I am glad to have met Fernand Braudel. His histories—emphasising the concrete and the everyday, as opposed to heroic tales of geopolitics with Great Men masquerading as heroes and villains—are refreshing to the mind and soul. And although I am only just beginning to get into his The Mediterranean in the Ancient World, I already recognise his voice as a melodic and soothing counterpoint to our chaotic culture. But why do I mention him now, especially after admitting that our relationship has only just begun? Because he has given me another duality with which to buttress humanity, another black-and-white model to add to my already burgeoning collection: highlanders and lowlanders. Consider the following passage:
“Dramatic descents from the mountains took place in every period and in every region of the sea. Mountain people — eaters of acorns and chestnuts, hunters of wild beasts, traders in furs, hides or young livestock, always ready to strike camp and move on — formed a perpetual contrast to lowlanders who remained bound to the soil, some as masters, some as slaves, but all part of a society based on working the land, a society with armies, cities and seagoing ships. Traces of this dialogue remain even today, between the ice and snow of the austere mountain tops and the lowlands where civilisations and orange-trees have always blossomed.
Life was simply not the same in the hills as the plains. The plains aimed for progress, the hills for survival. Even the crops, growing at levels only a short walk apart, did not observe the same calendar. Wheat, sown as high up the mountainside as possible, took two months longer to ripen there than at sea level. Climatic disasters meant different things to crops at different altitudes. Late rains in April or May were a blessing in the mountains but a disaster lower down, where the wheat was almost ripe and might rust or rot on the stalk. This was as true of Minoan Crete as of Syria in the seventeenth century AD or Algeria in our own time.”
Highlanders live in solitude or in small companies; lowlanders prefer to exist in thriving metropolises. Highlanders practice a greater degree of self-reliance, living with the land; lowlanders depend more upon one another, living in an organised way off of the land and off of one another. Highlanders have no permanent residence and buy only lightly into the concept of ownership; lowlanders aspire to have permanent homes and to own the primary means of their existence. Highlanders are hardier, more primitive, used to scarcity; lowlanders are softer, more civilised, more at home in an environment of abundance.
Which are you? Highlander or lowlander?