Tuesday 13 February 2018

Agricultural Revolution: History's Biggest Fraud?

“Fraud (noun): a person or thing that is not what it claims or pretends to be" - Cambridge Online Dictionary.

As per Yuval Noah Harari (YNH), yes Agricultural Revolution (AR) is history's biggest fraud (from his book, Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind). I am not quite in agreement with his views. In following few paragraphs I will quote some of his views (taken directly from his book, Sapiens), and either I will put forth my reasons of disagreement, or I will raise questions that I feel have been left unanswered, rendering author's views to be incomplete / inaccurate.

Pg87: "History's Biggest Fraud"

For me - this start in itself was off-putting. Who has given YNH the authority to suggest (although he does more than simply suggest, he claims it) AR was a fraud? For fraud to happen, there should be 2 parties involved - I can either be the fraudster, or the victim of a fraud - but I cannot defraud myself. As per YNH, Homo sapiens (HS) are one specie (singular unit, which has become victim of AR fraud) - then who came to Earth to introduce agriculture to HS and sold a fraudulent concept to HS? If HS were themselves responsible for agriculture, then why is it a fraud?

If YNH wants to claim that this is a generational fraud - that the generation that started AR was the fraudulent one and all following generations are victims - then does he truly believe his personal life (if still possible) would have been better had it not been for AR?

Pg89: "Scholars once proclaimed that the AR was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fuelled by human brain power. >> That tale is a fantasy. There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time. Foragers knew the secrets of nature long before the AR, since their survival depended on intimate knowledge of the animals and plants they gathered."

So many problems with these few lines...such deep-rooted narcissism from YNH: all previous scholars knew horse-shit, and I know it all!

Also - YNH claims foragers' "intimate knowledge", on which their "survival depended", to be intelligent enough for any addition to that intelligence not only to be unnecessary, but also not worthy enough to be labelled intelligence at all.

Pg90: "AR left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers". 

Pg91: "How did wheat convince HS to exchange a rather good life for a more miserable existence?"

Really? He knows this how? How many farmers of that era and foragers did he interview to understand what caused their lives to be difficult and what satisfied them? What is his source to the claim that foragers themselves didn't want to move away from hunting and gathering all their life, and that they didn't want to settle down at one place?

Pg94: “Why would any sane person lower his or her standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the HS genome? Nobody agreed to this deal: the AR was a trap.”

The once considered “intelligent” lot, the foragers (Pg89), are now considered insane on Pg94. The intelligent foragers were insane enough to accept a concept that led to lowering of their standard of living. But, who decides the standard of living? Who decides what was good / bad / satisfactory – for something that happened 10,000 years ago????

Pg97: “Why did people make such a fateful miscalculation? >> People were unable to fathom the full consequences of their decisions."

Pg112: “Foragers discounted the future because they lived from hand to mouth and could only preserve food or accumulate possessions with difficulty. Of course they clearly engaged in some advance planning. >> The AR made the future far more important that it had ever been before."

Is it not possible that foragers were actually the most intelligent ones that humans ever have been…and knew exactly what they were doing with AR, i.e. ensuring survival of HS for thousands of years to come. Probably foragers understood that as long as they continue to be just one of the animals on Earth, their survival was always going to be questioned by any already existing specie or a new one (as their coming on scene meant extinction of few other species).

Pg90: “The AR was history's biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa."

I still cannot understand why is AR considered to be "History's Biggest Fraud". Unless YNH believes Devil defrauded the "intelligent" foragers into becoming slaves of their own activities by introducing agriculture via handful of plants. 

Is it YNH's stance that nature fucked HS - then why is he crying about it? Nature fucked so many species by introducing HS. At least with AR, HS specie has managed to survive and become more "intelligent" by learning to use the brain gifted to us.

It is the use of this brain that led to the very tools YNH used to research his chosen subject, and write a book on his research. Is it YNH's stance that all this intelligence not count to more than the intelligence that he attributes to survival instincts of foragers? Or is it his stance that all this that we have today (2018 A.D.) would still have been possible without AR?

It is easy and utterly useless to put value judgment about past decisions and actions, without understanding what were the circumstances during which these decisions and actions were taken. YNH has neither shed any light on what were the circumstances faced by foragers, nor shown evidence of multiple options that may / may not have been available to foragers for securing long terms survival. It is possible that AR was the best of bad scenarios waiting to happen for foragers – which only means, foragers accepted their fate as becoming domesticated. In this case - no, AR is not a fraud, leave alone history's biggest.

If a layperson, like me, can have so many questions on YNH's views - I do believe those who are more familiar with this subject will find more loopholes with this story. For me anyone claiming such things, when there are unanswered questions and obvious limitation on understanding why things happened back then (as they did), for personal gain is not doing anyone any favours.

Anyone who has believed YNH's words that AR was indeed history's biggest fraud, has been misled and taken for a ride. Does that make YNH a fraud? Hmm...now that is another unanswered question!


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