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Invisible Success, Civilizations that Die or Quit and Memes We Live By; Transcript of an Interview with Daniel Quinn

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And then I asked about other things.  The laws of the universe are very much invisible to us.  It took a genius to see why a ball rolling off the top of a table falls to earth to understand and formulate it as a law, and see that the universe is a giant success story written in invisible ink.  I wanted to know, specifically of you, why civilization is hierarchical - why all civilizations (and there have been several) have been hierarchies?  Again, it's like the clouds: you look at the clouds and say, "What else could they do?  So they don't fall down.  Well, you know, they're clouds."  And looking at the civilizations, people say, "Well, yeah.  They're civilizations.  What else would they be except hierarchies?"  I can't stop there. 


So I go back and look at the beginnings, how civilizations begin; and they all begin the same way: with people deciding to try a new way of life, deciding to live off all of their own food, instead of living off just the food that grows naturally all around them.


Rob Kall:   Hunting and foraging, you mean, right?


Daniel Quinn   Yeah.  So they give up the hunting and gathering life, and become agricultural as farmers, and very quickly gather together into farming villages.  The reason that they could settle, the reason that hunting gatherers cannot settle, is that if they stay in one place, they will quickly exhaust all of the resources around them.  The game will all be hunted down.  All the collectable food will be collected, and they'll starve.  So they have to move on, they have to keep moving forever. 


The reason that agriculturalists can stay in one place, can settle into a village, is that agriculture gives them surpluses, so that when the seasons change, they don't have to move on.  They can stay there and live off the surpluses.  And when surpluses get low, the grow more.  No problem.  This is what enables them to stay in one place. 


But once the surpluses are there, they can't just leave them around in the open sitting around in piles.  They have to store them.  They have to keep them away from other animals, and they have to keep them away from other people.  Perhaps initially, just initially, they were just open to anyone in the village, anyone can go and get what they want from the stores.  But you can imagine how long a supermarket would last if all the food on he shelves was free.  Of course it wouldn't last, and I think it would quickly become apparent that the stores, the whatever they were, had to be under lock and key.


Rob Kall:   Although -- in the hunter-gatherer world, there are no locks and keys, and all the food that's out there is free for the taking by anybody.


Daniel Quinn   Absolutely.  That's why they are not hierarchies: it's that there is no one holding the key to the lock; Anyone can go and get whatever they want.  But in the village, someone had to organize the storage of the food, organize the guarding of the food.  Once the food was there, the village was a target for peoples around them.  If you think of Seven Samurai, the Japanese film about the Samurai who came to a village to show them how to defend themselves against the barbarians that wanted to come in and take their stuff.

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