The Carrier Bag Theory


The Carrier Bag Theory

I have believed for a long time now that history, as it is taught to us or talked about in general, gives us a very narrow and misleading perspective of what really happened. We mostly hear about kings and queens and leaders and conquerors and so on. We are told that their lives, their activities and conquests and defeats and treaties and declarations are what history consists of. What gets forgotten is the history of ideas, of inventions, and discoveries. The history of the efforts and insights of people who were not in power, but made the critical contributions to human knowledge and capabilities, that literally ended up changing history. Most of the actions and accomplishments of the kings and queens were made possible only because of these contributions. I am of course talking about things like the discovery of fire to the development agriculture, to the printing press, the gun, the steam engine, the atom bomb, the transistor, and so on. All of these and many more are equal, if not actually far more important aspects of history.

But even with that, something critical was still missing. Human beings have always been hunters and gatherers, and all of the things I mentioned above essentially pertain to the activity of hunting. They allow human beings to go out and kill, extract, exploit, conquer. So a history that talks mostly about these types of things is still kind of narrow and misleading. Also, as a side effect of the fact that hunting has been primarily a male activity, focusing only on this side of human activity has made history appear mostly male-centric.

But what about the other human activity, that of gathering? Well, as it turns out, Ursula K Le Guin, the famous SciFi author who unfortunately died recently, wrote about this in 1986 itself and made the point that gathering tools had to have evolved alongside the hunting tools and they contributed equally (and probably even more) to history (and I suppose to the future, since that is what she probably mostly deals with, as a scifi author).

She does make the point that hunting stories make for far more interesting stories than gathering stories, and hence most of history consists of those. (And by extension, stories of great battles and conquests by larger-than-life figures make even more interesting stories than stories of eccentric loners working in backyards and garages and libraries, which explains why history consists mostly of king and queens.)

Anyway, once we become aware of this, maybe we can start paying more attention to the eccentric loner working in a library as well as to the gatherer whose stories have been considered to be less interesting because they involve less action or conflict, but who still contribute equally if not more, to history. Moreover, someone who is, by nature, an eccentric loner or a gatherer, need not feel compelled to become the leader of a hunting group just because we have been brainwashed into believing that that is what is important from a historical perspective. It isn’t.

I actually found this article to be very rich in potential ideas that could be developed further. I will probably attempt to do that over time.