Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Agriculture, a Foundational Technology

Part I. Why agriculture?

The only alternative to agriculture (other than photosynthesis) is hunting/gathering. The hunting/gathering lifestyle must be rejected as a long-term mode for survivors of a civilization-ending event because agriculture can support much higher population densities. This is critical for the following reasons:

1. The world currently supports a much higher population than will be maintainable after an Eschaton event. Quick adoption of agricultural methods will mean that fewer people will have to die. This is presumably desirable both ethically (it is better to save people than to let them die of starvation) and genetically (the greater the population maintained after the Eschaton, the greater the genetic diversity, and hence the prospects for the sustained survival of the species).

2. A group adopting a hunter/gatherer lifestyle would be quickly overwhelmed (and either eliminated or assimilated) by any nearby groups choosing agriculture, as has historically happened in virtually every situation where an agricultural civilization has come into contact with a hunting/gathering one. (See, e.g., Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, & Steel.)

3. The population density allowed by agriculture may be important in establishing other foundational technologies of civilization, such as medicine, chemistry, and metallurgy.


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