Darwin - the worst mistake of the human race 22 replies

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Joe Bonham

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#1 12 years ago

Really funny coincidence happened yesterday. I got a link from Locomotor and an email from my father to the same article by Professor Jared Diamond. Just read it from start to finish today. http://math.ndsu.nodak.edu/students/benko/worst-mistake.html

Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non- producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses.

Oh yes, the "social parasites", like mathmeticians, artists, scientists... All of these professions require lifetimes to study and master. No, a few extra hours of leisure time doesn't cut it. Let's put things in perspective. At the peak of Romano-Greek civilization, countless amazing achievments came about, from advanced mathematics to early steam engines. Yet when this villainous social structure collapsed a few hundred years later, all of this went away. -A Medieval scholar would be considered a mathematical genius if he could prove the Pythagorean Theorem. -During the Pax Romana, there were thousands upon thousands of written works in the West. But in the 16th century, Thomas Aquinas won widespread fame for reading every book in the entire Western world (Which was barely enough to fill a small room). -There was no Western City that could match Rome's sanitation until the 19th century - 1500 years later.

Similar contrasts in nutrition and health persist on a global scale today. To people in rich countries like the U.S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an elite, dependent on oil and minerals that must often be imported from countries with poorer health and nutrition.

Implying that trade with America and Europe makes one poorer? I think the tens of millions of Saudi people who's well being are dependent on paychecks from the oil industry, and the hundreds of millions of people in the Chinese manufacturing industries can testify this is nonsense.

Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from the need lo transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts - with consequent drains on their health Among the Chilean mummies, for example, more women than men had bone lesions from infectious disease. Women in agricultural societies were sometimes made beasts of burden. In New Guinea farming communities today I often see women staggering under loads of vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty- handed. Once while on a field trip there studying birds, I offered to pay some villagers to carry supplies from an airstrip to my mountain camp. The heaviest item was a 110-pound bag of rice, which I lashed to a pole and assigned to a team of four men to shoulder together. When I eventually caught up with the villagers, the men were carrying light loads, while one small woman weighing less than the bag of rice was bent under it, supporting its weight by a cord across her temples.

I find it very amusing that Diamond accuses anthropolists of proposing the progressive theory of human social development without enough evidence... and then goes off on this fantasy. How does he know that agriculture brought sexual inequality? Did he take a poll?

As for the claim that agriculture encouraged the flowering of art by providing us with leisure time, modern hunter- gatherers have at least as much free time as do farmers. The whole emphasis on leisure time as a critical factor seems to me misguided. Gorillas have had ample free time to build their own Parthenon, had they wanted to. While post- agricultural technological advances did make new art forms possible and preservation of art easier, great paintings and sculptures were already being produced by hunter- gatherers 15,000 years ago, and were still being produced as recently as the last century by such hunter- gatherers as some Eskimos and the Indians of the Pacific Northwest.

Forget Stone Hedge, the Pyramids, and the Parthenon - look at the pile of rocks Grog the Caveman made!

Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest lasting life style in human history. In contrast, we're still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it's unclear whether we can solve it.

This is so silly I'm not even going to respond to that.

One answer boils down to the adage "Might makes right." Farming could support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer quality of life. (Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over one person per ten square miles, while farmers average 100 times that.) Partly, this is because a field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a forest with scattered edible plants. Partly, too, it's because nomadic hunter-gatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it's old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don't have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years. As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evils of farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then drove off of killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter. It's not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn't want.

Speaking of "boiling down", this one parapgraph boils down Diamond's whole argument. He's complaining about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. Yes, it would be nice if it wasn't a Darwinian World, wouldn't it? But unless you're a creationist, that conclusion really doesn't help you much.




Locomotor

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#2 12 years ago

You've offered absolutely no useful commentary. This is nothing but sarcastic dribble. I'm only going to reply to a couple of your points, because you barely made a couple:

Oh yes, the "social parasites", like mathmeticians, artists, scientists... All of these professions require lifetimes to study and master. No, a few extra hours of leisure time doesn't cut it. Let's put things in perspective. At the peak of Romano-Greek civilization, countless amazing achievments came about, from advanced mathematics to early steam engines. Yet when this villainous social structure collapsed a few hundred years later, all of this went away. -A Medieval scholar would be considered a mathematical genius if he could prove the Pythagorean Theorem. -During the Pax Romana, there were thousands upon thousands of written works in the West. But in the 16th century, Thomas Aquinas won widespread fame for reading every book in the entire Western world (Which was barely enough to fill a small room). -There was no Western City that could match Rome's sanitation until the 19th century - 1500 years later.

You refuse to acknowledge, or are simply forgetting, what made all this possible: slave labor. He makes an very interesting thesis, that agriculture brought about social injustice. Your post did nothing to argue against any of this. If you want to marvel at large stone buildings, then go ahead: at least remember who toiled to create them. It was not the gods, nor the intellectuals, nor the governers: it was the slaves. They deserve more credit in my opinion than the great architects. You hold these accomplishments in great measure, yet you offer absolutely no sympathy towards those that created it. "Necessary sacrifices," "it is worth it," "none of this would have been possible otherwise," you say. Well, bollocks to that sentiment, I say.

I think the tens of millions of Saudi people who's well being are dependent on paychecks from the oil industry, and the hundreds of millions of people in the Chinese manufacturing industries can testify this is nonsense.

I think the young girls chainsawed to death in Colombia by US-trained (/funded/equipped) death squads can testify that Diamond's take makes plenty of sense. You have learned half of world history: the establishment's half. Even worse, the military establishment's half.

Forget Stone Hedge, the Pyramids, and the Parthenon

Those were great achievements? They were piles of rocks (albeit slightly larger and more symmetrical), built for self-delusioned elitists, by countless slaves. They are nothing to marvel at, in my opinion, for the cultures that birthed them deserve no praise, nor the men that ordered them built.

What problem do you have with just living? Hunter-gatherers, it has been proven by anthropologists, scientists, historians, etc, had the most leisurely existence ever experienced by man. If you don't believe me, I'd be happy to point you in the direction of some relevant works.

Here's a thesis for you, and please do try to come up with something a little more constructive, a little less ego-masturbating, than what your responses were to Diamond's essay: when man lived before agriculture, he did not take more than he needed. It has been said that in the area that is now occupied California, the rivers were so full of salmon that you could fish with baskets (though they did not, because they new the risks of greed and gluttony). They did not store food, because they had no reason to. In other words, they did not take more than what they needed. If you think about it, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should. Hoarding food, riches, is useless. It is by definition taking more than suits you. "One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, 'Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?'"

"It was slavery that first made possible the division of labour between agriculture and industry on a considerable scale, and along with this, the flower of the ancient world, Hellenism. Without slaver, no Greek state, no Greek art and science; without slavery, no Roman empire. But without Hellenism and the Roman Empire as the base, also no modern Europe. We should never forget that our whole economic, political, and intellectual developement has its presuppositions a state in which slavery was as necessary as it is universally recognizable." - Frederick Engels

"the institution of Slavery is a principal cause of civilization. Perhaps nothing can be more evident than that it is the sole cause. If any thing can be predicated as universally true of uncultivated man, it is that he will not labor beyond what is absolutely necessary to maintain his existence. Labour is pain to those who are unaccustomed to it, and the nature of man is averse to pain. Even with all the training, the helps and motives of civilization, we find that this aversion cannot be overcome in many individuals of the most cultivated societies. The coercion of Slavery alone is adequate to form man to habits of labour. Without it, there can be no accumulation of property, no providence for the future, no taste for comforts or elegancies, which are the characteristics and essentials of civilization. He who has obtained the command of another’s labour, first begins to accumulate and provide for the future, and the foundations of civilization are laid....Since the existence of man upon the earth, with no exception whatever, either of ancient or modern times, every society which has attained civilization has advanced to it through this process... Let it be remembered that all the great and enduring monuments of human art and industy - the wonders of Egypt - the everlasting works of Rome - were created by the labor of slaves.” - William Harper

Jensen continues, "Indeed, without slave labor there would have been neither the Bronze nor Iron Ages: until modern times, no 'sane' person ever uncoerced became a mine worker (and even today it often takes either coercion or relatively high wages in desperate communities). The work is simply too hard, too dangerous, the conditions too dismal. Only prisoners, captives, and slaves - three branches from the same tree - ever entered the underworld, and then did so only under the lash, or at the point of a sword."

In fact, Jensen suggests further: "Slavery's use was so central to the foundation of civilization that it dictated the design of early cities, for example Mohenjo-Dar, where the great food storehouse was located within the citadel's heavy walls, protected, by armed soldiers, not agains foreign marauders but against the citizenry itself. SOcial critic Lewis Mumford noted with characteristic understatement the placement of this storehouse. "Planned scarcity and the recurrent threat of starvation played a part from the beginning in the effective regimentation of the urban labor force."

Before civilization came about, men did not take more than they needed, because taking more than you need requires more labor than you would care to do. If you could live liesurely, why would you live any other way? Like Diamond argues, agriculture must have forced some men into labor they had no reason to take part in, that would not benefit themselves, and that would make someone else rich. So, other men forced them into it. Thus, the advent of slavery: cradle of civilization. Acknowledge this at least, and perhaps you might look upon modern skylines with a slightly different perspective.

Sure, I've a lot to thank modern civilization for: hot showers, pop-tarts, root beer, scholarship. Then again, I've also several less praise-worthy things to thank it for: an absolute disconnection - physically, mentally, spiritually - with the natural world, a hyperdependence on electrical technology, a psychological dependence on hierarchal authority, a relative absence of true human freedom, and so on. Is the trade off worth it? More importantly: is our irrational, destructive (including self) culture able to last much longer? What we've done to this planet and to eachother over the past couple thousand years (ecologically speaking, over only the past couple hundred) is more damaging, socially and environmentally, than humanity has caused in its several hundred thousand year existence. We live in a pitiful culture. One that is inexcusably anthropocentric, and hateful, and irrational.

Like I said in the other thread: I don't pretend to have all the answers to our problems. However, I feel it is very, very important for us to acknowledge all of this. Once we do that, we might be able to change something. While I'm here, I'm going to live comfortably. All things being equal, I'd rather that than else: but all things are not equal. And until they are, I don't feel any of us have the right to claim we today possess anything worthy of real admiration.

I'm tired. My $.02.

A question, for you MA: America's economy is today what it is in very large part because of slave labor. 1) Was the injustice worth it? 2) If you had the chance, and this were the early 1800s, would you trade our modern "progress" for the freedom and happiness of those slaves?




WiseBobo

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#3 12 years ago

Lack of a slave work force would just mean a lacking of agricultural products (in higher number that is) for generations. There is little impact that the transformation from slavery to the civil war had on the overall economy; remember that slavery was mainly based in the south. Production was the same after the war but now 'companies' had to pay employee costs. A better example would be having a United States of only the original 13 colonies with no native american genocide compared to today.

Manifest Destiny had a much bigger impact on the American economy today than slavery.




Locomotor

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#4 12 years ago

I suppose that might be a better example, but it's easier to pose a hypothetical using the history black slavery.




WiseBobo

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#5 12 years ago

I disagree in regards to the United States.

North America did not receive the majority of the slaves during the slave trade.




Locomotor

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#6 12 years ago

I know. Proportionally, it was far smaller in numbers than many other places. I just used it because I was talking about slavery beying the necessary foundations of any civilization. It doesn't really matter.

Here, a new hypothetical for you, MA: the US economy is what it is today in very large part because of the European depopulation (intentional and otherwise; in my opinion, it was all intentional) of the Americas: 1) Was it worth it? More importantly, was it worth it to the Indians? 2) If it were 1492, and you were in Cuba, for only one small example, would you trade what we have today for the lives of the millions of native Cubans that died during Colombus's reign?




Jackthehammer

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#7 12 years ago

I get the feeling he is somewhat anti-agriculture, and pro-hunting-gathering. Now, is it me, or.. weren't the hunters-gatherers not the first people to start agriculture?




Locomotor

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#8 12 years ago

Well, obviously the transition had to happen somewhere. Still, humans lasted for hundreds of thousands of years as pre-agricultural societies. Since the advent of domestication of plants, animals, slaves, etc, we've been going downhill ever since, he's arguing. We were better off living that way than where we are now - only because, while we might be comfortable and "intelligent," this type of lifestyle isn't sustainable. If we don't change, he says, we're headed for a very nasty crash. I pretty much agree with him. (Though he argues all this in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, which I'm currently reading.)




Jackthehammer

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#9 12 years ago

I agree on him with the crash-part, but he's gotta understand that we can't all hunt and gather anymore, the world population is FAR to big now.




Joe Bonham

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#10 12 years ago

The "crash" is the idea that agriculture won't be able to support the population as it grows. But it was dropped by most people in the late 90s, when it was obvious that agriculture is improving while the world population levels out and begins to go down.