Hunter-gatherers countered the human drive to dominate by cultivating the equally powerful human drive to play.
This is fascinating, Peter. One part that particularly stood out for me personally is the idea that human beings are not necessarily egalitarian by nature. I'm guilty of subscribing to that rosy view, but it actually makes so much sense that hunter-gatherers would have had to cultivate that characteristic, just like all the other characteristics that make teamwork, and thus survival, possible. We are blank slates when we arrive, ready to learn whatever our community values. Thanks so much for your clear, compelling explanations and insights!
As you say, we can't return to the hunter gatherer way of life (and perhaps wouldn't want to), but we can learn from them.
Along these lines, I wonder how long it took for Neolithic and even later hunter/farmers in, say, Mesopotamia, to give up their egalitarian ways, and to become more of an "ownership" society, separated into nobles and peasants (or slaves)?
I am guessing that there was an interim period when they used farming and animal husbandry to supplement their food availability, even had some diversification of labor allowing some people to make a living as merchants or artisans, yet perhaps still had hunting and gathering available as a safety valve, allowing them to just say no to becoming someone else's servant.
Freedom, after all, means having real choices, among things worth having - and that's what we want for ourselves now.
Hey, I was wondering if the egalitarian nature of hunter gatherers is just a feature of contemporary hunter gatherers and may not reflect the actual practices of our ancestors? I imagine that in order to make mportant decisions you would need to have people in charge. Maybe I misread the post.
Hi Peter, I’m curious how if hunter gatherers either formally select or just intuitively trust in specific people within their band to provide a service or be the one with the most knowledge on a given topic arent at least *temporarily* hierarchical? ex: lead hunters, or medicine people.
Today, when you see groups of men work together to achieve a shared goal you can generally see a fluid hierarchy. I've seen it in my work hundreds of times. The hierarchy changes based on the competence of the topic at hand, it is fascinating to observe it. Bullying and ostracizing are also used in these groups for people that do not understand how the hierarchy works. This might be dominating but it is just as much for snitching and claiming victim hood; it is anything that makes the group less effective. This is a major issue when women enter male groups and significantly change these dynamics since women tend to operate quite differently in groups. It is hard to imagine this did not happen exactly the same in hunter gatherer societies?
However, to make the fluid hierarchy work it is necessary to process a lot of detailed information of each individual member. Empathy, the need to protect the weaker, sense of fairness, our shared genes, all play a role. When the task at hand increases in scale, this information is just no longer available in sufficient detail, it becomes contradictory, and it would change too fast. The only solution is to create a fixed hierarchy of groups to remain effective. However, within each of these groups I generally see the same dynamics.
It seems a devil's choice, there is a reason hunter gather's societies live in the dirt and we have indoor plumbing.