Tag Archives: Farm

Working Class Futures

Two years ago I posted on an article saying most psych data comes from a weird source, US college students:

Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world. … American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep. … Compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist. They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious.

The article authors expect US college attitudes to spread to be the usual ones worldwide, because they are just better:

Our evolved tendencies to imitate successful and prestigious individuals will favor the spread of child-rearing traits that speed up and enhance the development of those particular cognitive and social skills that eventually translate into social and economic success.

Unsurprisingly, US non-college-grads are culturally more like the rest of the world. They more value conforming to norms and to others, and less value choice, control, and being different. (Many quotes below.)

Many futurists seem to also expect US college values to dominate the future. They imagine wealthy future folk as super-individualists — gaining even more “transhumanist” options to expand or change themselves, diverging according to differing personal inclinations, and often violating familiar norms in the process. My guess, however, is that increasing individualism results from a mix of increasing per-person wealth giving more personal options and less need for strong social ties, and the world copying the random weirdness of the most successful nation.

Thus when US success is eclipsed by other nations, and when per-person wealth again declines, both of which seem very likely in the long run, I expect more-farmer-like future folk to be much less individualistic than today’s US college grads. If as a US person you have trouble imagining them as like foreigners, since you don’t know foreigners well, then imagine them with traditional US working class values. Don’t so much imagine the low religion, marriage, and work effort typical of today’s US working class; instead imagine their grandparents.

Yes future folk may change in many ways compared to humans today, but less because of differing personal inclinations, and more to increase productivity and to be compatible and cooperative with associates.

Those promised quotes on US working class culture: Continue reading "Working Class Futures" »

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Forager, Farmer Morals

Looking for insight into farmer-era world views, I just read the 1931 novel The Good Earth, about Chinese farmers. It is of course more a morality tale than a documentary, and the main character soon gets rich, and is then no longer a representative farmer. But the story illustrates differences between farmer vs. forager style morality.

Foragers live in close egalitarian bands, with behavior well adapted to their environment. So forager morality issues are mostly about well-adapted personal behavior in conflict with group interests. Foragers sin by bragging, not sharing, being violent against associates, etc.

Farmer morality, in contrast, is much more about conflicts within people than within groups. Farmers sin by being lazy, wanting overly fancy foods, taking drugs, having sex with prostitutes, wanting status markers that cost too much in the long run, etc. Farmers need to resist internal temptations to do things that might make sense for foragers, but which can ruin farmers. These can also ruin one’s family and friends, so farmer sins also have shades of selfishness.

Of course farmers also care about bragging, violence, etc. In some sense farmers have more morality – more and stronger rules, to fight against stronger natural inclinations. So farming culture introduced religion and stronger social pressures to enforce their rules, to keep farmers from relapsing into foragers.

This helps me make sense of Jonathan Haight’s observations that liberals, who I’ve called forager-like, rely on fewer moral principles than conservatives, who I’ve called farmer-like:

The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression foundations. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations, including Loyatly/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. (more)

I’ve suggested that as we’ve become richer, we’ve become more forager-like. If our descendants get poor again, they’ll probably need stronger social norms again, to get them to resist temptations to act like foragers and do what is functional in their world. Their morality would probably rely on a wider more-conservative-like range of moral feelings.

In the em scenario I’ve been discussing here, sex would be unimportant except as a possible way to waste too much time. So em morality would be pretty liberal on sex. But money, work, and reputation would be important – ems would probably have pretty conservative attitudes on keeping their word, doing their job, obeying their boss, and not stealing. When mind theft or virus corruption are big risks, they’d also probably have strong purity feelings about avoiding acts that could risk such harms. And they’d probably feel strong clan loyalty, even beyond what farmers feel, to the clan of copies of the same original human.

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Closer Horizons

A few curious folks took 250 science fiction stories across thirteen decades and looked at whether the stories were set <50 , 50 to 500, or >500 years in the future. The long term trend is that fewer stories are set in the more distant future:

(Given the small dataset, I wouldn’t take decade to decade fluctuations seriously.)

Some of this effect is probably our expecting faster rates of change, and so any given amount of strangeness is expected to arrive sooner. But I’d guess most of this effect is that we are just less interested in the distant future.

Early in the industrial revolution people were very aware of there being in a great transition, from farming to industry, and they were curious about where it all might lead. Now that we are well into the industrial era, we have a better sense for what industry is like, and are less concerned about there maybe being a new post-industrial era.

Added 1p: I did a regression of their fraction of >500 year stories vs. time, and the relation is 2% significant for both linear and log versions of the fraction. There is enough data here to see this effect. Also, both the linear and log versions of the <50 year fraction are 5% significant.

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Testing My Growth Model

I have suggested that long run growth can be described as a sequence of exponential growth modes, from primates to foragers to farmers to industry, where mode transitions are similar in their degree of suddenness and growth rate change factors. This model will be tested in the future – it suggests that within a century or so we’ll see a change within five years to a new mode where the economy doubles every month or faster.

But my model can also be tested against the past. Our data on the animal, forager, and early farming eras is pretty poor. My hypothesis suggests that the forager era was one big growth mode similar to the farming or industry eras, with a relatively smooth rate of growth in capacity (even if rare disasters temporarily disrupted the use of that capacity), and that the forager to farming transition has a level of smoothness similar to that of the farming to industry transition.

Contrary to my model, many have suggested there was an important comparable revolution in human behavior around 50,000 years ago. My model predicts that growth accelerated smoothly from around 100,000 years ago to the near full speed farming world of about 5000 years ago, similar to the way growth accelerated from 1600 to 1900.

The latest results seem to support my model:

Back in 2000, a now famous scientific paper called “The Revolution That Wasn’t” argued that the then-conventional wisdom that modern human behavior had erupted in a “creative explosion” about 50,000 years ago in Europe was wrong. Rather, anthropologists Sally McBrearty and Alison Brooks contended that modern behavior, including creativity, has deep and ancient roots, going back some 300,000 years ago in Africa (Science, 15 February 2002, p. 1219).

At a meeting here last month, researchers heard new evidence that human evolution took a gradual, rather than revolutionary, course during two other key junctures in prehistory. A study of ancient stone tools from South Africa concludes that hunters manufactured spears with stone points—a sign of complex behavior—200,000 years earlier than had previously been thought. And new excavations at a 20,000-year-old settlement in Jordan, laden with artifacts typical of much later sites, suggest that the dramatic rise of farming villages in the Near East also had early and deep roots. … Many archaeologists now think that apparent “revolutions” are due to gaps in the record or to behavioral shifts triggered by changing conditions, rather than sudden advances in cognition. What appear to be precociously sophisticated behaviors are really reflections of what prehistoric humans were capable of all along. (more)

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Charles Murray, Farmer

I finished Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart. He is quite convincing on his main empirical claim: the behavior of US high and low classes have indeed come apart in the last half century, mainly as low classes reject religion, marriage, and full-time work.

This raises the obvious question of whether classes have been similarly coming apart in the rest of the world. But Murray seems uninterested in that question – he is fervently nationalist, and mainly laments the US losing its exceptional status of having fewer class differences, and becoming more like other rich nations. Since regression to the mean is what we should expect about most any nation with an exceptional feature, this shouldn’t be very surprising, and we shouldn’t expect a reversal.

Curiously the US may have “regressed past the mean”, achieving classes that are even more distinct classes than in most rich nations. Perhaps the US allows more change and mobility overall.

Near the end of the book Murray allows himself a rant on what he thinks was great about the US, and bad about Europe. This seems to me an unusually vivid presentation of a farmer-style intellectual point of view, a rare find in the modern world:

There’s a lot to like about day-to-day live in the advanced welfare states of western Europe. They are great places to visit. But the view of life that has taken root in those same countries is problematic. It seems to go something like this: The purpose of life is to while away the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible, and the purpose of government is to make it as easy as possible to while away the time as pleasantly as possible – The Europe Syndrome.

Europe’s short workweeks and frequent vacations are one symptom of the syndrome. The idea of work as a means of self-actualization has faded. The view of work as a necessary evil, interfering with the higher good of leisure, dominates. … The precipitous decline of marriage, far greater in Europe than in the United STates, is another symptom. What is the point of a life-time commitment when the state will act as surrogate spouse when it comes to paying the bills? The decline of fertility to far below replacement is another symptom. Children are seen as a burden that the state must help shoulder, and even then they’re a lot of trouble that distract from things that are more fun. The secularization of Europe is yet another symptom. Europeans have broadly come to believe that humans are a collection of activated chemicals that, after a period of time, deactivate. It that’s the case, saying that the purpose of life is to pass the time as pleasantly as possible is a reasonable position. Indeed, taking any other position is ultimately irrational.

The alternative to the European Syndrome is to say that your life can have transcendent meaning if it is spent doing important things – raising a family, supporting yourself, being a good friend and good neighbor, learning what you can do well and then doing it as well as you possibly can. Providing the best framework for doing those things is what the American project is all about. (p.284)

This sort of view may seem alien to many intellectuals, and even obviously wrong. But it isn’t obviously wrong, and it was pretty common in the farming era. Well aside from his saying that activated chemicals should only want to achieve pleasure – that’s just silly.

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Keynes’ Forager Future

Suresh Naidu pointed me to a fascinating 1930 essay (excerpts below) by the famous economist John Maynard Keynes on the long term future. Consideration of the far future put Keynes into a very far mode, where he upheld far ideals against near practical constraints. While Keynes accepted that farmer ideals of work, property, and saving for the future were needed to maintain economic growth, he detested such ideals, and looked to a future roughly a century hence when, humanity’s absolute material needs being satisfied, we embraced forager ideals for sharing material goods, living in and enjoying the moment, and just doing what feels right.

Now Keynes did note that humans also seek relative status, but he seemed to assume that humans would coordinate to suppress such urges, and to keep just enough farmer habits to preserve material wealth. In his far idealistic mode, he didn’t even seem to consider the possibility that nations would still compete for relative status, and promote farmer norms for that purpose, or that individuals would still work full time seeking personal relative status.

We are now only eighteen years shy of Keynes’ 2030 forecast date. While there has certainly been a weakening of farmer ideals, especially on fertility, we are far from embracing forager ideals overall. We still work hard for material wealth. Our lower classes have moved furthest, more rejecting marriage, religion, and full-time work, via relying heavily on the sharing of others, and this is considered a big problem. Give us another century of similar economic growth, and this lower class malaise might well infect most everyone. But it is far from clear that this would settle at a stable rich no growth equilibrium, rather than economic and population collapse.

In any case, even we preserve farmer norms enough to support continued growth, material wealth per person will only be high until we find new techs to increase population faster than we increase wealth. While in theory-overconfident far mode, Keynes’ is tempted to see his forager-value future as lasting indefinitely, it would in fact only be temporary. The em transition that I envision within a century or two should quickly return most people (i.e., most ems) to near subsistence income, and put a huge premium on reviving farmer-like norms and ideals. And even if that doesn’t happen, growth must slow in the very long run.

Is my summary fair? Judge for yourself; here are excerpts from Keynes’ essay: Continue reading "Keynes’ Forager Future" »

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Hatin’ On Farmers

Zahavi’s seminal book on animal signaling tells how certain birds look high status by forcing food down the throat of other birds, who thereby seem low status. While this “altruism” does help low status birds survive, they rightly resent it, as their status loss outweighs their food gain.

In our society, “sympathy” by high status folks for low status folks usually functions similarly — it affirms their high status while giving little net benefit to the low status. For example, the latest New Yorker reviews several books on the Roman empire, including one on the lives of ordinary Romans:

Much of what we know about the Roman emperors is based on myth and misunderstanding. But even that much can’t be said for the vast majority of their subjects, whose way of life has barely left a trace in the historical record. …

[It is] an overwhelmingly dark picture. “Invisible Romans” is full of anecdotes and quotations that speak volumes about Roman attitudes toward women, slaves, and the cheapness of life in general. … In general the lot of the ordinary Roman was no different from that of the vast majority of human beings before the modern age: powerlessness, bitterly hard work, and the constant presence of death. The thing that strikes Knapp most about Roman popular wisdom is its deep passivity in the face of these afflictions, which feels so alien to moderns and especially to Americans. The Romans, he writes, had no concept of progress … A slave might dream of manumission but hardly of abolition. For women, “there were no alternative lifestyles and aspirations either offered or considered … Even the amenities of the ‘Roman world, like the famous public baths, lose their lustre … “baths offered not only social interaction but a lack of hygiene schooling even to contemplate.” (more)

It almost seems as if this author feels it would have been better if these pathetic creatures had never existed, if not for their eventually giving rise to worthy creatures like him. So sad, he muses, that they didn’t bother to even imagine the future changes that could justify their miserable existence. He probably thinks it only a coincidence that his disgust affirms his lofty status among all the humans who have ever lived.

Sigh. The lives of ordinary folks in the Roman empire might not have been as nice as this author’s, nor as nice as yours. Yes they sometimes had pain, hunger, and sickness, but even so they were mostly lives worth living, with much love, laughter, engagement, and satisfaction. Poor folk do smile.

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Charity And Temptation

Bryan Caplan responded to John Marsh:

Nearly two-thirds of poor children … reside in [single-parent] homes. … “If poor mothers married the fathers of their children nearly three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.”

In a world of cheap, reliable contraception, any woman can easily avoid single motherhood with near-certainty. Simply use birth control until you find and marry a reliable man. Avoiding single motherhood, to be blunt, is a choice.

Bryan further commented:

b. Sex with birth control, unlike abstinence, does not lead to chronic burning lust.
c. Potentially poor women who delay child-bearing have a high chance of finding a reliable man before becoming infertile.

Karl Smith took issue:

Baby lust is quite real, almost certainly genetically determined and probably explains a fair fraction of the differences in outcome among women. … Potentially poor women [do not] have a high chance of finding a reliable man before becoming infertile. … There is a serious dearth of reliable men. .. Bryan’s prescription of promiscuous birth-controlled sex lowers a women’s rank in the marriage market. … My natural assumption [is] that poor single mothers are engaging in utility maximizing behavior. This implies that the alternatives to being a poor single mother are worse and that people accept this fate because they have low endowments in the marriage market.

Let me first make two points:

  1. The reliability of men is only an issue because we have weakened the commitment of marriage. Most farmer societies made marriage into a strong commitment, and encouraged young women to hold out for it. This led to an equilibrium where most women, even poor ones, married, so that most kids had two parents. Men now choose to be unreliable more often because we have greatly lowered its penalties.
  2. Even with weak marriage it is possible to identify reliable poor men. If you can’t tell, ask your parents, grandparents, or their siblings. But the hypergamous mating preferences of women typically lead them to prefer other men, especially in a relatively rich society like ours.

What to do? First, why not offer the option of a strong marriage commitment? More women would end up with reliable husbands if couples could choose between strong marriage, weak marriage, or no marriage. But surely even with this option, many women in our rich society would still choose single parenthood, and the relative poverty it implies. What then?

Now Bryan is clearly right — this is in fact a choice. But Karl is also right — it is a choice made in the face of relatively strong desires. The key question is: how weak do temptations have to be to make the choices they influence unworthy of charity? We feel only weak inclinations to help people who choose poverty, and could easily have chosen otherwise. But we feel much stronger inclinations to help folks who could have avoided poverty only via quite unusual levels of self-control and determination. Where in this spectrum does the temptation to single parenthood lie?

Given forager sharing norms, forager fathers only needed to reliably help kids for a few years. But farmers, who shared less, had to set a higher self-control bar for charity eligibility. A farmer could quickly starve by being too generous with neighboring charity cases. Now that we are richer, we can be more indulgent, but it seems to me an open question whether we should. I tend to agree with Bryan that very poor foreigners seem more deserving of aid that self-indulgent not-so-poor natives.

Added 5p: Karl Smith responds:

Central to Byran and somewhat shockingly to me – Robin’s – thinking is whether or not the single parents deserve charity.
On Facebook I think Robin framed the question as “how weak do temptations have to be before they make people less deserving of charity”
My clear answer would be that there is no level so low. Human suffering is bad. Reductions in human suffering are good.
Why humans are suffering is of concern to us in knowing when our interventions might be productive but it doesn’t affect whether they are warranted.

If we commit ahead of time to making our help contingent on certain behavior, that can have good effects in inducing such behavior. This is probably the origin of our intuitions that certain behaviors make folks less worthy of help.

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Are Nations Tribes?

Ezra Klein:

During Monday’s debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked whether an uninsured 30-year-old who had chosen to go without insurance should be left to die if he falls unexpectedly ill. Ron Paul dodged the question. … If you collapse on a street, an ambulance will rush you to a hospital. If you get into a car accident, you’ll wake up in intensive care. … Whether you get billed or your family gets billed or society gets billed, someone will pay the bill. … Even the hardest of libertarians has always understood that there are places where your person ends and mine begins. Generally, we think of this in terms of violent intrusion or property transgressions. But in health care, it has to do with compassion. We are a decent society, and we do not want to look in people’s pockets for an insurance card when they fall to the floor with chest pains.

But a great many ill, collapsed, etc. folks in the world are largely left to die, at least if curing them costs anything like a US hospital stay. Ezra argues above for “decent” national care, not global care. And even libertarians wouldn’t leave family members to die. So everyone agrees that we heroically help some, and leave others to die. We only disagree on who falls into which category.

I see key similarities between this and many responses to my recent posts, such as on 9/11, alien elites, or immigration. Such as: How can I not see that 9/11 deaths matter far more than most deaths, because this was them attacking our way of life? Or that alien elites secretly running our society, even running it well, must be exterminated though that would be unreasonable for human elites? Or that the richest big US county, Fairfax County, shouldn’t restrict immigration from poorer counties because we US folks are similar enough to each other?

Humans clearly evolved quite different mental modes for thinking about how to treat folks with our our local tribe, vs. how to treat distant strangers. Libertarians largely accept the usual ideas about how to treat both groups. Where they disagree is who counts as a stranger.

Libertarians limit “my tribe” to close family and small chosen communities, much as did our forager ancestors, who were free to change bands at any time. Farmer culture taught farmers to think of distant strangers as “my tribe”, as long as “our elites” said so, or if “we” fought wars together. And nation-states have worked hard over the last few centuries to transfer this feeling to nations. Libertarians mostly just don’t accept this. And though I’m not strictly libertarian, on this I agree – it is far from obvious that nations must be our tribes.

Now people usually try to be nicer to their tribe than to distant strangers. From this one might conclude that libertarians, who see more folks as strangers, are not as nice people. But not only are folks who see their tribe as smaller usually nicer to such insiders, libertarians also tend to be more accepting of mutually beneficial interactions with strangers. And economists make a pretty strong case that libertarian policies such as free immigration would greatly improve overall welfare.

As with Ezra’s comments above, most critiques of libertarian policy seem to miss this central point, by invoking standard ways to classify folks into “us” and “them.” To criticize libertarians effectively, you need to make clear why exactly “we” are a nation, rather than the entire world, or close family and friends. Alas, few critics even try to argue this point.

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Blackmail History

The most common way academics study regulation is to seek models under which such regulation could be efficient (or moral), and to seek empirical data on details of current local regulatory practice to distinguish such models. But this standard approach tends to neglect both models where people personally gain by supporting inefficient (or immoral) regulation, and the patterns of such regulations across diverse cultures, times, and topics. Some other day I’ll elaborate on this general point. Today I’ll apply my own advice to blackmail, and consider the history of blackmail law.

Some say that we ban blackmail today in order to encourage more gossip. Others say blackmail law is driven mainly by elites wanting to protect themselves. Relevant to both of these theories is the fact that both blackmail and negative gossip were illegal in ancient Rome. (Details below.) But only regarding elites. Unless you had a special privilege, it was illegal to say something embarrassing about an elite. It wasn’t until the last few centuries that law has allowed gossip that says bad true things about elites, and then to compensate we greatly increased blackmail penalties. So at least regarding the pre-modern era, the elite protection theory gets a boost, while the gossip support theory looks weak. This data also helps one understand how the ancients could affirm such high moral standards – few were allowed to point out elite hypocrisy.

Foragers relied heavily on gossip – “leaders” and “legal guilt and punishment” were determined almost entirely by informal uncontrolled gossip. Farmer elites tried to crush gossip as a social force competing with their edicts, though gossip stayed stronger among elites. In the modern world we have returned more to forager values, and so we more empower and rely on gossip, though usually within limits. We allow juries to decide legal trials, though we limit outside gossip influence on jurors. Via democracy, public opinion now picks top leaders, and mass media is recently getting comfortable saying bad things about leaders’ personal lives. Via a celebrity and media culture, gossip chooses many other elites. And we also allow freer speech, including saying embarrassing things about elites.

Forager values seem less enamored of money, since a money-based relation is often framed as a kind of domination, and for foragers domination is illicit. So while the modern world more embraces decentralized conversation, we seem to often be wary of letting base money and commerce influence conversation, which we idealize. For example, there is today widespread wariness of paid advertising, open campaign finance, and of for profit firms controlling schools and media, and publishing research. While this wariness doesn’t usually lead to prohibitions of money interacting with gossip, it makes people more willing to accept such prohibitions.

Blackmail can be framed as a base thing, money, polluting both our idealized conversation, and our idealized private lives. Distaste for pollution of high things by low, together with strong elite distate for blackmail, which mostly targets them, seems enough to explain why blackmail remains illegal.

Some quotes on blackmail law history: Continue reading "Blackmail History" »

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