Interesting Thought

At last Friday\’s Cato luncheon featuring Gregory Clark, Clark emphasized that settled agriculture is a much more arduous lifestyle than hunter-gathering (he said if he had to be tossed back in time prior to 1800 he would rather be placed in a hunter-gatherer society than in an agricultural one). To get the same amount of food, the civilized farmer has to work a much longer day.

When a modern factory becomes available, it\’s not such a great stretch for a farmer to adapt. But for a hunter-gatherer, the long work day and monotonous nature of labor are really alien. Thus, it was much easier for Japan or China to eventually industrialize than it has been for Australian aboriginals or for Africans.

As long as we restrict that to Africans with a hunter gatherer lifestyle (and thus not the Bantu tribes and many others who are indeed farmers) then yes, that might be part of it.

5 comments on “Interesting Thought

  1. Fossils tell us some things. But, partly because of the paucity of directly comparable evidence and partly because we have no knowledge of what those extant humans thought about their particular circumstances, conclusions beyond physical description (of the fossils) fall into the “speculative” realm.

    The only clear conclusion we are left is that, when presented with a choice of behaviors, the one involving settled agriculture was made with such frequency and met with such success (at survival) of its practitioners, that the mode is nearly universal today. In the main, today’s hunter-gatherers survive primarily on the conscious forbearance of all us others, somewhat as might be preserved interesting relics in museums (and zoos).

    It is vain (though interesting) to speculate on which lifestyle was more “arduous.” Men compare “better” and “more” with alternatives and have made the choices we call history. We are entitled to presume that, whatever we may surmise about comparative “arduousness,” things may have appeared differently to those actually making such choices along that way to the present.

  2. I must plead ignorance of who Gregory Clark is and his significance. But, it seems to me, he lacks the ordinary perspective summed up in the common observation “man lives not by bread (food) alone.” Only when the grapes are ready to hand (and happen to be conveniently ripe) and the wildfowl wander into camp and esconce themselves on spits might it be concluded that the hunter-gatherer life is “less arduous.” In the more developed parts of the world, a person’s alimentary needs for a day can be met by the expenditure of (on average) about 30 minutes’ effort.

    Whatever work might have been associated with furnishing food in those bygone days when men were actually in a decision-making process between lifestyle choices, my own conjecture is that men compared the negativity of arduousness with another negativity–that of uncertainty as to where one’s next meal was coming from. I suspect that Mr. Clark might find such uncertainty every bit (and maybe quite a bit more) arduous than that developed and bequeathed to him by his less dream-disposed forbears.

  3. And, lastly, Mr. Clark might be among those who’d congratulate the foresight of Mr. Mugabe in dismantling the Zimbabwean agricultural system and returning his countrymen to a far less arduous lifestyle.

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