Reverse Dominance Hierarchies
Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior—A Review
“Our ancestors were polygynous until about three hundred thousand years ago, primarily monogamous until about ten thousand years ago, primarily polygynous again until about two thousand years ago, and primarily monogamous since then.”
This is a quote from the superb book Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas Christakis.
Homo sapiens in our current form arose around 300,000 years ago. Out of 300,000 years, only about 8,000 of those years were humans in primarily polygynous arrangements.
So for 97% of our history, humans have primarily been monogamous.
Many people, when they think of early human societies, have images of kings and emperors and pharaohs with many wives and concubines. But that period was a blip in evolutionary time. What were humans like before then—before the rise of agriculture?
Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by the anthropologist Christopher Boehm is the most important book about hunter-gatherers.
I first learned of this book on Robin Hanson’s blog, where he wrote a brief but glowing post titled “Hail Christopher Boehm.”
This is an in-depth exploration of the book’s key points, along with some commentary.
Status Equivalency Among Hunter-Gatherers
In Hierarchy in the Forest, Boehm draws from a diverse array of modern hunter-gatherer communities to investigate the question: Are humans by nature hierarchical or egalitarian?
In the nineteenth century, Europeans would encounter tribes or nomadic bands. People who subsisted through hunting and foraging. The Europeans would ask to speak with their “chief.” Upon learning that there was no formal authority at the group level, the Europeans would respond with frustration or amazement.
Within families, adult males held authority. But there was no formal leader in the groups. Adult males all held roughly the same social status.
The anthropological record, along with research on extant modern hunter-gatherers, suggests that for most of human history we have been egalitarian, defined as “status equivalency among the decision-makers of a group.”
As Boehm writes:
“Band members regularly create and maintain egalitarian blueprints for social behavior, ‘plans’ that are implicit or (in part) explicit in the ethos and well understood by the rank and file who implement them. The political notions and dynamics involved are not restricted to mobile foragers, for tribesmen all over the world are similarly egalitarian.”
In hunter-gatherer groups, sometimes an assertive alpha type arises who attempts to exert dominance on the rest of the community. The subordinates unite against him. The weak combine forces with one another to dominate those who have the strength and desire to dominate the others.
This model worked for as long as humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Which is most of human history.
People who were constantly on the move couldn’t stockpile resources or mobilize large armies to dominate others. Nomadic life or subsistence farming limits material accumulation, which levels the playing field. No individual can monopolize resources or sexual partners.
Before the agricultural revolution ten to 12 thousand years ago, bands and tribes were egalitarian; members held roughly the same status. They lived in societies of equals. There was an absence of political centralization or castes or social classes.
Though these communities sometimes had informal leaders, they mostly relied on group consensus to get anything done. If anyone attempted to enact a decision without consensus, they were often killed by the others.
Self-Domestication via Murder Conspiracies
This is the self-domestication hypothesis, discussed by Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham in his fascinating book The Goodness Paradox (my review here).
The idea is that humans domesticated each other. Within hunter-gatherer communities, whenever aggressive or disagreeable males attempted to exert unwelcome dominance, other males would conspire to kill them.
Early human communities selected against reactive aggression: arrogance, bullying, random violence, and the monopolizing of food and females.
Over time, early humans eliminated those who were overtly aggressive. They killed or ostracized upstarts hungry for power; men with aggressive political ambitions. Other men would quietly conspire to collectively murder troublesome males.
They were good at this, because they were well-practiced at killing large-bodied mammals during a hunt. Humans are large-bodied mammals.
This form of capital punishment domesticated us.
Wrangham compared the level of within-group conflict among hunter-gatherer humans to that of chimpanzees. Chimps are 150 to 550 times more likely than humans to commit violence against their peers.
Humans are far gentler to members of their own community than chimps are, thanks to our ancestors and their ability to plan organized murder.
Anyway, returning to how decisions are made, mobile hunter-gatherers don’t have powerful group leaders.
Behavior in these societies is maintained by “moral communities.” Both men and women are quick to judge the misdeeds of others, and compare such actions to how people should behave.
For upstarts, awareness of predictable and swift punishment tends to modify their behavior. And if they don’t adhere to moral norms, they get eliminated.
A band will use social control against any adult, usually male, who behaves too assertively in an aggressive way.
Generally, both sexes get to contribute to the decision of whether a person has been socially deviant. For severe infractions, people were either ostracized or killed. Though women have some say in the decisions, the executions were typically carried out by men.
Within the groups, adult men tend to treat one another as equals, and women and children are treated as subordinate.
The book describes the indigenous Yanomamo tribe in Brazil. They have chiefs—leaders selected for their skill or bravery. But they cannot give direct orders to other men. They can simply make suggestions, which tend to hold more weight than the suggestions of others.
But this egalitarianism doesn’t apply within families, where men beat their wives without consequence. “On one occasion, though,” Boehm writes, “when a man was beating his wife so brutally that he was likely to kill her, a chief did intervene physically.”
Generally speaking in hunter-gatherer communities, if there was a conflict of interest between men and women, rules typically favored the men.
For example, male hunter-gatherers throughout Australia used women as political pawns. Wives could be required to have sex with multiple men at special ceremonies. They could also be loaned to a visiting man, or ordered by their husbands to have sex with another man in order to erase a debt or make peace. In 1938, the anthropologist A.P. Elkin reported that Australian Aboriginal women lived in terror of the expectations others had of them during ceremonies.
Generally speaking, across hunter-gatherer societies, status equivalency appears to apply only to adult males. Strict egalitarianism in making decisions for the community is practiced only among men.
Leaders, headmen, and chiefs, if they exist, tend not to hold much power. Their main purpose is to assist with consensus-seeking when the group needs to make important decisions.
For example, the Mae Enga of Highland New Guinea will discuss their options for warfare and raiding at length. Every man has the option to contribute to the discussion. The leaders maintain a low profile. As group opinion sorts itself, and a consensus appears to emerge, the leader will exert their limited influence to crystallize an agreement.
Oftentimes, headmen display “self-effacing” behavior. Headmen and informal leaders usually obtained their roles through talent in hunting or warfare, storytelling ability, or congeniality. They rarely assert direct authority.
They often downplay their skills, too. They go out of their way to avoid prominence, and frequently give away their material possessions. They are extremely sensitive to public opinion. And don’t want to give people reasons to be suspicious of them. Or envy them. They are more aware than anyone of the dangers of appearing power-hungry. As a result, they are extremely cautious about extolling their own success. Men exhibit reluctance to step into a leadership role. Indeed, reluctance is a desirable trait, because hunter-gatherers are innately suspicious of individuals ambitious for power.
Sometimes informal leaders attempt to exert unwelcome dominance, which is typically met with swift punishment.
Among the Baruya, Boehm reports of a man who appropriated his neighbor’s livestock and forced their wives into sex. His people subsequently killed him.
In fact, desired qualities in a leader are often characterized in terms of the absence of certain qualities—a lack of overbearingness, boastfulness, or aloofness.
Praise is doled out in very small quantities for fear that the target of admiration might become too arrogant.
Hunter-gatherers have a variety of methods for behavioral modification. Punishment for social aberration runs the gamut from criticism to ridicule to ostracism to execution. There are many options on the menu for social deviants.
From the book:
“In making decisions about serious upstarts who go against the egalitarian ethos, a tribe may confer in small groups behind the back of the menacing individual in question, and thereby develop public opinion without alerting the deviant to a decision that could remove in from the group.”
A fascinating report from a !Kung tribe member:
“Say that a man has been hunting. He must not come home and announce like a braggart, ‘I have killed a big one in the bush!’ He must first sit down in silence until I or someone else comes up to his fire and asks, ‘What did you see today?’ He replies quietly, ‘Ah, I’m no good for hunting. I saw nothing at all…maybe just a tiny one.’ Then I smile to myself because I know he has killed something big.”
The hunter’s downplaying of his accomplishment shows the extent to which his community intimidates high-achievers.
Another hunter-gatherer informant:
“When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. In this way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”
This speaker was a healer in his community. He is saying that genuine accomplishments can lead to inflated egos. This can lead to tendencies to dominate. So the others are sure to take the person down a peg, before the possibility of violence might arise.
Fear of Negative Social Judgment
When hunter-gatherers deliver compliments, they are usually about qualities that help the community: cooperativeness, generosity, honesty, and an even temper.
In the Ndembu tribe, headmen “should keep [their] behavior low in profile…and be very ready to share his material possessions” (emphasis in original).
Generosity is an enforced moral norm in hunter-gatherer societies. Adults instruct their children to be helpful and cooperative, to subdue children’s innate selfishness.
The community promotes altruism and condemns stinginess. Boehm calls this “socially enforced altruism.”
Such altruism and willingness to cooperate is responsible for the human ability to conduct intense and sustained warfare. Through coordinated murder, early humans eliminated the individualists and uncooperative types.
The humans that remained (our ancestors) were sensitive to negative judgment and more likely to make costly sacrifices on behalf of the group to avoid being disliked.
The willingness to partake in a risky activity on behalf of the group is predicated on the capacity for patriotism (favorable view of one’s in-group) and self-sacrifice.
“Once altruistic genes had time to become well-established in human gene pools,” Boehm writes, “it was far more likely that intergroup conflict would rise to an intensive level, with territorial displacements and massacres.”
“In effect, the band,” Boehm writes, “keeps a dossier on every individual, noting positive and negative points.”
Gossiping is a universal method of staying up to date on the moral reputations of group members. A fascinating passage:
“Gossiping…a stealthy activity by which other people’s moral dossiers are constantly reviewed, is not intended to be manipulative. It amounts to a covert exercise in information processing—as well as a satisfying and recurrent social activity. In spite of secrecy, everyone knows that gossiping is constantly taking place; anyone can be a target. This knowledge serves as a deterrent, for most foragers worry about the opinion of their peers and try to exert self-control accordingly.”
If the group collectively arrives at a negative judgment about a person, “this constitutes a fearsome threat. Most individuals dread an adverse opinion on the parts of their fellows, but also fear the active sanctioning that can grow out of negative judgment…the mere existence of gossiping and public opinion serves as a major deterrent to misbehavior…private discussion helps to shape public opinion in advance, and in the process factions may form.”
The evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar has suggested that human gossip and small talk are the equivalent of grooming behaviors among apes. The evolutionary function is to smooth relationships and indicate willingness to trust.
Some hunter-gatherer groups use a fascinating mechanism to equalize social status.
Boehm describes it as “arrow-swapping.”
For example, within the !Kung band, the credit for a kill during a hunt goes to the owner of the first arrow to hit the animal. This man then distributes the meat to all household heads within the band.
This task is associated with prestige. Owning the “first arrow” and delivering the meat is a big deal.
The !Kung came up with a method of preventing the most talented hunters from taking credit for so many kills: They regularly swap arrows. Then when they return home, the males take turns distributing the meat throughout the community.
Thus, although members of the band were well aware of who was most talented among the hunters, the credit was divvied up. Call it the hunter-gatherer equivalent of the participation trophy.
Furthermore, if a guy takes out a big animal during a hunt, his peers mock him to ensure he doesn't feel too proud.
“People Who Joke Are Not Frightening”
In addition to social status, hunter-gatherers closely monitor the emotions of their peers.
The book contains firsthand reports from the anthropologist Jean Briggs, who spent 17 months with a small Utku band in the Nunavut.
Briggs wrote that the expression of emotion was tightly regulated in this group. This is because they believe that people who are unhappy are a serious threat. One quote from the book: “A moody person may be planning to knife you in the back.”
So the Utku equate happy behavior, laughter, and joking with safety. They worry about even small expressions of anger. And perceive any lack of self-control as threatening.
Briggs shares her observations of a strong man named Inuttiaq, who others viewed as a possible threat:
“Inuttiaq was, if I have read him correctly, a very intense person. He, too, kept strict control of his feelings, but in his case one was aware that something was being controlled…In a different society, he might have been a leader, but Utku society allows little scope for would-be leaders…Other people seemed to have a sense, similar to mine, of Inuttiaq’s inner intensity. They feared him for the same reason they admired him: because he never lost his temper. They said that a man who never lost his temper could kill if he ever became angry…It occurs to me that a desire to reassure people might have been one of the motives behind his joking…he said to me: ‘I’m joking; people joke a great deal. People who joke are not frightening.’”
Conformity is paramount in these small communities, lest one be denigrated, ostracized, or killed.
In social psychology, there is a concept called “situational strength.”
The idea is that in “strong” situations in which there is external pressure to behave in a certain way, people’s individual differences are compressed. In contrast, in “weak” situations in which there is little social pressure to behave in a certain way, people will be more likely to express behavioral differences.
For instance, red lights are strong situations. Practically everyone, regardless of their IQ, conscientiousness, impulsivity, etc. will stop at a red light.
Conversely, yellow lights are weak situations—there’s no clear protocol for how to react to them. People have more freedom in how to respond to them. Some people race through yellow lights and others slow down.
Hunter-gatherer communities are relatively strong in their situational strength. This may help to illuminate why people in complex societies have peculiar personality structures. The evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich and others have pointed out that although psychologists have long thought there were five personality factors, researchers have failed to identify the Big Five dimensions in non-student adult populations in Bolivia, Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Macedonia, among other non-WEIRD locations. Instead, researchers often find only two:
Industriousness (tendency to work hard on useful skills like weaving and hunting)
Prosociality (Inclination to cultivate rich social relationships).
This is likely because in WEIRD societies, which have relatively weak situational strength, people are freer to express their underlying traits.
Returning to hunter-gatherers, the fear of group opinion—and of punishment—keeps men humble. “In effect,” Boehm notes, “the group is dominating its would-be alphas,” and that “arrogance amounts to a crime.”
This is not to say that people are predisposed to equality.
Boehm writes, “Hunter-gatherers understand human nature…They seem to realize that if a little authority is permitted to develop, then a normal human leader is likely to want more.”
The book states that both egalitarianism (status equivalency) and hierarchy are “natural conditions of humanity.” Everyone wants to dominate others, and everyone doesn’t want to be dominated by others.
Egalitarianism is an uneasy compromise.
As the anthropologist Harold Schneider puts it: “All men seek to rule, but if they cannot rule they prefer to be equal.”
The sociologist Roger V. Gould has likewise written:
“Americans, like anyone else, then and now, prefer equality to subordination, but many, perhaps most, would find a situation in which others were subordinate to them even more satisfactory. The idea of equality, of a society without rank, is much more a compromise solution—an insistence that, if I can’t be king, then no one else can either—than it is a fulfillment of a noble dream.”
Even though people tend to prefer a dominant role, they make an implicit pact with one another. Each person gives up their slight chance of becoming an alpha in exchange for the certainty that no one will be alpha over him.
Humans are predisposed to dominate and predisposed to dislike domination.
Reverse Dominance Hierarchies
We are behaviorally flexible. As Boehm puts it, “The human animal can exhibit far more tyranny than any despotic African great ape, but it also can be more egalitarian than even the bonobo.”
Still, Boehm observes that humans are inclined to form social dominance hierarchies similar to our ape cousins. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers counteracted this inclination by forming moral communities with swift and predictable punishment, just as modern hunter-gatherers do today.
The Cambridge anthropologist James Woodburn posited that with respect to political hierarchy, human evolution followed a U-shaped curve. In short, our prehuman ancestors were despotic, led by alpha types, similar to our present great ape cousins.
Then, early in the rise of Homo sapiens around 300,000 years ago there was a dip—a protracted period of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism.
Finally, with the rise of agriculture about twelve thousand years ago, the despotic aspect of our nature resurfaced in the form of hierarchical chiefdoms. At this point, dominant males could stockpile resources, command large armies, and monopolize sexual partners.
Boehm evokes the visual metaphor of a pyramid. In typical dominance hierarchies, the power is at the top, and the leader exerts authority over the rank and file with threat of force.
But in “reverse dominance hierarchies” like hunter-gatherer communities, the pyramid is flipped. The politically-united subordinates dominate the alpha types with threat of force.
Hunter-gatherers are obsessed with personal autonomy; the freedom to do as one wishes without coercion from others. Hunter-gatherers are hyper-alert to any behavior that threatens their own autonomy. But they are also obsessed with deviance.
Everyone wants to be free, and everyone is extremely vigilant about any threats to their freedom.
Despite this emphasis on personal autonomy, though, bands tend to be highly conformist societies. They are concerned with how they appear to others.
“As egalitarian main political actors, they are free in theory to do anything they please. But in actuality, individual decision-making is largely overridden by group decisions, through conscious manipulation of minorities by the majority.”
Anthropologists have observed that talented tribe members have special strategies for assuaging the concerns of their watchful peers. They rarely give direct orders, tend to be generous to a fault, cultivate emotional tranquility, and seldom express anger.
Our Natural Mating System
Returning to the question of monogamy versus polygyny: What’s our natural mating system?
Similar to hunter-gatherer egalitarianism, monogamy is an uneasy compromise.
Just as people forego the slim possibility of dominating others in exchange for equality, people (or at least men) exchange the slim possibility of having lots of sexual partners for the certainty of having one. The desire for more partners, though, often doesn’t subside.
The evolutionary psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams has written that no perfect mating arrangement exists. This is because people often have multiple, incompatible desires:
Long-term committed relationships satisfy the desire for intimacy and emotional connection, but leave the desire for sexual variety unfulfilled
Casual sex satisfies the desire for variety, but can leave people feeling emotionally cold
Open relationships or polygamy might fulfill the desire for variety and connection, but is often accompanied by jealousy
Stewart-Williams writes, “This is the irritating reality of the human condition: Whatever we do, we’re left with unfulfilled desires. Human beings are chronically conflicted animals.”
You can’t have everything good all at once. Life is full of tradeoffs. As another psychologist has said, “You're going to pay a price for everything you do and everything you don't do. You don't get to not pay a price. You only get to choose which poison you're going to take. That's it.”
Discussing the relationship between human mating systems and cooperation, the primatologist Frans de Waal has written:
“Our societies are set up for what biologists call ‘cooperative breeding’—that is, multiple individuals work together on tasks that benefit the whole. Women often jointly supervise the young while men perform collective enterprises, such as hunting and group defense. The community thus accomplishes more than each individual could ever hope to accomplish on his own, such as driving a bison herd over a cliff or hauling in heavy fishnets. And such cooperation hinges on the opportunity for every male to reproduce. Each man needs to have a personal stake in the outcome of the cooperative effort, meaning a family to bring the spoils home to. This also means that men must trust each other. Their activities often remove them for days or weeks from their mates. Only if there are guarantees that nobody will get cuckolded, will men be prepared to set out together on the warpath or a hunting trip. The dilemma of how to engender cooperation among sexual competitors was solved…We should look at the human pair-bond, therefore, as the key to the incredible level of cooperation that marks our species. The family, and the social mores surrounding it, allowed us to take male bonding to a new level, unheard of in other primates. It prepared us for large-scale collaborative enterprises that made it possible to conquer the world, from laying railroad tracks across a continent to forming armies, governments, and global corporations.”
The reason hunter-gatherer societies were relatively monogamous was that it was the only way to ensure cooperation among men. If one man attempted to monopolize the women, other men in the community would conspire to kill him.
Sex: The Leading Cause of Hunter-Gatherer Homicide
But even with the power of norms and social pressure, violence is far more common in hunter-gatherer bands than in modern societies. Bands and tribes strongly favor peace, cooperation, and despise conflict, but violent outbreaks are not infrequent.
Perhaps the most important reason for this is that there is no formalized authority.
There is no strong leader or council of elders who have the power to arbitrate disputes. In fact, those who attempt to broker peace are often killed. As a consequence, once a serious conflict arises, there is no truly effective means of settling the dispute.
The most common cause of murder in hunter-gatherer communities involves matters of sex, adultery, or jealousy. The book states that “competition for females is the leading cause of hunter-gatherer homicide.”
Warfare is common. Describing the Yanomamo, Boehm writes, “The aggressors try to take the enemy villages by surprise—with intentions that are genocidal toward the males and sometimes also the children. The women they prefer to capture, rape, and take as wives.”
Raiding other villages for wives accounts for a quarter of adult male deaths.
In a discussion with a group of Yanomamo men, the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon asked them why they were always fighting. They responded: ‘‘What? Don’t ask such a stupid question! It is women! Women! We fight over women!’’
Another time Chagnon asked a group of men whether they were fighting over meat, because the fashionable anthropological theory used to be that hunter-gatherer conflict was primarily about food scarcity.
The men replied to Chagnon: "Even though we do like meat, we like women a whole lot more!"
“A Man Will Not Tolerate A Situation Where a Neighbor Has More Than He Has”
Subsistence farming communities are similar to hunter-gatherers in their egalitarian orientation. Boehm describes the Wape, a sedentary group of horticulturalists in New Guinea. The men play a dice game together.
But they regulate gambling with the rule that a big winner cannot leave the game. He must play the next round until his winnings have diminished.
Among the Wape, “a man will not tolerate a situation where a neighbor has more than he has. A man should not possess either goods or power to the disadvantage of others.”
Another sedentary community, the Kapauku, is even more severe. They reprimand and ostracize wealthy men who are not generous enough. Sometimes they execute them. This capital punishment is decided by the entire group, including the wealthy person’s family members.
Sensitivity to envy and status may be adaptive in a small band or tribe. But it is not necessarily optimal in modern developed societies, where one person’s gain is not always another person’s loss, especially if the two are not in direct competition for the same limited resources the way two individuals in a small-scale community might be.
As the evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich has written in The WEIRDest People in the World:
“Individuals who see the world as zero-sum are unlikely to waste time working to improve a tool, technology, or process because they implicitly believe...others will think badly of them...think that others will envy their success.”
Social Status Sensitivity
Humans are “socially labile.” We are capable of both dominance and submission.
Still, a key point of the book is that humans would prefer to dominate, and are ambivalent when they submit.
An excerpt: “The primatological literature is replete with accounts of ambitious subordinates who bide their time until the situation is ripe for rank reversal or a takeover of the top position.”
In other words, any behaviorally flexible animal will react with partial hostility when placed in a submissive position in which their freedom, resources, or mating opportunities are curtailed.
It’s not so much that humans love equality. It’s that we resent being subordinated. Humans tend to have a hair trigger sensitivity to being put down.
The uneasy tension between the human desire for dominance and the desire not to be dominated means that humans will never be able to live in relaxed egalitarian societies. They must be constantly alert to upstarts hungry for power.
Moral communities and the punishments people inflict on deviants suppress despotic, apelike dispositions simmering just beneath the surface.
The Rise of Egalitarianism
How did our ancestors go from being despotic great apes to egalitarian hunter-gatherers?
Three key reasons:
The invention of hunting weapons
The advent of large-game hunting
The development of a large brain and its associated cognitive and linguistic capacities
Early humans learned to make weapons to kill large animals. They learned these weapons could be used to kill each other while incurring no damage to themselves.
When a group of chimps attack another chimp, the attackers risk incurring some injury. In fact, it takes a group of male chimpanzees about ten to 20 minutes of ferocious assault to kill an unfamiliar chimp they encounter on patrol. During that time, the victim might be able to inflict some damage to their attackers.
Humans with weapons can eliminate a target much faster than chimps. And humans armed with spears or projectile weapons face no equivalent risk of injury.
Especially when they have the element of surprise. Language allowed humans to coordinate and form conspiracies to dominate an individual.
Weaponry and language gave rise to egalitarian communities.
Intriguingly, Boehm suggests that one reason for the spread of egalitarianism across diverse groups of hunter-gatherers is through contact:
“Once one band, somewhere, invented an egalitarian order, this radical change in social ways of doing things would become visible to its neighbors. The advantages would have been evident wherever subordinates were ambivalent about being dominated, particularly in bands with very aggressive bullies…One would expect a gradual cultural diffusion to take place, with attractive egalitarian traditions replacing despotic ones…During periods of scarcity-driven migration…The statistical chances of a despotic band’s coming into contact with an egalitarian band would have increased, and as a result of the rate of cultural diffusion would have been accelerated. Over time, migration patterns over longer distances could have fairly rapidly spread this political invention from one continent to another.”
Hunter-gatherers of the world, unite!
The Enduring Appeal of Marxism
Armed with this knowledge that hunter-gatherer communities tend to be egalitarian, it makes sense why communism has had enduring appeal across different cultures. And why this system has been attempted so many times in different locations despite its failures and resulting mass murders.
Marxian socialist states have attempted to implement the hunter-gatherer egalitarian ethos on a very broad scale.
We humans are innately attracted to political “deals” that allege to free us from domination and exploitation. Such a deal is naturally attractive, because we are inclined to resent authority.
Still, Boehm states that hunter-gatherers are far more knowledgeable about human nature than Marx and Engels. Eliminating capitalism and competition does not change underlying human hierarchical tendencies.
So when a social order is toppled and disorder ensues, despotic, power-hungry males seize the opportunity to murder competitors, purge dissenters, and establish themselves as dictators.
As keen observers of human nature, hunter-gatherers would not be surprised upon learning about the rise of Napoleon, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot, among other tyrants.
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Rob Henderson does it again. Fabulous article. I watched many of these dynamics play out recently on my condo board.
The last section dealing with authoritarianism brought to mind Paradise Lost.
Would we rather rule in hell, a violent state with the chance to enslave/be enslaved, or serve in heaven, the peaceful state of being content with the wife of your youth?
The communist party advertises egalitarianism to the masses, but the ruthless know that they will become true alphas. Thus they will do whatever it takes to erect the workers’ paradise - with themselves in “temporary” control.
Constitutional democracy says that each can rest under his own vine and his own fig tree - as long as he keeps his rifle handy and his powder dry. The ruthless will, of course, try to gain control. But faced with a multitude of independent, powerful and free individuals the ruthless will have very small fiefdoms.