I was fascinated by the revelation of how good the gatherers/hunters’ lives were when I read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. He shares that, if you survived infancy, your life expectancy was likely in the 70s or even 80s! So much for what we thought about 20s being old age in our gathering/hunting days.
And why not? Given that we were nomads in those days, there was no point in gathering or hunting large quantities of food, with exception o f places like Siberia that had natural refrigeration… That meant that in 4 to 5 hours all work was done. ALL work. Not only the gathering and the hunting, but also the cooking, the cleaning, and the laundry. The rest of the time was spent as we wished. Not working.
When the agricultural revolution happened, things changed. Work became a (literally) back-breaking effort from (literally) dawn to dusk. Most plague-like diseases emerged then. There were a lot more mouths to feed than pre-agrarian life, but the ruling class took a large chunk of the produced food away in taxation, leaving the population in perpetual food deficit. And sick. And overworked. People worked as a means to an end.
And then something happened relatively recently if we look at our history since we emerged from Africa about 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. The vast majority of our history, we spent “hardly working”, as hunter/gatherers, and then, we spent 8,000 to 10,000 years working as we must to make a living. But in the last recent few centuries—hardly a blip in our history as in the tiny red segment in the illustration above—we changed all of that. The means, the work, became the end. For many of us it is, or was, the focus of our being. It’s one of the first questions that comes up “what do you do?” and if the answer is not something around “hard-at-work”, then your value in society is decreased. Retired? Kindly retire to the corner and make space for the hard working little beavers.
Work, the means to survive for the overwhelming majority of our existence, has became the goal. And we know it’s not healthy for us. But in our society, it is the core, the essence of who we are.
What are your thoughts on this? How did this happen to us? Most importantly, how do we change things back to the way they were for most of our existence?