• Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    A while ago I wrote a post (which attracted some good feedback, thanks) on how our naturally egalitarian, reciprocally altruistic, small hunter-gatherer (HG) ancestors will have had few moral conundrums to face, and how our later grapples with ethics come about from finding ourselves in a society which our biological moral hardware (of which we have ample) is not suited for.

    One important area that I admitted at the time I didn't know where to begin with is socialisation. We don't have much access to the details of historic hunter-gatherer socialisations, which is problematic in comparing pre- and post-agricultural societies. Isaac and I had some interesting discussion that lead to some reasonable suggestions based on how HGs and other egalitarian primates behave today. There's no point pretending to be exhaustive... Off the top of my head, a few stick out as exemplary.

    1. Reverse-dominance, in which the group would knock down (e.g. ridicule) any individual who got too assertive;
    2. The lack of distinction between play and work, e.g. no obvious cutoff from tagging along with and mimicking the hunters, and being a hunter (hunting expeditions were typically playful even for the grown-ups);
    3. Particular encoded egalitarian practices (e.g. the person who divides the food has last choice).

    By contrast, delayed-return (DR) societies such as ours would appear to need some socialisation as a prerequisite. We're familiar with those mores since they concern virtues of Western societies, especially by conservatives: it is good to work hard, save money, invest, get a good pension, etc. I'm not going to criticise those ideals, they seem very sensible for the societies we find ourselves in.

    But there is an inevitable grimace when we compare that to immediate-return (IR) societies that worked little, saved nothing, generally had little concern for the future. By today's resourceful mouse standards, they seem on the one hand to fall short, and on the other to be living the dream. The lesson that IR societies teach us is that our needs are, or were, very easily met: we are an adept species and not prone to lack.

    While most IR HGs are egalitarian, all DR HGs are non-egalitarian. Interestingly, most remaining IR HGs are equatorial. The chief difference between IR and DR societies is that the latter tend to store food.

    It seems trivial to generate plausible hypotheses for why DR groups evolved and eventually flourished. The human species originates from an equatorial region in which the frequency of environmental variation was low. As we spread out, we moved into regions where supply oscillated (high in the spring, low in the winter).

    The necessity to save for the winter is probably not something that could be left to individuals within a group in the way that reciprocal altruism and reverse dominance could: to my knowledge, we have no evolved characteristics for saving for harder times. It seems likely that saving would be easier in, say, northern Europe than in Africa or India, being comparatively lush habitats with more resources in fairer times. Of the groups that moved into such climates, those that had delayed return _imposed_ on them would likely have prospered. (There are no remaining IR societies in Europe afaik.)

    Contrary to my original notion of hierarchical societies being an attack on an egalitarian species by a violent, opportunistic minority, and to articles such as https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-the-first-farmers-arrived-in-europe-inequality-evolved/ , it seems perfectly reasonable that IR groups competing with DR groups in Europe and similar seasonal climates would simply lose out: one very bad winter and they'd be screwed, and one quite bad winter might be enough to learn that lesson, and then transition.

    This seems to be a reasonable candidate for transitional socialisations from small, egalitarian groups self-governed via biological drives toward reciprocal altruism and social practices like reverse dominance to larger, hierarchical groups governed by authorities acting in the interest of the group as a whole. From there, a hop, skip and a jump to distributed social groups governed by an authority acting in its own interest, from feudalism through to capitalism.

    Annoyingly, after writing all of that, I discovered this:

    http://watha.org/in-depth/HUNTER%20GATHERER%20STUDIES_stiles.pdf

    which is pretty much everything I just said. Ho hum.

    I'm still a bit iffy on a couple of points. It's easy to see how food storage would end or limit nomadism, lead to larger groups, require a socialisation conducive to prudence, but why was a hierarchy required as well? Was it required, or did opportunists just exploit the uncertainty and fear of surviving winters? Is IR so built in that even a child raised to be a devout DRer would still steal from the store if he thought he could get away with it? Could we not have built an egalitarian society of hunter-fisher-gatherer-storers?
  • Echarmion
    2.1k
    I'm still a bit iffy on a couple of points. It's easy to see how food storage would end or limit nomadism, lead to larger groups, require a socialisation conducive to prudence, but why was a hierarchy required as well? Was it required, or did opportunists just exploit the uncertainty and fear of surviving winters? Is IR so built in that even a child raised to be a devout DRer would still steal from the store if he thought he could get away with it? Could we not have built an egalitarian society of hunter-fisher-gatherer-storers?Kenosha Kid

    Well, AFAIK, HG societies do have hierarchies, they're just relatively flat and come with little coercive power. Humans seem to have evolved pretty clear political instincts, so there must have been some benefit to it. This seems to imply that a social hierarchy and some amount of authority were already present in our ancestors.

    In an IR society, that authority will always be fairly limited, since a band can simply split and, so long as it's of a viable size, will not necessarily be strictly worse off. This changes once you have to store food and prepare shelter and clothing for the winter. Control of these supplies massively enhances the authority and coercive power of those at the top of the hierarchy, and so that might explain how such structures take precedence.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    Well, AFAIK, HG societies do have hierarchies, they're just relatively flat and come with little coercive power. Humans seem to have evolved pretty clear political instincts, so there must have been some benefit to it. This seems to imply that a social hierarchy and some amount of authority were already present in our ancestors.Echarmion

    That's in stark contrast to what I've read on the subject, so I'd be interested to hear more. My understanding is that, while we at some point in our lineage evolved social characteristics that drive or give capacity to egalitarianism and altruism that our ape ancestors do not have, there are no similarly unique characteristics for dealing with life in hierarchies. So yes we inherit the pre-social and sub-social apparatus of our parent species, but we are evolved beyond that.

    In an IR society, that authority will always be fairly limited, since a band can simply split and, so long as it's of a viable size, will not necessarily be strictly worse off. This changes once you have to store food and prepare shelter and clothing for the winter. Control of these supplies massively enhances the authority and coercive power of those at the top of the hierarchy, and so that might explain how such structures take precedence.Echarmion

    Yes, I was thinking along similar lines. IR groups can resolve their differences simply by spawning new IR groups. Knowing that the profits of your labours are held within a territory now claimed by your group is a disincentive to strike out anew, and a strong incentive to either dominate or concede. And I agree that this will strengthen an authority that controls, or wrests control of, a food store. Perhaps the sort of turmoil that might lead to is enough to make it advantageous to have a more stable, protected authority.
  • Judaka
    1.3k

    The difference that struck me while reading the Stiles paper was the issue of property and labour in DR.

    IR:
    Proposition 6 - (a) Because of the sharing ethic, and because investment costs
    in food and personal items in relation to expected benefits for sharing are low,
    there is low motivation for holding or defending private property. (b) This creates
    expectations that property is freely transferable. (c) Since holding private assets
    is not possible, any trade or exchange with others will be small scale and for immediate consumption/use with no profit motivation

    DR:
    Proposition 2 - (a) Periods of resource abundance cause long-term settlement if
    the resource location is stable. (b) Resource abundance causes larger settlement
    size than in IR and (c) in conjunction with the occurrence of periods of scarcity,
    large amounts of food are processed and stored
    Proposition 3 - Long-term habitation and storage needs cause durable structures
    to be built.
    Proposition 4 - Organized group labor is needed periodically for constructing
    and utilizing facilities and for obtaining the abundant resources. This need causes
    some form of institutionalized leadership to be created to manage labor
    Proposition 10 - Surplus food, processing byproducts and trade profits represent
    wealth. This wealth belongs to the producer group but is controlled by the leaders.
    Accumulated wealth creates benefits, not the least of which is avoiding starvation
    during hard times, and producer group members strive for these benefits. Since
    there are several producer groups in any community, competition results, which
    leads to differential increased striving and accumulation. The headmen enter into
    social competition with other headmen to enhance their ability to attract more
    producers to the producer group, or to make alliances that will enhance competitive success. Differential wealth transforms to inequalities in power, and social
    hierarchies result.
    Proposition 11 - The dynamics of competing producer groups, periods of surplus
    food, and the need for ever more producers causes the socially competing leaders to
    strive to obtain additional females for themselves and other sub-group members as
    both labor and reproducers of labor. Females can thus come to be controlled as an asset. All these factors cause population to grow. This will increase the frequency of reaching Liebig’s law of the minimum, and will stimulate cultural responses to limiting population growth

    Well, I won't paste everything relevant but the existence of long-term resources, including the creation of new resources like land ownership, decision making power, authority over group practices and so on create opportunities for hierarchies that otherwise wouldn't exist. Once you get the ball rolling, things take care of themselves, because having resources and power makes the acquisition of more resources and power much easier.

    As for our biological moral hardware, it seems adaptable, there's leeway to define what is "fair". We can't help seeing unfairness but we can be taught that uneven distribution is fair, we just need a convincing framework. Our socialisation teaches us reasons and logic for what is and isn't fair. We can fit hierarchies into our understanding of what's fair. Can you articulate the problems you see?

    Could we not have built an egalitarian society of hunter-fisher-gatherer-storers?Kenosha Kid

    From Stiles
    In general, one can make the following statements concerning significant features
    of IR and DR systems:
    1. Ideal and practiced egalitarianism and generalized reciprocity can only exist
    with an IR system, they are not possible with a DR system.
    6. A DR h-g system will lead to sedentism, population growth, increased socioeconomic system complexity, and social hierarchies. DR systems are not
    evolutionarily stable.

    Actually, most of your questions seem to be discussed and more or less answered in the article you presented, not sure how much of it I should just copy-paste here but it's better than just paraphrasing.

    Social organization
    IR- (a) Strictly egalitarian, (b) no institutions for enforcing social norms, (c)
    social rules are simple and flexible, and (d) the lineage is the highest order
    kinship arrangement.
    DR- (a) Leadership roles exist (hunt leaders, ‘headmen’), (b) a council of
    elders or headman deals with social disputes and rule-breakers, (c) social
    rules are structured and complex in order to regulate labor, distribution of
    production, and marriage, and (d) higher order kinship arrangements such
    as clans, phratries and/or moieties are present.

    Social obligations
    IR- (a) Commitments with people are short-term, (b) no one is dependent
    on any specific other person for access to basic needs, and (c) individuals can
    choose with whom they associate in residence, foraging, exchange and ritual.
    DR- (a) People have binding commitments and dependencies through which
    goods and services are transmitted.

    Property and sharing
    IR- (a) Sharing is of the general reciprocity type and (b) there are sanctions
    against accumulating personal possessions.
    DR- (a) People hold rights over their facilities, stored foods and tended wild
    products, and (b) males hold rights over women for marriage to other men.
    (c) Sharing networks are smaller than in IR and are more the balanced reciprocity type.

    Territoriality
    IR- (a) There are named territories but (b) access is free and open to resources
    for anyone. (c) It is assumed there will be no territory or resource defense,
    though Woodburn did not specify.
    DR- (a) Territories have recognized boundaries and user groups, though in
    general access is open to known others, (b) certain resources have recognized
    ‘owners,’ and (c) these resources could be defended.

    DR groups create challenges for which the responses to lead to (more) social hierarchies. It seems impossible to have built an egalitarian DR group.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    Well, I won't paste everything relevant but the existence of long-term resources, including the creation of new resources like land ownership, decision making power, authority over group practices and so on create opportunities for hierarchies that otherwise wouldn't exist. Once you get the ball rolling, things take care of themselves, because having resources and power makes the acquisition of more resources and power much easier.Judaka

    Yes, this is a much better wording of the issue. It is clear that DR societies make hierarchies easier to emerge, but does it make them necessary or, if not necessary, advantageous for survival?

    As for our biological moral hardware, it seems adaptable, there's leeway to define what is "fair". We can't help seeing unfairness but we can be taught that uneven distribution is fair, we just need a convincing framework. Our socialisation teaches us reasons and logic for what is and isn't fair. We can fit hierarchies into our understanding of what's fair. Can you articulate the problems you see?Judaka

    I'm not sure if "fairness" is a good fit with our biological social apparatus. Empathy and altruism, yes. I don't have a citation, but intolerance toward antisocial elements in the group seems extremely likely, since even social primates exhibit this behaviour. If we see one individual with plenty and another with not enough, all three of those come into play. "Fairness" is, I think, an abstraction and rationalisation from that.

    The thesis of my previous thread on this topic was that HGs wouldn't need have need for an additional socialisation of fairness (or most other things): their neurobiology and their precise situation would uniquely identify the correct course of action or, to put it another way, what their natural morality would dictate would be exactly in line with what they would want to do. I still feel this is correct, but happy to defend this some more.

    But yes that hardware is adaptable, or rather overridable. We have trainable counter-empathetic responses and, of course, free (ish) will, plus the gamut of pre- and sub-social traits (the tendency to dominate if possible, for instance).

    Actually, most of your questions seem to be discussed and more or less answered in the article you presented, not sure how much of it I should just copy-paste here but it's better than just paraphrasing.Judaka

    Hence my moan. I spent ages drafting that and discovered the paper later. But the paper still doesn't lead me to conclude that hierarchies are inevitable. To put this in context, I'm interested in why we have (had) the social structures we have (had), and whether there are more optimal ways of organising ourselves that are more in line with what makes us uniquely ultra-social, as well as explaining long-term trends away from e.g. feudalism toward some kind of global social group where egalitarianism and altruism are once again becoming dominant.

    DR groups create challenges for which the responses to lead to (more) social hierarchies. It seems impossible to have built an egalitarian DR group.Judaka

    Could you explain this? Might be the fastest ever resolution to a thread with this length OP.
  • Judaka
    1.3k

    The thesis of my previous thread on this topic was that HGs wouldn't need have need for an additional socialisation of fairness (or most other things): their neurobiology and their precise situation would uniquely identify the correct course of action or, to put it another way, what their natural morality would dictate would be exactly in line with what they would want to doKenosha Kid

    I don't disagree with this.

    Could you explain this? Might be the fastest ever resolution to a thread with this length OP.Kenosha Kid

    In the Stiles paper, he states:

    1. Ideal and practiced egalitarianism and generalized reciprocity can only exist
    with an IR system, they are not possible with a DR system.

    Some of the DR challenges Stiles talks about :

    DR- (a) Leadership roles exist (hunt leaders, ‘headmen’), (b) a council of
    elders or headman deals with social disputes and rule-breakers, (c) social
    rules are structured and complex in order to regulate labor, distribution of
    production, and marriage, and (d) higher order kinship arrangements such
    as clans, phratries and/or moieties are present.

    Why do leadership roles need to exist in DR?

    Proposition 4 - Organized group labor is needed periodically for constructing
    and utilizing facilities and for obtaining the abundant resources. This need causes
    some form of institutionalized leadership to be created to manage labor.
    Proposition 5 - (a) Need for labor cooperators creates commitments and dependencies on specific others, (b) these others tend to be kin, (c) the cooperative labor
    produces abundant food and this has to be distributed and stored, (d) kinship relations often regulate the distribution and ownership of the facilities that created
    the food and the food itself, and (e) the leaders from (4) above are instrumental
    in implementing this function
    Proposition 7 - People are forced by subsistence circumstances to dwell together
    for extended periods, thus conflict cannot usually be resolved by residence change
    as with IR. Some form of conflict resolution is needed. The labor managers and
    food distributors of (4) and (5) will usually fulfill this role.
    Proposition 14 - DR societies will manifest more complex and structured social
    rule systems than IR in order to manage the more complex economic system.

    Furthermore that in DR, there is a necessity for ownership of resources.

    Proposition 10 - Surplus food, processing byproducts and trade profits represent
    wealth. This wealth belongs to the producer group but is controlled by the leaders.
    Accumulated wealth creates benefits, not the least of which is avoiding starvation
    during hard times, and producer group members strive for these benefits. Since
    there are several producer groups in any community, competition results, which
    leads to differential increased striving and accumulation. The headmen enter into
    social competition with other headmen to enhance their ability to attract more
    producers to the producer group, or to make alliances that will enhance competitive success. Differential wealth transforms to inequalities in power, and social
    hierarchies result

    Without copypasting too much, the article talks about population control, the need for defending territory and many further required administrative tasks to be taken on within DR groups which create social hierarchies. That is why Stiles concludes that it is impossible for egalitarianism within DR, rather than why hierarchies are simply desirable. Of course, once the hierarchy is established then various groups will compete for more control, more resources and profit (which don't exist in IR) and this is also covered in the article. And this all applies to this day.

    To put this in context, I'm interested in why we have (had) the social structures we have (had), and whether there are more optimal ways of organising ourselves that are more in line with what makes us uniquely ultra-social, as well as explaining long-term trends away from e.g. feudalism toward some kind of global social group where egalitarianism and altruism are once again becoming dominant.Kenosha Kid

    Outsourcing to other countries, automation, imbalances in capital and our capacity to be egalitarian. The job of those in power within a DR system includes distributing some portion of the productivity of the system to the workers. Perhaps people are just realising that the productivity of the system is not being even remotely evenly distributed and they're not happy about it. My perspective on this issue is that the key issue is how capitalism is very good at producing and very good at distributing unequally. So, we're not backtracking and attempting a deconstruction of the social hierarchy created to make life in urban areas possible. I don't see any attempt to return to egalitarianism, people are just unhappy that capitalism is not distributing the enormous wealth we know exists fairly, with such huge portions going to a small percentage of the population. We have the capacity to be altruistic but instead, this is occurring. I suspect the other answers to this trend are based in philosophy, technology, geopolitics, culture and not relevant to this topic. It's not the same kind of egalitarianism as in IR, it's a demand for a different system of distribution of the productivity and wealth created by our current DR system. That's my view of it.
  • Echarmion
    2.1k
    That's in stark contrast to what I've read on the subject, so I'd be interested to hear more. My understanding is that, while we at some point in our lineage evolved social characteristics that drive or give capacity to egalitarianism and altruism that our ape ancestors do not have, there are no similarly unique characteristics for dealing with life in hierarchies. So yes we inherit the pre-social and sub-social apparatus of our parent species, but we are evolved beyond that.Kenosha Kid

    I did not want to claim that we have a similarly unique tendency towards hierarchy, only that we also have this tendency, which seems to explain a number of biases when it comes to political struggle. Of course these might also merely be side effects of other, more general cognitive biases.

    Perhaps the sort of turmoil that might lead to is enough to make it advantageous to have a more stable, protected authority.Kenosha Kid

    There seems to be a significant amount of historians that consider warfare, and the ability to project force, as a major factor in the evolution of political systems. Authority and hierarchy are advantageous in a violent conflict, and so more hierarchically societies might have been more able to project organised violence.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    881
    That's in stark contrast to what I've read on the subject, so I'd be interested to hear more. My understanding is that, while we at some point in our lineage evolved social characteristics that drive or give capacity to egalitarianism and altruism that our ape ancestors do not have, there are no similarly unique characteristics for dealing with life in hierarchies. So yes we inherit the pre-social and sub-social apparatus of our parent species, but we are evolved beyond that.
    — Kenosha Kid

    I did not want to claim that we have a similarly unique tendency towards hierarchy, only that we also have this tendency, which seems to explain a number of biases when it comes to political struggle. Of course these might also merely be side effects of other, more general cognitive biases.
    Echarmion

    My intuition is the same, we do seem to have a tendency for veneration, to listen to authority too. And from an evolutionary perspective that does make sense to me. I don't think "in the abstract" there is a superior type of organisation, it would depends on circumstances which one is better suited... and so having a certain aptitude for both would seem more evolutionary adaptive.

    My hypothesis is that our natural morality, defined as morality without socialization, is under-determined, precisely because we have that capacity for language, culture and socialization... I think it would be evolutionary beneficial to delegate concrete morality to culture for species that have that capacity because culture is more adaptable than genes. it dunno, this is speculation of course, but I does seem plausible to me that the fact that we have that capacity also in turn influenced the course of our evolution. Evolution is never merely a linear sequential development of traits, is it?
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    Without copypasting too much, the article talks about population control, the need for defending territory and many further required administrative tasks to be taken on within DR groups which create social hierarchies. That is why Stiles concludes that it is impossible for egalitarianism within DR, rather than why hierarchies are simply desirable.Judaka

    I feel bad that I made you copy and paste so much when a little more clarity could have saved you the effort.

    None of the advantages of a social hierarchy for DR groups, individually or en toto, appear to mean that egalitarianism is not possible in those groups.

    Yes, there will be more roles (processing food, building stores defending stores in addition to hunting, fishing, gathering) but that doesn't necessitate a hierarchy or an authority. Yes, there will be a territory, more surplus and thus the opportunity for, but not a necessity of, unequal private property. Even if people specialised, that doesn't suggest inequality, and an annual surplus can and did drive peaceful trade between groups.

    Cooperatives exist even now in our very hierarchical, very unequal societies. Executive roles exist, but are populated by rotation. All profits are shared equally irrespective of effort or skill. That's more the kind of thing I had in mind.

    Stiles outlines in great depth the opportunity for hierarchical structures to form, but concludes that egalitarian DR groups are impossible. That doesn't seem shown to me, notwithstanding everything you've quoted... twice.

    Outsourcing to other countries, automation, imbalances in capital and our capacity to be egalitarian. The job of those in power within a DR system includes distributing some portion of the productivity of the system to the workers. Perhaps people are just realising that the productivity of the system is not being even remotely evenly distributed and they're not happy about it. My perspective on this issue is that the key issue is how capitalism is very good at producing and very good at distributing unequally. So, we're not backtracking and attempting a deconstruction of the social hierarchy created to make life in urban areas possible. I don't see any attempt to return to egalitarianism, people are just unhappy that capitalism is not distributing the enormous wealth we know exists fairly, with such huge portions going to a small percentage of the population. We have the capacity to be altruistic but instead, this is occurring. I suspect the other answers to this trend are based in philosophy, technology, geopolitics, culture and not relevant to this topic. It's not the same kind of egalitarianism as in IR, it's a demand for a different system of distribution of the productivity and wealth created by our current DR system. That's my view of it.Judaka

    That's fine, I'm not arguing for a return to IR-like societies, rather DR society built outward from egalitarianism and altruism rather than from feudalism. For instance, where inequality has global utility, why not allow it.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    I did not want to claim that we have a similarly unique tendency towards hierarchy, only that we also have this tendency, which seems to explain a number of biases when it comes to political struggle. Of course these might also merely be side effects of other, more general cognitive biases.Echarmion

    There are characteristic tendencies toward domination, and coping strategies for being dominated, which might be what you mean. However these are far from equilibrium conditions. Those alpha male structures are extremely stressful for all involved, so egalitarianism seems like the stable point.

    There seems to be a significant amount of historians that consider warfare, and the ability to project force, as a major factor in the evolution of political systems. Authority and hierarchy are advantageous in a violent conflict, and so more hierarchically societies might have been more able to project organised violence.Echarmion

    Useful when you have a fixed-location stockpile to protect (or you encounter another warlike tribe). It is difficult to imagine an egalitarian army...
  • ChatteringMonkey
    881
    Yes, there will be more roles (processing food, building stores defending stores in addition to hunting, fishing, gathering) but that doesn't necessitate a hierarchy or an authority. Yes, there will be a territory, more surplus and thus the opportunity for, but not a necessity of, unequal private property. Even if people specialised, that doesn't suggest inequality, and an annual surplus can and did drive peaceful trade between groups.

    Cooperatives exist even now in our very hierarchical, very unequal societies. Executive roles exist, but are populated by rotation. All profits are shared equally irrespective of effort or skill. That's more the kind of thing I had in mind.

    Stiles outlines in great depth the opportunity for hierarchical structures to form, but concludes that egalitarian DR groups are impossible.
    Kenosha Kid

    Depends on what you mean with 'necessity' and 'impossible', doesn't it? If you mean physically impossible than sure, that seems like a hard case to make. If it's some soft 'necessity' based on a combination of human psychological tendencies and environmental incentives than maybe there is something there, but that too would be hard to isolate and test either way.
  • Judaka
    1.3k

    You're talking about cooperatives as a replacement for capitalism? But that is only a single component of how DR societies are organised, this model can't be applied to every component of governance. Even then, cooperatives still function within the parameters of hierarchical society, it only resolves the existence of a hierarchy within each business. I don't understand your model.

    Then for the abolishment of private property or the maintenance of "equal private property", this sounds dystopian to me but to first establish whether it is possible to function like this, I would like to investigate. What is your model for this? How would a DR society be organised to have removed the possibility of unequal private property? How can the existence of unequal private property not result in disparities between social groups?
  • James Riley
    1.1k
    Can we ever rest on our laurels? If that is not in our nature then we shall continue apace, for good or for ill. But if we could ever find it in ourselves to simply enjoy the fruits of previous efforts, then I think a precipitous, but planned, reduction in population could bring us to the state that many think would be desirable. We'd have a IR ethic with all that was brought to us by DR, without the downsides. Private property would not exist, and abundance would check violence and greed.

    By "planned" I mean the ability to maintain proficiency in the maintenance of the gains we've made without all the people who tax those gains, or who can't avail themselves of those gains due to the nature of DR.

    I would imagine that pretty much everyone from 200 years ago, if thrust into an American middle class situation today, would say "Whoa! Pump the breaks! What are you people whining about? You can get your teeth drilled and not feel any pain? You can flip a switch? You can store food and have ice? Anti-biotics? WTF? You throw enough food away every day to feed the whole freaking world?"

    The logical response to that is: we didn't get all that shit by resting on our laurels. Yeah, that is true. But is there ever a time where that "progress" becomes regress without the benefits of planning for it?

    Here's a twist on the ant and the grasshopper that you've probably heard before:

    "An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

    The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

    The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

    The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

    To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

    “But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

    The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

    “Millions – then what?”

    The American said, 'Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.'”

    Unknown.
  • Echarmion
    2.1k
    There are characteristic tendencies toward domination, and coping strategies for being dominated, which might be what you mean. However these are far from equilibrium conditions. Those alpha male structures are extremely stressful for all involved, so egalitarianism seems like the stable point.Kenosha Kid

    I was more thinking of things like black and white in-group / out-group thinking, the halo effect, and the tendency to treat admissions of mistakes as evidence of incompetence rather than transparency.

    It also seems like humans can cope with hierarchies better if the hierarchies are explicitly based on essentialist categories, rather than what we might call individual merit. Societies with functional / caste social strata have developed independently all around the world and seem to have been remarkably stable.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    I was more thinking of things like black and white in-group / out-group thinking, the halo effect, and the tendency to treat admissions of mistakes as evidence of incompetence rather than transparency.Echarmion

    The first, as I understand it, is an example of a counter-empathetic response, which makes sense in an egalitarian society based on reciprocal altruism. If an individual takes but never gives, it's a disadvantage to carry on giving to them. Intolerance toward antisocial elements is an aspect of social, rather than pre- or sub-social behaviour, since such elements hurt the group as a whole.

    I think the extension of this to entire out-groups is believably a result of meeting warlike groups, or having to defend territory and stockpiles from outside tribes, but it doesn't seem to obviously lead to inequality _within_ the group.

    It also seems like humans can cope with hierarchies better if the hierarchies are explicitly based on essentialist categories, rather than what we might call individual merit.Echarmion

    True, but then we don't really know our leaders anymore, so what they stand for is easier to evaluate (or manufacturer) than their merits. It's probably different if you know every single member of your society very well.

    One other thing I meant to throw out there is that uncertainty tends to make people rally around dominating figures. It could simply be that fear of the winter made early European tribes extremely susceptible to takeover. Politicians fallacy sort of thing.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    Depends on what you mean with 'necessity' and 'impossible', doesn't it?ChatteringMonkey

    We'll, it's what Stiles means by 'impossible' that's in question.

    You're talking about cooperatives as a replacement for capitalism?Judaka

    I meant it as an example of an egalitarian DR system. I'm not quite far along enough to build my manifesto :) As you can tell, I'm starting *very* far back.

    Then for the abolishment of private property or the maintenance of "equal private property", this sounds dystopian to me but to first establish whether it is possible to function like this, I would like to investigate. What is your model for this?Judaka

    I wasn't planning on one. To an extent, even IR groups have some concept of ownership. You'd get a kicking if you tried to take another person's fair share of food, for instance, which is as good a personal property right as any, actually better than most.

    Likewise in a cooperative, your wages are yours. They're just the same as everyone else's in that cooperative, which is, while different from IR, still egalitarian.

    But anyway, no, personal property is not my target, and this again exemplifies my issue: I can see how personal property will likely be used to create power differentials, but not how it is impossible to have personal property in an egalitarian society. I get Stiles' hypothesis, but not his conclusion.
  • Echarmion
    2.1k
    The first, as I understand it, is an example of a counter-empathetic response, which makes sense in an egalitarian society based on reciprocal altruism. If an individual takes but never gives, it's a disadvantage to carry on giving to them. Intolerance toward antisocial elements is an aspect of social, rather than pre- or sub-social behaviour, since such elements hurt the group as a whole.

    I think the extension of this to entire out-groups is believably a result of meeting warlike groups, or having to defend territory and stockpiles from outside tribes, but it doesn't seem to obviously lead to inequality _within_ the group.
    Kenosha Kid

    I'm not sure I find this really convincing. After all that mistrust of strangers would seem to work just as well without such rigid thinking. But perhaps it's one of the shortcuts to preserve processing power. It would still also be consistent with an ancestral environment that already had intra-species political struggle with significant stakes.

    Regardless of origin, it's easy to manipulate by political actors, though it's not directly connected to a hierarchy.

    True, but then we don't really know our leaders anymore, so what they stand for is easier to evaluate (or manufacturer) than their merits. It's probably different if you know every single member of your society very well.Kenosha Kid

    Maybe. But perhaps it's also connected to our tendency towards the metaphysical. Humans seem to like grand cosmic narratives, and essentialist strata would seem to fit right in with that.

    Which is also something that might well have been very influential in the turn from egalitarian to hierarchical societies: Religion. Religion might predate anatomically modern humans, and it seems reasonable to think it had a significant impact on how the first sedentary communities organised.

    One other thing I meant to throw out there is that uncertainty tends to make people rally around dominating figures. It could simply be that fear of the winter made early European tribes extremely susceptible to takeover. Politicians fallacy sort of thing.Kenosha Kid

    What's interesting though is that hierarchical systems were so stable. Of course those at the top wield coercive power, but in pre-historic times and for much of history, that power would have been fairly limited. There is no reason to suppose they could not have been toppled. So very early, a sufficiently convincing ideology to explain and justify the hierachy must have formed. Here again it seems likely that religion played a prominent role early on.

    All of this is, of course, not to say that a modern egalitarian society isn't possible. Just trying to think of reasons for the how and why of hierarchy.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    I'm not sure I find this really convincing. After all that mistrust of strangers would seem to work just as well without such rigid thinking.Echarmion

    In a IR group? Why? The exception I know of is when a group encounters a warlike group. Until then, it's thought that different groups got along peaceably. (I think there's citations for this on the older thread if you want me to do some digging.) From what I recall, empathetic and altruistic responses are not conditioned on recognition of the individual -- this would be inefficient for an individual that spends the vast majority of its time with other individuals it knows well. Rather, we learn exceptions to the default rule. (This certainly is cited in the older OP here: https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/8732/natural-and-existential-morality .)

    We exist in a very different, very unequal world in which most people we encounter are strangers and in which strangers are more likely to do us harm. A healthy distrust of strangers makes some sense to us.

    It would still also be consistent with an ancestral environment that already had intra-species political struggle with significant stakes.Echarmion

    Well there's no doubt we had that, and that our own species has evolved from that, but that doesn't seem to describe IR societies, or at least the current theoretical model of them.

    But perhaps it's also connected to our tendency towards the metaphysical. Humans seem to like grand cosmic narratives, and essentialist strata would seem to fit right in with that.Echarmion

    You're tapping into another favourite subject of mine: the compulsion for humans to construct ordering narratives. These certainly exist in HG groups today, notably the (barely ordering) dreamtime narrative of aboriginal Australians (DR). I'd be interested to research some more into the origins of such narratives: their relationship to authority is obviously pertinent.

    What's interesting though is that hierarchical systems were so stable. Of course those at the top wield coercive power, but in pre-historic times and for much of history, that power would have been fairly limited. There is no reason to suppose they could not have been toppled.Echarmion

    That gets to the heart of the matter imo: the role of socialisation in transitioning to and maintaining the DR way of life. My original question was: why wasn't this sufficient? Why were hierarchies needed at all, why not just raise your children to obey rules? This seemed to work for IR groups so would fall well within their cultural capacities, whereas hierarchies would not. If these were the stabilising elements, how is creating, as you say, a limited and easy-to-topple seat of power useful?

    If egalitarian DR groups are possible, and their parent IR groups were egalitarian, I would have expected egalitarian DR groups to be the default. And perhaps they were and died out, but, again, why? These groups got through winters because spring was so bountiful, much more so than the equatorial regions we originate from. It doesn't seem necessary for different DR groups to compete at all. In fact, trade was the norm.

    Btw I've really enjoyed and appreciate your and @Judaka's contributions to this thread. It's given me a lot to think about.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    The exception I know of is when a group encounters a warlike group. Until then, it's thought that different groups got along peaceably.Kenosha Kid

    Returning to this point, I was just reading about the Batek of Malaysia, an egalitarian, pacifist collection of nomadic HG tribes, each consisting of around ten families, no violent internal conflicts due to a strict and open conflict resolution socialisation, in Ingold, Riches & Woodburn's Hunters and Gatherers Volume II.

    In times of sufficient supply, all tribes can hunt and gather anywhere. However in years of scarcity, the competition for resources causes restricted rights to hunting and gathering land between groups, presumably based around where those particular groups are currently camped (since they are nomadic).

    On the one hand, this speaks to an underlying territorialism, a concept of private (group-level) property rights that comes into play when necessary. On the other hand, this is during times of stress, and mimics the lack of empathy and altruism of an individual in a stressful or disadvantaged situation. The equilibrium point here is altruism, not territorialism.

    Needless to say, these inter-group restrictions are still installed peacefully.
  • Judaka
    1.3k

    I can see how personal property will likely be used to create power differentials, but not how it is impossible to have personal property in an egalitarian society.Kenosha Kid

    The whole thing with IR groups is that the problem of private property does not exist, not because the existence of private property doesn't exist but because there is barely any property. Once private property exists to the meaningful extent of being able to create social hierarchies, that is where the problem begins. Isn't it the IR solution of giving a right kicking to someone who tries to take your stuff, the exact problem a system of an egalitarian DR group would find a nightmare to deal with? Large clans start building houses, fences, creating social obligations and going outside the parameters allowed by the equal private property rule and to retain equality, you have to forcibly reappropriate their property. Seems beyond the scope of the technology, infrastructure and manpower available in any period of time before the 20th century.

    Stiles has not gone to great lengths to demonstrate why, for example, the existence of private property in the DR system contributes to his conclusion of why it is impossible for a DR group to be egalitarian. A worker co-op does go some way to demonstrate how (in combination with the abolishment of private property) an egalitarian DR group could be theoretically created. I think it is fair to say though that if the focus of the society is on anything but egalitarianism then egalitarianism won't be achieved. The worker co-op also is still far away from explaining how to create an egalitarian society, there would still be many issues to resolve after that but, sure, perhaps there's a way.

    If we remove impossibility from the equation, one could still argue these hierarchies Stiles is talking about did tackle real, pressing issues which were necessary for DR groups to resolve. They were still born of necessity even if we can think of better alternative solutions that weren't thought of at the time or weren't possible given the technology of the time. This logic may even still apply to this day and problems that we discuss here which seem impossible to resolve could be later resolved by new technology, new forms of organisation that didn't exist today.
  • Echarmion
    2.1k


    If I'm allowed to let my imagination just run wild a bit, here's one way things might have turned out:

    Some HG bands return to the same locations fairly regularly, start to selectively breed some crops, and over time a permanent agriculture develops. This would start to take up a more and more significant part of the band's diet. Initially, this probably didn't change the "political" structure of the group much.

    In comparison to HG, agriculture is much more scalable. It is also more labor intensive, and the labor is more regular. Importantly, it is also less nourishing, and we know from archaeological evidence that when populations moved to agriculture, their nutrition worsened significantly.

    More and more regular work with less nutrition means increased stress. And increased stress means increased conflict, both within a band and with other bands. Traditional conflict resolution methods within a band no longer work as well if a large portion of them is required to stay put at the same location to tend crops. At the same time, a significant amount of the critical resources of such bands is now stationary, and so an entirely new dimension of inter-group conflict opens up.

    Now it's probably entirely possible to develop institutions that can resolve these problems in an egalitarian and peaceful fashion. The problem is such solutions require experimentation before you get them right.

    Meanwhile, an experienced hunter from a band with a bad harvest at risk of starvation leads a group of hunters to a neighboring band and murders their hunters, or at least a significant portion of them, in order to secure sufficient food for his band. This action now places him in control of a significant amount of stationary resources. Humans are smart, and would have figured out that the power that can be directed at other bands equally applies to their own.

    In the face of increased stress and failing traditional mechanisms, it seems entirely plausible that the rest of the band acquiesces to a hierarchy, lead by someone who has proven their means to secure their survival. In the short term, coercive power wielded in a hierarchy may well have relieved social stress. There might also be an instinct to "rally around the flag" in times of stress to ensure the most experienced group members make decisions.

    Once a band started to conquer neighbors, there is an incentive afterwards to reintegrate at least some members of the other bands. This might lead to the concept of common lineage, and hence the tribe. The idea that different bands are part of a greater whole through their relation with an ancestor mirrors a hierarchy - the distant ancestor becomes the head of a pantheon of more recent ancestors. This spiritual / religious idea might then in turn have given further ideological backing to the hierarchy, allowing it to become the status quo.

    And because a tribal society has much more military power than individual bands, the first such society to develop might easily have become a model for others to follow.
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    I think it is fair to say though that if the focus of the society is on anything but egalitarianism then egalitarianism won't be achieved.Judaka

    That hits head on what my response to you was going to be. We seem to have evolved as egalitarian, altruistic beings, insofar as we pack a lot of hardware to make us so. Yet even in IR groups we still need socialisations to keep everything on an even keel, since we also inherit the contrary impulse to dominate and coping mechanisms for being dominated. It's like egalitarianism is the only equilibrium point, but it's metastable.

    I'd been thinking along the lines of how deeply entrenched these egalitarian social memes were, representing something to overcome to transition to hierarchical structures in DR. But you're quite right, there's also a major perturbation to the foundations of society so there's a converse question if DR had remained egalitarian: how was that sustained in the face of a profound transformation in their way of life. My working answer to that is: biology, but it is clear from history that biology is insufficient, otherwise we'd all be egalitarian still. Even back in the OP for the older thread, I had assumed that biology + egalitarian socialisations = egalitarianism.

    There's probably no single dominant factor in why no egalitarian DR groups are known to us; it's likely a mixture of things:
    - IR groups live in the present; DR partly in the future, which is where authority might derive from (you can't have democratic forecasts of winters)
    - Fear of the future likely amplified opportunities for dominating individuals to acquire that authority
    - IR groups generally have a concept of private property for anything built by hand (tools, weapons, etc.), which may have meant that foodstores were not publicly owned even if the food in them was;
    - hierarchical DR groups may simply be more effective, and so egalitarian ones lost the competition;
    - the biggest factor intrinsic to DR way of life that ended egalitarianism seems to me that it supported much larger groups, fixed to one place, and unlikely to split up, such that individuals were more likely to interact with people they didn't know very well, and familial subgroups were apt to form, meaning that counter-empathetic responses were apt to arise and be passed down.

    Some of which were covered by Stiles and yourself, I guess I just needed convincing :) Thanks!
  • Kenosha Kid
    2.4k
    Now it's probably entirely possible to develop institutions that can resolve these problems in an egalitarian and peaceful fashion. The problem is such solutions require experimentation before you get them right.Echarmion

    True, but it's also worth remembering that we evolved from ancestor species that, far back enough, lived in hierarchical structures. We didn't just experiment with egalitarianism: we evolved empathetic and altruistic responses. This means that our ancestors survived and others didn't _because_ they were egalitarian. And we haven't changed since, biological, in that respect. This was my point to Judaka: egalitarianism is our (and other primates'); resting point. But there is a chicken and egg issue here: we evolved to be egalitarian in egalitarian groups, suggesting some preceding way of life for groups who prospered and eventually speciated. The DR way of life was perhaps *so* different, that transition so shattering that no amount of biological hard-wiring was going to equip us for a DR life, to the extent where other, perhaps older characteristics became more important.

    Meanwhile, an experienced hunter from a band with a bad harvest at risk of starvation leads a group of hunters to a neighboring band and murders their hunters, or at least a significant portion of them, in order to secure sufficient food for his band.Echarmion

    Yes, that's an interesting point. Humans that store food are, for the first time, a food source themselves. Even in IR groups, those groups would suspend the access rights of other groups to the area they were occupying. A bad winter, like you say, would lead to the odd raiding party.

    And because a tribal society has much more military power than individual bands, the first such society to develop might easily have become a model for others to follow.Echarmion

    And then maybe killed off. I see the idea: militant groups require hierarchy, kill non-militant or less able militant groups, and prosper in an emulatable way. It's a fascinating idea: it would suggest that what we might consider the two falls from grace of our egalitarian, altruistic, pacifistic ancestors -- war and inequality -- were two sides of the same coin. Kudos.
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