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k8493 The argument I made in my post below is pretty straightforward and transparent if you read even a little bit of world history. Most of the assertions of post-colonial theorists collapse under even the barest of inspection with an empirical mindset. The problem though is most people don’t have much comparative historical or anthropological data to sift through the theory. To give a concrete example, a good friend of mine is an academic from the Arab world. When discussing differences between American society, and his own, he often posits the construct of “Western culture.” My objection to this reflex is always to suggest that what he thinks of as distinctive about “Western culture” is actually a feature shared by many other societies…and Arab culture is distinctive in its own ways. There are ways that all cultures are peculiar, and ways in which it shares features with other cultures.

5180z9XRWsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The bigger problem is that it is not uncommon to have knowledge of Western culture and history, at least to a cursory level, and also the knowledge of a non-Western culture and history. Therefore, there’s a reoccurring theme of dyadic juxtapositions between the “West and the Rest”, where the West is fixed constant, while the rest is a variable. It doesn’t take a genius to realize the problems with this. You can’t make comparisons between the ethnic cleansing practiced by the Manchus in Dzungaria in the 18th century with that on the nascent American frontier if you never examine the tension between Inner Asian civilization and that of China.*

So how would get an appropriate education on world history? Works such as J. M. Roberts’ The History of the World are useful, but often they are stretched thin. A great deal of “Big History” is really just too top-level. Rondo Cameron’s A Concise Economic History of the World is obviously too focused on one particular phenomenon. Rather, I’d suggest that Power and Plenty and After Tamerlane are appropriate balances between broad generality, and thick specificity. Interestingly both of them focus on the world at a 1,000 year scale or so. Long enough to see trends, but not so long as to make all assertions diffuse.

What do readers think? What has been useful to you?

* The Manchus could never have obliterated the Dzungarian Mongols were it not for their capture of the resources of the Chinese state-system, the rise of military technology which eliminated many of the strategic advantages of nomads, an collusion of the Russian Empire.

 
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  1. Most of the assertions of post-colonial theorists collapse under even the barest of inspection with an empirical mindset.

    That’s a really sweeping statement, Razib. Based on what do you say this? What are the claims in particular you’re talking of?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    basically, all negative social phenomenon are derived from the colonial [white european] experience. as they'd say, this is "problematic." first, colonial ~ white european. even though in india, for example, the mughals ran india as a cow to be milked for the benefit of iranian and turanian muslims (they encouraged migration of officials and warriors from persian and central asia to administer those territories). as for t he negative phenomenon, for example, all modern ethnic conflict is given over to the causal impact of colonialism. no, not exacerbated or utilized in divide & conquer. rather, europeans created new categories and conflicts where there had been none. also, some post-colonial theorists posit that heterosexism and patriarchy were introduced by colonialists, and modern post-colonial manifestations of both of these phenomena are reactions to the colonial experience....
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  2. One thing I like to add as well, is that the problem with post-colonial theory and other such other modes of historiography which focus on trends rather than historical fact and deep evidence, is that you can at times bluster and bullshit rather than show evidence just so you can pretend that your postulated trend is solid in ways that it isn’t. And then you have people claim that these trends apply everywhere, but with even a modicum of historical knowledge you can tell that painting the world’s history with the brush of one supposed historical trend is faulty historiography.

    I feel that’s the deal with the post-colonials. Some of the historical trends they propose are not wrong and have some good support, but then they try to apply them to areas of history they obviously don’t know too much about and then just go on to make details up to make their analysis look good.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Enrique Cardova
    One thing I like to add as well, is that the problem with post-colonial theory and other such other modes of historiography which focus on trends rather than historical fact and deep evidence.

    How so? Actually some post-colonialists marshal much historical fact and deep evidence to expose a number of falsehoods and false constructs pushed by Westerners. If the topic is the Middle East or Africa, numerous received narratives collapse under empirical scrutiny. Did the peoples of Palestine really "spontaneously flee" in 1948 for example, conveniently vacating massive tracts of land? Were millions of square miles of land really "vacant"- just conveniently waiting for white Boer intruders to take them over? Were Africans, who mysteriously materialize "somehow" on the allegedly "vacant" land really happy with the apartheid system put in place by the white Boers and Anglo collaborators? Post-colonial writers have a lot to say (and expose) about "official" narratives in academia, politics, or culture using historical fact and evidence.

    .
    all negative social phenomenon are derived from the colonial [white european] experience.

    No serious post-colonial writer as such has ever made such a claim. Fanon for example, never claimed all was sweetness and light before Europeans came.
  3. @Kothiru

    Most of the assertions of post-colonial theorists collapse under even the barest of inspection with an empirical mindset.
     
    That's a really sweeping statement, Razib. Based on what do you say this? What are the claims in particular you're talking of?

    basically, all negative social phenomenon are derived from the colonial [white european] experience. as they’d say, this is “problematic.” first, colonial ~ white european. even though in india, for example, the mughals ran india as a cow to be milked for the benefit of iranian and turanian muslims (they encouraged migration of officials and warriors from persian and central asia to administer those territories). as for t he negative phenomenon, for example, all modern ethnic conflict is given over to the causal impact of colonialism. no, not exacerbated or utilized in divide & conquer. rather, europeans created new categories and conflicts where there had been none. also, some post-colonial theorists posit that heterosexism and patriarchy were introduced by colonialists, and modern post-colonial manifestations of both of these phenomena are reactions to the colonial experience….

    Read More
    • Replies: @AR
    Razib, what source would you recommend to best learn about this 'mughal milking of india for the benefit of central asia'. You've mentioned this in a couple of posts now and I'd be interested in learning more.
  4. First let me say that I am a long term fan of your blog.

    You always write on such fascinating topic.

    just to nitpick few point:

    the ethnic cleansing practiced by the Manchus in Dzungaria in the 18th century with that on the nascent American frontier if you never examine the tension between Inner Asian civilization and that of China.*

    True to an extent. However Manchu themselves are heirs of long line of Inner Asian tradition. Qianlong Emperor’s edict to exterminate Dzungars can be equally compared to Genghis Khan’s extermination of Tartars (all males taller than wagon wheels).

    The Manchus could never have obliterated the Dzungarian Mongols were it not for their capture of the resources of the Chinese state-system, the rise of military technology which eliminated many of the strategic advantages of nomads, an collusion of the Russian Empire.

    Again, largely agree. But it bears mention that the Conquest of Dzungaria was largely accomplished by Qing empire’s Mongol cavalry, made possible by Qing subjugation of both Outer and Inner Mongolia. In fact, heavy burden placed on Khalkha Mongols by the demand of Qing war machine caused the last great rebellion of Khalkha Mongols in Outer Mongolia led by Khalkha prince Chingünjav.

    So Manchu empire both had the resources of the Chinese state-system AND Inner Asian military power, plus European style cannons (which Dzungars also possess via captured Swede Johan Gustaf Renat)

    Russian Empire’s role was more important in its absence, Qing used the prospect of direct China trade to convince Russians not to interfere in Qing-Dzungar conflict.

    I recommend Peter C. Perdue’s “China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia”, probably the best English language book on the Manchu-Dzungar conflict

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  5. http://www.amazon.de/Geschichte-Überblick-Fakten-Zusammenhänge-Weltgeschichte/dp/3866472080 I learned a lot from this book, but as far as I know there is no english translation.
    For me it was interesting that the book starts with a statement in the line of “race is only skin-deep”. I guess Geiss knew that if races were not only skin deep one had to somehow integrate this finding into a “big history”. But he stopped at this point and stuck with the ruling viewpoint.

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  6. I actually think broad, 1,000 year long civilization surveys are not adequate for the purpose you outline. The problem with these surveys is that if you don’t have background knowledge in at least a few of the places being discussed, you have trouble assessing the truth or applicability of the thesis being pushed. These books are great–but without ‘thick’ knowledge in a few places they can misguide. (And I notice you don’t cite any of them in your essay. ^_~ )

    I’d say the best way for a beginner is to do something like this. Choose three of these imperial powers:

    One of the major Egyptian dynastic periods, Assyria, Babylon, the Hellenistic successor states, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Safavids or other Persian Dynasties, Seljuks, Fatamids, Ottomans, Venice, Spain/Castile, Portugal, Han, Tang, Song, Ming, Qing, Sengoku/Tokugawa Japan, Chosun, Angkor, late imperial Vietnam, Mongol, Mughal, Timurid, Imperial Russia, Sweden, Carolingian Europe, Vikings, Angevin England/France, Medieval Poland-Lithuania, Early Modern Netherlands, Britain, or France, the Aztecs, Maurya, Chola, or the Maratha Empire.

    There are others that could qualify but it would be hard to find books about them. Which is what the beginner should do. Read at least two books, and preferably three, for each of the choices At least two most be centered outside of Europe, and no more than one can be primarily known through archaeological remains.

    My guess is that someone who has read two to three books about how the Ottomans, the Tang, and Britain (or the Abbasids, Romans, and Tokugawa, etc.) built and administered their empires will be in a much better place to assess whether or not claims of post-colonial theory are true than someone who has read the same number of books devoted solely to broad, big-picture takes on world history.

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    • Replies: @Kothiru
    You've got it right. Reading "big history" is no way to learn history, or the fundamentals of historiography. To learn the history you must go back to the primary sources, the archaeology, and then the secondary sources which summarize what those say. With that, you're in a much better position to judge whether the "big history" books, be they rooted in post-colonial theory or what have you, are any good.

    Most likely you won't get the impression of the "big history" theses being totally wrong, but you might be able to pick up on their weaknesses insofar as overextending the trends or obfuscating evidence to fit the thesis are concerned.
  7. @T. Greer
    I actually think broad, 1,000 year long civilization surveys are not adequate for the purpose you outline. The problem with these surveys is that if you don't have background knowledge in at least a few of the places being discussed, you have trouble assessing the truth or applicability of the thesis being pushed. These books are great--but without 'thick' knowledge in a few places they can misguide. (And I notice you don't cite any of them in your essay. ^_~ )


    I'd say the best way for a beginner is to do something like this. Choose three of these imperial powers:


    One of the major Egyptian dynastic periods, Assyria, Babylon, the Hellenistic successor states, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Safavids or other Persian Dynasties, Seljuks, Fatamids, Ottomans, Venice, Spain/Castile, Portugal, Han, Tang, Song, Ming, Qing, Sengoku/Tokugawa Japan, Chosun, Angkor, late imperial Vietnam, Mongol, Mughal, Timurid, Imperial Russia, Sweden, Carolingian Europe, Vikings, Angevin England/France, Medieval Poland-Lithuania, Early Modern Netherlands, Britain, or France, the Aztecs, Maurya, Chola, or the Maratha Empire.

    There are others that could qualify but it would be hard to find books about them. Which is what the beginner should do. Read at least two books, and preferably three, for each of the choices At least two most be centered outside of Europe, and no more than one can be primarily known through archaeological remains.


    My guess is that someone who has read two to three books about how the Ottomans, the Tang, and Britain (or the Abbasids, Romans, and Tokugawa, etc.) built and administered their empires will be in a much better place to assess whether or not claims of post-colonial theory are true than someone who has read the same number of books devoted solely to broad, big-picture takes on world history.

    You’ve got it right. Reading “big history” is no way to learn history, or the fundamentals of historiography. To learn the history you must go back to the primary sources, the archaeology, and then the secondary sources which summarize what those say. With that, you’re in a much better position to judge whether the “big history” books, be they rooted in post-colonial theory or what have you, are any good.

    Most likely you won’t get the impression of the “big history” theses being totally wrong, but you might be able to pick up on their weaknesses insofar as overextending the trends or obfuscating evidence to fit the thesis are concerned.

    Read More
    • Replies: @22pp22
    Going back to the primary sources is not easy. Sometimes the mindset behind them is very hard to comprehend and they are structured in a way unfamiliar to the modern reader. A surprising number have still not been translated. I love ancient languages and can read several, but Japanese court diaries from the eleventh century are deathly. You read through pages and pages describing arcane court ceremonies before you finally find something of interest. The most reliable sources are things like wills and charters, but they are really dry and getting anything out of them requires an enormous investment in time and energy.

    Literature is often better as taking you back in time, but literature is not history. The Pillow Book of Sei Shinagon brings the early Japanese court and is a marvelous bedtime read, but I don't think it would be of that much use in writing academically sound books on history.

    If you an amateur and you are interested in medieval Japan read Tsurezuregusa and Hojoki, not the sources.

    Jesuit writers in Asia in the seventeenth century are often our only source and the men who wrote them were clearly highly intelligent. Sadly, however, they are mainly interested in making converts and you quickly tire of reading about this and that martyrdom. Fernao Mendes Pinto is a shameless liar, but his books are great fun and conjure up the time far better than dry sources. Vietnam is brought to life by Cristoforo Borri.

    Most books I have read on world history fall down because the author overreaches himself. I doubt it is possible to have a really good grasp of the whole of world history, particularly if you include places like the Indian Subcontinent that are both incredibly diverse and culturally alien. Cross-cultural history is usually better if the author does not overreach himself. CR Boxer knew Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese really well and his books are still good fifty years later, because he set himself the task of studying two cultures, not more.

    Travel diaries are also excellent even if they were written by non-Europeans, like Fa Xian's trip to Sri Lanka, but you are left wondering how much the writer really understood.

    Also modern historians spend far too much time reading Derrida or Foucault.
  8. Not very academic but if a person was starting right at the beginning I’d say an atlas of world history is a good start as a quick way of getting all the names and places straight.

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  9. @Kothiru
    You've got it right. Reading "big history" is no way to learn history, or the fundamentals of historiography. To learn the history you must go back to the primary sources, the archaeology, and then the secondary sources which summarize what those say. With that, you're in a much better position to judge whether the "big history" books, be they rooted in post-colonial theory or what have you, are any good.

    Most likely you won't get the impression of the "big history" theses being totally wrong, but you might be able to pick up on their weaknesses insofar as overextending the trends or obfuscating evidence to fit the thesis are concerned.

    Going back to the primary sources is not easy. Sometimes the mindset behind them is very hard to comprehend and they are structured in a way unfamiliar to the modern reader. A surprising number have still not been translated. I love ancient languages and can read several, but Japanese court diaries from the eleventh century are deathly. You read through pages and pages describing arcane court ceremonies before you finally find something of interest. The most reliable sources are things like wills and charters, but they are really dry and getting anything out of them requires an enormous investment in time and energy.

    Literature is often better as taking you back in time, but literature is not history. The Pillow Book of Sei Shinagon brings the early Japanese court and is a marvelous bedtime read, but I don’t think it would be of that much use in writing academically sound books on history.

    If you an amateur and you are interested in medieval Japan read Tsurezuregusa and Hojoki, not the sources.

    Jesuit writers in Asia in the seventeenth century are often our only source and the men who wrote them were clearly highly intelligent. Sadly, however, they are mainly interested in making converts and you quickly tire of reading about this and that martyrdom. Fernao Mendes Pinto is a shameless liar, but his books are great fun and conjure up the time far better than dry sources. Vietnam is brought to life by Cristoforo Borri.

    Most books I have read on world history fall down because the author overreaches himself. I doubt it is possible to have a really good grasp of the whole of world history, particularly if you include places like the Indian Subcontinent that are both incredibly diverse and culturally alien. Cross-cultural history is usually better if the author does not overreach himself. CR Boxer knew Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese really well and his books are still good fifty years later, because he set himself the task of studying two cultures, not more.

    Travel diaries are also excellent even if they were written by non-Europeans, like Fa Xian’s trip to Sri Lanka, but you are left wondering how much the writer really understood.

    Also modern historians spend far too much time reading Derrida or Foucault.

    Read More
  10. @Razib Khan
    basically, all negative social phenomenon are derived from the colonial [white european] experience. as they'd say, this is "problematic." first, colonial ~ white european. even though in india, for example, the mughals ran india as a cow to be milked for the benefit of iranian and turanian muslims (they encouraged migration of officials and warriors from persian and central asia to administer those territories). as for t he negative phenomenon, for example, all modern ethnic conflict is given over to the causal impact of colonialism. no, not exacerbated or utilized in divide & conquer. rather, europeans created new categories and conflicts where there had been none. also, some post-colonial theorists posit that heterosexism and patriarchy were introduced by colonialists, and modern post-colonial manifestations of both of these phenomena are reactions to the colonial experience....

    Razib, what source would you recommend to best learn about this ‘mughal milking of india for the benefit of central asia’. You’ve mentioned this in a couple of posts now and I’d be interested in learning more.

    Read More
  11. One book comes to mind for a complete beginner: 1493. It only covers the period between 1500 to the Industrial Revolution, but it does it with enormous skills and intelligence. It weaves in ten different regional stories and show how they got into contact and how their conjonction gave rise to the global system we live in today. O’Rourke and Finlay are grandiose pedagogues, able to explain difficult economic concepts in a sentence but they are also very academic, a bit too driven by knowledge for knowledge’s sake, which would probably put off a beginner.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Roger Sweeny
    A good book. I actually liked it predecessor, Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Knopf, 2005), better.
  12. @maharbbal
    One book comes to mind for a complete beginner: 1493. It only covers the period between 1500 to the Industrial Revolution, but it does it with enormous skills and intelligence. It weaves in ten different regional stories and show how they got into contact and how their conjonction gave rise to the global system we live in today. O'Rourke and Finlay are grandiose pedagogues, able to explain difficult economic concepts in a sentence but they are also very academic, a bit too driven by knowledge for knowledge's sake, which would probably put off a beginner.

    A good book. I actually liked it predecessor, Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Knopf, 2005), better.

    Read More
  13. The interpretation of historical events is always a dubious enterprise. Is muscovite eastward expansion a case of european colonialism or a reunification of the Jochid ulus?
    Most historians have ideological agendas or favorite interpretations so they often twist reality to fit their thesis, so the most reliable work is done about topics that have low ideological stakes and a high level of evidence like roman archeology.

    Read More
  14. At the risk of laying myself open to ridicule, I once (in 1976) petitioned (with 5000 signatures) the Federal court in my hometown of Chattanooga, to allow the teaching of the story of Adam and Eve in primary school on the grounds that “it was a true story, that it tells of the invention of agriculture which brought slavery into the world, and that our children should learn it so they can understand the past, where we came from and how we got here.”

    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state. Because the first conquests took place in the full light of day (somewhere in Mesopotamia, on any scale), the fearful idea was introduced into the human imagination “that if we don’t do it to them, they will do it to us,” which in turn led inevitably to systems of warring states in a relentless competition for power. This was is what fueled the growth of empires and supplied the motive force for world history right on up until the end of WWII.

    You can laugh at this picture if you want, but I still think it is the simplest, most easily understood,, and the most comprehensive description of the dynamics of history. The logic is set forth independently in a book, The Parable of the Tribes written a little later by a guy at Berkeley and is summarized in a letter I wrote 30 years later to the anthropologist Jack Goody, which you can find here: http://vixra.org/pdf/1101.0027v2.pdf

    Read More
    • Replies: @Roger Sweeny
    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state.

    I think that is mainstream anthropology. Along with the idea that agriculture created a "surplus beyond the farmers' basic needs" allowing the creation of specialized classes: craftspeople, merchants, priests, warriors, rulers.
    , @Roger Sweeny
    However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps.
  15. @Luke Lea
    At the risk of laying myself open to ridicule, I once (in 1976) petitioned (with 5000 signatures) the Federal court in my hometown of Chattanooga, to allow the teaching of the story of Adam and Eve in primary school on the grounds that "it was a true story, that it tells of the invention of agriculture which brought slavery into the world, and that our children should learn it so they can understand the past, where we came from and how we got here."

    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state. Because the first conquests took place in the full light of day (somewhere in Mesopotamia, on any scale), the fearful idea was introduced into the human imagination "that if we don't do it to them, they will do it to us," which in turn led inevitably to systems of warring states in a relentless competition for power. This was is what fueled the growth of empires and supplied the motive force for world history right on up until the end of WWII.

    You can laugh at this picture if you want, but I still think it is the simplest, most easily understood,, and the most comprehensive description of the dynamics of history. The logic is set forth independently in a book, The Parable of the Tribes written a little later by a guy at Berkeley and is summarized in a letter I wrote 30 years later to the anthropologist Jack Goody, which you can find here: http://vixra.org/pdf/1101.0027v2.pdf

    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state.

    I think that is mainstream anthropology. Along with the idea that agriculture created a “surplus beyond the farmers’ basic needs” allowing the creation of specialized classes: craftspeople, merchants, priests, warriors, rulers.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Luke Lea
    "The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state.

    I think that is mainstream anthropology. Along with the idea that agriculture created a “surplus beyond the farmers’ basic needs” allowing the creation of specialized classes: craftspeople, merchants, priests, warriors, rulers."

    Yes, I agree about the idea of "surplus" (a very opaque term by the way). The standard narrative, however, does not emphasize conquest as a novel human institution, out of which that surplus was compelled. Civilization is treated as a positive, implicitly voluntary development. Do an encyclopedia search under the topic "conquest" and see how little you get. My thesis is that the Adam and Eve story is a conquest myth in popular oral tradition which was later written down. It was in the form of an allegory* because it was not acceptable, among the lower orders at any rate, to lay bare the naked facts of power, of military conquest and servitude, as the foundation of complex society.

    * Allegory
    From Greek allos meaning "other" and agora meaning gathering place (especially the marketplace). In times past, it was common to do one's chatting at the marketplace. Some of the topics discussed were clandestine in nature and when people spoke about them, for fear of being punished, they would speak indirectly. That is to say, they would speak about one thing in such a way as to intimate the actual information to the listener. Thus, the persons discussing clandestine matters were said to be speaking of "other things" in the marketplace. Eventually the words joined and became associated with the act of speaking about one thing while meaning another.
    http://goo.gl/bxlgc

  16. @Luke Lea
    At the risk of laying myself open to ridicule, I once (in 1976) petitioned (with 5000 signatures) the Federal court in my hometown of Chattanooga, to allow the teaching of the story of Adam and Eve in primary school on the grounds that "it was a true story, that it tells of the invention of agriculture which brought slavery into the world, and that our children should learn it so they can understand the past, where we came from and how we got here."

    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state. Because the first conquests took place in the full light of day (somewhere in Mesopotamia, on any scale), the fearful idea was introduced into the human imagination "that if we don't do it to them, they will do it to us," which in turn led inevitably to systems of warring states in a relentless competition for power. This was is what fueled the growth of empires and supplied the motive force for world history right on up until the end of WWII.

    You can laugh at this picture if you want, but I still think it is the simplest, most easily understood,, and the most comprehensive description of the dynamics of history. The logic is set forth independently in a book, The Parable of the Tribes written a little later by a guy at Berkeley and is summarized in a letter I wrote 30 years later to the anthropologist Jack Goody, which you can find here: http://vixra.org/pdf/1101.0027v2.pdf

    However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps.

    Read More
    • Replies: @iffen
    Given that white skin is apparently of recent origin, how do you explain all of this death and fighting among the Noble Savages?
    , @Luke Lea
    "However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps."

    I couldn't agree more. Before agriculture however it was impossible for one people to "capture" another and put them to work. Instead the object was to kill, rob, or drive away from the hunting and gathering grounds of the victor.
  17. @Roger Sweeny
    However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps.

    Given that white skin is apparently of recent origin, how do you explain all of this death and fighting among the Noble Savages?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Roger Sweeny
    Given that the moon revolves around the earth, how do I explain the celebrity of Kim Kardashian?
  18. @Roger Sweeny
    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state.

    I think that is mainstream anthropology. Along with the idea that agriculture created a "surplus beyond the farmers' basic needs" allowing the creation of specialized classes: craftspeople, merchants, priests, warriors, rulers.

    The basic idea, which I still stand by, is that agriculture tied men down to a place, which made it possible for one group to capture another and reduce them to servitude, leading thereby to the birth of the political state.

    I think that is mainstream anthropology. Along with the idea that agriculture created a “surplus beyond the farmers’ basic needs” allowing the creation of specialized classes: craftspeople, merchants, priests, warriors, rulers.”

    Yes, I agree about the idea of “surplus” (a very opaque term by the way). The standard narrative, however, does not emphasize conquest as a novel human institution, out of which that surplus was compelled. Civilization is treated as a positive, implicitly voluntary development. Do an encyclopedia search under the topic “conquest” and see how little you get. My thesis is that the Adam and Eve story is a conquest myth in popular oral tradition which was later written down. It was in the form of an allegory* because it was not acceptable, among the lower orders at any rate, to lay bare the naked facts of power, of military conquest and servitude, as the foundation of complex society.

    * Allegory
    From Greek allos meaning “other” and agora meaning gathering place (especially the marketplace). In times past, it was common to do one’s chatting at the marketplace. Some of the topics discussed were clandestine in nature and when people spoke about them, for fear of being punished, they would speak indirectly. That is to say, they would speak about one thing in such a way as to intimate the actual information to the listener. Thus, the persons discussing clandestine matters were said to be speaking of “other things” in the marketplace. Eventually the words joined and became associated with the act of speaking about one thing while meaning another.
    http://goo.gl/bxlgc

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  19. @Roger Sweeny
    However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps.

    “However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Before agriculture however it was impossible for one people to “capture” another and put them to work. Instead the object was to kill, rob, or drive away from the hunting and gathering grounds of the victor.

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    • Replies: @iffen
    It does not seem reasonable to me to believe that HG never made slaves of the survivors.

    Surplus food production was necessary to create what we call civilization.

    Whether we could have been and (could be) nicer to each other along the way is, as we used to say, problematic.
  20. @Luke Lea
    "However, the idea that prior to agriculture humans lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors has, I think, been rather thoroughly debunked. Little battles were common and death from fighting a fact of life. Kind of like chimps."

    I couldn't agree more. Before agriculture however it was impossible for one people to "capture" another and put them to work. Instead the object was to kill, rob, or drive away from the hunting and gathering grounds of the victor.

    It does not seem reasonable to me to believe that HG never made slaves of the survivors.

    Surplus food production was necessary to create what we call civilization.

    Whether we could have been and (could be) nicer to each other along the way is, as we used to say, problematic.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    pacific NW were high density HG. they had slavery.
  21. @iffen
    It does not seem reasonable to me to believe that HG never made slaves of the survivors.

    Surplus food production was necessary to create what we call civilization.

    Whether we could have been and (could be) nicer to each other along the way is, as we used to say, problematic.

    pacific NW were high density HG. they had slavery.

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    • Replies: @syonredux

    pacific NW were high density HG. they had slavery.
     
    Yeah, people tend to forget that most of the better known (to contemporary peoples) Hunter-Gatherers occupy marginal territories (i.e., land that was so bad that farmers didn't want it), and that kind of hardscrabble existence imposes strong limits in terms of social stratification.
    , @iffen
    From
    Native American Conquest
    A Fresh Look at the New World:
    North America from 1539 to 1543
    by Donald E. Sheppard

    "In the villages under the jurisdiction and overlordship of Cofitachequi through which our Spaniards passed they found many Indians native to other provinces who were held in slavery. As a safeguard against their running away, they (Cofitachequi's people) disabled them (their neighbors) in one foot, cutting the nerves above the instep where the foot joins the leg, or just above the heel. They held them in this perpetual and inhuman bondage in the interior of the country away from the frontiers, making use of them to cultivate the soil and in other servile employment's. These were the prisoners they captured in the ambushes that they set against one another at their fisheries and hunting grounds, and not in open war of one power against another with organized armies (as was the European habit at that time)."
  22. With “surplus” food, it may have been closer to “under agriculture with lots of people close by, it became practical for strong individuals to steal enough food to live off, leaving victims at just above starvation”. A subsistence strategy less possible when there is a lower density of people to predate on (takes more time to find and travel to victims, and they can run away). Actual per head food productivity and direct surplus of food for foraging vs agriculture may have been a different thing.

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  23. @iffen
    Given that white skin is apparently of recent origin, how do you explain all of this death and fighting among the Noble Savages?

    Given that the moon revolves around the earth, how do I explain the celebrity of Kim Kardashian?

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    • Replies: @iffen
    I was agreeing with you and trying to be funny at the same time.

    I do take it as a given that the moon revolves around the earth. I cannot prove that to you. Can you prove it to me?

    I also cannot explain why there are celebrities. Needless to say I cannot explain why KK is one of those.

    Well, now that I think about it the moon is beautifully round at times and our ancestors marveled beneath it for eons, and KK has all those rounds shapes, no, never mind.
  24. @Razib Khan
    pacific NW were high density HG. they had slavery.

    pacific NW were high density HG. they had slavery.

    Yeah, people tend to forget that most of the better known (to contemporary peoples) Hunter-Gatherers occupy marginal territories (i.e., land that was so bad that farmers didn’t want it), and that kind of hardscrabble existence imposes strong limits in terms of social stratification.

    Read More
  25. One comment I thought about inserting in the previous thread, which had arguments and comments from a lot of people quite knowledgeable about the Indian subcontinent, but were making claims about the British that did not seem as well-versed. I’m not criticizing moral condemnations, which are probably well-deserved, but the operating assumptions about British goals and methods.

    For this, I recommend Cain & Hopkins’ British Imperialism: 1688-2000. It is a multi-country analysis, primarily using economic tools, that persuasively argues that all British imperialism existed within the framework of a military-fiscal state operated by a class of gentlemanly capitalists, whose motivations were to the stockholders of various insurance, lending, shipping and consulting concerns. This was true regardless of whether they operated in White dominions, Argentina, Tropical Africa, and India.

    For India what stood out was that the land and people offered more opportunities for profit, particularly from creating rail transport, the ability to build upon the institutions of the former Mughal fiscal-military state, and the opportunities to make alliance with Hindu commercial elites in the area of lending and trade. I don’t think the British had any particular concerns with caste, they were elitist themselves, but they could have an ear to the situation of the untouchables if they were led to fear a revolt and the resulting increased military costs.

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  26. Razib says:
    Most of the assertions of post-colonial theorists collapse under even the barest of inspection with an empirical mindset. The problem though is most people don’t have much comparative historical or anthropological data to sift through the theory.

    This is not so at all. In fact some post-colonial theory is distinguished by the exact opposite. In contrast to skewed and biased constructs imposed on the data by colonial era scholars and such- like the now defunct “Hamitic Hypothesis,” some post colonial theory is actually more empirically based. In the Nile Valley for example, post-colonial scholars have long shown that the civilizations developed therein are indigenous, and do not need assorted “Hamite”, “Mediterranean” or “Oriental” settlers or colonists of various colonial and or post 1950s academic narratives to explain why. In the more political sphere, Fanon’s post colonial analyses on some measures are more objective and realistic than the claim of happy natives under a beneficent colonial regime pushed by the regime’s masters, or allegedly culturally deficient natives waiting for linear philosophies of Western progress. And so on.. Many more examples can be given. If anything the claims of non-post colonialists often collapse under empirical examination, like some of the claims of heriditarian favorite JP Rushton.

    .
    When discussing differences between American society, and his own, he often posits the construct of “Western culture.” My objection to this reflex is always to suggest that what he thinks of as distinctive about “Western culture” is actually a feature shared by many other societies…and Arab culture is distinctive in its own ways. There are ways that all cultures are peculiar, and ways in which it shares features with other cultures

    Creating false constructs is a a common problem with Western people, presuming to make pronouncements on “Indian culture” or “African culture” or “Arab culture” when they are often ignorant of not only the details but key cultural landmarks and understandings. Ironically, it has taken post-colonialists to expose many of these false constructs.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    no one believes in the "hamitic hypothesis" in a simple fashion anymore. in contrast, people do believe in the post-colonial fantasies (please note i'm not going to publish annoying/hectoring/misrepresenting follow up comments from you).
  27. @Kothiru
    One thing I like to add as well, is that the problem with post-colonial theory and other such other modes of historiography which focus on trends rather than historical fact and deep evidence, is that you can at times bluster and bullshit rather than show evidence just so you can pretend that your postulated trend is solid in ways that it isn't. And then you have people claim that these trends apply everywhere, but with even a modicum of historical knowledge you can tell that painting the world's history with the brush of one supposed historical trend is faulty historiography.

    I feel that's the deal with the post-colonials. Some of the historical trends they propose are not wrong and have some good support, but then they try to apply them to areas of history they obviously don't know too much about and then just go on to make details up to make their analysis look good.

    One thing I like to add as well, is that the problem with post-colonial theory and other such other modes of historiography which focus on trends rather than historical fact and deep evidence.

    How so? Actually some post-colonialists marshal much historical fact and deep evidence to expose a number of falsehoods and false constructs pushed by Westerners. If the topic is the Middle East or Africa, numerous received narratives collapse under empirical scrutiny. Did the peoples of Palestine really “spontaneously flee” in 1948 for example, conveniently vacating massive tracts of land? Were millions of square miles of land really “vacant”- just conveniently waiting for white Boer intruders to take them over? Were Africans, who mysteriously materialize “somehow” on the allegedly “vacant” land really happy with the apartheid system put in place by the white Boers and Anglo collaborators? Post-colonial writers have a lot to say (and expose) about “official” narratives in academia, politics, or culture using historical fact and evidence.

    .
    all negative social phenomenon are derived from the colonial [white european] experience.

    No serious post-colonial writer as such has ever made such a claim. Fanon for example, never claimed all was sweetness and light before Europeans came.

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  28. @Enrique Cardova
    Razib says:
    Most of the assertions of post-colonial theorists collapse under even the barest of inspection with an empirical mindset. The problem though is most people don’t have much comparative historical or anthropological data to sift through the theory.

    This is not so at all. In fact some post-colonial theory is distinguished by the exact opposite. In contrast to skewed and biased constructs imposed on the data by colonial era scholars and such- like the now defunct "Hamitic Hypothesis," some post colonial theory is actually more empirically based. In the Nile Valley for example, post-colonial scholars have long shown that the civilizations developed therein are indigenous, and do not need assorted "Hamite", "Mediterranean" or "Oriental" settlers or colonists of various colonial and or post 1950s academic narratives to explain why. In the more political sphere, Fanon's post colonial analyses on some measures are more objective and realistic than the claim of happy natives under a beneficent colonial regime pushed by the regime's masters, or allegedly culturally deficient natives waiting for linear philosophies of Western progress. And so on.. Many more examples can be given. If anything the claims of non-post colonialists often collapse under empirical examination, like some of the claims of heriditarian favorite JP Rushton.

    .
    When discussing differences between American society, and his own, he often posits the construct of “Western culture.” My objection to this reflex is always to suggest that what he thinks of as distinctive about “Western culture” is actually a feature shared by many other societies…and Arab culture is distinctive in its own ways. There are ways that all cultures are peculiar, and ways in which it shares features with other cultures

    Creating false constructs is a a common problem with Western people, presuming to make pronouncements on "Indian culture" or "African culture" or "Arab culture" when they are often ignorant of not only the details but key cultural landmarks and understandings. Ironically, it has taken post-colonialists to expose many of these false constructs.

    no one believes in the “hamitic hypothesis” in a simple fashion anymore. in contrast, people do believe in the post-colonial fantasies (please note i’m not going to publish annoying/hectoring/misrepresenting follow up comments from you).

    Read More
  29. @Roger Sweeny
    Given that the moon revolves around the earth, how do I explain the celebrity of Kim Kardashian?

    I was agreeing with you and trying to be funny at the same time.

    I do take it as a given that the moon revolves around the earth. I cannot prove that to you. Can you prove it to me?

    I also cannot explain why there are celebrities. Needless to say I cannot explain why KK is one of those.

    Well, now that I think about it the moon is beautifully round at times and our ancestors marveled beneath it for eons, and KK has all those rounds shapes, no, never mind.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Roger Sweeny
    I wasn’t sure whether you were being serious or sarcastic. So I just played dumb. For some reason, that comes very easily to me.
  30. @iffen
    I was agreeing with you and trying to be funny at the same time.

    I do take it as a given that the moon revolves around the earth. I cannot prove that to you. Can you prove it to me?

    I also cannot explain why there are celebrities. Needless to say I cannot explain why KK is one of those.

    Well, now that I think about it the moon is beautifully round at times and our ancestors marveled beneath it for eons, and KK has all those rounds shapes, no, never mind.

    I wasn’t sure whether you were being serious or sarcastic. So I just played dumb. For some reason, that comes very easily to me.

    Read More
  31. @Razib Khan
    pacific NW were high density HG. they had slavery.

    From
    Native American Conquest
    A Fresh Look at the New World:
    North America from 1539 to 1543
    by Donald E. Sheppard

    “In the villages under the jurisdiction and overlordship of Cofitachequi through which our Spaniards passed they found many Indians native to other provinces who were held in slavery. As a safeguard against their running away, they (Cofitachequi’s people) disabled them (their neighbors) in one foot, cutting the nerves above the instep where the foot joins the leg, or just above the heel. They held them in this perpetual and inhuman bondage in the interior of the country away from the frontiers, making use of them to cultivate the soil and in other servile employment’s. These were the prisoners they captured in the ambushes that they set against one another at their fisheries and hunting grounds, and not in open war of one power against another with organized armies (as was the European habit at that time).”

    Read More

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