Read Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris Stephen Macedo Margaret Atwood Christine M. Korsgaard Richard Seaford Jonathan D. Spence Online


Most people in the world today think democracy and gender equality are good, and that violence and wealth inequality are bad. But most people who lived during the 10,000 years before the nineteenth century thought just the opposite. Drawing on archaeology, anthropology, biology, and history, Ian Morris explains why. Fundamental long-term changes in values, Morris argues, aMost people in the world today think democracy and gender equality are good, and that violence and wealth inequality are bad. But most people who lived during the 10,000 years before the nineteenth century thought just the opposite. Drawing on archaeology, anthropology, biology, and history, Ian Morris explains why. Fundamental long-term changes in values, Morris argues, are driven by the most basic force of all: energy. Humans have found three main ways to get the energy they need--from foraging, farming, and fossil fuels. Each energy source sets strict limits on what kinds of societies can succeed, and each kind of society rewards specific values. But if our fossil-fuel world favors democratic, open societies, the ongoing revolution in energy capture means that our most cherished values are very likely to turn out not to be useful any more. Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels offers a compelling new argument about the evolution of human values, one that has far-reaching implications for how we understand the past--and for what might happen next. Originating as the Tanner Lectures delivered at Princeton University, the book includes challenging responses by classicist Richard Seaford, historian of China Jonathan Spence, philosopher Christine Korsgaard, and novelist Margaret Atwood....

Title : Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve
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ISBN : 9780691160399
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 400 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve Reviews

  • David
    2018-10-13 19:42

    The subtitle says it all: How Human Values Evolve. In itself this is not particularly new or compelling, but the manner in which Ian Morris pursues the concept is. Mr. Morris is focused on the different ways each of these cultural stages of human development [hunter-gatherer, farming, and industrialization] captures energy. Foragers on a good day would capture no more than 10,000 kilocalories per person; agrarians no more than 10,000 kilocalories per person, whereas industrialized Western economies in 1800 captured 38,000 kilocalories and this went up to 230,000 kilocalories in the 1970s. These numbers represent only a small part of Mr. Morris's examination of culture and morality through energy capture and the methods these capture used. The technique of capture would also speak to the values these cultures produced and supported -- sometimes with a great deal of bloodshed. Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels is highly reductive and Mr. Morris has acknowledged this in the book, but argues reduction is not in and of itself bad or simplistic. Specifically he says "My defense is that all scholarship is reductionist." By way of example he cites Martin Gilbert's massive 8 volume biography of Winston Churchill that was published as 13 separate books [some volumes were too big to fit between the covers of a single book]. Even at this size the author still had to 'reduce' Churchill's life to words and a finite number of volumes. Reductionism is not a bad thing by itself. Everyone, scientist or commoner, reduces large amounts of data to more manageable sizes in order to act and interpret what is going on about them. Whether or not the argument is justifiable should be left to the individual reader to decide. However, as an interpretive tool for determining how cultures functioned and what their values were it is a very interesting trope [rhetorical device]. The structure of the book is quite interesting, as well. The author presents his thesis and the argument/data to prove this. Once finished, several others, who had attended his lectures upon which this book is based, are given space to rebut his argument. Once they have had their say the author inserts what amounts to a defense against their arguments. For all practical purposes the book is a dialogue between opposing points of view. First and foremost it must be recognized this is an academic debate and therefore not as vigorous as one might expect it to be. The arguments are learned and abstract, but still interesting. Ultimately, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels was a brilliant read. Nonetheless, theories as comprehensive as this [theories of everything] usually end up being wrong, but the methodology/hypothesis reveals some overlooked elements of cultural interpretation. For this alone the book is worth the read.Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. The book lost one star because it is a little dry, but this should be expected of academic works. Recommended for readers curious about anthropology; futurism [the end of the book projects forward]; science; cultural evolution, and debate.

  • M.I. Lastman
    2018-09-24 22:33

    Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian MorrisThis book is dense with footnotes, displaying the author’s smug confidence in his considerable erudition. Unfortunately, the book itself does not demonstrate much aptitude for wise understanding on Morris’ part. Yes, he has a big idea: human values evolve to fit the wealth of society. That seems obvious enough, but the characteristic which gives the book a frisson of originality is the fact that for the purposes for the author’s argument, wealth is defined exclusively in terms of calories – energy capture. Thus the forager, who can extract only his minimal daily requirement of energy, resolves disputes by violence; the farmer, who can extract much more through co-operation, begins to turn toward a process of law, preferring hierarchical governance; fossil fuelers turn back to individual action, with the result that hierarchy is less appealing and fairness is fostered by the abundance of energy that is now available to their societies. This is probably true to some extent, but what about the evolution of language, what about the gradual accumulation of shared stories as stimulants to the evolution of human values? Is there a forest here somewhere?The book is a print version of one of the Princeton Tanner Lectures and follows the form of that series. Four distinguished thinkers from different disciplines were invited to respond to the lecture. The guest lecturer then provides a rebuttal, which here appears as the final chapter of the book. This process is designed to maximize both the objectivity and value of the lecturer’s argument. Surprisingly, it doesn’t work all that well. The respondents, while distinguished in their own fields, are too narrowly focused to cope with Morris’ blindingly inclusive span. The Princeton philosopher-respondent, who appears to be a regular to the Tanner lectures, suffers from the wordiness which may be a mark of her breed. However, when after having made the perfectly persuasive argument that there is absolutely no evidence that we Fossil Fuelers have any less recourse to violence than our foraging co-inhabitants of the biosphere, present or past, she misses the point that forbidden is not the antithesis of obligatory. I wonder what it takes to become a Princeton Philosopher. This is a tiny quibble, but I will explain why I bring it up in a moment.The author’s rebuttal is perhaps his strongest chapter, but despite disclaimers to the contrary, he conveys an obvious note of dudgeon. Worse, the whole of his argument is filled with disabling logical flaws. For example, what are we to make of someone who claims to be writing about ethics and then offers the following as the first of two universal premises (he calls them assumptions): There are several core values that nearly all humans care about deeply. There is room for debate over what belongs on the list, but fairness, justice, love, hate, respect, loyalty, preventing harm, and a sense that some things are sacred seem to be strong candidates.There certainly is room for debate. What about trust; what about hope? Surely, if as is widely held today, our brains evolved to make us specialists in the future, those two values belong on the list.His second “assumption” is no better: These core values are biologically evolved adaptions. That is certainly not a universally accepted premise and is perhaps the most perfect example of begging the question that I have ever encountered, since this assumption is precisely what he spends a large part of the book trying to prove. I also found the note of scientism he conveys annoying. I couldn’t understand where he got the anthropological time frame he uses, and it didn’t really matter anyway, since he is discussing a period that goes back only about 10,000 years. He is also in the pollyannaish mode of much futurist writing: Benjamin Friedman – trust capitalism, in time it will fix everything; Michael Schermer – trust science, it knows best. Nonetheless, he concludes with a bleakly horrible vision of the future: The WEIRD (Western, educated, industrial, rich, democratic) shall inherit the Earth, and live together as algorithms on a super computer after the biosphere crashes utterly. That is a conflation, but Morris actually says these things and appears to mean them.Of all of the thinkers involved with this book, only Margaret Atwood, as one of the four respondents, covers herself with glory. As one might expect, her response is written in elegant, witty, pristinely clear English. That is why I gave one example of sloppy English thinking. Atwood, by contrast, is one of the guardians of the contract of meaning within the English language and she does a splendid job. Maybe, as in the ages of Homer, or Shakespeare, for example, it is to the tellers of stories that we need to turn for true wisdom.For the most part the ideas in the book are poorly presented and reasoned, perhaps because the author is so convinced of his erudition that he doesn’t see the need to rigourously examine his own thinking. This is pernicious. It is what renders the voice of the humanities largely surplus to the debate about the future. I thought the book was mostly terrible, and I give it no stars.

  • Hall's Bookshop
    2018-10-14 19:34

    I always enjoy the sense of intellectual daring when an academic in one field attempts to reduce all of human knowledge to their own subspeciality; here Professor Morris shows how all of human values, and consequently human civilization, are a product of geography. Written with verve, it is a fascinating survey from a geographical, anthropological, and philosophical standpoint, and much of what is best in the book comes from the commentaries written by other academics and writers in those fields.

  • Lucas
    2018-10-08 15:32

    I am not wholly convinced by Morris's thesis, but that did not diminish the pleasure of reading, as the evidence martialled (a large portion of human history) is very interesting for its own sake, and Morris's skills as a writer are good. The most fascinating portion of the book is, as Morris himself suggests, the debate that is encouraged by the four respondents.

  • Antonio
    2018-10-06 22:25

    Comparado con su libro ¿Por qué manda Occidente... por ahora? presenta mucho peor sus argumentos, la evidencia en la que se basa y el método que sigue para concluir lo que concluye. Especula mucho más, no solo en su predicción de los valores futuros, sino en las conclusiones a las que llega sobre el pasado, como le señalan dos de los críticos que hacen la réplica a su ensayo. Puede que esto se deba al formato del libro, ya que es resultado de unas conferencias y supongo que la extensión debe ser limitada, así como la de los críticos al profesor Morris. Parte esta, la de la crítica, que en mi opinión es la peor, no por ser poco interesante, sino por estar poco desarrollada, ser poco relevante y no poner en jaque las hipótesis del autor. Sé que esto podría suponer que el tamaño del libro fuese el doble, pero otros libros de Morris ya son de gran tamaño. Además, que un autor incluya a sus críticos en su propio ensayo no suele verse mucho y me parece muy buena idea.

  • Terry
    2018-10-12 19:46

    Interesting thesis and book format. I enjoyed most the critiques and then Morris replies to the critiques. My opinion - glad I read the book (most of it); don't believe his thesis holds up as he presents it. It struck me quite odd that effective contraception (the pill) wasn't mentioned by Morris or the critics as a key (if not the key) game changer for women's role in the economy, and thus indirectly in shaping our value system.Korsgaard takes Morris to task for suggesting that there are no fundamental human values. Slavery/serfdom was acceptable during agrarian times b/c that system was more successful than foraging (by darwin standards), and serfdom was (apparently) a necessary component for farming to work. IOW, people, given a choice, chose being a farmer in a caste society was better than being a forager in a tribe of equals.Morris believes the market place (economics, ideas) does indeed work in the long run. Others (me included) believe that power, propaganda, religion, fear, ignorance, etc can prevent individuals from making free, informed choices. Slavery and women's rights are good 1-5Morris lays out his case that the amount of energy readily available to humans over their existence, had a tremendous impact on the values/laws/morals that were adopted. Darwinian 'survival of the fitness' was the process that selected winning cultures, ie the cultures that best adapted to the economics of the time (foraging, farming, industrial revolution).ch 6-9, 4 readers are asked to submit their commentsRichard SeafordJonathan SpenceChristine KorsgaardMargaret Atwaterch 9, Morris gets last word w/ the commentsNotesRefsContributorsIndex=====My Notesp.208, ch. 10; Morris addresses comments and critiques223 energy capture methods drive changes in human values. Ie, hunter-gather culture and energy use have different values than agricultural than industrial (fossil fuels)231 our cousins - apes, chimps, bonobos - have diff hierarchies and violence among members. Humans can choose (threw their culture, religion) which hierarchy to use depending on the situation.232 foragers: non-hierarc; low energy consumed farming: hierarch works better - provides more energy (food) per member;fossil fuels: lots of energy; less hierarch233 critics of thesis believe egalitarian, non-viol society is the default. Morris says farming req'ed a big shift in culture, law; Hence strict marriage and paternity laws and customs; male dominance, violence, war235 darwin evol (genes and culture) of male/female roles for our forager ancestors236 jealousy an evolved adaptation238 fossil fuels (FF) liberated women; new job opportunities; FF countries (rich) have low birthrates, why?rates of violent death decline w/ powerful gov's241 some resource rich foragers pockets, eg Pacific coast n. america, develop wealth and thus some hierarc242 what if no indust rev in England? More slavery in US?244 terminology: real (preached) moral values vs positive (practiced) values245 John Rawls: if just society is means equitable for all, then the worst off should get beneficial rules.246 Morris claims history shows we chose hierarch for agrarian system b/c it worked better in general for people249 majority able to exhibit real choices says Morris. Or can ideology or religion become controlling as say his critics (including me)?252 Africa, 60's liberation from colonialism; We saw market base vs socialism gov. comparisons. [Morris, the market base guy, may be a bit too simplistic in his apples/oranges nation comparisons]252 'Common sense is such a powerful tool' [TG Don't believe history supports this, unless personal gain (over the common) is common sense]

  • Sophie Polyankina
    2018-10-07 22:46

    This idea is quite thought-provoking, but not convincing to a believer's mind.

  • Mills College Library
    2018-09-29 22:40

    303.4 M8763 2015

  • Mike Peleah
    2018-09-16 16:23

    "Why my wife bears big sack and walks, while I am riding the donkey? Because she has no donkey"--was the response of Greek farmer to group of British archaeologists. With this respond in mind Ian Moris wrote a book (actually gave a lecture at Princeton University), addressing the central issue--"does the way we capture energy affect our values?" His response--yes, a great deal. There are three broad stages of human society organization--hunter-gatherers, farmers, and industrial society. These stages differ very much in a way people get and use energy (in a broad sense--food, clothes, transport, etc). Foragers on a good day would capture no more than 10,000 kilocalories per person/ Farmers seems to be limited to 30,000 kilocalories per person, whereas industrialized economies in 1800 captured 38,000 kilocalories and this went up to 230,000 kilocalories in the 1970s. The way people capture energy at each stage requires certain way to organize society and it affect human values. Books goes in details and analyzes a number of broad categories (like hierarchy and inequality, gender inequalities, violence) at these three stages of human society, also looking for noticeable exceptions (like city-states in Greece). As the book originating as the Tanner Lectures delivered at Princeton University, it bis constructed in an unorthodox way. First chapters lay out Ian Morris' argument. Next chapters include challenging responses by novelist Margaret Atwood, philosopher Christine Korsgaard, classicist Richard Seaford, and historian of China Jonathan Spence. The book concludes with Ian's final comments. I like the book very much (although I do not always agree with the author). The section I find the weakest is "what's next?" We live now on exponential curve of energy capture, supported by fossil fuels, non-renewable. There are three possible scenarios here--we would run out of fossil fuels and go back to Agraria; the level of capture would stabilize (as renewable replace fossil fuels); and exponential growth would continue thanks to the new technologies. It would be interesting to explore possibilities of these scenarios, as well as their possible influence on human value (maybe sci-fi writers could do it better?)The book resonated with two other books I've read recently. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond looked on a broader history of human societies, without going deep in human values, focusing rather on technology and governance. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel E. Lieberman looked on consequences of energy capture and social organization for human body.

  • Rob
    2018-10-14 14:27

    The main idea is that human values and the structures of our societies are driven by how much energy our society can capture and the methods we have to capture it. For example hunter-gatherer societies tend to be really egalitarian because everyone has to do the same work and there is no room for specialized roles, but as they turn into agrarian societies, they turn really hierarchical with different classes of society and little social mobility. Or put another way, egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies are more successful than others, and hierarchical agrarian societies are more successful than others. Then Morris tries to show that human values are flexible enough that everyone sort of thinks that their society's values are Right and anyone else's are Wrong. The problem is that Morris has very little data on what people in different societies throughout history have actually 'valued' so his data is only representative of what rich people thought or what surviving modern day hunter gatherers think, and he ends up with a lot of hand waving, plus there are counterexamples throughout history to every idea he has.The second half of the book, he has several other academics submit arguments, then debates them. Interesting structure but it was pretty hard to get through.

  • Mark Valentine
    2018-09-28 14:35

    Although Morris never asked me to write a critical response for inclusion in his book like he did the others--a device I found almost endearing (Margaret Atwood's is the best!)--I will place a brief response here: His three phases of cultural evolution is useful. The concept of energy capture as a unit of social measurement recharges the debate. But he missed including the exploitation of workers in capitalist systems; in fact, he omits capitalism in order to study industrialization instead. Additionally, I found his predictions for the coming collapse naive--he suffers from the doom of hope. The protracted environmental collapse that is coming from anthropogenic climate disruption will make Morris' projections seem quaint. But Morris and I won't be alive then to see who wins this argument. Until I write my own book explaining my projections, I concede my acclaim to Morris.

  • UChicagoLaw
    2018-10-05 14:40

    Morris, a classical archeologist at Stanford, offers a very readable contribution to what is by now a long line of “materialist” explanations of why our values are what they are, one that runs from the economist Karl Marx to the anthropologist Marvin Harris. Morris’s central thesis is that the way in which humans extract energy (and how much they extract) correlates powerfully with their systems of values. Morris is vague on the mechanisms by which energy sources produce moralities, but fascinating on the details both of energy sources and cross-cultural human values. The book should certainly give pause to anyone who thinks certain moral conclusions are obvious. —Brian Leiter

  • Eric Pecile
    2018-09-30 20:32

    A very superficial essentialist overview of the evolution of values over the course of human history. While the argument does fall very short due to use of very general evidence, the method has its rewards. Studying the impact of values on historical phenomena is far more convincing and useful for historians than attempting to argue for the superior moral aesthetics of particular moral systems.

  • Kim
    2018-10-12 14:50

    Excellently laid out. Very clear thesis, and well supported. This is a good book for anyone with or without much of an economic anthropology background. Good overview of energy needs and what drives people to make different decisions. Could have done without the book review/response section in the back, but it was interesting to see how some people took the proposed ideas.

  • David Zerangue
    2018-10-07 19:53

    An incredibly enlightening read. It makes you look at the world in ways previously never considered. This will be one to place on the bookshelf for reference.

  • Christopher Johnson
    2018-10-14 19:40

    Good reductionist view of the history of man.

  • Elizabeth Smith
    2018-09-26 14:42

    I agree more with his detractors than him, but Mortis has written a very important book nevertheless.

  • Jean Corbel
    2018-10-13 15:35

    beware... this book might make you think, not least because it includes offers another prism to explain hence understand our ecosystem.

  • Andrew Liu
    2018-10-11 19:29

    One more "Best-seller rubbish historical fiction" pretending to be a "serious book." Neoliberal values' cliche.