Like-A-Wolf

I am beginning a series of blog posts that will read much like a novel, with each blog post reading like a chapter. I call this book “Like-A-Wolf”.

The basic subject is the domestication of the dog. I regard the invention of the dog (I use the term “invention” very carefully – more on that later), as the most important single event in the evolution of human culture, for reasons which will become clear.

Sooo, why do I say “invent”?

First, many of the organisms which we consume as agricultural products are human inventions. Wheat for example. The ancestor of wheat is very different from the organism which we know today. We selective bred wheat to be what we wanted: A sweet, large seed grain with specific properties.

In a similar manner, dogs were effectively selectively bred by paleolithic humans. The mutation which makes dogs different from wolves is known as empathy. As Jeremy Rifkin points out in his post The Empathic Civilization, empathy, is the most powerful aspect of our consciousness, and really defines us as humans. We have a form of hardware in our brains which enables empathy, called mirror neurons. This causes our brain neurons to fire when we see suffering in exactly the same manner as the organism which is experiencing the suffering. Hence we “feel the pain” of an organism we observe suffering.

Other organisms on the planet do not generally have empathy. Wolves, for example, have a psychology which is very similar to what in human psychology is referred to as a psychopath: Basically an insatiable killing machine. Wolves normally have empathy during the period up to adolescence. (All mammals have some form of empathy when being suckled by their mother, as that is required in order to live effectively in a den of other cubs. An insatiable killing machine would not work in that context.) Once a wolf goes through adolescence, however, the psychopath mentality eventually takes over, and the wolf ceases to make eye contact, and becomes devoid of empathy.

Once in a while, though, a wolf is born with an interesting mutation: It is permanently capable of empathy. We refer to this as “tame”. The normal fate for this cub would be to be killed by the other wolves in the pack after it goes through puberty. Empathy is definitely not an adaptive trait for surviving in a wolf pack.

What happened then is very interesting: A woman made the choice to suckle a wolf cub. (I weave this idea into the story, in which a 19 year old girl who recently lost a baby and has full breasts finds a wolf cub and decides to suckle it.)

Hence the “invention” term: Many human inventions are not intentional, but rather accidental. What makes them inventions is the human aspect. Undoubtedly, there were wolves being ┬áborn with this mutation. But a human never decided to nurture one until this point.

Once that happened, the paleolithic tribe where that occurred would quickly discover that they had a devastating weapon. Not only could a pack of domesticate wolves be used by a human hunting party against all kinds of game. (Paleolithic humans after the invention of the dog were able to bring down all kinds of big game, up to and including wooly mammoth, and at that point become the dominant species on the planet.) Dogs enabled humans to capture and domesticate the goat, sheep, horse, cow, donkey, and so forth. The dog was first, though. Effectively the neolithic experiment (i.e. the invention of agriculture) begins with the dog, which was the first domesticated animal.

Eventually, the dog was used as a weapon against neighboring tribes, with devastating effect. That resulted in the rise of the first neolithic empire, the invention of slavery, and all the rest.

We are who we are  because of the domestication of the dog.

The Village State

I have previously mentioned my idea of the Village State. In this post, I will flesh out this concept.

In 2011, I became aware of the area of anthropology and it’s exploration of the impact of agriculture on human culture. This occurred in a rather interesting way. I have always been looking for a nutritional lifestyle (I hate the term diet) which would be optimal for my health. My doctor recommended a book called The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain. The basic idea is that the illnesses of mankind are the result of the agricultural experiment, which occurred in approximately 15,000 BC. This is when man discovered agriculture. The development of agriculture led to the abandonment of traditional hunter / gatherer lifestyles, and instead folks settled down and tilled the land. Eventually, this led to urban development, high technology, and the culture we know today.

Pre-agricultural humans are referred to by anthropologists as paleolithic (which means “old man”). Post-agricultural humans (like us) are referred to as neolithic (which means “new man”). Interestingly, the fossil record is very clear: Paleolithic humans were very healthy. Typically, paleolithic humans had the musculature and skeleton structure of an olympic athlete. Also, if paleolithic individuals did not die of some unnatural cause (a relatively common occurrence in paleolithic society), they lived to be quite old, often into the low 100s. Once the agricultural revolution took hold, though, things went south quickly: The leading cause of death rapidly became dental cavities, as a result of the high carbohydrate diet neolithic humans ate. Lifespans plummeted into the 30s. Early neolithic humans literally lay down and slept in their animals’ manure. This caused all of the devastating human diseases we know of to jump from livestock animals into humans.

Cordain’s plan is quite simple: Emulate the dietary lifestyle of a paleolithic human and you will be healthy. This involves eating lots of animal protein (the hunter part of the equation, after all), but this must be of very high quality. Then in addition to that, you eat lots and lots of green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit.

I am not sure if this diet is for everyone, but it is definitely for me. Since I have been following this diet, my weight has declined steadily. As of this writing, I have lost 68 pounds. In addition, all of my health problems have steadily declined at the same time. Right now, I feel like I did when I was in my early 30s, and I am 58.

This result got my attention so I started to look at the impact of the agricultural experiment in other areas of human life and culture. One thing I looked at is religion.

Interestingly, almost all anthropologists agree: Paleolithic humans do not practice religion in the manner we do at all. They are simply not religious. That is not to say that they are not spiritual. An aboriginal Australian for example lives in a vivid and rich spiritual world which is even more real to him / her than the physical world we live in and relate to. However, one of the essential elements in religion is the concept of sin or brokenness, basically a loss of contact with the divine. A longing if you will to reconnect with something mystical which has been profoundly lost. Christians refer to this as the fall. The Buddha refers to this as suffering. Hindus call it the vail of tears. Other religions call it other things, but the experience is universal.

Why do the paleolithic humans not experience this feeling of loss and longing for the divine? Simple: They have not lost it in the first place. I call this the Village State.

Imagine living in a place where everyone you know is a member of your family. You are born. There are some folks who are there then. They are older than you. Once in a while, one of them dies and they are not there anymore. But new babies are born after you. They are younger than you. Thus, there are only two kinds of people: Family members who are your elders, and other family members who are younger than you. But either way, you have been in the presence of these people every single day of your entire life.

In this situation, there is no property. Everything is held in common and used by all, especially the Earth itself. Also, there is no loneliness. There is no search for significance or meaning in life, because life has meaning and significance: The meaning is the village itself.

A good example of this is the movie The Gods Must be Crazy. This movie is about a paleolithic tribe called the Sho that lives in Southern Africa. They live in the Village State. They are completely devoid of violence, property, technology, and such things. The hardest thing in their environment is wood. One day, a pilot passing over throws a Coke bottle out of the plane. Suddenly, a miraculous object is thrust into their midst! It is so hard! It is so shiny! They have never seen anything like it. But there is only one of them, which means that for the first time there is contention for a material possession. This leads to jealousy, and eventually to violence, also unknown to them. They decide that this object is evil. The Gods must be crazy to send it to them. They must send someone to get rid of it.

They send out one of their own named Xi to take this evil thing and cast it over the end of the world, where it will not trouble anyone else. And so the adventure begins.

In the movie, one of the interesting things is that everyone who meets Xi loves him immediately. It is his innocence and gentleness that wins them over. He simply loves everyone, and is constantly trying to do the most helpful thing possible. And he is completely selfless. He does not know how to be any other way.

Now imagine a world populated by paleolithic humans, and the Roman Empire happens. Entire villages are ripped out of their ancestral lands and sold into slavery. They are thrust into Roman cities which were certainly among the most horrific conditions faced by humans in our species’ sordid history. Imagine the loss of meaning and significance and the profound loneliness of being surrounded by strangers (and strangers who obviously mean you no good) for the first time in your life.

In my view (and this is my opinion, nothing more), this is the source for the concept of sin. Effectively, the human perception of sin is the due to the isolation, loneliness, and suffering that is occasioned by the loss of the Village State. This incredibly powerful event led to so much longing, sadness, alienation and suffering that it infected our entire race. The impact has been different on different parts of the world, but one thing has been common: The transition from paleolithic to neolithic lifestyles is deeply traumatic, and certainly resulted in the profound feelings of despair, isolation and loss that are associated with the concept of sin.

These are precisely the conditions described by Rodney Stark in Cities of God that the early Christians faced. Christianity prevailed, and prevailed mightily, in the first 3 centuries AD because it recreated the Village State for many, many folks. Again, folks in early Roman cities would have been very receptive to anyone who would show them love. In fact, they would have been desperate for it. Stark describes how early Christians would go into the homes of their pagan neighbors who were dying of the plague, and bring them a warm blanket and a hot bowl of soup. Imagine that as a gospel message!

I have experienced this as well, as I have written previously in this blog. It is entirely possible that Christianity saved my life in exactly the manner I describe above. I was certainly a shattered and broken young man when the Church came into my life. I will readily admit that I am grateful for that, and perhaps what I am doing now seems like a betrayal to that great good which I received at that point in my life.

But, alas, things are simply either true or they are not. My research has led me to conclude that the fundamental underpinnings of Western European Modern Evangelical Protestant Christianity are simply false, or at best unprovable propositions which are spectacularly unlikely. I will be exploring these as we go through the survey of scripture as I discussed in my previous post.

More later.