Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Art DeVany comments on my interview with Keith Thomas

I thought I'd point out that Art DeVany has made some comments about my interview with Keith Thomas. His thoughts are - as ever - engaging and provoking.

As to the curious concern Chris asks Keith to comment on about the libertarian slant that sometimes perturbs some people or may be seen as egotism on my part, that attitude comes from two sources:

1. I had to take responsibility for my family's health in the face of the evidence that my our doctors were giving us bad advice regarding the treatment of their type 1 diabetes.

2. my research in economics and complex systems taught me that the order in human physiology---a truly decentalized, complex system operating far from equilibrium---is an emergent property, not one that is determined by top down control. This is true also of a life of freedom. There is no neglect of social interactions or the state of the world; indeed, these are part of the constraints and institutions that help to shape an emergent order.

3. Hunter gatherer societies are very flat and have almost no hierarchical structure (but for some male and age dominance that is primarily earned through knowledge and physical prowress), that is a legacy of agriculture and control of water resources---the hydrological state, not a natural order.

The Paleo/EF movement, if there is one, emerged out of the open and very disordered information space of the blogosphere and from many individuals communicating ideas and experience. So, relax and enjoy the individualism that has made this new science take form and let all share in its findings. I never tried to rush my book out to stake a claim on this knowledge and had I done so, I don't think the movement would have spread as it has. Sharing the information openly was the only way this was going to go anywhere. The genetic research is coming out everywhere now and revising many notions of health. Yet, it is revealing the complex networks of gene expression and hormonal and signalling pathways that take us farther into the realm of complexity. (from here)

Incidentally, my question about the libertarianism of some wings of the paleo movement was not directed at Art. I always find his stuff very inspiring, motivating and challenging intellectually. He makes me think and analyse - which is good.

Interesting thoughts though. With respect to individualism and freedom, I sometimes wonder how free or individual we could be in a hunter gatherer society. The individuals might soon be ostracized for the good of the tribe?


Neal W. said...

There are big differences between a hunter gatherer economy and a modern economy. HG tribes were small in size (fewer than 100 members), had little division of labor, and few resources. This means that knowledge of the wants/needs of the tribe members, along with the various inputs/outputs of resources were small enough that knowledge could be centralized.

Contrast the situation today in which there are billions of interacting people. Wants/needs are highly individual and variable, the division of labor is incomprehensibly complex, along the number of "recipes" in which resources can be utilized to satisfy the wants/needs of society. This requires a decentralized model.

History has proven that adhering to a hunter-gatherer like centralized, "for the good of group," economic system is a failure in the modern world. The failure of communism cannot by argued.

Chris said...


I think that is partly my point. We are freer now. We have more liberty.

jleeger said...

Good question.

I'm always curious as to the value-judgments (and reasons behind them) that we place on things.

"Paleo" or "EV" is no different.

Were humans "freer" in a "paleo" tribe? Is one technology "better" than another? Does "paleo" as a practice extend the lifespan beyond basic, "simple-living?"

I'm still unconvinced that all or any of these "methods" we find today - from Xfit to Z-Phase to Paleo/EV to HIIT - are in any way "single" answers unto themselves.

They reveal the results a person can expect on their own basis, but also, necessarily limit development in other areas.

For instance, none of those hobbies asks its participants to become a better singer, or to learn to sew/knit, or carve wood.

Similarly, none of them teaches people how to be better at business, or how to make a living.

Taken for what they are, they all have value. But in the end, all of these "methods" are just different lenses through which to view a larger reality.

Restricting yourself to any one of them is madness.

Peter S said...

I'm not sure that HG politics are without application to the modern world, tho I agree that face-to-face interaction in a 'human-scale' community was vital to the way such societies functioned. I'm not sure this was really a centralisation of control however: it was more like a form of shared management by people who all knew each other well, and where no one was really a 'specialist' or an 'expert', at least not in the political domain.

Nor am I sure that we live in a very decentralised, or necessarily much freer society: tho we certainly live in a society where the rhetoric of our political culture is determined to conceal the real amount of centralisation that there actually is, including -- if not especially -- in the private sector, where much of the real economic power lies.

The French anthropologist, Pierre Clastres, who lived for a long time with the Guayaki indians of Paraguay, argued that all egalitarian societies had in-built mechanisms intended to prevent them from growing in size to the point where a hierarchy needed to be installed. And that the big question anthropology had failed to answer was why at some point, in some place, these mechanisms would break down and be replaced by hierarchical expansionist societies -- the first empires, if you like.


The reason you cant directly transfer these forms of social structure to the modern world is simple: any pocket of egalitarian libertarianism that emerges will either be parasitic on the larger, deeply unequal world around it which provides the resources it depends on, or so autistic in its autarcy, that it would be liable to implode even before its neighbours finished it off (as has happened with many social 'experiments').

Still, none of that means that diffusing and deconcentrating power isn't a useful, as well as an admirable, aim -- whether the instruments of power are being operated from the Kremlin, the Pentagon, a data centre in Southern California, or a ski resort in Switzerland...:)

My old mentor Helena Norberg-Hodge used to say that people were keen to borrow anything from older societies, except for their economic systems, even if that meant that the borrowings were rendered largely decorative, and even, in the long-term, totally useless.


generic cialis said...

Do you have the second part of this awesome interview, I'm very curious about it.