On the impossibility of enclosure in flood-retreat farming

In terms of labour, flood-retreat farming is not only pretty light, it also requires little central management. Critically, such systems have a kind of inbuilt resistance to the enclosure and measurement of land. Any given parcel of territory might be fertile one year, and then either flooded or dried out the next, so there is little incentive for long-term ownership or enclosure of fixed plots. It makes little sense to set up boundary stones when the ground itself is shifting underneath you. No form of human ecology is ‘innately’ egalitarian, but much as Rousseau and his epigones would have been surprised to hear it, these early cultivation systems did not lend themselves to the development of private property. If anything, flood-retreat farming was practically oriented towards the collective holding of land, or at least flexible systems of field reallocation.41

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(contrast with stereotype of agriculture => private property)

On the shape-shifting art of Chavín de Huántar

We are in another kind of visual universe altogether. It is the realm of the shape-shifter, where no body is ever quite stable or complete, and diligent mental training is required to tease out structure from what at first seems to be visual mayhem. One reason why we can say any of this with a degree of confidence is because the arts of Chavín appear to be an early (and monumental) manifestation of a much wider Amerindian tradition, in which images are not meant to illustrate or represent, but instead serve as visual cues for extraordinary feats of memory.

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(as compared to the big, brute, "pomp and circumstance" art of "old world" empires)

This seems to me to depict the realm of the living, the ever-changing, of dazzling diversity, that with enough familiarity, one might be able to tune in to, to decipher the intertwined narratives of.

Is change the only constant? Or, how did we get stuck with hierarchy?

In other words, there is no single pattern. The only consistent phenomenon is the very fact of alteration, and the consequent awareness of different social possibilities. What all this confirms is that searching for ‘the origins of social inequality’ really is asking the wrong question.

If human beings, through most of our history, have moved back and forth fluidly between different social arrangements, assembling and dismantling hierarchies on a regular basis, maybe the real question should be ‘how did we get stuck?’ How did we end up in one single mode? How did we lose that political self-consciousness, once so typical of our species? How did we come to treat eminence and subservience not as temporary expedients, or even the pomp and circumstance of some kind of grand seasonal theatre, but as inescapable elements of the human condition? If we started out just playing games, at what point did we forget that we were playing?

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dawn-of-everything Graeber, David, and David Wengrow. 2021. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Signal. ↩︎ 1 2 3