Beer , Goats, and Dirt

There have been several articles lately on folks touting the merits of beer, e.g.[Link]. In particular these experts credit beer with the sedentary transition that eventually led to civilization.

The English historian, James Burke, has written several books and developed several television series – Connections, Son of Connections, and The Day The World Changed (which is not a movie with Michael Rene and a pre-Star Wars robot designated Clatu, more in the genre of Tobor the Magnificent than C3PO.) It isn’t quite clear which came first, the books or the programs, or whether the procession was uniform, but the programs and by derivation, the books, are quite good. They tell stories of a common theme, which is the progression of events and technologies. Hence, the protestations of beer excellence put me in mind of Burke’s work.

The initial adoption of sedentaryness, as I described in The Metaphysics of War, actually began in the last days of the last cold phase. Evidently man had become adept enough at hunting and transporting large animals that he could camp in one place on an extended basis. There is also a theory that sedentaryness also began at the land-water boundary where fishing and primitive agriculture would support a sedentary community. Since the end of the cold phase also meant that lots of water got added to the system, the sites of these possible settlements are now inundated.

The basic idea of sedentaryness is founded on property, in particular, a transition from having to be very selective to only have property that you can carry and need to being able to amass property relatively indiscriminately. From this change in human world view came all the things that have led to modern civilization, including the acquisition of luxuries, including beer. In our humble view, beer is a special case of the property thing, but clearly the beer pundits may feel otherwise.

One of these, in an article I can now not find, claims that early herder-gatherers were able to give up chasing goats to grow grain to make beer. Interesting theory but it has some substantial problems. Until the American experience in the Nineteenth century there is almost no instance, and none widespread, of the conversion of herding real estate into crop real estate.

On the other hand, the depredations of goats is credited with the desertification of North Africa, so the story may be more one of desperate goat herders giving up and moving elsewhere. In doing so they may have been able to switch to the more efficient agricultural practice, but as we are reminded, even this has a deleterious effect on the planet.[Link] Hence the idea that we are slowly eroding away our ecology and need to be developing science and technology so we can move on.

And if we do so, it will be largely due to beer, which is widely recognized in both scientific and engineering communities as having a positive effect on the thought, innovation, and invention.


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  1. Pingback: Into The Land-Water Interface « Simple Country Physicist

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