Sunday, October 06, 2013

how hunter gatherers maintained their egalitarian ways...,

psychologytoday | I'm taking a little break from my series on "The Human Nature of Teaching" in order to respond to questions about hunter-gatherer life in general, which were raised by my last post. As regular readers of this blog know, I have in previous posts commented on hunter-gatherers' playfulness; their playful religious practices; their playful approach toward productive work; their non-directive childrearing methods; and their children's playful ways of educating themselves. In all of those posts I emphasized the egalitarian, non-hierarchical nature of hunter-gatherer society. In today's post I present three theories as to how hunter-gatherers maintained the egalitarian ethos for which they are justly famous. I think all three of the theories are correct. They are complementary theories, not competing ones; and they are all theories about culture, not about genes.

First, before I get to the three theories, I must address this question: Is it true that hunter-gatherers were peaceful egalitarians? The answer is yes.
During the twentieth century, anthropologists discovered and studied dozens of different hunter-gatherer societies, in various remote parts of the world, who had been nearly untouched by modern influences. Wherever they were found--in Africa, Asia, South America, or elsewhere; in deserts or in jungles--these societies had many characteristics in common. The people lived in small bands, of about 20 to 50 persons (including children) per band, who moved from camp to camp within a relatively circumscribed area to follow the available game and edible vegetation. The people had friends and relatives in neighboring bands and maintained peaceful relationships with neighboring bands. Warfare was unknown to most of these societies, and where it was known it was the result of interactions with warlike groups of people who were not hunter-gatherers. In each of these societies, the dominant cultural ethos was one that emphasized individual autonomy, non-directive childrearing methods, nonviolence, sharing, cooperation, and consensual decision-making. Their core value, which underlay all of the rest, was that of the equality of individuals.

We citizens of a modern democracy claim to believe in equality, but our sense of equality is not even close that of hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer version of equality meant that each person was equally entitled to food, regardless of his or her ability to find or capture it; so food was shared. It meant that nobody had more wealth than anyone else; so all material goods were shared. It meant that nobody had the right to tell others what to do; so each person made his or her own decisions. It meant that even parents didn't have the right to order their children around; hence the non-directive childrearing methods that I have discussed in previous posts. It meant that group decisions had to be made by consensus; hence no boss, "big man," or chief. Fist tap Ken.