Musings of an autodidact

Quite the background

As we’ve seen, the beginnings of civilization had quite the background. After millions of years of development and migration from pre-human hunter-gatherers, humanity is overtaken by, and overcomes an ice age, remaining hunter gatherers, though of a stone tool-making variety. What may seem to our modern thinking tragically slow innovations gradually caused smaller groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to coalesce into villages. Little things like learning to control the food supply with agriculture and the domestication of livestock or the span of thousands of years, rather than millions, are utterly revolutionary and transformative. 

As I’ve been hopping, skipping, and jumping about with what I hope are entertaining and informative pieces of pre-history, I’ve been trying to paint a picture in slow motion, culminating in the beginning of actual history, thanks to the advent of writing, in Mesopotamia, particularly Sumer, more particularly Uruk. Now that we’ve arrived at that crucial moment at the dawn of civilization, we find that wheels without spokes, plows without metal, and pottery wheels were the radical, life-changing technologies of their day, as smart phones and modern energy sources are to ours. They are woven into daily life, form, in effect, reality as the people of the day knew it, and, while these “modern” contrivances attained a state of normalcy, perhaps even to the point of being taken for granted, a time without these things still existed in collective memory.

In these several millennia of human pre-history, humankind had dispersed widely, and covered a great deal of the globe.  They often popped up in the most inexplicable places, and, separated by distance and time, even developed the same technologies as their far-scattered an unknown distant cousins. Sometimes these developments were independent, or in parallel. Sometimes it just took the advancement millennia to travel from one people to another, transformed by time and culture. Sometimes far-flung populations even lost technology as climate and famine and conflict decimated their populations, each death a loss of precious knowledge as well as life.

Wonders abound in these other cultures, and we’ll hop, skip, and jump around and through them in time as well, but none ultimately have the significance to modern day global civilizations that Sumer enjoys. Sumer thus becomes the first branching off point in what I intend to be the parallel exploration of many different periods in our history. As I poke and scrape at the details in some cases, and paint with broad brushstrokes, I’m constantly asking myself what was going on elsewhere at the time and how did things get to be this way? The earlier post on Ambrose was but a foreshadowing of the next history in parallel.

Overall, my approach is to set the stage for our most pressing existential questions today. What is the current state of things? Is it desirable? How did it get this way? What can we do about it? As long as our problems are a matter of contention with our environment, we, as our Ice Age forbears did, can survive without need of that third question. The social experiment that began in Sumer, however, civilization and rulership, continues to this day, and we have need of that third question, the one our ancestors on the ice and snow answered perhaps in myth, or perhaps not at all. Humanity faces many existential crises. Perhaps no more than did our ancestors, but we face them, and they are many. The difference is that we know about them. In many respects, we are better equipped than ever to meet the challenges to our survival. After all, we have the advantage of even knowing these threats to our very existence even exist. Famine. Disease. Catastrophic war. A cosmic event like a massive meteor strike or a gamma ray burst from a distant dying star.

And the biggest obstacle to meeting these dire threats? Ourselves. Conflict among humanity. Conflict over resources. Over security. Over power. Over trade. Over religion. Over territory. Over race and ethnicity. My hope is that a humanity more greatly aware of its shared history can rise above the conflict, celebrate the differences that are matters of perspective, and compromise on the differences that threaten our survival, the better to save as large a remnant as possible, for it is just a matter of time. If we survive, how we survive is up to us, largely as we decide it now.

The history in me recognizes the history in you.

 

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