Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Think back 5,000 years

As we live today’s American rat race, in jobs which even if largely fitting our skills and interests, still have stretches of boredom, frustration and tension; in lives which, even if relatively tranquil overall, also still have stretches and boredom, frustration and tension, we often look to how changing major parts of our lives — such as our jobs or even our career paths — might reinvigorate our very selves.

Then think back to, say, about 3000 BCE. Picture being a peasant farmer in the fields at the edge of at Ur or one of the other city-states of the Fertile Crescent. What can you change?

You were not born a royal or a priest — often of the same family — so possibilities of civic leadership are excluded.

Your ancestors have farmed for, say, nearly 1,000 years. Much old hunter-gatherer knowledge of edible wild plants outside of the edges of cultivated areas has long since been lost, as have hunting and stalking skills. To go back to that life would be risky indeed.

Brigandage? The current priest-king is renowned for having established a new level of order in his bounds, and stretching those bounds. The rewards may be great in the short term, but surely will have no long term.

As prosperity swells Ur, the lure of the city has grown for many peasants. But now, in your latter 30s, you fear that you are an old donkey unable to learn new tricks. Besides, a touch of arthritis in your hands restricts how much crafting skill you can develop, anyway.

Nothing remotely close to modern games exist. Ritual re-enactments of actions of the gods enliven some days and nights in Ur, but your small village has nothing of the sort.

Life is not nasty, brutish and short. Rather, it is mind-numbing, steam-rolling and interminable. Even a Zen-like detachment fails to offer relief, with so little to detach from in the first place.

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