No More Free Lunches....

(Cultural Origins:  The Birth of a Human System)

Written on August 28, 2001

by: Daniel B. Reader

Revised and Edited with permission on March 23, 2003

by: Frank Cicela

  Once upon a time some 10,000 years ago, a group of our cultural ancestors decided to gradually forego the lifestyle of hunting and gathering and began farming.  By the tenth season of serious full-time farming: the ground had been broken up, cleared of many rocks, and some major planting revision occurred via the learning associated with trial and error.  Consequently the group would have some decent crops coming in, and, in that year, the surplus would last through the entire winter.  Virtually every member in the group had a task to perform – a job to help ensure the success of this momentous undertaking.

Throughout the entire growing season the winds were warm and rains gentle.  The insects weren't too bad, and the children caught a majority of the field rodents (most of the critters, roasted on sticks, made for tasty afternoon snacks).  All the larger herbivores stayed out of the fields thanks to the dogs.  The crops grew beautifully -- this would be the biggest and best harvest yet….


The only real significant threat during the entire season was the band of savages that came wandering through during harvest time.  They walked right into OUR fields and started stripping OUR grain -- as if they had every right!  Damned bandits!  We went after them with our spears raised in anger and righteous indignation.  The dogs were especially fierce, and had to eventually be called off.  The heathens looked back at us as though we were possessed by demons, and scattered from our fields, bewildered.  Hah!  They won't be back!

We worked ourselves to physical exhaustion getting that harvest in.  So much food!!  Basket after basket after basket after basket….all piled in a hastily assembled hut.  Men and women, young and old, all pulling and stripping, beating, shaking and gleaning.  Emptied baskets out to the fields, full ones back in.  Roots and seed, mostly, with more fruit than we could ever eat.  The jars were full and some overflowing.  Finally we just started piling the harvest onto skins laid out on the ground...  Incredible!  Surely, this would last the winter and into spring!

After an entire season of backbreaking labor, we were finally through.  We had a feast, and sacrificed to the Goddess.  We were pleased with ourselves.  Just the last of the squashes and gourds to harvest now, and we would be finished.  Let us rest and relax!

As the days and hours passed, people started loitering about the food hut.  They would stand or sit next to it, talking and eating.  People would take armloads back to their huts.  One woman, the loud pushy one, sent her mate and her two sons to the hut with baskets.  She had said that she wanted to make sure that she had enough for the winter.  People weren’t doing anything anymore!  Just eating, and eating. And taking.

It was as if, now that this large harvest was finally in, that we could just stop doing things.  As if, now that we had The Biggest Harvest, that we might never run out.  I don’t know how long it’s been since we last fished...a kind of ennui had set in, and it had to stop.

We had a meeting one night around the fire.  Lots of fingers were pointed, and tempers flared.  But it was agreed that things couldn’t go on this way.  Things would have to change right now.

A stout young man is now posted in front of the hut.  He carries a big stick, and he will deny you access to the hut unless you have permission from the chief.  The chief will have given you a chit, a small bit of wood with his mark on it.  This small piece of wood with the chiefs mark on it would afford passage to the food…and one can’t just take what one needs – it is being doled out in exchange for the chits.

The chief, you see, will give the chits to those who are doing things.  One goes to him, announces what task was performed, and the chief gives chits according to what was done.  Easy tasks warranted only a chit or two.  Harder chores rated more chits.  This way, the food isn’t being hoarded, wasted, or scarfed by gluttons.  It was more fair this way.  It wasn’t as if the chief owned the food.  The chief just wanted things to settle back to normal -- to the way things were before this harvest with all its surplus.  Life seemed to be returning to normal.  Well, sort of…

Getting chits was the order of the day.  Some people worked themselves silly -- they could claim the most chits from the chief.  The chief was amazed!  He had to make more chits, and then more still.  Pretty soon he had to have help, just to make chits!  He finally tired of listening to people tell him, day after day, all that they had accomplished.  So much embellishment!  So much persuasion!  Everyone wanted to be the chief’s friend now.  Enough!  He started having someone else do the chit giving.

But that wasn’t all.  The people now started trading in chits.  A basket for two chits, a pot for three.  And now people would offer to do jobs for you in exchange for chits.  Want your garbage cleared away?  One chit!  Want that leaking spot in your hut roof repaired?  Three chits!

The seasons passed, and the harvests continued to be good.  More and better huts had to be built to store the harvests.  The huts now stand on legs, so the food doesn’t get wet and spoil.  And there are always those guys watching the food.  Guards, they’re called.  They even have a dog to help them now.  (Some kids got caught one season trying to sneak in the back of the hut.  The ringleader had his hand burnt as punishment.)  But people have enough to eat, and they always have chits….

Some people found that the best way to get chits was to do or make the one thing that they were good at.  One made the best baskets, and so just made baskets all day.  These were very good baskets, the best baskets, because that’s all that person did.  Practice making perfect.  Someone else was a good hunter, and brought in game meat, and furs, to trade for chits.  Another was a good knapster, and could make points and fishhooks and awls and axes and adzes…  That one had many, many chits.  The ones that worked in the fields, and the herders, and the slaughterers, all got their chits from the chief...oh! and the chitmakers and the chitgivers too...and the Guards.

Life was good, the village prosperous.  People had more stuff than they had ever had before.  They did the tasks they were good at…and they did them all the time!  Piles of baskets, mounds of furs, whole tables full of tools, being offered each morning in exchange for chits.  Artisans hawking their goods by day, and other services being offered by night…  People were busy!

Only the old ones remembered when life in the village was different.  Only they could recall the days of scraping one’s own skins, of making one’s own tools.  Taking their time and doing it right.  Only they could tell of nights around the fire, dancing and storytelling.  No one had time for such things nowadays.  Everyone was too tired!  People just didn’t care anymore.  People now would just go to the sacred places every so often, make their obiesances, leave a few chits, and be gone…back to more hours of difficult, specialized, exacting labor…back to something that their forebears could never possibly imagine… back to WORK….



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