Can you be free if you and yours cannot survive?

Imagine the old food pyramid. Now erase what is in the compartments, but leave the compartments themselves. Now place the pyramid atop a thick horizontal green line. Beneath this green line put a very thick brown line. The brown line represents earth, the green line represents living things, and the pyramid represents the strata of humanity or human society.

There have been three pyramids in history. The first was pre-agricultural (think hunters and gatherers) and may be thought of as very short and very wide. During this vast period of time virtually everyone possessed extensive knowledge of how to draw a living from land or water. The second pyramid represents the Agricultural Age from roughly 3500 BC to 1800 AD. Agriculture allowed for the rise of the specialist that was relatively removed from food production, and thus the pyramid grew in height.

For about umpteenbazillion years the vast majority of humanity, including almost all of your ancestors, dwelt at the bottom of the great wide base of both of these pyramids. Your fathers were hunters, fishermen, or dirt farmers who garnished their meat with the nuts and berries your mothers were able to gather up. They lived close to the land, figuratively and literally. Higher up in the Agrarian pyramid dwelt the specialists where doubtless a small handful of your grandparents to the x power dwelt. Maybe a king, druid, or artisan way, way, way back in the day.

The third pyramid is post-industrial and may be thought of as upside down. That is, the narrow portion is the part touching the green line. That is, those of you (not me) with the knowledge of how to draw a living from Mother Earth are now a small minority. The great majority of us now living in the wider segments of the pyramid are removed, even far removed, from the land. Most of us are now specialists.

Now imagine that tomorrow morning you open your door and step out into your place on the grid as it was, let’s say, 20,000 years ago. In this fanciful scenario, everything in your home is exactly as it is now and I’ll even allow you to have your garage and assorted outbuildings within 100 feet of your house and everything in them.

No, I’m feeling generous. You can have your whole yard up to three acres, exactly as is. You may also have your immediate family. Otherwise there are no people at all and the land untouched by man.

Now what do you do? Would you be alive a year later?

Honestly, I dont know if I would be. My Granddaddy Butler would likely have survived because, as my father says, his daddy could have made a living on a rock. But he was born in 1912 in the middle of nowhere between Cottage Grove and Palmersville, Tennessee. Besides being raised on a pre-electric farm, he himself farmed, virtually lived out of doors, and was an avid hunter and fisherman. But this did not make him stand out back then. Such men do stand out today.

I believe that an awareness (whether conscious or not) of just how ignorant we are of how to sustain ourselves on this planet is at the root of our interest in, if not obsession with, zombie apocalypses and dystopian futures.

There is a gnawing anxiety that maybe this novel economic system that feeds and sustains us may not be stable. That the upside down pyramid might simply tip over. Deep down we wonder, should it come crashing down, could we survive in the rubble?

And if we are just cogs in a wheel that we cannot understand, then just how free can we be?

M.C. Atkins

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