For the last 150,000 or so years of human evolution, not a whole lot changed. That is, until about 10,000 years ago, when in the blink of an eye we began organizing societies in very, very different ways. We went from small bands of hunter-gatherers to massive state societies; from having a relatively low ecological impact to devastating the natural environments we existed in; from relatively horizontal organization to extreme hierarchy and finely articulated division of labor. These now all-too-familiar traits have culminated in our modern capitalist era, where individual humans have become alienated cogs in a vast industrial machine that seems hell-bent on destroying everything in its path.
How did we get here? What happened 10,000 years ago to put us on this path of expansion and ecological devastation? This is the question guiding the research of Lisi Krall — an economics professor at Cortland University whose research blurs the lines between anthropology, economics, and evolutionary biology. She believes that the advent of agriculture was a turning point in human evolution, and that we can learn a lot about our modern societies by looking at ant and termite superorganisms.
Upstream spoke with Krall about her eclectic research that has brought together an odd mix of disciplines and a lot of uncanny comparisons. We also explored the ramifications of her findings, which pose much deeper, philosophical inquiries into the existential, environmental, and economic challenges that human societies are facing in our modern era.
Intermission Music: “Human” by Mount Eerie
Cover art by Robert Raymond
Upstream is an interview and documentary series that invites you to unlearn everything you thought you knew about economics. Weaving together interviews, field-recordings, rich sound-design, and great music, each episode of Upstream will take you on a journey exploring a theme or story within the broad world of economics. So tune in, because the revolution will be podcasted.
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