Monday, May 20, 2019
  Constants and Variables 130, sabertooth secretary edition

Here's an interesting piece of anthropology. It's as close as you can get to a controlled experiment, and it reveals a commonly observed truth that isn't normally published.
Hunter-gatherers in the Philippines who adopt farming work around ten hours a week longer than their forager neighbours, a new study suggests, complicating the idea that agriculture represents progress. The research also shows that a shift to agriculture impacts most on the lives of women.

For two years, a team including University of Cambridge anthropologist Dr Mark Dyble, lived with the Agta, a population of small scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaging in agriculture. Every day, at regular intervals between 6am and 6pm, the researchers recorded what their hosts were doing and by repeating this in ten different communities, they calculated how 359 people divided their time between leisure, childcare, domestic chores and out-of-camp work. While some Agta communities engage exclusively in hunting and gathering, others divide their time between foraging and rice farming.

On average, the team estimate that Agta engaged primarily in farming work around 30 hours per week while foragers only do so for 20 hours. They found that this dramatic difference was largely due to women being drawn away from domestic activities to working in the fields.
Normal discussions of tech history, like normal discussions of "evolution", are based on energy efficiency. If a new organ or a new way of doing things leads to less work and more leisure, it will survive.

In fact "evolution" doesn't work that way. All cells and organs and creatures are implementations of PURPOSE. Each item wants to implement its PURPOSE, and will waste tremendous amounts of energy or even sacrifice itself to achieve its PURPOSE.

And in fact cultural history doesn't work that way. People need to be USEFUL. If a system requires more hours to achieve our USEFUL PURPOSE, we will work more hours.

The computer era has already disproved the more-leisure trendline. All predictors told us that computers would let us work only three hours a day. Where computers have become dominant, people are now working far longer, because DIVISION OF LABOR has dissolved. Work that was previously done by secretaries now must be done by executives ALONG WITH their meetings and decisions. The women who previously worked as secretaries are now exotic dancers or 7/11 clerks or crack addicts.

Now this nice controlled experiment shows the same thing happening at a much earlier stage of tech development. DIVISION OF LABOR is dissolving, with women forced to do man's work along with woman's work. When you misuse skills, you AUTOMATICALLY lose efficiency.

The numbers also serve to disprove the standard trendline. Note that the hunters are working 20 hours and the farmers are working 30 hours. Our standard wisdom tells us that peasant farmers toiled all the time. Careful historians have recently busted this myth wrt the feudal peasants of Europe. The myth was implanted by industrialists in 1800, persuading us that 12-hour days in the sweatshop were an "improvement" over previous back-breaking labor.

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