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Arguments Against S-SAD Theory
"History shows anti-pleasure societies are more successful!"
"The western (European) civilization conquered the whole world and dominates it now. Thus, it can hardly be denied that we were very successful. But since the fall of pagan Rome we have also been a society opposed to body pleasure, just like the Islam that conquered large parts of the world before us. Your peaceful old pleasure prone societies like the Trobriands are gone now, they were unable to compete with us or with societies of our type. So even if pleasure restrictions are a disadvantage to the individual and create more crime, they help build a more sucessful, a superior civilization as history shows."
Indeed European civilization conquered the whole world beginning 400 years ago. And it was a pleasure-restricted society. But what were the reasons behind its military and ideological success? Was S-SAD an advantage or a disadvantage for the survial of human cultures? Let us take a closer look at our history.
Fall of the Pagan Roman Empire Internal Violence
The last large pleasure-prone civilization was the Roman empire until around 350 AD. Then it changed to a monotheistic, Christian fundamentalist state. Religious civil-war-like riots and the killing of pagan intellectuals were common around 400 and Rome itself was conquered by barbarians in 410 and 455. Edward Gibbon, the most famous historian of the modern age, saw Christanity - at least in its fundamentalist form - as the main reason for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Joining our knowledge of S-SAD with our knowledge of late antiquity, the Roman pagan pleasure society was clearly better able to conquer and defend than the Christian society following it. Also without doubt the pagans achieved much more impressive advancements in science and in culuture than their succesors.
The Destruction of the Ancient World Irrationalism
But the fall of Rome in 410 was not the destruction of the ancient world. That happened more than 100 years later. In 533 the western part of the empire was dominated by the Visigoth kingdom in Rome, the eastern part by Emperor Justinian in Byzanz. The Visigoth king was willing to accept Justinian as emperor for the western part of the empire, too. But the Visigoths were of a different Christian church than Justinian and they were more and more engaged in classical Roman culture.
Justinian on the other side, a former deacon, was a very brutal Christian fanatic fighting heresy everywhere. His war campaign 534 - 562 conquered the west with unprecedented bloodshed and destruction. The city of Rome with more than one million people before was then shrunk to a village of 10,000, in ruins still visible today. Coin records show the Byzantine economomy was also destroyed by the long war. Soon the ruins of the western empire were conquered again from the north by the Langobards in 568, from the south by the Persians in 614 and in 636 by the Arabs.
So history tells that religious fanatism and violence are strongly connected. But in this case, irrationalism in the highest level of decision makers was also present. Another more recent example would be the violence and irrationalism in Germany under the rule of Adolf Hitler. In light of S-SAD theory, this was no coincidence but the result of a hampered brain development. Such brains favor force and violence over any more sophisticated form of human interaction.
Europe's Conquest of the World
Christian medieval Europe was most religious in a fundamentalist way, also most pleasure-restricted and dominated by a feudal culture of violence. The chivalry games of the nobility not seldom ended in death, not even to mention the victims of the uncountable vendettas amongst the noblemen. The "crusades" they did as joint enterprises after 1096 were succesful in conquering parts of the now Islamic south at first. They were so because the Arab world was ununited and some local leaders even formed alliances with the new crusader dominions. But the unusually violent behavior of the conquerors was probably the main reason for the Arabs to unite. The cruelty of the crusaders began with the first campaign, culminating in the unreasonable slaughter of the whole civilian population of the just conquered city of Jerusalem. What followed was a continual break of peace treaties by the crusaders, one time even attempting a sea raid operation against the holy Islam city of Mecca. Such behavior fueled resistance, and step by step the complete Arab reconquest was achieved until 1291.
In this case, history shows that a violent society could perhaps have some advantage in forceful conquests. But such a violent attitude undermines the preservation of the new possessions, too. A violent society is less able to mantain peace in foreign relations even if a coming war threatens its own existence.
The Conquest of Latin America
Afterwards the crusaders mainly targeted Christians and the small Arab kingdom in southern Spain. Immediatley after this "reconquest" the Columbus expedition was launched with the order to subdue all newly discovered land in the west. This was finally achieved by the Spanish conquistadores Cortez and Pizaro.
There is much written about the Cortez campaign, usually emphasizing the lucky timing and the Spanish advantage of guns and horses. But this only was of some psychological value. During Cortez' final strike against the Aztec capital in 1520, he only had 550 spaniards but more than 10,000 native wariors under his command. How could this happen?
One year before, Cortez arrived as a new power factor in Mexico. The native Mayan population of Central America had been dominated by the Aztec kingdom for about 80 years. The Maya built the large Pyramids, created writing, mathematics and were regarded by modern historians as the "Greeks" of America. That is about the highest compliment a western historian can make. In contrast to the Maya, the Aztecs were a violent society from child raising to their foreign relations. The Aztec Empire was a regime of terror. Fear was the main Aztec way to control the subdued.
For example, after one war campaign against other natives the Aztecs took 80,000 prisoners of war. They brought them to their capital and murdered all of them in only 4 days. During a large public ceremony they sliced the heart out of the living body of each fully conscious POW. The Aztecs called it a religious demand. It was nothing but the attempt to control an empire with fear and extraordinary violence.
The Aztecs were not the first ones who tried to preserve a conquest this way. The Assyrians tried the same more than 1,000 years before, and so did the Nazi occupation forces in Eastern Europe some 400 years later. The Assyrians preserved their conquest for about 200 years, the Aztec for less than 100 and the Nazis for not even 4.
For an aggressive warior society, violence and fear are usually the first choice to subdue conquered people. This behavior is similar to the one visible in war, only on a lower level. But history tells that such a way of handling people is only of temporary effect. The system remains unstable. Sooner or later the subdued population will join an alliance and then fight for victory or death. As Cortez arrived in Mexiko, he was not the reason but only the trigger for a rebellion against the Aztecs. The Spanish presented themselves as a new power factor and the natives joined an alliance with them. What happened then was an uprising in which Cortez commanded the large native force to conquer the Aztec capital. Then the collapse of the Aztec kingdom was a matter of months only.
Something similar happened in the Spanish conquest of South America. The Incas conquered their empire less than 100 years before around 1438. They were militaristic but less blood thirsty than the Aztecs. Nevertheless the rite to sacrifice children, who are still found today as ice mummies, points to a society with considerable S-SAD, too. They were just in civil war as Pizaro arrived in 1532, rising to power by allying his men with fractions of the Inca Empire.
For the natives of Latin America, the Spanish conquest was their doom. They lost their culture to the Christian missionaries and a lot of them lost their lives to the greed of the Spanish nobility. The Spanish kept control through the mind work of their missionaries, by cooperation with a small native 'upper class' and by selected violence. But never by fear and violence only.
The key lesson here is that S-SAD weakens and destabilizes every society. Without Cortez, the collapse of the Aztec system of rule would have been triggered by natural disaster, a renegade priest or army, fights for king succession or some other even minor destabilizing event. Under such conditions it was just by chance that the Spanish, themselves a culture with considerable S-SAD, were the trigger.
But history shows examples from the other side too. In the second Punic War, the Roman Republic lost its main army in the battle of Cannae 216 BC and the Carthaginian invasion force marched into Italy without resistence.
Italy was an alliance of counties at this time, with Rome as the main power center. But the Carthaginians were unable to cease this alliance. Even under Carthaginian pressure and without much power, the northern allies of Rome did not join a rebellion. Without support in Italy, the Carthaginian campaign failed and they lost the war. It was the last big challenge the Romans faced, afterwards they were the main power in the western Mediterranean.
In consideration of S-SAD theory it was no coincidence that a pleasure-prone society like the Romans was more inclined to gain population and alliance control by non-violent means. They just used a part of the emotional brain preprogrammed in normally developed humans. It creates the mindset of community feeling and is strongly related to altruism. History tells that societies with this mindset are more stable than all others. Somewhat altruistic societies therefore always had an advantage in the long run.
The European Conquest of Africa and Asia Technology
North and East Africa came under Arab-Islamic control during medieval times. Later in the 1400s the Portuguese established several fortresses at ports along the west coast. These fortresses were invincible to the native weapon technology. And because they controlled the ports, they also controlled oversea trade. What resulted was the cooperation with a local 'upper class' in control of the hinterland who got a small share of foreign trade very much like the Spanish in America. But one of the trade goods in west Africa were slaves, depriving this region of its most vital good.
This fortress technology with the ability to sea supply the conquerors independent of the hinterland was also the the key element of European colonization in Asia. The only way to prevent the success of this strategy was an effort to cut the naval supply routes. But the Arabs were too divided to make a concerted effort against Portuguese sea power in the Indian Ocean. So they lost important parts of trade. For the natives 'colonized' this way, there was perhaps no big difference between Arabs and Portugese.
The Christian missionaries destroyed the native culture and tradition and created something like a Christian upper class among the natives. After a few generations, the Portugese and Spanish had more to fear competing European powers like British, Dutch and French than any native uprising. And soon these other powers arrived.
The British established themselves in India, and unlike the Portugese they penetrated the hinterland, too. India was split into several local mogul-ruled counties and the society was heterogenous and separated by traditions and different religions. The custom to burn widows alive with their deceased husband indicates considerable S-SAD in India. By cooperating with the local nobility it was rather easy for the British to make India one of their dominions. The British interest was nothing but controlling India's foreign trade. In the late 19th century, as the disadvantages to India were clearly visible, the industrial superiority of England prevented any succesful fight for independence. The British even supported the split inside India to their own favor. And as independence came after 1947, they created two states, India and Pakistan, very hostile to each other. This is still the world's most explosive heritage of colonialism.
The demands of the early colonial powers were not the same as of the later ones. Things changed in the 19th century as the new emerging industries of Europe needed conquests to get selling markets, not just natural resources. The British conquest of India soon was to provide an outlet for the British cotton weaving industry since the 18th century. And Britain's forceful opening of China during the Opium War was a way to get a main portion of the world silver stock under control. This opening was achieved by forcing the Chinese government to allow the free sale of British opium paid in silver. By addicting an important part of the population to the drug they squeezed large amounts of silver out of China. The consequences for China's development were terrible and are perhaps still visible to the present day.
The European conquest of Africa and Asia was mostly a matter of superior technology. In China fortress technology was native, too. But because of western industrialization the amount of guns, soldiers, ships and money the west could concentrate on China's suppression was huge, unthinkable in former times.
Here the origins of western superiority were not faster scientific or technological progress. In this respect China was still equal in the 18th century. But Europe had the advantage of unique geographical resources destribution. In England coal and iron ore resources were located very close to each other, in eastern France and western Germany they were only somewhat wider separated. Steel production was the backbone of industrialization. And large amounts of iron ore and coal are needed to produce steel. England started first because they could solve the problem of transporting these two parts together easiest. France and Germany came later like the US.
Nearly all other nations had little chances then, because as the railroad and steamship technology was available to join coal and iron ore over larger distances, the other nations of the west already had a high advantage in production of all types of goods. The key of today's western world domination was this luck in the location of coal and iron ore sites. But if it is true that European technology in ancient Rome was on a level like in the 1700s, then Europe lost some 1500 years in becoming the world power. The fact that these 1500 years were of a high S-SAD level is another historical suggestion that S-SAD is a disadvantage to any society.