>>ALEX: This Technicality episode is brought
to you by brilliant.org. *walks into frame* I’ve got a question for you: what do you
think of when you think of humanity’s switch to agriculture? What do you think of when early humans switched
from a hunting and gathering lifestyle, to a farming lifestyle? What about the people who existed before agriculture;
what were they like? I know what I think; I personally have always
looked at the switch from hunting and gathering to farming as the place in human history where
we, well, got our act together, and started modernizing. The people before us, well, they were just
savage hunter-gatherers. In school, we’re all taught that this Neolithic
revolution, this switch to agriculture, was one of the best things to happen to us because
it allowed specialization and put us on track for the big cities and the modern lifestyle
we have today. But what if I told you it was actually a disaster,
and, in fact, a massive mistake. Hey guys, I’m here, let’s get technical. You probably know who Jared Diamond is. Or, at the very least, you’ve heard of his
Pulitzer Prize winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. But we’re not gonna talk about that today,
we’re gonna talk about this article, from the May 1987 issue of Discover magazine. Written by Diamond himself, it’s titled
The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race, and, if you haven’t guessed already,
it’s about agriculture. In his book the Phenomenology of Spirit, German
philosopher Georg Hegel argues that progress is never linear, and while we may think of
now as the epitome of human innovation, and the past as simply primitive, we can learn
a lot of lessons from the past that have been lost in the modern day. So, today, let’s learns those lessons. Let’s discuss what Diamond argues we can
learn from hunting and gathering that has been lost in the modern day and see if it
really IS the worst mistake in the history of the human race. *like Mario* LESAGO!>>CLONE: Wait wait wait Alex there are clearly
so many benefits to agriculture. After adopting agriculture, people were just
clearly better off.>>ALEX: Really? Why?>>CLONE: They were healthier; they had a
constant food supply.>>ALEX: Ok, let’s debunk that. First, agrarians actually had more illnesses
than hunter-gatherers. The study of prehistoric diseases and afflictions
is called paleopathology, and paleopathologists study skeletons to learn more about the makeup
ancient humans, as well as what illness inflicted them. This is George Armelagos, and he and his team
at University of Massachusetts studied 800 Native American skeletons at Dickson Mounds,
located at an intersection of the Spoon and Illinois rivers. They wanted to look for the changes in health
that occurred when the Native Americans there switched from hunting and gathering to farming
corn in about 1150 CE. What did they learn? The farmers were riddled with problems. There was an increase in degenerative conditions
of the spine (signifying too much strenuous physical labour), a four-times increase in
iron-deficiency anemia, a three-times increase in bone lesions (signifying a plethora of
infectious diseases), and a 50% increase in enamel defects (signifying malnutrition). Second, life expectancy for hunter-gatherers
was longer than agriculturalists. Armelagos found that the life-expectancy at
birth of the hunter-gatherers was around 26 years, however, after the switch to agriculture,
it dropped to 19, or a decrease of over 25%. And third, hunter-gatherers were taller than
their farming counter parts. Just like how we can use skeletons to determine
health, we can also use them to determine height. When paleopathologists studied Greek and Turkish
skeletons, they found that the average height of the hunter-gatherers was 5′ 9” for men
and 5′ 5” for women, however, upon taking up agriculture, high crashed to 5′ 3” for
men and 5′ for women. That’s a half foot drop in men, and a 5
inch drop in women. I will now demonstrate what that looks like Average height, by the way, is a fairly good
measure of overall health, since a variety of health problems, notably malnutrition,
have a pretty big impact on it. And, of course, it’s important to consider
malnutrition when you’re talking about, well, systems of getting food.>>CLONE: Ok, agriculture’s bad for health,
but why? I live in an agricultural society, and I’m
healthy.>>ALEX: Come on. Come on man. Who are we kidding?>>CLONE: yeah that’s fair.>>ALEX: This is not a joke, one day last
week, I literally ate chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes, and
pasta for dinner. Soooo…. While that fact is incredibly depressing,
it segues nicely into my next point: there are three reasons why agriculture is bad health. First, all of that starch. With the rise of farming, we also saw the
rise of starchy crops: wheat, rice, and corn. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily
bad, but when that’s the only or primary thing you eat (say, if you were to live in
a farming society that only or primarily makes those foods), you miss out on many amino acids,
vitamins, and nutrients that are incredibly beneficial. Why were starchy crops so dominant? They were practical. Not only were they easy to mass produce and
had the most calories possible, they were also easy to tax. They weren’t buried under ground like potatoes,
which would be hard to tax because each individual crop would have to be dug up and counted,
and there was a consistent time when they were ripe, unlike, say, legumes. James C. Scott, political scientist, anthropologist,
and author of Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States calls grains, quote
“visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and ‘ration-able’” and
they were really the only crops with all of those characteristics. Perfect for taxation, my dudes. Conversely, the diet of hunter-gatherers is
incredibly diverse and healthy. They’ve got a wide variety of wild plants
and animals to eat. A matter of fact, the Kalahari bushmen, modern-day
hunter-gatherers, get 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein daily. When asked why the tribe didn’t switch to
farming, much like their neighbors, one bushman said quote “Why should we, when there are
so many mongongo nuts in the world?” Second, if you’re dependant on a certain
crop, and that crop fails, you’ve got starvation on your hands. And we’ve seen this before; does the Irish
Potato Famine ring a bell? Third, agriculture encourages people to join
together in big cities. After all, you do wanna be where the food
is, and big cities means diseases… and lots of them… and them spreading very quickly…
and death. In a hunting and gathering society, epidemics
couldn’t find their footing. After all, small tribes constantly moving
around doesn’t allow for diseases to spread too easily. However, once we saw the rise of farming,
cities, and domesticated animals, we also saw the rise of tuberculosis, measles, and
the most infamous of them all, the bubonic plague.>>CLONE: But Alex, you have 0 iq, you’re
missing the point of agriculture: it allows for specialization. Not everyone has to find food, so people can
spend time working on their life’s passion and contribute to society in all sorts of
new amazing ways. Not to mention, agriculture allows for leisure
time, and the budding of art and culture and humanity and anime! And sure, health suffers a bit, and you’ve
got more diseases, but that specialization and anime makes it all worth it.>>ALEX: How do you thinking hunting and gathering
works?>>CLONE: Well, you spend your days out in the world hunting for meat and gathering for… uh,
berries. And then, at the end of your day, you come
back and eat your rations. You go to bed. Do it again tomorrow. You’re all hunky dory.>>ALEX: Hunter and gatherers actually spend
less time per day hunting than you might think. Howard Spodek, professor of history and geography
at Temple University, wrote in his book The World’s History, that hunter-gatherers would
only need to devote an average of 800-1,000 hours a year to hunting and gathering. This is opposed to the 1,000-1,300 hours a
year farmers spend farming. Let’s put that in perspective: 800-1,000
hours a year is around 2.2-2.75 hours a day. To claim that you wouldn’t have time for
specialization in a hunting and gathering society or specialization only exists under
an agricultural system is simply incorrect. Even if you want to stay confined to an 8
hour, a 9-5 work day, you would only spend a third of your time actually getting food,
while the other two thirds could be spent on how you think you could best contribute
to society. Under a hunting and gathering society, people
have plenty of time to specialize in whatever area they desire. Also, the claim that farming caused art and
music and culture because it allowed for leisure time is preposterous. Those things existed before agriculture, usually
in the form of painting and sculptures, and there’s no reason why the practice of those
things are exclusive to an agrarian society. Heck, anthropologists have found that hunter-gatherers
spend MORE time on art and culture than agrarians.>>CLONE: *with head back* EHHHH fine but
at least at this point agriculture can’t get any worse.>>ALEX: Actually, it can! *off screen clone*
You shouldn’t be so happy when saying that. *like Walker* mOkay With agriculture comes deep class divisions. And we know this, right? We’ve all seen the Bill Wurtz video.>>History of Japan, 0:33-0:40 Bill’s right. Because agriculture has does have stored food
and concentrated sources of food (like farms), whoever controls that food, regardless of
if they produce it (a matter of fact, they’re probably NOT the ones producing it), has all
the power. And this has negative effects on people in
lower social classes. Greek skeletons found at Mycenae, an archaeological
site south-west of Athens, revealed that lower-class people were two to three inches shorter than
royals, and had an average of 6 cavities or missing teeth, as opposed to the royals, who
has only 1. Chilean skeletons revealed lower classes had
4 times more bone lesions caused by disease than royals. Not to mention, with social classes comes
oppression and slavery, something you can’t have if everyone has to collect food for themselves
every day.>>CLONE: Ok, but, Alex there’s got to be
some upside to agriculture. Why did we even switch in the first place?>>ALEX: Well, it’s efficient and easy and
we can make a ton of food and have massive surpluses through farming. We’ll get more food in an acre of crops
than in an acre of roots and bushes and berries. As the population of early humans started
to spike, they needed a system where they could mass produce as much food as possible,
regardless of the consequences. So, what do I think? Was agriculture the worst mistake in the history
of the human race? Ehh, probably not. Agriculture does allow to have the massive
populations we have today. It allows us to have cities and a global society. To say that agriculture is nothing but terrible
is an over exaggeration.>>OFF-SCREEN: Yeah you know what over-exaggeration
is called on YouTube? Clickbait.>>ALEX: No, nooo. This isn’t clickbait, this is different. Somehow. For better or for worse, our ancestors, thousands
of years ago, made this decision, which got us to where we are today, and it’s important
to look critically at decisions our ancestors made so we can find out more about who we
are as a species and reflect upon and investigate the choices we made in our past. While agriculture does allow us to gain many
benefits, it doesn’t come without costs, those costs being stuff like health, malnutrition,
some free time, and class division, and investigating those costs I think is really interesting. I first read this article almost 2 years ago
now, at the beginning of my freshman year at high school. I read it for my history class, my teacher
Dan, shoutout to him, he’s a great guy, assigned it, and it stuck with me every since. The article, and I know this sounds kinda
cliche, made me question everything. When I learned something I perceived as just
a fundamentally great stepping stone in humanities, something I’d been taught in school all
my life was the point when humanity actually started getting good, had disadvantages as
well, it encouraged me to look critically as things we’ve just accepted as fact and
never stop seeking truth. It’s this principle of sparking questions
that draws me to Brilliant.org. By looking critically at what I’m learning,
I’m asking the questions to truly understand these concepts. For example, quick question: how do you think
refrigerators work? I always thought it just this magical box
of cool that would just pump cold air into it and keep all of my food happy, healthy,
and strong. However, I learned that it actually works
not but pumping cold air in, nor by pumping hot air out, but by pumping heat out. I learned that from the physics of the everyday
course on brilliant.org, the best place to learn how to think like a scientist. They have tons of incredibly interesting courses
that engage you in solving fascinating problems and help you understanding concepts at a deeper
level. If you want to get access to those courses
and more and help support the channel go to brilliant.org/technicalityand sign up for
FREE today. Also if you go to that link, the first 200
people will get 20% off an annual premium subscription. This video is part of a collaboration I did
with the channel Counter Arguments. I made a video with him over on his channel
debunking the myth that violent video games cause mass shootings. I’m a big fan of the channel, and I’m
honoured I got to work with him, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend
you do! Click the i or the upcoming end card. Also, I’m going to be at VidCon next week! I’m crazy excited, and, uh if you see me, feel free to come up and say hi. Like I said in the video, this video is an
adaptation of Jared Diamond’s article the Worst Mistake in the History of the Human
Race, which I’ll leave in the description along with all other sources, if you wanna
check that out. If you’re new here, subscribe to see more,
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especially these awesome people, and, as always, thanks for watching, DFTBA, and explore on.