[extropy-chat] Gandhi and EP was Bushido

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Apr 26 14:11:31 UTC 2007

Keith and BillK write

>>The Northern Ireland women had the same birth rate reduction as the
>>rest of the UK. And a similar birth rate reduction occurred in the
>>modern states in Europe as well. The birth rate reduction had nothing
>>to do with the IRA terrorism.

One important way that reduced population growth *does* play a
factor in preventing war is that a country's leaders have much less
fuel to play with. Another is that for most of history it has been the
young who are warlike and aggressive, not their elders. (For example,
World War I was preceded by feelings of intense nationalism far more
among the young than the old. [Paul Johnson, "Modern Times, History
from the 20s to the 80s.])  And when there is a demographic bulge
among the young---who seem predetermined to want to change the
world---I do believe there to be "social pressure" for war (normal
conditions prevailing).

> You missed the important part of the sentence, "economic growth got ahead 
> of population growth."  It doesn't take low birth rate to do that, for 
> example, Ireland could have discovered oil and that would have had the same 
> effect.  But it is easier for economic growth to get ahead of population 
> growth if the population growth is low.

Yes and no. Consider the events leading up to the tumultous fourteenth century
(to use Barbara Tuchman's phrase). There was very steady population growth
throughout the thirteenth century in Europe, and yet few wars, even though
the poorest were being slowly squeezed to death economically.  What happened?
It seems to be a combination of effects. There was (1) aristocratic overpopulation
(2) climate change (cooling hardens the human condition), and several other
factors [see "War and Peace and War", the brilliant history book by Peter 
Turchin, which may be the single best history book I've ever read].

When (1) the aristocrats---who in normal times have a higher birth rate---become
too numerous, they fall to fighting among themselves. One obvious reason is that
two or more sons can inherit just one set of properties. If just one son gets it all,
then the others are free to engage in Crusades or civil wars. France and England
went through multi-cycles of war and peace in their early years (1066 - 1450),
(1500-1800), but were often in a different phase.

The fact that France and England were not always in the same phase of disintegration/
reintegration does weaken too broad claims of (2):  climate change. A worsening
climate naturally brings about starvation, and this too makes available for war many
bands of desperate men of fighting age.

Many factors are involved. 

> How do you account for the fact that the modern states of Europe have gone 
> so long without a war?

The primary reason that the frequency of war---however you measure it, whether
by actual numbers of wars, by percent of time that nations are engaged in war, or
by probability that a single male will be killed in war---has almost monotonically
decreased over the last thousand years  is that wars have become less profitable.
Usually nothing was more attractive than pillaging a neighbor land;  the Vikings
and early Russians lived, it seems, for little else.

*One* of the factors that modern states of Europe---I think Keith means since
1945---engage in war less is indeed smaller population growth. When you have
fewer young restless men desperate to "do something", it's harder to get a war
going.  Take the U.S. today:  it can barely get enough troops to conquer Iraq,
whereas with a tenth of the population a hundred and fifty years ago, the North
could conquer the South. Without a lot of young men culturally and politically
ready to go at it, wars are just hard to sustain.  (That's another reason that the
West is really in for bad times in the conflict against militant Islam.)


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