Class Warfare Blog

December 5, 2020

An Error of Extrapolation

Filed under: Culture,History,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:29 pm
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It was a simple error, made long ago, but I have kept it up all of these years. It started from the factoid that the life expectancy of human beings (of the American kind) at, say, the first decade of the 20th century, was roughly 45 years. This was interesting to me because this was close to when my parents were born (1912 and 1919). By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the life expectancy of American females was well over 80 years and American men almost 80 years, so one can conclude that, well, things just keep getting better.

The extrapolation that was in error in my thinking was that from now back to about 1910 there was this large increase in life expectancy and that if one went farther back from 1910, similar changes were expected. Going back to our prehistoric ancestors, their lives must have been nasty, brutish, and short, as claimed by Thomas Hobbes. But in doing so, I made a major error, one of a statistical sort.

What do you think was the life expectancy of our hunter-gatherer modern human ancestors? If you say “fairly short” you will be somewhat right but let me ask another question: at what age did those human relatives usually die (essentially of old age)? This is an interesting question and it has an answer. Our hunter-gatherer forebearers lived well into their sixth or seventh decade, not much different from what it is now. How can this be so?

This will involve a little math, but I used simple numbers to keep everything simple, and well… sheesh, relax, you don’t have to do the math, just read it. Okay, consider a population of 100 humans who all grow up and die at an average age of 60 (some a little younger, some a little older). This means their life expectancy, at birth, was 60 years. What would happen to that life expectancy, though, if 10% died at birth? It drops to 54 years, even though 90 live to die at about 60. And if the infant death rate were 20%, the life expectancy would drop to 48, even though 80 live to die at about 60.

It is clear that the survival rate of infants was much lower in prehistoric days, and so their life expectancy, from birth, was dragged down. But if you survived for five years, better 10, you could expect to live into your 60s or 70s.

Okay, let me now go back to life expectancy in the early 1900’s. It was about that same as it was for our prehistoric ancestors! So, roughly 5000 years of civilization brought what in terms of progress? I think what we got were broader bell curves. The rich did very well indeed, but the poor did very poorly indeed . . . again, the curse of averages. So, the big question is what did civilization give us in the way of progress? For the vast majority of us, it was diddlely squat.

And yet, we have this impression of the inexorable movement toward “greater progress” to come. Things will “keep” getting better! Right . . . !

When people are asked what they want from their jobs, they invariably put close to the top of the list “greater autonomy” in their work, that is the ability to shape what it is that they do. Some degree of control is desired, instead of being told by a supervisor what to do and when to do it. So, what did hunter-gatherers have? Almost complete autonomy. Plus they lived, and still do in remote places, in quite egalitarian societies, and do “work” for only a small part of their days. All this was sacrificed when people were forced into becoming agricultural workers. Plus the poorer diets and close proximities of other people and domestic animals led to human beings being shorter, lighter in weight, being more disease ridden, including dental problems, and having shorter life spans.

Yet we continue in our delusion that being civilized is “better,” even morally so. (“What a piece of work is man …” Shut up, Wil!)

More on this later.

Addendum My mother lived to be 86 and my father 80. Your life expectancy goes up the older you get! There are estimators available on the Internet.

September 29, 2016

Kudos to ESPN

Filed under: Business,Culture,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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Not only has ESPN hired a female, Lindsay Czarniak, to anchor their flagship program SportsCenter but she recently went through a pregnancy and the birth of her first child and now is pregnant with her second child. Not only has there been a “no big deal” attitude regarding Ms. Czarniak’s pregnancies but she also hasn’t been made to cover up the fact that she was pregnant. When I was a youngin’, back in the middle of the last century, women were expected to don garb that masked their pregnancies. Certainly they wouldn’t do anything so outlandish as to wear something formfitting that would let everyone know that she had, you know, done what people do to get pregnant.

Ms. Czarniak wears stylish clothes, clearly showing the state of her pregnancy, and which also surely would have probably gotten her shamed and/or arrested in the 1950’s.

Kudos to Ms. Czarniak and kudos to ESPN for integrating women into their programs, and not stylized, Barbie-esque women, but women with opinions and knowledge and the ability to share that.

PS After I wrote this, the ESPN show Around the Horn, a sports roundtable discussion show conducted in the style of a panel game, had women as three of its four panelists (Kate Fagan, Ramona Shelburne, and Jackie MacMullen, a basketball hall of fame sportswriter). This was not a gimmick show, with cute questions surrounding women’s’ participation in professional sports, the questions were of the ordinary type and the interplay between opinion givers vigorous. Just another sign that the times, they are a changin’.

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