RE: Diamond, Miller, Gould, Darwin: positive feedback loops

From: altamira (
Date: Thu Jun 29 2000 - 11:44:55 MDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf Of

  But... perhaps because
> civilization
> was a bad idea? The fossil evidence shows that farmers work
> harder and are
> less healthy than hunter-gatherers.

This is a question I've pondered for some time. I first began to focus my
thinking along these lines when a friend gave me a book called _The
Paleolithic Prescription_ in response to my complaint that my sedentary job
as an office worker didn't allow me to get enough exercise to run enough
food through my gut to get sufficient nutrients to keep my body healthy.

_The Paleolithic Prescription_ was mostly a diet book which advocated higher
fiber, less refined sugar, etc. But it also touched on the issue of overall
lifestyle, and one of the books cited in the bibliography was a collection
of scholarly papers published in book form under the title _Paleopathology
at the Dawn of Agriculture_. I found this book at the university library
near where I live.

The archaeological evidence presented was fascinating. It told a tale of
tall, robust hunter-gatherer (and incipient horticulturist) people with few
dental caries and little evidence of disease(and of course there were no
epidemic type diseases, since the people didn't live tightly clustered
together). These strong, healthy people gave way, as agriculture became the
dominate occupation, to miserable wretches with bones bowed by hard labor,
rotted teeth, ulcerated bones, and short stature presumably caused by poor
diet. The level of health enjoyed by pre-agricultural
hunter-gatherer-horticulturists hasn't been again approached until the
latter part of the 19th century, and then only by a relatively small elite
group. Which is, of course, what we who read this mailing list are members
of. An elite group. (I saw something thirty-something years ago that has
stayed with me as one of my more vivid memories: Lizzie and I were driving
in the mountains near Mexico DF and got into a traffic jam caused by men
working on the road. As we were sitting there in this traffic jam, an old
man walked by, breathing the dust and fumes of the road. He was bent over
by the weight of a large, full sack he carried on his back. I knew the
villages of the area: most had no electricity or running water or any of the
other modern luxuries. The old man may not have ever ridden in a car. And
yet here he was, breathing the filth of the road, the elite group's offering
of an offal too tenuous to even be of use to a scavenger.)

 [It's difficult to tell from a few fossil remains how long the average
person lived. I find the life expectancy stats confusing anyhow, because
they're often given with no clue as to whether they refer to life expectancy
at birth, at the age of five years, at the age of fifty years, or what.
Based on my current understanding, which is subject to change at any time, I
feel that life expectancy figures are misleading if they're interpreted as
the age-at-death range that could be expected by the average person at the
age of, say, 30.

>From my own observation of people where I live (Texas, USA), I suspect that
for the person reaching the age of 50, the life expectancy is probably not
very different now from what it was a hundred years ago.]

Anyway, back to the question of whether civilization was a mistake. This is
a topic for a book rather than a post to a mailing list, but it I think it's
a rather important topic to examine as we sit here poised on brink of
asymptotic accerleration towards...some singularity or other.

As I've mentioned before on this list, the idea that food production
requires hours and hours of backbreaking labor is a myth. Nor does it
require vast tracts of land. There's been much talk on the list of reaching
towards a time when all people can be freed from odious labor. I'll tell
you the truth as I see it: the time is now, if people would only see. I'm
not about to advocate going backwards and becoming hunter-gatherers again.
(I may be lousy at communicating sometimes, but I'm not stupid) But, as I
sometimes say, I'm for elegant tech, whether it be hi or lo. I'm for what
works the best, taking into account the entire context in which the
technology is being applied.

One of the things that troubles me the most about the Green Party and other
such "envornomnetally concerned" groups is that they tend to obscure a very
real problem. We, as a culture, are trashing our home planet. Even if I
knew I could hop on a ship and be outta here to another planet tomorrow I
wouldn't want to trash Earth. But the fact is, there's no assurance that
any substantial number of us WILL be able to go elsewhere. The things I read
that I find most disturbing are things like the loss of approx. 50% of the
species of soil organism in central Europe and sinificant loss of ocean

More on this later. I gotta go. I had intended to spend the past half hour
studying C4 plant biology, not writing this message.



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