It came to me like a revelation on my morning commute: Bread is a tool of the state. It sounds crazy, I know, but it is clear, and in the weeks since then, the "staff of life," the very symbol of food itself, has become to me a symbol of the domestication of humankind. It has also suggested one more way I can work to strengthen the individual and weaken the state.
I had recently read The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and was eliminating grain from my diet. According to Sisson, grains are a recent addition to the human diet that we are not well adapted to and cause many health problems, including obesity and diabetes. He claims that by adjusting our diets and lifestyles to fit our biological make-up, we can regain some of the health and vitality that our primal ancestors had. I had begun to adjust my diet to consist of mostly meats, nuts, eggs, fruits, and vegetables, and I lost weight, gained muscle tone and strength, and felt better than I had in a long time (for example, my previous IBS symptoms had all but disappeared).
So I suppose I was primed for an anti-bread revelation as I was listening to Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond was following the history of human societies across the globe through time, in an effort to explain the reasons for Eurasian technological superiority. His thesis was that geographical differences in domesticability of local plants and animals can explain the pattern of technological developments, at least in prehistory. Agriculture was the key: Those societies that developed agriculture were able to produce surplus food, free up time to experiment with new technologies, develop a class of people that could live off food produced by others, and sustain standing armies of professional soldiers. In short, agricultural societies could develop states.
As I was listening to Diamond's book, the phrase that sprung into my mind was actually bread and circuses: that infamous trick of ancient Roman pols whereby they kept the populus fat dumb and happy by providing tax-funded feasts and circuses for their enjoyment. In general, grain provides copious amounts of cheap (and empty) calories, perfect for raising slaves (or cattle), and perfect for keeping the sheep happy, though it comes at their own expense.
Diamond's model fits well with that of sociologist Franz Oppenheimer who, in one powerful chapter, demonstrated how states have arisen time after time through a single mechanism: conquest. First, one group of people, usually nomads/herdsmen, raids, murders, pillages, conquers, rapes, and/or enslaves another, usually sedentary and agricultural. Later, the conqueror realizes that "a murdered peasant can no longer plow," and lets his victims live so he can periodically return to take what they have produced. This gradually evolves into a full-fledged state, where a political class lives off taxes appropriated from the productive class.
Both Oppenheimer and Diamond would predict a strong connection between state power and grain production. Oppenheimer's model required first herdsman, people with a mobile and reliable food source, and then farmers, sedentary people who could produce an even greater food surplus to produce the state, and according to Diamond all of these things are correlated historically and geographically. Both models agree with a disturbing idea: just as agriculture is the domestication of animals and plants, the state is the domestication of humankind. The only difference is the "cattle" are not eaten directly… yet.
So now that the system of human farming called the state is here, with more grain-fed power than ever, can we ever be free and wild again? Barring a solar flare, catastrophic meteor impact, global thermonuclear holocaust, or supervolcano, we obviously can't turn back the clock 50,000 years and return to hunting and gathering, even if we wanted to. And even if we could, the state has arisen many times in many different places, so most likely it would rise again.
No. We have to go forward, through the state, to a new kind of anarchy, if at all, and maybe Sisson's kind of thinking can help with that. If we are built for anarchy the way we are built for primal living, as I believe we are, then maybe anarchists can demonstrate the efficacy of living according to the non-aggression principle so that people will take notice, and it will grow in popularity just as the Primal/Paleo diet is doing. Maybe droves of people will soon start to cast off statism just as they are casting off grains and sugar. And maybe we can help cast off the state by casting off grains. After all, if grains are a tool of the state, just as public education, central banking, war, and corporatism are tools of the state, then wouldn't it help to get rid of grain? Isn't it true that whatever strengthens the individual weakens the state? Could the Primal/Paleo diet be the anarchist and libertarian diet?
Bill Green [send him mail] teaches chemistry and biology at a government school and operates a private tutoring service. He writes as the Hartford Libertarian Examiner and at williampgreen.com.