A one-minute two-stroke history of humanity:
Modern humans emerged in Africa about 100,000 years ago, skilled hunter-gatherers like their hominid predecessors. In the expansion phase, we spread over six continents, while our culture differentiated into around 10,000 language communities. About 10,000 years ago, roughly when humans were reaching Patagonia, women gatherers in the Fertile Crescent domesticated grasses into cereal crops, and male hunters tamed sheep and goats. This revolution triggered population growth, specialisation and social stratification, organised religion, science, writing, and states. The interaction of states by trade, cultural exchange, migration, warfare, genocide, empire and law drives the contraction phase of human history, with steadily decreasing cultural diversity. We are now in the final phase, nearing a global unity – of peace or self-destruction.
The domestication of grass is the central event of secular history.
This drastically simplified account is drawn impressionistically from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, and the moral from his Collapse.
At such a heroic (or heroically foolish) scale, the persistence of claims to sovereign independence by states at this late stage of the big crunch is a striking anomaly. We are now down to two genuinely autonomous powers, the USA and China, and neither is capable of establishing a global imperium. So I’m afraid it’s a choice between a global technocracy (foreshadowed by the IMF, the WTO, the EU, the Internet governance system, and the IPCC) and Diamondian collapse. In what sense can a global polity of 6 billioo be a democracy?
Fundamentalists can console themselves with the thought that Genesis is right: it’s all the fault of those Neolithic Eves that ate in Eden the seeds of the real “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, grass.
Update: empire and migration added to the list of drivers of the contraction. (Migration includes the slave trades). You can write your own one-minute history, but the arbitrary rule of the game is to stay under 120 words.
Update 2: Dogs removed; their domestication was earlier and by hunters in several places, so they are not really part of the Neolithic revolution in the Near East..