False dichotomies: Foragers vs. Farmers edition

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. Andy Smith says:

    You’re obviously a Type A, Erik. You hate dichotomies, either-or choices.Report

  2. Michael Drew says:

    I prefer neither/nor punditry myself. As in, “I read neither you nor you, because you’re both idiots.” (Not you or anyone here, E.D.)Report

  3. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I’ve not been so enthused with the hunter/gatherer kick he’s been on lately, either. He asked not long ago why there were no “gathering sports” — all the usual sports are simulated hunting, he said.

    I found myself puzzled rather than enlightened. Surely basketball is a gathering sport — you gather things into a basket, no? While fending off rivals, who would prefer to gather things into a different basket?

    And likewise to soccer, hockey, lacrosse… It was just a very strange post, I thought.Report

  4. Simon K says:

    Its a typical Robin Hanson argument – a bunch of nearly meaningless generalities leading to an extremely abstract conclusion which is held to be true because its depressing and counterintuitive at the same time. I can’t understand for the life of me why so many people who I think are genuinely smart thing Robin Hanson is smart. I must be missing something.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Simon K says:

      I’d suggest three things — his arguments about the importance of signaling, particularly in health care; his work around the idea of the Great Filter; and — going out on a limb — his futarchy stuff. I am least enamored of the latter, but it’s still very interesting and possibly revolutionary. Unfortunately, we’ll probably all have to be dead before we find out for sure.

      Come to think of it, that’s rather like the other two.Report

  5. Will says:

    If I’m not mistaken, there is some social science that maps on to Hanson’s thesis. Didn’t Brink Lindsay gesture at something similar in his Five Books interview?

    “The wonderful article by Jonathan Haidt, ‘Planet of the Durkheimians’, which he is in the process of expanding into a book, explores his very insightful analysis of different foundations for liberal and conservative morality. When liberals talk about morality they are almost always talking about two different basic intuitions – intuitions about harm and care. That is, we don’t want people to be harmed and we want to care for people when they are hurting. Also, fairness and reciprocity: we want things to be fair, we want like cases to be treated alike. This is the basic liberal morality – whether it is libertarian morality or modern liberal morality, those are the buttons that get pushed that activate a liberal sense of moral outrage. But there are other moral buttons in the human moral imagination that liberals don’t pay much attention to that are still very present and lively and salient in the conservative moral imagination. Those are what Haidt calls the authority foundation, the in-group, out-group foundation and the sacreds versus disgust foundation. Authority is the sense of hierarchy and the sense that everything should be in its proper place. The leaders should lead and the followers should follow, people should know their station in life. The in-group out-group is just the solidarity of the tribe – that the key distinction is between us and them.”


    • Will H. in reply to Will says:

      @Will, I was thinking about Haidt as well when I read this.
      But I was focusing on that aspect of his findings which identifies why three of five moral receptors are shut down in liberals: that liberals elevate the individual while conservatives view individuals in context.
      And, from that view, what you see in Mr. Hanson’s writings are the ravings of a very sick man.

      I saw a similar error in another writing recently; a link I picked up here, I believe. The man was defining various political terms, and one of the distinctions that he used for Liberals/Conservatives is that Liberals trust in the individual whereas Conservatives are simply mistrustful of individuals.
      Again, it is the false equivalence of taking a preference for finding meaning within context as distrust.

      But it is because of errors such as these that their grand schemes could never be fulfilled.

      Even more telling, rather than statesmanship, negotiation, and compromise being held as being a proper function for political process, this is just another slash-and-burn “crush your enemy” steamroller demonization.
      Something tells me that when you replace proper virtues with destructive functions, that not much good will come of it.Report

  6. I would like to know where shellfish aqua-culture fits into this rubric.Report

  7. Pat Cahalan says:

    People are more complicated than this. Quit trying to shove them into your tiny little boxes where culture is just a color to paint with”


  8. Chris says:

    I hesitate to say this for various reasons, but this is the sort of pulled-out-of-the ass (but hinting at some superficial knowledge of actual theory and research), overly simplistic, quasi-social scientific claptrap that a certain breed of American liberal/progressive, one that is particularly common in the blogosphere (educated, worldly, “Type A” all the way, but not exceptionally bright), absolutely loves. That’s not to say that conservatives don’t have their equally wacky, though perhaps significantly more pernicious, equivalents, it’s just that this breed of “liberals are like x, while conservatives are like y” has enjoyed a fair amount of popularity among liberals/progressives since at least the Lakoff craze of 2004. And this, it strikes me, isn’t even the most offensive (to conservatives) version of this trend. It wasn’t uncommon a few years ago, even among some of the science blogosphere (one particular science blogger, whose name rhymes with Dora, was particularly bad about this), to hear from some liberals that research showed that conservatism was a mental disorder. Now the research showed no such thing, and you had to throw in a—pardon the pun—liberal dose of this sort of nonsense to get to that position, but once you set out in that direction, the temptation to feel that villainizing your opponents is just good science can be too strong to resist. What I find truly odd about it, though, is that these tend to be the same people who rail against Evolutionary Psychology (with capital letters) because it tends to just confirm popular prejudice, yet they have no problem accepting similar reasoning when it’s their (elite?) prejudice that’s being confirmed. Evolutionary Psychology really is shit science, largely because of the way it reasons about the mind and behavior, but that sort of reasoning about the mind and behavior doesn’t become less shitty because it’s no longer telling us the world is like it looked in 1950s television shows, but instead is more like it looks in an episode of Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

    I should add that, as long as it’s merely confirming liberal prejudice and goes no further, it’s probably harmless, because only liberals will care (except for the conservatives who stop in, and who are enraged, enraged I tell you, which they would have been anyway), and everyone everywhere has their pet methods for confirming the belief that we’re better than they are in all of the ways that we think we are. I was a bit worried back when Lakoff had the ear of prominent politicians, but since his 15 minutes have now been up for some time, I think we can rest assured that this will remain a blogospheric phenomenon with no real practical implications.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    There are two types of people in the world.

    People who sort others into two types of people.
    People who don’t.Report

  10. Andy Smith says:

    @Chris “Evolutionary Psychology really is shit science, largely because of the way it reasons about the mind and behavior…”

    Care to elaborate? My impression is that you are confusing the popular view of evolutionary psychology with the actual science, which in my view, is very valuable. If it had to be summed up very briefly, it is about applying Darwinism to the brain and behavior. Not all change is cultural, there is room for genetics at this level.Report

    • Chris in reply to Andy Smith says:

      @Andy Smith, Not at length here, no. Suffice it to say that I’m not confusing “the popular view of evolutionary psychology” with the actual science. I am trying to avoid confusing one type of evolutionary psychology, in the Tooby-Cosmides-Buss-Pinker mold (Pinker doesn’t do much actual research in E.P., but is instead a popularizer), and a broader conception of psychology that considers evolutionary theory and history (e.g., the sort of comparative psychology that Marc Hauser does when he’s not making up data). That’s why I, in keeping with a convention that has been around for a few years, refer to Evolutionary Psychology (with initial capitals) and evolutionary psychology, as distinct things, the former being the T-C-B-P type. Evolutionary Psychology is the sort described in the http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html”>Evolutionary Psychology Primer, and defined primarily by its position that “our modern skulls house a stone age mind,” that much/most of our behavior is the result of modules developed in the stone age Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, and by its use, with one real exception (Tooby and Cosmides use of a single method over 20+years), of non-experimental methods (e.g., Buss mostly uses surveys), and a generally poor grasp of evolutionary theory. This version is, thankfully, dying a slow death within academia. The other version, evolutionary psychology, is just psychology as it has been done for a while, combining various subfields like cognitive, social, developmental, and comparative psychology with a knowledge of evolutionary theory (actual evolutionary theory, as opposed to the perversion of evolutionary theory used in Evolutionary Psychology). Evolutionary Psychology (not evolutionary psychology) is shit science, period.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        @Chris, Sorry about the html issues there.Report

        • Andy Smith in reply to Chris says:

          @Chris, As far as I know, Pinker has an ongoing research program into language going. From what I know about it, I wouldn’t refer to it as shit science.

          “much/most of our behavior is the result of modules developed in the stone age Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness”

          Words like “much/most” and “result of” obviously allow for a lot of argument. I think the key point is “modules”. If one doesn’t believe that the brain has modules–specific regions that evolved to elaborate fairly specific, survival-oriented behavior–then I guess one will reject a lot of EP. If one thinks we do, then maybe not. What is certainly not debatable is that the brain has modules of some sort, which did evolve a long time ago (in many cases, probably well before the stone age). One might argue about how specific the behavior is, about how resistant it is to change, and maybe that is where a lot of antipathy to EP comes from.Report

          • Chris in reply to Andy Smith says:

            @Andy Smith, Massive modularity, which most Evolutionary Psychology assumes, is improbable, given what we know about the brain (Patricia Churchland says it’s impossible), but even if one believes that the brain is massively modular, one can reject Evolutionary Psychology for a whole host of reasons. Hell, Fodor himself rejects it, though his reasons are bizarre. The truth is, most of empirical psychology rejects Evolutionary Psychology, because it’s methodologically and theoretically inferior to most of empirical psychology. And I won’t even say what biologists think of Evolutionary Psychology, except to note that when referring to it, they tend not to use nice words.

            And Pinker does good research. He just doesn’t do research in Evolutionary Psychology (or much of it), as he’s a psycholinguist by training.Report

  11. stuhlmann says:

    I just want to offer the observation that throughout history and around the world, whenever foragers and farmers have come into contact, the foragers eventually lose out and disappear. They either die, or they become farmers themselves after seeing the advantages.Report