Friday, June 10, 2005

01: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 1

The very first time one hungry caveman looked at another and saw he had a piece of food, crime was invented. At the very least, theft, robbery, and probably assault and battery as well, if not downright murder, was commited. At some point, and we have no idea how long this thought would have taken to occur, the first peaceful transfer of possessions from one individual to another, what we call “trade” or “commerce” occurred.

Around the time of this event (more likely, a series of events occurring and recurring in many places over eons before settling into mankind’s primitive brain imprint), the concept of commodities would also have been imprinted: food, skins, tools/weapons, and shelter. Man began to own things. That meant man also began to wish he had more. Ever since, man has learned from other men through trade, and the natural competitiveness of man (survival of the fittest) has made man a collector of goods. The survivors of a winter with not quite enough food stocks to go around would have learned the very important lesson of “having enough”. And, as we all know, we can absolutely never, ever, “have enough”.

The next event in the process was the day it occurred to our primitive ancestor that the fire where his meat had accidentally fallen actually made the meat easier to eat, and more tasty. If only it didn’t have the ashes all over it. An ingenious thought, “wrap it in leaves,” and throw it in the fire. Wow, not only did that protect the meat from the ashes, it made the meat even more tender, more tasty, and it lasted longer in the corner of the cave! And spice was born.

It did not take primitive man long to learn there was safety in numbers. Keeping an ever expanding family gathered about one patriarch or matriarch (who knows?), made for a powerful force, not only the strength of having so many “on one’s side”, but also the additional hunter/gatherers, and child-bearers. So it wasn’t long before the clan in one cave, who knew where to get apples and wild boar, had a banner year, and hiked a hundred yards to the next cave, where the fishers and berry-gatherers were, and offered an exchange. After all, wild boar tends to get a little old after a while, and although the fish stank, they tasted alright, but maybe this trick of cooking meat wrapped in leaves would work with the fish. While this transaction was going on, the son of the Patriarch of the Boar Clan, spotted the daughter of the Matriarch of the Fishers, and mankind’s chances for survival doubled.

So a well-worn path between the two caves became the first road, to be kept cleared as trust between the two clans increased, along with the trade -- and breeding. Maybe they branched out and tried hunting Pterodactyls. Sooner or later, a clan from a cave on the other side of the stream would come over and see the well fed people of the Fisher and Boar clans, and see how strong they were, rich in furs, and skilled at hunting, and not clubbing each other over the head all the time, except for mating rituals. The new clan had a healer, and a star gazer. All this required some form of communication, and while mankind had not developed enough to articulate more than a grunt, he could point, and use his hands to show things, so mankind added another road, and another clan and became the first “civilization”.

I do not believe it was this easy, or only happened once, or even necessarily in this way, but in many fashions, some similar, some not, and in many places around the Earth, over millions of years. But the general path was likely along these lines.

The point is, that man, by himself, could and did survive. Just. Some of the time. But when he banded together with others, his chances of survival increased exponentially. At the same time, so did his needs. He needed to communicate with the others among whom he suddenly was living. As his needs increased, innovative man, man the inventor, used the tool that distinguished him from all the other creatures great and small, his brain. As he invented, nature sometimes kept up, providing an evolutionary alteration after eons of being at the edge of it, as in the change that occurred when man, after walking erect for millennia, developed a different path through the skull for his spinal cord connection to his brain, from that of a quadruped, to that of the erect human we call man. Perhaps this is the dividing point after which mankind’s ancestors were no longer primates, but humans. And yes, I am saying that I believe that mankind’s primitive survival needs drove evolution. I think they still do. I believe something within us makes us adapt to our surroundings, forces change, but only after an incredibly long process convinces nature that it is necessary.

Next: Part Two
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