I've been reading The 10,000 Year Explosion over the last several weeks, nearing completion. It's been a while since I found a book so interesting and compelling. In contrast, though Taubes' Good Calories Bad Calories is a watershed science of nutrition book that has yet to see the popularity it deserves and, I believe, will receive in time — I was already a "convert." So while I leaned a lot of specifics, nothing was particularly surprising.
This is not the case for the former. In fact, it has and is challenging some things that I, and I believe the "Paleo community" in general, hold dear. On the other hand, I was already going to some of these places. For example, I don't think it's primarily about the carbohydrate load, anymore (within reason: two Big Gulps per day and an order of Crispy Cremes is not what I mean). In fact, I have been pondering a name for my own particular approach to diet, exercise, and intermittent fasting, and I always come back to: The Ancestral Life. Why? Because what you can tolerate and what makes you at your best is not determined by the fact that you're an H. Sapiens, with a particular genome, but rather, party to one eventual group or another that left Africa 60,000 years ago, branched off, experienced great survival success in wildly different environments, and it's all written in your genes. So: where did you come from, say, in the last 50,000 years?
A personal case in point: I am of NW and Central Euro (Germanic) descent, my wife of American and South-Central American Indian (specifically: Mexican). Consequently, they lived for thousands of years in relative isolation, not mixing genes with tradesmen, travelers, or immigrants from other far distant regions (as Euros, Asians, and Middle Easterners — broadly speaking — did), and genetically adapting to different foods and environments. It has only been hundreds of years that their genome has become reacquainted with the descendants of their ultimate ancestors, the first being Spaniards. This is anecdotal, but my wife does not seem to be responding to the leaning nature of my high-fat diet, as I do — in fact she has put on some weight. There may be other things at work, including the ass-kicking workouts, and I'll eventually sort it all out, but what it is not is formulaic, as though we're all cut from the same genome.
I rather like to do a few substantive book reviews whilst I'm reading something worthy, rather than a general wrap up upon conclusion. So, this may just be the the first of a couple or more hits & run of what may be more — maybe not — substantive partial reviews. If you saw my Facebook and Tweet updates earlier, then you saw that I was spending my first afternoon of the year at the pool, scooping up Vit D. This is the book I was reading, and so began to think of some passages I clipped some days back.
First, I must back up to 1993, 16 years ago. I picked up a book by James Dale Davidson entitled The Great Reckoning: Protecting Yourself in the Coming Depression. Lest you think that he was so insightful as to predict what may be happening now, that's not it. In fact, in terms of investment advice, he missed by a million miles. But the book was still vastly interesting. It looked at all of modern history from a geo-political standpoint, i.e., how things like the stirrup (mobilize an armored army on horseback), gunpowder and assorted other things changed the world and set up a sort of ebb & flow, a push-pull between centralized or distributed control of violence (that which largely runs the modern world). Of everything I read, there was a single brief passage that so resonated with me that I have recounted it in paraphrase dozens and dozens of times in writing and in conversations over the last 16 years. It was about the invention of government, of the modern State.
It goes something like this. Before agriculture, people hunted, gathered, and migrated — probably often following herds of animals. They only "owned" what they could carry, which wasn't a lot. Consequently: little to nothing owned, so nothing to bother to steal. Populations were small, averaging 30 members. Along comes agriculture and, suddenly, people have to stick around to tend to fields, they begin to accumulate wealth, as they don't have to pick up and move all the time. It's not a great leap to imagine that some preferred to remain hunter-gatherers, but with a new prey: other humans.
So, they systematically raid settlements of other humans who have stores of grains, livestock, and other valuable things they have acquired or fashioned. But there's an inherent problem: disorganization among thieves. What happens if, after a four-day trek to loot the village you "visited" six months ago, you find that they have just been hit a few days prior by another "enterprising" band of thieves and there's nothing left worth stealing? Moreover, you're smart: you want to milk them, not kill them. You have a "long-term view."
What. Do. You. Do?
There's only one logical solution. You protect them from future marauders, but at a price (for you and your friends). This, my friends, is the ancient root of government: a protection racket by non-productive thieves for the benefit of themselves and other thieves.
Isn't it great to see that some things just don't change, even in 10,000 years?
OK, let's fast forward to a clip in The 10,000 Year Explosion that I recently read.
The sedentary lifestyle of farming allowed a vast elaboration of material culture. Food, shelter, and artifacts no longer had to be portable. Births could be spaced closer together, since mothers didn't have to continually carry small children. Food was now storable, unlike the typical products of foraging, and storable food could be stolen. For the first time, humans could begin to accumulate wealth. This allowed for nonproductive elites, which had been impossible among hunter-gatherers. We emphasize that these elites were not formed in response to some societal need: They took over because they could.
Combined with sedentism, these developments eventually led to the birth of governments, which limited local violence. Presumably, governments did this because it let them extract more resources from their subjects, the same reason that farmers castrate bulls. Since societies were generally Malthusian, with population growth limited by decreasing agriculture production per person at higher human density, limits on interpersonal violence ultimately led to a situation in which a higher fraction of the population died of infectious disease or starvation.
So, here you have the root of my decade-plus-long personal impatience with voters and voting.
I don't "vote" for thieves; neither do I lobby them or send them letters. As a matter of fact: I would rather that the full and complete consequences of their thievery bear full fruit, rather than persist in generation after generation of public delusion about who they are and what they're about. And I'm happy to take my chances with the obvious potential global pain that would cause.
Look paleo guys and gals: you did it for grains, legumes, vegetable oils, refined concentrated sugars and their highly processed derivatives. Why do you stop there? Government is an even newer "innovation" than agriculture. It is far more toxic, if you ask me.
Alright, here's a final interesting passage. Heretofore, everything I've read (including the foregoing mentioned Reckoning) sees modern history in terms of cultural change and technological innovation, as though human evolution stopped with the advent of agriculture rather than continued or, as 10,000 Year sets out to show, actually accelerated.
Over time, if our argument is correct, farming peoples should have become better adapted to their agricultural diets in many ways, and we might expect that some of the skeletal signs of physiological stress would have gradually decreased. Although such genetic adaptation clearly occurred, cultural changes that improved health must have occurred as well. For example, the adoption of new crops and new methods of food preparation would have improved the nutritional quality of the average peasant's diet. Of course, some of those new methods (polishing rice) and new crops (sugarcane)-actually made things worse. Adaptive change is slow and blind, but it is also sure and steady. Cultural change is less reliable.
But cultural change is important. Although many traditional archaeologists and anthropologists will probably see us as biological imperialists out to explain everything that ever happened with our pet genetic theories, we firmly believe that cultural change-new ideas, new techniques, new forms of social organization-were powerful influences on the historical process. We're simply saying that the complete historical analyst must consider genetic change as well as social, cultural, and political change. Once a list of battles and kings seemed plenty good enough, but life keeps getting more complicated.
Well, I don't know how long it will take for average people to become super tolerant to grains — much less to the point that they're nutritionally superior to, say, a big fat steak, but I'll take my steak. You all can do your part for the collective genome, if you like, but I'll take my big fat steak, 90% saturated fat coconut oil, my butter, ghee, lard, fatty fish, and my high-fat meat & fish sauces.