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Lisi Krall: “Agriculture, Surplus, and the Economic Superorganism”

August 31, 2023

(Conversation recorded on August 1st, 2023)

Show Summary

On this episode, ‘Superorganisms’ converge as Nate is joined by economist and anthropologist Lisi Krall to discuss the evolutionary origins of our current systemic predicament. Starting with the Agricultural Revolution, the evolutionary conditions of surplus and ultrasociality have combined to shape the way humans interact with their environment, ultimately leading to our current out of control global economy. Is this global system an inevitable emergent phenomenon of the human condition? Does surplus inherently breed inequality and hierarchy, such as the current capitalist system? What type of social evolution will we experience as we meet the limits of an expansionary system and move towards a Great Simplification?

About Lisi Krall

Lisi Krall is a professor of economics at State University of New York, Cortland. Dr. Krall engages a heterodox and transdisciplinary approach to understanding economic systems, their etiology, structure, dynamic, and the relationship between humans and the more-than-human world that is contextualized through them. She incorporates evolutionary biology, anthropology, history, heterodox economics, and deep materialism to understand how we arrived at this paradoxical moment where humans appear trapped in an economic system that functions as if it is not of this Earth at the same time it is clearly a material system. Her latest book, Bitter Harvest: An Inquiry into the War Between Economy and Earth, explores the formation and evolution of the economic system (the economic superorganism) that took hold beginning with the cultivation of annual grains and is now embodied in global capitalism.

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Show Notes & Links to Learn More

00:00 – Lisi Krall Works and Infonew book

02:36 – John Gowdy + TGS Episode

05:05 – Paul Shepard and Wes Jackson

05:29 – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

06:09 – Darwin, E.O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson (TGS Episode)

07:23 – Ultrasociality

08:14 – Agricultural Revolution

09:55 – Ants and termites also practice agriculture

11:59 – Division of Labor

12:54 – Lisi on the Superorganism: The economic superorganism in the complexity of evolution

16:51 – Holocene warming, carbon in the soil from the Pleistocene

18:10 – Increase in human sedentary time correlates with increase in reproductive rate

23:11 – From surplus came hierarchy, and feeds back into itself

29:41 – Adam Smith

31:08 – Positive feedback loops

34:56 – Globalization and relocalization

43:25 – Limits of Renewables

43:30 – EROI

55:10 – Heisenberg Principle

57:10 – Nate’s Superorganism Paper: Economics for the future – Beyond the superorganism

57:14 – Ilya Prigogine

58:52 – Neoclassical Economics

1:03:07 – We can’t continue to have an expansionary dynamic without fossil fuels

1:10:45 – Conservation

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: agricultural revolution, economic superorganism