Archive | January, 2014

History of Humankind course. Part 1

5 Jan

history

This post is going to be a pure advertisement of one educational course or to be even more specific of one scholar, professor of Hebrew University of Jerusalem Yuval Harari. The course is briefly depicting some aspects of mankind development starting from Homo Sapiens’ exit out of Africa and predicting crucial changes of us as a biological species. 

I am not going to write any kind of short course syllabus. Since I am not a historian or even a journalist/press editor, I don’t want my personal feelings would compromise the actual course material and discussed problems. Besides, the best way to familiarize oneself with the course content is to watch a video promo publicly available on the web. Instead, I would like to briefly recap some key points mentioned by prof. Harari. 

First of all, I am amazed by the highly professional academical approach used in tutoring. The course lectures are given in a very casual way without any possible distractions, though. Professor is talking very concisely trying to draw student’s attention by using undisputed facts, common sense and real life examples. The fact that his mother tongue is not English makes him express his thoughts in a very simplified way and avoid fancy idioms often used by other public speakers. Although it might sound a bit ridiculous, but such style of lecturing makes easier understanding and realization of the messages pushed by him, at least in my case. 

My second biggest impression is a Mr. Harari’s ability to look at things from a different perspective. Almost each of his lessons has one or several arguments which are completely mind blowing for me. Let’s have a closer look at some most provocative statements. 

The agricultural revolution made life harder. Yes, he is arguing that first cultivation of basic crops (wheat, barley and rice) as well as domestication of animals (sheep and goats) led to more intensive and permanent both physical and mental exercises, which thus resulted in a busier lifestyle. Before these innovations all humans were just gatherers and hunters which meant they had to make their best to kill a mammoth and find new forests full of berries and mushrooms, but they didn’t care too much about things peasants usually did until modern time. Such things as how fertile land they settle down in is, whether a nearby river provides enough water for seeding grains and keeping cattle alive, how to get rid of weed plants in order to harvest as much as possible and so on. Of course, proper plant and animal cultivation led to an enormous increase of a child birthrate, but the quality of life might have become worse indeed. Just think about it: behavioral patterns of wild animals together with well known areas of edible roots and berries have been learned by prehistoric humans quite well, so hunting and gathering was a matter of ‘where’ rather than ‘how’. In contrast, deliberately planned ploughing of new fields, design and digging of water canals as well as taming of wild goats and boars were much challenging tasks. Inventing agricultural tools (plow, shovel, wheel) demanded much more thinking and practicing than a spear (wood stick with a sharp stone on it) or a hand axe (just a sharp piece of stone).

As human became totally attached to the land they took care of, a notion of ‘war’ came into existence. Ancient peasants were much less mobile than their hunting ancestors. Let’s imagine a bigger and more aggressive tribe of ancient gatherers made a claim on a weaker tribe’s territory. In such a tribal conflict there was no particular reason for fierce battles and long-term confrontation. Just the same as wild animals change their habitats, a smaller tribe would move over away from less friendly neighbors and settle down, for example, over the mountain chain with more or less same ecosystem. By contrast, the first land cultivators devoted their entire life to a small field they lived nearby and leaving such a truly ‘warm nest’ would mean a complete disaster for them. No surprise that peasants had to fight till the very end for a simple right to leave on their own land. It’s obvious there are numerous examples of modern wars and minor conflicts over the land and other natural resources nowadays.