Forage vs Farm Podcast

Last Monday I did a 15 minute FIRE podcast interview with Arin Greenwood, who was nice enough to let me talk about what was on my mind then: legacies of forager vs. farmer conflicts.

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  • Leonid

    This is only a half-baked idea, but….

    The forager/farmer breakdown might explain the origins of the liberal/conservative split, but I believe that it is insufficient for explaining the persistance of the divide. Roughly, if being a forager or farmer was a hereditary split that occurred a long time ago, that does not mean that that trait persisted as we evolved. If anything, so many more people live now than (at least 1000x ?) pre 10000 BC, that one could argue that the remnants of a ‘strict’ farmer/forager trait have been strongly diluted.

    Now, one could try and rescue the argument by explaining the need for the persistance of these two traits throughout history, and why their conflict has persisted. And I think that maybe you might have answered that in some other posts which i have not yet read.

    Or perhaps there are some deeper ‘principle components’ of human behavior that have just not changed because they are so fundamental to the way we make decisions.

  • Patrick L

    Robin, I’ve been listening to your argument on farming for a while and it reminds me of an interpretation of the story of Abel and Cain.

    Genesis 4:1-8

    Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
    6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

    8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” [d] And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

    The reason i bring this up is that one interpretation has it as a conflict between farmers and shepherds.

    In the American West there was always this strong tension 0between the ranchers and the farmers, or the indigenous, the farmers, and the ranchers.

    Like you said, there’s a huge amount of literature on this stuff. I think you might be closer to the truth of the matter, which is that:
    Humans have a set of behaviors and cultural adaptations that depend on how they get food.

    If you ever want to ‘sell out’ you can always jam out a something called, “Abel vs Cain: On the ancient dispute of farmers and [foragers] that is still being fought today”

  • Robert Koslover

    Ok, I just can’t hold back any longer from posting this highly-relevant link:

  • You claim that even relatively polygamous farming cultures were less polygamous than forager cultures. I think that’s wrong. You see serious polygamy with folks like Genghis Khan, Niall of the Nine Hostages, etc. Hunter gatherers rarely achieve pyramidal social structures on that scale. Furthermore, south of what Steve Sailer calls the “jealousy belt“, men didn’t have harem guards to keep their women in line, resulting in more general promiscuity than marriage-trammeled polygamy. Fundamentalist Mormons are a notable example of polygamists in the U.S. It seems to me they fit the old farming culture to a T, they are not like foragers at all.

    As Andrew Gelman notes in “Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State”, richer people tend to be more conservative. But richer states tend to be more liberal and have a lower income/ideology correlation. This complicates your equation of “rich” values with liberalism.

    To folks above, you are confusing the divide with herders vs that with foragers. Herders are extremely inegalitarian (as with the Mongol mentioned above), which sometimes can be a selling point.

    • The difference is clearer with female promiscuity; even polygamous cultures have little of that. I’m not claiming farmer-forager pattern explains all patterns you might see in any data; the world is too complex for that. But it is a good robust first cut.

  • Marc

    I think it’s true that as people get older they become more conservative. How does this fit in with the farmer/forager divide?

    If it was wealth related presumably you’d expect it to scale in the other direction; as people older they become richer and should revert more to forager ways.