Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Forager Manifesto

"There are two kinds of people in the world, those that divide the world into two competing camps and those that do not." - Wise internet proverb

Robin Hanson has a similar thesis that the world can be split into two types of people, "foragers" and "farmers."  Foragers tend to hold cultural stances that were adaptive in our evolutionary past, while farmers tend to hold cultural stances that were adaptive during and after the transition to agriculture, ~ 8000 BCE.

Upon first reading this I was quite skeptical, in large part due to the rampant tendency of academics to push false dichotomies. But the explanatory power of the forager vs farmer dichotomy has won me over; in particular see posts on how fear pushes us towards more farmer-like beliefs (here) and why we assume artists should be non-conformist (here). I defy you to explain these as parsimoniously without resorting to a similar argument. 

Given the above, it's ironic that on a vacation this past week I purchased for five pesos a used book that can only be described as the forager manifesto: Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. First, Quinn himself divides the world into two distinct populations, the "leavers," which are extant hunter gatherer tribes, and the "takers," which is everybody else. Next, Quinn argues that the "takers" emerged in Mesopotamia in the era of the biblical story of genesis, right at the transition to agriculture. The rest of the book is mostly him signalling allegiance to forager norms and arguing, quite fairly but also tautologically, that all of society's current problems are due to our move away from a forager lifestyle.

So if you love foraging and don't mind trading off life expectancy (avg 30 - 37 yrs at birth, p 54 here) for more leisure and less stress (~ 20 hr "work" weeks, here), then read this book, and go join up with the !Kung pronto.