From at least 10,000BCt to the 15th Century AD Humanity at it’s most advanced level was organized on a strictly top-down basis. Agriculture involving most people underpinned of these societies. Highly labor intensive, agriculture needed organization. When to plant, when to harvest and where and how to store the harvest called for certain retained knowledge. As we have pointed out in this series on “More”, a society can only get “More” in three ways, take it from somebody else, trade for it or innovate. Once the easy areas were planted only innovations such as irrigation and better tools, akin to the plow, axes and saws could bring more land under cultivation. Unfortunately, major innovations were few and far between. For instance, the wheel came into use at about 3,500BC, but as a potter’s wheel, not for transportation or carrying burdens. That came even later. The wheelbarrow dates only from 600 BC in Greece. That left it for trade and taking stuff from others as the preferred ways to get “More.”
Settled agrarian communities with seemingly abundant food and fiber, couldn’t help but attract those looking to relieve them of the fruits of their labor. The protective organization was a necessity. Military and policing needed leadership, organization and a means to pay for it. Accumulated knowledge had to be preserved and passed down. Who keeps the calendar? Who makes and enforces the laws.?
Trade, the other means of acquiring “More” also had its requirements. Exchanging goods need central protected markets and routes. It’s no wonder towns and cities combined administration, religion and markets in a protected area.
Laws, religion (often the same), administration and trade then all needed ways to preserve and tally. Fortunately, civilizations learned to write, read and compute. Sadly, for most of history, this was laborious, costly and limited. Even if you could read and write cuneiform, can you imagine War and Peace written on clay tablets? As a result, literacy was severely limited. As of late 1475 BC, literacy was 5% in France and 1% in Sweden. Out of necessity, a narrow group of literate elites filled the upper clergy, government administration, military and those in mercantile endeavors across all civilizations. Heredity in most cases played a major part in the makeup of these elites. The other more than 90% of the “civilized world” was an illiterate mass, mostly tied to the soil. Whether they were called peasants, serfs, slaves, coolies or some other name denoting those at the bottom, they, for the most part, led mean short lives, partaking in little or none of the “better things of life.”Continue reading