Civilization and other stuff

Civilization And Other Stuff – a Parable

By Roy L Hales

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the prehistoric mammoth hunters who followed the herds into Europe possessed one unit worth of stuff.


Society has evolved to the point that North Americans now produce an average of more than 1,000 units. Half of this is drained away by hidden and no so hidden taxes. However we still have a lot more stuff than our prehistoric ancestors – roughly 500 units![1]

I’m inclined to believe that if a later group of our ancestors had not opted to move forward as close knit agricultural communities, none of the great accomplishments of the past 10,000 years would have occurred. There would be no cities. While there would be some primitive artwork, none of the great works of art and architecture that we treasure would have come into being.[2] We would still be hunter-gatherers with one or two units worth of stuff.

Civilization and other stuff
Corded Ware pottery in the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Berlin). Ca. 2500 BCE – By Einsamer Schütze via wikipedia (CC BY-SA, 3.0 License)

Starting Over Again

Would we be happier? Dunno. There would undoubtedly be a lot fewer of us.[3] Most of the wars and epidemics that fill our history books would not have occurred. In fact, we probably not have history books.

Ever wonder how much we inherited from the culture into which we were born? Imagine what it would be like to strip off your clothes, leave all your possessions behind, and disappear into the woods. Assuming that we survived, I doubt that many of us would accumulate more than one unit of stuff – if that. We would have some colourful stories, but after a generation or two that may be all that is left of previous existence.

Too Much Taxes?

Some argue that we pay out too much in taxes. I think that is short sighted. The real question isn’t how much we pay out, but rather what – both collectively and individually – we receive in return.

Top photo credit: Reproduction of 20,000-year-old cave painting at the Museo del Mamut, Barcelona By Thomas Quine via wikipedia (CC BY-SA, 2.0 License)


  1. Based on the idea that Canada’s tax freedom day is June 14, 2019.
  2. While I am writing within a European context, the same argument applies to early civilizations in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
  3. Prior to the development of agriculture – which includes domesticating animals and advanced fishing practises – our planet probably supported less than 10 million people.

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