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Restored: "Prologue - A Tale of Two Farms." 
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Post Restored: "Prologue - A Tale of Two Farms."
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Wed Jun 08, 2005 1:31 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Prologue - A Tale of Two Farms."
misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1163
(3/26/05 4:46 pm)


I enjoyed the story of the two farms.

The prologue was good to set up the structure of the book. This explanation of Diamonds plan of attack should help us understand his method, whereas the Armstrong book caused much confusion/distraction for some readers.

Mr. P.



Helen Sos
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 2
(3/30/05 7:44 am)


I think the prologue does a great job of setting up the structure of the whole book. We know where we are heading right from the start and can't wait to get going. I really liked the way Diamond led up to his five-point framework of factors that can lead a society to collapse - the way he was expecting the book to be about environmental damage but it turned out to be much more complex.

Helen



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1206
(3/31/05 12:08 am)


p 9:

Quote:
Beginning with the first human colonization of the Australian continent around 46,000 years ago, and the subsequent prompt extinction of most of Austrailia's former giant marsupials and other large animals, every human colonization of a land mass formerly lacking humans...has been followed by a wave of extinction of large animals that had evolved without fear of humans and were easy to kill, or else succumbed to human-associated habitat changes, introduced pest species, and diseases.


Interesting. It seems that humans are indeed the disease that A. Smith dubbed us as in "The Matrix"!

I would be interested in finding out if other animals are as destructive with their environment as humans have been. It seems that our evolution into the 'inventive, efficient and skilled hunters' we are (were) is a double-edged sword, as is our tendency toward over indulgence when it comes to consuming just about anything. The more there is, the more we seem to consume. And Diamond states that this is not a current affair.

Just prior to the above quote, Diamond talks about past societies that have been responsible for creating their own environmental problems, offering the Native Hawiians, Maori and Native Americans as some examples. Ironically, modern "American and Australian whites" have gone to the extreme with this information as justification for usurping the land from these indigenous people. I say Ironic of course because look what these same people are doing today.

On the opposite extreme, the indigenous people try to paint a pretty picture of their history, stating that they were "wise stewards" of the land and were absolutely NOT responsible for any such abuse and label the 'whites' position as a simple case of racism. Of course and as usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. The problem, Diamond asserts, is that both these groups view past societies as "fundamentally different from...modern world peoples". Our means may be different, but the results are not. With all our knowledge we are just not a prudent species, even when it comes to our own survival.

Strong evidence now shows that an earlier "eden-like environmentalism" was not the case. Diamond asserts that the modern conception of indigenous people being the meticulous caretakers of the land they inhabited should not be a justification for treating these people fairly, for it creates the implication that "it would be ok to mistreat them" if this is not the case. His final statement is pretty straight forward: "It is morally wrong for one people to dispossess, subjugate, or exterminate another people". Seems reasonable.

Mr. P.



Loricat
Freshman
Posts: 72
(3/31/05 1:11 am)


Having only read the prologues of both Diamond books so far, I wonder at the bit quoted by Mr. P in the last post. In the prologue to "Germs, Guns & Steel", Diamond spends quite some time making his case for the human cause behind the extinction of the giant marsupials, but carefully maintains that this is just a theory. In this prologue, he jumps right in and makes the causality statement pretty baldly. Is this something he goes into more in the previous book, or is he just not clarifying this argument because he's got so many others to make?

I very much appreciate the way in which so clearly lays out his theoretical starting point, both in how he's going to structure the book, but also in clarifying the issues of racist (etc.) perceptions of the ideas.

I'm looking forward to this.

Lori



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 357
(3/31/05 2:19 am)


I would be interested in finding out if other animals are as destructive with their environment as humans have been.

As I understand the quoted passage, Diamond is talking specifically about the introduction of a species (humans) into a new environment (Australia). Not too many analogous cases where we can examine the migration of a species to a new environment spring to mind, mostly because other species don't bother looking for ways to overcome the geographical limitations that constrain them to a particular habitat. When a significant population enters a new biosphere (do people still use that term?) it's usually because some major geological event has precipitated that entrance. That's happened in human history as well, with the migration of trans-Siberian tribes into America via the Berring Straight.

That said, you can look at the introduction of species that sometimes takes place as a result of human migration. Migratory ships introduced the European grey squirrel into North America, and it has by now nearly dominated the indigenous red squirrel on the East coast. I believe something similar took place with the introduction of a particular kind of hare in the Outback, and the kudzu which covers nearly everything in the American South was introduced from China under a program enacted by FDR to halt the rapid development of gorges in middle Georgia due to soil erosion. What these examples apparantly illustrate is that the dominance of a species newly introduced to a given environment is a trait unique to humans, but rather an imbalance that occurs when a set of traits developed under a given set of environmental pressures just happen to give that species an advantage in a foreign environment. The new species, in turn, serves as the introduction of a new pressure, and the species who cannot adapt to that pressure are selected out. Which is all fine and well when you look at it from a strictly Darwinistic point of view, but when you look at it sociologically or humanistically, it's not so kosher when a human population enters a country and spreads diseases to which they are immune to natives who have had no time to develop immunities, as the colonizing European's did with the Native Americans, often deliberately.

It seems that our evolution into the 'inventive, efficient and skilled hunters' we are (were) is a double-edged sword, as is our tendency toward over indulgence when it comes to consuming just about anything.

That's certainly true of the First World civilization we currently live in. And Diamond may well have examples that show prior instances of hyper-consumptive culture, but I would say that, on the whole, previous European, Asiatic and pre-colonisation American cultures managed to strike a nice balance between consumption and conservativism (oops, did I just tie this back to Armstrong's "The Battle For God"?). I think it would be absurd to imagine a species that prospers without having some effect on its environment, and that effect will often take the form of a selective pressure. Unless it puts the species itself in danger of extinction, I'm not sure a Darwinistic viewpoint could find a serious fault in that.

Our means may be different, but the results are not.

They're not? I'm not sure that you could name any previous culture whose consumption had a direct influence on the average annual fluctuation of temperature on the planet. Nor of societies that could wipe out entire civilizations from a bunker several thousand miles away. Personally, I tend to agree with the camp that says that modernity has introduced some fundamental changes. And for all that, I'm still a classicist.

Strong evidence now shows that an earlier "eden-like environmentalism" was not the case.

That's the viewpoint of Romanticism, which, as George Steiner points out in his book "In Bluebeard's Castle", was itself indicative of the headlong rush into modern industrialized society.



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1220
(3/31/05 8:20 pm)


I knew you would not stay away for long! ;)

I will just say that everything up to this I agree with from your post, not that I disagree with:

Quote:
I think it would be absurd to imagine a species that prospers without having some effect on its environment, and that effect will often take the form of a selective pressure. Unless it puts the species itself in danger of extinction, I'm not sure a Darwinistic viewpoint could find a serious fault in that.



The one point I will bring up is that we are not talking about species here, just civilizations. Now many civilizations may have found a balance, but I refer to the overconsumption of those that 'collapsed' as relates to Diamond's book. Over all, I think that the human being is an over consumer of resources...maybe more now than in the past, but that just may be the result of our 'progress'.


Quote:
I'm not sure that you could name any previous culture whose consumption had a direct influence on the average annual fluctuation of temperature on the planet. Nor of societies that could wipe out entire civilizations from a bunker several thousand miles away.



We are capable of mass annihilation yes, but we have not done that. The potential is there...but has not been a factor, in the most drastic form, of any collapse. When I say "means...results" I mean relatively speaking. To a small civilization to crumble, you would not need nuclear war, just a hit hard enough so that they could not overcome the results.

Diamond alludes to this, and I dont know where in the book at this time, that the attention placed on nuclear annihilation and our destruction of the environment may prove to misplaced if other factors are ignored. I will try to find the section in which I saw that.

Mr. P.



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 361
(3/31/05 11:04 pm)


misterpessimistic: I knew you would not stay away for long!

Just dropping in to pretend that I know what I'm talking about.

The one point I will bring up is that we are not talking about species here, just civilizations.

I see. Do you think it would be safe to draw an analogy between a civilization and a population of a given species? That's generally the unit that we're dealing with when we look at migration in Darwinistic terms.

Not having read any of the book I can't comment much, but one question that you may want to ask yourself as you read is, What does Diamond mean when he talks about "civilizations"?

Over all, I think that the human being is an over consumer of resources...maybe more now than in the past, but that just may be the result of our 'progress'.

My reading suggests that it's not a question of progress as much as a question of social structure. Theoretically, we could have a progressive culture without putting our environment in danger of overstress. But that would require a reorganization of the framework in which our society works, which is the sort of thing that usually requires a top-down incentive. One of the ironies of our social situation is that democracy, even in a largely representative form, makes it difficult to instantiate sweeping reform.

We are capable of mass annihilation yes, but we have not done that. The potential is there...but has not been a factor, in the most drastic form, of any collapse.

From what I know of Diamond's thesis, that's part of what differentiates modern First World societies from the societies he's examining in "Collapse". The major objection I read to Diamond's thesis was that he's making an analogy between small island cultures and civilizations inhabiting entire continents -- an analogy that might not add up. It's hard to imagine what circumstances could lead to the total defoliation of North America, for instance, whereas the defoliation of a landmass the size of Easter Island is readily conceivable. But Diamond may have accounted for those differences of proportion -- unfortunately I'm probably not going to have time to join in on the reading this time, even if I drop in to comment every once in a while.



ginof
Lost in Space
Posts: 45
(4/25/05 10:36 pm)


I thought the prologue was pretty interesting. It took me a bit to get the full effect, though. For example, on p8 (at the top) he asks the question as to why some societies make it and some don't. However, he seems to ignore that some of these answers may be political. But then on p15, he does own up to this possibility.

on p10 he discusses the morality of what we are doing (i.e. treating native peoples fairly) but while his discussion is short, it is to the point.

I definitely liked the idea of the 5 point framework. It gives us a way to compare societies and their reactions across the various contexts.

p17 and the discussion of the comparative method is interesting. I think the most difficult issue in teh comparative method is that you are never sure if the real cause is some other variable that is correlated in existence with the one you are studying. Many times, you can narrow this down significantly, but can be difficult to be definitive.

I have to be honest, though. When I finished the prologue I felt that I should just jump to part 4 and see what the conclusion is! That's 400 pages from now. Yikes. Hopefully, it will be worth it.



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1375
(4/25/05 10:43 pm)


I am on Chapter 5 and I can say the read is good...and goes quick. I have not by any means read every day, in fact the last day I read before yesterday was over a week ago, and yet I still made progress.

Stick with it. You will find interesting info throughout. I can at least vouch for the first 5 chapters.

Hey ginof! how have you been?

Mr. P.



ginof
Lost in Space
Posts: 48
(4/25/05 11:03 pm)


Hey Mr. P.

I'm sticking with it as I definitely find this to be an interesting read. My other postings will describe what I see as the limits (I hope I'm wrong!)

Sorry I've been out of touch. I miss all the chat's because I'm on a plane thursday nights flying home. My schedule has been crazy as I was in the UK for a month in Oct/Nov and became a daddy in early January.



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1376
(4/26/05 12:34 pm)


Congrats on the new baby! Good to have you around for this discussion!

Mr. P.








Wed Jun 08, 2005 1:37 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Prologue - A Tale of Two Farms."
aquamarine05
Official Newbie
Posts: 6
(4/26/05 11:04 pm)


I am mostly through the Prologue and I have to agree with everyone in that I enjoy the way Diamond has clearly laid out his five point framework as well as the eight critical (and then later adds four more to make 12) factors that lead to a society's success or failure.

However, I felt as if the author was trying to be too politically correct with some statements, almost apologetic at points. I understand he wants to cover his butt just as much as anyone else in this age of tedious legalities and frivolous lawsuits. It was just a little much when he kept talking about how it is morally wrong to subjugate, dominate or basically take advantage of another group of people, specifically native peoples. (Although, I think he has a good point when he talks about how both native and modern peoples have contributed to deforestation and resource depletion) I guess I just expected that with his matter of fact style, he would treat domination from one group to another as a matter-of-fact point.

Being a minority (whatever that means now-a-days), I used to get very upset about anything that could come across negative about domination, racism, sexism, etc. The more educated I became, I realized that it has been a repeated pattern throughout history, which doesn't make it right, but that is what happened.

So, there I go....I critiqued the author for being too politically correct, then I go and cover my own butt by being politically correct....go figure.

I am enjoying Diamond's points so far and look forward to the rest....



wwdimmitt
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 3
(4/29/05 7:33 pm)


Regarding the exchange between the MadArchitect and Mr.P above, I would offer two observations/comments:

1. I think that there are many, many examples where new species have been imported into an ecosystem which was not adapted to or by them. I would argue that in every case of such a foreign introduction the new species was either wiped out very quickly due to climate, altitude, virulent disease, lack of food supply, or predators, or the new species found no barriers, and multiplied so rapidly that they were a major upset in the new ecosystem.

Obvious examples are the rabbits in Australia, the grass snakes in Hawaii, those marine snails on the Eastern Seaboard, and so forth. The failures are not so well known, but just think about tropical animals or plants in the arctic, or vice versa.

The exception to this rule is homo sapiens, the most adaptable animal on our planet. The only animal that has adapted to live in every lifezone on the planet, although in a few only temporarily, or with great mechanical assistance, as in underwater ecosystems.

When it comes to human beings, we have to be considered in a class by ourselves both as a threat to any environment, and as a possible conservator in any environment. No other species has the flexibilty and the power that we do to either destroy or save any ecosystem.

And no other species has the ability to make a concious decision regarding those actions.

2. The way that I see Diamond's argument is that, so far, there has been a steady, and inevitable progression of human organization from extended family groups, to tribal groups, to village groups, to chiefdom groups, to nations, and finally to multi-national groups that we have today, like the European Union.

If we are to be successful in maximizing scientific and technical progress, we must continue that trend. He argues very persuasivley that it was because Euroasia got an early start on agriculture that led them to bronze and iron, and that fueled the further concentration that led to Renaisance, and the technogical explosion that has occured since that time.

It logically follows that World Government is the next, and inevitable step. The only way to maximize our technology will be to rationalize all the human potential, and utilize all the natural resources in a more efficient manner.

History suggest that that is exactly what we will do, no matter what the cost may be to other species, or even to recalcitrant groups who resist that pressure within our own species.

How's that for a two-edged sword??
WW



MadArchitect
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Posts: 461
(4/30/05 4:21 am)


wwdimmitt: The exception to this rule is homo sapiens, the most adaptable animal on our planet.

I wouldn't say that we're an exception at all, and that if you look at various instances, you'll see that we've failed in some attempts to inhabit particular places, and that in all other instances we've overrun whatever environment we've settled in.

2. The way that I see Diamond's argument is that, so far, there has been a steady, and inevitable progression of human organization from extended family groups, to tribal groups, to village groups, to chiefdom groups, to nations, and finally to multi-national groups that we have today, like the European Union.

If that's part of Diamond's argument, then I would tend to disagree. The most glaring example of a retrograde progression would be the collapse of the Roman Empire and the return to less developed forms of social organization during the Middle Ages. That is by no means the only example, though. In fact, from what I've read in this forum, Diamond himself deals with the Maya, who went through a similar retrograde step from nations (or a multi-national group) back to the level of dispersed village groups.

It logically follows that World Government is the next, and inevitable step.

I think T.S. Eliot presents some very interesting and viable reasons why that idea is unlikely at best, and possibly even detrimental.




wwdimmitt
Official Newbie
Posts: 7
(4/30/05 2:58 pm)


that if you look at various instances, you'll see that we've failed in some attempts to inhabit particular places, and that in all other instances we've overrun whatever environment we've settled in.

Could you provide us with an example or two of those failures? Not an example of a temporary failure, but examples of any significant portion of the earth that we do not presently inhabit, and dominate??

I just got out my globe, and none are apparent to me. We have permanent facilities in Antarctica, which is surely the most inhospitable area of the earth on land. We live under the ocean for months on end. We traipse up and down Everest in virtual trains of mediocre climbers led by top notch climbers. We produce oil and minerals in the deepest deserts and the bottoms of the seas. We use space to enhance our technical powers and tools. Where are the areas that we have failed, for more than a brief period of time?


The most glaring example of a retrograde progression would be the collapse of the Roman Empire and the return to less developed forms of social organization during the Middle Ages

I apologize for being imprecise with my language. I did not mean to state or imply that the progression has smooth, or without some very significant bumps and jumps. I meant to state, that after you smooth out the regressions, the bumps and the jumps, the long run result is a progression to more and more centralized social and political organization for all human groups.

A prime example is what has happened to that former Roman Empire. The most ambitious centralization so far, the European Union now occupies nearly all of the former Empire, plus large areas and populations that were not included in the Roman Empire.

Would you care to articulate the reasons that the idea of world government is unlikely??

I understand many of the philosophical objections to that level of centralization of power, and the obvious dangers that it implies, but do you see any long term trends in human experience that make it unlikely??



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1383
(4/30/05 3:14 pm)


wwdimmitt:

I agree with much of your posts! Thanks for the excellent contributions!

I was going to comment on Mad's Roman Empire example, implying that progression to a world government would/could/may not happen. I saw it as a hiccup as well...a momentary slide backward followed by a quick thrust into the next gear.

Mr. P.



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 462
(5/1/05 3:23 am)


wwdimmitt: Not an example of a temporary failure, but examples of any significant portion of the earth that we do not presently inhabit, and dominate??

That would, I think, be a false guideline. A proper analogy would deal with populations, and not humanity as an entire species. After all, you could look at the gray squirrel, who have more or less taken over the eastern seaboard after their introduction by European migrant vessels, as a representative of squirreldom as a whole, but it would be rather misleading to do so.

We have permanent facilities in Antarctica, which is surely the most inhospitable area of the earth on land.

None of those are permanent habitats, though. They're all scientific research facilities, which means temportary inhabitants, cycled out over time. You could probably count first generation Antarticans on one hand.

Where are the areas that we have failed, for more than a brief period of time?

Until we have inhabited the ocean, the Artics, and space for entire generation, I hesitate to consider them conquered territory.

I did not mean to state or imply that the progression has smooth, or without some very significant bumps and jumps.

Personally, I don't believe in progress as an unbroken line, and I would say that the progress of the post-Victorian era is substantially and qualitatively different than the progress of the Roman Empire. Any long-term view of history as strictly progressive is likely revisionist at best.

Would you care to articulate the reasons that the idea of world government is unlikely??

Eliot's rationale is that cultural differences are necessary in order to make culture recognizable at all, and that without culture as a conscious part of social integration, we're very likely to fall into a pluralistic political oppostionalism. The gist is that absolute uniformity is not identity at all, but the opposite: non-identity, leading into absolute dissintegration. Personally, I think that difference of opinion is so ubiquitous that the only way to achieve "World Governance" is via either the abstraction of governance to a untenable mediocrit, or through the worst form of totalitarianism imaginable, of the sort that would have given Orwell the heeby-jeebies.

I understand many of the philosophical objections to that level of centralization of power, and the obvious dangers that it implies, but do you see any long term trends in human experience that make it unlikely??

A close look at nearly any industrialized nation on the planet is likely to reveal a population that is virulently divided on every major issue (which is more or less how we define the notion of a "major issue"), so yes, I see just as many trends in human experience that would make total centralization unlikely.

misterpessimistic: I saw it as a hiccup as well...a momentary slide backward followed by a quick thrust into the next gear.

Let's bear in mind that this particular hiccup lasted all of about a fourth of recorded history, and that the period of organization prior to the fall was achieved largely by the imperialistic oppression of anyone who was not Roman by birth. Rather than the hiccup that was the Middle Ages, perhaps we should take some time to scrutinize the belch that was Roman progress.




misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1388
(5/1/05 11:15 am)


Quote:
A close look at nearly any industrialized nation on the planet is likely to reveal a population that is virulently divided on every major issue (which is more or less how we define the notion of a "major issue";)


Yet, they continue to function. There will always be opposing sides, should we give up on national government too by this reasoning?

Quote:
Let's bear in mind that this particular hiccup lasted all of about a fourth of recorded history,


And lets bear in mind that our recorded history is but a hiccup compared to the totality of recorded and unrecorded history combined.

Mr. P.



wwdimmitt
Kinda New Still
Posts: 12
(5/1/05 12:30 pm)


A proper analogy would deal with populations, and not humanity as an entire species.

A reasonable argument, except that it begs the question. Is the human species unique in its ability to adapt, or not?? In order to answer that question it will be necessary to deal with the whole species, which is what I see Diamond attempting to do.

Until we have inhabited the ocean, the Artics, and space for entire generation, I hesitate to consider them conquered territory.

Yes, I agree with your point here, but I find it interesting that you chose to say "conquered territory". I was think in terms of "occupied", or "employed" territory. I'll have to think about that one. But, I still maintain that there has been a trend for several centuries, and at an accelerating rate, that our technology is expanding to employ resources from every corner of the planet, no matter how difficult the local conditions may be.

Any long-term view of history as strictly progressive is likely revisionist at best.

I think that that is one of the premises that Diamond is attempting to refute. I would refer you to his chart labeled, "Factors Underlying the Broader Pattern of History", in Chap. 4 of GGS. In my copy it is at page 87.

It is a major part of his argument that an east-west axis, the availability of plants and animals for domestication, and the resulting food surpluses are the ultimate factors leading to human success in dominating the entire planet. So far.

And one of the primary proximate factors growing from those ultimate factors is technology.

The gist is that absolute uniformity is not identity at all, but the opposite: non-identity, leading into absolute disintegration.

I think I would tend to agree with that statement, but where do you see the trend toward "absolute uniformity"?

The more technology expands, and diversifies, the less we have uniformity.
I used to be concerned that our media were becoming too uniform, but along comes the Internet and just the opposite happens.

In my youth there were 3 networks on television. Now I receive 300 channels on my satellite, and the range of subject matter and viewpoint seems to grow every year. ( I just wish that the production quality would grow with the variety!)

Personally, I think that difference of opinion is so ubiquitous that the only way to achieve "World Governance" is via either the abstraction of governance to a untenable mediocrit, or through the worst form of totalitarianism imaginable, of the sort that would have given Orwell the heeby-jeebies.

Why is it that a very effective model like our Federal Republic, based on the tenets of the Declaration of Independence can work successfully for the largest and most diverse economy on the planet, but that a similar worldwide Republic, based on the same tenets, would not work for the whole planet??

Do you see our government as an "untenable mediocrity"?

A close look at nearly any industrialized nation on the planet is likely to reveal a population that is virulently divided on every major issue (which is more or less how we define the notion of a "major issue";) , so yes, I see just as many trends in human experience that would make total centralization unlikely.

This statement seems to be directly opposed to your argument in the paragraphs above. We have steadily, but jerkily, for at least 3000 years, been moving to centralize political power, culture and language.

The effect of this centralization has been to greatly increase food production on the whole planet, and through that to make technological progress (change?) possible.

Why would we reverse, or abandon, this long term trend before reaching the ultimate level of having one world government?

Do you think it is possible to maximize our use of Earth's resources and to maximize our technological possibilities if we don't continue the trend toward worldwide centralization??

What if it is the key to developing practical space travel?



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 462
(5/1/05 11:14 pm)


misterpessimistic: Yet, they continue to function.

Whether or not nations divided on major issues continue to function depends a great deal on the scope of affairs. Look at the history of just about any nation in a large enough time frame and you'll see that they almost invariably fail to continue functioning. If you look only at the nations that are currently in existence, you might come to the conclusion that they're fairly stable entities. But the current roster of functioning nations makes up only a small percentage of total number of nations that have existed throughout history. Even within our own lifetimes we've seen the geo-political landscape change radically in major sections of the global political theater. I won't deny the possibility of consolidated world governance, but the story that history tends to tell is that global and near-global consolidation are usually only made possible by conquest rather than consensus, and that such empire tend not to outlive whatever social or individual genius has facilitated them, cf. the Roman Empire, the empire of Alexander, the empire of Napolean, the Chu and Chin empires, the English empire, etc.

And lets bear in mind that our recorded history is but a hiccup compared to the totality of recorded and unrecorded history combined.

And do you propose to analyze social institutions based on inferences drawn from unrecorded history? Recorded history is our best resource for understanding the life-cycle of social institutions. You can dismiss historical analysis if you like, but all that does is set our discussion adrift with no hope of providing a foundation -- unless, of course, you hope to use the ideology of Progress as a basis.

wwdimmitt: Is the human species unique in its ability to adapt, or not??

Adapt in what sense? The entire intellectual foundation of modern science rests on the assumption (corraborated by observation) that all species adapt. But I think the point is somewhat confused by the jargoned uses of the term "adapt". What we observe in human populations is not adaptation in the strictly evolutionary sense. We have seen, in the what you might call the eras of Progress, very little human adaptation. What we have seen is innovation, particularly social and technological innovation, but there are some characteristics which distinguish this innovation from adaptation. An important one is that innovation does not, and may not have to the potential to, individuate species. That underwater breathing apparatus has allowed us to survive in what would otherwise be an environment to hostile to explore is not likely to result in a new evolutionary branch of humanity, whereas the adaptation of land animals to survive underwater would result in a new species, distinct and irrecoverably cut off from the old. Another distinguishing characteristic is that innovations may be shed, not only by the individual but by the society and, conceivably, by the species as a whole. An example of the first would be the removal of SCUBA gear by a diver; of the second, the abandonment by 20th century Europeans of the telegraph; and of the third, the hypothetical abandonment of horseback-riding in the event of an equine extinction.

But, I still maintain that there has been a trend for several centuries, and at an accelerating rate, that our technology is expanding to employ resources from every corner of the planet, no matter how difficult the local conditions may be.

This is a trend that I think will eventually prove itself to be untenable as a long-term strategy.

I would refer you to his chart labeled, "Factors Underlying the Broader Pattern of History", in Chap. 4 of GGS. In my copy it is at page 87.

I'll see if I can find a copy. If you haven't read elsewhere, I'm conducting this conversation more or less blind to its instigating source. In other words, I'm not reading "Collapse", and don't plan to until I can clear away a good 20-30 books that have a better claim to my time.

It is a major part of his argument that an east-west axis, the availability of plants and animals for domestication, and the resulting food surpluses are the ultimate factors leading to human success in dominating the entire planet.

To call that progess seems to me dangerously close to implying a form of design. At the very least, the word "progress" indicated linear direction. That's a problematic notion, particularly in that we are viewing the whole of history from a supposed end-point, or from near that end-point. Any time you speak of historical progress, it's important to ask, at least implicitly, "progress in reference to what?" If the answer is, "in reference to the state of things as they are right now", then of course a general view of history will reveal that events have tended towards this point. But that's a rather facile, circular view of progress, and it is not sufficient, I think, as a basis for charting a cultural trajectory into the future.

I think I would tend to agree with that statement, but where do you see the trend toward "absolute uniformity"?

A centralized world government would be an absolute uniformity of governance, even if smaller geo-political units were allowed to retain certain aspects of governance on a local level. Even then, in order to sustain itself, a global government would have to dictate that certain forms of local governance were untenable because of their incompatability with the global governance. The result would be a tendency towards absolute uniformity, where local governance is determined by decisions made in reference to the superior body rather than to the conditions unique to the smaller geopolitical region.

I used to be concerned that our media were becoming too uniform, but along comes the Internet and just the opposite happens.

My experience suggests that the internet is become more and more uniform as it ages, and that the peripheral technologies that have been added to it allow increasingly sophisticated presentation and method, but are directed to fewer and fewer forms of content. To cast it in a biological metaphor, the population may be getting larger, but the adaptations and variations are growing more and more cosmetic.

Why is it that a very effective model like our Federal Republic, based on the tenets of the Declaration of Independence can work successfully for the largest and most diverse economy on the planet, but that a similar worldwide Republic, based on the same tenets, would not work for the whole planet??

Quite frankly, I would say that the problems encountered in the American federal republic are due in very large part to the application of its methods to a population that is only just small enough to sustain order. The larger our population grows, the more strain is put on the governmental form. I hesitate to put it in a time frame, but it seems clear to me that our present form of governance is ultimately unsustainable, and will either undergo heavy alteration or total collapse in the foreseeable future.

We have steadily, but jerkily, for at least 3000 years, been moving to centralize political power, culture and language.

I don't know that you can really attribute that tendency to a span as large as 3000 years. After all, during that time we've seen the breakdown of Latin into the Romance languages, and prior to that the proliferation of Indo-European languages from proto-Indo European. Political power hasn't so much consolidated or centralized as it has tended towards expression in larger forms, but even there we find that centralization and consolidation tend as often to occur in artificial circumstances, as with the binding of the Russian regions under the Soviet regime and their eventual dissolution into the so-called Soviet states. The centralizations in culture, language and politics in evendence now are all largely the result of the popularization of the nationalist ideal during the 17th century, but there's no garuntee that the forces which mobilized that ideal will still be effective in the centuries to come, just as the present and intervening centuries have given lie to the idea that the democratic city-state was the eternal form of the highest possible state. Personally, I think there are compelling reasons to believe that the structures that seem to most in the first world to be an obviously progressive step are sturcturally dependent on certain cultural mores and preconceptions that are as likely to change as the mores and preconceptions of previous centuries.

Why would we reverse, or abandon, this long term trend before reaching the ultimate level of having one world government?

The short form answer is: because we feel some incentive to do so. The long form answer will have to be the subject of a longer discussion. But then, I don't think it's patently obvious that a single global government is the ideal scenario, and there are very likely a great number of people who would agree.

Do you think it is possible to maximize our use of Earth's resources and to maximize our technological possibilities if we don't continue the trend toward worldwide centralization??

That depends on what you mean by maximize. To maximize without conservable limits, or merely to maximize regardless? And maximize towards what end? That's a crucial question when it comes to the matter of total centralization, because the fact of our condition is that our centralization requires a center. So when you speak of worldwide centralization, it seems clear to me that such discourse implies a center, very likely one premised on a given ideology, even if that discourse fails to name a center.

What if it is the key to developing practical space travel?

Then I'd say we'd better damn well make it to space before we exhaust our resources, and hope that our entrance into space rewards us with further resources. I wouldn't say that's a very good plan, though. Imagine feudal China running clean out of resources, then setting out across the Gobi to find more resources. It wouldn't have been a very promising venture, to say the least.






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Post Re: Restored: "Prologue - A Tale of Two Farms."
wwdimmitt
Kinda New Still
Posts: 15
(5/2/05 1:13 pm)


MadArchitect:

If you look only at the nations that are currently in existence, you might come to the conclusion that they're fairly stable entities. But the current roster of functioning nations makes up only a small percentage of total number of nations that have existed throughout history

It would be easy to fall into a purely semantic argument here, but hopefully we can avoid that dead end.

What is a "nation"? Diamond does not use the term nation in his hierarchy of human societies in GGS. His categories are: Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, and State. The Characteristics that he analyzes for each of these forms are: Number of People; Settlement Pattern; Basis of relationship; Ethnicities and Language; Decision making leadership; Bureaucracy; Monopoly of force and information; Conflict resolution; Hierarchy of settlement; Religion justifies kleptocracy?; Food production; Division of labor; Exchanges; Control of land; Society stratified; slavery; Luxury goods for elite; Public architecture and Indigenous literacy.

His baseline for a "state" is a population of more than 50,000, so by that yardstick, there have indeed been a great many nations in human history. And, of course, all of them are gone except for the 200 plus that exist on the planet today.

Personally, I think that "nation" is considerably more restrictive, and more centralized, than Diamond's definition of a state, and that there were only a handful of nations prior to the 17th Century.

Whereas today, there are only a handful of human societies in existence which are not a nation. There are some aboriginal societies in isolated spots and on islands, and the rest of the planets human population is organized in nations.

And my second point would also disagree completely with your assertion. I think that today's nations are anything but stable. There is a tornado of activity of forming and reforming nations since the beginning of the 19th Century. I believe that the US is the oldest, continuous democratic form of government on the planet, isn't it?? Barely a drop in the bucket, even if we restrict ourselves to recorded history.

I think that Diamond would agree that human centralization has always been by conquest, and will probably continue to be by conquest.

Surely we "conquered" the Soviet Union, even though the tools of conquest were economic, cultural, technological and intellectual, rather than overt militarism.

Although we constantly threatened militarism, and used it whenever we deemed it to be necessary!

This is getting too long. I will break here and start a new post on another portion of your argument.



wwdimmitt
Kinda New Still
Posts: 16
(5/2/05 1:53 pm)


MadArchitect:

Quote:
I'm conducting this conversation more or less blind to its instigating source. In other words, I'm not reading "Collapse", and don't plan to until I can clear away a good 20-30 books that have a better claim to my time



It is quite amusing that the most engaged discussion on the current book is being carried on by two people who have not even begun to read it!! LOL

I plan to get it this week and I doubt it will take me very long to read it. In the meantime, I think there is some benefit in discussing some of the issues that Diamond raised in GGS, which has not been very rigorously examined either.

I have read several reviews and a few excerpts, so have some vague idea of what the author is arguing in Collapse.

The discussion is interesting, in any case!

Quote:
Any time you speak of historical progress, it's important to ask, at least implicitly, "progress in reference to what?" If the answer is, "in reference to the state of things as they are right now", then of course a general view of history will reveal that events have tended towards this point. But that's a rather facile, circular view of progress, and it is not sufficient, I think, as a basis for charting a cultural trajectory into the future.


Absolutely correct, and a caveat that every poster should keep in mind at all times.

Nevertheless, if we are to have any conversation of interest and speculation, we must start from this false, and shaky, platform. Plato has a whole discourse on this issue, I believe.

Any other basis for attempting to identify and chart a cultural trajectory is even more speculative. We can only see, and interpret, history from where we are, using what we can glean from the past. We have no input from the future, and little promise of ever having any.

Various religions offer their several alternatives, but I find them to not persuasive.

Quote:
The result would be a tendency towards absolute uniformity, where local governance is determined by decisions made in reference to the superior body rather than to the conditions unique to the smaller geopolitical region.


No, I disagree. I am willing to accept that the result will be a general uniformity, or at the very least, a relative uniformity, but not a universal uniformity.

Once again we wander wander toward semanticism, but it is an important issue.

In my lexicon universal uniformity smacks of totalitarianism, and examples like China's regression technologically, or the Soviet Union's economic stalemate, demonstrate why that choice fails to utilize the creativity and adaptability of our species.

Quote:
The short form answer is: because we feel some incentive to do so. The long form answer will have to be the subject of a longer discussion. But then, I don't think it's patently obvious that a single global government is the ideal scenario, and there are very likely a great number of people who would agree.


Feeling the incentive to do so is only the first step in that process, and it is not sufficient for success.

It is also necessary to create some other structure that solves the perceived problems of humanity more successfully.

Until we are thrown off the top of the heap and some other species becomes dominant.

Quote:
Imagine feudal China running clean out of resources, then setting out across the Gobi to find more resources. It wouldn't have been a very promising venture, to say the least.


An interesting hypothetical, except it isn't what happened. Instead China exported many important agricultural, technological and cultural advances to Western Europe, Pacific Oceana and Japan, and resources have not been exhausted, yet.

I think that the drive to survive will keep us from ever exhausting the resources.

When it doesn't, we will become extinct.



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 464
(5/2/05 11:49 pm)


wwdimmitt: What is a "nation"? Diamond does not use the term nation in his hierarchy of human societies in GGS. His categories are: Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, and State.

Again, I can't accurately conjecture what Diamond would have to say about the subject as I haven't read his books, but based on popular usage and other readings (for example, Machiavelli, "The Prince") I'd label the nation a form of state. I don't know that I'd attempt to define it in terms of population alone, though. In particular, I think one of the notable characteristics of the state is that it binds together peoples who might not find commonalities to bind them together otherwise. Americans, for example, seem to be bound by little more than their shared national identity, which is itself characterized by little more than citizenship in a given nation.

Whereas today, there are only a handful of human societies in existence which are not a nation.

I don't think that's the case at all. Rather, there are only a handful of societies which do not exist within a nation, if any. But habitation within a nation's borders does not flatten the social aspect -- to wit, there are a plurality of societies existing within nearly every nation. T.S. Eliot is, again, helpful in this regard. He marks three general levels of culture: individual culture, the culture of the group or society, and the culture of the whole society, of which the individual and group are subsidiaries. Nearly every society, even the conglomerate society of the nation, may said to be contained (more or less) by the whole society of the world, in as much as intercommunication permeates that whole society.

I think that today's nations are anything but stable. There is a tornado of activity of forming and reforming nations since the beginning of the 19th Century.

That doesn't contradict my viewpoint at all, and given that agreement, I find it curious that you'd think a centralized world government of any permanence would be likely to emerge from such a tornado of activity.

Surely we "conquered" the Soviet Union, even though the tools of conquest were economic, cultural, technological and intellectual, rather than overt militarism.

I shouldn't think so. It seems more apt to me to say that the Soviet Union was an empire that collapsed under its own structural instability, as is apt to happen within any large state body.

It is quite amusing that the most engaged discussion on the current book is being carried on by two people who have not even begun to read it!!

Quite likely because we don't feel constrained by the subject matter, since we're not really talking about it. But, until someone runs us out of this thread...

Nevertheless, if we are to have any conversation of interest and speculation, we must start from this false, and shaky, platform.

Well, I think it would be a worthwhile exercise to at least attempt to construct an alternate and equally valid viewpoint. The question it might be worthwhile to ask -- and this is, perhaps, a subject deserving its own thread -- "How can we describe or define historical progress in such a way as to avoid the criticism that our answer is merely a justification of our own ideology?"

Plato has a whole discourse on this issue, I believe.

Which do you have in mind? I've read somewhere around half of all the extant dialogues, and I'd be interested to look up the passage, either to understand your interpretation if it's one I've read, or to start a new one altogether.

In my lexicon universal uniformity smacks of totalitarianism, and examples like China's regression technologically, or the Soviet Union's economic stalemate, demonstrate why that choice fails to utilize the creativity and adaptability of our species.

One of my concerns is that a centralized world government will facilitate totalitarianism. After all, if there are no other governments to oppose systematic state injustice, the only avenue of deliberate change is internal, ie. revolution. But in a body as encompassing as a global government, how could organized resistence in any given locality hope to stand against the army of literally the whole world?



wwdimmitt
Totally Clueless
Posts: 21
(5/3/05 10:11 am)


Hey, lets have someone else take part here. Is this stuff so uniteresting that you all have nothing to say, nothing to disagree with, or to add??

Mad:

Quote:
Rather, there are only a handful of societies which do not exist within a nation, if any. But habitation within a nation's borders does not flatten the social aspect -- to wit, there are a plurality of societies existing within nearly every nation.


Well, in my mind that is a difference without a useful distinction. The same was true when family bands joined together in villages, and when villages joined together in a chiefdom, and when chiefdoms were conglomerated into states.

Every modern nation, except China, is a fairly recent conglomeration of smaller social units into more complex ones.

Russia/Soviet Union is a prime example, far more complex than the United States, and still in very active flux. Very different kinds of local societies were joined/forced into the Soviet Union, then it fell apart, and now many of the former Soviet Republics are aggressively seeking membership in the European Union.

It is a necessity that larger social units of the future are made up of a conglomeration of smaller units from the past, if there is to be an increasing conglomeration. And that is exactly the pattern we see, on every continent.

The Dialogue of Plato I had in mind is Book VII of The Republic, the analogy of the prisoners in the cave facing the light outside the cave. I remember it as a discourse about appearance and reality, and the process of learning new and different intellectual material. But I haven't read it for several years.



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1393
(5/4/05 8:20 pm)


Quote:
Hey, lets have someone else take part here. Is this stuff so uniteresting that you all have nothing to say, nothing to disagree with, or to add??


Hope I do not sound dour here, but I see many good posts in other threads in this forum. I think everyone has done a good job with the contributions.

It is only one month so far...and already 130 posts. If this keeps up, we should break 300 on this book!

Mr. P.



That is the entire thread we almost lost forever...





Wed Jun 08, 2005 1:49 pm
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