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Monday, 20 April 2009

greed and the rectangular house

The history of emotions is in many ways bound intimately to the history of the written word. Whilst other forms like music or art can communicate our emotional states with depth and elegance, writing has given a specificity that is in many ways unrivalled in its communicative power.

That all said I have been wondering recently whether there is much that can be said in emotional terms of those many tens of thousands of years we existed as a species but had not yet quite settled down to invent all those curious wonders of civilisation.

Did all our emotions exist back in those days? Did we feel jealousy and loneliness in the same way, or was love a force in our nomadic hunter gathering lives?

It is now generally agreed by most archaeologists that we began settling down and building houses about 12,000 years ago and that agriculture began around 9-10,000 years ago in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and the Euphrates. And sometime around then in Syria we started doing something curious. We went from building round houses partially below ground to building rectangular ones on the ground.

The reason this fascinates me is because i wonder if this period was the beginning of that most pernicious of emotions, greed.

In a nomadic hunter gathering society that had not yet invented metal or domesticated animals, objects would have little value if a person could not take them with them. Accumulation would make no sense to someone on the move and gluttony impossible if food storage is unknown and fitness and mobility essential for survival.

From this came the development of accomodation into a form that allowed the easier partition and expansion of space

It is here that life begins to involve the acquisition of objects from animals to tools. And was it here that we began to hoard, in fear of scarcity, and a fear that grew into greed.

The rectangular house did not cause greed, obviously. But was it a marker along our emotional road, and a rather dark one at that if greed was born there...

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