Review: Fueling Value Change
Brent Ranall, February 2016
Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels
Princeton University Press, 2015
In Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels, Ian Morris argues that over the course of human history, changes in energy capture have driven changes in human values. He distinguishes three broad stages of societal development, correlating with three major modes of energy capture: foraging, farming, and use of fossil fuels. As societies capture more energy per capita, Morris argues, they become progressively less tolerant of interpersonal violence. And tolerance of various forms of hierarchy (economic, political, gender) tends, in varying degrees, to increase as foraging gives way to farming and then to decline in a fossil fuel regime. To explain these changes, he offers a theory of social evolution, positing that certain values make the societies that embrace them “fitter” than others and more likely to survive and prosper in each of the three energy regimes.