I read some the discussion below about pyschohistorical versus
environment determinism in history. Much deals with thousands of years
ago. It seems hard to me to study what happened thousands of years ago
from a pyschohistory viewpoint. All the people involved are long dead and
the cultural world they lived in has vanished. How can we know what they
thought? Why not study the enormous psychohistorical shift just 50-70
years ago as an example of pychohistory that is easier to study? IMO its
as big a shift as the rise of Agriculture or any of the other major shifts in
human behavior. And its easier to study being more recent.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, September 28, 2002 1:06
Subject: Re: PH Evolution
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!
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
Mediterrean basin w/ its guns, germs, and steel better than just
Diamond's argument that it had to do with "food production?"
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
"THE FAILURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL DETERMINISM OF CULTURAL
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
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."
noted a post on H-World dealing with Jared Diamond and environmental
determinism. Here's a short piece of the discussion, which also invokes
question of capitalism, metahistory/metanarratives. Here's part of a
can start over and address these issues
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
if not determinism, are legion, of course. There is
to be said for the geographical advantages of Europe, at
time, viz. the staging of the modern. But let me note that Europe
very close to the source areas of civilization, e.g. Egypt, Mesopotamia,
and received many influences via diffusion, yet it never took off unitl
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
century shows very good examples indeed of environmental
Also, consider the simple fact that England was an island on
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
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