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Senate Ken and Watto discuss "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind"

Discussion in 'Community' started by SuperWatto, Mar 12, 2018.

  1. SuperWatto

    SuperWatto Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Sep 19, 2000
    I've been reading this fascinating book, and it often reminded me of @Rylo Ken. I asked him if he read it, and he did. Now, we could discuss the thing in PMs, but where's the fun in that? We wouldn't get aggrieved Ender Sai replies or pontificating Wocky posts. So here's the topic.

    [​IMG]

    "From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”"


    I learned a lot from this book but the author gets carried away now and again. These are the moments I'd like to discuss. His first contention that raised my eyebrows:

    The Agricultural Revolution was the worst thing ever to happen to humankind.

    Around 12,000 years ago, the human way of life began to change drastically. We stopped moving around and foraging for food and instead brought plants and animals to us. This change, known as the Agricultural Revolution, heralded the beginning of agriculture as we know it. Generally, it's considered an unquestionable advancement that led to improved living conditions, increased lifespan, and ultimately to the development of technology and all the perks of modern life. But Harari calls it "history's biggest fraud".

    "The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return," he writes.

    So, Ken, and the JCC: do you agree?
     
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  2. DarthTunick

    DarthTunick SfC Part IV Commissioner star 10 VIP - Game Host

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    Nov 26, 2000
    My culinary opinions can't be taken seriously, so...
     
  3. Jedi Knight Fett

    Jedi Knight Fett Host, PT Interview Thread star 10 VIP - Game Host

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    Since when has the JCC been serious?
     
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  4. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Bitterest Ex-Mod star 10

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    Feb 18, 2001
    Ok so I haven't read the book, full disclosure. I'm just responding to Watto's question of:

    First point is - does the author offer a hypothesis about how advancements would have been possible without agriculture? Say we retained our forager instincts; does that mean the development of written languages, of mathematics, of scientific discoveries etc still occurs? I ask because the answer to me seems to be a "no", based on the experiences of first Australians prior to white colonisation.

    Secondly; is it a bad thing to have workers and elites, in the author's view?
     
  5. SuperWatto

    SuperWatto Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Sep 19, 2000
    He claims that on average, the population isn't better off. The diet of the average human alive today is poorer than it was then, the stress is bigger. I guess the claim is: people were happier. On average.
     
  6. dp4m

    dp4m Chosen One star 10

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    Nov 8, 2001
    [​IMG]

    The author is a coal miner in West Virginia. Nice.
     
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  7. Sith_Sensei__Prime

    Sith_Sensei__Prime Chosen One star 6

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    May 22, 2000
    I think that's an over simplification and a huge leap in conclusion, in that the "Agricultural Revolution" is the cause of poorer living conditions, higher stress and people were happier as foragers.
     
  8. Jedi Knight Fett

    Jedi Knight Fett Host, PT Interview Thread star 10 VIP - Game Host

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    People were also dead as foragers.
     
  9. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Bitterest Ex-Mod star 10

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    Feb 18, 2001
    I think that's an extraordinary claim given there's not going to be much in the way of primary sources from that era.
     
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  10. Bacon164

    Bacon164 Jedi Grand Master star 7

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    Mar 22, 2005
    Maybe you guys should read the book and see what his arguments are.
     
  11. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Bitterest Ex-Mod star 10

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    Feb 18, 2001
    That's not one of the terms and conditions of this thread, Bacon. Stop making up rules because you're named after the most holy of meat.
     
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  12. Boba_Fett_2001

    Boba_Fett_2001 Chosen One star 8

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    Dec 11, 2000
    So who's going to be handling the parody thread? @vin?
     
  13. dp4m

    dp4m Chosen One star 10

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    Nov 8, 2001
    A Brief History of Head Admin Sexuality?
     
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  14. Artoo-Dion

    Artoo-Dion Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    This strikes me as the sort of claim made by someone who simultaneously takes advantage of the benefits of a technologically advanced society and yet is so completely oblivious to said benefits. For one, publishing a book would be kind of difficult in a hunter-gatherer society.

    And if (generic) you want to talk about "elites", it takes a monumental amount of privilege, security and comfort before you're in a position of questioning whether maybe spending your days looking for food was a better deal. You can entertain those thoughts because it's a nice hypothetical.
     
  15. gezvader28

    gezvader28 Jedi Grand Master star 5

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    Mar 22, 2003
    who's doing the audio version ? 'cos if it's Stephen Fry then I'm out .
     
  16. SuperWatto

    SuperWatto Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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  17. CT-867-5309

    CT-867-5309 Force Ghost star 6

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    Jan 5, 2011
    No, it doesn't take a monumental amount of privilege. Most people on earth must spend nearly every day working to acquire enough money to pay for basic necessities like food and shelter (yes I'm aware that gatherers likely wouldn't have a nice house), so since we're basically "looking for food" anyway, most of us can wonder whether or not such a life would be better. It can be a nice hypothetical for anyone.

    I agree that there is no choice and that the theory cannot be proved or disproved, which for me makes the whole line of thought pointless wankery. It's basically arguing for simpler living, which in the minds of its proponents trumps any development. Even violence has no relevance, because they'd simply say that Rousseau was right and that any resulting violence would be insignificant compared to the happiness provided by simple living, anyway.
     
  18. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

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    Oct 13, 2003
    As well as modern medicine, and protection from other species preying on us.

    Agriculture didn't cause a "population explosion" because farming made people more likely to have sex. It's because so many more children could survive to parenthood themselves.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
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  19. Artoo-Dion

    Artoo-Dion Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Not really. If we were still living in some sort of idyllic hunter-gatherer society, I'd be dead. It's as simple as that. But if you're relatively healthy without obvious life support, you can still fool yourself into thinking that you really haven't benefited much from the social, scientific and technological advances that agriculture made possible--who knows how disease, tribal warfare, starvation or any other number of factors may have put you in an early grave.

    It's like the billionaire who believes he is totally self-made despite the indirect benefits he has received from society to help get him to where he is. It reflects an obliviousness and an arrogance.
     
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  20. Rylo Ken

    Rylo Ken Jedi Grand Master star 6

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    Dec 19, 2015
    Thanks for starting the thread! There's no disputing that one of the major results of every agricultural revolution since the first one has been using that surplus to bid up the size of the human population until it strained the resources of the new and improved agricultural revolution. Bigger populations led to an overwhelming of the micro communities that our evolutionary hardwiring is best adapted to, forcing us to depend completely on the cultural "fictions" Harari mentions early on for social stability. Also bigger concentrations of people probably exposed people to more disease epidemics.

    Given that sapiens haven't really had that much time for major changes to our DNA, our big brains allow us to modify our behaviors in ways that our biology hasn't caught up to, it makes some sense that humans 70,000 years ago doing hunter gatherer things in micro communities might have experienced less dissonance with their own biology than we do now, but it would be a big leap to suggest that they were happier.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  21. SuperWatto

    SuperWatto Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Life expextancy was low three hundred years ago. Prehistory is not three hundred years ago. There were probably hardly any diseases back then; we got diseases by farming.
    That's like saying you're not doing anything for the environment because Al Gore drives a big car.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
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  22. Artoo-Dion

    Artoo-Dion Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Well, yeah. Don't drive a Hummer while lecturing others on the environmental impact of the car industry.

    But the larger claim being made is unfalsifiable and, more significantly, another permutation on the idea of the "noble savage". Maybe people were generally happier when they actually happened to survive the life of hunter-gatherers. Of course, the person posing the hypothetical always assumes they'd be one of the lucky ones.
     
  23. Rylo Ken

    Rylo Ken Jedi Grand Master star 6

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    Dec 19, 2015
    The agricultural revolution had no effect on some of the underlying limitations on the sapien population growth rate. Harari mentions that one of the evolutionary tradeoffs we made for walking on two legs and large brains was killing a high percentage of females during childbirth relative to other mammals. Passing that giant baby skull out between the legs is fundamentally life threatening. Sapiens spent 50,000 years or more increasing their numbers by spreading through the globe as Hunter gatherers. It was an extremely successful model for long term growth. But once they, settled everywhere and wiped out all other human species, also in some cases completely overturning the ecology of the habitats they landed in, they had to find a new model. Change was inevitable.
     
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  24. Violent Violet Menace

    Violent Violet Menace Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Aug 11, 2004
    The question is pointless because to get an accurate answer, we would have to measure the happiness of a representative sample of people living that way who have no knowledge of a life beyond that. A person doesn't feel poor unless he knows that there are people who live better, and likewise, a person oblivious to modern life will have a vastly different perspective on his own lot in life, compared to someone who does know.

    Also, if you were to bring a stone-age man to the present, put him up in an overcrowded shantytown and tell him to go to a factory and do menial labour for 15-20 hours, see his kids for a few minutes and repeat the same process every day, there is a chance he would prefer the managed risk of being eaten by tigers. The author is making express reference to the vast difference in living standards that the agricultural revolution caused, so it's only fair to compare to the not very enviable position of those many millions who are on the lower end of this hierarchy, not to mention the millions who have endured slavery in human history and the many who still live under slave-like conditions.

    Edit: let me modify my final paragraph. Regarding the claims about all the knowledge that humans have amassed: If I'm charitable, I can afford objective value to knowledge that has led to improvement in humanity's quality of life. Beyond that, there is no inherent value to any of our knowledge beyond what we choose to afford it. The universe doesn't care that you have mapped the human genome, split the atom or whether humanity lives or dies. Their value is as individual as morals. We choose to value those things because they make our lives easier, because they fascinate us, because they entertain us and because they give us pride.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
  25. Rylo Ken

    Rylo Ken Jedi Grand Master star 6

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    Dec 19, 2015
    Harari is pretty clear about how he defines "quality of life" - reliable access to a varied and nutritional diet, access to at least modest amounts of leisure time (e.g. time to make art and music). We also know that female hunter gatherers had to have died in relatively large numbers during childbirth and a significant percentage of both genders would not have made it out of infancy and childhood. Others died in adulthood of injuries and infections, etc. That doesn't change much until 20th century medicine (antibiotics, antiseptic practices, surgical anesthesia, global spread of vaccination programs, etc). It was the potent combination of 20th century medicine plus the mechanized petrochemical agricultural revolution that created a global population going on 8 billion.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
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