When our ancestors had to make due with barely any technology and infrastructure, cooperation and sharing allowed our species to survive. A dangerous lion or cave bear or nutritious mammoth could only be killed by a cooperative group of men armed with mere spears. A day’s lucky hunter couldn’t eat all of his boar’s meet or put it in a freezer, so he shared it around. The next day when he came back empty-handed others would share their quarry with him. A sick member of the tribe was cared for rather than fired from his or her job and denied health coverage, in order to preserve the community marked by interdependence. Decrepit elder tribe members were fed and cared for with no demand for pay; and when a great drought threatened the tribe’s survival, the eldest member of the tribe could tell his younger fellows about a remote spring that had rescued the tribe from a similar drought in his childhood.
Ants are much smaller and weaker than scorpions, tarantulas, and most praying mantises; but working together they dominate the world of bugs. We humans are like mammalian ants with big inventive brains. Cooperativity, fueled by compassion and a sharing mentality expressed in a gift economy, was how humanity has survived almost all its time on Earth despite of our physical weakness. Money was invented only very recently and barter trade happened much more between tribes than within tribes and families. How do things go in your family?
Only a few thousand years ago, with the neolithic revolution, did things change. Suddenly wealth, such as harvested produce, could be stored, hoarded, and also stolen. The commons, such as land, could be privatized... unequally. Since then we have had an explosion of inequality and human-upon-human predation and parasitism, all the way to chattel and wage slavery, ridiculous wealth and authoritarian power for the few and poverty and subservience for the many.
The selfish, callous dark side took over in bullies, and they restructured human society into an exploitation scheme that automates, institutionalizes, and legalizes their theft from and oppression of others. Rather than a very egalitarian society within which we evolved, we now live in a steep wealth and income pyramid, where the biggest power-wielders don’t know what to sensibly do with all their unearned wealth, the next level below them puts all their efforts into guarding and maintaining this inequality-machine of a society which grants them many privileges, too; and those at the bottom – depending on how bad their situation is and how successfully their heads have been played with from above – either continue mutual support or fight among each other over scraps. The latter worsens our situation even more.
I consider this total reversal of human society and break with our long-standing past unnatural for human beings and an inevitable source of incessant suffering — not to mention ecological self-destruction and a barrier against true progress.
Traditional (hunter-gatherer) society: “I store meat in the belly of my brother.” (quote)
Modern society: “Your money or your life!”
I wrote this little piece because some folks attached to a Whig/right-wing/Libertarian philosophy refute the common knowledge and logic of human survival and domination in a hostile world of eat-or-be-eaten full of giant claws and teeth which we notably lack. A part of their be-the-fiercest-dog-in-a-dog-eat-dog-world religion is the myth that humans are nothing but evil inside and in ancient times were even more brutally selfish and hostile towards each other than today, so that today’s evils should be celebrated as benevolence from our lords and a blissful system.
Therefore, for those who doubt my presentation of the human lifestyle for at least 99% of humanity’s existence — save that last eye-blink in history, the one which some people over-emphasize, regarding it as the only history mankind has, because it is the only phase with a written record — below are some references, many with their own tail of references.
- Before the Fall: Evidence For a Golden Age
- Were we happier in the stone age?
- Where does social inequality come from? Hunter-Gatherer to Agriculture
- Hunter-gatherer: Social and economic structure (Wikipedia)
- Key Concept 1.2: The Neolithic Revolution and Early Agricultural Societies
Dirk Droll is the publisher, main writer, and senior editor of Beanstock’s World where many of his articles found here originate.