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Harari on the invention of Agriculture

August 27th, 2018

Quora question: Was the agricultural revolution in 10,000 BC really bad, as explained by Yuval Noah Harari in the book sapiens? In my view, the agricultural revolution was the Genesis of the contemporary world.

Yes and yes.

The issue is that the immediate impact of agriculture was a reduction in the quality and length of life – shortened life expectancy, an increase in disease (from living closely together) a decrease in the variety of foods consumed, the beginning of social stratification, slavery, war and the oppression of women. Archaeologists and anthropologists have puzzled over why people abandoned hunting and gathering for agriculture.

Hunter/gatherers (H/Gs) perceive the world as plentiful – that there is enough to support life and that it is all there for the taking. Farmers and herders perceive a world of scarcity where one has to guard against hard times by planting and tending crops or keeping animals.

H/Gs know more about plants than most botanists they know when a certain plant is ready to be used and where plants grow – it is part of gathering. They know about how animals reproduce and what their needs are – it is part of hunting.

My theory is that the extinctions at the end of the Ice Age introduced the notion of scarcity.

Once scarcity had been invented first people would plant a bit of wild grain, pulses (lentils and similar crops) that could be stored. They stored them and did their regular round coming back to the stored food when times were hard. Over time they put more and more of their energy into the planted crops and spent more and more time in one place – became more sedentary. This eventually led to two things.

First, that the gathered food and hunted meat in the area of the settlements became depleted.

Second, as things became depleted they put more energy into planted crops and husbanded animals they experienced a reduction in the quality of life which increased their perception of scarcity.

As to the second part of your question –

Of course, the perception of scarcity is the genesis of our modern world because it was the beginning of what we have today. However, we don’t know what would have happened if scarcity and agriculture hadn’t been invented.

What I would hope is that we are embarking on a world where we can do away with actual scarcity. If we can also do away with the perception of scarcity we can perhaps base our lives on less labor, more sharing and better conditions of life for all. If we hold on to scarcity we won’t share and we won’t ever get back to the perceptual Eden of Hunter/Gatherers.

Original Quora question

Quora: Difference between H/Gs and farmers/herders

August 27th, 2018

Quora question: How are the lives of farmers and herders different from that of a hunter-gatherer?

The major difference between hunter/gatherers and farmers or herders is that H/Gs don’t perceive the world as scarce therefore they don’t spend a lot of energy saving up for scarce times – they don’t plant and they don’t tend animals. In the words of a M’buti Pygmy farming is “M’bafu” (stupidity) or in the words of a !Kung San man “Why should be hunt when there are so many mononongo nuts in the world?” H/Gs in Polynesia, who know about farming say that it just leads to “less varied food, more work, uncomfortable clothes, and the oppression of women.”

Original Quora question

Eschaton: Capital in the 21st Century

February 3rd, 2014

People are talking about Capital in the Twenty-First Century Author: Thomas Piketty, Translator: Gabriel Zucman.
The author maintains that the main driver of inequality–the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth–today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.

Here’s my comment on the discussion at Eschaton

Just as Marx’s notion of Communism has never been tried, Adam Smith’s notion of capitalism has never been tried. Smith argued that capital would find the most efficient route and be the best for all but, and it is a huge BUT, labor has to be as free to move as capital. This is not possible in actuality since a worker cannot move from a job on the factory floor in Detroit to a high tech job in San Jose as easily as a dollar can move from one investment to another.

Marx reasoned that as the people were brought together in factories etc they would organize to force better conditions. For awhile this seemed true in “our” form of capitalism. However, many unions became corrupt institutions which gave the members of the economic elite the excuse to pull their teeth.

Our form of capitalism, where the production of goods is not done by the person who enjoys the profit but rather is done by people paid, ultimately, by the profit taker(s) began when craftspeople (who had produced goods because they were born into a family that produced those goods) became literate, and especially numerate and could track many apprentices rather than those few that they lived with.

Quora: Is it possible to have one world government?

January 21st, 2014

Click to see the original Quora question: Is it possible to have one world government?

Five of the six information revolutions in the past have seen an increase in the size of the relevant political/cultural unit.

From hunting/gathering band to agricultural village (20-40 to as many as 3-4 thousand).
Writing, took people from agricultural villages to the Roman Empire.
The fall of Rome, reduced the unit size back to the manors, hamlets, towns, and isolated cities, of the Middle Ages.

The press, brought the unit size from the small local units of the Middle Ages to kingly states.
The electric information revolution (trains, telegraph and telephone) made nation states possible.
The first phase of the digital information revolution – main frames – enabled super states – US, USSR. We are now into a new phase and we already have a number of mega-super-sized institutions – world wide banks, businesses, networks, NGOs.

In addition to the size of the relevant unit increasing the most powerful institutions have changed it may well be that this information revolution makes governments obsolete in the same way as the press made the Catholic Church obsolete.

For an informal model of how information revolutions work see: Chapter VIII – An Informal Model of Information Revolutions on this site
and Push: Information Revolution Dynamics (Cyberwar 2.0)

Quora: Why did modern science arise in the Judeo-Christian West rather than other world cultures?

November 12th, 2013

1. Press -> literacy of common folk ->innovation (see the chapters on the Press)
2. The Fall of Rome -> breaking the tripartite elite -> Church’s incentives change to validate technology and work ->value of innovation (see the chapters on the Fall of Rome)

See the post and vote it up: Why did modern science arise in the Judeo-Christian West rather than other world cultures?

PUSH: Information Revolution Dynamics

October 6th, 2013

PushCoverPush: Information Revolution Dynamics has been published as a Kindle short.
It was originally published in Cyberwar 2.0: Myths Mysteries and Reality

This from the Amazon page.

    The screech of the amplifier when the microphone is placed close to it, falling in love, an arms race, all examples of positive feedback. Positive feedback is the push that drives a system off the chart, over the top – boom or bust. When we have something important invested in a system with positive feedback we win or lose big. Positive feedback is a characteristic of information revolutions. Information revolutions push systems to extremes. A small difference is amplified by information, which changes the system, which is then amplified again – a positive feedback loop in the classical sense.

From a review by Joyce Hartwick on Amazon:

    Elin Whitney-Smith writes complex theory in an easily read format…I appreciate a writer who suggests solutions rather than just bringing a theory forward…This needs to be shared, debated and brought to focus so it can be commonly used.

Scarcity-mind or Eco-mind

May 30th, 2013

Scarcity-mind or Eco-mind: Where do they lead?
by Frances Moore Lappé

Humans beings, it turns out, don’t see the world as it is. “It is theory which decides what we can observe,” wrote Albert Einstein in 1926. We humans see the world through culturally formed filters, what I call our mental maps. They determine what we see, what we cannot see, and therefore what we believe to be possible.

The article notes that for 95% of human time we lived in the perception of plenty. It is only in the last 10K years that we live in the perception of scarcity.

To this I would add that the first humans were I-based (Information based) cultures and it is only after the extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene that scarcity is invented and people began to create M-based (material goods based) cultures.

Or, if one were to follow Einstein it is only then that people’s theory of how the world works changed from plenty to scarcity.

In the same manner, today we are returning to an I-based culture so are beginning to see that our M-based theory is not serving us or solving our global problems.

Agriculture, Sex, and Women’s Work

May 6th, 2013

The Economist published a report suggesting that the kind of agriculture practiced has a long lasting impact on the status of women in a given culture.

They cite Ferdinand Braudel, who claimed that the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy in ancient Mesopotamia was due to the switch from the hoe to the plow. The second citation is a recent paper by Alberto Alesina and Nathan Nunn of Harvard University and Paola Giuliano of the University of California, Los Angeles, which finds striking evidence that ancient agricultural techniques have very long-lasting effects. Women from traditionally hoe using cultures have are much more likely to work outside the home than women from traditionally plow using cultures.

I would second this from my research into the switch from hunting to farming:

Yolanda Murphy, in Women of the Forest tells us that the men of the Munduruc, a South American farming tribe, refer to plants and sex in the same phrase about subduing women: “We tame them with the banana”.

As early as 1949 Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, recognized the plow and the phallus a equal symbols of male authority over women.

Finally, Thomas Gregor writes, in Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People, “Brutalization and isolation of women seem to be functions of agricultural societies” and he adds women perform most or all the work in these groups.

This tells us the status of women is not pre-determined by their gender, and it is important for us to examine the first information societies – hunter/gatherers – for guidance in today’s emerging information world.

More on Is War Innate?

May 18th, 2012

When I look at the post I did on “Is War Innate?” I get depressed.

If war were ‘hard-wired’ then it would be easy to change. We would just have to find the correct bit of DNA and do some genetic engineering. It would be complicated but not complex.

War Innate? NO!

March 5th, 2012

See my paper on the evolution of war Cain and Abel: Scarcity, Information and the Invention of WAR published in Cyberwar: Security, Strategy, and Conflict in the Information Age in support of Andrew Sullivan’s post on “Is War Innate?”

    The oldest evidence of deadly group violence by humans — a mass grave in the Nile Valley — is about 13,000 years old, and even that is an outlier. The vast bulk of evidence dates from 10,000 years ago or less, leading scholars such as Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Doug Fry, Jonathan Haas and Erik Trinkhaus to conclude that war is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon, associated often … with agriculture and permanent settlements. … skeptics say, Well, we don’t have good evidence of any human behaviors more than 10,000 years ago. Actually, we have evidence of many complex cultural behaviors — tool-making, hunting, cooking, art, music, religion…far back in the Paleolithic era, but not war. The evidence is clear: war is a recent cultural phenomenon that culture can help us transcend.