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Cannibals and Kings by Marvin Harris. 
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Hmm, chapter 3: agriculture.

I think the birth of agriculture is one topic on which David Landes in Wealth and Poverty of Nations was so clear and convincing that I tend to overlook what other authors may write.

I don't necessarily read non fiction in the order the chapters are presented, but so far Harris is at his best in Chapter 12 about sacred cows-- this is really excellent.

Chapter 4 (and 5): War.

Of course. Any effort that were not made in controlling births can and sometimes do end up in conflict as population regulation.
May I suggest that this way of solving problems strikes me as typical of a male-dominated society?
I note that in all those pages, in societies with no contraception, voluntary sexual abstinence is never mentioned, either because it was not used, or because nothing is known about this perhaps.
As an idea for culture to override nature it would seem less drastic than the killing of baby girls, followed, in one example he gives, by wars later because the males are fighting over... the remaining women.
But then in a society where it's worth fighting and dying over women you would hardly rule your life by abstinence.

The thing is, once you've started thinking on those lines, how about... the Catholic Church? Creating abbeys and monasteries where people would flock in great numbers and (in theory) not meet members of the opposite sex, that would control population. But again I've not heard about land problems at the time when the monasteries were very popular, in the Middle Ages.
In artistocratic families, the land went to the eldest son, the second son became a soldier, and one or two children would go to a monastery, as they were not allowed to work. I don't know about poor people.

Harris is convincing here, but when he included the two world wars in this reasoning I needed to think.
The reasoning is that when a society which depends heavily on agriculture suffers from overpopulation and the land gets divided until it is no longer possible to make a living from the very small farms, there is conflict.
I don't know if this is the case every time though.
France was very agricultural before World War II.
I've read many explanations for the war-- even with those it's still absurd, so I wonder if this pattern would have applied to france or other countries in 1914. Had the farms become too small? If they had I've never heard.

Since you're also reading Collapse it's worth reading chapter 10 in parallel with Harris's chapter 4: Malthus in Africa: Rwanda's Genocide.

This is the third time I've read the Rwandan chapter in two years, and each time it has given me a lot to think about.
It is very rare to read about an example from recent history, where a hypothesis can be checked and you don't rely as much on conjecture.
The fact that Diamond could rely on work by the two Belgian reseachers that had begun in 1993, so before the conflict, is also exceptional I think.
When you read his presentation, you see that they cumulated all the criteria for a deadly conflict:
- the consequences of bad governing by colonial rulers.
- very bad government after independence, so no family planning.
Thirty years later, what the people in government had not solved by birth control they solved through violent means, by importing and distributing machetes among their starving people.

We are now more than 10 years after the conflict.
One can imagine that the basic conditions have not changed: small country, bad government, no planning. In two or three decades the problem may be as bad as it was in 1994.
History sometimes has a way of repeating itself.


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What forms of population control would be most popular in a female dominated society as opposed to a male dominated society? Are you suggesting that women would limit sexual encounters to limit population? Precedents for this?

Harris seems to teach that war and female infanticide in a patrilineal tribal society are somehow interdependent. Which came first - the chicken or the egg - he didn't seem very clear about that.

I think knowing about turmoil within a time when monasticism became popular - Benedict's time - is necessary for understanding why this type of lifestyle was chosen. Isolation and total abstinence is not the answer to creating adequate population control. It is a short-term response to an abhorrent cultural situation - a situation that is temporary and will change. The spiritual isolation of monasticism is seen in all parts of the world as a reactionary measure of people trying to find something better than Hegel's description of humanity.

It isn't a long-term, sustainable solution....obviously.

I can't read books out of order :(



Wed May 21, 2008 11:18 am
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Quote:
Are you suggesting that women would limit sexual encounters to limit population? Precedents for this?


When I read about birth control through infanticide and then conflicts such as those in Rwanda, I couldn't help wonder if women wouldn't have done better if they had been in charge, and, yes, I imagine they would have given some thought to limiting sexual encounters.
Perhaps even the men would consider it if they were the ones who had to carry the children for nine months and then kill them.

Precedents of women being in control are "Wishful Thinking" and "Science Fiction" I'm afraid.
I'm not saying abstinence was a wonderful solution but I was surprised it wasn't mentioned at all.

One example is when a human group delays the age of marriage-- in traditional societies where everybody watched everyone else and there would be little pre-marital sex. I can't find examples with specific age but I remember reading a travel book in which a middle-aged English woman was cycling through Africa. She had noted that there were a lot of Egyptian men in their twenties who were available to help her or practise their English with her, and this, she said, because they were not allowed to marry yet and had a lot of time to chat with travellers.


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I can't remember where...maybe national geographic, discovery channel, or random person - I heard of a tribe that allowed men and women to gratify each other sexually in a tent with the only stipulation being that their clothes had to remain on. In other words - everything was ok besides penetration that would lead to pregnancy. I don't think this is a bad solution. Also, the women were the ones that chose who they wanted to be with. There were strict penalties for those who removed the female's clothing.

Primitive parallel to the condom? Yes. Effective population control? I would think so. Fun? Hell yeah! :twisted:



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What you wrote reminded me about customs among King Shaka's Zulu (male and female) warriors:
About King Shaka (1787-1828) and the customs he instituted for his warriors I found only one sentence:
Quote:
In the Zulu culture, there were ways and means to ensure that sexual tension was released without having sexual intercourse.


I remember this from James Michener's book about South Africa,
The Covenant, which I think is one of his best.
Michener had mentioned that when Shaka's regiments of young people had fought exceptionally well, they were allowed "the pleasures of the road" which were understood not to lead to pregnancy-- obviously he wanted them to go on fighting.

Then, I saw two programmes about an ethnic minority in China-- would that be the Miao? They explained that the customs were that, in order not to divide the land, a woman would marry all the brothers in a land-owning family, as opposed to just one of them.
The people looked peaceful and happy; I don't know what other people would think, but I thought it must be a lot of work for the woman to look after three husbands, but they all looked satisfied with this solution.
And while I was wondering what her life must be like, I did not have time to dwell too long on the two women who would never find a husband with such a system. If they were willing to marry someone outside their culture, there are many men to marry in China. If not, would they sit on the shelves?
Or had the group taken care of the problem through infanticide? If they had, they were unlikely to mention it on a TV programme.
Anyway, this organization, which was clearly presented as necessary to ensure that already small farms would not be divided, was also an original way of limiting the number of births.


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As I wrote earlier I was intrigued about how well the Chinese one-child policy really worked.
The document I quoted before mentioned that the total fertility rate per woman was 2.1, which seemed incompatible with a successful one-child policy.
The CIA World Fact Book says the fertility rate is 1.77, which sounded more likely. I also wondered if the figures given by the Chinese government are relaible.
I asked somebody who is a PHD student from Taiwan, now studying in Hong Kong. Here is his answer: (the bold characters are mine).

Quote:
Your questions (about population control in China...) I believe even the officials can hardly answer some of them. Based on some available data, this is my understanding:
"I wonder how many exceptions there are..."
Not many. The minority is less than 10% in the Chinese population. Besides, a recent study said that the total fertility rate of those in the cities who have the right to have more than one child is still lower than 1.7, which means that they just don't want to.
"does anybody have access to reliable statistics?"
Indeed, no. The official population census still underestimates the real population in the rural areas. The real situation so far we know is that:
1) Many rural Chinese women are using ultrasound scans to determine the sex of their foetus and ensure the birth of a boy.
2) The natural ratio should be 105-107 males per 100 females. In 2000 census, the ratio is 116.9 males to 100 females. In 5 provinces the ratio is above 126:100 (130 male to 100 females in Guangdong and 135 in Hainan).
3) Female Infanticide after birth is unlikely to occur, but baby girls may be underreported. The peasants hide their girl somewhere until they have the second baby and the girl have to go to the primary school. Then we face the strange situation that every two or three years, millions of girls showed off in the 7 age cohort, but statistically disappeared before 7 years old.
4) Even taking this factor into account, some Chinese experts claim that there are already as many as 70 million more males than females in the country.
"How many families with more than one child does China have?"
An official report said that in 2001, 70% couples had one child, 26% had two, and 4% had more than two.
"If I went to a village populated by Han Chinese in a rural area, would I see many families with two or three children?"
Yes, the total fertility rate in rural families is higher than 2, and the average family size is larger than 4.3 people.
"How about high party cadres and people like politicians and members of the government: do they have to set an example or do they sometimes have more than one child?"
In most cases they have to be the example, or they may lose their position.
Recently I watched a good documentary film "Looking for China Girl" conducted by the BBC in 2006.


I have checked the transcript of "Looking for China Girl" on the BBC website. Some of the information has been presenterd before, but there are a few points that are worth reading about, for example in the middle of the document the case of the girl who was kidnapped, sold and then saved. Also at the end they show how the Chinese government are trying to reverse the damage done by supporting families with two daughters.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/programmes/this_world/transcripts/looking_for_china_girl_02_08_05.txt


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Chapter 7 is a very important introduction into how caste and class systems might have began. Harris concentrates on Douglas Oliver's work concerning the Siuai on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. Apparently, the "big men" on the island, the ones with the most redistributive power, are called Mumis. Mumis are "great providers". They get people to work for them (especially relatives) generating vast amounts of food-stuffs for the great feasts they hold. Mumis even challenge one another by measuring who provides the greatest feast. The Mumi unable to match his challenger's feast will lose his Mumi-hood. The point of all this is of course that the Mumi is celebrated and holds the beginning of both coercive power to work and control over resources that are produced by people other than himself. This is the beginning of the class system. From competitive equality to a perverse monster.

It's easy to imagine how the Mumi can go from being merely a great provider with little coercive power to a king that holds ultimate power. It gives a person a good idea how allowing someone to control resources or hold redistributive power helps that individual rise above the common proletariat. Controlling resources for an entire population gives great power over that population.

This whole chapter is a good argument against large government. Not because it is an argument against large government but because it shows the how rather than the why. How people achieve power and how income is redistributed to the (in my opinion) undeserving.

Many of the people who work to make sure the Mumi has the largest feast, never eat the food that is presented at the feast. These people eat the scraps to ensure the Mumi is able to give away the largest amount of food possible. It is all for the glory of the Mumi. So, they work and then give away their "earnings" to whoever the Mumi decides to hold the feast for.


I read Chapter 8 and to be honest it was lost on me. I don't see the point of it and why Harris stuck it in this book hasn't hit me yet. The only thing it offered was that hyper-agro or non sustainable farming practices may bring about the decline of a civilization.

More to come later after Chapter 9 is read. :king:



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Chapter 7 : The origin of pristine states.

I agree that this is an important chapter, and I' ll add that it raises more questions than it answers.
To take things in reverse order, and as far as European history is concerned, I am used to thinking in terms of the beginning being the feudal system


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That was a great contribution to the discussion Ophelia. I enjoyed reading it very much. It clearly shows the departure from small village type cooperation to large societal co-dependency and subjugation. Once the monster begins to grow it seems unlikely that it will be stopped. It would be smart then to realize how the monster begins and find ways to eliminate it in order to undermine the subjugation of men and make them truly equal (in the sense of fair competition). Finding ways of allowing people to pay for exactly for what they want is a way to ensure equality and freedom. Once a person has control over the output of another human being the monster takes breath. I can't remember who said it, but - the power to help is also the power to do harm.



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Do you plan to read Our Inner Ape?
The official price at amazon is very high, but there are very cheap copies to be had through private sellers at amazon or elsewhere on the net, and I highly recommend this book.
I started discussing part 2, about power, yesterday, and I referred to the mumi Marvin Harris writes about in his seventh chapter. This led to a very interersting post by Robert, who knows about Papua New Guinea.


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Quote:
It would be smart then to realize how the monster begins and find ways to eliminate it in order to undermine the subjugation of men and make them truly equal (in the sense of fair competition). Finding ways of allowing people to pay for exactly for what they want is a way to ensure equality and freedom. Once a person has control over the output of another human being the monster takes breath.


The thing is it's not easy to imagine things standing still in small villages, and no "Big Government" ever to evolve. It has happened in a few places like villages in Papua New Guinea-- though perhaps they too are somehow slowly being influenced by the rest of the world.
Which would be the ideal level of society organization for you to live in?

I don't think of the nation state as necessarily evil. What it takes is wise voters and wise politicians-- if we don't get them it doesn't necessaily mean that the organization is bad. People tend to grumble most about the political organization that is further away from them, in my case the EU, but then I see in Education that some decisions that are made at local level (regions) are stupid and wasteful. It would be easy for those local authorities to check that the money they spent on investments nobody asked for is actually being used, since this is local, but they never do. Also pressure groups are more powerful locally and the risk of corruption is greater.
I'm not against the devolution of some power to local authorities but on the whole I see all three levels, local, national, and the EU doing good things and making wrong decisions. So if I had to choose I would keep things as they are (!) for want of a better idea.

In the evolution from prehistoric small bands to nation states, it's difficult to imagine how anything could have been stopped at any time.
You can't choose whether you are going to be invaded by the Roman Empire (if not you would probably be invaded by another conquering empire).
The coloni who tilled the land at the end of the empire were former slaves, had a low status, and once the Empire broke down buying protection from a lord or chieftain was essential, to the point that it was worth giving up one's freedom. Then it also seems inevitable that those lords would quarrel and that one day one of them would unite them by proclaiming himself king.

One country that has successfully deviated from all this, at least in later stages, is Switzerland. They mind their own business, and they make money.
I imagine they follow my rule of wise voters and politicians, and also they have the financial means to sustain their independence.
In Europe only very rich countries like Switzerland and Norway have an interest in not joining the EU-- and indeed, from the point of view of their national interests, this makes very good sense: otherwise they would have to contribute more than they could expect to benefit in return.
Naturally I think it's right that individual states should be able to join or leave the EU as they wish.* I can't see this working for individual citizens though. Some rich people may think they contribute too much for what they get in return--in Europe I think in that case you consider...trying to pay your taxes in a different EU state (there's the famous example of a local star singer called Johnny) or...settling down in the US! (I have no idea what you do if you think too much is being redistributed and you already are in the US and you've always voted Republican :( ).

Still, just to show that I am not an ayatollah of redistribution: In his book India Unbound, Gurcharan gives an example from Nehru's socialist India: a businessman he knew explained that, although his business was successful, over 95 % of his profits were taxed, and he could only keep afloat business because he sold some of the property he personally owned every year. I think this is excessive redistribution.:smile:

* Do states in the US have the right to leave the USA? Obviously it wasn't the case before the Civil War, and I've never read that it was mentioned afterwards. I suppose by now the question has become irrelevant.
It might sound irrelevant in EU countries but I'm sure all states have small right-wing parties that advocate leaving the Union, like the Front national in France, whose leaders (Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine) are both Euro-MPs.


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The ideal society would be one in which everyone had the opportunity to spend their earnings how they saw fit. This includes the money set aside for taxes, should they choose to pay them. Obviously this is an impossibility but it is a goal that should always be sought by government. Taxes and tariffs garnish the earnings of men without their immediate consent and are used to pay for things that the earner of the income has not specifically asked for. Lowering taxes or making certain tax amounts obligatory and allowing people to choose how their tax dollars are spent saps a little redistributive power from the "big men". If everyone in the U.S. was asked to donate to the war in Iraq there probably would have been no war at all - or at least it would have already been over.

The crazy thing is that power creates more power. The monster keeps growing and growing. Now there will be universal health care. The idea of health care for all is magical. It's firecrackers, kittens, and baskets full of cookies. The fact is that now more of my tax dollars are going to be taken from me to pay for someone else's health. Some hypochondriac will get his daily checkup, some illegal immigrant will give birth, some woman lying in a coma for 20 years with no hope of recovery will get care all on my dime. I don't want to see someone die but I don't want to put a yoke around my neck every time someone gets a cough. I want my freedom. I want to spend my money how I see fit.

The nation state IS a necessary evil. If it gives you things you want without taking your freedom, then it wouldn't be. It does. The "organization" might look good from far away but as soon as you're able to get a close up view of all the sordid details, the chaos, corruption, incompetence, and injustice becomes very apparent.

I agree with you that local governments are more regressive and seem more corrupt. I've read that they usually are.

States don't have the right the secede. Texas has tried on several occasions and so have the Florida Keys from Florida. The monster wouldn't allow that to happen.

I have to admit that it is better. We have enjoyed relative tranquility when compared to all the international disputes the Europeans have because of different ideals and close borders. There are costs to everything, I imagine.



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Chapter 8: I agree that this chapter is uninspiring.


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Chapters 9 and 10 are my favorite so far. They tie in the pleistocene extinctions as an explanation for the practice of cannibalism. That over population and lack of suitable sources of protein are reason enough for hungry people to seek it within the flesh of other human beings. The abundance of protein supplied by prisoners of war, slaves, and other human sacrifices was a notable protein supplement within many native American cultures. For the Aztecs, people were regularly killed, butchered as any European ruminant, distributed, and then eaten.

Morals are also discussed. I, like Harris, would believe that the common westerner assumes that these people lacked some moral character that allowed them to be cannibals. That they sought human flesh over ruminant flesh. Harris explains how eating people was a political choice made in the face of depleted and non-existing resources. That Europeans were able to refrain from cannibalism because of access to large domesticated animals.

Harris also brings up the cost/benefit analysis. This type of analysis always plays well with me. I enjoy logical arguments. Harris thinks like an anthro- economist when trying to figure out motives for the actions of ancient peoples. The cost/benefit for cannibalism for some of the Mesoamericans was such that the practice of it seems inevitable. Of course, I'm going on the information that Harris has given but it seems very likely that in order to keep a civilization intact the people would need their leaders well taken care of. The flesh of the sacrificed was distributed by priests to the owners of the sacrificed. So whoever brought the sacrifice was given the lion's share of meat. I imagine a peasant or a slave might have well been on the menu every day. This wasn't needed in other parts of the world that had access to protein in the form of buffalo, camel, sheep, and cow.

The moral opinion a person might have is something of geographical luck. The person lucky to be born into an area abounding with large ruminants could look down on someone practicing cannibalism in dismay. Take all the sources of protein away from someone long enough, surround him with human slaves, give him a spear... and see how long it takes for him to put a nice chunk of meat on his plate.

There are many civilizations that have practiced sacrificing humans. It's a short step from watching a hungry peasant take the body away to make a meal of it to having others in the village think about doing the same thing. The leaders would soon want a good meal too and would assert their power in order to keep the bodies for themselves. Soon the civilization would take a new course. Humans would be regularly eaten. It would be common place. New rituals and religions would be created, new recipes would be produced, and new sacrifices would be feverishly sought.



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Chapter 9: cannibalism.

There is a lot to say here. I'm going to deal with chapter 10 later, because for now I am trying to: discuss ch 9, answer your post, quote from different sources and... answer a question of mine!

Harris starts chapter 9 in a way that is logical to me: by focusing on Cortes and the Spaniards in 1519:

"As well-trained, methodical butchers of the battlefield and citizens of the land of the Inquisition, Cortez and his men , who arrived in Mexico in 1519, were inured to displays of cruelty and bloodshed."

I am not opposed to a matter-of-fact view of cannibalism in the development of human societies (as you noted, Harris's explanation that there was no other source of protein is plausible) but I imagine that in the case of the Aztec this is not the only explanation.

It seems that Cortes and his men were greatly shocked by what was happening, although they themselves were used to killing and torturing, or at least seeing the Inquisition torture others. Were they just hypocrites, thinking such acts were evil in another people but justified when the Spaniards were brutal?
In this part of my analysis I want, for once, to think in moral terms. I'll think of a triangle with: the Spanish soldiers and their moral views, the Aztec and their own, and ... me and my views.
From my point in the triangle, the Spanish and the Aztec were equally bad, and the reason is this: Starting with the worst horror as "1", I would say:

1- torture is the worst
2- Killing comes next.
3- cannibalism third.

Both groups practised the first two. However, I believe that the Spanish soldiers, monsters though they were, sincerely believed theat the acts of the Aztec were worse. We in the twenty first century and in a part of the world that is much influenced by Christian values are the descendents of the Spanish so to speak, but historically we are also the descendents of civilizations that practised cannibalism at one time.
The feeling of horror for me and the spaniards is the shock of something you've never seen (or much read about) before. Whatever dreadful things we hear on the news everyday, they never include cannibalism.
I'd say the disgust also comes from having to project yourself so far backwards in time: if we were to resort to this again, it seems that all the things we've been trying to build for so many years (democracy, human rights) would be lost.
Yet I would also say that if we were to compare a hypothetical cannibal society of the twenty first century and what is happening everywhere in the world, the cannibals might not be worse than the rest of the world.

Now, the Spaniards were disgusted with several things: sacrificing a human being (as opposed to just killing any Indians who were unfortunate enough to be on the path of the invaders) would have been felt to be an abomination forbidden by the Christian God.
I found several referrences to human sacrifices in the Old Testament, but the Spanish would not necessarily have been aware of this, or if they had, they would have thought that what counted was the New testament, and what the priests told them in church.
Also, it was not just that the Aztec killed humans, it was the ritual, the religious aspect. I have seen some drawing of those scenes which are reminiscent of drawings of hell in representations from the Middle Ages: this would have had a very strong power to frighten and horrify in the sixteenth century. It would have been as if they had stepped in the very world described as hell in the Bible, which was the only thing that could terrify the brutes those soldiers must have been.
If have found a few examples of religious vocabulary used to describe the meeting of the two civilizations. One is from the site of a Catholic:


Quote:
Cortes and his men quickly realized the extent of the Satanic society they were up against. They knew their primary mission was to stop the evil practice of human sacrifice and bring souls into the Church. The gold and riches for the Spanish crown was secondary


It seems that the horror must have been genuine why simultaneously being used as a pretext to decimate the local population, regardless of who was responsible for what.
They did not need a pretext, their violence would have been unchecked if they had told themselves they needed to kill the Aztec to get their gold, or just that they wanted to kill them. but I imagine that the sacrifices spurred them on, and also created an atmosphere of gory violence that they would naturally respond to.
So I don't see the sacrifices as only a way of providing meat to some of the people. I imagine that there must have been excessive use of those rituals by priests and kings who were carried away by their need for power and violence. The feling of depravity and end of an empire would also have spurred on the invaders.


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Ophelia.


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President Camacho
Sat Jun 07, 2008 11:34 am
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