Comment by Dokler on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-07T18:16:37.652Z · LW · GW

Neither of these numbers sound great. Living past 80 sounds a lot better to me. Why did pre-agricultural communities have early deaths compared to us if "the ills that you highlight all came about following the establishment of agricultural societies"? They had to die somehow. 

This is almost entirely driven by decreases in infant mortality. The article specifically cites the scenario of a mother giving birth while still carrying their last would probably have abandoned that child. Life expectancy for those that reached adulthood was nearly 70, roughly the same as world average now. 

Also, using "life expectancy" as defined by present society seems biased. Does it really make sense to include infanticide in life expectancy in hunter-gather societies, but not include abortions in modern ones, where it's functionally the same thing? (this is not a moral judgment of either)

Ultimately though you are right that humans now do, to some degree, have longer lives than pre-agricultural humans. Evaluating this will come down to a personal choice between quality and quantity. 


So people in rich countries are better off. Then the question becomes "Will the poor countries stay poor?" If they don't, his whole argument is wrong. (Also the "Everyone's poor, so there's no inequality! Hurray!" argument is a bit strange.) I'll bet that before China's wealth increase, he would have said China would stay poor.

The quote you snip says that the rich in agricultural societies live better than the underclass in those same societies, not better than hunter-gatherer societies. 

How are you defining "poor" and why is it bad? How can one argue that people who only need to work ~15 hours per week are "poor". That is far richer than most the world today. The absence of gold or iPhones says nothing about the human condition.


Why is he assuming that had those same people stayed hunter-gathers, they would treat their women better? It seems like a completely unwarranted assumption.

The anthropological evidence (mostly observation of present day hunter-gatherer groups) indicates that hunter-gatherer groups have high levels of gender equality. Resource accumulation enabled by agriculture leading to gender imbalances is a possible explanation of this pattern.


You're also neglecting the massive population increases that he discusses. An extra life worth living is a net gain. The associated decreases in average wellbeing haven't held up because of better nutritional science and healthcare so there's not even a "repugnant conclusion" trade-off.

This is a different question entirely, evaluating the world as a whole instead of the average individual experience. It's quite possible that the increase in quantity of life that has arisen is or will become "worth it". 

Comment by Dokler on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-07T09:14:18.473Z · LW · GW

I definitely would not argue that now is the worst time in human history to be alive. My comment was that while humans existed only as hunter-gathers, the average life satisfaction was likely higher than now. Social bonds were closer, there was significantly more leisure time, and labor was maximally fulfilling. The ills that you highlight all came about following the establishment of agricultural societies and indeed continue to exist to a greater degree now than they did for pre-agricultural humans. 

I'd recommend checking out this article by Jared Diamond that reviews some of the anthropological evidence supporting this view:

Comment by Dokler on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-06T08:18:32.006Z · LW · GW

I think the best interpretation of the question would be to strip out one's personal experience and consider it a comparison of two societies. Comparing your life specifically with a hypothetical one doesn't seem productive to me. Therefore, I'd ask it as either:

What time/place would you choose to be born as a random person?


What time/place would you choose to be born as a median person?

Comment by Dokler on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-06T08:03:40.312Z · LW · GW

In addition to Kaj_Sotala's points about hedonic adaptation, I'd add that many technologies seem on-face to be strictly good, but actually carry significant costs. Additionally, the benefits don't accrue to the individual, but instead towards some vague idea of progress.

It is incredible to have the internet to immediately answer any question I have. However, each question I take to the internet instead of a person in my life, it decreases my connection to community. I take a Lyft to the airport instead of asking a friend for a ride. Instead of stopping to ask for directions, I check an app on my phone. While these are certainly convenient and don't seem like much, it seems clear that they are also eroding social bonds.

Any advantage gained by technology is given back in pursuit of more. Faster transport leads to people being more spread out, not better connected. Same for technologies like the phone and video chat. More efficient work hasn't led to shorter work days or better lives. It is staggering that individuals today have far less leisure time than those in hunter-gather societies. Plus, it's tough to imagine hunter-gather work being less fulfilling than the average job today. 

If I had to be reborn as a random human in 2020 or a random human sometime between the end of the ice age and the first agricultural society, I'd easily choose the latter. 

Comment by Dokler on April Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-04-06T16:54:49.546Z · LW · GW

I emailed this comment and my reply to Elodie Ghedin, a molecular parasitologist and virologist at NYU for her thoughts on this. Here is her reply (posted with permission):

"Thanks for reaching out. 

To my knowledge, there has not been an association of PCP with COVID-19. The percentages compared in that comment are not really comparing the same thing.

In severe COVID-19 cases there is indeed pneumonia but that's a general term indicating inflammation due to the virus itself. It can however be followed by an opportunistic infection, mostly from bacteria.

At first blush SARS-CoV-2 is not doing anything all that different to the immune system than any other acute virus infection. "

Comment by Dokler on April Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-04-06T16:54:49.546Z · LW · GW

I have no medical background, but wanted to add that the prevalence of Pneumocystis colonization in the general population is approximately the proportion of cases of COVID-19 that are symptomatic (~70%). We don't know either of these numbers with great confidence or precision, but these estimates appear consistent with your hypothesis.

Edit: additional source showing 68% of COVID-19 cases have a dry cough (page 4)