25 December, 2017

New Book: Against The Grain

Against the Grain, A Deep History of The Earliest States, published in 2017, provides a very different look at the first organized states in human history than we have considered to be the reality of human civilization.  

The author, James C. Scott, makes no pretense to being an authority in this particular territory, but does bring a scientific mind and a patient attitude in his poking around with accepted theory about humans and their evolving attempts at civilization. This work was a real eye-opener for me explaining some historical phenomena that I hadn't realized needed explanation. Like, why did millions of America's First Nation people die with the arrival of the Europeans and their diseases?  Yes, we know what happened, but what is the backstory?

Modern doctrine holds that, as humans evolved, they left the nomadic life behind and took up crops grown in tended fields.  The bias in most science today is that, in the hierarchy of civilization, hunter/gatherers were a rung lower than farmers with their crops; that humans came to be farmers as they climbed the path of being "more civilized" rather than less - that living in cities was such a big improvement and people flocked to the cities to find protection from the barbarians raiding through out the "uncivilized" parts of the world.  

Maybe that isn't the way it happened, says Scott.  So, with the nature of a scientist, he turns the theories up side down and asks, "is this not more likely?"  Using this contrarian lens, forces us to re-evaluate these theories, so universally accepted; and comes up with different thoughts and explanations.

It won't change the way I garden, but it does make me rethink the idea of being "civilized" and the particular baggage we carry by being "civilized."  Is this the true culmination of civilized or are we simply in transition?  

This is not a large book and can be read in a weekend or two, but I guarantee, once read, you cannot easily squash your thinking back into the old paradigms we have long assumed to be the basis of our civilizations today.

Your mind cannot be unstretched.  And that's a very good thing.


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