False dichotomies: Foragers vs. Farmers edition
Robin Hanson’s post on “Type A and Type B” people (or foragers vs. farmers) is like a weird cousin of the novel, Ishmael. And like every other pundit’s false dichotomy, it fails to deliver (my own excursions into this practice included). Here’s Hanson:
TYPE *A* folks eat a healthier more varied diet, and get better exercise. They more love nature, travel, and exploration, and they move more often to new communities. They work fewer hours, and have more complex mentally-challenging jobs. They talk more openly about sex, are more sexually promiscuous, and more accepting of divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital and extra-marital sex. They have fewer kids, who they are more reluctant to discipline or constrain. They more emphasize their love for kids, and teach kids to more value generosity, trust, and honesty.
Type A folks care less for land or material posessions, relative to people. They spend more time on leisure, music, dance, story-telling and the arts. They are less comfortable with war, domination, bragging, or money and material inequalities, and they push more for sharing and redistribution. They more want lots of discussion of group decisions, with everyone having an equal voice and free to speak their mind. They deal with conflicts more personally and informally, and more prefer unhappy folk to be free to leave. Their leaders lead more by consensus.
TYPE *B* folks travel less, and move less often from where they grew up. They are more polite and care more for cleanliness and order. They have more self-sacrifice and self-control, which makes them more stressed and suicidal. They work harder and longer at more tedious and less healthy jobs, and are more faithful to their spouses and their communities. They make better warriors, and expect and prepare more for disasters like war, famine, and disease. They have a stronger sense of honor and shame, and enforce more social rules, which let them depend more on folks they know less. When considering rule violators, they look more at specific rules, and less at the entire person and what feels right. Fewer topics are open for discussion or negotiation.
Type B folks believe more in good and evil, and in powerful gods who enforce social norms. They envy less, and better accept human authorities and hierarchy, including hereditary elites at the top (who act more type A), women and kids lower down, and human and animal slaves at the bottom. They identify more with strangers who share their ethnicity or culture, and more fear others. They have more murder and are less bothered by violence in war, and toward foreigners, kids, slaves, and animals. They more think people should learn their place and stay there. Nature’s place is to be ruled and changed by humans.
Apparently Type A people are liberals – but more importantly they are foragers; and Type B people are conservatives – but again, more importantly, they are farmers – at least in a very abstract-to-the-point-of-uselessness sense of those words. More interestingly, Hanson suggests that rich people are more Type A and poor people are more Type B. This is probably more true than the liberal/conservative culture-war divide, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.
For instance, most people don’t fit into the ‘rich’ or ‘poor’ boxes any better than they do the ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ boxes. Most people are not Type A or Type B. We have a Middle Class for a reason. If anyone tries to sell you a formula that shovels all people into two Types or Archetypes, well, you can rest assured they’re selling snake oil. Which may be just the oil you need. Placebos are effective, and this sort of thinking is nothing more than a placebo – a clever substitute for an actual idea.
I mean, on the one hand you have these Type A folks who express their love for kids, don’t work too much (but whose work is generally very complex and challenging!) and who enjoy nature, long walks on the beach at sunset, and talking about their feelings. On the other you have Type B folks who don’t mind having slaves, who murder each other more often, and whose better grasp of self-sacrifice and self-control make them…uhm…more likely to commit suicide.
I’m just not buying this. It strikes me as the very worst sort of punditry, the creation of a false either/or wherein the Either are raised high on a pedestal and the Or are left to flounder in the mud. It’s even worse than the Red and Blue family nonsense that permeated the blogosphere not so long ago. That was bad enough. But this is just more of the same. 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 and our political affiliation is the final determination of Everything About Us, of The Very World Itself, the Be All and End All, Alpha and Omega, and Yada Yada Yada. Where all nuance is shredded into meaninglessness by people trying, oh-so-hard, to be cleverer than thou.