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The myth of the 'agricultural revolution' (eurozine.com)
30 points by auxbuss 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments

Wealth inequality seems a meaningless measure to apply in retrospect to societies which had no material wealth. Even if these groups were materially egalitarian (i.e. everyone is poor by modern standards), I doubt that there was real equality. The fact that some men would have reproduced with multiple women while others did not reproduce at all is an example of this.

This article follows the tried-and-true format of "Everyone used to think ABSOLUTIST_STRAWMAN_NO_ONE_ACTUALLY_BELIEVES was true, but now we've learned the issue is more nuanced."


They spent huge swathes explaining exactly what was assumed to be true and by whom, and what is still assumed by certain people/fields etc. And if the article isn't enough go read the comments section where the two authors (who are at the top of their field*) answer questions and critiques.

Going by many comments here it would seem many have skimmed the article because it's too long and have come away with their own constructed reality of what it is even saying in the first place based being reactionary to certain statements without bothering to take in the context of what surrounds them. Similarly the comments section of the article consists of the authors re-iterating what they've already said.

Yes it is nuanced, which is why it requires a close reading.

David Graeber is easily one of best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world. People who dismiss this because 'evidence' should wait for the book--a good chunk of which will be nothing but citations. This is not some generalized Joe Rogan friendly pop science or pop history (see: Pinker and Harari).

I hate that formula as well, but in this case the misconception is still a standard narrative that gets repeated over and over again, even in classrooms. And it's true that specialists who know better have not been aggressive about correcting it, probably because they assume the updated view is already widespread and the misunderstanding is just lingering in the popular imagination. But it's not just lingering! It's actively repeated in academic contexts, maybe not by academics in directly related fields but definitely in fields one step removed, because the specialists are not spreading the word.

I wouldn't be surprised if this also has something to do with the fact that (as the article points out) the outdated view got baked into the foundations of a lot of progressive political ideologies, and archaeologists simply don't want to poke that hornets' nest.

I'm not buying this guy's long-winded "debunk." I think the book Sapiens does a better job at discussing the potential theories and the evidence to back it up.

The authors are arguing that findings in anthropology and archeology, if further researched for many more decades, will reveal that it is possible for our modern industrial societies to abolish inequality and become anarchist socialist regimes.

It has some interesting facts, but also some essential errors. Rousseau did not say the original state of nature was people living in small bands, but rather entirely independently. Anthropologists have never said that the original foraging bands were independent,but were always parts of tribes. And they have for a long time held that foraging tribes in areas with a high concentration of food resources, such as the American Pacific North-West, were sedentary.

Perhaps most important is that foraging tribes, due to population pressures, engage in regular violent conflict over land. With the coming of agriculture such conflict intensifies, and eventually leads to highly inequal militaristic civilizations.

TL;DR: Ancient hunter-gatherer societies, in at least some instances, may have transformed from small bands into larger groups (and then back) through the course of a year. In the process, they could also move from more authoritarian to more egalitarian and back. Therefore everything everybody thinks they know about the origin of authoritarianism and inequality is wrong.

But they took 50(!) screens of text to say it, while presenting what should have been said in one-fifth of the words...

Please don't tl;dr when it's clear by your summary that you haven't read the whole thing.

Actually, I did.

Well then why is the tl;dr literally only one of the configurations/examples they describe in relation to their numerous other large points?

This related to the larger point that it is a misnomer that authoritarianism emerges only in larger groups, agriculture/ civilizations, etc, and that actually egalitarianism is not some default mode for small groups.

One of the biggest points, for example, was that ‘civilization’ does not come as a package. The world’s first cities did not just emerge in a handful of locations, together with systems of centralised government and bureaucratic control. That it no longer makes any sense to use phrases like ‘the agricultural revolution’ when dealing with processes of such inordinate length and complexity.

Another point made early on was about the assumptions about the probability of achieving emancipation from more authoritarian modes organization. The likelihood we’ll all just place ourselves in some form of voluntary servitude. The myth that our innate drive for freedom somehow leads us, time andtagain, on a ‘spontaneous march to inequality’.

That the attempt to form ‘big picture’ narratives has been a source of much of the bullshit (pop history, pop science, drawing on outdated economic theory, and outdated archeology, cherry-picking sources--basically anyone Joe Rogan has on his podcast!).

Their summary alone was about 8 large paragraphs long.

> This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility.

The thesis rests on this assumption, but I kind of doubt that people base their political beliefs on how early agricultural societies ordered themselves.

Even if they did, the inequality level was certainly far smaller pre-agriculture (PA) than it is now. If you measure it in sexual partners and food in PA, the difference PA is still much smaller than today. Kings and billionaires came when agriculture did.

Mostly a lot of establishment bashing because 'they' are dumb and he is not. There are competing theories about the emergence of farming, even if not as fast as often stated it was still a profound revolution.

What a horrible layout. This article may have been written as an advert for Firefox reader view

I guess in those historical egalitarian cities they had a more egalitarian family structure? What a load of codswallop

Could you please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow those rules when commenting here? They include these two:

"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."

"Don't be snarky."

I wasn't trying to be snarky, was just objecting to the conclusion of the piece. It argues that inequality in society projects from the structure of family relations, but nothing was spoken about those relationships in the small being any different for their historical examples of egalitarian societies. I'm probably not well enough educated to read this article properly, but the conclusion seems to be weakly supported to me.

> It argues that inequality in society projects from the structure of family relations, but nothing was spoken about those relationships in the small being any different for their historical examples of egalitarian societies.

That's the sort of substantive point we're looking for in the first place!

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