April 3, 2010

Drexel Woodson
Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology
P. O. Box 210030
Tucson, AZ 85721-0030

Dear Drexel Woodson:
It was instructive as well as interesting to read your chapter about Haiti, “‘Failed’ States, Societal ‘Collapse,’ and Ecological ‘Disaster’” in the book Questioning Collapse questioning the scheme described by Diamond in his book Collapse for accounting for the fact that some societies seem to flourish and others do not.  Your position, and a quite valid one, is that grand schemes fail to address specific complexities.  In fact until I read your article, most of what I knew about Haiti I got out of reading Halliburton’s Book of Marvels as a child.  So my ignorance should be sufficiently profound to attempt a Grand Theory. 

My theory is this: once a society, or a civilization, or a dynasty or whatever you want to consider a large group of people working and socializing together, passes in size a certain threshold, probably less then 1,000, a clock starts ticking.  After three hundred years the clock rings and the society disintegrates.  This is true without respect to clever leaders, intrusive neighbors, environment, climate or indeed anything intrinsic or extrinsic to the society.  It is because of the mere fact of there being one.

Once all the other forces have been eliminated, the only thing left is genetics.  For genetic reasons a large gene pool will become disastrously infertile after a stereotyped length of time.  If you have not heard such an idea before, it is hardly your fault.  Current belief is more or less, “The bigger and more diverse and well mixed a population, the healthier it is from a genetic standpoint.”  The problem with this belief is that there is no evidence for it.  True, populations that are very tiny can suffer from inbreeding.  And the logic of evolution tends to be that the more kinds of gene there are, the more evolution has to work with and the faster evolution will happen.  But again, there is no evidence for this.

What I can offer you is evidence for my own opinion.  And my evidence is massive.  Check it out at nobabies.net.  The most recent summary is the one I posted on March 25, 2010.  There is also other evidence and my correspondence. 

So there is the theory.  Let’s hold it up to reality.  Columbus went to Haiti, but slavery was not introduced until 1517. So somewhere in there the society is established and the clock starts.  Thimgs go badly for the Europeans in 1804.  My technique only has a resolution of about 50 years, so that is right on schedule.  I would expect that going back to the late 1700’s and the first four years of the 1800’s you would find evidence of catastrophically foolish decisions on the part of the Europeans.  This would be because they just did not have a sufficient number of capable people to sustain the system to which they were committed.  Whether that is true would be your call, not mine.  Anyway, in 1804 there was a slave uprising and the Europeans were pretty much wiped out. 

Since then, from what I had hitherto read, Haiti has simply been prey to a host of disasters.  But what might seem chaotic to one observer may seem orderly to another.  In fact, you list seven basic and abiding principles of Haitian society.  If I might be so bold, I shall paraphrase: Former free dominates former slave (this changing in 1804).  Mulatto dominates black (again changing in 1804).  Urban dominates rural.  Landowner dominates landless.  Bilingual French speaker dominates those speaking only Haitian Creole. Catholic dominates mixed Catholic-Vodou.  Male dominates female. 

If there is a large group of people with shared principles working together, then that is a society.  In fact I have never seen the foundation principles of any society laid out so clearly, so concisely nor so thoroughly as you have done.  This is a monumental accomplishment on your part and I applaud you highly.  To say I do not share the principles is beside the point.  Principles they are and a society there is.

That means of course that a clock was stared in 1804.  It should run out in 2104 or thereabouts.  It would be very hard to bring about a profound change much before then and impossible to stop such a change thereafter.

That, at least, is how the theory would seem to apply.  One can only hope that the rest of this century will be more pleasant than certain other times have been in that nation and that the change that is coming will be a good one.

There is one very serious caveat to all this.  The underlying dynamic, as laid out in the web site, is that those who marry kin have more children than those who do not.  And those who marry those that are far distant kin, say out past 8th cousin, do not have enough children to sustain there numbers.  This is a fact that we have pretty much been ignorant of as a world for the thousands of years we might have noticed it.  We are still almost universally ignorant of this.  Were that to change, then all bets are off.  It will become possible for the first time ever for humans to have a rational mating strategy that will assure birth rates of all segments of a society to be sufficient to ensure the survival of that society.  (Which is not to say individuals cannot change their economic status so long as they understand the implications of changing their social group.)  Clearly we have our work cut out.

Thank you again for a very instructive and helpful article.  If you would be so kind, so let me know what you think about this.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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