Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Paleolithic War

As I say, we don't actually know, but here's the Wikipedia article, for what it's worth. Their conclusion is that systematic warfare was exceedingly rare prior to the neolithic and associated sedentism. Could be wrong. 

Raymond believes that this period of "Paleolithic warlessness" persisted until well after the appearance of Homo sapiens some 315,000 years ago, ending only at the occurrence of economic and social shifts associated with sedentism, when new conditions incentivized organized raiding of settlements.[5][6]

Of the many cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic, none depicts people attacking other people explicitly,[7][8] but there are depictions of human beings pierced with arrows both of the Aurignacian-Périgordian (roughly 30,000 years old) and the early Magdalenian (c. 17,000 years old), possibly representing "spontaneous confrontations over game resources" in which hostile trespassers were killed; however, other interpretations, including capital punishment, human sacrifice, assassination or systemic warfare cannot be ruled out.[9]

Skeletal and artifactual evidence of intergroup violence between Paleolithic nomadic foragers is absent as well.[8][10] 

. . . 

Systemic warfare appears to have been a direct consequence of the sedentism as it developed in the wake of the Neolithic Revolution. An important example is the massacre of Talheim Death Pit (near Heilbronn, Germany), dated right on the cusp of the beginning European Neolithic, at 5500 BC.[23] Investigation of the Neolithic skeletons found in the Talheim Death pit in Germany suggests that prehistoric men from neighboring tribes were prepared to brutally fight and kill each other in order to capture and secure women. Researchers discovered that there were women among the immigrant skeletons, but within the local group of skeletons there were only men and children.[24] They concluded that the absence of women among the local skeletons meant that they were regarded as somehow special, thus they were spared execution and captured instead. The capture of women may have indeed been the primary motive for the fierce conflict between the men.[25][26]

 So that's the CW.

One more thing: I don't want to reach back to posts that are a couple of weeks old, it's easier to renew the dialogue. It is true that Quing China did not have a feudal system like that of medieval Europe, with various ranks of tributary nobility. Nonetheless some people do apply the term "feudal" to it, as here:

After the middle period, all kinds of social contradictions increasingly surfaced and Qing began to decline. Under the corrupt ruling of the later rulers, various rebellions and uprisings broke out. In 1840 when the Opium War broke out, the Qing court was faced with troubles at home and aggression from abroad. During that period, measures were adopted by imperial rulers and some radical peasants to bolster their power. The Westernization Movement, the Reform Movement of 1898 and the Taiping Rebellion were the most influential ones, but none of them had ever succeeded in saving the dying Qing Dynasty.

Finally, the Revolution of 1911 led by Sun Yat-sen broke out and overthrew the Empire of Qing, bringing two thousand years of Chinese feudal monarchy to an end.

That's just semantics, and it's fine with me if you don't want to use the term. But the relevant point is that Mao did not restore the former system, in that no new class emerged to replace the landlords. It is true that China had a centralized government prior to the revolution. The Chinese people are certainly better of materially today than they were prior to the revolution, but that's true just about everywhere. For me though, there's no sense worrying about the counterfactual of a Kuomintang victory. Who knows what would have happened? History is what it is.



mojrim said...

1. The whole concept of "systemic warfare" was invented to perpetuate the Lost Eden mythology of Rousseau, Mead, et. al. Homicide is homicide no matter what febrile justification system is used and it's a valid if rebuttable presumption that our ancestors did more homicide than we do. Seriously, go read Dyer.

2. It's a hard graft to stuff non-european cultures into the standard model with feudalism along the continuum. In general, it's a bad idea to try. The point I made earlier is that the landlords weren't politically important in pre-Maoist China and thus their fall doesn't qualify as an advancement from feudalism. What matters is the political center of gravity, which in China was a centralized meritocratic bureaucracy, and which was carried over perfectly into the current government.

Cervantes said...

Well, I don't know about the meritocratic part. There was no equivalent of the Communist Party in Imperial China. The CCP faced the problem of transferring loyalty and allegiance to itself, which was the main job of party cadres, political control rather than administration. Actually CCP administration was often atrocious, viz. the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. What has emerged since Mao's death is something else entirely -- the party achieved dramatic economic growth but at the expense of environmental disaster, and with immense waste and corruption. How sustainable this will be remains to be seen.

Of course European feudal lords were not politically powerful either, until the Magna Carta, which is what that was all about. Nothing like that happened in China so it never evolved to the kind of modern nation-state that emerged in Europe.

Don Quixote said...

Apropos of warfare, but unrelated to this discussion:

[12/17/20] "Vice President Mike Pence received his first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in a televised event in Washington, D.C., Friday morning, becoming the first prominent member of the Trump administration to get one.

Pence, wearing a protective mask and a short-sleeve button down shirt, received the injection in his left arm from a doctor from the Walter Reed Medical Center. Pence nodded and gave a thumbs up. "I didn't feel a thing," he said."

What a shock! Mike Pence didn't feel a thing! Is he capable of any feeling at all?

Cervantes said...

Comment is off topic but I published it because it's quasi on topic with my next post.

mojrim said...

My dear Cervantes, I think you're being a bit doctrinaire with the term "meritocracy" in this discussion. Merit is a social convention, its scope and value defined by whatever power structure is handing out rewards and punishments. Imperial China used exams, the CCP selects for loyalty and ideology, the US uses elite schools; the end is the same in all cases.

European feudal lords had immense political power, with the king being considered "first among equals" for most of the period. The magna carta was a reaction to growing royal power, not an advancement in the political schema, and actually retarded England's evolution. France and Spain, wealthy and constantly at war, grew into strong central monarchies and became nation-states while England was still mired in various civil wars and internal bickering.

Vis warfare: It appears we have been talking at cross purposes. I have been primarily concerned with the neolithic while you have been referring to the paleolithic. When discussing the changes which followed agriculture my thoughts always go to the late neolithic and bronze age rather than the early hybrid settlements.

Cervantes said...

Well, regarding the latter, my original point was that warfare increased with the neolithic revolution and appeared to be rare in the paleolithic. So It seems you agree with me, or at least with the general consensus that I'm willing to accept although I have no strong opinion about it myself, as I say it isn't really knowable.

As for the former, I suppose it depends what you mean by a nation-state. In feudal Europe, wars were among monarchs and families, not nations. When William conquered England, and moved his court to London, the result was not that England was ruled by Normandy, but the exact opposite: England now had an empire in France. But not really England, the English monarch. This meant precisely nothing to anyone else in England; yet later British monarchs, who were no longer French, fought to keep it. The evolution from feudalism and monarchy to what we now think of as a modern state required expanded inclusiveness and political representation. That the process was accompanied by a lengthy period of violence and struggle in England is one way it happened. In France it happened convulsively in a single explosion, then reverted to a different kind of monarchy before evolving more gracefully into a republic. In the Holy Roman Empire of course the electors had political power but at that point it wasn't really an empire, but a federation of mini-kingdoms, each of which in turn evolved in its own way. But my interest here is not in political evolution, but in the economic changes which were ubiquitous from Medieval Europe to the Enlightenment.

Agreed that one could say that the definition of merit in the CCP was loyalty and ability to command it. But that was not the definition of merit of the imperial bureaucracy, which took allegiance for granted.

mojrim said...

1. My point is that meritocracy is as meritocracy does: selection by some means of demonstrating value to the power structure rather than simply by birth or land ownership. A newly formed government, with no traditional connections breeding loyalty, must select first for that because it cannot be assumed. It is absolutely guaranteed that the first couple generations of imperial administrators were much the same.

2. Your walk through european feudalism doesn't really address the point, to wit, that late imperial China could not be described as a feudal society. Neither its economy, its distribution of wealth, nor its assignment of power resembled those of feudal countries as we know them.