Posted by: terrapraeta | November 19, 2009

Separation Anxiety


I’ve got your picture, I’ve got your picture
I’d like a million of them all ’round myself
I want a doctor to take your picture
So I can look at you from inside as well
You’ve got me turning up I’m turning down
I’m turning in I’m turning ’round

I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so
I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so

The Vapors, Turning Japanese

In the ongoing discussion with Vera a few more things have occurred to me (thanks Vera!)

Agriculture… Horticulture… Cultivation… whatever really does not matter. Sure, it is good for communication to be using terms that everyone understands in the same way (which was the originally premise of the other article), but the simple fact remains that for every rule there is an exception. So no matter the means of subsistence, the true, key factor isn’t a factor at all. It’s the total system.

I questioned, in our discussion, whether Egyptian agriculture was, in fact, agriculture at all by the terms of diminishing returns. And now that I really think about that, it may honestly be a valid question. But there is no question, whatsoever, that the Egyptians were civilized and subject to all of the issues of sustainability that are at the core of the discussion. Alternately, there is no question that the salmon based northwestern US tribes were foragers, yet they had the population and population dynamics (emergent hierarchy etc) that would be classified as a chiefdom and therefore, perhaps well on its way to becoming civilized. We’ll never know if their limitations were sufficient to prevent such a thing from happening, because Europeans stepped in and did what colonizers always do.

So if there is no one thing that can be pointed to as a baseline, where does that leave us?

I’m going to attempt to draw a correlation here, and we’ll see, once I am done if it works.

My friend Jason did a presentation at the Three River’s Bioneers conference last month? Two months back, maybe. In it, he discussed the fact that Europeans, as “colonizers,” have never become native to their place. Specifically, he was talking about North America. His family, after nearly four hundred years of habitation, is no more native to this place than the recent immigrant. Instead, we have tried to recreate Europe on American soil. And, to a certain degree we have succeeded (if you want to call what we have done “success”.)

Let me suggest a furtherance of that thought. European culture is no more native in Europe than it is in America. Bear with me.

If we look at native american civilizations: the aztec and inca, the mississipians, etc…. all of these cultures were native to the place where they existed. Many were well known for leaving local culture intact, even as they imposed outside economic control. So whether one was looking at the core, or the outliers of these civilizations, the inhabitants were very much a part of their land and traditional culture. Screwed up, violent, hierarchal, absolutely. But still, fundamentally, native.

In contrast, European culture, from the time that agriculture arrived, was fundamentally not native for one very specific reason: the food stuffs they were growing were not native. In order to embrace these new plants, new techniques, new life strategies the people needed to separate themselves from the natural ecology of their place. Civilizations were not born in Europe, they were imported. The agricultural system itself was the original “colonizer” of Europe.

What I don’t know – and I am too lazy to research at this point in my life – is how this idea relates to the other regions of the Earth where agriculture developed: primarily China (yellow river) and India. How much of their systems were indigenous, how much was imported? Specifically, did peoples in these regions walk away when their agricultural systems failed, or did they press on no matter the cost? Europeans always pressed on. Perhaps partly due to luck, but also, largely, because they could not imagine that any other way of living was acceptable. Is this true in other places, with indigenous civilizations? Obviously in the Americas, native civilizations led to sustainable after-cultures. (The mayans, the pueblo peoples/anasazi, the mississippians) What about the rest of the world?

If anyone knows – or is interested in taking the time to find out, that would be fabulous. I would be interested in the answers. But for myself, I am far more interested in trekking out into my backyard for further education than I am in delving into ancient history.

One final thought. Although I am proposing another possibility for “the thing,” this also comes with a realization on my part that there is no “thing” that can be pointed to as the end all be all of sustainable vs not. Looking at systems is more useful than looking at items, but systems, themselves are merely nested sets of greater systems. So looking at one, by itself, is simply another form of reductionism. And our answers won’t be found with reductionism. But perhaps this particular “thing” I am proposing is another piece of the puzzle.

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Responses

  1. 🙂
    As I lay me down to sleep, I recalled jimfive’s argument that the badness begins when draft animals are used. So I was thinking… so if the ‘gyptians harnessed some slaves instead of a bullock, that would keep them ensconced in “good horticulture”? Somehow… I don’t think so. When people are already so trapped in miserable, backbreaking work that they can’t wait to enslave someone else to do it, we already have a problem. (Which, btw, happened with the Kwakiutl. Slaving raids on neighbors.)

    As Jason says, living in place is more than years of history… it’s about creating an ongoing relationship with the place. It’s about love for the place. If — as many European colonists did — you can just ruin the land and pull up and move, then no sense of place, no relationship.

    Europeans have had much more of a relationship to place, historically speaking, because they stayed put mostly, but I think that has changed a great deal in the last 50 years. There used to be much foraging going on, and the cultures were quite oral still… but urbanism and modernization and industrialization has done away with much of that. Still though… most Europeans bear the genes of the original forager populations, the genes from the Near East play only a small role. But the other plants and animals did move in…

    Dunno. I think we are all nomads. Some nomads fall in love with a place and stay and learn to be good to it in return for its goodness. Just musing. Good stuff.

  2. Hey Vera —

    It is very rare that a culture *can* make slaves of others without already producing a pretty significant surplus…. after all, it requires division of labor, (specifically some type of “military/police”)enough extra food to feed all those slaves as well as the “lazy slave owners”… and so forth. So slavery can not really make a culture unsustainable, it must already be unsustainable to support slavery.

    And be careful about references to “slaves” in primitive society, just as we are careful about references to “war” in primitive society. Yes, these things did exist, but in forms so different from civilization that it is sketchy to use the same terms for both.

    Ummm… very few european colonists were able to pull up and move from a place…. they were tied to the land by economics… but that’s the point. They were economically tied to the piece of land they “owned” or were indentured to, or whatever… but their relationship with that land was usually one of conflict rather than one of…. ummm… family……

    Sure, Europeans are more likely to have a more complicated relationship with their land than we americans (canadians, mexicans, etc) do. But that wasn’t really my thought… my thought was that their relationship with the land of their ancestors may have been broken in the process of embracing agriculture as a direct result of depending on “invader species” that replaced their native ecology. Just as americans tried to recreate europe in america, the plants themselves were “trying” to recreate their native places in europe…. and bringing the european peoples along for the ride.

    tp

  3. Hey Vera —

    It is very rare that a culture *can* make slaves of others without already producing a pretty significant surplus…. after all, it requires division of labor, (specifically some type of “military/police”)enough extra food to feed all those slaves as well as the “lazy slave owners”… and so forth. So slavery can not really make a culture unsustainable, it must already be unsustainable (or uniquely rich… ie the NW salmon) to support slavery.

    And be careful about references to “slaves” in primitive society, just as we are careful about references to “war” in primitive society. Yes, these things did exist, but in forms so different from civilization that it is sketchy to use the same terms for both.

    Ummm… very few european colonists were able to pull up and move from a place…. they were tied to the land by economics… but that’s the point. They were economically tied to the piece of land they “owned” or were indentured to, or whatever… but their relationship with that land was usually one of conflict rather than one of…. ummm… family……

    Sure, Europeans are more likely to have a more complicated relationship with their land than we americans (canadians, mexicans, etc) do. But that wasn’t really my thought… my thought was that their relationship with the land of their ancestors may have been broken in the process of embracing agriculture as a direct result of depending on “invader species” that replaced their native ecology. Just as americans tried to recreate europe in america, the plants themselves were “trying” to recreate their native places in europe…. and bringing the european peoples along for the ride.

    tp

  4. Quite agree with the surplus + slavery. I was just having a beef with jimfive that draft animals turn horti into ag. I am saying… the wrong turn happened prior to that.

    I don’t think war existed in primitive society. Skirmishes, yes. Violence, yes. True war, no. I think it’s a misnomer that creates a false image of what went on.

    If you catch a neighbor human and force this person to labor for you instead of them, isn’t that slavery? I don’t care who does it. How do you see it differently?

  5. Hey —

    Agreed agreed agreed.

    What I was saying re: slavery…. in a lot of cases, during raids and inter-band conflict, “slaves” were taken, women were taken… but unlike our modern idea of slavery, these people became members of the new group. So calling them slaves is an even bigger misnomer than calling inter tribal conflict “war.”

    tp

  6. Ah. Indeed. People-napping does not necessarily mean mean slavery. Yup.

    Just curious… with Kwakiutl, did they just nap, or did they enslave’em? I haven’t seen anything that specifies.

  7. Hey —

    I don’t know…. I did a quick google search and found nothing useful… but my first thought… the reason that they had higher populations was because food was so easy so what, exactly would they use true “slaves” for? But that is by no means definitive 🙂

    tp

  8. My impression is that they caught slaves to help them churn out even more surplus (drying salmon, building more food storage huts, etc) so they could throw even more competitive potlatches. ?

    But it could be a misnomer. Maybe they were just looking to increase their population which could then churn out more food surpluses for the feasts…

  9. Hey —

    I sent a shout out to Jason, so we’ll see what he says…. but I also just found this… which implies that it was more like ritual gene swapping than like modern ideas of slavery, although there was a real component of “ownership”…

    tp

  10. Update: Jason had no more specifics on the Kwakiutl, only saying that it was probably not very pleasant initially, but becoming part of the community in time. He also pointed me to this old article of his, dealing with the Noble Savage myth as a whole. I just reread it and remembered a whole lot of things I had forgotten 🙂

    tp

  11. Wow. What a honker of an essay. Jason outdid himself. Nicely done. I agree. They were both good and evil, as we would say (or just: they were human!). But they had a life that worked for them (better than civ does), and rewarded the cooperative, egalitarian spirit.

    Looking at the book you referenced (thank you!) it pretty much looks like the unpleasant aspects of Coastal slavery were downplayed by many anthros, and that it was indeed a slavery where the slaves labored for the master, were considered part of prestige accumulation, had few rights, and could be killed at will. If some of them eventually were granted full membership in the tribe does not invalidate their enslavement plight… after you’ve had more time to consider it, do you read it similarly?

  12. Yes, they were human, adapted to live like humans in some number of “best” ways.

    I think I would phrase a lot of what you said differently…. yes, they did not have a life that I would aspire to, but I would probably try to avoid the term slave. *We*, because of our recent history, tend to see slaves as sub-human (simply because american slaves were thought of that way and we are still dealing with those consequences), whereas over most of history, slaves were human, they were simply a different class with different “rights”. I’m thinking of Rome, right now. Yes, there was incredible brutality, and the NW Coasters were somewhat less brutal, but in both cases, it was no more than a social standing…… does that make any kinda sense?

    tp

  13. Nope…
    Nap + make’em work for you + power if the live or die + ability to sell/trade them + forcing them to stay against their will indefinitely = slavery in veraworld.

    Why avoid the term slave? We use it for Greeks and Romans and Maori too. They are variants on slavery…

    No problem, though. I am moving on with your latest. Looking forward to reading the article. Would it be possible to reconnect the old link to your write up on “systemic thinking”?

  14. Just quick… there was no “nap and make them work for you”… that was explicitly stated, that the “master” and the slave would do the same work, side by side… but my only real point was that americans think “slave” = “sub human creature” and there was none of that, either. They were not “inherently” slaves, in anyone’s eyes… they were prisoners……. and yeah, I was comparing them to Roman slaves, pretty much….

    Which link? tell me where it is and I’ll fix it…

    tp

  15. It was the link off of the article I asked you to link… off of Authoritay, into… I think called Nothing wrong with humans, and there was the link at the bottom of the article.

    Tp, were they slaves in their own eyes? I would, in their shoes.

    And the issue is not whether or not they were working alongside. The issue is, who kept the wealth produced? The same person who kept them from running away, I dare say. The same person who could kill them at the next feast…

    Well, I don’t mean to belabor it forever. We don’t have to be clones of each other, huh? 😉

  16. Hey —

    I don;t think we are really saying anything very much different… we’re just focusing on different things… and that’s all good 😉

    tp

  17. Hey —

    I fixed that link, but it was simply to the wikipedia definition of systems thinking… I refer to it all the time, assume systemic thought, even… but as far as I can recall I never wrote an article strictly about systems thinking… sorry.

    tp

  18. I get caught up in work for a few days and look what happens.

    Vera,
    What I am saying about draft animals is that the use of draft animals guarantees that you are doing agriculture. It isn’t necessary, but it is sufficient. I am not saying that “The badness begins when draft animals are used”.

    I do not agree with your apparent premise that agriculture equals civilization and horticulture equals not civilization.

    Agriculture makes it easy to create the surplus that leads to civilization but any sufficient surplus will do.

    Civilization is “bad” regardless of the surplus used to create it.

    Just because a society is horticultural or foraging doesn’t make it a “good” society.

    I am going to stand by the idea that “draft animals turn horticulture into agriculture” because, if we are using the definition of diminishing returns then that is a clear indication that you have passed that point. (Technically draft animals would turn horticulture into agriculture only if they are required to maintain the lifestyle) There are other methods to increase the energy input to your crops that would also be agriculture that don’t require draft animals.

    To sum up my position: Draft animals are a big neon sign that says “This is agriculture” the lack of draft animals is NOT a sign that says “This is horticulture”

    Also, it is possible to have civilization without agriculture. However, it is not possible to have a civilization that takes over the world without agriculture.

    JimFive

  19. Hey Jimfive… I understand more about the animals.

    “I do not agree with your apparent premise that agriculture equals civilization and horticulture equals not civilization.” Huh? I argued ag = cultivation. And horti a type of cultivation.

    “Agriculture makes it easy to create the surplus that leads to civilization but any sufficient surplus will do.” Yup.

    “Just because a society is horticultural or foraging doesn’t make it a “good” society.” That was my point exactly.

    “Technically draft animals would turn horticulture into agriculture only if they are required to maintain the lifestyle.” I tend to view the use of particular techniques to differentiate between good and bad cultivation largely unhelpful. Though if I see slaves or animals used in cultivation, that certainly does ring a warning bell. As would peasants harnessed themselves to the plow in desperation…

    “To sum up my position: Draft animals are a big neon sign that says “This is agriculture” the lack of draft animals is NOT a sign that says “This is horticulture”” Aha! Very clear. Does the presence of slaves used as draft beasts indicate “this is ag”?

    “Also, it is possible to have civilization without agriculture. However, it is not possible to have a civilization that takes over the world without agriculture.” Excellent point.

  20. Perhaps I misinterpreted this “I recalled jimfive’s argument that the badness begins when draft animals are used.”

    And with this, ” I tend to view the use of particular techniques to differentiate between good and bad cultivation largely unhelpful.” You seem to be again declaring agriculture good and horticulture bad.

    “Does the presence of slaves used as draft beasts indicate “this is ag”? ”

    No, because the slaves are eating the same food as the masters. The only way to maintain agriculture is to utilize energy from outside. Draft animals do this by eating on range land and bringing that energy into the plowed land. Slaves don’t do this because they are part of the population supported by the cultivation.

    The presense of a slave class (as opposed to the “occasional” captured warrior) does indicate hierarchy, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate agriculture.

    To reiterate a bit. It seems to me that you are assigning a moral judgement to the possibilities, i.e. horticulture is good cultivation, civilization is bad, etc. While I am just arguing that the definition of agriculture as “cultivation beyond the point of diminishing returns” is a useful definition because the use of external energies, possibly in the form of draft animals, gives a clear indication of when a society has crossed that line.

    JimFive

  21. Jimfive, communication is a perilous undertaking. My point was to argue that neither ag nor horti are good or bad, both are simply cultivation. And whether cultivation is good or bad… in my mind, there is only one criterion. What we leave behind. And we tend to leave damage behind if we are desperate and abuse the land with whatever tools or critters we have available.

    The Mayas did a lot of damage without any draft animals whatsoever… because they got desperate, started denuding hillsides, putting in cultivation where it was too steep, and so on…

    According to your definition, the folks at Sumer had a dandy system going, their return on investment was the envy of the Mediterranean world… For me, as soon as they began to work under duress, & as soon as they began to leave the fields more salinized for the next generation, they were doing bad cultivation.

    Am I being clearer?


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