Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Collapse (Jared Diamond)

posted by Tim Walters @ 9:07 PM

Stone blocks spin
Earth turns
It whirls, it
Hurls these men
Aside
They know no longer
Which way's which
Nor where to turn.

Supports collapse
All things once bound
Are isolate
All things once still
Are agitate
Supports give way
The world turns upside down.

--"Collapse" (Art Bears)

8 Comments:

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

Yeah, and the 49ers are kind of falling apart too.

Jared Diamond's view that agriculture doomed us meshes with a view I find interesting: that the apple in Eden represents agriculture. But if we are to avoid cherry-picking (sorry) the pieces of the parable that best fit the idea, we must note that it was woman who took the apple, and woman who has taken the brunt of the pains of agriculture. Man sits in his recliner munching the apple and calling for a beer, while muttering about how woman seduced him into things he didn't want. Fun to think about these things though.

 
At 10:29 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

Diamond actually is much more upbeat than that; he calls himself "cautiously optimistic," and I think that's about right. The book has a lot of case studies of societal failure, but also some success stories, and he makes it clear that collapse is far from inevitable if people get their act together.

He does point out (in Guns, Germs, and Steel) that once your population has boomed due to agriculture you can't go back to huntin' & gatherin'.

The apple theory is interesting, especially given that the ancient Hebrews were pastoralists who were, at best, ambivalent about farming (and the worship of the fertility goddess that, at the time, went along with it). The Epic of Gilgamesh has a complementary story about Enkidu the wild man, whom G. tames and befriends by having a temple prostitute sleep with him, after which he can no longer bear living like an animal. Enkidu is generally thought to represent the pre-civilized state.

But yeah, Eve was framed. See Geoff Ryman's The Warrior Who Carried Life for details.

 
At 6:52 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

JD may be cautiously optimistic ,but he did write this:

http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron342/diamondmistake.html

"Worst Mistake in History" cannot easily be read as ambivalent, let alone optimistic, and the last sentence is typical of this paper: "Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture's glittering facade..." Again, "imagine", "facade", not really very hopeful. I have not yet read COLLAPSE though.

I would say though that there's a logical problem in stating that agriculture probably arose out of necessity due to rising populations, and then blaming malnutrition on agriculture. Blaming it for failing to come through with a solution, maybe, but this paper goes further.

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

Looks like he was much more of an angry young man in 1987.

I don't quite agree that he has a logical problem, because he sees agriculture as a choice (the other being to limit population). But there's still a problem, which is that agriculture out-competes hunter-gatherism, so that all it takes is one population to go all farmy and eventually take over the world. In other words, even if he's right and it was the worst mistake in history, it was a mistake that was bound to be made.

Which means that the question of whether the benefits of civilization are worth the suffering caused thereby is moot--something of a relief, since I can't imagine trying to answer it. Doctor Diamond* seems to think not (or to have thought not in 1987), but I'm not sure I agree.

*Was he ever the driver of an underground train?

 
At 5:29 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

Ooh, very interesting point about the competitive aspect.

Not only was the choice perhaps never really there, but it certainly isn't there now, unless we bomb/starve/disease/methane-death-from-the-sea ourselves back to it. But it's still very interesting to think about.

 
At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

re : the ancient Hebrews' ambivalence about farming.

No better illustration of this exists than the story of Cain & Abel. Cain is a farmer who offers his first fruits; Abel, a shepherd who offers one of his flock. It's Abel's offering that finds favor with God, and Cain is so jealous of this that he kills his brother.

What's interesting about this is not only the valorization of the wandering shepherd over the agriculturist, but the subtle suggestion that farming leads to outrageous sin. If property is theft, does that make it a gateway drug in the scheme of sins?

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

I believe it was Chip Delany who turned that around and posited that the reason people moved into the early cities wasn't to find work or get rich, but to improve their sex lives. I'm not sure how serious he was...

 
At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

Delany always struck me as being pretty serious about sex, if nothing else. Have you ever read EQUINOX? Oh my!

 

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