The attractions of civilization

Many have noted how difficult it is to persuade hunter-gatherers to adopt agriculture, or more generally, to get people to adopt a more intensive kind of agriculture.

It’s worth noting that, given the choice, few individuals pick the more intensive, more ‘civilized’ way of life, even when their ancestors have practiced it for thousands of years.

Benjamin Franklin talked about this. “When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.”


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125 Responses to The attractions of civilization

  1. ursiform says:

    Would you go back to working for an aerospace company, Greg?

  2. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Many have noted how difficult it is to persuade hunter-gatherers to adopt agriculture”

    The gap between following a herd and herding would seem a lot smaller so I wonder if there’s a difference between willingness to adopt settled agriculture versus willingness to adopt nomadic or semi-nomadic herding.

    • Sandgroper says:

      In Australia, yes. Clear historical evidence on successful adaptation to cattle breeding but not to crop growing.

  3. Charlie says:

    Civilised people who go to live in less civilised parts can often achieve a good position and status in that society. They have knowledge, skills, genetic endowments and capacity to deal with civilised people that can be useful to themselves and their new society. It rarely works out so well for someone who moves in the other direction. Better a king among beggars than a beggar among kings?

  4. Sandgroper says:

    There you are, trying to have a quiet crap in the woods, and some damned kid comes and blows a whistle at you.

  5. Sandgroper says:

    I figure it’s like this: with anything less than modern plumbing, kept sufficiently clean, you have to smell everyone else’s crap while you are doing yours. If the facilities are a hole in the ground, and people have been missing the hole (which they are inclined to do), it’s worse than that – you need to tiptoe through the deposits to get to the hole. The prospect of slipping over and landing in the deposits doesn’t bear thinking about. The alternative is to find some nice quiet place that is clean – or at least clean until you got there.

    Until really very recently (or in a lot of real world cases, even now), human settlements were stinking, filthy, disease ridden dumps, and the great outdoors away from too many other people were a cleaner, healthier and better smelling place to be – more exposed and less materially comfortable, maybe, but altogether nicer. And if you kept moving, so that you kept leaving your own deposits of filth and rubbish behind, and so they didn’t build up too much, so much the better.

    “they become disgusted with our manner of life” – I often still do, outside of my own spotlessly clean home.

  6. anon says:

    I’m sure there are pluses to the Hunter-Gather way of life (see:, but Stockholm Syndrome and Reverse Culture Shock (which is surprisingly more problematic than the original) are probably also at play.

    PS, did you get the idea for this post while browsing the frontpage of reddit a few days ago?

    • Sandgroper says:

      Um, no – HGs have much fewer girls to choose from.

      Given a choice between living alone in the bush, or living a sedentary life with a very clean, attractive woman, I sold out to civilisation.

      • Ian says:

        That’s the point. In any case, cities are full of girls, but I think mating is harder for farmers (that’s why sheep are so beloved in certain places).

    • Sandgroper says:

      I’d buy Stockholm Syndrome, though. And the other thing – I get that myself now when I go ‘home’. And yes, it is more difficult than the original – at least when you go to a ‘foreign’ place full of ‘foreign’ people, you expect it to be different and difficult. ‘Home’ is not meant to be that way.

    • Daniel says:

      Yeah guys, it definitely has to be Stockholm syndrome.

      I mean, it must be so because so-called “civilization” totally isn’t full of stress and frustration.

      Must be why “savages” are so neurotic, depressed, sleep-deprived and full of frustration – while civilized folks are so care-free.

      Oh wait.

      Like the Indian chief supposedly said – only white man dumb enough to believe such bullshit.

    • Clayton says:

      I agree with Indian Chief

      Missing and Murder in Aboriginal Women are high rate in Canada and USA in Civilization “Colonization” years since 1492!

      • little spoon says:

        Generally men are the ones to romanticize the feral life. There are stories of Tarzan and last of Mohicans but practically none where women voluntarily leave civilization for the wild unless it is to be with a Tarzan or white Mohican.

        In the Disney version of jungle book, mowgli leaves the jungle purely because a cute girl lives in the village.

        Not sure why people think women don’t go for the innate appeal of the savage life like men do.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        It doesn’t matter if we are computer nerds or crazy men growing long beards and living up in the mountains, we all hear the call of the lazy. Screw working all the damn time. I’ve studied the first settler maps in places like Indiana and they show things like Indian Village surrounded by a Walnut and Sugar Maple forest. It sounds to me like they turned the forest into a giant candy bar factory. What a life, “honey I’ll be back in a couple of days, me and the buds are going hunting, hopefully we catch something, if not make a lot of succotash because we will all be sick of walnut crunch bars.”

      • Laban says:

        Little Spoon – Mowgli leaves the jungle in the Kipling version too.

  7. How reliable was this Franklin guy? No mention of sample sizes, measures employed, time scales. Anecdotal data, doted on by Americans for sentimental reasons. The call of the wild? I don’t think so.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Try good old fashioned dirt farming and see how it compares to hunter gathering when the population of humans is so low that there is plenty of game. I think Franklin was absolutely right. Farming pre-industrial revolution was back breaking tedious work and thanks to the plagues we imported such as small pox, being a hunter gatherer in North America was easier than it ever had been thanks to a very low population of Amerindians. Fast forward to the present and there is no comparison, we have it nice and easy. As for anecdotal data, there isn’t much, but I look at the illustrations of the first meetings between the first Europeans and the Amerinds and the Indians tower over the shrimpy white folks because they ate much better. I am not painting a picture of the hunter gatherer life as being any sort of ideal, after all the way hunter gatherers kept the population well below the Malthusian limit was the frequent murder of any stranger you met, but I can see there being a widespread preference to a life where you work less and eat better.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Yeah, I reckon Dave’s on the money.

      When I was a kid, I spent half my life pretending I was a Red Indian anyway, usually Sioux because I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to call them that – if a bunch of them had turned up and invited me along, I would have been gone, out of there, away with the wild Indians. Screw this Paleface nonsense.

    • Peter Connor says:

      Also, The Searchers.

  8. Jason says:

    This is disturbing given that our youth are increasingly raised on degenerate hip hop culture. I’m afraid there is some window of opportunity for becoming truly civilized when young (like language acquisition?) and if it is missed, that’s that. You get thuggish, unrefined dudes and divas with permanently arrested development.

  9. dearieme says:

    “the care and pains that are necessary to support it”: yeah, you gotta behave like an adult. Civilised people the world over seemed to react to primitives by calling them “child-like”.

    Mind you, there must be survivor bias. If the tribe of Injuns you joined got wiped out by another one, you won’t be around to celebrate life in the woods.

  10. Raeb says:

    There’s a good reason for that.

    Field research has determined the working day of hunter-gatherers is just five hours.

    Still, I’m not sure this would still hold on together.

    Work-time was never higher than in 19th century Western civilization. Specifically factory workers. Except for say, late WWII or such desperate times, no one has ever worked so hard.

  11. j3morecharacters says:

    Hunting is not work, it is fun.

    • Sandgroper says:


      It becomes tedious if you never get anything, but if you have a reasonable hit rate, it’s not work.

  12. Flinders Petrie says:

    This ‘call of the wild’ seems to be the strongest in whites. That is to say, for most populations who have lived in civilizations, it seems that only Northern Europeans romanticize about the lifestyle of the Noble Savage.

    Most African Americans don’t seem to want to leave urban centers. Nor do Ashkenazim.

    Were there any equivalents to Cynthia Parker for African Americans, or any other race? (Possibly, I really don’t know).

    • marcel says:

      Anecdata in re Ashkenazim: From my mother and her sisters, American born children of 2 Litvaks, I have heard stories of an uncle of theirs, an immigrant like my grandparents who at least once, maybe twice, saved up enough from his day job in Chicago to buy a farm in WI, only to return to Chicago after going broke. And don’t forget about Tevye the Dairyman; although fictional, presumably represented enough about real life to be credible. My guess is that some Ashkenazim preferred urban centers, and others remained there for safety in numbers or because that’s where it was possible to support themselves, or because of restrictions on Jews owning land.

    • JayMan says:

      Is it all Northern Europeans, or just some? Steve Sailer frequently connects love of nature to Germanics…

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        To me, it seems to be shared across Northern Europe, although Germany could have some of the more peculiar and neurotic manifestations of it, as Sailer has documented. It may relate to backlash against the Industrial Revolution, when there was a feeling that mankind had become corrupted, straying from his ‘harmonious’ primitive state. (If you consider starvation and murder harmonious.) Thus the noble savage myth, which was around since at least the 17th century in a poem by the English poet John Dryden.

        I would argue that the call of the wild mentality is related to the spirit of individualism and desire for exploration, both of which seem to be on overdrive in Northern Europe in particular. It seems to have been a part of the psyche of the great naturalists: Humboldt’s Latin American expeditions, Albrecht von Haller’s deep appreciation of the Alps and the idyllic life of its inhabitants, Wallace’s charting of Rio Negro, Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle…

    • Flinders Petrie says:

      Re: kibbutzim. I’ve stayed at a few, and they are very interesting phenomena. While they are certainly not urban, they are very much communities in the strict sense of the word (communes, at least originally). Some of them are fairly remote (e.g., Sde Boker), but Israel is such a small place that most are within walking distance of urban centers.

      But these centers are very different from the mountain man or frontier mindset, where folks try to carve out an existence for just their family with minimal ties to larger communities.

      Of course, it could all be historical circumstance and geography. A little house on the prairie is not possible within the confines of Israel.

  13. Jim says:

    Quanah Parker is interesting as an example of someone who was successful in too quite different cultures. After the Comanche defeat at Palo Duro he became a successful rancher. His biological uncle, Cynthia Parker’s brother, escaped the Comanches and became a successful rancher in South Texas as an adult.

  14. Zarf says:

    A writer at American Thinker today, mocking environmentalist philo-Amerindianism ( speculates that low North-Amerindian population levels were the result of starvation and disease — but that’s not true, is it? How did hunter-gatherers keep their numbers low?

    • dave chamberlin says:

      “How did hunter-gatherers keep their populations low?”
      They kept their population well below the Malthusian limit by murder. The goofy article you link to says it’s because the Amerinds didn’t take good care of their children. North American Amerinds pre-disruption by Europeans were in a constant state of war defending their hunting territory and attempting to expand it into that of their neighboring tribes. There is lots of bullshit tossed around that the Amerinds were a peaceful bunch ( Howard Zinn’s ” A People’s History of the United States”) but we were apex predators and we didn’t take kindly to encroachment on what we perceived to be our territory. Obviously intensive agriculture creates a population explosion in it’s own way, but true hunter gatherer populations are either warlike or losing the battle of the fittest.

      • Gabe Ruth says:

        So if the settlers had been intelligent, they would have picked one tribe, supplied it with enough firepower to subdue the continent, and let them do what they do. After maybe one hundred years, cut off the ammo supply and come take over in a cake walk.

        I’ve always assumed the primary draw of civilization was the desire for your children to survive, incomprehensible as that may seem to modern elites such as Jared Diamond:

        “As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evils of farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter. It’s not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn’t want.”

        Damn sentimental breeders.

      • Sandgroper says:

        If you are a nomadic forager, you can only carry one small kid, so if they are born too close together, you have to engage in infanticide, or just leaving the latest one behind a bush, which amounts to the same thing.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        i thought late weaning was part of it in some places?

      • Sandgroper says:

        Yeah. An important thing to remember always is that HG populations were/are extremely variable. Why would they not be?

        This is a bit of a side-track, but someone has just figured out (doh!) that in Australia, the Noongar (south-west of Western Australia) have produced more elite level Australian football players than all of the rest of Australia combined – in population terms, they have been way over represented compared to all other Aboriginal players. So what’s special about the Noongar, apart from the fact that they never practised male circumcision, unlike the whole of the rest of the continent?

        Well, who knows, but we erm I mean they are clearly ‘different’ somehow from other Australian Aboriginal people. The south west is about the most remote corner of the continent, it’s on the way to nowhere, although the evidence such as it is suggests that people got there fairly quickly after entering Australia, no doubt via a coastal route. It also has unique flora and fauna. So, it seems something special was going on, but no idea what – but, some clear cultural differences, and seemingly some physical/athletic differences. Indian-subcontinent admixture? *shrug*

      • Sandgroper says:

        Here you go: “The best tribe in Australia” – I thought Kevin Sheedy might cop some flak for that comment, but it seems not. Sheedy is white, BTW – whiter than white Irish ancestry.

        I don’t live and breathe football, but that story stuck out because, if any people are ‘my’ people – I was born in the furthest south-west corner of the country, about as remote as you can get from anywhere.

        There’s something interesting there, genome-wise, I suspect, but I’ll award a gold medal to anyone who can get anywhere trying to find out what it is.

      • Luke Lea says:

        “It’s not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn’t want.”

        I have long speculated that the earliest horticulturists took up cultivating wild grasses because they had been forced out of all the best hunting grounds. Population pressure would seem to have been a constant. How else explain the peopling of the whole planet in just a few tens of thousands of years after the coming out of Africa?

    • dearieme says:

      “low North-Amerindian population levels were the result of starvation and disease — but that’s not true, is it?” Of course it’s true: Old World diseases played merry hell with the poor sods.

      • syon says:

        “low North-Amerindian population levels were the result of starvation and disease — but that’s not true, is it?” Of course it’s true: Old World diseases played merry hell with the poor sods.

        One of the sad facts of human history is that a huge Amerind death toll was the inevitable result of an encounter with peoples from the Old World. Even if the English, French, Spanish, etc, had never fired a shot, millions would still have died from disease.

      • syon says:

        Some data from Matthew White’s website:

        United States, eradication of the American Indians (1775-1890) 350,000 [make link]
        Russel Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival (1987)
        Overall decline
        From 600,000 (in 1800) to 250,000 (in 1890s)
        Indian Wars, from a 1894 report by US Census, cited by Thornton. Includes men, woman and children killed, 1775-1890:
        Individual conflicts:
        Whites: 5,000
        Indians: 8,500
        Wars under the gov’t:
        Whites: 14,000
        Indians: 30-45,000
        Whites: 19,000
        Indians: 38,500 to 53,500
        TOTAL: 65,000 ± 7,500
        William Osborn: The Wild Frontier: atrocities during the American-Indian War from Jamestown Colony to Wounded Knee (2000)
        Deaths caused by specific settler atrocities: 7,193 (1623-1890)
        Deaths caused by specific Indian atrocities: 9,156 (1511-1879. Incl. Indian vs. Indian)
        Osborne basically defines an atrocity as murder or torture of civilians and prisoners. Most of your outright massacres are counted, but the Trail of Tears, for example, isn’t.
        Trail of Tears (1838-39)
        Trager, The People’s Chronology: 4,000 out of 14,000 Cherokee die on route.
        Osborne: anywhere between 1,846 and 18,000 Indians died, in total.

        Australia (1788-1921) 240,000 [make link]
        Mark Cocker, Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold (1998)
        Australian mainland
        Ongoing frontier war: 2,000-2,500 whites and 20,000 Aborignies KIA (“best guess”, probably higher)
        General population decline: from 1M (1788) to 50,000 (ca. 1890) to 30,000 (1920s)
        Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee (1993)
        Decline of the Aborgines
        From 300,000 (in 1788) to 60,000 (in 1921)
        Extermination of the Tasmanians
        From 5,000 (in 1800) to 200 (in 1830) to 3 (in 1869) to none (1877)
        Clodfelter: 2,500 Eur. and 20,000 Aborignies k. in wars, 1840-1901
        Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country (2001): 20,000 Aboriginies intentionally killed by whites.
        Joseph Glascott, “600,000 Aborigines Died After 1788, Study Shows”, Sydney Morning Herald, February 25, 1987

    • Peter Connor says:

      Subsistence economy keeps population at ….subsistence levels. Amazing!

  15. Jim says:

    By no means were all Indians north of Mexico hunter-gatherers. Cultures in the Southwest like the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon were proto-civilizations. The American Southwest had extensive trade and cultural connections with Meso-America. The Mound Builders were also well beyond simple hunter-gatherers.

  16. aisaac says:

    This isn’t much of a mystery. Most civilized people were farmers then, and farming was near-constant drudgery and toil. The amenities that we have now didn’t exist then, so strike A/C, central heat, and running water off the list of advantages for civilization.

    Farmers hunt for fun – that’s what hunter gatherers do all the time.

    • Great point. HunterGathering > old school farming

    • dave chamberlin says:

      In our modern minds we have set a very clear division between farming and hunter-gathering, which of course there can be. But it needs to be noted that there is a very large grey area between the two. Astute hunter-gatherers have long managed their environment to maximize food output and often in ways that minimize work and maximize output. We only know of existing hunter-gatherer groups whom have been driven to the worst land that is left. What makes North America at first contact so interesting is it was the last place on earth where hunter-gatherers occupied prime real estate. In a blog post I need to limit myself to one example of what i am talking about so let me use the exploitation of the chestnut tree by the Amerinds as an example. The American chestnut tree was once 25% of the trees in parts of southeast United States. It was called the corn tree because of the prodigious supply of delicious chestnuts it would supply. The American Chestnut tree could have a trunk that was ten feet across and ten mature trees could supply a Cherokee family with enough calories to feed them for a year. As a side note the American Chestnut tree is on the verge of a comeback as breeders have now bred them to be resistant to the Chinese chestnut blight which almost wiped them out. Now compare the difficulty of European dirt farming to Cherokee chestnut farming. The forests that the Europeans entered were park like, it was said you could drive a wagon underneath the canopy with no problem. The Cherokees (and other tribes) simply girded the trunks of any trees that did not rain food once a year. Rake up leaves in the fall set a up a nice toasty manageable camp fire around any and all trees that did not feed you and competed with your chestnut trees and then insure the tree is dead by chopping off the burnt bark with your handy stone axe.
      Europe didn’t have this wonderful tree but hazelnuts formed a large amount of the European hunter-gatherer diet going way back 10,000 years ago. Did they manage the hazelnut tree in similar fashion? The pollen records lying undisturbed at the bottom of lakes that existed at these times is indicating such an activity.

      • dearieme says:

        “What makes North America at first contact so interesting is it was the last place on earth where hunter-gatherers occupied prime real estate.” No: much of NZ, including such top spots as the Canterbury Plains, supported the Maori only as HGs.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Um…what did the Maori hunt on the Canterbury plains once the Moa were extinct and New Zealand had no mammals. The Maori brought with them horticulture of the Polynesian culture. But still you have a point, North America was not the last prime real estate left on earth, and the Maori reaped a bounty from the sea.

  17. IC says:

    To barbarians (hunter-gatherers tribes), civilized people are all slave without freedom (obedience to authority, law, regulation). Savages are fighting for their freedom.

  18. Jim says:

    The Comanches themselves are descendents of a Shoshoni band that migrated into the Llano Estacado from the Great Basin about 1700. The original band did consist of hunter-gatherers but the Comanches developed a culture which did involve hunting buffalo but which was also heavily dependent on raiding the Spainish and the more settled Indians of Texas, Mexico and the American Southwest. Their culture used not only the horse but all kinds of metal tools, leather goods, etc. stolen or traded from the Spainish or settled Indians.

    In the period from 1700 to 1870 buffalo were abundant and Comanche life was pretty good particularly if you were into raiding and fighting. They took so many captives that their genetics changed significantly from the original Shoshoni band.

    The Kiowa and Wichita are examples of tribes who gave up a settled life for a nomadic existence after the introduction of horses. The Kiowa came from the Taos Pueblos and the Wichita are Caddo Indians who abandoned the rather sophisticated mound building culture of the Caddo for the free and easy life of the Southern Plains Indians. It was probably a lot more fun.

    The Hopi language is Uto-Aztecan so they may be descendents of Ute raiders who went the opposite way and adopted the settled Pueblo way of life.

    • anon says:

      Lifestyle of the horse-equipped buffalo-hunting Plains Indians is closer to Pastoralism than traditional Hunter-Gatherer.

      • JIm says:

        Yes and in the case of Southern Plains Indians like the Comanche and Lipan their way of life was very heavily dependent on raiding the Spanish and settled Indians of Texas, Mexico and the American Southwest. The Comanche rustled an enormous number of cattle from South Texas and Mexico and traded them to Americans for all kinds of manufactured goods. The Comanche were the principal suppliers of beef to the American market in the first half of the 19th century.

        Raiding was not just an incidental part of Comanche, Kiowa and Lipan culture. It was the basic economic foundation of their whole way of life.

  19. A-BAx says:

    Reminds me a bit of the early parts of the Saxon Chronicles (Last Kingdom) by Bernard Cornwell. The noble-born English boy, Uthred, is taken in by the conquering Danes, and learns to love their savage lifestyle and despise English society. (Which, even in the 9th century was a more “advanced” agrarian society than the plundering Danes.)

  20. j mct says:

    From the last post, the westward expansion in the US, and probably more of the east of the Mississippi phase that was over by about 1820, is the example he is looking for, The basic technological edge was farming, the tech that allowed one’s maximum population density to be in persons per square mile rather than square miles per person. The tech edge, guns, and steel, and germs too, Diamond is right about that even if one disagrees about why some had them and others did not, just speeded up the process.

    That Franklin quote is the famous quote regarding that, but it was pretty common knowledge in the day. During the Enlightenment, American Indians were the go to example of ‘natural man’, or man in the state of nature. Locke, when he wants to point out that even if his social contract might be better for some than others, everyone does benefit and points out that the material standard of living of an English rural day laborer was higher than ‘a king of the Americans’, his name for an Indian chief. Rousseau and his ‘men are born good and society ruins them’ stuff was obviously over the top, one might think that the Indians were noble savages depending on what one’s definition of noble was, but that they were savages was not. Another question about society that a saner head might make might make, and I think Rousseau himself does put it this way somewhere, that is embodied in that Franklin quote, is that even if society does not make men bad, does it make them happy?

    • Zarf says:

      The best civilized art is better than any savage art, isn’t it? Maybe the best civilized philosophizing is better than any savage philosophizing, too. Maybe the deepest, most intense moments of civilized consciousness are better than any moments of savage consciousness, even if savage life is ordinarily happier.

  21. Clayton says:

    The Primitivist Critique of Civilization
    “Was Civilization a Mistake?”

  22. Cplusk says:

    Farmers may eventually create simulated reality and live in it as immortal hunter gatherers. Real world hunter gatherers on the other hand will continue to hunt until they get killed by a buffalo or an asteroid.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      farmers will one day come home from the fields and plug themselves into a virtual reality buffalo hunter world with added air-conditioning and snacks.

    • ziel says:

      “Farmers may eventually create simulated reality and live in it as immortal hunter gatherers.”

      I believe they already have – it’s called “golf”

  23. Let’s not forget Jemmy Button:

    Jemmy went to sleep on shore, and in the morning returned, and remained
    on board till the ship got under way, which frightened his wife, who
    continued crying violently till he got into his canoe. He returned
    loaded with valuable property. Every soul on board was heartily sorry
    to shake hands with him for the last time. I do not now doubt that he
    will be as happy as, perhaps happier than, if he had never left his own
    country. Every one must sincerely hope that Captain Fitz Roy’s noble
    hope may be fulfilled, of being rewarded for the many generous
    sacrifices which he made for these Fuegians, by some shipwrecked sailor
    being protected by the descendants of Jemmy Button and his tribe! When
    Jemmy reached the shore, he lighted a signal fire, and the smoke curled
    up, bidding us a last and long farewell, as the ship stood on her
    course into the open sea.
    Voyage of the Beagle; March 5th, 1833

  24. Different choices, different seasons. If one is supporting only oneself, the low-work but high-risk strategy of living on hunting and gathering works great 4 years out of 5. If you are supporting a wife (or wives) and children, 4 out of 5 ain’t good enough.

    If one has becpme accustomed to the 5-hour workday, or the brief but intensive effort hunting party lifestyle, however, it may be difficult to ratchet up to 10 hours times 6 days working, even at need.

    • gcochran9 says:

      My guess is that hunter-=gatherers experienced fewer famines than farmers.

      • Yes, and the farmers likely had more raiders takin’ their worldly goods as well. It’s hard to see what was in it for them ,really. But they did persist at it, so they must have had at least an impression there was an advantage, Otherwise they would all have left the farms. I like the “more girls” theory, though I don’t have anything to support it.

        I will note that most H-G societies we know about have some contact with settled agriculturalists, and can obtain their goods through trade or raid. Perhaps it is an easier gig when that’s the case.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Just simple logic and probability – more dense populations provide a higher number and wider range of females to choose from, and the chance of getting a good match with someone is higher, but there is more competition from a higher number of males. On the mean, men are more likely to embrace the rugged great outdoors – there are big risks out there for females. (Spoonful: “In the Disney version of Jungle Book, Mowgli leaves the jungle purely because a cute girl lives in the village” – story of my life.) On balance, your chance of finding a cute female who matches your preferences, and you hers, is better in a more dense civilised society. That fails when rules dictate preference for male children, as in labour-intensive farming societies – combine that with having to crap or piss outdoors at night, and you get hell on earth for females (think northern India). If Peter Frost is right (as opposed to being short of a few nuts and bolts), steppe hunters had more choice of females, leading to sexual selection for novelty. In the modern world, that diversity of choice exists most in large cosmopolitan but mono-cultural cities with balanced populations (so you have phenotype diversity without the ghettos) and, as Ian observes, farmers tend to be starved for choice.

        The worst situation is a mining boom.

    • marcel says:

      Isn’t talk of “supporting a wife (or wives) and children” is a bit anachronistic? Conscious of the problems with using Wikipedia as support here, nevertheless I heard that a typical sexual division of labor among HGs is that women are responsible for providing the bulk of the calories and men the bulk of the animal protein. This was even true, I believe among at least some horticulturists in North America, where the women were responsible for providing all food from plants and the men all food from animals (by hunting and fishing).*

      *In addition to Wikipedia for supporting documentation, this is what I recall from my junior high or HS social studies classes in central NY.

  25. dearieme says:

    “The attractions of civilisation” needn’t be confined to hunter-gatherers. When the German tribes invaded Gaul it was found that the German elite were keen to copy the Roman elite, while the Roman lower orders copied the German lower orders. Rather like hip-hop, I dare say. (I can’t be very precise with the analogy since I have only the vaguest idea what hip-hop might be.)

    • Sandgroper says:

      Just think stupid, ugly, lazy, offensive, violent, illiterate, ‘entitled’, useless and a waste of oxygen.

      (Are you sure Germans were like that?)

    • Sandgroper says:

      Here’s Iggy discussing being ‘fingered’. I think this probably gives us a vague idea.

      • Jedi Wonk says:

        She also discusses how she does “brand management” and her two interlocutors’ conversation assumes that the norm for couples is “married”.

    • syon says:

      dearieme:”“The attractions of civilisation” needn’t be confined to hunter-gatherers. When the German tribes invaded Gaul it was found that the German elite were keen to copy the Roman elite, while the Roman lower orders copied the German lower orders. Rather like hip-hop, I dare say. (I can’t be very precise with the analogy since I have only the vaguest idea what hip-hop might be.)”

      Wondering about the spread of Barbarian fashions…..When did the Romans abandon their civilized attire for German trousers?

  26. Luke Lea says:

    Just goes to show, it was probably not a voluntary transition. The fall of man and the rise of civilization were two sides of the same event. Conquest, the “original” sin which dare not speak its name: caused them both:

    • Gabe Ruth says:

      Interesting, thanks for sharing.

      I think it makes more sense to understand original sin as the adoption of a technology which had unforeseen disadvantages (such as vulnerability to conquest). Farming would definitely qualify, and the suggested female agitation for this technology has a sort of logic to it. It raises the value of female contributions to the life of the tribe beyond child-bearing. The desire for more surviving children might be stronger in women (since we don’t believe in social constructs here), and H-G life militates against many children. And having more options among women raises the status of the most desirable women, so it translates to even greater relative female power.

      On the other hand, others have suggested that farming was at least initially voluntary, in the sense that weaker tribes would end up in areas where it was more difficult to survive as H-G’s and turn to primitive farming for survival. As soon as they start being less mobile, it becomes possible to raise more children, and the group gets locked in to farming as population increases. And then they are even more vulnerable to mobile H-Gs raiding them, but because they have more people it’s a little harder to completely exterminate them, and they’re on undesirable turf anyway. Then H-Gs notice they have some cool stuff, maybe their homes are comfortable, and they have more women, so they become partners or protectors. This is suggestive of another strange passage of Genesis:

      “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose…
      There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

  27. Derek says:

    Thomas Paine wrote:

    The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich. Civilization, therefore, or that which is so called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.

    • dearieme says:

      “in a natural state”: that sounds like a bogus idea being born.

      • Derek says:

        I don’t see what’s bogus about it, especially when it’s clear what Paine means by “natural state” from the context.

      • dearieme says:

        For a start there’s no mention of the life of tribal slaughter: perhaps “the survivors of the wars of all against all live a perpetual holiday until the next war breaks out” would have less sentimental appeal.

      • Derek says:

        Right, but there’s no mention of the mass warfare of civilization either. The mass war of civilization is no picnic.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Right, but there’s no mention of the mass warfare of civilization either. The mass war of civilization is no picnic.

        You mean like this: War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies

        Why is there so much variation in the ability of different human populations to construct viable states?

        He seems unable to understand that selection operates …

      • Derek says:

        Are you suggesting that selection has produced men who enjoy participating in mass warfare as anonymous components of mass armies?

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Are you suggesting that selection has produced men who enjoy participating in mass warfare as anonymous components of mass armies?

        No. That there has been selection for operating in large-scale societies, and that it has possibly been more intense when large-scale warfare was involved.

    • dearieme says:

      Yes but Paine knew that his readers knew about that, whereas he was deliberately denying them knowledge of the other.

      Rather like Margaret Mead’s rhapsodising about life in Samoa.

    • ursiform says:

      Paine’s audience was was familiar with Indians. Indians are people, and have always been familiar with themselves.

  28. a very knowing American says:

    “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart is a classic science fiction novel on this theme. A plague destroys 99+% of humanity. The protagonist, one of a small band of survivors, dreams of bringing up his children to restore a lost civilization, but the kids are happy living as scavengers and foragers, kind of neo-Indians. The guy can’t even get them to sit still to learn reading and writing. He realizes the best he can do to leave any kind of legacy is teach them to make bows and arrows.

    The book was recently reissued with a good introduction by Connie Willis.

    • Zarf says:

      I wish Stewart hadn’t made the little smart kid die, even if it was necessary in order to prevent civilization from being restored. That was really depressing, and I didn’t even read the last chapter because the whole novel was so depressing after that. Novelists shouldn’t interest us in little kids that they intend to kill off. It’s not right. It’s mean.

    • Fintan says:

      That book always struck me as a story written purely for the purpose of inverting the life of Ishi. The main character’s name would even appear to be a bit of word-play referencing that individual.

  29. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Raiding was not just an incidental part of Comanche, Kiowa and Lipan culture. It was the basic economic foundation of their whole way of life.”

    Hunter-gatherer of people.

    • Jim says:

      They took captives but it wasn’t so much the people they wanted but the wealth they produced, particularly cattle and horses but also metal tools and implements, leather goods, etc. They were highly dependent on the people they raided for most of what they needed to sustain their way of life.

      In the case of the Apaches their very physical survival depended on their ability to acquire cattle and horses to eat by raiding the Spanish and Pueblo Indians. In the treaty between the US and Mexico ending the Mexican War the US government promised to end Apache raids on the Mexicans. When the Americans told the Apaches that they could no longer raid the Mexicans the Apaches were stunned. “How do you expect us to survive if we cannot raid the Mexicans?”

  30. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    I think that Greg is playing a game with us.

    If the archaeological evidence is correct, Native Americans have been subjected to 11,000+ years of selection for their way of life, while civilized peoples have been subjected to much less selection for the traits required to maintain that way of life.

    Thus it would seem more likely that someone from a ‘civilized’ group would defect to a non-civilized life style than the other way around.

  31. dried peanuts says:

    Idler No. 81. Saturday, November 3, 1759.
    “…Then turning to his followers, “My children,” said he, “I have often heard from men hoary with long life, that there was a time when our ancestors were absolute lords of the woods, the meadows and the lakes, wherever the eye can reach or the foot can pass. They fished and hunted, feasted and danced, and when they were weary lay down under the first thicket, without danger and without fear. They changed their habitations, as the seasons required, convenience prompted, or curiosity allured them; and sometimes gathered the fruits of the mountain, and sometimes sported in canoes along the coast.

    “Many years and ages are supposed to have been thus passed in plenty and security; when, at last, a new race of men entered our country from the great ocean. They inclosed themselves in habitations of stone, which our ancestors could neither enter by violence, nor destroy by fire. They issued from those fastnesses, sometimes covered, like the armadillo, with shells, from which the lance rebounded on the striker, and sometimes carried by mighty beasts which had never been seen in our vales or forests, of such strength and swiftness, that flight and opposition were vain alike. Those invaders ranged over the continent slaughtering, in their rage, those that resisted, and those that submitted, in their mirth. Of those that remained, some were buried in caverns, and condemned to dig metals for their masters; some were employed in tilling the ground, of which foreign tyrants devour the produce; and, when the sword and the mines have destroyed the natives, they supply their place by human beings of another colour, brought from some distant country to perish here under toil and torture…”

  32. I would have liked this article to have been one paragraph longer. In that paragraph Greg would have speculated as to why we seem so averse to civilisation. My guess is that it requires a certain amount of self-discipline which is always a drag. Just like the universe, falling apart seems to be our natural condition. However, I would have liked that spelled out for me.

    • marcel says:

      That was/would have been Freud’s answer based on Civilization and its Discontents. Somehow, I suspect that of all appeals to authority, this one may be in especially bad odor on this blog.

      • Marcel,

        Can’t say I understand your comment. Did Freud say anything about the entropy of the universe? And what was my appeal to authority?

        By the way, something can’t be ‘in bad odor’. It can be ‘in bad taste’ or ‘leave a bad odour’ but not a combination of the two.

      • marcel says:

        the unrecordman:

        in bad odour: check out “Phrases” toward the bottom of the link, and definitely click on “More Examples”.

        in re Freud: IIRC (from freshman year, 40 years ago), the “discontents” of civilization pretty well line up with “the certain amount of self-discipline which is always a drag.”

      • marcel says:


        The appeal to authority was my citation of Freud. Sorry for being unclear.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “why we seem so averse to civilisation”

      Is it “we” though?

      If it’s not actually “we” but “some” that would provide a clue. My guess is it would be found proportional to “more recently barbarian.”

  33. “It’s worth noting that, given the choice, few individuals pick the more intensive, more ‘civilized’ way of life, even when their ancestors have practiced it for thousands of years.”

    I think that this, plus the quote by Benjamin Franklin, suggests that Prof. Cochran thinks that choosing the less civilised road is a common tendency, even among those who are to some extent used to civilisation. To you understand him differently?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      I think “call of the wild” among a population is likely to be proportional to how many centuries of civilization (aka intensive agriculture) they’ve had.

      I don’t think North Europeans have been civilized for long by that definition and even less for people from the fringes and 300 years less in Franklin’s time. At that time the people from the Anglo-Scottish border were barely civilized at all imo.

  34. Sinij says:

    I was reading John B. Calhoun description of the collapse in ‘social norms’ behavior in rats as a result of overcrowding. I am willing to be the same principle applicable here.

  35. David Epstein says:

    Each morning, a missionary advertises neon sign
    He tells the native population that civilization is fine
    And three educated savages holler from a bamboo tree
    That civilization is a thing for me to see

    So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no no
    Bingo, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go
    Don’t want no bright lights, false teeth, doorbells, landlords, I make it clear
    That no matter how they coax him, I’ll stay right here

    I looked through a magazine the missionary’s wife concealed (Magazine? What happens?)
    I see how people who are civilized bung you with automobile (You know you can get hurt that
    way Daniel?)
    At the movies they have got to pay many coconuts to see (What do they see, Darling?)
    Uncivilized pictures that the newsreel takes of me

    So bongo, bongo, bongo, he don’t wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no no
    Bingo, bangle, bungle, he’s so happy in the jungle, he refuse to go
    Don’t want no penthouse, bathtub, streetcars, taxis, noise in my ear
    So, no matter how they coax him, I’ll stay right here

    They hurry like savages to get aboard an iron train
    And though it’s smokey and it’s crowded, they’re too civilized to complain
    When they’ve got two weeks vacation, they hurry to vacation ground (What do they do, Darling?)
    They swim and they fish, but that’s what I do all year round

    So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no no
    Bingo, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go
    Don’t want no jailhouse, shotgun, fish-hooks, golf clubs, I got my spears
    So, no matter how they coax him, I’ll stay right here

    They have things like the atom bomb, so I think I’ll stay where I “ahm”
    Civilization, I’ll stay right here!

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I liked that.

      But you know lollygagging down by the creek, or hiking through beautiful wilderness isn’t enough once you’ve got a taste of cable TV, a cell phone, and a lap top. The chiefs of some tribes in New Guinea were complaining recently that the youth give them no respect, that they look up to….wait for it….. professional wrestlers. The whole world is hooked like junkies on an endless supply of infotainment. Kids in the Congo don’t want a bongo, they want a play station, they want their pop rock, and they want a T shirt with their favorite pro wrestler on it and the same gym shoes that Lebron James wears.

    • Ferris says:

      Isn’t the atom bomb most effective against already civilized populations living in population centers like cities? It’s less effective against dispersed populations like hunter gatherers. Also, HGs may be better able to survive after nuclear war.

      Some argue that an EMP attack could kill up to 9 in 10 Americans:

      This would be because the American population is civilized and largely dependent on electricity for basic survival. Presumably HGs not dependent on electricity would be able to cope better in this sort of situation.

  36. guest says:

    Ben Franklin again…

    The Indian Men when young are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counsellors; for all their Government is by Counsel of the Sages; there is no Force there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.—Hence they generally study Oratory; the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, & preserve & hand down to Posterity the Memory of public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural & honorable, Having few artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious Manner of Life compar’d with theirs, they esteem slavish & base; and the Learning on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous & useless. An Instance of this occurr’d at the Treaty of Lancaster in Pensilvania, anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Nations. After the principal Business was settled, the Commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a Speech, that there was at Williamsburg a College, with a Fund for Educating Indian youth; and that if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young Lads to that College, the Government would take Care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the Learning of the White People. It is one of the Indian Rules of Politeness not to answer a public Proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it Respect by taking time to consider it, as of a Matter important. They therefore deferr’d their Answer till the Day following; when their Speaker began by expressing their deep Sense of the Kindness of the Virginia Government in making them that Offer, for we know, says he, that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d therefore that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal, and we thank you heartily. But you who are wise must know, that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things, and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us they were bad Runners ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters Warriors, or Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer tho’ we decline accepting it; and to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.

  37. Patrick L. Boyle says:

    Possibly off topic.

    Dr. Cochran I know that you like Science Fiction. I just started a novel which has as part of its plot line – Neanderthals, Denisovians, and Florensis. There is a lot about genetic manipulation to somehow replicate the Toba catastrophe. I’m only about a third of the way through the first book – ‘The Atlantis Gene’ and there are others in the series.

    Even I can see that much of the science is just rubbish but if you insist on your Sci-Fi making perfect sense you won’t be reading a lot of books.

    Stylistically the book is troublesome. The action takes place all over the globe and there is all this rapid switching. This style seems to be a transplant from the movies. It’s like the final reels of ‘Intolerance’ or ‘The Godfather’ – multiple snippets of simultaneous action rapidly switched. That’s OK for a finale but this novel is written completely in short fragments – confusing.

    Pat Boyle

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I’ve wondered if Cochran has thought about or actually written science fiction under another name. He could do it, it would be a lot easier than writing original scientific thought. My best guess is it wouldn’t pay to write science fiction that is feasible, not enough people would appreciate it and a zippy plot line that holds the readers attention isn’t the first priority.

  38. gothamette says:

    Maybe Injun food was better.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Erm…my daughter has been researching tamales – the Mexica favoured fillings that included flamingo, bees, worms and axolotl, while the Maya preferred iguana.

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