From our helpless infants to the need to learn and be socialised, the years of effort required to raise human children has shaped our biological and social evolution.
The most important single biological fact in understanding human social dynamics is that we have the biosphere’s most expensive children.
A Homo sapien child does not complete the process of biological maturity until their early 20s. To get them to the stage where they can become parents is at least a 15-year investment, though longer is better.
It is not merely the length of Homo sapien childhood and adolescence that makes our children such orders of magnitude higher level of investment than the children of any other species. It is that our infants are incredibly helpless; that our toddlers need to be fed by their parents; that to be effective at being a Homo sapien, our offspring need years of learning and training. For we are the cultural species, who rely on learning to replace the instincts we mostly don’t have. …
And devaluing your citizenship
Controlling public markers of legitimacy can be a powerful source of social leverage. It is one that naturally rests on devaluing citizenship.
A crucial driver of this process in contemporary society comes from the shifts in social power in modern developed democracies as the so-called ‘professional and managerial class’ reaches a sufficient critical mass to aspire to social dominance.
I do not much like the term managerial and professional class. The term is too specifically modern and so gets in the way of connecting current dynamics to past social patterns.
History does not repeat, but it can rhyme pretty strongly. …
The pervasive attack on citizenship is part of a divide-and-dominate strategy.
Citizens of contemporary developed democracies live within an imperial order, but not in the way folk often claim.
There is an historical fable about the history of Western states that goes like this: once upon a time, Western states colonised the rest of the world, but then they morally advanced and retreated from imperialism, becoming welfare states instead.
I would put it slightly differently. Western states colonised the rest of the world because they could. Imperialism is what states do when they can, as more power and revenue is always preferable to less. But territorial imperialism became increasingly costly and the normative support for it collapsed. …
Meritocracies decay, and are often over-rated.
Meritocracy is not a new social form. It is not specific to Western modernity. On the contrary, one of the key markers of meritocracy — selection of public servants by examination — was pioneered by China centuries ago.
During the Song dynasty (960–1279), examination became the dominant path to official appointment. With the partial exception of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), the subsequent dynasties, the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1912), also selected their officials from those who had passed the imperial examination.
The Ottoman Empire (1299–1922) was also a substantially meritocratic polity. The basis of Ottoman meritocracy was the boy-tax levied on non-Muslim families, the devshirme. Each crop of boys was sorted according to their apparent aptitudes. They were trained and tested and set upon their various career paths within the state apparatus. …
Not all early states were autocratic.
In 1970, anthropologist Robert Carnerio advanced the circumscription theory of the origin of the state. The idea being that in environmentally (and socially) circumscribed environments, population pressure leads to warfare between communities that ends up resulting in the violent amalgamation of villages into chiefdoms and chiefdoms into states. Carnerio argued that voluntarist theories of the state fail as smaller units would not give up their sovereignty voluntarily. The “penning in” circumscribing factors could be either physical (deserts, mountains, coasts) or social (complete occupation of arable land by other social units).
Carnerio identified clearly a problem with automatic theories of the origin of the state — that many farming communities did not produce any significant surplus. Though he mis-identified this as a social mechanism failure when in fact it the key constraining factor was whether the crops cultivated in a region were sufficiently seasonal to produce stored food that could be appropriated. That this was a necessary condition for the rise of chiefdoms and states can be seen by the case of New Guinea, which had all the farming, warfare and geographical and social circumscription one could want but never developed any chiefdoms as its entirely non-seasonal crops did not produce the stored food necessary for the required resource (i.e., tribute and tax) base for chiefdoms and states to develop. …
If you only read one book on health and nutrition, make it Why We Get Sick by Dr Benjamin Bikman.
Dr Bikman is a research scientist whose work concentrates on insulin. He also teaches. Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease — and How to Fight It has the comprehensiveness of a working scientist and the clarity of a good teacher. Dr Bikman also has various lectures available on YouTube which are well worth watching.
Why We Get Sick is organised into three parts — The Problem (8 chapters), Causes (5 chapters), The Solution (5 chapters) — with regular insert boxes to expound on salient points. The book is essentially about the nature and causes of insulin resistance and how to (re)achieve insulin sensitivity. That is, make your cells properly responsive to insulin rather than improperly resistant to it. …
We live in a time of a striking pattern. In many ways, societies are much more socially egalitarian than they have ever been. Openly class-based social superiority language is much, much rarer than it used to be.
Conversely, we live in an age of intense moral in-egalitarianism. For instance, academic commentary on Trump voters has predominantly been about voting for Trump as a sign of moral delinquency. As has much of the academic commentary on Brexit voters. Such moral elitism is far more common than any explicit class elitism.
There is, of course, very much an underlying social dimension to this moralised denigration, but it pertains to a class that cannot see itself. Specifically, the possessors of human-and-cultural capital. (Human capital being skills, habits, knowledge and other personal characteristics that affect our productivity. French political economist Thomas Piketty has documented the shift in capital, class and electoral politics that has occurred in the postwar US, UK, and France and, by extension, all developed democracies as a result of the massive expansion in this social group.) …
Typically, the child-rearing not done by parents is done by peers.
Fatherhood, being (unlike biological paternity) a socially-constructed relationship of social identity, provision, care and attention, varies much more across (and within) cultures than does motherhood, which is far more biologically-grounded (at least until the infant is weaned). A small number of societies traditionally did not recognise the relationship of fatherhood at all, the role of male protector being taken by uncles. Even beyond such outliers, evidence from the anthropological literature is that the father’s attention is a highly variable factor in child-rearing.
The investment in attention and feeding required to raise a human child is considerable. Far more than is required to raise the young of any other species. As pregnancy and lactation ties women to the raising of infants, this leads to recurring risk-management patterns across human societies whereby activities that are compatible with breast-feeding, and other aspects of child-minding, become presumptively female roles. Those activities that are not thus compatible become presumptively male roles. The first scholarly explication of this was in a classic short analysis by anthropologist Judith K. Brown. An analysis that subsequently acquired considerable statistical and other support. …
Good versus evil is not a universal religious or moral framing
I have a wide range of interests, many of them historical. One of the YouYube channels I have watched regularly is Dr Jackson Crawford’s channel on old Norse culture: serious scholarship delivered congenially in (generally) bite-sized pieces.
I have also listened to several of Tom Rowsell’s offerings from his Survive the Jive channel. He is mainly interested in matters Indo-European, but he ranges more widely, and some of his videos can be charming, such as this one on Hinduism in Bali. …
Ideologies come and go. It is the social dynamics that matter.
In one of his fun and informed alternative history videos, the operator of the Whatifalthist YouTube channel makes the point that Communism was good for the US, because it hobbled the two countries most able to rival it — Russia and China.