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  #1  
Old 11-11-2004, 12:06 AM
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Explaining the division of labor

I've picked up Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations again. In the early chapters he explains the division the labor as an obvious development from individuals being better at producing certain things (like arrows) in hunter/gatherer societies.
This explanation is obviously flawed. Hunter gatherer socieities existed for tens of thousands of years, presumably with varying skills in their members, without, complex divisions of labor coming about. In addition, hunter/gatherers exist side by side with labor divided societies. So, it doesn't seem as though it is as easily explained as saying people have different skills.

What was the catalyst that changed hunter/gatherer societies with social theories of property into producing societies with theories of individual property rights. Was it just an historical accident that occurred in one place and spread out, or is there a natural development process.
It's obvious that child producing/rearing could be a 'natural' division of labor, but humans existed for thousands of years with no more sophisticated divisions of labor than this.
Marx connects the division of labor with the acceptance of private property rights. This could be explained by men deciding to own women in order to own their children. If men don't own and control women, since women can be impregnated by multiple men, men won't have clear ownership rights to children. But there is evidence, according to feminist archaelogists that early human societies existed in which women were not property. So did women become property as a result of a prior theory of property and division of labor?

So what is the explanation for the division of labor? Is the best explanation something like Diamond's in Guns Germs and Steel. Is it a consequence of learning how to farm? If so, what is it about farming that necessitates the division of labor?

It's late so maybe I'm missing the obvious, but the answer does not seem clear to me tonight.
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  #2  
Old 11-11-2004, 12:34 AM
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Itís obvious. Men are better able to hunt and kill large game and women can balance things on their head better.
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Old 11-11-2004, 08:29 PM
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I think part of can be explained by the amount of isolation a given society experiences. Once one society comes in contact with another, it discovers things that other society innovated, and offers what it has innovated in trade. So innovation and product become prized. The strong within the society organize their society to produce and innovate more, so more goods can be obtained from their trading partners, and they organize defenses so they cannot be stolen from them or so they can not be enslaved to produce for others. That in turn leads to innovation in warfare, and the discovery that warfare can be substituted for technological advancement and trade goods bartering. As the more advanced societies and more warlike societies come into contact with weaker societies, they absorb them or colonize them.
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Old 11-11-2004, 09:29 PM
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I think it is true that contact with other tribes and the opportunity to trade increase the tendency to divide labor, but those facts don't necessarily lead to division of labor. Look at Native American tribes. The could have traded with each other, and certainly had opportunity to trade with the Europeans when they arrived and given up hunter gathering. Many (Most? All?) refused. The Utes here in Colorado are a good example. The whites tried to force them to become agricultural but the preferred to fight and die rather than become farmers. Would they have become farmers if the evolution had been 'natural' as opposed to imposed from outside (shades of Iraq!) I don't know. But they had existed for a long time with other tribes in close proximity to European labor-divided trading societies and did not seem overwhelmingly inclined to change their economic system.

There's a book by the anthropologist, Pierre Clastres called Society against the State. In there he closely examines the lives of South American hunter gatherer tribes and argues that their lives were more pleasing than the alternatives.
This leads me to wonder if Smith is overstating his case. Is he blinded by his own society and only sees the advantages of dividing labor and does not have a hunter/gatherer society in the immediate vicinity with which he could make a realistic comparison.
To put it another way, is it in fact that case that the transition from hunter/gatherer to the division of labor is not a very attractive change and that only some form of pressure will cause the transformation?
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Old 11-11-2004, 09:44 PM
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Conditions have to be ripe for things to happen. For thousands of years man had no way to count past three. It was one, or many. We take it for granted, but the concept of number is actually rather complex. Even more complex is the concept of more and less. Once man learned that he three needles was in some way greater than four chickens, barter began.

That's my theory at least. Natural divisions exist. It takes man awhile to catch on.
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Old 11-11-2004, 09:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kerry edwards
I think it is true that contact with other tribes and the opportunity to trade increase the tendency to divide labor, but those facts don't necessarily lead to division of labor. Look at Native American tribes. The could have traded with each other, and certainly had opportunity to trade with the Europeans when they arrived and given up hunter gathering. Many (Most? All?) refused. The Utes here in Colorado are a good example. The whites tried to force them to become agricultural but the preferred to fight and die rather than become farmers. Would they have become farmers if the evolution had been 'natural' as opposed to imposed from outside (shades of Iraq!) I don't know. But they had existed for a long time with other tribes in close proximity to European labor-divided trading societies and did not seem overwhelmingly inclined to change their economic system.

There's a book by the anthropologist, Pierre Clastres called Society against the State. In there he closely examines the lives of South American hunter gatherer tribes and argues that their lives were more pleasing than the alternatives.
This leads me to wonder if Smith is overstating his case. Is he blinded by his own society and only sees the advantages of dividing labor and does not have a hunter/gatherer society in the immediate vicinity with which he could make a realistic comparison.
To put it another way, is it in fact that case that the transition from hunter/gatherer to the division of labor is not a very attractive change and that only some form of pressure will cause the transformation?
I don't know if American Indians are a good example. The dynamic I am purposing assumes a longer elapse of time. The American Indians were faced with a situation that was extremely compressed while other primitive societies had a thousand years to convert from HGS to farming. Lets take the Goths for example. The Goths raped, pillaged and burned across the Roman Empire, becoming exposed to indoor plumbing, comfortable dwellings, tasty farm goods, along the way, and over the centuries they went from maurders of the Caucus into gentile manor landlords in France. If we look at American Indian societies that had longer and more gradual exposure to white society such as those who lived on the periphery of the Spanish empire, we find societies that were going thru revolutionary change, like the Commanche, whose society changed from top to bottom because of the horse, and caring for large herds of horses for the purposes of trading them is the beginning of agricultrual. Perhaps if the Utes had had the same kind of gradual exposure, they too may have found some innovation of another societiy that forced them to develop means of production in order to obtain it or produce it themselves. In fact, I did read an interesting study that compared the societal evolution of the Apache, who were much more isolated from both the Spanish and the English-speaking Empires, and how one society, the Comanche became more advanced and more what we would call civilized, while the other were virtual cave men right up to the 20th Century. The Apache had strong societal taboos against strangers and dealt with trespassers only one way - death. They were a society that discouraged any interaction with foreigners. I'll try to see if I can find it, it might offer you some insight.

Last edited by KirkVining; 11-11-2004 at 09:57 PM.
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Old 11-11-2004, 10:00 PM
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Necessity is the mother of invention -- or adaptation. As long as living conditions are harmonious and comfortable there is no need for fundamental change. Outside contact, a changing ecosystem, a shortage of resources -- something must act as a catalyst toward progress.
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Old 11-11-2004, 10:21 PM
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It always bothers me when someone puts into one or two sentences that which I have been trying to express in a few thousand words. That is indeed, the idea in the nutshell, thank you for making it so succinct. The Apaches contolled the Southern Rockies. As long as they kept other humans out, they had plentiful game and forest products, water and a warm climate. The world really worked for these guys, so their interest was in keeping paradise the way it was. The Comanches ranged from Wyoming to South Texas, starving and freezing as they went along, so they were more open to adopting innovations from a foriegn society like metal tools, horse culture,etc and were just beginning to show the signs of evolving into a more fixed society, while the Apaches were still essentially cave men. Of course, neither one did it fast enough for us, so we killed most of them and put what was left on a farm so they could really figure out it was dig or die.
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Old 11-11-2004, 11:50 PM
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"I've picked up Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations again. In the early chapters he explains the division the labor as an obvious development from individuals being better at producing certain things (like arrows) in hunter/gatherer societies."-KE

"It doesn't seem as though it is as easily explained as saying people have different skills."-KE

"What was the catalyst that changed hunter/gatherer societies with social theories of property into producing societies with theories of individual property rights"-KE

"Itís obvious."-Cr

"Conditions have to be ripe for things to happen"-Ku

"The Comanches ranged from Wyoming to South Texas, starving and freezing as they went along, so they were more open to adopting innovations from a foriegn society like metal tools, horse culture,etc"-KV

"Outside contact, a changing ecosystem, a shortage of resources -- something must act as a catalyst toward progress."-GS

"only some form of pressure will cause the transformation"-KE

"Once one society comes in contact with another, it discovers things that other society innovated, and offers what it has innovated in trade. So innovation and product become prized."-KV

"This leads me to wonder if Smith is overstating his case. Is he blinded by his own society and only sees the advantages of dividing labor and does not have a hunter/gatherer society in the immediate vicinity with which he could make a realistic comparison."-KE

"This explanation is obviously flawed."-KE

"Necessity is the mother of invention -- or adaptation. As long as living conditions are harmonious and comfortable there is no need for fundamental change."-GS

All that plus "the Man" keepin me down
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Old 11-13-2004, 12:38 PM
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The twined problems of increasing population density and concomitant resource limitations drive specialization.

Its the same for all organisms.
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Old 11-13-2004, 12:48 PM
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Got some good examples of other organisms responding to these conditions?

Do those two conditions necessarily result in specialization? Are there examples where it hasn't? What are the other choices apart from specialization?
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Old 11-14-2004, 02:59 PM
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1804-"Death to all strangers" The Commanches

2004-"Casino Chips for all strangers" The Commanches

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Old 11-14-2004, 03:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kerry edwards
Got some good examples of other organisms responding to these conditions?

Do those two conditions necessarily result in specialization? Are there examples where it hasn't? What are the other choices apart from specialization?
Its the mechanism of evolution through natural selection.

On a sociological level, my favorite was probably the first experiment of which I'm aware, Rev. Thomas Malthus' research. His own conclusions extrapolated to humans are uh...interesting. I don't think anybody embraces them today. Probably Josef Mengele did.

I think that over the long-term, most lines of evolutionary descent indicate increasing specialization (right up until they go extinct!). The exceptions with which I am familar are certain taxa of insects and fish. Like the cockroach and coelocanth. There are lots of plants like that, especially concentrated in the Magnoliales among angiosperms.

But in terms of specialization within a population and within the lifetime of constituent members, I can think of nothing comparable to humans. I assume that it takes some sort of synthetic ability with tool usage.

Perhaps specialization is too narrow a term. I probably should have used, "resource partitioning". That is probably a more accurate description of what I was trying to say. Thus, humans are probably not evolving at a very high rate right now, but I'm not sure. I'll sidle-up to eugenics and suggest that our ability to bring genetically defective people to reproductive success will likely increase the proliferation of defective genes in the human population. It will be interesting to learn whether we can gain control of the genetic process of reproduction at a rate faster than the accumulation of deleterious genes.

I hope to provoke (or invoke!) jjl somewhere in this to such an extent that he can no longer ignore it: we're actually encroaching on his academic domain and for that reason, I'd defer to his opinion.
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Old 11-14-2004, 04:32 PM
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Ok, I can see the evolution of new species under those conditions. Did similar condtions cause a species like ants to specialize?

This is similar to a discussion that occured many months ago. I think in some ways, Adam Smith must be wrong. When the division of labor occurred, it probably did not have to do with who was best at a specific task. I say that because it seems pretty clear, that once it happened, migration of people between different tasks did not take place often, if at all. The children of blacksmiths became blacksmith's and the children of kings became princes. So, it seems in some ways, an inefficient choice unless the process is mimicking (?sp?) speciation (speciesization?) and it's just not that effective within the human species. It's only recently that the division of labor has resulted in people with skills in a certain area actually working in that area where their skills are instead of doing what their parents did. Even today, lots of people want women to raise kids even if a specific woman's life would be better spent as an engineer.

Does it make sense to think that evolution produced different species under conditions of population growth until it reach the level of humans with their complex abilities to think and use tools. Now evolution no longer needed another species since humans could accomplish the same result within the species itself?
This might account for the alienation of labor that Marx talked about. Other species don't experience alienation because they evolve into their precise niche.
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  #15  
Old 11-14-2004, 04:55 PM
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Yeah, I remember that thread. I guess we got locked-out on that one, too. I think we were exploring the sexual preference/expression phenomena and it got too close to home for some folks. Oh well. That's the risk of thinking dangerously.

I do not know about ant speciation. I think the man to ask is E.O. Wilson. He sort of invented a conceptual field of discussion called, "sociobiology", largely from his research on ants, I think. I haven't read anything by him but I know he is lauded by most biologists who have read his books. If you want to pursue that particular line of enquiry, I think he'd be a great start. I understand he's a good writer, too.

Gosh, asking me to speak with any authority about specifics concerning the cultural evolution through specialization in human societies is going to put me way over the line of any credibility at all. If you accept that I do not know what I'm talking about, then I don't mind speculating.

You're right on the money concerning learning trade craft, I think. The child of a skilled worker is at a strong advantage in learning teh skill. If the child has any knack at all, the child could learn the trade better than another child could learn through trial and error. Additionally, you have all the taboos that grow-up around skills in clan/tribe cultures. I think the combination would tend to solidify skills in certain lineages. It may not be optimal, but it may still be the most stable solution. the inherited skilled worker may not produce the finest net possible, had another more skilled kid been trained, but the nets are still good enough for catching fish. Plus th eolder guy has a built-in incentive to encourage his progeny and discourage unrelated children--the biological imperative is to provide for the survival of one's own genes, not that other bozo's. So a suboptimal solution to net-makking is to leave it to the net family, which ensures adequate, if not perfect net production. And so forth.

However, when the tribe gets so big that clan allegience is less important, then there will be more competition between netmakers in different clans. Other clans may prefer one type of net over another so the prefered netmakers get the best trade goods, including marriage offers. And so forth.

If the population becomes so large that family/clan production is unable to keep-up, some other more efficient system may arise. This maybe the origin of the apprentice/journeyman/master system. Again, it may not produce an optimal product, but it produces an acceptible one. At that juncture, the guild system gains ascendency. It holds sway until demand is so great that mechanized mass-production becomes competitive. mass production produces a large volume of low-quality but acceptible and cheap products. The training methods for mass production are different from guild-based training and so the guild system becomes anachronistic and the split between formal education and labor is complete.
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