Q&A with Ian Morris, author of Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve

Princeton University Press recently had the opportunity to talk with Ian Morris about his new book, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve.

Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels

In your book you look at the evolution of human values over tens of thousands of years. Can you briefly say why and how values change? Isn’t morality universal and unchanging?

The answer to the last part of this question is easy: yes and no. I say yes because in one sense, morality certainly is universal and unchanging. Our human values are the outcome of millions of years of evolution. Animals that were born with genes that predisposed them to value fairness, love, honor, decency, and a host of related virtues tended to flourish, while animals that did not value fairness, etc., tended not to flourish. As a result, a disposition toward these prosocial attitudes spread through the gene pool, and almost all humans share these same core values. The reason I also say no, though, is because the ways people have interpreted fairness, etc., have varied wildly through time. Few historians dispute this; but fewer still have seen that what causes values to change is not the deep thoughts of philosophers but the most basic force of all–energy. As humanity has moved from foraging through farming to fossil-fuel use, we have found that different levels of energy capture call for different kinds of social organization, and that these different kinds of organization favor very different interpretations of human values. To foragers, fairness often means that everyone should receive equal shares of food, respect, and other good things, but to people in farming society, fairness often means that people should receive very different shares, because they are felt to deserve different shares. Men deserve more than women, the rich deserve more than the poor, the free deserve more than the enslaved, and so on through too many categories to count. Foragers and farmers feel the ways they do not because the former are all saints and the latter all sinners, but because it would be almost impossible to run a foraging society like a feudal monarchy and almost impossible to run a farming society as a band of equals. Foragers who lean toward equality and farmers who lean toward hierarchy itend to outperform and replace foragers and farmers who do not. In our own age of fossil fuels, values have continued to mutate. We tend to believe that fairness means that everyone should receive somewhat equal–but not too equal–shares of food, respect, and other good things. Anthropologists who spend time in foraging or farming societies often feel as if they have stepped into alien worlds, where values are upside-down; and people from most periods in the past would have felt exactly the same way about us.

In our current Fossil Fuel age of values, you argue that violence and inequality have diminished greatly from past periods. That seems very counter-intuitive. Can you elaborate?

A lot of people today are nostalgic for a simpler, vanished, preindustrial world, and there are ways in which they are right to be so; but not if they value peace, prosperity, or (on the whole) equality. Across the last fifty years, social scientists have accumulated data that allow us to measure wealth, inequality, and rates of violence in the past. The results are surprising–so much so that they can seem, as you suggest, counterintuitive. Foraging societies tended to be quite equal in wealth, if only because almost everyone was desperately poor (by one calculation, the average income was the equivalent of about $1.10 per day). They also tended to be very violent (by many calculations, more than 10 percent of foragers died violently). Farming societies tended to be less violent than foraging societies (5 percent rates of violent death were probably not uncommon) and not quite so poor (average incomes above $2.00 per day were common); but they were also massively unequal, regularly having tiny elites that owned thousands of times more than the ordinary peasant Fossil fuel societies, by contrast, are the safest and richest the world has ever seen, and are also more equal than all but the simplest foraging groups. Globally, the average person earns $25 per day and stands a 0.7 percent chance of dying violently, and in some countries progressive taxation has pushed income inequality down close to levels not seen since the simplest foraging societies (even if it is now again on the rise). In every era before AD 1800, life expectancy at birth averaged less than 25 years; now it is 63 years. Despite all the things we might not like about our own age, it would have seemed like a magical kingdom to people in the past.

What are some of the ways our values might change as we move away from a reliance on fossil fuels?

No one knows what the future will bring, but there are plenty of signs that we are rapidly moving beyond fossil fuels. I argue in this book that changes in the amount of energy humans harvest from the world pushes them into new kinds of organizations which in turn favor different interpretations of core human values; if this is right, we might expect the 21st century to see the biggest and profoundest transformation in values in history. The industrial revolution released a flood of energy in the 19th and 20th centuries, which favored societies that evolved toward democracy, rule of law, peace, freedom, and gender equality; the big question is whether the 21st century will see these trends going even further, or whether it will see them going into reverse. The answer, I suggest, is that it all depends. There are signs that in the short term–roughly the next generation–we will see increasing inequality and increasing acceptance that such inequality is right, along with increasing instability and violence. In the medium term–the next two or three generations–we may see the values of the fossil-fuel age go into overdrive; but in the longer term–say the next century or so–the transformations may become so massive that it no longer makes much sense to speak of human values at all, because what it means to be a human being might change more in the next 100 years than it has done in the previous 100,000.


bookjacket Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels:
How Human Values Evolve

Updated edition
Ian Morris

 

Happy Birthday Albert Einstein

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

This is a huge year for Einstein at Princeton University Press. December marked the celebrated launch of The Digital Einstein Papers, a free open-access website that puts The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein online for the very first time. Today is Albert Einstein’s 136th birthday, as well as Pi Day, which, as Steven Strogatz writes in The New Yorker, is far “more than just some circle fixation.” So once you’ve rung it in with this Pi Day recipe, you might like to check out this book list in honor of the influential scientist and writer, who fittingly enough, shares his birthday with the popular mathematical holiday. Sample chapters for several Einstein related books are linked below.

 

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The Meaning of Relativity:
Including the Relativistic Theory of the Non-Symmetric Field (Fifth Edition)

Fifth edition
Albert Einstein
With a new introduction by Brian Greene
Chapter 1

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 14:
The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, April 1923–May 1925

Documentary edition
Albert Einstein
Edited by Diana Kormos Buchwald, József Illy, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, Tilman Sauer & Osik Moses

Chapter 1

 

bookjacket  The Road to Relativity:
The History and Meaning of Einstein’s “The Foundation of General Relativity” Featuring the Original Manuscript of Einstein’s Masterpiece

Hanoch Gutfreund & Jürgen Renn
With a foreword by John Stachel
Released April 2015

 

bookjacket The Physicist and the Philosopher:
Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

Jimena Canales
Released May 2015

 

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Philosophy of Physics:
Space and Time

Tim Maudlin
Released May 2015Introduction

 

 

#NewBooks released March 9, 2015

Books released during the week of March 9, 2015.

New Hardcovers

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The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left
Landon R. Y. Storrs
“[I]mportant, portentous work…the means by which the once powerful American Left was reduced to stigmatized impotence were farm from pretty. In fact, Storrs argues convincingly that historians have yet to grasp just how ugly they were.” –David Hawkes, Times Literary Supplement

 

New Paperbacks

bookjacket Britain’s Butterflies:
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland

Fully Revised and Updated Third edition
David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash & David Tomlinson
Praise for the previous edition: “Undoubtedly this book is one of the best and could be used to help one find and then identify Britain’s butterflies with confidence.” –Nick Bowles, Atropos

 

bookjacket Islamic Political Thought:
An Introduction

Edited by Gerhard Bowering
Praise for Princeton’s previous edition: “[L]ucid and engaging…Enlightening and challenge…[A] work of high-quality erudition packaged in an accessible manner which will benefit a wider readership.” –Times Literary Supplement

 

bookjacket The Limits of Partnership:
U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century

Updated edition
Angela E. Stent
“In her largely chronological account of U.S.-Russian relations since 1990, Ms. Stent gives a comprehensive overview of the obstacles that have prevented a closer relationship.”–Yascha Mount, Wall Street Journal

 

#TheDress: Consulting the experts on color

White and gold or blue and black are the questions that have been taking the world by storm. For those who managed to miss it, #TheDress is a picture that has been floating around the Internet. Some say it’s white and gold, while others swear by black and blue. Others have even switched their allegiances. Amazingly, one dress has sparked a huge debate over color and how humans perceive it.

Neuroscientists have started to chime in on the discussion with scientific evidence. If you are curious about neuroscience perhaps want to provide some concrete reasoning for your color choice, or would like to read more on the social history of color, check out these two books:


 

bookjacket Colour:
Why the World Isn’t Grey
Hazel Rossotti

 

bookjacket Black:
The History of a Color
Michel Pastoureau

 

Women’s History Month Book List

We have just welcomed March, which happens to be National Women’s History Month. Each year, the National Women’s History Project chooses a commemorative theme. This year’s theme is “Weaving the Story of Women’s Lives.”  Read more about the theme, here. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we have curated a must-read book list.

 

bookjacket The Match Girl and the Heiress
Seth Koven

 

bookjacket On Elizabeth Bishop
Colm Tóibín

 

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Mothers of Conservatism:
Women and the Postwar Right

Michelle M. Nickerson

 

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Why Gender Matters in Economics
Mukesh Eswaran

 

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The Silent Sex:
Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions

Christopher F. Karpowitz & Tali Mendelberg

 

bookjacket The Great Mother:
An Analysis of the Archetype
*
Erich Neumann
Translated by Ralph Manheim
With a new foreword by Martin Liebscher

*published April 2015

 

 

Tracing proto-Indo-European

At a first glance, Indian, Iranian, English, and the European languages appear to have few similarities. Nevertheless, historical linguists have discovered the parallel between the languages, proto-Indo-European. This antiquated language has proven quite difficult to trace and has caused debates amongst linguists. Read more about the origins of modern languages in The New York Times. Delve deeper in this interesting topic by reading The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony. You can read the first chapter for free, here.

 

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The Horse, the Wheel, and Language:
How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

David W. Anthony

#NewBooks released February 17, 2015

bookjacket The Locust and the Bee:
Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future

Updated edition
Geoff Mulgan
With a new afterword by the author
“Geoff Mulgan’s The Locust and the Bee is an important contribution to this field.” –John Lloyd, Financial Times

Best Sellers

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game by Andrew Hodges
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
Irrational Exuberance: Revised and Expanded Third edition by Robert J. Shiller
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
Telsa: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth
The I Ching or Book of Changes Edited by Hellmut Wilhem
Mastering ’Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973 by Mark Greif

Leah Wright Rigueur on the state of the Republican Party

Last Wednesday, the Republican National Committee Black Republican Trailblazers awards took place in Washington D.C.. The event honored black Republicans both past and present, and this year the awards celebrated the largest class of black Republicans in Congress since Reconstruction. Leah Wright Rigueur, author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican:Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power commented on the state of the Republican Party to All Things Considered. Read what Rigueur said and learn more about the awards, here.

Be sure to read the introduction to The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power, here.

 

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The Loneliness of the Black Republican:
Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power

Leah Wright Rigueur

Q&A with Lily Geismer, author of Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Recently Princeton University Press had the opportunity to interview Lily Geismer about her book, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party. Read the introduction for free, here.

Why did you write this book?

LG: The answer to that question changed the longer I worked on the project. I set out to add to and complicate the literature of political and urban history. However, the longer I worked on it I realized that my other goal has been to make readers, especially people who engage in knowledge-based work and who live in suburbs, develop a more comprehensive understanding of the role of policies in shaping their lives and choices. Hopefully, it will help all readers think more critically about their political outlook and decisions.

What inspired you to get into your field?

LG: I was always really interested in contemporary politics and policy and questions of inequality in the United States. I realized as an undergraduate that the best way to explore these contemporary questions came from studying recent American history. When I entered graduate school, I did not intend to study these issues in one particular place or at the local level. However, it became clear that my questions about national political realignment, racial inequality, economic restructuring and the contradictions and transformation of American liberalism were best suited to a study of one particular place and picked to focus on Boston where I am from. The more I worked on the project, I came to understand that many of my questions were unconsciously informed by my experience growing up in Boston and were issues that had interested me since I was a kid and thus were what had pushed me toward the study of history in the first place.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

LG: The best piece of advice I received while I was writing the book came from Thomas Sugrue who told me to write the book as if the audience was my undergraduate students at the Claremont Colleges and I had to explain the concepts to them. This advice really helped me figure out to make the writing clearer and more accessible. The other advice that proved very influential came from the Author’s note at the beginning of by J. Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground about the three families he followed through the Boston busing crisis. Lukas explained, “At first, I thought I read clear moral geographies of their intersecting lives, but the more time I spent with them, the harder it became to assign easy labels of guilt or virtue. The realities of urban America when seen through the lives of actual city dwellers, proved far more complicated than I had imagined.” I found myself returning to this statement repeatedly as I sought to make sense of the politics and point of view of the suburban residents I study.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?

LG: The title for the book is a variation on the famous bumper sticker declaring “Don’t Blame Me, I’m from Massachusetts,” which circulated after George McGovern won only the state of Massachusetts in the 1972 election against Richard Nixon and again around Watergate. I thought it provided a way to capture and explore the dimensions of individualist and exceptionalist attitudes of many people who live in Massachusetts. It also provided a point of departure for me to provide a new examination of the McGovern campaign and show how it was not the failure it is often depicted to be, but a precursor to types of campaigns Democratic candidates would increasingly come to run on in an effort to appeal to suburban knowledge workers.

The design for the book jacket is inspired by a highway sign from Route 128, the high-tech corridor outside of Boston on which the book focuses. I am indebted to the wonderful and creative jacket designer Chris Ferrante at Princeton University Press for the cover design, which far exceeded my expectations. I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by the cover, but, in this case, I hope people will!

What is your next project?

LG: My next project grew out of Don’t Blame Us, especially the final chapter on Michael Dukakis and the Democratic Party’s pursuit of public-private partnerships and high-tech growth and I wanted to look at these questions more at the national level and into the 1990s. Although still at the very early stages, my new project examines the bi-partisan promotion of market-based solutions to problems of social inequality and privatization of public policy from the Great Society to the Clinton Foundation. I am focusing on the network that emerged as individuals and ideas have increasingly moved between government, academia, and business and how this movement connected and contributed to the economic, health care, education, environmental, housing and urban policies that emerged in the Clinton administration as well the development of public-private, non-profit programs like Teach for America; the popularity of microfinance, both in foreign and domestic contexts; and, the decision of college graduates across the political spectrum to seek employment in the private sector and non-government organizations. The project aims to complicate and challenge prevailing ideas about neoliberalism and show how the Democratic Party and its allies both embody and have influenced the pervasiveness of individualist and entrepreneurial-focused ideology in American policy, culture, and society.

What are you reading right now?

LG: One of the best parts of the book’s release has been that it coincided with the publication of books of members of my graduate school cohort and friends in the field, many of which were also published by Princeton University Press. I just finished Andrew Needham’s Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (Princeton, 2014) and Nathan Connolly’s A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago, 2014). Next up are Leah Wright Rigueur’s The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power (Princeton, 2015) and Kathryn Brownell’s Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life (North Carolina, 2014). I have been hearing about these projects for years and it has been so exciting to read them in their finished form.


 

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Don’t Blame Us:
Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Lily Geismer

A Fairy Tale Romance – Aschenputtel/Cinderella

The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm have captivated readers for hundreds of years, inspiring numerous television, film, and theme park replications. Most recently is the live-action film Cinderella, scheduled for release on March 13.

In 1812, the Brothers Grimm wrote a tale that had been passed around through different cultures for centuries, Aschenputtel (Cinderella). Many people are surprised to find out that the romantic Disney version of the classic tale is not the whole story. The premise of both tales is the same: finding true love changed Cinderella and the Prince’s life. But some of the most notable differences between the Brothers Grimm tale and Disney’s adaption are not as romantic:

  • There is no fairy Godmother. Instead, Cinderella receives her attire from a wishing tree.
  • The Prince hosts three balls to find his future bride.
  • The Prince tried to capture the runaway Cinderella by putting black pitch on the stairs.
  • The evil stepmother demanded her daughters to squeeze their foot into the shoe, even if that meant cutting pieces of their feet off.

To view a complete collection of the Brothers Grimm stories and compare them to the Disney version, check out The Complete First Edition of the Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes.

Stay tuned for a giveaway of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by following Princeton University Press on Twitter and Facebook.


 

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The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm:
The Complete First Edition

Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, Translated and edited by Jack Zipes

Interview with Adam Levine, author of American Insecurity on MSNBC.com

Adam Levine talked with MSNBC co-host Krystall Ball on her popular vodcast Krystal Clear about his new book, American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction. Check out the first chapter of American Insecurity for free, here.


 

bookjacket American Insecurity:
Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction

Adam Seth Levine