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You do realise that importing negentropy and exporting entropy is the definition of a living organism.

in fact one of the troubling questions that engage our attention today is somewhat similar to the old election-year rhetoric:  "Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?"... are we better off than we were 10,000 years ago?
Maybe, maybe not. But it appears that 10,000 years ago we invented agriculture because to avoid the fate of most other large mammals in Eurasia, namely extinction. For some reason I find it really hard to accept the narrative that agriculture is the root of all evil. If anything, it's the root of food security. Our problems stem from elsewhere.
as to finance capitalism being a side effect of imperial growth
There you go again. I never said that but to you "growth" is necessarily imperial, and you have not understood what I've said about finance capitalism in this and other threads. To be very brief, the growth I am talking about is the radiation phase after the 14th century collapse. Maybe a mention of the Lotka-Volterra equation wouldn't be out of place either, imagine that the red line in the chart is humanity and the black line its renewable resource base. Growth in this context has nothing to do with the cultural mode that we call imperialism, or with core-periphery, but maybe it does have a connection with (neg)entropy.
I suppose our squabble here could be reduced to a cartoon version:

D:  show me a city and a 'civilised' lifeway that is/was not founded on slavery, immiseration, and theft.

M:  slavery, immiseration, and theft we have always with us:  we may as well get the benefits of urban culture out of them!

Cartoon indeed. I don't know, maybe the Mayans had a 'civilised' way of life that was not based on slavery, immiseration and theft (given your positive reference to the Peruvian Highland Cultures).
I reject the naturalisation of hiearchy, elite accumulation, etc.  I'm not sure where this leaves us...  though if we accept that dominance/hierarchy cultures are an automatic response to scarcity (not supported by the literature, but let's entertain the idea), the future looks grim:  the imperial model embodied in capitalism exhausts resources at an accelerating pace, thus creating artificial scarcity and intensifying the preconditions for imperial/hierarchical strategy.  sounds like a positive feedback loop to me :-(
You see, in The Ape and the Sushi Master, while completely demolishing the "human exceptionalist" view of culture, etologist Frns de Waal also makes some points about hierarchical structures being nearly inevitable, and not only among humans, which are quite shocking from an egalitarian leftist point of view [one of his best quotes is "put a bunch of left-leaning professors with an egalitarian ethos in the same room and watch a hierarchy develop: it's automatic"]. As you point out, in some cultures the "big man" position changes with context, and indeed there are two ways to look at our own culture. One is to say that it has only one hierarchy and that that comes from somehow, by institutionalising the natural hierarchy of status arising in one situation, extrapolating it to all realms of community life; the other would be to recognise that we, too, are active in multiple realms in our community life and that the status system in each of them is different. One of the features of blogs like this [and of the entire open-content/creative commons movement] is that the status system is a gift culture: the more you give to the community the higher the status. And you and I have enough experience in academia to see an entire parallel status [and hierarchy] system separate from the "main" societal one.

The reason for my frustration with this exchange ("acrimony") is that there are a number of assumptions in what you write (growth = imperialism = city = parasitism) which 1) I want [you] to make explicit; and 2) seem to me unnecessary (though maybe true historically, that I can't argue with absolute certainty) and, most of all, unhelpful, because we're not in 9500 BC, deciding whether to invent agriculture and what social organisation is going to work best for our first permanent settlement in the very long term, but we're in 2000 CE and we have to think about how to get to where from here. I wonder whether you saw my exchange with Nomad on the issue you mention of how much of the current civilisation can be made sustainable, where I pointed out that you have to take into account and utilise the modern knowledge base, and moreover that there are certain advanced technologies that one would like to deploy for a sustainable, prosperous lifestyle and that are impossible without certain economies of scale and a modern industrial base (like, for instance, how are you going to manufacture the advanced materials you need for solar panels, or wind mills? Certainly not in a smithy.) Cue in technopolitical's constant quip that we're so wasteful because we're just very bad at making things.

So, yes, I suppose I have to say that we might as well get the benefits of urban culture [literacy, vaccines, antibiotics, industrial capacity] while we have them and put them to good use, all the more so if one believes that a Lotka-Volterra-like collapse like in the chart above is likely in the coming century. Once the tipping point for a die-off is exceeded it doesn't matter whether the reason was lemming-lie behaviour or an "exterministic" culture (to use Stan Goff's term). And, really, considering I was born after the 1970's oil shocks, I really feel like I am not responsible for exceeding the tipping point, and that at some level it is irrelevant whether exterminism was the cause, or just a narrative more palatable to leftists than just plain human stupidity. What I am responsible for is for what I do about the consequences of living after the tipping point.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Mar 6th, 2007 at 06:09:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You see, in The Ape and the Sushi Master, while completely demolishing the "human exceptionalist" view of culture, etologist Frns de Waal also makes some points about hierarchical structures being nearly inevitable, and not only among humans, which are quite shocking from an egalitarian leftist point of view [one of his best quotes is "put a bunch of left-leaning professors with an egalitarian ethos in the same room and watch a hierarchy develop: it's automatic"]. As you point out, in some cultures the "big man" position changes with context, and indeed there are two ways to look at our own culture. One is to say that it has only one hierarchy and that that comes from somehow, by institutionalising the natural hierarchy of status arising in one situation, extrapolating it to all realms of community life; the other would be to recognise that we, too, are active in multiple realms in our community life and that the status system in each of them is different.

I'm going to finish one more book before I do a diary on the final death of my leftist idealism over the past few years stemming from acceptance of evolutionary theory and evolutionary psychology. I think that is all that is standing between your views and deanander's.

In my (newish) universe, the cultures humans are able to create can be used to either amplify or retard the base "desires" innate to our pesky brain stems. I have no other starting point now that I reject the "blank slate" concept.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Mar 6th, 2007 at 07:08:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you might warm up (as I have been reluctantly) to Bookchin in this realm.  He's a fairly doctrinaire human exceptionalist, but with some interesting twists that almost undermine the position.

I always thought the "evolutionary psychology" crowd tended to undervalue and underreport symbiotic and cooperative, mimetic and reciprocal organisations in evolving biotic systems;  at least when I dipped into the lit a while back it struck me as being over-enamoured of "Nature red in tooth and claw" and rather grimly determined to see all mammalian hardwiring as base and selfish (reading mammals as reptilian, you might say).  But this doesn't jibe well with many decades of field observation of mammal social behaviours, in which kingroup selection is at least as important as individual survivalism, and deep reciprocal bonds are observed between individuals and between individual and pack or kingroup...

What are they up to lately, the evo psych gang?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Mar 6th, 2007 at 08:03:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I already put the Bookchin book into my queue. I've been reading mostly pop science books on the topic, I haven't dove into the "state of the art" in the field. Dawkins' explanation for his view that altruism and cooperative behavior is a form of selfishness makes sense to me, as does his explanation for how various behavioral traits (for any variable from total violence to complete non-violence) get selected for and in what proportions in a given population. Nothing I've come across yet reads as "nature is 100% violence all the time" which, again just referencing Dawkins writings all the way back in the 70's, is a very poor reproductive strategy for an entire population.

Even with that I'm not very optimistic for a couple of reasons. The first can be summed up as "locking horns with nuclear weapons is not a stable survival strategy" and the second relates to the burden of consciousness and the very delicate (and thus difficult to achieve) balance needed to make and keep humans happy.

I'll rant further some other time.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Mar 6th, 2007 at 11:22:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
might want to look up the debates between Dawkins and Gould.  excellent reading :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 08:48:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does it boil down to this?

However, as Sterelny says, these disagreements are not adequate to explain the antagonism and in Chapter 12 (p. 123) he gets down to the more philosophical ones. "Dawkins is an old-fashioned science worshiper" he states (and lines up with him), while "Gould's take on the status of science is much more ambiguous. ... In Gould's view, science is irrelevant to moral claims. Science and religion are concerned with independent domains."

That might be enough to explain Gould's issues with sociobiology, which I will look into more this evening.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 05:03:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the features of blogs like this [and of the entire open-content/creative commons movement] is that the status system is a gift culture: the more you give to the community the higher the status. And you and I have enough experience in academia to see an entire parallel status [and hierarchy] system separate from the "main" societal one.

That brings up a really interesting and key issue:  What kinds of hierarchy are "alright" (and even necessary), and what kinds are noxious.  (See ATinNM's comment below that There is nothing necessary wrong with "Heirarchy." )

Maybe a key distinction is that between "power-created/enforced hierarchies" and "gift-generated hierarchies"?

I wonder whether you saw my exchange with Nomad on the issue you mention of how much of the current civilisation can be made sustainable, where I pointed out that you have to take into account and utilise the modern knowledge base, and moreover that there are certain advanced technologies that one would like to deploy for a sustainable, prosperous lifestyle and that are impossible without certain economies of scale and a modern industrial base (like, for instance, how are you going to manufacture the advanced materials you need for solar panels, or wind mills? Certainly not in a smithy.)

Could  you indicate what diary that exchange was in?

For what it's worth, I am finding this acrimonious exchange extremely informative, challenging and stimulating.  I'm glad I got ring-side tickets!  ;-)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Mar 6th, 2007 at 09:01:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What kinds of hierarchy are "alright" (and even necessary), and what kinds are noxious.

I'd say that given that a status system is unavoidable, it's the hierarchies that are out of context that are noxious. Like, for instance, listening to Stephen Hawking's ideas as if he were an authority on the future of mankind because of his groundbreaking work in Cosmology.

Could  you indicate what diary that exchange was in?

This one in Jerome's Fossil Fools story.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 04:23:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
maybe the Mayans

Er... Incas.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 04:40:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are deceived by modern biology, specifically evolution theory, which correctly notes that species evolve, but which, by focussing on too narrow an aspect of the process and using a model borrowed from 19th century English capitalism, completely misses the truth about how biology, in the large, actually works.  

How long do you have to wander outside the lab to realize that biology has been studied completely upside down?  Indeed, competition DOES happen, but it is only possible because MOST biological activity is co-operative.  

Do not trust energy transformation theories beyond their limits.  Even where it is true, it may not be telling you what is important.  It may tell you what is possible (or not  possible) but not what is desirable, or even what living systems seek.  

And that co-operative activity is what most biologists never look at, with the result that their theories are fine for creating frankenfoods, but are no use to us at all.  We have to start THINKING.  

Any economic model based on counting trade markers will just get us killed.  This is not how sustainable people think, and it is not how ecologies function either.  

We have to open our discourse WAY beyond the boundaries of imperialist/unsustainable patterns.  

And, really, considering I was born after the 1970's oil shocks, I really feel like I am not responsible for exceeding the tipping point, and that at some level it is irrelevant whether exterminism was the cause, or just a narrative more palatable to leftists than just plain human stupidity. What I am responsible for is for what I do about the consequences of living after the tipping point.  

Guilt is not the issue.  No guilt!  Exterminism vs. stupidity:  For whatever reason we have chosen death, not all peoples have done so.  Can we unchoose it?  What would it take to even WANT to unchoose it?  

Some humans are likely to survive.  What would we WANT to be carried into the future?

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Mar 20th, 2007 at 11:13:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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