Grain Fed or Free Range
by Ben Stone
I admit freely, I’m a meat eater. Sure, I raise and eat vegetables and I love fruits and nuts, but given a choice I’ll take a well-prepared steak over almost any other food. That is assuming it’s a good cut of meat. Here the terminology gets a bit fuzzy. Referring to a “good cut” of meat can mean simply the way the meat is cut and where the meat comes from on the animal. But it can also refer to the way the livestock was raised and what it was fed during its life. For example, grass raised beef can be different from free-range beef and either can be grain finished or grass finished. Additionally the use of antibiotics and growth hormones should be considered when discussing quality meats. Some beef suppliers now use hormone implants and I don’t even want to think about what that will mean thirty years from now. Sometimes the simple act of learning the livestock handling and slaughter practices of the industry is enough to cause a person to give up meat entirely!
My point in bringing it up is to demonstrate the attitude of one beef consumer. There are a lot of times that I buy beef from the store and I don’t take into consideration what it was fed prior to slaughter. Other times I may find myself ordering a steak or even a burger from a restaurant without thinking for a moment about this issue. However, if money and convenience were not a consideration and I were afforded the luxury of choice, I would prefer eating beef that was raised without weird additives in its diet or injected into its body. I would prefer eating beef that had spent its life belly deep in a variety of grasses and then processed in the cleanest facility by caring people. And I would venture to say, most beef consumers could agree with me.
Interestingly enough, the State feels differently about its livestock. Every indication I can detect points to the conclusion that the State wants its livestock grain fed and drugged into a stupor from cradle to grave. And just to clarify, when I say that the State wants its livestock drugged I’m referring to the kinds of drugs that keep the livestock docile and working, not the kind of drugs that make the livestock happy or overly relaxed. Of course the State doesn’t actually eat its livestock, it utilizes them as beasts of burden. So perhaps if I didn’t eat beef and only used it for raw labor I might prefer my livestock pumped full of drugs and corn fed as well.
No doubt you think you have figured out where I’m going with this topic. You think I’m going to make the argument that the State considers its subjects to be its livestock. Or perhaps you think I’m going to talk about how the State controls its subjects by pushing some drugs and forbidding others. Actually, I assume that if you are reading this you already understand those to be the case. What I’m going to focus on is how the State treats its livestock and to demonstrate this I want to talk about how the State got its start and how it grew.
As with many topics concerning the State, it’s handy to look at the grandfather of the State, Ancient Jericho the oldest known city-state. There are older settlements in many locations, but Jericho is unique in more than one sense. A simple settlement or even an early town is a far cry from having that magical evilness required to spark the birth of the State. Jericho had a collection of perfect ingredients that not only sparked that Evil, it nurtured it along for thousands of years before any other State appeared, and then kept the State alive when it died everywhere else.
Jericho was located on a rocky outcropping in the huge fertile valley of the Jordan River. For thousands of years the climate was mild and the Jordan valley was well watered. From the most rustic walled structure and with the use of hit and run cavalry tactics, a relatively small mob of thieves could hold the entire valley and all its farming inhabitants in fear. Additionally, Jericho’s location was critical in controlling one of the mountain passes to the west which separated the Fertile Crescent from the Mediterranean Sea. Having then, a secure fortification, a steady income from extortion gleaned from travelers on the road, and a local supply of crops, Jericho only needed one more thing to become a State; working livestock. You see a State cannot exist without slaves.
It is interesting to note that it was roughly three thousand years after its birth in Jericho before the State began popping up in other regions. For three thousand years the same advances in technology were happening in other areas, perhaps even faster, as mankind leapt from the Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age, but without the presence of the State. But around the time Jericho went from a robber’s roost to a proto-state a notable change took place in the way the Jordan River Valley was farmed. Fig orchards and goatherds gave way to the over production of grain. Rather than a field supporting 20 goats and a small family of 10, the same field could support 20 goats and 100 people. Of course it didn’t take 100 workers to farm one field. One small family per field was still plenty of labor. So began the blessing and the curse of Jericho. The thieves grew rich in grain, but they needed an entire economy to steal from if they were to have the freeloading life they wanted. They needed raw labor to build more fortifications, skilled craftsmen to produce goods for trade and armed forces to collect the taxes and escort goods to new markets. But how could a few thieves hold such an organization together? They needed something at least as magical as the new farming innovation. They needed to somehow tie the legitimacy of the State to the surge in prosperity that grain farming had produced, and they needed to convince the growing population to obey and not simply turn on them and kill them. A deal had to be struck and a myth had to be created. A formula was found that would satisfy both the thieves on the mound of Jericho and the farm owners.
A deal was cut and a lie was told and the landowners would be in on the scam. The landowners could enjoy a life of leisure and slaves captured from the stateless people in other valleys would replace their labor. And to hold the whole scheme in place, a god was usurped. A nomadic wandering shepherd god named Dumuzid had been popular with the tribal people for thousands of years. Carved figures of him were scattered throughout the caves and hilltops. So the landowners of the valley claimed to be descendants of Dumuzid and the thieves of Jericho became his priests. The shepherd god became a god of food and vegetation and eventually the god of grain and then bread. As was the case with many of the gods of antiquity, the name changed over time and distance along with the particular qualities of the deity. But the formula stayed the same as a number of later city-states adopted this myth of Dumuzid as their original founder. As time passed the scam worked in Ur and then Babylon, at the mouth of the Nile and even far away Kashi on the banks of the Ganges. The Greek half-god Heracles was a later version of the same myth as he was a popular source of legitimacy for reigning Peloponnese families. So the landowners base the legitimacy of their land titles on the story that they are descendants of the god or half-god. The former thieves are now the priests and they live in the fortification, now called a temple where sacrifices and tribute are given.
With the gods on their side, armies rode out of their fortress and began raiding the tribal populations of other valleys, bringing them back to work the fields and serve the needs of the infant State. It’s likely that working on the farms of the State wasn’t much worse than working any other farm at the time, so there would have been little reason to risk running away. Also its likely that when the armies of the State raided an area they captured whole families and simply transplanted them. This was the method observed among developing States in Southeast Asia at and prior to the start of the colonial period. For their own safety, the landowners moved within the walls of the city while most of the slaves were kept out. If the slave population weakened or the State needed to expand it simply invaded its neighbors and took more slaves then expanded to new valleys. So we see that the earliest version of the State was born when the deified thieves in their fortified mound, united with the land owners (private business) and began using the over production of grain to feed and grow their slave population. Slaves not only worked the fields, they cut and stacked the rocks to build the city walls and towers that protected the elites. Whether by the use of rice, wheat, barley, or corn the State monopolized food production and made its livestock dependent upon the daily bread. This happened in conjunction with the occupation and control of the valleys and the plains through walled cities and sweeping cavalry strikes against any uprising.
The independent hill people, on the other hand, were not so easy to corral. They had food production methods that didn’t include the over production of grain. While some grain was in their diet, they relied on root and leaf vegetables, tree crops and nomadic animal herding. They didn’t need fortifications because their leaders didn’t rely on coercion. For defense against the State the hill people relied on direct hand-to-hand combat methods and keenly developed artillery weapons like the sling and the dart. Cavalry was near useless in the hill country and rows of infantry couldn’t maintain their ranks as rocks and other projectiles rained down from every direction. In the case of Jericho, the State could control the valleys and the trade routes but not the hills and mountains. Now we see why it was both symbolic and necessary for the biblical Joshua and his Israelites to crush Jericho before establishing their anarchical mountainous society that stood 500 years as a testimony of individual liberty and freedom. We see also why anarchical Israelites carried few shields or spears and used no chariots. They relied upon lightly armed individual skirmishers wielding sickle swords and slingers whizzing baseball-sized rocks at their enemies with deadly accuracy.
With time the State discovered that enticing new slaves with bread was more profitable than capturing them at the point of a lance. Cities began drawing new slaves in faster than the State could find work for them. That’s when the State was presented with the problem of too many citizen slaves. And this happens each time the State begins to reach a phase of maturity. But the State has discovered two methods of solving this glut of livestock; engage in war with another State, or divide your livestock into groups and encourage infighting until you can justify rounding up and murdering a minority group. Sometimes both methods are employed, but the result is the same. The gears of the slaughterhouse turn and the livestock die.
Like I said earlier, sometimes the simple act of learning the livestock handling and slaughter practices is enough to turn your stomach and change your view of the whole process.