Thursday, August 1, 2013

Work Boat

I have come to a reconciliation.

To date, I have written 75 individual Civ IV technology posts. This is far more than I think anyone expected, and they have taken me much longer that I would have (I wrote the first one, Fishing in July of '09.

The next post scheduled is, and has been for some time now, 'Combustion' ... and I have four times (including a couple of days ago) sat down intending to write it, only to lose all interest almost immediately. The difficulty is that I am pressed into writing post after post now that mostly talks about, "What is a D&D world like if this technology doesn't exist." That was interesting for awhile, but now that I've wrote something like a dozen such posts, I'm rather tired of it.

So, I may not write any more along that vein. I don't know. I tend to get things like that stuck in my craw, and eventually return to them. For the time being, I'm prepared to let it go ... so that I can pick up writing the kind of posts I want to write.

It is not my intention to stop posting in this category. I just mean to do what I had always meant to do when finally writing the 'Future Tech' post - I intend to go back to the beginning and talk about other elements that are highlighted in that game. For example, units.

Above is the lowly workboat.  A purist might insist that I ought to begin with either the worker, the settler or the warrior, since those units do not technically require any technology ... and I do need to write posts for each. However, I'm nostalgic, and way back four years ago I started with fishing. It feels right to start with fishing again.

A few notes first, however, about my intentions. Later on I'll be writing posts about spearmen, swordsmen and a host of other military units, and I know I'm going to get hounded for what I don't know about the use of those weapons or what people used them or how they used them, etc. It wouldn't matter how great an expert I was, the hounding would occur nonetheless, because those are the sorts of things - like most knee-jerk memes on the net - that get people with a little bit of knowledge stirred up.

So while I will try to be accurate, and while I will listen and consider criticism - I have to learn too, after all - my goal is not to provide a scholarly thesis on the various units in question. If you want to know more about work boats, fishing boats, etc., I suggest you spend as much time as you like reading scholarly theses on rafts, coracles and canoes, which are available to you. My mandate is D&D ... and any background material I write on the subject is aimed towards that mandate.

The earliest archeological evidence we have for fishing boats extends back to 7000-8000 BCE, but obviously rafts and the like would have existed tens of thousands of years earlier. A log, after all, straddled by a well-balanced angler, whose descendants learned in time to dig out and make sturdier, is the easiest sort of boat and will get you across a fair-sized lake if you're committed to it. Hands make good paddles. Reasonably, we can probably guess that using a log as a boat to cross water predates cro-magnon humans, probably going back to the beginnings of neanderthals a half a million years ago. So 'early' applications don't really mean much.

The reasons for applying a boat to water seem obvious, but there's things to learn from the obvious, so let's look at two such reasons. The first, to travel, and the second, to free oneself of the reeds and tangles that make the shoreline a poor place to fish. No doubt it soon became evident to those cultures able to experiment with fishing offshore was to learn that this is where the fish were and where the weeds weren't. The discovery would do more than simply increase the daily take of one fisherman - it meant more fish for the whole village, which meant more villagers, and ultimately more villages all together, pressed upon any lake big enough to supply more than a single clan.

Consider a lake a dozen miles in area, able to supply enough food for ten or twenty permanent clans, all in the space where ordinarily only one clan would be moving constantly, trusting to luck to find food. This would mean different clans competing over the same smaller area, jostling against one another, watching one another's technique and learning from a far wider source of experimentation than might normally occur in an open savanna or highland. Socially, too, there would be a greater emphasis on setting boundaries, trading potential sexual partners from clan to clan, deputations to other clans for power support, a demn for sophisticated diplomacy and the first efforts to avoid immediate and brutal conflict upon clan meetings. Think of what this means 40 to 60 thousand years ago, 2,500 generations before the rise of traditional farming - because fish are, by far, the most reliable natural game in existence - a much more reliable and dependent a resource, which in turn encourages greater interdependence among isolated tribal clans, or bands.

Long, long before civilizations rose on the Nile, the Indus or the Yangtze, very small clusters of human culture intensified in places we hardly consider central, upon lakes in Africa first, and later in all the parts of Europe, particularly France, Austria and Sweden. In regions where the sea was shallow and islands pressed together, such as Denmark, the coasts of India, Indonesia and ultimately Polynesia, fishing cultures flourished and became 'cultural' ... that is, identified by independent, consistent traditions that marked those areas despite the lack of things we would usually consider technologically necessary for the development of a 'nation.' These cultures did not have kings in the sophisticated sense and the residents did not develop distinct personal status ... but the cultures themselves existed nonetheless.

The application of that is to recognize that a lake or a seashore in your world is more than merely a bunch of people fishing, or participating in an industrial process. The cohesion that forced primitive tribesmen to resolve differences by talking rather than war some sixty thousand years ago (because after the first hundred wars, where everyone wants to go on staying put instead of moving to the next valley, it gets tiresome) still exists in any traditional fishing culture you care to stumble upon today - even in places like Brittany or Newfoundland. The motivation is to fish, and to encourage all else not to impede upon the fishing, and to stand together - against no matter what - because we think alike, we act alike and we want the same things.

It is a sort of cavalier attitude that says, if you're in trouble, we're prepared to give you a hand because that's our way; but if you're here merely on your own volition, then please go immediately. At once, contributary and generous, AND violently xenophobic against outsiders, depending on the circumstances. Blow ashore on a wrecked boat and deserted, and you'll be invited in as a brother. Land in a perfectly good vessel and find the doors slammed in your face.

It isn't just the work boat that matters in context here, it is the sort of influence the boat has upon the culture that grows around its use ... and how that culture eventually expanded best along rivers, where not just food, but travel was encouraged also. The means to move a hundred miles up and downstream meant all of the above, with even greater emphasis on the practicalities of trade and the expansion of knowledge from one cluster of fishing villages to the next. The reason Egypt and other rivers advanced to the fore was not merely because of the abundance of food, or the intensification of agriculture (that would come later), but because thousands of humans were bound together geographically and, more importantly, nutritionally, encouraging a creative/inventive pool that knocked transhumerance and other hunter-based cultures into a cocked hat (which was a long way from being invented) 40,000 years before the first farm was ingeniously planted. This is the crux of human development, that is constantly overlooked but represents the critical mass of progress - the more people working on a problem, the more likely one particular well-meaning individual will hit upon a single clever moment of creation ... then emulated by hundreds, then thousands of other individuals.

The work boat, the simple process of getting to the fish, and thus having more to eat, begins a train of events that precedes everything we know about history ... and so subtly that now, as you read this, you realize you've never clearly thought of it before.

1 comment:

JDJarvis said...

Ever come across talk of the water ape stage of human development? Early civilized man as fisher makes more sense than does farmer, a lot. More success early on for fishers as opposed to farmers.