Thoughts on coasts

We think about history in categories that are the imprints of how generations of tradition have told the wide story of the past: rise and fall of civilisations, the phases of nomadism, agriculture and industry, the gradual mapping of a world defined by inner lands of continents, not the liminal boundary of unmasterable oceans. The peopling of the world radiates out, after a forgotten migration, from the great inner Fertile Crescent, and its successor originators. Our most decisive innovations are the European heritage of civilisation – farms, factories, and a certain idea of freedom. We push back into the long forgotten past social categories of our own over-described world, and ignore the more diffuse experience of another world.

The history of coasts show the insidious effect of the story of civilisation archetypes. Coasts were our first home, our salvation from inland drought, and our beacon lights of discovery. The first bands of humans left inland Africa and found the abundance, the variety, the encounters of the coast. They peopled the world by following its long chain to other lands. It was here trade bloomed. It was here our earliest forebears combined their talents to fish and to farm, to hunt and to gather, to war and to trade, to speak and to succumb to the greatest force we can touch, the ocean swell.

My own nation is a land of coastal dwellers. Its inner heart is red but dead. Most of the peoples of the world now follow our example, with close to 3/4 of them settling in cities and towns near the coast. We are all beachcombers now.

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