< < <
Date Index
> > >
Re: PH Evolution (Rondinaro)
by Luke Rondinaro
28 September 2002 17:06 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >

In case anyone is interested, here's the post I made on the Psychohistory (PH) List about the Jared Diamond discussion & my question as to how it relates to the study of Psychohist.  Lloyd DeMause's response from his Emotional Life of Nations follows.  Any ideas of wh/ we might see some lines of convergence here between world systems/history, the Eonic Effect, and the PH perspective on this topic?  What are your impressions of DeMause's points?

Looking forward to your insights!


Luke R.


A question has come up on the H-World list about Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and its historical validity versus non-validity.

...What are some psychohistorical assessments of Diamond's book? Are there some psychohistorical fundamentals via the history of childbirth/childrearing, group fantasy frameworks, and so forth that better explain the rise of Europe and the
Mediterrean basin w/ its guns, germs, and steel better than just Diamond's argument that it had to do with "food production?"

What do you think? Might the very "food production" dynamic that Diamond refers to have psychohistorical roots to it as well?

Lloyd replies: I discuss this in detail in my chapter 6 on "Childhood and Cultural Evolution" (on www.psychohistory.com in full). An excerpt follows:

That so many social scientists remain environmental determinists is puzzling. It certainly is not because the method has any empirical verification-environment is simply assumed causal in culture change because historical progress in human nature is so often a priori assumed to be impossible. As Leslie White once put it, since it is assumed in advance that human nature cannot change, "we see no reason why cultural systems of 50,000 B.C....could not have been capable of originating agriculture as well as systems in 8,000 B.C....We must look, then, to environmental [factors] for the answers to these questions." For instance, most social scientists believe that "the primary motor for cultural evolution is population growth" determined by environmental conditions, overlooking the fact that population growth relies upon the reduction of infanticide and the growth of the ability to devise new ways to produce more food-both psychological traits. In fact, recent empirical studies have rejected simple population growth as the mainspring of evolution, pointing out, for instance, that many advanced chiefdoms have in fact form in areas of quite low population density. As Hallpike put it, "there are many societies with sufficient population density but which have nevertheless not developed the state...population density is merely an index of the abundance of a vital raw material-people-and has by itself no power to determine how that raw material will be used." Hayden summarized recent empirical studies testing environmental factors in evolution by saying "neither population pressure nor circumscription appears to have played a significant role in creating inequality or complexity." Environments are opportunities, not just straightjackets.  The psychogenic theory sees environments as presenting both the constraints and the opportunities for cultural evolution, while the evolution of psychological development, of "human nature," determines how these challenges are met.

This of course does not mean that environment counts for nothing. Jared Diamond has convincingly shown how environmental differences have raised and lowered the steepness of the ladder of cultural evolution, demonstrating that the availability of a few good plant and animal domesticates crucially determines the rates of evolution of cultures in different parts of the world, with those areas which have domesticable grains and cattle being able to evolve faster than those that did not. But the evolutionary problem isn't only about the availability of environmental resources. Obviously one cannot develop much agriculture in the Arctic, and obviously tropical regions have too many parasites and too severe droughts that hinder development. But environment is only part of the answer to evolutionary differences. Environmental change cannot explain cultural evolution since culture has often evolved while the ecology has devolved because of soil exhaustion and other factors. The central question of evolution is how effectively any environment is developed by evolving humans. The secret as to why England and not France, Germany or Poland was the first modern society and spawned the Industrial Revolution first goes back to England's advanced childrearing in its more nuclear medieval households, not to any ecological advantage. English political freedom, religious tolerance, industry and innovation were all psychoclass achievements, dependent upon childrearing evolution. The most important unsolved question in cultural evolution is therefore to explain the rate of innovation and adoption of new techniques of exploiting what resources exist-factors that depend crucially upon the local rate of evolution of childrearing.

Despite their advocacy of unicausal environmental determinism, anthropologists have regularly demonstrated that similar environments have produced quite different psyches and cultures. Even though most follow Whiting's paradigm that environment determines childhood, personality and culture, others take describe quite different personalities and cultures coming out of identical environments-one tribe that is gentle, loving and peaceful and the other composed of fierce headhunting cannibals-but then leave the cause of their stark differences as unexplained as if the two groups were dropped down on earth from two different planets. Others describe quite similar cultures developing in wholly different environments. Lacking any evidence for their theories of environmental determinism, anthropologists admit that the sources of cultural evolution are simply inexplicable.  Archeologists often speak of "new kinds of people" who "emerge" in prehistory and engage in competitive feasts that require more food production, leading to the evolution of agriculture. They talk about "a new attitude toward change" that sometimes appears in history, "though the reason for it remains obscure." Discovering what causes these new kinds of people and new attitudes toward change to mysteriously "emerge" throughout history is therefore the central task of the psychogenic theory of evolution."

 Nemonemini@aol.com wrote:

Luke noted a post on H-World dealing with Jared Diamond and environmental
determinism. Here's a short piece of the discussion, which also invokes a
question of capitalism, metahistory/metanarratives. Here's part of a reply. I
can start over and address these issues here.

The question [of environmental determinism] depends on what context we are
referring to. In fact, all our theories tend to be simplistic, not just
environmental determinism. The question of what 'causes' the rise of the
modern is one of those. My approach is to place the problem in a greater
Environmental influences, if not determinism, are legion, of course. There is
certainly something to be said for the geographical advantages of Europe, at
particular time, viz. the staging of the modern. But let me note that Europe
was very close to the source areas of civilization, e.g. Egypt, Mesopotamia,
and received many influences via diffusion, yet it never took off unitl very
late in world history. There is a clearly different account needed.
The continent of Africa, by the way, remainded very difficult to explore
until the discovery of quinine. The accounts even as late as the nineteenth
century shows very good examples indeed of environmental influences!
Also, consider the simple fact that England was an island on its history.

I think that a real account of a 'universal history' will suggest a process
that moves both with and beyond environment. There is a directional factor,
and this lies beyond the issue of environment.

john landon

Do you Yahoo!?
New DSL Internet Access from SBC & Yahoo!
< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >