Today’s world moves fast. From one generation to the next the world is almost an entirely different affair. I can write an article and someone in Australia can read it the very next minute. I can buy an aeroplane ticket and be in Australia the very next day. A neighbor of mine can plow his 200 acre farm in one day, harrow it the next, and have it planted the next. My grandparents could not have imagined such a world, and I’m sure I cannot imagine the world my grandchildren will live in.
In evolutionary and geological time, just a second ago we were struggling to survive by the sweat of our brow. We lived or died by our strength, our wits, our family ties, and our ability to absorb the necessary information from our ancestors in time to implement methods for the survival of the next generation. We trusted that our ancestors survived, therefore they must have been doing something right, and strove to emulate their methods to the greatest possible degree, only trying to improve upon them after we had attained some measure of comfort in our lives. We venerated our ancestors, recognizing that they literally gave birth to us, and respected what they had to teach us. One generation was very similar to the next, only able to make small steps beyond basic survival skills.
Food surpluses then would give rise to advancements in pottery, basketry, construction techniques, blade technology, cooking techniques, healthcare, communication, etc. One change in the way clay pots were made could change a whole way of life. A denser, harder pot with less foreign inclusions could stand up to average use for a longer period of time, freeing some pot-making time to pursue other necessary tasks, possibly resulting in higher food-use efficiency, thereby increasing food security. A beeswax finish could cut down on air-exchange through the pot, resulting in ways to store foods for longer periods of time without spoilage, thereby increasing food security. With food security on the increase, families could begin to focus on other things, but they would continue to improve on that thing which they saw as giving them a better way of life. If better pots had made an entire generation healthier and happier, the next generation would have a strong urge to learn this method of pottery, and possibly improve on it when practicable.
Food surpluses today are met with chagrin, being a burden on the economy and a detriment to the farmer’s way of life. His 200 acres of corn are now worth less because there is too much corn, probably about equal to nothing. Government subsidies are this farmer’s income after all his work and investment of time, labor, and money. After his expenses, he very well may be more in debt than at the beginning of the year. This man’s family will not have time to improve upon knowledge his ancestors gave to him. Was this man even concerned with knowledge from his ancestors? Have we as a species been listening to those who came before? We spend so much time focusing on the future and what could become reality, but we haven’t even spent the requisite portion of our lives learning from the past and focusing on what is reality now. We have managed to become an entire generation removed from those who respected and venerated their ancestors, and now we venerate those who are to come. “The future will save us from the present” has become a philosophy people look to for comfort.
I propose that we must look back with much more dedication than we have shown thus far in this new century. We must read books, actual physical things made of paper which have information inside them printed in ink using languages that have been used for centuries unchanged by the detrimental linguistic phenomena of electronic instant text messaging. We must teach our children why traditional subsistence agriculturalists farmed the way they did before we try to teach them why we farm the way we do today. By teaching them about yesterday, we can help them to understand today, without confusing them about tomorrow.