Rational Religion

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And Wheels Within Wheels. (A Digression)

It is well to remember that the physical wheel - so ubiquitous and indispensable in our way of life - is not a part of all civilizations. 


As archaeology, and the slow decline of a Euro-centered take on history, teach us a greater respect for the cultures of other ancient nations, we have come to view the Pre-Columbian history of the Americas as vast, complex and in some places highly sophisticated:  complete with royalty, priesthoods and a tradition of elaborate military campaigns and brutal conquest; even a complex, difficult and avidly followed ball game.


But they didn't use the wheel.   


Nowhere from the Inuit to the Patagonians is there a hint that anything or anybody was ever moved in a cart or a wheelbarrow.


It isn't that nobody ever conceived of the idea.  Wheeled children's toys have been found in Central American archaeological sites.  Wheels just weren't all that practical, given the terrain and the people's lifestyle.


There is a certain tyranny imposed upon society by any great innovation.  Once our Euro-Asiatic ancestors adopted the wheel, their historical time-line was forever altered. 


For wheels you need roads; constructed at great expense and impossible without massive organization and coordination of effort.  And to cross rivers and scale mountain ranges you need inspired invention, vision and an inexhaustible treasury.


All this without consideration of the entire culture  which springs up around the vehicles, themselves, from war chariots to stagecoaches.


The inhabitants of the Americas chose to stick to paths and packs.  Remember also that most of them had no sizeable beast of burden.  The only place they did, in the Andes, the topography was so rugged that wheels would have been more trouble than they were worth.  Better just to load the cargo, or the kid, on the llama's back and hike on up the trail.  Llamas aren't all that strong, anyway.  They would make iffy draft animals on level ground.


But by foregoing the tyranny, and the undeniable benefits, of a wheeled society, the civilizations of the Americas denied themselves the entire spectrum of subsequent wheel-based invention.


It probably takes many generations of watching rolling cart wheels to produce the notion of a toothed gear, or a flywheel to preserve momentum, or cams to alter direction, or buzz-saws...etc.