States of Intoxication and the Limbic CapitaloceneGerald Moore (Durham University, Institut de Recherche Et D'innovation)
- Australian Research Council
In his best-selling Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari poses the question of what on Earth led Neolithic hunter-gatherers to accept city-living and the switch to settled agriculture that went hand-in-hand with the so-called Neolithic, or Agricultural, Revolution. The brutalising culture of work that agriculture entailed, accompanied by worsened diet and life expectancy, were exacerbated by the rampant disease of living in densely packed, multispecies cities, making for levels of likely chronic stress that would have been unfamiliar to our ancestors. Other participants in this debate, notably the Yale agrarian theorist James C. Scott, argue that the adoption of settled living must have been compelled, with compulsion facilitated by state-imposed regimes of taxation and visibility. Drawing on a range of recent work in anthropology (Edward Slingerland, Kim Sterelny, David Graeber and David Wengrow), neurobiology (Fred Previc) and social philosophy (Georges Canguilhem, Bernard Stiegler, Catherine Malabou), the paper will revisit this question of the Neolithic social contract from the standpoint of intoxication. I will start by drawing on the 'beer before bread' hypothesis to consider the role that intoxicants and addictogens could have played in expanding our margins of tolerance for the new environmental stressors, before going on to consider their relationship to resilience and environmental perturbation over the much later history of capitalism. Drawing on histories of wheat, sugar, coffee, alcohol, and digital screens, among others, I will argue that intoxication and generalised addiction may have played a far larger role in the manufacture of compliant societies that we tend to imagine - right up to the point where we can see both climate change and our inability to deal with it as an outcome of the intersection of capitalism and the reward, or 'limbic', system of the neuroplastic brain.
March 8, 2022, 8:00pm +10:00
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