Friday, 6 May 2005

Great moments in human history, 1: The invention of beer

As the UK election and the week both get wrapped up (the latter from a New Zealand perspective at least) it is now definitely time for a drink.

Time too to reflect on what built civilisation. I can give you the answer in one word: Beer. It's true - let me explain.

What was it that primitive man was fighting for, yearning for, struggling towards all those millenia ago? Why, for the same thing we all do on a Friday afternoon. A rest. Time off. A beer.

When wildebeest and wild beasts roamed the plains thousands of years ago, early man roamed with them ... and often provided them with a good meal when he was doing too much yearning, and too little watching.

Life for early man for most of those thousands of years was as Thomas Hobbes described it : nasty, brutish and short. Hunting and gathering -- and the threat of imminent starvation – were all that drove men forwards. Their battle for survival was a daily challenge. Man’s mind was of little use in such a primitive struggle: native cunning and primitive tool-making were highly valued; long-range thinking was not.

A successful hunt was all such creatures had to celebrate: the high point in such an existence would be roasting a wild beast over an open fire. For a brief moment in their short and brutal lives their bellies were full, their bodies warm, and their thoughts could (at last!) roam to higher things. They had bought themselves time to think.

On such nights, and over the course of those thousands of year of struggle, there was one thought, one goal, that drove these men forwards: the idea of beer!

That’s right. Beer. The first step away from the caves and that precarious existence of the hunter-gather came with the cultivation in Mesopotamia of grains and cereals. With this important step man had begun thinking long-range; he had begun to plan his life a season … then a year … then several years in advance. Rather than roaming far and wide he could settle down, build a house, raise a family, start a cilvilisation. The planting and harvesting of grains and cereals represented the arrival of man the-rational-animal; for the first time it could be clearly seen that man’s mind was his chief tool of survival. Man had put his mind to work, and for the first time flourishing replaced survival.

And what was all that grain and all those cereals for? Why, for beer of course! And bread. If bread was the staff of life, beer was its inspiration. With bread came sustenance; with beer came civilisation. If the mark of that first phase of primitive human development was a wild beast gnawing on the roasted limb of another wild beast, then the mark of the next was several pitchers of beer, and happy people consuming them.

Beer was the first example of men expending precious time and effort producing something not just for survival, but for their own pleasure!

And with the time bought by cultivation, men could now devise stories to entertain themselves while drinking beer. Curiously, many of these stories involved the pleasures of imbibition... (Read more here.)


  1. Jonathon Livingston7 May 2005, 09:06:00

    you humans flatter yourselves... one of my most memorable New Year's Eves was 1984, getting drunk with some orangutans in Borneo.

  2. Jonathon Livingston7 May 2005, 09:19:00

    Infidel! ... beer is proof God exists and wants Man to be happy (beer relativism)

  3. Jonathan, you said "one of my most memorable New Year's Eves was 1984, getting drunk with some orangutans in Borneo."
    This illustrates one of the dangers of beer - I bet you thought you were sleeping with unshaven hippy women at the time. Must have been quite a shock in the morning. :-)


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.