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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