A Prelude to Begin With

Life on earth has been evolving for billions of years. For all this time nobody was “in control” and, most of all, nobody was “managing things.” If anything could be said to have been in control, it was natural selection. Natural selection deemed whom was fit to live and who fit to die — and this has worked well for billions of years. The diversity of life, species and ecosystems thus created display an inordinate degree of order ethologists, ecologists, molecular and evolutionary biologists (and the like) are presently amazed to discover. All of this diversity and order and no one ‘in control’ — no one was ‘managing things.’

When we say, “no one was in control,” we mean, “no ONE species enforced this order — this law.” In other words, this order evolved by natural selection. The units of order (say, behaviours, genes or traits) that survived were those that aided the reproduction of the individuals whom possessed them. We might say that traits, genes and behaviours thus selected became ‘law’ for that species. The law of the Costa Rican Automeris moth, for example, thus became: “When disturbed, lift your forewings, exposing the ‘eye-like’ decorations on your hindwings” (Alcock 1998). Not because this law was morally “good” or “right” nor enforced by anyone, but because it could not be bettered by the spread of any other existing trait — i.e., it was evolutionarily stable. In this way, new species and new traits were tested and, if successful, became law (i.e. part of the evolved order).

About three million years ago a new trait became law for a particular species of primate: “walk on your hind legs.” In a similar way — by the testing of new traits that became law — Homo habilis evolved into Homo erectus. Likewise, Homo erectus evolved into Homo sapiens (over 110,000 years ago) by the testing of traits that became law. For more than 100,000 years modern humans lived by law they did not invent, hunting and gathering by the law, living in bands and tribes by the law, spreading to the ends of the earth by the law. Then, about 10,000 years ago, things began to change.

We all know the story. Some bright spark planted a seed and bingo! Agriculture was invented. The advantages of agriculture were so obvious that it spread quickly to the ends of the earth. Practically overnight it became, if you like, law for our species. In hindsight, people called it the “Agricultural Revolution” for all its terrific consequences. This is, basically, the story we tell schoolkids to explain ‘how things came to be this way.’ But the facts speak a somewhat different and more revealing story.

People every bit as smart as Einstein have been around for at least 40,000 years and, without a doubt, experimented with seeds and plants for millennia before the ‘revolution’ we speak of. What our story refers to, then, is categorically not the ‘invention of agriculture,’ but the development of a culture known to archaeologists as ‘Natufian.’ The Natufian lived in a particular corner of the Near East called the Levant (or the Fertile Crescent) about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Traditionally, this is the culture credited with the ‘invention of agriculture.’ But what the Natufian invented was clearly not ‘agriculture’ (since agriculture was incipient all over the world at this time) but a unique style of agriculture based upon a simple (yet devastating) idea: People must enforce law upon the world. Of course, this idea is common knowledge today. We all know that law is invented by people. But it cannot be overstated how novel (i.e., revolutionary) or unique the idea was amidst an extant 100,000 human cultures. This simple idea was the essential requisite for everything that followed — for the cultural descendants of these early farmers to overrun the earth; for the building of civilizations East and West; for the “discovery” and colonization of the New World by Europeans. That is, for everything we commonly call ‘history.’ The obvious question is: What has this to do with the invention of law?

Amongst the first laws made by the Natufian was for emmer wheat: “Grow larger ears;” “Grow multiple rows of seeds;” “Have a tough, non-shattering rachis.” Of course, the Natufian didn’t make these traits themselves; they knew (as did people everywhere) how the law was made — by the selective reproduction (and non-reproduction) of individuals. The difference between artificial selection and natural selection was not one of method but of maker. Quickly, the Natufian must have discovered what the gods (if we are to personify nature) knew all along — that one cannot alter the law of one species without altering the law of an entire community.

Whereas natural selection selects for traits that are evolutionarily stable and confer reproductive advantages to individuals, artificial selection selects for traits that increase the production of human food — traits that reduce the fitness of individuals. In other words, without someone changing the law of their ecological neighbours, artificially selected varieties do not survive. With the prime directive being: increase the production of human food, the law to be enforced upon the rest of the ecological community was: “Do not eat this food nor grow where it grows.” So, along with changing the law of their food species, the Natufian began to enforce law upon the rest of the ecological community. And they did so the way law was made: by ensuring the non-reproduction of those individuals breaking it.

The obvious difference between evolved law and invented law is: species live according to evolved law, yet no ONE enforces it; whereas species live contrary to invented law and ONE must therefore enforce it. When the Natufian began to enforce law upon the world they broke from a chain of knowledge that had been handed from person to person, generation to generation, over time, since the dawn of human culture. A chain that extended to Homo habilis, and from Homo habilis to Homo erectus; and from Homo erectus to early Homo sapiens; and from early Homo sapiens to modern humans. A chain of knowledge that was reproduced for, perhaps, three million years and was known by 100,000 cultures when the Natufian discarded it: Every species lives by the law and no one enforces it upon another.

To break with this knowledge, the Natufian had to become culturally blind to the law. In their eyes, the world became ‘lawless’ and ‘anarchic.’ For 10,000 years the cultural descendants of this single Levantine culture faithfully reproduced the knowledge they invented: People must enforce law upon the world. Meanwhile, their numbers swelled. For 10,000 years they enforced law that was nowhere abided, upon species that could never learn, and whose judgement was therefore extinction. Meanwhile, their numbers grew. For 10,000 years they enforced law upon their human neighbours until only a handful of a hundred thousand human cultures were left, marginalized and persecuted by farmers and governments. Still, their numbers mounted. After 10,000 years of gross punishment, the world began to buckle. Judgments that were passed long ago began to be fulfilled daily by the hundred. And as biodiversity plummeted, alarm bells rang; but still the numbers grew — faster now than ever before. 10,000 years on and the world was very soon to be made a wasteland, polluted and besieged by a human plague no one had force enough to quell — although people never tired of suggesting: make and enforce more law.

Then finally, after 10,000 years being blind to the law naturalists, physicists, ethologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists (and the like) began to rediscover it. The early scientists began with the stars and moved their way in. Everywhere they looked they found law and order and no one to enforce it. Order in the stars, order in the planets, order in the clouds, order in the sky, order in the air, order in the rocks, order in the atom and, behold, order in LIFE! All this order and no one ‘in control.’ All this law and no one ‘managing things.’ It had to be asked, then: Why do our people make and enforce law upon the world? Our best answer is: we make and enforce law upon the world so that 6 billion people can live all at once, since there is no way that 6 billion people could live, all at once, without making and enforcing law upon the world. The paradox is, of course, that in a few hundred years there will be zero people alive. That is, if we do not relinquish the managerial position we invented. This doesn’t mean: “give up agriculture” or “forget the relationship between seeds and plants.” It means: keep looking and you will find law in the world, and once you see it, you will know there is no need to make it.

Few people know that 95% of people that ever lived did so according to law they did not invent. The difference is, they spread themselves across three million years (and not just a few thousand). There is potential, therefore, for another 100 billion people to live — just not all at once. To see it, all you have to do is think ‘across’ instead of ‘up.’

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