Jan 9, 2022·edited Jan 9, 2022

This is good. Very good. Fill it with citations, tie in a chapter on how birth control bypassed the Malthusian problem (with reference to John Stuart Mill among others), and you have the makings of a real book on population in the works. Your outtakes are starting to form a coherent narrative on population, birth control, and feminism, you know... get a collaborator and get another book out of it?

Regarding extractive elites, this is a good summary so I want to comment on its present-day situation:

"Whatever social system they evolve will break down unless it (a) keeps their numbers low enough to maintain an edge in standard-of-living, (b) keeps their lifestyle focused enough that they maintain their edge in violence, (c) keeps their numbers high enough that with their edge in violence they can maintain control, (d) keeps their numbers and their skill high enough to avoid being conquered by neighboring similar groups of thugs-with-spears, and (e) keeps their exactions low enough that they are not destroyed by revolting peasants with nothing to lose anyway. "

The failure of the current right-wing elites is down to fundamental failures in (d) -- they have no skills, and are certainly not competent military elites (the Burmese Tatmadaw is the only competent military ruling elite I can think of, worldwide) -- and (e) -- they seem not to understand that there are limits on exactions.

The point of (e) is the fundamental point of dispute between Lord Grey's Liberal or Whig Party and the Tories in England during the Reform Act crisis of 1830. The Tories simply wanted unending, uncompromising extraction, and that always fails; Lord Grey wanted to keep his cushy position by keeping the other classes happy enough. Lord Grey was intelligent. The Tories were not.

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BTW, there were other societies which were unusually prosperous (even for the lower classes) historically, and they all have a few things in common: the main one being availability of some form of birth control. Ancient Egypt had a massive agricultural surplus, but avoided the population explosion you might expect because they had a bunch of forms of herbal and mechanical birth control which were, not *reliable*, but a lot better than nothing, and they didn't have any religious demands for extra babies, or religious prohibitions on non-procreative sex. Since women legally owned the property, their social position was not dependent on having sons, either.

So their standards of living in ancient Egypt, with its three harvests per year and slower-than-typical birth rates, started rising and stayed high for a long time. Many of these ancient forms of birth control depended on wild herbs which were overharvested and driven nearly extinct over the centuries, which meant they declined in usability over time.

Non-procreative sex, however, remained recommended for birth control by such as John Stuart Mill, though Malthus was horrified by the idea.

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I just read an interesting article on human foraging energetics comparing great apes, hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists. The general take is that humans are not particularly efficient but benefit from high intensity food gathering yielding high returns. Humans sleep less than apes, but, unlike apes, are so efficient they can even take a day off here and there. It's an interesting analysis. Farming comes out looking pretty good.

"The energetics of uniquely human subsistence strategies"


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Couple-three thoughts.

Eurasian experience is heavily coloured by sedentary agriculture interacting with steppe nomads: Scythians, Huns, Mongols, Tartars, there are thousands of years of needing defence, not just from other overlords in the same cultural system as your overlords but from an adjacent cultural system that sees your existence as a problem.

It's not, I don't think, "class divisions"; it's "armies", and once you have an army then you have the social machinery to create the class divisions. Agriculture is secondary to "army"; agriculture doesn't guarantee an army, but an army guarantees agriculture.

We can tell because we can look at the Americas, where three things are different: the agricultural toolkit is much better (corn, beans, and squash wallops wheat, barley, and rye in all ways even before you add in potatoes and all the many, many other food crops); there are no riding animals and thus no cavalry and thus no steppe nomads; the lack of plough land agriculture results in different constructions (more than one!) of "city", "army", and "king".

Which (I think) brings up the final thing; the Reverend Doctor Malthus had an agenda. Noticing that "be fruitful and multiply" is a commandment because it's an elite contest for army size (not quality, not often and not generally) because the elites farm the populace as the populace farms the land wouldn't fit that agenda. Declaring it impossible to control fertility does suit that agenda, when it's not even slightly clear that a different agriculture and a different construction of legitimacy for "king" would not allow it. (There are, for example, Pacific coast indigenous cultures that seem to have managed for a long time.)

We may have what we have because of bad luck in the Land Between the Rivers.

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"It's not, I don't think, "class divisions"; it's "armies", and once you have an army then you have the social machinery to create the class divisions. Agriculture is secondary to "army"; agriculture doesn't guarantee an army, but an army guarantees agriculture."

Maybe I'm missing something here, but how can an army guarantee agriculture if the steppe nomads were pastoralists but still had armies?

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Note that steppe nomads are a problem not because they will sell you beef or horses, but because they seek to exert control over their base of supply for goods requiring sedentary manufacture.

Creating the ability to exert that control creates the army, and the army then insists on the production which (even in the really minimal "someone has to live in towns and make felt for the yurts" case) requires agriculture. And the agriculture must continue because the army won't let you leave.

There's a whole interesting wrangle about this with respect to Scythians and when they go through what stages of social organization about having what fixed base of supply to defend; they spent a long time doing something that's easy to interpret as refusing to have one. But, well, Hungary or Turkey are direct examples of pastoralist steppe peoples becoming sedentary because they started off securing the base of production for goods they needed. The Mongols incorporated much of China to be sure they weren't going to be short of swords (or buckles or stirrups). It's a consistent pattern.

So, yes, pastoralists, but pastorlists with an interest in goods requiring sedentary production (silk thread for bowyers, et multi cetera) and thus an interest in controlling it and then *poof*, army as the social machinery to be *able* to control sedentary production gets built. An army with some different traditions and social norms from an army arising from an agricultural tradition, but army. And it's the army that lets them demand the production which is either buying the goods (e.g. Scythians selling wheat to Greek city-states) or feeding the artisans making the goods. Both cases enforce agricultural production.

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Ok, I see what you mean. Thanks.

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My mother's father was 10 and her mother was 8. They were in California. All their 7 children lived to adulthood. Same with even my father's family who were in Alabama. All of his 11 brothers and sisters lived to adulthood. The 4 year old granddaughter visited for Christmas so I got to thinking what she will experience over her life. Will it be as different relative to what my grandfather experienced? Good chance she will live into her hundreds. What will a society of old folks be like?

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