December 26, 2007

Almost makes you feel sorry for Jared Diamond ...

The NYT features an article by George Johnson called "A Question of Blame When Societies Fall" on cultural anthropologists' criticisms of Jared Diamond's last two bestsellers: Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse. It says a lot about why cultural anthropologists, who were so fashionable in the 1950s and 1960s, are almost universally ignored these days:

In an e-mail message, [Diamond] said that progress in any field depends on syntheses and individual studies. “In both chemistry and physics, the need for both approaches has been recognized for a long time,” he wrote. “One no longer finds specialists on molybdenum decrying the periodic table’s sweeping superficiality, nor advocates of the periodic table scorning mere descriptive studies of individual elements.”

For the anthropologists, the exceptions were more important than the rules. Instead of seeking overarching laws, the call was to “contextualize,” “complexify,” “relativize,” “particularize” and even “problematize,” a word that in their dialect was given an oddly positive spin. At some moments, the seminar seemed less like a scientific meeting than a session of the Modern Language Association.

Robin Fox, who wrote the book on Kinship and Marriage in 1967 during cultural anthropology's golden age, pointed out in 1989 that the field remains addicted to "ethnographic dazzle" -- overemphasizing cultural differences.

One reason is simple job protection -- just as English professors make familiarity with jargon-encrusted "theory" (i.e., bad writing) a prerequisite for being an English professor in order to keep out most of the people who love good writing -- cultural anthropologists hope to discourage outsiders like Diamond from writing about their field of study. Unfortunately, the public, rather than learning the vast heapings of minutia that cultural anthropologists emphasize, has just lost interest in cultural anthropology in general.

But there's another reason cultural anthropologists love ethnographic dazzle: political correctness. PC is essentially a fear of knowledge. The cultural anthropologists wallow in data and despise generalization and reductionism for fear that somebody might turn data into information, knowledge, and, God forbid, wisdom.

Ultimately, the anthropologists' annoyance comes down to Diamond not being politically correct enough:

Dr. Errington and Dr. Gewertz, who are husband and wife, work in Papua New Guinea, a treasure trove of ethnic groups speaking more than 700 languages. Dr. Diamond has also spent time on the island, where he first went to study birds.

Dr. Gewertz still bristles as she recalls picking up “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and seeing that it had been framed around what was called “Yali’s question.”

Yali was a political leader and a member of a “cargo cult” that sprung up after World War II. By building ritualistic landing strips and control towers and wearing hand-carved wooden headsets, islanders hoped to summon the return of the packaged food, weapons, medicine, clothing and other gifts from the heavens that had been airdropped to troops fighting Japan.

One day Yali asked Dr. Diamond, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Thus began Dr. Diamond’s tale about the combination of geographical factors that led to Europeans’ colonizing Papua New Guinea rather than Papua New Guineans’ colonizing Europe.

“We think he gets Yali’s question wrong,” Dr. Gewertz said. “Yali was not asking about nifty Western stuff.”

With more of the cargo their European visitors so clearly coveted, the islanders would have been able to trade with them as equals. Instead, they were subjugated.

What Yali was really asking, she suggested, was why Europeans had never treated them like fellow human beings. The responsibility and struggle of anthropology, Dr. Gewertz said, is to see the world through others’ eyes.

Actually, cargo cultists really were into nifty Western stuff. Some of the niftiest Western stuff is modern weaponry, which, if you own it and know how to use it, can keep you from being subjugated. Yet, the golden age of cargo cults in the Pacific came after the end of American occupations during WWII, when the American troops left and cargo stopped falling from the sky in parachute drops.

Of course, the real problem with Diamond's 2005 bestseller Collapse about how societies fall due to poor environmental management is the opposite of what the anthropologists are criticizing him for. What's noteworthy are the triviality of his examples. As I wrote in VDARE in 2005:

But "ecocide," while significant, is less important than Diamond implies. That's why he spends so much time on trivial edge-of-the-world doomed cultures, like the Vikings in Greenland and the Polynesians on Easter Island, rather than on more important collapses such as the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Generally, homicide, not suicide, is the main cause of collapse. Societies get invaded and overwhelmed.

Diamond cites the disappearance of the Maya—but what about the Aztecs and the Incas, still going strong when the Spanish arrived? He points to the Anasazi Indians—but there were also the Cherokee, the Sioux, and countless others. He notes the Easter Islanders—but I counter with the Maoris, the Tasmanians, the Australian Aborigines, the Chatham Islanders (exterminated by the Maori), and so forth. He cites the Vikings in Greenland—but how about the Saxons in Britain and the Arabs in Sicily, both conquered by descendents of the Vikings?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

35 comments:

manindarkhat said...

"Oh, Diamond! Diamond! thou little knowest what mischief thou hast done!" -- Isaac Newton's alleged words to an pet-dog that knocked over a candle and sent years of work up in smoke. I doubt this Diamond is so ignorant.

KissTheGoat said...

Diamond's examples weren't trivial, they're about how societies /do themselves in/, interesting because it has lessons for our current civilization. There are no space invaders on the horizon.

Concerned Netizen said...

"We think he gets Yali’s question wrong," Dr. Gewertz said. “Yali was not asking about nifty Western stuff."

With all due respect (not!), I think Diamond gets Yali's question exactly right.

Also, towards the latter part of the book, Diamond assigns responsibility for the destruction of the megafauna on man. That's a huge no-no amongst the PC crowd.

I don't understand why you hate him so much.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: Generally, homicide, not suicide, is the main cause of collapse. Societies get invaded and overwhelmed.

Here I have to disagree with you, and disagree in the most strenuous terms: The "natural" [darwinian, pagan] course of human affairs seems to be [persistently & inevitably] the DELIBERATE choice of suicide - it's almost as though it's a fundamental law of human nature [in fact, I've pretty much arrived at the conclusion that it is THE FUNDAMENTAL LAW OF HUMAN NATURE].

If you'll allow me to quote from a few of Spengler's essays:

Why nations die
Aug 16, 2005
atimes.com

...In fact, the main reason societies fail is that they choose not to live...

Suicide is a rare occurrence at the individual level, but a typical one at the level of nations...

Roman population data are somewhat conjectural... Nonetheless, it seems clear that the Romans did not so much conquer Greece as to occupy its shell; that the Germanic tribes did not so much conquer Rome so much as to move into what remained of it; and that the Arabs did not so much conquer the Byzantine hinterland as migrate into it...

Deep in denial (or in de' Mississippi)
Sep 7, 2005
atimes.com

...Hurricane Katrina should put us in the right frame of mind to consider two new studies on the fall of the Roman Empire, the historical archetype for denial in the manifest presence of doom...

The population of the Western Empire fell by at least half, and perhaps three-quarters, between the 4th and 7th centuries, while every material index of the quality of life deteriorated. Ward-Perkins has arrayed the evidence in a lean and compelling narrative that shows that Rome not only fell, but fell with a sickening crash that spread misery on a horrifying scale...

Roman sources warned of a declining population due to falling fertility from the 1st century, although present-day demographers have been unable to document a fall in the population...

I tend to credit the old-fashioned view, unpopular in the academy, that infertility due to infanticide, contraception, promiscuity and general immorality rotted out Rome long before it collapsed...


By the way, if anyone's interested, we've got a thread over at Spengler's site right now concerning the inherently suicidal nature of the environmental movement:

Meet the faces of Death
http://spengler.atimes.net/viewtopic.php?t=7228

The alacrity & enthusiasm with which The Left has endorsed the environmentalist axiom which states that "Humans must go!" - even in only just the last six months or so - is simply stunning: These people are heading straight for the cliff, and they're pushing the accelerator to the floor.

Our primary responsibility for the remainder of our lives may very well be to see to it that The Left doesn't drag us [& our progeny] down with them.

At this point, it's a game of survival - the goal of which is simply to outlast The Left, without being made extinct by [& with] them.

Muswell Hillbilly said...

PC as a "fear of knowledge." Great point!

Dennis Mangan said...

I ran across this nifty article: http://www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis/EE%2016-34_Peiser.pdf , which says that Easter Island was a case of homicide too.

Anonymous said...

Oh geez, how many times does this have to be explained to you?

Diamond picked isolated fringe cultures because they more vividly illustrate ecological collapse since they have nowhere to go. In contrast, continental societies that deplete their soil/water/forests have the option of moving 20 miles upriver.
Of course, the whole world will eventually be trashed, with the endgame likely in the next 50 years. (infinite growth is capitalist version of creationism -- you're not as sharp as you think, Steve).

P.S. the Maoris experienced a huge population crash after they hunted all the Moas to extinction.

Cargus said...

Diamond thought he was being PC, but he didn't reckon on the ever spiraling irrelevance of pomo multiculti PCism. What a joke!

His examples of collapse are absurdly inapplicable to his thesis. Natural ocean climate oscillations combined with solar variance ruled the primitive margins--Easter Island, Greenland, etc. Humans then--like now--didn't understand natural cycles.

Evil Neocon said...

Diamond is of course absolutely wrong. One of the more memorable passages in Hanson's Culture and Carnage discusses how Cortez, out of Gunpowder, sent men into the volcano above Mexico City to get sulfur, and made his own from local materials. The Spanish were in a few years (in defiance of Crown edicts) making their own cannon from local materials.

What Hanson gets wrong IMHO is the assumption of an unbroken line of military tradition in what he calls "civic militarism."

A more likely explanation is the unique circumstances of Western Europe: Catholicism and thus monogamy, small farming, cold and riverine landscapes, leading to ordinary men forming families.

This led to genetic diversity (no more most of reproduction done by the few Alpha males) and higher levels of cooperation in essentially a beta-male society, which in turn led to inventiveness being passed down and continuously improved. Printing didn't just "stop" with Gutenberg but was constantly improved by men for their own (and family) benefit.

The tribal societies, cargo cults, doomed "ecocide" societies were all primitive, Alpha-Male societies dependent on one resource with no ability to adjust to rapid social and resource change.

Example: Whales were nearly hunted to extinction to provide both lubricant and lighting oil until a couple of ex Union Army officers came up with a cheaper way of extracting lubricant and kerosene from oil in the ground, and Rockefeller's Standard Oil commercialized that further so that his oil was orders of magnitude cheaper and more available than whale oil. Yes Rockefeller "saved the whales" (not on purpose) and provided a technical switch based on his own account in a beta male society.

Greenland Vikings and Easter Islanders had no way of generating "bottom up" solutions to change and challenges, like most Alpha Male societies they are extremely fragile to major changes.

The Romans of say, Cannae were able to take terrible losses, horrific-ly bad generalship, and still beat Carthage because of superior resource mobilization by their beta male society. As they morphed to the "default" mode of society (women unless constrained will choose Alphas) they had no resources to confront the Visigoths and other germanic tribes.

This Alpha-Beta divide in society organization is the "fundamental" that Diamond and Hanson both miss. And that the stupid Eco-nuts who worship Gaia miss too.

Lucius is quite correct.

tommy said...

What Yali was really asking, she suggested, was why Europeans had never treated them like fellow human beings. The responsibility and struggle of anthropology, Dr. Gewertz said, is to see the world through others’ eyes.

Gewertz is proof that the myth of the noble savage lives on in the hearts of leftists.

Anonymous said...

One could say that Rome encouraged homocide by losing its purpose.

In medieval times, I would say that the decline of empires was predicated on a certain misunderstanding of the essence of their wealth, and thus the resources that enabled their economy and military. Specifically, if you want to decline, kick out the jews.

tommy said...

Specifically, if you want to decline, kick out the jews.

And yet, somehow, a modern America chalk full of Jews is appears likely to decline perhaps even more rapidly than a Jew-free modern Germany. Poland has also had plenty of Jews and remarkably little to show for it in recent centuries.

The truth is a substantial body of high IQ individuals matters little if the mean IQ of a nation isn't up to par. We could deport all American Jews to Ethiopia, but Ethiopia would remain Ethiopia fifty years later, and America would still be a First World country tomorrow.

truthseeker said...

evil neocon: "As they morphed to the "default" mode of society (women unless constrained will choose Alphas) they had no resources to confront the Visigoths and other germanic tribes."

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here, but if you look at contemporary portraits of Romans (like the emperor Honorious) versus Germans (for example Roman army officers) in the fifth century A.D.(the "fall of Rome", the century the Western Empire disintigrated), the Romans are very feminized and the Germans look very masculine. If you saw them today walking on the streets you'd think the Romans were transvestites: earings, softened features, and so on, versus the bearded and hard-faced German.

It's also a sharp contrast from the Republican leaders and early emperors who were portrayed as very masculine in their propaganda sculpture.

The disintegration of the Western Empire and the subsequent Dark Age is a straightforward example of racial politics, following the same patterns Steve has observed in today's racial politics. Not much has changed in 2,000 years. The empire's elites invited in other races to perform important jobs that natives wanted to avoid. For us it's janitorial work and other lowly jobs, for Romans it was the army. The natives also feminized themselves, while the other races maintained their ethnic loyalties and come to replace the original race and culture. In Rome it was the army, first the soldiery but soon also the officers, that became German. Roman elites hired German soldiers directly and paid German leaders to sign peace treaties. Which were soon broken, as the Germans of that time were nomads that preferred looting to settling down.

In the process of replacing Roman soldiers and officers with German ones, the Roman army lost its highly evolved disciplinary tactics and degraded to barbarian standards. German soldiers oftened preferred to defect to German tribes than fight for the Roman masters who paid them. The Roman elite defended itself by allowing the foreign races to steal the property of their subjects, Latin speaking or otherwise (often in the form of large payoffs from tax revenues, a la foreign aid or welfare, sometimes in the form of direct looting, thus the origin of words like "vandals") rather than displacing the emperor himself. But within a century or so the feminine emperor himself was permanently displaced.

The problem is, the Germans of that time, even after being exposed to the Roman empire, were not civilized, and could not easily be civilized. Germans and peasant conscripts of various other races could not be trained in Roman tactics like Romans could, and the once vaunted Roman method of highly coordinated shieldwork
(also deployed by the Greeks and portrayed in the great film "300") came to be sneered at as inneffective feminine cowardice. More fundamentally, German leadership of that time was what Mancur Olson calls a "roving bandit" model of government, a form of semi-organized looting in which the "government" moves on. Thus the Visigoths, Vandals, etc., once invited into the Roman Empire, criss-crossed that empire, especially the West which was not protected geographically by Constantinople. The roving bandits utterly despoiled the land in one area for about five years before picking up and moving on to destroy another part of civilization. The Roman "stationary bandits" were themselves pretty oppressive, but they taxed at the Laffer Curve optimum, rather than far beyond the optimum as roving bandits do.

The roving bandits won. The population of Western Europes was cut by more than half, living standards plummetted, whole technologies and craft skills dissappeared, and literacy disappeared in all but monks. It took Western Europe about 1,000 years to recover from this disaster.

Otto Kerner said...

Consider the following extremely widespread cultural practice among hunter-gatherer peoples: their own word for themselves is simply "the people" or "the real people" or maybe, for particularly broad-minded clans, "the regular people". I might well ask them why they won't treat us like fellow human beings.

Mark said...

Specifically, if you want to decline, kick out the jews.

I don't know that it's a documented fact that Jewish expulsion led to decline everywhere. It certainly did in some places, but it doesn't seem to have had much effect on England ca. 1290 AD. America was already ascending onto the world stage before it took in large numbers of Jews in the late 19th Century, and Western Europe doesn't seem to have suffered much (nor Eastern Europe prospered much) as Jews moved East towards the end of the Middle Ages.

It seems to me it's more a matter of how large an enterprising class you still have left. France suffered woefully after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 because Huguenots were such a large share of the enterprising class.

Bill said...

Diamond likes to use the example of the Norse vs. Eskimos to make his point. Yes, the Norse disappeared from Greenland, and the Eskimos remained. But Diamond says that the Norse would have survived if they had adopted the Eskimo lifestyle, by, for example, chewing seal blubber and living in igloos all winter long.

Now Diamond, what I want to know is whether you would still consider them "Norse" if they did so? A few probably did, as the native Greenlander Inuits are obviously part Norse. The farmers who survived famine, I suspect, sailed back to Iceland and the Scandinavian mainland when farming was no longer viable on the settlements. Some few probably sailed west and settled with Indians in Helluland and Markland. The remainder, if they could, rather than face starvation most likely merged with the Eskimos. But Diamond would not call these assimilated folks Norse, now would he?

So it is a deceptive argument. Kind of like saying if Jews had only converted to Catholicism in Isabella's Spain Judaism could have survived. Who would take that seriously? This is really what's wrong with Diamond -- he breaks the bounds of credulity with his assertions and then doesn't seem to feel it's necessary to adequately defend his points when doing so because, dang it, he must be right. He's essentially making moral rather than scientific judgments, and opposition be damned.

Diamond would have made a better 19th century Methodist preacher (left-hand photo) than scientist. His beard and moralizing proclivities would have fit such an occupation perfectly.

BTW, I think I may have figured out the biological basis for homosexuality (not kidding). Can someone recommend a biologist who might actually give me credit for my idea at least in a footnote if it turns out I'm right?

Bruce G Charlton said...

Evil Neocon - this division into alpha- and beta-male-dominated societies sounds interesting. Could you provide a reference or two, please?

mnuez said...

Having always been fascinated by matters anthropological I excitedly bought, and started reading Germs Guns and Steel as soon as I saw it on the shelves. And I've got to admit, it had plenty of fascinating tidbits of data, yet despite the enlightenment that the book potentially held for me (and despite the fact that I'm a pack-rat for junk never-mind for books, which I adore) I actually threw it out. I believe that's only the second book I've ever thrown away in my life (of the many thousands that I've procured).

What eventually forced my hand here was Diamond's (perhaps reasonable) assumption that New Guineans had some sort of controllable watercraft some 30,000 years or so (else how would they have gotten to their island) and thus obviously had some intelligence -- followed some thirty pages later by a sentence along the lines of: 'As we've already seen, New Guineans were the first people on all the Earth to have invented and utilized watercraft'.

That pissed me off something bad.

mnuez
www.mnuez.blogspot.com

simon newman said...

Diamond explains the evolution of human societies via the influence of their environments, yet ignores the environmental influences on the evolution of the actual humans who make up those societies. In Darwinian terms, this makes no sense.

So, he has some interesting things to say (unlike the cultural anthropologists), but also some stunning lacunae. Nicholas Wade in 'Before the Dawn' does a good, not too un-PC explanation of Diamond's failing.

simon newman said...

Major civilisations don't exactly self-suicide; they don't die out in isolation. But nor is it a simple matter of outside conquest - they self-weaken, leaving them prey to more vigorous, typically more barbaric, cultures. 3rd century BC Greece and 4th-5th century AD Rome both fit this. The forces that eventually conquer and destroy them are usually much weaker than the forces they earlier triumphed against. The Gaulish forces defeated by Caesar were much bigger than the Visigoth force that sacked Rome.

A population that becomes 'feminised' to the extent that it becomes noncombatant does seem to be an important factor. Governments like these populations because they're easy to rule with small police/army forces. But they are easy prey, from 5th century AD Romans to 21st century Dutchmen, Belgians and Swedes.

Anonymous said...

The roving bandits won. The population of Western Europes was cut by more than half, living standards plummetted, whole technologies and craft skills dissappeared,

Bzzzz. Thanks for playing, but wrong answer. Living standards rose in Western Europe after the end of the Empire, if e.g. average height and bone structure determined from disinterred remains dated to the 7th-10th centuries are versus those from Roman times.

As for technologies and craft skills, they greatly accelerated after the fall of the Empire and the end of legal chattel slavery in western Europe). Yeah, they lost the technique for making rounded arches but more than made up for that by introducing things the Romans never did, like the mouldboard plow and crop rotation, and vastly scaling up things the Romans only tinkered with, especially water-powered mills. By the 10th century just about every settlement of size in the West had a waterwheel, something way in advance of anything in say, Diocletian's Europe, and also anywhere else contemporaneously.

It took Western Europe about 1,000 years to recover from this disaster.

Once free of slavery and Roman bureaucracy, Western Europe circa 500-1000 was a classic beta-male, tinkering, small-holding society. Only the Carolingian regime began moving things back towards centralization and 'alpha males' but even that took centuries. Some recovery.

David Davenport said...

Specifically, if you want to decline, kick out the jews.

How many Jews resided in Italy during Rome's republican centuries?

Likewise for America prior to the 20th century?

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: One could say that Rome encouraged homocide by losing its purpose.

truthseeker: The disintegration of the Western Empire and the subsequent Dark Age is a straightforward example of racial politics, following the same patterns Steve has observed in today's racial politics. Not much has changed in 2,000 years. The empire's elites invited in other races to perform important jobs that natives wanted to avoid.

You guys are so close to the answer - it's sitting there right in front of your faces.

What is the purpose of a society?

What is the most important job which is performed within a society?

truthseeker: I'm not sure what you're trying to say here, but if you look at contemporary portraits of Romans (like the emperor Honorious) versus Germans (for example Roman army officers) in the fifth century A.D.(the "fall of Rome", the century the Western Empire disintigrated), the Romans are very feminized and the Germans look very masculine.

And what is the single germane fact we know about feminized men?

What single historical truism - what genealogical tautology - unites the men of Provincetown, Greenwich Village, Dupont Circle, and Key West?

truthseeker: The Roman "stationary bandits" were themselves pretty oppressive, but they taxed at the Laffer Curve optimum, rather than far beyond the optimum as roving bandits do. The roving bandits won. The population of Western Europes was cut by more than half, living standards plummetted, whole technologies and craft skills dissappeared, and literacy disappeared in all but monks. It took Western Europe about 1,000 years to recover from this disaster.

Maybe part of the reason you can't quite get the answer is because you have the timeline backwards: You're making the assumption that the stationary bandits still existed.

By the way, you're also making one small mistake in your assertion about literacy & the monks.

It will prove to be a very important point, however, as we move forward now into the Second Dark Age - as The Light recedes, and The Shadow grows swiftly stronger.

Really a fundamentally important point, when you get right down to it, which is why it will be necessary for me to point it out to you.

fifi said...

"BTW, I think I may have figured out the biological basis for homosexuality (not kidding)."

I'm intrigued, Bill. I'd also like to know how homosexuals fit into the larger scheme. For instance, in a society dominated by beta males & punctuated by a few alphas, would the homosexuals be classified as zetas? ; o)

ash said...

I agree with Steve Sailer that Jared Diamond has generally overemphasized the importance of geographical factors in human history, but sometimes Steve overemphasizes that point about Diamond's overemphasis, and seems to imply that Diamond had no good points here and there.

There was an ironic post by Steve some months back in which he noticed that the land of Ireland was far less favorable to farming than that of England. Steve commented words to the effect of "No wonder it was the English who dominated Ireland, and not the other way around." Jared Diamond would agree with you, Steve!

Svigor said...

I might well ask them why they won't treat us like fellow human beings.

Better to ask the leftist where she got such a psychotic notion of human norms.

Bill said...

I'm intrigued, Bill. I'd also like to know how homosexuals fit into the larger scheme. For instance, in a society dominated by beta males & punctuated by a few alphas, would the homosexuals be classified as zetas? ; o)

-fifi


You'll have to ask evil neocon about the alpha/beta thing.

But I'm actually kind of excited about this idea. It explains how homosexuality could be a result of positive selection, and makes sense of the results of a good deal of research into homosexuality. I'll try to finish writing up an explanation of the hypothesis when I've got the time -- maybe later when the kids are in bed.

mrs. anonymous said...

::waves hand::

oooh, ooh, Lucius, I know!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB7tClTaQbg

(in case it's not clear to the rest of the class.)

Judge Dredd said...

"Specifically, if you want to decline, kick out the jews."

...and thats why Israel is the wealthiest country in thw world today regularly giving military aid to the US and subsidizing it to the tune of billions of dollars.

francis k said...

>Lucius Vorenus said...What is the most important job which is performed within a society?<

knock up dem bitches?

>Really a fundamentally important point, when you get right down to it, which is why it will be necessary for me to point it out to you.<

what? in next week's episode?

simon newman said...

anon 4:33, sounding a lot like evil neocon, writes:

"Bzzzz. Thanks for playing, but wrong answer. Living standards rose in Western Europe after the end of the Empire, if e.g. average height and bone structure determined from disinterred remains dated to the 7th-10th centuries are versus those from Roman times."

It's very common for a collapse in population, as at the end of the western Roman empire, to be followed by a rise in living standards, for the simple reason that there is now more land and resources per person. The Empire was completely gone by the end of the 5th century, so it's not at all surprising or contradictory to say that people 200 years later were better off in some ways. As to 'average height and bone structure', well the obvious rejoinder is that THESE WERE NOT THE SAME PEOPLE - large scale population replacement and interbreeding had occurred, with larger Germanic peoples and their genes replacing the smaller original previous inhabitants. A modern parrallel would be the British (Anglo-Celtic) colonising of Australia in the last few hundred years. Going by skeleton evidence, you see an abrupt increase in size, decreased malnutrition, population increase, technological advancement etc. A golden age for Australia! But of course from the Aboriginal population's perspective it was a disaster. Likewise from the Amerindian perspective, Anglo-Celtic colonisation of North America was disastrous TO THEM.

ben tillman said...

Bzzzz. Thanks for playing, but wrong answer. Living standards rose in Western Europe after the end of the Empire, [based on] e.g. average height and bone structure....

As Joseph Tainter wrote in The Collapse of Complex societies, the fall of the Roman Empire resulted in the greatest tax cut in history.

Tainter's "Collapse":

http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Complex-Societies-Studies-Archaeology/dp/052138673X

truthseeker said...

Simon's point is worth repeating: there is no contradiction between observing that economies declined, technologies disappeared, and populations dropped at the end the Western Empire (indicating the massive poverty brought on by roving bandits), and a rising per capita standard of living a century later due to the per capita abundance of good agricultural land that results from lower population. It's straightforward Malthus. There was probably also a climatic problem in the 6th century that delayed rural recovery to the 7th, but that's another story.

Anon 4:33 sagely points out that rural economies and technologies had recovered by the 7th century and thereafter started surpassing in many ways the Roman era. But urban economies and technologies in Western Europe did not match those of Rome in most ways (population, per capita standards of living, etc.) until at least the 12th century, and in some ways not until the 17th.

Anon 4:33 would also be correct to point out that the stationary bandits, i.e. the Roman empire, had already declined quite a bit from its 2nd century peak, and arguably the Roman world was a decline in some ways from the Hellenistic one. But for at least a century the roving bandits made things far worse still, and in some ways (e.g. the lack of urban economy) the roving bandits dragged down Western Europe for the rest of the millenium.

truthseeker said...

Lucius and Simon seem to be implying, with some PC hesitance to actually come out and clearly state, that there was an almost wholesale replacement of Italic genes with Germanic ones during the late Roman empire.

There should be plenty of recoverable DNA from Roman era remains, so this is an eminently testable hypothesis.

At least I'm assuming that's the hypothesis from the cryptic statements. Or perhaps you have a smaller theory that just the non-peasant/serf genes were replaced. Please clarify what you are trying to say. Let's drop the PC shyness and pseudo-cleverness and come right out and clearly say what you mean. Nobody has to play the PC game on this forum. Indeed that's why I'm here to avoid playing such games.

simon newman said...

truthseeker:
"Lucius and Simon seem to be implying, with some PC hesitance to actually come out and clearly state, that there was an almost wholesale replacement of Italic genes with Germanic ones during the late Roman empire."

I wasn't trying to be PC, but I didn't want to imply that eg the Frankish conquest of Gaul involved actual genocide in the manner of the Anglo-Celtic conquest of the modern USA or Australia. The size of the invading Germanic tribes' populations were initially much smaller than those of the Imperial populations. Some of that population died from famine, war and disease. Much became serfs and slaves of Germanic overlords - a warrior class that formed the basis of the medieval gentry and aristocratic classes. However, in settled populations you often get a continued downward gene flow, the ruling class has more children and more survive to reproduce, so a population that was genetically eg 20% Germanic/80% Italianate in 450 AD might be 60% Germanic/40% Italianate in 1050 AD.

I'm not sure how important that would be somewhere like Gaul, most of which AFAIK was primarily Celtic-populated; I accept that abrupt changes in skeleton size don't require a change in genes. The size of the English skeleton declined a lot with urbanisation and industrialiation ca 1450-1800; the fall of the Roman Empire seems a lot like an industrial revolution in reverse.