Online reading group and book discussion forum
  HOME ENTER FORUMS OUR BOOKS LINKS DONATE ADVERTISE CONTACT  
View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:49 pm





Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 17 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.  Go to page 1, 2  Next
Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution 
Author Message
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

BookTalk.org Owner
Diamond Contributor 3

Joined: May 2002
Posts: 15825
Location: Florida
Thanks: 3306
Thanked: 1235 times in 977 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)
Highscores: 6

 Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution


Please use this thread for discussing the above mentioned section of Sapiens.



Wed May 02, 2018 10:24 pm
Profile Email WWW
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

BookTalk.org Moderator
Platinum Contributor

Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4262
Location: NC
Thanks: 1742
Thanked: 1800 times in 1370 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
Part Two is rather depressing so far. I haven't finished reading it, but as DWill said earlier, it's not exactly a feel-good narrative for us Sapiens. With our multiplying numbers, we have wreaked havoc on the environment, wiping out most of the mega-fauna and creating an increasingly artificial environment for ourselves, casting off our symbiotic relationship with nature and sprinting towards “greed and alienation.” (pg. 98).

The movie Avatar seems a pretty good allegory for the Sapiens story. It depicts the indigenous species of the planet in harmony with nature, while showing humans as invaders intent only on pillaging the planet’s natural resources. I have read that many fans experienced depression after seeing the film because it only underscores our alienation with nature. People saw that we could be living in a completely different world than the one we actually do live in. We miss the communal experience of our previous hunter-gatherer existence, although I’m sure we do create a rosy picture of the past. Still, I often wonder if the Fall depicted in the Bible and the myth of a past Golden Age really are about the onset of this neolithic period—the Agricultural Revolution—when humans turned away from a hunter-gatherer existence and started to embrace agriculture. Did we kick ourselves out of the Garden?

The Romantics of English literature often use a pastoral motif, alluding to a past when humans spent their time peacefully roaming about the countryside, minding the flocks and playing their pipes. Blake, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Yeats, to name a few, drew on the pastoral tradition to reveal such trappings of modernity and lament our alienation from the natural world. It seems to me this points to a transitional point somewhere between hunter-gatherer phase and complete submission to the toils of the Agricultural Revolution, though the poets in pre-Victorian times were well aware that the myth of a golden pastoral age was just that—a myth.

If you look around at today’s world, especially if you have to drive on a six-lane highway around Atlanta or Miami or Boston, you have to wonder, what the hell went wrong with us? Is this the world we wanted to create? I don't think so. We have probably made many Faustian bargains on our way to the top, and we are still making them.

And that’s my takeaway so far, which Harari does allude to several times. We have given up a lot in order to support the 7.62 billion souls that currently live on our planet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were already past our planet’s carrying capacity. And though many experts say our numbers will start to decline eventually, we are projected to add many more billions first, unless we first see some huge calamity that will knock down our numbers in unimaginably horrible ways.

Like I said, not a feel-good kind of story so far. I wonder if Harari will more directly address the issue of overpopulation. Is there a solution for us?


_________________
-Geo
Question everything


The following user would like to thank geo for this post:
DWill, Harry Marks, LevV, Robert Tulip
Mon May 28, 2018 8:41 am
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Freshman

Silver Contributor

Joined: Sep 2010
Posts: 200
Location: Gatineau, Quebec
Thanks: 76
Thanked: 143 times in 114 posts
Gender: Male
Country: Canada (ca)

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
geo wrote:
Part Two is rather depressing so far. I haven't finished reading it, but as DWill said earlier, it's not exactly a feel-good narrative for us Sapiens. With our multiplying numbers, we have wreaked havoc on the environment, wiping out most of the mega-fauna and creating an increasingly artificial environment for ourselves, casting off our symbiotic relationship with nature and sprinting towards “greed and alienation.” (pg. 98).



Harari may, in fact, have been anticipating the strong visceral reaction his words would have on many of us when he wrote this near the end of chapter 15:

"You think that these empires were evil monstrosities that spread death, oppression and injustice around the world? You could easily fill an encyclopedia with their crimes. You want to argue that they in fact improved the conditions of their subjects with new medicines, better economic conditions and greater security? You could fill another encyclopedia with their achievements. Due to their close cooperation with science, these empires wielded so much power and changed the world to such an extent that perhaps they cannot be simply labelled good or evil. They created the world as we know it, including the ideologies we use in order to judge them."



The following user would like to thank LevV for this post:
geo, Harry Marks
Mon May 28, 2018 7:33 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

BookTalk.org Moderator
Platinum Contributor

Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4262
Location: NC
Thanks: 1742
Thanked: 1800 times in 1370 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
Harari wrote:
One of history’s fews iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it. . . . Over the last few decades, we have invented countless time saving machines that are supposed to make like more relaxed - washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, telephones, mobile phones, computers, email. . . . We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.
(pg. 87-88)

I was reminded of this passage the other day when Roseanne Barr tweeted something stupid, probably without spending even a minute thinking about it, and had it broadcast—in the parlance of the modern age, shared, retweeted, etc.—all over the place. We live in a time when a celebrity, solely by virtue of being a celebrity, and not by any prowess of intellect, can have a larger audience in a single day than the great thinkers of the past had in their entire lifetimes and perhaps even hundreds or thousands of years after their deaths. Now that's progress! Yay!

The only consolation is that Roseanne will be quickly forgotten in a month or two, while Artistotle's and Plato's wisdom will remain enshrined in our libraries for the remainder of civilization, however long that may last.

I'll leave off with a smart alecky sort of philosophical question: When Trump deletes a tweet, did it ever really exist? I say no!


_________________
-Geo
Question everything


Sat Jun 02, 2018 12:22 pm
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Book Critic


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 942
Thanks: 823
Thanked: 429 times in 354 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
This mess is not done playing out. The biggest cost of hunter/gatherer simplicity was the limit on population based on the carrying capacity of the environment. If things got too crowded, fights broke out, children went hungry and were carried away by disease, and somebody got kicked out of Eden.

There is much to be said for mourning and moving on, but I suspect women were not entirely sad to see the greater security of the agricultural age, even though it apparently led to pressure to wean children earlier so they could have more of them.

And one might think we would simply have reached a new equilibrium with just as many children dying, as the carrying capacity of arable land was reached. But a funny thing happened: investment in health and skills of the high status families/peoples led to at least as much reproductive fitness as the low status people with large families. This has been verified mathematically. As a result, people across the societies of Europe began to emulate the high status (the turning point seems to have been the French Revolution, although birth rates dropped in the difficult harvests before the Revolution) and we entered something called the Demographic Transition.

Instead of high birth rates and high death rates, we have low birth rates and low death rates. A similarly slow rate of population growth (it still isn't negative in China 40 years after the mis-named One Child policy) is accompanied by high survival rates and thus greater attachment.

But what happens when societies face the results of biological selection for preferring children and inability for many to reach the high status which makes up for small families in reproductive fitness? We don't know. There is reason for hope that high status was simply a transition mechanism, a scaffolding to help us get to a stasis with stable population and high rates of education, sustained by the productivity that the education brings. Culture is generally stronger than biological selection, and certainly nimbler.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
geo
Sat Jun 16, 2018 11:49 am
Profile Email
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Platinum Contributor

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 6001
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1600
Thanked: 1724 times in 1328 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
geo wrote:
The movie Avatar seems a pretty good allegory for the Sapiens story. It depicts the indigenous species of the planet in harmony with nature, while showing humans as invaders intent only on pillaging the planet’s natural resources. I have read that many fans experienced depression after seeing the film because it only underscores our alienation with nature. People saw that we could be living in a completely different world than the one we actually do live in. We miss the communal experience of our previous hunter-gatherer existence, although I’m sure we do create a rosy picture of the past. Still, I often wonder if the Fall depicted in the Bible and the myth of a past Golden Age really are about the onset of this neolithic period—the Agricultural Revolution—when humans turned away from a hunter-gatherer existence and started to embrace agriculture. Did we kick ourselves out of the Garden?

Of course, Avatar didn't give the impression that life was particularly hard for those hunter-gatherers, which we can be sure it was for most humans in pre-Neolithic times. That doesn't mean that the people weren't happy. But the evidence pertaining to quality of life for those simple groups seems to be mixed, and we can be certain that there was a wide variation according to what the environment offered. Some evidence from h-g groups that persisted into modern times indicates high levels of violent death. Pinker cites some of this in Our Better Angels. When we did settle down, it probably wasn't the case that bad effects ensued right away, and there could even have been some paradisiacal societies. Herman Melville writes of his experience a with South Seas tribe that held him in very plush captivity for a time.

You must be right that by the time Genesis was recorded, the agricultural lifestyle had become enough of a grind that that a myth was told to explain how humans got into such a fix. It had to have been a punishment!
Quote:
The Romantics of English literature often use a pastoral motif, alluding to a past when humans spent their time peacefully roaming about the countryside, minding the flocks and playing their pipes. Blake, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Yeats, to name a few, drew on the pastoral tradition to reveal such trappings of modernity and lament our alienation from the natural world. It seems to me this points to a transitional point somewhere between hunter-gatherer phase and complete submission to the toils of the Agricultural Revolution, though the poets in pre-Victorian times were well aware that the myth of a golden pastoral age was just that—a myth.

The Romantics might have been reviving the Greek and Roman pastoral tradition, in part. For the English of the 19th Century, the cause was more urgent and wasn't so much about agriculture as it was about the industrial revolution wiping away the innocence of the earlier farming traditions. So Blake condemned the appearance of "dark Satanic mills."
Quote:
If you look around at today’s world, especially if you have to drive on a six-lane highway around Atlanta or Miami or Boston, you have to wonder, what the hell went wrong with us? Is this the world we wanted to create? I don't think so. We have probably made many Faustian bargains on our way to the top, and we are still making them.

If you happen to be out of range of that breakneck rushing around for a couple of weeks, it does come as a shock to experience it again. One big difference these days is that people don't live locally much anymore. Our homes tend to be centers for media and we often work and socialize far away. So we're always on the move to somewhere else.

Now a few random points on this section.
Amazing that with all of our advances in technology and knowledge, "no noteworthy plant or animal has been domesticated in the last 2,000 years" (78). Harari is good at bringing things to attention that escape our notice, perhaps proving the truism that the hardest things to see are those right before our faces. Is a kind of standardization or simplification inherent in the march of history? Although we often look at our world as burgeoning in complexity, from a certain angle it seems that complexity, or at least diversity of all kinds, is being winnowed out. Languages are lost (as many as 250 in Australia alone); species die off by the thousands; cultures become more similar with globalization. One world, the Star Trek utopia, could actually be a reality in a couple hundred years. It's impossible to say whether this is good or bad; there are too many stakeholders who each may have their own subjective argument.

Wouldn't Malthus be amazed, though? Our food supply has provided for the geometric increase in population, due to incredible improvements in productivity. To have so few people in modern societies even tangentially involved in food production is astounding. We do not know if this system is sustainable over the long haul, though.

Why are humans so smart? Don't thank civilization, made possible by the agricultural revolution, despite our universities. Thank the hundreds of thousands of years we spent as hunters and foragers, during which almost everyone needed to know everything that was essential for survival. Today each of us benefits from an encompassing safety net that enables us to be competent in minute aspects of life that we've invented over a few millennia.

Harari's idea that wheat, rice, and potatoes domesticated humans is provocative. It's an interesting thought experiment to entertain--wheat using humans to spread its genes from a restricted area in the Mideast to worldwide. This reminds me of meme theory. A meme doesn't care whether its spread benefits the host, which is just Harari's point about wheat and other domesticated plants--the lifestyle they required didn't benefit most people. I guess I can halfway agree with Harari's thinking. There do seem to be inventions that acquire overwhelming force such that they seem to take individual decision out of the picture. But I also have to believe that someone was pulling the strings, taking positive advantage of these new plants and animals. Maybe it was the dreaded elites that made it all happen. Or maybe humans all along were seeking ways to accumulate wealth, finding it hard to do in hunter bands (you can't take it with you), but much easier when you could stay put. Grain was among the first currencies. The one certainty Harari gives us on this transition to farming is that it made us perhaps the most successful species of all time, if success is earned by creating billions of copies of ourselves.

I found it interesting that after trying to convince us that "the agricultural revolution was a trap" (83), Harari brings in a theory that puts agriculture at the service of Sapiens' religious needs. In other words, people were motivated to accumulate food surpluses so that they could feed the large groups needed to build monuments to gods. He is not dogmatic, which I appreciate.

I won't get into this next point too deeply, but I suspect Harari is vegetarian. He devotes a good amount of space to the abhorrent cruelty of what we have called factory farming, getting ahead of himself chronologically. We might assume that early on, domestication of animals didn't brutalize them quite so much as what occurred with the second agricultural revolution many centuries later.



The following user would like to thank DWill for this post:
geo, Harry Marks
Sun Jun 17, 2018 9:46 pm
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Book Critic


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 942
Thanks: 823
Thanked: 429 times in 354 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
geo wrote:
With our multiplying numbers, we have wreaked havoc on the environment, wiping out most of the mega-fauna and creating an increasingly artificial environment for ourselves, casting off our symbiotic relationship with nature and sprinting towards “greed and alienation.” (pg. 98).

Artificial, from "artifice", is the point. Humans are the animals who make their environment. Alienation is built in.

I hope that many generations from now, people will find ways to allow most to live in harmony with the environment, but at this point we are just doing triage, trying to stop the worst damage that threatens to make our way of life unlivable.

geo wrote:
We miss the communal experience of our previous hunter-gatherer existence, although I’m sure we do create a rosy picture of the past.

In college I did a paper on child-rearing in communes, mainly the Israeli kibbutzim. The one thing the investigators could agree on was that the children raised as a cohort with each other as the main source of stability was that they were very tight, and resented the brainy, studious kids who made the others look bad. Not that this is all that different from kids raised in their own home, of course.

Schools are at work on a shift toward teamwork in education. Instead of focusing on grading kids, we try to focus on mastery, and the kids who get things early can use their understanding to help the others reach mastery. It's a tricky approach to get right, but results so far (30 years?) are somewhat promising.
geo wrote:
If you look around at today’s world, especially if you have to drive on a six-lane highway around Atlanta or Miami or Boston, you have to wonder, what the hell went wrong with us? Is this the world we wanted to create? I don't think so. We have probably made many Faustian bargains on our way to the top, and we are still making them.

And that’s my takeaway so far, which Harari does allude to several times. We have given up a lot in order to support the 7.62 billion souls that currently live on our planet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were already past our planet’s carrying capacity.

I think his schtick is pointing out unsuspected effects of what we call "progress". For the most part we have always assumed that it was progress when homo sapiens finished off Neanderthals. And maybe it was, but it's worth examining the assumption. For the longest time, the side effects of agriculture were pretty much ignored, and the greater amount of food was seen as an obvious good. And maybe it was, but it's worth examining the assumption.

The real, deeper narrative (which he may be getting to - I haven't even finished this part yet) is that our inventiveness has created huge impacts (e.g. megafauna extinction) that we never planned on or considered, but which now threaten human civilization. Similar to the message of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" but instead of a few instructive narratives, we have a presentation of the big picture.

And of course, answers are not easy. The first response tends to be "solve that problem!" but, as the Russian Revolution taught us, that can be one more case of inventiveness creating huge unforeseen misery.

So we have to think, and see what works, about human behavior and society. It's kind of fun, fortunately, even with all the depressing misfires.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
geo
Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:14 am
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Book Critic


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 942
Thanks: 823
Thanked: 429 times in 354 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
DWill wrote:
Of course, Avatar didn't give the impression that life was particularly hard for those hunter-gatherers, which we can be sure it was for most humans in pre-Neolithic times. That doesn't mean that the people weren't happy. But the evidence pertaining to quality of life for those simple groups seems to be mixed, and we can be certain that there was a wide variation according to what the environment offered. Some evidence from h-g groups that persisted into modern times indicates high levels of violent death. Pinker cites some of this in Our Better Angels.
I was struck by Harari's claim that child mortality went up considerably, with the advent of agriculture and settlements. He has some explanations, and they make some sense, but I would still like to see a closer examination of the evidence. Is it, for example, just a result of the higher percentage of the population who are young, which is what you get when you increase birth rates and shorten the time between births? Is it due to children who die in agricultural societies being buried close to parents, so they are more likely to show up in an archaeological dig?

DWill wrote:
Harari is good at bringing things to attention that escape our notice, perhaps proving the truism that the hardest things to see are those right before our faces. Is a kind of standardization or simplification inherent in the march of history? Although we often look at our world as burgeoning in complexity, from a certain angle it seems that complexity, or at least diversity of all kinds, is being winnowed out. Languages are lost (as many as 250 in Australia alone); species die off by the thousands; cultures become more similar with globalization. One world, the Star Trek utopia, could actually be a reality in a couple hundred years. It's impossible to say whether this is good or bad; there are too many stakeholders who each may have their own subjective argument.
Interesting. We usually teach about good and bad sides of specialization, with greater productivity but more boredom and alienation. I don't think variety of stakeholders is the main problem with assessing the costs or benefits of globalization and standardization: the blessings are mixed and it is hard for even a single individual to decide if, on balance, it was helpful or harmful.
DWill wrote:
There do seem to be inventions that acquire overwhelming force such that they seem to take individual decision out of the picture.
Yes, toxic knowledge has become one of my stalking horses. Maybe toxic ignorance is worse, but there do seem to be some kinds of knowledge we are better off not knowing.

DWill wrote:
But I also have to believe that someone was pulling the strings, taking positive advantage of these new plants and animals. Maybe it was the dreaded elites that made it all happen.
More to the point, people's "elitism" drives much of the "advancement" which then turns out to strike back at us. People's apparent need to feel superior to others has put inventiveness and advancement on steroids. And individual conscience seems vastly inadequate to the task of restraining the bad consequences. But of course the whole psychology of defining identity by comparisons is guaranteed to make a zero-sum game (or a Red Queen's race, if you prefer) of the whole thing.

Yet, paradoxically, it is elitism that has delivered us from Malthusian doom - the demographic transition to fewer children is driven primarily by choice to invest in quality of life for kids instead of just having more of them, and the resulting higher cost choices that go with it. It remains to be seen whether this will be sustainable in a quality of life framework that is not primarily comparative/competitive.

Another implication is that an ideology of maximizing freedom is a recipe for doom. Our inventiveness has clearly reached a point at which our inability to master its systemic effects is endangering life on Earth. Maximizing freedom guarantees it. Whether curtailing freedom can save us is not yet known. It is necessary, but it is not clearly sufficient.

DWill wrote:
I found it interesting that after trying to convince us that "the agricultural revolution was a trap" (83), Harari brings in a theory that puts agriculture at the service of Sapiens' religious needs. In other words, people were motivated to accumulate food surpluses so that they could feed the large groups needed to build monuments to gods. He is not dogmatic, which I appreciate.
Or maybe to preserve deep knowledge of climate and seasons. See the "Memory Code" thread by Robert Tulip.

There seem to have been arguments for a long time now that creating cultivable crops involved some degree of large-scale cooperation. I don't know. Looking at the map of where all the different crops grew up independently, I rather doubt that hypothesis.

DWill wrote:
I won't get into this next point too deeply, but I suspect Harari is vegetarian. He devotes a good amount of space to the abhorrent cruelty of what we have called factory farming, getting ahead of himself chronologically. We might assume that early on, domestication of animals didn't brutalize them quite so much as what occurred with the second agricultural revolution many centuries later.
Maybe, but some of the small-scale cruelties like blinding pigs seem to have sprung up without any market incentives. Let's not forget that we are talking about "making friends" with animals, including providing them with food, so that we can eat them. Whether or not Harari is a vegetarian, you have to get that this is a relationship of dominance and exploitation, creating or using such impulses in human biology and culture. Before we enslaved other humans, we "mastered" other creatures.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
DWill, geo
Thu Jun 21, 2018 6:00 am
Profile Email
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Platinum Contributor

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 6001
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1600
Thanked: 1724 times in 1328 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
I keep thinking about the change to agriculture, that is, why Sapiens went in that direction when the result for so many was a tougher life. From my point of view, I wouldn't want to become a hunter-gatherer, preferring a settled life. This is despite my liking of going nomadic for a couple of weeks at a time. So maybe there was an attraction in being able to stay put, an aspiration for a less strenuous, safer life even though the opposite seemed to be the reality for the majority of new farmers.

In the "Building Pyramids" section, Harari expands on his notion of Sapiens fictive ability. At this point in the development of societies, more elaborate fictions were needed to keep larger populations under the sway of central authority, which essentially extended the reach of the tribe. We can probably assume that in the small hunter bands, cohesion--tribalism-- was provided mostly by the physical close contact of members of the group, with a lesser role for myths that encouraged everyone to fall in line. We use the word tribalism a lot today to describe our fractured society, but I wonder how similar this condition is to that of literal tribes.

Harari talks about the imagined orders that Sapiens invented to regulate society. These are a mix of religion and politics, religion providing the base for the political order, as with Hammurabi's code. Harari compares Hammurabi's imagined order, or myth, with that of our Declaration of Independence and finds them equally mythical. That each class of person in a society has a worth that can be expressed in money terms is no more mythical than all persons being created as equals.

The imagined order and its collection of myths influences even our "most personal desires." Why do we have the notion that to pull up stakes and visit a foreign culture is something we should do for ourselves? This would have seemed a little screwy in times of old.

We speak of "worldviews" today, and how conflicting worldviews account for political divisions. But are worldviews the same as imagined orders? I think Harari might deny that within a society there exist different imagined orders, while what we call worldviews are really finer-grained political differences. We tend not to be able to see clearly our shared belief in an imagined order because it is not mainly conscious. Later in the book, Harari tells us that a clash of civilizations, a la Samuel Huntington, is not possible in our world due to the many assumptions that are shared.

I like this: "History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing the fields and carrying water buckets." In a real sense, those billions are the ones to whom we owe our current fortunes, not the people written up in history. Somebody had to release the small minority from the drudgery of making food so that they could wield power, innovate technology, and make art.



Last edited by DWill on Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:16 am, edited 1 time in total.



The following user would like to thank DWill for this post:
geo, Harry Marks, Robert Tulip
Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:14 am
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Book Critic


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 942
Thanks: 823
Thanked: 429 times in 354 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
DWill wrote:
In the "Building Pyramids" section, Harari expands on his notion of Sapiens fictive ability. At this point in the development of societies, more elaborate fictions were needed to keep larger populations under the sway of central authority, which essentially extended the reach of the tribe. We can probably assume that in the small hunter bands, cohesion--tribalism-- was provided mostly by the physical close contact of members of the group, with a lesser role for myths that encouraged everyone to fall in line. We use the word tribalism a lot today to describe our fractured society, but I wonder how similar this condition is to that of literal tribes.

Harari talks about the imagined orders that Sapiens invented to regulate society. These are a mix of religion and politics, religion providing the base for the political order, as with Hammurabi's code. Harari compares Hammurabi's imagined order, or myth, with that of our Declaration of Independence and finds them equally mythical. That each class of person in a society has a worth that can be expressed in money terms is no more mythical than all persons being created as equals.

Harari is getting rather too much mileage out of his classification of abstractions as "fiction" and "myth." He is implying that someone thought up a good plan for a social order, invented a myth, and everybody else said, "Cool, wish I'd thought of it" and fell in line. The truth is that his "fictions" are descriptions of a plan or order which people follow, or can understand based on what they are already doing and so are almost following.

The bridge between drawing a map of an ambush for the Neanderthals and giving nobility status to the people who have invaded with horses is a long one. The steps are probably mostly not too imaginative, but even when they are, they are probably not dreamed up by mystics and storytellers but by practical people who see a slightly better way to do things that are already being done.

In fact, from the beginning and most particularly in the comparison of Hammurabi to Jefferson, I have been irritated by his deliberate avoidance of the practicality of the arrangements. He makes it sound as if the border between the U.S. and Mexico would magically disintegrate if a lot of people just stop believing in it, because after all, it is a "fiction." But I urge you not to try this experiment, for practical reasons. No matter how much you close your eyes and repeat "I don't believe in borders, I don't believe in borders," the borders will still be there. And ICE will still enforce it.

In labor economics a contract between a union and the employers is often referred to as a "truce." The point is that it is not just a convenient, agreed-upon "fiction," it is an agreement to arrange practical matters in a certain way. So is money. So is a constitution, and the voluminous law books that we all rely on. If you think it was agreed on wrong, you can challenge it, and say, "it should really have been done a different way". As we are about to see, with Kennedy retiring from the Supreme Court.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
DWill, geo
Fri Jun 29, 2018 3:22 am
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

BookTalk.org Moderator
Platinum Contributor

Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4262
Location: NC
Thanks: 1742
Thanked: 1800 times in 1370 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
Edited

Harry Marks wrote:
. . . Harari is getting rather too much mileage out of his classification of abstractions as "fiction" and "myth." He is implying that someone thought up a good plan for a social order, invented a myth, and everybody else said, "Cool, wish I'd thought of it" and fell in line. The truth is that his "fictions" are descriptions of a plan or order which people follow, or can understand based on what they are already doing and so are almost following.


I do think you’re right that Harari is implying agency where perhaps none exists. I’m reminded of Jonathan Haidt’s idea that a “lawyer” in our brain makes up post-hoc rationalizations to explain our (mostly) impulse-driven actions. It’s true that we create hierarchal roles in society, always with some classes at the top, some on the bottom. Harare discusses the Hindu caste system and the racial hierarchy illustrated so well in America. Maybe we invent stories after the fact to explain why a society is structured the way it is (whether by castes or race or patriarchy, etc.), and that story becomes the scaffolding to support a continuation of that structure. Even social animals, such as chimps and bonobos, have hierarchies, but presumably they don’t invent stories to explain it to themselves. We humans do.

In the latter part of Part II, Harari discusses religions and in particular the move from animism to polytheism to monotheism. I don’t think Harari tries to explain why religions have become monotheistic, but I have always thought that as our nation-states grew in size, our religions had to change to encompass such societies. As such maybe monotheism, as well as our hierarchal structures, are emergent qualities of complex societies.

According to E.O. Wilson, humans and the naked mole rat are the only eusocial mammals on earth. Eusociality is most often associated with insects: ants, bees, and wasps—those with reproductive "queens" and more or less sterile "workers”. These insects make up only about 3 percent of the known species of animals on earth. But make up about 50 percent of the biomass. So these eusocial insects are pretty successful in their own right.

It seems to me that more populous societies would require a more regimented organizational structure, with increased specialization. So just as there are worker ants and soldier ants, humans have worker people and soldier people. Even food production has become an industry in of itself in the last couple of hundred years. Most people today (in first world countries) have never seen an animal butchered.

This increasingly structured world is what Romantic poets like Blake and Wordsworth despaired over. We are becoming worker bees, mere cogs in the wheel of an increasingly complex, industrialized world of our own making. But none of it was planned. Humans aren’t trying to be the dominant species. We just are because it’s built into our genes. If it was possible to consciously override our natural instincts, we would have to start by dismantling the fictions we invent to explain—and justify—everything we do. So even if Harari stretches this idea of myth-making too far, I still think it’s one of the more important concepts in this book. We have to be able to distinguish between myth and reality or when a story is metaphor or parable and not to be believed as literal truth.


_________________
-Geo
Question everything


The following user would like to thank geo for this post:
Harry Marks, Robert Tulip
Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:15 am
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

BookTalk.org Moderator
Platinum Contributor

Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4262
Location: NC
Thanks: 1742
Thanked: 1800 times in 1370 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
I don't know if you guys have seen the news that a new species of gibbon was discovered in a 2,200-year-old Chinese tomb. The gibbon—now extinct—was kept as a pet, which suggests that humans may have caused this species' extinction. Harari discussed in this chapter how humans have contributed to extinctions of many animals, and so I thought this was pertinent.

Likewise, a few months ago, we were discussing how difficult it is to find fossil evidence for many species, and here's a prime example. To date, no fossils for this particular gibbon had ever been discovered. A gibbon expert happened to see the gibbon skull in a museum exhibit, and after extensive research learned that it was a whole new genus and species.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/scie ... china.html


_________________
-Geo
Question everything


The following user would like to thank geo for this post:
Harry Marks
Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:32 am
Profile
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Platinum Contributor

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 6001
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1600
Thanked: 1724 times in 1328 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
Harry Marks wrote:
Harari is getting rather too much mileage out of his classification of abstractions as "fiction" and "myth." He is implying that someone thought up a good plan for a social order, invented a myth, and everybody else said, "Cool, wish I'd thought of it" and fell in line. The truth is that his "fictions" are descriptions of a plan or order which people follow, or can understand based on what they are already doing and so are almost following.

The bridge between drawing a map of an ambush for the Neanderthals and giving nobility status to the people who have invaded with horses is a long one. The steps are probably mostly not too imaginative, but even when they are, they are probably not dreamed up by mystics and storytellers but by practical people who see a slightly better way to do things that are already being done.

In fact, from the beginning and most particularly in the comparison of Hammurabi to Jefferson, I have been irritated by his deliberate avoidance of the practicality of the arrangements. He makes it sound as if the border between the U.S. and Mexico would magically disintegrate if a lot of people just stop believing in it, because after all, it is a "fiction." But I urge you not to try this experiment, for practical reasons. No matter how much you close your eyes and repeat "I don't believe in borders, I don't believe in borders," the borders will still be there. And ICE will still enforce it.

Well, to be accurate, Harari didn't use the word "fiction" in this section. I thought, though, that myths amounting to imagined orders were in the same family. Perhaps in giving little attention to the incremental constructions of these imagined orders, Harari seems like an intelligent design guy on the biological side of evolution. I'm with you in thinking that a small cultural change occurred, it seemed to work (even if not in the nicest utilitarian way), it remained in play, and then another baby step happened. It might take centuries for the whole grand scheme to emerge. Harari does say that myths are "stronger than anyone could have imagined," so he clearly doesn't think of them as mere myths or fictions. He might have been wise to emphasize that fictions have probably been more powerful throughout history than mere facts.

Add to your example of the U.S-Mexico border the West Bank settler who will never concede that he is an occupier, because didn't God say Joshua would have possession of the promised land if he eliminated those occupiers?



The following user would like to thank DWill for this post:
geo, Harry Marks
Mon Jul 02, 2018 4:36 pm
Profile
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Platinum Contributor

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 6001
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1600
Thanked: 1724 times in 1328 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
geo wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
. . . Harari is getting rather too much mileage out of his classification of abstractions as "fiction" and "myth." He is implying that someone thought up a good plan for a social order, invented a myth, and everybody else said, "Cool, wish I'd thought of it" and fell in line. The truth is that his "fictions" are descriptions of a plan or order which people follow, or can understand based on what they are already doing and so are almost following.


I do think you’re right that Harari is implying agency where perhaps none exists. I’m reminded of Jonathan Haidt’s idea that a “lawyer” in our brain makes up post-hoc rationalizations to explain our (mostly) impulse-driven actions. It’s true that we create hierarchal roles in society, always with some classes at the top, some on the bottom. Harare discusses the Hindu caste system and the racial hierarchy illustrated so well in America. Maybe we invent stories after the fact to explain why a society is structured the way it is (whether by castes or race or patriarchy, etc.), and that story becomes the scaffolding to support a continuation of that structure. Even social animals, such as chimps and bonobos, have hierarchies, but presumably they don’t invent stories to explain it to themselves. We humans do.

That tie-in to Haidt seems on the money. I think I know what you mean by agency not existing in the creation of the imagined order It might be like saying the myth is the cart rather than the horse. At some point down the line, of course, purpose and intent emerges when it becomes clear that for social/political reasons something needs to be put out there, and Haidt's lawyer goes into action. In the beginning of U.S. slavery, there wasn't much need for an imagined order justifying slavery as the way of nature and God. Slavery was an ancient institution, and furthermore indentured servants and slaves shared the labor. When it gradually become clear that slaves were better for the bottom line, partly because of their greater immunity to contagious diseases, the switch began to slave labor to produce the cotton and tobacco that built the entire American economy. In the nineteenth century, countries began to abolish slavery, putting pressure on the U.S. to form a rationale for resisting abolition. Slaves were the most valuable single financial asset in the U.S. economy before the Civil War. Slaves also made possible the Southern aristocratic lifestyle.There needed to be a bigtime defense. What resulted in terms of an imagined order, with blacks being created to be used by whites, seems preposterous today but was a fervently held belief.
Quote:
In the latter part of Part II, Harari discusses religions and in particular the move from animism to polytheism to monotheism. I don’t think Harari tries to explain why religions have become monotheistic, but I have always thought that as our nation-states grew in size, our religions had to change to encompass such societies. As such maybe monotheism, as well as our hierarchal structures, are emergent qualities of complex societies.

I didn't see that discussion occurring until Part 3, Chapter 12. I hope we get to discuss it.
Quote:
According to E.O. Wilson, humans and the naked mole rat are the only eusocial mammals on earth. Eusociality is most often associated with insects: ants, bees, and wasps—those with reproductive "queens" and more or less sterile "workers”. These insects make up only about 3 percent of the known species of animals on earth. But make up about 50 percent of the biomass. So these eusocial insects are pretty successful in their own right.

It seems to me that more populous societies would require a more regimented organizational structure, with increased specialization. So just as there are worker ants and soldier ants, humans have worker people and soldier people. Even food production has become an industry in of itself in the last couple of hundred years. Most people today (in first world countries) have never seen an animal butchered.

This increasingly structured world is what Romantic poets like Blake and Wordsworth despaired over. We are becoming worker bees, mere cogs in the wheel of an increasingly complex, industrialized world of our own making. But none of it was planned. Humans aren’t trying to be the dominant species. We just are because it’s built into our genes. If it was possible to consciously override our natural instincts, we would have to start by dismantling the fictions we invent to explain—and justify—everything we do. So even if Harari stretches this idea of myth-making too far, I still think it’s one of the more important concepts in this book. We have to be able to distinguish between myth and reality or when a story is metaphor or parable and not to be believed as literal truth.

Harari says: "The handful of millenia separating the Agricultural Revolution from the appearance of deities, kingdoms, and empires was not enough time for an instinct for mass cooperation to evolve" (p.102). I tend to see human eusociality as what made it possible for stratagems such as deities to work in the first place, to extend sociality beyond the limits of personal contact. Jonathan Haidt thought that human sociality was an underreported and unappreciated asset of ours. Nobody thinks to make a big deal of 20 unrelated people getting together to produce and put on a play--but it is a big deal, he believes.



The following user would like to thank DWill for this post:
geo, Harry Marks
Mon Jul 02, 2018 5:54 pm
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

BookTalk.org Moderator
Platinum Contributor

Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4262
Location: NC
Thanks: 1742
Thanked: 1800 times in 1370 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: Sapiens - Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
DWill wrote:
. . . That tie-in to Haidt seems on the money. I think I know what you mean by agency not existing in the creation of the imagined order It might be like saying the myth is the cart rather than the horse. At some point down the line, of course, purpose and intent emerges when it becomes clear that for social/political reasons something needs to be put out there, and Haidt's lawyer goes into action.

The slavery example illustrates very well what I was trying to to say. In that case, the myth is the cart, not the horse. But I was also thinking about some of the gun myths going around today. The most prevalent of these is probably that liberals are trying to abolish the second amendment and take away people's guns—all of them. In fact, the general attitude is that we need better common-sense gun laws. But the paranoia on the right seems to sabotage any kind of meaningful dialogue. Or, as you said in another thread, one side's emotional stance sort of provokes an equal and opposite emotional stance from the other. It could be reasonably argued, for example, that we need more restrictions on military assault weapons (not outright bans) but in fact gun laws have become looser in recent years. The gun situation in America is insane. These myths suggesting that the second amendment is about to be abolished—perhaps propagated by the gun industry—seem more of a horse than a cart. Then again, maybe the gun culture is just a continuation of entrenched attitudes against big government that predated the Civil War. Over time we have seen many myths that keep those anti-establishment fires burning. In terms of memes, the more a myth triggers an emotional reaction, the more fecund it will turn out to be. People aren't going to pass along a meme if they're not fired up in some way.


_________________
-Geo
Question everything


The following user would like to thank geo for this post:
Harry Marks
Wed Jul 04, 2018 4:08 pm
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 17 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.  Go to page 1, 2  Next



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:

BookTalk.org Newsletter 



Site Resources 
HELPFUL INFO:
Forum Rules & Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
BBCode Explained
Author Interview Transcripts
Be a Book Discussion Leader!

IDEAS FOR WHAT TO READ:
Bestsellers
Book Awards
• Book Reviews
• Online Books
• Team Picks
Newspaper Book Sections

WHERE TO BUY BOOKS:
• Great resource pages are coming!

BEHIND THE BOOKS:
• Great resource pages are coming!

PROMOTE YOUR BOOK!
Advertise on BookTalk.org
How To Promote Your Book

Featured Books

Books by New Authors


*

FACTS is a select group of active BookTalk.org members passionate about promoting Freethought, Atheism, Critical Thinking and Science.

Apply to join FACTS
See who else is in FACTS







BookTalk.org is a thriving book discussion forum, online reading group or book club. We read and talk about both fiction and non-fiction books as a community. Our forums are open to anyone in the world. While discussing books is our passion we also have active forums for talking about poetry, short stories, writing and authors. Our general discussion forum section includes forums for discussing science, religion, philosophy, politics, history, current events, arts, entertainment and more. We hope you join us!


Navigation 
MAIN NAVIGATION

HOMEFORUMSOUR BOOKSAUTHOR INTERVIEWSADVERTISELINKSFAQDONATETERMS OF USEPRIVACY POLICYSITEMAP

OTHER PAGES WORTH EXPLORING
Banned Book ListMassimo Pigliucci Rationally SpeakingOnline Reading GroupTop 10 Atheism Books

Copyright © BookTalk.org 2002-2018. All rights reserved.
Display Pagerank