think multivariate

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Wed, 28 Sep 1994 16:25:35 CDT

in the discussion of population pressure, comparative standards of living
over time, and the role of elite exploitation and consumption. LeRoy Ladurie's
climatological research, using careful and detailed observations of advances
and retreats of European glaciers, in Years of Feast, Years of Famine, is
exemplary here, although the period covered, late-Medieval and Modern Europe,
is outside this discussion. A book called Roman Archeology, which is somewhere
between a textbook and a coffee-table book, has an interesting graphic display
of temperature over three thousand years, based on dendochronological data, ie,
tree rings of the North American bristlecone pine, and the graph shows an
above-average temperature level for the entire period from 500 BC to 500 AD,
that is, all Antiquity from the reforms of Kleisthenes at Athens in 507 BC,
one choice for the inception of Classical Greece, almost to the accession of
Justinian The Great, in whose reign the First Bubonic Plague pandemic wiped
out much of what survived of the latifundism of the Roman Empire, with its
enserfed *coloni* supporting a civilian landlord aristocracy ambivalently
protected by upstart warlords.

The impact of the pandemic of 542-549, and its periodic recurrences, are
surveyed in two excellent recent books: Warren Treadgold, The Byzantine
Recovery: 780-842, which summarizes the demographic and social consequences
of the Plague on the former East Roman Empire to clarify what the latter had
to recover from; and Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom, covering
the impact of depopulation and the obliteration of the social order of Late
Antiquity in both East and West.

[Not mentioned in recent scholarship, as it's sheer speculation on my
part, is the possible determination by epidemic disease of the language
in which this is written: In 549 the Plague reached Britain. Shortly
before that date, the monk Gildas, a tiresome castigator of Sin, wrote
a text castigating lapses in matters of sex and faith of the Celtic kinglets
fighting the Angles and Saxons to the east. Gildas was a propagandist,
distorter, and probably a liar, so inferences have been made by scholars from
what he took for granted. Which was, most importantly, that the Celts had
fought the enemy to a standstill, confining "their terrible claws" to the
"eastern parts" of the island, under the leadership of Maelgwynn of Powys,
the worst Sinner of them all. The latter died in 549: The spread of Bubonic
Plague (as opposed to the pneumonic variant, transmitted directly by breath,
which recently broke out in Surat, Gujarat State, and has now spread to New
Delhi and Calcutta) is more dependent on the density of the rat population
than that of the human. Whether the demographic or the leadership factor was
decisive, the Saxons overran the Severn Valley in 557, dividing the Celts into
pockets, later mopped up or penned into poor but defensible hill country.]

What I am saying here is, in effect, that the inception of Medieval Europe
coincides, not only with the decline in global temperature, but at least as
importantly, with the creation, by the irruption into the Mediterranean, of
a demographic sink. Quite small, relative to the pre-epidemic populations of
the invaded areas, numbers of Slavs, as acephalous tribes and subjects of
Turkic or Iranian steppe nomads, poured into the Balkans unopposed; while
numerically puny Arabs likewise overran the Byzantine Near East and the whole
of the Sassanid Persian Empire. The Byzantines re-Hellenized the Balkans in
due course.

Exogeneous catastrophe, epidemic disease mainly, but also vulcanism, tidal
waves, and earthquake (on smallish islands: Thera-Santorini, Crete, Java) is
an emergent [or resuscitated] frontier of social-historical scholarship: The
element of *sheer dumb luck* has, in the Modern period (in the West) been an
in-your-face to the imputation of Moral Virtue or fleawill to societies and
civilizations, with associated "psychologizing" etiological attributions.
[Quoth the World-Systems theorist Immanueal Wallerstein in accounting for
the Expansion of Europe but not of China: "Perhaps China did not really want
to expand." Shrinko superstitions, like those of clergy or Zande witchdoctors,
are the resort of those too learned to say, "I haven't a clue." How about,
China had a *Negative Conquest Experience* in Vietnam, 1403-1427; but Castile
had a *Positive Conquest Experience* in the Canary Islands, massacring, with
the aid of smallpox, the neolithic-technical indigenous Guanches.]

Graber's Law Revisited:

The Plague, as noted, wasted already thinly-populated Western Europe, where
it had the effect of instigating the innovation of labor-saving devices, or
their introduction where their invention had already taken place but their
deployment had been deferred. Old-timers on ANTHRO-L will recall the proposed
mathematical laws adduced by Robert Graber, predicting transitions from
extensive cultivation to intensive cultivation from crop yields, carrying
capacities, and circumscription (Carneiro's usage, equivalent to that of
sociologist Michael Mann's "caging"). As R. Graber elaborated his algebraic
formulae, assuming away nonlinearities, unthinkable in the two short years
elapsed since then, such is the pervasive faddishness of chaos-complexity
theory[!], I would intone from my dark corner, "But what about the landlords."

Precapitalist investment by ruling-exploiting classes in basic food-
production technology and its ancillary processing technology is so rare
in history that, once each instance has been explained, the common element
may be generalized as: suddenly created or dramatically manifested labour
shortages, as perceived by the "macroparasitic" - coinage by J.H. McNeill,
Plagues and Peoples, 1976 - class, which threatened the very existence of
the surplus product off which that class was supported, or the continued
control of the means of violence whereby that class guaranteed the extraction
of that surplus.

[The Marxist usages above reflect the ineluctable fact that, for the
5,000 years of historic class - or "complex" - societies *prior to industrial
capitalism* after about 1870 at the latest, Marxist theory works. It's in the
explanation of capitalist development for the last century and a quarter or
century and a third that Marxist theory screws up.]

The watermill, for example, was recorded by Gregory of Tours, late sixth
century, being installed with some haste on the Isere River, with furious
competition, in one case, between a monastery and a secular landlord over
a choice location. We owe this datum to the nobly-born Gregory having been
a chatterbox, who omitted hardly anything; this, on the grounds that, by his
reckoning, maybe one hundred people in all of Gaul remained literate; and his
books were written as a species of time capsule for posterity.
Watermills in England increased from zero to 6,000 sometime between the
reconstitution of landlordism (once pagan tribal kingdoms had become Catholic
and serious states) and their enumeration in Domesday Book, 1086. The improve-
ment in the plow, the new animal harness, and the emergence of Medieval crop
rotation both took longer and were of obscure effects on output. The trouble
was that the objective of landlordism in the Feudal Age (prior to the High
Medieval period) was neither profit maximization nor maximization of output
(or any of the other Sound Business Practices familiar to us), but the
maximization of military power on the spot; the effective ruler was the
castellan, whose castle was his home and home to his dependent armed and
dangerous meanies. These people ate wheat bread: English "lord" derives
from *hlaf weard*, loaf giver.

What we can dimly trace is the size of the peasant tenement. Bede mentions
the *mansus*, *terra unius familiae*.

[Jesus said, translated into archaized English, "On my father's landed
estate there are many servile tenements."]

We frankly don't know what was meant by a peasant "family," only that
the size of the holding could amound to several dozen acres. The improvement
of the plow, as the cultivation of the rich clay soils of the North European
Plains proceeded, made for a smaller standard holding, the virgate of thirty-
ish acres; finally, the carrucate, a half-virgate, in principle responsible
for contribution of one ox to a plow team. All these were, of course,
mensurational fictions; only the trend was real. So was the consequence: The
demographic-agricultural core of Western European society shifted from the
Mediterranean, where the scratch-plow lingered on, to the clay-soil region,
including the "champion" soils of the English Midlands, where the word once
denoted "large open fields," acquiring its current meaning from their yields.

Flashback to the ninth century. The most-easily grown crop in Northern
Europe, given still-primitive farm tools, was rye. This was the staple diet
of the mass of the peasantry. It was rye, not wheat, which was the host of
the ergot fungus, whose alkaloids include a molecule which with further
processing can be made into LSD-25; though there are easier methods in use
by (mainly illegal) chemists. Most ergot alkaloids are not LSD; they are
deadly poison. They can, certainly, induce vivid hallucinations, such as the
dread "St Anthony's Fire." Even those alkaloids which were chemically similar
to LSD raw material would be shunned by today's Drug user, as the unrefined
alkaloid is rightly feared as horrible poison. Predisposing conditions to
ergot-alkaloid psychosis in the Dark Ages included peasants' lives of fear,
insecurity, violence, Norse incursions, endemic civil war in a polity where
government degenerates into gangsterism and-or gangsters become governments,
and superstition condemned as such even by the Church[!] associated with
crop failures due to drought or rain. Premature rainfall destroyed the crop
by causing ergot infestation. It was commonly believed by peasants that
witches of either gender, *tempestarii*, induced rye-ruinous rainfall by
magical means; suspects were lynched.

In a book entitled Everyday Life In The Age Of Charlemagne (author forgotten
and I desperately want to get out of this computer room, trust me), there is a
story about Agobard, Bishop of Lyons, dated 819. An angry mob threw at his feet
three men and a woman, shackled, demanding immediate action, presumed violent.
The captives told of having taken a voyage in what the author, translated from
the French, called a "flying saucer," above or outside the Earth; then were
brought back. The Bishop let them go; he got irritated at the superstitious
peasant mob for believing nonsense whereby they bothered him, Wasting his
Valuable Time, as you wuld say, with "madmen." (At this time, the learned
authorities of the Church condemned *belief* in witchcraft, an error of faith
subject to penance, retaining this position into the twelfth century.) Ergot
poisoning is not the only possibility; there were more Homeless, as a percent
of the population, in the ninth century than today (but we're catching up).
The relation between social victimization and mental illness is bidirectional.

Bonnie Blackwell appears to share with most citizens of Central NAFTAland
the identification of Drugs as *radix omnium malorum*, root of all evils, much
like sex in the Early Middle Ages and money in the Late Middle Ages. Nicotine
and alcohol aside, both being entirely legal and lethal to tens of thousands
annually, it should be presumed, or tried out as a hypothesis, that Drugs,
that is, socially reprehensible substances, are constituted as such by
Illegality, whence derives an imperative to "enjoy" Drugs even if, in the
absence of advance preparation, the prospective user might find this or that
substance unintersting. (I recall having, years ago, to overcome an aversion
to pot as impairing my already-defective verbal processing and a soporific
exacerbating my narcolepsy, just out of conformist necessity.) Another guess
is that there exists a social imperative whereby a monotonic relation is
posited between gratification and pecuniary affluence, such that violators,
ie, those who fail to get their kicks the hard way by making money first, are
persecuted. Whatever, the effects of LSD are not well known at all, this due
to suppression of research for decades. It is probable, however, that there
is no such thing as "LSD addiction," as the substance in question typically
generates an antidote to itself in the form of intense boredom.

As for the bizarre art of the Late Middle Ages, this has nothing to do
with ergotism, as the Second Bubonic Plague pandemic, 1347-1350, had generated
in the survivors, who enjoyed a higher standard of living due to renewed labor
shortage, a universal taste for white bread. The Bubonic Plague, with its
recurrences every seven to eleven years, cast a pall of preoccupation with
Death all over Europe, inducing extreme psychic reactions from abandoned
hedonism to Flagellism. Death and hedonism are combined in the iconography of
the Dance of Death, one of the more gruesome bits of horror-movie imagery
decorating the walls of churches for the edification of the illiterate.

The ultimate etiology of the twistedness of the Medieval mind must include,
however, Christianity itself. The central mysteries of Christianity are, inter
alia, human sacrifice cum ritual cannibalism; there is also an, uh, ambivalence
toward the Flesh in relation to potential imperilling of the Eternal survival
of Spirit which impels toward extreme emotional states of exaltation and
revulsion. Depiction of the Crucifixion became more realistically disgusting
over time:

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, there is a gallery devoted
to the museum's collection of Compassionate Buddhas from Central Asia and
Northwest China, seventh to ninth centuries. A little ways to the left, on the
diagonal, is another gallery devoted to a priceless collection of Medieval
crucifixes, eleventh to fourteenth centureies. The visitor who is neither a
pious Buddhist nor of the Christian faith [especially the Catholic variant
represented in the iconography] might well, exposed to this comparison,
silently comment, "*sick*!"

Daniel A. Foss