Note — Jan 16, 2022

Change of Seasons

I’ve already written about Graeber and Wengrow’s book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, here Steven Johnson is giving some of his post-read impressions and teases out a reflection on seasons. Throughout history—his example being the Ohlone’s wetland settlements in today’s California—various societies alternated lifestyles with the seasons without going ‘all in’ towards full-time agriculture. Johnson wonders if some work, perhaps through some enlightened policies, might find inspiration in seasonality, instead of being “stamped out and standardized by the 9-to-5 monoculture of the Industrial Age.” As one example, he’s already living two entirely different seasons when writing (solo) and editing/promoting his books.

In short, humans got a taste of agriculture during this period, but they didn’t enslave themselves to it. And nothing in that way of living inevitably compelled the creation of a state. The key point—in both Against The Grain and Dawn of Everything—is that this interim mode lasted for four thousand years, maybe more—longer than the time that separates modern capitalism from some of the pharaohs. […]

These seasonal variations are maybe the most striking example of a macro point that Dawn keeps returning to: that if there is any “innate” or “inevitable” property to human social arrangements, it lies in our creative flexibility, our appetite for experimenting with different modes of living. […]

You can measure social progress by how much people are paid for their labor, but you can also measure it in how much freedom they have to experiment with other kinds of work, how much “seasonal” variation they are afforded.