Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Did Agriculture render tribes and cities unequal?

Cochran and Harpending write, “The assumption that more recent expansions are all driven by cultural factors is based on the notion that modern humans everywhere have essentially the same abilities. That’s a logical consequence of human evolutionary stasis: If humans have not undergone a significant amount of biological change since the expansion out of Africa, then people everywhere would have essentially the same potentials, and no group would have a biological advantage over its neighbors. But as we never tire of pointing out, there has been significant biological change during that period—tremendous amounts of change, particularly in those populations that have practiced agriculture for a long time. Therefore, the biological equality of human races and ethnic groups is not inevitable: In fact it’s about as likely as a fistful of silver dollars all landing on edge when dropped. There are important, well-understood examples of human biological inequality: Some populations can (on average) deal far more effectively with certain situations than others. [from The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (p. 156-157). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

The Human Genome has been available for study only since 2003, a mere 9 years after Popper died. But a good deal was known before 2003. Cavalli-Sforza, father and son, published in 1995 wrote, The Great Human Diasporas, the History of Diversity and Evolution. On page 138 they write, “Our theory contradicted the prevailing views, particularly in Britain and the United States, where archaeologists had rejected the theory of expansion and migration in favor of the idea that population composition changed very little, and that only ideas and artifacts circulated. . . We called the two explanations demic, implying the spread of populations (ours – a very special type of migrationist hypothesis, in which a technological innovation determines a population explosion followed by migration, and hence expansion), and cultural, the classical indigenist one (implying the transfer of ideas, technologies, and artifacts).

Sticking just to this matter of agriculture, and the “migration” and “expansion” that followed, Cochran and Harpending state an obvious conclusion: “Early adopters ought to be better at agriculture than late-comes: They should be better adjusted to the new diet, tougher against the new diseases, and better at tolerating crowding and hierarchy.”

And “populations with a biological advantage, more often than not, should have won the wars. They would have been able to generate more young warriors than their neighbors. They would have been able to afford to fight more often and recover faster from defeat. If the expanding group’s success depended upon some improved tactic or weapon, the defenders could have copied it. But they couldn’t copy a gene. It’s hard to fight biological superiority, and expansions based on such superiority could have gone on far longer than ones based upon cultural advantages, which are ephemeral.

Cochran, Gregory; Henry Harpending (2009-01-27). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (p. 158). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Comment: We can’t see differences in personalities by looking at DNA, yet, but differences have been deduced. Attempts to introduce agriculture to hunter-gatherer societies such as the Pygmies in Africa have not gone well. The farmer knows things are often going to be tight right before planting season. His family may be hungry but he needs to keep planting seed available for planting. He needs to keep his breeding stock available for breeding. The hunter-gatherers, so Cochran and Harpending wrote some place, would get hungry and eat their goats.

Which causes me to wonder whether this advantage, the advantage of practicing agriculture for longer than their neighbors gave Rome an advantage over its neighbors for longer than if those neighbors had been farmers and not merely herders.

The contestants in the American Civil war were both Agricultural; so neither side had an advantage in terms of war-making ability. But it is a perfect test to separate a people for 15000 years and then have them come together, and see how the non-agriculturalists (the Amerindians – or the Australian Aborigines for that matter who were separated even longer) fair against the agriculturalists. We see that the mere presence of the Agriculturalists is enough to kill off the majority of the non-Agriculturalists through the diseases the Agriculturalists have become immune to, but still transmit, and the non-Agriculturalists who die as a result.

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