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Two Reviews of S. M. Newman, Demography, Territory and Law: Rules of Animal and Human Populations, (Countershock Press, 2013)

Reviews by Dr Joseph Wayne Smith and Professor Peter Pirie: "A contribution to [evolutionary] sociology of Weberian dimensions, combining innovative hypotheses, critical thinking of the highest calibre and a firm commitment to seek facts rather than be bound by politically correct dogmas. It is scholarship at its best ..." (Smith). "A major contribution of Newman's book is the examination of incest avoidance and the Westermarck Effect. The way in which incest avoidance and and the Westermarck effect limit mating in proximate populations and therefore on the distribution and density of populations is particularly important in the Pacific Islands which characteristically are of small area and were populated recently compared to other regions and originally by small bands surmounting marine distances. In the future, demographers, sociologists, population geographers and particularly, anthropologists, will be unable to ignore these two forces, and need to be grateful to Sheila Newman for bringing them to our attention." (Pirie)

Demography, Territory & Law: Rules of Animal & Human Populations


Joseph Wayne Smith
Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health
University of Adelaide

This book by evolutionary sociologist Sheila Newman, is book one of four books developing an evolutionary and ecological sociological study of the biological basis of politics, economy and demography. It is a broad-ranging multidisciplinary approach to the study of human society which sociology has long ago abandoned for a descent into jargon, word games and empirically unsubstantiated theory. Not so for Newman who believes and demonstrates that sociology can be scientific, but only if it abandons its isolationist Durkheimian commitment to seeing social facts as sui generis.

The subtitles of the other forthcoming volumes in Newman’s master work are: Volume 2: Land Tenure and the Origins of Capitalism in Britain; Volume 3: Land Tenure and the Origins of Modern Democracy in France; Volume 4: After Napoleon: Incorporation of Land and People. The collected works promises to be, judged by the outstanding merits of the present volume under review, one of the most important contributions to sociology in recent times. Newman systematically applies insights from a wide range of sciences. Further, and refreshingly, she is a French speaker as well as other Latin-based languages, and she has studied the history and philology of Roman language, all giving her access to debates outside of the Anglosphere.

The principal thesis of The Rules of Animal and Human Populations is that both human and animal societies have distinct patterns of dispersal. These patterns affect the size of populations, and in humans, the very nature of economic and political systems. Thus, different land-use, planning and inheritance systems have different outcomes, with some systems resulting in sustainable steady-state economies, while others are geared to exponential growth, the ultimate price of which is collapse. Peeping ahead, clan-based communities, in the Pacific and New Guinea for example, where traditional land-use and inheritance systems are retained, people retain control over natural resources and do not commodify the land by buying and selling it. People strive to prevent, as best they can, natural resources from being alienated and destroyed. This contrasts with the fossil-fuel intensive Anglophone countries where almost everything which can be commodified, has been. These countries are facing a multi-dimensional environmental crisis that is likely to result in social breakdown and dislocation. When collapse does occur societies’ property ownership returns to family connections with the land, and over time the family and clan system re-emerges. Newman hopes that people in the rapidly growing Anglophone societies may be able to regain these organic systems of social organisation as protection against the onslaught of global capitalism.
Newman argues that these seemingly unstoppable forces of population and economic growth which are leading Anglophone countries like the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada to overshoot, do not exist in the Western continental European systems. Europe’s population is already too big and is causing environmental destruction, but natural attrition is downsizing the population to more sustainable levels. Writers like “Spengler”, David P. Goldman, in books with melodramatic titles such as It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You, (RVP, New York, 2011), raise an alarm about such a decrease in population, but ecologically it is really just the population returning to more sustainable levels. By contrast, countries such as Australia, through undemocratically imposed immigration, largely produced by the lobbying muscle of powerful ethnic and business groups (especially the housing/real estate lobby), are set to push their populations to completely unsustainable levels, paying no respect to environmental and resources crises such as peak oil. Part of the problem with Australia’s runaway growth in population, Newman points out, is that people, as in other Anglophone countries, have little democratic power to defend communities from the assault of the forces of the market, by contrast to continental Europe where the state controls most of the land-use.

Anglophone countries have political and business elites dogmatically committed to unending economic growth and “progress.” Progress has become a secular religion for them. In chapter 1 Newman subjects this religion of progress to a penetrating critique. Progress requires vast quantities of materials and energy, in the form of fossil fuels. What happens in complex computer societies if there is no longer abundant fossil fuel? Is freedom, democracy and “progress” in such complex societies a product of relatively cheap fossil fuel, and will these institutions disappear in the coming age of scarcity? Her answer is “yes”, for democracy in the sense of full participation in decisions is more likely in small communities not based on techno-industrialism. She sees “peak oil” and the rapid depletion of other resources needed for techno-industrial societies to grow, as major forces terminating their lives.

If economists have been wrong about the ideology of progress, what else have they been wrong about? Chapter 2 of Rules of Animal and Human Populations discusses myths of fertility and mortality that have dominated contemporary anthropology, especially the idea that hunter-gatherer societies, supposedly lacking mechanical contraception, only maintain stable populations through Malthusian forces and violence, producing high mortality. Newman goes to considerable lengths in this chapter to show that modern anthropology has forgotten a massive body of evidence about “pre-transitional” societies, such as the Kunimaipa people in the highlands of Papua New guinea, who maintain stable populations through a variety of strategies such as breastfeeding for four or five years, abortion, infanticide and post-partum taboos. Other societies have used equally as innovative strategies to prevent women being sexually active during a large part of their adult life, including norms of premarital virginity, incest avoidance and other restrictions. For example, brothers traditionally shared one wife in Tibet leaving 30 percent of women without an opportunity for marriage. Surprisingly enough, even Malthus documented cases of stable populations in continental Europe at the end of the 18th century, such as the Swiss parish of Leyzin. There are, though, other important factors including incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect which Newman discusses in depth.

Newman advances a new theory about how incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect impact upon patterns of human settlement and population growth. Incest avoidance, the avoidance of inbreeding, is not limited to humans but occurs in many other organisms including cockroaches. Second, the Westermarck effect, first observed by 19th century Finnish sociologist Edvard Westermarck (1862-1939), is that incest avoidance also applies to people raised together independent of whether or not they are genetically related. The effect has been confirmed many times. Newman argues that contrary to received sociology, incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect are probably indistinctive norms in humans, a product of genetic algorithms underpinning human social organisation. Inbreeding avoidance occurs in many other species, including plants, suggesting that a mechanism such as hormones may be the generative mechanism rather than conscious calculations. In short; “hormones will deliver more or less fertility according to the availability of living space. Space (territory) required per individual will be affected by density and reliability of food distribution, and all of this will be mediated by some degree of incest avoidance/Westermarck effect, which is also related to social dominance.” (p.83)

Incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect have the impact of avoiding the genetic ills of inbreeding, producing fewer homozygous defective genes, but beyond this, incest avoidance regulates population size and density so that animals would have more territory than if numbers were greater without restrictions on inbreeding. For humans, Newman argues, population dispersal and spatial organisation are a function of incest avoidance. Conventional sociology holds that incest avoidance is achieved by modes of population dispersal, but Newman proposes that incest avoidance itself causes dispersal. The same algorithms of population spacing found in other species are hypothesized to occur in humans and these algorithms are adjusted to hormonal responses to sensory feedback from the environment. Anglophone countries have been severely disorganised by runaway capitalist development which has broken relationships with the land which have traditionally been used to navigate incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect, leading to a “chaotic soup.” Disrupted societies, be they of men or mice, have a tendency for unstoppable population growth and the overshoot of ecological resources.

Many collapseologist theorists have agreed with writers such as Jared Diamond in Collapse in seeing Easter Island (Rapanui) as a paradigm case of a society overshooting its ecological limits. However, Newman in the final chapter of her book sets out to show that this story is incorrect. In a fascinating critique she points out that there is no evidence that the Easter Islanders ever achieved population levels of 10,000 or even 5,000, and that demographic decline is poorly documented. Further, these people lasted 900 years before the collapse, which suspiciously enough occurred just before the arrival of Europeans. She notes that European trade wars over South American and other colonies had been occurring for more than a century, so it is implausible to suppose that Easter Island was in splendid isolation up to 1722. It is a more parsimonious explanation to posit that European contact led to Easter Island’s destruction, and there are in fact documents indicating that Europeans enslaved the people of Easter Island (see Benny Peiser, Energy and Environment, vol. 16, 2005, pp. 513-539). The population of Easter Island may never have exceeded 2,000 – 3,000 people.

In conclusion, Rules of Animal and Human Populations is a contribution to sociology of Weberian dimensions, combining innovative hypotheses, critical thinking of the highest calibre and a firm commitment to seek facts rather than be bound by politically correct dogmas. It is scholarship at its best which is now being frequently done outside the intellectually stifling confines of the modern university.

Review by Dr Peter Pirie, Professor Retired at University of Hawaii at Manoa:

This is an original, enjoyable and thought-provoking book which additionally, has the admirable virtue of quoting one of my works at some length. The paper cited was "Untangling the Myths and Realities of Fertility and Mortality in the Pacific Islands",(1997). "The Rules of Animal and Human Populations" examines the rules, workings and effects of economic, political and social systems as they have developed in modern societies as compared with the same systems as they applied to traditional societies. The Pacific Islands, because of their small dimensions, relatively recent human settlement and varied histories of colonialism are particularly useful as examples of the transitions. Newman's interest in my work lay in the instances I described in which Pacific Island populations did not conform to the theory of demographic transition.

For instance I suggested that the surge in fertility that followed the introduction of effective public health in most colonial territories was not, as was then commonly described, a return to "traditional" levels that had been disturbed by the introduction of alien diseases following their "discovery" and colonization by European powers. It was instead a destabilization that could lead to unsustainable population densities and poverty if not checked by limiting birth numbers or permitted emigration. In the absence of the vast majority of communicable diseases that could have depressed population densities, traditional societies on the Pacific islands employed an ingenious variety of ways of limiting human reproduction in the interests of keeping population densities in comfortable relationship with local resources. Among these stratagems were gender separation, customs which delayed marriage such as bride-price, prolonged lactation, post-partum taboos and temporary separations, attempted contraception, abortion and infanticide, deprecation of sexual interest, acceptance of homosexuality, and the encouragement of celibacy. All of these have been observed in recent times in isolated or less impacted populations such as remote atolls and in parts of New Guinea but also recorded in descendant cultures where contact has been more prolonged so that these practices may have been abandoned (or suppressed).

What I did not include in my primarily demographic account, because the anthropologists on whose work I depended never mentioned them, were incest avoidance" and the Westermarck Effect. The examination of these two is a major contribution of Newman's book. The way in which incest avoidance and and the Westermarck effect limit mating in proximate populations and therefore on the distribution and density of populations is particularly important in the Pacific Islands which characteristically are of small area and were populated recently compared to other regions and originally by small bands surmounting marine distances. In the future, demographers, sociologists, population geographers and particularly, anthropologists, will be unable to ignore these two forces, and need to be grateful to Sheila Newman for bringing them to our attention.

S. M Newman, Demography, Territory and Law: Rules of Animal and Human Populations, Countershock Press,, 2013 (paperback). Kindle and paperback version available from Order by mail from PO Box 1173, Frankston, VIC, Australia, 3199 or write to astridnova[AT] Or buy direct from or from Lulu.

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For example, the Australian economy set to record 22 years of consecutive growth yet we are being told that our lifestyles cannot be maintained, and next generations will not have the benefits for this, or past generations. It's a downward slide, and increasing scarcity, not a progress!

Budget surpluses are shrinking, and more people must be serviced with less!

By no means all economists are agreed that GDP is an effective tool for measuring our well being. The problem with GDP as a measure of human welfare is that GDP only measures financial transactions on goods and services. This leads to the rather odd situation that bushfires mean a rise in GDP yet people volunteering to care for disadvantaged people does not count. Many disasters can stimulate the GDP, and spending, but are not desirable.

The high population densities do not mean that more people mean prosperity, but that prosperity spurs people to have more children. India and Egypt have recently acknowledged that their huge populations impede economic and social progress, but a recognition of an issue is not enough.

The ability to save lives and create better medical treatment has been increased lifespan and the growth of the population. Illnesses that had claimed thousands of lives till now were cured because of the invention of vaccines. Better obstetrics has also reduce child birth deaths, and infant mortality.

Another problem is the loss of the concept of nation-hood. Some have argued that national identities are declining, due to increasing globalisation, the growth of supra-national organisations such as EU, the increasing multicultural nature of our societies. World War I destroyed many of Europe's old monarchies, and weakened France and Britain. Many African and Asian colonies became independent in the 1960s. The new underdeveloped countries could become developed, but their economic situation generally grew worse as their structures were destroyed along with their traditional ways of life, mateship patterns, ancestral ties, and identities.

Too many people means to many uncontrolled mess and chaos. The world cannot live in peace with overpopulation.
Dr Paul Ehrlich says: " Too many people – and especially too many politicians and business executives – are under the delusion that such a disastrous end to the modern human enterprise can be avoided by technological fixes that will allow the population and the economy to grow forever. But if we fail to bring population growth and over-consumption under control — the number of people on Earth is expected to grow from 6.5 billion today to 9 billion by the second half of the 21st century.."

The Guardian is running a couple of good videos. One is about property speculation and disruption of communities, creation of slums. However the Guardian says NOTHING about population growth and how the speculating countries rely on forcing population growth up, mostly through high immigration. The Guardian has also recently fueled world hostilities by publishing rumours about the MH17 tragedy being caused by Russia, when there is no proof of this. This is incredibly dangerous for world peace. So, the Guardian is not a force for good, just a wolf in sheep's clothing like most other mainstream news sources.

The second video gives us a good run-down on new protest laws in Victoria, Australia.

As someone who has read "Demography, territory and law", I now very seriously question the received knowledge that throughout human existence, most humans only managed to live for 2 or 3 decades, and for most of that time, never achieving even the biblical 3 score years and 10. To me it doesn't make much sense that people with access to food in its purest form and NOT obliged to work in unnatural postures and places (e.g. sitting down indoors , or crawling down a coal mine ) for most of their daylight hours would for the most part be unhealthy and die in what should be the prime of their lives.
This morning I heard an interview on the local ABC station with a spokesperson from the NH and MRC ( National Health and Medical Research Council ) about a “paleo diet” This person was opposed to such a diet because it meant eating what people ate thousands of years ago when life expectancy was "only about 30 years" and therefore it was an unhealthy diet. The interviewer asked him what a "paleo diet" consisted of, to which he answered that he didn’t know but that it must have been a poor one since people died so young . He said that NH and MRC knew what was a good diet for humans and it wasn’t a “paleo diet” ( which seems to consist of meat, eggs, salad (leaves) fish , shell fish fruit and nuts – shocking!! ) What if it could be shown that people did not die young and that many lived to 60 or 70 years old , even 80? Would it still be a terrible diet? The judgment from this authority relied entirely on the short lifespan conviction.

It is really quite incredible what nonsense officials spout, isn't it. I mean you only have to look at photographs of people who survived on 'paleodiets': pre flour and water Australian aborigines, Masai tribespeople, Zulus, PNG tribespeople, Pacific Islanders - most of them big, tall and very healthy. And those who lived in Africa lived in highly biodiverse environments with massive stocks of big predators and big grazing animals. Many of these people lived to a ripe old age UNTIL colonisation dispossessed them and made their lives increasingly precarious, contributing to high infant mortality and short lives - at the same time as it often actually caused the births of more children than customary. They have tales of their old people, they looked after their grandmothers, and photos of elderly people survive. Most of our data on these people comes from the time when they were dispossessed and was collected by the dispossessors, whom it suited to believe that these people had always died very early and had always lived in misery, just like the poor British when the same thing happened to them.

It is a big problem that we live in a society where anyone given authority by the press can spout fluent nonsense and no-one questions it. The sort of diet that is making us all fat today and causing diabetes II in children, where we consume excessive fructose and sucrose, has been marketed to us for years by giant corporations that profited from this change in diet, such as cereal producers.

So what is someone like that doing on the National Health and Medical Council - waxing disapproval of diets about which he admits he has no detail whatsoever? This is a government body that funds research! Ah, but where do those funds come from in our increasingly corporatised society?

Let's face it, anything to do with food in our society is big business, so, don't expect real science if there is a lot of money to lose.

The average lifespan was low, because of child mortality. Having people die during childhood really brings the average down, doesn't it? An infant mortality rate of 40% will cut the average down to the 30's. The standard deviation is important here. Lifespans are increasing, but the average is increasing moreso, due to a lowering in the standard deviations. More and more are making it being elderly, rather than the maximum lifespan increasing.

But think about this. We KNOW that many figures in classical history, over 2000 years ago lived to their 60's and even later. Plato made it to 80, Socrates 71, Leonardo Da Vinci 71, Plutarch 71. Pythagoras 75. These are good lifespans even by today's standards.. The average is low due to the higher likelihood of premature death which while IS a cause of death, it is different to increase longevity. Longevity hasn't change as much, what has changed is the lessened likelihood of being struck down by disease, war, starvation, etc.

So some see this 'average' and then extrapolate this to 150 year lifespans. But I ask, do these people not see these lifespans, stories and knowledge of 'old people', and then question this 30 year lifespan nonsense? Does no one think, that if people died in their 30's, that society would have fallen apart, as no one would be raising children?

It is interesting how people can spout such 'wisdom', SEE that history doesn't support it, and still spout it...

Yes, it is interesting isn't it. It's kind of like the Ignorance Matrix.

I also question the child mortality. If the child mortality was much lower than popularly assumed (based mostly on agricultural and displaced and hierarchical populations) then the number of people living, like Da Vinci and Socrates to 71 and Plato to 80, would turn out to be all the higher.

Also, with cooperative breeding often meaning that many men and women neither married nor had children, it's quite likely as well that many women did not even risk dying in childbirth (that hoary old life-expectancy reducer) and characteristically lived even longer than the men.

Karen Hitchcock, see below, sounds like a woman that the population movement would be wise to support by repeating her words, linking to her interviews and promoting her work.

She just interviewed most effectively on the 7.30 Report in Victoria tonight on how she, as a doctor working with the elderly in a major hospital, perceives that the attitude [such as that purveyed by the growth lobby] against the elderly is having a terrible effect on elderly people. She was advocating treating elderly people in a positive way, both practically and ethically. She was a typhoon of fresh air.

She did not say that the way the elderly are discussed involves hate speech but I think it does and I think that that is what the growth lobby exploits and encourages. I have ordered her essay and hope to read and cite more.

"The elderly, the frail are our society. They are our parents and grandparents, our carers and neighbours, and they are every one of us in the not-too-distant future … They are not a growing cost to be managed or a burden to be shifted or a horror to be hidden away, but people whose needs require us to change …"

—Karen Hitchcock , Dear Life

In one of Bernard Salt's public speeches a few years ago under the auspices of one of the councils Salt ridiculed elderly widows alone "rattling around" in their 3 bedroom houses. He strongly urged them to move out and make way for young families as though they no longer had the right to stay put. A friend's mother came home from this meeting, very upset as she really thought that she would have to move house.
Old age as with any age or stage of the human life span has its challenges both physical and emotional and there is a loss of power. It requires adjustment and effort to accept changes and to remain happy. The constant undermining of older people and the criticism they get (either overt or implied) in the media for leading their lives as best they can, especially when they are doing something enjoyable like playing sport or traveling, is a very damaging judgement on them. Just as with teenagers adjusting to adulthood and with all the insecurities that this brings, the last thing either age group needs is rubbishing from the media and from mouth pieces of the growth lobby like Bernard Salt.

Re: S. M Newman, Demography, Territory and Law: Rules of Animal and Human Populations, (Countershock Press, 2013) and S. M Newman, Demography, Territory and Law2: Land-Tenure and the Origins of Capitalism, (Countershock Press, 2014)

Dear Sheila

I've finished Book 1, and I've started Book 2.
I didn’t expect I’d be saying this: Where’s Books 3 &4?
Wonderful. Some years ago I belatedly learned that the most fun in life is learning.
Amazing. I had no idea on how much you had to teach, and how much I was able to learn..

I had no idea that incest restrictions was the dispersal force – nor that animals had the same propulsions.

And the Westermark efffect was of course entirely new to me. Also, you convinced me about what is likely to have happened on Easter Island, overturning the Jared Diamond/mainstream analysis.

Also it’s wonderful that you have discovered old and forgotten and marginalized sources that give what seems like a more accurate picture of what’s going on and what has happened.

None of this was taught to me in high school or in the NYT or anywhere else.

You have certainly made a tremendous breakthrough.

I’ve learned now to be more patient until I’ve seen your presentations and research.

So I’m looking forward to finding out how ancient societies, like the Babylonian, Roman Empire, China, India , millennia before the industrial age, ran pretty much according to the same unsustainable rules, devouring resources, as we are today, and crashed as a result – how they fit into your theories.

Plus look what happened in pre-historical times: the extinction of the large mammals.

I’m reminded of a documentary I saw years ago about the Greek port of Pireaus, if I’m not mistaken. They explained how over time, more and more of the trees were cut down for fuel, the rain brought down the mountain and the port extended out it turned out for a mile or more into the sea and no more mountain.

I gather it fits in somewhere.

In historical novelist Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon stories, set in 9th century Arthurian, not quite Britain, the main character again and again sees traces of a much more advanced technological Roman civilization and bemoans the depths to which his own times have fallen.

John Gray Says Human Progress Is a Myth

By Johannes Niederhauser

March 28, 2013

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"Haven't we humans come such a long way? In the past 200 years alone we've managed to abolish slavery (by moving it to the sweatshops of the Third World), rid our lives of industrial pollution (by moving it to the factories of the Third World) and introduced peace, human rights, and democracy to various undeveloped hinterlands through long, mindless, bloody conflicts.

We really are the sparkling glint of diamond in the otherwise shabby lump of coal that is the modern world, and anyone who hasn't tasted the ethical sweetness of Western progress surely will soon, presumably via extended bombing campaigns. We have Fair Trade acai berries, high-speed internet, and pop-up scrunchie markets; we are still basking in the afterglow of the Enlightenment, while the rest of the world drags its feet through the Dark Ages.

Noted political philosopher, author, and regular contributor to the Guardian and the New Statesman, John Gray's latest book is about how all of that is bullshit. The Silence of Animals deals with the touchy subject of human progress, which, Gray asserts, is a myth. Considering the fact there seems to have been genuine progress in the fields of science, medicine, and technology, I was a little confused by that, so I called him up for an explanation. [...]"

Article by By Johannes Niederhauser appears at