The Story of Democraczy: Chapter Two

by Martin Gantman

Sumeria:                          5,300 BC

Lascaux:                        30,000 BC

Religious activity:          100,000 BC

Homo sapiens:               130,000 BC

Homo erectus:            1,500,000 BC

Homo habilis:              2,500,000 BC

30,000 plus/minus years ago, after 2,500,000 years of human development, give or take a half million or a million years or more, from homo habilis to homo sapiens sapiens, residents decorated the walls of their habitats with tales of their daily survival exploits. Those decorations are now considered examples of art, which decision today provides many with a bereaved pause when having to try to determine the difference between graffiti art and actual graffiti – or is all personal and/or political visual expression art?

There passed another 25,000 or 30,000 years between Lascaux and recorded evidence of the first possible, though unsubstantiated, glimmerings of the participation of citizens in their governance, around 2,500 to 2,000 BC. At some point prior to this humans had also developed the capacity for two acquired traits: desire (not lust, which I assume had existed quite a while before) and greed. As agrarian society developed the practitioners realized that it was important to store crops for consumption during times of ill weather or slow growth. This awareness engendered recognition of the necessity to determine just how much to hoard. Ultimately that determination became more subjective and differentiated.

Desire, on the other hand, according to Frances Fukuyama, was something that could never be fully satisfied. Desire requires the environment within which one has the “freedom” to pursue one’s goals, and, again according to F.F., democracy provides a virtual space within which that satisfaction may be sought.

The time of the Sumerians was probably a bit too early for people to be questioning how much voice is democratic voice, but it is a query that one must be cognizant of when considering the continuing and insatiate desire that leads to more individual participation in governance. And it is not too early to ask, as historians who have been studying these societies and the ones to follow have been asking, just what determines what kind of and how much participation is required to be able to state that a society is democratic versus, say, a participatory oligarchy?

At the beginning of Tomas Sedlacek’s The Economics of Good and Evil, the epic of Gilgamesh plays an important role. Gilgamesh, the fifth king of Uruk, ca. 2,500 BC, had a strong urge to build a wall around the city. He corralled his workers and required them to live at the work site, thus preventing them from visiting home or seeing their families. Sedlacek cites this as one of the first examples of worker plight – or labor valuation – as it is now termed.  One can only imagine the ripple effect such an action might have had as societies developed; where one group would see labor as a series of numbers and another group would see it as an issue of rights.