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Egalitarianism and Machiavellian Intelligence in Human Evolution



24 hunter-gatherer ethnographies across four continents establish meat sharing as universal among hunter-gatherers. Sharing was accompanied by vigilance against unfairness and cheating. Those who tried to establish dominance brought consistent 'counter-dominant' reactions, escalating step-by-step from ridicule to execution. A model of human evolution is proposed in which humans became too clever to dominate effectively, leaving sharing as the only viable strategy.
... First, the theoretical assumption that self-interested psychological motives are not easily suppressed by the egalitarian drive to share is well documented by ethnographic reports. Intense arguments and jealousies over food distributions, as well as occasional attempts at stealing and cheating, attest against any simple predisposition to share (Erdal & Whiten 1996). Second, that these recurring self-interested behaviors are successfully suppressed by coordinated action of group-members directed at the leveling of power and resource asymmetries within the group is a widely held view among anthropologists (Boehm 1999(Boehm , 2012Clastres 1989;Endicott 1988;Fried 1967;Lee 1988;Wiessner 1996;Woodburn 1982). ...
... However, because little attention is paid to differences, it is very difficult to falsify even widely divergent theories. For instance, Washburn and DeVore's (1961) baboon model emphasises the importance of male dominance relationships, while Erdal and Whiten's (1996) hunter-gather model stresses the importance of cooperation and lack of a dominance hierarchy. It is very difficult to falsify either of these models, since they are both correct with respect to their chosen analogue species. ...
Humans are social animals. Human societies emerge from vast networks of cooperative interactions between many different individuals. In this respect, humans are similar to most other primates. However, human societies are unusual among primates in the number of different types of cooperative relationships that are involved. In humans, males and females form strong pair bonds within large multimale, multi-female societies in which many other cooperative relationships are also important. How and when did human social systems arise? Do males and females use different types of cooperative strategies? Under what conditions does paternal care evolve? Do males and females have different constraints, and how do these affect the types of social strategies they employ? How do factors such as environment quality and seasonality modify these strategies? This thesis seeks answers to these questions using computer simulations based on the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. The hypotheses generated by these models are tested using data from living primates. They are then used to investigate the kinds of societies that our hominid ancestors may have lived in. The theoretical and empirical evidence presented in this thesis suggests that sex differences in the energetic cost of reproduction determine the cooperative strategies, and ultimately the types of social groups, that evolve. It is proposed that during hominid evolution female energetic costs increased greatly, in comparison to male energetic costs, due to changes in body size dimorphism, diet and brain size. A two-stage model of hominid social structure is developed. The first stage, at the transition from the australopithecines to Homo erectus, would have involved an increase in female cooperation, especially food sharing. The second stage, occurring between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago, would have involved male care giving, the formation of pair bonds and the sexual division of labour within the context of a wider cooperative network.
... Egalitarianism is therefore not inherent, but is learned behavior, where subdominant and low status individuals combine in alliances to prevent otherwise dominant individuals taking power, a form of behavior that has been observed in chimpanzees (Boehm 1999). Modern hunter-gatherers have to enforce their egalitarian behavior (Woodburn 1982), and maintaining an egalitarian society requires considerable effort through systems of sanctions, rewards and prestige (Ames 2007;Artemova 2016;Erdal, Whiten 1996;Hayden 1995;Trigger 2003). The effort requires long-term commitment, egalitarian societies have to stay small, and they may always have been rare ( Artemova 2016). ...
Lionel Sims’ work has illuminated how Neolithic ritual communities ‘solarised’ the moon, deceptively transforming a lunar syntax into a solar one. But where did the ‘time-resistant’ lunar syntax come from? It is unlikely that patriarchal Neolithic societies invented this form of time-keeping. Yet it persists even in modern patriarchal ‘world’ religions derived from Neolithic forebears. Marx said ‘All forms of economics can be reduced to an economics of time'. How a society organises time reveals what it truly values. The question of the earliest human economy cannot be solved without a focus on women, the moon and menstruation. African hunter-gatherer cosmology takes the lunar cycle as the crucial timeframe for ritual, sex and economic activities. The shared sources of this cosmology carry us back to earliest human symbolic culture, the very origins of art and ritual itself, over 100,000 years ago. Contrary to presumed Neolithic gender relations, these hunter-gatherer societies are among the most gender egalitarian on earth. But how does such egalitarianism work? Women especially assert power through their bodies collectively to resist any threat of male exploitation. As the moon waxes and wanes, the dynamic of power switches in more or less playful battles between the sexes. Rather than patriarchy or matriarchy, we observe lunarchy – rule by the moon, expressed in a pulse of waxing and waning, ritual power ON, ritual power OFF.
Inequitable distribution of land has been a perennial problem for human societies. Corrections have often been difficult and involved bloodshed, and they have rarely provided lasting relief. Thomas Paine struck upon a permanent, fair solution in the 1790s, drawing on the natural law tradition associated with Grotius and Locke. He proposed that landholders compensate the landless by paying into a trust fund. In Paine’s vision, the trust fund would issue universal dividends in the form of seed capital for young adults and pensions for the elderly and disabled. Paine’s 1797 pamphlet Agrarian Justice had little contemporary impact, but others worked out variants of the idea, most notably the American reformer Henry George. George left a lasting legacy in scholarship and policy. Although George is on record as approving a limited issuance of dividends, he is primarily known for proposing that land tax revenue be used to fund government. A useful distinction can be made between a “Paineite” approach of taxing land to fund dividends and a “Georgeist” approach of taxing land to fund government.KeywordsThomas Paine Agrarian Justice Land reformHugo GrotiusJohn LockeHenry George
That the economy grew so large because of a self-reinforcing cycle of credit, technology and population growth does not answer the question of why it grew so large. To answer that question, it becomes necessary to understand modernity: people’s attitudes toward both nature and the economy in the modern world. The establishment of an economy and culture of growth worldwide over the past 200 years has proceeded hand in hand with the spread of modernity as a worldview. Its presumption of mastery over nature, and possession of it, was the critical cognitive misstep that led to the economy’s relentless expansion. Pre-modern and indigenous worldviews, in contrast, are participatory: ‘ownership’, for instance, means ‘belonging to’ rather than possessing. Among Western philosophies in tune with this worldview ‘planetarianism’ holds particular promise for the future.
Societal income inequality has been associated with worse health outcomes, including a greater burden of mental illness. However, validated individual measures of relative income are scarce and rarely included in mental health assessments. The psychometric properties of the British Perceived Inequality in Childhood Scale (PICS) were examined in an American college student sample. Eight hundred graduate- and professional- level students at a public university participated. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses supported the PICS three-factor structure measuring childhood deprivation relative to a United States reference group and neighborhood reference group as well as family social capital. Additionally, the internal consistency was high and the concurrent validity of the PICS was supported by positive correlations with the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status in childhood and objective measures of parental income and education. These findings replicate prior research supporting the validity and reliability of the PICS, now in an American college student sample.
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