Response to Roissy

Roissy disagrees with me. I respond at length here.

Robin Hanson has been beating the drum on his liberaltarian wet dream known as the forager/farmer thesis in a series of posts. Basically, “liberal” values and lifestyle are a reflection of humanity’s ancient forager (hunter-gatherer) ways, while “conservative”, or traditional, values and lifestyle are emergent properties of our relatively more recent 10,000 year old farmer (agricultural) heritage.

Yup, so far so good.

Modern foragers in the form of cafe-loitering SWPLs … are essentially freeriding on the industrial and moral substrates that were created by rules-following and hierarchical farmer ancestors. Thanks to their comfy livings and safe environments, elite cosmopolitan liberals in Western societies are returning to the values and lifestyles of their distant forager forebears, while modern traditionalists hew to more rigid codes of conduct and warn them (in so many words) that all foraging and no farming makes Jack a weak boy.

All of us, liberals and conservatives alike, free-ride on institutions, technology, morals, and inherited from our ancestors. While some conservatives suggest our civilization is on the verge of collapse because we’ve forsaken farmer morals, I make no such claim. Oh I’m a bit worried about risks from moving to forager practices in an industrial world, but being rich we can afford to take some risks. I suspect we’ll find good uses for farmer ways down the road, but there’s no crisis at the moment.

Hanson relies for much of his speculative evidence on the Sex At Dawn book, which I promiscuously manhandled here. But there’s too much wrong with the claims made by that book to sufficiently lend support to the Forager vs Farmer (i.e., liberal vs conservative) thesis of clashing values and lifestyles. For instance, Hanson and Ryan elide the force of jealousy in shaping human sexual dynamics. … Just about every polyamorous, free love utopia/forager commune that has been tried in historical record has utterly failed.

When I say foragers were more promiscuous than farmers, I don’t mean they weren’t picky about sex partners, nor that they didn’t get jealous. I mean they changed partners lots more often than farmers do. On sources, I’ve been reading lots of anthropology books and articles this year, trying to see what they seem to agree on; I’m not relying much on Sex at Dawn at all.

Hanson and Ryan claim foragers are/were nonviolent compared to farmers. But from everything I’ve read on the matter, that is wrong as well.

Perhaps you read S. Pinker and maybe L. Keeley, like the other bloggers?  On war, most anthropologists seem to disagree. Sex at Dawn gets that right.

Finally, a big point of Hanson’s repackaged thesis is that “rich and safe” modern foragers … pursue and advocate a promiscuous lifestyle. Except the data show that isn’t necessarily true. Higher IQ men place greater value on monogamy and sexual exclusivity and are less likely to cheat than lower IQ men.

I don’t see what IQ has to do with this at all. Norms and practices have clearly moved in the direction of increased tolerance for promiscuity over the last century, though of course they aren’t remotely near an extreme free love scenario. My claim has been that we’ve moved in the forager direction as we’ve gotten rich; I’m not claiming we’ve moved all the way there.

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  • http://www.thefaithheuristic.com Justin Martyr

    What, you read S. Pinker and maybe T. Kealey, like the other bloggers? Sorry, they aren’t anthropologists, and anthropologists seem to disagree. Sex at Dawn gets that right.

    I don’t know who T. Kealey is, but Lawrence Keeley is an anthropologist and he makes a persuasive case for primitive warfare in War Before Civilization. Steven LeBlanc is an archeologist and he makes similar arguments about primitive warfare.

    Is there any serious modern research that defends the view of the peaceful savage? I’d be very interested if there were.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Ah, I got the wrong Ke*ley name – thanks for catching my error.

    • http://www.thefaithheuristic.com Justin Martyr

      Hi Robin,

      I’m less concerned about the spelling error than the fact that he, pace your assertion to the contrary, an anthropologist. Moreover, I’m not aware of any serious challenges to the types of arguments that he, LeBlanc, Chagnon, Edgerton, and others in “post-blank slate anthropology” make about primitive warfare.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      I discuss the issue here, and Sex at Dawn Chapter 13 gets this mostly right.

      • http://www.thefaithheuristic.com Justin Martyr

        I read the linked post but I do not think that view is tenable. Foragers, which are about as uncorrupted of a society as we can get, are quite warlike.

        1. Environmental depletion As Steven LeBlanc points out in Constant Battles, archeological evidence of foragers shows that they have population growths of about 2% per year. Moreover, foragers who live on relatively small islands tend to go extinct because they slowly overuse their resources. Slow but steady population growth and and slow but steady environmental deplation = warfare.

        2. Modern foragers There are three classic foragers today: The !Kung, the Australian Aborigines, and the Innuit. They are all quite warlike. The !Kung have been depicted as noble savages, but that is only in modern times. In the more recent past they had very high rates of warfare. I believe that Keeley talks about this. 19th century accounts of aborigines, another pure forager, show that they are warlike. Ethnographies such as by Ernest Burch show that the Innuit are warlike. They had armor and delicate but powerful composite bows that are too fragile to be a daily use hunting weapon.

        3. Archeological evidence. Archeology from the upper Paleolithic shows widespread warfare. For example, skeletons with blows to the head and cut marks to the bones. There are villages with defensive structures such as mammoth bones to make a wall. There are mass burials of fighting-age males.

        4. Multilevel selection. From a theoretical perspective, strong social norms for cohesive group behavior in primitive societies are almost certainly maintained by warfare with other groups.

        That’s just a few quickies that I can put together. I’m really surprised that people are seriously arguing for the peaceful forager.

      • http://huntgatherlove.com Melissa

        Justin, the problem is that none of the modern forager cultures studied are our paleolithic ancestors. The Inuit, for example, live in a part of the Earth that has only fairly recently been inhabited by humans.

        As for skeletal evidence, I can only find case reports and not population surveys. There is very good evidence for cannibalism however…whether it was on people who were already dead from other causes is up for debate. But either way, that’s one aspect of forager culture I don’t think Robin wants us to emulate….

      • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

        Melissa:
        Justin, the problem is that none of the modern forager cultures studied are our paleolithic ancestors. The Inuit, for example, live in a part of the Earth that has only fairly recently been inhabited by humans.

        Perhaps, but they’re the only foragers that we can study in great detail. If one wants to posit that we had non-warlike foragers as ancestors, then it seems to me that one faces an uphill battle in terms of evidence. Archaeological evidence tends to be very patchy and really never catches the full picture of what a society was like.

        So, while it’s fair to point out that modern foragers live in different environments and perhaps have other factors that prevent them from being a good model for our forager ancestors, it doesn’t seem to me to be good reason to suggest that better evidence is available to supersede what we know about modern foragers.

  • Evan

    I am not entirely sure what Roissy means by foraging making us “weak.” Sure, we might be dumping some useful farming mores, but others are probably just as useless in an industrial world as farming mores. In fact, some are probably even more so. Being cosmopolitan forager is very useful in the modern world of free trade. Other farmer values, like our culture’s pervasive dislike of homosexuality, seem to serve no really useful purpose and got stuck onto the farmer values as baggage. Let’s also not forget the highly economically inefficient way traditional societies treated women. Not that Roissy would care since he seems to think women are evil mutants.

  • Vladimir

    Neither Roissy nor Robin Hanson mention what seems to me like the biggest problem with the whole “SWPLs as foragers” theory, namely the issue of individual versus state violence.

    The question of whether farming caused an increase or decrease in warfare is different from the one I have in mind, which is: what about the general attitude towards the use of violence by individuals and small informal groups? One would expect that foragers were fierce and proud individuals who saw it as their personal prerogative to react violently to any threat, aggression, or provocation, whereas farmers would be much more likely to see violence as the monopoly of the authoritarian and hierarchical powers that lord over them, and to be much more afraid and reluctant to engage in any violent action themselves, preferring instead to cower and plead for their lord’s protection, or to submit to a violent invader if their lord is unable or unwilling to defend them.

    Now clearly, in the present conservative-liberal conflict, liberals appear to be firmly on the “farmer” side here, as evidenced by all the controversies over gun laws, castle doctrine laws, legal scope of self-defense, various forms of vigilantism, etc. If liberals are rejecting the farmers’ puritanism and rediscovering the forager sexual norms, why aren’t they also rejecting the farmers’ submission to the powers-that-be and rediscovering the forager ways when it comes to the personal and informal use of violence? For all I see, they seem to be going in the exact opposite direction.

    • Miguel Madeira

      I am a Portuguese, that I don’t know the details of american politics very well.

      However, my impression is that “liberals” are against private violence because they are usually against violence in general (they also claim to be anti-war, anti-police brutality, etc.), not because they prefer state violence to private violence; mutatis mutandis for the conservatives.

      Perhaps the only current who takes the side of private violence against state violence is the libertarians (and eventually some radical socialists, who are in favor of the “people in arms”)

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  • burger flipper

    Why bother answering Jimbo’s screed? Very astute at gauging individuals, and probably the best writer of the bloggers I read, but his big picture takes are pretty weak.

  • tal

    Robin, I believe the unstated premise in Roissy’s comments about IQ are that higher IQ people are wealthier. So among our current population, on average the wealthiest people are the least promiscuous (not sure if that’s true, but I think that’s the claim).

    • michael vassar

      If you have spent time with middle class and wealthy people, even a little time, that claim is obviously false. The wealthy are MUCH more promiscuous in my observation.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        My first response is always to examine the General Social Survey. My results are here.

    • Jack

      If that is the claim, it is a lazy way to make it. Studies on the relationship between wealth and promiscuity abound and the correlations are positive.

  • Matt

    To be honest I still don’t get why you are debating this with a PUA rather than an anthropologist?

    With violence, specifically, we know the high point of Medival European mortality was between 1% and 0.1% of the population (with a minumum around 0.33 and a median around 0.5%), while violence falls to around 1/20000 by 1600. We know that foragers have mortality rates at around 1/2500 and 1/3000 for the African foragers Hadza and !Kung (who are probably the most peaceful foragers) – http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/life_history/aging_evolution/hill_2007_hiwi_mortality.html. The generally violent character of foragers relative to post-Renaissance European farmers, at least, is well established.

    So we should expect a regression to forager norms (from say, 1600-1900 farmer norms) to cause an increase in violence. Perhaps this has happened (perhaps it helps to explain American violence?). What could confound this?

  • Anthony

    Robin – have you completely missed the amusement value of one of the internet’s most outspoken foragers defending farmer values (for everyone else)?

    • burger flipper

      I’m not gonna bother to hunt it down, but Jimbo himself has written that what’s good for him, other greater betas, and alphas is not good for society as a whole.

      • Lasse Birk Olesen

        He actually states it in his reply to Hanson in the end: “I say this as someone who lives to the fullest the modern, promiscuous forager lifestyle. I know its personal appeal, and its immolating potential for the wider society.”

  • poozle

    What is the point of taking Roissy’s argument seriously? He’s a misogynistic neo-nazi who clothes truly noxious ideas in a veneer of eloquent and pornographic prose.

  • http://zatavu.blogspot.com Troy Camplin

    The Nobel Savage myth is precisely that. Pinker provides actual data to support his points. Too many anthropologists are still influenced by Rousseau and SSSM. Read Victor Turner about how even he succumbed to the tendency to see what you are “supposed” to see in the field. Turner revolutionized anthropology by pointing out that native cultures change; but he did so because he first made the mistake of thinking that he was seeing structures that were no longer there, then realized his mistake. In that case, the people he was studying made fun of him, so it was a bit easier to know he was making mistakes. But in studying things like mortality due to war, you’re less likely to run into such internal correctives. And you’re also unlikely to have anyone else studying the same group to confirm your studies. And you may be studying them between the wars (as Pinker observes, imagine studying Europe 1920-1925, not knowing there had been a war a few years earlier).

    I am seeing a lot of Noble Savage romanticizing here. I have suggested before that there is a much, much, much better, more accurate model that takes into consideration the full complexity of human thought and society in Clare Graves’s psychology. That would go a long way toward creating a better model than what you have here, which is increasingly muddled precisely because you are comparing things too dissimilar. As I said before, once you say that impersonal network structures on massive scales result in the same kind of person as intimate familial structures, there is something severely wrong with the model.

  • Eric

    The argument about level of violence in foragers vs. farmers is on the wrong technological axis. There is nothing about the change in how we get food (and the resulting changes in how we compose our tribes/societies) that alters the underlying biological nature of aggression. In the scope of human evolution the whole process of growing food is an insignificant blip and cannot possibly represent a change in how violent we are. We as animals are fairly violent towards each other and towards other animals.

    What has changed is discovery/invention of effective projectile weapons. This changed the nature of how we function as a species, and how we regulate violence and force more than agriculture. See the work of Stephen E. Churchill ( http://evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/people?subpage=profile&Gurl=/aas/BAA&Uil=churchy ) for more discussion about this. This change of who gets to be in charge (created by the introduction of projectiles) has more implications to how we organize ourselves than this silly, artificial divide between farmer and foragers. As if there was some magic switch where people stop collecting food from the environment at large and start collecting it from fixed property (“oh, I can grow food…I guess I’ll never hunt again”).

    • Anthony

      Eric – the change from foraging to farming will make changes in the scarcity of food, and on the prerequisites for obtaining food, which will change people’s incentives (and ability) to be violent, and society’s incentives (and ability) to channel aggression into or away from lethal violence.

    • Jon

      An interesting take on this is the “Dies the Fire” series by SM Stirling. In it, an unexplained event essentially stops every piece of post 13th century technology. Primarily, that’s the internal combustion engine, electronics, and probably most importantly, guns and other easily used projectile weapons. While fanciful, he paints a good picture as to the how, without effective projectile weapons and other force multipliers, we almost necessarily fall back into feudalism.

  • Eric

    Forgot this link to a great podcast/lecture on the subject of projectiles and human evolution.

    http://www.americanscientist.org/science/pub/the-evolution-of-the-human-capacity-for-killing-at-a-distance

  • poozle

    When can we expect a dispassionate analysis of Roissy’s latest argument? Is Robin “willing to dump a fuck in the distended porcine holes of [a beached whale]?”

    • Bock

      I second this request.

  • andrew kieran

    ugh. i think i could have happily gone without being pointed in the direction of Roissy.

    i feel like i’ve been offered a hamburger and found myself biting down on human excrement

  • lxm

    I like this talk a lot better than forager/farmer.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html#

    Transcends what happened 10000 years ago.

    Bottom line:

    Our minds were designed to unite us into teams
    Divide us against other teams and
    Blind us to the truth.

    Of course you may also want to consider this:

    http://www.miller-mccune.com/science-environment/bacteria-r-us-23628/#idc-container

  • M

    Is this the biggest point of disagreement between you and Roissy?

  • josh

    “but there’s no crisis at the moment.”

    Have you visited Detroit, Cleveland, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Southeast DC, South Central LA, South Chicago, Baltimore, and um, just about every major American city. Do you realize these use to be nice places to live? What, in your opinion, would constitute a crisis? When a professors salary is no longer enough to live away from the foragers?

  • josh

    “I don’t see what IQ has to do with this at all. Norms and practices have clearly moved in the direction of increased tolerance for promiscuity over the last century, though of course they aren’t remotely near an extreme free love scenario.”

    Norms seem to have at the very least a more immediate impact among lower IQ populations.

    As for how far we have come toward “Free Love” and article in the NY times discusses the free love system circa the 1850s:

    “the ultimate aim is to subvert the present organization of society,-destroy the institution of marriage as recognized by the religion and laws of Christendom, and to substitute for it a FREE LOVE system, in which Passion and personal inclination shall be the sole bond, and the sole restriction of the union between the sexes.”

    Marriage is still a part of life, particularly among the upper and upper middle classes, but even here, is it much more sacred than a system dictated by personal inclination. All marriages are love marriages today, and people can legally get divorced for any reason at all.

  • unicorns and rainbows

    “All of us, liberals and conservatives alike, free-ride on institutions, technology, morals, and inherited from our ancestors.”

    Not all free-riding is equal.

    “Oh I’m a bit worried about risks from moving to forager practices in an industrial world, but being rich we can afford to take some risks.”

    We won’t be rich for long if too many become foragers for too long. The farmer substrate is a necessary precondition for civilization in a way that the forager substrate is not.

    “When I say foragers were more promiscuous than farmers, I don’t mean they weren’t picky about sex partners, nor that they didn’t get jealous. I mean they changed partners lots more often than farmers do.”

    The claims made by ‘Sex at Dawn’ are that the penis is shaped in such a way to scoop out competing sperm, and sperm itself is designed to outrace and chemically neuter competitor sperm. This would suggest concurrent cheating, not serial promiscuity, which is an entirely different sexual beast. Jealously is an evolved reaction to the former, less so the latter. Ryan, and you to an extent since you referenced Ryan, are arguing that we are naturally inclined to concurrent promiscuity — tribal orgies where men love to get cuckolded and don’t mind raising other men’s kids; a polyamorous utopia. There is little evidence of that in any culture. The porn claims made by Ryan are simply absurd.

    The penis shape does suggest women are somewhat promiscuously unfaithful, but that doesn’t mean men have evolved to like it, nor that women are evolved to prefer concurrent promiscuity to monogamy.

    “I don’t see what IQ has to do with this at all.’

    IQ is a proxy for the rich elite. TGGP put up some evidence from the GSS that higher income people are less promiscuous than lower income people.

    • Miguel Madeira

      “The farmer substrate is a necessary precondition for civilization in a way that the forager substrate is not.”

      I think “farmers” and “foragers” develop technology, and probably the second is more important to civilization than the first.

  • Miguel Madeira

    I think you are confusing “war” and “violence”.

    Yes, foragers had probably less “war” (“organized violence”) than farmers, but what is missing is the “organized”, not the “violence”

    • These days, those days

      There’s also the question of what kind of murder rate the forager societies had, and here we must keep in mind the distinction between killing outsiders, and killing other members of the tribe. After all, the murder rates of modern societies don’t include either war casualties or legally executed criminals, and so we have to apply the same standard in figuring out what the murder rate was in forager societies. (And even though the modern definition of murder tends to count infanticide as murder, it’s still probably best to treat it as a different phenomenon in the context of forager society. Certainly the foragers think of it as a different phenomenon.)

      Why is this an important distinction to make? Well, because we may be interested in whether forager thinking and norms–despite lacking the concept of states and laws–are good at promoting a harmonious society where serious crimes are rare. But I’ve noticed that sometimes people will seem to be thinking about this question, but then get distracted by the fact that forager societies are often quite violent against other tribes. Yes, the fact of constant war between tribes is quite inconsistent with the “noble savage” concept, but still it could easily be that the savages really were much nobler than a lot of other societies when it comes to getting along with other members of the tribe.

      For of course, farmer norms and thinking have often been very bad at preventing violence, too. History is filled with farmer societies that have been not only belligerent toward outsiders, but also repressive and murderous toward their own members.

      • Miguel Madeira

        “There’s also the question of what kind of murder rate the forager societies had, and here we must keep in mind the distinction between killing outsiders, and killing other members of the tribe.”

        A problem with this approach is that sometimes is not much clear what counts as an “outsider” or a “member of the tribe” – many tribal societies (both foragers and farmers) have an hierarchy of groups (family, clan, village, tribe, tribal confederacy…), not a definite distinction between “we” and “them”.

  • Miguel Madeira
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