My recent reading ventures took me to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This is a book that I started a few years ago but left it unfinished. Picking up again, I feel ashamed to have left it unread. A non-fiction, this book is pretty amazing in how it deals with complex ideas of anthropology in straight-forward and lucid way.
The intrinsic feature of any non-fiction book is its ability to instill different ideas in its readers and to provoke deep thoughts. And this book is no exception. In so far as I have read this book, one of the many ideas that baffled me is the author’s claim that modern civilization — starting from Agricultural Revolution — is nothing but a clever trap, giving rise to numerous problems that the ancient hunter-gatherer people didn’t face. This might come as a very rediculous idea but the author has explained his stance very well.
The pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time. It happens to us today. How many young college graduate have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.
Indeed our civilization of iron and steel and machines is nothing more than a trap that is made to lure us towards luxury and consumerism. We have everything we want, but very few of them are what we actually need. This difference between want and need further gives rise frustration. Today we have more shopping malls than hospitals. We have more multiplexes than there are libraries. Technology was originally aimed at making life easier but we are leading a very tiresome life thesedays.
On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine a society that could have made progress in science and literature without having a permanent settlement. The ancient culture of hunting and gathering went on for several thousand years during which no progress has been made in terms of science and humanities — the nomadic human beings had no idea of counting even after the culture sustained for more than 60,000 years!
It is difficult to label modern society as a luxurious trap. The shortfalls of modern society are only side-effects of an ever-growing population, whose remedial measures urgently need to be calculated and implemented. Society — and mankind, as whole — would not have progressed had we relied on hunting and gathering.