Marks calls the agricultural world prior to 1400, “the biological old regime.” Furthermore he points out that, “the 380 million people living in 1400 were not uniformly distributed across the face of the Earth, but rather clustered in a very few pockets of much higher density.” In examining the evolution of humankind from hunter-gatherers to farmers, food supplies increased negating the need to migrate in search of food, turning humans into a more sedentary civilization. Moving to a farmer driven society altered how humankind interacted and how their societies lived and died. Marks points to “… an agricultural surplus, giving rise to social groups who did not have to produce their own food: priests, rulers, warriors, and outside raiders, usually nomadic people.”
Marks acknowledges that as population increased, the number of wildlife species decreased; however, he does point out that even with larger species of animals going extinct, there were still a large number of animal species left in existence- some of which lived in the wild, other became domesticated. Additionally, Marks identifies cities and writing as outcomes of this switch to agriculture from hunter-gatherers. With the establishment of cities and towns, trade became a necessity as people could not sufficiently produce everything they needed themselves. Marks does point out that people of the Eurasian steppe worked in tandem with the environment to exist. He notes, “Civilizations and nomads across the Eurasian continent thus had a symbiotic relationship- they depended on each other.” Marks concludes that in the world up to and including much of the nineteenth century, “the human population lived very much in the environment and had to be mindful of the opportunities and limits it placed on human activity.” Harari sees the origins of humankind as a development of Cognitive Revolution, after which he believes there are few certainties. He states, “we obviously have no written records from the age of foragers, and the archaeological evidence consists mainly of fossilized bones and stone tools.”
Additionally, he points out that the “rise of Homo sapiens from the middle to the top of the food chain had enormous consequences.” Harari contends that since the Cognitive Revolution occurred, humankind hasn’t experienced a ‘natural’ way of life- his position is that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is that nature state of humankind and the development of agriculture created a drastic shift between humankind and environment- with agricultural development came the domestication of animals along with the mass extinction of other species. Harari points out that, “the historical record makes Homo sapiens look like an ecological serial killer.”
Moreover, his position is that when reviewing all of the data regarding mass extinctions as Homo sapiens spread across continents, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Homo sapiens were, themselves, “one of the biggest and swiftest ecological disasters to befall the animal kingdom.” Harari claims the Agricultural Revolution should be seen as one of the ‘most controversial events in history.” He contends that as foragers, sapiens “mastered… the surrounding world of animals, plants and objects…” Harari believes that just as foragers had more free time due to simply seeking sustenance for individual families, farmers had to consider each day and continuously work to produce consistent food supplies.
Opposite of Marks’ belief, Harari sees writing as a by-product of human consciousness- as an effort to establish hierarchies, order, etc., which is, in Harari’s view, a direct opposition of how Homo sapiens were meant to exist. Empires Marks examines the concept of Empires by noting that after 1500, “most parts of the world [were]drawn into regular, ongoing contact in ways that had never happened in the past.” Prior to that time the known World was split into several “worlds.” Columbus’ journey in 1492 and the Spanish establishment of a colony in the Philippines removed this division and brought them into a singular world. Marks points out that ‘of all the various kinds of political and economic systems that humans have devised to draw sustenance from the land and increase our numbers, by far the most successful was the empire.”
Empires flourished after 1500 and remade the political delineations of continents. Through expansive political and economic organization, empires had tremendous success between the years of 1500-1775. Marks points out that “by 1700 most of the Eurasian continent was under the control of an empire of one kind or another.” The shared traits of these empires included a singular, sovereign ruler along with liaisons for the ruler as conquered peoples had their own languages and customs. Marks notes that with the introduction of illness and pathogens, conquerors found it easier to expand their empires through eradication of native peoples.
Development of the plantation system for production of sugar brought unforeseen aftereffects- “… the British and French had so badly deforested several Caribbean islands…that erosion wrecked the fertility of the soil and changed local climates as well.” Furthermore, these changes assisted in the spread of disease via mosquitoes to the Americas. Wars defined the seventeenth century and characterized the burgeoning European state system, these wars brought in the involvement of all the European states linking them together as a singular system. Marks points out that, “European rulers would resort to force, if necessary, to gain access to the resources needed to conduct war…in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, [rulers’] claims to legitimacy [of divine rights] rested on religious grounds…that the Christian God gave them the right to rule.”
Of these ruling empires, England showed the quickest desire to utilize state power to incur economic gains. After the Seven Years War illustrated the global nature of conflict, Marks notes “the processes of state building in Europe had led to the creation of a system defined by war, which favored a particular kind of state exemplified by the ones built in Britain and France.” Marks, through numerous examples, emphasizes that the growing dominance by the West only occurred due to events and developments that were contingent upon one another.