Posts Tagged ‘malthusian’

social animals and cultural evolution of herds

April 29, 2012

 

Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do societies organize?

When the essential resources of life are available to a minimal level of abundance, societies form. That is my basic premise.

If there was not a huge amount of abundance, then people would not even ask questions like I am right now. They would be desperate for food and shelter and personal survival. They certainly would not be using computers or reading websites.

Horses at Kirkham

Horses at Kirkham (Photo credit: modezero)

Consider other social animals, such as horses. When baby horses are born, they stay with their mother and their single motive is to nurse to a certain stage of physical maturity. Their siblings eventually are notable for the young horse, but the source of food (mother’s milk) is the primary focus of survival.

Beyond that basic stage, there is a stage featuring the protection of the family group (or extended family as in a herd). The young horse can graze on its own, but it’s survival is promoted by the herd itself. Typically, most social animals spend most of their lives in close proximity to a herd and changing herds would be rare or even virtually unknown.

However, in the case of animals like lions, there may typically be a stage of “leaving the original social grouping if direct biological lineage.” Male lions compete over broods of females. Some males thrive and some do not even survive at all. Females tend to gather around a dominant male who may even take actions to discourage them from leaving.

Herd of Buffalo

Herd of Buffalo (Photo credit: ambergris)

I actually do not know that much about lions or horses, but the idea is that there are variations amongst different species. Further, even when a species has a typical pattern, there will be occasional exceptions, especially when the survival of the entire group is at risk, such as during sudden severe weather or even earthquakes and so forth.

Following the typical rules of a particular society does not guarantee anything for a particular organism or for the society itself. A society may grow or shrink or segment and dissolve or even disappear. The genetic prominence (DNA) of a particular organism also may grow or shrink or disappear. Sometimes, a sudden calamity will favor organisms with a particular genetic pattern or a particular nurtured trait. Or, a calamity may simply decimate the population of a particular species, “randomly” selecting a few survivors whose genes may proliferate in the absence of competition.

Consider the occasions of plagues and contagion in Europe several hundred years ago. In some regions, more than half of the population died within a few years. That was entirely without large-scale warfare, to the best of my knowledge. There may have been a sudden shift in climate. There may have been a breakdown of social infrastructure for the production and distribution of nourishment, as in a famine.

Thomas Malthus was a philosopher who studied growth rates of population and food supply, forecasting the possibility that a species (humans) might eat itself in to a population crisis. The same idea is that a parasite who kills it’s host may survive less well than a parasite who merely nurses off of it’s host. When a recognition of the possibility of population crashes is considered for humans, that is called a Malthusian perspective.

It’s not pessimism, but it is certainly not optimism. A Malthusian perspective is a recognition of an occasional biological phenomenon: extinctions and other forms of population crashes (including temporary declines followed by a robust recovery, perhaps favoring a particular set of genetics).

The Malthusian catastrophe simplistically illu...

The Malthusian catastrophe simplistically illustrated. For Malthus, as population increases exponentially and food production only linearly, a point where food supply is inadequate will at some point be reached. Suomi: Yksinkertainen kuvaus Malthusin katastrofista. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine an island with 100 people. They have enough food and agricultural productivity to sustain exactly 100 people indefinitely.

However, eventually the weather changes and the crops that year offer poor yields. Maybe the soil quality and nutritional quality of food depletes. Maybe some rabbits arrive on the island and eat a bunch of their plants, but they can neither stop the rabbits nor catch them and eat them.

So, in order to maintain the population level at 100, the group of people (or a culture of mold) consume so much food that they forget to keep enough seeds to plant again for next year. Next year, the weather may be fine, but they just did not plant as many seeds of the plants they have come to enjoy. So, maybe they turn to seafood or relocate from the island.

Or, like on Easter Island, maybe their civilization suddenly collapses when a particular resource becomes scarce and the society does not adapt to the scarcity of the resource. Maybe an earthquake swallows them all up.

Maybe weather patterns change and the complex irrigation system of the Mayan Empire is completely irrelevant in the absence of rainwater. Within a few years, the Mayan civilization disappeared. Their peaceful, stable culture quickly dissolved in to people competing for scarce food.

New presentation of data in figure 20 of http:...

New presentation of data in figure 20 of http://www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/1956/1956.pdf . Meant as replacement for non-free :Image:Hubbert-fig-20.png. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I know that there are popular “law of attraction” religions out there, especially in the West. They say “think positive and then the future will conform to the power of your magical prayers.” I have spent time in those cults and I have found them to have concentrations of folks with a very high sensitivity to fear and shame. They may so traumatized that their reaction to whatever they label as a “negativity” can be similar to that of any other reactionary fundamentalist fanatic.

That reminds me of George Carlin and his comedy routine about words that are so controversial or disturbing that they are censored within mainstream media. Many of these lower class kids have tattoos (like sailors) and talk like sailors (marines, naval recruits, etc), perhaps because those lower class kids are the ones who end up enlisting and then fighting and dying in navies and as marines (or pirates and gang members). However, you bring around a prudish “anti-negativity protestor” and they may be disturbed about gay people holding hands in public or using graphic sexual references like the words “kiss my mother’s ass.”

On the other hand, why shouldn’t prudes abuse lower class kids for their culture? It is the perfect justification! “These kids are evil and dangerous threats, therefore we must attack them and incarcerate them.” Why? Perhaps to promote the genetic proliferation of the groups of people who are doing the punishing.

People may not want competition during economic transitions toward scarcity. They may gather together in clans of anti-negativity and then complain about people who complain, next hire some middle class thugs (law enforcement officers) to do the “dirty work” and arrest and jail people who wear the wrong clothes or think the wrong thoughts or eat the wrong foods or otherwise commit behaviors that have been criminalized.

A chart of world population growth rates, 1800...

A chart of world population growth rates, 1800-2005. Suomi: Maailman väkiluvun kasvunopeus vuosina 1800-2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I certainly find the company of certain people more or less appealing than others. Sometimes, I value total privacy. Sometimes, I value particular TYPES of interaction without so much concern for the particular individuals involved, such as if I am selling something (such as girl scout cookies) to whoever wants to buy them.

I value things like intelligence and health and compatibility, which basically means any character trait of someone else that I value. I like it when people are honest and insightful but also discrete (diplomatic in what they communicate and how they speak).

I like people who help me to survive and thrive and to have prosperity and fun. I also appreciate people who buy girl scout cookies from me (or give me some of their profits when they sell the cookies that I manufacture), but that is distinct from actually enjoying to be around them socially.

Herd of horses in Mongolia

Herd of horses in Mongolia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 


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