Monday, May 25, 2015

Big questions and big answers

The big question for many historians and social scientists is still "how did we get so rich?" Economists have come full circle and have again started addressing the role of "society" and "culture".  But these too evolve and are not really exogenous.  What then is?  Jared Diamond says it is geography -- and its own slow (exogenous) shifts. Ian Morris in Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve takes human hunger (the necessity for energy capture; the more calories per day, the better) and historic climate change (post-ice age warming) as the real exogenous forces. They made it possible for humans to shift their attention from foraging to farming to fossil fuel users. And as they did, their values changed. 

Morris' Table 4.1 (p. 134) is the summary: The four "universal" values listed on the left best serve the three activity types if they are accorded the status shown in the the body of the table.

                        Foragers         Farmers                    Fossil-Fuel Users
Inequality         Bad                 Good                         Bad

Inequality         Bad                 Good                        Middling

Inequality         Middling         Good                        Bad

Violence            Middling         Middling/bad        Bad

The book includes the reactions of four eminent respondents as well as Morris' rejoinders.