Comment 53567

By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2010 at 14:34:16

The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game.

Actually, most hunter-gatherer groups tend to have very stable populations well under any theoretical "carrying capacity" academics have been able to measure. For societies which often (in cases like Australia) existed for millenia, or even tens of them, with less change than we've seen in fifty years, this just made sense. Nomadic people burn far more calories and tend to breastfeed much longer than settled people, and diets of fruit leaves and meat tend to support that trend as well. On average, with no protection, a sexually active woman may get pregnant once year. For foragers, it's more like five years. Add onto that herbs, infanticide and other methods, and populations tended to be very stable almost anywhere you looked.

Agriculture, on the other hand, is a baby factory. Grain-based diets, enormous labour needs and massive gains in food production tend to conspire to push populations through the roof. Storable food (rather than accessible food) requires granaries, guards, governments, economics and trade on levels never before seen, which generates far more authoritarian methods of social control. And since intensive agriculture is rarely sustainable (hunter-gatherer groups often did it, but that's another story), this meant that after a few generations there were often far more people than declining soils could support. And so they conquer their lightly populated foraging or pastoral neighbours, and the cycle begins again.

Despite all of our wildly productive techologies, we still devote far more time to actually working than hunter-gatherers did. Even today's foragers in very harsh territory often devote only a few hours a day to what might be considered "work" (building homes, collecting food, etc), with much of the rest of the time spent in festival, ritual, or socializing. Even in Medieval Europe, roughly half the calendar year was holidays, despite all that feudalism nonsense.

What this suggests is that for whatever local efficiencies are being created, the net cost of these technologies is not necessarily a net gain to total efficiency or productivity. A laptop takes almost no power to run (even compared to a lightbulb), but an awful lot of it to produce.

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