Re: Survival of the Fittest

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Wed, 13 Sep 1995 12:35:41 -0230

On Sept 13 Ian Davidson wrote:

[Comment from Nick Corduan deleted]

>I have puzzled about this a bit, without finding the right way to express
>it. I am an archaeologist and always disposed to see a time perspective as
>important. In some senses I suspect that evolutionary arguments,
>paradoxically, do not. Here is the reason. I have suggested (Archaeology
>in Oceania 1989) that the conflict between Aboriginal Australians and
>nonAborigines at contact was a conflict of ownership rules. The
>nonAboriginal rules were always going to win, because they involved
>protection of individual ownership and insensitivity to other forms of
>ownership. Does this make them more "fit"? In the short term undoubtedly.
>But in a longer term I do not know (someone else made this point). I have
>always taught that Aborigines survived for 40 000 years in australia before
>the nonAborigines came (except that Aborigines were nonAborigines when they
>came because they came knowing nothing about Austrlian conditions). I am
>much less sure that the nonAboriginal appropriation of resources (which is
>the result of their/our principles of ownership) can even contemplate
>surviving 40 000 years. So on a long time scale, nonAboriginal ownership
>may well not be fit at all. So how do we measure fitness? Or to put it
>another way, how adapted is adapted?
>As I say, I have not found the right way to express this argument, or
>resolve it. Perhaps members of Anthro-l can help.
>Iain Davidson
>Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology
>University of New England
>Armidale, NSW 2351
>Tel +61 +67 732 441
>Fax +61 +67 732 526

I have not looked at your article and may not have understood your argument,
but it seems to me that it is not necessary that the Non-Aboriginal land
tenure system *had* to succeed, simply because it protected private
property, while the Aboriginal one did not. While in recent history communal
tenure systems do seem to have been giving way to private property ones,
isn't this because those introducing private property have had more access
to force to back up their tenure system than those whose systems they replaced?

Imagine the hypothetical situation of a more powerful society with a more
'communal' land tenure system overrunning and conquering one with a more
'private' or 'individualized' land tenure system. Could they not break up
the prior system of private holdings and convert them of communal land? Are
there historical examples of this? And if the more individualized tenure
systems seem to ultimately win out and replace the more communal ones (and,
as you point out, on a social evolutionary scale they have yet to prove
their really long-run staying power), is the underlying evolutional
principal not simply one of their relative productive capacity, which, among
other things, gives them greater access to force?

I have to say that this is a conclusion which, on ideological grounds, I am
loath to accept as a universal 'law' (in reference to another thread), and I
would want to search for counter-examples, i.e. where the more communal land
tenure sytems were economically the stronger than the more individualized ones.

Adrian Tanner

Adrian Tanner, Dept of Anthropology, Memorial University, St John's,
Newfoundland, Canada. A1C 5S7. email Tel 709 737
8868 fax 737 8686