Saturday, April 29, 2023

Wood from Eden Links

  • In every society, the ruling class faces a dilemma: Either they oppress their workers too little and get outcompeted by their more extractive neighbors, who will have more resources at hand. Or they oppress their workers too much, making the workers unable to reproduce and invest in the production, almost guaranteeing a future loss to more long-term competitors. The development of technology has slowly shifted this balance. When the level of technological know-how is low, there is not much to invest in. Very technologically primitive societies tend to be extractive to the point of death. Literally so. In 1970 anthropologist William Divale compiled sex ratio data from 112 primitive societies. He found that among societies practicing war, sex ratios were on average very male-skewed among children and much less male-skewed among adults. The probable explanation Divale found was sex-biased infanticide. Killing baby girls is the low-tech version of whipping your peasants to death. By doing that you channel your resources to the military (in other words: men) while neglecting the future productive capacity (in other words: women). This strategy works, for both warlike primitive small-scale groups and cruel feudal lords, because at a low economic and technological level it is perfectly possible to steal your enemies' productive resources. Just as small-scale primitive warriors expect to capture women from their neighbors, so the feudal lord expects to conquer productive lands from his enemies. Groups that employ this strategy force everyone else to follow it. Raising women only to see them captured by your neighbors will inevitably lead to extinction. Just as investing in your peasants at the expense of your knights will lead to defeat at the hands of other lords. It is a zero-sum game keeping everyone stuck at their current level of development. This cycle can only be broken by new ideas, technical or social. [Wood From Eden]
  • This is probably a general rule: In a society where children are difficult to feed, dedicated fathers focusing on feeding their children will have an evolutionary advantage. In societies where mothers can feed their children without much assistance, men who strive for many children with several women will have an evolutionary advantage. In periods of low population density, where females can provide most of the calories themselves, chasing females rather than resources will pay off. [Wood From Eden]
  • The average strategic nuclear weapon would thus kill 400 000 people. 2000 nuclear weapons would kill 800 million people. That would be, with some distance, the biggest catastrophe in human history. But only in absolute terms. 800 million deaths still mean that 90% of the world’s population survived. When the Black Death swept over Eurasia in the middle of 14th century only 70% of world population made it out alive (imperfect source, apparently the effects of the mid-14th century bubonic plague pandemic are not very well studied outside of Europe, while well-studied England lost more than 50% of its population this seems exaggerated for the whole world, a death rate of 30% seems more probable). Put in another perspective 800 million is about the number of people the world has added since 2012. Population-wise, a nuclear war could mean that humanity would be thrown back ten years. Hardly the end of mankind. [Wood From Eden]
  • Space makes it easy to build things and hard to wage war. It is thus eminently suited to humans who are peaceful but expansionist, the kind of people who like to work hard but wouldn’t think of coveting their neighbors' property. A certain subgroup of the human species inevitably comes to mind: the Amish. [Wood From Eden]
  • Every time I have been expecting a new baby, I have been afraid I would drop the baby after it is born. Immediately when the baby was born, I completely stopped worrying. Babies simply don't want to be dropped and they show it. Newborns can't do many things, but somehow they do just the right things to stay with the person who carries them. They don't cling to clothes the way apefants cling to fur, but they arrange themselves in easy-to-carry postures. On that point human infants and apefants seem clearly related. Human infants also have a strong gripping reflex as newborns. If you give them a finger they will grab it with surprising strength. [Wood From Eden]
  • During the last year I have spent quite a bit of time wondering about one thing: Why do babies eat everything? Why do they compulsively put everything in their mouths? They do not only taste things after having looked at them carefully. They ambitiously try to reach all things in order to mouth them. I have also noticed that babies seem to be very resilient to infections caused by microbes. My children never seemed to get sick from all the disgusting things they put in their mouths. After reading about allergies, I came to think about one possible answer: Babies eat everything in order to train their immune systems for the inevitable. [Wood From Eden]
  • French chateaus are a unique and limited product. This gives them charm, attraction and the intangible values that come with that. But they are also obtainable, even for ordinary people. The number of French chateaus is simply so great that prices have not been able to go exponential although the fundamentals are there. Or what about this chateau from the west of France. It is for sale for €595.000. Maybe not cheap but not expensive either, at least not if you are interested in 700 m² of floor space in the middle of nowhere. [Wood From Eden]
  • From the viewpoint of society, free-riding is something negative. No society has ever been able to suppress all free-riding behavior - after all, we are humans, not ants. But every society tries to, and succeeds to some degree. Otherwise, civilization is not possible. Free-riders treat society like a zero-sum game. Good citizens invest and cooperate and thereby increase the size of the pie. Through accepting and giving fair deals, humans create a good investment climate that leads to growth and prosperity. Free-riders sabotage this process. They increase the cost of doing business through forcing everyone to uphold a high level of vigilance. The more people can be trusted, the faster an economy can grow, mainstream economic theory claims. With more investment of the right kind, a company becomes more productive (if it is not fundamentally flawed). It is the same with romantic couples. The more they invest in their relationship and their material infrastructure, the better they can raise their children and the more children they can raise. The more high-investing couples in a given society, the more healthy, happy and well-adapted children there will be. [Wood From Eden]
  • People who see previously contacted hunter-gatherers like the Hadza and Bushmen as good models for our past lack one conceptual component: Game theory. Most of our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a world where every human was a hunter-gatherer. In most places, too many children were born during good times. That forced groups to expand. Thereby they encountered other groups. Thereby they needed to fight those groups. The winners became ancestors to peoples who eventually adopted agriculture (and to the very few who didn't). Most of the losers' genes disappeared. [Wood From Eden]

No comments: