The Evil And Suffering that Come With The Transition To Agriculture

WRITER:  Pang, Yiu Kai  (彭耀階)

June, 2017.


Farming’s harm does not rest in damaging the earth’s life support system alone, there’s nothing exaggerating if we say  farming works in pushing humans into a purgatory like situation. Paleopathological studies reveals that right at the onset of agriculture the earliest farmers all suffered from mulnutrition and it’s deficiency related diseases and physique. This phenomenon is prevalent among the earliest farmers in different places in the world, while the same studies on pre-neolithic hunter gatherers show no sign of similar problems.



Health Deterioration

Health deterioration is prevalent among the earliest farmers but not among the latest hunter gatherers right before the agricultural transition. Modern city dwellers find this difficult to digest as they have been soaked in the overwhelming information of three eras of human “progress”:  The development from hunting-gathering to agriculture and to industrialization. However, on the other hand, health deterioration conclusion can easily be found to be reasonable upon pondering as farm yield contains far less complete protein and B complex than a  meat-fruit mixture, and neolithic men’s knowledge about nutrition has to be very limited, they had no idea that depending on grain as their main food could lead to complete protein and B complex deficiency.


Non-Reversible Transition, Day Long Hard Labour

Health deterioration is only small matter comparing to the end of the lifestyle without long hours of annoying labouring. Farming has to involve a lot of daily hardwork: soil tilling, weed clearing, …, all are kinds of time consuming repetitive labour, completely not comparable to the fun of game chasing and fruit collecting of the hunter gatherers. Even worse, the matter was not easily reversible. The earliest farmers who found the farming life not worthwhile quite often could not revert back to hunting gathering. Once the natural growth forest had been cleared to create farmland, gaming animals and wild fruit dissappeared, even the earliest farmers later had abandoned using the farmland , game and fruit could not come back within a few decade’s time, you had to migrate to other places if you wanted to. Not only so, the remaining hunter gatherers would also find livelihood much more difficult when the neighbouring tribes had taken up farming. Since the surrounding wild forests were cut down, the remaining barren land could no longer support the game animals and wild fruits they need. The same thing happened again in the post WW2 Tanzania Haksa hunter gatherer tribes.


Crumbling Invaluable Social Values

Daily repetitive hard labour is still small matter comparing to the crumbling of hunter gatherer social values. Decades of recent in depth anthropological studies reveals that nearly all existing mobile hunter gatherer tribes exercise equality measures strickly, from the distribution of food and necessities to political power over the tribe, i.e., they exercise a kind of direct democracy. Only stationary or farming tribes are different. At first sight such phenomenon seems incomprehensible, some may have practiced direct democracy by chance, but how can they all realize the social values that people in the mainstream agricultural and industrial societies have fought for centuries and still cannot realize? But if we can employ a little systems thinking and have some understanding of how the tribespeople live in the wilderness, we should be able to find out why.


Basically an individual hunter gatherer can live by himself or his family in the wild, they voluntarily join the tribe for more secured food supply, more play mates(hunter gatherer tribespeople mostly like playing collective games), and more secured old age etc., should they find the tribe treat them not fair, they can simply go away, turn to live by himself or his family in the wilderness. So a particular tribe cannot maintain it’s member if they don’t treat everyone equally, this explains why nearly all mobile hunter gatherer tribes stick to equality principle so strictly. Non-mobile ones not necessarily follow the equality principle may be because stationary ones have turned the surrounding Nature far less food supportive due to a change in their food getting and population practice. The pre-requisite they can become stationary must be because they can produce food themselves, such as cattle or poultry rearing, or planting food crops, etc., so that they don’t have to move away when the game animals in the region has been dwindled. This ability also enables them to settle down , enjoy living in bigger and more complex houses and owning more matter, tools and wealth. Their ability to produce food also allows them to grow in population, not having to abide by the food constraint of the surrounding regional ecosystem, which also ends up in a tribal population much larger than the surrounding Nature’s game, fruit can support and thus leads to over hunting-gathering. This’s the very reason why stationary tribes do not necessarily exercise full equality among all members. When a power and privilege seeking leader suddenly emerges in a tribe, the deprived ones may want to leave, but are detered by the fear that they may not be able to make a living in the wilderness, in the end they choose to stay, swallow up the inequality or even exploitation.


 The transition from mobile hunting gathering to stationary type is also irreversible for reasons mentioned above. This may also be the very cause humans switch to argriculture economy from hunting gathering, at least anthropologists can find no good reason that our ancestors should make such a transition, but there should have been arbitrary changes, if the change by chance is irreversible, then an all out transition to agriculture is possible.


What Price To Pay For?

What is the lure of agriculture? Or better we first ask what is the price to pay for switching to agriculture instead. The price are of two kinds, manifest and hidden ones. The manifest ones are daily mechanical repetition of manual labour, humans usually find this kind of work annoying and hard to bear if they have to do that for whole day every day. The second manifest one is longer working hour and so less time for friends, family, and group activities. The third manifest one is less tasty food. In mobile hunting gathering tribes, tribesmen all know that the amount of food they can get has to be what the surrounding Nature can give them, so they usually maintain a stable population. But in agricultural villages, villagers usually think more people also mean more hands and so more food yield, so they usually have a much larger population than what the natural surrounding food yield can support, which unavoidably has lead to insufficient game animals and wild fruit for the village to consume, wild tasty food has become uncommon in their daily meals.


The Hidden Price:  Social Hierarchy, Brutality, War, Empire, Slavery, Banishment From Eden

However, hidden prices cost the earliest farmer even much dearer. The first hidden one is their worsened health. Agriculturists’ diet has to be mainly vegetables and grains, without sufficient complete proteins and B complex, overpopulation also tightens their food supply, these two effects together make the earliest farmers malnutritious and illness prone. The second hidden one is ecosystem deterioration. The earliest farmers have to clear forests for farming, overhunt and overgather the surrounding regional ecosystem, causing ecosystem deterioration and habitat loss over long periods of time. As farming depends on healthy regional ecosystem for good harvest, this also means the place will be poverty strickened. The third hidden one is farming begets barter markets, barter market begets money, money begets wealth amassing, wealth amassing begets greediness, exploitation of natural resources and other people, emerging of social hierarchy, power differentiation, fraternal society, army for conquering other peoples, kingdoms, enslaving peoples in other defeated places, humans have fallen into a purgetary state, and global environmental condition has dropped to an unprecedented low.


The last hunter gatherers and the first farmers’ health have been examined by physical anthropologists, while the last hunter gatherers’ regional environment and the first farming villages’ surrounding environment have been examined by archeologists, the effects of transition upon human health/nutrition and global environmental conditions can thus be found out.


In the abstract of the thesis jointly prepared by the Isreal Antiquities Authority, the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, the Department of Anatomy of Tel Aviv University, and the Department of Archaeology of University College Cork of Ireland: “Paleopathology And The Origin Of Agriculture In The Levant”, the authors summerize that “”The comparison of the health profiles of pre-Neolithic (Natufian hunter gatherer, 10,500 – 8,300 BC) and Neolithic (agricultural, 8,300 - 5500BC) population based on the study of 200 Natufian skeletons and 205 Neolithic skeletons reveals a higher prevalence of lesions indicative of infective diseases among Neolithic population, and an overall reduction in the prevalence of degenerative joint disease. These results indicate that in the southern Levant the leolithic transition did not simply lead to an overall deterioration in health but  rather resulted in a complex profile which was shaped by 1) an increase exposure to disease agents, 2) changes in diet, 3) population aggregation in larger and denser settlements, 4) changes in activity patterns and the division of labour, and 5) a higher resistent immunological system and response capacity to environmental aggressions (mainly infections). “”


The awful consequences of transition to farming does not end here, yet it’s worthwhile to examine the emergence of empires and slavery in more detail as it’s also a common mis-conception that war, empire and slaves are elements of history since earliest human ancesters roam the grasslands and forests of Africa, Asia and Europe. Empires and slavery are the necessary outcomes of war, to suppose slavery was common since the onset of  human pre-history, we have to first conclude that war was rampant since the earliest ancesters emerged. Yet the recent scientific studies of the hunter gatherer tribes before and after the transition to agricultural ones reveal us that war was not common before the transition, but turned rampant only after that. One such representative studies was held by Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg of Ado Akademi University in Finland. Their study in the US journal “Science” suggests that the origins of war were not –as some has argued—rooted in roving hunter gatherer groups, but rather, in cultures that held land and livestock and knew how to farm for food.



In facing the various global environmental crisis, we are bewildered at the unshakable human greediness, firmer than rock indifference to impending total collapse, desperate grasp of money, power and social status……Modern people all tend to believe this is human nature, but upon close examination of neo-lithic hunter gatherer culture as against the agricultural ones, we quickly find that this’s not the case, greediness, money, power, matter, status prone is only the byproduct of agricultural and industrial civilizations, not inherent nature of humans.