12. Leverage

Note: This is the next chapter release of a book!

Our real consumption diagram looks like this:[1]

It would be pretty hard to eat 227,000 calories per day.  But you’re probably staring at your phone while putting gas in your car or reading in the air conditioning.  It’s hard to fathom that the products you have and their energy came almost entirely from living things.[2]

They did. 

We couldn’t eat more, so we found some hacks.  The uphill snowball of power had no brakes.  Why should it stop at the level of “organism”?

It had no reason to.

Power was evolution’s driver.  Every system on the pyramid had always managed to find ways to become more powerful by owning and merging with more resources, like molecules or spinach leaves. 

We couldn’t physically merge with more and more food now, because digestion is pretty slow. But we could abstractly merge with it.  Just as well.

 So one Sunday morning a few hundred million years ago, a Triassic Oak Tree made Triassic acorns, and Triassic Squirrels buried them.

Hard to tell, but not my artwork.[3]

They figured out that some energy sources, like nuts, did not decay as quickly as others.  The brightest, most powerful squirrels – and later, humans – STORED food power for themselves for later.  

Why let slow digestion limit us in acquiring power?  This was the first recognition of time; that there will be a future me that will be hungry again, but I can go ahead and get his food now.  It was also our way of giving time the middle finger.

Once I have the nuts, they become a part of my empire, a bigger entity than just naked me.

So we moved from burying nuts to hiding frozen food in caves, and the snowball grew as our growing brains began to think more about the future.

Storing food, though, has its limits.  So much maintenance and guarding.  Food rots.  And our highly evolved body reached a max food-calorie digestion limit of about 2,000 per day. Pathetic. We could way out-consume that.

So one Tuesday, about 2.6 million years ago, our great grandparents came up with another power storage hack:  tools.  We could merge our bodies with other objects besides food that would help us procure shitloads of food later.  Since we couldn’t eat tools, we decided to just carry them.

Stored order to leverage more order.

If we sacrifices our power and attention now in order to build (order) a club or an arrowhead, it would help us save even more energy later by its efficiency.  Genius.

So just like we had consumed food, we began to consume tools to leverage even more food for less energy. The tools became a part of us, like our stored food.  Bigger empire.  We were cute little cyborgs, and our tools went with us everywhere.

The original cyborg.

Tools were leverage.  If our bodies were like stocks, tools were like options, drastically expanding our own capabilities by leveraging a small bit up front to make for a way more lucrative future. .

Hammering coconuts?   

Worth it. 

Worth what?  Our now.  Our present attention and the order stored in us.

All investing in a glorious day when we could kick it back, relax, and hammer the shit out of some coconuts like a boss.  No one was there to photograph it, but we know it paid off with giant coconut parties. 

More energy to amass more energy. The evolutionary survivors are generally those who thought long term- and stored it up. They made it through longer bouts of chaos, like storms and winters.

BUILDINGS

One year, Coconut Bob’s great-grandkids began to think even longer term about his future and make bigger landgrabs.

So he called another meeting.

This mountain of order we were amassing needed to be protected from chaos.  Like a whole life policy for our portfolio. 

Worth it.

Our houses looked like little cell membranes, protecting the entire Empire and helping the system keep homeostasis in chaos.

If forging a tool leveraged a few hours of sacrificed now for a few months of more order, then building a building was the super-long-term play: a few days of sacrificed now for many, many years of potential order.

With buildings, the power snowball was really picking up steam.

And this was just the beginning.

An empire of empires of empires was on its way.


[1] Again, Geoffrey West and his 11,000 watt equation.  11,000 watts for 24 hrs = 227,000 kCal/day.  I looked forever and he was the only person I could find who had done serious calculations on this. Admittedly, it may be off by quite a bit. But, by quite a bit, we don’t really mean quite a bit, since we can easily access all the national and global totals of energy consumption and divide.  I did my own independently, and I came up somewhere north of 10,000 watts.  Not bad. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/magazine/19Urban_West-t.html

[2] This refers to all types of energy, not just electricity.  All in all, the vast majority of energy we use still comes from fossil fuels, which is – you got it – from living things. Renewable electricity generation is the first major energy sources humans have ever used that bypass living things.

[3] Please don’t sue me, Fox.  You’d win and my kids would starve.

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