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Thread: On Birth Rates and Death Rates: Population Control in Natural Societies

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    On Birth Rates and Death Rates: Population Control in Natural Societies

    The following text was originally transcribed and subsequently posted to a thread on bbs.anus.com by niggerc**t (what an username ).

    Also, have a look at this thread, as it is also related to this issue.



    On Birth Rates and Death Rates [section from the chapter: "On the Significance of Being Shaped by the Past"]

    The carnivore-like traits of hunter-gatherers carried over into population size and density: few and stable in number, unaffected for years at a time by weather, disease, predation, or other fluctuations in the environment. This means that in the past the number of humans was limited by the birth rate, not the death rate. Men did not---and living hunters do not---reproduce at their maximum possible rate or live in saturation densities. It is not clear how this was accomplished. In the life of constant tragedy and frequent death we imagine for them, it is easy to picture a rush to multiply, an anxiety to keep up with continuous losses. This fantasy is given a veneer of verisimilitude by the assumption that modern medicine has greatly extended human life. This also is not true. The capacity for longevity in man is not an accident but an expression of the realities of life during his evolution.

    It is true that the death rate of infants among pre-industrial peoples is much higher than among our own, but figures on average length of life among hunters have been distorted because of infant deaths, giving a misleading typical life span of twenty-four to twenty-eight years. Actually the age-group composition of modern hunter-gatherers is much like our own. For those surviving the first three years, life expectation among hunters is about that of Americans today. Though death may have claimed 50 per cent of the infants, this did not much affect the continuity of individual associations composing the hunter group of about twenty-five, nor did it threaten a people shortage.

    Today among all peoples there is a prenatal mortality rate of perhaps 75 per cent---that is, three-quarters of the embryos conceived die, most of them before the woman knows she is pregnant. This is a service to mankind, for incompatible gene combinations are thus removed. This important function of early mortality was, in the past, extended through the first years of postnatal life. The death of infants, though sorrowful, was far less so than the death of children or adults. Indeed, it is not easy in our present swarming numbers to realize the impact of an adult death on a group composed of about twelve adults. It has been observed by anthropologists that the tribal collapse of North and South American Indians was due less to the actual mortality caused by the white man’s diseases than by the social deterioration following so large a loss.

    A 50 per cent mortality rate among the newborn is a gift of life and health to the survivors. The modern medical reduction of that rate is an enormous alteration in human biology that we, as a species, may not be able to afford.

    The birth rate in hunting-gathering societies is kept down by a variety of means, including contraception and induced abortion. Children are nursed by their mothers into their third year, and there is evidence that prolonged lactation inhibits ovulation, preventing further pregnancy. Social customs surrounding marriage do not exploit human biolological potential. The average age of marriage ranges from two to ten years beyond that of peasants. The total number of young born during a lifetime is smaller for most hunter-gatherer women than for their farmer counterparts. Infanticide is also practiced. In general there seems to be no great egotistic or familial pride in large families.

    Recent studies show that the menstrual cycles of women working together tend to become synchronized. Apparently this is brought about by aerial-borne hormones, or pheromones. Such substances are not consciously detected but affect the physiology and behavior of those within smelling distance. If this were true among a group of the six or seven adult women of a hunting band, its consequences might have been far-reaching for birth limitation. It has been widely observed by anthropologists that menstruation was taken into account in both social, ceremonial, and practical life. A corollary is that the female cycle is harmonized with the general round of life. If all the women ovulated about the same time, appropriately scheduled hunting forays from camp or taboos or other deflections from copulation would have greatly reduced pregnancies. If such arrangements existed they would probably have come into being pragmatically rather than deliberately.

    Studies of family size in modern societies also suggest diminishing return of human quality in larger families. Large families seem to have a higher percentage of mental defectives, such as mongoloids. The first-born usually has the highest IQ throughout his life. If the mother is older (say, thirty instead of twenty), the IQ differential of the first-born is even greater over the second. Whether the reasons are genetic or environmental are not important here. Also, there is a higher probability of male children among early births, of female during later. (In a society with very small families where the mothers reproduce at an early age this would produce a preponderance of males, which would tend to reduce the reproductive rate of the group as a whole.)

    Through successive pregnancies a woman accumulates increasing responsiveness against foreign tissue---that is, antibodies that attack the foetus. The probability of embryonic reabsorption or spontaneous abortion is therefore raised with each birth. This functions as a built-in device for limiting births---or, one might say, as a sign that the norm for the species is being exceeded. Thus small families appear to be superior in terms of quality of offspring and likelihood of survival, and probably reflect the species-specific state of the basic human family in a hunting-gathering ecology.

    For all primates and all humans the tender loving care of children is normal, though in man its precise expression varies from culture to culture. In a farming civilization, the political state brought new pressures, a new senses of competition, and different motivations for parenthood. Farmers went for quantity. They wanted field hands, heirs, living evidence of paternal virility and maternal fertility, recruits for armies, replacements for losses into slavery, candidates for sacrifice, new bodies for the villages, and scions to honor and care for them in their old age. Such were the peculiar needs of tillers of the soil. Their culture gave this drive for more offspring its status and symbolic content in the formation of a mythology that greatly emphasized fecundity. Rural societies have traditionally encouraged the desire for children and more children. They blessed big families and praised people who have a way with children, especially women whose lives were given exclusively to reproduction. The centuries have added military motives and sentimentality to this religious zeal, which has cloyed the reality of motherhood, paternity, sexuality, and morality with an emotional single-mindedness scarcely short of fanaticism.

    Since the increase in human numbers from Paleolithic low densities was not the result of an increased food supply, the connection between the first farming and the burst of population probably lies in the alteration in the birth rate. An interesting parallel to this is found among certain macaque monkeys in Japan, who ordinarily live at population numbers well below the carrying capacity of available food and space to support them. When additional food is added by men, their numbers increase. Apparently their reproductive behavior is altered in subtle ways that result in more macaques. For man, an increased carrying capacity of the land due to tillage was not the causal factor if the population was not already pressing food resources. Instead a dramatic cultural change must have altered society’s regulation of its own generation; or, to put it from the standpoint of the hunters, the ancient ways, with their customs and norms of behavior, were shattered. The human species moved closer to realizing its innate capacity to increase, its biological breeding potential prompted by an enlarged plant-eater’s psyche.

    -Excerpted from "The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game" by Paul Shepard; University of Georgia Press, 1973 (pgs. 93-97).

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    More on the same subject

    This text was also transcribed by the same man, niggerc**t. Original here.



    To Be Few Is to Be Wealthy [next section from the chapter: "On the Significance of Being Shaped by the Past]

    No one thinks of a herd of bears, a drove of tigers, or a flock of eagles. Our image of these animals is as individuals, as part of a singular grandeur, whose uniqueness of powers and spirit would be degraded by gathering in crowds.

    This in not simply a romantic notion. Solitary and small group species are different from group animals. In addition to freedom from death by starvation, very different spatial relationships, self-regulation of numbers, low mortality rates, and population stability, large predators are free from epidemic disease. Men living sparsely are also less vulnerable to widespread contagious diseases. Many disease organisms simply cannot exist where the hosts are in such low numbers that transmission is impeded for months or years. Unable to endure the long wait between victims, or in larval stage in an indeterminable host, they bear no acute epidemic threat. Their spread and virulence depend on ready transfer by host-to-host contact and their ability to produce many generations in a short time---a vast proliferation that gives rise to new genetics strains.

    This does not mean that species with small numbers are entirely free from internal infection. All get parasites from their food. All are subject to some communicable diseases. But it does mean that hunters have fewer parasites that might weaken and kill them or limit their populations. Low levels of communicable diseases and parasitic worms are indicated from the study of human fossil feces and from studies of living hunters. It appears that many of the diseases of modern man may not have existed fro pre-agricultural people, and the number of human diseases has increased with world population. Disease organisms are associated with high human density not only because of the increased ease of transmission and contagion, as in measles and smallpox; but also because habitats have consequently been altered, favoring certain types of pathogens (disease-producing organisms), such as the cholera microbe, which flourishes in sewage-polluted water, or the malaria germ, transmitted by the mosquito. Malaria, which has probably killed more people than any other single cause, and many other infectious diseases are the heritage of agriculture. The early hunters had natural countermeasures to disease already present in their environment, in their bodies, and among the many herbs and other medicinal organisms known to them. The two factors in this were low population and the complexity of the ecosystem. The two tend to occur together since men deviating from hunting-gathering homogenize their surroundings as well as increase their numbers.

    In view of this, is it possible for modern drug-diseased man to get closer to the hunter’s situation without sacrificing what is valuable in modern pharmacology? The answer is yes, by retaining more of the natural environment. The richer the natural environment in kinds of plants and animals, the greater its chemical and microbial diversity. It may seem at first more rather than less dangerous for people to live in habitats enriched in germs, and of course this luxuriance does increase the number of kinds of potential disease organisms. But this is more than offset by the controls that organisms impose on one another, with the result that the diversified natural community offers greater stability and health to all its populations.

    If the evolution of the human mind took place in a world of human sparcity and small group life, it follows that the human mind malfunctions in areas of high density. The point is controversial because of man’s adaptability and his inability to recognize social pathology; he has little with which to compare the conditions of his life except other distorted communities. Superficial studies have been made by crowding people into a room and giving them tests, which show that they are not affected, but mental disease take many months to appear.

    As in much of human biology, the real tests take many generations, require a control group, and so endanger human life that they cannot be done experimentally. Studies on other animals reveal that where groups of rabbits or rats are squeezed together the individuals begin to develop behavioral symptoms related to tissue changes in their nervous and endocrine systems. These include failure of maternal behavior, increased homosexuality, and widespread social withdrawal to the point at which individuals become pathologically isolated. In such a “behavioral sink” there is an odd tendency for exaggerated clumping, for animals that normally move about during the daily course to sit in one place.

    No one is quicker to admit that humans are not rabbits or rats than the people conducting these studies. But the parallels to human behavior in areas of population concentration are too conspicuous to be overlooked. Scientists are increasingly able to identify individual neurosis and social breakdown in animal groups, and their relationship to altered spatial distribution. The fact, for example, is an unusual mixture of solitary carnivore-hunter with modified territorial boundaries during the daytime and an intensely rank-ordered social being during the night. When cats known to one another are artificially crowded but are provided with all their material needs, the system collapses into a snarling tangle of tyrants and doormats.

    Since human physiology and behavior are much more like those of other primates than of other animals, the recent lessons learned from primate studies are instructive. By the end of 1972 more than twenty species of non-human primates, mostly monkeys and apes, had been studied in their natural habitat. Ten of the same species had also been studied in zoos or other confinement. In every case the wild forms were described as generally peaceful and affectionate, sensitive to friendly, cooperative relationships, each kind with its own way of avoiding harmful physical conflict. In no species was the top-ranking individual in a group dictatorial. In all cases, where the same species were studied under crowded conditions (with plenty of food and water), their social organization as well as their immunity to disease deteriorated. Maltreatment of young and violent attacks on doormats by tyrants increased as much as ten or twenty times over normal.

    Insofar as he is a carnivore, man’s sensitivity to density may be even greater, and there is evidence that social breakdown followed by violence and murder, is related to this. Recent studies by sociologists in Chicago were set up, with the variables of social class and ethnic group controlled, to ascertain the effects of the single variable of density on the birth rate, death rate, juvenile delinquency, and mental disease. There were shown to be positive correlations, no simply in numbers of people per acre but in terms of the way in which space was sub-divided. The number of persons per acre was found to be more important than rooms per housing unit of housing units per acre.

    There is nothing romantic or even figurative about space requirements. They are real, and overcrowding may menace human health long before its other effects are evident. They are innate and have little to do with cultural expectations or the kind of interpersonal distances that individuals establish between each other during conversation or other social interaction. The mental health problems related to space should not be interpreted simply as an argument against cities but as a criticism of the way in which urban and non-urban space are organized.

    As the industrial states send medical missions to pre-agricultural people, the latter are perceived through the window of recorded history: threat of plagues and pestilence, the memory of horrible epidemics, a recent past full of suffering, sickness, and violent death. Part of the problem is surely the failure to distinguish between primitive pre-peasants, like the Papuan inhabitants of New Guinea, who suffer much of the debility of the agricultural revolution, and the true hunter-gatherers---Pygmies, Bushmen, and certain other African tribes, Fuegians, particular groups of the upper Amazon and eastern Brazil, a few American Indians, Eskimos, and the Borneo Punan, small groups in Siberia, India, and southeastern Asia, and Australian aborigines. These groups, except for those at the mind-breaking fringes of the human habitat in equatorial wet forests (without adequate large mammals to hunt), are among the world’s most isolated people, and yet they are humane, generous, and hospitable. They suffer little from mutual aggression or from undirected aggressive instincts resulting in “manager diseases” like renal atrophy, high blood pressure, and gastric ulcer.

    -Excerpted from "The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game" by Paul Shepard; University of Georgia Press, 1973 (pgs. 97-101).

    -------

    He was also kind enough to post a link to an interview with Paul Shepard, the author of the quoted book.

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