Sunday, September 4, 2011
A Book I Read, and Thoughts on Being Wrong
I purposely didn't call my blog "deep thoughts by Jesse" because my thoughts are not typically very deep. It's a cooking blog mostly because I like cooking, and it's nice to look back over the dishes I've tried and see how far I've come. It's also nice to feel like maybe someone will feel inspired to open a cookbook and give something that looks interesting a shot instead of being afraid, after reading about something I made. Maybe I just like writing and have nothing better to say.
I cook a lot and I read a lot of interesting books and articles, but I'm not sure how many of my original thoughts are worth reading. I say this, but I actually love reading other people's blogs only when they're personal-- not about what they did that day or what their kids are doing, but about their perspective.
I'm reading an interesting book about the prehistoric origins of human sexuality. I also baked a cheesecake today, and a very good vegan shepherd's pie last week. I don't feel as interested in the cheesecake as I usually do today-- it came out fine, tasty. The guests we had loved the shepherd's pie. Food is a wonderful thing, but the challenge only takes you so far.
This book challenges a lot of the usual thinking on the subject: that humans are inherently monogamous, that women seek partners who can provide for them and men seek partners who are appear to be youthful and fertile, and try to spread their 'seed' as far and wide as possible. The book argues instead that humans used to share everything, including sexual partners, that is, before the agricultural revolution. They stuck together in tight groups, depended on each other for survival, sharing food was mandatory and being selfish or unhelpful was shameful. Paternity was a complete non-issue because private property didn't exist to pass on. Before private property, no one thought of women as property either because they didn't even know what that was. Everyone had several meaningful sexual relationships and sexual jealousy wouldn't have been relevant. Sounds nice.
I'm sure it's not a new idea... just the first time I've seen it all laid out neatly in a book (Sex at Dawn, by the way, written by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha). A professor whose class I'm taking this fall (Culture in Conflict Resolution with Anthony Wanis-St. John) remarked the other day that he was fascinated by the idea that the agricultural revolution created the concept of war. I'm inclined to agree with that idea based on some other things I've read and I suppose I'm fascinated by it as well. Now we can add "destroyed sexual relationships" to the failings produced by the agricultural revolution.
So far the agricultural revolution disrupted the natural order food chain and put all animals other than humans at a disadvantage; it created the existence of concentrated wealth and thus large-scale inequality; it introduced the possibility of starvation on a massive scale as people multiplied faster than their food sources and the entire crop a population depended on could now fail; it paved the way for monoculture which is ruining the earth, gave birth to the idea of property ownership which led to ownership of people, and now apparently has led to the perpetuation of unnatural human sexual relationships. These days we start wars to defend this newfound wealth and property, to protect the sexual honor of women which is nothing but a human invention, and to take what isn't ours because the earth's food is no longer free for the taking.
Why don't they teach this in school? I don't remember learning about the horrors of agriculture. I remember learning that we figured out how to feed everybody more efficiently, to save up food for hard times, and to stay in one place so we could protect our family units. No one mentioned that family units were not anything like the structures we staunchly defend as "right" today. No one said that if you make a ton of extra food there will eventually be too many people to fit comfortably on the planet. Growing up I heard very little about wars except that people who fought in them were brave and that they've existed since the dawn of time, which isn't true at all. I heard little about hunter-gatherers except that they were primitive, inferior, and now nearly gone.
It's impossible to understand that there could be a different way to live unless someone tells you that there once was and could be again before you're too old to imagine it. Not every adult is seeking change or a new idea, but kids are just looking for you to tell them 'how it is'-- the truth. In school they still teach kids that we were nice to the Native Americans. They teach them that this is a free country, not that it was stolen or that people are still enslaved here and have been for a long time. They teach kids that every innovation is good, that we are better off today as a people than we ever were before. It's like history is a dark shadow behind us, stretching long as we run toward the sunny future.
But there is value in knowing what happened in the past. There's value in admitting we might have taken some wrong turns as a people. There is value in explaining to a child that ancient people had some things right, that they were happy, that they had ideas we should have brought into the future. Whole cultures used to be based on tradition, on passing along ancient history because they recognized that someone a long time ago figured out what worked so they kept doing it. Today we treat the future as a blank slate, waiting for us to invent the next right way to live, and why?
If a child can see the whole picture maybe they can help us-- maybe we could start to build wisdom again. Why do we protect young minds from our failure as if they are helpless to effect change? Who would we all be if someone had told us there is more than one right way to live, more than one way to divy up the earth's bounty, more than one sexual approach? That not every forward motion is into a sunny future; that it has taken massive social upheavals to try to correct the wrongs we have met as a people going down this path of agriculture and wealth and property, and that some of the wrongs still aren't right.
Maybe more kids would grow up thinking there was work to be done. Maybe they'd have ideas, changes, plans. I don't think kids would hate the world or hate us if they knew we were on the wrong track-- I think they'd want to help.
I think it's OK to be wrong. Sure, it feels better if we're all wrong together-- that it's not just me, it's you too. But the first step is always me: I was wrong about what I ate for a long time. I admitted it and try to eat differently. I've been wrong about the way I thought people around me deserve to be treated so many times it's a wonder I don't give up trying to be different, but I am alive and what for if not to live to good purpose. I keep trying to learn and change. I was so wrong about how much garlic to put in my baked macaroni last week but I owned it and I'll make it differently next time.
I think it's really hard to admit you're wrong, but once you do it a few times it gets easier. And just because I think the human race is on the wrong track doesn't mean I hate us, it doesn't mean I'm giving up. To do something tough like admitting how wrong you are, you have to be pretty committed to the outcome of doing that. You have to really love somebody or love something to keep trucking like that, and I really love us as a people so I'm willing to say we're wrong and try to do something about it.
I think you really have to love this planet to keep at the "green" work people are so bent on. I think you really have to love the human race to go to a place like the Congo and subject yourself voluntarily to that kind of horror in order to offer a hand and put some thought into a solution. I think if we didn't love each other we'd all give up.
So where are you wrong today? Maybe if everybody knows, they'll want to help. Maybe if someone somewhere admits the agricultural revolution was wrong we can try something else. We all make mistakes...