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Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs 
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Robert, I'm glad you're reading the book. I've read about half of it as well. The only thing is that we've decided to have a go at the videos first, so the others won't have as much detail to draw on as you will. Do you think you'd be able to watch them, so we'll be on the same "page" for this part of the discussion?


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
For me, the word "cargo" gets in because Yali used it in his question. That's what he is most interested in knowing from Diamond. I think cargo can be a stand-in for the technology needed to make all that stuff. But you're right that the question of values doesn't come up in the programs. The cultures who have all the stuff are also the cultures that have dominated others. That is supposed to be a statement of fact, but it isn't also a statement that those cultures are superior.

Diamond hasn't done a time and motion study on hunter-gatherers, to see if they have time to invent, but he wouldn't feel he needs to. The population that that life-style supports will always be quite small, so you won't have either a surplus of food or people needed to provide for specialists in technology or much else. So he apparently doesn't see time itself as an important factor. If the shift from hunter-gatherer to farming is going to be made, Diamond says there does need to be sufficient resources (your number 2). As for the motivation, this is where others have said that innate differences in groups have played a role, with some groups having become, somehow, more clever than others, or more motivated. Diamond doesn't believe this, though. He thinks that the pursuit of technology arises naturally for all humans, given the optimum conditions.

Cargo, or 'kago' has made its way into local languages in the Pacific island countries, including but not limited to PNG. It is exactly what Kali says, 'why is it that you white people have so much kago and we new guineans have so little' .. I guess kago could be technology but in their language it just means 'stuff' . There is a strange and interesting history of 'kago' and 'kago cults' in the Pacific particularly in connection with John Frum .. I inserted a link below.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/john.html

I believe the adoption of technology, for example, more efficient tools or weapons for hunting is mostly cultural choice and cost. The scene in the video with the men hunting with traditional bows and arrows makes nice footage but it doesn't mean they don't know about guns. There are lots of guns in PNG and have been for some time although unfortunately they are more often used for crime than hunting. PNG was on the front battle lines of the second world war, guns of all sorts were everywhere. But guns and ammunition are expensive (relatively speaking) and cannot be made locally. Also, if hunting became much more efficient the abundance of game would plummet very quickly and that scarcity would in turn make hunting more inefficient. So it is a balance of satisfying food needs while maintaining the game at sustainable levels. This might also be a reason that traditional weapons are used.

Efficiency of farming (really gardening in PNG and many other Pacific island countries) is not just a matter of tools and adoption of technology, its a matter of customary land ownership and a communal approach to food production. Custom and customary land have been part of PNG culture forever and it goes on because people want it too. Diamond brushes over this point in the video, I don't know if he mentions it in the book. Its a matter of cultural choice ... PNG land ownership is mostly communal (outside urban areas) and euro-based societies land is mostly held privately or by the government ... this is cultural choice that still goes on today ..

Papua New Guineans understand private ownership perfectly well, they just choose otherwise for their own reasons. But the choice has a huge impact on efficiency and productivity because the world's financial systems are set up to deal with private land not communal land so the great majority of local 'farmers' are grossly under-capitalized, in many cases, they can't even get small working capital loans to plant seasonal crops because they cannot provide the bank with security. Naturally, the exception are cash crop farms and plantations owned and operated mostly by foreign companies who manage to lease land from villages or perhaps purchase land if the national government has its way and have more than enough security and other means to raise capital.



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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
The question I would ask is whether these cultural factors can explain what Diamond says is a fact: that although agriculture did develop independently in New Guinea, we see that it did not lead to the advances that agriculture produced in the Fertile Crescent. The reason, according to him, is that the plants available for domestication were few and lacked the nutrition of grains, and that no large animals lived on the island (or at least none that were candidates for domestication). The traditions regarding land ownership seem secondary to this baseline fact in both importance and chronology. No doubt these cultural choices now affect the speed and success of modernization, but I don't see Diamond's argument as needing to take into account the barriers to the catch-up that some societies, which can be seen as "losers" in the race to guns, germs, and steel, need to play.

It's interesting that in Diamond's next book,Collapse, cultural factors become significant in either facilitating adjustment to the environment or retarding it. For example, the European colonizers of Greenland refused to eat fish or to adopt any of the ways of the native peoples, in order to survive. They stuck to a wholly unsuitable European model of farming based on cattle, sheep, and goats. And they either died or abandoned the colony.


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Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:18 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
It's interesting that in Diamond's next book,Collapse, cultural factors become significant in either facilitating adjustment to the environment or retarding it. For example, the European colonizers of Greenland refused to eat fish or to adopt any of the ways of the native peoples, in order to survive. They stuck to a wholly unsuitable European model of farming based on cattle, sheep, and goats. And they either died or abandoned the colony.


Maybe he took the criticism of G,G & S seriously and reconsidered the roll of cultural factors.


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Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:27 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
Hi saffron. For me, the word "cargo" gets in because Yali used it in his question. That's what he is most interested in knowing from Diamond. I think cargo can be a stand-in for the technology needed to make all that stuff. But you're right that the question of values doesn't come up in the programs. The cultures who have all the stuff are also the cultures that have dominated others. That is supposed to be a statement of fact, but it isn't also a statement that those cultures are superior.

It also occurred to me that there is no discussion of (maybe it happens in the book) the fact that the more people in a society the more problems there are to solve and the more things will be needed to solved them. Also, as soon as a group stays in one place (as anyone who has lived in the same house for more than 5 years will attest) they begin to accumulate stuff. If you are mobile and have to carry everything you own, you are not going to be interested in acquiring much.
DWill wrote:
Diamond hasn't done a time and motion study on hunter-gatherers, to see if they have time to invent, but he wouldn't feel he needs to. The population that that life-style supports will always be quite small, so you won't have either a surplus of food or people needed to provide for specialists in technology or much else. So he apparently doesn't see time itself as an important factor. If the shift from hunter-gatherer to farming is going to be made, Diamond says there does need to be sufficient resources (your number 2). As for the motivation, this is where others have said that innate differences in groups have played a role, with some groups having become, somehow, more clever than others, or more motivated. Diamond doesn't believe this, though. He thinks that the pursuit of technology arises naturally for all humans, given the optimum conditions.

Anthropologists have done studies to estimate how much time H/G spend on food. It is somewhat up for debate, but generally it is believed that they spend less time than most people in the modern world working and definitely less time than agrarian societies. The Yanomamo have been studied and they spend about 20% less time "working" than we westerners. Additionally, in both the Yanomano and the Ju/wasi Bushmen of the Kalahari the women spend the greater percentage of all time spent at any work; leaving the men with the free time to invent or specialize. Why haven't these men been busy inventing? I would say, there is no need to invent anything - no environmental pressure, no problem to solve.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Saffron wrote:
Anthropologists have done studies to estimate how much time H/G spend on food. It is somewhat up for debate, but generally it is believed that they spend less time than most people in the modern world working and definitely less time than agrarian societies. The Yanomamo have been studied and they spend about 20% less time "working" than we westerners. Additionally, in both the Yanomano and the Ju/wasi Bushmen of the Kalahari the women spend the greater percentage of all time spent at any work; leaving the men with the free time to invent or specialize. Why haven't these men been busy inventing? I would say, there is no need to invent anything - no environmental pressure, no problem to solve.

In Diamond's terms, the transition to farming from H/G life made the difference, and it wasn't exactly a matter of inventing implements in order for this to happen, but of that gradual change from collecting from the wild to planting the seeds intentionally that would sprout up around the garbage heap. And so this led to a settled life and the ability to feed a larger population. Women could also have more children than they could when they had to be always on the move. The more people, the more invention needed to produce on a larger scale and the more organization available to keep the system working. This technology could still look pretty simple, like a terraced system of rice paddies, but it actually took a lot of effort and maintenance.

Why didn't this happen with the Ju/Wasi and other H/G groups? Diamond would say that it was purely because of the lack of sufficient materials from the environment, not because of any inherent properties of that people, or any cultural preferences favoring conservatism. If they coulda, they woulda, I think is his take. I largely agree with this, about 75% sure that I do.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Before I respond to the last post, made by DWILL, I want to ask a question. What does everyone think of the National Geographic doc? I am finished with 2 of the 3. I liked the first (mostly) and not so much the second. I really like reading Diamonds books and agree with most of what he says, but find him hard to watch.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
I agree that One was the best, Two spent a little too much time on the dramatization, and Three seemed to go a little astray in Africa. Three also repeated the title phrase "guns, germs, and steel" with a somewhat maddening frequency. But I think the book does condense well, since Diamond is not the most efficient or economical of writers. He is methodical, though.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
I agree that One was the best, Two spent a little too much time on the dramatization, and Three seemed to go a little astray in Africa. Three also repeated the title phrase "guns, germs, and steel" with a somewhat maddening frequency. But I think the book does condense well, since Diamond is not the most efficient or economical of writers. He is methodical, though.

Remember the National Geo version of Colapsed? Wasn't there some phrase repeated to the point of madness in that one too? I need to think a bit more before I fully respond to your other post, but here is just a side note of no real importance to the main discussion:

DW: Women could also have more children than they could when they had to be always on the move.

Saffron's response: Moving had nothing to do with why woman did not have more children. Increases in the regularity of calories and a reduction in amount of time and or lenght of time breastfeeding account for increase in fertility (number of children born to a woman).


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
The question I would ask is whether these cultural factors can explain what Diamond says is a fact: that although agriculture did develop independently in New Guinea, we see that it did not lead to the advances that agriculture produced in the Fertile Crescent. The reason, according to him, is that the plants available for domestication were few and lacked the nutrition of grains, and that no large animals lived on the island (or at least none that were candidates for domestication). The traditions regarding land ownership seem secondary to this baseline fact in both importance and chronology. No doubt these cultural choices now affect the speed and success of modernization, but I don't see Diamond's argument as needing to take into account the barriers to the catch-up that some societies, which can be seen as "losers" in the race to guns, germs, and steel, need to play.
.
I would have a slightly different interpretation. Diamond argues that big connected geographical areas – notably the whole northern temperate world of Eurasia, and in modern times extending across to North America – operate at a scale that generates competitive pressures for adaptation and evolution that enable them to overwhelm small isolated places when they come into contact. In the book, he uses the Maori invasion of the Chatham Islands near New Zealand as a case study for this process. The big and strong devour the small and weak.

So, with customary land tenure in PNG, the lack of advance has real geographic factors that go beyond the available fauna and flora. PNG has rugged terrain that generally restricts the size of cultural units to the clan. By contrast, the large flat plains of Eurasia enabled development of big empires as unitary nation-states. The economies of scale inherent in imperial organization produce a surplus value that enables research and development into more efficient and effective production systems. The shape of the land directly constrains the land ownership pattern, which in turn directly constrains economic development.

Now, as PNG operates as a modern nation-state, the tradition of communal land tenure means customary land cannot be bought and sold. My view is that this is a sensible security policy, given the tendency for illiterate people to be swindled over land. However, as Hernando De Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru argues in his book The Mystery of Capital, this policy means that PNG locks itself out of investment because bank lending requires land as collateral.
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It's interesting that in Diamond's next book,Collapse, cultural factors become significant in either facilitating adjustment to the environment or retarding it. For example, the European colonizers of Greenland refused to eat fish or to adopt any of the ways of the native peoples, in order to survive. They stuck to a wholly unsuitable European model of farming based on cattle, sheep, and goats. And they either died or abandoned the colony.

I have Collapse, but have not read it. The question here, as shown in the PNG example, is how long term adaptation to specific environmental conditions constrains cultural evolution. The Greenland example is similar to many settler societies, where they assume that methods that worked in their source country are superior. This links to the racist cultural pattern of assuming that because they could invade and destroy, everything about local traditions is worthless. One good example in Australia at the moment is debate over fire ecology. An excellent recent book by Bill Gammage proves that Aborigines had much more extensive fire ecology than is generally understood, such that Australia was mostly grassy parkland in the non-arid regions. Wiping out the Aborigines meant these open grasslands reverted to forest very quickly.

A similar meme in the USA is the Old World assumption that humans are above nature, not part of it. This religious belief clashes with the native view that the earth is our mother. The assumption of transcendental alienation from nature could send the USA down the same trajectory as the failed European settlers of Greenland. Cultures only adapt slowly to their natural context, sometimes too slowly.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Saffron wrote:
Saffron's response: Moving had nothing to do with why woman did not have more children. Increases in the regularity of calories and a reduction in amount of time and or lenght of time breastfeeding account for increase in fertility (number of children born to a woman).

But I think nomadism is a factor in keeping the population down. "The Old Way" I think made that point, and Diamond might, too. A woman without a settled life needs more time between kids, due to the difficulty of lugging around more than one. So, through abortion, natural adjustments in her cycle, and perhaps some infanticide, she doesn't raise as many children as she would in village life.


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Tue Nov 15, 2011 10:25 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
Saffron wrote:
Saffron's response: Moving had nothing to do with why woman did not have more children. Increases in the regularity of calories and a reduction in amount of time and or lenght of time breastfeeding account for increase in fertility (number of children born to a woman).

But I think nomadism is a factor in keeping the population down. "The Old Way" I think made that point, and Diamond might, too. A woman without a settled life needs more time between kids, due to the difficulty of lugging around more than one. So, through abortion, natural adjustments in her cycle, and perhaps some infanticide, she doesn't raise as many children as she would in village life.


Before I get into my answer - The average number of years between births is 4 years for H/G women. You would only have one infant at time. The average number of years for breastfeeding is 5 years (yes, there is overlap and believe it or not, 5 years was the average number of years world wide of breastfeeding as recently as 1990). Not to go too far with this, since it is off topic, but my only real issue with your response is that the physical moving from place to place had anything to do with lower birth rates for women. We have a very good understanding of the biological mechanisms that raise and lower fertility rates. It is how these biological mechanisms interact with the input of behavior and environment that is up for question. I do not have any citations from books or researchers to back me up, but the physical impact on a woman moving from place to place carrying stuff does not seem more than working bent over in a field or lugging water, daily, for miles. I can cite several authors (and if I could find my books, more) that detail how a woman's hormonal cycle is effected by what she is eating, pregnancies, lactation and even the gender composition of the group of people she lives most intimately with. Here is one example. In groups that practice agriculture the age of fertility drops and the age of menopause goes up; giving each woman more years to produce children (Gabrielle Palmer, 1988). Woman working at agricultural tasks are not able to attend to the infants as often as H/G groups and therefore have different breastfeeding patterns (Jean Liedloff, Gabrielle Palmer, Meredith Small, and I am sure many others). Breastfeeding patterns are directly linked to rates of fertility. I am sure that infanticide plays a part in the number of children a H/G woman will have over a life time, but I am not convinced that the physical aspect of a nomadic life has any meaningful impact.

Enough from me. I promise not to get so off topic again. :(


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Robert Tulip wrote:
I would have a slightly different interpretation. Diamond argues that big connected geographical areas – notably the whole northern temperate world of Eurasia, and in modern times extending across to North America – operate at a scale that generates competitive pressures for adaptation and evolution that enable them to overwhelm small isolated places when they come into contact. In the book, he uses the Maori invasion of the Chatham Islands near New Zealand as a case study for this process. The big and strong devour the small and weak.

Yet this bigness was made possible in the beginning, Diamond says, by the different direction the Maori took in providing for themselves. They developed intensive agriculture, whereas the Moriori reverted to hunting and gathering. The food focus is a reductive way to look at conditions that seem complex, but the question is whether it is reductive in the way of good scientific theories or reductive in the negative sense of the word: seeking a single-factor answer when to do so results in oversimplification. We can discuss that, of course. I think it's important also to stress that we should not say that the Moriori or other less complex societies failed to become bigger and more diverse. Diamond points out that the Moriori's choices, dictated by the environment, were adaptive, smart ones. They just happened to put the Moriori at a disadvantage when the Maoris experienced growing pains and began to look for other territories.

I probably need to say something again about environmental determinism. since what I just said seems to contradict my claim that Diamond isn't an environmental determinist. It will depend on whether we're talking about the racial or the ecological variants of that idea. Diamond strongly denies that the environment shaped people in ways that made some have less innate ability to move to the stage of advanced civilization. The races, to the degree that races truly exist anyway, are equal in their biological capacities to make use of the environments in which they find themselves. The environmental hands that people are dealt, however, make a tremendous difference in determining the direction and extent of growth to larger economies.
Quote:
So, with customary land tenure in PNG, the lack of advance has real geographic factors that go beyond the available fauna and flora. PNG has rugged terrain that generally restricts the size of cultural units to the clan. By contrast, the large flat plains of Eurasia enabled development of big empires as unitary nation-states. The economies of scale inherent in imperial organization produce a surplus value that enables research and development into more efficient and effective production systems. The shape of the land directly constrains the land ownership pattern, which in turn directly constrains economic development.

Diamond's interest in New Guinea is specifically in the Highlands (which I assume applies to both PNG and Papua), where agriculture developed independently. I wouldn't know whether this region has a more open, plateau-like quality than some other areas, which might lend itself to the existence of larger groups. But even if the terrain were very rugged, this would also be a factor in the types of flora and fauna available for domestication. In the case of technologies for food production that spread to areas that didn't originate them, the terrain does come into play as a barrier in itself, although that isn't a factor to look for early agriculture in the New Guinea Highlands, since these people developed farming on their own.
Quote:
Now, as PNG operates as a modern nation-state, the tradition of communal land tenure means customary land cannot be bought and sold. My view is that this is a sensible security policy, given the tendency for illiterate people to be swindled over land. However, as Hernando De Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru argues in his book The Mystery of Capital, this policy means that PNG locks itself out of investment because bank lending requires land as collateral.

Right, the land-tenure system is adaptive, but it seems to be an adaptation to downstream effects, effects such as outside interference that came into play long after the establishment of basic farming. If farming had not been limited in extent by the environment, if it had been able to become more intensive and scaled-up, the custom involving how the land would be used would have developed differently, too.
Quote:
I have Collapse, but have not read it. The question here, as shown in the PNG example, is how long term adaptation to specific environmental conditions constrains cultural evolution. The Greenland example is similar to many settler societies, where they assume that methods that worked in their source country are superior. This links to the racist cultural pattern of assuming that because they could invade and destroy, everything about local traditions is worthless. One good example in Australia at the moment is debate over fire ecology. An excellent recent book by Bill Gammage proves that Aborigines had much more extensive fire ecology than is generally understood, such that Australia was mostly grassy parkland in the non-arid regions. Wiping out the Aborigines meant these open grasslands reverted to forest very quickly.

It's noteworthy that, if the Greenland colonizers had adapted to the environment, they would have gone backwards, in the loaded, inherently biased language that we always use to describe cultural/economic change. They would have needed to hunt and fish. But the culture of the more 'advanced' did indeed constrain them, that is if we are thinking that survival of that outpost is the only end worth working towards. They refused to adapt, choosing to wither away rather than 'give in' to what they considered inferior. But that is a choice that humans can also make. The example is a good one, because it shows us that cultural constraint occurs in every culture, regarding something that needs a response, even in our complex first-world culture.
Quote:
A similar meme in the USA is the Old World assumption that humans are above nature, not part of it. This religious belief clashes with the native view that the earth is our mother. The assumption of transcendental alienation from nature could send the USA down the same trajectory as the failed European settlers of Greenland. Cultures only adapt slowly to their natural context, sometimes too slowly.

Well, of course we see no difference in the attitude toward nature in the East. There, it's probably political rather than religious ideology that fuels the conquest of nature. I would hesitate to go too far in generalizing about how native peoples view nature, since this is a category of immense diversity, and since relatively basic societies did render large changes in the land and ecology. There is a split in view between those contemporaries who see particular beliefs as primary drivers of economies, and those who think these take a backseat to the influence of geography and the environment. I'd lean toward the latter view while conceding that cultural chauvinism can sometimes keep people from doing what seems to be the smart thing, as with the Greenlanders.


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Last edited by DWill on Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:24 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:23 am
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Saffron wrote:

Before I get into my answer - The average number of years between births is 4 years for H/G women. You would only have one infant at time. The average number of years for breastfeeding is 5 years (yes, there is overlap and believe it or not, 5 years was the average number of years world wide of breastfeeding as recently as 1990). Not to go too far with this, since it is off topic, but my only real issue with your response is that the physical moving from place to place had anything to do with lower birth rates for women. We have a very good understanding of the biological mechanisms that raise and lower fertility rates. It is how these biological mechanisms interact with the input of behavior and environment that is up for question. I do not have any citations from books or researchers to back me up, but the physical impact on a woman moving from place to place carrying stuff does not seem more than working bent over in a field or lugging water, daily, for miles. I can cite several authors (and if I could find my books, more) that detail how a woman's hormonal cycle is effected by what she is eating, pregnancies, lactation and even the gender composition of the group of people she lives most intimately with. Here is one example. In groups that practice agriculture the age of fertility drops and the age of menopause goes up; giving each woman more years to produce children (Gabrielle Palmer, 1988). Woman working at agricultural tasks are not able to attend to the infants as often as H/G groups and therefore have different breastfeeding patterns (Jean Liedloff, Gabrielle Palmer, Meredith Small, and I am sure many others). Breastfeeding patterns are directly linked to rates of fertility. I am sure that infanticide plays a part in the number of children a H/G woman will have over a life time, but I am not convinced that the physical aspect of a nomadic life has any meaningful impact.

Enough from me. I promise not to get so off topic again. :(

You want off-topic? I can go farther off than that. Thanks for the detailed information. But do we at least agree that there is something about H/G life that keeps the population down, in contrast to the farming life? 4 years between babies seems like quite a long time, so I'd be surprised if the figures for village women weren't higher. In nature, the carrying capacity of the land dictates how many lions, hyenas, rodents--and people--will be able to live on it, so there we have a natural means of population regulation. Introducing agriculture raises the carrying capacity (for humans, anyway), allowing more people to be sustained on a given amount of land.


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Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:49 am
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
Saffron wrote:
Bla, bla, bla......Enough from me. I promise not to get so off topic again. :(

You want off-topic? I can go farther off than that. Thanks for the detailed information. But do we at least agree that there is something about H/G life that keeps the population down, in contrast to the farming life? 4 years between babies seems like quite a long time, so I'd be surprised if the figures for village women weren't higher. In nature, the carrying capacity of the land dictates how many lions, hyenas, rodents--and people--will be able to live on it, so there we have a natural means of population regulation. Introducing agriculture raises the carrying capacity (for humans, anyway), allowing more people to be sustained on a given amount of land.

Yes, I think we do agree. And agrigulture most certainly increases carrying capacity.


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Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:42 am
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