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Thread: Agricultural Society vs. the Hunter Gatherers

  1. #1 Agricultural Society vs. the Hunter Gatherers 
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    This is partly a spin-off from the Alien Virus thread, but it's a theory of "evil" that I've been working on for quite a while. A lot of moral debates seem to hinge on which of two paradigms a person holds to. If you hold to the Agricultural paradigm, then Hunter-Gatherers seem evil, but the reverse is true as well.

    Personally, I think of it as Builder vs. Parasite.

    Gatherers have been able to live in harmony with nature by having the sense not to harvest too much of its bounty, but their philosophy is parasitical at the core. They try not to take too much, but they also make no attempt to give anything back. This still works, however, because nature produces spontaneously at a certain level of output.

    The Agriculturalists' problem is two fold. First, despite whatever efforts are taken to build, they still consume resources. Second, they overpopulate whenever they're successful at agriculture. I still hope for them to win, however, because I think they have the potential to become the better of the two paradigms.

    The presence of Gatherers has generally held the Agriculturalists back. Agriculture has always been subject to famine in much the same way as Gathering has been subject to failed hunts, but Agriculture is capable of moderating this problem by putting a sufficiently large amount of grain in storage. However, the parasitical Gatherers would see that grain as something to be "gathered" by attacking the Agricultural settlement. (Making it wise for a community never to store too much.)

    If Gatherers are eliminated, and Agriculture learns not to overpopulate, then starvation via famine is nearly impossible. It would take an incredibly long, sustained, drought.

    I see the USA as a country where Agriculture basically won, and Gathering basically lost. It's not 100% the case, but it seems to be more true here than in a lot of places. In a lot of third world countries, people in positions of political power actively and openly solicit bribes, or extort from the population. I would say those leaders have a Gatherer mentality, and simply see the population as their hunting ground. In the USA, the people we unofficially follow are captains of industry, and the ones that that officially lead us at least profess to be devoted to an agricultural ideal.

    I see this as a valid basis for inter-cultural discrimination. If a culture's values are very strongly agricultural, they should be entitled to exclude from their ranks people who actively identify with a culture that has values that are very strongly hunter-gatherer. (Not on the basis of being born into a culture, but on the basis of choosing to remain a member of that culture.)


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    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    Kojax,

    It seems to me that you're describing hunter-gathering and agriculture as two fundamentally different mentalities. I don't think that's accurate. The fundamental mentality underlying both strategies is: what is the easiest way for me to get the most amount of food? Modern hunter-gatherers live the lifestyle they do mostly because they live in areas where agriculture requires far more effort than its worth.

    If I'm in a wide warm river valley with fertile soils, agriculture is an easy choice. If I'm in a thick jungle with poor soils and trees so large and hard that it takes me days to cut down just one with my stone axe, hunting and gathering makes more sense. (Give these same people modern metal axes and tractors, however, and agriculture or pastoralism becomes a viable option.)

    Also, the romantic idea of hunter-gatherers living in harmony with each other and their environment is an outdated and inaccurate idea. They have no qualms about taking most of the resources in the area and then moving to a new area when pickings become too slim. This is true, however, of pretty much all human subsistence strategies. When you become sedentary and farm, fertility goes up, populations go up, and the excess of people want more land for more farming, etc. It's not in our nature to plan for the super-long-term.

    As to gatherers holding back agriculture - I'm not sure how true that is. In recent history they have fought over land, but part of being a successful agriculturalist is being able to defend your yields. Why bother with agriculture if anybody could just wander in and take what you've worked for? Agriculture promotes higher populations numbers and technological advancement to the point that any conflict between agriculturalists and hunter gatherers tends to favor the agriculturalists.


    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  4. #3  
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Kojax,

    It seems to me that you're describing hunter-gathering and agriculture as two fundamentally different mentalities. I don't think that's accurate. The fundamental mentality underlying both strategies is: what is the easiest way for me to get the most amount of food? Modern hunter-gatherers live the lifestyle they do mostly because they live in areas where agriculture requires far more effort than its worth.

    I think this is a good place to start refining the theory. I don't think any one society is 100% agriculture or 100% gatherer, nor do I think very many people focus their entire mind on just one or the other.

    Like you say, they are two strategies with one common goal. My theory is that they should be taken to the extreme, and done exclusively of each other, because whenever they are both used in the same society they create a situation that offers the worst of both.

    When you try Hunter-Gatherer methods in a predominantly agricultural society, the only "prey" available to you are the hard working agriculturalists around you, and whatever accumulated wealth they might have.



    As to gatherers holding back agriculture - I'm not sure how true that is. In recent history they have fought over land, but part of being a successful agriculturalist is being able to defend your yields. Why bother with agriculture if anybody could just wander in and take what you've worked for? Agriculture promotes higher populations numbers and technological advancement to the point that any conflict between agriculturalists and hunter gatherers tends to favor the agriculturalists.
    I don't think agriculturalists *should* have to defend their yields. It's the gatherer mentality that makes people think it's ok to take. A predominantly Agricultural society will generally have very strong property laws which make it hard for anyone inside the group to steal from anyone else inside the group. Thieves are just as likely to emerge, but they're dealt with more severely.

    Certain cultures value this more than others. So, really I'm talking more about a mentality than a practice. The archtype is a farmer, but the society itself may not have a lot of actual agriculture in its economy. And, a gatherer society may not have a lot of actual hunter-gatherers, just a lot of people who think that way.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I think this is a good place to start refining the theory. I don't think any one society is 100% agriculture or 100% gatherer, nor do I think very many people focus their entire mind on just one or the other.

    Like you say, they are two strategies with one common goal. My theory is that they should be taken to the extreme, and done exclusively of each other, because whenever they are both used in the same society they create a situation that offers the worst of both.

    When you try Hunter-Gatherer methods in a predominantly agricultural society, the only "prey" available to you are the hard working agriculturalists around you, and whatever accumulated wealth they might have.
    You seem to suggest a society wherein people who practice agriculture are trapped in the same limited space as people who hunt and gather. That really is never the case. Like I said, agriculture and hunting and gathering as strategies are best suited to different types of environments, and in the case where there is a clash, agricultural societies tend to simply win out. I think it simply isn't realistic to think there are people wandering amongst agricultural groups thinking "I want to gather! I don't want to farm! I'll just steal from these guys!" People like that don't last. The farmers kick them out.

    I don't think agriculturalists *should* have to defend their yields. It's the gatherer mentality that makes people think it's ok to take. A predominantly Agricultural society will generally have very strong property laws which make it hard for anyone inside the group to steal from anyone else inside the group. Thieves are just as likely to emerge, but they're dealt with more severely.
    Haha, it's not a matter of what you think people should be doing. It's a matter of costs and benefits; just like farming in an area with rich soils makes much more sense and happens more often than in places with poor soils, farming areas that are defensible and with other people that will help you defend it makes more sense and happens more often than people farming in hard to defend places by themselves.

    And as I tried to describe, "taking" is not limited to people who practice one form of subsistence or another. That general selfishness is present in all humans; gatherers want to gather more resources, farmers want to farm more land and get more resources that way. This is what was behind Europe invading and colonizing other countries; their farmable land was all taken up and claimed, and if you're a younger non-inheriting son, you try to make your fortune by going to a new country and grabbing up lands and fortune there. I say again, Gatherer and Farmer are not fundamentally different mentalities. It's a false dichotomy.

    Certain cultures value this more than others. So, really I'm talking more about a mentality than a practice. The archtype is a farmer, but the society itself may not have a lot of actual agriculture in its economy. And, a gatherer society may not have a lot of actual hunter-gatherers, just a lot of people who think that way.
    I'm sorry, I simply disagree that you can divide all humanity into two simple groups of "I just want to take stuff" and "I want to build stuff." It is simply inaccurate. If nothing else, because you can't build stuff out of nothing. You need to get stuff to build with. You need to take something before you can start building. In the case of agriculture it's land and water and nutrients. In the case of gathering it's fruits and roots and animals.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  6. #5  
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    This thread reminded me of one shockingly bald conversation I recently had with a six-year-old. We'd dumped a great heap of Lego on the carpet, and were bantering in that idle-minded way people do while preoccupied. "Hey," I told Diego, "you keep taking all my airplane pieces!"

    Diego grinned, "I want it for my jewelry museum." Indeed he'd amassed a fortune of pretty pieces. He didn't sift through the pile, rather he just monitored what choice prizes I mined then looted my little horde for goodies... while I'd be busy sifting.

    So, I moralized. I was lucid and eloquent for once. Diego nodded and understood what I told him. And he flatly rejected to change his behaviour.

    "Why?"

    He knew exactly what he was doing, and explained to naive old me with some exasperation,"Because: That's. The. Way. You. Get. The. Money."



    His dad plays MMOG's like World of Warcraft so I guess that's where the boy picked up such... such evil. Kojax those games are microcosms of builder and gatherer economies, in conflict. Have a look.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  7. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    You seem to suggest a society wherein people who practice agriculture are trapped in the same limited space as people who hunt and gather. That really is never the case. Like I said, agriculture and hunting and gathering as strategies are best suited to different types of environments, and in the case where there is a clash, agricultural societies tend to simply win out. I think it simply isn't realistic to think there are people wandering amongst agricultural groups thinking "I want to gather! I don't want to farm! I'll just steal from these guys!" People like that don't last. The farmers kick them out.
    The difference is that some people find gathering more repulsive than others. I'm not saying there are 2 kinds of people. I'm saying there are various shades of gray between white and black. If white is "gathering", then I would say almost everyone is on the black side, but some people are darker black than others.


    And as I tried to describe, "taking" is not limited to people who practice one form of subsistence or another. That general selfishness is present in all humans; gatherers want to gather more resources, farmers want to farm more land and get more resources that way. This is what was behind Europe invading and colonizing other countries; their farmable land was all taken up and claimed, and if you're a younger non-inheriting son, you try to make your fortune by going to a new country and grabbing up lands and fortune there. I say again, Gatherer and Farmer are not fundamentally different mentalities. It's a false dichotomy.
    Taking raw materials is different than taking the product of somebody's labor. It's still selfish and evil, but land usually isn't destroyed in the process of being fought over. (unless its nuclear, or one side deliberately chooses a scorched earth tactic)
    Labor, on the other hand, is destroyed in the process of fighting over it. Business operations get disrupted, and people usually don't want to build anything if they can't be assured of getting to keep it.

    Eventually even a purely agriculture driven world would still have to curb its desire to expand, but that's possible simply by population control. If every family only has 2 kids, then you don't need to exclude any children from inheriting, because the estate is only getting divided in half, and if there's gender equality, and they marry within their caste, then the newlyweds always end up owning exactly as much land as their parents did before them.

    Trying to successfully stop the expansionism of a society that steals the products of others' labor is very different. Such a society is not capable of self sufficiency no matter what it does.


    I'm sorry, I simply disagree that you can divide all humanity into two simple groups of "I just want to take stuff" and "I want to build stuff." It is simply inaccurate.
    Good thing that isn't what I said, then.


    If nothing else, because you can't build stuff out of nothing. You need to get stuff to build with. You need to take something before you can start building. In the case of agriculture it's land and water and nutrients. In the case of gathering it's fruits and roots and animals.
    The thing with agriculture is that you're constantly re-using the same resources again and again instead of going out and gathering more. The only time agriculturalists have to go out and "gather" more raw resources is if they overpopulate. Otherwise, the resources they have today would carry them on forever, without having to gather ever again.
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  8. #7  
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    The difference is that some people find gathering more repulsive than others. I'm not saying there are 2 kinds of people. I'm saying there are various shades of gray between white and black. If white is "gathering", then I would say almost everyone is on the black side, but some people are darker black than others.
    Ok, you may not be dividing the world up into two types of people, but you have set up a spectrum where "gathering" is on one side and "agriculture" is on the other. Still, in my opinion, an inaccurate oversimplification of human mentalities.

    Trying to successfully stop the expansionism of a society that steals the products of others' labor is very different. Such a society is not capable of self sufficiency no matter what it does.
    That's assuming that this "gathering mentality" that you propose actually exists and that part of that mentality says it's ok to steal from others. If that were the case, don't you think hunter-gatherers would steal from each other all time? Why go out and kill your own antelope when you can lie in wait for another hunter to come back with a kill and take his? But is that what they do? No it isn't. As a matter of fact it's common for a hunter to willingly share his kill with others of the group, and to be shared with in return by other hunters when they come back with a kill. Does this sound like the mentality of a person who would wander around an agricultural establishment stealing from people?

    The thing with agriculture is that you're constantly re-using the same resources again and again instead of going out and gathering more. The only time agriculturalists have to go out and "gather" more raw resources is if they overpopulate. Otherwise, the resources they have today would carry them on forever, without having to gather ever again.
    If you keep the population the same size (and that's a very big if) then sure, agricultural subsistence will sustain us on the same amount of land. But the same thing can be said of gathering. Keep the same number of people moving around one given area and it will also sustain them. Based only on how long you can be sustained by one chunk of land, I don't see any difference here.

    If there is any inherent superiority to agriculture it's that it is more reliable because you can store for times of need, you can get more resources per unit of land and support people in specialized trades that don't involve growing food at all, and this really allows technology to take off. As a subsistence strategy I'm not arguing that agriculture is bad; I just think you're taking it way too far to go from a subsistence strategy to a state of mind.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    The thing with agriculture is that you're constantly re-using the same resources again and again instead of going out and gathering more. The only time agriculturalists have to go out and "gather" more raw resources is if they overpopulate. Otherwise, the resources they have today would carry them on forever, without having to gather ever again.
    Agriculture uses a huge amount of resources. Some estimates put the current amount of environmental nitrgoen sourcing from man-made activities (Haber process) at a stunning 50%. Some agricultural practices such as intensive livestock practices, have introduced a variety of problems - bird flu and swine flu come to mind. Monoculture of crops allows crop-specific pests to flourish, and some argue that this practice also contributes to the decline of the bee population.
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  10. #9  
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    Trying to successfully stop the expansionism of a society that steals the products of others' labor is very different. Such a society is not capable of self sufficiency no matter what it does.
    That's assuming that this "gathering mentality" that you propose actually exists and that part of that mentality says it's ok to steal from others. If that were the case, don't you think hunter-gatherers would steal from each other all time? Why go out and kill your own antelope when you can lie in wait for another hunter to come back with a kill and take his? But is that what they do? No it isn't. As a matter of fact it's common for a hunter to willingly share his kill with others of the group, and to be shared with in return by other hunters when they come back with a kill. Does this sound like the mentality of a person who would wander around an agricultural establishment stealing from people?
    In a lot of hunter gatherer societies it's considered a major taboo for that hunter not to share. If someone steals his kill because he won't share, the thief wouldn't be doing anything wrong. The whole concept of personal property is not very strong in their system of moralilty.

    Now, if a person with that mentality finds them self living in an agricultural society, their "share and share alike" mentality would make them feel entitled to steal from the rich, but necessarily the poor. The rich people aren't "sharing" like you're supposed to in a gatherer society.

    This ethic doesn't hold up very well with agriculture, because each farmer needs to be responsible for a separate plot of land. Pooling of efforts still happens, but it's considered wrong to reap without sowing. There's little or no obligation for a successful farmer to help out a lazy or foolish neighbor. It would be too easy for an individual to leach off of others. It's still nice of him if he wants to help, just not considered mandatory.



    The thing with agriculture is that you're constantly re-using the same resources again and again instead of going out and gathering more. The only time agriculturalists have to go out and "gather" more raw resources is if they overpopulate. Otherwise, the resources they have today would carry them on forever, without having to gather ever again.
    If you keep the population the same size (and that's a very big if) then sure, agricultural subsistence will sustain us on the same amount of land. But the same thing can be said of gathering. Keep the same number of people moving around one given area and it will also sustain them. Based only on how long you can be sustained by one chunk of land, I don't see any difference here.
    I have to admit you're right about this. Either system can be sustainable if the population maintains at the right level. The key is that either system has to be all by itself, isolated from the other, in order to work very well. It doesn't matter which one you do.

    One possibility I've heard would be to just fence off an area of the world and let everyone who wants to be a gather live there. Gatherers usually can't organize on a level large enough to refine uranium, so they can even engage in tribal warfare without affecting the sustainability of human life on Earth. They'd live in perpetual population equilibrium.

    The agriculturalists' role in all this would be to prevent the gatherers from building any kind of agricultural society among themselves. Allow gatherers to leave the gatherer zone if they want, but require them to stay gatherers as long as they're inside. If you see a group of people building an agricultural society, you fly in with Fighter Jets and blow it up. (Agriculture disrupts the gathering strategy just as much as gathering disrupts the agriculture strategy.)



    If there is any inherent superiority to agriculture it's that it is more reliable because you can store for times of need, you can get more resources per unit of land and support people in specialized trades that don't involve growing food at all, and this really allows technology to take off. As a subsistence strategy I'm not arguing that agriculture is bad; I just think you're taking it way too far to go from a subsistence strategy to a state of mind.
    The key issue is that you can't have 2 contradictory systems of ethics in the same society. That just leads to anarchy. "Share and share alike" is inherently incompatible with "reap only what you sow".
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