Networks approach to human history. General argument is evolutionary – societies (like organisms) became increasingly complex and adept at transferring latent resources into usable energy, and squeezed out simpler societies.
- all webs combined cooperation and competition.
- subgroups with more efficient internal communication thrived, leading to a natural selection process creating a more organized, and ever larger, society not sure I buy this
- as webs became denser, information flowed more efficiently and faster, thus exerting an increasing influence on the development of society
- human webs affect the environment as well as society (they call this the anthropocene era, for obvious reasons)
language (40k years ago?) was likely the key to humanity’s success in proliferating, because it allowed us to organize, etc. probably, it was also behind the rapid rise of tool use, because language allowed us to posit problems with existing systems.
Agriculture changed everything by drastically increasing the amount of energy humans (and domesticated animals) could recognize from the earth’s resources.
“old world web” – thick interspersion of civilizations throughout Eurasia and much of Africa by 200 C.E.
- communities remained vital, but became less autonomous.
- Development of subservient peasantry and webs of elites.
- Growing tension between village traditions and metropolitan luxuries
- “portable religions” compensated for the psychological damage inflicted by the loss of agrarian life
- Metropolitan webs:
o Nile-indus corridor (3,000 BCE)
o East asia (3-2k BCE)
o Meso-America (1300-400 BCE)
- India and SE asia increase in wealth and power. First priestly class, then warriors prevail.
- OWW extends to new areas of Asia, Africa and Europe
- Growth of universal religious throughout these regions
- Meanwhile, increasing web between peru and mexico.
- consolidation of the old world web (and of the American web)
- growth and consolidation of capital, death of agrarian communalism
- genghis khan, bubonic plague
- rise of Aztecs and Incas
1450-1800 CE “worldwide web”
- increasing globalization and growth of world culture
- increasing growth and consolidation of capital (rise of bourgeoisie)
- religious reformation and rise of science
- fewer, more powerful states
- printing press (Europe and korea only for a few centuries) – lowered information costs, democratized debate, accelerated distribution of memes
- military revolutions (navies, guns, standing armies, logistics)
- global economy
- nonetheless, by the end of this period, 85% of the worlds population were still illiterate farmers
- industrial revolution (use of fossil fuels, globalized trade of food and fuel)
- telecommunications and railroads
- population explosions
- political reorganization (republicanism, communism, nationalism, imperialism, abolition of slavery)
- changing nature of labor, and lower quality of life for workers, change in family structures
- major ecological change
1890-PRESENT (the cosmopolitan web)
- expansion of globalization (except between world wars)
- modern telecommunications and mass media
- modern transport (cars and planes)
- scale free distribution of cultural memes this is my short-hand for their longer description of language, dress, custom, etc.
- marriage of science and technology
- massive extension of life expectancy and thus global population boom
- shift of population majority from rural to urban
- ecological change at crisis levels
The development of “song and dance” were essential to human social development because “its great advantage was that larger bands could hold together, resolve quarrels, and defend territory more effectively” (13) this would be nice to drop into my argument re: the centrality of music to human experience
“in effect, sedentary villages replaced roving bands of hunters and gatherers as the basic cells of human society. Within each village the web of face-to-face communication was intense” (39)
“what Muhammad did was to inject a powerfully attractive new message into the web, one that resonated far and wide.” (89)
“the dense webs of interaction that few up in favored locations produced the same kinds of pressures to regulate and defend agricultural societies, producing broadly similar outcomes [in eurasia and america 200-1000 CE]” (115)
“the Old World Web was poised by 1500 to ensnare the rest of the world with catastrophic force and suddenness.” (119)
“more and more human beings were affected by intensified long-distance exchanges in great or small degree, since the circulation of ideas and skills inevitably accompanied the circulation of people and goods” (119)
“in the three and a half centuries after 1450, the peoples of the earth increasingly formed a single community.” (155)
“with the creation of a single web, it is as if history speeded up. Innovations and inventions, booms and depressions, pests and plagues rippled through a unified system, spreading wherever local conditions allowed . . . as human history grew more unified, it grew more unstable and chaotic than ever” (178)
“the transition to fossil fuel-powered industry – rather suddenly – locked us into a high-energy society, in which we must continue to mobilize, transport, and use vast quantities of basic items” (214) while probably true, this perspective seems a bit overdeterministic.
“the rise of the United States to economic and military preeminence after 1945 made globalization often appear as Americanization” (268)
“through the international success of (mainly) American and British popular music, West African-derived rhythms percolated into music in Japan, Algeria, and indeed almost everywhere.” (271)
“the ever-tightening web helped concentrate wealth and power and highlight the differences between those who had it and those who did not.” (318)
“human history, like the history of the universe and the history of life, shows an evolution towards complex structures, created and maintained by energy flows [shades of castells here], the sizes of which correspond to the degree of complexity and structure in question.” (320) The postmodernist in me can’t help but see the ideological biases inherent in this interpretation.
“the selective pressure for complexity has been stronger [in human society] than in biological or cosmic evolution, because the complex societies left little room for the simple.” (321)
“cultural evolution is Lamarckian” (321)
“human history is an evolution from simple sameness to diversity toward complex sameness . . . at present, human society is one huge web of cooperation and competition, sustained by massive flows of information and energy” (322) this is an interesting take.
“perhaps the most critical question for the human future is how cell-like primary communities can survive and flourish within the global cosmopolitan flows that sustain our present numbers, wealth and power” (326)