Critique of TSW Part 25e The Social Microcosm

Blog 20150128

Bill wonders if determinists change their environments and doubts that population density has anything to do with the development of civilization.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked “TSW: “are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

The Social Microcosm (Part 5 of 7)
TSW:  Wagner: "peoples never merely capitulate to environments. Indomitably, they work to change (them)."

BW: In this case, an obscure sociologist got it right. Humans, like other animals, aren't "victims" of their environment, but actively change their environments to serve their own needs. Saying that people are part of the "univironment" is an evasion. Obviously, they change the "external" circumstances to suit their "internal" needs, rather than just adapt to what exists. Many other animals do that instinctively and are therefore less subject to being "selected out" by the natural environment.

[GB: Where in the book does it say that humans and animals are victims and do not actively change their environments? Remember that the scientific worldview is univironmental determinism, the observation that what happens to a portion of the universe is determined by the infinite matter in motion within and without. The microcosm, in this case, the xyz portion of the universe being you, always changes the macrocosm (the environment), just like Wagner said. Both the microcosm and its macrocosm constitute the univironment of concern. It is good that you appreciate that all animals do the same. Many times I have pointed out that there are two possible errors in philosophy: 1) solipsism: the belief that what happens to us is determined only by us, and 2) fatalism: the belief that what happens to us is determined only by our surroundings. The fact that we happen to be portions of the universe necessarily surrounded by other portions of the universe is in no way an evasion. What else could it be? I don’t see how in the world you could believe that “Saying that people are part of the "univironment" is an evasion.” There is no possibility of evasion here because nothing is left out.

Indeterminists of the solipsistic stripe characteristically object to that reality. That is the door we came in. We closed the door with our First Assumption of Science, materialism (The external world exists after the observer does not), the opposite of immaterialism, the indeterministic assumption that reality is internally derived. Immaterialism is the basis of all religions and the belief in free will. Your bringing this up is instructive in helping us understand the indeterministic mindset. The indeterministic evasion is performed by overemphasizing the microcosm. The univironmental concept drags them kicking and screaming into realizing that they are made of matter just like everything else in the universe. And, like all other portions of the universe, they have no choice but to continually interact with their surroundings, which are just as important as they are.]

TSW:  "Population density, then, is central to an understanding of the historical rise of civilization."

BW: Somewhat relevant, but mostly incidental, if you view "civilizations" as the degree of civility in a society. If population density were the primary criteria, then Mumbai, India is the most civilized major city in the world and Denver, Colorado is the least civilized:

If you're talking ancient history, a larger density actually encouraged incivility. Tribes that had overgrown their food resources simply acquired new lands by murdering their less densely populated neighbors. As for the "rise" of ancient civilization, there were many nations with higher population densities than Greece or Egypt, who certainly played primary roles in developing human civilization. Bear in mind that the first cities had populations of less than 15,000 spread over relatively large geographic areas, incorporating lots of farm land.

[GB: The quoted statement is correct as well as obvious. There can be no civilization without people. Your statement that “a larger density actually encouraged incivility” is only true when total strangers first meet under primitive conditions. The ensuing competition for resources (e.g., incivility, war) eventually results in cooperation (e.g., civility, peace). The invention of irrigation allowed for an increase in density, conflict, and conflict resolution that eventually resulted in written forms of ethical rules and punishments for those who broke them. This resulted in millions of people living and enjoying life together (theater, anyone?) in tiny acreages wherein centuries before, a stranger would have been killed on sight.]

TSW:  "No civilization has fallen without a decline in population."

BW: Armed invasions of civilized countries tend to reduce populations, but mainly in the military. Empires tend to lose territory on their periphery, which reduces population within the empire, even if very few people die. The primary reason the Roman Empire lost population was because of the Antonine Plague, but it actually increased population prior to the Empire's downfall:

[GB: The quoted statement is correct. Of course, armed invasions reduce population, but there usually is even more damage to the civilian population than to the military. Your data on Rome demonstrates how population growth leads to Empiric expansion and reaction from the neighbors so affected.]

BW: Rome had the largest population density just prior to the empowerment of Italian Fascism, which could hardly be considered "civilized", and varied only slightly before or after their defeat:

[GB: Whether considered civilized or not, the rise of fascism was associated with “over population,” which I define as too many people for the extent resources and infrastructure. Once the people finally realize that they must “do it together instead of apart,” they sometimes join in huge armies in search of resources. Upon defeat, they have no choice but to accede to the victors who generally restore resources and build infrastructure to the needed scale. Why would the victors do that? Simply because they need to surround themselves with a macrocosm that is peaceful—one in which people are “coerced” to appreciate each other rather than kill each other.]

BW: So, I don't think your "body density" factor has much influence on civility. Of course, it is true that civil societies attract more people than coercive societies, but that's an inverse of the causation you suggest.

[GB: Glad to see that you realize that it takes bodies to build a civilization. It also takes a lot of struggle, strife, and “coercion”—most of which is not “attractive” to the kids who are ejected from the family farm due to the overpopulation thereof. Having experienced that very same transition, I would describe urbanization as a result of a push, not a pull. I remember arriving in San Francisco and searching for weeks just to find an apartment that had a lawn—which was a big part of life in Wisconsin. Like other migrants, I got used to the “coercion” of stop lights and traffic jams, switched to public transit, and learned to love the theater. Looks like civility follows “coercion.”]

TSW:  "In the United States, a nation of immigrants, we tend to neglect the other side of the coin - the corresponding declines in civilization in the mother countries."

BW: The population of England grew by a million every decade, throughout the U.S. colonization and development:

... as did France:

Beyond population, there's no indication that there was any decline in "civilization" in any of the "Mother Countries", with the possible exception of the deaths during the Irish Famine.

So, your proposition is evidently false.

[GB: Remember that the colonization and migration was a result of overpopulation (as defined above). The resulting declines in the mother countries seem not to have been well studied, although militarized borders and nearly impassible walls obviously were designed to keep folks from leaving. You are correct that the population boom continued in spite of, and possibly because of the migration. Nevertheless, the migration from Europe defused much of the social pressure that reached zeniths in 1848 in Germany and 1871 in France. It was easier to migrate to sparsely populated areas such as the US than to fight the initial incivility produced by increasing populations. Once civilization and civilized behavior has been established, it is hard for a particular social microcosm to give that up. As I pointed out in the text, many governments have done all in their power to keep people from leaving. They cannot afford a significant decline in the tax base. When that fails, just look at Detroit, which has been decimated by a huge decline in population. I cannot believe that the European migration had no effect, as you claim.

Here is an appropriate quote from “The Scientific Worldview”:

“Imagine what would happen to any modern city if, for example, millions of acres of fertile, virgin land became available nearby at no cost. As in the Oklahoma land rush, the sound of the gun would set off an exodus sure to decimate the city. Arnold Toynbee’s followers would gaze upon the ruins, shake their heads, mumble something about moral degeneration, and return to their desks to write once again of the “fall” of civilization.” (p. 283)]

Next: The Social Microcosm (Part 6 of 7)

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