Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is war really the health of the State?

I've just started looking at this paper (link corrected) by Turchin et al. (2013) (model results here). The basic premise is that the organization of humanity from small hunter-gatherer tribes into cohesive states was driven by intense competition between neighbouring groups--such competition being in the form of warfare. Cultures which developed superior military technology (cavalry, chariots, strategy) defeated their neighbours, which then either adopted the culture or were annihilated.

The model was run on a realistic landscape of the Afro-Eurasian landmass, and the authors claim that the results mirror the historical record nicely, suggesting that war and geography are the key controls on the development of the nation-state.

All figures below come from the Turchin et al. (2013) paper.

Imperial density map (visual likelihood that any particular 100x100 cell 
was occupied by part of a large-scale political unit) during time-slices from 
1500 BCE to 1500 CE.

I'd like to put together a more detailed critique in the future when I have a little more to digest it. My first impression of the model output is that I am not as optimistic about the model as are the authors. To me, it looks like the real world is a lot more culturally cohesive than any of their model outputs.

Imperial density map for 500-1500 CE. History (at left) vs. the model (right).

Reality is richer than the model (it usually is), although the model better matched history in earlier time-slices. I think the authors' world view is somewhat bleak, but admit that it is probably a fairly good explanation in the earliest stages of human history. In later stages, I think cooperative trade played a much larger role the transmission of cultural norms and the formation of large states.

h/t Non Equilibrium Social Science


Turchin, P., Currie, T. E., Turner, E. A. L., and Gavrilets, S., 2013. War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, early edition (Sept. 23, 2013). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1308825110

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