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The Golden Age of the Barbarians

James C. Scott closes Against the Grain with a chapter entitled "The Golden Age of the Barbarians." In it, he notes how geographically insignificant was the area controlled by states, up until perhaps 1600 CE. For millennia after the rise of the first states, the vast majority of the globe's population lived outside of states. But among those non-state peoples, a few took on special status as "barbarians": they were the non-state people at the periphery of a state. They were the "dark twin" of the "civilized" people who lived within states, and their lives and their economies were deeply intertwined with those of their state-dwelling counterparts.

At times, they interacted with their neighbor states simply by raiding. But this risked destroying the state which was producing the agricultural surplus that was the target of their raids. More often, they sought to achieve a more stable arrangement: in return for agreeing to abjure raiding, they…

Speaking of Codswallop

Someone just brought this ball of dung to my attention.

A quote:

"Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality."


Well then, you know what, Dr. Hoffman? All of those bones that are said to be "evidence" for evolution? They're probably not bones at all, but maybe crayons, or roller skates, or jellyfish! That thing you think is a "brain"? Maybe it's really just a pumpkin, or maybe it doesn't even exist! I bet your "studies" of perception were based on measurements: well, your own theory says your perception of those measurements was "nothing like reality": you'd better throw them all out.

It's hard to figure out if people putting out such rubbish are so stupid they can't see that their own theory makes nonsense of the idea of e…

The "collapse" of early states

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James C. Scott disputes the usual formulation of the disappearance of early states as "collapses." He writes "it is... essential to emphasize what such events do not necessarily mean. They do not necessarily mean a decline in regional population. They do not necessarily mean a decline in human health, well-being, or nutrition, and, as we shall see, may represent an improvement. Finally, a 'collapse' at the center is less likely to mean the dissolution of a culture than its reformulation and decentralization." (p. 186)

Why, then, the frequent narrative of collapses? Scott claims it is because "What in fact were lost were the beloved objects of classical archaeology: the concentrated ruins of the relatively rare centralized kingdoms, along with their written record and luxuries" (pp. 186-187).

The State and Slavery

"As with sedentism and the domestication of grain that also predated state formation, the early state elaborated and scaled up the institution of slavery as an essential means to maximize its productive population and the surplus it could appropriate." -- James C. Scott, Against the Grain, p. 155

Scott present a number of facts highlighting the importance of slaves in early states:
"the most valuable cargo of Malay traders in insular Southeast Asia were, until the late nineteenth century, slaves" (p. 156)."Slaves represented a clear majority -- perhaps as much as two-thirds -- of Athenian society" (p. 156)."Imperial Rome... turned much of the Mediterranean basin into a massive slave emporium... By one estimate, the Gallic Wars yielded nearly a million new slaves..." (pp. 156-157). But note: slavery pre-existed the state.

Early states and coerced labor

"Each of the earliest states deployed its own unique mix of coerced labor, as we shall see, but it required a delicate balance between maximizing the state surplus on the one hand and the risk of provoking the mass flight of subjects on the other, especially when there was an open frontier." -- James C. Scott, Against the Grain, pp. 152-153

Early statecraft

"The imperative of collecting people, settling them close to the core of power, holding them there, and having them produce a surplus in excess of their own needs animates much of early statecraft... The means by which a population is assembled and then made to produce a surplus... is less important... than the fact that it does produce a surplus available to non-producing elites." -- James C. Scott, Against the Grain, p. 151

There are two problems I see in this passage:

1) The "needs" of the people are regarded as a fixed amount of goods, and they have to be "made" to produce more. Now, undoubtedly taxes and other coercive measures might make people produce more than they otherwise would, but also they might have already been producing a "surplus" that attracted state formation in the first place. My point here is simply that there is no obvious criteria for what constitutes a surplus, other than "what the state can take," which, of …

Karl Popper Was All Wet

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Induction is easy! Just place your scientific theory on one of these machines, and out will pop "Verified" or "Unverified"!