Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree
Discussing things as they are said to be
Said one to others; ‘Now listen, you two
There’s a certain rumour that just can’t be true
That humanity descended from our noble race
Why, the very idea is a big disgrace’.
‘Here’s a thing you will never see
A monkey build a fence around a coconut tree,
And let all the coconuts go to waste
Forbidding other monkeys to come and taste.
Why, if I put a fence around this tree
Starvation would force you to steal from me!’
These words, spoken with satirical flair by Dave Bartholomew, have been on my mind lately (not least because I have been staring at bananas all day - more on that later). We live in what is often called the developed world. Humanity advances at an ever increasing pace into the worlds of technology, medicine, agriculture, and exploration. To the eyes of the rest of the animal kingdom, we must look like we are edging further and further away from nature itself, relying on space-age metallic tablets for communication, and eating food more at home on the set of Star Trek (Exhibit A).
But I find myself wondering whether, as the monkeys in the poem above suggest, by developing an incredible amount of technology, we have neglected the ancient and wondrous tool of wisdom. The monkeys deplore humanity’s frightful practice of building fences and storing surplus, concluding that ‘yes, man descended, the worthless bum, but, brothers, from us he did not come’.
Indeed, humanity is unusual within the animal kingdom in its habit of storing surplus food. There was a moment around 13,000 years ago when, whilst the monkeys continued to grab a banana when and where they needed it, humans learnt how to store grain in pits to keep it dry, so that surplus harvest could be provided throughout the year. This moment has been described by food waste author Tristram Stuart as ‘the greatest revolution in human history’ (Waste, p. 172). Since surplus food could be stored and eaten later, food production became an occupation rather than an obligation, and others within the social group could pursue other specialisations, such as politics, religion, art, or warfare. The production of surplus food directly accounts for the rise in all sorts of industries and technologies, and has brought us to this so-called developed world, where we are by far the most superior species on the planet. But at what cost? And, as the monkeys muse, are we really that wise?
In a world of smartphone, smart watches, and smart bombs, the human race is in dire need of some wisdom. The ancient book of Proverbs teaches -
"Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." - Proverbs 3:13-17
Jesus has a fair amount to say about being wise and being foolish, and one of his stories is particularly applicable here (Luke 12:13-21). A rich guy has an especially bountiful harvest one year. With all this extra food, food designed for human consumption, what does he decide to do? Tear down his barns and build even bigger ones so he can store it all up for himself, the greedy so-and-so. Jesus calls this guy a fool, and kills him off at the end of the story. It’s quite a dramatic way of getting his point across, by anyone’s standards.
There is much more to say about surplus food, which I will deal with in another blog shortly (hence the title of this one), as well as telling you about my aforementioned bananas, but I’ll leave you with Jesus’ commands in this topic:
"Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."