Monday, June 9, 2014

Micro and Macro parasites in India and China

From McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples, page 111 - 112:

“Indian civilization . . . arose in a climate analogous to that of the African savanna lands, where rains prevail for only part of the year but where warm temperatures are uninterrupted. Such a climate had in all probability been humankind’s cradleland, and across the millennia of anthropoid evolution toward humanity, African parasites had also been able to evolve, keeping pace with any and every increase in the prevalence of their protohuman and fully human hosts. A more nearly stable ecological balance therefore prevailed in regions of the world suited to human nakedness than was the case farther north. Risk of the fulminating sort of macroparasitism we call civilization was correspondingly reduced. But since some of Africa’s more serious biological obstacles to the multiplication of human numbers— sleeping sickness, for instance— did not extend into India, the possibility of sustaining the macroparasitic social classes needed for civilization did exist there, at least marginally.

Yet despite all the drains upon the energy at their disposal, whether micro - or macroparasitic, a small surplus must have remained at the disposal of both the Indian and Chinese peasantries during the first millennium B.C. This allowed their multiplication, which in turn led to colonization of new regions, and to the elaboration of economic as well as of political and cultural structures near the major centers of population. Without such a growth of peasant numbers the two civilizations could not have developed as they did, and as long as the peasant base continued to expand without meeting insurmountable and lasting checks, the ecological disbalance favoring the rise of civilization continued to exist both in India and China.” [Mcneill, William (2010-10-27). Plagues and Peoples, Kindle Edition.

Comment: I wasn’t able to find out much about McNeill. I wondered for example if his reference to the ruling classes as “macroparasites,” might reflect a Marxist influence, but wasn’t able to find any support for that suspicion. He is entertaining as he compares the two forms of parasites and tells us that the microparasites would invariably leave the peasants with enough health and energy to produce their crops and survive; whereas the macroparasites didn’t initially see the need but eventually came to the same conclusion.

In another place McNeill describes Confucius as having created a religion the purpose of which is to restrict the ruling classes (the macroparasites) in such a way that they leave the peasants with enough to live on. The Indian subcontinent on the other hand was not able to produce the abundance of China so the two religions, Buddhist and Hindu, encouraged peasants to place their confidence in transcendence and metempsychosis.

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