The Destruction of Economic Facts – Businessweek

One of the features of information revolutions is that the size of the relevant unit increases: villages become cities, city states become kingly states, kingly states become nation states etc.

One of the drivers of this change is size is that the ability to keep track increases: orality and human memory supplemented by simple notation, simple notation is supplemented by writing, writing is supplemented by printing, printing is supplemented by telegraph, etc.

And, according to this post it comes because of a perceived need in the society.

During the second half of the 19th century, the world’s biggest economies endured a series of brutal recessions. At the time, most forms of reliable economic knowledge were organized within feudal, patrimonial, and tribal relationships. If you wanted to know who owned land or owed a debt, it was a fact recorded locally—and most likely shielded from outsiders….

To prevent the breakdown of industrial and commercial progress, hundreds of creative reformers concluded that the world needed a shared set of facts….

The result was the invention of the first massive “public memory systems” to record and classify—in rule-bound, certified, and publicly accessible registries, titles, balance sheets, and statements of account….

Over the past 20 years, Americans and Europeans have quietly gone about destroying these facts. The very systems that could have provided markets and governments with the means to understand the global financial crisis—and to prevent another one—are being eroded….

Markets were never intended to be anarchic: It has always been government’s role to police standards, weights and measures, and records, and not condone legalized sleight of hand in the shadows of the informal economy.

(December 16, 2015 at 11:11PM)

Is there any evidence to support the theory that, during the Stone Ages, women were forced to stay home and become caretakers, while men chose to become hunters?

There seems to be an on-going thread in the conversations around hunting and gathering that wants to show that women and men have specific gender roles that fit the notions of traditional western society. Here’s my answer:

Elin Whitney-Smith

No, there isn’t any such evidence.

Amongst modern hunter/gatherers men as well as women play, carry, and care for infants and children. Men will take both boy and girl with them when they hunt or gather as will women. Women do exclusively nurse children but among many groups any woman who has milk may pick up a crying infant and nurse it.

Since the majority of food consumed is gathered and the majority of the meat eaten is from small animals hunting isn’t life threatening. And both women and men hunt. Often hunting is done with nets and the entire band will participate. There isn’t any reason to think that people of the stone age didn’t do the same.

Women and men in hunter/gatherer societies are egalitarian and make their own life decisions neither gender is dominant.

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If humanity can change the concept of God throughout history and cultures because he is humanity’s creation, could humanity make God unnecessary?

I think this fits the Advent season:

Roy Rappaport – anthropologist – wrote a book titled, “Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity” In it he said ritual and religion is part of what makes us human, and defined god as the “unfalsifiable supported by the undeniable”.
Let’s take each term separately.

Unfalsifiable: god cannot be investigated using ordinary scientific methods and therefore cannot be disproved.

Undeniable: individuals and groups have experience of transcendence/ a “god experience” therefore they have the choice of denying their own experience, which leads to a kind of insanity, or of accepting that there is something beyond their ordinary experience, which for convenience we, and they, might call god.

Rappaport’s notion is that the beginning of language made it possible for people to lie. That created dissonance in the group. Ritual made possible the “setting straight” of that dissonance.

In addition, ritual serves an ecological purpose, as he shows in his book “Pigs for the Ancestors”. People raise sweet potatoes and pigs, when the pigs get too numerous, and raid gardens, it is time to slaughter the pigs and have a feast honoring the ancestors. This acts to keep the population of pigs under control and redistributes meat amongst the population.

If the ritual has outlived its’ usefulness then it is maladaptive. The evolution of ritual and of god is necessary for groups to maintain their adaptation to their ecology; if their notion is maladaptive the people either change their notions or perish.

The Christian year provides an example of religion and ritual being adaptive. (Note: I start with Halloween even though the church year starts with advent since it precedes a time of fasting)

Halloween is the day before All Saints day (a high holy day). It coincides, more or less, with harvest. Halloween predates Christianity. It is a day of redistribution – when poor people can demand tribute from the rich. The poor are in masks so that the rich cannot punish them for their demands – “trick or treat” – is a kind of protection scheme. “If my demands aren’t met I will play a “trick”” (which may be quite destructive).Then comes a season of moderate fasting – Advent – food is still plentiful, but it needs to be conserved since it is only the beginning of winter.

Advent is followed by Christmas, and Epiphany, which, again requires the rich to give to the poor.

Following that is Lent – a season of heavy fast – since food is becoming scarce. It is the time when people and animals are most likely to die of hunger. And it is preceded by redistribution day – Mardi Gras – a masked holiday where the rich are to give to the poor.

Then comes Easter, which is a celebration of the first fruits. Once people get to Easter they will be able to survive. They must work throughout “ordinary time” after Pentecost. Ordinary time lasts through harvest and Halloween and the whole thing starts over.

Therefore, the Christian year is a northern European ecological ritual that keeps the poor alive.

We, with our abundance, have (with the exception of the Salvation Army Santas and a few churches) translated poor into children; so we give candy to kids on Halloween, presents to kids on Christmas and have wild parties with plastic money and jewels for Mardi Gras.

The authority of religion forced the rich participate in the various redistribution holidays and to fast – conserve food – during the seasons of penitence.

Now let’s go back to the fist part of the original question, “If humanity can change the concept of God throughout history and cultures because he is humanity’s creation,”.

Truly, we observe that humans have different concepts of god. However this does not necessitate that god is humanity’s creation.

As a thought experiment let us assume that there is (not god) but some kind of “god experience”. That experience is, of necessity, expressed in the language, and with the concepts, that are situated in a particular culture (I take culture to include time – England of today is different from England of the 13th century or of the 3rd century BCE)

Therefore, the only way the person who has the “god experience” can express him/her self is with the thoughts, words, and metaphors of that particular culture. Therefore it would be surprising it the notion/concept of god hadn’t changed since language and culture are different over time and in various cultures.

Next, god’s existence or non-existence may or may not be dependent on humanity’s recognition, since, as we said above, god doesn’t have the kind of existence that can be falsified.

Finally, it may be that we can live without religion and without god, but then we have to decide how to maintain our ecological balance and how we can account for the “god experience” of people and groups.

Humans create institutions to keep themselves in check – governments, laws, regulations and religions. How does a complex, secular, culture, keep itself in check, fit in with its ecology, and care for the poor?

See Questions On Quora

How did pre-agricultural societies deal with the problem of free riding?

To be concerned with “free riders” people have to have a notion of exclusively held property. This is the answer I gave on Quora:

From the Batek Hunter/Gatherers from Malaysia :

“A person with excess food is expected to share it, and if this is not done others do not hesitate to ask for some… Recipients treat the food they are given as a right; no expression of thanks is expected or forthcoming, presumably because that would imply that the donor had the right to withhold it. If someone were hoarding food, it would not be considered ‘stealing’ (maling) for others to help themselves to it… Their attitude seems to be that it is more immoral to withhold food from those who need it than to take it without permission.”

Lorna Marshall, an anthropologist who worked many years amongst the !Kung in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, asked what happens if someone kills an animal and eats it without sharing. They respond that it could never happen. She says of their reaction when she pushed them to imagine such a situation:

“The idea of eating alone and not sharing is shocking to the !Kung. It makes them shriek with uneasy laughter. “Lions could do that,” they say, “not men.” ”

So our concern about free-rider problems from their point of view shows us to inhuman – to be animals.


Is there any time in world history in which gender equality was normal or is this a modern day phenomenon?

Early hunter/gatherers are generally more equal than we. They live in an information based culture; status comes from what a person knows, so there is naturally a high premium placed on sharing, because knowledge is visible only when shared. Therefore, the notion of who is the ‘coolest person’, like other aspects of hunter/gatherer life, shifts from day to day and from camp to camp. If I have a good story today, you may have just as good a story tomorrow. And women as well as men are apt to have good stories.  So I agree with Gwydion Madawc Williams on hunter/gatherers.
For more on hunter/gatherers and gender see “Autonomy Gender and Leadership” in: Chapter I – The Original Information Culture – Hunter/Gatherers (full text)

But other ages have also seen greater gender equality. Elise Boulding wrote in her masterwork, The Underside of History, “Women have yet to recover from the Renaissance.”

During the middle ages women had autonomy and especially economic autonomy – they manufactured everything from shoes to beer.

Men did production of the craft – weaving cloth, tanning hides, making barrels. Women managed the shop – negotiating with suppliers and customers, buying raw material and selling product, overseeing and teaching journeymen and apprentices.

A craftsman couldn’t become a master  craftsman unless he had a woman to manage his business. When a  journeyman was ready to marry he could then open a shop of his own.

Guild records show that if a master craftsman lost his wife and didn’t have some other woman (daughter, sister etc) to take over the management of his shop he lost his master status and became a journeyman again. On the other hand, if the master died it was fairly easy for a woman to hire a journeyman to do production and the widow became the de facto master, and voted in guild meetings. The shop continued to operate.

Upper class women were professors of mathematics, scientists, religious leaders and business leaders and managed manors, large estates, and even kingdoms. They waged war and put down rebellions while overseeing everyone from the lowest peasant or washer woman to freeholders and knights. Lower class women were poor but were more equal to their men than any time since. Women are only beginning to regain the equality they had in the middle ages.

Before the introduction of the printing press class determined how one was educated. Upper class women read and learned mathematics. Lower class people, men and women, were largely illiterate. The press made education available to the crafts-producing classes. And as a result, the press changed the balance between the genders which we are only now beginning to rectify.

Men remained in the shop or farm therefore a investment in their education was an investment in the business so they were educated. Women, on the other hand, married out and therefore their education didn’t benefit the family’s business; they were not educated.

As craftsmen became literate and numerate they were able to take over the management of the business from their wives. They could track how much raw material became how much product. Their ability relative to to their wives changed and production moved out of the common room managed by women, to a room of its own, and eventually to a building of its own. This left women in charge of the household and children. Women became associated with the home, interior, emotion, and spirituality. Men became associated with business, money exterior, literacy and rationality.

For more on the press and gender see Chapter VII – The Late Middle Ages Full Text and “Capitalism, the Press and Social Relations” at the end of: Chapter IX – Capitalism and Information Freedom (full text):

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Portfolio Up

I’ve finally gotten a portfolio together. It covers a long time slot – 1994* to yesterday.

To see it click here or on the page called Portfolio up above or in the column at right.

Let me know what you think!

*There’s only two from 1994 – but I’m particularly attached to them. One is the cover of the American Weekly that I did for the re-opening of the Lincoln Theater in DC and the other is a poster for Brian Harmer’s birthday. I’m proud of the newspaper cover because Cab Calloway the great jazz musician signed a copy. And I’m proud of the Brian poster because it was really the first computer art I did.

Scientists: Assuming the most widely accepted theories, such as The Big Bang and Evolution are correct, could God exist?

It depends on what you define god to be. If  you define god as the ground of all being (Paul Tillich) then yes, of course god can exist. If you define god as a creator who created the world in X number of days then probably not.

It also depends on how you read scripture. If you read it as the record of scientific investigation then, no. If you read it as the attempt of people to come to grips with and communicate their experience of transcendence then, yes.

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The BIG Game

The latest new project is a children’s book on the World War II European Theater World Series.

It was between the best Army team in Germany, 71st Red Circlers and the best Army team in France, OSIE All Stars.

The Red Circlers were heavily favored to win since General George Patton had stacked the team with all the pro-ball players he could find.

The All Stars were a rag tag team made up of minor league players coached and managed by their one pro-ball player, Sam Nahem who had pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. But the All Stars had two secret weapons; Leon Day and Willard Brown both great players from the Negro League.

No one expected them to win…


War is obsolete

Brad DeLong, in his blog Grasping Reality with Both Hands was celebrating the fact that

    it is …65 years and 9 months since an army crossed the Rhine River bearing fire and sword.

I commented that Europeans (and I include N. Americans generally) share the same epistemology of war – we agree on how war should be used and what constitutes winning.

Unfortunately, we are in wars with people who do not share that epistemology. And I suspect that we don't have any idea of what their epistemology of war is.

But, the long European peace suggests that there is a way in which war can become obsolete if only we can find it.

I've made some suggestions in the past:

    War is a response to scarcity. The forms reflect the kind of scarcity each group experienced.

    Nomads (Abel) experienced periodic scarcity became raiders. They used their knowledge of how to kill and how to herd and break up groups to kill and scatter their opponents. Since the scarcity the experienced was irregular and since they did not plant they did not have an attachment to owning geography. Their form of war was brutal and brief.

    Agriculturists (Cain) settled and planted. As the populations grew they experienced a scarcity of land and expanded outward to take over more and more land. They developed war based on standing and defending a piece of geography first they built walled settlements, perhaps against the raiders and then with the rise of a new information technology – writing – cities and empires. Their attachment was to geography since wealth came from land. They developed defensive wars and then wars of imperialism.

Western wars have been Cain's wars and obey Cain's rules but we are now fighting against people from Abel's tradition.

We need to figure out what the epistemology is whether we want to end war or even if we still believe in winning.

mastodon killers

Just posted on the FOX news site – yes sometimes they actually have something to say.

One theory of Pleistocene extinctions – second order predation – resolves the pre-Clovis issue.

Consider this:
People entered the New World (pre-Clovis times) and, in addition to hunting herbivores, hunted carnivores and, of course, gathered vegetable food. Carnivore killing reduced carnivore populations below the level that they could control herbivore populations. This “unstuck” the balance of the ecosystem. Herbivore populations boomed. And, like algae blooms in lakes, herbivore populations would then crash – destruction of habitat. This me

ant a serious lack of plant food for both herbivores and humans. Humans turned exclusively to hunting – Clovis. Thus, Clovis is a result of the “boom” in herbivores and the “bust” in vegetation.

There would be many animals in a weakened condition during the herbivore boom since they didn't have enough vegetation. And naturally, humans like other predators would take the weak, the old, and the young – the easiest to hunt.

For more, see:
For a mystery story based on the theory see: