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The Civilized Savage and the Uncivilized Civilization
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May 19, 2011
4:02 pm
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Michelle:

"I'll take civilization, thanks!"

The problem with that is that choosing "civilization" is far more likely to land you in misery and slavery, based on deep religious and cultural misogyny, than choosing hunter-foragers.  Even today, much more of "civilization" is like Saudi Arabia or sub-Saharan Africa than like Denmark…and it gets worse the farther back in time you go.  Ask yourself what rights you would have had in the Roman empire, let alone the Hittites or Akkadians.

So what you're really saying is "I choose where I am, right here, right now," which I absolutely agree is the best time for women in civilization, ever!  But it's not clear to me that this utterly atypical and vanishingly rare arrangement is the inevitable endpoint of "civilization"…

…or that it's even stable in the long term.  Depending on an overwhelmingly male-dominated power structure to enforce women's rights doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

somachristou:

Yes, I know it's Old Testament…but I can never keep straight what part of the Word of God is to be taken literally, what part is to be taken metaphorically, and what part is superseded by what mutually contradictory other part.

Just watching religious people argue over it makes my head hurt…and the arguments can never end, because there are no underlying facts to allow a rational decision to be made one way or the other.

Tess:

Exactly!  That's the sort of thinking I'm trying to promote.  When we see a modern behavior that seems strange or wrong, we should ask ourselves "Could this be the result of a behavioral adaptation to the hunting-foraging existence we are no longer leading?"

No, it's not a universal solution: but when our lives are so wildly different from our evolutionary context, it's always an important question to ask.

And you are correct: most of the worst Islam-bashers are part of a religion that featured the Crusades, the Conquistadores, and the Dark Ages.  I don't find it productive to argue which monotheistic, patriarchal religion is "better" for women, or anyone else.

Franco:

I'm intrigued enough to want to read it.  So far it looks a lot like Richard Wrangham: entertaining speculation ranging from totally plausible to utter bosh.

Peggy:

Those observations aren't new to Dr. Hanson, but he summarizes them very well.  The classic essay on the subject is, of course, Jared Diamond's "The Worst Mistake In Human History", though it spends more time on diet and physical health.

Thank you for your support!  A growing number of people are realizing, as they achieve great health and fitness by changing their diets, that evolutionary discordance is very real.  One of my goals is to bring that understanding beyond simple diet and exercise, to encompass our entire way of "civilized" life, and how we might improve it.  I'm glad to see that you share that goal.

JS

Whew!  I'm caught up.  Special thanks to all of you for a stimulating and productive dialogue!  (And please feel free to keep going.)  I'm proud of my regular readers and commenters for helping make gnolls.org such a great place.

Also note that these comments are actually threads in the forum, that posting as a registered user means the website you enter will actually show up as a link -- and that there is another forum devoted specifically to talking about The Gnoll Credo, should you be inclined to do so.

May 19, 2011
9:09 pm
Franco
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I didn't read Wangham but might just do so. What I found online doesn't sound too unreasonable so far.
To parallel it with Them and Us, neanderthals were hyper-aggressive chimpanzees while our ancestors more like bonobos when they first met.

May 19, 2011
9:26 pm
Anders
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The why of "The Worst Mistake In Human History" is explained in Them and Us. Read the book.

I have to agree with Franco. The explanatory power of the NP hypothesis is amazing. This is the first narrative I've read that makes me feel like I know how sapiens evolved. For you to give this idea short shrift, and call it bosh and hogwash is an injustice. Bosh and hogwash are not arguments and they are not disproof. This idea is testable. Test it and provide the disproof or don't. Dismissing this idea without testing lessens your credibility.

May 19, 2011
11:12 pm
Adrian
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This is simply the most incredible blog post I've ever read. It's like you took my thoughts and made them into a coherent, succinct article, in a way I would never have been able to.

Congratulations on a fantastic post and brilliant blog.

May 19, 2011
11:17 pm
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Anders:

Note that I haven't read it yet, which is why I say "So far it looks like..."

The biggest problem I see is that the current genetic analysis says that there was gene flow between Neandertals and Eurasians (and even New Guineans!), but not between Neandertals and Africans.  This shoots a big hole in the idea that the Shul-Qafzeh humanoids were ancestral to the entire human population, as required by NP theory. 

However, the ideas that Neandertals didn't just look like a burly version of the Geico caveman, and could have preyed on Homo sapiens in the Middle East (possibly preventing our expansion until after we figured out how to defeat them), seem to be supported by the evidence.

Like I said, I'm intrigued enough to read it.

Franco:

You can summarize Demonic Males with "we're violent, just like chimps".  The problem I have with it is that he regularly uses primitive agriculturalists (e.g. the Yanomamo, New Guinea highlanders) as examples of why hunter-foragers were violent, meanwhile ignoring true hunter-foragers like the Hadza -- which is disingenuous.  But there is interesting reasoning behind, for instance, why bonobos are more peaceful than chimps, and the origins of violence in the social system of various primates.

Catching Fire sounds like a great theory until you realize that he's assuming that fire was universally domesticated ~1.6 MYA, the evidence for which is -- to put it politely -- not widely accepted.  There are a lot of other factual and speculative bobbles in there, which I'll inventory if I ever get around to reviewing it.  But his speculations on the origins of sex roles via cooking are very interesting.

JS

May 20, 2011
3:20 am
Franco
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Actually the sequencing of the neanderthal genom does support the claims of them and us. Check for yourself: sciencemag.org/content/328/5979/710.full

"A striking observation is that Neandertals are as closely related to a Chinese and Papuan individual as to a French individual, even though morphologically recognizable Neandertals exist only in the fossil record of Europe and western Asia. Thus, the gene flow between Neandertals and modern humans that we detect most likely occurred before the divergence of Europeans, East Asians, and Papuans. This may be explained by mixing of early modern humans ancestral to present-day non-Africans with Neandertals in the Middle East before their expansion into Eurasia. Such a scenario is compatible with the archaeological record, which shows that modern humans appeared in the Middle East before 100,000 years ago whereas the Neandertals existed in the same region after this time, probably until 50,000 years ago "

Them and us not only refers roughly to the same timeline but has a simple explanation for this too(and the research wasn't published yet when Mr.Vendramini wrote his book):
After wiping out all neanderthals from the Lavante, early homo split in 3 groups and while european and asian groups killed of all earlier forms of homo on their way and thus preserved the 1-4% neanderthal in them, the back to africa group did interbread with the existing populations of archaic homo (very similar to themselves) there and diluded their neanderthal-part beyound recognition.

May 20, 2011
3:54 am
Franco
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Btw, even that the Hadza, San and african pygmiy groups are less violent, have no real hierarchy and no big gender diffferences then the Yanomamo and New Guinea highlanders makes much sense in the light of this theory.
Less neanderthal (and cro magnon) ancestry equals less aggression!

May 20, 2011
9:47 am
Andrea Reina
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J,

In the sincerest possible manner, thanks for blowing my mind. It's clear that the way our societies are set up makes true peace and harmonius living difficult, but it's a worthy goal nonetheless. What is be impossible for an entire society can be possible for individuals or even groups within that society. It's good to understand what we're up against.

The Gnoll Credo is near the top of my reading list, I'll be placing an order very soon. The first chapter you've got up is great, and I am eager to read the rest of it.

Cheers,
Andrea

May 20, 2011
11:13 am
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Adrian:

I'm honored: thank you.

It's taken many years of thinking and living to cut through the fog.  Most philosophies and simple solutions come down to "If everyone would just do X we'd all be fine."  And everyone spends all their time trying unsuccessfully to get other people to conform to their own ideals.

Meanwhile, few stop and think: why is it that every successful "civilized" society is either broken or disintegrates under its own weight?  And why do none of these supposedly inevitable, eternal institutions (governments) usually last more than a few decades -- a few hundred years at the outside?

Andrea Reina:

"What if everything were BACKWARDS?" is a great rhetorical device, but often that's all it is...just a shocking statement that doesn't withstand scrutiny.  

In this case, though, it's quite true.  

TGC explores these issues in detail, and I'm sure you'll find it fascinating.

JS

 

May 21, 2011
11:49 am
Around the Web; It’s
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[...] Stanton at gnolls.org had a nice essay. I don’t agree with everything in it; in particular, JS underestimates the violence of [...]

May 23, 2011
10:19 am
Sofie
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"The first time and place in which women were given the unrestricted right to vote was 1893, in New Zealand!"

Nope. The Iroqouis were founded in 1142, and their women had at least as much power & votes as the men. Read Iroqouian Women.

May 23, 2011
10:28 am
Sofie
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That's Iroquois and Iroquoian, damn French.

May 23, 2011
9:09 pm
Franco
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Sofie,

no, germans were the first (before AD):)

http://www.lingstar.com/tlb/womeninfo.html

May 24, 2011
11:09 am
eddie watts
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that wiki page is chilling.
thanks for the thoughts and site, am looking forward to getting into the gnoll credo, i am partway through a trilogy now but then i'll be on it. (afterwards will be why we get fat by Taubes!)

will be sure to give you my feedback once i've finished it

May 24, 2011
2:11 pm
Around the Web; It’s
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[...] Stanton at gnolls.org had a nice essay. I don’t agree with everything in it; in particular, JS underestimates the violence of [...]

May 25, 2011
5:43 am
Juan
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Interesting article, JS; thanks! Lots of good comments, too.

I have read Vendramini's "Them + Us", as well as Wrangham's "Catching Fire". Indeed, both books should be read by anyone interested in human evolution and, I would suggest, should not to be dismissed based on preconceptions or without having read them (or by simply reading what's on the websites).

I found NP theory (Neanderthal Predation Theory) as proposed in Them + Us to be singularly original and compelling. Although, I am sure there are things in it that one could quibble or argue with (such as the slit eyes of Neanderthal. After all, modern nocturnal primates all seem to have round pupils, so there wasn't really a need to make Neanderthals slit-eyed. I can't recall if the author went into this in any detail or not). I do feel, however, that NP theory goes a long way to explain many otherwise poorly reasoned aspects of human evolution (hairlessness for one). It should be pondered upon seriously. Vendramini is going out on a long limb with a comprehensive theory that, more or less, explains everything and is quite consistent throughout. I suspect he'd welcome objections since he's probably dealt with all of them, or if not, would wish to.

On the other hand, I found many of Wrangham's ideas in Catching Fire to be (seemingly) grounded in his confirmation bias as a vegetarian. I admit that I skimmed his book more than read it as I did Them + Us. Frankly, the very idea that we evolved from our dim, pre-human past by being able to control fire sufficiently to eat tubers is more implausible on the face of it than is NP theory. Wrangham has spent a lifetime observing chimps, from whom our line separated, what, over four million years ago? It's hard to accept a comparison between what a primarily fruit & insect eating primate does or eats, as being especially helpful for humans. He also, if I recall correctly, often compares modern H-G groups (or, perhaps more tellingly, Gatherer- Hunters) which are in either case, as someone pointed out, not living in the environments we evolved in. Anyway, just a few too many monkeys and vegetarians for me to latch on to with much gusto. Of course, this could be my own confirmation bias getting in the way.

My two cents worth.

Juan

May 27, 2011
1:02 pm
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Sofie:

The evidence gets more and more tenuous as you go back: the Confederacy most likely didn't exist then.  But even if it's true, it's still a tiny exception to the male-dominated rule.

Franco:

That's an interesting article, and I agree that whatever reverence was given was most likely a pre-agricultural survival.

Eddie:

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!  Read it whenever you're moved to: TGC is both short and intense, and best given some mental and physical space.

Juan:

Is Wrangham really a vegetarian?  Well, that explains everything, then.  The more I re-read "Catching Fire" the more things I found that either don't make sense, are cherry-picked from among a lot of disputed data, or are simply wrong.  I can believe some of the behavioral speculations -- but on the accepted timescale, not on the 1.6MYA schedule he apparently believes.  Among the many objections is that tubers don't have the DHA required to build big brains.

Veg*anism is religious in origin, and in practice, it's a religious belief system that requires the same sort of faith.  I find I have to tiptoe around issues with veg*ans just as I must around religious believers.

Like I said, Vendramini is on my schedule to read.

JS

June 16, 2011
7:40 pm
Dana
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Do you know where I think a lot of the liberal mindset comes from, the wanting the social programs and so on? I think it is another way civilization has hacked into normal, evolved human behavior. Many of us have bought into the line that our government is representative of us; therefore, we think of it as our "tribe." And what do tribes do? They take care of their own. In an industrial civilization, that looks like collecting taxes and distributing the money out to the poor. It's just like sharing food, only with money instead.

Occupational hazard of being pro-nation state. Only when we understand that it is not natural to identify with a tribe of three hundred million might things start to change.

Of course, part of the problem also is that when we do have people in our day to day lives, we do not take responsibility for them. I don't know if you could blame the government for that. I think it is a chicken and egg argument at this point. Whoever's fault it is, though, because we don't take care of our own, we leave them vulnerable to falling through the cracks. And that runs counter to our evolutionary experience also. We don't even have the courtesy to banish the people we no longer want in our lives. We just ignore them and hope they'll go away.

urgh. Have you ever read the Anthropik Network site? If you don't, you should. The Thirty Theses are splendid.

June 16, 2011
7:55 pm
Dana
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Oh and I'm a woman and I would rather live in a forager culture. I RESENT that I have to choose between supporting myself and raising my children. Yeah yeah, working at home, but I have to do it all by myself because my daughter's father is at work all day long. And it isn't just gathering food. It is making stuff that I hope will sell. And if it doesn't sell then I've just wasted a tremendous amount of time. Going to work pays better and more reliably but then I leave my child in the care of strangers with possibly entirely divergent values from mine. Please do not tell me that is exactly like raising a child in a forager tribe, because it isn't. Forager tribes are usually big families, or several families in one group. It's like your extended family and two or three others all live in the same neighborhood and they all look after all the kids. When was the last time you lived in a situation like that? Me neither.

Female straying from a marriage was frowned upon because they needed to know who the father was. They didn't have DNA tests back then. I know the modern trend is to mix and match adults with children and to lie to some children about where they come from, either by making the father disappear or by adopting out the kid (don't even get me started on sperm banks and surrogates), but that's not our species experience, and it's somewhat of a human rights violation to boot. Incest has always been a taboo in human culture as far as we know, even if it has not always been defined in the same way. The whole point of sexual reproduction is to mix genes; how are you mixing genes if your family tree does not fork?

We have ways of telling who the father is now without restrictive sexual mores or marriage laws and that's fine. What happens after the oil crash (assuming one is coming up--I say probably so) and we can't afford all those lab tests anymore?

This is not even getting into the fact that if you have babies closer together than three or four years apart, you nutritionally deplete yourself and doom your future children to deformity and other problems.

There are reasons for the old rules. The only reason we think those old rules are bad now is because civilization used them as a pretext to oppress women and turn us into brood-mare chattel. That was not our reality in forager cultures, though. Think outside the box. And think about someone besides yourself, for that matter, next time you climb into bed with someone. Your actions may well have ramifications well beyond your next orgasm.

And no, I don't think of myself as a conservative, just a really strange philosopher, drawing on both observations and my own life experiences. Maybe it's wisdom and maybe it isn't. I like to think it is.

I don't care if it's "modern" or not... I care if it's hurting anybody. Context is everything.

June 17, 2011
2:53 am
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Dana:

Authority is absolutely about exploiting behavior patterns that once maintained a happy and functional tribal community.  Evolutionary discordance is at the root of almost all our social problems.

And you're absolutely right that "there are reasons for the old rules".  Living in cities and "going to work" are totally alien to the evolutionary context that shaped us.  I love the concept of "zoo humans": it's what we are.

JS

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