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I still disagree. Words like 'work', 'capital' and 'productive' are pure capitalist theology.

I doubt Amazon tribespeople think in those terms at all. So far as I can tell, based on a little reading and no experience, they have a much richer and more complex relationship with their environment and with their history.

It's true that people need food and shelter, and some kind of social structure. But that is not the same as accepting that the provision of food and shelter are a primary problem for everyone, in the way they are in capitalist cultures.

It's a famous factoid - it may even be true - that in some cultures, provision of necessities takes no more than four hours a day. So why it does take between eight and twelve in this supposedly superior one?

To paraphrase Iain Banks, economics is synonymous with poverty. If you want global prosperity, you're very unlikely to get it by thinking purely in terms of resource allocation, 'work', and 'capital'.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 11:39:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but amazonians people still eat... Replace "work" by "activity" if you think the word is too much western centered. You will still have a fact: these guys spend some time looking for food and some time doing other things. The choice between time spent looking for food and time spent doing other things reflect a value, and therefore an economic system.

The fact that, in that kind of cultural environement, people do not consider as a need the use of TV entertainment or whatever only says something about their cultural values. Not about the existence of men, of man made objects and of natural resources needed to craft these man-made objects. Work, capital and resources. Economy.

I really want to make clear that "work", in my post, is not equivalent to "wage-earning job" or other system we know. "Capital" is not equivalent to "money". But I don't think it is possible to avoid looking at these three production factors, whichever denomination you use. Even animals will have to evolve in this frame. It's some kind of population dynamics study.

I prefer using terms already defined rather than having to recall my own definitions each time. Because the important thing for me is more on the discussion of the set of rules to choose, as a society, to regulate these three factors. Should we give precedence to capital, to work, to natural resources? What is the maximum amount of work that can be used at a given time? (ie: productivity, worked hours...) What is the right use of natural resources? Should we use all our knowledge to produce things without regards to the resources available? should we force a reduction of work hours so as to reduce the amount of natural resources used and have more time to do other things?

by Xavier in Paris on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 03:38:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  • Work is the fact that any human being, in any society, will get up in the morning to get something to eat.

  • Capital, in any human society, is the fact that this human being will probably not get his food without a tool. That tool is capital. (in all senses ^_^)

  • Politics is the fact (relatively well established, I think) that human beings are social animals, evolved from other social animals, in a species group (apes) characterized by the existence of coalition of animals that give an edge in the reproduction processes of the individual and are then selected by darwinian mechanisms.

Do the notions of work, capital, productive mechanisms, etc. apply to non-human social animals, e.g. chimpanizees, rhesus monkeys, bats, bees, ants, etc., as well as to humans?

What, if anything, is qualitatively different between non-human economic systems and those of humans?  Is it the flexibility of social arrangements that humans have to mediate economic relations between individuals in these groups (presumably in large part due to language and other symbolic systems)?

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 04:04:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Humans are the only species of social animals to use crude tools to build better tools to any significant extent. This gives human societies a lot more ability to store (and thereby to concentrate) wealth - you can collect far more food for yourself if it won't spoil in a few days, you can only really begin handing down wealth to your children if you have tools which require other tools to build and maintain.

This gives a scope to human politics that is absent in other primate politics.

Then of course comes the invention of long-distance communication and transportation, which adds a geographic scope to the politics. But that's tacked on much later in the evolution of primate politics.

"Social" insects are arguably different, and not particularly social at all, in that the "organism" level is the hive rather than the individual specimen - a worker ant resembles a red blood cell more than it resembles a chimpanzee.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 05:40:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
chimps also use tools. And I think I recall a study where it was proved that these tools were culturally different from one group of chimp to the other. (but I may be mistaken: this comes from my fuzzy memory)
by Xavier in Paris on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 07:28:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He said "use crude tools to build better tools". I'm pretty sure he worded it that way to exclude chimps.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 07:30:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I don't know about using tools to build better tools. but they definitely modify the object to get an artificial tool.
by Xavier in Paris on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 10:53:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
link to the paper (pdf): tools and chimps
by Xavier in Paris on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:25:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the fact that the chimps don't do it isn't the reason for my distinction. I make the distinction between simple and complex tools because complex tools present a bootstrap problem.

Suppose you take a troop of chimps, take their tools away and displace them to an unknown area. They will be able to recreate their entire stock of tools in more or less the same state within a very short span of time. They have all the knowledge required, all the raw materials at hand, and all the cultural structure they need.

Now suppose you do the same with one of the early Sumerian city-states. They still have all the raw materials readily at hand. They have all the culturally embedded knowledge. They have all the craftsmen and laborers they had in their city-state. But they would not be able to bootstrap a Sumerian civilization before they starved and died. Because they would not have the tools they would need to build the tools with which they were familiar. They would not have the irrigation systems that their forefathers built up over generations. They would not have the granaries to stockpile food, or the roads to transport it in from the farms. Or even the strains of food crops carefully cultivated and domesticated.

I argue that this, more than anything else, is what distinguishes chimpanzee and human politics. Because the rest is a lot more similar than most people give the chimps credit for.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:03:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ok, you mean that our societies are a bit more complex than chimp's societies? ;-)

But maybe the human society may "downgrade" and, whith some losses in lives, develop a new technical environnment.

Anyway, I think we are quite far away the initial posts, and I personnally have a bit lost my thread here. But it was interesting to discuss things with everybody here, as I had never really took the time to write things down. Food for though anyway.

by Xavier in Paris on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:22:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Humans, like cockroaches, are exceedingly easy to kill but very difficult to completely exterminate.

Then again, our technological civilization could be argued to be a part of our extended phenotype - just as one might regard an anthill as a part of the ant colony, rather than a part of the ground. If one takes that view, then to extinguish a culture is tantamount to an extinction event.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:30:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not optimistic. I think our culture and accumulated knowledge are unique, and uniquely endangered.

Without that culture humans are just animals with unusually developed language skills. Humans as a species can survive without that culture.

But I think in Darwinian terms the persistence and mechanical amplification of knowledge are a new symbiotic genus in their own right, and wholesale extinction would just as catastrophic as any other kind of extinction.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:35:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Give it fifteen thousand years and the survivors of the nuclear Armageddon will have developed a new technological civilization. Humans are tenacious bastards like that.

But it will bear so little resemblance to the one we currently live in that one might as well argue that mainline humans went extinct and a sub-species evolved to fill in the abandoned niche.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:53:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What makes humans different is externalised cumulative memory.

In other species, individuals learn, but their knowledge disappears when they die. So each generation has to start from scratch.

A few animals have very limited shared memory.

Only humans externalise memory in physical form, so learning and culture don't just persist across generations, but become cumulatively detailed and increasingly widespread and accessible.

Tool use isn't that unusual. A few animals can share tool strategies. Only humans can share tool strategies in a way that persists long after the original inventors died.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:31:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Case 1: In bottlenose dolphins, all individuals from a single ancestor use tools, while their companions (as in "member of the same group, but of different ancestor") do not use the tool.

Case 2: in chimps, tool use and learning most effective between age 3-5. A 16 year long longitudinal study.

Case 3: Archeologists find remnants of continued tool use on the same site for 4300 years.

by Xavier in Paris on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 07:36:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're missing my point.

I can learn how to do integration by reading Wikipedia or buying a book. The point is not that I'm learning from other individuals, but that the knowledge persists and exists externally and independently.

I can learn to play the blues by listening to recordings made by someone who died a long time ago. You're going to have a hard time convincing me there's any evidence of similar transmission in animals.

Tool use is not the point here.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 08:47:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's the case 3 for you, then: An archeological site were tools associated to chimps are found on a 4000 years duration. These tools are still used by chimps.

Anyway: a knowledge exists in the brain of an individual (who has learned it). If this individual, chimp or human, do not teach it, then it is lost. Otherwise it is transmitted. Chances are that the second individual will be young (study about learning age 3-5 for chimps), so will survive its teacher: if he becomes a teacher in his time, then the knowledge has been transmitted to the next generation.

Does knowledge exists independently from a living mind? This is a philosophical question I do not have an answer to.

by Xavier in Paris on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 09:31:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I said - tool use is not the point. But you're not understanding the difference, so never mind.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 01:06:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I understood you were talking about the transmission of knowledge in time.

That's the third paper, talking about continuous transmission attested by archeological evidence during a period of time.

If you're restraining your though to transmission through a media like writing, recording and so on, then what about human oral cultures or pre-historical ones?

I feel the limit is much more tenuous and that it may be impossible to find something other than a difference in degree (of intelligence, communication, culture...) between species that are akin to ours.

by Xavier in Paris on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 06:33:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry if i didn't understood well your meaning.
by Xavier in Paris on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 06:35:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The line goes:

personal memory -> shared herd memory -> external persistent shared memory -> abstracted external shared memory.

Each is a superclass of the previous one, and the differentiator - as I said - is that once memory is externalised, face to face transmission is no longer required, and it also becomes possible to symbolically abstract, summarise, model and share experience without having to living it personally.

That's a difference in kind, not a difference in degree. It took humans a long time to invent it, but once it was invented it made a lot of other things possible, including brain tools like computers, which not only store information outside of individual experience, but can leverage innate intelligence in novel ways.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:04:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In addition, it means that when aggressive males manage to kill themselves off, their cultural influence does not die with them, but persists and can be relearned by future generations. Which means we're worse off than baboons.

Specifically, I'm thinking of the theory that European post-WWII Social Democracy is a consequence of two world wars in 30 years decimating the male minitaristic elite. But the effect of that did not survive the coming of age (1980s) of the generation born after WWII (1950s), because they could learn toxic culture from the "classic" writings of dead people.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:10:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The corollary is that you don't change culture by persuading individuals, you persuade individuals by changing culture.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:32:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And what likely happened after WW II was that there was insufficient change in the underlying culture. Likely insufficient account was taken of the ability of the females and older generations of males to transmit the negative cultural traits that were attenuated in their expression after WW II by the reduction of living males in the 20-40 year old age group. So when more normal population demographics reappeared so did the traits that had led to them being skewed in the first place.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:54:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the knowledge depends on you knowing how to decode it. It's not independent of anything - write the book in Chinese (guessing here) and it's not knowledge to you or me.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 09:46:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That depends on whether we consider knowledge to be a relative or an absolute thing. I may know something that is unintelligible to my teenage children, because they are not currently disposed to comprehend or accept it.

Nobody could read hieroglyphs or Sumerian cuneiforms either. But the knowledge they embody was still there all the time, just waiting to be decoded.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 10:20:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Decoding was only possible because we had sufficient continuity of oral skills to link stuff we knew to stuff that was there. And whether our interpretation is correct or not is an issue of debate.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 10:33:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ummm so the information was there? sort-of there? not there at all?

I don't really think oral skills had much to do with decoding hieroglyphs or cuneiforms. Archaeological evidence, and other writings, of various ages, were what permitted it.

I postulate that encoded knowledge is objective and intemporal (but, obviously, contextual in its interpretation)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 11:10:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope, no more than DNA is.

We were able to use the other writings because we knew how to read their descendants. Reading is a skill we pass on orally.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 11:18:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, speaking is a skill we pass on orally.

Reading and writing are enhanced language skills that can be learned after that. Humans are capable of teaching themselves to read (with difficulty, but it can be done - just as most people can learn the basics of most languages, given tapes and books.)

The point isn't that language exists, but that enhanced skills allow information to persist and accumulate outside of human brains, and to be transmitted without personal contact.

And it's not just writing. Some of the most popular language courses are spoken-word. They're recorded and replayed to order.

Again, the key difference is that they continue to exist independent of direct personal contact. Just like iPad games for kids that teach them word basics when their parents aren't around.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 01:42:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why does something have to make humans different? We do some stuff really well, but we're just animals.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 08:03:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're asking that on the Internet.

Just saying.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 08:38:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Difference of degree, not kind. We're really shit at flying.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 09:47:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Er - no we're not. We're really good at flying - to the Moon and back good.

We're really bad at flying by flapping our forelimbs around, which is something else entirely.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 01:50:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd still argue the notion of capital is inherently political. Tools aren't, but at the point you aggregate a hammer and a sickle and get some measure of "capital" you are no longer dealing with objective facts.
by generic on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 03:33:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which just emphasises the extent to which 'economics' is just campfire storytelling, and not an objective examination of what humans do, or why humans do it, or what humans could do that's different and/or better.

If you want insight into those questions you're better off asking an anthropologist.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 12:54:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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