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Kautilya Arthashastra and its relevance to Urban Planning Studies [pdf] (itpi.org.in)
56 points by jelliclesfarm 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments





I can't tell if the author sees it as a feature rather than a bug, but this basically describes the feudal system of land use, wherein the best areas are exclusively occupied by the priesthood, aristocracy, and their retainers, while the peasantry toils under their control outside the fortified walls.

That shouldn't be a surprise because the text in question was written nearly 2,000 years ago.

It's recommendations hold few lessons for the modern era except as a reminder of the inhumanity of the feudal system. Bear in mind that we only disposed of feudalism (though not completely) in the last few centuries.


You are right this has been one of the issues with ancient texts. Lucky the last empire of this dynasty Ashoka went against this system and adopted Buddhism which is against this caste system in India and deride hierarchy based on birth.

Obviously with successive empire and generations India has gone through many transformations. The India (Hindustan) as we know it today was united by Mughals (where it enjoyed the period of golden growth especially under Akbar and got the name Hindustan) and then carried on by Britishers. Later it became free India in 1947.


There were large unitary empires in India before the Mughals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_empires_in_Ind...

It even had a name before that: Bharat.

And on Buddhism, unfortunately the story is more complex and not as rosy.

Buddhism unfortunately still has/had sects and castes (as do even Christianity and Islam in India). Here is an article:

https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/14500421.pdf

  One of the outstanding examples of such an ideologisation of history of religion is the modern view of Buddhism. Developed by the Western colonialist Indology this ideology portrayed and still is portraying Buddhism as an rationalist-atheistic, anti-brahmanical, anti-caste and egalitarian religion - in contrast to Hinduism which is caricatured as idolatrous, casteistic and brahmanised. The aim of such an ideological interpretation is to demonstrate the alleged Western modernity of Buddhism and the alleged obscurantism of Hinduism."

   We want to dispute these asserted positions by empirico-historical reasons.

> There were large unitary empires in India before the Mughals

> It even had a name before that: Bharat.

Regardless of what they were named, they were probably no better or worse than the Mughals or the Buddhist Ashokan empire. These were all absolute monarchies, with all the terrible implications for individual rights and distribution of power, resources and rights, just like their contemporaries in other parts of the world.

We'd do well not to overly romanticise any of these ancient political and social structures.


> Regardless of what they were named, they were probably no better or worse than the Mughals or the Buddhist Ashokan empire. These were all absolute monarchies, with all the terrible implications for individual rights and distribution of power, resources and rights, just like their contemporaries in other parts of the world.

I am sorry this is just sweeping away their atrocities.

> We'd do well not to overly romanticise any of these ancient political and social structures.

We do better if we don't assert false generalizations contrary to empirical evidence.


I don't think so it was considered a golden phase. India was united but there weren't significant progress in art and mathematics barring a few exceptions. also, the religious prosecution and the tax on non believers sucked the poor dry. The gupta Empire around 7th century CE is considered the last golden age of pan India. though such a big country, different parts had their different parts of prosperity like Vijayanagar empire in 15 th century CE

There are two surviving sources on Ashoka's conversion. One states that he became a follower of the Buddha at/after the Battle of Kalinga. This is a rock edict attributed to Ashoka. It does not explicitly say that he converted but rather embraced the monastic path.

The second which is a Buddhist textual source, says that he was always Buddhist, and he in fact had 18,000~ Jain monks put to death because their spiritual leader insulted the Buddha. Why would a Buddhist source lie?

Modern historians play up the first source and bury the latter.


All of those empires, regardless of their religion or how we romanticize or demonize them today, were absolute monarchies.

This is patently false. Indian kingdoms prior to the Mughals were not absolute monarchies. Earliest source [1]:

"Buddha, however, had stated explicitly to his disciples on several occasions that, after he had passed away, the Dharma itself would serve as their teacher. He wished his community to continue on the model of the parliamentary system of Vajji. He did not intend for them to model themselves after a kingdom like Kosala and Magadha and have a single chief monk as its head."

Vajji, amongst other states, is known from various sources to have a representative council system of government [2]. This form of government was called "Gana Sangha" or "Council of Tribes"[3]

Furthermore, most Indian rulers prior to the Mongols (Mughals) separated their Dharma (religion) and State. I say most, because some like Ashoka were intolerant if Buddhist scriptures are to be believed. The idea of Church and State separation as enshrined in Western Constitutions is an artefact peculiar to Semitic religions. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions see church and state as one - viz - the Holy Roman empire, the Caliph - religious and temporal ruler. Even today the Queen of England is the head of the Church of England the head of state.

Dharmic traditions (Hindu/Buddhist/Jain) - do not have this notion of political power being vested in the religious authority. Hindu/Buddhist rulers gave patronage to most sects including Christians (52 AD), Jews (since King Solomon's time) and Zoroastrians (8th century AD).

[1] https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/history-cultur...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic. See citations for 35,36

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ga%E1%B9%87a_sangha


I do not romanticise or demonize them (as you in your statement by calling them absolute monarchies as the system is more complex and nuanced). My point is simple here history teaches some lessons and we should learn from it.

If you see today monarchs are replaced either by oligarchy, power or money. It’s impossible to fight an election for US President without money, which brings vested interests (not so much different in essence from Indian, Persian or Chinese federal systems managing large swaths of empire).

Only a system which protects minority from the tyranny of majority is true test of humanity and in this I believe early Persian empire, Ashok and among Mughals Akbar did better by promoting truly plural society, abolishing the system of punishing people in minority with different beliefs. Obviously we didn’t live in that era so my views are only based on some studies.

Today in most democracy it’s a tyranny of majority and the constitutional rights granted for protection of minority are constantly diluted or completely removed. “Black lives matter” and “Minority treatment in India” is a very good example of it (including in China, but than people don’t consider it as democracy anyways).


> Ashok and among Mughals Akbar did better by promoting truly plural society, abolishing the system of punishing people in minority with different beliefs > Obviously we didn’t live in that era so my views are only based on some studies.

It was the massacres Ashoka committed in the war against Kalinga that supposedly turned him Buddhist. Every other empire in human history has also committed huge atrocities, so much that it's almost tautological.

> Today in most democracy it’s a tyranny of majority and the constitutional rights granted for protection of minority are constantly diluted or completely removed. “Black lives matter” and “Minority treatment in India”

I agree it's regressing right now, but the political structures still exist in democracies to fight back against the regression, at least for now. That's more than can be said for people living under absolute monarchy or authoritarian rule today.


> It was the massacres Ashoka committed in the war against Kalinga that supposedly turned him Buddhist. Every other empire in human history has also committed huge atrocities, so much that it's almost tautological.

Do you think modern times are any different?

Can you count the civilians death in Palestine, Iraq, Afganistan and many other places where USA and its allies bombed and bombs regularly. Talk of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s more brutal and worse than Kalinga which transformed Ashoka. Did this transform USA (its allies) or it’s political establishments?

Here not even talking about WWI and WWII. So don’t think living in a bubble unaffected by these can legitimise the tyranny of majority or democracy or communism which propelled to kill millions of others with different beliefs.

> but political structure still exists

Yes they are based on majoritarian views and politics at the expense of muzzling the minority.

We need a modern revolution based on science and humanity, removing the artificial barriers created by us, but anyways I know I am dreaming.


The communists were motivated by science and humanity. All evil begins with good intentions.

> The communists were motivated by science and humanity.

No not really, communists are also another form of majoritarian political system.

So far there isn’t an example of any system which really builds on science and humanity. All the structures at present are based on majoritarian views without due protection to minorities or minority views. I have yet to see a system which protects minorities from the tyranny of majority.

Communist or Democracy both can survive only when administration appease majority and follow majoritarian views. Seen it first hand by living in both the systems.


Ashoka was Buddhist to start with,his greatness is a myth propagated by the extreme left distortions.

Mughals the golden age where they burnt down thousands of temples, libraries and universities. Plundered, looted, raped and took hundreds of thousands of sex slaves.

We have enough whitewashing and distortionists.


The Mughals were descendants of Genghis Khan, the Western arm of the Mongol empire. They embraced Islam after sacking Baghdad and slaughtering the Caliph, having had him trampled by horses. When Timurlane invaded India he would erect mountains of infidel skulls after battle [0]. His descendants followed that practice though to be fair they practiced this against all opponents just not infidels however it speaks to their barbarianism. All Mughals from Timurlane to Aurangzeb destroyed temples, smashed idols and butchered the priests and monks. Dozens of Indian religious sects that were heterodox (outside) to classical Hindu thought like Carvaka, who were material rationalists, were exterminated including most Buddhist and Jain sects. Buddhist traditions that exist outside India have recorded these holocausts.

Akbar, who you eulogize, as having ushered in a golden age was anything but. He carried out the fanaticism of his ancestors and was proud to be known as a Ghazi or "great Islamic warrior". Amongst his notorious deeds that are whitewashed are destroying temples and idols and rewarding those who killed infidels and soaked their beards in their blood [2].

Aurangzeb who ruled from 1618 onwards was the 6th emperor had thousands of temples destroyed like his illustrious great grand father. He has many famous edicts still preserved [1] where he ordered thousands of temples destroyed and the idols carted to Delhi where they were buried under the steps of the grand mosque he built in New Delhi which still stands. Delhi and its surroundings which have Hindu history going back thousands of years do not have a single temple older than 60 years. Why? The Mughals systematically destroyed every temple from one of the oldest inhabited urban areas in the Indian sub continent.

The were many empires in India prior to Mughals and after the Mughals that unified most of India and in many cases had greater land mass than the Mughals.

Finally, the economic growth rate during the Mughals was generally negative and the Indian economy shrank while most of the world grew [3]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Chanderi

[1] https://aurangazeb.wordpress.com/category/farmans/

[2] https://theprint.in/opinion/yogi-adityanaths-anti-mughal-sta...

[3] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/2000-years-economic-history...


Please read the whole history instead of distorted version propagated by Neo nazi style administration in current India, which likes to distort India history to fit their own narratives. Mughals were descendants of and influenced by Mongolian and Persian [0] culture which established one of the most advanced and tolerant system of administration much before Greeks starting from 530BC. British were interested in India due to its prosperity in Mughal period as Akbar had trade relations with Europe and Middle East.

From an article [1][2]:

Although the Mughal empire was created and sustained by military warfare,[17][18][19] it did not vigorously suppress the cultures and peoples it came to rule; rather it equalized and placated them through new administrative practices,[20][21] and diverse ruling elites, leading to more efficient, centralised, and standardized rule.[22]

To unify the vast Mughal state, Akbar established a centralised system of administration throughout his empire and adopted a policy of conciliating conquered rulers through marriage and diplomacy. To preserve peace and order in a religiously and culturally diverse empire, he adopted policies that won him the support of his non-Muslim subjects. Eschewing tribal bonds and Islamic state identity, Akbar strove to unite far-flung lands of his realm through loyalty, expressed through an Indo-Persian culture, to himself as an emperor.

Mughal India developed a strong and stable economy, leading to commercial expansion and greater patronage of culture. Akbar himself was a patron of art and culture. He was fond of literature, and created a library of over 24,000 volumes written in Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri, staffed by many scholars, translators, artists, calligraphers, scribes, bookbinders and readers. He did much of the cataloging himself through three main groupings.

[0] https://www.google.com.hk/amp/s/www.history.com/.amp/topics/...

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mughal_Empire

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akbar


I gave specific instances and their citations for the claims I made. You refuse to refute them and instead resort to name calling, Neo-Nazi? Really?

You are welcome to think that rulers who murdered civilians, razed temples, smashed idols, shrank the economy were tolerant and ushered in a golden age instead of being fanatical barbarians.


> You claims are refuted by the specific instances and their citations that I gave

Your links are some private opinion and blogs without any significant archeological evidence supported by extensive research as good as pseudo history.

But you aptly described the modern administration at present in India, which is known for all the barbaric acts you claim in modern times. Razing a place of worship [1], prosecution of minority and low caste group [2] [3] [4] [5].

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/1992/dec/07/india.derekbro...

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/14/new-in...

[3] https://www.breitbart.com/asia/2019/03/20/report-christian-p...

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Unnao_rape_case

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Hathras_gang_rape_and_mur...


Those links cite primary sources which are actual orders - firnamas - issued by Mughal rulers for demolishing temples, slaughtering priests etc. This is Aurangzeb's order burying hundreds of idols below the Jama Majsid [1]. These edicts preserved in museums throughout India. History is done, through primary sources not quoting your favorite secondary sources or top level wikipedia articles.

As a Buddhist, whose traditions were destroyed, this level of Holocaust denial is mind-numbing. I didn't understand the reason behind the refusal to acknowledge the Holocaust visited by the Turkmen Islamic invaders (not Persian!!) upon the Indic traditions. Millennia old traditions wiped out, monasteries burnt and traces of whole civilizations erased. But I now realize there is something primal in Human nature which wants to bury Holocausts like the ones inflicted upon the Jews in Europe, the Armenian genocide, the Congo Holocaust. It allows us to pretend human nature is benign and nurturing. Your denial of the Mughal/Turkmen atrocities is just another facet of that human nature.

[1] https://twitter.com/VertigoWarrior/status/131521139031175577...


Talking about the Holocaust, you do know that Golwalkar glorified it? He stated "…To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by,”

Neo Nazi does accurately define the current Indian government whose primary ideologues are from the RSS which was fashioned after the Brown Shirts.

One of the founders of RSS - Golwalkar, is on record glorifying the Nazi killing of the Jews. He stated: "..To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by,”


False. Please provide citations or you are repeating hearsay. Golwalker admired the sense of the German nation and how they created a national spirit where only 50 years ago there were a few disparate states. Golwalker also admired the Jewish people for maintaining their culture, religion and language [1]

As to anti-semitism, the left in India including the Congress party has always supported every faction of the PLA including those who undertook terrorist actions against Israeli citizens and are committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. At the time of Israel's formation, the Congress party which ruled India casts India's vote in the UN against the creation of a state for displaced Jews in the Holy Land. Both Gandhi and Nehru were against Israel and in support of the Palestinians. The small detail of the recently concluded Holocaust did not factor into their political stance. The only Indian leaders to support Israel at that time were ..... Gowalkar and Savarkar [2].

The Congress party today continues it anti-semitism towards Israel by continuing to support organizations which carry out attacks on the Jewish state even when most of the Arab world is moving towards peace and trade with Israel.

[1] Search for Golwalkar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashtriya_Swayamsevak_Sangh#ci...

[2] Search for Golwalkar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India%E2%80%93Israel_relations...


It would have taken you just seconds to check out whether the quote I have given is true or not. You decided not to do it but you then make the comment that I said something false.

Here is the link: It is from "We Or Our Nationhood Defined" by MS Golwalkar. It is in chapter 3 verse 86. https://nanopdf.com/download/we-or-our-nationhood-defined_pd...

Feel free to buy the book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22612408-we-or-our-natio...

The article about it is here: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/golwalkar...


Do you think ‘the peasantry’ should be neighbors with royalty? I don’t see it ever happening. Ever.

That's a straw man. We live in a far more complex world today, one that you can't simplify down to "being neighbors with royalty", but I see how attaching to that one concrete aspect serves the purpose of distracting from the reality that power acts in many dimensions and physical space is only one of them.

Human rights, equal opportunity to gain access to a humanistic standard of living, political representation in proportion to your vote, freedom from persecution by the 'royalty' or their security forces, all of those can be achieved without living next to any erstwhile 'king'.


I don’t see how it’s a straw man. I was only using your own words.

Ok. Rewording: more purchasing power buys a nicer home in a nicer area and lower purchasing power in a less nice area with not as much amenities.

It is entirely acceptable and rational. What does human rights have to do with it. Your average start up CEO/founder(‘royalty’)can live in a nicer home than a Walmart greeter(‘peasantry’)

Women didn’t have voting rights at one time. Neither did indentured slaves. Is this true anymore?


> Ok. Rewording: more purchasing power buys a nicer home in a nicer area and lower purchasing power in a less nice area with not as much amenities.

It's irrelevant to the question of whether a feudal system of land ownership is the best one.

The outcome you are describing - variation in purchasing power of luxuries - is a normal thing in societies that more fairly distribute opportunity. For example, Scandinavian countries do not have complete equality by any stretch of the imagination.

That's not the scenario described in the article nor does it describe the magnitude and rigidity of the phenomenon in feudal societies.


The article is a record of history. Are we comparing now to centuries ago? It wasn’t a feudal society. Smaller kingdoms had a feudal relationship to empires during that era. There is sufficient historical record of Kautilya’s arthshastra.

To be honest, I am confused at this point. I don’t understand the import of your post. Sorry. Maybe it’s my deficit in understanding?

I posted the article to discuss land use and management/urban planning of that time. Would you like to comment on that?


> I posted the article to discuss land use and management/urban planning of that time

Just a few comments back you wrote:

> Do you think ‘the peasantry’ should be neighbors with royalty? I don’t see it ever happening. Ever

That sure sounds like it is discussing the present and the future.

> I posted the article to discuss land use and management/urban planning of that time. Would you like to comment on that?

I did. Read my first comment above.

Also the article literally concludes by asking the question about how the ancient text is applicable to the present:

"How much do we alter the policies for growth of the human settlements, the basic principles are bound to remain constant so long as they address a wholesome development of the human kind. What do we learn from the past surely depends on how we look at it. Kautilya Arthashastra, also commonly known as the Kuta-niti, has been referred mainly for its significance in the political history of India. Hence there is a common misconception that it deals only with the tricks and tactics pertaining to the state politics. Secondly, with the changing face of politics in the modern times it is seen as a great document only for all those in the field of public vote capturing. The few principles discussed above may seem very general but the way they are proposed to be implemented follows the principles for making a cohesive society."


I wrote a couple of replies and then I deleted it. I am interested in the urban planning and not the caste bashing.

Why? I am a Brahmin. I will not engage in baseless debates about people of my faith and about my ancestors with faceless strangers on the interwebs.

I find myself unable to make sweeping and broad generalizations. So this wouldn’t be a fair or valid discussion.

Thanks for your input. Take care.


Except that in India even if you had wealth but if you happened to be in the wrong caste, you couldn't buy a house next to the priest class or royalty.

This part I find interesting. Any comments/thoughts will be appreciated.

(Begin cut and paste)

From the perspective of understanding the principles of design, development and management of settlements, Kautilya prescribed that it is important to know the kind of urbanization he conceptu- alized. He mentions a well defined hierarchy of the urban centers and the administrative divisions. These divisions were based mainly on the size of population and were influenced by the resources available in the region and opportunities for economic development. The smallest division was a village consisting of each not less than a hundred families and not more than five hundred families of agricultural people with boundaries extending as far as a krósa (2,250 yards). Apparently Kautilya also envisioned certain quality of life for the inhabitants by specifying population density and kind of physical developments in various parts of the town. Further, in his policies on urbanization, Kautilya encourages migration to the countryside in order to prevent overcrowding into the cities. This ensured a control over population as well as building densities and thus also reduced the hazard risks in city centers. The policy might also have been implied on widely spreading out the population across the nation, not just concentration in particular cities or national capitals thus supporting integrated and comprehensive growth of the regions. However, such outward regions were essentially with well developed agrarian economy.(/end cut and paste)


It’s ok to read this work for sake of knowledge and understanding nuances of society at that time and may be some lessons might be useful, but it can’t be the basis of modern planning.

Any system based on gentrification and divisions of humanity based on caste might have been acceptable in old times, but cannot be a good basis for modern society.

Level of planning and technology used today will be considered work of god in the era this book was written, so probably it also doesn’t make sense.

It’s like the book “Art of war” by Sun Tzu, which wasn’t even followed by one of the most successful war strategist ZhuGe Liang (諸葛亮) in China, but a book which comes quite often in management study strategies, like Kautilya Arthshstra in India.


It is very distressing and peculiar to me that you keep wanting to divert this into a post about caste. Please stop.

Because Kautilya’s work is very good for its time, is still based on Jati (caste) and Varna (class) system and the feudal ownership of land and urban planning was based on this system and prohibit a movement of person from one Varna or Jati to other. So if one looks at this text they need to know the prevailing conditions of that time. Probably read the Arthshstra and will get an idea what I am talking about [1].

In Kautilya’s India, religion was ubiquitous and invasive. An elaborate form of Hinduism, unlike the one practiced currently, formed the basis of people’s identity in the socioeconomic sphere, and also in matters of life and death. The class system (varnas) and the caste system (jatis) got entrenched in people’s private and public lives around Kautilya’s time. To this end, Hindu principles were supposed to be a broad framework of guidelines and morals that were meant to provide directions to individual lives, particularly for the attainment of moksha, or self-liberation, through knowledge (gyana-yoga), devotion (bhakti-yoga), and duty (karma-yoga/dharma). However, they became overly prescriptive in nature, controlling every detail of an individual’s life, such as their education, social standing, professional/occupational qualifications, and economic status.

The varna system divided Hindu society into four classes: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (mercantile/trade class) and Shudras (slaves, lowest order workers). An individual’s placement in the varna system defined their education, social and economic status, and also their choice of work. The system was codified in such a manner so as to not facilitate any form of mobility, either upward or downward. In short, this hierarchical system, with the priests occupying the highest rung on the social ladder and the slaves occupying the lowest rung, was also hereditary. The scylla and charybdis of hierarchy and hereditary stagnated the class system, paving the way for rulers to partake of the system’s in-built oppression in order to facilitate submission and smooth rule. Furthermore, the jatis, or subcastes, that were based on a greater specialization of labor, solidified the varna-imposed hierarchy system to an even greater extent.

[1] https://archive.org/details/Arthasastra_English_Translation


You said “probably read the ”Arthsastra”.

Have you read it? The actual work you are commenting upon..? Or did you just read the blurb/summary you cut and pasted?


I have been looking into various texts from all over the world. How can we design cities without understanding land use allocation?

The second appalling modern development in city planning is the sewage system that empties human wastes into the water bodies. Yes, we have plants now that process our wastes. Is there a better way?

What about composting toilets? Is there a way to make that a sensible practical option?


Re composting toilets, there's a 4-story laboratory in Auckland NZ with a compost system - built 2004 (https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/ED0404/S00113/pm-opens-uniqu...).

Normally councils here are VERY stuck in the past but in this case they had no ability to pipe sewage (due to critical pipework already surrounding the building). The real main issue is councils and their consultants all being stuck in the past and not wanting to do anything new which many regard as a threat (I'm a designer/planner so see this every day).

Money is the only way such people understand the world so we have to help people see that waste has a very high cost - polluted rivers and oceans cannot easily be repaired but as everyone owns them no-one has responsibility.


Thank you. I just finished reading the article.

I am interested in designing small cities. The future is curt states but what we can start by creating self sustaining micro cities first?

I am very disheartened by how we handle our waste water. I have also been reading about sewage systems in mohenjadaro and Greece and roman and Asia and India.

http://indiafacts.org/best-practices-in-indic-hygiene-sanita... : quoting;

[..] It is interesting that the miasma theory prevalent in Europe promoted the dumping of human waste into water bodies. According to this obsolete theory, diseases are caused by bad air or foul odours. The water closet or flush toilets were hailed by Londoners because it removed smells from housing in accordance with the miasma theory. Excreta was disliked only for its smell not for its potential to cause disease. The more it was dumped in the Thames, the safer the residents of London felt [16]. “The city’s sewer commissioners proudly noted the huge volume of human waste that the city’s toilets efficiently deposited into the river; twenty nine thousand cubic yards in the spring of 1848 and eighty thousand cubic yards by the winter of 1849.”[..]

[..] However, it must be remembered that throughout history, the task of handling wastes and faeces has never been a dignified one. [18] Until as late as the 20th century, human excrement had to be removed physically from cesspits and privies in Europe. [16,18] The European lower-caste people who did the dirty job were called gongfermours (French) or gong farmers in English. [18] The gong farmers of England were only allowed to work at night, so they were also called nightmen. They came into respectable neighbourhoods in the dead of the night, emptied cesspits and carted away the wastes to the boundaries of the cities. They were required to live in certain areas at the fringes of the city and could not enter the city during daytime. There were severe penalties for breaking this rule. Even after water closets arrived on the scene, their contents flowed into cesspits for a long time and needed to be cleaned out by nightmen. [18][..]

Also: https://www.harappa.com/blog/mohenjo-daro-street-drains

And https://www.rwaag.org/sanitation

[..] Wastes in the house were collected in jars and carried by the maids to a pile by the front door of the house. Servants then carried the wastes to the fields to be spread out as fertilizer. Any elimination was then done into jars or pots. Such chamber pots can be identified by their low shape and the presence of a lid. This probably was the method used until near the Roman period when latrines were used. The Romans built continuously flushing latrines which had a stone with a hole in it mounted over a continuously flowing trough. The water was provided by an aqueduct and carried to well-built sewers. The Romans provide no treatment though, so the outlets to the rivers were quite polluted. This did keep their cities relatively clean. The Greek cities often dumped the waste into the streets. This practice was more prone to the spread of disease.[..]


I read Arthashastra last year and had mixed feelings about the book at the end. It has a Machiavellian-type determination for success but also holds fast to the belief that the circumstances of one's birth determines their potential.

Certainly some wisdom in ancient writings but need to be taken with a grain of salt.


Life expectancy of a child born in [1][2]:

Baltimore, MD: 72

Greenwich, CT: 89

Djamena, Chad: 53

I cannot argue that the children born in those three places have the same potential, everything else being equal.

Even children born in the same place, the biggest predictor of "success" in the USA is not ability but wealth of parents [3].

Can we escape the geography and parental endowments of our birth to maximize our potential? Yes, that is the exception not the norm. On a good day, I would argue that escaping the constraints of our birth and maximizing our potential is the goal of civilization. But not today ;)

[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/...

[2] https://qz.com/1462111/map-what-story-does-your-neighborhood...

[3] https://www.wnpr.org/post/georgetown-study-wealth-not-abilit...


The same people who call the five[1] greek-letter castes of Brave New World a dystopia[2] voluntarily sort themselves by five-digit postal codes:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24269640

[1] already an increase over the traditional trinity of upper, middle, and working classes. See also https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24222905

[2] in part due to its solution for escaping geography and parental endowments?


Things change but they still remain the same.

“Wisdom” like this is responsible for horrific caste based discrimination in India where the “untouchables” can’t fetch water from the village well.

Well said



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