I’m a writer and I visualize what I’m studying, and the people in my novels. Here’s my idea of two modern guys, Sapati Ole Sirenketi, a leader of the Maasai tribe around Mt. Kilimanjaro, who could be a successful Ubaid Chief, and my son Adan in 2004. They’re both in my earlier books. Appearances are deceiving. Sapati Ole Sirenketi has a Bachelor of Science degree and would have revolutionized the world if he was plunked down in Southern Mesopotamia in 6500 BC. However, as an Ubaid, not the modern Sapati Ole Sirenketi, but his hard side, leader of a band of nocturnal Maasai lion killers using spears and stakes, living in a wattle and daub house–not yet tripartite. And Adan as a man from the Steppes who joins his tribe.
This analysis below is easiest if you read posts 106-113, and watched the videos.
As I said in an earlier post, we are going to apply Dr. Morris’s model to the Ubaid separately, first in their early stages in the TPEG valley before its inundation by the Persian Gulf, and second in their subsequent colonization of southern Mesopotamia, especially Eridu, Ur, Uruk, and Susiana i.e. the immediate predecessor of the Uruk civilization. To do this, I began in post 113 to walk us through Doctor Morris’s book, The Measure of Civilization. We started this process by reviewing his chapter 1, which reviewed previous efforts among philosophers, anthropologists, and archaeologists to quantify social development. This week, we’re going to review Chapter 2, Methods and Assumptions, so that we better understand the model, before we begin to apply it to the first of Dr. Morris’s factors in chapter 3: Energy Capture. So let’s get started.
The following are a student’s notes (mine), or notes if I was going to review the book (in a way I am doing it here, but would write it differently for a formal review). We are talking about Dr. Morris’s work. I am a layman. I introduce no original ideas. In fairness, look at the following as my take on the book.
In Chapter 2, Dr. Morris lists nine core assumptions, describes them, and explains how the social development index works. I am a good student, don’t want to paraphrase that which is well-said and pithy, so I’ll quote my highlights from the hard-copy book I bought. He is very easy to read.
Core Assumptions. There are nine:
- Quantification. Here’s Dr. Morris’s rationale in a nutshell: “If we do not approach social development quantitatively, the debate will continue to be bogged down in a definitional morass.” He recognizes that useful quantification will require very precise definitions.
- Parsimony. Dr. Morris is more parsimonious in his words than I can be, so I simply quote: “Albert Einstein is supposed to have said that ‘in science, things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler’…Academics often suggest that the goal of scholarship should be to add complexity to our understanding of the world…In discussions of why the West rules the main problem has generally been too much complexity, obscuring the central issues in masses of detail. Analysis has run into the classic problem of not being able to see the wood for the trees.”
- Traits. Emulating the United Nations model and Einstein’s simplicity model, Dr. Morris builds a model which has as many traits in priority order as he feels is optimal – but not one more. The UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) has three traits: life expectancy at birth, knowledge, and education. He says the HDI has been inundated with criticisms, “but it has nevertheless proved extremely useful and is very widely used.” He also reminds us that HDI is very different from the Social Development Index (SDI). The calculation of HDI’s indexes appear squishy to me. But with a maximum score of 1.0 for each trait, the HDI will be comparable across cultures.
- The Criteria for a Useful Trait. In selecting good traits, Dr. Morris says the social sciences mostly focus on six criteria. The trait must be:
- Relevant to his social development definition;
- Culture independent in that analysts’ backgrounds won’t unduly influence their interpretations.
- Independent of each other e.g. if we use population and wealth as traits, we can’t use per capita wealth is another trait. (I suggest that perhaps a better way of saying this is that there should be no correlation between traits.)
- Reliable i.e. quantitatively literate people can reasonably agree on what the results say.
- Convenient to collect data and calculate, for more difficulty diminishes the likelihood of doing the necessary recalculations in perfecting the trait, and peer reviewing the model.
- Focusing on East and West Rather Than the Whole World. Morris reminds us that he is doing this analysis to better examine the East – West argument of his earlier book, Why the West Rules for Now. To extend the analysis to the rest of the world would be unjustified for his study i.e. it would fail the parsimony test. He goes on to point out that the real issue—given that the East and West that he compares are within the “lucky latitudes”—is whether the West has been ahead all the way, or East and West occasionally swap the lead. He points out that since the end of the last ice age only East Asia has ever scored higher on social development than the West. Parsimony wins again.
- The Meaning of East and West. Dr. Morris focuses on the diverse definitions of “the West,” and cites a source that there are no less than 12 distinct definitions in academic literature. He then defines the West as the culture that began in Mesopotamia (our Ubaid in question) and spread west from there. Similarly, he defines the East as that which started between the Yellow and Yangzi Rivers and spread north to Manchuria and Korea and south to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Japan. This clear definitional divide avoids ideological rabbit trails about why the West rules.
- Chronological intervals of measurement. One of Dr. Morris’s main goals for the SDI is to measure from the end of the last Ice Age, 14,000 B.C., to the year 2000 A.D. We know that the data grows ever sparser as we proceed back in time from today, the age of mega data, to both Mesopotamia and East Asia in deep prehistory, where archaeological artifacts are all we have to work with. Thus, he assigns a sliding data interval for different periods.
- 1000 years for the period 14,000 through 4000 BC.
- 500 years for the period 4000 through 2500 BC.
- 250 years between 2500 BC and 1500 BC.
- 100 years between 1400 BC and 2000 AD.
- Units of Analysis. All of us know that the choice and specificity of data should relate directly to the object we are trying to measure. Much chicanery has been achieved in purposefully falsifying comparisons by choosing inappropriate measures. Dr. Morris discusses the movement of the center or core of Western and Eastern civilizations with some precision, pointing out how the two cores have moved over the time period 14,000 BC to 2000 AD. To support his model, he has built a table with the time intervals as defined in the prior paragraph, and assigned the appropriate core to each.
- Approximation and Falsification. Morris says, “there is therefore no point in asking whether the social development scores I calculate are correct. Of course they are not. The only meaningful question is, how incorrect are they?” The important criterion is whether they reasonably compare the East and the West. If the errors are systematic, the fix is to move up or down the West line until it matches in time what we already know qualitatively from historical sources. If the errors are random, we will need to examine in detail his calculation of individual scores as will be presented in chapters 3 through 6.
Methods of calculation: trait selection. Considering the aforesaid, Dr. Morris settled on four traits:
- Energy capture per person. He introduces the most reductionist definition of culture he knows: Leslie White’s Law = Energy x Technology, however he judges Dr. White’s calculation of Technology to be less precise than he desires. So, he has broken “Technology” into the remaining three traits listed below.
- Social organization. Morris employs a “trick” used by economists and uses the population of the largest permanent settlement within that society as the proxy e.g. East’s biggest in 2000 AD is Tokyo at 26.7 million.
- Information technology. He defers detailed description.
- War-making capacity. He defers detailed description.
Calculating Scores. Morris has defined the maximum SDI score to be 1000 at the year 2000 AD. Extrapolating the recent rate of SDI growth rate forward from 1000 in 2000 AD to the year 2100, Dr. Morris projects a score of 5000.
The UN HDI has defined 1.0 as perfection: no score will be able to exceed that. The UN came up with an elaborate weighting system. Naroll, the inventor of the HDI, urged equal weight to each of the 3 traits “because no obvious reason appeared for giving one [trait] any more weight than another.” But politics has gotten in the way…and with it disagreement.
Morris can do what he thinks best (scholastic freedom) and “I therefore divide my one thousand points equally among the four traits.” Thus, for each trait, the society which has the highest score in 2000 is automatically adjusted to 250 in that trait, and the proportional change ripples down through all those with lower scores e.g. Tokyo’s 26.7 million scores 250 points for the East and New York’s 16.7 million scores 156.37 points for the West.
The sources for data going back in time get progressively less reliable. In 1900 AD, London had 6.6 million for 61.8 points, and Tokyo had 1.75 million earning 16.39 points for the East.
Morris concludes this exercise with this pithy statement: “This is very much chainsaw art, but since we are using the same methods for East and West, the broad trends should be reliable.”
The calculation method for the four traits is:
- Energy capture per person.The average calorie consumption per U.S. citizen is 228,000 kcal of energy per day, earning the U.S. & West the 250 points.
- Social organization. We’ve already seen Tokyo & East gets the 250 points in 2000.
- Information technology.Details not provided yet. I’d guess West gets the 250 points.
- War-making capacity.Details not provided yet. I’d guess West gets the 250 points.
Major Objections. There are four major ones, as defined by Dr. Morris.
- “Quantifying and comparing social development in different times and places dehumanizes people, and we should therefore not do it.” Dr. Morris says, “…it is the least impressive of the objections” because virtually all arenas of inquiry require varying degrees of abstraction.
- “Quantifying and comparing societies is a reasonable procedure, but social development in the sense I defined it (as societies’ abilities to get things done) is the wrong thing to measure.” Morris replies that such a critic must offer something better.
- “Social development in the sense I defined it may be a useful way to compare regions through time, but the traits I use to measure it (energy capture, organization/urbanization, information technology, and war-making capacity) are not the best ones.” Morris gives a long answer basically focused upon the model’s construction. My reply would beg the question: what would you do differently?
- “These four traits are a good way to measure social development, but I have made factual errors and got the measurements wrong.” Morris replies by talking through the model’s sensitivity to errors in facts and measurements, which could apply to any model.
Conclusion: The Advantages of the Social Development Index. Dr. Morris answers the professional critics, which is good, but I suggest you read the book to get this deep into the arguments.
From the above, we see that we now know a lot more about the development and calculation of the model. We also know how to calculate the first two traits, but don’t know how to calculate the last two: Information Technology and War-Making Capacity. We’ll continue on with the remaining chapters until we get the answers to those questions, and can apply the model to the Ubaid both in the TPEG Valley and in those first four Southern Mesopotamia cities: Eridu, Ur, Uruk, and Susiana.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke