jester wrote:Hobbes v. Rousseau. Did civilization constrain violent impulses, or cause them? For a very long time, people assumed the latter. What extant archaeological record we have, however, suggests the opposite. That pre-civilized man was *exceptionally* violent ... as in 30+% you'd die violently. In some societies at particularly violent phases, that number appears to have jumped much, much higher (particularly if you were male).
Why they fought over is conjecture, but the most likely reason is access to resources (food, water, and women). So, has weaponry "civilized" the West, or the relative plenty of modern life?
The contrary (non violent pre civilization humans) would have been incredibly surprising. I don’t see this as a philosophical question, but rather one for archeologists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists. We’re primates. People forget.
As for your question, I think civilization (basically, the benefits of much more dynamic cultural and knowledge transmission and of cooperation) lead to more plenty which tame more violent instincts. Still think there would have been a WWIII and more direct widespread wars between major powers without nukes.
I believe there was an appproximate 4-5M humans around 12-10k years ago when the Neolithic transition started. That’s like, for the 150k-200k years preceding agricultural revolution, there was only a few million people on earth, with some bottle neck periods where the population dwindled and homo sapiens came close to extinction.
From 10k or so years ago (begining of settled agriculture and growth in civilization), populations steadily grew. Slower at first and more rapidly after. Some 15M humans at 5,000BC and 250M by the time of Jesus. A billion by 1800s, then massive explosition with industrial revolution and super accelerated growth in 20th century. We’re now passed peak growth, with most societies having achieved “demographic transition” to low bith/low death rates.
To the extent we can judge the success of a species by its population numbers and quality of life, civilization has been massively beneficial (1982 Lebanon war notwithstanding, banana!)
What really blow my mind, however, is considering that homo sapiens have basically been physiologically the same for 100,000-200,000 years. And not that different from other now extinct hominids. Neanderthals even had larger craniums.
Take a human from 125,000 years ago and put him next to me and we’re virtually the same. My brain’s not bigger.
What’s changed is the absolutely breaktaking pace of cultural evolution, accelerated by settlement living and growing communities.
Hominids, homo sapiens in particular, seem to have, as their most distinguishing feature, the ability to communicate and to organize themselves into increadibly complex social structures. It’s, fundamentally, the ability to share knowledge widely between communities and then down through different generations, which build on prior knowledge, that really sets us apart in the animal world. Our social and communication abilities permit rapid social evolution and once we stumbled upon (often out of necessity) new technological developments, they spread throughout our population and down to future generations which expand on it and further transmit it. It’s how we “rule” nature. We understand it and exploit it better than any other species -and fundamentally we are able to do that because of our innate ability to communicate/transmit knowledge and cooperate. I tend to think that our species was “lucky enough” to have found itself under what was probably severe evolutionary pressures selecting for characteristics that enhance communication and cooperation. It’s probably the chief driver behind our outsized brains (compared to other species, on a ratio to body weight). Relentless pressure to select for vocal chords, agile and flexible minds, ability to develop complex social arrangements -crucially with the ability to “read others” known as empathy. That requires a mental ability to “decouple thinking” from the self. That might be a driver for further evolving abstract reasoning abilities -which come in mighty handy.
Anywho, long ass post again, but basically (Iranian hostage crises notwithstanding, banana) I tend to think human’s fundamental defining feature is our incredible capacity to form complex social structures, cooperate and exchange knowledge. Sure that’s not our only instincts. We play game theory to an extent. We cheat when we can, but that tends to lead to retribution that leaves everybody worse off and so we slowly learn to get along better and better, in fits and starts, with occassional world wars and intercontinental slavery happening. Our progress is in this ability to adapt, learn and teach which makes us much more nimble than other species that can’t pool their reasources and brain power as widely as us or communicate it down for further generations to continuously build on.