March 8, 2019
Charles C. Mann
c/o Penguin Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
At the AAAS meeting I went to a lecture by Thomas Bollyky about the impact on population growth incurred by progress against infectious disease. I asked what he thought about the impending fertility collapse. He recommended I read your book, The Wizard and the Prophet. I found it to be as commanding of multiple characters as Pasternak, as lucid as Rachel Carson and as musical as Tennyson. Of course, it has nothing at all to do with infertility, (A mention of “Children of Men” was only as an analogy.), but you can’t have everything.
Best of all, when I look at your bone structure – this may be pure superstition – you look like a man who would literally laugh at a sudden, unexpected threat. If you have never done so, maybe you will soon. Before I get to business, let me gush a bit more about your book.
You discuss violence. I used to buy into the Rousseau Noble Savage notion if you went back far enough, but it turns out that (Dash my picture, I’ve lost the reference.) of all human skulls discovered dating to before agriculture, most had been smashed. Violence, if they are representative, killed more than all other causes combined. There has to be strong selective pressure favoring such behavior. In the 20th century in Sierra Leon the rebels would go to a town, round up people and tell a male ten to twelve-year-old to kill one of the elders. When he refused, the rebels would kill the boy. Eventually the rebels would leave with a few recruits whom they knew would never to desert. If they went home, they’d be killed; ditto if they went anywhere else. In Heart of Darkness Conrad points out much the same thing. Your analysis is about the best I’ve seen although even you do not ask, “What advantage could there be that would be worth such terrible cost?” I’ll get there. Oh yes, in Darwin’s book, How Europeans are Destined to Drive the Lesser Races to Extinction … no, that’s the subtitle; the title is On the Origin of Species, Darwin figured that Europeans were numerous and Africans were not, so Europeans had a selective advantage. Well, once colonists imposed governments that monopolized violence, the Africans showed what they could do.
Another point where you excel is the observation that abolition, declining violence, democracy, women’s rights, the drive for general education and food and health and even gay rights all showed over a historically short time. Alas these things tend to increase social pool size and inevitably depress fertility as you will learn. Three points: 1) Alan Turing proved that no general algorithm will be able to predict what a program will do without running the program. Computers can deal with anything science can describe, but computers are – and will be even when they are planet sized, massively parallel, quantum, deep learning models – unable to do abstract reasoning … but people can. 2) A dog can tell when something is obviously unfair, as in teach the dog to do a chore to get a reward then let the dog see you give the treat to another dog, and the first dog will refuse to do the chore again. So, fairness is a real thing, scientifically demonstrable. 3) Scan a monkey’s brain and show it a movie of another monkey having its right front paw apparently hurt and the scan will show activity in the relevant pain center. Empathy is real.
Ok, stir them together and you get enlightenment values. But it takes a very long time for a society to get there. Most societies die out in about 3 centuries. In 1066 England had none of the enlightenment you describe, but after a few centuries – more than 3 – they put it together.
Back on topic.
You contrast, quite effectively, the intuitive prophet mentality and the manipulative wizard mentality. I am of both minds. My message is, to my thinking, the same as that of Old Testament prophets. “If you marry outside your place of worship, within a few generations your line will die out; this holds for an individual or for a society that does the same thing.” Moses said, “Third and fourth generation”; darn, he even got the numbers right for the specific conditions on the time. And as a wizard I say … wait for it … exactly the same thing except instead of “place of worship,” I say “tight knit little community.”
Avoiding extinction is well worth the violence that we have seen; but the same thing can be accomplished with no violence, no laws, not a red cent spent. Just general awareness. This is not a race thing. Within 10 generations the whole thing fades to background. Survival requires a sufficient number – a large number – of reasonably close cousin marriages.
So be prepared to rage, scream or laugh. But mostly be prepared to give me a hand spreading the word; I have been a monumental failure so far. Look at the DVD. Look at the primary references. If you have the slightest doubt, get right to me. This is my life (my rather dull and sedate life), my life’s work. Don’t worry that my biography isn’t horrible. As you are about to learn, the productive middle class is going to die out first, taking down our high-tech society and leaving 10 billion people with food for a billion and no wizardly assistance. When I look at a child, perforce I think, “If I continue to fail, you will live to see cannibalism become the norm.”
M. Linton Herbert