Category Archives: Technology

(Not) coping with the diversity of the real

The heterosexual/homosexual distinction is relatively recent, being coined in the mid C19th. Like all binary classifications, it is somewhat problematic in dealing with the diversity of the human. That being said, it is not merely a social construct: there is a real underlying diversity in human sexuality that it tries (somewhat clumsily) to grapple with. […]

Post-Enlightenment is the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted

There is a clear difference between the modernist Left and the postmodern progressivism. The modernist Left was an Enlightenment project, and proud to be so. This is the stream of political analysis and commentary represented in our time by such figures as the late Christopher Hitchens and Norman Geras, by Terry Eagleton’s jeremiads against post-modernism and by the Euston Manifesto. They are the […]

Moral sensibility and modernity

Religions have rituals and doctrines: mechanisms of participation and belief. They also engender moral sensibilities that provide ways of normatively framing the world regarding people, places, social arrangements. Most Swedes, for example, are not believing or actively participating Lutherans, yet centuries of Lutheranism being the overwhelmingly dominant flavour of religion has deeply influenced Swedish moral sensibility. When folk try […]

States start with violence and expropriation

I came across this passage in a collection entitled States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance (pdf): A realistic, even if stylized, account begins with the coalition building in which the elites of an emergent state are likely to engage, both with other power holders and with economically successful interests (p.11). It is in a similar […]

History and surplus: 10,000 years in one blog post

Human history has largely been driven by the creation and use of surplus production — that is, production beyond subsistence. (Subsistence meaning sufficient to sustain life and reproduction.) The change from prehistory to history is very much a matter of the generation and use of surplus production. There are essentially only three ways for such surplus […]

Open and closed state systems: the geography of regional unification

Recurring periods of unification were a notable feature of the history of China; notably the Qin–Han (221BC-220), Sui–Tang (589-907), and Yuan–Ming–Qing (1271-1912) periods of unification. (The Northern Song [959-1126] arguably do not count as a full unification, since they never controlled the northern regions, which was under the control of the Liao dynasty [907-1125].) Indeed, of all the major civilisation centres, China was unified more […]

The three ages of trade and the distorting retro-perspective of the modern

The history of long distance trade can be broadly divided into three periods: the globalisation or mass trade period (from the 1820s onwards), a transition period (in an integrating Atlantic economy, from the C16th onwards) and the pre-globalisation or network trade period (prior to the 1820s outside the Atlantic economy). What drives the transition from one period to another is communication and transport costs. Prior […]

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory. The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make […]

American homicide

Using US Census data and FBI homicide statistics to look at US homicide rates by race is problematic, because the race of offender (and of victim) statistics apparently do not cover non-negligent manslaughter. One is forced to multiply such statistics by the ratio of the total homicides counted on that basis to the total including non-negligent manslaughter to get figures that are internationally […]

Fancy maths and data series are no reason to ignore supply and demand

Came across a 2014 NBER paper Betting The House (pdf) by Òscar Jordà, Moritz H.P. Schularick & Alan M. Taylor. I was wildly unimpressed. I am not quite sure whether I am willing to use the tag line of “numbers make smart people stupid”–as per this wonderful post on the adoption of farming, criticising an attempted cliometric study of said transition […]