By 200 BCE the world was divided into single empires in East and West linked by the Silk Roads and highway across the steppes, also a path for the disease that in 200 CE decimated one third to one half of people in the Roman and Han empires and contributing to their decline.
Mediterranean & E Asian trade
Later empires would access not only river valleys but entire seas. The economic and social benefits of less energy-intensive water-trade later became evident to Western empires (Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans) who were able to access the resources of the Mediterranean. as when the Roman empire dominated the Mediterranean and the population of Rome reached 1 million, a number not subsequently reached anywhere in the Western world until the time of Victorian London. The Grand Canal in China completed in 609 CE linked north and south China in a vast trade like that of the Mediterranean with Chang’an having a million residents in 700 CE. The Roman Empire and contemporaneous Chinese Han Empire eachhad about 60 million subjects and by 1600 CE Ming China this had risen to about 160 million. By 1500 BCE a new ‘International Age’ had arrived involving the exchange of people, royal marriage, trade and ideas between Egypt, Babylon and the new states of Assyria, Mittani and Hittites. The Mediterranean was now a new geographic challenge as trade developed along its shores. Social development (large ships, advanced weaponry, early machinery, cities) was at a peak at this time. Morris’s social development index indicates that between 1000 and 100 BC social development doubled in both East and West but it was not to last as it actually decreased during the medieval period. In Morris’s terms it was ‘greater when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon than it would be when Columbus crossed the Atlantic’. As social organisation and transportation became more efficient trade increased, trading centres now moving from the banks of major rivers, now including the Nile, to the sea coast of the Mediterranean. Following Phoenician, Greek and other trading nations the highly organised Roman Empire converted the Mediterranean from a chaotic mix of nations, races, religions and piracy into a vast trading highway.
Steppe pastoralists linking East & West
Central Eurasian nomadic steppe pastoralists around 3500-1200 BCE used horses and herded cattle, sheep, goats and yak for at least 5,000 years, thriving on the trade link between the core civilizations of East and West.
Above all there was the need for records. At first mostly a matter of commercial transactions literacy eventually provided a sophisticated and improvable means of expression, a repository for knowledge, and the initiation of academic traditions. Those city-states that flourished took advantage of the resources obtainable through water-transport along river-valleys, but later the advantage was held by cities benefitting from the energy benefits of maritime trade that supplemented further the limits imposed by agricultural energy capture. All this resulted in higher densities of population, sustained economic growth, increased per capita consumption, higher wages, and increased literacy. In ancient Athens during the period 800-300 BCE individual consumption probably doubled enabling a ’classical’ Golden Age. Cities like classical Athens and medieval Venice in this sense seem to be more a part of Industria than Agraria.
At the time of the Roman empire in the West and the Han dynasty in the East social development had never been greater … but both would decline, the West through the Middle Ages but only briefly in the East with a period of ascendancy from 550 AD to 1800 CE. Western growth would take off with the Industrial Revolution.
Farmers & energy
Before the emergence of farming, affluent foragers would have consumed about 5,000 kcal per day, about half this as food; in later horticultural villages this would have increased to about 6,000 kcal, rising to about 8,000 kcal in early farming communities. Domesticated animals were used for their muscle power and in about 4,000 BCE the ox-drawn plough was invented. Larger populations could be supported by farming but it involved heavy labour and a less varied diet than that of the forager, these stresses being evident in the teeth and bones of excavated bodies.
Domestication of plants and animals was based on the energy of the Sun (solar agriculture) allowed sedentism and the quantity of energy needed for populations to grow. As populations reached the hundreds and thousands the maintenance of social stability became paramount as societies were stratified into political, economic and gender hierarchies with legal systems that regulated behaviour and discouraged violence (unless officially sanctioned). The strength of the law was universally endorsed by religious systems that provided much of the glue needed to maintain social cohesion.
The energy needed to support palaces, agriculture and the construction of towns and cities came from plant energy converted into human labour. Vast cities and states were built on a large labourer class, sometimes as a government-paid labour force but, more often, through the forced labour of slavery. A life of toil was the price paid for food and security. At the height of the highly organised Roman Empire tens of thousands of men would produce the marble monuments and unload the imported grain that fed the one million residents of Rome, while 350,000 served as soldiers in the great Roman army.
‘ … by the time that energy capture rose above 10,000 kcal per person and towns grew beyond about 10,000 people, ruling elites were taking charge. This happened somewhere around 3,500 BCE in Mesopotamia, 3,150 BCE in Egypt, 2,500 BCE in the Indus Valley, 1,900 BCE in northern China and 100 BCE in Mesoamerica and the Andes. The SI stood at around 10-13 points.
Agraria was based on values which Morris calls the ‘Old Deal’, the belief that in such communities nature and the gods required societies in which there were those that should give orders and those that should obey. Provided each played their part to the best of their ability then all would be well. This was the ‘natural order’. Kings would act like shepherds minding their flocks, being mediators between their sheep and the god(s). On rare occasions (for example the pharaohs of Egypt and some Roman Emperors) the rulers became gods themselves. Wealthy rulers exhibited the confidence that came from god’s approval: they were also the physical manifestation of the social and intellectual capacity of their nation. Civic pride, monuments, feats of artistry and engineering, luxurious excess, all were ultimately demonstrations of collective power and resourcefulness, not just that of the rulers. Poverty (like that of hunter-gatherers) only demonstrated shame; so wealth was the source of both envy and admiration. The economic and political hierarchy itself was rarely questioned, criticism being reserved only for those individuals who abused its agreed boundaries. There was comfort in order and discipline even if some were poor and weak and others rich and strong.
In Agraria families remained the basic social unit, men doing most of the heavy labour of ploughing etc. Being settled in one place women produced more babies that drew them into home life and families of, on average, about seven children. Food required more processing. More elaborately constructed houses needed upkeep and these duties fell to women. This gender division appears to have been universal in farming communities. Plato had suggested equality of the sexes in the Republic but this idea did not resurface for nearly 1500 years. It appears likely that male authority in Agraria was more a matter of efficiency than brutish domination.
Individual violence was kept in check by the state which deterred the appeal of pre-emptive strikes and removed the need for revenge. Violence would destabilise the collective – but the use of official violence through law and the military was legitimised by the state when perceived as a force for communal good as in quelling rebellion or expanding territory. This social development would culminate in the Roman empire of the west and the Han dynasty of China.
The Gini score for landholding in fourth century BCE Athens was about 0.38-0.39 and overall income inequality 0.40-0.45 while chattel slaves made up about one third of the population as forced labour. The energy needed to effect the architectural and engineering feats of the classical world that we so admire today though founded ultimately on the plant energy of Agraria were achieved in human terms through the energy of slave labour. It was also a time of extreme gender inequality. Wealth hierarchy was especially pronounced culminating in the staggering wealth of some families of the Roman Empire, the Gini wealth coefficient in the first century CE being about 0.43 (foragers about 0.25).
Property (land, tools, buildings, animals, slaves) now became critical to livelihood and therefore inheritance takes on great significance. Greater attention is therefore given to property law, management of sexual activity, especially inter-dynastic marriages to extend holdings of land and property and therefore power.
Following the fragmentation of the Roman Empire social organisation and trade declined in the West as Europe in the Middle Ages divided into warring states based on religious factions while China recovered quickly to enjoy a period from 550-1750 CE with social organisation well above that of the West. Around 600-700 CE a Grand Canal had been built in China linking the Yellow and Yangzi Rivers and social development had recovered from the Han decline by 1000 CE. By 1300 China had massive ocean-going ships with compasses and water-tight compartments and in 1288 the first guns appear in China. This technology was quickly adapted by western nations, the gun appearing in Europe less than 40 years after its emergence in China. Ships enabled travel and trade over large distances and guns were a means of social domination. Europeans would take full advantage of both these Chinese technologies during the Western Renaissance that began around 1400 in Italy, leading to the European colonisation that occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Age of Discovery and eighteenth century Enlightenment.
Morris points out that it was geography (more than, say, science or greed) that allowed Europeans by 1600 to economically exploit the rich resources of the New World creating the first market economy in a highly profitable trading triangle selling manufactured goods from northern Europe to West Africa where slaves were taken aboard and sold to plantations in the New World where cotton and sugar were returned to Europe. Britain, on the Atlantic coast, was now ideally situated to exploit the concentrated energy of fossil fuels, using the coal, steam and scientific technology to extend commercial enterprises across the world through the Industrial Revolution. The world’s largest single bloc was the British Empire which, in 1914, governed 84% of the world’s population. Britain had exported violence across the world but by the 1870s Britain’s future depended on assisting its colonies to industrialize and eventually its rule could be challenged.
European domination of world trade, Morris points out, occurred because the Europeans were geographically closer to this rich resource rather than because they were smarter, more wicked, or possessed better technology than the Chinese. The new trade had stimulated seventeenth century scientific interest in the winds, stars, tides, mathematics along with the curious and new organisms of foreign climes. Newton had heralded a new, successful and affluent scientific age whose focus on science and reason was, in the eighteenth century, turned onto society as Europeans demanded greater democracy.
A new phase of human history began with the use of fossil fuels in the eighteenth century, industrialization in Britain soon passing to the countries of western Europe and to United States through the Atlantic trade and communication, followed by British colonies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere as the British Empire expanded across the world.
Intellectual effort was diverted from the study and interpretation of classical and sacred texts to science, natural history, navigation, astronomy, mathematics, and challenging new political ideas during the eighteenth century Enlightenment like a new Axial Age but grounded more in natural than supernatural explanation. At first greeted with suspicion by the Church, with mistreatment of men like Galileo (1564-1652), Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was to command great respect.
Challenges to monarchy, aristocracy and the established church though not overturning the Old Deal, did weaken it considerably through constitutional reform as the ‘general will’ became broadly recognised as a more convincing basis for government than divinely ordained monarchs.
Peasants had lived in relatively small communities with fragmented markets. The scale of Industria changed all this as profits produced higher wages and more disposable income for factory-produced goods. Fossil fuels saw the end of the long-entrenched tradition of enforced labour. Machines reduced the need for muscle power and increased the demand for effective services and administration. Peasant societies required women to have about six or seven children to maintain the population but benefits of fossil fuels reduced the need for large numbers of children resulting in smaller families that were healthier and better educated while mothers had more time for themselves and salaried work (the ‘demographic transition’) in a change facilitated by the arrival of the condom in 1920, the contraceptive pill in 1960 and also in this period, all manner of electrical gadgetry to ease the burden of household chores.
Between 1780 and 1830 Britain’s population doubled from 7 to 14 million and in the century between 1800 and 1900 the proportion of the world’s population living in Europe and North America increased from 16% to 24%.
People of Industria are predominantly WEIRD (Western Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic). Political tension has now moved to the option of small and large government and its degree of involvement not only in the division into socialist and capitalist economies but in liberal democracies, especially after the demise of the Soviet Empire in 1989-1991, the degree of involvement in other areas like health, education, the disadvantaged, and work-place conditions. After 1945 the fossil-fuel revolution was globalised as world population entered the ‘great acceleration’ to increase from 2.5 to 6 billion, the Euro-American component shrinking to 13.7%. ‘In 2000 the average human was 10 cm taller than his or her grandparents had been in 1900, lived 30 years longer, and earned six times as much in real terms’.
By 1950 America had been able to exploit its resource advantages and assume the mantle of world authority moving in to the Pacific – but in its turn it is being superseded by Pacific nations.
Industria & energy
Though the heat from burning coal had been observed in northwest Europe about 2000 years ago it only challenged wood as a fuel in China c. 1000 CE and England in 1600. In the seventeenth century northwest European coalminers burned coal to boil water, using the steam produced to drive pistons that pumped water out of the mineshafts. Coal (fossilized plants containing the stored energy of the sun) as a concentrated source of energy. Steam power was used to drive new machines that could replace or supplement traditional human and animal muscle, wheels and sails – all resulting in a massive increase in productivity that drove western European economies into unprecedented levels of growth and innovation and a SI in the hundreds. In both eastern and western parts of the Old World in the seventeenth century, as energy capture increased to about 30,000 kcal per person per day, there came the first major challenge to political and economic hierarchy since the Axial Age. In the twentieth century electricity, oil and natural gas were a bonus.
Energy use per person per day rose from c. 38,000 kcals in 1800 to 230,000 by the 1970s with the advent of trains, steamships, tractors, and industrialised agriculture vastly increased crop yields.
Britain was the focus of this energy bonanza using its revenues to create the largest empire the world had seen. ‘By 1914, most of the people on earth were part of a Western-dominated fossil-fuel economy and tied to global markets’ Europeans through their colonial exploits now had ‘… control of 84% of the planet’s landmass and 100% of its oceans’.
An early example of the geography/social development interaction
In less than ten generations former political, economic, and gender hierarchies have gone from seeming entirely natural and just, to appearing – to varying degrees – ‘bad’. This transformation began around the shores of the Atlantic . . . it has impacted almost every part of the planet’ Old preoccupations with religious affiliation so important in Agraria were challenged by the political ideologies of socialism, communism, and evolutionism. Church attendance in Britain fell from 60% in 1851 to 12% in 1979 and 7.5% in 1998.
Old systems of absolute monarchy based on God-given authority were either replaced by or subject to secular authority following the American (1873), French (1789), Russian (1917) and other revolutions as old aristocracies and elites gave way to the new well-to-do capitalists and industrialists (the nouveau riche), the franchise passing to more men as political exclusion based on property, education, race, religion and sex was resisted as more countries moved towards representative liberal democracy. ‘By almost any measure societies that moved toward democracy outperformed those that did not’. Meanwhile the gap between the fossil-fuelled West and farming ‘rest’ was, of course, widening.
Industria with its open markets and exchange of people could not operate effectively with the levels of violence encountered in the farming age (Britain’s modern London police force was created in 1828). Agraria reduced the scope of violence and Industria has gone further. Agrarians regarded warfare as a matter of honour, the supreme test of male character and courage. Police statistics around the world show how, regardless of social circumstances, men are 10 times more likely to commit violent crimes. Support for warfare is much weaker today as the desire to fight for king and country has lost much of its meaning. As we enter a ‘post-heroic’ era war is increasingly regarded as ‘… an abnormal and immoral state’. About 100 to 200 million people died violently in the twentieth century which included two world wars – about 1-2% of world population at this time. For the 21st century the figure is much smaller, less than 1% (more than 90-fold improvement over that of forager societies) in a value-mix of peace, democracy, open markets, gender equality, and equality before the law.
Morris addresses violence in his book War, What Is It Good For (2014)? High rates of Stone Age violence were reduced by religious farming communities using strong government, law and order, to ensure the internal pacification needed for community survival. From about 10,000 BCE until about 200 CE there is the staggered but steady formation of ever larger groups – from villages to cities, to city-states, to empires, culminating in the Roman Empire in the West and the Han dynasty in the East. Fragmentation of these empires led to smaller warring factions. Warfare has been the only means by which people have given up personal freedoms. Significantly, along with the long-term historical formation of larger political and geographic units came a decrease in violence and warfare. And with an increase in peace and security came increasing prosperity.
In 1867 the Gini Coefficient in Britain reached 0.55 almost as high as the highest scoring farming communities but after World War II all the old hierarchical boundaries were clearly under challenge – everything from gender to dress code, spoken accent to educational opportunity, all became less obvious as the Gini Coefficient dropped. in a social change between the 1940s and 1970s (the ‘great compression’). Only in 1928 did all women over 21 obtain the vote in the United Kingdom but after WWII women confined to poorly paid domestic, nursing, secretarial and teaching positions would see change.
In 2007 there was about 80% support worldwide for democracy regardless of geography, gender, religion, or age. But Industria needs both an affluent middleclass to purchase goods and a dynamic entrepreneurial class with rewards for economic leadership and management. Economic elites and business groups tend to have more influence on social politics than average citizens and political discussion tends to centre on equality of opportunity rather than outcomes and concerns over-regulation stifling liberty and economic growth while others are more concerned with equality of outcome and the abuses of great wealth that might also compromise economic growth.
Why did the mode of energy capture change
Foraging to farming
In 20,000 BP in the heart of the Ice Age there were about 500,000 people on earth: by 8,000 BCE this total had risen to about six million.
Domestication happened where it was easiest and most likely including the time scale of later centres around the world.Increased energy availability in Agraria led to more labour-intensive lives but allowed populations to increase and benefit from scale by division of labour and social stratification. Given the suggested violence of small groups cooperation on such a scale was, in retrospect, a both extremely unlikely and miraculous achievement. It appears to have been done through the uniting power of religious belief and the power of a ruler with God’s authority.
Farming to fossil fuels
In each Agrarian centre it took about 2,000 years for domesticated crops and animals to replace their wild counterparts. Various ways were attempted to succeed including highly centralised bureaucratised states with energy use peaking in the Roman empire at about 30,000 kcal per capita per day at the height of the Roman Empire only to fall back, reaching the same level in the Chinese Song Dynasty in about 1000 CE, followed by the Mughul, Qing and early modern Europeans the peak of what is achievable in a highly organised farming community.
The breakthrough came at a particular time and place, c. 1800 in NW Europe with a single breakthrough. Historians have attributed to European science and technology, the trength of western institutions, culture, religion, climate or access to resources or that the East was held back in some way. See Ferguson etc. In Why the West Rules for Now Morris argues that the ultimate reason why fossil fuel societies began where they did was the same as for foraging societies – geography. Once cut off from the rest of the world away from the trade and action of the Mediterranean Britain was now situated to take advantage of the resource base of increasing maritime trade in the Atlantic after accessing the Americas and Indian Ocean. By 1700 the Atlantic was ‘ … the world’s most powerful wealth-creation machine in history’. The single major difference between NW Europe and the old city states was the new use of coal. New global markets gave capital the opportunity to augment human labour with machinery and this was most effectively exploited in NW Europe and England England by Stevenson, Trevithick. Boulton, and Watt. By 1850 the world was dominated by England.
So cultural evolution caused the two great energy shifts. Were they inevitable? As likely as is possible. And the same forces: rising energy capture, competition, open markets, the shrinkage of distance just continued to confer advantage. The vibrant American economy would later cash in on the Pacific. Container ships, the internet, and jets acted just like steamships and trains had before. But these forces have not stopped but been embraced by China and SE Asia.
Few women had the right to vote before 1918 and paid female labour really only took off after 1940. Australia led the way (South Australia, 1895; Western Australia, 1899). In 1902 the Commonwealth Franchise Act gave all women the right to vote and be elected for federal Parliament. By 1911 all states and territories had granted women’s suffrage for state elections.
Almost all forms of violence have reduced over time. Since this can hardly be a result of changing biology we must attribute it to culture – perhsaps the Flynn Effect whereby people today are thinking more abstractly and universally than ever before while exerting unprecedented self-control, empathy and reason.
WAS THE TRANSITION FROM FORAGERS TO AGRARIA & INDUSTRIA INEVITABLE?
Large-scale agriculture and cities arose independently in different parts of the world suggesting stages in an inexorable process of social development.
There was a high probability that farming would emerge given suitable conditions and, once established, the benefits of scale were so great that the future of foragers inevitably came to look bleak when aligned against the armies, cities, technology and accumulating written knowledge of Agraria. Social pressures would propel foragers towards an urban and rural lifestyle rather than drawing Agrarians into the freedom of nomadic foraging. ‘No one chose hierarchy and working longer hours; these things crept up on them’ … ‘… it was as close to inevitable as anything in history can be’ … ‘In general the most likely things to happen, do’.
China’s GDP will overtake that of America in the next decade or so although GDP per capita will take much longer. Geography and energy will continue to drive history as China and the Pacific exert increasing influence on the world although globalisation means that geographic factors will have a lesser impact than they did in the past. Will the views of freedom and democracy that swept the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries embrace the world? Perhaps this has already occurred in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Today security is maintained through the global policing of the US and UN. Perhaps the political pendulum will not swing from West to East but the world will become a noded web with no centre and a convergence of values.
Morris would substitute the words ‘fossil-fuel’ for ‘Western’: ideology followed the industrial revolution, not vice-versa ‘… liberal, individualist values are the ones that work best in Industria …’(p. 163).
Across the two centuries since the Industrial Revolution began and capitalism took off, the world’s population has grown 7-fold, its biggest city 25-fold, its stock of knowledge (by Morris’s calculation) 860-fold, and its energy capture more than 40-fold’. Social scientists accumulating data measuring wealth, inequality, and rates of violence in the past have shown that in every era before 1800 CE, world-wide life expectancy at birth averaged less than 25 years – now it is 63 years. This represents a staggering acceleration on what happened before. On Morris’s SI, assuming a continuation of the current rate of increase, there must be total societal transformation by about 2100 on a scale that we cannot imagine. Just as our hunter-gatherer ancestors could not have foreseen agriculture or the kind of life that you and I live today, so we cannot envisage the kind of world that science, and especially biotechnology, will create in the future.
Is there a fossil fuel ceiling?
It took foragers 60,000 years to spread and generalise hunter-gatherer societies and values; it took Agraria 10,000 years to do this. It will probably take Industria less than 300 years to do the same. The transition from cave paintings at Lascaux to modern reading humans in front of computers involved a transition in Morris’s social development score of from 4 to 900 points. But projecting from 2000 to 2100 this score will grow to more than 4,000 points, a fourfold increase. We can have no inkling of what this means except that if change continues at the current rate we are at the beginning of the greatest historical discontinuity in history. Above all we will use technology to modify our bodies – chemically, genetically, mechanically and mentally.
Is there a fossil-fuel ceiling as there was for foraging and agriculture?
Probably yes. At present this seems to lie with the acceptable levels of climate change. There is always the possibility of societal collapse of some kind, whether a natural catastrophe, global economic calamity or pandemic of disease. Massive social change has, in the past, involved turmoil and violence, and has been associated with five major forces. We are in a race between transformation and disaster as all former Dark Ages (like 3100 BCE Mesopotamia, 1200 BCE Mediterranean, after 150 CE Han and Roman Empires, and 14th century plague) have involved mass migrations, new diseases, collapse of states, famine, and climate change – and social discontinuity has always been combined with warfare. Our interconnected and interdependent global society is vulnerable to all these shocks.
As in so many other aspects of modern life we are currently running a single human experiment where once there were many. In the past if one society died out there were other societies to continue and other places to explore. We are now just one place and one society. World eyes are nervously cast towards the ‘arc of instability’ the poor and poorly-governed countries that run from Central Africa through to East Asia, an area that will be deeply impacted by climate change. We cannot say if we will be plunged back to forager values or live in the promised land of the technofuturists. Perhaps we will undergo a change in scale and magnitude that will make discussion of values irrelevant as Homo sapiens is totally transformed in a strange new culturally- (not biologically) determined form of speciation.