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Thread: Did Agriculture Destroy Us?

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    Did Agriculture Destroy Us?

    http://www.rewild.com/in-depth/longevity.html

    According to this article, we probably led fairly long lives when we were hunter gatherers, assuming though we survived infancy. The article doesn’t cite though any evidence from graves or fossils of such people as to how long they lived. I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Others have made this argument before, but Agriculture brought far more diseases and even famine to us, and we’ve never recovered even with the advance of modern medicine. Worldwide life expectancy is 71 years +/-. But I’m not sure if it would be much higher if you removed infant mortality.

    In Yuval Harari's book, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, he makes the same point. He called our pre Agriculture society the Garden of Eden, and pointed out that Agriculture ruined it. But once adopted it could not be stopped.

    This thread stems from our discussion in morals and principles about the nature of morals and where they come from. Our morals in a hunter gatherer society would be more cooperative and less selfish, capitalism, which is the offspring of agriculture, may have changed our moral outlook significantly. It really is a terrible invention.

    SLD

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    The article reads like a romanticization based on nothing but what 'feels right' to the author. I would challenge the author to test the ideas offered. There are still significant areas of the world where people live the hunter gatherer life such as vast areas of the Amazon rain forest, New Guinea, the mountains of Southeast Asia, some areas of the Congo or Kalahari, outer Siberia. The author could pick any of these, cast off the trappings of modern civilization, take several like minded people, and try living there for four or five years. The come back and report on how much of an Eden it was, at least the ones that survived could.

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    Yuval Harari and his shitty book miss the point that we didn't choose agriculture, agriculture chose us.

    The problems that agriculture may have caused for us are a complete non-sequitur, because land intensification (or lack thereof) is ultimately a product of population density and climactic conditions. In other words, there was absolutely no way to avoid it, and there is no way to avoid the lack of it where hunter gatherer's still exist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    The article reads like a romanticization based on nothing but what 'feels right' to the author. I would challenge the author to test the ideas offered. There are still significant areas of the world where people live the hunter gatherer life such as vast areas of the Amazon rain forest, New Guinea, the mountains of Southeast Asia, some areas of the Congo or Kalahari, outer Siberia. The author could pick any of these, cast off the trappings of modern civilization, take several like minded people, and try living there for four or five years. The come back and report on how much of an Eden it was, at least the ones that survived could.
    There's this too. If you speak to tribes-people who have actually lived in both conditions, they will always prefer the situation where it's easiest to acquire food (hence why agriculture came to be in the first place).

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    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    http://www.rewild.com/in-depth/longevity.html

    According to this article, we probably led fairly long lives when we were hunter gatherers, assuming though we survived infancy. The article doesn’t cite though any evidence from graves or fossils of such people as to how long they lived. I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Others have made this argument before, but Agriculture brought far more diseases and even famine to us,
    Define "brought famine". I'm fairly certain the percentage of deaths directly attributable to a lack of food was higher in the average foraging society. I'm also fairly certain the tyical early farmer was suffering hunger for a larger percentage of their life: when that once in a decade dry spell or harsh winter hits, a mobile foraging Band will be reduced to a number low enough that for the next 5, 10 or 25 years, until a similar event hits again, there'll be plenty for everyone - while farmers can to some extent average out such events with stored goods and thus permanently live much closer to the limit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    http://www.rewild.com/in-depth/longevity.html

    According to this article, we probably led fairly long lives when we were hunter gatherers, assuming though we survived infancy. The article doesn’t cite though any evidence from graves or fossils of such people as to how long they lived. I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Others have made this argument before, but Agriculture brought far more diseases and even famine to us,
    Define "brought famine". I'm fairly certain the percentage of deaths directly attributable to a lack of food was higher in the average foraging society. I'm also fairly certain the tyical early farmer was suffering hunger for a larger percentage of their life: when that once in a decade dry spell or harsh winter hits, a mobile foraging Band will be reduced to a number low enough that for the next 5, 10 or 25 years, until a similar event hits again, there'll be plenty for everyone - while farmers can to some extent average out such events with stored goods and thus permanently live much closer to the limit.
    The article states that famine would be rarer in H-G societies since their diet would've been more varied. If some species they depended on for food wasn’t available, something else would have been. But I’m wondering if there is any archeological evidence about this issue one way or the other. Do human remains from 30,000 years ago show evidence of malnutrition? Is that possible? I would think so, since bone growth, age at death would give us lots clues. But I’m not the expert.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    http://www.rewild.com/in-depth/longevity.html

    According to this article, we probably led fairly long lives when we were hunter gatherers, assuming though we survived infancy. The article doesn’t cite though any evidence from graves or fossils of such people as to how long they lived. I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Others have made this argument before, but Agriculture brought far more diseases and even famine to us,
    Define "brought famine". I'm fairly certain the percentage of deaths directly attributable to a lack of food was higher in the average foraging society. I'm also fairly certain the tyical early farmer was suffering hunger for a larger percentage of their life: when that once in a decade dry spell or harsh winter hits, a mobile foraging Band will be reduced to a number low enough that for the next 5, 10 or 25 years, until a similar event hits again, there'll be plenty for everyone - while farmers can to some extent average out such events with stored goods and thus permanently live much closer to the limit.
    The article states that famine would be rarer in H-G societies since their diet would've been more varied. If some species they depended on for food wasn’t available, something else would have been.
    Except for those times when nothing is, but then everyone dies really fast.

    But I’m wondering if there is any archeological evidence about this issue one way or the other. Do human remains from 30,000 years ago show evidence of malnutrition? Is that possible? I would think so, since bone growth, age at death would give us lots clues. But I’m not the expert.
    Human remains from after the introduction of agriculture indeed show more signs of malnutrition than those of hunter-gatherers, but that may not mean what you think it does.

    Bone growth patterns don't tell us that a person died from acute starvation, they can only ever tell us about chronical non-lethal deficits. Archaeology can tell us about the people how survived long periods of barely enough food (and it tells us that there are more of those among early farmers), but it's much less able to tell us about people who didn't survive short periods of no food (presumably, a more common pattern among hunter-gatherers).

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    In the sense that modern ag allows population to rise dramatically, outside of any environmental restraints for a time.

    A natural restraint would be the population balance between a predator and prey.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    http://www.rewild.com/in-depth/longevity.html

    According to this article, we probably led fairly long lives when we were hunter gatherers, assuming though we survived infancy. The article doesn’t cite though any evidence from graves or fossils of such people as to how long they lived. I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Others have made this argument before, but Agriculture brought far more diseases and even famine to us,
    Define "brought famine". I'm fairly certain the percentage of deaths directly attributable to a lack of food was higher in the average foraging society. I'm also fairly certain the tyical early farmer was suffering hunger for a larger percentage of their life: when that once in a decade dry spell or harsh winter hits, a mobile foraging Band will be reduced to a number low enough that for the next 5, 10 or 25 years, until a similar event hits again, there'll be plenty for everyone - while farmers can to some extent average out such events with stored goods and thus permanently live much closer to the limit.
    Well, the archeological record seems to pretty clearly indicate that agriculture made humans more unhealthy, as can be deduced from skeletal remains, and pretty significantly so. Average heights have yet to recover, and the skeletons of early (read, pretty much everything before the 21st/20th century) are clearly less healthy than than the skeletons from the paeleolithic.

    Also, hunter gatherers do not spend more time obtaining sufficient calories, quite the opposite, agriculture requires intense labor and often lead to poor nutrition, with human populations starting to depend on fewer and fewer plants for their diet.

    Of course, people always try to make this into a black and white "progressivist vs noble savage" dichotomy.

    Fundamentally, agriculture didn't spread because it made human life better, it spread because it allowed for human groups to sustain larger and larger populations, and these populations pushed out the hunter gatherer societies.

    I first read this argument form Jared Diamond's "The Worst Mistake in Human History".

    Here's a blog post that goes over Diamond's argument, and some other stuff as well:

    https://www.livinganthropologically....worst-mistake/

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    In the sense that modern ag allows population to rise dramatically, outside of any environmental restraints for a time.

    A natural restraint would be the population balance between a predator and prey.
    True, but available food supply is also a natural restraint. A given environment can only support a given population. While too many predators will deplete the prey population faster than replacement so deplete the predators, a grazing herd is limited in population by availability of grass, even without predators.

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    Quote Originally Posted by J842P View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    http://www.rewild.com/in-depth/longevity.html

    According to this article, we probably led fairly long lives when we were hunter gatherers, assuming though we survived infancy. The article doesn’t cite though any evidence from graves or fossils of such people as to how long they lived. I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Others have made this argument before, but Agriculture brought far more diseases and even famine to us,
    Define "brought famine". I'm fairly certain the percentage of deaths directly attributable to a lack of food was higher in the average foraging society. I'm also fairly certain the tyical early farmer was suffering hunger for a larger percentage of their life: when that once in a decade dry spell or harsh winter hits, a mobile foraging Band will be reduced to a number low enough that for the next 5, 10 or 25 years, until a similar event hits again, there'll be plenty for everyone - while farmers can to some extent average out such events with stored goods and thus permanently live much closer to the limit.
    Well, the archeological record seems to pretty clearly indicate that agriculture made humans more unhealthy, as can be deduced from skeletal remains, and pretty significantly so. Average heights have yet to recover, and the skeletons of early (read, pretty much everything before the 21st/20th century) are clearly less healthy than than the skeletons from the paeleolithic.
    As I said: In blood and flesh a person who was well nourished all their life and a person who was well nourished almost all of their life except for brief episodes of extreme starvation, one of which killed him look very different - only one of them is, after all, dead. When both have been dead for 10,000 years, their bones look pretty much their same, and the guy who had enough to survive but not much more than that is the odd one out.

    Early farmers were of that third type. That doesn't imply that agriculture "brought famine", certainly not if by famine you mean "people dying from acute undernourishment", though chronical malnourishment it arguably did bring.


    Also, hunter gatherers do not spend more time obtaining sufficient calories, quite the opposite, agriculture requires intense labor and often lead to poor nutrition, with human populations starting to depend on fewer and fewer plants for their diet.
    True, and I brought this up myself in another thread recently. But again, being that hunter-gatherers' environment is less predictible, just because they spend less time foraging on average (and this is true even of 20th century hunter gatherer societies that had long been confined to some of the most hostile environments of the planet) doesn't imply that during periods of extreme shortage, they spend all their time trying (and sometimes failing) to get any food whatsoever.

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