In a recent thread, I asked whether the Agricultural Revolution was a net positive. I had been reading Sapiens and Harari, looking from the viewpoint of wheat, says men were able to get stability and increase population at the expense of backbreaking work, more susceptibility to disaster and poorer nutrition. These claims have been questioned, most recently in the recent book matching the thread title.
I’m halfway through “The Dawn of Everything”. It is interesting, but long, dense and challenging. It appears on many annual lists of “top books” and deservedly so, but is often described using a very general synopsis making me wonder how many actually read the thing. But it covers thirty years of recent research in anthropology and goes all over the place. So it is hard to summarize, and in the linked thread a few people did it about as well as one could.
The bit about the Agricultural Revolution taking over six thousand years, farming remaining casual in some places or just along river beds where work is minimal, was taken up and abandoned and taken up again, casually it formally, and differed everywhere is a small fraction of the book.
As a Canadian, the part I found particularly interesting were the dialogues between French Jesuits and “Adario” (with about five other names) an eloquent speaker for the Wyandot Aboriginal tribe which tried to remain independent from the Iroquois League.
Adario was made known in France in a series of books by Baron Lahontan. In a series of dialogues, he provides very interesting and cogent arguments on French religion, law, values and lifestyle and why he thinks Native values are preferable. Most French considered the Aboriginals to be savages, sometimes with added “nobility” if they seemed to be aiding the French or disposed to Christianity.
The dialogues are fascinating and the title book makes the point that the cogent arguments were the ones made by Native Indians and were not, as most assumed, merely a literary device used by Lahontan to avoid persecution for stating his own views criticizing aspects of French society, absolutism and religion as well as French foreign policy.
It is further stated that many of the ideas of the French Enlightenment, such as the views of Rousseau and Voltaire, were heavily influenced by Lahontan’s writing and similar plays “which would have been well known to Paris intellectuals”. Is it true Aboriginal Canadians influenced French intellectual thinking prior to the Revolution? Of course, few school students in Canada are taught this. I’d never heard of Adario before, and have read some Canadian history. His views are amazingly modern and cogent, and I had no real notion of the history of native philosophy.
I took the initiative to read some of the original works in French and the anthropological research quoted in the book. They make a very convincing case that Adario represented the widespread native views and had the eloquence and depth of thought to make these arguments. I think it’s fascinating. It is clear that Adario also went to Paris.
However, the part where his views influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, and that Lahontan’s work would be widely known by French luminaries, seems to rest on possible assumptions. I wonder what the evidence is that Voltaire read Lahontan’s accounts and even based sone of his arguments on them. Even still, it’s a fascinating yarn, could easily be true, and reflects a side of Canadian history I gave never seen emphasized. It should be. The dialogues summarize very clever thinking. The sources also shed interesting light on the French and their relations with the Iroquois, who seemed to behave with great nobility under difficult circumstances.
Highly recommended, but this is also just a small part of the book.