Wheat Enslaved Us. We Escaped. But What is the New Wheat?


In Yuval Harari’s book, Sapiens, he argues that wheat conquered humans.

His argument:

  • Humans learned how to grow wheat.
  • This allowed our population to expand.
  • This caused us to grow more wheat.
  • This required us to work long hours doing backbreaking labor. This made many of us miserable.
  • Ultimately, both wheat and humans expanded their populations, but, for humans, it was at the expense of our happiness.

I find this to be fairly convincing. Basically, wheat shifted humans into a high-growth, low happiness equilibrium that was hard to escape (it took the industrial revolution to get us out of it).

This got me thinking: what’s the new wheat? What in our lives do we have little chance of getting rid of but is arguably not making us any happier?

Some possibilities:

1. Sugar: It causes us to become obese and eventually die.

2. Sexual Media: From fashion magazines to commercials to pornography, it causes us to obsess over un-winnable games, likely causing depression and other mental disorders.

3. Alcohol: It causes us to kill each other and become depressed.

4. Economic Growth: This addiction may lead us to make Earth uninhabitable to humans.

I’m sure one could up with others. But all of the above have reached massive scale, have proven extremely difficult to curb, and, either already (sugar, media, alcohol) or may (economic growth) cause severe unhappiness (or extinction).

The common theme here is that humans are increasingly struggling with abundance. This is not surprising given that our brains evolved to operate in environments where scarcity was the norm.

What is the marshmallow test?

The marshmallow test is a test that measures how well any given human can operate in a world of abundance.

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