Hunting-Gathering : Farming :: Farming : Industrial Revolution

From an article in The Economist:

Several archaeologists and anthropologists now argue that violence was much more pervasive in hunter-gatherer society than in more recent eras. From the !Kung in the Kalahari to the Inuit in the Arctic and the aborigines in Australia, two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers are in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and nearly 90% go to war at least once a year. War is a big word for dawn raids, skirmishes and lots of posturing, but death rates are high—usually around 25-30% of adult males die from homicide. The warfare death rate of 0.5% of the population per year that Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois calculates as typical of hunter-gatherer societies would equate to 2 billion people dying during the 20th century.

At first, anthropologists were inclined to think this a modern pathology. But it is increasingly looking as if it is the natural state. Richard Wrangham of Harvard University says that chimpanzees and human beings are the only animals in which males engage in co-operative and systematic homicidal raids. The death rate is similar in the two species. Steven LeBlanc, also of Harvard, says Rousseauian wishful thinking has led academics to overlook evidence of constant violence.

Not so many women as men die in warfare, it is true. But that is because they are often the object of the fighting. To be abducted as a sexual prize was almost certainly a common female fate in hunter-gatherer society. Forget the Garden of Eden; think Mad Max.

Constant warfare was necessary to keep population density down to one person per square mile. Farmers can live at 100 times that density. Hunter-gatherers may have been so lithe and healthy because the weak were dead. The invention of agriculture and the advent of settled society merely swapped high mortality for high morbidity, allowing people some relief from chronic warfare so they could at least grind out an existence, rather than being ground out of existence altogether.

Notice a close parallel with the industrial revolution. When rural peasants swapped their hovels for the textile mills of Lancashire, did it feel like an improvement? The Dickensian view is that factories replaced a rural idyll with urban misery, poverty, pollution and illness. Factories were indeed miserable and the urban poor were overworked and underfed. But they had flocked to take the jobs in factories often to get away from the cold, muddy, starving rural hell of their birth.

Eighteenth-century rural England was a place where people starved each spring as the winter stores ran out, where in bad years and poor districts long hours of agricultural labour—if it could be got—barely paid enough to keep body and soul together, and a place where the “putting-out” system of textile manufacture at home drove workers harder for lower pay than even the factories would. (Ask Zambians today why they take ill-paid jobs in Chinese-managed mines, or Vietnamese why they sew shirts in multinational-owned factories.) The industrial revolution caused a population explosion because it enabled more babies to survive—malnourished, perhaps, but at least alive.

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See, it's pieces like this

See, it's pieces like this that make me hate The Economist for its lack of author attribution. To borrow some lingo from my Tivo, I want to Season Pass the writer of this article, but The Economist won't let me. Silly Brits.

Industrial revolution

The Dickensian view is that factories replaced a rural idyll with urban misery, poverty, pollution and illness. Factories were indeed miserable and the urban poor were overworked and underfed. But they had flocked to take the jobs in factories often to get away from the cold, muddy, starving rural hell of their birth.

Ideological anti-capitalists have their own alternative story, their fairy tale, which reverses the polarity. It involves "enclosure". The idea is that people were driven to the cities by being kicked out of the country by means of the (for the countryside) alien institution of private property rights (the countryside had been a commons, but then it was privatized and the mass were herded into the cities to slave in the factories at subsistence wages). This story recasts property rights as the alien villain that (a) explains what happened and (b) shows that it was a worsening and an injustice. In some versions of the fairy tale, the enclosure was deliberate, in order to supply factories with workers.

Kinda fucked up that this is

Kinda fucked up that this is news.

Enclosure

Kevin Carson seems to take the line Constant discusses there.

Probably more accurate

Since I am only going by memory from a few years back, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I got something wrong even in my brief outline.

I don't see how the

I don't see how the enclosure explanation is inconsistent or incompatible with the economic progress explanation. Both phenomenon may have contributed, and both may have supported each other.

What I find objectionable is when the enclosure side thinks their theory explains everything because it fits within their ideological framework, and therefore leads to a rejection of all other theories, i.e. the rejection of the economic progress argument. The same objection, of course, could be made against libertarians who refuse to accept evidence in support of the enclosure argument because it (in their view) conflicts with their ideological framework. It doesn't, of course. Defending the institution of free-market capitalism doesn't mean defending (by denying the existence of) individual capitalists who use coercion to increase profits.

I don't like the tone in

I don't like the tone in which this article has been written in. It almost sounds as if the writer has kept men and women as objects. Considering men to be homicidal raids and women as prize of fighting. Some part of the article is true. Whereas some part the tone becomes sarcastic and taunting. I can't say I am a fan of this article that too belonging to The Economists.
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