anthropology

Be a Lazy, Unimaginative Schmuck, Destroy Civilization -- Simple as That

Here's a really good reason why you should think for yourself: if you don't, civilization as we know it will crumble and the streets will run red with the blood of the innocent. So that second part was fabricated, yes. The first part, about civilization crumbling, appears to be for real.

The anthropologist named Jared Diamond has gotten loads of press over the past few years for a couple of great books he's written, "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse." It was an essay he wrote back in the 1980s that really got to me, though. Called "The worst mistake in the history of the human race," Diamond comes up with the radical but thoroughly plausible hypothesis that the introduction of agriculture was the worst choice humankind ever made. After the advent of agriculture, humans became sedentary. Our lives centered around our cropland, and with an abundance of food, a lot of people could live in one place. Cities arose, and so too did all manner of problems we humans didn't have before we started raising crops and livestock. Living in close quarters allowed epidemic disease to spread. Crop failures led to famine. Crop surpluses led to the rise of currency...

Anybody familiar with me can tell you that I love me some cannibalism. I'm fascinated by the concept of eating another person and the psychological fortitude that consumption must entail. I'm also intrigued by the possibility that cannibalism ever existed in ritual form; that the idea that Amazonian or New Guinean tribes feasting on hapless missionaries bound by rope and dropped in a huge metal kettle over a fire is as patently ridiculous as the cartoon portrayal of cannibals with bones through their noses. Back in 1980, anthropologist William Arens made waves in the academic community when he suggested in his book, "The Man-Eating Myth," that all accounts of ritual cannibalism were fabrications by outsiders who sought to subjugate a foreign culture. (What better way to make a culture appear less than human?)...

Lucy the Australopithecus, Just Another Victim of Market Fluctuations

Back in the day, about 3.2 million years ago, an upright hominid of the Australopithecus afarensis variety, wandered around Ethiopia. Who knows what she did -- pick berries and wrestle gazelles and the like is probably a pretty good bet. She was just trying to make her way in the big, wide, comparatively empty world...