Is the agrarian state cocooning itself?

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With the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as previous global warming and the new crown epidemic, international food prices have risen sharply recently. The accompanying discussion on food security has gradually heated up, which just shows that the sense of food insecurity is gradually spreading, and it also reminds us that the problem of agricultural food has never gone away with the so-called human progress and industrial upgrading. Continuing the previous anthropological perspective of focusing on agricultural and food issues , this article uses the anarchist anthropological agenda of the two books “Cocooning Oneself” and “Dawn of All Things” to question a series of logical chains behind this insecurity: agriculture, The state, centralization, inequality, have these elements pushed the mountains and the seas one by one in human history? Is it the inevitable fate of human beings to live in a cocoon? Is agriculture spontaneous labor or top-down planning and governance?

Interestingly, the authors of the two books, who are often grouped together as anarchist anthropologists, have different paths of knowledge production and action. He has yet to respond to the heated debate over Scott’s connection with the CIA. We should not simply use nonsense, but historically see that behind the opportunity for Scott to be selected by the CIA to Southeast Asia is the development of the “world granary” in Southeast Asia by the powers under the global Cold War and the use and interpretation of Southeast Asian farmers . Behind the concept of “play farming” proposed by Graeber and Wingrow are various social movements in recent years that have tried to recapitulate the nature of work at the international level. In contrast, under the recent food crisis, “how to get farmers to farm again” has become a natural motivation for governance. And as the thinking of this paper shows, this kind of “take for granted” should be reconsidered on the basis of re-incorporating farmers’ work and political subjectivity.

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James C. Scott is no stranger to Chinese readers. The major works of this famous anthropologist and political scientist have been published in China in recent years. From “The Moral Economics of Peasants” to “Six Essays on Spontaneity”, Scott has extensively covered society and class rule in the mountainous areas of Southeast Asia. , national planning, quantitative research and many other topics, with an anarchist interest (Scott does not consider himself an anarchist in the strict sense), to think about another possibility of a given society – in a more and more In an age of lack of criticism and reflection, we believe that this kind of proposition is worth pursuing. Interestingly, anthropology and anarchism seem to have some kind of “kinship”, which comes in part from the content of anthropology: the discipline has always been curious and interested in the organization of non-state societies. It is for this reason that when assumptions such as nation-states and capital markets are accepted without question by most disciplines, many anarchists and anthropologists have questioned whether the modern institutions on which we live are legitimate, and whether there are What about another development path?

In Scott’s latest book, Cocooning: A Deep History of the Early Human State, we can see his rebuttal to “common sense” about early societies, where history did not go from hunter-gatherer to farming civilizations Linear development; the state no longer has an unquestioned centrality—it only existed as a variable for thousands of years after its birth; more importantly, the barbarian-civilization binary, at least in early societies It is not completely established. The emergence of farming countries and literary civilizations not only proves the great cause of human beings to transform the landscape and even domesticate nature, but also means that human beings are self-domesticated—to this day, we still don’t know. Whether this is a cocoon.

01. Grains make nations

The textbook-style progressive view of history believes that the cultivation of crops by human beings is the premise of permanent settled life. But it is worth noting that when the first small city-states with class divisions, forging walls, and taxation appeared in the Fertile Crescent (about 3100 BC), humans had more than four years of cultivating grain and living a settled life. Thousands of years of experience, sedentary life even predates the cultivation of crops and the domestication of livestock, a way of life that has since existed widely in human environments with no cultivation habits or conditions at all.

The above archaeological evidence shows that our ancestors did not happily throw themselves into the arms of the country after mastering the skills of cultivating crops and getting used to sedentary life, as we imagined. The error of this statement stems from the simplification of reality by its premise: primitive society lacks resources, and it is difficult to rely on gathering-hunting means to make a living. On the contrary, early large settlements tended to appear in places where various materials were quite abundant, for example, wetlands.

Wannian on the south bank of Poyang Lake is known as one of the birthplaces of rice, although it is still debated whether the Wannian rice site is domesticated rice. Source: Blue Chip Agriculture.

In fact, Scott points out, the Mesopotamian flood plains six or seven thousand years ago were wetland deltas crisscrossed by hundreds of tributaries. The local residents live on the slightly higher mounds, and the surrounding wetland resources are within easy reach: reed sedges as building materials, various edible animals and plants, and humans freely act as hunters, gatherers, herdsmen and other identities. . It is difficult to imagine the soil of an early state in a place like this, because the rich “common property resources” make top-down centralized management unnecessary, and the diverse subsistence resources (plant growth and animal migration) different periods), making the simple central accounting method impossible, which also means that taxation, the basic pillar of the state, is difficult to guarantee.

But after all, the Mesopotamian plains were the cradle of early states, and farming civilization was indeed its basic form, which means that there must have been important changes in human society there. In Scott’s view, this has an important connection with grain cultivation. At first, it was only part of the many activities of early humans. People would switch roles such as growers, collectors, hunters, etc. according to the time of day and specific environment, but grains The development of planting and animal domestication brought about a profound historical change, which made agriculture and even the country occupy a dominant position in human life.

On the one hand, grain farming is significantly different from hunting and gathering in nature. Hunter-gatherer work follows a variety of natural “rhythms”, often random and diversified; while farming focuses on a single food resource network, making People get stuck in a routine year after year. In fact, the so-called “process of civilization” also implies a set of strictly arranged, step-by-step, interrelated, and mandatory daily tasks. Scott quipped that when Homo sapiens took to farming, it was as if our species had entered a dogmatic medieval monastery. Even if agricultural production was only part of the group’s activities in early societies, once it emerged, it meant that human groups had to live more closely together in order to complete a series of complex schedules and routines.

The more important change is in the grain itself. In fact, of course, crops that can meet human needs are not only grains, but why have we not found traces of such as “Soybean Nation” and “Potato Nation”? Besides cereals, there are also many crops that support the food needs of a large population and are rich in nutritional value. Scott argues that the effect of grain on state formation is that only the grain can serve as an effective taxing base because it is visible (as opposed to a buried potato); matures synchronously (as opposed to a continuously producing pod). legumes), coupled with their divisibility, estimability, and ease of storage and transport, makes grains the most taxable and convenient species.

It is for this reason that the early states arose out of the control and utilization of a combination of grains and manpower in the late Neolithic. Now we can simply restore the process: agricultural labor confines humans to standardized procedures, and the division of responsibilities, agricultural-related sacrifices, and the use of slaves widen class divisions. The rudimentary hierarchical state relied on grain for tax revenue, which further enhanced the coercive power of the state. In order to make activities such as tax collection, resource allocation, and farmland management more efficient, the necessary written words were born – early written records were often receipts, inventory lists, etc. Of course, to protect existing wealth (again, to prevent the escape of producers), the state should also build walls. Many elements of the so-called “civilization” are thus complete.

02. Crash, or a new opportunity

The appearance of walls is a disturbing phenomenon, especially when early nations were not as civilized and beautiful as we are accustomed to imagine. When Lattimore inspected the Great Wall of China, he discovered that this magnificent wall not only kept the barbarians out of the “civilized world” (as rulers often claimed), but also had an important purpose of keeping out the peasants who were dissatisfied with their extortionate taxes. they fled. To a certain extent, the wall is precisely a symbol of the fragility of the state, it does not fully comply with the implication of the textbook, and it has an unquestionable superiority over a non-state society. For example, in the wetlands of Mesopotamia mentioned above, abundant resources can be seen everywhere, gathering and hunting are effortless, and farming is only a way to meet the diversity of resources. What’s the appeal of a country with limited living and even paying materials as taxes?

Beyond that, there are many more factors that make national life unpopular. The first is a large number of epidemics caused by the mixing of human and livestock. The farm complex – people, pigs, cattle, ducks and various wild animals concentrated in a fixed area – is a natural petri dish of avian and swine flu viruses, not to mention It is said that the wastes (feces, straw, etc.) produced by the colonization of a large number of species are ideal breeding and feeding places for disease carriers such as mosquitoes and mice. Not only people, but crops are also victims of a host of emerging diseases and herbivores, all while competing with hardy weeds. But we all know that the single artificial cultivation of crops is extremely fragile compared to the ever-changing nature. The limited transformation of the landscape by early humans needs to always guard against the strong counterattack of the surrounding natural environment.

Unprecedented new diseases, whether cholera and smallpox, or mumps, measles and influenza, seem to be manifestations of the “civilization effect”. Most of the widespread and fatal diseases in human history are closely related to urbanization and agricultural development, which also explains why the world population did not increase significantly when the Neolithic era brought revolutionary civilization achievements . We could even say that, in an epidemiological sense, it was also the deadliest period in human history, with initially assembled human communities ravaged by various diseases.

The concentrated settlement of the population means a profound transformation of the natural environment, or rather, destruction. Early human communities tended to appear in alluvial plains and estuaries downstream of rivers. Erosion washes down the upstream soil and wood to meet the basic needs of the settlement. But wood is so widely used (heating, building houses, metallurgy, cooking, etc.) that it will always be a scarce resource, and the state will have to expand its logging from the lower reaches of the river up. This certainly won’t be a problem in the short term, but as the population increases and wood is increasingly consumed, soil erosion upstream is sufficient to cause disaster. Floods, silt blocking water channels, and the spread of malaria from silt can have devastating effects on humans. In addition, soil salinization caused by over-irrigation also forced humans to abandon a piece of land and move elsewhere after a period of time, which could easily lead to the demise of the original community.

Rampant disease, ecological destruction, war, collective flight caused by tyranny, and even the transfer of trade nodes can easily lead to the destruction of a country. We often see in the history books that civilizations fall into silence after a brief appearance—collapse, which seems to be a rather sad fate for the human community. But in fact, for most citizens, this is just a prudent strategy to adapt to the changing and cruel social environment. For civilization itself, collapse refers to the process of disintegrating from a large (but also fragile) political entity into multiple smaller, stable organizations, which is more common than tragic disintegration. Restructuring and decentralizing cultures, small, dense human settlements may outlast splendid empires, and they can similarly be re-transformed into centralized state structures if circumstances so require.

In fact, statements such as “collapse of civilization” and “dark ages” are themselves manifestations of state-centrism and elite historical views. After all, the biggest victims of the country’s collapse should be the “meat eaters” who do not farm and exploit other classes. For them, being unattended and unable to rule is indeed a disaster and darkness. But for most people, the collapse of the class state can also symbolize a victory for free action, or even a collective improvement in human well-being. Egypt’s first intermediate period did not lead to a dramatic reduction in population, and the nominal allegiance of local rulers to the center may have resulted in lower taxes, which meant less central control and democratization on a small scale; Homer could Dating back to the dark ages of the Dorian invasion, not only does this show that civilization did not disappear with the collapse of the state, but the popularity of oral epics also means that culture is not monopolized by a few literate elites.

03. “Noble Savage”

Slavery is not an invention of the state, but we can indeed say that the state has invented systematic, large-scale forced labor, and these coolies and slaves are mostly prisoners of war and plundered foreigners. Slaves were often engaged in arduous and dangerous work, such as mining, quarrying, and logging, and the lucky ones became slaves of the elite, demonstrating the majesty and intolerance of a hierarchical society. In this case, the bottom-level producers, as well as the fully materialized slaves, have sufficient reasons to escape the control of the state. A more challenging view may be that people in communities outside the state are also consciously resisting their inclusion in the state system. In fact, even around 1600 AD, the vast majority of the population did not belong to the state system. They are hunters, gatherers, mountain people, slash-and-burners, pastoralists, and non-state societies remain unimaginably attractive.

As Scott describes in his other book, “The Art of Evasion,” the people living in the mountains of Southeast Asia took advantage of the rugged terrain to successfully prevent state power from intervening, planting “state avoidance” Crops (eg buckwheat, taro) also make economic control difficult. As a result, mountain residents largely avoided the effects of state phenomena such as corvée, taxation, war, and looting. This reality reveals the long-standing process of stigmatization of the term “barbarian”, who are not completely primitive or uncivilized people, but people who do not belong to the state system, who have escaped from the state for economic and political reasons. Residents make up a lot of it. It is only because of their rejection of the state that they have long been considered “people without history” by the state-centered narrative.

Simplified Chinese version of “Cocooning Oneself”, published by China University of Political Science and Law Press in 2022.

With the birth of the nation-state, national mobilization and ideological propaganda have gradually become routine. For modern people, allegiance to a certain country has natural legitimacy. But for societies in antiquity and beyond, the state was not so superior. It can be said that the prosperity of the empire has nothing to do with a slave or a peasant? For this reason, “primitive self” was by no means surprising, if not common, in early states. This kind of escape from the country will not be seen as miserable and stupid by ordinary people, on the contrary, it may bring about improvements in living environment and nutritional status. Ironically, being a “barbarian” again is a life-changing opportunity for many.

Furthermore, if an agrarian state can be called more civilized, it is fundamentally derived from a more efficient way of exploitation in the state system (perhaps, there is only systematic exploitation in the state), which makes the state stronger , and then promote the entity of the state to ultimately “win” in human political construction. Today’s historical strategy games accurately restore this logic: residents only appear as resources similar to minerals, water, wood, etc. It is represented by indicators such as population, human reserves, labor force, etc. All are to enable the object controlled by the player (usually a specific civilization or country) to become the hegemon that dominates the region and even the entire world. Under these circumstances, who can say that a centralized, hierarchical farming state is not the most appropriate system?

“In a Cocoon” implies Scott’s challenge to the Enlightenment-style progressive view of history. The modern state is not our only, and even less optimal, institutional choice, and “modernity” itself does not take for granted a new peak in human history. Similar expressions can also be found from other anthropologists. David Graeber points out that French priests who came to the New World to preach in the seventeenth century wrote with dismay that the native society there was more free, harmonious, and more content than in France. Sullins also described Australia’s “primitive affluent society”, where everyone can be called a “leisure class”, with an average of less than four hours of work a day to meet living needs, leaving a large amount of disposable Time for gossiping, eating, and sleeping. On the other hand, most modern people are tortured by “bullshit jobs”. The practitioners do not know how their profession is beneficial to society, and they have to repeat the routine every day, so there is no sense of dignity.

It must be noted that Scott’s purpose was not to romanticize early societies, nor to demand that modern man return to barbarism. As Voltaire sneered, even if people have the desire to crawl on four legs, we have lost the habit after all. Scott tries to illustrate that the modernity trend of thought from the perspective of the Enlightenment allows the central narrative of the state and the market to monopolize all interpretation rights. It is hard for us to imagine that there is human civilization beyond the state and the market – this is not only a form of conceit, but also a manifestation of ignorance and lack of thinking. Questioning the formulation of the “Dark Ages”, Scott wrote, “Darkness” to whom, and to what aspects? Likewise, for most people, where does the Enlightenment and the modern appear? Instead of patching up the unreasonable system, are there alternatives? ——Perhaps this is the most important experience brought by the long history of mankind.

04. Cocooning yourself? – David’s answer

In The Dawn of Everything, David Graber and David Wingrow similarly reject the prevailing view of early human society. They pointed out that humans did not start farming because of population and environmental burdens, and the careful cultivation of crops and domestication of animals were not the main activities of early humans for a long time. The path from forager to farmer certainly conforms to the Enlightenment-style evolutionary presupposition, but it is more of a political construct, or a modernist frenzy of progress than a reflection of human history The real state of the process. In questioning the historical view of the linear jump, Scott and the two Davids reached a consensus. Therefore, we may wish to briefly introduce the relevant arguments in Dawn of All Things to contrast and complement Scott’s theory.

An experiment in the 1980s showed that using simple agricultural techniques (harvest with a sickle or simply uprooting by hand) could alter the genes of wild wheat within two to three decades to make it suitable for domestication. A process can only take two hundred years at most. But in parts of present-day northern Syria, cereal cultivation began as early as 10,000 BC, but its domestication was not completed until around 7,000 BC. Combined with the 4,000-year time difference between the farming life of the Fertile Crescent and the birth of the city-state mentioned by Scott above, it is not difficult to find that a statement like the “agricultural revolution” is more like a false proposition, because this “transition” “It’s been so long that we can’t find any obvious landmark events that say the revolution actually happened.

James C. Scott 2017 Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. Yale University Press.

The long period of grain cultivation and domestication in Syria also proves that agriculture was far from essential for the ancestors. Çatalhöyük, located on the Konya Plain in central Turkey, is the earliest known large-scale human settlement. In the anthropological research of the last century, Chattahawk was regarded as a milestone in the “agricultural invention” and “agricultural revolution”, but with the deepening of the excavation, new evidence shows that the original interpretation is more like a far-fetched modern man Attachment and wishful thinking (an important example is that the gathering place’s artistic and ceremonial activities have little to do with agriculture). And that might be explained when we examine the surroundings of Chattahoe Yuck.

Chattahoyuk is set in a wetland, and nearby rivers regularly flood, crisscrossing the Konya Plain. Large and small swamps surround it, interspersed with some high-lying dry fields. Readers may find that the surrounding environment of Chattahoeyuk is almost indistinguishable from the early human settlements in Mesopotamia examined by Scott, confirming the wetland hypothesis of early human societies. Because of this, it is not difficult to understand the “indifference” of the residents of Chattahoe Yook to agriculture: a large number of animals migrate around the wetlands with the change of the river course, and the flood plains bring fertile soil, and the residents only need to wait for the floodwaters to recede. Whether hunting, gathering, or planting, is not seen as alms that require suffering. At this time, serious farming activities can only be a thankless chore. The maintenance of the soil, the care of the seedlings, and the essential threshing and dusting after the harvest will not only take up time for other activities of obtaining food, but also Speaking of tool making, fertility, and gaming fun.

Scott sees farming as one of the diverse activities of early humans, while Graber and Wingrow make this more specific. Rather than saying that the way humans affected animals and plants in the Neolithic period was cultivation and domestication, it may be more realistic to think of it as gardening. In this regard, we can examine Amazonia as an example. Rainforest dwellers reared their immature offspring after killing animals such as monkeys, parrots and wild boars for food. But the point is that these animals are not considered sustainable hunting, which means they are not eaten as adults; at the same time, residents do not continue to feed them as adults, but allow them to freely Living in human communities as objects of emotional sustenance and play.

In this sense, the “domestication” of animals by early humans was not significantly different from our management of zoos today. Even if this is not enough to generalize the situation everywhere, it at least provides us with a new way of understanding human behavior, that is: “agriculture” (let’s keep that name for now) is not born out of the predicament of insufficient resources and high population pressure, It’s a rather casual and entertaining product. This also means that, for early societies, what we think of as agricultural labor today is not out of the need to make a living, but a form of human exploration of the diversity and possibilities of life. If it can really be defined as agriculture, then Playing farming might be a more appropriate term. The ancestors did not subdue and domesticate the natural environment in the struggle with it, but persuaded and even persuaded nature to make it work for human beings – we can see this in the cultivation and animal cultivation.

In the previous description, we can easily find that Scott actually implied the inevitable connection between farming and the early state, that is, the inevitable connection between farming and inequality. of worries. But Graber and Wingrow don’t think it’s inevitable. In fact, in the Fertile Crescent, an important birthplace of agriculture and early nations, the emergence of social class differentiation and inequality also occurred thousands of years after the beginning of agricultural cultivation and domestication. And if we adopt the concept of “play farming”, then this theory that separates agriculture from various early human practices (or rather, experiments) as the origin of human inequality is undoubtedly more valid Can’t stop.

In the actual situation in various places, agriculture does not represent private property rights, property differentiation and unequal status. A wealth of archaeological evidence suggests that common tenure, regular redistribution of land, and joint management are not unusual or uncommon. The Chattahawke example also points out that despite the individual disparity in social prestige, individuals with higher social status are no different from others in terms of residential distribution and do not form elite groups. In terms of gender relations, there is also no significant rank difference.

Despite their differences, Scott and both Davids pointed to holes in common sense. As Graeber and Wingrow conclude: While assumptions from modern society seem logical, “you can’t simply jump from the beginning to the end of a story and assume you know what’s going on in the middle”. The openness and uncertainty of anthropology make it reject any inference based on modern thinking paradigms. In this sense, anthropology is bound to be full of controversy and questioning, and therefore subversive and creative.

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