The Case for the Open Fire (p.951)
Fire-building used to be necessary knowledge for survival because when our distant ancestors lived in nature, they needed fire to stay warm, and to cook food. Staying warm may seem more intuitively necessary than cooking food because they were constantly foraging for food, however, as bipeds we have a significantly shorter lower intestinal tract than quadrupeds, which means we can't ingest and break down the wide range of food they can without the help of fire.
The progress of our ability to manipulate heat has turned changed from necessary knowledge (warmth and cooking), to luxury, due to a myriad innovations and social institutions. I am not complaining about the steam engine, nuclear power, or burning oil, or calling for a return to primitivism. However our civilization's technological progress involves an amnesia to the progression, which seems very imprudent because it facilitates incompetency of the basics.
Say you want to join the NBA, and have the right build and mindset to get there. You start from the basics--the rules, common plays, effective patterns--then move to more advanced techniques to give you an edge over your competition. You practice, practice, practice, do all the right things, and eventually make it to the NBA, where you have an opportunity to compete with other high-level players. Do you discard the basics? No, that would be asinine, because without the basics the more complex techniques take no shape; they'd be mistimed, misdirected and overall chaotic. This is similar to our culture's general knowledge of fabricating heat though. We practiced all the basics, developed patterns, worked with others, but when we progressed we chose on a general level to leave behind the basics. Despite mastering fire, we chose the darkness over the light. Why?
I speculate that one of the reasons we have a general ignorance to the basics of heat fabrication--among other things--is due to the development of urban specialists. As civilization progressed, people began centralizing into cities because it facilitated commerce, reproduction, and power mechanisms like law. Cities were more productively efficient than rural communities because people could focus their abilities on certain tasks, relying on others to specify in different tasks. So if you are a chimney-builder, you just do that. If I am a blacksmith, I just do that. You get the benefit of my stove and I get the benefit of your chimney. Knowledge of both tasks is indeed unnecessary for survival because someone else has complementary knowledge that helps everyone in the collective.
Is reliance on a system of complementary knowledge therefore a system that breeds ignorance and incompetence? Only if we choose not to learn the other knowledge, regardless if we are not going to perform it every day. I think this is one of the main differences between an agrarian community and urbanized civilization. Agrarian communities were fiercely loyal to helping one another (just think of how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims who aptly destroyed them), so cities were not unique in the development of complementary tasking, however since agrarian communities lived alongside nature and not away from it via productive and consumptive mechanisms, each person had more of a general knowledge of fundamental mechanisms of survival. They appreciated nature. Building fires, skinning animals and tanning hides, and identifying food vs toxin were thus basic tools non-urbanized peoples had, which urbanites saw no use for once they moved out of the country and into the city. Production-based systems are inherently opposed to primitive agrarian systems, because the more independent and competent you are toward your survival, the less you need to rely on production. Hence, an amnesia toward the progression of heat-fabrication is natural. Our general ignorance of basic tools of survival is one of the basic institutions of power, not an accidental development.
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