Monday, April 30, 2018

Deep truths

If, like most archaeologists and anthropologists, you were simply desperate not to have the steppe invaders simply slaughtering all the men and sexually enslaving the women, you have a new alternative.

The original reassuring thought was that endemic disease conveniently preceded the invaders, creating a depopulated space into which the indo-europeans advanced without (much) violence.

But Razib has another narrative which carries the ring of truth:
"During the Mongol conquest of Northern China Genghis Khan reputedly wanted to turn the land that had been the heart of the Middle Kingdom into pasture, first by exterminating the whole population.

Part of the motive was to punish the Chinese for resisting his armies, and part of it was to increase his wealth. One of his advisors, Yelu Chucai, a functionary from the Khitai people, dissuaded him from this path through appealing to his selfishness.

Chinese peasants taxed on their surplus would enrich Genghis Khan far more than enlarging his herds. Rather than focus on primary production, Genghis Khan could sit atop a more complex economic system and extract rents.


I believe that the initial instinct of pastoralists was to turn farmland into pasture for their herds. This was Genghis Khan’s instinct. The rude barbarian that he was, he had not grown up in the extortive system which more civilized barbarians, such as the Khitai, had been habituated to.

In these situations where pastoralists expropriated the land, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for the farmer to raise a family. Barbarian warlords throughout history have aspired to be rich by plundering from civilized peoples…but would the earliest generations have understood the complexity of the institutions they would need to extract rents, if there wasn’t a precedent?

Instead of conventional historical dynamics of predatory elites and static peasantry, a better way to understand what occurred with the incursion of steppe pastoralists during the Bronze Age might be a simple ecological model of intra-specific competition.

In a pre-state society defined by clan and tribal ties, steppe elites may have seen the farmers who were earlier residents in the territories which they were expanding into as competitors rather than resources from which a life of leisure might be obtained. In other words, instead of conquest, the dynamic was of animal competition."
The farmers were turfed off the land as refugees and starved. The steppe barbarians grabbed the best of their women first.


Thinking about the TV adaptation of China Miéville's The City & The City which I recently wrote about, I understood the intellectual salience of 'unseeing' those social realities which power-brokers have made forbidden. What I didn't appreciate enough was the lure of Orciny, the fabulous secret-city soaring above the mundane.

The role of Borlú's wife, Katrynia was to capture that idealistic and utopian longing .. and then to follow the trajectory of Orciny into the abyss. The actress Lara Pulver didn't carry that arc too well: too self-possessed, not quite enough fragility.


Apparently Haskell programmers don't think much of Prolog (impure and type-free) but there's a new-ish kid on the block they seem to be enthusing over: Mercury. I had not heard of this before.

Why am I currently playing with Prolog again? Because when it comes to programming I am the laziest person I know.

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