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Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..." 
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Post Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
This thread is for discussing Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive: Pitcairn and Henderson Islands.

You may post within this framework or create your own threads.





Wed Jun 08, 2005 12:05 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(4/27/05 1:07 am) ginof said...

Reading the parts about how difficult it was for a modern team to find water on Henderson, I'm amazed to find that persons apparently lived there on a 'permanent' basis at one point in time. Also amazing is finding such a small piece of land so far away from where others lived. It seems like a 'why would you go there' story, at least why would you settle there permanantly?





Wed Jun 08, 2005 12:06 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(4/30/05 3:33 pm) misterpessimistic said...

Yes. One of the things that struck me through this chapter was the distances involved over open water. Why?...HOW could they get there?

Of course it is possible, but...sheesh!

One fact that impressed me was how primitive civ's located tiny land masses by looking for birds circling in the air.

Mr. p.





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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(4/30/05 4:19 pm) wwdimmitt said...

Along this same line of thinking is Diamond's discussion about the colonization of the American continents by humans, in Chap. 1, of GGS.

He makes the case that Clovis descendants made it from the US-Canadian border to Patagonia, in about 1000 years. And they proceeded to fill both continents from sea to sea and including every desert and mountain range there.

Human beings are very aggressive colonizers, and they are quick to exploit whatever resources they can find in the new territories.

I think that is trait common with most mammalian species, but we humans are much more adaptable than any other species, because we can use technology as part of our adaptation process to an extent that other species cannot, so far.
WW





Wed Jun 08, 2005 12:08 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(5/2/05 11:59 pm) MadArchitect said...

Human beings are very aggressive colonizers, and they are quick to exploit whatever resources they can find in the new territories.

I think it's important to ask of that observation, why? Our answers will, hopefully, defend against our unconsciously distorting that observation to mean more than it does.

The most obvious answer to me is that human populations expand because of a particular evolutionary pressure that is almost invariably constant in any human environment: interspecific competition. To wit, we branch out because there ain't room for the two of us in this here town. That may be due in most cases to the dynamics of resource management -- if competition over a given set of resources is perceivable more restrictive than the task of seeking out or claiming another set of resources, the population will divide. Another factor may be merely social, as with the migration and resettlement of populations that have been driven from one area to another due to insoluble social schims, as with the forced migration of Native Americans along the Trail of Tears, the exodus of the Sephardic Jews from Christian Spain, or the partial exodus of freed black slaves from the American South to Chicago and St. Louis. Given this view, what is perhaps more startling is that populations have tended to accumulate in certain areas and under certain conditions, such that we have urban and metropolitan areas, each with strategies of social integration that make them socially and culturally distinct from the baseline model of the clan, tribe or village.





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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(5/3/05 9:50 am) wwdimmitt said...

Good morning, Mad:

Why is it that no one else joins in these dialogs?

Surely there are other readers, posters, lurkers who have questions, or observations or concerns about these same issues, aren't there?

Come on, speak up. The two of us aren't even that far apart in our viewpoints, there must be some more interesting thinkers lurking out there somewhere. Especially some of those younger, brasher voices.

Quote:
interspecific competition. To wit, we branch out because there ain't room for the two of us in this here town.


Ah, but WHY ain't there room for the two of us?? It seems to me that this is a very important question, and that it has a wide range of answers.

Remember that when the American continents were being initially settled between 9-11,000 years ago that the settlers were strictly hunter-gatherer groups. They need a lot of territory for younger mating pairs as the population expands in a new land with a relative abundance of food for hunters.

I think that the situation was analogous to what we see with the reintroduced wolves in the Western US. They are spreading very quickly, and quite far in just a few years, even with their habitat being severely limited by human populations. Some groups have spread 800 to 1000 miles in just a few years, because they roam to where good hunting is available, just like the early humans did here in North America.

But I think you overstate this trait in human populations. For example, China was unified politically in 221 B.C., and has remained so to the present day. Diamond makes the case that as soon as a food surplus is generated, human populations rapidly use those resources to organize into more complex societies, until they reach the level of a state (or nation). As soon as there is sufficient resource to support the specialization in a town, there is plenty of room in town not only for the both of us, but for millions of us.

The pattern for human settlement in the world today is in huge metropolitan centers, or strips, not in rural settings. I live in a county, which is larger than some small states, and which has lost population in every census since 1920. The Dakotas, Eastern Montana and Wyoming are losing population statewide, and this during a time of rapid growth in the metropolitan areas of the US.

Most human being don't live out in the country, they live in very densely populated cities.





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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(5/3/05 10:35 am) Loricat said...


Quote:
Why is it that no one else joins in these dialogs?


'Cause we're reading the book more slowly! I'm here, I'm here! Hold your horses! (I also have a pile of books that I literally have to read, as I'm doing book reviews on them...then I have to read Collapse with an eye to discussion...I'm also dipping into GGS, for the 'before' picture...)

:D
Lori



(5/3/05 11:29 am) wwdimmitt said...

LOL

OK, I'll try to be more patient!

You do notice that Mad and I don't let a little thing like not reading the book slow us down when it comes to arguing and stating our opinions, though, don't you??

I know it's a weakness, but I love the discussion much more than reading the books!
WW




(5/3/05 1:43 pm) MadArchitect said...

wwdimmitt: Ah, but WHY ain't there room for the two of us?? It seems to me that this is a very important question, and that it has a wide range of answers.

I'd say that's due largely to social factors, specifically size of population in reference to the form of social organization. It seems that most forms of social organization have a kind of critical mass, at which point they must either adapt to a new mode of organization or divide. It's interesting to look at the phenomenon of totemism in this regard, and I would say that a feasible explanation for totemistic division in a society is that it arose as a strategy for dealing with population sizes that had reached the critical mass of the previous form of clan organization. In fact, I think you can see subtle totemistic social strategies in cities and nations even today, particularly in the political realm where Democrat and Republican signify so little difference that the party system seems nearly meaningless.

But I should say that population size is likely not a merely quantitative measure. What's really indicated by population size is the likelihood of a given individual knowing and trusting any other given individual, despite their situation in the same social unit. Edward Said's "Orientalism", which is one of the books I'm reading now instead of tackling the Diamond tomes, is interesting to read in this light, and it may be that one of the reasons Orientalism took hold is that we needed to "know" that gargantuan other half of society, particularly when knowing meant a form of mental and political subjugation.

Then again, sheer numbers might also have an effect on resource management, such that the stress put on animal and vegetable populations in a given area might keep human populations at whatever maximum level was necessary to keep food supplies sustainable. The agrarian revolutions of Europe in the late Middle Ages may have allowed Westerners to bridge that gap, but it certainly wasn't the solution to the social pressures outlined above.

They need a lot of territory for younger mating pairs as the population expands in a new land with a relative abundance of food for hunters.

I would think that the pressures of a growing hunting population in a hunter-gatherer society might actually facilitate social concentration in tribal forms. Individuals that voluntarily organized themselves into hunting groups would stand a better chance of defending themselves in melee over hunting territory and could more easily mobilize themselves into war parties.

For example, China was unified politically in 221 B.C., and has remained so to the present day.

It was unified by conquest, and maintained in much the same way, but it has not remained constant as such. The dynastic history of China is evidence of the continual pressures placed on a state that large, and China has remained a perpetual state in name only. In truth, the history of China since the unification of the Four Kingdoms has been the history of multiple peoples unified in successive nations. Each nation has collapsed in time or was forcible put down by their successors.

Most human being don't live out in the country, they live in very densely populated cities.

Frankly, while that may be an advantageous social strategy, I think that's a poor defensive strategy given the technologies and techniques of modern warfare, and I think the near future will show a reversal of that trend.

Loricat: 'Cause we're reading the book more slowly! I'm here, I'm here!

But look at me! I'm proof that you don't have to be reading the book at all to join in on the conversation. Incidentally, this is how I made it through college as well.




(5/3/05 2:20 pm) Loricat said...

Quote:
I'm proof that you don't have to be reading the book at all to join in on the conversation. Incidentally, this is how I made it through college as well.
Oh, Mad! Give the rest of us, who don't have your stunning intellect, a break!! :b

Anyway, I've caught up to this chapter.

Mad: In truth, the history of China since the unification of the Four Kingdoms has been the history of multiple peoples unified in successive nations. Each nation has collapsed in time or was forcible put down by their successors.

That's true -- but I think there is a distinction between a true collapse and, shall we say, a transfer of power? Diamond, in this chapter neither of you has actually read :lol , talks about how, when Mangareva's ecological failure came (because of over-fishing, over-harvesting, deforestation for planting of gardens and building of canoes) there were a lot of tribal battles for the remaining resources. But a battle for control of territory for the purposes of survival is not the same as one for political control. Mangareva's collapse was pure desperation -- and the dependence of the other two islands further out (Pitcairn and Henderson) on the trade from Mangareva caused their devastating collapse when trade stopped. Theirs was not a question of successors.

Lori




(5/4/05 2:02 am) MadArchitect said...

Loricat: Oh, Mad! Give the rest of us, who don't have your stunning intellect, a break!!

There should be a different measure for what I've got. Egollect, maybe.

That's true -- but I think there is a distinction between a true collapse and, shall we say, a transfer of power?

Well, Diamond and I are likely talking about two different things. He's talking about the collapse of a civilization, and from what I understand, he's talking specifically about the collapse of population as seen from an ecological point of view. In talking about ancient to modern China, I'm talking more along the lines of political collapse. In most cases those have been transfer of power, which we're using euphemistically to mean usurpation and conquest, but those transfers likely could not have taken place without a great deal of internal corrosion.

I wish that I had a decent reference on Chinese history available so that I could cross-reference our discussion with some actual fact. The best I have are the major Confucian works, which aren't exactly thorough as historical texts. I may be able to pick up something more explicitly historical next week (I'm abstaining from buying any books until the college library sale starting this Saturday), so if we want to get more detail oriented we may want to switch the venue to Rome or medieval Europe until that time.

Mangareva's collapse was pure desperation -- and the dependence of the other two islands further out (Pitcairn and Henderson) on the trade from Mangareva caused their devastating collapse when trade stopped.

This, from what I gather of the reviews I've read, is one of the significant differences between Diamond's study and the discussion passing between wwdimmitt and I. Diamond's book is, for the most part, scrutinizing rather isolated, contained societies, particularly island nations, whereas we've ventured into the realm of mainland civilizations. I could be wrong on that point -- my information is somewhat second hand. (The review from which that comparison is gleaned treated Diamond's focus on small civilizations limited to a limited resource pool as a crucial flaw in his larger argument.)

Incidentally, wwdimmitt, how would you prefer that I and others refer to you? W.W.? Dimmitt? Something else?






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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
(5/4/05 10:28 am) wwdimmitt said...

Lori:

Quote:
But a battle for control of territory for the purposes of survival is not the same as one for political control.


I like the distinction that you have drawn here very much, and it agrees with my own point of view.

The transfer of political, and even cultural, power from one regime to another, within the same general population, and in the same general geographic area, is entirely different than a collapse of a society, particularly for ecological reasons.

Diamond spends a lot of time analyzing and reasoning from the example of China in GGS, and it is he who asserts that China was formed into a coherent society in 221 B.C., and that that same human society remains in place today, even though there have been many transfers of political and cultural power in more than 23 centuries.

China is by far the oldest human society extant, in Diamond's analysis.

Since I haven't read Collapse, I really can't take the comment further than that.



(5/4/05 11:53 am) Loricat said...

Mad: Diamond's book is, for the most part, scrutinizing rather isolated, contained societies, particularly island nations, whereas we've ventured into the realm of mainland civilizations.

Diamond is looking at these small, isolated civilizations, but ultimately as metaphors for the larger whole. In a sense, he reminds me of science fiction authors who examine aspects of future society in the laboratory of a novel -- Diamond is using the utter collapse of these microcosmic societies to discover what it was really that caused their demise. I'm presuming he will extrapolate what he's found here to the bigger picture as he moves through the book.

My summary of the book so far:

chapter 1: Montana. Collapsing?

chapter 2: Easter Island. Collapsed. Study of complete isolation. (Great list of factors that cause some islands to be lush and others less so, and thus more likely candidates for collapse.)

chapter 3: Henderson, Pitcairn, Mangareva. Collapsed. Study of interrelatedness.

chapter 4: Anasazi. Collapsed. Study of a non-island (continental USA) collapse, for many of same reasons, plus others unique to it.

I'm assuming the societies he discusses will get bigger and more...'relevant' to us. (Diamond does make the point in both the island chapters that these collapses are relevant if we view the Earth as an island, isolated in space, as our culture becomes more global, more interdependent upon each other.)

Let your 'egollect' chew on that one, Mad!! :p (what about you, WW? ;) )

Lori



(5/4/05 12:26 pm) MadArchitect said...

Frankly, I'm not sure what to believe about the relevance of Diamond's microcosmic ecological view. What does seem likely to me is that the complications of changing climates and resource overcomsumption on the level of the entire world are likely to make their results significantly different from those that are observable in a single region or with a single, non-migrant culture. Industry can clear out large sections of rain-forest and keep a presumably clean conscience knowing that there are large groves of protected trees elsewhere (although, protections are rapidly falling away) in large part because they are unaware that the effects of equatorial deforestation take place elsewhere -- in the warming and cracking of Alaskan permafrost, for example.



(5/4/05 12:49 pm) wwdimmitt said...



Yo, Lori!

Damn, woman, you're gonna drag our feet right up to the fire, ain't you!

I will have a copy Collapse in my hot little hands by tomorrow evening, and I will be up to speed in reading with you by next Monday. I promise!

Meanwhile --

Quote:
In a sense, he reminds me of science fiction authors who examine aspects of future society in the laboratory of a novel -- Diamond is using the utter collapse of these microcosmic societies to discover what it was really that caused their demise. I'm presuming he will extrapolate what he's found here to the bigger picture as he moves through the book.


Yep, that is exactly how Diamond works/reasons, at least in GGS, and I see Collapse as an extension of his thesis in GGS.

He has to examine, and reason from, quite isolated examples of collapse by human societies, because to date there has not been an ecological collapse of any large, continental human society. There might be some candidates in Africa, but I'm not sure about that.

Rome and the Soviet Union were economic and cultural collapses, ecological policies were just contributing factors, not central to the actual collapse. IMO, of course.

Quote:
chapter 4: Anasazi. Collapsed. Study of a non-island (continental USA) collapse, for many of same reasons, plus others unique to it



I am really looking forward to this chapter, as I have great interest and a lot of knowledge about the Anasazi. My daughter is an archaeologist, before she turned to Law School, and we have visited most of the major Anasazi sites in the Four Corners area.

I am greatly attracted to the allusion to Earth as an island in space. Typical graphic example of how Diamond makes his points in a memorable way. Gives the reader a perspective that moves our understanding from thinking that the whole earth is too big to be bothered by something like ecological disaster.

More later!



(5/5/05 1:21 am) MadArchitect said...

I am greatly attracted to the allusion to Earth as an island in space.

That's a pill I'm not sure I can swallow at the moment. I'm in the midst of reading Rachel Carson's absolutely beautiful "The Sea Around Us", which turns scientific observation into prose as salient and poetic as that of Faulkner or Steinbeck. What's clear to me is that the sea is not merely a factor in the isolation of land masses, but also a factor in their interconnectedness and their nurture. If the natives of any particular land mass have failed to succeed, I suspect that it has much to do with the discontinuity of their efforts with the progress of seasons that is evident not only on land but in the surface waters of the sea as well.



(5/5/05 3:57 am) Loricat said...

Mad: If the natives of any particular land mass have failed to succeed, I suspect that it has much to do with the discontinuity of their efforts with the progress of seasons that is evident not only on land but in the surface waters of the sea as well.

Diamond has a great list of environmental/locational factors that differentiate the islands in the area that thrive and those that had problems...and yes, part it is related to the ocean surrounding them. The land mass of the island and how it physically connects to the sea -- good beaches, shallow vs. deep offshore areas, available sea life ripe for the catching, distance to other islands...

and WW -- the archeological information in Chapter 4 is great...but I'll have to move to that chapter's discussion to talk about it!

Lori

Thats everything we lost for this thread





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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
I think in addition to the biological need for space and resources, we shouldn't neglect the psychological need to scapegoat. Not every society becomes as aggressive as Nazi Germany or radical Islamic groups (at least not all at once). The reason may have to do with childhood imprinting: children who are bullied, shamed and deprived of stability may grow up to need to bully, shame and deprive others. That may sound a bit like an "excuse", but no more than our biological drives are an excuse.

Elias Canetti has a similar theory: people who are forced or bullied to act by others carry a "sting" which has to be unloaded onto someone else. So groups which have very perfectionistic, strict and dogmatic beliefs about how people should behave build up a huge load of those "stings". When the inner tension can no longer be held inside, it is unleashed against an acceptable enemy, internal or external.

Michael




Thu Jun 09, 2005 8:20 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 3 - The Last People Alive..."
Quote:
That may sound a bit like an "excuse", but no more than our biological drives are an excuse.


I posted a quote from Diamond in another thread, but it applies here too: explaning an "evil" is not the same as excusing that evil. We can look at situations, like the Nazi horror, with a rational, exploratory eye and not excuse what happened by finding out why it did. What other way is there to learn from a past mistake?

Quote:
Elias Canetti has a similar theory: people who are forced or bullied to act by others carry a "sting" which has to be unloaded onto someone else.


Will a reality such as this carry on our "tit for tat" insanity in perpetuity? CAN we ever break free from this?

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




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