa, enabling Pizarro to occupy Cuzco, effectively conquering the empire.
Again, if you read accounts of the conquest by people who were there, you will see that this conquest (this time of about 12 million people, also according to Britannica) would not have been possible without horses.
Horse made enormous difference in war.
The horse changed the dynamics of Afro-Eurasia in many ways. Of course, it made it possible for a well-organized military to conquer and hold vast amounts of territory. But it also made it possible for the sedentary and stationary lifestyle that was common in the city-states to expand into large new areas.
With a few horses and some equipment, a family could plant and harvest hundreds of acres of land. They could go out to work in the morning (after having eaten a hearty breakfast of eggs from their henhouses and pancakes made of flour from stored grains, and bacon from their pigs) and come home and sleep in the same bed each night. They could live just like they lived in the city.
A lot of people lived in cramped quarters in city-states.
They would have liked to have had more space. But they couldn’t move outside the walls because they couldn’t live the same way there. They couldn’t be defended. They couldn’t keep homes and sleep in the same beds. They couldn’t go to stores. Horses changed all this. Mounted soldiers could protect farmers living outside the gates, at least most of the time. (Watch TV westerns and you will be able to get at least some idea how this happened. The farmers are threatened by either ‘Indians’ or bad whites. The sheriff can usually find a solution. If not, they call in the cavalry.)
With horses to haul in supplies, they could have their luxuries: Glass for their windows, pot-belly stoves to keep them warm, jars and pots to put up fruits in the summer; clothes made in mills that may be hundreds of miles away.
If a town with stores is 10 miles away, people without horses can’t go there more than once every few months. With horses, they can ride to town every day if they want. They can enjoy almost all of the benefits of living in town, but still have plenty of space to move.
The Conquest of Afro-Eurasia by States
The areas between the states weren’t vacant. People lived there. In many cases, these people were migratory and only lived in these areas part of the year. But they didn’t migrate at random. They followed the weather, the rains, the grass, the fruits, the fish, and the animals. They had places where they went. Until the time of the horse, these areas were unowned and didn’t belong to anyone. They didn’t have to pay to use them. They didn’t have people who claimed to own them.
These people didn’t pay taxes. They didn’t have governments. They didn’t want to pay taxes and have governments. They didn’t want to have to have borders that kept them from living as they had lived before. If the people from the city-states wanted to move their lifestyle and society to these areas, they would either have to assimilate these people into their culture or bring in armies to prevent them from interfering in the settlements, by force if necessary. They would have to ‘conquer’ these lands.
This wouldn’t be much of a problem for them from a practical perspective. They were used to aggressive and violent conflict. The evolutionary forces discussed above had created both genetic and cultural pressure to make them more and more aggressive and violent over time. They had legacies of war. They raised their children to be warriors. They considered people who did well in war (efficient and brutal mass murderers) to be the greatest of heroes, to be emulated and even worshiped. Their leaders had ways to spin even the most horrible events to make it appear that they were doing the right thing. The people would not be told they were fighting to impose a system on people against their will. They would be told that they were fighting to bring democracy, liberty, justice, freedom and the other things that only states could bring to the otherwise lawless land. The ones they are killing are not really people they would be told; they were vermin that couldn’t be civilized and had to be killed like rats.
We know a lot about the conquest of the Americas by European states. This happened very recently, the conquerors kept good records, and many historians have presented accounts, from many different perspectives, about the events. We will go over this information when we get to that point in history. We don’t know much about the period that started about 6,000 years ago when the entities called ‘states’ expanded from their walled enclosures to take over the land outside.
This probably took place very quickly. The history books were written by the victors. They almost certainly had to use the same brutal methods used to conquer the ‘Indians’ of the Americas in the period between 1500 and 1900. They would not have been proud of their behavior. The conquered people almost certainly would have had the same sad stories that the conquered American native people had 5,500 years later. But, as was the case in the conquest of the Americas, not many would be left alive to tell anything to anyone.
In the Americas, these people were wiped out, put onto reserves, or assimilated in less than four human lifetimes. Afro-Eurasia is larger, so it may have taken longer. But not much longer. Before the domestication of the horse, most of the land of Afro-Eurasian was not in any state at all. It was free land, unowned and no one had any more rights to it than anyone else. But the states grew, probably very quickly. Within a thousand years, the states had conquered much of this land. In some places, all of the unowned land was conquered and, after the conquests, the states were touching each other, with the border of one the border of its neighbor.
The states of Southern Europe appear to have been particularly aggressive about conquering the land. In this area, there was no vacant land that wasn’t claimed by any state. It was all part of one state or another. It was relatively easy to conquer the land that was occupied by the stateless people. After this easy-to-take land was gone, they would have to fight another state to take more. The states all had armies. They all had weapons. They were used to war and had trained their children that it was their responsibility to give everything they have, if necessary, to help the state defeat its enemies.
The people who ran the militaries of the states now had a lot more to fear than they had before, when there was space between them and their enemies. Their enemies were right there, on the other side of their borders. In most cases, the borders were not the high walls that had been borders before. The enemy states could attack at any moment. The leaders had incredible pressure on them to try to work out ways to protect themselves from their enemies. They needed weapons very badly. Until this time, weapons were quite primitive. They used the same basic weapons as Neanderthals had used hundreds of thousands of years earlier: bows and arrows, javelins, and slings. All the states had the same weapons. To gain an advantage, they would need something new.
The Bronze Age
People had had some metals for a long time. Lead, copper, zinc, and tin can all be ‘smelted’ (removed from ore using a combination of smoke and melting) in an ordinary wood fire. But none of these metals was remotely as hard as the rocks theyu used for their knives and arrowheads. They were all very soft and weak metals, not really useful in war.
But it is possible to make very hard, strong, and useful metals by mixing some of these soft metals and heating to melt them together. These mixtures are called alloys.
Modern bronze is a mixture of 88% copper, 7% tin, and 5% lead. You can make bronze yourself if you want, in a fire pit in your yard. You can watch internet videos that show you how to do it. The first to make bronze didn’t hit on this ratio right away. They found mixing two metals made the result stronger and harder. They experimented. Eventually they hit on the ratio above, which is the ratio we still use today.
Bronze is extremely hard. You can find bronze items in many museums. Most of the bronze items I have seen are weapons. Bronze can be cast into any shape desired. If it cast into a sword, the edge can then be sharpened by rubbing it on a stone. You can make it as sharp as a razor. It will cut off enemy’s hand or head with a single stroke.
Armies with bronze daggers, battleaxes, swords, halyards, pikes, and with arrows and spears with bronze tips can easily defeat armies that only had tools made of rocks and sticks. If you run a state and have bronze weapons, while your enemies only have weapons made of rocks and sticks, you are going to be able to defeat them.
Bronze items have been found and dated to as far back as 2775 BCE.
However, bronze tarnishes over time, in the same way that steel rusts an most analysts I found seem to think that bronze was being made up to 825 years before that, or starting about 3,500 BCE (or about 5,525 BP, see text box above).
Bronze weapons provided great military advantages to those who had them. Other states had to figure out how to make bronze themselves or they would almost certainly be defeated. If they were defeated, the victors would bring the new technology to the area. Either way, the technology spread quickly.
Iron and Steel
Bronze is a very useful military metal. But steel is much, much better. A steel sword will slice right through bronze armor. A steel arrowhead can cut through the thickest leather to kill the solder underneath.
I want to explain the process of making steel, because you really need to to understand its incredible difficulty in order to understand the social changes that will take place in systems that produce steel. Steel is an industrial product. It is extremely hard to make (as you will see shortly), requires a great many workers, all of whom have to be very skilled. The next transition will take us to an industrial society, the type that dominates the world now. Industry requires a great many complex structures that are not necessary in non-industrial systems. It needs money, for example; it needs courts and rules to protect private property rights, it needs massive roads and other infrastructures, and it needs an investment system that allows large amounts of ‘capital’ to be raised and dedicated to the project. All industrial societies are necessarily extremely complex. I don’t think you can really appreciate the changes that will happen next, in the historical account, without understanding how difficult it is to make steel.
If you want to make steel, you need to start with iron. Iron is one of the most abundant elements on the earth. But it is not found in metal form. It is found mixed with oxygen, as ‘iron oxide,’ also known as ‘rust.’ To get metal, you need to remove the oxygen. The process of removing the oxygen is called called ‘smelting.’
To smelt iron, you need an extremely hot fire. Wood doesn’t burn hot enough for this. Natural gas doesn’t burn hot enough. Coal doesn’t burn hot enough. Oil doesn’t burn hot enough. The only natural fuel that burns hot enough to smelt iron is pure carbon. The only common source for pure carbon is charcoal.
If you want to smelt iron, you need charcoal. You will need a lot of it, as you will see. (One of the main justifications for the exploration to the new world in the 1400s was a search for wood. The forests in Europe had all been cut down to make charcoal, mainly to use to make steel. The mills had all shut down for a lack of fuel. One of the first things that Columbus did when he began conquest of Haiti was begin cutting down the forests there to make charcoal. This was the ‘black gold’ of his day.) The text box below explains how to make charcoal:
Once you have charcoal, you need to make the smelting furnace and the bellows. You can make the smelter out of clay. It needs to be a certain shape with a chimney and a hole in the bottom for the bellows. People used to make the bellows out leather that is fastened to two large boards.
Once you have this set up, you can start smelting iron. You start by building a fire in the furnace using charcoal. Then you need several people who will rotate with each other to pump the bellows as rapidly as they can. This bellows blows air (which contains oxygen that the charcoal needs to burn) through the pulverized fuel, causing it to burn more rapidly and making it hotter. If you watch this being done, you will see that even the strongest workers can’t last much longer than 10 minutes on the bellows at the required pace. This means you will need to rotate people onto this task. You will probably need at least 6 people for this; that gives them one 10 minute shift every hour.
You also need a large number of people pouring of pulverized charcoal down the chimney and into the furnace. As you do this, the fire gets hotter and hotter. At a certain point, it is hot enough. (You will need someone who has done this before to tell you when you are at this point.) Now you can start mixing tiny bits of iron ore into charcoal. Keep pouring the ore and fuel mixture into the chimney for about 18 hours. You need massive amounts of fuel for this. All this time, your helpers must be pumping the bellows furiously: if they slow down for even a few seconds, the furnace will become too cool and all effort so far will be wasted: you will have no iron.
If you do this right, after 18 hours there will be iron metal in the furnace. The metal turns into a liquid as soon as it loses its oxygen. It then drips out of the mixture and flows to the bottom. You will want to put a mold on the bottom to catch the iron. It will harden to the shape of the mold. The standard mold looks like a mother pig nursing her piglets. Because of this, the iron in this form is called ‘pig iron.’
If you are very skilled and good at cutting your costs, you will be able to smelt about 2 pounds of pig iron with the three tons of wood you started with.
For weapons, nothing beats steel. Because steel is so strong, a thin and light steel sword will be much stronger than a heavy and awkward bronze sword. The person with the lighter and stronger sword will have a great advantage over someone with a heavier but weaker weapon.
You have to do a lot of hard work to turn iron into steel. You can find many descriptions on the internet, but here is a quick one: Take the pig iron and hold it with tongs. Put it into a very hot charcoal fire. Leave it there until it glows white hot. Then take it out and hammer it into a thin sheet. Then fold the sheet in half and hammer the halves into a new thin sheet, heating as necessary. Keep doing this. You will have more and more sheets, each of which will get thinner and thinner.
The difference between iron and steel is carbon. Steel has between 1% and 3% carbon. The carbon comes from the smoke of the charcoal fire. You need to literally beat it into the metal. The more carbon the metal has, the harder the steel. The 1% steel is considered ‘soft’ steel. It is still much harder than iron and has many uses, so a lot is made. The 3% steel is very hard, suitable for tools and swords. There is a television show called ‘forged in fire’ where people compete to make steel knives using this method. They have machines to do the hammering, so they can make good steel in a few days. But if you did the hamming by and, you would take several months to make a good knife or sword. Back when the work was done by hand, officers would often pay more than a full year’s salary to get a high quality sword.
Steel is a fantastic product. It now holds together skyscrapers that are thousands of feet high; it forms the hulls of submarines that travel thousands of feet below the ocean, it is the shell for bombs and rockets, and almost all useful tools are made at least partly of steel.
As of the 21st century, nearly all military weapons are made of steel; for most military uses, nothing superior has been found in spite of 4,000 years of searching.
In 2000, archeologists found the oldest steel weapon to be discovered to date at the Kaman-Kalehöyük archeological site in Turkey. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
Before the steel age began, states didn’t have to be very big or well organized. Most of the city states probably looked a lot like Faiyum looks today, as seen in the image above: rich farmlands surrounded by a convoluted collection of paths that go around the mud huts where people live and operate little kiosks that sell the things they can’t make themselves.
This isn’t going to work for a city with heavy industry. To support heavy industry, you absolutely need a highly organized economy. This would not be a simple task for the people who lived in 5,500 BP (before present). They didn’t have any idea how an industrial system worked. They would have to figure it out themselves, basically with trial and error. They would need a lot of things that we take for granted now and think we understand (because we use them every day) but aren’t really intuitive or easy to figure.
Consider the thing we call ‘money.’ The early city states didn’t really need money. In Faiyum, people produced mostly rice. If you aren’t a rice farmer but keep chickens for their eggs, you can trade your eggs for rice, both to feed your chickens and meet your own needs. Others may fish or make hats out of rice straw and trade these items for things that they need. The government can collect taxes in rice, which can then be used to feed the troops. Barter can meet the needs of the pre-industrial system. But it is hard to imagine putting together the resources needed to build and operate an industrial system without money. Even today, no one seems to have attempted it; I can’t imagine anyone trying and succeeding 5,500 years ago.
This seems simple enough at first. If you need money, create it. Governments print it and then tell people ‘this is money’ and they start using it, right? But if you had never seen money and a government told you these little pieces of paper were able to buy anything in the sate, you would probably laugh. Even today, economists argue about what money is, how it works, and why people continue to accept it. There must be some reason. If you wanted to build a steel mill 5,500 years ago, you would have to figure out how to make money and how to get people to accept it.
The industrial state will also need infrastructure. You need a lot of charcoal to make steel. You can’t have people strapping piles of twigs to their horses and then traveling from the forests (which get farther away as the closer trees are removed) to the charcoal plant, and expect to keep a large steel mill operating. You need roads that are big enough for heavy wagons. They have to be good roads: if the wagons can’t make it through, the steel production stops.
You will need a lot of workers. These people will have to devote their lives to dangerous, extremely unpleasant, and very difficult work. This work must be done right so they must be well educated and they must be able to remain motivated and keep working year after year, as many hours as you can get them to work. They need to be motivated as children just to get them to take the time to go to school and learn the skills. The schools must exist and have funding.
At first, these states won’t be very good at these things. Even today, 5,500 years into the industrial period, states seem to be struggling to figure out the next step. But they have to try. They were born into a system where people have fantastically strong genetic and cultural tendencies to identify them with a group of people, in this case a state, and to use the resources of that group to fight other groups to gain territory for their group. This may not make much sense but it is reality: we can all see the fanatical people who operate current states doing everything they can to fan hatred and fear to make their people fight harder. Once people understand how to make steel, they know their enemies can have it and may use it to destroy them. They need more than the enemies. They may not know exactly how to organize an industrial economy to make it happen. But they have to try to figure it out.
The Principle of Group Augmentation
The purpose of this book is to reconstruct the past events that put the human race onto the path we are now on. This path leads to ever increasing problems that will take us, if we stay on this path long enough, in our extinction. If we want to find a way to get onto a path that leads somewhere else, we have to understand the forces that put us on this path. We also have to understand the forces that are pushing us forward toward the end.
One of these forces is the evolutionary force called ‘group augmentation.’
Evolution works by competition. Animals compete as individuals. The fittest individuals survive these competitions and pass their genes on to future generations.
Groups also compete. The fittest groups (where ‘fittest’ means ‘best at getting the group what it needs’) survive. Group augmentation works by dividing the animals into individual groups and pitting the groups against each other in battles for territory. (‘states’ are different competing groups). Group augmentation works wherever the ability of a large group of individuals to work together matters. It works on bees, ants, and other eusocial species. Our ability to act together as states, and the larger collections we call ‘nations’ matters: the states that are best at conquering and holding territory get the highest quality territory. They can eat when people from states that don’t work as well are defeated and lose the land that once fed them.
Bees and ants and other eusocial animals without the ability to think and plan on a conscious level have no choice but to continue to compete. If they competition gets to a point where it threatens to wipe out their entire species, they can’t stop competing: they don’t have the ability to take this into consideration.
We are different. If we find ourselves under the influence of forces that threaten to wipe us out, we can organize a plan to get out from under that influence. This is possible. Other books in the Possible Societies series explain how to do this.
But before we can take any plan to make changes seriously, we need to recognize that these forces really do exist. We have to understand that we are on a path through time. We have to understand how we lived in the past, going as far back as possible. We need to understand that there is a process that causes animals to change and evolve according to certain rules. We need to understand that this same process works for us. We need to understand that this process is not necessarily benevolent. It may not move us where we want to go. If it is moving somewhere we don’t want to go, we need to understand what we must to do to break away from the path it has put us on and get us onto another path.
Until about 570 BC, there is no historical evidence that anyone made any serious attempt to bring the idea of intelligent design into analysis of society. This should not be surprising: we don’t have much real evidence of the thoughts of anyone that goes back more than 2,600 years, because very few written documents remain of the earlier period. The next chapter resumes the history in 570 BC.
Bear in mind that when we get to this period, we are not starting with cave men who hit girls over the head with clubs and drag them into caves for sex. We are starting at a time when people know how to make both steel and concrete (the most important outputs of heavy industry) and have been making these things for centuries. It is very, very hard to find an efficient way to organize industrial states to make them good at war. They don’t have it all figured out as of 570 BC. (We don’t really have it figured out now, as you can tell by watching the news.) But they have been trying various different things for a long time. Evolution has been operating this entire time. States better at organizing themselves for war have advantages in war. States that are not good at this get conquered. They are taken over by better states, who then move their organizational structures (the ones that were better at making them better at war) to the conquered areas. Over long periods of time, society has been evolving in ways that gradually eliminate any features that may make the states weak, passive, concessionary, liberal, or non-confrontational. Evolution reinforces any characteristics that make the states more cohesive (those that promote patriotism and nationalism), more aggressive, more willing to sacrifice.
Many people could see that these things are not working to promote what we might call a ‘sound society’ (one that can advance the interests of the human race as whole over the long term). By the year 570 BC, many people could clearly see that the competitive, territorial, aggressive societies that were in place at the time could not meet the long term needs of the human race as a whole. We needed something else. Many people tried to figure out what else was possible.