On the Origins of Social Inequality

What can we do to change the minds of decision makers and people in general to actually do something about preparing for the forthcoming economic/energy crises (the ones after this one!)?

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raspberry-blower
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On the Origins of Social Inequality

Post by raspberry-blower »

Everything you thought you knew about social inequality is wrong - according to David Graeber and David Wengrow.
For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilisation properly speaking. Civilisation meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilisation, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to “primitive communism�, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative: it isn’t true. Overwhelming evidence from archaeology, anthropology and kindred disciplines is beginning to give us a fairly clear idea of what the last 40,000 years of human history really looked like, and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative. Our species did not, in fact, spend most of its history in tiny bands; agriculture did not mark an irreversible threshold in social evolution; the first cities were often robustly egalitarian. Still, even as researchers have gradually come to a consensus on such questions, they remain strangely reluctant to announce their findings to the public – or even scholars in other disciplines – let alone reflect on the larger political implications. As a result, those writers who are reflecting on the “big questions� of human history – Jared Diamond, Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris and others – still take Rousseau’s question (“what is the origin of social inequality?�) as their starting point, and assume the larger story will begin with some kind of fall from primordial innocence.
A lengthy article that goes some way to challenging the assumptions made and finds them wanting

David Graeber & David Wengrow: Are we City Dwellers or Hunter Gatherers?
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vtsnowedin
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Post by vtsnowedin »

I think a lot of these papers ignore human behavior and reality.
Go back to the ice age and the strongest man in the tribe (Neanderthal or modern human) ate all the food he wanted and took whatever female he wanted to his bed. Underlings that were smart enough to survive would help him in his next hunt hoping for the front shoulder of the kill and a chance at one of the females not the apple of the chiefs eye.
Move ahead to William the conqueror. He gets the country and the Nights that helped him get lands and hereditary titles that persist to this day.
Today rich people buy and sell politicians at will and have trophy wives in their beds.
Nothing has changed in ten thousand years.
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Post by kenneal - lagger »

David Graeber and David Wengrow would say that have bought the story, VT.
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Vortex2
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Post by Vortex2 »

In the case of Fukuyama and Diamond one can, at least, note they were never trained in the relevant disciplines (the first is a political scientist, the other has a PhD on the physiology of the gall bladder)
Any article where the authors need to denigrate other researchers or authors in this way is highly suspect.
Little John
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Post by Little John »

vtsnowedin wrote:I think a lot of these papers ignore human behavior and reality.
Go back to the ice age and the strongest man in the tribe (Neanderthal or modern human) ate all the food he wanted and took whatever female he wanted to his bed. Underlings that were smart enough to survive would help him in his next hunt hoping for the front shoulder of the kill and a chance at one of the females not the apple of the chiefs eye.
Move ahead to William the conqueror. He gets the country and the Nights that helped him get lands and hereditary titles that persist to this day.
Today rich people buy and sell politicians at will and have trophy wives in their beds.
Nothing has changed in ten thousand years.
It is simply a matter of logistics. Human nature has little to do with it. Or, rather, human nature just sits in the background and plays out as it will.

The reason smaller bands of hunter gatherers are less likely to be as economically stratified as complex civilizations comes down to simple transparency and opportunity. If one person in the small tribe of hunter gatherers start to excessively take the piss out everyone else - (a) their piss taking would be immediately and transparently noticeable and (b) the opportunity to cut their throat/hit them over the head with a hard object would be much more immediately available.

Whether or nor the leader takes the best females or takes a larger share of the food is neither here nor there. That is to be expected. But, if he took more than a few of the best females and didn't leave enough food for everyone else, he would not stay leader for long. But, for reasons related to an opacity of the specific links in the chains of power plus a lack of proximally based opportunity to act, those kinds of brakes on excessive stratification are absent in complex civilizations.
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