Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

Where did we get lost?

Posted Jan 8, 2013 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 2 Comments

It’s hard to know.  It was so long ago.  We began as hunters/gathers.  At that time, we lived with nature.  Hunters followed the herds and killed what they needed for food.  We did not control the herds.  The movement of the herds controlled us.  In good years, we lived together.

And we gathered nuts, fruit, and grains from the earth’s bounty.  We adapted to what was available.   In good years, we lived together.  Just as we celebrated the cunning and wisdom of animals, we also celebrated the earth’s fertility.

Then some of us became shepherds.  Instead of a hunter’s life of living with the herds, we created our herds—domesticated animals—and made them live for us.  We began our domination of nature.

And some of us became farmers.  Instead of gathering what nature had provided, we took nature’s seeds and planted them to serve us.  We dominated nature.

And so it goes.  Adam Smith made it clear to everyone.  In his Wealth of Nations, he describes the four stages of “man.”  We were first hunters, then shepherds, after shepherds, came farmers, and we ended up as a commercial nation, as traders.  What he forgot to mention, of course, is that the prosperity of the traders depended on the domination of millions of Africans, of millions of Americans, and of the earth.  That’s where we are.

How do we find ourselves?  We cannot return to hunting and gathering, although we certainly need to listen to those who continue these traditions in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.  We do need to adapt our life to the planet’s life.  We must live with the planet, much like we used to, when, in the good years, we lived together.

2 Responses to “Where did we get lost?”

  1. JD Moyer says:

    January 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Good post as always, but I will play devil's advocate ... I think the question itself buys into Smith's linear determinism. "We" did not get lost all at once, nor will "we" find our way all together. Some hunter-gatherer tribes lived sustainably, while others slaughtered all their megafauna, and/or cut down all their trees, and either perished or were forced into agriculture. The "good ol' days" on Easter Island ended long ago. The same is true in modernity -- there are small cultural pockets who have more-or-less figured out how to live sustainably. Other cultural groups keep polluting, strip mining, overfishing, etc. Progress and regress are always happening simultaneously. Crime falls nationwide but rises in Oakland. Scandinavian countries go green while the US fracks it up. We live in a global economic system, but countries will fare differently in the event of massive global economic collapse. Countries and communities with relatively higher levels of local resources, social cohesion, lower income inequality, and safety nets will fare better than others. That's my two cents. Hope all is well with you and a belated Happy New Year!
  2. Marvin Brown says:

    January 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I tried to suggest that some moved from hunting to shepherding and some from gathering to farming. Some did not. Native Americans, for example, did not. They continued to be connected to animals and earth's bounty. Western "evolution" may well have been a mistake, but I agree with the idea that it is difficult to know what were the options and the choices made.

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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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