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Why did the warm civilizations decline?

  1. May 5, 2009 #1
    There is a common theory, that seems very convincing to me, that higher cultures started developing when the burden of gathering food was lifted from parts of the society, and these parts could start to develop a civilization.
    It seems natural, that this would happen in the least harsh environments on earth, those without severe winters, once people started farming. Hence the earliest civilizations seem to have spawned in a belt at the height of the mediterranean sea.
    To tell the uncomfortable truth many if not all of those regions, are today considered "culturally inferior". The South of Spain and Italy are considered to be lazy even by inhabitants of those countries. The Arab countries are far removed from their cultural hey days, with suppression of science, and resurging conflicts. India one of the former apexes of early civilization, has a reputation of laziness, and again the further South the worse. I could continue the walk around the globe and argue about individual countries. The only modern exception, that I can think of is California.
    I realize that this must enrage quite a few people, but I am surely not the first person to notice this. Are there any theories as to how the decline of these places has come about? Are there theories involving climate, or natural courses of civilizations?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2009 #2


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    These are very strange ideas jumbled together. Nor is it very "common".

    The ugly bit about it is that the necessary work to gain a satisfactory calory intake from farming was, at this time, far, far greater than the amount of work needed for the individual primarily living in a hunter/gatherer society.
    While the farmer must work gruelling, long hours in order to produce food, the typical hunter/gatherer worked (and works) for about 20-25 hours a week.

    Furthermore, a primarily agricultural diet is much less varied than that gained through hunting/gathering, and deficiency syndromes will crop up (comparative skeleton research shows that the height of hunter/gatherers, for example, exceeds significantly the average height of the ancient farming communities).

    Furthermore, by tying yourself to one place where you invest all your efforts to produce food for yourself (and others) means that the barrier to leave the community and strike out for yourself is that much greater.

    The common view is the following:

    As long as the population density was low, humans preferred to live as hunter/gatherers, new groups budding and separating from the original group at regular intervals.

    Only when severe competition arose, as with quarrels over who was to get the ever-shrinking supply of meat, the losers of that competition were forced to scrounge out a living by the sub-optimal technique of farming. They clustered, or huddled, together, and would either be dominated by their roving, stronger neighbours, or would readily submit to a strict, internal authority, who in exchange could organize protection towards the nomadic bands.

    The amount of time the farmers spent on producing food meant that they were not any longer "self-sufficient" in terms of being able to protect themselves, they had to rely on others for that.

    A type of rigid social stratification came into being, wholly unconceivable within a hunter/gatherer community, where malcontents just packed their bags and went somewhere else.

    In due time, of course, the agriculturally based communities, by means of appalling exploitation of their own food-producers, managed to get even with, and develop beyond the hunter/gatherer cultures.

    Thus, it was not the case that the burden of food production was benevolently "lifted" from the "civilization producers"; rather, that burden was deliberately foisted upon their own farmers, crunching them down into the condition of slavery.
  4. May 12, 2009 #3
    One man's trash is the other man's treasure. ;)

    That is an interesting way of looking at it, although it seems very much politically emotionalized. First of all I doubt that the farmers had to be "their own". As a big bullying tribe might have simply taken advantage of another one.

    I fail to see though, why it would necessitate farming for settlements, and civilization by your argument. Why couldn't hunters have a meeting place and bring food to their leaders, who don't work. The always pregnant women needed a hangout anyways.

    So I think that the population densities achievable by farming are higher than those by hunting. This would give the farming tribe strength in numbers and thus an advantage, and they might do this voluntarily. How the stratification took place, we can only guess. Although it is true that in many of the large civilizations farmers were exploited by todays standards, there is a theory that the main trait of human societies compared to animals is the ability of week people to unite against a stronger person via libel and slander, so I don't think it is impossible that people joined these structures voluntarily and even copied successful neighboring tribes in settling.

    And then there is the altruism problem. Genetically for altruism to develop there need to be massive genocides for statistical reasons. It made sense for farmers to live in a strong tribe, as it seems that whole tribes were commonly eradicated.
  5. May 13, 2009 #4

    jim mcnamara

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    Arildno is starting down the accepted path of explanations - for more detail try
    Jared Diamond: 'Guns, Germs, and Steel'
  6. May 13, 2009 #5
    Thanks, I'll give it a try. That's why I like PF. If going gets tough someone will know a book.
  7. May 13, 2009 #6
  8. May 13, 2009 #7
    I'm not quite sure that Arilno's first post actually addresses the initial question: the decline of warm civilizations.

    While I'm no expert, I'd first just like to say that as far as working goes, living in a cold climate could encourage more productivity from people (there's less reason to hang out outside). In Canada we have NO concept of the "siesta".

    Another possibility I see could be that these warm, wet climates are conducive to disease. Cold environments are not optimal for insects like mosquitoes, and they act as a superb vector for devastating diseases like malaria.

    Finally I'd say that it wasn't a gradual decline of that hurt warm civilizations, but the booming cold civilizations. Colonization was not kind.
  9. May 14, 2009 #8


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    I saw something recently along similar lines as the OP comparing the Asian and English cultures based on their relative agricultures - I think it was historian Nial Ferguson? The premise went something like this: Asians planted rice which required practically non-stop labor around the year. Europeans planted wheat and barley which had limited growing seasons and allowed them to get drunk much of the year. Continue over many centuries and one culture develops a superior work ethic and the other an superior attachment to alcohol.
  10. May 14, 2009 #9


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    Colourfully put, maybe. Not "emotionalized.
    The fact of the matter is that hunter/gatherers in their natural, unconstrained habitat had a far better nutritional status than early farmers.
    THAT is what needs to be explained; i.e, why large numbers would settle down to objectively worse conditions than successful hunter/gatherers.
    The simplest explanation is that they didn't want to, but had to, in order to survive somehow.

    Why should the hunters bother to return? They had all the skills necessary to lead an independent life, unencumbered by bullying chieftains.
    That is, a chieftain who is unable to "deliver the goods" will soon be left as the chief of no one but himself..
    Chieftainship in hunter/gatherer groups is, I believe, strictly based on his ability to provide benefits for his group (for example meat or women), and chieftainship is easily lost.
    Those could be raided away in sufficient quantity. An endemic feature in hunter/gatherer groups..

    The salient point is that social disengagement from a hunter/gatherer group has a low threshold, whereas a farmer whose skills amount to hoeing and sowing will look with trepidation at the outside world, for example in how to fend off wild animals, not to say hunt them (which will become critical survival skills when leaving the social milieu). That is, the threshold value which has to be reached prior to social disengagement is much higher than for a hunter/gatherer.
    Oppression thrives when people dread the alternative of independence.
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  11. May 14, 2009 #10
    A Farewell to Arms, by Professor Gregory Clark, is another good book to use as a reference for this, along with the Jared Diamond book already mentioned. But, at least among economic historians, it is generally well accepted that agricultural production led to a greater population density and allowed for the developmenet of a class of people's not directly involved in food production. These people in turn became merchants, buracracy, cultural movers and shakers, etc, etc. But really, Diamonds book is very good for figuring out why the cultural hearths emerged where they did. There isn't much more to add then what he has already done.
  12. May 14, 2009 #11


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    Sounds like a vague rehash of Montesquieu-ian climate theory.

    It's a lousy theory, because the climate has been more-or-less the same (in the bigger perspective) for the last 11,000 years, whereas the cultural changes you're talking about refer to the last 500 years or so, which is practically nothing on the bigger scale.

    There's a giant hole in your theory, which is that the Mediterranean and Arab civilizations have been highly civilized, among the most civilized, for most of recorded history. And there was no sudden change in climate 500 years ago. 1000 years ago an Arab or Byzantinian would have taken one look at a Viking and found them primitive and disgusting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_ibn_Fadlan" [Broken] did), and quite possibly have come up with the exact opposite 'climate theory'.

    There are plenty of better theories.
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  13. May 15, 2009 #12


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    I would like to point out that I do not deny that the transfer to agriculturalism eventually led to a higher population density and more effective arms potential.
    That would be absurd to deny.

    But it is anachronistic to ascribe as motivations for the people settling down to begin with those effects only discernible after many generations had gone past.

    The transition to agriculturalism represented a worsening compared to the "ideal" conditions of hunter/gatherer cultures, and can best be understood by assuming that those ideal conditions were no longer available to significant groups, so that they had to devise a new way of living, in order to survive.

    Only the hunter/gatherer groups strong enough to maintain the "ideal condition" continued with it.

    Previously, the issue of respective strength of groups was irrelevant, since there was plentiful supplies of game around to satisfy everybody.
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  14. May 17, 2009 #13
    No doubt about that. I am not too well informed about the Arab cultures, as they disappear from European history books once they stopped bothering the Greeks. But all the Islamic Golden age seems to have ended long before the Renaissance. I did not want to imply that climate had gotten warmer. That is only happening since Al Gore discovered it in 2006 :wink:

    Something has happened for us to come to the state that we are in. And if you want to use a colonial explanation, the European culture was more productive and advanced in almost any respect; so it took over the world in a revolutionary way, but it seems it isn't adapted for well in warmer countries, even though they had the cultural lead.

    Maybe seeing it this way is not too nice, but one of the least racist ways to look at it imho.
  15. May 17, 2009 #14
    A correlation of civilizations and weather would include more than temperature, but rainfall, seasonal variation and longer term consistancy. You don't have data like these, do you?

    For the original question it might help to broaden the scope to include the entire globe.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  16. May 17, 2009 #15


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    I used to think people from the southern US were slow lazy dimwits.
    Then I went to visit. It was so freakin hot, I could barely move, and my brain felt like it was going to melt.
    I now have a great appreciation for the fact that they can even function.

    But I'm a great fan of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Up!" [Broken], ergo, I would place more weight on how society teaches it's youngest members. Though this could be variable from one household to the next in any society. An intelligent, uneducated mother might recognize that her offspring might benefit from an early education. Whereas an educated, idiot of a mother, might think otherwise. But on the whole, I'd say that class differentiations, allowing an educated upper class, would spawn a greater "historically significant civilization".

    I would be quite intrigued to see a biography of ibn Fadlan's mother.

    Ooops. I think I've attempted to hi-jack this thread with my own theory of societal devolution....

    Ummm....... IMHO, the answer to your question is indeterminate at this time. :blushing:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  17. May 24, 2009 #16
    Thanks for the tip. I just got done watching. Enthralling!
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  18. Nov 30, 2009 #17


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    As I analyze why certain civilizations have excelled and others stay stagnate, seems to be based on their ease to obtain food and shelter. The civilizations who have adverse conditions to their basic needs for food and shelter seem to flourish.

    Like in the quote above, I agree that warm weather is not the only factor. Look at ancient Egypt, the weather around Cairo is great, less than 100 degrees in the summer and mid 60 in the winter, yet their civilization flourished. I believe it was the lack of rainfall making it necessary to harness the Nile for irrigation and the need for shelter from the harsh sun and sand storms.

    The only ancient culture I can think of that flourished while having warm year-round temperatures, abundant rainfall, fruit trees growing everywhere and no need for shelter is the Mayans.

    Can anyone think of another civilization besides the Mayans?
  19. Dec 8, 2009 #18

    Why no love for Texas?
  20. Jun 25, 2010 #19
    cuz it got cold...
  21. Jan 18, 2011 #20
    Spain cut it's own economic throat by expelling Arabs. It further agravated the situation by persecuting those Arabs who didn't leave and later forcibly dispersing them into the northern regions. Otherwise southern Spain, or Andalucia, could have become the backbone of Spain's economy.
  22. Jan 20, 2011 #21
    What time period are you referencing?
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